Chapter Five of Gifts
Although they were denied the Christmas number one by a song from a reality television show, they still received big time success and their next single was released in early January, closely followed by an album shooting straight to the top spot. They began a small tour with only ten dates, and a year after they signed the contract Allison had enough money to buy herself a house. She found one in the Westcountry near to where she used to live. She converted one room into a studio and let another out to Holly as a thank you. All the rooms were bigger than she was used to, some almost as big as her old house. Her garden, at almost two acres of land, held a large kidney-shaped pool, and a decked area overlooking the moors beyond. On it stood a wooden table and four matching chairs. It was here that Allison sat on a summer’s day with a glass of Pimms in her hand watching the sunset. Life was good, she had no worries and finally achieved her dream. She loved every part of it. But it wasn’t complete. She hoped her high profile may lead Kate to her, but nothing happened in the time since. She kept to herself, making only the bare minimum of public appearances for promotion’s sake. She never revealed anything of her life and concentrated only on talking about her music. So no one really knew of her longing for Kate besides her closest friends. Last week, though, a magazine printed an article asking why she was still single and making up too many inaccurate assumptions for her liking. After that, an interviewer asked about some of the theories in the article and she almost walked off stage. Occasionally, she tried to see what the future held, but again and again, she came back to the glass sword stuck in the wooden floor. After a few tries, she saw nothing else, not even what would happen in five minutes. She attempted again while staring into the Sun, but gave up trying after a while of seeing nothing but that inanimate sword. As she looked at the Sun, it became brighter. The light engulfed the garden, sparkling off the pool and illuminating areas normally kept in darkness. The light grew and formed into a tall shape, soon producing offshoots making what seemed like arms and legs of two people. The light slowly dimmed and Allison saw details. One, a man wearing dark clothes, the other, a girl in white. When the light dimmed completely, she recognised the girl’s face. It was Cat. The man, she didn’t know. Her first thought was of a cowboy with his Stetson, cigar, and spurred boots. He carried a long object wrapped in a black sheet. The man sat down on one of her chairs. He took out a match from his shirt pocket and struck it from the low stone wall surrounding the garden. Lighting his cigar, he nodded to Allison. ‘Elyennet.’ Allison stared at him, then turned to Cat. ‘What did he say?’ Cat sat down in another chair. ‘He said hello. This is His Undying Majesty, King Atharron Shefilon the Immortal, Abdicated Ruler of the Unified Sovereignty of Greater Calnis and the Outlying Colonies, Servant to the Free People of—’ Atharron rolled his eyes. ‘You don’t need to use my full titles you know.’ He turned to Allison. ‘I mainly go by Atharron now. I hear Luke told you about me. Sorry I’m late. Been a little busy over the past couple of years.’ ‘Yeah, he said something about training. And swords.’ ‘Sounds about right.’ He looked about the garden. ‘You’ve done well for yourself. I’ve heard some of your work. Not bad. Nothing like we had in Calnis, but,’ his lips curled into a half smile, ‘you always prefer the stuff you grew up with.’ ‘I’ve heard of that place before. What is Calnis?’ Allison asked, not sure what to think of this man. ‘’Twas a great country. Unfortunately, it got destroyed and mostly forgotten. In its heyday, we were world leaders in technology, art, philosophy, pretty much everything. When the locals found out about my immortality, they crowned me king, the first of only three rulers born outside the royal family. You know, I was once thrown out of an African village because they couldn’t accept my undying nature. ’Tis funny how cultures differ. Anyway,’ he stared into space, his smile fading, ‘I left. Hundreds of years before it was destroyed. But I’ll always call it home. Hmm, doesn’t matter now anyway. Can’t dwell on what you don’t have. That way lies misery.’ He looked into Allison’s eyes and she understood. He also lost something dear to him. The lack of words, but obvious empathy, helped her more than anything her friends did. ‘So,’ Allison said, breaking the moment like a gunshot. ‘What’s in the package?’ ‘What this little thing?’ Atharron said, clamping his cigar in his mouth and hoisting the object onto the table. ‘This is only the greatest weapon ever made, save those still residing in Calnis.’ He unwrapped the sheet and in the middle lay a sword. Strange inscriptions curled around the black scabbard. Leather strips tightly wound the grip, neatly ending at the oval shaped pommel. A large crossguard separated blade and hilt, and each end was tipped with an arrowhead like shape, along which, more writing etched its way. Allison picked it up. It felt lighter than she thought, but still weighed enough. She grabbed hold of the scabbard and pulled. Out came a long, double edged sword, transparent as glass, with a tendril of opaque material running the length from hilt to tip. She gasped and whispered, ‘I know this sword.’ ‘Really?’ Cat said. ‘Where?’ She continued to look at the sword as it projected rainbows across her face. ‘I see the future, and it is this sword. Only this sword.’ Atharron puffed on his cigar and said, ‘’Tis called Cylnaunteb, or diamond sword. And that’s no poetic licence either.’ Allison jumped out of her trance as he said this. ‘This is diamond?’ ‘Yup. Not made naturally of course. ’Twas forged during the forgotten war, using advanced psychic techniques. ’Tis the ultimate melee weapon. ’Twill never need sharpening, ’twill never break, ’twill cut through pretty much anything, and has filaments of iron, wood, and silver through it for killing various beasties. At the time of its forging, the smith prophesied your coming. Didn’t give any exact details, just that the weapon was made for the Rebáel to defeat the Emissary. Anyway, your coming wasn’t specified until a while back. All we knew was the manner of your birth. And we didn’t even know it was you until you told Cat about the night Daniel died. Your family has had great power in the past, but that ain’t unusual, so we thought nothing of it. But now … you need to be trained. You need to learn how to fight, not just with this, but hand to hand, as well as a few ranged weapons. I will also help you to hone your mental abilities, psychic or otherwise.’ Allison sheathed the sword and lay it down in the middle of the table. ‘I’m a busy girl, I can’t start training just like that.’ Atharron took his cigar out of his mouth and spoke to Allison in a stern voice. ‘You’re going to have to, Allison. I know it’s a lot to ask, but you need to train, or the world will fall. If ‘twere up to me, I’d say give it all up now and train twelve hours a day, every day. But Cat has a soft spot for you and says ’tis not necessary. I know there are things you can sacrifice. You don’t need to appear on telly so damn much, or award ceremonies or any of that other pomp. I will accompany you on tour and we will train whenever you have a slot. We will make it work.’ Allison crossed her arms. ‘What if I don’t want to?’ Atharron chewed the end of his cigar. ‘Lord save me from the stubbornness of teenage girls.’ He leaned in closer. ‘Do you want to die?’ Allison said nothing. ‘Because the Emissary will come for you. He will take everything you hold dear and force your hand. If you are not prepared, then he will destroy you and the world will soon follow.’ Allison uncrossed her arms and looked down. ‘You’re asking me to sacrifice my life.’ ‘’Tis a ballache, but none of us can escape Destiny.’ Allison sighed. ‘I can try. Just leave me alone, and let me live my life.’ Atharron shook his head. ‘Can’t do that.’ He jumped up and suddenly a knife appeared in his hands. He lunged for Allison. Allison rolled back, falling off her chair. She looked up to see Atharron coming for her, and jumped out the way. But she never landed. The momentary shock of standing on air receded to the back of her mind as Atharron ran for her. She reached out for the diamond bladed sword and it jumped to her hand. She griped the leather hilt and swung with the weapon. It sliced through Atharron’s knife with a clean cut, and she didn’t even feel any resistance. Atharron threw the remains of his knife on the floor and clapped his hands while Cat remained sitting, a small smile on her face. ‘You’ve got the instincts of a fighter already,’ he said, taking his cigar from his lips. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow.’ Atharron walked back to Cat and the two of them disappeared in a glow of white light. Allison stared at the afterimage as she floated to the ground. He attacked her, and then presumed to come back? It was a test, she knew that, but if he gave her more tests like that she wouldn’t play along. Enough people had forced her to do what they want. No more.
An hour later, Holly walked through the door with Rob, the two of them laughing. Rob saw the naked Cylnaunteb in Allison’s hands and his grin faded to open mouthed wonder. ‘What is that?’ ‘A sword made from diamond,’ Allison said, looking at the weapon. She told them of the arrival of Atharron and Cat. ‘Do you reckon he’ll be able to train me?’ Rob asked when she had finished. ‘He’s not even going to train me. If he comes into this house again, I’ll stick this sword right through him.’ Rob gave her a smile. ‘I kinda think that’s what he hopes will happen.’ ‘I’m happy to grant his wish then.’ ‘Have you ever fought with a sword?’ Allison looked down to the weapon in her hands. ‘Because if you haven’t, I doubt he’ll let you stick yours anywhere.’ Holly rolled her eyes. ‘Innuendo overload, Rob.’ ‘What I’m saying is, you don’t stand a chance against him.’
Allison stayed up rest of the night with Cylnaunteb. She familiarised herself with the weight of it, the way it swung in the air, and the strength she needed to use it. On the many times she dropped the weapon, she appreciated the lack of an audience. Though she did hate the idea of repairing the ceiling in the morning. Most of the time, she didn’t know what she was doing, but tried to make sure she could hold it right before Atharron came round. The first rays of sunlight shone through her windows, and Allison was in the middle of fighting an invisible enemy when a stick hit her waist, knocking her over. She turned around to look at her assailant. ‘You’re dead.’ Atharron said. ‘First rule of combat: be aware of your surroundings.’ He held a wooden sword with a thick round blade, and he casually placed it over his shoulder. Another was pushed through his belt. ‘Don’t you knock,’ she said, annoyed. ‘Would the Emissary knock?’ Atharron answered. ‘Second rule of combat: your enemies are not courteous. Do not offer them a chance to beat you just because you stick to social norms. Now get up. We’ll go outside where there’s more room.’ Allison’s garden sparkled with dew on the grass, and the Sun shone low behind her. ‘I’d suggest you watch your footwork here,’ Atharron told her as he led her to the middle of the lawn. ‘Could be quite slippery.’ ‘I told you,’ Allison held Cylnaunteb pointed towards Atharron. ‘I’m not doing this.’ Atharron looked at the diamond blade. ‘Lady, you already are. Move your feet apart a little. You need a comfortable, yet stable stance.’ Allison looked at her feet and did as he said, a sulky frown on her face. ‘Oh don’t give me that look. You may not like me now, but you’ll be glad I came here when someone actually wants to kill you.’ He pulled out the other sword at his waist. ‘I also suggest you use this one first. You’re like to cut yourself with that thing.’ Allison didn’t move. ‘Do you really think it’s a good idea to be swinging a sharp millennia old weapon around if you don’t know how to use it?’ Allison closed her eyes and shook her head. ‘You’re insufferable.’ ‘Good. Use that against me. But first, put down the sword and take this.’ Allison took one more look at Cylnaunteb and floated it over to the garden table. She took the practice weapon Atharron held out for her. ‘Why swords anyway?’ Allison said. ‘This isn’t mediaeval times anymore. We have guns now.’ Atharron reached into the inside of his jacket and Allison saw a flash of steel from a pistol. But before the bang reached her ears, she stopped the bullet between her eyes. ‘You’re not the only one with those powers.’ Atharron put the pistol back in his jacket. He walked over to her and plucked the bullet from the air. ‘However, those who do are weak against your own.’ Atharron threw the bullet to the ground, and began to go over a few basic techniques with her, beginning with how to handle the weapon correctly. They trained for a few hours before Atharron let her inside for breakfast. He drank some milk and made himself poached eggs on toast, ordering Allison to do the same. ‘You are stronger than most women, even most men. However, to get the best chance possible, you need to be stronger. You will eat a protein rich diet and work out every day. After breakfast, we will do some weight training—I’ve brought some equipment over—and then we’ll do a few of laps of the pool, followed by more fencing. Tomorrow, I will start hand to hand combat, and the next day we’ll do ranged weapons. As I said, they’re not going to be terribly useful, but there may be a time when the skill is needed. We’ll alternate the schedule so everything remains fresh in your mind.’ Allison sat down as eggs flew into a pan and toast floated beneath the grill. ‘I’ve got to be in the studio tomorrow. How will you work around that?’ ‘Your studio work will be as a nine-to-five job. We’ll wake up with ten laps of the pool, a short workout, then breakfast. You do your singing, then you come back and we’ll have weapons training, followed by another short workout and ten laps.’ Allison sighed. ‘It’s a lot.’ ‘And you’ll be all the more alive for it.’ When she had finished making breakfast, she took a bite of toast, and the doorbell rang. Allison got up from her chair and answered the door. Within a fraction of a second, she knew it was a mistake. Standing in the morning Sun, with one hand on her hip, was a girl with long, wavy copper hair and a seductive smile ‘Hello, Sweetie,’ she said. ‘It’s been too long.’ Allison stood there, shocked and silent. ‘Yeah, I know,’ Linda said. ‘I’d be so excited to see me that I wouldn’t be able to speak either.’ She took a step towards Allison. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ Allison said. ‘Oh, come now, Sweetie. No need to be like that. I just heard you were single now is all.’ Her eyes widened, looking at something behind Allison. ‘Or not.’ Allison followed Linda’s lustful gaze. Atharron had crept up behind her. ‘He’s nice. Wow, you really picked the right one to straighten you out.’ ‘Linda, just, just go. I don’t want to hear what you have to say.’ ‘Oh I didn’t come here to talk.’ ‘Look!’ Allison took a step towards Linda, forcing her backwards. ‘I can get the police here in two minutes. Get off my property, or I will throw you off.’ ‘Okay, Sweetie. But I’ll be back,’ she turned around and began to walk down the pathway, ‘and I won’t stop until you’re mine.’ Allison slammed the door behind her and leaned her back against it. ‘I thought I’d seen the last of that cow.’ ‘I can help get that out of your system. Anger is a good tool. Just don’t let it control you.’ Allison walked back into the kitchen. ‘Do you have to turn everything into a training exercise?’ ‘If I can, I will.’ They trained for the rest of the day, and Allison went to bed sore with aching muscles and bruises. In the morning, Atharron woke her up early, and began her with some weights and a refresher of yesterday’s lessons before she drove to the studio. She limped inside, and Rob ran over to her. ‘What the hell happened?’ Allison leaned into Rob as he led her over to a chair. ‘Atharron hit me with a big stick. What do you think happened?’ ‘He’s a bit rough, then?’ Allison’s stare was all the answer Rob needed. ‘You’ll still be able to sing though?’ ‘Yes I’ll be able to sing. I need some kind of distraction from this madness.’ They rehearsed throughout the morning, intending to record two numbers in the afternoon. When they broke for lunch, Allison went to the vending machine and was faced with the choice of a Ploughman’s on white, or a chicken tikka on granary. ‘I’d take the tikka,’ said a voice behind her. Allison whipped around. Standing in the middle of the hallway, her wavy red hair dominating the view, was Linda. ‘A Ploughman’s is basically cheese and pickle.’ ‘Security,’ Allison shouted. ‘Oh, Sweetie, don’t be like that. I just wanted to see where you worked is all.’ Linda stepped towards Allison, her eyes on Allison’s locket perched an inch above the V of her dress. She picked it up and fondled the embossed patterns. ‘You still carry a torch for her. Such a shame.’ Linda looked into Allison’s eyes, the locket still in her fingers. ‘You understand she’s gone, right?’ Allison prised the locket from Linda’s fingers. ‘And so are you.’ Two large and muscled security guards came around the corner and flanked Linda. ‘Oh, Sweetie,’ Linda said, her eyes lit up. ‘You’re making a girl’s dreams come true.’ She turned to face the security guards, twirling her hair. ‘So which one of you wants to manhandle me first?’ This was infuriating. ‘Does everything have to be about sex with you?’ Allison shouted at Linda. Linda tilted her head to look at Allison. ‘It’s all we live for, Sweetie. Got to make the most of it.’ Allison huffed. ‘Take her away.’ Linda walked towards the exit as if the guards were her own personal security.
Linda continued to make her presence known over the next few weeks. She’d find Allison at meetings, on tour, at television or radio studios. She even appeared when Allison went to the toilet in a pub. Sometimes she would talk to Allison, but sometimes she sat or stood in the audience, smiling. Allison worried about how many times she didn’t see Linda. Was she following her everywhere? And what was the point of it all? Linda hadn’t attacked her, or disrupted any performance or interview, except for when Allison faltered with surprise after noticing her. But as time wore on, she began to expect Linda’s appearance. Even anticipated it. Like knowing there was a spider in her room, she wouldn’t feel easy until she knew where Linda was, but as soon as Allison saw her, she couldn’t take her eyes off her. ‘She seems like the kind of girl who would harm anyone I do go out with,’ she said to Atharron while fencing. ‘Not out of jealousy, but just to eliminate the competition.’ They had moved onto real swords last week and Allison defended herself with Cylnaunteb while Atharron forced her to the back of the garden. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘She’s harmless. Just a stalker. Every celebrity has ‘em. Next time she comes, get her arrested and we can forget about her.’ Allison quickly parried Atharron’s attack, neatly going for his waist. He jumped out of her way and she swung around, her sword ready to attack him again. Just before she finished her move, though, she felt Atharron’s sword slice her back. She stopped and held the wound. It was shallow and would be healed by tonight, but that didn’t stop the indignation of being wounded by her mentor. ‘Why did you do that?’ ‘Because,’ Atharron said, ‘you should never ever ever turn your back to an enemy. Sword-fighting is not a dance, and I hate it when I see that in a movie. Twirling around like frickin’ Darcy Bussell gives you no extra speed, or strength, or accuracy. All it does is give your opponent an opening to strike. You are blind, you cannot defend yourself, nor does he need to fend off any of your attacks. Anyone who thinks that is a good idea, deserves to be hurt.’ He ended his rant with a sigh. ‘Anyway, let’s get you inside and dress that up.’ Atharron bandaged her wound, and after putting away the first aid kit the doorbell rang. ‘I’ll give you three guesses who that is,’ Allison said. She picked up Cylnaunteb and marched towards the door. Opening it, she held her sword out first. ‘Listen, come hear once more, and…’ she trailed off and dropped her sword as she saw the person in her doorway.