Double Edged

For the first time in a long while, sunlight pierced through the thick cloth obscuring the sword’s vision. Scale felt little for it aside from a slight prickle of interest. It had learned, so long ago that the exact circumstances of the lesson had bled into other memories, not to get its hopes up. Perhaps this was just a simple movement from one vault to another. Little more than a footnote of a footnote in a story without any ending in sight. The pessimism ceased, however, when the layers of cloth fell away, one by one. And for the first time in ages, Scale was pulled from its sheath to face the sun once more.

This was an unfamiliar face. A boy looked down upon the blade, blue eyed, blue haired, neither elf nor human, but a little of both...and so in each of their eyes, neither. Scale couldn’t sense much of his intent, but the very thought of something more interesting than another several years wrapped in cloth or thrown in a chest or hidden in a vault prompted it to make contact anyways. “You. Boy. Who are you?”

No response. A fool, then? Unable to comprehend even the mental speech Scale had grown accustomed to? But no. Merely awestruck at the weapon in his hands, yet not even comprehending exactly what he had stumbled into. Even so, he had a good enough heart. Interesting enough reasoning. Enough for Scale to forgive the crime of theft, though theft from a thief seemed a far lesser crime than from any other victim. Certainly enough to help him see through a goal they happened to share - a pact was formed, the tiefling’s head fell from his shoulders, and so justice was served at last. Perhaps this boy, Palis, would prove entertainment enough to last a few more long and dusty years.

“...You are upset.”

Palis scowled down at Scale, replying through gritted teeth, “Of course I am. You are not to harm one hair on Pache’s head! That’s an order.”

“No harm was done. I was merely exercising my authority. If he chooses to steal--”

His scowl only deepened, and the reply was scathing. “He is a child. He doesn’t know any better, but I’m teaching him. I don’t need your help to do that! Your power is for the thieving scum in this city and the cowards that refuse to do anything about them, not for my brother.”

There it was again. That stubborn determination, a streak that apparently ran through the pair of them, considering how easily Pache had resisted Scale’s attempt to force him to return the bun he had stolen from the baker’s counter when he wasn’t looking. That resolve would serve them well, if they ever grew enough to use it properly, but now, mere weeks after being retrieved from the den of thieves, Scale already found it more than a little irritating. Stubborn creatures, these mortals. But ones he served all the same. “...If that is your wish.” Let the boy become a thief then, if Palis was so willing to be soft on him. He would be struck down like the rest in time.

Palis’s hand left the hilt, leaving Scale a silent, disdainful observer as he went to his brother’s side. There was Pache, stolen goods in hand, sticky-fingered as he took another bite of the bread and looked up at Palis with wide, innocent eyes. Scale scoffed at the change in Palis’s stance, the softening of his tone. “Pache. Where did that come from?”

Instantly, the innocence vanished, Pache looking away and shifting a little bit, tucking the bread defensively at his side. “...The baker’s.”

Palis crouched down, until his face was level with Pache’s. “...Did you pay for it?”

Pache remained silent.

Palis laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder, and for a few moments, there was silence, neither one of them saying a word...until at last, Pache sniffled, held the bread out for Palis to take. “She gives out free samples all the time...but there weren’t any out today…”

Interesting. Scale felt just a touch, the faintest hint, of pride in its bearer. Perhaps it had sat in the company of brigands for too long. It seemed the law could still exist, even in a place like this.

Those hopes were only buoyed when Palis shook his head and took his brother’s hand instead. “No, we can’t return it like that. You already ate some of it. Come on, you’re going to apologize and we’ll see what we can do for the baker instead.”


And so Scale watched, as its bearer and his brother, two stubborn young mortals alike, spent an afternoon sweeping the floor of the bakery under the watchful eye of a half-orcish woman, and in turn were given a small bag of more of the stolen bun, a just reward for fine work and a sign that their debts were more than repaid. Though it would have never admitted it, Scale was content. Despite all of the lawlessness it had seen, it seemed that the world would not fall to chaos quite yet, not so long as these mortals carried on with these small acts of justice. So long as they believed in the natural order of the world, it would carry on.

And so Scale watched, as its bearer and his brother, two stubborn young mortals alike, spent an afternoon sweeping the floor of the bakery under the watchful eye of a half-orcish woman, and in turn were given a small bag of more of the stolen bun, a just reward for fine work and a sign that their debts were more than repaid. Though it would have never admitted it, Scale was content. Despite all of the lawlessness it had seen, it seemed that the world would not fall to chaos quite yet, not so long as these mortals carried on with these small acts of justice. So long as they believed in the natural order of the world, it would carry on.

As the two ventured back to the town square, Pache laughing delightedly at the kindness of the baker and proclaiming himself King of the Dustpan, Palis laid a hand on Scale’s hilt. “...Thank you. For listening.”


Palis smiled to himself as he settled down on the edge of the central fountain next to his brother, tearing a chunk off of his bun and offering it to Pache. “I want thievery to be punished...but I also want the few good people left to be happy. Pache doesn’t deserve a world where cruelty is met with cruelty.”

Scale was silent at that, remembering. Looking back upon what it knew. Understanding that such proclamations rarely met with any success. “That is...admirable. As you ordered me to before, Pache will not come to harm if I have any power to prevent it. You have my word.”

It said nothing of the world Palis wished for. It couldn’t.

Palis slammed a hand on his desk, his eyes wide, furious. “She’s his what!?

The halfling man on the other side quailed, trembling a little. “N-now I don’t know this for sure! Rumors and guesses, my good man, rumors and guesses, nothing more just yet! But, um…” He stepped back a little, looked around the office nervously, but of course, the others in the room were fast asleep, snoring at their desks. Scale had ensured that. Even so, he continued in an undertone. “The new leader of the thieves’ guild…my uncle met with her and she seemed far more familiar with the Grey Reaper than any “business associate” would! If she is his kid, though, I’m impressed, she can sure run a business better than the Reaper ever could...”

Palis growled, putting his hand on the hilt of the golden sword at his side, and the halfling took another step back, visibly shaking, his hands up in some cowardly, futile effort to still the blade. “N-n-now there’s no need for that, Palis!”

“You know how I feel about thieves in this town, Splimby. Scum, clever or not. Same as the ones who associate with them.”

“Of course, of course! All of them scum! I…I was just saying that she seems craftier than the last one! A more difficult worm to stamp out...b-but, I’m sure you can do it, sir.” He offered Palis a shaky approximation of a smile, more gritted teeth than anything, and all Palis could do in response was scoff and lean back into his chair.

“...Must we rely on such methods?” Scale murmured through their mental connection.

“This town is built on nepotism and traded favors. You know this. Until we figure out the magic that can change their minds for them, I’ll have to forge my own connections to get to the top. Trust me...if he wasn’t so useful, I would have cut ties a long time ago.”

Palis sighed, putting a hand to his chin as he leaned forward again, studying Harriton Splimby as if he was no more than a pawn on a particularly tricky board of dragonchess. Impassionate. Cold. Calculating. But undeniably in control of what was going on. “I can only do it so long as you carry on with the jobs I give you, Harriton. You know this. Get me an audience with your uncle, place my name into the ears of whoever matters to make that happen, and it will happen. The CFO is a valuable man to have on my side...and you’re not getting a single one of my advising positions until you’ve proven yourself capable.”

Harriton nodded, so vehemently that the little man nearly dipped into a bow, which Scale regarded with the kind of distasteful amusement one might reserve for a parrot that had come up with a particularly inventive bit of vulgarity to say. “Oh, I’m capable! R-rest assured! I’ll gain that cabinet title if it kills me!”

“And it will,” Palis thought to Scale as Harriton skittered off and it ended the spell on his coworkers one by one, staggered as ordered, so that they could take some enjoyment out of shaking each other awake and threatening to tell the higher-ups. “With your help, he’ll die alongside the whole bloated system that keeps this corrupted town afloat. Order will be established. One way or another. And if I ever cross paths with The Wraith...she will be the first worm crushed under my heel.”

Scale watched as Palis returned to his work, ever dutiful, never once sleeping on the job...perfectly in character. And it was pleased, though not without a hint of disdain for the necessity of relying on those who took payments from criminals. Justice would be done in time. This it was sure of.

Palis smiled to himself in the mirror, swimming a little in the heavy robes of office, not meant for a young man of only 23 summers. The youngest ever to be sworn in. And with the hand still hidden within the folds of cloth, he gently ran his thumb along the hilt of the sword that had made it all possible. Scale was more than happy to share its elation with him. All that they had worked for, in a few short minutes, would be realized at last.

Scale had to admit, the process had been far simpler than its own half-remembered memories of how its kin had selected their King of Justice. No election had been held, no arguments had been had. The prior leader of this town had stepped down, and so its bearer had become the new one. One who would live up to that title. Scale would make sure of it. “I will ask you once more, Palis. The evil in this town will not be easily subjugated. How far are you prepared to go? What are you prepared to do?”

And here, far from prying eyes and ears, mere moments before Palis would swear oaths emptier than these could ever be, he smiled fondly at the sword at his side, the stalwart companion that had made all of this possible. And with the same seriousness he’d had almost five years ago, the same iron resolve that had led him to strike down the Reaper himself as it had guided him to convince Pache to sweep a bakery floor for several hours, he responded aloud. “I will go as far as I need to. I will do anything to ensure their happiness.”

“Then all shall be as you have willed it. Show them no mercy.”

“There is none to show.”

He had miscalculated. The tiefling girl’s sword landed a solid blow, and even now, after years of having Scale’s magic buoy his own defenses, he had to refrain from wincing as the blow, fatal for any other, still glanced off of him without so much a scratch left behind. But still, he felt the magic weaken. He doubted he could withstand many more of those.

The Wraith advanced, crazed bloodlust in her eyes as she raised her sword again, and this time she’d scarcely swung it before a shield bloomed around him, the blade glancing uselessly off of the bubble of force. It seemed to only encourage her. “You can’t ward yourself forever, you bastard! Quit being such a coward and face me! Or can you only rely on cheap tricks to do your dirty work!?”

Palis leaped back, putting some distance between them, his teeth gritted as he tried to ignore her taunts. He hadn’t expected to face her so soon, but there was no doubt. The girl in front of him was indeed the Reaper’s daughter, and she was as relentless in her pursuit of him as he was of her. But in this fight he was her superior...He had to be, if he was going to survive it. He pointed Scale at the girl as a fireball burst from the sword’s tip, and she ran right through the flames in her dogged pursuit, even as the fire licked at her body and burned the leather that made up her armor. Like the demonic abominations that lived on in her bloodline, she carried on like the flames hadn’t even touched her, that crazed, enraged look in her eye not fading even with the pain.

Scale called out to him, “Pay attention!” and it was barely enough time for him to react to block another reckless attack, the horrible sound of metal squealing against metal ringing out as he was forced to use Scale to block the sword, their edges scraping against each other in a way that would have ruined a lesser blade.

But as focused as he was on blocking her first attack, he missed her second. Her leg swept out and knocked him down. He barely kept a grip on Scale, but it was not enough to keep him from being at her mercy.

Especially when he heard a familiar voice from downstairs. “Palis!? I heard a struggle, are you okay!?” Pache. Home early from his shift as guard captain, far earlier than he’d expected. He was already running up the stairs.

The Wraith grinned at him, teeth like daggers, as she raised her sword for the finishing blow. “How fitting! Your brother will get to watch your death just as I got to watch my father's! And when he’s done, I’ll care of him, too!”

"Not this day. Flee." The Wraith froze, and for a split second, Palis could see an internal struggle. And then, with a scream of rage, she turned against her will, breaking out into a sprint towards the large window across the hall. "No! No! You bastard!"

She put into words exactly what he felt. Palis scrambled to his feet, unheeding the bruises on his body, the sign that Scale’s wards had fallen away, and raced after her, swinging his sword in a last, desperate attack just as the tiefling burst through the glass, just as Pache finally cleared the last flight of stairs to watch with horror at what he had missed. Miraculously, the sword connected. There was another scream. And then Palis felt strong hands gripping his robes, pulling him back and keeping him from leaping through the window after her. He struggled against them in vain. "No! I had her! Get back here!"

“Palis, stop! Stop! It's me!” He was turned, and there in front of him was his brother, older now, stronger, armored, but still with the same wide-eyed innocence he’d held onto all of these years. Palis realized then that he was spattered with blood that wasn't his own, and the remorse at having Pache see him like this was enough to keep him still, enough for him to simply stand there and go numb at the look of horror and anguish that filled his brother’s face. “...Why did you try to fight her, Palis? You should have ran, or hid, or...gods above, is that your blood!?”

He shook his head as the numbness stole in and made his voice flat. “...No. Hers.” He glanced back towards the shattered window. He should have felt something about this. Anything. But the adrenaline had left the cold bitterness of defeat in its place. “...Think I got an arm.”

Pache clapped a hand over his mouth. “...I’m still taking you to the infirmary. Gods, Palis, you could have died. What were you thinking!? Come on, let's see if you're injured...”

He let himself be led, the numbness letting him effortlessly play the part of a shocked, lucky survivor. Meanwhile, he could feel the embers of his anger at the entire situation flicker back to life, especially when he remembered what had caused her to flee in the first place.

“Why did you make her run, Scale!? We could have ended it, right then and there!”

“And if you failed to take her out? What then? My wards were depleted, fool! One more attack and you would have been beyond anyone’s help, not just mine!”

“None of that would have mattered if you’d used Command to hold her still! If I had taken her out, cut the head off the serpent-”

“Then two more would have grown in its place! You are acting like a child, Palis! Her death will be meaningless without the eradication of everything she stands for along with her. You said you would do all that it takes. That includes throwing away this childish feud with this girl and her family before it destroys you, along with all that we have worked for!”

“Then I am to let her live another day!? Grow stronger? Undermine me before I have any chance to put our plans into action, to keep my brother safe, to rid this town of its cancer once and for all? I thought you were on my side, Scale.”

“...I have been by your side and acted as your confidant for ten years. If you have reasons to doubt my loyalty...I would be very interested in hearing them."

Palis recoiled and snapped out of his thoughts as he felt someone attempt to unbuckle the sheath from his side. He flinched and shot the healer a glare, clamping a hand down protectively over his blade. “No.”

She gave him a withering look back. “Sir, with all due respect, how am I supposed to check all of your injuries if you have a sword preventing me from removing your robes?”

He scowled. “You know healing magic, yes? Cast something to cure my wounds and then move along, or I’ll have you arrested. I just faced an assassination attempt. This sword doesn't leave my side.

The healer recoiled, anger crossing her face for just a moment before she took a deep breath and relented. “...Yes, sir. But get changed when you return home. Blood carries diseases, and magic only does so much.”

Palis relaxed, but he still kept a hand on the sheath, wincing internally at the exchange. Acting like a chaild indeed. “...Of course. I would hate to catch something after surviving the ordeal I’ve been through. My apologies, it''s been a long day.”

She smiled wanly at him. "I understand. But please, sir. We're only trying to help." She began her incantation, and the interruption gave Palis enough time to settle his thoughts. Unfortunately, Scale was right. If he died trying to take down the Wraith, all that would do was strengthen the thieves’ position. And he'd collected enough intel by now to know that killing her would only inspire her closest subordinate to take the lead and declare all-out war on the Reliqua company. Palis had done much to strengthen their position, and that of the law's in turn, but an all-out war was something that it wouldn't survive...not yet.

He was angry at the Wraith for taking over her father's position, for her bold, flagrant, unapologetic flaunting of the law, for her role in making this "Thieves' Guild" the most organized crime ring the town had seen in decades...but the anger was mostly because she'd dared to threaten Pache. It was personal. And he couldn't afford petty personal squabbles, not now, on the cusp of setting his great game in motion. Scale was right.

He reached out to Scale again after they had returned to the mansion and he’d reassured Pache that he was okay. It had taken some doing, but the contingent of guards around the house set his brother’s mind enough at ease to eventually leave him alone. “Scale.”

“Have you found reasons to doubt my loyalty, boy?”

Palis shook his head. “No, of course not...I am apologizing. were right. I’ve let my quest for vengeance blind me. I’ll abandon it. I’ll do better.”

“No.” Palis frowned at Scale’s response, but let the spirit elaborate. “To truly act as a bearer of the law, one must have a quest. Without a purpose to lead you, your energy will be wasted. Your vengeance is what gives your energy form, what allows you to channel order no matter the cost. It simply needs to be...better directed. Do not throw your life away satisfying a petty squabble. It is worth more than that.”

Palis went quiet for a while. Scale was a being of few words, but when it did speak, every word counted. But these ones in particular struck a chord. His life was worth something. Precious few had ever said that and meant it. “...Scale?”

“What is it?”

He had refrained from asking personal questions years ago, after he’d embarked on this mission to eradicate the thieves in Tra Laghi. They hadn’t mattered then. All that had mattered was achieving this goal. But now...perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, or the sudden realization of how close a brush with death he’d had, but he felt...almost introspective. He realized now that despite ten years of knowing and trusting this sword and the spirit within it, he actually knew very little. “You put a lot of stock into quests...but what is yours?”

Scale took a moment to respond. “...My goal?”

“Yes. Surely you have one?”

“...I suppose I seek...entertainment. Mortals...whose goals align with what I deem just...who might have use for my power...I suppose that finding more of those is the closest thing to a goal I have. One does not survive living as a sword for hundreds of years with their mind intact without some way to while away the hours.”

Palis frowned. More of an answer than he’d expected. He had grown used to short replies. “Is...that all I am? Entertainment?”

Scale sounded amused. “No, Palis. I would not have offered my power if I simply wanted to be entertained. Until our time together comes to an end, your quest is my quest. Your goals, my goal. Does that satisfy you?”

“...Oh.” Palis went quiet, grappling with the meaning of all of that in his head. His questions had brought answers, but those in turn only brought more questions. How long had Scale existed as a sword? What was this spirit, even? So much of its words suggested that it hadn’t always been in the form it was now. But what he couldn’t seem to turn from was another question, something he dared not even dream of asking. How much did Scale truly care? Not for their quest, as it put it...but for him?

Somehow, the thought of what the sword might answer filled him with joy and terror in equal measure.

But he would never ask. He couldn’t.

The door slammed behind Pache as he stormed out of the room, and it was only when his footsteps faded away that Palis slumped a little in his chair, finally letting the hurt of his brother’s betrayal show in his face. So it had come to this. Twenty years of planning, of carefully stacking the board in his favor, and still, it came to this. He’d kept Scale’s sentience, its secrets, from Pache for so long, but judging by his accusations, he had finally started to suspect. He wasn’t sure when he’d slipped, when his actions had grown obvious, but of course, the rumors of his madness and the not-so-subtle efforts of the Wraith’s men to take him out had forced his hand a little. And now, at last, she had taken the last thing he’d cared about away from him. “...I should have killed her when I had the chance.”

“And failed before you’d even begun?”

Well...Almost the last. Palis’s miserable expression faded just a little as Scale’s voice reached him. “...No, you’re right. As always. I needed the time to set this all into motion.” He forced a smile, pulling out the rolls of parchment as he had countless times before and laying them out, displaying grids and maps and symbols unknowable to any but him and Scale, the only one he dared trust anymore. Perhaps it would take his mind off things. “...Even now, I find myself manipulating a piece here and there, preparing for one eventuality over another, scanning all the possibilities in the hopes that I have not missed anything.” He swept one piece of parchment off the table, pulled another closer, traced down the lines of the chart until he found the point of interest he was looking for. “...Pache’s absence is only a minor setback. I planned for that months ago, and I’m grateful that I did. The plan will need only a few minor adjustments.”

Scale was quiet, presumably studying the charts as well, but when it spoke again, its voice was subdued. “...A hostage.”

“Necessary. So long as these adventurers Pache speaks of are a just group, no harm shall befall her. After all...they apparently contain the girl who robbed Splimby, all those years ago. I’ve heard of her feelings for the one I’ve chosen. It should be an easy decision.” Palis smiled, pulling out another piece of parchment, this one stamped with an official seal, already drafting up his handwritten letter of commendation, an invitation to a banquet at the Reliqua Company CEO’s private home. How easy it was to bring the pieces into place when you had all the tools needed to move them.

“And if, somehow, they refuse to take the easy victory? Adventurers are an unpredictable lot. No planning will ever cover the full breadth of their actions.”

Palis chuckled dangerously, adding the finishing touches to his letter. “...I am no longer the man I was all those years ago, Scale. And I removed an arm then. A life can’t be that much harder to destroy. One life is more than worth the salvation of this city, especially if it brings that tiefling bitch to her knees...Even Pache will forgive me for my transgressions when he sees the results. I am sure of it. Order will be established at last.”

Palis placed the letter in an envelope and stood, looking to either side at the suits of armor decorating his office. Yes...they would do nicely. He smiled serenely, content, as he reviewed each of them for flaws, the last step before he placed the town, and the scum that ran it, in check. This would truly be a festival to remember.

Checkmate. All Scale could do was look on in horror as the Wraith’s sword punched through Palis’s chest at last, the last of its wards gone completely, nothing left to stop the blade from finding its mark. It could already tell that horror in its bearers eyes would haunt it for weeks, months, maybe years after. Already, the moment felt like an eternity.

But it was over in an instant, and suddenly its field of view shifted as the sword was ripped from his chest and Palis slumped in his seat, sliding down until he fell prone on the tiled floor. His hand still gripped the hilt of the blade with what little strength he had left.

Already, Scale could feel their connection fading, the pact they had forged breaking at the death of one of the parties involved. Against all odds, all planning...they had lost. And Palis was dying.

Just as it had warned, their hostage Mara had died first, killed when the adventurers' lanky madman tried to perform some acrobatic maneuver over the table Palis had planned to bargain with them at, in some desperate attempt to wrest Scale from Palis’s grasp. Depite what Palis had said about a life being worth the city...her death felt pointless. Meaningless. Disappointing. Palis and Scale's joint efforts at defense, too, had fallen through numerous times, leaving the Wraith free to deliver the killing blow. Another disappointment. But disappointment alone could not explain the pain it felt now...there was something else to the feeling. Some other cause, some...hidden depth. Something it couldn’t quite name.

Something moved at the edge of Scale’s vision, and its focus shifted on Palis again, eyes open and unmoving, blood still pouring from the wound in his chest...but his lips were moving. Almost imperceptibly. couldn’t place what he was trying to say.

That pesky, unnameable feeling made itself known again. And in this, the final act of the game they’d set up together, Scale attempted one last maneuver. It reached out with every ounce of its mental strength, tried as hard as it could to capture the spirit slipping away from its wielder, just for a moment, just for long enough to capture what Palis was trying to say, what he meant.

“I’m sorry?” “Thank you?” Something else, something that it had ignored, had avoided, for so many years, that sat at the center of this strange more-than-disappointment it was feeling?

But then the Wraith brought her sword down again for good measure, and in cruel parallel, Palis’s head was separated from his shoulders, just as the Grey Reaper's had been so long ago. The moment was over. Scale’s last maneuver had ended in failure. Palis was gone.

And when, some several minutes later, the clockwork creature, the abominable echo of a paladin that had helped kill Palis and end the beautiful dreams they’d woven for Tra Laghi, attempted to retrieve it from its wielder’s hands, Scale lashed out, its rage more palpable than it had been in years. Who was she? Who was she, to carry what he had carried, to pick Scale up like it was some war prize? It would rather the mansion collapse on top of them all, burying it, and Palis, and anyone else fool enough to remain, deep beneath the earth...than fall into the hands of some other lawless scum that would only shut it in a vault for another round of decades immeasurable.

But when she persisted...taking control of her mind was simple enough. And it was all too easy to make her swing at the tall one, the fool who'd sent their house of cards tumbling down...but that gambit too, just like all the rest, ended in failure. Scale’s blade scraped harmlessly off of the man’s armor, the automaton wrested her mind from its grasp, and just like that, it was over. Scale was thrown into yet another vault, surrounded by the kind of garbage only adventurers found interesting, and there it sat, trapped. Left alone. Left to rot. Left to mourn. Left to wonder at all that could have been.

They had been traveling together for some weeks now since Palis died. Scale had all but resigned itself to sitting in the adventurers’ treasure cache after its second escape attempt had failed. But instead, the clockwork automaton, Frae, had pulled it out again, almost reverently, cradling it close as she carried it within a magic circle she’d clearly spent time on. A Zone of Truth? A laughable attempt to get intel out of it. Scale doubted it had anything left to offer her, but even if it had, it refused to give it up. A petty act over something as small as another dead bearer in a long line of them, but one it relished in anyways. It could do this much. But then she did something it didn’t expect - she breathed deep, and a mark appeared over her throat as she succumbed to the magic willingly. The Zone was not for Scale at all, but for her.

After a moment, she spoke to it. “...Hello again. Just as I said, here I am, speaking with you again tonight. I…want to start with an apology. I was ill-prepared for a conversation with you last time, and so I was much...harsher than I should have been. I apologize for that.”

“I’m not here to make threats or impose punishments, aside from any that would be in self-defense. I don’t consider you an enemy, I just wish to talk, as equals. This Zone of Truth is here for that reason. I’ve submitted to that magic, as a way to...try and prove my trustworthiness. It was the best I could think of. For the ten minutes we have to talk, I will not lie to you.”

“Here. Proof.” She took a deep breath and pointed to herself. “My name is Frae. I am not a–” She made a bit of a gagging noise, and her face scrunched up a little. A couple of seconds passed, with more faces Scale found darkly amusing, before she was finally able to take a deep breath again. “...So that’s what happens if you try to lie. I'd always wondered.” She murmured, smiling to herself. She looked over at the others in the party, standing nearby, to explain, not hiding the bit of amusement on her face. “Relax, it hasn’t attacked me. Just testing the spell by trying to say I wasn’t an Evnir. It made my tongue curl up! Unpleasant.” Her party seemingly reassured, Frae turned her attention back to Scale, speaking quietly again. “Hopefully, that was proof enough. I’d rather not go through that again, if I can help it...I want to keep the talks simple, for the time we have left. Until we can learn to trust each other, I thought we could swap information? You can ask me a question, and I’ll ask you one in return. If you don’t want to answer, I will pick another. Is that fair?”

Despite its promises to itself just moments before, Scale was…intrigued. If this was a gambit to get information, it was a clever one at least. Perhaps entertaining her for a while wouldn’t hurt.

“…What is it you want to know?”

They’d spoken a few more times after that first round of questioning. The Evnir was strange, far gentler than most of the other bearers Scale had spent time with. Not once had she asked to wield him. It was as though she was completely ignorant to the power Scale could offer her. Instead, she asked him inane things, like his name, whether he wanted a friendship bracelet, if his new scabbard was to his liking. He hadn’t expected her to even provide him a new one after he’d launched himself out of the filthy thing she’d tried to jam him in last time, convinced it was another attempt to humiliate him as punishment. But she had. She’d paid handsomely, and had a smith make a new one entirely. It was...very strange.

She’d taken to carrying him everywhere ever since, occasionally reaching to her side, where he rested, to share the context behind what was happening, to complain about some minor grievance, to ask for his opinion (though he rarely gave it, preferring to keep his own counsel). She reminded him that he was more than just a sword, just a tool, in a way that he’d long forgotten. She treated him more like a companion than any of his prior bearers had…even Palis, loath as Scale was to admit it. And so he had thought little of her bringing him along on her midnight walk with Cruz, content to drowse as the two Evnir insisted on their secretive catching up.

He should have thought about it more. Of course Cruz…no, Arrow, had never intended to catch up, not at this hour. When Frae attempted to pull his sword vessel from its scabbard, Scale could feel every ounce of her grief and rage, so much like his own had been, through the bond her touch created that he didn’t once consider resisting her attempt.

But the battle that followed was all too brief, Frae’s tired body unable to endure both the trials of the day and the might of Helm the Protector’s newest paladin, especially with an unfamiliar weapon in her hands. In the end, Frae fell to her knees with a ragged gasp, and the other Evnir, grinning, landed a solid kick to the side of her head, sending her sprawling to the dirt. The steady ticking of her clockwork, at first an annoyance, then a reassurance as time wore on, fell into an unsteady arrhythmia that even Scale could tell was unhealthy.

Checkmate. Again. Before the game had even fully started.

…But perhaps not. Her grip was weak, but still, she held on.

Arrow approached, their triumphant smile only widening as they noticed the sword their traitor sister had was still in her hand, gleaming invitingly.

Their smile persisted even as their head fell from their shoulders.

Scale hadn’t forgotten how to seize the mind of an unwanted wielder, and the only just end for a thief, a murderer, abusing the powers of a god for their own mortal desires, was a violent one. How many more of these ends would he bring about? It mattered not. At least she was safe.

And some hours later, when Frae’s clockwork miraculously found its rhythm again and her eyes fluttered open, Scale was at her side. And he remained at her side still, even as she poured her grief and regrets into anguished sobs. Even after nearly being killed herself, she hadn’t wanted Arrow dead. And Scale found himself surprised once again, as Frae’s grieving turned to Palis, too. She hadn’t wanted him dead, either, she told him through her tears. But everything seemed to conspire against her dreams of being able to right old wrongs, of being able to prevent those she cared for from falling into a self-destructive quest for vengeance instead of justice. No matter what she always ended in blood.

Forging the soulbond after witnessing that hadn’t even been a question.

Her quest would be his quest. For her grief was his own.

Of all the things Scale had seen in his long, long life, this was something he never could have been prepared for. And it had only been with Frae’s help, with the whole party’s help, that it had happened. That Palis held him once again, just as he had done a lifetime ago. Haggard, haunted...but whole. It was so familiar it hurt.

Which is why Scale couldn’t help but feel grateful and guilty all at once, when, instead of letting his sword vessel stay in his hand, Palis stabbed it into the dirt at his side and left it. The moment passed. Things were different, now, after all.


Things were very different.

Her. She exceeds all my expectations, and then in the same moment, sends them crashing back to the earth with her own foolishness. And yet, she is a bearer that I’ve come to be proud of, despite it all. This reunion was…her idea, you know.”

Palis’s hand rested tentatively on the pommel of Scale’s vessel, just enough to make the connection and let their thoughts flow back and forth without sound. Just like before. Despite Scale’s words, he spared Frae, sitting in the corner working on repairs now that her task was finished, little more than a glance.

“...Is Pache okay?”

“You were lucky the adventurers attached themselves to him. He lives, and comfortably, at that. I’m starting to believe there is some truth to the old adage...So long as adventurers exist, the impossible cannot.”

“You have a higher opinion of them than I expected.”

“I could say the same of you. You didn't try to kill them on sight at all.”

Frae looked up from her repairs at a snort of laughter from Palis, but no, they were seemingly still talking. She looked back down.

“I...don’t really have the energy to feel one way or the other, Scale. And if I did, what of it? I couldn’t defeat them at the height of my power, with you at my side. Broken as I am would have been a pitiful show.”

“Not one I would have liked to see,” he agreed. Hoping, somehow, that he could get the sentiment buried beneath the words through to him. I missed you. I loved you. I’m sorry.

What had done this to them? It had only been a few short months, yet in that time, a wall had sprouted between them, insurmountable. Had their bond truly been so fragile?

Palis was silent. His thoughts unreadable, now, another reminder of all that had changed.

“...You know...that I cannot...”

“I know. Things can never be as they were. You are pledged to another, am I.”

“...It’s for the best.” He smiled, in the same tired, mocking, joyless way as before. A dead man’s grin. “Is this not what I deserve? Trapped like you, one-armed like The Wraith, powerless as I once was, struggle though I might. The wheel of history turns, and I am crushed beneath it...I’m not very fond of poetry anymore. Hard to be, when you live it.”

“You are upset. Because we spared you? Were you expecting to die for the second time?”

“I don’t even know if I can.”


“It would have been a fitting end. A perfect circle, closing around my neck.”

“Perhaps. But those you have left behind…would disagree.” I missed you. I loved you. I’m sorry.

For a long time, there was silence between them, enough that Scale almost began to regret what little he had been able to let slip. But then Palis’s shoulders slumped, and his hand rested solidly on the pommel now, just like it used to when they used to talk, all those years ago. It was so familiar it hurt.

“...I’m tired, Scale.” I loved you too, but we are strangers to each other now.

“...I know. But we must carry on.”

Characters Featured: