One

 

Sleep escaped quickly. While Chase had never been a very heavy sleeper, lately he’d been practically sleeping on top of the sheets. A creak from the stairs was all it took tonight. His eyes snapped open. In a moment he had a sharp dagger in his hand. He shifted his gaze to the door and made sure he was completely clear of any covers or other hindrances.

Another creak, this one a bit more muffled and higher pitched than the first. Whomever it was had made it halfway up the stairs. Chase quietly stuffed two pillows underneath the heavy covers and moved off the bed. He moved slowly, silently across the room and situated himself behind the door. Reaching behind the chest of drawers next to the door he procured another blade. The weapon was thicker and shorter than the one he wielded already. Feeling more confident with a blade in each hand he steeled himself for the inevitable encounter.

As the intruder reached the upstairs landing another loose board let out a groan. Chase briefly wondered who it was that was approaching. Surely it wasn’t an assassin or even a well-trained thief. Had Chase been the one trying to gain access, he’d had made a significantly less noise than whomever was approaching. Chase could hear him moving in the hallway, he was definitely bigger than Chase. From the groaning of the floorboards, Chase deduced that he was probably quite a bit larger. He was traveling away from Chase’s room, toward his upstairs armory and spare room.

Chase considered his situation. He’d been awake fully a minute now, was armed and standing in ambush position. He could probably move out into the hall now and perhaps sneak up on the intruder, or even escape out his side window and into the cold. But he wasn’t fond of the cold, nor was he fond of the fact that there was an uninvited guest roaming around his house. And from the sound of it, the intruder had realized he had turned in the wrong direction at the top of the stairs and was headed back this way.

Hearing the creeping footsteps approach, Chase gathered himself. The footfalls got slightly louder with each step and then stopped before the door to the master suite, behind which Chase waited to pounce.

Without any attempt at stealth the door latch was raised and the door pushed inward. A large figure entered and turned toward the bed. Chase could make out a long blade in his left hand. Any thought that the intruder was anything other than someone up to something nefarious slipped into the frigid night.

The intruder raised his long blade slightly and took a step toward the bed. Chase was a heartbeat away from moving in from behind him. He planned a quick and deadly strike, across the throat and through the back and into heart. But before he could make the assault the intruder bellowed a loud high-pitched screech that would have woken up a corpse had it been asleep in Chase’s bed that night. The yell lasted a few scant seconds then the figure took an additional step toward the bed.

Chase didn’t wait any longer. Two quick, silent steps and he was on the figure. His dagger was leveled even with the ribcage to slip through to the vital parts while his stiletto was at that moment cutting through the chill air to cut the intruder’s throat. The man was large, but not so large that Chase couldn’t get his blade to his throat.

As the stiletto swung around to make the deadly slice the man began to move away from Chase and toward the bed. Chase tried to move with him but couldn’t compensate in time and the stiletto slammed into the side of the neck rather than slicing across the front of it. Instead of cutting into the neck, however, it glanced off something metal and traveled up into the chin. Only an instant passed and Chase had the dagger angling into the man’s back, but the man was fast. As soon as he heard the slight movement behind him he had begun to turn. When the blade struck his neck and chin he snapped around, catching Chase in the middle of his second attack.

The intruder spun the rest of the way around, flailing out with his sword arm and catching Chase in the shoulder and flinging him toward the wall. Chase hit the ground and slid into the wall. As he hit the wall he was already regaining his feet. The man stepped back and seemed to pose himself for a moment and then let out another screech.

Chase tried to get a good look at him as he situated himself. He was large and appeared to be wearing some kind of exotic armor. His whole face was covered in a strange, angular mask.

The second yell ended and the man quickly moved in for the kill. He came in a high line, which Chase ducked under and moved forward swiping at man’s left leg. As Chase moved and lashed out he heard the longer blade of his opponent slam into the wall where his head had just been.

Apparently the intruder wasn’t wearing any leggings or lower armor because he let out a bit of a grunt as Chase sliced into his thigh. Chase kept moving away from him toward the corner of his room as the man turned to face him once again.

From behind the weird mask we was wearing and screeches he made, Chase deduced that he wasn’t from around here, probably from the deep south.

The bedroom was not overly large, but large enough for the man to wield his blade comfortably. He moved in toward Chase again, this time attacking on a lower line, closer to chest level. He moved like a well-trained swordsman, very quick and smooth, but Chase noticed that he had a slight limp as he moved.

That was all he noticed as the long blade sliced toward him, glinting off the pale moonlight through the window. Chase feigned a move to the left and then moved quickly to the right, but the swordsman was able to contain him near the corner of the room. His blade moved with deadly precision and it was all Chase could do to feign, move and deflect the blade as it sought to slice into him.

It was at this point that Chase got a strange, familiar feeling in the pit of his stomach, like he had eaten bad fish. He’d gotten it several times in the past and it never seemed to surface during a particularly enjoyable event. Generally, it only occurred when Chase found himself in a rather uncomfortable situation. That was the feeling he had now. He realized he was toe to toe with a skilled swordsman who must have been hired to kill him, or at least was miffed enough at him to try to kill him. He also knew that the swordsman had skill with the blade and was wearing some kind of armor. Speed, however, still seemed to be on Chase’s side.

Further speculation would have to wait as the swordsman began a vicious series of assaults smashing through walls, windows and furniture. A quick feign and dash was all that saved Chase from losing an arm or worse. The long blade sliced through the air just above him and Chase dodged toward the wall but quickly switched directions and moved low, back toward the bed. He lashed out with the stiletto and felt it snick through the underlying mail rings.

Chain mail, Chase thought as he rolled toward the bed. Unfortunately the stiletto got lodged in the armor and as the swordsman twisted away he wrenched the thin blade from Chase’s hand.

Swearing, Chase quickly decided to move all the way across the room and practically flew across his bed. He dropped to the other side and spun around.

The swordsman pulled the stiletto from his armor and let out another screech. Chase realized then that he was saying something, but in a language unknown to him.

Two steps back and Chase was just in front of his wardrobe. The swordsman was finishing up his latest diatribe and preparing to move in again.

Only the fact that Chase was on home ground had saved him so far. He had tagged the swordsman at least three times, but the figure showed only a slight limp and he was moving in again.

Chase sidled closer to the wall, side stepping a stool he kept near the large wardrobe. As the swordsman cleared the bed and began to close Chase kicked the stool toward him and it glanced off his injured leg. At the same time Chase flipped his dagger from his left and to his right. While he could easily manage the blade in either hand, his right had always been a bit stronger than his left.

Following in behind the stool, Chase knew the endgame was probably at hand. The swordsman sliced at him, but Chase angled low, toward his sword arm and the blade flashed past him. Wasting no time, Chase continued low and slashed where he knew the man had no armor. He felt the dagger dig in deep on the inner part of the swordsman right thigh. The dagger hit high on the leg, near the groin, digging in deep, through cloth and flesh and near to the bone.

The swordsman gasped but Chase didn’t wait spinning and moving away from the foreigner. He moved quickly to the door, partly slipping half way there on some liquid. He couldn’t tell in the dimly lit room, but figured it was probably blood. As he made it to the door he stopped and glanced over at the swordsman. He had tried to turn and follow, but his wounded leg must have collapsed underneath him and he was down on one knee.

Chase didn’t wait to see if he could get up again, he ran through the door and down the hall to his upstairs armory. He moved quickly through the door, around the work table, and to the cabinet behind it. In an instant he had a short sword around his waist and his Wilkenshod, Wolf Killer, in his hands. He debated putting on some armor, but decided against it.

He always kept the lantern in the room burning low. Now, he turned up the lantern to its fullest and the light chased away the darkness and lit up the hall beyond the room.

Chase took another moment to consider the situation before he moved back to the bedroom. A swordsman had gained access to his house, attempted to kill him, and was probably dead on the floor of his bedroom right now. A large, foreign, skilled, swordsman, Chase corrected himself.

Nodding to himself, Chase moved down the hall. ‘First things first’, he thought. He glanced at the lantern and considered bringing it, but the Wilkenshod took all of both hands. The crossbow was over sized by anyone’s standard and Chase knew he had to have one the first time he saw the massive weapon.

‘How many years ago was that?’ Chase wondered as he got to the door of his bedroom.

He stopped and peered inside. He could hear something, it sounded like someone muttering or praying. He couldn’t see very much because the bright lantern in the work room had ruined his low light vision. Not wanting to take the time to close his eyes to try to re-adjust to the darkness Chase moved back into the bedroom. He saw the swordsman almost immediately. He hadn’t moved since he had fallen to one knee.

Chase drew a bead on him and moved around the bed to get a better angle on his chest. His eyes were adjusting to the darkness and he could see the swordsman had his head down. He was muttering and his sword was pointed down into the floor, his arm slumped down barely holding the blade upright.

Raising the heavy crossbow Chase prepared to fire when the swordsman looked up. Chase finally got a pretty good look at him. He was larger than Chase thought and he marveled that he had survived the encounter.

As Chase leveled the crossbow at his chest the swordsman tried to speak, blood-speckled foreign words flew at Chase through the icy air but he couldn’t make anything of it.

“I’m not really in the mood for a conversation,” Chase said and dropped his finger to the trigger.

The swordsman let out what must have been a curse and thrust his sword hilt first toward Chase. Fingering the trigger, Chase paused. He had heard something of the honor of the blades men of the south. It was pretty clear now that this was where this one was from. Death rites, Blade rituals, Chase barely knew anything about them.

He studied the man one more time, trying to make out the eyes hidden behind the odd mask. ‘What’s more,’ he thought. ‘I don’t really give a shit about their rituals.’

The swordsman emphatically thrust the blade toward Chase again and sprayed some other words at him. With his other hand he reached behind his head and pulled his mask off. The angular features of the mask were reflected in the face that emerged from underneath. He was completely bald except or a knot of hair near the top. He dropped the mask and gestured toward Chase again with the sword.

Chase took a step toward him, leveled the massive crossbow again, and shot him in the chest. The huge bolt slammed into him and drove him back and down into the floor. He slid a few inches across the pool of blood that had formed underneath him. The sword fell and clattered next to him.

Amazingly, he had enough left in him to mutter something else. Chase couldn’t make it out, probably wouldn’t have understood it if he had heard it, and was relieved when the man finally slumped back and decided to die.

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