Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I raise my hand above my head, knuckles to the rear, palm to the sky, fingers softly curled, thumb tight. As the weight tips the arm leftward, I let it drop and curve away to the right, knuckles uppermost until that extension stops like there’s a wall at my back. The wrist rotates to place thumb uppermost, forming a straight line that runs from mind to arm to blade.
The entity tumbles past, thoughtlessly falling, its attention taken by the purple flood that spills from the gashes cut just above both knees.
My fist turns, my arm curls inward until the heel of my palm touches my brow. The fist tilts and I whip the blade over and down, flinging ichor from it before reversing grip and coming to a standstill. The blade parallels the back of my arm, tip level with my ear.
“You did not kill dyn?”
I flick a glance in the direction of the voice. She hasn’t moved. My duster shifts in the wind that crosses this alien steppe.
“It would have been a waste.”
“Dyn would have killed you.”
“That much was obvious. It is why I struck instead of conceding.”
“You are not like your companions.”
“Inasmuch that I am not dead, or in some other detail?”
Spinning hard left, I stop by kicking my right foot into the dirt. My right arm swings like throwing a hook punch with knuckles up. I twist, lean, and extend. My wrist flexes and the reversed blade flicks out to carve a gory track through the dorsal crest of dyn who had scuttled in from behind.
Returning to an upright stance, I switch grip, flick more ichor across the grasses, reverse grip once again, and bring the blade back to rest behind my shoulder.
“I was leading into a witticism as you toppled, riven to the quick by that dyn. You have lifemarked two of my finest. I may have to reconsider the claims of my dynar as to their excellence.”
There are unhappy growls from the multitude that ring this impromptu challenge circle.
“Your strikes will leave marks upon their healed forms. Until those marks fade, those dyn live and move to your will. That is our way.”
“And if the marks do not fade?”
“Then they serve for life. Thusly we call it ‘lifemarking’.”
“If I die?”
“It is dishonourable for them to kill the lifemarker. Moreso, should you die before them, they will also be killed.”
“Simple and effective.”
Another dyn is sneaking in. Snapping my left hand out, I extend a finger. In a silence of bated breaths, I wag the finger from side to side. The dyn rises from the long grass and slinks back into the crowd.
“You chose not to lifemark a third?”
“Eventually, some dyn will get lucky. I would prefer that to happen whilst in service, rather than as a ronin upon a foreign plain.”
I turn to face her.
“I’m a long way from home, dynri. My ship is wrecked, my ammunition spent, and my companions are dead. All I have is some small skill with this blade and a willingness to kill for a cause. Will you give me one?”
“Killing tools like yours are called ‘shongi’. But what you wield is far more. My dynar whisper that it is lightning sworn to your service.”
I’ll take that as an omen.
“We could be at your service.”
“Then welcome, dynar. What names do it and you bear?”
I grin.
“Call us Raitoningu.”