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art by Stephen James Kiniry

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John M. Shade is a fantasy and science fiction writer living in Texas. His work has appeared in Everyday Weirdness and Gold Dust Magazine. He is currently at work on his first novel. You can follow him online attwitter.com/dystopiandream.
This was a small thing.
In the midst of empires and grand armies and armadas it was something you could have easily overlooked if you weren't careful.
I stood in the tower basement with the weapons arrayed around me. It was a gray afternoon like the one before it. The village around the tower, and around me, lay smoldering, the low firelight staining the room red and orange. The siege (if you could call it that) had come and gone like an illness, but there was still one thing left undecided. The Ring of Blood demanded one last sating, and it was only me left to answer.
The weapons were arrayed before me on racks of polished oak and cedar. I strolled across the room, hands folded behind me. I passed the rack of swords, all its myriad blades shining in the firelight. Deserving Much Better Than This was held there. Needs the Money, too. There were sharper blades: He Who Would Find Himself Laughing While Facing Death, Farming Isn't as Easy as You Thought. There were duller ones, too: Toughness, Sympathy, Virility, Sterility, Recklessness, Folk Hero, and more. Amongst the racks, there was every reason imaginable to fight.
The trick had always been selecting the right one.
Even as I paced the racks I could feel the weapon in the far corner calling out to me louder than the rest. To choose it instead. Vengeance; it pulsed, over and over.
I didn't know how long I could resist.
Somewhere out there he stood with my daughter. Coal-black eyes, pale skin, sitting atop a dusty gray horse waiting for me to emerge, to challenge him. A spoiled prince of an endless, marauding tide. I could see the dark blotch of him out in the distance, by the long oak on the hill standing next to the Ring of Blood, the horde at his back.
I took out a rag and blotted the sweat from my forehead. The sword in the corner calling louder now, the compulsion palpable.
The sensation subsided again and I dropped to one knee. I used the rack of axes to steady myself. Trouble Sleeping jittered in its slot so close to my hand. Too close. Its handle popped up and nearly touched my flesh, but I pulled away at the last moment, just in time.
"Dusk approaches," said the sentry at the door.
He peered in at me through the barred window, his eyes squinting in the dim light. He was young. Behind him, the fires of the village had almost gone out.
I walked to the door and looked at him expectantly.
"You've made your choice, then?" he said. He eyed the gnarled scabbard on my belt.
"Yes," I said. "I have."
He led me out and past the smoky ruins, past the blackened town hall and the bakery and the smithy's hut where the village children--my daughter among them--had packed the dirt down hard running after each other with stick swords and spears. We climbed the hill to the long oak in silence.
When we were almost there, the guard, eyeing me, asked me which of the famed weapons I had chosen for the Ring. I had said none. He listed them off from childhood memory, a question behind each, but none were the blade that I had chosen. I had realized something, standing there in that tower basement. Something I would not have allowed myself to believe before: my daughter was already dead. Curled up in some deep dark place without me.
I stepped into the Ring with the grinning prince, veins thrumming again. The two of us were but silhouettes in the dusk-light, a light breeze between us, the horde crowding in to see.
I unclasped the scabbard from my hip and drew the sword out slowly into the air. My wife. My family. The farm, the village.
Leaves Behind Nothing shimmered into the wan light, rust-colored rainbows dancing out from its never-used blade. The army held its breath. The prince drew his own blade. I charged ahead, eyes closed, the blade humming a melodic, helpless tune in my hand as the sun trawled ever onward.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 20th, 2011


The most difficult part about this story was the wait for everything to come together. The ideas seemed to move at a glacial pace for me at first, and I wrote several false starts in the interim. But when they finally collided and everything fell into place, I wrote it in one night in a flurry and then sat back in my chair, satisfied.

- John M Shade

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