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 Post subject: The Life and Times of Keo
PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2015 9:17 pm 
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To understand this little tale, a little explanation is necessary. You see to elves, life is sacred and that forms much of the basis of their social philosophy. They venerate the elderly and celebrate the birth of new generations, often whole villages coming together to celebrate the somewhat rare occurence. When an elf dies, either through extreme old age or some sort of accident, it is a tragedy but elven funerals are celebrations of the dead elf's accomplishments and life. This all might seem rather well- known but it shows the importance that is put on the cycle of life to all elves. Now, while the cycle of life is sacred, an individual life's worth is determined by one's station in life. In the smaller villages that scatter the kingdom, an individual life is much the same from person to person in the communities, each productive an adding worth to the village. Once you get towards the center of the kingdom, to where the larger population centers lay, the social structure of elven life begins to become more stratified, even caste-like.

The lowest peg are those with incurable infirmities that cause them to be unable to work, or those elves that have decided to offer up none of their skills or time, choosing to live a disgraced but easy life. Above that is the worker caste, the largest caste, that comprises much of the population. They are the innkeepers, the shop owners, the street cleaners, and so on. After that is the military. All elves are trained to a minimum in skill-at-arms and can be pressed into service during times of war, but the military caste are those elves that have dedicated their lives to the martial. This military is exempt from needing to offer any service, granted the freedom to spend their time in contemplation of the arts or training their martial prowess. As a result, much of the elven art and literature comes out of the military caste. Above the military caste is the magic caste, including all those that have dedicated their days to the pursuit of magical knowledge, be it arcane prowess or clerical piety. They are often disconnected from the rest of the castes, locked away in their libraries, towers, or churches.

The final caste is the smallest, as is typical of caste systems, and is the noble caste. This includes the king of the realm and his family, the regional dukes and duchesses, and the mayors of major population centers. All of these are given noble status and belong to a separate set of rules, given the benefit of the doubt in all disputes, granted first access to services or goods, given the right of way in travel, and are the leaders of the military. The noble caste is the smallest of the social groups, but that is a relative term. There are quite a number of families, many owning properties in the elven capitol, as well as many of the regional nobility and outlying town nobility. The number of noble families tops 100 and is led by the royal family itself. This is where this explanation is all leading to, as you see the sanctity of life is tied directly to the behavior and attitudes of the elven nobility. The sanctity of life has become a game for much of the nobility as they jockey for prestige and favor of the royal family. Assassins are mostly unheard of (a terrible product of the selfish human mindset) but not completely gone. Instead, the quarrels between noble families are more often concentrated in subterfuge and the manipulation of perceptions and attitudes, or else the control of certain goods or trade routes. The noble system, is therefore, heavily political.

Now that the setup has been completed, it's time to start explaining the relatively young life of one elf named Keo Rynshon. Keo was born to a noble family and as such her early life was spent in prestige. She had everything granted to her and wanted for nothing. Hers was a happy childhood, the young girl oblivious to all the political machinations centered around her family. At this time, the Rynshon family was high in the consideration of the King. The day that Keo was born, the patriarch of the family Beric, was granted the title of General by the king. The celebration was two-fold and reached just about every part of the capitol city, the family sparing no expense and gaining much recognition. As such, Keo was born into a new military noble family. Beric took his general title seriously and devoted much of his time to supporting the military caste. More often than not, some unit of the military caste would be invited for months at a time to join the family in their family holdings within the capitol, often to discuss military strategy or to give martial demonstrations on the grounds.

As such, Keo was born and raised around the military and they became as much family to her as her own handful of siblings and cousins. She was given her first wooden sword at the tender age of three and had graduated to real blades by age 10, much to the horror of her mother. From an early age Keo showed an aptitude to the sword, able to pick up skills with either hand and apply them as though she was born to the sword. By her teenage years the girl had begun to make a reputation for herself among the military units that would visit the family home. She earned nicknames such as Twinblade or Bladedancer, often asked to show her blade routines to guests. She was the jewel of the Rynshon family, the reputation of the teenage elf even beginning to spread outside of the military caste.

Along with the growing reputation of his daughter, General Beric Rynshon was also gaining considerable esteem with the King as well as the military. He was elevated to High General, given control of the military in total and direct charge of the other generals. This ruffled more than a few feathers amongst the nobility (all generals being of the noble caste), and so plots began to develop to remove Beric from his high position. Over the years, many of their plans came to little fruition due to the long reach of the Rynshon family through the military, as well as the developing friendship between Beric and the King. Unfortunately the ill-will of the other nobles was finally able to win through.

On the even of her 20th birthday, Keo's world changed and came crumbling down. A noble general was found murdered in an outlying city, his family slaughtered and their estate put to the torch. Word reached the capitol of the tragedy, as well as accusations that the Rynshon family was behind it, precursor to an attempted coup on the royal family. The charges were at first dismissed as slanderous, but gained steam as various units of the military began to join the accusations, embellishing the story with tales of recruiting meetings being held at the Rynshon estates. The evidence against Beric became overwhelming, despite the pleadings of innocence by the family and many of their supporters, both in the working class and military. Unfortunately the final nail in the coffin was hammered in when the arcane caste added their voice to the accusations, seeing an opportunity to reduce the influence of the rising military in the King's esteem.

The King finally passed sentence, and a dreadful sentence. Life is a sacred thing, and in the courts the Rynshon family had committed the ultimate sin by taking the life of not just the general but also the general's family. Beric was arrested and taken to a secret prison, his fate unknown. The family was stripped of all lands, titles, and goods. They were reduced to the bare minimum necessary to survive, and placed in the lowest caste. They could eventually work themselves into another caste, but it would take years. The secret conspirators behind the destruction of the one general would not allow that to happen however. Instead they began eliminating the Rynshon family one at a time. Unfortunate accidents began to occur around the family, resulting in deaths one at a time. Word began to circulate that the gods had cursed the family for daring to try to usurp the king. The rumors of the curse only added strength to the general perception of the families' guilt to all but the remaining military caste that still felt some sort of loyalty to the family.

After just a short five years spent toiling in the lowest of castes, the once prosperous Rynshon family was reduced to just a single member. Keo was the final surviving member of the proud family. With no one to rely on and not sharing the belief in a curse, the still young elf turned to the only other people that she knew, the military caste. She left the capitol, wanting to escape the place her entire family had perished, and moved towards the outskirts of the elven kingdom. She turned her feet to a village located in the far north of the Elveheim. This small village didn't even have a name, but was more of an expanded barracks, housing a contingent of the military and the community that had grown around them. The village was small but important, protecting a large area of the northern forest from goblin invasion from the nearby mountains. Over centuries the military community had become a well-honed system, sending out regular patrols while also supporting a strong agricultural system and all the tradesmen the community needed. It was firmly established and in recent years had begun to grow as other nearby villages decided it was safer to move to the military village instead of relying just on its patrols.

When Keo arrived she was in naught more than just the clothes on her back and a fierce hunger. The garrison commander Ritylas recognized her instantly despite the years and took her in without hesitation. Ritylas had been a strong supporter of the Rynshon family, one of the first invited to visit their estates in the capitol and he had never believed High General Beric capable of attempting a coup. His faith in Beric extended to Keo whom he had not seen in nearly two decades. He sheltered her in his own home, extending to her the hospitality worthy of visiting nobility. His family nursed her back to health and reinvigorated some of her spirit. With that spirit came a fierce desire to contribute, to aid those that had saved her and so Keo joined the military.

The skills that had been taught to her early in her life as well as her own innate abilities allowed Keo to begin to flourish in her new role. She took to the military life easily, having been raised in such an environment from an early age. Within months the young elf was going on patrols and engaging with marauding goblins. In just five years time she had gone from noble daughter to skirmishing with goblin invaders. To Keo, the thrill of the battle became a stimulant, a drug of sorts. She had always enjoyed the dance of her blades but she began to enjoy the thrill of actual combat. As the months and then years went by, the warrior began to crave stronger competition and so began to engage in mock competitions with her fellow patrol members.

The fights started out as simple sparring matches with practice blades among her own unit. But as she began to beat even the most season members of her patrol unit, word began to spread and other units came to test out the Bladedancer. The duels changed from simple practice matches held within the grounds of the barracks to live competitions held monthly in the village square. Commander Ritylas took the idea and expanded it further, inviting the village merchants to begin selling wares around the match, and food vendors to begin making special foods to be consumed as well. The competitions began to grow into monthly festivals and soon attracted the notice of other nearby villages. After a year, the entire region knew of the monthly festivals and people began to come for the monthly festivals. After a couple of years, it was decided to hold a yearly grand festival and open the fight invitations to any within the elven kingdom.

Five years after she had shown up at the village with no name, the quickly growing town had had swollen in population and was being referred to as Rynheim. Between the growth of the town (in an important area for northern security), the new name of the town, and the growing popularity of the martial competition, it was only a matter of time before word reached the capitol. By royal decree, the town of Rynheim was officially recognized and approved, and would be granted a noble to oversee and liaise with the capitol. The noble granted the township was the fourth son of the king who had previously been set to inherit nothing.

Within a month, Lord Sarazan, the fourth son of the king and new noble lord of the town of Rynheim arrived in his new holding along with his family, which consisted of wife, two daughters, one son, and one granddaughter. Lord Sarazan was a longtime member of court and was happy for being removed from the court intrigues that ran rampant through the capitol. The King knew his youngest son was unhappy in the city and so had sent him to the wilder outskirts, but the King also had another motive to send this particular son; Sarazan had been a longtime friend of Beric Rynshon. Given the new name of the town as well as rumors of a two-sword female fighter chief among the competition contestants, the King had a feeling that this particular son might best be able to handle the situation.

Over the next few years, the King's wisdom indeed paid off; for his son and family, for the still growing and increasingly prosperous town of Rynheim, and for Keo herself. Lord Sarazan sheltered Keo from much of the negative perception of her family as well as from inquiries by the capitol of her existence, keeping her a shadow and a rumor in the capitol. By the time the Court City of the Elves announced their own competition of skill-at-arms, the fallen noble Keo Rynshon entered the city of her childhood with an entire region supporting her and at the side of her recently discovered best friend Kaia, great- granddaughter to the King himself. The only living member of the disgraced Rynshon family had been subject of much discussion leading up to the tournament and as her name was announced in the newly constructed coliseum (a beautiful structure carved out of the remains of giant tree that had died years before and capable of seating thousands) the crowd was not let down at what they saw. She looked neither disgraced or cursed, instead they saw a beautiful woman dressed in noble clothing, hair grown out in noble fashion (never cut, left to grow), and bearing not one but two swords of simple yet elegant crafting. She looked all the part of a confident northern warrior, but yet had the bearing of the High General Beric himself.

I'm afraid my narration must come to a close at this point though for you see, this has all been build up to this point. You have received her tangled history, you are privvy to the evil plots that brought the downfall of her family, but what you do not yet know is who this person is. You know her achievements, you know she is skilled with the blade, but you do not yet understand just who she is. Now we will transition from me telling you about her, to you experiencing this complex yet simple woman...


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"You know, I knew I was going to be back here someday, just didn't think it would be so soon. I mean we just moved up north and already I'm back here. Gotta say, I like it back home more."

Kaia lounges a little farther back on the plush divan and extends her hand above her, watching the play of candlelight on her hand as she waits for a response from her friend. Keo just gives a grunt for a moment as she continues doing push-ups in the middle of the room. As she reaches her set number, Keo drops onto her stomach, the thick carpet absorbing the impact. After just a brief moment to catch her breath she rolls over and sits up, crossing her legs and looking over at the lounging Kaia, "For you it's only been a couple years, for me it's been nearly a decade. I know all the elders say a decade means little but not to me. I actually hoped I would never see this place again. It reminds me of a wolves' den, they might look pretty but one wrong move and they are at your throat."

Kaia gives a shudder and drops her hand, "Yeah, that's why my grandpa was happy to move up north, get away from all this. But really, you are the one that said you had to join this silly tournament. Isn't it good enough that no one in the north can beat you, do you really think you'll find someone down here that can?"

Keo falls back and begins doing sit-ups even as she responds, "There are some really amazing warriors out there and I know I haven't faced them all. The north is all about working as a unit and and in getting the job done. It's more important to be efficient than good, ya know. But some of the fighters from around the city, they don't ever have to worry about the goblin invasions, they can spend all day honing their skills and sparring constantly. Those are the fighters I want to challenge!"

The other elf just rolls her eyes and moves over to the door. She opens it and pokes her head out, speaking in a low voice to someone outside. After a short conversation, Kaia turns back to her friend, "Sounds like you're up next and you're fighting someone named Ricaly Boroshon."

Keo tries to ignore the concern that creeps into Kaia's voice as she prounounces the other fighter, another noble. The warrior just keeps doing a few more sit-ups and then rolls slightly back and kicks herself up to a stand position. She moves over to her closet and pulls out her combat uniform. A pair of loose-fitting breeches that cinch at the knee and leave her lower legs exposed; a pair of moccasins, a northern style tunic, form fit to her athletic torso and cinched at the elbows. She passes her hand lovingly over the pair of well-worn but still gleaming gladii and sighs, her hands moving to pick up the pair of much more beaten swords with practically no edge to speak of. Blood-letting was not permitted in the tournaments, and so dulled weapons were the tool of choice.

With her uniform on and the twin swords in hand, Keo closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, slowly letting it out and letting her body relax. She opens her eyes and nods at Kaia who once again opens the door and the two elves move out into the small tunnel. The tunnel is dimly lit by a few torches but the majority of light comes from the end where the sun spills into the tunnel from the coliseum floor. The pair make their way silently down the path and stop just outside of the circle of light. Kaia rests a hand on her friend's shoulder in silent support while they listen to the announcer's booming voice, amplified by magic.

"First to the arena is Lord Ricaly Boroshon, first son to Family Boroshon and lieutenant colonel of the southern army!"

The crowd cheers loudly as the man enters the sand-covered platforms of the coliseum floor. The crowd dies down quickly though as the announcer begins speaking again, a hush falling over the coliseum.

"And his opponent, hailing from the newest town bestowed upon our kingdom by our Great and Glorious Liege, Keo of Rynheim, patrol leader of the northern army!"

Keo steps out into the arena to silence, the crowd unsure of how to react to the much-rumored fighter and the connection between the town name and that of her old family name. The fighter stays straight-faced as she continues to walk towards the center of the arena through the silence. Somewhere behind her she can hear someone begin to clap and knows that it is the one supporter she brought with her. The clap is picked up by others and soon the crowd is cheering as lustily as they cheered for Ricaly. A smile flashes briefly across Keo's face.

Getting to the center of the arena, she stops several yards back from her competitor and settles her two swords comfortably in her hands. She dips a small bow to Ricaly who gives the smallest of nods in return. Then she turns to face the royal box which she can see is full. It is easy to make out the distinct and lavishly dressed figure of the elven King, a figure commonly seen at public functions and respected by just about every breathing elf. She can also see that likely the entire royal family is in attendance for once, the siblings putting aside their quarrels to attend the event. She wonders briefly if it's to see for themselves if she's a threat or possibly if they are just curious. Either way it doesn't matter to her, she's there to fight. The small fighter spreads her arms out to either side, blades held loosely in her hands and she proceeds to dip into a graceful and full bow. The crowd cheers for the action and she can see Ricaly belatedly turning to give a bow to the King.

Keo stands back up and turns her attention to Ricaly, sizing up the noble. He is well-dressed and heavily armored. His legs are covered in gleaming plate, a silvered breastplate bearing his family's crest covers his torso on top of a coat of fine elven chain mail, his hands are covered in fine scalloped greaves, and an open-faced helm covers his head, complete with a tassle of some fine material. In his hands is a ridiculously ornate longspear roughly twice her height in length. The edge might be dull but that's the only part that expense was spared. The metal of the blade is glossed to a bright shine and set with precious gems, the shaft of spear complete with etched scrollwork. An ostentatious weapon for an onstentatious nobleman.

Letting a small smile play across her face, Keo settles into a ready stance, both swords hanging loosely at her side, and her weight shared equally on both legs. Ricaly lowers his spear to point at her, his left hand forward and right foot back, and with most of the length of the spear between him and her. The announcer gives the command to fight and Ricaly gives a quick shuffle step and then lunges forward, stepping forward with his right foot, his left hand coming off the spear and momentum thrusting the longspear quickly forward. The move was quite quick with plenty of power behind it and likely would have done some damage regardless of the blunted edge but it ultimately hit nothing but air as Keo nimbly sidesteps, bringing her swords up to a more traditional stance to be able to parry. She doesn't move in though as Ricaly quickly retreats back to his original stance, slapping his left hand back onto the spear and shifting his right foot back.

The two combatants begin a slow circle, Keo staying just out of reach and moving from side to side and watching how Ricaly steps but always maintaining her distance. For his part, Ricaly takes up an easy shuffle, knowing he has the reach on Keo and waiting for her to make a move. His defense is strong, his spear occasionally testing different angles of attack, small jabs and the occasional horizontal swing. Keo springs forward, moving quickly to get inside of the spears range but Ricaly is ready and gives a swing of the spear that Keo is able to catch with one of her blades, but the strength of the blow pushes her several feet to one side, overpowering her parry. The female fighter grudginly admitting that despite the gaudy armor and weapon, Ricaly knew what he was doing.

Keo begins to settle into a rhythm with her movements, two steps to the left, one back to the right. She keeps repeating this, over and over as the crowd begins to murmur at the lack of activity. Keo takes another step to the left and begins to take the second step when she sees Ricaly shift his weight back to his right foot. What happens next is a burst of motion, Keo changes the second left step into a forward step, landing with all of her weight on the ball of her foot as Ricaly replicates the same strong thrust from the opening moments of the match, seemingly confident he'd be able to ward any counter with his own strength. Keo brings her left gladius up, redirecting the powerful thrust with a strange ease even as she suddenly accelerates forward. Before Ricaly can even begin to retract his spear or think about dodging he sees the tip of Keo's right gladius stop less than an inch from between his eyes.

The two combatants both complete to a complete stop, Ricaly's spear fully extended well past Keo and Keo's sword right in front of Ricaly's eyes. The crowd is silent and then breaks into a roar of approval. The two combatants back up, lowering their weapons as the magically-amplified announcers declares Keo of Rynheim as the winner. Both fighters bow to each other, Ricaly's bow a bit more respectful this time around, then they turn to bow to the King and both return to their tunnels, all to the roar of the crowd. The sound of the crowd dulls as she enters the tunnel but she can still hear them as she rejoins Kaia and shares a smile with her friend. The two retreat back to the waiting room, Kaia claiming the divan once more while Keo paces around the room, letting the adrenaline play out of her system as they both listen to the much more muted crowd above cheer for combatants and show their appreciation of the fights.

After several matches seem to have come and gone above, Kaia finally speaks up, "So I was watching, and I've seen you fight a lot, but that spear was easily far longer than you. How did you get in for that last attack?"

Keo stops pacing and turns to her friend with a child-like smile plastered on her face, "I set a trap for him!" The warrior-woman lets out a laugh and takes two steps to the left, then one back to the right. Ending up slightly closer to Kaia than before. Kaia shakes her head, confused until Keo repeats the motion and ends up slightly closer again. When the realization hits Kaia she smiles and shakes her head, "That simple?"

Keo gives another laugh and shakes her head, "Not entirely no. I made the motions slightly larger for you, that's why it took so long for me to get in position. On top of that, my first attack wasn't for real. I knew he was going to parry the way he did and I went with the strength of his attack, showing my parry to be weaker than it was. That gave him the confidence to repeat his initial attack once he thought he figured out my pattern. He thought that even if I dodged, he could still turn it into a swipe, retreat and regain his distance. Instead of parrying, I simply redirected his attack. He didn't notice that I was already closer and I was already moving forward when he started his attack. A few extra steps at top speed and I was able to close the distance. He was good, but far too confident in all his get-up."

From where she sits on the divan, Kaia just shakes her head and lays back with a chuckle. The two of them settling in to await the next match.


------------

The day comes to a close with Keo the winner of four matches and quickly becoming a fan favorite for her seemingly effortless victories. Her second fight had been against a fellow patrolman from the north, a man she had fought several times and who had become a friend of hers. Her third match was against a captain in the east army. The fourth match was her toughest of the day, her opponent a member of the royal guard. The tournament only had four competitors left but the final four matches would be held on the following day, giving a crowd a break, the vendors another day to sell goods, and the combatants time to rest up so as to be at their best for the final matches.

As the sun sets over the Court City, Keo stands in the newly constructed gladiator tower, a structure built near the coliseum to hold the competitors and their entourages who traveled from the far reaches of the kingdom and with no holdings in the city. The tower was lavishly decorated, featuring all the comforts worthy of a noble, despite many of the competitors not being of noble status. With her room close to the top of the tower, Keo was afforded a brilliant view of one of the most beautiful in all the lands (or so the elves say), a city created lovingly and at great expense over the millenia. On this evening the city was in full swing, torchlights, lanterns, and magical lighting filling the city and trying to fill the night with the light of a second day. The first day of the first ever martial tournament had been a rousing success and the excitement of it carried throughout the city, lending a holiday type air to the inhabitants. Looking out over it all, Keo starts to smile.

"You know, it's funny but I never expected to see you smile looking out over all this."

Keo doesn't turn at Kaia's voice and lets the comment hang in the air for a bit. "You know, most of the city is full of common people. People not caught up in the politics and intrigue. That's why I can smile. I can't forgive the politics and backstabbing the took my family nor can I forgive the people for swallowing that ridiculous curse rumor, but right now I'm just content living in this moment."

Kaia chuckles, moving over to the railing and leaning over to look down, her long white-blonde hair spilling over the edge, "You almost sound like one of the militia philosophers. You're not going to put aside the sword for a few years for the pen are you?"

Keo gives a sharp laugh, punching Kaia in the arm which gets a yell of indignation from her friend, "Yeah right, when I give up the sword it'll be because someone will be prying them out of my cold dead hands."



--------------

The morning comes to find much of the city still active from the night before. If anyone could throw a party it's elves. Whenever something new and exciting comes around, elves celebrate like no one else can, often spending days at a time in constant activity. The sound of a morning parade rouses Keo and brings her to the same same balcony as the night before. She watches the play of illusions and fireworks wind it's way through the city, infecting the thousands of people with the excitement of the matches yet to come during the day. She turns as there is a knock on her door, the portal opening as Kaia doesn't bother to wait for a response. The two had bonded quickly, sharing just about everything with each other and barriers between them simply didn't exist anymore. At this moment the two don't bother with words. Keo once more donning her fighting uniform and then standing in the center of the room as Kaia adds ornamentation to her hair.

The two take a moment to once more contemplate the city below before moving through the tower, riding a magical lift to a tunnel connected directly to the coliseum so competitors don't have to go through the streets. The fighters are led out into the coliseum floor, the sands of the platforms having been ornamented with multi-colored flower petals to celebrate the cream of the crop. Keo keeps her attention to herself, not looking at the other competitors or at the royal box. She stays within her head, finding a place of focus for the fights to come. After several speeches by members of the royal family, the King finally gives his blessing and makes mention of some sort of boon. Keo is barely paying attention and gives it no thought.

The fighters disperse to their waiting rooms but Keo is summoned again right away. She grabs her blunted and well-worn blades and moves through the tunnel, once more getting the reassuring pat from Kaia before moving out into the sunlit clearing of the coliseum. Her pace to the center of the platform is matched by her competitor. Keo looks over the competitor as the announcer begins to call her name, listing her wins from the day before. Across from her stands a woman with a completely shaved head. Short hair on elven women was not totally unheard of but to shave it bald was incredibly odd. The lack of hair distracts her for a moment but then she takes in the rest of the woman and finds her clad similar to what Keo is wearing without a scrap of armor and carrying a well-worn but heavily etched quarterstaff. The announcer calls list the previous day's wins for the competitor and then announces the name, "Bellery of Carosh."

It is a town that Keo had heard mentioned before but she couldn't put her name on it, it was something she had heard in her childhood. Something made her think the town was unique for some reason. As it was, the lack of a surname indicated this particular fighter was not of a noble family, so her style could really be quite anything. With a deep breath, Keo lets her body relax and settles into her fighting stance as Bellery also settles in. The announcer gives the command to fight which is met by both fighters simply standing there.

The crowd begins to murmur as nothing continues to happen, both fighters looking for some indication from the other. Eventually Keo gives the first move, taking a step to the side which is mirrored by Bellery. The two circle for a bit then Bellery lunges forward, thrusting the end of her staff like a spear towards Keo's face. Keo meets the thrust with her right blade, deflecting it past her head as she stabs forward with her left blade. Bellery stops her thrust, pushing her bottom hand up and pulling back with her lead hand to deflect the sword thrust. The two step back and begin circling once more.

After several more small exchanges, neither of the two has managed to land a single blow and the crowd murmurs appreciation for the skill of the two fighters. After a few more moments of circling, the two again engage, a flurry of blows going back and forth as sword thrusts are met by the solid quarterstaff, and swings of the staff are parried by one sword or the other. Keo manages to work Bellery into a high horizontal block and the swordswoman retracts her blades and suddenly lunges in with a double thrust, one sword aimed for the stomach, the other aimed for the face, with Bellery's staff in position to only be able to block one of the attacks. A slight smile begins to spread on Keo's face until her swords meet Bellery's form and then continue to pass through without the slightest resistance. Her smile turns into a curse as she realizes Bellery somehow got a spell off. With that realization, her instincts kick in and she begins to throw herself to the right.

Her instincts pay off as she is just barely clipped by the left to right swing, enough to sting her shoulder and push her into an awkward sideways roll. Keo is barely on the ground for a single roll before she's back on her feet, somehow twisted around and facing Bellery again, ready for another attack, one sword low the other high. Bellery just stands back though and actually lets out a laugh, "I applaud you fighter! You are the first to have dodged that attack in this tournament."

Keo scowls at Bellery, despite the commendation. Her mind finally registers the relevance of Carosh, a city dedicated almost entirely to the magic caste. It was home to one of the largest libraries which also doubled as a cathedral, where arcane and clerical magics were taught together and often intertwined. She had heard mention of spell-warriors but had thought them to be just a fairy tale. Casters used spells and fighters used weapons, that was just how her world worked. Well, she was going to have to rethink really quick.

Keo sends her mind running through all of the stories she's heard of spell-warrior, both from her childhood as well as stories told of them among the soldiery in the north. Even as she combs her mind for information, Bellery suddenly holds out her staff horizontally in front of her, one hand holding two fingers up held above the staff, chanting odd sounding words. Keo realizes too slowly that she should have done something before Bellery could get the spell off. Even as she begins to move, the air around Bellery turns into a whirlwind and is sucked into her staff. Keo pulls up short, not sure what is going to happen next. In turn, Bellery snaps the staff back into her ready position, small visible currents of air swirling around the staff, "You are the first to see this spell, and I'm afraid this will be as far as you go in this tournament, goodbye."

Bellery dashes forward, swinging the staff much as she had before but this time the staff is traveling much faster than before. Keo barely gets her sword up in time to block the head strike and next she knows she's being hit in the side by the other end of the staff, the strike alternated almost too fast for her to see. Keo backs up a few steps trying to get her distance but Bellery pursues, her staff moving wtih magically enhanced speed as she continues the assault. Keo focuses solely on defense, trying to intercept the staff but despite being able to block a good dozen strikes, she is hit another couple of times. The strikes beginning to take a toll on her. Even as she blocks another three strikes only to be hit by the fourth in the shoulder, Keo begins to realize a couple things. First is that the staff is moving impossibly fast, not the fighter. Second is that despite the speed of the strikes, the pattern is all the same. With these two realizations, Keo figures that Bellery is only able to handle a couple of attack patterns with the enhanced speed, unable to alter them on the fly.

With that realization, Keo begins to anticipate the the pattern, picking off more of Bellery's attacks. Bellery's exultant grin begins to turn back into a mask of concentration as she realizes that victory might not be so easily won. With the routines fully worked out, Keo begins adding in a counter attack, her own hands moving faster and faster as she becomes less reactive. On top of that, the sworddancer lives up to her nickname, not only her hands moving faster but her feet begin to pick up the pace. What was a simple parry before, is now a slide step back, parry with a 360 degree spin to reposition herself on Bellery's flank, constantly spinning to one side, forcing Bellery to keep up. With one last thrust of the staff, Bellery quickly pulls back seeing Keo begin to step back. The spell-warrior begins to turn, anticipating the spin of Keo only to find herself no longer face her opponent. Instead she feels the metal of one blade resting against her neck, while another raps against the knuckles of one hand, causing that hand to come off the staff.

The crowd that had been a constant hum of excitement throughout the incredibly fast exchange lets out a throaty cry as the spell-warrior of Carosh drops her staff and holds her hands up in defeat. The two combatants bow to each other and the King and the next Keo knows she's in her own waiting room, stripped to the waist with Kaia inspecting the quickly surfacing bruises. Keo lets out a breath and then winces as Kaia prods her in the side. The blonde elf lets out a tsk tsk sound as she continues her examination. Upon completion she steps over to the side of the room and begins rummaging in a bag, "Well she broke at least one of your ribs and left you with plenty of bruising but nothing that can't be fixed up quick."

Keo doesn't respond but simply lays back on the divan as Kaia begins applying both divine power as well as cold-compresses. She replays the fight over in her head, trying to learn from her own mistakes and putting everything in memory should she ever meet a spell-warrior again. Above them the crowd begins to cheer and the two know that the other semi-final match has started. They wait in silence, listening to the reactions of the crowd but don't have to wait terribly long. In seemingly no time at all, the crowd is reacting to the defeat of one of the competitors. The elven women share a look but Keo just remains where she is, letting the compresses continue to work on the bruising the quick healing had missed.

Kaia moves to the door, opening it to talk to the guard beyond. She exits the room, leaving Keo to her recovery for awhile. When she returns, the healer is quiet and Keo figures that the news isn't likely to be good. The two remain in silence though until a knock on the door alerts them that it's time. Kaia casts one more spell of healing on Keo before helping her friend to don her uniform and adjust the hair ornamentation once more. Still without a word the two depart the room and move back to the coliseum floor. Kaia rests her hand in the now familiar reassuring manner and lets Keo move out into the open without a word.

Within moments of entering the arena, Keo knows why Kaia had been so silent. Standing across from her is none other than the current High General, and longtime friend of her father, Pishra Hanneshon. A renowned fighter, he had endorsed her father as the prior High General, despite having a greater amount of experience in combat. Back in their day, Lord Pishra and Lord Beric had formed a formidable pair, Pishra bringing incredible combat prowess and Beric an unrivaled head for combat tactics. When the Rynshon family had been cast down, Pishra Hanneshon had protested, despite advice to the contrary from his own family and closest allies. Despite Pishra's support for a supposed traitor, the King had still elevated him to the position of High General. A testament to Pishra's abilities and the King's uncertainty of the charges against Beric.

Keo let all of this pass through her mind and then let it all go. Family history aside, High General Pishra was nothing but a competitor to her now. Pishra must have been thinking the same thing as he let out a breath and then gave her a full formal bow, then turned and gave the same to the King. Keo returned the bow and mirrored it to the King. Then the world around them fell away into darkness, only to return in the glow of the brightest moonlight. The entire coliseum was wrapped in a magical, celestial dome, the sky replaced with a bright field of stars in constant motion, as though the night sky was recorded in some fashion and then accelerated for the viewing pleasure of those in attendance. The light was from the stars and bright enough to see as clear as during the daylight, offering neither an advantage or disadvantage.

The two fighters give each other a smile, bowing one more time before readying themselves. Keo in her typical attire, now slightly aglow in the celestial light. As alluring a sight as she is, she pales in comparison to the spectacle of Pishra. He had always been a dwarven style battle-axe and shield fighter, combining the unusual short-handled, single bladed axe and an ornately crafted shield. Where Ricaly had been ostentatious with his equipment, Pishra was the opposite. All of his gear was fully functional, with no unnecessary decoration but crafted at the highest possible level. His armor was a suit of gleaming silver mesh that seemed to contour to his skin and appeared as light as the cloth that Keo wore. His head adorned only in a simple silver coronet. His battle stance was relaxed and balanced, his medium shield out in front of him, his axe kept at the ready next to his shoulder. Behind the shield, there was very little area easily accessible, even without movement of the metallic surface.

With the two fighters at the ready, the King himself stands, stepping forward and speaks, his voice magically amplified and a soothing baritone, "Let the championship of the inaugural King's Tournament begin!"

Unlike with some of the previous fights, between these two there is no hesitation. Pishra rushes ahead, shield leading the way with the intent to knock her over. An offensively powerful attack while still strong defensively. In response, Keo lets the rush get close and then snaps an incredibly quick spin around the shield, bringing her shorter blades across in a double slash to Pishra's back but are blocked by the presence of the axe across his back. Pishra stops his rush, turning a nimble 180 and bringing his axe down in a powerful chop. Keo knows she can't block the attack and so sidesteps to the axe side, thrusting with her left sword towards the unprotected face. Pishra manages to stop the momentum of his chop and swings to his right. Keo has her right sword there to block the strike but is still knocked back several feet by the swing.

The fighters both stop, returning to a ready stance and considering the other. Keo can't help but marvel at the sheer strength shown by Pishra, his ability to stop the vertical attack and still have enough power to knock her back with a horizontal swing. She considers revising her strategy but ultimately gives a small shake of her head, a ruefully smile and nod to Pishra. For his part he is grinning as she brings his shield back around and readies his axe.

The two continue a back and forth for close to half an hour, neither one of them managing to land a solid blow. By the end of the half hour, both are breathing heavily but neither appear ready to back down. Pishra smiles and says, "You always were a pleasure to watch train. I knew one day you would make an exceptional fighter and I wasn't wrong. Unfortunately you can't beat me, you have to have realized this by now."

Keo blows out a long breath, lowering her swords for a moment, "You're just saying that to throw me off. I'll show you the real truth."

She is all grins, seeming to have the time of her life. Pishra gives out a heartfelt laugh and nods, "Tell you what squirt, you land a hit on me and I'll call you the winner, doesn't even have to be a killing blow. What do you say?"

The smaller fighter shakes her head, "If you know anything about me, you know that I can't accept that. I'm going to beat you straight up!"

Swords raised in brief salute, Keo suddenly charges directly at Pishra. She begins a thrust with her left sword which the older elf catches on the shield. As he begins to direct it away from him, the smaller elf turns quickly to the inside, her right sword leading her shoulder aimed directly at Pishra's neck. The high general pulls his shield back in to catch the thrusting blade. Keo twirls back the opposite direction, using the momentum to slash with her left blade. Instead of trying to reverse direction again, Pishra spins like Keo has been and brings his around to catch the gladius his momentum swinging both weapons wide to Keo's right. Pishra immediately follows by punching out with his shield to which Keo can only bring her right blade up to absorb the impact, knocking her slightly back and giving Pishra the time to swing his axe from right to left towards her midsection. Keo knows there is no way to block the attack and with her current stance she can't back up. Desparation breeds creativity as she pushes with all her might off her right leg, throwing herself into a sideways flip over the axe.

She is able to watch Pishra's expression as surprise then worry play across the general's face. Keo can sense the victory and does a double thrust to stomach and face. She seems motion out of the corner of her eye but no attack can catch up to stop her in time. Her bottom blade catches the fabulous arm, screetching and sliding off harmlessly as her top arm stays true to Pishra's face. Concern plays across the older elf's face but the expression confuses Keo a moment before Pishra's impossibly fast and impossibly strong backhand with the back side of the axe catches Keo across the side a mere breath before her sword would have contacted with Pishra and then the world goes very bright and then very dark.



Keo opens her eyes to a dull throbbing in her head, and the blurry site of Kaia above her. As she is just beginning to bring Kaia into focus, the worried face of Pishra enters her field of vision. She can hear noises but can't make anything out or focus on the words. She sees Kaia bend further over her and then her vision is engulfed in a white glow. When the light fades she's able to start making out Kaia saying, "She should be ok, the goddess granted me a boon today to heal what you've done High General sir..."

If things didn't hurt so much, Keo would have laughed at Kaia scolding one of the most powerful individuals in the elven kingdom. Instead she focuses on Pishra's next comment, "The lass caught me off- guard, I didn't know she had that in her, guess my instincts just kicked in."

Opening her eyes again she sees the two familiar faces still over her. Pishra looking relieved while Kaia looks more than a little upset. With their help, Keo is able to sit up, to which the crowd (forgotten until now) roars their approval. The cheering intensifies the throbbing in Keo's head but she feels someone come up behind her and after more glowing her headache begins to abate. She turns to see Bellery standing behind her. The still woozy Keo gives a slight nod of thanks but that's all she can manage. Keo is helped to her feet by Kaia and Pishra and between them they stand before the royal box, Bellery standing slight off to one side. Keo can tell someone is standing just past Bellery but can't make out who it is. The magically-enhanced voice of the King breaks through the cheering of the crowd, "A most fantastic match between Keo of Rynheim and the winner of the inaugural King's Tournament, High General Pishra Hanneshon."

The crowd cheers even louder and the king lets them go on for awhile before holding his hands out for silence. Into the hush he continues, "High General, as the winner of this tournament, I grant to you a boon. What would you ask of me?"

Pishra looks down and to his right at Keo, then looks back to the king. "My liege, the boon I ask of you is to reinstate the Rynshon family name. Let this courageous warrior once again proudly go by the title of her family."

The hush of the crowd turns into thousands of murmurs, the downfall of the Rynshon's a popular story and still somewhat of a mystery to all but the nobles. The king is silent, his face a stony mask that is completely unreadable. Eventually the murmurs begin to grow in volume and the king puts his hands out for silence once more. "Lord General, your boon will be granted. Henceforth, Keo of Rynheim will once again be known as Keo Rynshon. She will be granted the title and status of her family. With this, the tournament is now at an end."

The king turns on his heel and disappears through a private exit, the rest of the royal family moving to fall in after him while the fighters bow to the departing royalty. The rest of the day is a blur to the addled young noble. She can't believe what Pishra had done, and in front of practically all of the court nobility and a large number of commoners. The man had made himself plenty of enemies on her behalf. She is unable to ask him about it though as he disappears as she's placed in the care of several clerics for monitoring. She is kept that way for the rest of the day and through the night, the clerics not letting her sleep and occasionally throwing healing energy her way.

The next day Keo and Kaia are summoned to the royal palace. The two are a bundle of nerves, the events at the end of the tournament completely unexpected, as well as the long time it took the king to grant the request. Neither are certain what might await them, not can they guess what is to come as they are led through the palace. They are the subject of much whispering, many of the royal family stopping to watch as they are led past. Kaia is a relative, but she's not even sure what protection that might afford her if things don't go well. Eventually they are led into a small chamber, the only piece of furniture a large desk with papers scattered all over it.

Both women stand before the desk, not sure what to do when another door towards the back of the room opens and the king enters alone. He moves to the desk and has a seat in the heavily cushioned chair, emitting what sounds like a sigh. He folds his hands in his lap, his face a stony mask and considers the two increasingly nervous young elves before him. Eventually he nods at some unseen thing and breaks into a smile, "My dear Keo, it pleases me to no end to know that you are alive and seemingly quite well. And it appears you are also keeping the best of company these days."

The king stands up and moves around the table to embrace Kaia. The blonde elf sighing in relief and returning the smile in full. Keo is about ready to collapse from relief herself, but dips into a replica of her graceful bow, albeit with the swords from before. The king releases Kaia and moves back around the desk to have a seat again. "Now, as to why I called you here, I felt that some explaining was in order and I also have a request for the two of you."

He pauses, scooting the chair forward so he can lean his elbows on the desk. "I was surprised to hear High General Pishra's request but upon considering it, I really should not have been. He was a good friend to your father and I believe he views what happened to your family as a great injustice. Truth be told, I also do not believe that your father was a traitor. However, the evidence against him was staggering and the conspiracy quite deep. You might think that a king can do whatever he pleases, but I can assure you that is not the case. Ever are there plots against me and agaisnt the peace of the kingdom. Therefore, what happened to your family, while I apologize for, I must admit that my hand was forced. The boon that Lord Pishra asked of me was a double-edged sword, as I am sure he is more than aware of, both for himself and for you."

The king gives another sigh, "You see, those that sought to remove your father will not be happy until your family name is completely wiped out. They see you as a threat, and even more now that you have gained some fame, both in the north and now here in the city. Nearly defeating the High General in single combat as you did is sure to add to your reputation. Already there are those in the city that have dubbed you the Lightning Princess for what you showed in the coliseum. It is a fine title, but it also shows you as a threat to those that seek to control this kingdom. That is why I hesitated to grant you your family name once again. I did not just give you back something to call yourself, you are now of noble status and your family has been reinstated to the ranks of the nobility. Your former estates are once again yours. However, like I said, I have a request to make of you."

The two elven women glance at each other, then back to the king but remain silent. The king waits for a moment and then continues, "I would ask that the two of you travel beyond the borders of the kingdom, to a location near to Feylake. From there you will join a group of non-elves that are working for something called the Order. They are a secret organization formed by your deity," he nods to Kaia, "and their mission is a goodly thing. I am afraid I can disclose nothing further at this point, but suffice it to say that this is important, not just to the elven lands but to all lands."

He folds his hands in front of him, "Now you might be wondering what will become of your estates. In that, I will grant a governorship to a responsible individual who will take on the task of fixing up your holdings, finding you servants, and returning your family house to order. That will take some time though. While you are still being reestablished, I am afraid you are a target for those that might seek to profit off your newfound name, or those that might seek to eliminate you. Therefore, I believe it is in everyone's best interests that you leave the elven lands for now and set out on this quest."

Again, the two elven women look at each other, communicating through some unseen bond and they both turn in unison and give a firm nod.
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