Page 9

  Every moment of Rueben's life had been building to this moment.

    Many before him had tried and many before him had failed.

    Rueben couldn’t fail now, not when he had the advantage.

Even if Cruor decided to ignore his word and use magic anyways, Rueben was going to put every ounce of energy he had left into this fight.

    For a long, nerve wracking moment, the two stood, swords crossed and readying themselves for the struggle that was to come. At least, Rueben was readying himself.

    On the other hand, the look on Cruor's face was one of boredom, and Rueben tried not to be intimidated despite knowing that he was nothing more than a fly to Cruor.

    “Were you going to do something, or just stand there?” Cruor asked, raising his eyebrows as he continued to hold his composure. “I'm waiting. It would be rude of me to take advantage, after all.”

    The corners of his lips tugged upwards into a crooked smirk, and Rueben tightened the grip on his sword. Heart pounding in his chest, the man tried to remember his training. That was a lot easier said than done.

    Then, in a sudden burst of energy and confidence, he was swinging, pulling his sword back and in a circular motion, aiming for Cruor's neck.

    He moved as fast as he could, but it was to no avail.

    Cruor's sword, though much smaller and thinner, was unlike anything Rueben had ever seen. It took only seconds for the man to move the weapon into a blocking position, and with a single hand he was able to prevent Rueben’s sword from touching him at all.

    Rueben wasn't sure if it was the bizarre metal or some sort of superhuman strength.

    Either way, it was enough to throw Rueben off his guard.

    For far too long, the man could only stare. Before long, Cruor grew impatient and slid back, his sword still held an arm's length away from his body.

    “You're a coward,” Rueben spit, and Cruor's eyes wrinkled at the corners in response.

    “Am I really? Because, unless I'm mistaken – and I'm fairly certain I'm not- you've used that excuse before.”

    “And?”

    And I think, deep down inside, you're nothing more than a young boy who's afraid of not living up to the expectations that have been set on him. And my, they are large expectations, aren't they?”

    As much as Rueben wanted to fight, he couldn't help the tears that briefly stung at the corners of his eyes. “That's none of your business.”

    “On the contrary,” Cruor said, raising his eyebrows as he began to pace in a large circle around Rueben, sword still extended and spiraling closer with every revolution. “I think it is as much my business as it is yours. You have made your way onto my planet, after all.”

    “It's not-”

    “It's not what? Not my planet?” The words were sharp, and his eyes snapped. “This became my planet when I was sent here against my will.”

    Rueben cringed. For the briefest of moments, he had forgotten who he was talking to.

    “I, I didn't mean-”

    “Do you ever stop talking?” Cruor's gaze was cold, and it felt as if he was drilling holes in Rueben's skin.

    “I-”

    That single word was enough to break Cruor, who was suddenly lunging forward, his sword extended in a thrusting motion. Another second of hesitation, and Rueben would have been too late. However, just as the sword was about to make contact with his body, Rueben was jumping back, knocking Cruor's sword out of the way with his own.

    Luckily, it gave way, and Rueben noticed that Cruor's wrist had too. He had allowed it to happen.

    He's toying with me.

    The thought went through his mind like a flash, a realization unlike any other. This entire thing, it was all an elaborate setup, he didn't have a chance.

    That was when the panic set in.

    As hard as he tried to stop it from happening, no matter how much effort he put into keeping his composure, Rueben became frantic.

    The swings and thrusts of his sword showed his obvious emotion, and the look on Cruor’s face flicked between amusement and boredom more times than Rueben could count.

    Suddenly, Rueben’s feet were clamped to the ground.

    He struggled, harder than he had ever fought for anything in his life, twisting and tugging and swinging. Cruor stood just out of arm’s reach, and if Rueben hadn’t been sure the other man could stop it, he would have thrown his sword.

    Raising his eyebrows, Cruor yawned.

    “This?” He said, waving his hand in Reuben’s general direction, “This is boring. This is hardly even a fight..”

    “We said no magic,” Rueben said through gritted teeth. “Let me go.”

    “Not until you listen to me.”

    Though it took everything he had, Rueben quieted. Just as he was about to break and let slip yet another sharp retort, Cruor was speaking.

    “Good, thank you.” Here he paused, as if he was daring Rueben to speak again. When he didn’t, Cruor nodded. “When I agreed to a sword fight, I assumed that you knew what you were doing. Especially wearing that sash.” Cruor used his sword to motion to the band of purple fastened around Rueben’s shoulder, and Rueben felt the blood rushing to his face in embarrassment.

    He had come to be a representative, he had failed.

    Somewhere in the back of Rueben’s mind, he registered that Cruor was speaking again.

    “...But this - this is just a disgrace.” The corners of his lips had long ago formed a smirk and it made Rueben want to rush forward, despite the knowledge that he couldn’t move his feet. “I’m no stranger to being a disgrace, to being rash when it comes to decision making.”

    “What do you want?”

    “What makes you think that I want something?”

    “Well,” Rueben said slowly. “You haven’t killed me yet, so you either want something or you’re even more cruel than people say you are.”

    The smirk that had previously been on Cruor’s face was then contorting into a twisted grin. “I am even more cruel than people say. However, because you seem to have some sense of intelligence behind your sporadic, panicked mess of a person, I’ll tell you what I want.”

    There was a pause, one that made Rueben squirm where he stood.

    Finally, Cruor seemed to feel as if he had dragged it out long enough. “I want you to join me. I will train you to fight, to be a member of my army. You will be heaped with riches beyond what you could have ever imagined.”

    For a minute, Rueben was dumbfounded.

    This was certainly a new development, but if he said no, Cruor would most certainly kill him. With his feet pinned to the ground, it’s not like it would be difficult.

    However, if he said yes, he could get on the inside, could get on Cruor’s good side. Then, when the man was least expecting it, he would strike.

    After a long several minutes of Cruor staring expectantly, his sword extended in preparation for the wrong response, Rueben was clearing his throat.

    “Fine,” he said quietly. “Fine, I’ll do it.”

    “Good,” Cruor exclaimed with a wide smile, and then he was sheathing his sword. Before Rueben knew what was happening, the other man was holding Rueben’s sword. “You won’t be needing this, then. Welcome. Just keep in mind - one wrong move, and I kill you.”