In the training ground of the Order of the Four Winds, two duelists faced off against each other. They moved like the wind, graceful yet powerful, only briefly touching the ground as they danced around each other. Any time they approached they exchanged a series of thrusts, slashes, parries, and ripostes. Their slender swords flashed in the sunlight.
Their swords were so swift that normal eyes could not follow them- and even those on the same level only did so with difficulty. Each slash was sharp enough to slice into a neck, each stab strong enough to pierce the heart. It was only by the narrowest margin that one sword bypassed the other, the sword piercing towards a throat and then stopping. “I concede.”
As they walked away from the training ground, one of them was stopped. “Hello, Reina.”
“Barrett.” She looked him over carefully, “Covered in wounds again, I see. Do I want to know what happened?”
Barrett smiled, tactfully neglecting to mention the tiny spot of blood on her neck. “I was hoping you might join me on a mission. A personal one, not necessarily with a reward. I’m planning to visit my home.”
Reina looked off into the distance for a few moments. “… I see. What exactly do you expect to find there?”
“Revenge. Perhaps answers of some kind. Either way, I will make the world a little bit better.”
“Do you think so? Things may not change even without them.”
Barrett shook his head, “I would give you ten-to-one odds that overall economic prosperity and happiness have decreased, and that the church of Ristos, god of prosperity, has more wealth and more poor people to help, and equally more poor to ignore.”
“Not a fan of Ristos?”
Barrett shrugged, “I know nothing of Ristos, whether or not he exists. I do know that his followers in Triridge were little better than cow manure. They just seem to have forgotten that manure is not the actual goal of raising cattle, but just a slightly-helpful byproduct.”
Reina shook her head, “That matters little. What about Denton?”
“He might be there. There was nowhere for him to stay in Triridge, but perhaps in the past years he has returned to his petty little play at being a ruler. Last I left him he had no use of his right hand and a few missing teeth. It’s equally likely he’s spent the last few years in my city crying to his mommy.”
“That does seem like him,” Reina said. She held up her hand and looked at the back of it. “I will go. However, you have to slap him for me. I’d do it, but my fingers are delicate.”
Barrett grinned, “I can do anything from a permanent imprint in his face to a beheading. What about Melody?”
“Well, I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
Barrett was slightly taken aback at the way she smiled.
Barrett didn’t have fond memories of Tornado Plains. However, it was the most expedient route to get back to Ashia. Besides, the plains were big enough that they might not even see the tornado on the horizon. That was what he hoped… but on the second day, “It’s following us,” Reina said.
“Well, it is moving sort of towards us, yeah.” Barrett had had something similar happen on his first journey through.
Reina shook her head, “No, it’s definitely following us. The path of the winds shifts as our path changes.”
“Can’t it just be a coincidence? It’s not like anyone is controlling it.”
“Nobody is controlling it… but someone once did. Perhaps it still picks out targets.”
“Well, that’s okay. We can just outrun it. I did last time.”
Barrett had outrun it last time. He’d even done so in heavy armor, though just barely. This time he was much faster. However, the same could be said of the tornado. “It can’t really want to kill me… or you… right?”
“Whether or not it wants to doesn’t matter. If it catches us, it will be troublesome. I don’t like the look of all that debris it carries with it.” Reina managed to talk calmly even while fleeing at top speed.
“Should we split up?”
Reina shrugged, “It doesn’t appear as if it will turn around. We can meet up in Sashor, in the capital.”
“Great. See you there.”
With that, the two of them started running at a ninety degree angle to each other. That took them northeast and southeast, with the exit of the Tornado Plains being directly east. The tornado couldn’t follow them both.
Barrett wondered if this tornado had something against him. After they split up, it appeared to be coming after him in particular. It even accelerated. Barrett could already feel the winds around him, even as he increased his speed to compensate. Then something very unexpected happened. Another tornado appeared right in front of him. It was much smaller, but he saw it swirl down from the sky. There was another to his left, and to his right. Reina was still within sight, and he saw some of the smaller tornados touch down near her too.
As the tornados converged on Barrett, they also grew larger and faster. He looked for a path between them as he kept running away from the larger main tornado, but didn’t see much of a chance. They continued closer, and just before Barrett was swept up into them he saw the same happen to Reina. He hoped she would be alright. Then a rock hit him in the head.
Even going at tornado speeds, a random rock wasn’t enough to knock out Barrett. In fact, the rock took much more damage than his head. However, it was still enough to split his skull. Barrett felt himself lifted off his feet, and he could only flail and thrash to try to find some sort of direction. More importantly, he had to try to avoid the debris. Rocks and dust was the least of his worries. Along with those were weapons of various poor souls who came through the area- swords and spear and arrows. Most of them didn’t remain whole, but the shattered remnants of a sword still contained many sharp edges.
Barrett transferred some of his mass and momentum into his right foot just in time to throw himself off course of a house sized boulder whipping past him the other way. It really drilled home the point that the tornado wasn’t natural. Besides its size and apparent desire to chase him down, it also didn’t rotate in just one direction internally. He hadn’t known that, but now that he knew he wasn’t fond of the idea of running headfirst at hundreds of meters per second into something coming from the other direction.
Rocks and tiny shards of metal constantly scraped up against him. He was especially glad that his new magic bag was more reinforced. It had his backup clothes in it, among other things. He continued to fight for survival against the tornado for hours, slowly accruing wounds all over his body, before he finally felt himself floating in the air. No, it was falling. Nothing was pushing against him anymore, and he barely had time to orient himself before he crashed into the ground.