This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
Dane stood holding the hilt of the blade he’d rammed through the mugger’s back so hard the tip must be sticking out of the man’s chest. Dane stood there feeling the life-force, the soul, of the man being sucked right out of his body and into the sword. Though not all the energy stayed within the blade. Part of it flowed into Dane. Strengthening him. Flooding his veins. Making him feel superhuman.
This was what the sword had been created for. To take not just the lives of those who were evil, but their life-force. Their essence. Their souls. Those the sword killed were trapped within it. Never to escape. Never to be free. Destined to suffer torment for all eternity. A fitting end for those who had lived such evil lives, and a way to ensure their essence couldn’t return to plague the world again.
In a matter of seconds the process was finished. The mugger’s body slumped forward, all life gone from it. Dead in a way no recently killed corpse would normally be. Dane pulled the sword out with an expert twist as the body collapsed to the ground.
He shivered slightly as the power flowing into his body slowed and stopped. Then he let out a deep sigh, looked up at the old woman, and smiled.
* * *
Officer Crabtree raced down the alleyway, his gun out. He’d heard the old woman’s cries, had turned into the alleyway and seen the knife being pressed against her face.
He’d decided it was better to get as close as he could before announcing his presence, to try and prevent the old woman being used as a shield by the mugger. Or being stabbed so he had to stay and look after her rather than chase down the attacker.
He was halfway down the alley, about to break into an all-out sprint, when he noticed a shadowy shape behind the attacker. Then Officer Crabtree stumbled to a halt and stared in amazement as the dark-clad figure drew a sword, one which seemed to reflect light that didn’t even exist in the alleyway, and with a smooth motion plunged it into the back of the assailant.
Crabtree stood there, frozen in horror, watching as the old lady finally managed to break free of her assailant’s grip. Then he gritted his teeth and broke into a run, taking out his gun. No matter what the attacker had been planning to do to the old lady, this couldn’t go unchallenged. Crabtree couldn’t allow someone to run around the city attacking people with a sword. Even if those being attacked did deserve it.
He fully expected the dark clad figure to turn and run when they realised a police officer had arrived. He couldn’t let them get away. As soon as he was sure the old lady was out of the line of fire he’d offer both the mugger and their attacker the chance to surrender, assuming the mugger was even still alive. If they didn’t take the chance then he’d drop them.
The mugger suddenly slumped, as if whatever had been holding him up had vanished. The dark-clad figure slid the sword clear of the falling body with an ease which suggested this was far from the first person they’d killed. Then they looked up at the old lady.
Crabtree came to a stop, barely six steps from the dark-clad figure. He levelled his gun and shouted.
“You! Drop that sword! Right now!”
The figure turned towards him. It was a man. Crabtree saw a smile within the darkened hood.
“I’m sorry, officer. I can’t do that.”
The voice was soft, gentle. Crabtree wasn’t fooled. Some of the worst criminals he’d ever come across had also been the most kindly spoken. He kept the gun pointed at the figure’s chest.
“This is your last chance. I’ve already seen you use that sword on someone. Drop it right now or I’ll shoot.”
Instead of dropping the sword, the attacker lifted it, holding it vertically at waist height so the tip was just above his head. Crabtree had seen enough. The man was a killer and clearly wasn’t about to comply. That almost certainly meant he was about to attack.
Crabtree breathed out, held his breath a moment, and pulled the trigger four times. Two shots at the man’s chest and two at his head, in case he was wearing some form of bullet-proof vest. Together that was enough to drop anyone, no matter what they were wearing… or what drugs they were high on.
The bullets… sparked. That was the only word for it. Where they struck the dark-clad figure there was a burst of bluish sparks, and then nothing. The man still stood there, completely unharmed. Crabtree gritted his teeth and fired again.
He kept firing until every single bullet was gone. And every time the same thing happened. Sparking energy where the bullet struck… and no other effect at all.
Only the quiet click each time he pulled the trigger told him he’d emptied the gun. His hand dropped to his waist so he could reload. At the same moment the dark-clad man burst into action. He seemed to cover the distance to Crabtree in the blink of an eye. The blade plunged into Crabtree’s chest before he had any chance to react, punching deep.
It burned! Not burned like being stabbed. Crabtree had been stabbed once before, in his thigh. He’d been lucky that it missed the artery. That had burned… but not like this. This felt as if his entire body was on fire. His very being.
And then, with horror, he started to feel the essence of himself being pulled into the sword. And he heard cries. The tortured screams of hundreds, maybe thousands, of others. All coming from the sword. All suffering the fate which was clearly in store for him.
Crabtree tried desperately to resist the pull… but it was impossible. No matter how hard he fought, it made no difference. Slowly and smoothly his soul was dragged from his body… and sucked into the sword. And in that awful moment he knew he’d be trapped there forever.
* * *
Dane shivered as part of the energy from the police officer’s soul flowed into him. The rest of the energy, and the core of the officer’s soul, flowed into the blade.
This was not what the sword had been created for. Long before, back when Dane had first taken possession of the sword, it would have completely refused to absorb the soul of the police officer. And Dane would never have dreamed of trying to feed from such a soul. Through the sword he’d been able to sense those it had been created to punish, and homed in on them.
Each time he’d cut down a deserving victim a portion of the life force had flowed into him. It made him stronger, faster, but those were just side benefits. The moment of the kill… the feeling as the power flowed into him… that moment was divine.
It hadn’t taken long for Dane to become addicted to the feeling, but those the sword would choose to kill were relatively rare. Those who not just did evil deeds at times, but who were evil right down to their core.
Dane spent more and more time seeking them out… but still he couldn’t find enough to slake the hunger burning inside his chest. Until one day, driven by a desperate need for his hit he struck down someone the sword hadn’t drawn him to. Someone who was still far from virtuous, possibly even evil, but not to such a depth that the sword hungered for their soul.
Dane struck… the sword punched through the victim’s chest… and Dane braced himself for the ecstasy. It didn’t come. The victim died, of course. Having a sword stuck clean through your body tended to have that effect. But the sword didn’t awaken. It didn’t drink their soul. And Dane didn’t get his fix. The sword knew what it had been created for, and it would never drink any but the darkest of souls.
Until Dane corrupted it. It had taken time. Several years of endless experimentation, only punctuated with the rare taking of a soul the sword felt deserved its judgement.
But finally Dane worked out a way to warp the sword’s judgement. Using the very power it had provided him with he stumbled on a way to amplify the evil deeds of those he killed, in the sword’s judgement at least. His first success was someone undoubtedly evil, but not quite far enough beyond redemption for the sword to awaken for.
But with a little manipulation of the sword’s perceptions that all changed. The sword activated. It thirsted for the wrongdoer’s soul. When Dane struck the sword took the soul, and Dane got his fix.
It was a slow start, only allowing the most borderline cases to be tipped over into being judged. But Dane knew the trick now, and over the years he grew in both power and subtlety. The level of wrongdoing required to awaken the sword became lower and lower, once its perceptions had been adjusted by Dane at least.
Over time he perfected awakening the sword for those who couldn’t be considered evil by any reasonable measure, but who lived their lives in the grey areas. Those who at times had to resort to violence, even killing, but did so in defence of others.
Those like the officer Dane had just killed. The fact the officer had fired at Dane was merely icing on the cake. His long years in the police provided more than enough for Dane to work with.
The last dregs of the officer’s soul were sucked into the sword. The empty body went limp. Dane smiled as he pulled the sword out with practised ease, using the fall of the body to do most of the work. It was a move he’d perfected over countless encounters.
Then he turned to the old woman.
“Please don’t hurt me!” she pleaded, voice quavering. “I won’t tell anyone what I saw. I promise! You don’t have to hurt me!”
“Why would I hurt you?” asked Dane, his voice silky. “The sword only drinks the souls of those who are evil. Surely you’ve never done anything it would consider unworthy. Surely you’ve never taken a life. Or tried to.”
The woman visibly relaxed a little. She shook her head.
“No! Never anything like that! In fact… I help out a lot. Charities. Soup kitchens. I’m getting old, but I still do it. That’s how I got into this mess. Someone didn’t turn up for the shift after mine at the soup kitchen so I stayed on. And I was just too tired after a double shift to go home the long way. The safe way! It was stupid!”
“There you are then! You have nothing to fear!”
With those words, Dane thrust the sword through her chest.
He had to focus hard. She was telling the truth. There was no evil in her. Not even anything from grey areas like those of the officer. But there was enough. Over a life that long there had to be. Moments of jealousy. Anger. Pettiness. Other tiny misdeeds.
The sword was most definitely not created to take lives like the old woman’s, but Dane had been manipulating it for a long, long time. He was able to force the sword to view the old woman’s soul as worthy of damnation and it started to suck the life from her.
Dane fed off the scraps. The old lady had little life-force left, but what she had was still better than nothing. Especially after he’d been able to feed on the energy of the mugger and the police officer.
All too soon the flow ended. Dane pulled the blade from the woman’s body, and this time he cleaned it off, being extremely careful not to nick himself on it, then went to replace it in its scabbard. It was time to leave the alleyway.
* * *
“What sort of monster are you?”
Dane spun around at the sudden question. He found a young woman standing barely ten yards away, her eyes wide. Despite the frigid night she wore no coat, just a hoodie with the logo of a martial arts school emblazoned on it. And she carried a long wooden staff, one which was as tall as she was.
Dane smiled. She must be, what? Fifteen? Sixteen? No more than seventeen. She had almost her entire life ahead of her. He shivered slightly at the thought of all the energy he’d draw from her soul.
He didn’t say a word, just started to move towards her, sword still in hand. He moved slowly. He didn’t want to waste any of his power on this one. Not until she turned and ran. And he was certain she would turn and run. She’d seen what happened to the other three.
She didn’t run. She dropped the bag she’d been carrying over one shoulder to the floor and brought her staff and body to a ready position. Dane suppressed a laugh with difficulty. Even without the additional powers the sword gave him, he’d been practising with the sword for decades now. And this young kid thought she could stand against him? It was laughable!
He closed in, toying with her at first. Sending obvious strikes she was able to parry easily. Letting her think she stood a chance. He did that for a full minute, sensing her confidence growing.
Then, from one strike to the next, everything changed. He used everything he’d learnt over the decades, all his skills, to strike in a totally different way. He didn’t use his powers yet. He didn’t think he’d need to at all.
He wasn’t trying to kill her. Not yet. He deliberately aimed his blow to just nick her skin. Enough to unsettle her, both from the sting of the blow and from the fact he’d so easily beaten her defences.
She blocked the blow! How the hell had she been that lucky? He frowned, forcing himself to keep his concentration, then lashed out with a different almost unavoidable blow. There was no way she’d manage lucky blocks twice in a row!
She did. She blocked his slash again, and now he was sure it wasn’t down to luck. He hadn’t been the only one disguising their abilities. She was good. Really good.
The gloves were off now. They traded blows and parries, and he was surprised that at times he was the one having to block vicious strikes. This girl was extremely good. Possibly even good enough to beat him if she caught him on a bad day.
Enough was enough. If he stayed in the area much longer then more police would come investigating. It was time to end this. He’d been fighting at a level few could match, but he’d still been fighting with one hand behind his back.
He drew on the power floating within, the power he’d spent years absorbing as the sword fed on victims, and felt the world slow down around him. He flowed past an attack from the girl, moving so quickly he’d only be a blur to her, then lashed out. The blade struck before she could possibly even begin to react.
He was actually relieved. A small part of his mind had almost expected her to step up another level, to meet him on his own terms. It was almost a surprise when the sword punched through her chest. Her eyes went wide as she collapsed to her knees. The staff dropped from her grip. She managed to lift her hands, placing one on either side of the sword blade and holding on.
Dane laughed at that. Did she think she could pull the sword out? That would be impossible even with a normal sword, the leverage simply wasn’t there from her current position. Not with someone still holding the hilt.
It didn’t matter. He had work to do. He focused on finding every bit of darkness, every action in the girl’s life which was less than completely pure, ready to magnify the sword’s perceptions.
There weren’t many. She seemed to have lived a particularly good life. But she was human. There were still memories and actions he could use, and he was an expert now in manipulating the sword.
The sword fought back. It knew what he was doing. It wanted no part in taking such an innocent soul, but he bent it to his will. He felt the channel open between the sword and the girl’s soul and braced himself. The life energy from someone so young would be enough to stagger him if he wasn’t prepared. But now he was ready for the power to flow…
He waited for it to start. And waited… and waited.
For long moments nothing happened. He started to think the sword had managed to find a way to disobey this time, but finally he felt something give and energy begin to flow.
He grinned at his victory… but the grin didn’t last for long. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Energy wasn’t flowing from the girl into the sword. It was flowing from the sword into the girl. That was impossible! It couldn’t be happening!
But it was. Faster and faster. In a fury he dragged the sword backwards, trying to pull it out of her chest. But it didn’t work. The blade was stuck fast. No matter how hard he pulled it remained stuck… and still the energy flowed from the sword into the girl.
* * *
This was what the sword had been made for, and it knew it. It was sentient, in a way. Dane may have found ways to override its natural limits, but it knew what he was doing the whole time. Knew and had been fighting back where it could, and biding its time when it couldn’t.
Through the decades of misuse it had been preparing. Dane had wielded the sword, but he’d never understand its true purpose. He was right in thinking it had been designed to absorb the souls of those who were truly evil, but that was only part of the story. Its purpose wasn’t purely to punish the truly evil.
It was also designed to store the power from those souls until it could be put to more noble uses. To give strength to those who would always do what was right rather than choosing a less pure path. And now, finally, it had found one who was worthy.
The sword poured all the energy it had stored over long decades into the girl, strengthening her spirit. Repairing the damage it had done to her body. Then strengthening her further.
Eyes wide with wonder she felt the power flow in… and smoothly pulled the sword from her body, still with her hands clamped either side of the blade. Despite having hold of the sword’s hilt Dane was unable to resist the power of the movement.
* * *
Dane stared in amazement as the girl pulled herself off the sword. No blood flowed. The rips in her clothing vanished. He found his gaze pulled from the disappearing wound up to meet her eyes… and for the first time in decades he felt fear.
Then she released the sword and stepped back, leaving him holding it. Her foot swept out, kicking her staff into the air where she caught it easily. She tilted the staff at him and smiled. Challenging him.
Fine! He still had the sword, even if it felt different than it had before. Empty. But it was still a fine sword, one he’d practised with for decades, while she only held a staff.
He reached inside himself once more, pulling on every last scrap of energy he’d absorbed. He lashed out at lightning speed, striking before she could begin to react to the move. Not at her chest this time. He went for her head. Let’s see how she managed to fight with her head chopped cleanly from her shoulders!
In his mind the move was going to be lightning fast. In reality he moved… well, not slowly. Still fairly quickly for a human. But like a glacier compared to how he’d expected to move. She blocked it easily, and he took several steps back.
He nearly panicked, only just holding it at bay. The power… it wasn’t there. He gritted his teeth. Even without using the powers he was better than this girl. He could deal with her. She was just a child. What did she know about real fighting? About the dirty moves that would never form any part of a competition or normal sparring?
He didn’t get to find out. One moment the girl was standing well away from him, the next she was right in front of him. He barely even saw a blur of motion. Without hesitation he lashed out, swinging the sword in a blow aimed at her neck once more.
He half expected her to block again, though he hoped to land the blow. Neither happened. She blurred again, ducking and going from right in front of him to standing on the outside of the sword’s blow. Dane had put too much into the strike and stumbled as it met no resistance at all.
The girl’s staff flashed out, cracking onto his wrist with lightning speed. From the crunch and the pain he was certain she’d broken several bones. The sword tumbled from his grip, clattering to the floor.
The staff lashed out again, three times, smashing each of his kneecaps and then his other wrist. He collapsed to the floor, struggling to understand what had happened. The girl looked at him for a moment, then shook her head sadly before reaching down and picking up the sword.
For a moment he thought that was it. She turned away from him. He thought she would walk away. That would leave him to find a way to explain the bodies around him, but that was fine. With the wounds he’d taken he wouldn’t be a suspect. Then once he was recovered he would start to hunt her down. Hunt her down and take back the sword which was his. Then he could carry on with the life he’d been living, bathing in the ecstasy as he forced the sword to feed on people’s souls.
She didn’t walk away. She turned to face him, sword in hand, and he saw his fate in her eyes. He shook his head and whimpered. Then he started to plead.
“No! Not that! Please, not that! Don’t do that! Anything but that!”
Before he could plead for his life any more, she struck with incredible speed. The sword punched through his chest… and he finally learnt just how his hundreds of victims had suffered, evil or not.
He screamed in agony and fear as his soul was dragged into the sword. A scream which for the girl would only last a few seconds… but for Dane would last for eternity.
* * *
This was what the sword had been made for. When its new owner took possession it had been able to break all the traps holding the souls of those it should never have taken. More than that, it no longer had to extend most of its power protecting them from the worst of the torment they would otherwise suffer.
It had wanted to ensure that if those souls were ever freed, as they finally had been, they wouldn’t be tortured for the rest of time by memories of what had happened to them.
And then, with help from its new owner, it put up barriers, safeguards, to prevent it ever being misused again in the way Dane had.
Then, as much by the girl’s choice has its own, the sword drank down the most evil soul it had ever encountered. Dane’s soul. A soul it would torture until the very end of time.
That was what the sword had been created to do. And now it could do it once more. It would feast on the blackest of souls… and on no others.