10: Me Against The Swordmaster

The Swordmaster is a young good-looking man. His aura—he reminds me of somebody I once knew.

The Swordmaster raises his sword towards me. “It’s time I put an end to all the miseries you’ve caused in this City, Masked Assassin.”

Wow… what news has his government been feeding him? I certainly have no idea that all the miseries in the City is caused by me masquerading as an Assassin.

We get into a sword fight. But none can get the best of each other. I know he is holding himself back for fear of me releasing the Masked Assassin’s power. Without Ryo around, I can no longer intimidate my enemy and let Ryo take them down.

The Swordmaster says, “So they say that the Masked Assassin can take down people in a blink of an eye? I think you may not have that power at your disposal currently.”

I have to keep the bluff real. “You’re wrong. Come fight me and I will not hesitate to take you out with my powers.”

The Swordmaster is attempting to lie-detect me. “Because if you have, you would have already taken me out. I think you realize you’re at a disadvantage now because you know you cannot defeat me.”

Wait, I should have seen that coming. I never expect him to make such a fast counter-attack on me. He swings his sword so hard and knocks me down to the ground. While I try to get off the ground, he pulls off my mask.

The Swordmaster looks me in disbelief. “Interesting. How did a pretty face like you get to become an Assassin and kill so many of our Swordmasters?” He searches me and takes the Portal Stone from my pouch.

No! I need to get the Portal Stone back. Without it, we cannot return to New Haven. “You’ve got the wrong person. I didn’t kill any of your people.”

The Swordmaster immediately ties my hands and feet with his rope. “Oh really? A scout team stumbled upon some Marked Ones in the forest. Apparently, you attacked them and freed the Marked Ones. When the scout team pursued you, you killed most of them.”

I say, “I’d already warned them not to follow us. Your Swordmaster scouts encountered the undead and couldn’t handle them.”

The Swordmaster says, “When my squad was investigating the first floor of this mansion, I saw you killing a Marked One so that you could raise her up as a ghoul.”

I say, “Wrong. Adelene was already dying from her wound. If I didn’t give her a proper end, she would indeed come back as a ghoul.”

The Swordmaster says, “You turned the backyard of this mansion into an execution ground, killing the Marked Ones and raising them up as ghouls.”

I say, “Our team was defending against the undead attack with fire. Unfortunately, the Wraith arrived and killed many of the refugees.”

The Swordmaster says, “Ah, you’re blaming it on what now? The Wraith? But you killed two of our squads in cold blood.”

I say, “The Wraith killed your squads. I did not do anything.”

The Swordmaster says, “So now you’re telling me the Masked Assassin who has been killing our Swordmasters is actually a Wraith. How convenient of you to push all the blame to the undead. I don’t believe there is a Wraith in this mansion because I’ve not encountered one with my own eyes yet.”

I say, “Believe me, there is a Wraith roaming this mansion. We’re both stuck here with no way out of the room. The Wraith is going to find my refugees and your squad members. When it does, nobody is going to make it out alive.”

The Swordmaster begins to search the room for an exit. He knocks on the door and fails to force it open. “My squad is trapped in the armory waiting for me to return and lead them out of this mansion. Tell me, how do we get out of this room?”

I say, “You’ll never make it out alive. The Wraith and the ghouls are still out there.”

The Swordmaster laughs sarcastically. “Aren’t you the one who commands the undead? You can just ask them to back off.”

I say, “I don’t command them. They are a part of the Undead Patrol sent to roam the wilderness to hunt for any escaping Marked Ones. During our rescue mission, they activated a dead portal and entered this City.”

The Swordmaster says, “So I assume you were just going to leave it to the Swordmasters to clean up the mess you brought to our City. That’s why the City needs protecting from people like you. You claimed that New Haven is helping this City, but you are actually causing more harm.”

I say, “You Swordmasters help the people they have sworn to protect? If then, why do you shut your eyes when it comes to the Marked refugees? Why do you capture and imprison them when you were supposed to provide them aid?”

The Swordmaster says, “Have you forgotten about what happened during the Black Night Incident five years ago? The Swordmasters capture them so that they can be protected from being exploited as pawns of war. If these Marked Ones die, they would return as ghouls and start killing people around them. It is a necessity done out of the sake of security. Who’s to say that Hezekiah is not manipulating from behind the scene to turn the Marked Ones you rescued into his undead army of ghouls?”

I say, “You’re wrong, sir. We give the Marked Ones a new chance to start over. Under the Hezekiah’s rule in the Outside World, they can be killed anytime to be added into the Undead army. Under our care, we help them to create their own society. The world may judge and condemn them for receiving the Mark. But in our district, New Haven, they get to become farmers, traders, soldiers, teachers, or whatever they want to do for a living. Most of all, they get to be with family and friends who look out for each other. Speaking about your prison, who’s to say that Hezekiah can’t manipulate from behind the scene and turn your Marked prisoners into an army of ghouls as well?”

The Swordmaster says, “Since you are so passionate about your cause to help the refugees, let me ask you an honest question. You serve under a leader called Shadowman in New Haven. How certain are you that Shadowman is not intending to raise an army of Marked Ones to attack this City? Your cause is endangering the safety of the citizens.”

I say, “Shadowman’s master plan is to gather enough military strength to rejoin the war against Hezekiah. Sir, what about you? You claim that you’re doing your duty to protect humanity. Throwing helpless war refugees into prison, is that part of your duty?”

The Swordmaster says, “Not all refugees, but only the Marked Ones. Speaking of the Marked Ones, where did you hide all of them? We only managed to find a little girl called Nisa left behind in a closet on the second floor.”

Even in my constrained position, I’m tuning my Empath power to sense the Swordmaster’s heart. The more I get him to talk, the more I can find out about the sort of person he is. Somehow, I sense that he’s not merciless like many other Swordmasters I had met. He puts up a very strong facade as a firm law enforcer who has no choice but to carry out the laws of his government. I sense he’s a man in a dilemma. He wants to do good for his City but his hands are tied. I just need to find an angle to the key of his heart. I need to keep him talking.

I say, “What are you going to do with Nisa at the end of your mission?”

The Swordmaster says, “We need to hand her over to the prison where she will be safe with the rest of the Marked Ones.”

I say, “She’s only ten years old. Yet you’re condemning her to a life imprisonment because of the cursed Mark she carries on her forehead. Imagine that if she’s your daughter, she’s going to have the rest of her life taken away just like that. Would you be able to sleep peacefully at night knowing that you’ve just robbed a little girl of her future?”

The Swordmaster says, “I know what you are getting at. But I don’t disagree with you. If I had a daughter like Nisa, I would have wanted a life of freedom for her. Unfortunately, the system of our City is not flawless. I wish we could do something about this, but it’s beyond my control.”

I say, “The war against Hezekiah’s Undead has brought the last of humanity to the brink of total destruction. Somehow it’s like destiny wants us to find this place to become our second home. This City is given to us so that we could build our strength and push the army of darkness back.

“Instead, your government, you Swordmasters attack your own in order to solidify your power and control over the people. The Paladins, the knights of Light—they have sworn to protect the people and win the war against Hezekiah. Yet your government drove them out entirely from the City and blamed the Black Night Incident on them.

“The Marked Ones, they seek refuge and protection from the tyranny of Hezekiah’s rule, yet your government throws them into life imprisonment. New Haven is working hard to gather enough military strength so that we could rejoin the war effort against Hezekiah. However, your government creates massive propaganda to demonize our cause and blames everything that went wrong in the City on us. New Haven’s last resort is to get into a war with your government and the Swordmasters. But to win this fight, we need good-intentioned people within the government to stand up for the right thing. To fight for two things: To protect the Marked refugees, and to build our military strength to fight Hezekiah’s Undead.”

The Swordmaster seems hesitant to broach this topic. “Do you know what happened to those who stood up against the government’s stance on this matter? They were silenced. They were put on the execution ground as a public example. Our City is ruled by an iron fist that doesn’t hesitate to eliminate anybody who doesn’t agree with their rule. My former squad leader, Itoshi, thought he stood up for the right thing. But look where it got him? He was executed.”

Wait, when I felt that this Swordmaster reminded me of someone I used to know, yes, it reminded me of Itoshi. They have the same charisma within them. “I know Itoshi. He was a good man who stood up for the right thing. During a rescue mission, I stumbled upon Itoshi. Most Swordmasters would not hesitate to attack us and capture the refugees. But Itoshi was unlike any typical Swordmaster. He could have fought us, but he didn’t.

“He looked me straight into the eyes and asked me a very strange question: ‘I want to know, why are you laying down your lives for people who can’t even help you back?’

“I told him, ‘It’s hard to explain everything in a few lines. But I can show you why.’ I brought Itoshi to New Haven and showed him the community we have built for the Marked Ones. So Itoshi was sold to our cause and helped us whenever he could. Until one day, he said, he needed to go public about what he believed in so that many more others could join this cause. Not long later, we heard that Itoshi died during one of his missions. Your government created rumors that Itoshi was killed by the Marked Ones, therefore effectively pinning the blame on New Haven. But it wasn’t our doing.”

The Swordmaster seems rather disturbed by my statement. “I know. The government had silenced him, executed him secretly, because he was already winning some people within the government over to New Haven’s stance.”

I say, “Our City has all the potential to win the war against Hezekiah. We have the military strength and resources. However, as long as the in-fighting continues between your government and New Haven, we will never be able to win against Hezekiah. New Haven is raising an army of Marked Ones to boost their military. However, possessing an army of Marked Ones makes our military strength lop-sided. It is like a silent explosive waiting to go off. If they die and return as ghouls unchecked, the tide could turn against us.

“On the other hand, the Swordmasters have sufficient military strength to fight Hezekiah’s Undead army. But they serve the whims of the city government who is more concerned about solidifying their iron fist rule in this City. If we can get the Swordmasters to join our cause, we would be unstoppable in the war against Hezekiah. I was the one that encouraged Itoshi to convince his fellow comrades to help change the government’s stance on the war. But sometimes I feel guilty that I could be the one that doomed him.”

The Swordmaster says, “You did not doom him. What Itoshi stood up for was a very brave thing. I had served under his squad for a year. His view on teaming up with New Haven to fight Hezekiah was indeed enlightening, injecting a higher purpose into my tenure as a Swordmaster. I do admire his bravery. But I don’t think I’m courageous enough to do what he did.”

I say, “You know Hezekiah doesn’t give a care about our City. He knows two things. First, our City will never pose a threat to his army because of the government’s stance to abstain from the war. Second, Hezekiah knows our City’s military strength is the strongest compared to other remaining cities in the Outside World. One day when Hezekiah has fully conquered all cities in the Outside World, he will finally turn his eyes on us and take our City as the last. The only way we can win this war against Hezekiah is if you create the change among the Swordmasters until they decide to rejoin the war. The change for the Swordmasters has to come from within. You are already in the right position to do so. I believe you have the courage to do the right thing even when the odds seem impossible. Work with us so that together we can change our world for the better.”

The Swordmaster lets out a big sigh. “You overestimate my influence. The Swordmasters pride themselves on success and achievements. That’s how we can climb the Swordmasters ranks and increase our influence among our peers. I’m just a newly appointed squad leader. I don’t have any achievements under my belt. I’m still a nobody. But even if I rise through the ranks and start influencing others about this view, the government will eventually find a way to cut my voice off like they have always done, and it always ends with execution. I’m not the hero you’re looking for.”

I say, “Fine. You may not think of yourself as the hero for this City. But your squad members are waiting for you to return. We need to find a way to get out from this room and get back to our people. This Strategy Room was once used by the Paladins before they were driven out of this City five years ago. I’m sure if they could gather in this room in the past, they must have a way out. Do you see the carving on the wall?”

-o --ve -s t- --rve

The Swordmaster says, “If this is a Paladin’s Strategy Room, and I’m the one designing the passcode to exit this room, I would design it as something only the Paladins would know.”

I say, “Is there anything that you know about the Paladins?”

The Swordmaster says, “My mother was a Paladin. My father was formerly a Swordmaster. In the strangest ways, both met and fell in love. As a Paladin, my mother’s first duty was always to look out after the welfare of others. When Hezekiah’s Undead army attacked our former city, my father was the one who brought me to escape to this City. But my mother couldn’t join us because she had her battle to fight. My father was devastated because he felt that the duty of a Paladin had separated us as a family. I tried to understand why my mother would do that. She answered me: To live is to serve. She said it is something that only Paladins would understand. She said, perhaps one day I would understand it as well, and it would help me find a way out of whatever life crossroad I’m stuck in.

I repeat after the Swordmaster, “To live is to serve.”

The Swordmaster stops to ponder about the statement and snaps his finger. “To live is to serve—that’s the Paladin’s code of honor.”

I believe I’ve seen the connections. I point out to the carvings on the wall. “Fill in the blanks. You have just found our passcode.”

The Swordmaster puts his hand on the door. “To live is to serve.”

It works. The door swings open.

The Swordmaster says, “I’m going out there to save my squad. And then I’m going to come back and take you with us back to our Swordmaster’s Headquarters.”

I say, “You can’t leave me tied up here. The ghouls are roaming outside this room and if they find me, I can’t even run away.”

The Swordmaster says, “I’ll return for you once this is done.”

I say, “Look, you need to get back to your people, I need to get back to mine. After all the time we’ve spent trapped in this room, you still think that we’re not on the same side?”

The Swordmaster says, “I won’t take the chances that while I’m busy attacking the undead, you would attack me from behind.”

I say, “I promise I’m not going to attack you.”

The Swordmaster takes out the Portal Stone and firmly holds it in front of my face. “I know what this blue stone does. At a specific time, the portal to New Haven will open. How much more time do you have? In which part of this mansion will it open?”

I say, “I can’t divulge that information. You’re going to use it against my people.”

The Swordmaster keeps the Portal Stone back into his pouch. “And yet you think that we are on the same side. Then wait for me here till I come back.” The Swordmaster runs out from the room in a hurry.

I shout, “No! Don’t leave me here! Please come back here! I can help you to get back to your squad.”

After all the talk I’d done with the Swordmaster, I thought I could convince him to our cause. But I failed badly.

Suddenly, the door opens by itself. I know the Swordmaster will come back for my help. “See, I told you that you would need my help to overcome the undead.”

I am wrong! A lone ghoul has found its way into the room. I try to move as much as I can. But my movement is limited. My hands and feet are tied too tightly. I quietly hide behind a table and hope that it won’t find me.

I can feel the ghoul slowly creeping up towards my location. Has it seen me? Has it not? I do not have the courage to look at its position, but I can hear it walking slowly towards me.

The ghoul stands a few steps away from the table I am hiding behind. Oh, no! I think it has seen me!