When I was a child…I used to dream of being a knight. Of serving crown and country for a noble cause. Of the status that came with being a hero…
A muscular knight clad in rustic grey armor thought to himself as he walked through bleak streets of a castle town. His armor stained and worn from continuous use. His face dirty like his armor. Messy brown hair was maintained just enough to not obstruct his vision. A shield was strapped to his left hand with a pristine sword sheathed on that same side of his waist. A brown shroud covered his torso and mouth to keep out the ash that rained from above. His dark blue eyes seeming almost hollow and lifeless. He walked beside two knights, one was somewhat thinner than he was yet visibly older. A dour expression accompanying his scruffy beard. The other a young man with bright eyes and somewhat well-maintained hair. His armor still clean and new unlike his two partners. The streets filled with peasants in tattered clothes trying to go about their lives. The occasional individual in heavy padded clothes accompanied by a priest would try to clean the street of the numerous corpses that filled it. Purifying their souls and putting them to rest so that they don’t return as an undead.
Now I am a knight…but I am no hero…Each day it’s the same. The stench of blood and decay filling the air. The miasma created by that accursed Lich continues to plague our land. His monsters assault our towns. The lucky will die rather than be captured and suffer a far worse fate.
The knight glances briefly at homeless children, barely clinging to life as they lay on the street. Forgotten by all and left to their fate. His feet never stopping as he continues out the town.
I used to be like them…weak and forgotten. Dreaming to become a knight and escape these hovels. Now I know it’s all for naught…High or low it’s the same. The Plagues and monsters care little for status and all meet their end at its cold grip. The weak become knights to trade a miserable death for a “glorious” one…
As a woman breaths her last breath in an alley that the knight passes, he sees a Valkyrie land beside her. Her armor an angelic white and azure. The light she radiated was soothing to the dying woman as her soul was taken. But it wasn’t just this Valkyrie but numerous Valkyries and even the shrouded skeletal Reapers roaming the streets as if this was their own home.
“No matter where I turn, I see those specters of death…the Valkyrie & Reapers…Disir both who come for our souls. The church preaches that all have a spot in heaven yet I know it not to be true. The crown would consider my power a curse if I told them. They’d just execute me as an agent of the Lich…”
The Knight walks past a pair of Reapers descending upon a poor Inn, one of the few safe havens still left in this town. There are no screams, just an almost predictable procession of the bodies being tossed outside haphazardly for later disposal.
Perhaps that would be the easy way out of this endless nightmare.
“We’d best pick up the pace.” The knight with the scruffy beard says taking the lead. There were no horses the spar so almost all knights were forced to travel by foot. Risking encounters with monsters before they even met their primary targets. Beyond the town sat a gloomy forest. Many of its trees dead and others now growing gray leaves thanks to the miasma. The only sound being their footsteps and the wind. The animals that once filled the forest with their continuous noise now dead or gone.
“Should we not conserve our energy Sir Garus?” The young knight asks.
“No Armand.” he replies sternly. “The longer we remain in this godforsaken forest the less likely we are to leave it. So don’t lag behind.”
“Aye, sir.” Armand answers while doing his best to keep up.
“Hmm?” the Knight stops his walk when something catches his eye.
“What is it?” Sir Garus asks ready for danger.
The Knight takes a few steps and kneels by the side of the road. Parting the grass to find the eviscerated remains of a knight no older than Armand. Stripped of most of his armor and left weaponless. He puts his hand on the body and examines it. “The blood is still fresh.” he says aloud looking for more clues. A faint blood trail leading deeper into the forest off the main path. Without hesitation, he follows it.
“Come Armand, we’ve strength in numbers.” Sir Garus follows the Knight with Armand close behind.
“Another sight I’ve grown accustomed to…Another poor lad felled by his own youthful arrogance. Easy prey for even the lowliest of monsters…Yet he was stripped of his armor and weapons. Which meant this was no battle but a slaughter. If we don’t fell this beast more will suffer similar fates…But does it even matter? Perhaps thinning the population is best. Less food and space to fight over.”
“What do you think?” Sir Garus turns to face the Knight as he walks alongside him.
“It was no mere beast that did this.” The Knight answers. His steely gaze focused on the path ahead. His peripheral vision keeping an eye on Sir Garus & Armand to ensure they aren’t separated.
“Times are grim. Is it possible he was looted after death?” Sir Garus was a pragmatic man and considered all possible options.
“The lad was mangled beyond recognition. Whatever did it stripped the armor first and spirited away with it and his weapons…Lest they were broken or discarded before this point.”
“Why would a monster do that? What use have they armor?” Armand asks confused at the development. He wanted to prove himself which meant emulating their cold demeanors. Though on the inside, he was terrified at what lay ahead.
“I try not to question the Lich’s madness.” Sir Garus scoffs. “Yet I’ve seen a number of beasts capable of carrying and using tools. Goblins, Imps, and Skeletals come to mind. Ogres have the smarts but not the finesse for such thievery.”
“No tracks…” The Knight thought to himself as he continued onward. “Did I go the wrong direction or…”
“Hehehehehe.” A childlike voice echoes. The Knight draws his sword and shield on reflex.
“Pixies!” he shouts as a swarm of dimly glowing creatures the size of dragonfly’s fly towards them. Their eerie laughter echoing like a sinister choir. Their eyes lifeless black voids against their gangly pale skin as they bore their fangs and claws.
Alone, Pixies were minor threats, Relying on deception and swarm tactics to take down larger prey. Though the veteran knights knew of this fact, neither was prepared for the true threat. In their focus, they failed to realize that Armand had gone missing. That the forest was filled with Dryads, spirits that lived within trees and gave them life. Becoming horrific monsters that blended in perfectly with their surroundings. Had they not been focused on the trail of blood they would’ve realized their presence. Had they suspected a thing Armand wouldn’t have been torn to pieces without them even realizing it. Nor would Sir Garus have a tree trunk piercing through his chest like a spear. His desire to fight to the bitter end meant little to the Dryad as he was flung helplessly through the air into the Knight. The weight of his armor hitting him like a battering ram and sending him dazed to the ground.
“Hehehehehe.” The Pixies continue to tauntingly laugh as they swarm the now vulnerable Sir Garus.
“Why?” The Knight thought to himself as his vision blurs. He could just barely make out Sir Garus as the Pixies devoured him within his own armor. The hole made by the Dryad serving as a perfect point of entry. But what caught his attention most was and Reaper watching as they met their end. “Why must we die so miserably? What did we do so wrong to deserve damnation? What gives them the right to judge?” he attempts to climb to his feet only to find his legs broken from Sir Garus being thrown into him. He could barely even cling to his sword as he collapsed onto his side. The Dryad that eviscerated Armand slowly approaches with branches still stained red.
The Knight awaited his end but fate had other plans in mind as a golden light comes from the heavens and strikes the Knight. The strange star-shaped emblem embedding itself in his left hand. His body and armor being shrouded in a golden aura. The armor he wore repairing itself as it became a black coloration with hints of gold along its seams. The pain he felt was gone and his body could stand as if the injuries he just endured never happened. The Knight could feel this unknown power coursing through him and emanating from the star embedded in his left hand as he stood. The energy coursed from his aura and into his sword and shield. The swords blade turns jet black and the hilt a shining gold. His simple shield also turning black but gaining an ornate star across its center that connected with the new golden outline. The black portions of his gear and weapons appearing to have the faint shimmer of galaxies within it. With a single swing of his blade, a golden light launches through the air. Wiping out the Pixies in one fell swoop and severing the Dryad in two. It’s deep roar in pain echoing through the forest for miles. When the dust settles he stands silent and alone. Sir Garus had met the same fate as the first poor soul they came across. His soul successfully pulled within the Reapers shroud.
“Such power…If I had this sooner…” The Knight watches as the Reaper begins to float away with a job well-done. “What makes you think you can just take our souls without a care while we suffer?” he thought overcome with fury. His body flying into the air and slashing at the Reaper with his sword. It’s jet black blade cutting the Reaper across the back and sending it falling to the ground. “Why?” his flies to the downed Reaper and proceeds to continually stab him without stopping for a second. “Why do you vultures get a free pass?! Are we nothing to you?!” The Knight continues his assault in a blind fury. His aura flaring with power as his blade glows brighter. The ground shaking and cracking as this same energy coursed through it. After several minutes, the Knight stops to catch his breath. The Reapers body bursting into black flames as it fades from existence. “No more.” he says discarding his old shroud that becomes replaced by a new golden one. His eyes still just as dark and hollow as the Pixies he slew not minutes ago. “I’m done living in fear of death. This time…” Using his newfound power, the Knight flies back to his kingdom. “Death will be the one afraid.”