Page 7

    Rueben wasn't sure where he had found the strength.

    One minute he was a crumpled heap on the ground, the next he was holding his sword and aiming to kill.

    Cruor's words had struck something deep inside of him, something even Rueben himself had been refusing to acknowledge. He had spent years of his life devoted to one cause - eradicating Cruor and all of his followers from every corner of the known universe.

    He wasn't the only one fighting this war, there were others.

    But if he could kill Cruor -

    His sword had begun it's downward descent at the very thought, but then the sound of a loud crack filled the air. All the hair on Rueben's body stood on end as his sword flew from his hand, and then a deep rumble of laughter reached his ears.

    Cruor was laughing.

    It wasn't a sarcastic laugh either, the man in front of him seemed genuinely amused at what he had just seen. “You really thought it would be that simple?” The words were gasped out, and Rueben felt his cheeks warm in embarrassment. “Perhaps I overestimated you, Rueben. I thought you were smarter than that.”

    “And I didn't think you would be such as coward.”

    Again, Rueben wasn't sure where he had found the strength. But as the words left his lips, he knew that he meant them, squaring his shoulders in a sub-par attempt to intimidate. The boy braced himself to be struck down, but the attack never came.

    When Rueben finally dared to meet Cruor's eyes, he saw that the other man had one eyebrow raised, and he seemed to be contemplating the words.

    “A coward, you say?”

    It was a challenge, that much Rueben knew. But how much did he have left to lose?

    “You heard me correctly. Only a coward would disarm another man when the odds are clearly already skewed in his favor.”

    The look on Cruor's face had twisted into one of intense contemplation, every muscle in his body tense. “What is it that you desire, then? If it is your life, I am afraid I cannot simply let you walk away. It would be too easy, and would mar my name.”

    “A fair fight, that's my desire.”

    Rueben wasn't even sure what he was saying anymore, it was a last attempt at a chance at survival, no matter how slight that chance might be.

    “What do you propose?”

    Swallowing the knot in his throat, Rueben stood up straighter still. “You and me, swords, no outside forces.”

    “No magic, you mean.”

    “No magic,” Rueben confirmed.

    For what seemed like an eternity, Cruor didn't say a word. But when he did, Rueben almost couldn't believe his ears.

    “As you wish.