I felt the presence of the woman in white before I heard her call, my body suddenly plagued by shudders and a sense of dark foreboding. The fear, the lament and the pain ached through my ragged body, telling me she will be with us soon, to sing to us, the song of the damned.
Short, shallow breaths escaped my broken lungs as I felt her move closer to the ramshackle hut I call home. Suddenly, she let loose her screeching wail, sending me to the floor in a heap, sobbing and soaked in my own fear induced urine. I now knew what my role was, my fate was sealed by the Call of the Banshee, the cry of the woman in white. I shakily brought myself to my feat, and slowly made my way to the door. My hand reached out and grasped the rusted metal handle. The door swung open, rusted hinges creaking, and for the first time in my bleak life, I saw the Banshee, the summoner of my kind to their demise or fortune. The woman’s dress was so white, so pristine it illuminated the perpetual night of the Black King’s land. As my decrepit eyes ran over her, I was taken aback by her unyielding beauty. The white dress hung loose and translucent, showing her womanly curves and taught breasts. If my body wasn’t so corrupted and diseased I would feel a masculine hunger, but all that ran through me was a sense of longing for a touch of humanity again.
Her wailing song stopped abruptly as I made my way to her. Her glowing, white eyes stared at me as I kneeled before her otherworldly presence. Her disgust was palpable as she took in the sight of my wretched figure and I counted myself lucky that I have not seen a mirror in thousands of years.
I realized I’d been staring and cast my eyes down to the ground, to not upset the one piece of beauty left in a world destroyed, but as I did I felt her touch my broken body, the pains and aches of thousands of years of torment suddenly dissipated. While I felt my bones rebuild themselves and my ruptured organs mend, I heard a soft, melodious voice whisper in my head:
“Arise!” Hearing her speak to me sent a warmth through my body, a warmth that my people haven’t felt in eons! I arose, quick to my feet, but kept my eyes down on the ground, still wanting to respect my savior. “Youuuu…. are the truuuueee… chosen of the Black King,” her beautiful voice whispered through my soul, “Soooo many have faillleddd, but yoouuu are the one who will bring ussss back the light.”
My heart leapt with joy, I was the true chosen! All the pain and torture were quickly forgotten, for I was to be the one who lit the darkness aflame and give the Black King back his empire. The glory itself would be enough for me, but I would be rewarded with riches and land and maybe even my manhood again. I boldly looked into the empty eyes of the Banshee, if I was the Chosen Knight, why could I not? As I raised my eyes to hers, a smile appeared on her bright red lips, that contrasted beautifully to her pale, radiant skin. She leaned close to me and I felt the heat emanating off her lips as she pressed them against my mouth. It was as if she lit my body ablaze. Another first in ages, I felt passion burn through my body, and any fear I had for my coming trials subsided completely. I knew right then and there I would do anything to feel this every day, no man or beast would stop me from taking back the light.
“I will do the King’s bidding, my lady,” my voice crackled and broke over the words, the first of which I have spoken in many sunless days. Her smile seemed to grow brighter as she pointed in a direction behind me.
“Goooo…. don the armor… find the gate…. defeat the taker of lighttt… bring us out of the darknesss,” with that the Banshee disappeared, back into the void from where she resides. ‘The taker of light?’ Was it someone or something that took the light from our world? How? Why would something exist so cruel as to send millions into inflexible darkness? Whoever or whatever it is I swear to defeat, I will be the King’s chosen Knight and bring light and warmth back to my home, if not for me then for the beauty of the Banshee. Newly determined, and the thoughts of the ladies’ soft caress to keep me warm, I set forth for my destiny.
The path before me was a treacherous, cobblestone road that weaved through the Burnt Forest and ended at the Abandoned Capitol. As I took my first steps, the sense of confidence I had while in the Banshee’s presence slightly subsided. The darkness is something I am accustomed to, but the eternal blackness that surrounded my hovel sent chills down my spine and filled my soul with a palpable dread. I took a deep breath, feeling air fill my lungs, almost not noticing the lack of rattle in them, and moved forward at a slow pace. I knew the direction I must go, the pilgrimage that I am embarking on is not one we are told of, but one that runs through our blood. The message is clear, once a knight falls the Banshee will find the next, until the chosen knight reigns victorious and brings back the light. In all my years as a subject of the King, I’ve heard the Banshee scream thousands of times, always in groups of two. The first signifies a fellow Knight has fallen, how, I do not know. The second, is outside the hut of the next knight in line. Over the few weeks before my selection, I could hear the Banshee getting ever closer, knowing my time to make the journey was close at hand.
I forced myself to focus on the mission, and no longer dwell on my unpleasant past. I was a new man, the Chosen Knight to lead the King’s land back to its glory. My focus re-lit and my pace quickened. I made my way forward, feeling the pull of the gate as my body kept me in the right direction. I edged closer and closer to the Burnt Forest, my eyes landing on a bulky black chest. The armor! Each knight only had loose rags, befitting of only a peasant, but once they set out on their journey they were to find the armor of the Pilgrimage and where it into battle against The King’s enemies.
I ran to the chest, feeling the excitement burn through my body. The chest itself was magnificent. The wood, charred black to match the rest of our world, was engraved with ancient sigils signifying it was the property of the King himself. I fumbled with the rusted metal latch and popped open the top, catching my first glimpse of the armor. It was truly a work of art. The armor was darker then the night itself, with a hooded skull embossed over crossing swords on the breast plate. The elbow joints and the knee covers had thin, extremely sharp blades running parallel with the arms and legs of the armor, showing it was not only beautiful, but deadly. Like a child on the morning of their birthday, I tore into the chest and started donning the armor.
As I tightened the last strap of the leg pieces, my eyes fell on a small latch at the bottom of the chest. I bent over and pulled on it and the whole bottom gave way to reveal the helm and sword to pair with the rest of the armor. The sword was a true longsword, four-feet long with a thick, razor sharp blade. The pommel and hilt were of true artistic design; a leather wrapped handle and a pommel decorated by circular black stones. The helm seemed to focus on practicality, designed of black steel with mail on the bottom to cover my neck. As I felt the armor caress my body, a feeling of power surged through me. I felt invincible and able to defeat any foe! I took off running towards the gate, no longer wary of what lurked in the dark, no longer fearing any enemy of the unknown.
After running in heavy armor for what felt like an hour, I sat against a protruding stump, catching my breath and enjoying the feeling of air moving freely though my lungs. I removed my sword, relishing in the sharp hiss of steel scaping against the metal scabbard. With the sword held in my lap, I took the time to fully inspect its excellent craftmanship. I ran my mailed hand against the blade, watching as it opened a small gash in the metal. This was truly a sharp blade and the one who wields it should not be trifled with. But my attentiveness to the lethality of the weapon, almost rendered me ignorant of the markings on the top of the pommel. I picked up a small stick on the ground and scraped the caked dirt that covered up half the letters and saw what was hidden there:
She Lies! There is no meaning. All a Dream…
What could this mean?! They couldn’t be speaking of the Banshee, one so pure could not lie. I shook off the momentary fear and smiled to myself. I looked up and said:
“A test, my King? My faith will not so easily be broke…” Before I could finish my sentence, three figures entered my peripheral. I couldn’t quite make them out, they were only shadows on the edge of eternal blackness. “Who goes there?!” I bellowed, my confidence waning, “I am a Knight of the King, you shall not impede my journey!” Silence. Whoever or whatever is out there was either scared by my presence or was biding its time to attack. Either way I knew it was time for me to start moving again.
I moved with intensity, but a bit slower due to my knowledge of not being alone. Something in my gut told me I was almost out of the forest, which meant the Abandoned Capitol was the only thing standing between me and the gate. Before my joy peaked, I heard a rustling in front of me. I squinted my eyes and could make out a slightly human, albeit disfigured shape. “I said once before you swine, I am not one to be bothered with your trivial pursuits!” Again, silence. But this time the figure stood still, as two more flanked its position, their movements awkward and shambling. “Move out of my way, or I will cut you down where you stand!” No response then, faint laughter.
“Fooolllllll, you are one of mannyyyyy,” hissed one of the figures in front of me, “you will fall, burned by the light you don’t deserve.” It cackled maniacally after insulting me, and before I could respond, a second voice started speaking:
“Sisssster, be fair to the knight! He has forgotten his own sinsss. Would you like being made a fool of for your inability to retain knowledge of your past transgressionssss?” I could feel the sarcasm seep through the hisses. The first monster retorted:
“Heheheheeee, you always had a soft spot for these hapless dupessss, dear Frida, let'sss see if this one deservesss to even reach the gate, hehehehe.” I’m not sure what this test was, but I removed my sword and readied it for combat.
The three figures shambled towards me, quicker this time. As they closed in I finally got a good look at whom I was facing and all three were hideous monstrosities. Their faces were horribly malformed, their noses just slits in their face, eyes sewn shut and their mouths covered in sores. Their approach gave me insight as to why they shambled. The demoness’ legs and arms were bent and broken at odd angles, one of them, her arm was removed, and the bone sharpened to a point. My God, how could beings so corrupted be allowed to live!
“Brace yourself, whores! My sword will tear you to shreds!” I leapt forward bringing down the crushing weight of my steel on the nearest beast. A shrill sound escaped her putrid lips when my blade skewered her shoulder, the noise reminiscent of the banshee. I placed my booted foot against her midsection and yanked my sword free, bringing with it a thick, black blood that stunk of rot and decay. The monster laid on the ground, writhing in pain as her ‘sisters’ shrieked with rage and fear. The second advanced on me, this one armed with the sharpened bone.
“You will pay for that Knight!” The bone blade suddenly extended outwards and slashed towards my face. I brought up my weapon and parried the blow, the metal on bone creating a resounding thud. She came back at me again, this time however, I was fully ready. I sidestepped gracefully, her momentum driving her forward until she tumbled headlong into the ground.
“Unkempt Quim! You think your untutored violence is a match for an able knight?!” Before I could finish her off, I felt a sharp pain in my side. I looked down to see a rusted stiletto sticking into my armor. I turned and faced the third sister, this one clearly not as talkative. “Ha!” I laughed in her face, “it seems you have misplaced your sewing needle my lady.” As I spoke I yanked the thin blade from my side, tightly gripped the third sister’s shoulder and shoved the stiletto into her exposed stomach. She looked up at me and smiled! Grabbing my hands, she pulled the blade deeper inside herself, while the hole I made in her belly started expanding. The edges of her massive, open wound sprouted teeth and I felt what I thought was a tongue brush across my knuckles. I reeled backwards and quickly smashed my forehead into her face, feeling her bones crunch under my thick metal helm. Her iron grip on my hands let go immediately as her limp body crumpled to the Earth. No more monologues for me; I lifted my sword in the air, and brought it down with all my might. The demon’s head was removed with an audible pop and the wave of stink from the she-beast’s rotten blood invaded my nose. “Nasty shrew…” I mumbled under my breath.
“Killing my sissttersss will not help you when you face the light, faux champion,” the bone bladed witch said as she got to her feet, “You are nothing! Everything your lady in white told you issss a…” I wouldn’t let her spew her vile heresy any longer, I thrust my blade forward into her neck, covering my sword and new-found armor in her reeking lifeblood. She slunk to her knees as I pulled my steel out and prepared for the finishing blow. “Hehe…” her repulsive laugh was interrupted by a hacking cough, “…you… will alwayssss…. beeee… DAMNED!” As the last word rose to her revolting lips, she collapsed in a heap of mangled limbs and murky body fluid.
It was the first time in millennia I fell someone or something in mortal combat and the feeling was riveting! I smiled as I wiped away the blood on my sword, relishing in the pain I inflicted on those disgusting wenches. I walked around the area of our skirmish, stabbing my sword into their carcasses, making sure none of them would seek revenge later in my journey. But alas, they were all dead, defeated by the King’s champion. I laughed aloud, relishing in my victory, but it was time to move on. I went back to my quickened pace, knowing full well I may run into danger and part of me was excited to test myself in battle again.
Another hour had past, another hour spent running in my armor. The black metal went from a gift to a burden in only half a day, the weight slowing me down and bringing on a sense of lethargy. But before I could give in to the pull of a short nap, the trees started thinning and my eyes fell on the outline of a great city, the Abandoned Capital!
Back before the light was taken from the Black King’s land, the Abandoned Capitol stood as a mighty Citadel, defending the territory from the King’s enemies. If only I had the time, I would explore every nook and cranny of the great city, but the mission must be completed if we were to ever restore our home, my examination could wait. I gazed on the outline of the city, trying to piece together where I would need to enter to find the gate. Making my survey, I noticed a large hole in the city’s great wall, I surmised this would be the best way for me to enter.
I took off down the hill, more cautious than ever, not wanting to be noticed by whoever or whatever now populated the Capitol. I found the wall’s gaping wound and pushed through, stopping just a moment to gaze upwards at the massive guard towers and spiraling churches. The city was truly magnificent, and I again felt the pull to explore. But my loyalty prevailed, and I took off in the direction of the grand portcullis, the gate that will lead my people to freedom.
I ran down the narrow streets and weaved through long forgotten merchant stalls, barely able to register the true grandiosity of the city. My heart was still filled with joy though, I would soon be returning here a hero. But my delight quickly soured. I saw two figures ahead of me, clearly waiting for me to arrive. I slowed my pace, drew my sword and made my way over to the fools who dared stand in my path. When I felt like I was in hearing distance, I yelled out to the hulking figures:
“Out of my way, Churls! I am here on King’s business!” The figures stood, unmoved by my resolve. “Did you not hear me cretins? If need be I will tear you ap…” My words were caught in my throat and I felt my stomach’s contents lurch upward to meet them. The figures I saw were less human then the women of the forest.
The closest one stood a hair under five-feet tall, its skin drooping from its pudgy face, as if it were a candle left to burn. The excess skin pooled around its legs and feet, obscuring the rest of the body from my view. I stopped dead in my tracks and sputtered, “What in the King’s good name are you?” Before I could answer the second figure shambled forward, revealing its broken form. This one’s only commonality with a human was its bipedal nature. The beast had massively long arms, with large spiked claws protruding out from where his hands should be. His face was heavily elongated with the top of his head covered in a jester’s crown, covering his eyes. He opened his mouth, exposing row after row of razor sharp teeth and spoke in a gritty, metallic voice:
“King’s Business?” he mocked, “You hear this embodiment of pride and egotism Cappsy?” The other seemed to shudder in agreement and spat a putrid, pus like substance out of its melted face. “The King’s dead, and your beloved banshee is just a farce. Your quest is meaningless, and the light will never be yours.” This is the second-time demons have tried to test me, their lies congruous with each other’s. No, my faith will not be broken by these fraudulent curs!
“Your lies will not stop me from completing my quest, I shall pass through the gate and save the land!” I brandished my sword, and leapt forward. The candle beast had no time to register my powerful attack, my blade cutting through him like butter, expelling more of the beast’s foul secretion onto the ground. The monster let out a pathetic gurgle and fell to the earth. “If my quest is a farce, why then, demon, do you and your ilk fall so easily? I can tell you, it is because this is my destiny, and nothing will get in my way!” The tall monster stepped forward and smiled, showing his rows of pointy fangs.
“Idiot. You think you are the first? You think your pilgrimage means anything?! IT MEANS NOTHING, YOU ARE NOTHING!” He screamed and sprang at me, bringing down his sharp talons. I rolled out of the way, feeling the air being parted in front of my face, the monster’s claws close to killing me where I stood. I moved backwards, wary of my enemy’s speed and length, but not frightened. The beast made another move to attack, but this time I was ready. He lunged forward, and I met his steel with mine. The loud twang of metal resounded through the empty homes of the great city, and sent us both reeling backwards. He came at me again and again, all of his attacks blocked until he hung back, exhausted from his futile attempts.
“Tired beast?” I mocked, “Do you understand now? I am the King’s chosen, I will be the bringer of light.” The beast smiled his toothy grin again and spoke:
“Prideful knight, you are clueless. When I’m done carving you up, I will feast on your bones!” He lunged again, but instead of blocking this time, I rolled forward and thrusted my sword upwards. I felt as the blade pierced his flesh, disemboweling him in one fell swoop. The monster fell to the ground, coughing and sputtering as I moved in for the kill.
“Any last words, filth?” I asked triumphantly. The beast turned his head to look at me, the jester’s crown slipped and revealed a set of tired, defeated eyes.
“I try every time and nothing changes… you will see… this pilgrimage… is… is…” The beast slumped forward, no longer able to speak, it moaned pathetically one last time and died on the spot it lay. All these demons trying in vain to make me break my faith, I almost feel bad for the louts, but being the King’s chosen I don’t have time for pity.
Within minutes of my last trial I was moving swiftly towards the city's edge, finally glimpsing the back walls of the Abandoned Capitol. I climbed a short section of broken wall, landing with a thud on the other side. I dusted the dirt from my armor and I looked up, seeing the majesty of the gate for the first time. Tears welled in my eyes as I made the final steps towards my fated destination.
When I was mere inches from the gate, the feeling of the woman in white’s lips grazing mine hit me like a brick, my body shuddered in delight. It was a sign, I have done it, I have completed my pilgrimage! The minute I walked through the gate, the world will have light again! I smiled triumphantly, ripping off my helm and made the step into the gate.
Oddly though, the minute my foot went through the portal all my good feelings dissipated. The pain I felt for thousands of years returned tenfold. I pushed through, thinking this was one last test of faith, but I couldn’t be more wrong. As my face passed through the famed gateway, my whole world turned blinding white! My body felt as if it was encapsulated in flame, every inch of me burning, each nerve ending screaming for death.
“What did I do wrong? I was the chosen one!” I screamed aloud. I still couldn’t see, but I was not yet willing to give up. I pulled my shattered body to my feet, still screaming in pain. My eyes adjusted slightly and I could make out movement in front of me. It was her! It was my lady in white here to rescue me. As she got closer, I realized again I was dead wrong.
Before, she was the true definition beauty, but here now, in this bright land, she was a hideous and grotesque corpse, draped in the white cloak. She opened her mutilated lips and said, “This was all a trap…. payment due for your sins in life…” I dropped to my knees as it all came back to me. I’ve done this thousands of times, the same results repeatedly, my pride never letting me see the truth. I looked up at my former goddess and let the tears role down my face. I quit fighting and let the light burn the rest of my tattered body. The last sound I heard was the Banshee scream, signaling a knight has fallen.
Written by The Soul Fister