It is high noon now, second watch on the tower, but there is still no sign of the sun as clouds continue to suffocate the sky. As usual, the dark weather has brought rain to these green lands, but that has, for the moment, ceased. Now only a slight breeze flows over the plain, softly rustling the leaves in the giant oaks which tower over me. The blades of the fields roll, much like the waves of the sea, in a gentle pattern that calms the nerves.
My name is Donavan. Many know me as Don, others speak my name as Dov, while most of the people call me Sir Donavan. I am but a knight in this vast land, but content, for everything that I could want, I posess, and these things are few.
At my side lies the lovely maiden Sherina. Her head rests in my lap, and her blonde hair flows about the grasses like a river of molten gold. My eyes look deeply into hers, and I am overwhelmed by the love that I see there. I love her more than my life itself, and would surely give mine if it would keep her from the cold grasps of death. As long as I have known her it has been this way. While at first it may have her beauty, now much more holds me to her, for many times has she remained loyal to me when other paths might have been taken.
Perchance it is by some miracle that in the folds of clouds above, a small break appears, the sun spilling through in a ray of splendorous golden light, as glorious as the color of my love’s hair. She smiles as the new warmth drives away the cold and gloom of the rain, reaching up to caress my face with a gentle touch. A feeling of complete serenity envelopes me, and I can see it in her eyes as well, for there is no other place I would be now, but here with her. I lean back against the bark of the tall tree we sit beneath, close my eyes, and allow the sun’s warmth to carry me to a land almost as beautiful and serene.
I open my eyes. It must be late in the day, for the sun has long since passed overhead. A slight rain falls upon the field. Presumably, it is that which has awakened me from my slumbers. I see that the maid Sherina has long since gone, for the soft grass on which she lied no longer shows the impression of her slender form. I rise, shaking the moisture from my clothes, stretching the sleep from my rested bones. Gazing out over the rollling plain, I try to locate the horse which bore me to this resting place, though it seems as if it is no longer waiting for me. I begin the long trek back to the castle, knowing that night will long since have fallen when I arrive there, and I wonder just how long the maiden Sherina will laugh at the jest she has bestowed upon me.
It is later than I had imaginedwhen at last I enter my room. I do not bother with lighting the place, only do I make for the softness of the bed calling to my weary bones. I slide between the sheets, with wet clothes still adorning me, and I cannot help but smile at the thought of my love’s pouting face, that she must wait for when comes morn to tease me.
I awake, immediately sensing something to be amiss in the air. The sun is much higher than is usual for when I awaken. Sherina herself should have brought me forth from my deep slumber with her fun of the day hence.
The castle rings with the common sounds, those of work, play, and the bustle of life. I move from my bed, leaving it rumpled as it lay, and open my door. I frown, noticing the oaken door of m’lady to be yet closed, as she is either remaining asleep, which for her is deemable unlikely, or she is gone from it entirely.
Gently shutting my door, I ponder where she might have gone before awakening me. My eyes glance around the small room, its plain furnishings and humble decor, finally resting my eyes over the stone mantle. The hearth is cold and filled only with ash, so I am certain that Sherina has not yet been to my chamber today. Briskly running my fingers through my tangled hair in an attempt to groom my appearance, I return to the hallway once again, leaving the cold room behind me.
It is hours later when I return, unconciously closing and bolting the door behind me. My search for the maid Sherina has been in vain, for none in all of the castle have seen her this day. More so am I worried, for no guard posted from the eve before remembers her entering the keep. I fall into one of the wooden chairs about my room, trying to counter the desperation that now begins to claw at my mind.
As I sit, my head resting in the palms of my hands, I fight back the urge to let myself cry. I look up, setting my sight upon the door, and what I see widens my eyes, taking my breath away. Gasping for air, I can only sit, the image before my eyes imposing itself on my mind, for buried in the wood of the door is an arrow, perhaps four feet in length. Around its shaft there is tied a cloth, what is clear to be blood staining its surface, running the bottom length of the arrow, and dripping in uneven beats to the floor.
I leap from my chair, charging to the arrow. My hands fumble with the cloth, untying the cord which binds it, unrolling the tattered material with a hope borne of fear. As the arrow, so is the cloth covered with blood, though not only the stains, for the very words are of the same, only in written form. The script is shaken, unrefined, though the message is quite clear, conjuring dread to begin its work in me. The words, so simple, read…
YOVR DEAR SHERINA IS HELD
WITH VS. IF YOV TRVLY WISH
TO SEE HER BEFOR THE SVN SETS
NEXT YOV WILL APPEAR AT THE
TEMPL RVINS LYING EAST OF
THE CASTL WITHIN WVN HOVR.
IF YOV FAIL THIS SIMPL TASK
YOVR BELOVED WILL SVRELY DY
IN THE MOST PAINFUL WAY OVR
METHODS WILL ALOW.
I stand, the ruins of ages past surrounding me. Their once beautiful structures, now overgrown with shrubbery and moss, many different shades of green, lie only in piles of rubble. Stone once marvelous to behold, now only powder, and I realize that so does time decay the Earth, and all upon it.
My horse begins to shift nervously, its hooves clacking against the rock beneath them. I quickly glance around, searching for that which has upset my mount. It is then that I see him, a tall, thin man, robes of dark grey hanging from his frame. His mouth twists in a crooked smile, perhaps to tease me, more surely to welcome me, or both. He hails, his voice that of uncommonly low pitch, calling me to follow. This I do only with extreme wariness, and only for the sake of my beloved.
Down a hill he leads, walking beneath what once must have been an archway of fabulous architecture, disappearing from my view. I follow him through, and am suddenly assulted by explosive visions of tortureous, nightmarish nature. All my surroundings have become altered. The sky now rolls with thick purple clouds, coloured flashes illuminate them in surreal patterns, only to change form seconds later. Jagged, rocky cliffs slope downward on either side, their sharp surfaces disappearing into the crashing, stormy sea far below. The waves thunder and break, ringing out in terrifying fashions, whipped up by the nightmare gale which threatens to blow me off the edge of the narrow path.
The man smiles, his face illuminated briefly by a flash of pale lightning. His teeth form razor sharp points, flashing like knives as they reflect the light. For an instant, the human semblance disappears, revealing the true demonic form before my eyes. That which is Hell-spawned stands before me, and image more hideous than one remaining sane should witness. In his eyes lies the true form of chaos, the force from which the cacophany of sight and soundaround me is spawned. A wave of thunderous sound washes over me, blackness spreading like a fog inside my head, threatening to engulf me. I fight against it with all of myu will, tearing my gaze from the accursed eyes. With a scream of anguish I draw my sword from its scabbard, every musclu crying out in torturous pain. My eyes close tightly, holding back more of the tears already streaming from them, and fling my sword at the hideous creature. As one, our screams ring together, as I slide from the saddle, writhing in agony, he, falling to the ground, writhing with the grasps of death.
In an explosion of my senses, all the pain and chaos cease. I gasp for breath, dragging sweet air into my mepty lungs. The tears wetting my face mingle with the spray of the sea, carrying a salty taste into my mouth.
I stand, pulling every ounce of will and strength together for the motion, knowing only that I must survive, for it is I that must save the maiden Sherina from this evil. Mu horse no longer remains atop the cliff, having thrown itself over the edge in utter fear, thus it seems walking is the only means I have of reaching the black fortress, sitting like a crown upon the horizon. Placing my foot against the chest of the beast I have slain, I tightly grasp the hilt of my sword, wrenching it free from the cavity in which it rests. blood darker than night itself fluidly streams forth, covering the rocks with its slick putrescence.
Looking behind, I see no portal by which I may return for aid, and so I begin the trek toward my far off destination.
With my weary arms trembling from the long hours of climbing, I force myself over the final ledge of the towering cliffs, falling to the ground, breathing heavily from the exhertion. Though exhausted, I lie only for a moment, my determination pushing me onward, toward the only means I have of finding my beloved. Rising slowly to my feet, I stand, and approach the fortress which looms over me like a mountain in itself. As I draw nearer, the detail and workmanship of it become more clear. Its surface is black stone, yet smooth, and without seam, almost as if it had been carved from the very stone of the Earth, though Earth is not a label that could be placed on a realm such as this. Even the doors are of the same, and if it were not for them standing open, I would have no chance of entering by such means.
The place is cold, there seeming to be no fires to warm it, and the sound of water dripping onto stone mixes with the howl of wind through the countless corridoors. I walk through the maze of passageways, and I wonder where it is that the light comes from, for no torches line the walls, and there are no windows to be seen. No grasp do I have either on the time, if time is even relevant to me now. Little do I care, for I will take as long as necessary to complete my quest, and I continue to wander throughout the labyrinth of the castle.
My sword slides from its sheath, comforting my hand, its weight fiving me a focus of reality, and I banish all other thoughts from my mind but those of Sherina, knowing that I cannot falter, lest I give in to temptation and surrender to this realm of Hell.
Suddenly, a blade bursts from the wall just before me, crumbling the stone, breaking it away to reveal another demon. Its eyes glitter like the very fires from whence it came its scaled skin covering it, save for the wicked claws it bears from its hands, they as ivory white as the teeth lining its mouth. Saliva runs from its lips as it bears a snarl, producing what I take to be laughter from its alien throat.
With a burst of energy borne of adrenaline, I thrust my sword at the creature’s throat, the unexpected attack cleaving through its defenses. My blade bites into the muscle of the neck, piercing through to the other side completely. A blue ichor spews from the creature’s wound as I quickly withdraw my blade.
And then it begins. Hundreds of such beasts pour from the walls, thrashing and clawing with their evil talons. I become caught in a nightmare of frenzy and blood, slashing this way and that, depleting life with every blade stroke. Slashes come from all directions, cutting through my armor, drawing blood which freely flows down my body. I release a cry of pain and frustration, allowing it to give me the small amount of energy it does provide. I grow more weary with every blow I lay, though I cannot stop now, progress being made rather rapidly through the swarming throngs. Shoving creatures aside, I reach a stairwell, circling up through the interior of this particular tower. More beasts run down the steps, trying to force me back, to throw me down among the thousands which fill the room below. Drawing blood again and again I make my way to the top, more than once almost toppling over the side with an adversary.
At the top sits a door, its metal frame rusted with age, corrosion calling it to die, but refusing to take it. With a final charge I push through the few remaining demon warriors, crashing into the door with all of my weight. It gives, sprawling me upon the floor of the room, and I struggle to close and bolt it before more creatures can swarm through.
I manage to stand, gazing around the room, blinking my eyes rapidly to clear away the blood blinding them. There, on the wall, is chained my lovely maiden, her face dirty, her robes torn. I cry, rushing to her, embracing her, letting her embrace me, and for moments we stand, giving hope to each other once again.
Then there is only pain. I stumble back, looking down at the small blade now protruding from my midsection. My life begins to leave me, a white haze rapidly forming before my eyes, and I look up. Her face is smiling, joy showing through her beautiful features. With one hand I reach toward her, begging her to say that it is not true. She merely turns away, my love shattering, breaking apart like the very life force which was mine. And for one moment I simply lie in agonizing torture, when at last it ends, bringing me to an eternity of weeping.
I suddenly bolt upright, sweat running down my face. My sheets are damp with perspiration, the covers thrown off. I look next to me and see the maiden Sherina lying there, her thoughts lost to the peace of sleep. I smile, seeing her lie there so innocently, and I almost laugh aloud at how easy it will be, when the time comes, to slide the knife from beneath my pillow and cut her throat.