Long Stories: Rose Knight (3)

Aed and some of his band wait for her in the city, and they find her before she’s made it two streets. Her first inkling is the crossbow bolt as it flies past her nose and embeds itself in the wall next to her. She takes a step out of the alleyway to find the street almost entirely deserted. Aed has three friends now, not simply one, and stares at her. Among his friends he counts two mercenaries with crossbows (one of whom rewinds his) and a man holding a sword easily as large as Rose.

She mentally measures the distance to the nearest unlocked door– the library. With their crossbows and their speed they could catch and kill her before she made it, she’s fairly certain, and they stand between her and the temple district.

Rose sags. “And me, without my armor,” she mutters. “Good day, Aed. You have my attention. Whose did I attract today?” Continue reading

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Long Story: Rose Knight (2)

“I’m not well versed in the ways of women, especially not noblewomen,” the smith, whose name is Ith and surname is Sol, says quietly. “And well, Sandrys is a foreigner.”

Rose nods thoughtfully. “She is.”

Truth be told, no one in the city knows exactly where Sandrys was born. Rose knows that she was raised here in the city. A few years back, she’d told Rose that her old home had been horrible. Continue reading

Poem: Magic

A sword in stone

A chalice in hand

A cup that transports you here

Or there

 

Rabbit in a hat

A bag of the winds

Truffles that glisten with the heart

Of your sins

 

Magic in time

Magic in place

Magic to daunt

Magic to face

Magic you know you can’t use in the streets

Magic that all may learn and meet

Magic that’s sweet

Magic that’s dark

Perhaps it all seems to be naught

But a lark

Magic entwined in the science of things

Sorcery wrapped ’round political strings

 

It flows all around us like a Force or a being

In each baby’s smile

In the hearts of us all to keep us beating

And well

While everything else in sadness

Or doubt

Brings nothing but tears

And nothing but shouts

 

The magic in the air

In the books that we read

In the stories we hear from the people we need

That magic is sacred

That magic is real

The magic of all of our voices is real

But

Sealed

in the beliefs of a nation

Our nation

Which grew out of magic

From far

far away

and grew into an age

of today

 

And of wheels

Of today and wheels

And gears that turn

That never stop turning

No matter the hour

No matter the minute

No matter the month that their metal keeps working

An age where the magic we make is the same

Of mass-produced ‘art’

And tales spun of shame

 

True magic misses

This world we have

Floating and flying right by

 

So put down your laptop

Put up your keyboard

Set down the work of your empty labor

Put it all down and send it away

 

Then pick up a pen

From which ink ever sways,

And write

Write,

Write the magic in.

©2013 Sam Oliver (Eris)

Poem: The Spade For Me

The Spade For Me

A poem by Sam Oliver [Eris]

 

 

I am not afraid

Of the man and his heart

Where he stands

Far apart

From me

His folded set face

The fingers in place

At his sides

Threatening

Me

 

When he comes close

I drift back

Shadows at my heart

Certain- shaken up- at

Me.

 

I am not afraid

Of the way his hands move

Of how his eyes dart

Over body, over heart

Over me.

 

His mouth as it moves

Says how ‘it behooves’

Who does he think

That he is to

Me?

 

My fragile, frail life

Stretched thin before that knife

Which shines in his hands

And shines in

Me

 

I am not afraid

Of the worn ruddy red

A hymn for the dead

Through metal-

Through me.

 

Life slips through

Fingers slick, askew

Like glasses that slide

From my nose

From me.

 

They shatter on the floor

Their noise I abhor

But distant now how

Can I see

Past me?

 

I am not afraid

Of this man standing now

Above and within

My worn, torn heart

In me.

 

He cuts without his knife

With words thickened by strife

His fingers wrapped tight

Round my throat

Round me.

 

He’ll choke out my life

Like the other cut with knife

While my heart beats it’s last

I’ll see

Just me.

 

But I am not afraid

No, not of this man

Who thinks he has me

Controls me

Is me

 

I break free of his grip

Flutter heart, faint quip

Brought to mind by years of abuse

“Your end is nigh,” Slips from lips

Dry as bone

But me

Part of me.

 

A hand reaches out

Mine or his, spell is shout-

-ed like thunder raging forth

From me

It was me.

 

The years I was his slave

I will take to the grave

Like dreams that haunt

Forevermore

In me

 

Now I am not afraid

Of this man

In his grade

Of soil’d earth’s grip

Met anew

 

For I am she- who cut him down

For what he did to me

With spells and light and song I came;

His crime is now repaid

Tenfold, now with spade

It is me

Who sets him

To rest.

 

No I am not afraid

Of this man

In his grave

I am not afraid anymore

I told myself my fears

Washed clean by my tears

I can’t take back

What he stole and he sold

 

But I am not afraid

Of his heart that now beats no more

and I am not afraid

of the cold

and the filth

that settles on my skin like mold

I’ll shrug it off now

Free of pain, freed from how

Dirty one man

Made me.

 

Because in my heart

While lonely from the start

In forests that I once knew

My hands thick with soil

My eyes set unspoiled

I know that I’ll start

Anew

 

I know now I’ll find

Something new

 

i know that i need

someone new…

Demimind: Chapter 29

Extra short. But in a reasonable fashion, and a reasonable timeframe after the last. Almost done with chapter 30. Let’s try to at least get a chapter out a week, hm?

-Eris

 

(29) Resolution

“Silk-” Winter starts quietly. There’s so much she wants to say now she could burst. The overwhelming feelings are turning her legs to jelly.

“You are a child,” her old friend replies sternly. “You meddle with powers you don’t even know how to control.

Winter says nothing to that, holding still and letting the Spider Queen talk. It takes everything she has to bite her tongue, and hold her words back.

“I can tell you what you need to know, in return for something.”

“What do I need to give you?” Winter asks immediately. “I’ll do it. I don’t care what it is- I owe Jane this. I can’t leave her-… I can’t…”

“Do you promise to agree to the terms no matter what they are?” Silk asks softly, her voice suddenly tender. “You may not like them once you hear them.”

“I’d give anything!” Winter says fiercely. “Just name them!”

Idiot, Summer hisses. Do you really mean that?

Winter, for her part, ignores her mind-mate. Of course she means it. This is Silky she’s dealing with, not some dangerous stranger.

“Bear my eggs before you reincarnate,” Silk whispers. “That is all.”

Before Winter can find her wits again and answer, her old friend changes the subject. Winter feels her heart sink, freeze in her chest before her friend even speaks. Silk’s arms are loose around her now, as if in sympathy.

“No matter how hard you try, you cannot bring Jane back now,” Silk begins slowly. “She is out of your reach.”

Winter struggles in vain, staring at the broken, battered body of her Servant, days and days dead.

“But- you-”

“I told you I would tell you what you need to know, Winter,” Silk replies solemnly. “And I’m telling you right now that what you wish is utterly impossible. The dead, once led from the Cycle, cannot find their way back again when they eventually return. Without a doubt, Jane and Goliath are already finding their paths to the shells they will next take.”

“T-that trade is unfair,” Winter whispers weakly, feeling the power fading from her, and cold despair taking its place. “Y-you tricked me.”

“Winter, I am not done talking yet,” Silk says mildly, voice soft. “There are a few things that I must tell you regarding your brothers and your sister…”

“I already know Spring is insane,” Winter snaps. “What else could there be?”

Silk seems to hesitate far too long. Silence.

“You didn’t know, did you,” Winter whispers. “You damn well had no idea.”

“Spring’s stability has never been without question,” Silk starts slowly, haltingly. “But why-”

“He threatened to kill me. He wants the illmetal bead so he can erase Fall from existence and break the Cycle of the Seasons or something,” Winter interjects bitterly. “He’s obviously gone batshit.”

Well duh, Summer snipes. Seriously, what part of his total mental breakdown didn’t you expect?

Silk loosens her clawed grip further. “That’s why you wanted Jane to come back…”

“I owe her,” Winter corrects. “She saved me. It’s a debt, and she’s a friend.”

“Servants that die are reincarnated unless they are called back within hours of their deaths, Winter. They aren’t like humans or animals, whose fragile souls break apart. They are like you, Winter, and they are like me. We are guardians of this place, its custodians and watchers. And a Servant, once killed, will come back in time on its own. Not in your life perhaps, but in your successor’s life.”

“I won’t see her again,” Winter says flatly. “And I can’t pay her back.”

“You don’t need to pay her, Winter. That balance was reset the first time. Or have you forgotten already what you did for her?”

“It’s not right!” Winter snaps, shrugging herself free from Silk’s grip and whirling on her friend. “Don’t you understand that?”

Silk’s stance, loose before, hardens, as well as her face. Those eyes are steel, and under their unwavering gaze, Winter’s legs shake.

“And would killing yourself make that better?” Ever-Widowed snarls. Her voice is dripping with fury. “Tell me, Winter-Long-Frost, did you really expect that by sacrificing yourself you could bring your friend back? Would you really pay any price?”

“What are you-” Winter starts, but Summer interrupts her.

She’s saying that you’d kill yourself, you dope! Life for life, right? Did you think you were an exception to the rules?

“No,” Winter says under her breath. “I never knew the rules.” The rage is fading. She takes a deep breath, letting the chilling feeling of her power spread all over her again and replace the anger with cold.

“But what do I do?” She asks out loud.

Her legs tremble, and the world around her spins.

“Who can I trust?” She whispers, almost to herself, almost too quiet for anyone but Summer to hear.

“Trust in yourself,” Silk says quietly. “Trust in your sister. Trust in Autumn and his ability to pull himself back from the brink.”

Oh come on. Whoever he was he isn’t that man anymore. 

“But-”

“No. There is no ‘but’. Autumn is your brother- he shares your tenacity and force of personality. Spring is a slippery snake, but worse than that, he is set. He believes without a doubt that Autumn cannot be saved, and in giving up hope, he will only perpetuate this broken Cycle instead of shatter it, as he seems to intend.”

“How can you know?” Winter whispers weakly.

“I’ve lived a long time, Winter of the Seasons,” Ever-Widowed replies gently. “Trust me.”

Winter sags, biting her lip. Then a part of her hardens. She straightens. “I have to stop him. I have to stop both of them. I have to get back my sister’s child.”

Finally, something we agree on.

She takes a deep, deep breath, steadying herself.

Silk looks at her carefully, then nods, as if she’s made up her mind. “Good. Stronger than before. Are you done running?”

“I hardly think I can stop either of my wayward brothers by standing here,” Winter says grimly.

Her love reaches out and pulls Winter close, six arms locked around her for a few moments.

Silk’s skin is smooth, free of wrinkles, and comfortably chilly. Her hands are chitinous and hard, but gentle where they touch Winter’s bare arms, legs and back.

“You’re a mess, but your will is enough, Winter,” Silk says softly. “There’s so much for you to learn yet. Come back when you are done, and we can talk.”

“You act so sure,” Winter whispers, burying her face against the Spider Queen’s neck. “I might not come back.”

“So much drama,” Silk snips, her voice almost playful. “Relax, Winter-Long-Frost. You’ll come back. After all…”

She whispers something, a clicking, a chittering that Summer doesn’t understand. Winter nods, though, smiling tentatively. She leans up on the tips of her toes and gives Silk a quick, tender kiss, and then steps away, unsure.

Silk, for her part, smiles back. There’s something sad in her eyes, though, and Summer feels as though something is wrong as Winter turns away.

Something is very wrong.

What did she say? Summer asks.

Winter doesn’t answer.

She walks to the edge of the cavern, to the great stone doors that had shut her in with Jane so long ago. Her hands touch the stone warily. “Do you remember how to cast that gate spell you used- the one that took us here?”

Yeah. Where do you need to go? I’ve got enough juice in me for one more jump. And you haven’t answered me.

“It’s nothing you’d understand,” Winter replies quietly. “And we need to go to Spring’s shrine again.”

What do you- oh, no. Thomas!

“Yes.”

Summer uses Winter’s arms, as her sister gives her control. She reaches out and draws a shimmering trail in the air before her, focusing her own energy in Winter’s fingers.

“That b-burns,” Winter stammers, startled.

Yeah, is all Summer replies. The line splits apart down the middle, showing a scintillating abyss. I dunno what this will feel like for you…. It’s a bit hot for me, so… just prepare yourself.

Without hesitation, Winter strides through the gate. There’s a gasp, and then she’s gone.

The world is blindingly hot, when she returns. Her entire body is covered in sweat, and the power inside of her feels suppressed, as if the heat is simply too much for it to compete with.

Her skin feels like one giant blister.

She reacts, pushing her power outward like a shield, sheathing herself in the chill as fast as she can, swaying on the spot, wondering if maybe she took a wrong turn somewhere in the gate, or if Summer’s formulae had been off.

A searing hot coal drops down from above, and as she takes in her bearings, it explodes in front of her from the contrast in hot and cold, bursting into steam and smoke.

Where is she? Did Summer’s gate spell go wrong? She looks around at the lacquered wood, at the hungry flames.

No. She’s in the right place.

The shrine is on fire.

It’s a roaring all around her, the wood, the mighty oak, is going up in flames, orange and red and yellow licking all about her. Her skin feels cooked.

Winter! You have to get out of here! This much heat will make you faint!

“Not without Thomas or the girl,” she whispers, looking around her desperately, choking, gagging on the smoke. Where would they be?

Where would he hide them?

She floods the area around her with cold, forming a clear sphere- the smoke around her drops to the floor, suddenly unable to rise, and the boards under her creak and hiss, threatening to crack and give way under her. The stress of sudden cold after being red hot is almost too much.

Finally she can see, and the inferno near her is parted. But all around her, it leaps on, flickering, dancing. It looks hot, it looks as though she should be dead.

She can feel it through the cold around her.

You can feel them, can’t you? You can feel their life-force.

Winter isn’t sure what she feels, at first. As she stands there, though, in the midst of the flames and the terrible heat trying to feast on her, battering at her sheltered, personal tundra, she realizes that she can feel them. She can almost taste them. The girl, dirty and scared, Thomas, determined and… hurt… ? And… terrified.

They aren’t in the Shrine. She can feel them outside of it.

Trap, Summer says, as Winter strides through the blaze.  But who…?

Winter knows the answer. She strides out of the Shrine, heart pounding.

Her answer stares her in the face as she pushes open the briefly burning front door. It’s dark, darker than natural, and oppressively so.

Standing in the courtyard, eyes triumphant, is none other than Fall. At His feet lies the urchin girl. Standing before her fallen form is Thomas- hopeless, helpless. In Falls hands sleeps Summer’s child.

Demimind: Chapter 28

A bit short. I’m beginning work on 29 immediately. It’s time to put myself to the true test of a writer.

Enjoy.

-Eris

(28)First Season, Fourth Season

 

“The following is the account of my late brother’s misdeeds as far as I am able to tell: murder, betrayal, treason and destruction of personal property amounting to over five hundred thousand gold and silver pieces to members of Guild, the South Island Trading Industries, and Soulfire Tower. In the absence of any real easy way to create order among the Seasons and regulate them, I am taking it upon myself to warn further incarnations of the perpetual Cycle that they are entering into- and to especially warn future carriers of the title of Fall of the acts they are destined to commit.”

Winter stares at the paper for a while. It’s unmistakably familiar, it’s definitely her writing. The cold, crisp manner to it, the intricacies of each letter as it curves. She can remember learning to write, but she couldn’t remember her name when she first came here. The meaning behind it seems simple enough. She can absorb what she’s reading.

“Fall is unable to help himself- destiny drove him to his fate, and it will continue to drive future carriers of the title to distance and sequester themselves from the other Seasons. While it would seem prudent to keep a close watch on them, it is impossible to track the movements of most of the Seasons, especially Spring, who of all the seasons, is the most vulnerable to Corruption. The filthy snake-tongued womanizer is a coward at his heart, though, and in a position of weakness would bargain with anything, even at the expense of his own brothers or sisters. Whether this is a constant in all of the incarnations of the First Season or whether it is only him I do not know.”

Winter hardly believes what she’s reading. Did her previous incarnation mean to say that Spring was the one manipulating Fall to be this way? At what personal gain? Yet- then again, Spring had tried to make Fall turn against them, hadn’t he… She had wanted to believe that Spring was good. She still feels skeptical though, so she forces herself to read further.

The Third Season, Fall, is the most unstable of all. His descent into madness is made easily explainable by the type of energy his mind craves and devours, and the research he will inevitably undertake in order to go through a process he always calls ‘Refraction’. He will shine the cold light of decay through his own body, using the magic of the Wish element in order to complete it- once he has done this, his descent into absolute madness will be absolute. There is no way to cure him but death and the cleansing of the Paths of the Dead, once he has gone that far.”

Winter blinks, at that. It’s troubling that her past incarnation had known so much- or had professed to know so much.

Beware, those wish to undertake the trials leading one to become a season, for the Fourth Season’s spiritual shell is inherently flawed, and will obliterate every part of the soul that attempts to take on the mantle. Truly the Fourth Season, that which governs Winter and death, is synonymous with spiritual and physical oblivion. This has been evident in both the past incarnations and, in truth, it was what happened to the soul which my spiritual shell swallowed in order to grant me the powers of the fourth season. I don’t know who I was, only what I am now, and future incarnations, won’t hear me.”

“If you are reading this, you know that the worst has happened. Whether you found this place hidden in the snow and were lost, seeking shelter- whether you are the next incarnation of the second season Summer, snooping in on me matters not in the slightest. The metal in here would be the doom of anyone but a mortal, and so I hope these documents, my testament, are kept safe here- either forever or until the time is right.”

Winter stares at the papers, almost disbelieving it. And how long had it been since that incarnation was around? Had she really lost all memory twice- once when she had first entered the ‘shell’ and again when Fall had bound her?

Yes, that would make sense. But she had regained much of the memory she’d lost when Fall had originally bound her.

She fashions a coat for herself, and boots, a deep blue t-shirt made of sparkling cold, as well as pants and undies. She pulls them on, stuffs the documents into a pocket with shaking hands, and then turns to stare at the frost covered-metal on the floor.

 

 

“The last tile is in place, fourth season,” the spider-armed one says. “Should I have a drone carry the documents in?”

“Don’t bother,” Pure-Winter-Snow replies quietly. “I’ll do that myself when the time is right.”

“That will kill you,” The spider-human states. It doesn’t articulate its emotions with its mouth, but the movements of its four arms seem to indicate distress- hanging limply.

“Be that as it may, it is what must be done,” Winter says simply. “And now I must face my brother.”

“Fall?”

“No,” Winter whispers.

 

 

A crunching noise makes Winter look up to the door.

“Spring,” Winter breathes, backing away from the metal and nearly tripping on the chair behind her. The first of the seasons stares at her from the doorway, and his normally waving green hair is twisted and withered, curling like dead grass.

“Winter,” He says slowly, flatly. There’s more malice packed into her name than Winter thinks she has ever heard before- from anyone. Her heart is a frozen core in her chest.

“You gave my sister’s baby to Fall,” Winter says, and the words drop like stones into the silence- at Fall’s name, the hut doesn’t pitch or roll, but it may as well for the trembling of the world as the accusation leaves her mouth. It clatters on the floor, striking the metal tile resoundingly loud in Winter’s head- had she gone too far? No, she’d already gone too far by coming here. She can see it in Spring’s eyes. But strangely enough, she doesn’t feel afraid.

“I did,” the Eldest Season says simply. “I won’t bother denying it, now that you’re here- and you would expect something different? He is invulnerable as He is, there is not a one among us who could face Him and win.”

His hands- there is no power there. His hands are limp and his eyes- his whole form is one of sadness rather than battle.

She wonders if he realizes it, but he’s standing just short of the doorway, just to the left so that if she were to run, she could easily slip by him before he knew-

It’s a trap, Winter, Summer hisses. He’s standing like that on purpose.

– it… Winter stops staring at the gap, forcing her eyes up to gaze on Spring’s own. And in his eyes she sees the ruse. The way his stance shifts when she meets his eyes with her own is nearly imperceptible, but Summer points it out to her.

He’s waiting for you to try to run. Here- in with so much metal- how can he touch you? In your own domain?

Winter steps back, bumping into the desk. Crackling with power that Spring can’t see, she keeps her hands behind her, gazing at him steadily.

“What do you want?” She asks, buying time to think.

“The bead, Winter. If you and Summer go to fight Fall, you will die, but more importantly, you will lose the only piece of illmetal in known existence. I need that bead to set things right.”

“What will you do with it?” Winter pries.

“What do you think, Sister?” Spring replies sharply. “With that single bead I can wish Autumn from this world altogether! Our wayward brother’s existence could be destroyed utterly!”

“Why don’t you simply create another?” Winter presses, biting her lip. Fall needed to be stopped, it was true. But to remove Him entirely…? Without decay, would the world even work?

“The creation of a piece of Illmetal even a tenth the size of what you hold requires the heart of a dragon,” Spring sneers suddenly, demeanor changing in an instant. “Why do you think the Council thinned? Why do you think they’ve learned to hate the fey?”

He paces outside the door now, glaring at Winter, hands clenching in a manner reminiscent of Fall.

Winter’s eyes widen. “You mean-”

No way, Summer whispers weakly. There are no real words to describe how twisted that is.

“I killed them off, Sister!” Spring’s lips curl, and his green eyes flare with anger. “The dragons are dead because of me! The ends justify the means- you now have my brother’s bead, and at this point one is as good as the other! He must be stopped!”

Her heart freezes further in her chest, and she wants to strike out at him then, now, to kill him where he stands. But she pushes it away. Unsurprisingly, Summer urges the opposite.

He should die. He’s been killing dragons. Maybe for years.

Some things don’t add up, Winter whispers in her own head.

“Why did you stop us from saving Autumn?” Winter asks. Now she’s curious- apprehensive, but curious.

“You can’t save Him,” Spring says fiercely. “History cannot be turned. Time is like a tide. I should know that better than anyone! The Cycle of the Seasons will play out- it would take an unimaginable force of magic to redirect it!”

“You deliberately caused Fall’s Refraction! You’re part of the reason he fell in the first place!” Winter accuses, words like venom.

Spring shakes his head, glaring at her, envious green gaze locked on hers. “Don’t lecture me on the peculiarities of time! Do you think this is the first such Refraction? He has played this out many times- every incarnation over and over since time immemorial! The cycle itself is flawed!”

Winter looks away, unable to stare her suddenly furious brother in the eye. The normally kindly face has turned into a vicious grimace, almost animalistic in its ferocity. “Give me the bead- don’t you see it’s the only way?”

“I won’t believe it!” Winter snaps. “Even if that was the only way to stop him then I still wouldn’t do it! I won’t murder my own brother!”

“Then face oblivion,” Spring snarls. “After all, I rebuilt you once, I can do it again!”

For a horrible moment, Winter wonders if he might simply ignore the metal and attack her. Her hands shake behind her, and even with the full might of her at the ready, Spring is a complete unknown. Whatever powers he has control over would surely be terrible for him to make a threat as grave as that and have any hope of fulfilling it.

Instead, Spring smiles a brittle, chilling smile, an unexpected frost in his voice as he calms himself, gathers his composure, and disappears in a cloud of dew that cracks as it strikes the ground, shattering into hundreds of glittering shards.

Winter, for her part, takes a deep, shivering breath, and lets it out in a long sigh, steadying herself, settling back against the desk and trying not to let her legs fall under her.

Winter- what will we do?

“How much were you awake for?” Winter asks wearily, barely daring to feel relief.

I read the notes with you…. and… it looks like we can’t trust Spring.

“Gee, you think?” Winter laughs, her voice weak. She can’t remember the last time she laughed- and even though it’s humorless it still feels good. “When was your first clue?”

She pushes herself up from the throne, power crackling with her. She doesn’t feel weak, even if her body acts the part well enough. But neither does she feel safe. Two mad brothers to contend with? Will it ever end? The betrayals- the lies!- She can’t deal with this!

She steps out from the shack moodily, easing over the metal, pushing her way out the door, turning to close it.

Shack secured, she stalks back through the snow, leaving the way she came and closing the door to her innermost sanctum. It makes a resounding boom. She has one more bit of business to settle here, Spring and Fall be damned. One more debt to repay before she deals with her wayward brothers. If she can deal with her wayward brothers.

Winter’s feet remember the way through the dark halls, back up the long cavern, all filled with rough stone. A hole in the wall, melted through with cold light, lets the darkness in. Here the air is stagnant, but as she steps through the hole, the passage through the rubble of the cavern she can feel the body of her most faithful Servant here. So close in link, how couldn’t she?

It seems as if she walks forever before her hand finds a section of scaled hide. Something protected her Servant from rot- something kept her embalmed here, dry and… warm still, as if from an inner light, an inner energy.

“Jane,” Winter whispers.

She shifts uncomfortably in the heat, the stifling warmth of the cavern. Summer draws back from her shock just enough to wonder at her behavior.

What are you doing? We can’t bring her back, you know- she’s dead now, we nearly died the last time and I was in control. I don’t think you can do it the same way I can.

“What’s yours is mine, Summer,” Winter says, half a smile gracing her lips. “Believe me when I say that this is well within my power right now.”

She can feel it- it crackles along toes, fingers and palms. It sparks and cries out to be used, a hymn, a resonance that fills her body.

She reaches out and rests her hand fully against Jane’s body, fingers splayed.

She closes her eyes, feeling her will- feeling with her will. The scales slide in her mind- dry now, cold and dead with age, but untouched by the horrors of rot.

There’s no way this will work, Summer hisses. You could kill us both!

“Trust me,” Winter whispers, eyes still closed. “This will work.”

She curls her fingers against her Servant’s corpse. Cold- no, pure frost hisses out from her hand, glowing faint blue as the magic coats Jane’s fur and scales. She takes a deep, shuddering breath, barely daring to believe what she’s trying to do. Can she bring Jane back on her own? The conduits seem familiar somehow, the energy flowing from her hand, from her heart, frozen so much she can practically feel Summer’s teeth chattering together in her head.

Eyes still closed, she can see the lines of her magic vaguely, and she forces more of it from her, focusing her power. Her whole body shudders suddenly, and it stings in her fingertips and pounds in her head, her every fiber singing with magic far more ancient than mere words- the power she is pushing into her Servant is pure, undiluted… energy.

Behind closed lids, the world flares blue and white, scars, flashes and blooms dotting her black vision. Her legs drop her- and now her mouth forms a word, a spell older than time itself.

“Life,” Winter gasps.

Winter’s power coalesces around her in a crackling, swarming cloud of blue sparks- as her eyes open she realizes her entire body tingles, stings and aches with it. It needs direction, and she hasn’t built the right channels for it to flow through. All around her, dust and rocks jump and hiss. She can feel it, frustrated, snapping in the air around her! But…

None of it flows into Jane the way it should. None of it will touch her still, dead Servant, and Winter, in the midst of a cloud of life, curls her fingers into fists, taken by despair.

It hadn’t worked. It isn’t working. Her hands shake and her teeth dig into her lip. She had been so sure.

“Winter,” A voice whispers, close to her ear, but when she turns, there is no one there.

A pair of clawed arms wrap around her waist from behind, and she yelps.

“I can tell you why it isn’t working,” Silk purrs softly. “But what will you give me if I do?”

Knight in Stone

SURPRISE UPDATE!

This story can be found under the black band under ‘Other Stories’. It doesn’t get its own page because I’ve decided I’m just making a link page to it (and others) rather than going through the bloody trouble of trying to set up a page for each short story, which could mean we’d run out of band and lead to awful clutter.

You can find the demimind chapters page here, if you’re new. Of course, if you just want to read this story I won’t blame you. Demimind is pretty thick stuff, and a lot longer than this one, despite the monster post.

Enjoy the story- it didn’t take all that long to write, but I certainly enjoy the characters in it!

-Eris

PS: Find typos, like something, don’t like something- whatever? This site is small enough right now that I can probably get around to reading the comments and fixing bits, editing it a bit. I do appreciate feedback, so don’t be shy!

Knight in Stone

A short story by Sam Oliver

[ErisDiscordant]

With the groan of ancient stone falling away from her limbs, a knight pulls herself upright, leaving the corpse behind her.

The sword is in its scabbard when she leaves the room. She doesn’t expect she’ll need it yet, but in these fell times it pays to be safe rather than sorry.

She feels the pain fade from her legs as she stretches her muscles. Fifty years in stone had not been kind. Whoever had woken her- the sight of the thing that had once been a woman lying in her own blood flashes again through her mind- had been desperate for aid. Her bones practically creak as she takes a few tottering steps away down the hall.

She passes a room she barely remembers- was it here before? The doorway is covered in red slickness. Some foul deed took place, and recently. She wonders at the blood from the woman- she had not bothered to check to see if she was still living, and with wounds like the ones the girl had suffered how could she be?

Still, it seems to her that there’s no way this much blood could have been from one person, and indeed when she smells the blood it has an odd scent to it. Definitely not human. Like sulfur and ammonia. Abnormal.

The knight steps through the doorway uncertainly. The trail leads here, and if she’d been called to avenge, which she most certainly had been, she should follow it to the source. She’s rewarded by a foreboding feeling, and the prickle of eyes on the back of her neck. Someone is watching her.

She takes another step into the room and turns around. The darkness bothers her, so she lifts a hand. Light flares in her palm as ancient words part from her lips, shining in the gloom and illuminating, for only a second, a long, scaled tail. It slithers out of view, and the knight’s heart quickens in her chest.

“Who- what- goes there?” She asks, her voice firm, but creaking from disuse. The ancient tongue she speaks is the same as always, and the sharp way it leaves her mouth leaves a bitter taste in her mind, a memory of times that were almost certainly better than forever guarding the weak. But, it was her choice, and a choice of the type she chose, once made, is not easily unmade.

It does not answer, but in the silence that follows, she catches, on the edge of her hearing, voices approaching from the hall she left. The trail leads from this room into her chamber, connecting with the hall here, but, the voices pique her curiosity. Perhaps friends of the woman who was killed. They may help her understand better what she is required to do.

She changes direction, turning towards the voices, again entering the hall, the dilapidated stone beckoning to her as the noise of conversation- human conversation!- reaches her ears.

She continues on her way down the hall, sword occasionally scraping on the walls. She wonders at that- why such a long blade? Why could she not wield a short blade instead? But it is the avenged who can call upon her to wield whatever they will, and this woman wished her to wreak her vengeance with a longsword.

She had used many things over the ages, hadn’t she? It is only now when she is not dreaming, the rare times when vengeance required some form of extra thought that she could recall. Those times the weapons had been simple and the desires simpler, but for the life of her the knight cannot remember a time when she had wielded something quite as elegant as the blade nestled in her scabbard. It seems a family heirloom, runes dancing over its surface. She hadn’t drawn it yet, but in her dream she had seen it.

Her steps gradually grow shorter as she comes upon the source of the voices. It is two men and a woman, one man with a sniveling voice, begging, at the hands of the man, who is stern faced, and the woman, who, to her surprise, wears full plate and carries a long, long staff with a curved blade at its top, and at her side wears a scabbard like the Knight’s own.

She pauses at the edge of the hall- for they are in a room, well lit by torches, and she is in the shadows, as yet unnoticed. She cannot understand what they are saying, and this strikes her as odd- always she could understand what the victim had been able to understand, those who needed avenging would pass their knowledge on.

It disturbs her that she had not known what these people had said. And complicates matters. She should announce herself and see if they are multi-tongued, or if they are truly strangers. Perhaps- and here lies just the faintest spark of hope- one would be a wizard and, if he were of enough power, perhaps he could undo the magics which bind her. She finds herself tiring of answering these calls.

She watches instead, standing in the shadows.

Their conversation is alien to her, but the emotions seem clear enough. The man is begging for his life by the way the tears run down his face, and the way the woman slashes her hand with every word means that she is unwilling to give it to him, though by the uncertain way she holds her polearm, she seems also unwilling to take it. The other man, stern-faced and holding himself slightly aloof, just looks to the shadows. He does not look the type to come to the sniveler’s aid, but twice his eyes brush over her. Then, they finally notice the light from her hand where it glows by her side.

He has no sword, but he lifts a short, curved metal rod and says something in that strange language, and the words are high and lilting, strange as they pass through her ears. The queer noise affects her oddly- she steps out from the hall, staring at the man uncomprehendingly. What sorcery is in his words, that he could order her so? Her feet moved without her willing it.

Then he speaks to her in her own tongue.

“Who goes there?” He calls. “Tell me thy name and I might spare thee. I am a magician of great power, thou hast trespass’d one step too many.”

“I am the Knight in Stone,” she replies haltingly. Her voice is unsteady from too many years. Her hand strays to the sword in her scabbard uncertainly. “What name do you go by?”

The avenged should have given her dormant knowledge of the attacker’s name. Without a doubt, if foe this man should be, a sign would be given in her mind.

“The name I carry is Carnilus of Trent. Is that name familiar to thee?”

“Nae,” she replies ruefully, and means it.

“For why does a wench carry a blade?”

“I could ask the same of thy companion,” The Knight in Stone responds quietly.

The man smiles briefly. He is bald. His face is weathered and old, and the rod he carries is leveled at her, as if he truly were a magician as he said. He carries no cane to aid in walking, and his voice comes out slowly. His armor appears to consist only of a long crimson robe, with an unfamiliar design upon it in hexagrams, octograms and other strange, eldritch signs.

“Knight of Stone, why have you come?” Carnilus asks cautiously. “And why as a woman?”

She shrugs her shoulders, the stone armor covering her crackling with the movement. “I am always a woman,” She replies simply. “And I am here to avenge a death.”

Carnilus of Trent eyes her warily. The woman and the man, who had stopped to watch the conversation, both suddenly seem to catch sight of her. Had they truly been so intent on their conversation that they had not seen her?

The woman’s hands both suddenly jerk on the staff, and she levels her weapon at the Knight.

The sniveler shrinks back. Why are his hands unbound?

The Knight in Stone draws her longsword. Well, if it should come to blows…

The shimmering blade draws a gasp from the woman, and Carnilus of Trent shoots her a sharp look. “Ease back thy blade, Knight, we are none of us the one ye seek. That bold beast slipped past us into the dark; we did not see where it went.”

The woman steps forward and snarls something at her, and then shouts something at Carnilus.

The old man arches an eyebrow at her, and she steps back, then turns again to the Knight. “She does not understand Eldritch. I am sorry.”

She waves a hand, stone grinding on stone for a moment. “That is fine.”

“That girl- when she ran forth into the dark, she took something of value to us. Will ye lead us to her?”

“What is thy relation to the one I must avenge?” The Knight in Stone asks carefully. Thinking is hard, so close to her true goal- this mage might be strong enough to free her!

But the grating pain of a quest unfinished forces her tongue silent about that.

“None- we were but companions, we stumbled upon her, already fleeing, and gave her what comfort we could before that thing attacked. Its blade did quick work- she was its only target, and we could do naught for her. She fled into the dark after, and we let her go.”

Something behind his words feels slippery, but she nods and shrugs her shoulders again. “I can lead ye to her. Thine words have the ring of falsehood, but if ye desire only to see the one I must avenge, I shalt do as ye ask without question. But ye shall not take from the corpse until my task is complete and my watchful eyes watch nae more.”

The woman says something to Carnilus that the Knight does not understand.

He responds with a nod, and she lifts her weapon at ease. She snaps a command at the sniveling man, who likewise nods and stands, staring at the Knight with open fear.

She turns her back on them, and stalks back the way she came slowly, making sure that they follow her. It takes a good three minutes at her pace, but she is unwilling to walk faster. Her joints ache and the armor is heavy around her shoulders.

The walls are ancient, the stone weathered as her hand, half-hidden by granite, brushes the rock.  It nearly crumbles at her touch, and to her this seems very strange. Had she been gone longer than she thought? But the people she leads seem to have garb similar to the time she left before.

She cannot remember the state of the walls from before.

She reaches the room wherein the woman lies dead, and stops short at the door, eyes narrowing. Something feels very wrong- she can tell from the air.

The body is missing, and a long line of crimson stretches from where the lady lay- drawn deep into the shadows. Her hearing, deadened by the stone around her, still seems to pick up the faint moan of someone in dreadful pain, and a purr that sounds horrible, and yet very, very familiar to her. The trail glistens in the gloom, but her magic eyes pierce the darkness.

She steps into the room, and makes no motion to stop the magician as he runs inward and kneels by the trail, plainly distraught.  Strange that he knew exactly where she lay…

A sense of foreboding falls over the Knight then, though. For a deep, dark growl echoes from the depths of the shadows around the room. The cavernous hall is large enough that it had hidden itself and its prey well, but now she feels its approach with every padding pawstep on the stone.

The Knight steps forward, rock boots faded with use grinding into the floor.

Carnilus turns to her, opens his mouth. He does not hear it? How could he not?

But all that dribbles down his lip is blood, and there is a ferocious roaring- then a sound again, like a sigh or a whisper, air being sliced clean. Two spikes, sharp and deadly, bounce off of her stone armor and land on the floor.

The padding draws closer as the magician slumps forward. Judging him to be gravely wounded, the Knight sets herself for the manticore’s charge.

Instead, there is a whooshing noise, and a hideous snarl- leathery wings bat the air, she catches a glimpse of them before it lunges down at her, volleying another pair of spikes at her with that vicious tail before swooping down, upon her already. The spikes glance away harmlessly, but the razor claws of the lion-like creature rake her, one finding a gap in her stone armor and tearing a line of white pain down her back. The weight of the creature rocks her for a moment, but she recovers quickly.

“You are not who I seek,” She says quietly. “I’m sorry.”

With one stone-gauntleted hand, she grabs its throat, and with the other, she pummels its struggling head over, and over, fist like a hammer. The blows fall hard, slow, and calm. It writhes at first, but its strength flees it quickly. When she is done, the manticore lies dead, and its thrashing tail falls still. Its head has been reduced to pulp.

“Mindless beast,” She admonishes gently. “Ye did not need to die here.”

The Knight winces as she puts a bloodied stone sheathed hand to her back where the claws of the monster had laid her open. No permanent damage- her soft inner body still remains mostly safe, though it leaks red at a rapid rate. Another scar to wear into the centuries. Still, it’s not like she has any true prospects. The Knight has no need for marriage. What use has a spirit of vengeance for matrimony, holy or otherwise?

A noise behind her makes her turn, though. She’d almost forgotten about Carnilus’s companions.

The Knight chews on her lip behind her helm. Hm.

The woman is trying not to retch. The man seems to have set his lips. She moves aside so that they might step over the corpse and go to Carnilus, who lies gasping on the floor, two foot-long black spikes driven through his back. The manticore’s surprise attack had been… rather surprising.

A shame. Maybe he had truly been strong enough to free her. She feels her heart sink back into despair, but the sting of the quest keeps her plodding towards the corner where the woman now lies. She can feel the girl’s presence- her heart is beating, which is strange enough in itself. How can she avenge a death…

She hears the woman wailing over Carnilus’s prone form. She hopes distantly that they have the sense not to try to pull the spikes out. That would cause much more damage, for they are no doubt barbed.

She reaches the fallen girl. She had been nibbled on, nothing more. A lost finger, a lost toe- what matter was it? She had somehow woken up after being slashed. The Knight in Stone blinks at that.

The girl’s body is breathing, shallowly. And now something like anger bubbles in the Knight’s chest. How is she to deal with this?

She slaps the girl across the face lightly, hoping vaguely that the shock will wake her. The Knight feels a bit guilty when she doesn’t stir- obviously she had been in great pain. Is it right for her to attempt to bring the girl back? She’s suffered enough.

Yet- part of her isn’t willing to let the girl die. Though surely it is the lack of her needing to be truly avenged yet- having not died- that is preventing the Knight from knowing the name of the one responsible, the Knight in Stone does not want the girl to die. Something compels her to help this woman live.

She turns to the warrior woman, who is glaring at the her with something like hatred.

“Can you understand me?” She asks, speaking slowly.

The woman’s reply is cloaked in venom. “Yes. I am not the fool Carnilus made me out to be. What are ye? He has- had- told us little. Can ye not help me heal Carnilus?”

“My task is to avenge the dead, not aid the living,” the Knight replies stonily. “He lied to me at any rate. Are ye not a healer? What of thine craven friend?”

“I am not craven!” the man snarls, immediately on his feet. His eyes flash with anger. “It t’would be foolish only not to be scared witless, upon having seen what I have seen! The man who lies dead here- Carnilus, his name, sorcerer, his trade- was an abomination! He killed my family. Are ye to tell me that I should not be afraid of that? It took but a finger’s stroke for each, and my father stronger, braver than me!”

“What a feat,” The woman says dryly.  “Truly, the man deserves nothing but praise.”

The one called craven shoots her a glare. Obviously he harbors towards her nothing of the terror on his face when Carnilus had been amongst the living. Perhaps he still lived, but if so, not for long. From what the Knight knew of manticore spines, they were likely venom’d. A poison would soon tear him apart from the inside.

There was no telling how long it would be, and no telling exactly when it would be, but the man would die and with no mage among them, the two of his former companions would surely be unable to do anything about it- whatever their motivations for his resurrection.

The Knight in Stone watches the pale form of Carnilus the sorcerer. She turns to the woman again.

“Who are ye?” She asks, wincing at the clumsy way her mouth formed the words. Oh, to be alive again.

“A companion,” She says flatly, in a way that, to the Knight’s ears, said ‘Lover’. The wailing had died in her heart, it seemed, leaving nothing but bare rock in its place. “I go by the name Shira.”

Shy-ra.

“Where didst thou come by that name?” The Knight asks slowly, frowning. “It seems such a long time, perhaps it will be a long time hence ere I hear it again. But please tell me how ye learned of it.”

“Are ye mad?” Shira asks, incredulous. “Where do ye think I came by it?”

“I do not know,” The Knight reproaches, in the same steady, earthy tone. “That is why I asked ye.”

“Surely ye don’t mean to suggest I stole it,” Shira says quietly.

They both stare at one another, the Knight with stone curiosity, the woman with a glare that dares her to say it.

“I see no other way ye could have come by it,” the Knight says plainly. “Ye are too young to slay monsters. Thy arm is too weak, thy thighs too thick and thy armor too thin.”

“Ye need not be a barren muscle-bound waif to win in combat,” the one called Shira snaps. “And who are ye to talk?”

“Dead,” The Knight in Stone says sharply. “I was nae warrior when I slew my first man. The stone armor protected me long before then. I am the Knight in Stone, ‘Shira’, slayer of monsters. It is my duty to avenge those who have fallen unjustly.”

This seems to infuriate the woman, but her thought is interrupted by Carnilus’s sudden scream of agony. The poison had begun its dirty work.

The noise wakes the girl the Knight is holding, and she feels a pang of guilt, suddenly, from nowhere. She moves, unsure of what exactly she will do, but determined to do something.

Her hand closes on the red robe of the fallen mage. “Are ye not a sorcerer?” She asks loudly. “Have ye nae spells that might heal ye?”

Carnilus gropes for something, anything, finally grasps at the stone paldron on the Knight’s shoulder. He raises his eyes, his expression grey as ash, his eyes already clouding.

“Are ye not a Knight?” He asks, his voice a rasping whisper just above a death rattle. Laughter, insane, horrible laughter bubbles up from his throat and flecks her armor with blood. It shakes his whole body, but his eyes now burn. “Have ye nae honor? The demon who forced this injustice to happen- is within!”

The last word is a shriek, a loud wail.

He slumps forward. But his body shakes, twisting and turning, writhing under some unseen hand’s control. Spines erupt from the robes and his head twists full circle as the bones under his flesh force his body to assume a shape not of the world of man.

Shira is screaming, the girl in the Knight’s arms stirs and moans, and the Knight in Stone takes one step backward.

When the man’s body erupts in heat, when the wave of fire washes over her and cooks the hair on her desiccated arms even within the armor, when her boots, touching the floor, cook and turn a brilliant cherry red, she knows the beast she is about to face will kill them all.

“A sorcerous death,” She whispers, backing away quickly and setting the injured girl down. “A battle on the inside that cannot be won.”

The heat from the demonic conflagration is making her skin crawl and sweat.

The Knight counts the demon’s spines as they emerge. Three. Four. Four dorsal spines. Then it is the warrior caste. It will fight her first. Perhaps giving the woman and her craven companion time to escape.

The man is shaking. He has no weapon on him, and the fiery blast had singed his clothes, burned holes in breeches and tunic, but his eyes are boring into the demonic shape coalescing before him.

It rises, bipedal, standing a full ten feet tall on craggy legs hung with burnt, tattered bits of robe, radiating flame and heat like a shroud. The warrior woman, Shira, is stepping away uncertainly, her strange blade-stick raised. The curved edge, fully a foot past the haft, seems tiny in comparison to the monster confronting her, and even two feet away it glows orange with heat.

The creature seems to gather its bearings, and confronts the woman, whose shaking posture and lax defensive position make the Knight wince.

The Knight in Stone steps forward quickly, shouldering the young monster slayer aside. The woman tumbles over in a clatter, but the Demon seems ready to accept the Knight’s unspoken challenge. Its guttural roar is felt more than heard- she can see the shape of it, an enormous humanoid with red skin, three lower legs and one long, spined tail. Its arms are huge, and while it bears no weapon, its hands are wreathed in white flame.

“What are ye doing?” Shira asks, plainly too stupid to still be afraid. “Ye should-”

“Run, idiot!” The Knight grits out. “Are ye that much of a fool? Run! Take thy companion and go!”

She squares her shoulders and stamps her feet, gritting her teeth and grinding stone boots into the stone tile floor. Here, in this place, before the altar- before her altar, the Altar of the Avenged- this demon, this monster dares to take shape? She owes it to all those who have fallen to slay this creature. And she feels sure that the sorcerer- or at least the demon inside- was responsible for the serpent-creature that struck down her newest charge. At last the foe is here, and she can feel it in her gut that it had called both manticore and lizard-creature in order to do its dirty work.

Shira grabs her craven friend and the two flee the room.

The Knight has enough time to wish that she had made them take her charge as well, and then the demon is upon her before she can even draw steel.

“Mortal!” It screams in Eldritch. “Too long have I waited to face you!”

It brings one clawed hand around in a lightning fast swipe. She takes the blow on her stone armor, letting it glance aside. The impact near breaks her shoulder, and she yelps without thinking, breath hissing between her teeth. She grinds back one step, drawing the runed longsword from its scabbard and taking up a vague fighting pose- how does one guard against a demon who can strike mighty blows with its hands?

The Knight frowns as the creature’s next cry reverberates up through her armor. The blows it rain down are much too soft. She blocks them with ease, standing her ground, the longsword practically parrying for her. Magic seems to be involved- it leaps from position to position with the slightest nudge, with even her thoughts.

The demon, whose face is shrouded and ripples in the heat haze, hisses in frustration as she meets each and every strike with cool, calculated defense.

But her armor is hot. Too hot- her skin is burning up in her stone prison. She breaks the engagement, backing away, sword down, struggling to catch her breath in the grip of stone that feels too tight and far too hot.

Sweat drips down into one eye. The armor that defends her better than any steel is naught but a liability here. And the demon’s strength is incredible, even if, with her blade, it is easily deflected. At any moment it may realize that fighting her is useless, and take advantage of her inability to give chase to go torment more people.

For some reason, the Knight finds this troubling. Her charge- had she ever seen one survive the attacks?

Something is different here, and she can’t quite place it.

The spiny tail whacks across her back, a blaze of searing heat against her spine making her yelp. She jerks forward, stone grinding, charging, sword out.

The demon had never been attacked quite like this before. It had expected its prey to be more defensive. Its misjudgment about her flexibility proves distressingly painful.

The Knight in Stone steps back, blood steaming on the blade. It isn’t demon blood, which troubles her somewhat. The severed limb, fallen and twitching on the ground, also bears more than a passing resemblance to a human’s arm.

“You argunt erif!” The demon roars, its rage forcing it to switch to a language both unfamiliar to her and painful to hear. It drives invisible spikes into her ears.

“You talk too much,” The Knight notes calmly, sweat dripping down her cheeks. Her longsword flicks again, sure and true, but the demon hops back this time, and the tip merely carves a line on its aberrant ribcage. The strike leaves her open.

The demon’s claws wrap around her throat and, one armed, it heaves her into the air, snarling. She swings wildly- though not desperately- and her blade leaves a searing ruin across its abdomen. The beast flings her- actually flings her, sending her flying across the stone hall. She hears the clatter of metal on the rock, and shortly after her vision blurs as she cracks against the floor, armor shattering under the impact. She strikes the wall afterwards, skidding and slamming against the bare stone.  Her head takes a nasty blow, though the helmet shields her somewhat, and her mind spins, struggles to make sense of the insanity.

Fragile bones, too long without use, harden again as she pushes herself up onto her knees. She can hear the clatter of the creature’s talons against the stone floor. It’s approaching her. She can hear it chuckle. Its heat is stifling, then actually painful as it stands in front of her.

Her head aches. Blood drips down through her hair. She has no weapon in her hands. She has nothing. Her fingers, clad in stone, dig into the tile, unearthing it as the monster laughs. She wrenches upward, the heavy stonework of the tile smashing into the creature’s head heavily, and it smashes into the creature’s face. It stumbles back, its remaining clawed arm up, and she takes advantage of its momentary weakness.

She drives one stone gauntlet into the beast’s belly. It’s like striking iron, but she smashes her fist into its stomach over and over, with all the strength she can muster. It grunts, crumpling, swiping at her, missing, but then rushing her, tackling her into the floor, bearing her down with weight and heat, its tail flicking and then coiling around her neck like a long, sinuous snake, squeezing

Impossibly, her hand, blistering with heat, grabs at the stump of its arm. Her fist rams into its snout. Her vision blurs and swims, her mind fuzzing over. She feels a snarl growing in her constricted throat, and it wants to burst free.

She slams her knee into the monster’s belly and pushes the demon over in the same movement, fingers digging into the stump of its arm, rolling on top of it, her thighs, belly and calves screaming in heat-agony. Her gauntlet rises and falls, like against the manticore, her fist smashing into the demon’s face again. And again.

Teeth are shattered, bones crunch. She can’t breathe, she can’t think- her heart fills her mouth and her limbs feel like lead.

But she smites the demon, that beast from the depths of hell with all her force.

It batters her with its tail, teeth snapping and clashing crookedly, unable to bite down on her fist, its grip loosening on her throat with the next hammerblow.

She sucks in air, foul with demon’s breath, brimstone and fire. Her body hums, her hair is burning and her heart pounds so hard she fears her ribs will break.

“She’s my charge,” The Knight says softly. Then again, as her fist smashes down with all her strength and the stone gauntlet crushes the demon’s skull, its bones finally breaking. The savage heat goes out like a fel candle flame, the eerie red glow fades, though her armor glows blood red and she can feel her skin burning, feel the hissing and screaming of all her nerves.

“She is my charge!” The Knight in Stone snarls. “You cannot have her, you cannot harm her anymore.”

The demon does not answer her. It lies still, its face a broken ruin, its boiling heart dead. Its tail twitches once, and then falls still as well. Its blood- a tainted human’s blood- coats her gauntlet.

Shaking.

Her arms, her hands, her fingers… Her whole body is shaking.

Through blinding, burning pain, the Knight in Stone rises.

She staggers to the girl where she lies. The scent of demon is thick on the Knight. She can smell it every time she draws breath. She can feel it saturating her skin, along with the sickly sweet smell of her own burnt flesh.

“Girl,” She says weakly, when she draws near. “Are ye safe?”

The girl stares at the Knight in awe, in terror. Had she watched the entire thing? In the gloom it is slightly hard to tell, so the Knight summons a light by her side again.

It all seems blurry now.

What puzzles the Knight most is that she no longer feels she need return to the Stone. The girl has been avenged, surely. The lizard creature could not have survived such wounds as it had sustained to leave the blood trail. Both the manticore and the demon who summoned it whilst in human shape were dead. The sorcerous man’s companions had nothing to do with it and therefore she need not kill them.

There is only the girl left, and, by a twisted turn of fate, she is alive.

It had never happened before, and the Knight feels lighter- and heavier- at the same time. Her heart sings- she saved someone. She had saved many people.

She would gladly go to rest in Stone now.

But instead of the pain of being parted from it for so long…. she feels only a baffled uncertainty. What should she do next?

“Are ye well?” The Knight in Stone repeats quietly. “I do not mean to bring harm to ye. I am the Knight in Stone. Ye called me to avenge ye.”

“Ye have avenged me already,” The girl whispers. She appears about to burst into tears… but no, the Knight can see she is stronger than that.

The girl smiles, and for a moment there’s a flash of red in her eyes, a spark of madness, perhaps. It troubles the Knight but a moment. Other things are on her mind.

For the first time in ages, she feels free. She has her own path to walk again-she feels not even the old compulsion to wear the armor.

Slowly, with trembling hands, she removes her helmet and tosses it aside. She slips out of the stone plate carefully, and the girl assists her- for it is no easy task. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, the Knight shivers in the cold of the cave.

The only thing she keeps is the scabbard. Though her clothes are old- ancient and fragile- they still seem serviceable after all these years. To feel the breeze, the draft, the air around her caressing her skin…

She had forgotten what it was like.

She turns to the girl and beckons once. Then she fetches the longsword and replaces it in her scabbard. The metal is reassuring.

“Can ye speak Common, girl?”

“Yes,” She responds quietly. “Yes, I can.”

“Good. Come with me to town.”

“Where are ye bound?” The girl asks. Then, “Where are we bound?”

The former Knight in Stone just shrugs helplessly. She doesn’t know where she wants to go first, but she knows for sure that she won’t stay here.

The girl, leaning on the Knight even as the Knight leans on her, walks out of the cave with her guardian, and they never once look back.