The soft clopping of our horses hooves as we crossed the marsh was unsettlingly loud this silent night.
“You’re sure she’s in there?” Rapture asked as he rode up beside me.
“No, but I trust Gale,” I replied.
“And I trust you.” Coming from him, that meant a lot. Stripped of his title as an Enarian Knight, and banished, Rapture had become a bitter man.
He had nothing left for him in this world, which made him perfect as a pawn in this war of mine. His willingness to die washed away any remorse I had for using him as I do.
I glanced over my shoulder at the others riding behind us. I can’t imagine having to sacrifice any of them. I never would have gotten this far without them.
My first companion, Eiley Evermay, has been with me since I dug myself out of my own grave beside the road a year ago. I can imagine how horrifying my half dead, ragged body must have looked rising from the grave in front of her. Were it not for her I imagine Malechi Caden and the other Knights would have slain me there, thinking I was undead.
She said it was love at first sight, and what a sight that must have been.
After that came Yui. Well, I suppose it was us who came to her, really. After my right arm had been severed by Croxus, a mage hunter. Yui put me back together. In return she only asked that I promise her my eternal soul. She’s something of a collector. Eiley was against it, but…
I flexed my arm. The smoky wisp markings along my right arm were a sign of this terrible magic, and without it I could never have…
I could never have murdered all those people…
No. I can’t let myself waver, not now. I’ll make this right.
My thoughts were interrupted by Vakiera’s laughter.
She and Envy were flirting, as usual. Vakiera is an undead knight, though she doesn’t look it. Her body is perfectly preserved. Her soul is cursed by a preist she once knew in life. She used to live each day in agony under the priests curse. He’s a murderous, wicked man who would have her slay innocents for the sake of his sick desire. She owes her sanity to Envy, a curious young man. He and six others were born from the ashes of a demon. Each of them reflected traits of the seven deadly sins. I don’t know what’s become of the other six, but I’m glad he’s with us.
He’s always been a bit of a beacon for us. His sarcastic sense of humor never really wanes, even in the hard times. He’s mostly powerless to do anything himself, but his synergy abilities have helped us to overcome enemies we could never has defeated without him. He truly is the embodiment of Envy. He thinks of himself as an observer of our struggle. Unable to bleed alongside us. But we know better. Vakiera more than anyone else relies on him. His power has fended off the priests curse for months now.
The two were once enemies of mine. Ironically it was because of Croxus that they joined me. Croxus is a skilled assassin but he is tactless. Rather than allying with them to kill me, he sought Envy’s head as well. Alone they were no match for him. But they weren’t alone.
Don’t get me wrong. That was the first time that I felt darkness speak to my heart. The will to leave them, and allow my enemies to slay one another. It was also the last time I fought as a hero. I saved them, but it nearly cost Eiley her life.
Since then, I’ve let the darkness within define my path. Even surrounded by people like them. Righteousness is a path followed by fools. Every righteous choice has nearly cost me everything.
Towards the back, as usual was Korden. Korden Drex is… was a member of the Reachers Cult. A Cult devoted to forbidden magic and the worshipping of monsters and demons. We crossed paths by chance. Korden’s mysterious magic should have killed me. When it failed, he set his sights on Yui. His powers negate healing magic, moreover he’s like a phantom. Able to become ethereal on a whim. But what makes him dangerous is his Curse of The Anguished Grave. A curse linking his soul to another. Sharing pain, agony, fear, and death. Were he to link himself to her, we would be powerless against him.
I had to choose.
I chose Yui.
In an instant I had torn him to pieces. He was the first person I was unable to save. My first kill.
What I did wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t a murderer. I wasn’t evil for protecting my friends. But it was what his death meant that horrified me. It was the first time my path had resulted in the someones death. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. I had vowed to use this cursed life I live to protect everyone. No one had to die. I had to be strong enough to save everyone!
But I couldn’t. And if I couldn’t save even him, then who was next?
In my desperation, I spilled my own blood, and resurrected him from the dead. An art I had never studied. A spell I had never cast. Regret I had never known. I watched in horror as his body was stitched together before me, and his eyes were filled with life.
His undead spirit was bound to me, forever. His first words of new life were horrified screams of the hell his soul had resided in for only a few moments. His spirit was on the verge of collapse. Desperately I tried to alter his mind, remove the scars that hell had laid on him. But in my panic I destroyed him. I fractured his mind. Within his mind now resides a demon. The embodiment of the darkness he had witnessed in the afterlife, sharing a body with Korden, who despised me. He despised me in death and in life.
I’ve vowed to undo what’s been done, once this is all over.
Now, those here with me are all that matters. They’re all I care about. I’ll not allow anything to hurt them…
...Gurren, on the other hand… Guerren and his men were horrible men and beasts. I won’t shed a tear should any of them throw their lives away for my cause. In fact, I hope they would be so foolish as to do so.
“Am I interrupting?” Eiley said as she rode up opposite me.
“And if I said you were?” I asked.
She stuck her tongue out at me as she guided her horse a little closer to mine.
...Pretty soon she and I will part ways. I will not allow her to get involved with men like me. The world will need people like her, after this is over…
“Caden will catch up to us by sunrise.” Rapture said to no one in particular.
Malechi Caden, an Enarian Knight, and Rapture’s former comrade, was likely Enaria’s greatest hero, and the best hope this world had of stopping me. Had he and his men been but a day’s time faster, we wouldn’t make it to our destination.
But, as it stands, we’ve managed to stay one step ahead. By the time he catches us, it will already be too late.
“Don’t worry, Hale. We won’t let him get to you,” Eiley said with a smile. I could see the fear in her eyes as she spoke. She and Rapture were like night and day. Unlike he, she wanted to live, and still had very much to live for.
Which is why it has to be this way.
I extended my hand and gently clasped her neck. I leaned across to her, and she to me.
I kissed her forehead, and as I did, the illusion runes in my hand burned bright as I burrowed into her mind. Immediately her own rune began to glow, resisting me as I easily broke through her mental defenses.
I could feel her consciousness all around me. Her hopes of our future, her desires… It was her belief in a better life that lead us to this moment, and it was with that belief in mind that I erased every moment we had ever shared. Every kiss, every sobbing hug, and every night spent under the stars.
In a moment, a year of her life with me was gone.
But where do I send her from here…
I sighed as I imprinted a vague image of a boy, who never existed, but she’ll swear he does. A young man from her childhood that she’s set out in search of. Hopefully she’ll trick herself into believing she’s found him someday. Whoever he is, he doesn’t deserve her. But for her sake, he’ll have to do.
Slowly, My lips parted from her, and I watched as she slowly rode away from me. Her eyes stared off into the distance as the sun began to rise. She set off towards nowhere in particular, parting from me for the last time.
“I love you,” I whispered.
The sun had begun Its ascent in the sky as we arrived at the mouth of a small, unassuming cave.
It was here that Gale Hester said I would find her. Vira, Goddess of this world. I have staked everything on his prediction. If this has all been for nothing, then this cave will become my tomb.
Frankly, I’ll probably die here, regardless.
I nodded to Rapture, who began organizing Gurren’s men at the mouth of the cave.
Gurren and his men had no idea who we were, and who was after us. If they had, I doubt anyone would be foolish enough to stand between me and Malechi Caden.
“This is it, everyone,” I said to my friends.
“Hale,” Korden spoke to me, though he wouldn’t look me in the eyes. “If this works out, and you really do keep your promise… I’ll keep mine, too.”
“Are you warming up to me after all?” I asked.
“I hope you die in a fire,” he said with his back to me.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Yui chimed in. “So what do you want from us?”
“Korden, you can sense me wherever I am, so I want you to hide out in the woods. I’ll come for you.” I said. Korden nodded.
“Everyone else, head to Dyfei. Once we’re done here we’ll head into the Wicked Woods and end all of this.” I said.
“Why are we being sent away?” Envy asked.
“Because you aren’t wanted dead by the Enarian Knights. If things go badly here, no one will come looking for you.” I said.
“If they go badly we can help,” Vakiera said.
“... If things go bad, everyone will die.” Rapture said as he approached us. “Enarian Knights don’t lose battles.” He would know.
“After all you put us through, you better survive,” Yui said. “ You owe us that much.”
She gave me a quick hug, much to my surprise. Everyone else said their goodbyes, and departed us.
With a thumbs up from Rapture, I ducked into the cave.
“Ignateous,” I whispered in the old tongue. Magic circles rippled from my feet outwards across the walls of the cave.
The rock around me began to softly glow, lighting the darkness.
A metallic glint caught my eye. I threw myself to the ground as a sword slashed where my head had once been.
I recognized the sword, it’s red heat emanating from the runes carved into it’s blade.
I leapt away from my attacker and drew my own blade. Razor of the Black Wind, a black short sword forged in dragon's fire from the bones of a fallen demon.
Before me, stood Malechi Caden, his sword “Urh’Savir,” had nearly taken my head.
“You’re as fast as ever,” I said to him.
“And you’re no less perceptive than always,” was his reply.
“Even you can’t stop me, Caden.”
“I am aware of that,” he said.
“So that my son might live on in a world untainted by the darkness you scheme to bring,”
“And should you fail?”
“...Then my son will avenge me.”
Because of me, his son’s mother is dead. And soon, I will take the life of the father as well. After today, should his son ever find me, I will gladly fall on his sword, and grant him the vengeance he deserves. I can never atone for my sins… The least I can do is die for them.
The silence suddenly shattered at the sound of our swords meeting. Once, twice, again, again, and again he struck at me. Not only our blades, but every fiber of our being clashed. I was everything he stood against, and he was all that was in my way. Were he and I not to meet this day, then fate would have been a lie.
His speed was not of this world. Magic alone is not enough to account for this man. My eye struggled to track his movement. Truly he was born of the wind itself. Had fortune been with this world, he would surely have saved it from a lesser evil.
But I am no lesser evil.
The Death Rune along my right arm began to swirl to life. Wisps of darkness flowed outwards in all directions, casting shadows of demons along the walls. My own power terrified even me, at times. But Malechi knew nothing of fear. His movements never wavered, his sword never faltered. Even in the face of death, his fanatical eyes remain unblinking.
He lunged for me. As he did, wicked thorns burst from every corner of the cave, all of them directed to him.
In a flash he flung himself away from them, and stabbed upwards towards me.
I met his blade with my own. Our eyes met one last time as the darkness flowed down my arm, across our crossed swords, and cascaded through his body. This was the end for him. Wicked thorns began to burrow into him and shatter his body.
“Forgive me,” I whispered to him.
“Likewise,” he said with a grin.
In an instant his fire rune erupted and his body caught fire, consuming us both in flames.
When my vision returned to me, little of him remained, and his sword was buried in the earth at my feet.
For a moment I remained silent, in his honor. He defeated me. Were it not for Eiley’s pendant, I would have died here with him. A single tear cascaded down my face, I will always remember him as the man who most deserved to save the world.
Though I survived, my body ached. The pendant had drained most of my mana, but it served it’s purpose.
Slowly, I came to my feet.
“How long were you watching?” I asked.
“I’ve always been watching,” she said.
“If you knew, why not run when you could?” I asked.
“I would never abandon you, Hale,”
“... I… I don’t understand. You know why I’m here, don’t you?”
She nodded with a smile.
“Because you needed me,” she said as she wrapped her arms around me.
Her arms were like that of a mother's. I thought of my own mother, holding me tightly as thunder tore through the skies.
“Forgive me,” I said with tears in my eyes.
“I already have.” Her hand caressed my head as I buried my blade in her heart.
And now, the world is without a God.
If you liked it, leave a comment at the bottom, please. I have no way of knowing if people are reading and enjoying any of this otherwise!
Krism, a quirky young Elf, finds herself sent to another country to study magic. Her family name rests on her success there.
But don't hold your breath, because unlike the long line of Life Artemis that came before her, Krism is terribly inept. To this day she has never cast even a single spell.
She quickly finds herself locked in a heated battle of raw stubbornness with the school's prodigy.
He may have intellect, but she has... something! Probably.
It's a long story.