Tamuna, a voice spoke in her mind. She froze, her blood turning to ice. Was someone behind her? She glanced over her shoulder, but saw only shadows. Perhaps the wind was playing tricks with—
Tamuna, the voice spoke again, this time as clear as if she had heard it with her ears. She spun around, but again, she was alone.
As she turned back to the apse, the air immediately in front of her began to ripple like a mirage on a hot day. The sword seemed to morph and change, until she saw two images before her: the sword in the slab of marble, exactly as before, and a tall young man with golden hair and a carefully trimmed beard, wearing a silver coat of mail and the tunic of a warrior.
“Wh-who are you?” she asked, taking a step back. Something about his gaze held her, telling her there was no need to be afraid.
“Tamuna Leladze,” he said softly, looking at her with the barest hint of a smile. “Over a thousand years have passed since mortal eyes have seen this place, now in ruins in the world of men. Many have desired to wield me, but I have refused them all. I am Imeris, the twelfth and final sword, and this is my sanctuary.”
Tamuna frowned. “The twelfth sword?”
“Yes,” said the young man. His image faded until he was almost invisible, so that Tamuna found herself staring at the hilt of the sword in the marble slab. It called out to her the way it had in the tavern, and she realized that the man and the sword were one and the same.
“How did you know my name?”
“I know a lot about you, Tamuna,” said Imeris, coming back into view. “Our minds made contact the moment you laid eyes on me. I know how your heart longs for adventure, how you dream of faraway lands. And yet, your unshakeable loyalty to the few close and lasting friends in your life keeps you rooted to your home.”
“You can read my mind, then?”
“Only because you are too innocent to know how to shut me out. What I read in your mind, others can easily read in your countenance.”
Tamuna gazed into Imeris’s eyes and felt as if she were staring into a mirror back through centuries of time. And yet, he looked like a man only a few years older than her.
“Why have you brought me here?” she asked.
“Do you see the inscription written on the floor beneath your feet?”
Tamuna looked down and saw an inscription, written in old, faded letters in the marble floor. She squinted and tried to make them out, but the writing was too ancient for her to read.
“What is it?”
“It is an ancient prophecy, pronounced on the day when I was forged.”
“What does it say?”
“It says: This sword IMERIS, though last to be forged, certainly shall not be the least. For in the days when the Order is broken and darkness sweeps across the face of the land, it shall await the one who will wield it in truth and wisdom to free the world of men.” He paused, looking her in the eye. “You are the one of whom the prophecy speaks, Tamuna. You are the one whom I have chosen.”