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Fulcrum Shift - Chapter One

Fulcrum Shift
Will Kalif
Writer's Club
Presented by Writer's Digest
San Jose New York Lincoln Shanghai

All Rights Reserved ã 2002 Will Kalif

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
Any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying,
Recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system, without
The permission in writing from the publisher

Writer's Showcase
Presented by Writer's Digest
An imprint of, Inc.

For information address:, Inc.
5220 S 16th, Ste. 200
Lincoln, NE 68512

ISBN: 0-595-23888-2

Printed in the United States of America



      The figure walked quietly down the cobblestone alley with purpose. His leather shoes made no sound on the stones. The black cloak draped around his body made him almost indiscernible from the buildings around him in the dark moonless night. He came to an intersection and stopped then turning left he paced off his steps carefully and stopped again under a stone arched bridge.

Glancing around first, he placed a hand into a small hole in the building, and pulled himself upward. He proceeded quickly, going hand over hand, finding small crevices, until he reached the bottom of the arch. He grabbed the edge, and suspended by the strength in his fingers, he flexed his muscular forearms and pulled himself up onto the bridge. He hopped over the short wall onto the walkway and paused in a crouch. His sword clinked against the stones. He grabbed the metal sheath and moved it to a safer position. "Damn" he thought to himself. "I should have covered it with soft leather."

He froze as still as a marble statue as voices came from the far end of the bridge. Two guards were walking toward him, laughing and talking. Their footsteps loud as galloping horse in the quiet night. " The wench had the biggest bosoms I have ever seen. And soft, just like a kittens fur. She said she had to be on top. If she lay on her back they flopped against her chin." His partner, the other guard, let out a roaring laugh. "Flopped against her chin, now those are some big bosoms." The two continued on across the stone bridge not yet seeing the black figure crouching against the waist high wall of the bridge.
Viss remained motionless in his crouch; his eyes fixed on the two men. They separated and walked toward him from two different angles. "What are you doing there? What brings you to this Court? Come out of those shadows there or I will feed you my sword." One of the guards put his hand on his sword in a mock attempt at terrorizing Viss. "Come out I said."
Viss didn't move, and this puzzled the guards. The typical intruder would have run by now, but this one just huddled there. The menace of two armed guards put any same man into a flee for his life. This is what always happened. A guard happened upon an intruder, he called for a halt and the intruder, having been found out, ran for his life and a grand chase followed. More guards were alerted and the intruder was usually caught and sentenced to the dungeon. The intruder was usually a commoner, down on his luck and trying to better his station by stealing from the castle. But this was out of the ordinary. There was no shock at being caught, and no grand chase through the outer levels of the castle.
The two guards stepped closer, doubting their eyes. Maybe it wasn't a man. A moonless night could be deceiving. Viss waited patiently, his large hands remained relaxed and ready, lightly touching the stone near his feet. " The unexpected inaction can be just as much an advantage as the unexpected action." He thought to himself, remembering the words of an old master.
They got close enough to be sure it was a man, but carefully stood out of sword reach. One of the guards turned his head slightly to the other. "Alert the commander of the guard, I will take care of this one." Viss broke the silence as the second guard turned to leave:
"Fear not to be alone with me, he will return quickly."
The arrogance of Viss' statement stopped the second guard in mid turn and enraged the first guard so much that he rushed at Viss without even drawing his weapon.
"I am going to haul you along to the Captain either by your ears or spit on my sword." The quiet arrogance of Viss' statement angered him. He traveled the three steps between them quickly and grabbing Viss by the cloak drew him up to a standing position. The violence began. In a blur of unexpected speed Viss grabbed the guard's wrists and smashed his forehead against his nose. The guard reeled back from the crack of the blow, but he couldn't fall. Viss had both his wrists locked tightly in his hands. " He looked at the other guard. " Do not draw your sword." His voice was confident and smooth, with no hint of the excitement of battle.

The guard paused long enough for Viss to take initiative in the second round of violence. He crossed the guard's wrists one over the other. This made the man's shoulders shift and one of his feet to come off the stone of the walk. The second guard, sensing he had lost initiative and his comrade was in dire trouble, rushed in. Taking advantage of his captive's imbalance he jerked the guard violently, and the man toppled directly into the rushing guard. The two guards fell into a tangle of limbs against the stone. They recovered quickly and jumped to their feet, drawing their swords with clean metallic scrapes. Meet a fist with a fist, meet a sword with a sword, and bring death only when you must." The long remembered and oft-repeated ritual came to Viss as it had many times in the past. It was another echo of a master from long ago.
The two guards charged and in the moment before contact, Viss had gathered all the information he needed. They are both right handed, carrying standard meter long rapiers, held in classical military stances. This means they would only have been taught the twelve basic attacks. It was a weakness that Viss easily exploited. The first guard, enraged by his broken nose, the blood probably limiting his eyesight, rushed in with a sloppy overhand blow. The other, using more restraint, sent the point of his rapier directly toward Viss' chest. Viss twisted sideways. It presented a smaller target, and allowed the stab at his chest to pass harmlessly. At the same time he did this he raised his sword to block the blow aimed at his head. He then pushed himself off the short wall at his back and leapt past his opponents. The blade of his sword lashed out at the guard with the bleeding nose. The sharp edge sliced deeply into his neck. Viss hit the ground, rolled, and turned as lithe as a giant cat. The guard with the broken nose crumpled to the ground with blood gushing from his severed artery in his neck. "Always dispatch the weakest enemy first." The voice from his past spoke again.
Now the tone of the battle changed. The remaining guard didn't charge. Witnessing the skill of his opponent he took a more careful stance and glanced toward the far end of the bridge where he and his partner had come from moments earlier. Viss, seeing the guard glance that way, took several quick steps. This put him between the guard and the exit. The man on the ground lay motionless, the pool of blood continuing to grow around his body.
They two circled slowly, neither doubting that only one would survive the next few moments. They closed on each other and their swords clashed viciously several times before they broke again. Both fighters remaining silent to conserve energy and maintain absolute concentration. Again they sprang, each bringing in an overhand strike at the other. As the two blades collided with resounding ring Viss twisted his weapon slightly racing it powerfully down the length of his foes sword. It smashed through the handguard and continued through the guard's hand. It severed his thumb. The guard's sword had also slammed down onto the guard of Viss' sword but didn't penetrate the harder metal. It was a move that could only be safely made if you knew your opponent's sword to be of inferior strength. This of course Viss knew. He had wielded the standard sword of the Captain's guard many times himself.
The guard bent over in reaction to the horrifying pain. Viss continued the motion of his sword in a fluid arc, bringing it back around his own body then down; burying its blade deep into the guard's skull. The man was dead before he hit the ground. Viss wiped his sword and keeping it at the ready he turned and trotted toward the open portal at the end of the bridge where the two guards had a few moments earlier emerged.
Viss had hoped to accomplish his mission without bloodshed but he had dispatched the guards relatively quietly, and the alarm had not been raised. They wouldn't be missed for a while yet. So he plunged through the portal into one of the outer ramparts of the castle proper still intent on completing what he had set out to do.
Several doors lined either side of the corridor. Passing the first of these he counted doors and corridors and turned at intervals. His goal was clear. He had bribed one servant and plied a second with drink to get a detailed description of where in the castle it was kept. Just as he entered a corridor that looked exactly the same as the one he exited a gong sounded an alarm. It was an alert to the guards in the castle that an intruder was somewhere inside. It was for him. By now the new watch had discovered the slain bodies he had left on the bridge. Running footsteps sounded from the corridor he had just come from. "Almost there, this is the corridor. " He thought to himself. "Third door on the right.

Throwing it open he jumped inside and shut the heavy wooden door behind him. With his back braced against it he listened quietly for the footfalls of searching guards. They ran past his door continuing on down the corridor until they disappeared. "Two guards. They would all be traveling in groups of two or more now that the intruder was found to be a capable swordsman. He relaxed, released the breath that he had been holding for too long and surveyed the room. It was a guest quarters that was never used. It was supposed to be empty but it wasn't. A multicolored rug covered most of the stone floor. The small stone fireplace was crackling sharply and giving off a warm orange glow. The head of a small bed leaned against the wall to his right. It extended out from the wall to the center of the room.

Standing on the other side of it and looking directly at Viss was a large man. He gaped at Viss with an open mouth. Viss' unexpected entrance had frozen him in mid motion. He dangled a backpack over the bed and Viss couldn't tell whether he was putting it down or picking it up when he froze. The two of them locked eyes for several long heartbeats. Viss expected him to scream for help to any guards that may be lurking around in the corridor outside. The man dropped the pack onto the bed and its thump broke the tension. " You best put that sword away." The man spoke in a deep rumbling voice. "This man has confidence. No doubt his confidence stemmed from capability." He placed his right hand gently on the pommel of a massive broad sword that hung at his hip. "More guards approach."
Guards were now opening and closing doors. It was standard procedure; first check and clear the main hallways, then move onto the smaller corridors, then check each room individually. Viss knew the procedure well. It wouldn't be long before this room was checked. He briskly walked across the room past the bed and the fireplace. The deep voiced stranger watched him but made no move to draw his sword. Viss threw a leg over the sill of the window into the cool night air and giving a quick nod to the rumble voiced stranger he climbed out onto a small ledge that he knew would be there. As he disappeared he heard guards burst through the door. "One or more armed men have broken into the castle and killed two guards. Have you seen anyone suspicious? "Just the Governor." Came the rumbled response. One of the guards threw a curse at him and they exited the room, shutting the door with a slam. The big man walked to the window in long confident strides and looked out. Viss was gone. He had placed a hook on the ledge and lowered himself by a rope into a window on the level below.
The room was as black as night and Viss crouched again in silence and tried to get a sense of the room. Having come from the well-lit room above, his eyes needed time to adjust. He listened intently. The smallest of sounds could give him an idea of its size and what was in it. This room, he suspected, held his goal. He couldn't come directly to it because this floor of the castle was well guarded. But, by climbing the wall to the arch and then dropping down to this level he avoided most of the risk of being caught. As his eyes adjusted he surveyed the room. It was a large room, large enough for a group of horses to run in, if it were empty. It was filled with large waist high crates that were as wide as the span of a man's outstretched arms. Many were stacked on each other. The stacks reaching to the wooden rafters of the ceiling. Moving to the nearest one and using the point of his sword Viss pried the lid off and peered inside.
The poor lighting inside the room made the contents of the box indiscernible. He reached inside and rummaged around. It was full of straw. He moved his hands around in it and finding an object he pulled it out. Holding it up in the dim light he looked at it. It was a head severed from its body. Its empty eye sockets stared at Viss. The skin of its face was shriveled and dry. Its mouth was pulled into a grimace of pain. It looked as if whatever pain it had suffered in dying was still with it and still causing it immense pain. He turned it around and examined it carefully. The neck was banded and capped in some type of metal. As if the head were a wine flask and the metal cap prevented all the juices from leaking out. You could stand it upright on a table and it wouldn't fall. He stared at it morbidly hoping to recognize the disfigured face. The jaw dropped slowly open and the small hairs on Viss' body stood erect. A glean of sweat instantly coated the skin of his whole body in horror. When the jaw started to close again his heart started to race and he dropped the head to the floor of the room. Something was terribly wrong here. He could feel an evil force at work here. Its presence was palpable, as if a demon were standing by his side. He glanced around the room uncomfortably and it took on a different atmosphere. It was no longer a room full of riches, no longer a cache of gold and weapons. It was now a catacomb. A place of raw death, complete with dead bodies, and haunted by the souls of murdered people not finding rest in death. Looking down at the head he fought off the nausea that threatened to empty his stomach. It wasn't the light; it wasn't imagination or tension. The mouth really did move, and it was still moving. It was trying to talk to him. He kicked it and it rolled across the room with a sickening series of thumps and metallic clanks. Leaning on the crate he wretched. His stomach was no longer able to hold its contents. He wiped his hands on his cloak and breathing deep he moved to another crate.
Prying this one open with the blade of his sword he once again pushed off the lid. He dropped his rucksack off his back and took out a small one handed torch. He did not want to blindly reach into this one for fear of the horror that might be inside. It was worth taking the chance of being seen. He placed the torch on the floor and rubbed his sword against a small piece of flint. The torch ignited. He picked it up and peered over the edge of the crate. The horror struck him like a hammer blow. He could see several heads lying cradled in the straw. One upward facing head opened its eyes as if in response to the light from his torch. Milky, rotten eyes stared at him. It's mouth worked furiously as if trying to talk. Its neck was capped in steel just like the other one. He reeled backwards, his heart beating furiously against his ribs, he could feel sweat curling it way out of every pore of his body. In the midst of combat, his heart never beat this fast. There was always an element of control. He could understand, and overcome a mortal enemy. His skill and strength gave him confidence. But this, he had no control over this. It went beyond the realm of control. These heads were alive; alive by means he couldn't fathom. There was a power here that rendered his sword useless. The strength in his muscles could do nothing against something so perverted.
Two days ago he thought that these crates were filled with valuables. . But today he found they were filled with horrors. There was a platoon of soldiers, nearly a hundred, to guard two wagons filled with these crates. He paused, now his interest had changed. He needed to know what was going on. What was the Captain planning with this abomination? He scanned the room looking for clues. One crate, being larger and sturdier than the others drew his attention. Catching his breath and wiping sweat from his face he moved toward it. The air in the room was now stifling, as if it were drawing strength from his bones. He moved slowly closer to the largest crate. The wood of it was roughhewn and banded with iron. The other crates were plain wood but this one was of a much stronger form.
It stood as high as Viss, slightly reminiscent of a coffin. An enormous iron lock secured a metal band around its middle. Reaching out and touching the lock he pulled his hand back quickly in surprise. "Damn thing is cold as ice." It was not cold in the normal sense of cold but cold in a different way. Not cold like the haft of a sword that had been away from a soldier's body for too long, but a cold like a need. It felt as if it was pulling heat from his body. It felt like it was missing something and his body was the source that could fill this need. He pondered the need deeper. It felt to him like there was something dead inside, craving life, and trying to pull his very life from him. He backed up. His legs were weak, his body getting cold; the sweat on his face and arms was turning clammy. He felt like he hadn't eaten in days, no energy. "Maybe I will sit down for just a moment." With fatigue washing over him he sat down, his back leaning against the wooden crate. The sounds coming from the end of the room made no matter to him. He was too tired to worry about it. The sound of large doors opening came into his thoughts, but he didn't worry about it, he was too tired to worry. The thoughts filtered through like a detached fact. "Something mildly interesting to think about, but nothing to really worry about. Nothing of import, just need to get some rest." Clanging swords moved slowly closer to him. Voices were barking command. He couldn't tell what they were saying, and he didn't really care. He dropped his torch on the floor and it sputtered as a call to the approaching guards. "Put down your weapon and come out from behind there." A guard cautiously walked around the crate with his sword at the ready. "Got something over here." He yelled to his companions.
The last thing Viss remembered was two guards leaning over him with smiles on their faces. "Looks like you picked a bad time to fall asleep thief." Viss hadn't fallen asleep. Whatever it was that was in that crate had sucked much of the life out of him. He would be executed for killing two of the Captain's guards. But for now he would live to see another day. The guards had rescued him just in time. If he had remained slumped up against that crate for much longer, whatever it was that was inside would have drained the life completely out of him, leaving him a dead empty corpse, or worse. This was his last thought as he faded into a senseless dark deeper than sleep.


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