All you need to get something done is have a lot of really talented people who are all driven towards achieving the same ends. This is how businesses make money, governments keep control of things, and how the LEA managed to kill as many Lavoids as it did. In general, when these talented peoples talents lie in killing things, its best to leave them alone. It worked for the LEA, and it would work hundreds of years later for the Swordmasters.
-High Councilman Tarl of the Sol Dominion, in his Memoirs
The Order of the Swordmasters was founded as a group of agents trained to function as diplomatic emissaries from the Confederacy. It is probably their military role, however, that gained them the most fame. The Dominion Database has this to say about them:
There are many ways to travel the path of wisdom. Some fast and
meditate for years while others study obscure and arcane tomes, but for the
few whose true path lies in martial prowess, their fate leads them to the
White Tower. These are the Swordmasters. Combining absolute knowledge of
both the ways of the body and of the mind, the Swordmasters' choice weapon
is the elegant but deadly elven great-sword, a long and heavy blade they
are capable of wielding with such ease that it may seem totally weightless
to someone watching them fighting.
The center of their cult is the White Tower, a giant structure on the plains of Saphery on Escillian. Here, they study the secret ways of battle, honing their bodies and skills to unbelievable levels. Some say they can cut a candle in half without disturbing the flame. Others say that they can fight in complete darkness, guided only by the sound of their foes breathing.
These expert warriors are the guardians of the White Tower and serve as protectors of the mages and scholars who live and study there. The Swordmasters are not hermits, though. Part of their duty is to serve as messengers for the Confederacy government, sometimes traveling across the galaxy to do this.
In battle they are deadly opponents, eager to practice their great skills on real enemies in an arena where there is no room for second best. This is the true test of their mettle and the test they most eagerly seek.
In truth, they are masters of far more than just the sword. It is said that their very bodies are like living weapons, though few that have met a Swordmaster in single combat has lived to describe is as anything more than a nightmare.
Their numbers are comparably few, certainly nothing capable of being considered an army. When Cyrius founded the Order nearly eight hundred years ago, it wasnt his intention to raise the army that would bring the elves back to glory. What he created, however, was a highly effective task force of elves that could move throughout the galaxy, only being seen if they choose, waiting to act on any order that came from the Tower. Some would call them spies. Others would compare them to Special-Ops. Perhaps they are even in a class of their own, though.
Elves already make excellent warriors due to their agility, keen senses and strength belied by their appearance. The interesting thing about the Swordmasters, though, is that they dont take advantage of the other edge that elves have on humans: ability with Order.
While most elves can naturally channel three to four different Winds, the Swordmasters abhor the use of it. Despite the use of energies that some may suspect to be psychic powers, the Swordmasters never rely on Order in combat. Perhaps this is to prevent the development of a crutch that could be exploited if they were needed in the Order-void sector that makes up most of the Union, or perhaps there were other reasons. They get by without it, however, and they do so quite effectively. Indeed, Cain was probably correct in fearing their growing presence in the Dominion Embassies; it wouldnt take more than a dozen of them to completely disable, say, a Dominion Border Garrison
Cyrius came down upon Hallas with a level of force that would have destroyed an ordinary blade outright. Hallas, however, parried perfectly, and his blade was certainly not ordinary. His blade was four feet of tempered elven metal, single edged and sharpened to a molecule splitting edge. The two had been clashing for nearly an hour, small beads of sweat finally started to bead around Hallass hairline- Cyrius showed no such signs of stress.
I just want you to get over this whole moaning bit that youve seem to taken a liking to these last few months, Hallas, Cyrius told him as he brought his blade around his head and continued his assault. You have to see things from my perspective. How would you feel if ,your most talented pupil from the last century lost his way?
I havent lost any way, and Im not moaning, Hallas said, fending off each of Cyriuss blows with deft accuracy. Im just being concerned. Havent you ever felt it before, Cyrius? You know? Love? Cyriuss eyes narrowed and his blows became suddenly more furious. With three hideously fast swipes, Hallass blade was knocked clean out of his hands. Cyrius would have won the fight outright if Hallas hadnt managed to roll away and draw his second sword in time to block the High Swordmasters remise.
You need to separate work and play, Hallas, he said flatly. And realize that there are many things riding on Sirias actions. He slid the base of his blade up, catching Hallass sword in one of the grooves on the great sword designed for holds. I know that since the resolution of those family issues that youve been a bit more protective, but I need you with me on this one, Hallas. For Iluvitars sake, Siria needs you with her on this one!
But thats what Im trying to do, Cyrius, Hallas said, twisting his blade and managing to unlock it and attempting to turn around the momentum of the fight. Im trying to be there for her and save her a burden she shouldnt have to undertake! Cyrius was clearly getting agitated, though, and when Cyrius got agitated, there was very little that could be done to stop him in a fight.
I would never choose someone that couldnt handle the job, Hallas, he said, tossing aside his great sword and drawing his own secondary blade as well. He came at Hallas with a rush, the force of his blows emphasizing the force of his speech. You and Siria are practically family to me, and you know it. His blade danced through the air, a blur to anyone but the trained elven eyes of a Swordmaster. Both fighters moved with a cold, collected grace. Every one of their senses was perfectly attuned to the fight. They saw the opponents blade not just through their vision, but through their very souls. They sensed their opponents body, interpreting the smallest minutia in muscle movement that might give away the next move. They listened for the sound cues that helped determine the next angle the blade would come from. They even felt the tiniest vibrations in the air caused by the movements and breathing of the one that they fought. They were machines, geared at the moment for nothing more than battle. Here was the only place a Swordmaster could truly find himself, expanding his mind and body to reach the next level. Battle for a Swordmaster was nothing less than Nirvana.
Then do it yourself, Hallas said, finally stepping up the level of the fight and disappearing with a blur. He appeared the next instant above Cyrius, barely giving the High Swordmaster time to block. As Cyrius brought his blade up to parry, he stared at Hallas with eyes of cold determination.
Hallas, he said flatly. As difficult as this is to believe, there are some individuals in this universe that are far, far more frightening than me. He also quickly disappeared from view, allowing Hallas to fall from his suspended position and roll into recovery. Before he could even react, though, he felt himself lifted up by an unseen force and thrown into the far wall, and just as he bounced off of the wall, Cyrius appeared from nowhere and brought his foot into Hallass gut, sending him back to the ground. There, Hallas was quickly knocked down again as a wave of blue green energy collided into him from the side. Looking over to his right, he saw Cyrius standing a few yards away as if he had just finished a downward vertical slash. Slowly, the High Swordmaster stood up fully and sheathed his blade. He then extended his arm towards his great-sword and the mammoth blade came flying back into his hand. Flipping it over, he locked into its magnetic sheath on his back.
And is one coming our way? Hallas said, climbing from the ground and brushing himself off. Cyrius managed a smug smile.
Stranger things have happened, Cyrius said. He chuckled, shaking his head. And I would have one of our own men do it if the risk werent there, Hallas. We cant risk being found out, though. It needs to be an outside contract.
Who would do such a thing, though? Siria lives in the Confederate Senate Complex. It may as well be breaking into the Dominion Palace on Nova.
Everyone has their price, Hallas, Cyrius said. The real question is whether or not we can match it.
So how are you going to go about finding him? Kyrie asked Duncan as he finished punching in the security code on the Vendettas main hatch. The ship had touched down fifteen minutes ago at the main spaceport in Escillith and he and Kyrie had been busy locking things down before going off to find ground transportation. Simply flying spaceships around in the atmosphere was a surefire way to get shot down if you didnt have a permit.
The Tower, Duncan said, slinging a large bag over his shoulder and walking down the ramp of the ship. Im going to find that Tower.
And youre sure hell be there? she asked, following him and pressing a button on her watch that caused the ramp to contract up into the hull and the final door lock to be sealed in place.
I dont know, Duncan said. I can only trust what I think the farsight is telling me, and right now, I think the farsight is telling me that I need to find that Tower.
So where do we look first? she asked, jogging up next to him.
We visit a friend of mine, here, Duncan said. He might know. He quickly assessed his surroundings, then turned to Kyrie.
Whats the best way to get around on this world? he asked her.
The Monorail system services almost the entire city, she said. Is your buddy employed by the government? He chuckled.
No, no, he said, shaking his head. Hes not that kind of buddy. Duncan reached into his pocket and pulled out a small electronic device that fit squarely in his left palm. Tapping its screen a few times, he brought some contact information on the screen. Thumbing over the phone number, he tapped the screen again and held the device up to his ear. Within a few moments, someone on the other end picked up.
Julius, its Duncan, he said. I have some questions to ask and I think youre then man to go to. The person on the other end made a few remarks to Duncan and Duncan smirked. Yeah, I have some good stuff. Dont worry about it. Just tell me where I can meet you. Again, the man on the other side said something and Duncan nodded. Excellent, Duncan finally said. See you then. He took the phone from his ear, tapped the screen again and put the device back in his pocket.
Oh, Kyrie said with a wry grin, her hands on her hips. Hes that kind of buddy.
Yeah, Kyrie, Duncan said. Hes that kind of buddy.
The man that Duncan was meeting was named Julius Grant. He wasnt an elf, but he had taken up residence in the Confederacy to help push the Lemange market there. He wasnt top on Duncans list of prime dealers, either, but he made good business and so Duncan typically cut him some deals. Ironically, despite the regulations on the transport of the stuff, it was never a problem for Duncan to ship the stuff into the Confederacy (or anywhere for that matter). He had so many magical seals and wards on his stash that even Lucent Mazer would have trouble finding it (though Duncan never challenged him: that would be a great way for the Eternal to decide it fun to find it and turn him in for intergalactic trade violation).
He lived in a relatively upscale part of Escillith. While just about every building in the city was some variation on the white spike of marble theme, his was particularly nice, even complete with an attractive park across the street (elves loved green space, too- almost as much as marble, crystal and glass). Julius was even polite enough to come down and greet them as they walked up to the front door.
He looked human, but could possibly have some mystic in him a few generations back. He wasnt short, per say, though Duncan made nearly anyone look smaller. His hair was neatly combed back, held in place with just the right bit of styling gel. He smiled widely as he saw Duncan and approached him.
Duncan, friend! he exclaimed. So good to see youve made it back here! Whos the lovely elf-lady youre with?
This is my business associate, Kyrial, Duncan said, walking up to him and shaking his hand.
You can call me Kyrie, she corrected, also extending her hand in introduction.
Pleasure to meet you, Kyrie, Julius said. You must see a lot of crazy stuff, traveling with this guy.
You havent the slightest, Kyrie said with a smile. Hes just one surprise after another, as Im sure you know.
Oh, I know alright, Julius said. But please, wont you come in? Its such a pleasure to have guests again, and Duncan, youre always a welcome face around here.
Julius, Ive never even seen this place before, Duncan said. Can we at least attempt to dispense the bull shit? Julius sighed, forcing a laugh.
Always quick and to the point, he said. Same as ever. Okay, well, the least you can do it some inside and have a drink.
Now youre talking, Kyrie said with a wink. Duncan agreed.
That, Julius, I will accept, Duncan said. Please, lead the way.
They passed through the doors and into the building, eyes wandering as they walked. The entry hall was a pretty elaborate affair, as would be expected of most buildings in this section of the city. There was some darker marble lining the walls, and most of the moldings were trimmed with gold. A well dressed doorman (doorelf?) greeted them as they walked in and progressed to the elevator towards the back of the lobby.
Elven elevators arent based on cables like most human ones are. They use magnets to propel a car up or down within the shaft. The speed of these elevators was necessary considering the height of most of the buildings in larger elven cities. This elevator hummed quickly up the shaft, coming to a halt on the sixty first floor.
Follow me, Julius said as they exited the car. They moved into a hallway of generous breadth, following Julius to the end where he reached into his pocket, drew out a card and swiped it through a Detex unit to the left of the door. After placing his right forefinger on the biometric scanner by the Detex unit, the door unlocked and Julius pushed it inward.
The apartment was well equipped. White floors and ceilings framed an all-glass wall that provided a spectacular view of the Escilith skyline. The kitchen was to the right of the entrance, though Julius quickly moved farther in, towards the bar.
Whatll it be? he asked.
Bourbon, Duncan said. Straight.
Rum for me, Kyrie said. And if youve got a twist, thatd be fantastic.
Rum with a twist for the lady, Julius said, reaching under the bar and producing a glass which he filled halfway with from what Duncan could smell- an expensive brand of rum. He slid Kyrie the glass and started making Duncans drink.
I just need some information, Duncan said. If you cant tell me who, then I think at the very least, you can tell me where.
Dont know what kinda question thisll be, Julius said. But Ill do my best. He passed him the bourbon. Thats mystician, by the way, he noted about the bourbon. Damn fine liquor if I do say so myself. Duncan passively took a sip.
Ravina? Duncan hazarded a guess. Julius smiled, showing him the bottle.
Damn, youre good, he said.
Youre right, Duncan said. Then, as an afterthought: And it is good liquor. He tossed back the rest of the glass, grinning mildly. But to business, he said.
And you never change, Julius said with a nod. Okay, buddy. Let me have it.
Im looking for a scientist, Duncan said. I dont know his name, only that hell be heavily involved in some form of genetics. You dont happen to know who the famous geneticists are on this planet, do you?
Got me there, Duncan, Julius admitted with a shrug. Do you know anything else?
Yeah, Duncan said, placing the glass back down on the bar and assuming a stare that was serious even for him. He has to do with the White Tower. I think Im dealing with Swordmasters, here.
The White Tower, huh? Yeah, thats definitely Swordmaster territory. The man you want to talk to is Cyrius Nightblade. Have you met him before?
Ive only vaguely heard of him, Duncan said. Hes their leader, isnt he?
He founded the Swordmasters Order some eight hundred years ago, Kyrie cut in. Ive actually met him a few times.
This would have been useful information a few hours ago, Kyrie, Duncan said.
You never said you were looking for the Swordmasters, Duncan, she countered. In fact, if you knew that the Tower in your vision was the Swordmasters Tower, why didnt you say something? Duncan could only manage a shrug.
And I dont know where the White Tower is, anyway, Kyrie said. I met Cyrius off-world.
What do you know about the Swordmasters, Duncan? Julius asked.
Only that its a bad idea to fuck with them, Duncan said. Theyd hand most of the remaining Planeswalkers their ass on a platter, Id wager. Theyre Chi and Lifestream experts. Some say theyre psychic, too, but to be honest, I think its all derivations of the same energy. They dont use any forms of Order, though. From my limited experience, theyre more like a cult than a group of diplomats. Real warriors to the core and little bit crazy. Maybe even crazier than me. He smirked, then corrected himself. Well, not crazier than me, but pretty damned crazy.
Like the LEA? Kyrie asked.
Different kind of crazy, Duncan corrected. The LEA was crazy in the sense that they went after Lavoids without any reservations. I dont think the Swordmasters have any vendettas. I just know that when it comes down to it, they love to fight. Their lives are centered on it, even. Its not a berserker love of fighting, though. Its more of a Warrior Monk religion. I have some literature on that kind of stuff from Old Terra that Ill let you read.
I saw one of em in action, once, Julius said. He straight up decapitated this one guy and I swear I didnt even see his arms move.
Yeah, theyre probably pretty fast, Duncan agreed. They know theyre good, too. Theyre kind of like the invisible hand of the Confederacy Senate. Im not sure how theyre structured, but I know they do a lot of covert stuff. He sighed, looking to Julius. Do you know where I can find that White Tower? Julius nodded.
Its past the plains of Saphery, to the West. There are a lot of magical wards around the place, though. The myth goes something to the tune that only those who truly seek battle as their means of achieving spiritual awareness can actually see the Tower.
I can fix that easily enough, Duncan said. I hope youll understand I dont mean any disrespect in leaving so suddenly.
How long have we been doing business, Duncan? Julius asked rhetorically. I have a clue as to how you work at this point.
And I have a clue as to how you work, Duncan said. He reached into his coat and grabbed a clear plastic bag filled with blue powder. He palmed it, judged its weight, and tossed it to Julius. Thats half an ounce, pure. Itll get you a few hundred grand around here, wont it? Julius lifted the bag up and examined it.
Its fresh? he asked.
About a week old, Duncan said. I just distilled it.
How much? Julius asked.
Seventy five thousand, Duncan said. I have more in the ship that Ill sell you at the discount I normally give you, too. Consider that one a special package.
Id like to pick up about another hundred grand worth, yeah, Julius said. And if you want to get to Saphery, youll need to hop on the SkyLink, and thats back at the Space Port, anyway. Ill go with you and we can pick it up there.
Deal, Duncan said. He turned to Kyrie. One more drink? he asked her.
Thats always my style. You gotta take a shot for the road, she said.
Two more, Julius, Duncan said. Same as last time.
Nova, Dominion Capital.
This is a very, very bad situation for you, Yral, Cain told the young councilman across the table from him. Behind him stood Multani, the leader of his private guard. Yrals situation was poor: he had barely made it into an escape pod, evading the Lavoid attack on the Preeminence, only to come back to Nova and finding himself being held responsible for Duncans escape.
We overlooked the use of Chi energies, Yral said, his eyes averting the harsh glare Cain was sending him. Everything else went perfectly, though! he defended. We know we have a weapon against him! Cain shook his head.
Hell never fall for something like that again.
Its possible that the Lavoids simply killed him, isnt it? Multani asked.
Not really, Cain, shaking his head. We know his ship headed off towards Eldar sectors after tailing the Lavoid Fleet that attacked the Preeminence. Understandably, his partner is an elf, so she may have been going home, but such a sudden change in direction? No, I think something else is going on.
What? Multani asked.
No idea, Cain admitted. He turned his glare back to Yral. What I do know is that what may have been our one chance of killing that McKlane fuck has been blown do to an oversight.
The limiters are still in place, though, Emperor, Yral said. He still has no way of planeshifting or manipulating Chaos.
And if I were a Lavoid Queen, then yes, that would make him considerably weaker. For all practical purposes, though, Yral, hes still terribly powerful.
Do you think we should go about searching for him? Multani asked.
If hes off with the Confederacy, well see him again, Cain said. I only fear as to how hell be annoying us, this time. A buzz filled the room, followed by the door on the left sliding open and a man in officers uniform entering. He was taken a bit aback as he glanced around the room, realizing that he may have stumbled into a more important meeting than he had intended to. His dumb stare was quickly pounced upon by an irritated Cain.
What? he asked coldly. The officer stuttered.
Uh Emperor, there are two Swordmasters here to see you. Cain shook his head bitterly, rising from his seat.
Great. Duncan McKlane is still alive and now Cyrius wants to play games. All I needed was problems from both of my favorite people, today. He glared coldly at Yral. Well continue this conversation later, he said. Yral averted his eyes, gulping slightly. Cain turned back to the officer. Lets go, he said. The officer nodded curtly, heading out of the room, leading Cain to the audience chamber.
The medieval décor of the imperial palace was originally designed to intimidate visitors. The halogen-torch lined stone walls and gothic stained glass windows employed throughout the complex invoked a sense of intensity among those not accustomed to it. Swordmasters, however, were not so weak minded as to be bothered by such superficialities.
The audience chamber itself was a good sized affair that was one of the prefaces to the enormous throne room where Cain normally conducted the Dominions day to day business. It was also an intimidating one after all, where best to frighten potential pests than where the Emperor would otherwise deal with them?
When Cain strode into the audience chamber, he was met with the unimpressed stares of two elves, both about six foot two, and garbed in similar white and blue robes. They wore white capes tossed over their left shoulders and bound in place by fine golden chains. The four foot long signature broadswords hung from their backs along with the smaller second blades. The holsters for two longish knives with decorative ivory handles were tucked in their belts.
Their eyes were narrow and cold, their noses thin and long. The facial expressions they wore were so similar that at first glance, one wouldnt be able to tell them apart if not for their hair. The elf on the left had shorter brown hair, combed up and back into thin spikes. His partners hair was long and black, tied into a series of braids that reached his waist.
A man on the far side of the chamber announced Cains entrance. The Great Emperor Cain of the Sol Dominion! he said. The other men in the room stood at attention and saluted. Neither Swordmaster moved from their stiff stance. The same man introduced the two Swordmasters.
Emperor, presenting Eltharion Denair and Imbrandir de Saryia, Swordmasters from the White Tower of the Eldar Confederacy, the officer said.
As you were, Cain said, waving the others out of attention and addressing his attention to the elves. He gazed over them, acknowledging from the simple fact that they showed not fear that they were indeed very well trained. Cyrius Nightblade was certainly an attendant to detail.
We bring a message from the White Tower, Eltharion, the one with the longer hair, said. To be delivered only to Emperor Cain personally.
Speak then, Swordmaster, Cain said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Your demands to withdraw forces from the embassies within seven hundred light-years of Nova do not sit well with our leaders, Eltharion said. His glance did not waver and his body barely moved. We feel you are overstepping your bounds.
Military presence from a foreign power in civilian embassies beyond the minimum amount permitted to protect diplomats is an infringement upon the Dominion Law, gentlemen, Cain said. Does Cyrius expect me to simply stand idly by while you build your forces within my domain?
Were aware of the limitations of the law in the Dominion, Imbrandir said. We come to remind you of the extended freedoms granted to our political embodiment by the Equanimity Act 4756, as well as the protection therein entailed. The Tower is well aware of the rights of the Confederacy.
How can your leaders object with me protecting my own interests within my borders? Cain questioned. Imbrandir continued without faltering.
Were not here to debate the issue of intent. The Tower requests that you withdraw your order for the Confederacy to remove the requested number of Swordmasters from the given embassies.
Is the Tower threatening me, gentlemen? Cain asked crossly. Because thats what it sounds like. Eltharion was quick to respond, actually cracking the hint of a smile
To use the words of our master, youd do well to cite more than just suspicion before breaking intergalactic law, he said. Your implications that we my have ulterior motives are neither substantiated, nor are they an excuse for breaking the laws jointly set forth by our political legislations. Cain was clearly not amused.
Have you anything else to say? he asked.
Our message has been delivered, Imbrandir said. If it pleases the Emperor, we will take our leave.
Tell Cyrius his request will be properly considered, Cain scoffed, spinning around and storming out of the room. One man from the side moved behind Imbrandir to indicate with a touch to the shoulder that it was time for them to leave, though the elf would have none of it.
Dont, he said with a stone-cutting glare. An Emissary of the White Tower is perfectly capable of finding his own way out. The soldier tentatively withdrew his hand.
By your way, then, he said, waving them forward. Both Swordmasters gave the man a curt nod before moving towards the door they had entered.
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