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“The Ruins of the Radiant Winds”
By Sarah Anne Steckel
“Meet me at the ruins of the Radiant Winds temple at high noon for a friendly duel. Signed, a friend.” Vortex read the crumpled note over once more and shifted his gaze to the fallen rubble, where only a single window remained of the once great temple. He began his slow trek down the steep hill toward the ruins, his right hand idly resting on the hilt of his broadsword as he tried to brush the vivid memories of when he was last here out of his mind; that’s when he saw the visage of the oncomer, a small-bodied and fully-helmeted being. Although their helmet was made of metal, the armor they wore was leather, and two short swords were strapped to either side of their body.
“Not much of a getup for a duel, I’m afraid!” Vortex called out in a vague taunting manner. As the distance between them lessened, he began to question who this ‘friend’ truly was. He never recalled meeting a small man who he had ever fought, and the only person he ever knew who could use two short swords in a battle was a woman who he poorly parted ways with long ago. “Who are you, friend?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ve already realized, friend.” The smooth female voice taunted faintly as she reached up to remove her helmet to reveal a head of long pink hair. She smiled at him, even though it appeared more like a scowl, and as she dropped her helmet to the ground, she drew both blades simultaneously and quickly lunged at him.
“Newo!” Vortex could have laughed, but instead, he withdrew his sword and parried her attack. Even though she was half his size, her quick movements made it hard for him to keep up, and he quickly found her stabbing her left-handed blade into his thick armor. He looked down at his abdomen, thankful for the chainmail and armor plates that protected him from her sharp and pointy blades. “And here I thought that I’d never see you again…”
“Well, that’s what happens when you leave your partner in the night, and travel halfway across the world…” She relaxed her stance and lowered her weapons down to her sides. A softer, yet still scowl-like smile crept over her lips, “I stabbed you with my non-dominant hand. You’re still slow, Vortex. I’m surprised you’re not dead yet.”
Vortex beat at the spot that she stabbed him in moments ago, and grinned. “Can’t kill me that easily!”
“All those nights traveling together, I could have slit your throat at any time,” she mumbled under her breath, her gaze flitting off toward the ruins that stood behind them, and frowned. “There’s not much left here now, huh?”
“Was there much more here ten years ago?”
Newo smiled fully, a grin that spread in a feline-like manner across her face. “No, I suppose not. There were more goblin corpses littered on the ground the last time we were here…”
Vortex chuckled loudly, “That was quite a day, was it not? I’ve never seen you so happy, goblin blood and gore covering you head to toe, laughing maniacally—hysterically—as we sliced them down. How long did that battle take again?”
Newo shrugged, a lock of pink hair falling over her shoulder and resting in her face. “My mind distorts it, I think—I remember it lasting days, and yet… only minutes. I can remember all of it, and yet almost nothing at all, Vortex.” She looked up at him, unaware of her cheeks growing hot until it was too late. “Those were the best days of my life, traveling, hunting, and killing with you.”
“Aye, they were quite a time … weren’t they?”
Her voice softened, a nearly juvenile and innocent tone. “Why did you leave me across the sea in Marnyx?”
Vortex lowered his gaze to the ground and sighed deeply, and for several moments he said nothing. “Because it started to become more to me, Newo. You are one of the most vicious cut-throats I’ve ever met, and we made a good team. If it were to become more than that, it would have put our lives in jeopardy.”
Newo narrowed her eyes at him and glared. “How?”
He turned and looked upon her angry face and forced a smile. “We were dangerous people, with bounties on our heads. Those that wanted us dead could have used those affections I had for you against us. I was afraid—”
“Shut up!” Newo firmly commanded, and with a deftness she reached up and grabbed either side of his face and kissed him briefly. As she pulled back, she grinned and said in an arrogant tone, “As you’ve stated, you’re hard to kill, are you not? I say let them try, and I will condemn all of them to hell!”
Speechless, Vortex just stared down at her. He watched as she took a step back from him, and while unable to hide the grin on her face, she glowered up at him. “Now, don’t you ever leave me again, Vortex, or I will find you and murder you in your sleep—I swear it!”
He fumbled with his fingers, but then smiled down at her. Although his cheeks were hot, and he was still slightly embarrassed that he was so taken off guard from her kiss, Vortex couldn’t deny that it felt good, it felt right, to have her back at his side. He placed a heavy hand on her shoulder and patted it firmly. “I swear it, Newo. So, what’s next then?”
“Ah, let’s go to the tavern the next town over. I think you owe me a drink or two—don’t you think? Then … let’s go on another adventure!”
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