Broken Blade: chapter 4

(… continuing from chapter 3.)

Broken Bladechapter 4 

“I’m still not taking off my clothes,” Blade said. It was odd, to be allowed a decision of her own.

“We could make a selling point out of that,” the big man commented, after a moment’s pause. She couldn’t tell if he was amused, impressed, or just not wanting to waste time.

Then he turned and shoulder-charged her, grabbing her shift, and throwing her forward with the inertia of his movement—sending her sprawling across the arena floor, her rear skidding painfully on the smooth sand.

Sword, of course, just stayed on his feet, looking down at her. She squinted back, surprised how bright the sky was.

“Lesson one,” he said, offering her a hand up, and an appraising look that might have concealed a grin. “Out here, everything’s an attack. Never drop your guard, always look to exploit the enemy’s weakness. But you took the fall very well.”

“Thanks,” she said, with what was meant to be a shrug, but came out inexplicably as a smile.

Sword laughed, and the sound surprised her. “You’re different. That could work in your favour.” His eyes flickered, appraising her. “It also means there might be a mismatch between our fighting styles.”

“Are you saying you might have some difficulty training me, Sword?” She grinned, partially because she’d just experimented with calling him by his name.

“I like challenges. Now, square off, and we’ll go through a few hand-to-hand drills. Then I’ll work out where you fit in the weapons scheme.” He paused, shifting into a fighting stance, to anticipate any surprise attack. “Where did you learn your unarmed combat?”

She met him with a steady gaze, eyes dark, impassive. “Not in the Corps of Janissaries, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“SHACOM girl scout camp, then,” he grinned, feinting with his left hand. It wasn’t any sort of question.

Is he left-handed? she wondered, stepping back but keeping her left foot firm, elbow raised.

“You’d have admitted pretty much anything else,” he noted, stepping right—not the direction she expected. “So is it true that you’re completely beaten now?”

For a moment, Blade just looked at him.

Her answer was a low, spin-kick attack, designed to make him spring to dodge, followed by a push-up jump attack from her crouched left foot.

(… and a link for chapter 5 will go here when it’s online!)

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Broken Blade: chapter 3

(… continuing from chapter 2.)

Broken Blade: chapter 3

Sword could hear the roar of the crowd as he strode forward, down the dark tunnel that led into the light. He could hear the cheer change pitch as he walked out into the vast white space of the arena.

It took a couple of seconds for his eyes to accept that the encircling grandstands were empty—just like it always did; the echo of the crowd roar always seemed to linger. Perhaps it was because he had always kept his eyes low when he was a fighter- focused on the expanse of white sand ahead of him, and whatever dangers it contained; never straying above the false horizon of the arena’s far edge. He needed the sound to fill the emptiness, the dusty expanse stretching so far that the eye could hardly grasp that it was circular.

It was here that Sword had become the Galaxy’s greatest gladiator, and now, it was here that he was expected to turn Broken Blade into a weapon—her owner’s latest challenger for the championship.

“Stand there,” he ordered her, when they’d gone about a minute out into the empty space. She stopped, and glanced at him. “No, just stand natural, like you’re about to get into an alley fight.”

He frowned professionally at the girl as she shifted her weight, then circled round her, studying her poise and the way her her weight translated into force, gauging the muscle definition under her skin, and the shape she was likely to move in.

“You should take off the shift,” he said, his tone flat and professional. In response, she folded her arms below her chest, and looked at him, her expression tightening slightly.

“I’d rather not,” she shrugged.

“You can’t have any sentiment, in this line of work,” he told her, and he meant it. “Your body is a weapon. Nothing more.”

“Don’t tell me you’re not proud of your own body,” she countered, with a small, hostile smirk as she ran her gaze across his bare chest.

“I’m satisfied with what I am,” he answered, with a muscular shrug. “But I’m an unsentimental kind of guy.” He moved towards her, slowing to a fighter’s pace. “My body looks the way it does because it’s the best killing machine my training masters ever produced. It’s functional.”

“In the arena, or the bedroom?” the girl challenged. “You want me to fight for His Lordship, fine. But don’t expect me to pose for the audience of a trillion drooling teenage boys in Future Corps armbands. I know what arena sport is like.”

The corner of Sword’s mouth lifted in what might have been amusement, as he rested one big hand on her shoulder—a gesture that reminded him of how to snap people’s necks with his bare strength. He looked down towards her eyes, not caring if she looked back or not. “Like it or not, they’ll drool at the way you move anyway. There’s not much about the way Stiletto wears her armour that’s especially sexy… there’s just something about a girl who handles a weapon like a ballet dancer.”

“Stiletto?” Broken Blade’s eyebrow lifted, her tone showing the professional interest of a fighter before a fight. That was good.

“Stiletto is the Lady Empress’s reigning champion,” Sword answered. “The woman you’re being trained to kill.”

“I’m still not taking off my clothes,” she answered, looking calmly back at him.

(… continued in chapter 4!)

Broken Blade: chapter 2

(continuing the novella that begins here…)

Broken Bladechapter 2

“Broken Blade, huh? Put your right foot up on the plate.”

Blade obeyed, but didn’t answer the implied question. She rubbed her wrists, exploring the texture of skin that hadn’t seen the light for several days, and watched as the big man took his hammer and chisel to her ankle chains.

“Do you have a name?” she asked, feeling faintly interested. Big man seemed about right. He wasn’t as big as Mount had been, but he was tall enough, and heavily muscled, with a way of moving that seemed effortlessly powerful.

“Sword,” he answered, his big hands prising open the binder around her shin. She wasn’t quite sure if it was a name. “Left foot.”

A few sharp chimes of metal on metal, and the final manacle was off. She smiled, flexing her toes, and then turned the smile on him. “Thanks.”

He shrugged, hiding his reaction in his eyes, then laying down his tools, and standing up full height, looking at her. “It’s work.”

She looked up at him. “Blacksmith work, or train-her-as-a-gladiator work?”

“Either.” He wiped his hands on a rag, then pulled off his heavy leather apron. “You fought before?”

She lifted an eyebrow at the strength and definition of his bare chest. “Not in the ring,” she shrugged. “I had hand-to-hand training, though.”

He studied her, like a fighter wondering if she was the weapon he wanted to use today. “Edged weapons?”

“A little.” She didn’t want to say much more, but she appreciated the professional, almost indifferent way he looked at her. We can get on, she decided.

“How did you get your name?” He turned away, busying himself with something in the forge. The muscles of his back rippled, and she saw the old scars.

“It was just Blade, once,” she answered, rubbing her wrists again, resisting the urge to follow him into his den. “Then I got broken. I’ve been the Lord Executor’s valetta for the past two years.”

A brief pause.

“So you can still fight,” he said, turning round and looking at her, eyes assessing her form. “Broken Blade. A street weapon, improvised, but short enough to hide, and good for stabbing people in the guts.”

She grinned at that, surprising herself. “You could say that.”

“Okay.” He moved across the room, confident and poised. This time, she followed. “Let’s get you out on the sand, and find out what we’ve got to work with.”

(… continued in chapter 3!)

Broken Blade: chapter 1

(Okay. This is something slightly experimental. The start of a story that I’d hoped would turn into a cheap-and-cheerful novel in the sword-and-spaceship genre, but which no amount of editorial bullying by the author could get past 20,000 words. It’s complete, so rather than letting it go to waste, I’ve decided to serialize it on the blog. Unlike most of what I write, it has no pretensions to being anything more than a straightforward swashbuckler, but you’ll have a better idea than me if it succeeds!)

Broken Blade: chapter 1

The blade was broken, and the man called Sword was focused on fixing it, heating the steel until it glowed white in the furnace, then beating it across the shoulder of the anvil. Heating and beating. Heating, then beating. He moved with a steady rhythm, handling the cumbersome tools of his trade without any strain. Even so, in the fierce heat of the forge, he kept his arms and torso bare beyond his leather apron and long gauntlets, and sweat ran freely over the hard contours of his broad, scarred back.

He ignored the sound of the forge door opening, and ignored the two sets of footfalls behind him—one human, one machine.

“Got a project for you,” said the machine, in a tinny, toneless voice.

Sword ignored that too; he blocked it out until he’d finished with the sword, thrusting it deep into a barrel of water. Steam leapt up as the blade plunged in, and when it cleared, the metal had hardened to a steely blue, glinting under the surface of the liquid.

“I said, got a project for you,” the machine repeated.

Sword took a long draught of water from his tankard, then turned—and found himself faced with the familiar shape of Probus… and a girl in a ragged sackcloth shift. She was slim, and small, but there was good muscle definition in her bare arms, and a hidden strength in the way she stood, weighted on one leg, holding up her cuffed wrists. Her dark hair was unkempt, like it had been cut using an axe, but the tawny colour to her complexion might be a hint of exotic origins, rather than grime or sickness.

“She got a name?” he asked the machine.

“Not that anyone told me. His Lordship seems to think you can make a gladiator out of her.”

Sword groaned silently, and rolled his eyes. “I’m too old for that, Probus.”

“Orders are orders. You humans not learnt that yet?”

Sword stared at the girl. Probus turned and left.

Just the two of them. His Lordship seems to think you can make a gladiator out of her.

“Okay, kid,” he sighed, gesturing to the anvil. “You step up here, and we’ll get those chains off you.”

She obeyed, and for a moment, she was just another project, wrought metal to work to the desired result. He fetched a chisel and hammer, and opened up her wristcuffs on the plate.

She didn’t flinch as the weight and speed and sharpness of his work cut so close to her wrists. Sword was impressed.

“You got a name?” he tried again.

She looked up at him, and her eyes, which he’d taken for some dark colour, flashed green. Her lips were parched and cracked, but the voice that came out was level, controlled, and capable. “They call me Broken Blade.”

(… continued in chapter 2!)