Deodara in Nahare

Deodara in Nahare

A Short Story of Immortal Essence

Immortal Essence is the first book in the series. Upcoming: The Spirit of Onyx

Part 1

Her friends had encountered someone who wanted to do them harm. Even though she knew they could take care of themselves, and she did not doubt their strength, she did not dare risk anyone wanting to harm any person dear to her. She had spent all day thinking about what she could do to help her friends that were in trouble. 

Who does he think he is? The thought echoed in the walls of her mind in the middle of the night. 

Deodara flipped the bedspread off her and flung her legs to the side, her toes searching for bedroom slippers. She jerked at once and started walking around her bedroom, moving things around, tossing some on top of her bed. She felt annoyed, but energetic.  

Just because he is the High Master of that hoity-toity Academy and the Ruler of Karoush does not mean he can treat people that way. Deodara proceeded to move things around under her bed, looking for something.   

That wretched, lowlife, scumbag. Deodara pulled out a satchel from under her bed and flung it, ramming it on top of the mattress. She rested her left arm on the bed after letting go of the satchel and placed her chin on her arm. Her light-brown eyes, which looked grayish in the darkness of her bedroom, stared at nothing while her mind was searching deep inside her thoughts. At the same time, her more prudent side tried to reconsider what she was about to do, but before she could reason herself out of her initial decision, she bolted for the door, down the stairs and into the kitchen.   

There was a basket where her parents tossed the old, local, national, and international newspapers. Salix, her dad, liked to be well informed and was subscribed to many issues, to Deodara’s advantage. She reached for a stack from a basket and flipped through them looking for a much older issue. At last, her thumb landed on the Events section of an international issue from a few months prior. High Master Zadur’s face was planted on the page with the words “Zadur on Tour” on top.   

“Oh geez,” said Deodara out loud after eying the cheesy title.   

She swept her hand over the newspaper and saw the cities he was visiting. The Spring Festival happened while her friends were visiting the city of Orond in the country of Karoush, and the tour had moved on since then. She scrolled down the list and tapped her index finger on an upcoming event, a summer festival in Nahare, the south city at the bay of Karoush. 

Nahare, Karoush is hosting this summer’s Swordsmanship Competition. This year, we have the great pleasure of having our beloved High Master participating at the end of the tournament to name the champion of the season. Furthermore, the champion of the Expert Competition, as well as the Youth Competition, will have the honor to challenge the High Master, showing his or her skills in a short, one-on-one duel.  

Deodara found what she was looking for: where to find him next. Nahare was not too far from home, perhaps a few days’ trip, and sword fighting was a specialty of hers. Her chances of confronting him seemed higher now that she had a more reasonable purpose to approach him, instead of trying to sneak up on him past his guards and the elite members of his council. She visualized herself walking up to him, her sword in hand, and intimidating him with her skills. Deodara was filling up with excitement.   

None of her current swords were good enough for this occasion. However, she knew of one sword that would be perfect for this adventure.    

Deodara went into Salix’s study and looked for one of his collections from the old country of Imprais, and in the messiness that was the inspiration for his work, she was able to find it.   

“Zartkyrie,” whispered Deodara to herself, as she held the magnificent sword that had been dug up from the ruins of a once wonderful place, according to her father.   

A sword of Imprais. Just holding it in her hand made her feel powerful. She thought her father had done a great job restoring it. Deodara could see her reflection on the shiny surface, and she liked what she saw—a strong, powerful, warrior woman, with a hard but pretty face. The handle was beautifully crafted—silver threads crossed together like thin, tangled branches of a bush—simple to the eye, and when grasping it, it felt like the handle was made just for her. Deodara’s confidence in sword-fighting was very high, since she had been wielding one since she was four or five years old.   

Deodara put the sword back in its sheath, swung it over her shoulder and ran up to her bedroom. She packed the satchel light with a change of clothes and some essential items, then she ran back down to the kitchen to find nuts and dried fruit for the road; they were easier to carry, in her opinion. She also shuffled through the cabinets to find a container for waterOnce again, she sprinted back up to her bedroom and rearranged her satchel to carry as light as possible; after all, with a heavy sword on her back, she didn’t want to struggle with carrying anything more than was necessary.   

It’s not that heavy, she thought. Sure, not that heavy now, but after hours and days… her second voice retorted, making her mind speed up, playing the contradiction game. Deodara shook her head to get rid of negative thoughts and stood in front of her packed belongings, staring at them for a few seconds in mental silence. Then, she went to her desk to write a note to her parents.   

My parents are going to kill me, she thought. Unless Zadur kills me first. Again, she shook her head, imagining the negative thoughts being expelled out of her ears. 

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Part 2

Growing up inland in her own country, Deodara rarely made time to go to the beaches of Erisland. After a few days of traveling, she arrived in Nahare with the help of a traveling merchant and his wagon. Nahare was located on the border between the north side of Erisland and the south side of Karoush. Being a border town helped her to communicate with locals, and she also noticed the customs were not much different. She approached various townsfolk to ask for recommendations on a nice place to stay, but because of the tournament, every inn she was directed to was full. It wasn’t until two hours after searching, and many blocks covered by her footsteps, that she went on a narrow street and followed some vacancy signs to a tall and narrow building. Outside of what looked like on old wooden and glass door, a sign read, “Vacancy: YES.” 

Deodara finally found a place to drop off her heavy sword and belongings and explore the town. She got lucky to get a room with a view of a busy part of town from the fourth floor of the building. 

“I was saving it for my son,” said the old man running the inn, “but I just got a letter today informing me he is not going to visit.” 

Deodara nodded and thanked him with a weak but grateful smile. She felt bad his son wasn’t coming but was happy to get that room.

The old man left the key to the room on the desk next to the bed and headed back down to the lobby. 

Deodara set her things on top of the bed, brushed her hair through with her fingers, as she walked toward the window to look out, and saw a crowd forming a few feet from the inn. Feeling curious, she grabbed her key and bolted down the stairs to join the outside crowd.

Clusters of people were gathered in a small plaza overlayed with different sizes of dirt-covered slabs in the shapes of hexagons. The sound of clashing and scraping metal caught Deodara’s attention and she pushed through a few people until she could see the people making the sounds. Two swordfighters were battling each other in one of the hexagon shaped areas, and Deodara, who was fascinated, approached the fight. She found an empty seat in one of the open-air stands, just up four steps, and once she sat down, her concentration was completely focused on the duel.

The two fighters were young men whom she thought looked a few years older than her. To Deodara’s impression, their style was a bit choppy, their footwork needed improvement, and their eyes were focusing on the wrong things. 

So, guys like these are the competition, huh? She started feeling more confident by the minute. 

“Oh my—look to your left, you’re wide open!” the boy sitting next to Deodara started screaming at the two who were crossing swords.

“They’re not that good, are they?” Deodara asked her neighbor.

“It’s embarrassing,” the boy said with his eyes still focused on the fight. “The stupid one is my older brother.”

Deodara stared and couldn’t help but chuckle. “I’m sorry, but they’re…” and she pointed to suggest they were both making big mistakes.

“Yeah, I know,” the boy replied. “The dark blond one with the long, straight hair—he’s the stupider one,” he said chuckling. “That’s my brother. He’s participating in the tournament.”

“Are you participating in the tournament?” Deodara asked the boy.

“No,” responded the boy without taking his eyes off the duel. “Not old enough,” he sulked for a second. “But I’ll be there to cheer on my stupid brother, if he makes it.” The boy broke his eyes from the fight and looked at Deodara. “What about you?” 

“Cheer for me, too, will you?” Deodara replied, standing up and leaving the stands. She turned around and gave the boy a wink, then turned around and walked away.

For the next few hours, Deodara decided to walk around and explore more of Nahare. All around town were banners of the tournament, hanging in every corner. In many of the shops, decorations were up, and a few businesses had plastered their windows with a tribute to their leader, High Master Zadur. 

Deodara approached one of the posters that hung on a wall between two shops; it had an image of Zadur, as tall as the first story of the buildings. The image of Zadur was full of presence, whomever worked on the design had captured very good detail because Deodara felt intimidated, more than she would ever want to admit, and it was just a poster. 

The image depicted Zadur in his emerald-green and black surcoat, gold thread stitched to create beautiful patterns. He was wearing his golden armor over his shoulders with a design that made it look like he was wearing golden waves. He held his massive sword gently with the left hand and his right hand resting on top. Heavy rings were depicted on the fingers on his right hand. Deodara leaned in closer to see the detail. The index finger had a silver ring with an emerald stone, the middle finger had a heavier ring with a ruby, and the pinky finger had a smaller ring, still heavy looking, with a sapphire. Beneath his hands was his incredible sword, the tip of the sword touched the ground, and she could see the detail from tip to hilt in the artist’s rendition of Zadur’s sword. It was very much like hers, but less delicate looking, she thought.

His face was hard to read, especially because his reputation made him a lovable celebrity, but this image captured a deadly look—eyes that pierced beyond the image into someone’s personal world, the mind. 

Deodara shook her head. I cannot let myself be psyched by these images, now I know why they have them all over town, she walked away.

The town was like an active beehive, people were buzzing all around, finishing the last touches before the tournament, which was two days away. Deodara was glad to have that day and the next day free so she could go swimming in the bay for exercise, bathe in the sun, and to find a secluded spot to practice with her sword without being seen.

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Part 3

The afternoon of the tournament, Deodara got dressed in a flowing gray jumper and let her long, brown hair down, she liked to alternate between ponytails and letting it loose. She waved at the innkeeper who wished her luck on the way out.

Deodara approached the registration station and put her sword on the countertop. 

“Age?” asked a skinny man behind the counter without looking up at her as he scribbled on a clipboard, his hooked nose was hovering over the clipboard as if he were just about to use it as a pen. 

“Oh, uh, sixteen,” she replied. 

The man looked up with a glazed look, almost like pretending to verify. “Yeah, okay.” He looked down again and handed her another clipboard. “Here. Quick form for entering the Youth section, ages fifteen to twenty, doesn’t ask much, but if you die, we cannot be held responsible. You’re entering this tournament willingly.” 

Deodara’s eyes widened as she took the clipboard and heard the man’s monotonous words that were terrifying, but his tone made it sound so casual. 

He looked up at her again. “You are entering willingly, correct?” he asked raising his volume just a bit, without losing the monotony. 

“Oh. Yes. Sorry,” said Deodara composing herself. The man went back to staring at his clipboard. “You just made it sound like dying happens often,” she said.

The man didn’t respond to her last statement and his focus remained on his clipboard.

Feeling confused and annoyed at the man, Deodara filled out the form in silence. When she was done, she walked over to the counter to hand the form back to the man, but before she could say anything, the man pointed his pen to the purple curtains behind him without looking up at her, suggesting she go back there. Deodara dropped her form on his counter and went behind the purple curtains without saying another word. 

A girl behind the curtain was dispatching the participants to different doors. There was a big sign over the doors that read “Participant Placement.” The girl waved quickly as soon as one of the doors opened, meaning they were ready for the next participant. Deodara walked toward the waving girl who put her hand on Deodara’s back and pushed her in hastily without saying anything. 

The room was full of drapes, tables with rolls and pieces of fabric and cloth, in no particular order. There were also many fake flowers staggered on the tables and the floor.

“Hello, dear. What is your name?” a sweet, small lady with extremely curly, short, yellow hair greeted her. Deodara jumped a little, being startled by the sudden greeting. The lady was wearing a uniform that was too tight on her pudgy body, but she seemed to move freely in it. She held a massive sword that looked too big for her to be able to lift. She wore very tiny glasses over her squinting eyes. Her round cheeks made the glasses look even smaller, almost like her entire face could hold them up no matter which way she moved.

“Deodara, ma’am,” she answered, approaching with care. After having to deal with a rude skinny man and a pushy girl, she did not know what to expect from this lady. However, she seemed sweet.

“Ma’am?” the lady made a high-pitched laugh, almost sounded forced. “It’s ‘miss,’ my dear. No man has been able to tame this wild beast.” She ran her right hand from her hair down to her thigh in a suggestive manner while saying the last two words. 

Deodara resisted the urge to make an awkward face.

“Well, Deodara,” the lady started walking around Deodara, like a fancy, spoiled cat advertising its irresistibility. “You have quite the warrior’s body,” she said as she kept walking in circles around Deodara, running her eyes up and down, examining her, then looking away like a cat who is indifferent about one’s presence. 

Deodara had no idea what to think of this behavior. 

“I am Miss Diane,” the short lady said, scratching her neck with her long, purple nails. “It is a pleasure to meet such a decent-looking young woman.”

Miss Diane dragged her words in an exaggerated way, and she kept waving her fingers around, showing off her long, purple nails. 

So much flash, thought Deodara, and before she knew it, Miss Diane was swinging her sword down on Deodara with a crazed look in her surprisingly wide eyes, focused entirely on Deodara’s eyes! 

Just inches above her face, Deodara met Miss Diane’s sword with her own! Deodara was surprised by Miss Diane’s sudden increase in height, and how fast she had been to pull the sword and attack out of nowhere! Miss Diane stepped back for Deodara to see her trick, she swung her sword downright as she walked back, and her shoes began to compress. 

“I made these,” said Miss Diane, pointing at her shoes. “No one ever suspects that I can grow quite a number of inches with these wonders.” 

Deodara stared at Miss Diane amazed at how her image did not portray her abilities! 

“It is my secret, darling,” said Miss Diane. “I confuse you with my looks, then, bam!” Miss Diane laughed at her own joke while taking her fingers to her chest in exaggeration once again. “I like you, dear,” Miss Diane said to Deodara. “You don’t say much, but I am pretty sure you are always very observant, which is why you are ready for battle without notice.” Miss Diane placed her fingers under her chin and tapped her lips with the index finger. “I don’t need much else to know I am placing you with competitors higher up on the list. Don’t think of it as premature reasoning, I can assure you my methods are accurate, and you will do very well.” 

Deodara was surprised and relieved at the same time to hear those words, the confidence she had in herself was not just in her head, then. Miss Diane’s expectations of her made her feel better. 

“However, dear, just because I am placing you at that level does not mean you should let your guard down for a second!” She said bringing her index finger close to Deodara’s face. “I’ve seen some good talent, very good talent.” Miss Diane walked to sit on a purple sofa. “Now tell me, dear, what is your goal here? Money? Recognition? Doing it for a boy?” Miss Diane slowed down her tempo when asking the last question and smiled. 

“How is that relevant?” Deodara asked Miss Diane.

“It’s not,” Miss Diane admitted. “I am simply being a gossip. You intrigue me, child.” She gave a loud laugh.

“For my friends,” Deodara admitted, her eyes upon Miss Diane, letting her know she would say nothing more.

“Very well, child,” Miss Diane waved her off. “You will see your name on the participants board outside the combat area, it will tell you who your first opponent will be and what time you will start.”

“Thank you, miss Diane,” said Deodara with a nod and walked out.

“I will be rooting for you,” said Miss Diane after her, waving her eccentric purple nails. 

Deodara walked out of the registration area without looking back, she did not want to see the skinny man at the front desk. She walked toward the dueling area, which was about 300 feet from registration. The entrance to the dueling area had been decorated as well. Two thick and short palm trees held the tournament banner. Right next to the entrance was a large board, it had dozens of names, some boxes were empty, but names appeared as soon as someone was placed. Registration would soon close so the last few boxes would have names on them. Deodara saw her name appear at that very moment, and her opponents name was Muller. 

I wonder how I’ll fare, thought Deodara.

There was still time before the first competitions, and she would not participate until after the lower levels went through. The winner of each level before her would get a chance to fight in higher levels until reaching the level she was in, and then, competitors at her level had to duel to be placed at even higher levels. She would have to beat all of her opponents to even get a chance to duel Zadur, and the thought of it made her feel overwhelmed, so she decided to take a walk on the beach while it was still early.

Twilight was beautiful at the bay. Deodara took her shoes off to walk barefoot on the sand and let her feet get caressed by the thinner waves at the very edge of the water. Some stars were beginning to poke their way through the sky, pushing the orange glow further down on the horizon. Deodara thought of her friends. She had known Cedrus and Ion almost all her life; they were like brothers to her, at least Ion was like a brother to her. Cedrus—he was something else, her closest friend. He understood her. He motivated her. 

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Part 4

Deodara walked closer to the tournament and caught the sound of a cheering crowd, musical instruments, and talking voices that were mixing with the sound of the gentle waves. Moving her hand behind her head, Deodara grasped the handle of her sword, Zartkyrie. She clenched her fist with the handle between her fingers, her face became hard, and her eyes determined. She walked back toward the competition.

There were different stages for simultaneous duels, judges sat all around, and names were dropped from the board constantly. The wooden open-air stands were heavily decorated and Deodara found a seat at the edge to watch. These go faster than I thought, Deodara thought while seeing one of the competitors fly off the stage.

The competitors at lower levels made mistakes easily, they either got called out by the judges and taken out, or their mistakes would cost them the duel to their opponent. As the levels progressed, the duels were lasting a few more minutes, then five minutes, then ten minutes. The winners of the lower levels had their chance at the higher levels but would not make it to the top; however, earning respect for achieving a few wins in a level above their own. 

The time for Deodara’s level was approaching. She felt a little tingle in her fingers and a pull inside her chest. 

Why am I nervous? I shouldn’t be nervous, she thought. She walked down the stands to the designated area to prepare for the upcoming levels. A man in uniform approached her and told her where to stand. 

“You’ll be up in about ten minutes,” he said to her. 

Deodara nodded and gulped. She stared at the door right in front of her and gathered her flowing, wavy hair in a ponytail. This was it. She was about to battle some swordfighter with a lot of experience. How was she ever going to get all the way to the top to get the chance to battle Zadur face to face? 

No! Deodara thought of her friends and what she needed to do. Her mind said one thing, but her body said another.

Ten minutes were up faster than she could ever remember. The door in front of her opened and her name was being called to the stage, and as soon as she saw the lights and walked forward, she realized her mind checked out. It was no longer about what she thought she needed to do, but now her nervous body was in control. She got to the center of the stage and her opponent was there, ready to start as soon as the judges signaled them. A light thump banged against her chest—she thought she recognized her opponent.

“Begin,” her ears heard, and her arms wielded the sword without her brain realizing it.

Their swords clashed, they made scraping metal noises between each other, and Deodara found herself defending as much as she attacked. This boy’s footwork was impressive. Hard to predict, but easy to counter. What was really distracting her was his hair. It was like an extra limb that would get in the way. It was not as if he could do any damage with it, but it was just there, in the blur, causing visual distraction.

Stupid, long, blond, dirty—oh geez! Deodara, in her mental ranting, suddenly remembered who he was. The boy she had seen fighting the first day she arrived. He was way better than what she had witnessed that day. She then realized his demonstration could have been an act to fool all participants. The boy smiled at her as he clashed his sword down against hers and gave her a smile. 

“My brother pointed you out earlier,” he said, pushing down harder. 

“And?” said Deodara, blocking and escaping his attack.

“He said you saw my amazing display and asked about me?” he said as they continued to clash swords.

“I wouldn’t have called it amazing,” said Deodara, with a cool tone.

“But you did ask about me, didn’t you? Seems I got a little fan, don’t I?” He smiled and arched his left eyebrow, trying to be smooth. 

Ugh, though Deodara, annoyed by his comment. 

The boy swung his sword at the sight of her expression, and she managed to slide to the side, but the sword cut off an inch from the left side of the tips of her chocolate-brown hair. Deodara was not happy about that, and she was not happy about her opponent.

“Don’t you feel lucky you got to duel with me tonight, sweetheart?” he asked as he put his left hand behind his back and continued to use his right for dueling. 

Oh, now he is just trying to show off, the jerk, thought Deodara.

Deodara thought of Miss Diane, and how her personality had easily distracted her during demonstration. Was this Muller-boy doing the same? Deodara realized she had to change her strategy immediately. She took advantage of the fact that Muller was taking this duel lightly, and she was not giving it her all, so he probably thought it was too easy. Deodara changed her facial expression to a softer one, pretending to be impressed by his moves. She pretended to let her guard down for a moment to get him to attack head on. Muller saw his chance and went straight for her. At the last possible second, Deodara crouched, moved to the side, kicked the sword right out of Muller’s hand, and placed the tip of her blade on his back. Muller’s eyes became wide open. He did not dare move with a blade poking his back, even though his hand was bursting in pain.

The judges called the duel over, and as soon as Deodara was pronounced winner, she moved her blade out from behind Muller and whispered in his ear. “Sorry, Mule-it, you’re not my type,” and she walked down from the stage, leaving Muller clutching his hand in pain. 

A man in uniform waved at Deodara to walk forward. 

“Enter here, miss,” he directed. “Someone will let you know who your next opponent will be and what time you will participate.”

Deodara nodded to express her understanding and moved forward. When she walked in the next room, no one was there to greet her. She found another name board, smaller than the initial name boards, and she saw her name already paired up with her next opponent. In about ten minutes she would encounter her next opponent. Deodara’s following battles went well, considering they were piling them up back-to-back with only five or ten-minute breaks. 

After advancing to higher levels, she saw that she wouldn’t be participating that night anymore and felt grateful. She was happy to go back to the inn for a much needed, relaxing shower, and some sleep. 

In bed, Deodara replayed the duels in her head. She learned a bit from some of her opponents but the one that stuck was the first one. She was very annoyed at the encounter with that unpleasant Muller-boy. 

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Part 5

Next day matches went by unbelievably well. A few close calls had shocked her into thinking it was the end, but that only made her more aware of every following duel. Many of the swordfighters were older as she moved up a level. There had been a total of twenty levels, and she had started at level fifteen. Moving up a level was not the hard part, it was winning a whole level and beating all the other swordfighters she had been matched with in level fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. However, now that she had reached the advanced higher levels, she realized there were less participants. 

On the third day of the tournament, she was about to enter level eighteen, and she saw there were only eight participants. It felt too real at that point, and almost impossible. How had she been able to beat all of those amazing swordfighters? How could she, a sixteen-year-old girl, handle a sword better than a—a twenty-year-old man? She had not thought about it until now, when she saw the names on the board, and had already seen a few of those participants fight. All other participants had been taken down. Level fifteen was won by a local boy, bringing honor to his town, especially because he had just turned fifteen, the minimum age required to enter. Level sixteen was won by a young man in his twenties, from a city in the neighboring country of Saolavi. Level seventeen winner would be determined between the four that were left behind from level eighteen. 

That could mean me, thought Deodara. But I cannot. I have to win! I have to see Zadur.

Deodara walked toward her training spot by the beach, thinking of strategies that would help her against the tournament’s greatest swordfighters. She thought of all the times she practiced with her father, Salix. She thought of the times she practiced with Cedrus and his dagger, which she never understood until recently why he preferred close combat. Even though he gambled getting hurt when up close, he was able to gain advantage of the way he wanted the battle to go. 

“Yoo-hoo!” she heard a familiar call that interrupted her thoughts.

Deodara lifted her head up from staring at the ground while walking and thinking. Miss Diane was sitting on a teal-blue hammock chair in the shape of an egg, waving a bright pink scarf at her. Deodara walked toward Miss Diane. 

“Have a sweet, seat-heart,” said Miss Diane giggling. She was holding a cold beverage with a pineapple on the rim of the large glass cup. Deodara could guess what was in the cup and laughed a little. “Oops, I mean,” Miss Diane hiccupped. “There’s plenty of room in my eggy-hammock, dear.” Miss Diane moved over to let Deodara sit. “Would you like a delicious pineapp—” Miss Diane started to hand over her drink to Deodara, then jerked back with eyes wide-open, then she immediately squinted, “wait, are you of age, child?” Miss Diane asked Deodara. 

“Uh—Miss Diane,” Deodara said, thinking Miss Diane lost her marbles. She knew perfectly well she was of age; she had signed her into the tournament.

“I will not tarnish the youth,” said Miss Diane, holding the drink away from Deodara.

Deodara pursed her lips and inhaled. 

“I am sixteen, Miss Diane. I’m fighting in the tournament,” she said with an obvious tone.

“Oh, yes!” said Miss Diane, lifting her arms, and spilling some of the pineapple drink on the sand. “The tournament, child!” Miss Diane leaned close to Deodara to speak softer. “Don’t be afraid, give it all you’ve got.” Suddenly, her facial expression looked very serious and not at all tipsy. “I have seen your moves, I have seen the way you wield that elegant sword, and may I say, what a beauty of a sword you possess. How did you come to possess it?” Miss Diane gave a suspicious look at Deodara, tilting her head and body way back, but keeping her eyes on Deodara. 

Deodara considered various answers and went for the simplest. “My father—it’s my father’s.” 

“Okay, then!” said Miss Diane, brushing off the topic. 

Miss Diane slid off the hammock chair and gulped down the rest of her drink. “Sweetheart, follow me. Let us go to my studio,” she said to Deodara. 

Deodara did not know what this could be about, but she did not want to leave Miss Diane to walk to her studio in that condition, so she decided to follow.

“You’re quite a talented young lady,” said Miss Diane to Deodara once inside the studio. “Did your father teach you the art of sword fighting?” 

“Yes, he did,” said Deodara feeling proud and grateful.

“I thought so,” said Miss Diane, walking over to her sword on the mantle. She pulled it from its sheath. “Let me teach you,” Miss Diane said cunningly, “a trick.” She smiled mischievously at Deodara. However tipsy Miss Diane was, she did not lose her grace when it came to handling the sword. “What I am about to teach you is about using the sword, not just as a mode of attack, or defense, but as a limb.” 

Deodara looked confused at Miss Diane’s words. 

“Believe me child, I am not the only one who uses it, it has been done many times, and it is very well known, but somehow, people forget about it, or are too lazy to master it. Now, I understand if you cannot do it right away, and it might be last minute advice, but if you can manage to use any of this, you will be set for the rest of the tournament. After all, it’s not like you’re fighting against trained men with years of experience. It’s the Youth Tournament!”

Miss Diane worked with Deodara for the next few hours, showing her how to handle her sword as a tool for other than attacking and blocking, for example, how to use it as an extra foot in her footwork, so her feet can be used as weapons as well. Deodara asked if that was allowed, and Miss Diane let her know it was allowed but most people assumed it wasn’t so no one even tried. Some of the training came easy to Deodara due to having great upper body strength, thanks to her love of swimming, and having two boys for best friends and sparring with them. Most of the training with Miss Diane was mainly about balance and using her sword a different way.

The sun was coming down, and Deodara decided it was time for a break before she had to go up against her opponents. 

“Miss Diane, I am truly grateful, but I need to ask, why are you helping me?” Deodara asked. 

“Child, you are the spitting image of me when I was your age,” said Miss Diane. 

Deodara chocked on her own air when she heard this. They looked nothing alike, but she did not want to offend Miss Diane. 

Maybe the fancy drinks are getting to her more than I thought.

“And I sense a great person within, child,” said Miss Diane. “I hope we can meet again after this is over.” Miss Diane smiled at Deodara in the sweetest way that melted Deodara’s heart. She reached out for a hug and Miss Diane reciprocated.

Just a few more, thought Deodara as she rested on her bed at the inn after a refreshing shower and closed her eyes for a bit.

A loud crowd was hollering behind the dark-green door that led to the stage. Deodara stood still, facing the green door, the one that lead to the stage, her mind racing. If matches were to go like the ones from the previous days, it could be over in an hour or two. She could be named victor very soon. Then again, in less than ten minutes she could lose, and her plan would be ruined. 

In an hour or so, all of this could be over, and I don’t have to worry about it anymore. Except for the fact that I must face Zadur, which is what I want, what I need, what I came for.

Deodara was trying to push herself toward her goal once again. 

At this time of day, I would be at home, having dinner with mom and dad, and probably talking about something stupid. Or I would be talking to Cedrus and Ion over the communicator, unless—yes, that’s why I am here. Them. This is for them. They need me. 

With that last thought, Deodara’s door opened, the announcer called out her name, and she walked into the light.

Her first opponent of the eighteenth round was small and thin. It surprised Deodara, she did not remember seeing her, perhaps she had missed her duels. However, she did not underestimate her. She knew that, just like her, she was skilled to get to this level. 

There is so much young talent in this world, thought Deodara as she met the girl’s sword with her own. The girl was quick, swift, and she jumped around a lot. Deodara thought she must have a lot of stamina, because others would get exhausted from so much movement. While the girl attacked, Deodara kept blocking, trying to read a pattern the girl might have, so she could dodge the next move and attack. All that blocking was exhausting her. 

The girl was very fast and even though Deodara was good at blocking, her opponent was finding openings to make small flesh cuts on Deodara—a thin, two-inch long cut at the top of her shoulder, with the tip of the blade. Then another superficial long cut on her side, and longer superficial cuts on her arms. Deodara was not liking the idea that she was blocking at the last minute. It was getting too close, and too dangerous. 

As soon as Deodara saw an opening, she went for the attack, but was met by the girl’s sword again. The girl was facing away, where Deodara had been standing, but her sword arm moved to block. So not only was she fast at attacking, but she could block when someone managed to dodge her attacks. 

So that’s how she’s gotten this far. Her weakness is actually a trap, thought Deodara as she moved on the defense once again. 

The girl twirled around and turned her blocking sword into an attack. 

Deodara had to be faster than her opponent and think two steps ahead. I need to fake an attack, and attack where she’s not already blocking. Block. Attack. Attack. 

Deodara’s mind was processing fast while moving around the stage. Then she figured out a move that would make the girl point her sword upward. As soon as she had her opponent where she wanted, Deodara stepped behind her, away from the sword’s reach. Deodara thrust her sword towards her opponent, placing the tip of the blade between her neck and her chin, pressing lightly. At that instant, her opponent dropped the sword and accepted defeat. The crowd exploded with applause.

Deodara walked back to the waiting area behind the dark-green door. She could not believe she had moved on to the semi-final level. She heard a distant voice saying there would be a fifteen-minute rest before the semi-finals. Deodara dropped herself on the wooden bench next to the green door and rested her head on the stone wall, closing her eyes for the time she was permitted to rest.

Out of the corner of her eye, Deodara saw a short, pudgy figure approaching her. She opened her eyes all the way and turned her head to see Miss Diane walking toward her, not saying anything. 

Miss Diane reached out and held Deodara’s hand for a second, then she tied a piece of purple fabric around Deodara’s wrist. 

Deodara recognized the fabric to be the same as one of Miss Diane’s scarves. The woman pulled Deodara in firm a hug, pressing her tightly against her squishy body. She pulled Deodara back, holding her face between her pudgy hands, with those long, shiny, purple nails and gave a sweet smile. Miss Diane dropped her arms and left without a word. 

Deodara looked down at her wrist, stared at the ugly, flashy piece of purple cloth that was tied around her wrist and forearm and thought there was no way it looked good in any possible way, but accepted it as a token of affection. 

The door opened, it was the cue for Deodara to stand and move forward. 

Her next opponent was a big, eccentric young man. He’s probably one of the oldest ones in the competition, thought Deodara. He had a big, thick helmet with horns on it, it reminded her of a buffalo, and she wanted to giggle but she couldn’t let her guard down. It was the semi-finals—he had to be a very serious opponent. 

When the battle started, the young man charged at her. Deodara started blocking immediately and trying to move out of the way. 

What’s with these battles?

This one and the last, her opponents were very eager to attack. What was harder this time was that her opponent, aside from using his sword, was using the horns on his helmet to attack as well. 

Is this even legal? It’s a sword-fighting tournament. She kept thinking while meeting her sword with his sword or his horns. 

The man gyrated his head rapidly and caught Deodara off guard, striking her with his left horn and knocking her down a few feet away from him. He had knocked the air out of her. This is it, she thought, and it was all she could think as he slowly and arrogantly walked toward her. Deodara was cursing his horns. 

Humans don’t have horns. He is such a cheater. He is just enhancing his body by adding that helmet, she thought while clutching her stomach. 

Then she remembered. When her opponent reached her and was about to strike, in a split second Deodara followed Miss Diane’s advice from earlier in the studio. Deodara caught her breath and using her sword as an extension of her arm, as a lever, she pushed her body, sliding under the buffalo-helmet man. He struck the ground where she had been sitting, and one moment later, his eyes were wide-open, almost popping out of their sockets in rage. Deodara, now right behind her opponent, but crouched on the floor, held her sword firmly, threatening him with the blade pressed against a most indecent area of his body. In a real fight, that would have been a horrible way to go. Fortunately for him, Deodara didn’t like to injure to win a battle, unlike him and other competitors.

Deodara was named victor once again. Even though this battle had been the semi-final, Deodara found it too funny to feel intimidated at that point. 

The guys will surely love this story, she thought as she smiled while the crowd went crazy. 

Everyone saw her smile and thought she was happy because of her victory, but she was happy because she had something to tell Cedrus and Ion, and she was closer to seeing them now. She was hearing her name being shouted all over the place and she did not realize that a judge was calling out to her. One of the men in uniform, in charge of crowd order, walked up to her to take her to the judge. 

“Oh, I am sorry, sir,” she apologized sincerely to the judge. “What—why do you need me?”

“We are wondering if you are fit for the final,” said the judge, through the roaring of the crowd behind him. He glanced at another judge who was standing next to him. “Judge Q. has informed us that the victor from the other semi-final stage has defeated his opponent about five minutes ago and he is ready for the final round. However, it is your call. You may ask for a short break, a day’s break, or, if you prefer, go right to the next stage.” 

Deodara was surprised at the information. The other semi-final winner wanted to battle immediately. He was either eager to become the known champion, or he was blood-thirsty, as she had seen with other competitors. She could take a whole day to recover and practice. She could also end it now. For sure at the end of the following battle she would know what was next—facing Zadur, the ruler of Karoush. No one had seen him this entire tournament. Where was he? Was he watching from somewhere secluded? Did he even care? Meeting him face-to-face was the only way. She had to win the next round.

“Let’s do this,” she said, rolling up the purple cloth and tying it messily on her wrist. 

The judge she was talking to, and “Judge Q” walked with Deodara to the other stage, which was to their stage left. The other two judges who had been sitting and observing Deodara during the semi-final battle stayed behind. 

“Only Judge Harr and I will be observing the final battle as judges,” Judge Q. told Deodara when he noticed her staring back at the other two judges. Deodara turned her head around, faced forward and nodded in understanding. 

The man in uniform led Deodara up the side steps to the stage and announced their battle.

Deodara saw a thin boy on stage dressed all in gray. He had shoulder-length, straight, black hair. His sunken eyes had a bored expression and his face looked like he had not eaten in days.

Looking like a statue, the boy stood with his hands together resting in front of him and blinked slowly at Deodara to acknowledge her existence in a way that portrayed indifference.

One thing that surprised Deodara, when she approached him, he spoke to her. No one in the upper levels had said a word to her. 

“I will not underestimate you just because you are a girl,” he said in a soft, lazy voice. 

What’s with him and that bored tone and cold appearance of his? thought Deodara. However, she did not know if she should feel respected or offended. 

As soon as they were given permission to begin, Deodara prepared her position of defense. Once she did, she realized the boy continued to stand. She blinked her eyes hard in confusion. He’s not going to attack? That’s a first. Last battle, and Deodara’s opponent just stood there. She moved out of her defense position and started to move forward, one step at a time, adding long pauses in between each step. 

He did not move.

Was he waiting for her to attack? Did he like to fight up close? 

“Fine,” Deodara said, mainly to herself, realizing he was not going to attack, she launched the first attack. The swooshing of her sword was not met with the clank of hitting another sword, in fact, it missed him completely. Deodara did not see any of it at all. He had been standing right in front of her. She had seen him up close just before her predetermined strike. How could he move that fast? What was worse, she felt a sharp tip on the left side of her neck. She did not move, because at any moment, any movement would pierce her. He did exactly to her what she could do to other opponents, but in a matter of seconds—caught off-guard. 

The boy was not even looking at her, he was facing the opposite way, but he was standing closely next to her, to her left, gently holding his sword. 

“Are we done here?” he said to her.

“No,” she replied without moving. “I need to see him,” she said softly to him, closing her eyes. 

“Why?” asked the boy, still staring straight ahead.

To her surprise, he knew what she was talking about, or so she thought. “He is trying to kill my friends.”

“Mmm,” he responded shortly. Then the sound of clanking metal hitting the ground resonated around the stage. The boy had dropped his sword to the ground. 

The crowd screamed, some in excitement, some in confusion and not thrilled that their favorite finalist was done. 

Deodara stood up straight and turned to look at him. “Why?” she asked.

He still did not look at her. “I do not need a medal to know I am the best,” he walked away and off the stage.

The judges named Deodara the winner in the confusion of this one-minute battle. Some people in the crowd cheered for Deodara, but the crowd that had been supporting the boy were torn, some screaming it was not fair. Deodara did not care. She was also confused, but mainly grateful. It had been the oddest moment, an unforeseen ending to the final battle of the sword-fighting tournament, but the only thing that mattered at this moment was that she was going to see the man that was now hunting down her life-long friends. 

“Thank you,” she mouthed to his back as he left through the door on the bottom right of the stage.  

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Part 6

            The handle of Zartkyrie looked like silver thin vines wrapped around a silver tree-trunk, and from the handle sprouted the guard and quillons of the sword, as if the silver vines had grown and intertwined with each other. No jewels were necessary for extravagant decoration, the sword itself was elegant, beautiful, simple, and just what Deodara needed to meet Karoush’s High Master and Ruler, Zadur. She would go up to him, point her sword at him, and demand answers of why he was hunting down her best friends. She saw it all happening as she was cleaning her blade just outside the inn. 

The night before, Deodara had been named Champion of the Youth section in the competition, and it had all been thanks to the mysterious boy with the bored expression. Too bad I didn’t get his name. Last names were private to the competition, and they did not give that information out for protection in case of petty rivalries after the competition and possible scenarios for revenge. 

The day was warmer than previous days. Deodara put her hair up in a ponytail and put her sword back in its sheath. She walked to the Tournament stages to see what they looked like before she would stand on one of them tonight. The crowd would get bigger today, not because they were all there to see her, but because they would get a chance to see their Ruler and High Master. People were already starting to save their seats in the benches of the open-air wooden stands. It was barely noon, and the duel was scheduled for twilight. 

Deodara walked to the beach to sit and relax for a few hours. She liked the cooling effect the water had on her feet, and it was also a good way to calm her nerves. She took off her shoes and walked alongside the shoreline. 

“What are you planning on doing when you see him?” asked a soft, male voice right behind her.

Deodara gave a short yelp in surprise. She turned around and saw the person walking behind her was the boy from the final battle, the boy who gave her the championship.

He walked past Deodara. 

She composed herself and caught up to him. 

“Why do you always do that?” she asked. 

“Do what? And you did not answer my question. I asked first,” he said to her as they walked.

“You talk to a person, but it doesn’t feel like you’re actually talking with them. You stare at other places or keep walking, like right now. Or startle them by starting a conversation before a person knows you’re there.”

The boy did not respond.

Deodara caught onto his silence and realized she had to answer first. 

“I think my friends are in danger because of him, I want to know why, and I want to stop him from doing anything to them,” she said.

“So, you were not lying yesterday when you said that?” the boy asked, somewhat surprised.

“Why would I lie?”

“You would be surprised at the tricks people try just to win duels, especially the Swordsmanship Tournament of Nahare.”

“Then why would you let me win?” Deodara asked. She did not know if she should feel confused or insulted.

“Honestly, half out of pity, that a person would come up with that lie just to win the Championship. My other half thought you just really wanted to see Zadur. Neither would impact me not winning the medal. In my heart, I knew I beat all, and I felt accomplished for my personal results.”

Insulted, thought Deodara. “Those are not—”

“I know Zadur is a huge celebrity, and he makes sure that he is,” the boy interrupted her. “However, history, when properly documented, can be a great tool for exploring the past.” The boy stopped walking and looked straight at Deodara. “It seems you are determined to get to the bottom of something dangerous, and I will not try to stop you… Yet.” The boy inhaled and exhaled heavily, “I could be in danger for saying anything to a strange person from another country, but I cannot let a young woman go threaten the High Master without a warning.”

Deodara was feeling very confused and nervous, but she needed to know everything about Zadur, this boy’s information could help. Her eyes beckoned him for information.

“How do you know I’m from another country?” she asked first.

“Accent.”

“What warning?” she asked next.

“He is a monster,” the boy said. “If he targeted your friends, he will very likely get what he wants from them. He targeted a country once—and blamed it on technology. The truth is so easily hidden, either out of fear, or actual ignorance.” 

Deodara was afraid to hear something like this. Her friends had already mentioned horrible things to her, and maybe they left out information, either to protect her or because they thought she couldn’t handle it.

“You know what I am talking about, don’t you? I can see it in your eyes,” said the boy.

“How do you know this?” Deodara asked him.

“My father is…was…was in his army. He died in battle when I was only two years old. A friend of his visits my mother and me in town a few times a year. When my father died, he came to tell my mother. When I was older, my uncle—I call him uncle, he is not really my uncle—told me what happened, not so I would take revenge, but out of respect for my father. Uncle Shippa told me to cultivate peace within me and to spread as much peace as I can, and knowledge to those who seem trustworthy, or in need of truth. Which is why I felt I should talk to you, miss.”

“You can call me Deodara,” she said. “It’s fine.”

“I’m Alon.”

“Yes, I know,” Deodara smiled.

Deodara and Alon continued to walk alongside the thinning waves.

“I would have preferred you had told me you wanted to win because of fame,” Alon said in a defeated tone.

Deodara smiled looking down at the sand. “Thank you for worrying and thank you for the warning. I was already aware that he is not who he says he is. I did not, however, know about the fact that he is behind the destruction of Imprais. My friends told me other things.”

“Like what,” Alon asked, stopping, and turning around again.

“Well, Mr. Alon, how much more trouble do you want to get into just for listening to me tell you more incriminating things about your High Master.”

“Never mind. I probably already know anyway. Let us just walk peacefully next to the shore, in silence.” 

“Thank you, by the way. I did not get a chance to say that yesterday.”

Alon nodded and said no other word as they kept walking.

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Part 7

While Deodara sat on a bench, waiting for the man in uniform to tell her when to get up to go on stage, the feeling of ice and lava bubbling and fighting inside her chest and stomach was almost overwhelming. Alon’s warnings had been helpful, but, at the same time, made her feel even more nervous about her plan. 

The seats were filled with the crowd, and the noise was twice as loud than before. Zadur’s name was being shouted from all around. Deodara was not happy about the audience, but she was sure that when the time came, her eyes and mind would focus on her goal. She knew she was not crazy to think that Zadur was definitely after her friends. Had Cedrus and Ion purposefully omitted not telling her about Imprais? Or did they not know? 

The faces in the crowd were cheering, calling out to their Ruler, their High Master Zadur. How could a man that horrible be able to blind an entire country and make them all adore him? She felt sorry for this country, and frightened for her own, as well as their neighboring country Saolavi. She was hoping that by talking to him, she could stop him, make him see the error of his ways. She had to try. She had to make him listen.

The announcers called Deodara to the stage. Her thoughts suddenly abandoned her and were replaced by only one. 

This is it. This is it. This is it. Was all Deodara could think as she walked up the stairs and to the center of the stage. Many in the crowd cheered for her, to her surprise. The main announcer waved his arms up and down, trying to silence the crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. It is my pleasure, no, my honor, to present here today… our beloved High Master and this country’s Ruler, High Master Erian Zadur!” the announcer said loudly, his voice almost breaking at the end, choking on tears of joy. 

The crowd erupted in applause, cheering, screaming with joy. 

Deodara got to witness what it was like to see a crowd gasping for the air that Zadur breathed. How many of them rushed as far front as possible to be closer to the stage to be able to see Zadur. She could also faintly hear her name being shouted, “Deodara… you are so lucky…” was what she heard. Then, it was as if they were all staring at her. Every single person in the crowd had their eyes glued to her, in her direction. That was when she realized they were not looking at her. 

Deodara suddenly felt a chill up her spine, crawling through the back of her neck and dispersing at the bottom of her skull. Without having to look at him, she could feel his towering presence. She turned around and there he was, standing right behind her, staring at the crowd, cheering them on. 

Karoush’s High Master stood three feet from Deodara. He shifted his gaze from the crowd to Deodara. His smile vanished, his gaze intensified, and he spoke. 

“Are you ready, Deo…dara?” he said in his deep, resonant voice. 

Deodara had never heard him speak. His voice gave her another chill from the tip of the head, down to her toes. His light-gray eyes looked like a threatening winter storm leading to destruction. His face was flawless, too flawless for a fifty-something year-old man. She snapped herself back to reality. The reality where she promised herself to face Zadur with no hesitation.

“If I were any readier, I’d be spoiled,” she talked back, putting her hand on the handle of her sword.

The main announcer called everyone’s attention. “We have our Tournament’s Youth Champion, Deodara, and she has been granted the opportunity to show the High Master what she’s made of! Young lady,” he called her over with his hand, still staring at the crowd. 

Deodara walked to him. 

“Miss Deodara, how do you feel being in the presence of the omnipotent High Master?”

Deodara was not there to make enemies, she just wanted the chance to talk to Zadur.

“Marvelous,” she said in a monotonous tone.

“Well, someone is a bit nervous, I think. Heh-heh,” the announcer pushed her away a bit rudely.

While the announcer continued to talk to the audience, Deodara stared at Zadur in all his glory, dressed in his magnificent black surcoat trimmed with emerald green and golden thread, and his heavy light-golden pauldron that resembled waves and clouds gathering for a storm. She did not understand how he did not feel the day’s heat, especially since his hair was long and black, that would surely harness heat. But Zadur remained sweat-bead free, standing there staring at his audience. 

When the announcer was finished talking, Zadur took off his light-golden pauldron and gave an open arm gesture of acceptance to satisfy the crowd’s cheers. 

After that, Deodara noticed Zadur taking position. She had not been paying attention to what the announcer was saying so she missed the moment he called on the judges to begin.

“Oh, crap!” said Deodara. 

The duel with Zadur finally began.

The following moments seemed like a dream to Deodara, she felt unlinked with time. Before she knew it, Zadur’s immense body was swinging a massive sword at her that she had to stop with her own delicate sword. 

The first clashing of swords banged and echoed in her ears. She could see Zadur’s stormy eyes glaring from behind an unknown darkness. And somehow, the blade of his sword intensified the terror that were his eyes.

Zadur moved elegantly, attacked, and defended, or that was how the audience saw it, because Deodara felt like she was fighting the rage of clouds, with lighting and possible chances of drowning rain. Zadur struck, struck, struck, like thunder and lightning, and Deodara was fast enough to block, upwards, to one side, to the other. Jumping his low blows. Bending sideways and backwards to dodge the swings aimed to her upper body and head. Would Zadur really go all the way to detaching the head from her body? 

How does one beat the storm? She asked herself. Well, I don’t need to beat it, I need answers.

Deodara took Miss Diane’s purple scarf from her wrist and uncurled it. She proceeded to distract Zadur with the purple fabric by twirling it in the air and creating an illusion of a protective purple spiral. It gave Deodara a helpful defense so she could move her sword up and down during her spinning, but Zadur still blocked all her blows. 

Deodara stopped and jumped back to breathe for a moment.

“I like your style, miss,” Zadur complimented her, in a softer voice than she had heard at the beginning. 

The charmer emerges, she thought sarcastically.

“Don’t…” Deodara said to Zadur and pointed her blade at him while clenching her teeth.

“You do not seem to like me,” said Zadur in his soft voice. “You want to win that badly?” he smiled at her.

Deodara ran toward Zadur. “This is not about that,” she said as she swung her sword at his face.

Zadur blocked and let it slide down on his own. “So, there is an issue?” Zadur asked.

“Yes, there’s an issue!” said Deodara still attacking, her face sweating and getting blotchy.

“Well, whatever it is, it gives you great fuel. I am impressed with your skills, for a girl of sixteen,” he said. A genuine tone to his voice.

Deodara lost her nerve. She looked straight into Zadur’s eyes as she landed her blade close to the side of his neck where he met it with a cuff on his wrist. 

“It’s you,” she said angrily, and for the first time, she did not feel intimidated by Zadur’s gray eyes. 

Now Zadur showed real surprise in his eyes at her talent. She had gotten very close to injuring him. 

“Why are you going after Cedrus and Ion?” Deodara asked angrily and abruptly, her blade still pushing down on Zadur’s wrist cuff. 

Zadur’s eyes shifted from her blade to her eyes. He pushed and slid the blade off him and took a tall stance. 

“Who are you?” he asked. His voice had changed from the soft one he had been using with her, and not to the deep voice she had heard him use with his audience, but to a suspicious, deep, menacing voice. This gave him an even stronger presence. 

Deodara felt like she was in over her head, but she did not want to budge anymore. She had come this far.

“You know who I am,” she started, standing upright also, showing her courageous self. “I am the Youth Champion of this tournament. I have earned my place here, right before your eyes, and I demand to know why you are after my friends. We all know about the Immortal Essence. We know you want it. Are you after them because they are going to stop you?” 

Zadur’s face changed entirely. He no longer had the cold, composed expression that made him look like a carving out of marble. His eyes widened, making his cheekbones more prominent, and that made the rest of his face sink. He looked like a walking nightmare cloaked under his jet-black hair. 

Deodara pushed herself to continue, even though the rest of her body had switched to flight mode. 

“Can’t you just leave them alone? You already have everything. You don’t need more. My friends are surely not going after Immortal Essence for themselves. They just want to protect it from the wrong hands.” Deodara walked toward Zadur using all her strength to push her legs forward against her body’s instinct. 

He is listening, maybe I can get him to understand.  Her voice sped up, saying anything that could convince him. “You’re a historian, as well, right? You are known as a collector, as well as a contributor for preservation of historical and ancient artifacts, documents, and such. I understand that. My father does, as well. We love history. We love to discover the old paths of our ancestors which led us to where we are now. So, you know why my friends are doing this, right? You can truly understand?” Deodara walked up to Zadur, and she stood two feet from him, looking up at his once again thunderstorm-like eyes. 

Zadur stared at her for the longest two seconds of her life, then he turned to look at the men in uniform who were standing at the edge of the stage and some by the audience. The men immediately scattered, they let the drapes fall to cover the stage. 

The crowd was confused and could be heard from behind the drapes. Their groans indicated this was not what they had expected. 

As soon as the stage was out of sight, Deodara felt her body being painfully lifted. The cold bones of a fist pressed against her chest as Zadur lifted her up by the neck of her jumper. 

“Who told you about Immortal Essence?” he hissed. 

Deodara was having trouble breathing. She did not think something like this would have happened, but at the same time, she was not surprised. Deodara did not say anything, mainly because she did not know who told her friends about Immortal Essence, and, also out of fear. One thing she was able to confirm was that Zadur was indeed dangerous, and the existence of Immortal Essence was real. She thought of her friends, and of the danger they were facing for getting in the way of Zadur.

“Who?!” Zadur screamed in her face.

Deodara’s eyes unintentionally teared up, and tears rolled down her cheek. She got angry at her body for betraying her. She did not want Zadur to know she was terrified. However, she did not say anything. 

Zadur’s guards came rushing in after hearing him scream. 

Zadur threw Deodara at one of the guards who caught her, her body hitting his metal armor. 

“Take her back to Fiormeld. Don’t let her out of your sight,” Zadur said in his cold, still angry voice. As he walked past the guards, he yanked Deodara’s sword out of her hand and threw it to another one of his guards. “You take that and store it,” said Zadur as he was leaving the stage. “Someone bring Meerna, she’ll know what to do,” Zadur said and disappeared behind the backstage curtains. 

The guards followed behind him, one of them restraining the wriggling Deodara. 

Deodara had not fixed the situation at all, she had not stopped her friends from the possibility of getting hurt or killed. She had only made things worse—much worse—and now she was apprehended, with no way to warn her friends about what she had just unleashed by having confronted Zadur.

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