Lessons my Teacher Taught Me

Amanda, battle-ready.

Lessons My Teacher Taught Me

by Jacynthe Demorae

"Good warriors take their stand on ground they cannot lose." --Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Choose your weapon.

I take the sword hilt like I'm clasping the hand of an old friend. The ring-hilted sword has been my weapon of choice for over a century. Every Immortal has a fighting blade and a trophy blade--every Immortal who's taken at least one head, that is.

Where do you keep your trophies, I wonder. Where are your havens, the carefully selected dwellings under carefully constructed identities? How do you survive in a world that keeps track of children?

Duncan's methods, be they for teaching or for hunting, would never work for me. When he teaches, the student becomes kin. When he hunts, it's the same way he hunted game or rode out on a raid in the Highlands. He takes precautions, keeps himself battle-ready. But all of his strategy turns on his quaint little code of chivalry.

Chivalry is for nobles, and for those born to power. You and I were the peasants. We have other ways.

Choose your ground.

The sky overhead is like a bowl of cobalt glass, lighter along the horizon, sea-blue at the dome's peak. The air is cool, crisp, and still. The earth beneath my boots is winter-hard and matted with dry, yellow-brown grass. There are only a few trails that lead to this isolated corner of the preserve. From here, I can see all the approaches to this place.

And I know you're coming.

I've been here before, though never for this purpose. I know how often the Park Rangers make their rounds. I know the school you're hiding in takes a field trip here every year. I know which of the Rangers can be bribed to be late for duty.

My local bank account is five hundred dollars lighter--pocket change to me, these days.

Not for you, though. I doubt you've ever had more than a hundred dollars in your hands at one time. You have challenges before you unlike any other Immortal I know. I admire you for surviving on your own for as long as you have. The Game has only a few rules, and you've never broken them. I had enough time to teach you that much.

I wish you'd learned the others, the things that just are Not Done. Mortals have no place in the Game, as pawns or players. You've flouted that convention, not just once, but many times. I'm a thief, but outside the Game, I've never killed anyone. You're a thief as well--you've had to be--but your body count exceeds your years. You would have been my student. That makes you my responsibility.

Face what comes.

My blood hums, coming alive with the awareness of another Immortal's presence. I'm expecting you, but I take a careful look around, just to be sure. I spot you approaching from the west, off the established paths. Your size gives you an advantage when stealth matters, but like I said, I'm a thief. I know what to look for.

I made sure to cross paths with your group, just within your sensing range. You couldn't afford to let that pass without finding out just who is around. You've lived long enough to be paranoid.

"I know you're there," I call out. "Come out and show yourself."

You hesitate for a moment. I know the urge: to escape, to run, and seek the sanctuary of Holy Ground. Not this time.

You step out into the clearing. The weak afternoon sunlight gleams on your hair. You look like a child who might be cutting through the preserve on his way home from school. I wonder where you're living now, who's waiting for you, who else has mistaken you for what you only appear to be.

A gray duffel bag dangles from your hand. Your short sword will be in there, the blade that's no match for mine. It's no match for any armed Immortal, at least not in a straight-out fight.

For a moment, your face lights up when you see me, just as it did that day at Duncan's. I keep my stance, the blade steady in my hand. This is a Challenge, not a reunion. No matter how this ends, there won't be a happy ending. I watch the realization creep across your features.

To your credit, you nod, and set your bag down. The zipper makes a raspy noise, and I'm reminded suddenly of body bags. Your blade gleams, clutched tight in your fist. You march out towards me.

By the Rules, this is a fair fight. We're both Immortals, both armed, on neutral ground. That's as fair as it gets. Fate locked you into a child's body, the same Fate that let me grow into an adult woman before First Death locked me into this form.

"Amanda."

Is that quaver in your voice legitimate, or the first weapon in your arsenal of manipulation? I raise my blade in salute, and take my position. My actions will have to speak for me. I don't trust my voice.

"I'm glad it's you."

The words jolt me, and I falter, just for a moment. Quick as a snake, you strike, sword slashing for my gut. It's a footpad's attack, a sneak-strike learned in filthy alleyways older than the country we're in. I'm taller, stronger, faster. I block you, break you, take you, almost before you realize you've lost.

Almost.

Your eyes are wide--but everyone is surprised when the blade bites into the neck. The one place we're all vulnerable. Your body goes slack, the sound of your fall muffled by the dead grass. Silence, as if the world is holding its breath. The Quickening comes, a glimmering silver mist that becomes a snapping, twisting snake of lightning. You were old, for your size and disadvantages, but not strong. Your death will dim the lights, but not put them out.

There can only be one, Kenneth. Now, it will never be you.

[End]