Zero Education

Winter: 16 years at the Monastery, five months after first flight; Day after Coronation

The sun had started to turn gold as it waned. Sunar stood at the edge of the highest courtyard in the monastery, the one called both dusk and dawn, for it was first to see the sun, and first to lose its light. It gave him an excellent view of the temple, including the Court of Welcome.

Vorgar paced outside the gates of that courtyard while inside most of the monastery’s citizens stood around the area which had been roped off for combat.

Sunar reveled in the warmth of the sun on his back, and allowed himself a slight grin at the obvious irritation of the man pacing before the gates below.

Gorshun leaned forward onto the courtyard’s railing. His face had a wry smile, but his voice stayed even, “Your new buddy seems to have arrived early. The shadows have barely crossed half the courtyard, it is hardly dusk yet. Does he really expect that we will allow someone with such poor manners in so soon?”

Sunar began to speak, then remembered that Tabitha had asked to be part of whatever entrance he planned for the duel. He turned his head to her and invited her to answer the question, and challenging her to prove that she had done her homework.

She began to roll her eyes at him, but closed them a moment instead, then answered, “The dark elf’s silly little timepiece probably tells him it is already dusk. They, those Outside, mark time in fixed divisions, not by the movements of sun and sky, not by the rhythm of the world around them.”

Sunar shook his head slightly. He gave her a hard look of admonishment at the contempt in her tone, but nodded to acknowledge the correct answer.

Lenar spoke up, a defensive note in his voice, “They have their ways, and we have ours. It seems to serve them well, though I don’t think I will ever follow it if I leave one day. Still,” he turned to his friend. “Sunar, I don’t understand why we wait up here. The shadows already encroach on this court, and soon the Dusk Bell will ring. Do you intend to fly down there and leave all of us up here?”

Seben gave a soft chuckle and answered for Sunar: “Oh, no. He intends the lot of us to ride the walls from here to the Welcome Court, like we always said we would one day. Leave it to you, Sunar, to find a way for us not only to get away with it, but get away with it while everyone watches!” They all gave a soft laugh, then stood quietly and watched the ant-sized man at the gates pace, wave his arms, and shout.

Sunar spread his wings and angled them upwards, and the pacing stopped. He could almost feel the angry stare, even from so far away. He glanced back and found that the mountain’s shadow had moved most of the way across the courtyard. “All together, my friends. I will glide as slow as I can. If we move as a unit it will begin to drive my point home.”

His fellow Titans, and Tabitha, gave him knowing smiles, but Sierra gave him a quizzical look. He winked at her, put his foot on the rail, and launched himself high into the air. His friends vaulted over the rail an instant behind him. He settled into the slowest glide he could manage, and looked down to find his friends had already ridden down the first wall and were getting ahead of him. He flattened his wings a bit to pick up speed.

Sunar found the flight challenging, and nearly stalled out twice, but he made it without having to visibly move his wings at all. His feet touched down on the stones of the Court of Welcome just as the Dusk Bell tolled, right at the head of his friend’s formation. The gates opened at the sound of the bell. As the Titains, and additions, stepped forward the crowd drew away. With Sunar in the lead they marched into the open center area.

The dark elf’s party were staring – all standing a little too straight, their chests out a little too far, and a little too much swagger in their steps. They had been outclassed in the opening display, and they knew it.

Sunar smiled inwardly, maybe this wouldn’t be a complete waste of time.

Vorgar, however, stormed in with rage painted on his face, seemingly oblivious to the discomfort of his fellows.

Sunar allowed himself a smirk. All too easy.

The smirk set Vorgar off, spitting out venom-drenched words with the kind of contempt only the most incorrigible born-zero could muster, “Mi’Lord Sunar, I will not countenance this insult! I declare you in forfeit. It is over half an hour since dusk, and you just now arrive. You dishonor yourself, your temple, your world, and whatever dallying dragon spawned you! You failed to show at the appointed hour, and now you expect to just step in and fight on a field of honor? Wipe that smirk off your face, you craven low-born son-of-a-goat! Where do you think you are going? How dare you address my Second with me standing right here in front of you! Stand still and listen when your betters address you, you peasant-raised pretender!

Sunar tuned him out as he and Gorshun walked over to Vorgar’s Second. The Seconds exchanged a few words, then Vorgar’s friend moved quickly to his side and began whispering.

The dark elf cut off mid-rant, sneered, rolled his eyes, pushed his Second away, and then turned to Sunar, “By the sun and the moon? You classless barbarian! Fine. By the letter of the Laws of Challenge you are on time. Normally, there would be a proper greeting at this point, and a list of grievances made, as well as words to sooth honor all around. However, you have used the letter of the law to delay my satisfaction for the last time! Prepare to die slowly, you peasant-son!” He threw off his cloak and drew his sword in one flamboyant motion. Blackened scale-mail gleamed like polished obsidian in the light of the torches, and the blade’s enchantments seemed to bend the last rays of the sun.

Gorshun protested immediately. “Your choice of weapons for this duel were made clear, Vorgar, and that magical blade was not among them. Neither was armor agreed upon!”

Vorgar smirked and stood on the balls of his feet. Silence descended for a few moments until he turned a scathing look on his second, who spoke with haste and apparent embarrassment. “No agreement was made concerning magic, though Mi’Lord Vorgar proposed such a rule. Further, it is well known that a half-dragon’s hide is natural armor, and Mi’Lord Vorgar’s armor is no more than the accepted equivalent in dueling circles.”

Gorshun’s countenance had darkened with every word, and Sunar could see the arguments building behind his friend’s eyes, probably something about what circles considered such armor ‘equivalent’. He looked to his friend and gave a slight shake of his head.

Gorshun leaned forward slightly a moment, his face a mask of rebellion, then gave a half smirk and relented. He stepped back instead, and signaled for Sunar to just get it over with.

Sunar drew his sword and faced his opponent.

Vorgar somehow managed to put even more contempt into his tone: “Good, you recognize the futility of having your diminutive peasant friend beg for your life, not that it would matter. Now, let us begin!”

Sunar barely caught the sight of Vorgar’s second rolling his eyes in the background before a sword thrust tried to spear his shoulder. He dropped his shoulder just enough to avoid the incoming stab, then brought it up sharply, deflecting the blade upwards.

Vorgar jumped back, surprise on his face. “Oh, think you are fast, do you? No matter. I am going to cut you to little pieces, and stand here to watch you die. Now bleed!” Something happened, a subtle shift in the way Vorgar moved, and he leapt forward with unnatural speed

Sunar parried and spun out of the way. Magic, but I can’t tell if it’s that sword or that armor. He dropped into a fighting stance. One way to find out.

Vorgar recovered with the same boosted speed and began to taunt again, “Oh, getting worried now, are we? I told you I’ve never lost a duel. I told you I’d kill you, you filthy near-peasant! You have gotten lucky, but no more!”

Sunar ignored the bravado and the antics as Vorgar, again, punctuated his words with an attack. Focusing his ki, he matched his own speed to the dark elf’s and met his opponent’s sword with his own, sending the sword flying from Vorgar’s hand.

Vorgar shoved him and ran to catch his sword.

As the sword arced up and away, Sunar watched, then nodded as the dark elf snatched it out of the air. He shouldn’t have been able to catch that. So, not the sword, but the armor. Easy fix. He waited as Vogar whirled around and came at him, then stepped to the side. His sword slashed up, severing the straps on one side of the armor, but he pulled the blow before it drew blood, and jumped away.

The elf stepped back, a look of shock came and went from his face, followed by disdain. “Afraid to use your sword, you laughable fool? Think I’ll grant mercy? Think again! He charged, sword held high, murder glinting in his eye.

Sunar allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. My silence unnerves him, as does the fact that I can move as fast as he does. He probably wants to accuse me of using some sort of magic of my own, but that would mean revealing what he’s done. It looks like his Second has already figured it out, however, and isn’t happy about it. Good. He parried the thrust, spun under the blow and sliced the straps on the other side of the armor.

Vorgar whipped around, the armor fanning out from his speed. Laughter erupted from the crowd, some of it even from his own group. His eyes widened, a snarl crossed his face, and he charged with wild swings.

Sunar ducked and cut away the armor’s belt.

Vorgar attacked with abandon, each miss enraging him farther. Murmurs began rippling through the crowd, and a few of his friends started to back away.

Within a few passes Sunar cut enough of the straps that the armor could not stay in place. The dark elf attempted a theatrical pinwheel maneuver to get away, but the armor bound up in several places around his body.

The enchantment broke.

Vorgar lost control of his momentum and crashed to the ground with a resounded thud. Raucous laughter boiled out of the crowd. He screamed with rage in response, rolled, struggled with the worthless armor, and shouted at his Second for assistance.

Sunar stopped, pointed his sword at the ground, and waited.

“Get over here you cursed son of a horse! You know a Second’s duty, get this armor off me! Protect me! Sunar, you cursed dishonorable whelp! How dare you attack my armor and not me! You violate the spirit of the duel and all it stands for!”

A movement caught Sunar’s attention, and he found himself staring into Master Ikthan’s eyes. They had another unspoken conversation, made with small gestures and raised eyebrows, ‘Don’t you think it is time to finish this farce?’

‘I have a goal here, there are lessons to be taught.’

‘What lesson do you think to teach this fool?’

‘Him? I doubt he is capable of learning. The others, however, seem able if the point is driven home well enough.’

Master Ikthan gave a somewhat resigned nod as Vorgar got free of his armor, leapt to his feet, and charged without warning or agreement to continue the duel.

Sunar deflected the blade with his off hand, and swiped the tip of his sword across Vorgar’s ribs.

Vorgar screamed in pain, “What is this? The mighty Sunar is afraid to truly draw blood? Will you lose this duel and die on these stones because you fear to hurt me?” His voice dripped both anger and fear, but bravado won out. “Very well! Then for your weakness, you will die. I will not yield. I will not relent. You must kill me! Go against your pitiful peasant morals and try to harm your betters. But you can’t. And, so you will… DIE!”

Sunar shook his head as he stepped aside from the clumsy, dramatic thrust, brought up his sword and allowed Vorgar’s face to collide with the flat of the blade.

Vorgar turned to face him, blood streaming from his nose, and sprayed Sunar with words. “Coward! You dance around me and play games without honor! Fight me! You stand there in silence and refuse to answer as I slice your honor with my words. Answer me!” He charged again.

Sunar glanced at the man’s companions, and noted the looks of outrage and disgust written across their faces. They understand. Good. He channeled his ki, and turned into a blur.

Battering Vorgar’s blade aside like a child’s toy, he made several quick thrusts into the dark elf’s torso, raked his claws into his opponent’s arm just…so… nicking the artery, and then took out both Achilles tendons as they passed.

Vorgar dropped to his knees and his rear came down heavily on his heels, blood pouring from his wounds.

Sunar circled around, leveled his blade at the elf’s throat, and spoke in a carefully level tone: “Yield.”

Vorgar turned eyes blazing with hate upon him and tried to raise his sword. It fell from his hand and clattered to the ground instead. “Never! I will not yield to you! I will die before I allow the likes of you to take such honor from me! And don’t turn your back and walk away, you spineless, honor less, gutter trash coward! You agreed to the rules of this duel, and you can’t leave unless you kill me or I surrender.” He tried to straighten himself but failed, and the effort brought even greater madness to his eyes. “I will not surrender!” He spread his arms wide and thrust his chest out. “Kill me, if you are not too much of a coward!”

Sunar took a step back and shook his head. “No. I have beaten you, and there is no honor in taking your life. If being able to claim some sort of hollow victory is worth more to you than your life, so be it.” He used his blade to move Vorgar’s across his lap, took a step back, knelt, and placed his sword on the ground in front of himself. “I yield. The field is yours.”

Vorgar’s eyes grew large, and his entire body shook with rage, “You yield? How dare you make such a mockery of myself, of this duel, and of all of the traditions of the Empire? I do not accept your surrender, you callow coward! I will show you honor! I will show you courage! You will win this duel, but it will be a pyrrhic victory, for I will still die! It is my life’s blood which falls now to these stones. Look at the rivers of red you have drawn…”

Sunar tuned out the ranting and knelt there in silence, observing Vorgar’s friends out of the corner of his eye. Yes, the point had been driven home. Unfortunately, he now had to let the drama play out.

Vorgar fell forward onto the stones. His second started to move, but someone stopped him. A few whispered words, then the second pulled his own sword and advanced with great hesitation.

Sunar turned his gaze toward him. “You come to fight when he can not and no clear victor has emerged, as is appropriate for a Second. Since you now stand on the field of honor, you have a choice. You can accept my surrender, or try to touch me with that blade. Consider your actions carefully. Which course of action is the wiser? To face his wrath, or my blade?”

The Second hesitated a few seconds longer, then lowered his own blade. “Mi’Lord, Sunar, I accept your surrender and declare this duel complete. As the victor, it is my right to tend to the wounded.”

Sunar nodded and stood. “Yes, but I suggest you hurry. I trust you and your friends can find your way out?”

The Second nodded, and motioned to his friends. Several rushed forward and crowded around. It seemed someone had had the sense to come prepared with the proper magic, for Vorgar’s bleeding stopped.

Sunar stood, gathered his group with a glance, and strode away as the onlookers began to disperse.

Sierra spoke up, an edge of disquiet in her voice, “I don’t understand why you did that. You could have just beaten him in the first moment and saved all the gruesome spectacle, or even killed him cleanly. Why all of the… why?”

His sister’s question, and the feelings behind it, pained him. He opened his mouth, but Lenar beat him to it. “That fool and his friends needed to be taught a lesson, Sierra, in order to keep you, and everyone else, safe, and to prevent us from having to fight a great many duels in the future.”

Gorshun nodded. “If Sunar had beat him too quickly, then others would want to fight him, or the rest of us. They would come into the town, make themselves a problem until one of us had to deal with them, then they would issue a challenge.”

Sierra nodded, “I think I understand, but it was still hard to watch.”

“I know it was little sister. Know that I took no pleasure in this, but it needed to be done. For the good of the monastery, and the good of the town.”

Tabitha spoke up, her tone equal parts contrition and annoyance. “Yes, it had to be done. You protected us all today, Sunar, and kept the world out there at bay. Thank you. I was a young child when I came to the temple, and knew little of the world outside my home. Since I came here I have found myself content; I still don’t see what that world holds for us, but I see the wisdom in learning its ways.”

Sunar let a smile tug at the corners of his mouth, and favored her with a gaze of approval. He considered several remarks, but cast them all aside. Sometimes, the lesson did not need to be driven home.

Zero Education 1

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