Rusk stood looking through black bars made of a smoke like substance. Splayed across what seemed to be empty air is an image showing a great battle raging on. A giant skeletal serpent suddenly roars into view, but from an odd angle. It takes Rusk a moment to realize that Marian has just been hoisted up into the air by the serpent’s tail. He feels a slight tingle on his right shoulder. He knows this feeling well, it means Marian is hurt. He pays it little heed, mainly just scratches at the spot while continuing to view the lopsided combat. His friends are not doing well. They don’t seem to be hurting this beast all that much, not even with all their new weapons. Suddenly Rusk screams in pain as he falls to the ground. Glancing to his right, he sees two things. The first is that his right arm is now gone. The second, even more confusing sight, is Marian laying on his left side facing the wall and not moving. Rusk rushes over to check on him but he is nonresponsive. After trying unsuccessfully to wake him, Rusk does the only thing he can do, he sits down and waits. A few hours go by, Rusk believes, or it could be a few days, time goes by oddly here, before Marian stirs. Rusk must have been dozing because he looked away for just a moment and when he looked back Marian was laying on his back, clutching the stump where his right arm once was, and staring up at the ceiling.
Rusk jumps up and takes a step forward “Marian?! You’re awake! What are you doing here? How are both of us on the same side of the bars? What happened to our arm?”
Marian barely moves is head and somberly glances at Rusk out of the corner of his eye. “Rusk, please go away and leave me be. Can’t you see I’m useless now? I failed to protect you, again, and in that failure made it so I could never protect you again.”
Rusk has seen his surlier half like this before and knows when to back off. “Fine I’ll go away. But first you have to answer one question. What happened to our arm?”
Marian practically screams back, “The damn snake ripped it off!! I know you were watching so don’t act dumb.”
Rusk responds quietly, “I actually couldn’t see that happen, so no, I didn’t know that. No reason to be rude…. Ok so the snake ripped off our arm. But how are we both on this side of the bars?”
Marian closes his eyes. “You said one question, now go away.”
It was now Rusk’s turn to yell. “What do you mean go away?! We’ve never been on the same side before, why don’t you care about this?”
Not even bothering to respond, Marian rolls away to face the wall, successfully ending the conversation.
Over the next few days, Marian continued to stare into the void that surrounded their little island of reality. Never talking, barely even moving. Rusk wasn’t exactly productive either though. If he wasn’t sitting, rubbing his shoulder, and watching Marian, he was walking intricate geometric shapes in the ground. Occasionally he would glance up towards where he could usually see the real world, but each time he had to lower his head and keep walking. All that was there now was darkness. Each time this happened he would glance over at Marian inert form. After what must have been the hundredth time, Rusk didn’t just glance over at Marian, he ran over and kicked him. It wasn’t a soft kick meant to wake someone up. It was a full strength kick straight at the middle of Marian’s back. The reaction was instant. Marian shot to his feet and spun to face the threat. His left hand came up to accept the handle of the red two-handed hammer that his right hand should have formed, but there was nothing to grab. His right arm was gone. There would be no hammer forming. Marian’s eyes flicked from Rusk’s face, down to Rusk’s severed right shoulder, and on to his own severed right shoulder. And then it looked like all the substance went out of him as he crumpled to the ground. Rusk was sick of waiting though. Instead of walking away again, he took a step forward and kicked Marian in the head. Picking himself up off the ground, Marian once again turned to face Rusk. This time his face was contorted in rage.
“What the hell do you want from me? Are you excited to take advantage of my disability and finally beat me in a fight?!” he screams at Rusk.
Rusk shifts to put his own severed stump towards Marian. “What advantage?” he all but spits at Marian. Still talking, he slowly advances towards Marian. “I see two options here. We both sit here and do nothing but stare off into whatever surrounds us. Or,” he glances down at the stump, “we learn to deal with this.”
Marian’s face loses its rage, and actually takes on an intrigued look. “And how do you propose we do that?”
A smile appears on Rusks face. He has already won this battle. The hard part is over, what follows is just icing on the cake. He brings his left arm up, scrunches his face as sweat starts beading on his forehead, and causes a blue sword to slowly form in his left hand. “By learning to use this. It won’t be easy, but it will be necessary. Now, your turn.”
It didn’t take Marian long to follow suit, except his was a slightly smaller version of his red hammer. Once he formed it, his confidence seemed to return as well. They spent hours sparring. At first they looked like toddlers just learning how to use their limbs. The loss of a limb effected their balance, causing them to over stretch and tumble to the ground on more than one occasion. In the theater of the mind, sleep is not needed, so short rests were all they needed. By each break, their skill had clearly advanced. They had found their new center, could form their mindblades as easily as before, and had learned that footwork was even more important now.
They were in the middle of one of their sparring sessions, when Rusk suddenly ducked and caught Marian off guard with a spinning low kick followed immediately by a backhanded slash aimed right at his ribs. Marian knew he couldn’t get his hammer around in time, nor move out of the way in time, but as he heard the familiar metallic sound, he had to smile. Where Rusk’s sword should have struck his unprotected side, it instead struck strong black chainmail. Rusk was undeterred and spun back the other way to strike at the other side, only to find more chainmail. Marian, overconfident with the return of his armor, stepped forward into a wicked overhand chopping maneuver. Rusk’s defense was reactionary. He didn’t grow armor. Instead, he just wasn’t there anymore. Quicker than Marian could see, Rusk was moving sideways around the hammer and coming up behind Marian. Marian used his momentum to spin around into another strike, but all he saw was a blue blur as Rusk kept moving, following Marian’s spin. After spinning for a few more seconds, Marian fell forward into a roll, coming up on a knee facing back the way Rusk was standing. They both wore smiles. They took a quick rest, and then resumed their training with renewed vigor.
This training went on for many days. Both Rusk and Marian had lost count of just how long they had been there together. Both had found a new respect for the other. When Marian’s hammer suddenly dropped from his lifeless fingers, Rusk’s first reaction was to take advantage of the lapse in concentration. His second reaction was to hold back thinking it might be a trick, but upon further inspection of Marian’s face, especially his eyes, Rusk paused and looked over his shoulder. His own mindblade slipped from his fingers to dissipate before it reached the ground. The tunnel and window had reappeared. The window was hazy, they could barely make out anything, but the tunnel was very clear. Rusk looked at Marian. Marian returned the stare, and then flicked his eyes to the tunnel.
His voice was gravelly as he spoke, “Get going Rusk. It’s your turn now. You don’t need me to hold your hand anymore. Go be what neither of us has been for a lot longer than the snake attack, one whole person. It’s been an honor.” Marian suited actions to words, and raised his left hand.
With a smile on his face, and a slight tear in his eye, Rusk grasped Marian’s forearm in a tight embrace. “The honor is mine. I’m sorry it took me so long to see that. I’ll see you soon.” Still with a smile on his face, Rusk turned and started jogging down the tunnel. Marian watched him go for a few moments, then turned and headed back towards the bars of black smoke. He walked through the cage door and slowly sat down to rest and watch the window. As he saw the image sharpen, Marian spoke quietly “Go be what you’ve always been in my eyes. Goodbye my son.” A smile slowly spread across Marian’s face as his body faded into black smoke and was swept away by an unseen wind.