The Sgain Togre Phase-Duelists

“Isn’t it beautiful? See the world you adored, burning.”
“A thousand minds chained with yours, and still you only understand yourself. You were the one who loved the ringing masses, cheers and stamping. You were the one who needed their racket to believe your own power.

Gutter squalling.

How dare they cheer, scream, gasp? What did they ever know about the long-blade’s song and the bloody circle? The untried parasites meant nothing to me until the precise moment I failed to protect them.

You’ve just given me everything I ever wanted.”

A ravine riddled with incomprehensible scoring and off-angle slashes. The scholar cannot conceive how this latticing spiral-cut was made so cleanly, or made to grow new branches as it bores deeper into the antediluvian stone until it becomes a mazework sheer on the inside wall of a moldered cave.

A few austere pillars with pinched-waist forms. They ring an alcove perched on a diamond-veined promontory deep within a blue-lit chasm below the world’s surface. Glints in the enveloping mist bring out spectral warps that could almost be silhouettes. At the heart lies nothing but a metalloid display case. It holds nothing.

A companion dagger for a long blade never found. The neophyte fancied the sheen of its silver-blue metal, and bore it from the ice-entombed sarcophagus of a hall dominated by odd protrusions and peculiar distorted balconies. They can but blink and shift with uncomfortable confusion when the Novgori handler, turning the dagger over in her paws, starts and cries out, “Where did you find this? This is Sgain Togre work!”

Of course, later expeditions to the same place can never again find the frozen hall.

The Sgain Togre Phase-Duelists now exist only by signs such as these. Uncounted years and unremembered lives show little compassion for fame. Yet the people of Creation’s Fringe keep Sgain Togre alive in whispers, rumors, and ever-shifting myth. Scholars fight as viciously with their ideas as the Phase-Duelists themselves fought with their blades in times now fallen.

By an essay’s thrust and the riposte of a treatise, the Fringe’s historians have whittled each other down to a few agreements. Weapons comprise the overwhelming majority of Sgain Togre relics now kept by museums, private collectors, and those few adventurers fortunate enough to lay hands on them. Most often blades, but Sgain Togre’s immaculate craft frequently shows in polearms, sometimes in warhammers, bows, and the like, and very occasionally in something outlandish–such as a whip whose entire length was embedded somehow with two continuous edges able to bend through thousands of tiny segmentations.

Regardless, all true Sgain Togre work uses a metal otherwise unheard of on the Fringe. It bears some visual resemblance to the sapphire-steel imported from Canno, but outperforms it in every regard. Sgain Togre metalwork “sings” when struck, vibrating so swiftly and minutely that the blades appear to blur.

Though rumors claim they’re indestructible, there are proven accounts of Sgain Togre blades breaking under horrendous strain. One was briefly used to jam the gears of a lock-gate in the city of Telsmarra so that the notorious pirate Jelvak Urshuv could stay one step ahead of the city’s formidable Wardhammers.

The Wardhammers can, in fact, fly, and so were undeterred by this quick thinking. However, the blade worked so deep into the lock’s mechanism that only sustained kinetic spellcasting could dislodge its grip–which promptly snapped off at the tang, leaving the blade trapped within the gears. The Wardhammers estimated that the weapon absorbed enough force in the final second of its existence to move a three-hundred ton cog at least a hundred feet.

Over dry land.

Later scrying spells could find no trace of the embedded blade. And within days of the incident becoming public news, the grip vanished from a supposedly-secure vault without a single disturbance in its wards. This surprised no one: Sgain Togre craft was as beautiful as it was potent, with precisely-ground forms, crisp ridgelines, and rippled metal patterns catching light like silk made of star-blood. It’s the Fringe: there are always people of rare talent looking for artifacts of rare value.

For all this, staggeringly little has been found as far as Sgain Togre armor. Some scribes contend that the Phase-Duelists must have fought naked! This has received little credence outside some rather fanciful erotic novels.

Thusly runs the chosen retelling, cobbled together from so many clues and a few scraps written in Aimoch, the ancient tongue of first known Fringe-dwellers: the Sgain Togre Phase-Duelists were the paramount peacekeepers and enforcers of the law in the ancient Fringe. The common folk revered them as heroes, and relished the chance to watch the Phase-Duelists in action–whether against some eldritch monstrosity crawling forth from the Interstitium, a tyrant grown too secure in their power, or against a fellow Phase-Duelist.

Tantalizing scraps mention Sgain Togre’s astounding martial powers. A tome found below the debris fields and permafrost outside Kechutsk Commune suggests much but explains nothing. The book itself bears mentioning: it features flexible pages of a glossy material and white-crystal covers. Its purpose? Nothing more than a travel-guide for sightseers lucky enough to live during the same vanished age of glory as the Phase-Duelists themselves.

The tome speaks of “Northshear Academy, where the peerless slayers called Sgain Togre hone the art of the Phase-Lash to sunder the fabric of all.” Though the only copy of its exact text, this tome’s no anomaly in content. During their halcyon, the Phase-Duelists seem to have been known everywhere in cultures across the Fringe. Their prestige was unrivalled. Fragmentary accounts bubble with the excitement, the tension, and the pride felt simply for being fortunate enough to witness the titular Phase-Duel in person.

Some stories even mention the signature techniques of particular duelists: “–learned things during that exile. Things even her rival didn’t know. For at the critical moment, she unveiled some new power that I could never hope to understand if I should live a thousand years. I don’t have words to capture the way everyone on the other side of them blurred, and that piercing shriek and warping shear. And laced with the liquid patter in its impact’s wake and a cry of pain, we heard her voice in the evilest whisper you could ever imagine.

She spoke her creation’s name: Threading the Needle.”

Who was “she”? No rhetorical question, this! It touches on the single most galling mystery of the Phase-Duelists. They were renowned enough that any firsthand account of their exploits was considered worthy literature, yet familiar enough that many texts whose topics have nothing to do with Sgain Togre mention the order anyway. The Phase-Duelists’ surviving weapons show just how resilient their craft was.

One must assume the order would’ve used the same techniques and materials to record its lore. In their own time, few of these secrets were actually secrets–some especially-infuriating source even mention “the annals of Sgain Togre beneath the thousand spires of Saingodiir”!

Yet not a single manuscript or data-archive has ever been found which gives a single clear answer about Sgain Togre’s nature. Even the account of the phase-duel mentioned above was somehow scrubbed: riddled not with scratches nor censor’s marks, but empty spaces as short as a single word or as long as an entire passage.

Wherever its words about specific concepts were allowed to survive, it’s because they assume the reader would have common knowledge which no longer exists on the Fringe: the difference between a Phase-Step and a Phase-Lash, what an Ellipse Cut is and why charging into it was a better decision than trying to parry or dodge it.

This holds true for any scraplet that might give away any of the answers the modern Fringe desires: what was the source of the Phase-Duelists’ power? How did they forge such outstanding weapons? The mentions of Northshear Academy seem helpful at first glance–except that many locations from throughout the Fringe’s history are named North-something despite being northerly only in the most local sense of the word.

And if Northshear was indeed located in the boreal regions of the Fringe… so are many of the other famous ruins and archeological sites on the Fringe, spread across thousands of miles of snow, mountains, and glacial rifts haunted by the deadliest predators, and the most vicious renegades on the planet. One cardinal direction is absolutely useless for finding something on a world as massive and fractured as this!

The erasure runs too precise and too effective to be the result of some entropic phenomenon on the Fringe. Most scholars agree it must be a similar case to that of the archmage Morsibrand on the plane-linked world of Canno, who reputedly destroyed most of his world’s arcane lore after the invasion of the alien Loar to prevent the rise of mage-tyrants as absolute rulers of the broken civilizations the Loar left in their wake.

Someone, most likely a conspiracy since it’s difficult to imagine any single person achieving such thorough expurgation on their own, did not want Sgain Togre to be remembered–at least, not in a way that would allow the rebirth of its works and knowledge. As the Kijnep scholar Bruat Wagvu noted, “What was allowed to survive is just enough to leave us a sense of something enormous lost. We are meant to know of the emptiness, not to fill it, but simply to feel it.”

Meant or not, the Fringe’s foremost researchers, pioneers, and adventurers send forth some of their best each day in hopes of uncovering the hidden truth of Sgain Togre at last. With such slim hopes of recovering the order’s secrets at the source, many turn instead to seeking parallels in the world they know today. The Fringe is a cosmic patchwork of overlapping spirits, philosophies, and the powers by which they express themselves. It’s natural that many seek to understand Sgain Togre by determining the nature of its power.

Some have proposed that the Phase-Duelists may have been an order of psionics. They speak of the nightmarish powers supposedly wielded by the Cobalt Immortals. Most scholars disdain this idea. A fringe group of fanatics infamous for defying legal authority, they argue, could not possibly be comparable with the revered guardians enshrined by the wiser rulers of an era now departed.

The Immortals’ fearsome reputation is more likely the result of the impression they make on the folk they have most congress with than any pinnacle virtue of their own. People on the edge of civilization, knowing nothing of its true grandeur and the arts wielded by its wardens, would naturally be impressed by whatever brute-force displays the Immortals can bring to bear.

The Immortals have never seen fit to way in on the discourse one way or the other.

Nor can the handful of true Seers on the Fringe unravel the mystery. Surely memories of Sgain Togre were once imbued on relics, ruins, and remains through will and emotion–but other wills and emotions long since supplanted them. Whispers persist that there must be some perfect site, some place overlooked by the nameless purgators of Sgain Togre’s history and insulated from outside psychic influences where the right Seer could look right back to the days of the Phase-Duelists.

Even these whispers are a thousand years old, if not older. Only the very naïve or the very desperate ever heed them.

Still, the search continues. The questions grow ever more gnarled, and the questers ever more conflicted. Some believe that the Sgain Togre must derived their talents from some god who fell when Fon Kerrick came to the Fringe in the Dawn of Death. Perhaps the Phase-Duelists were aliens, or demons, or ghosts–or alien demon-ghosts! One especially colorful hypothesis claims that the entire order were just manifestations of a single enormous psyche projected into ephemeral bodies of pure energy, and that their otherworldly powers were simply the result of this eldritch being changing its tendrils to suit the moment.

The shining swords of the past offer no answers. But oh, how they gleam, beguile, and sing–even as their myth cuts the soul.

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