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Later in the evening, I was before the fire, reading a book I’d found on the shelves behind the door. The armchair was even more comfortable than appearances indicated. The seat and back were thick and soft. I had sat down and sank deep into the chair. The rear enveloped me like a warm hug from my mom. ‘Damn this room is fucking cold,’ I thought. The book I chose to read was a history of the Orwen family. From what I gathered, they had ruled this land for close to four thousand years. Their sovereignty was a literal divine right: the chief god Chokkan had crowned Kandel Orwen king after he alone had answered the deity’s call for aid, during a battle more gruesome than the others. ‘Interesting that a character created by Anderson is real. But, so are Mordecai and Drago.’
I was reading King Ohrel Orwen’s negotiation of peace between the High Elves and the Golden Dwarves fifteen centuries later, when I heard a knock at the door. I opened it to a boy of around six or eight years. He was dressed in a silver robe trimmed in light blue. His shaggy blond hair had to have been styled by someone with a bowl and dull shears.
“Lord Blake, His Grand Majesty Redigar summons you.” His tone was filled with dignity and solemnness. “I, Tolar, am honored to conduct you thence.
I answered in the same manner, “Please lead on, Master Tolar.”
He gave a slight bow of his head, turned and led me down the stairs and through the castle.
The haircut bugged the hell out of me: no one I knew would allow such a hack job to happen to their mop. I spoke my question hoping to learn more. “Say, what happened to your hair?”
He reached up. “Whatever do you mean?” he asked, defensive.
“You appear…” I paused.
“Well?” he demanded.
“How do I put this in a delicate way?” I ran a hand through my damp hair and swallowed. “Um, the style looks, uh, barbarous.”
“I cut my locks, thank you, very much!” His irritation hit me like a fire from a blast.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. I’ve been to a place where the length of someone’s tresses meant something,” I said.
“Oh?” In his curiosity, he forgot his anger.
“Indeed. Hair cut like yours would have been a mark of his being property.”
“I apologize for taking umbrage.”
“I should remember to think before speaking.”
Okay, so I lied, and the whole hair thing took place in a book series and related to women. He didn’t need to know, did he? Considering what happened? We walked for about forty-five minutes, going down stairs, up others, in through some doors and out more. I found myself wondering how big this castle was after a while. At the same time, I had a growing suspicion we had doubled back on ourselves. ‘Huh. Déjà vu,’ I thought. We passed a green marble sculpture of a knight standing with the tip of his sword in the base, his hands folded over the hilt. I stopped when we approached the thing again five minutes later. Tolar glanced back at me and waited.
“Tolar, why are we going in circles? We’ve passed this sculpture already,” I stated.
“Impossible.” His voice was sharp for a little guy. “Nothing could interfere with the castle’s Spell of Travel! ’Twas cast by wizards of epic might.”
“I’m telling you, we already went by this statue,” I argued.
“And, I am telling you: That. Is. Impossible!” he said. I noticed his right hand was clenched in a fist and was glowing with an eldritch yellow light. The strident tone and slow walk towards me caused me to retreat. Hey, you stand in front of a pissed off wizard. ‘By all the hells,’ I thought. ‘Angry much, twerp?’ I didn’t wish to further antagonize the young mage, and become recipient of some nasty spell, so I constructed a plan to placate him. Maybe.
“Here’s an idea: let’s place a mark on this piece, and then resume walking. If we spot an identical one, and nothing is present, I’ll humbly beg your forgiveness on bended knee. When you learn I’m right, we’ll investigate. Fair enough?”
He considered my plan, the light fading from his relaxing hand. “Agreed,” he said at last.
I sighed while he produced a piece of charcoal and placed a sigil at the knight’s sword hilt. Without another word, Tolar stalked off. ‘I guess he is still upset about the hair remarks. How do I fix this?’ I thought as I hurried to follow. Five minutes later – I counted – we again reached a green marble statue of a knight standing with the tip of his sword in the base, his hands folded over the hilt. We searched. Tolar pointed, unable to find sign of his sketch. He almost vibrated with triumph.
“I told you! There is no way for anything to interfere with this castle’s magic.”
I examined the sculpture where he’d drawn the sigil. I still had a nagging feeling about this statue. (Oh, alright. I’ll admit: I didn’t want to kneel before this kid.) I soon found a smudge of carbon at the point of the sword.
“Hey, Tolar, seems like your mark was rubbed away.”
He bent and spotted the smear. A silvery glow limned his hands as he ran them over the base. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Tolar stumbled back, his face pale and filled with horror. The green statue cracked and crumbled, belching a thick cloud of fragments and powder. I pressed myself to the stone wall, whipping my arm to face to protect against the enveloping gloom. As the dust cleared, we saw where the avocado effigy once stood, there arose a scarlet armored behemoth.
It strode from the pedestal. A casual backhand swing of its sword cleaved Tolar in two. Crimson blood sprayed. I turned. Ran. Heedless of where I went. Eager to escape the monster. It killed a boy without hesitation, or concern.
I ran for hours. Ripped past things. Threw them to the ground. Nothing worked. The implacable footsteps of the scarlet knight remained close behind me. Heart in throat. Breath short. Eyes dry from the wind. Steps on my heels. Ready to surrender. Twin oak doors. ‘Safety?!’ I crashed through. Slammed them behind me. I wheeled around intending to run further, when I realized I was in the throne room.
The king, a balding older man, sat on the ornate chair, his bearing regal. On his right, and almost behind him stood Lady Orwen with Mordecai and Angriz before him.
“What is the meaning of this?” His Majesty thundered.
I opened my mouth to answer when the doors blew open in an explosion of splinters. The scarlet knight strode through the cloud of debris, dislodging a chunk of the doorway with its helmeted head. I dove to one side, trying to keep out of the monster’s way.
“By the gods!” exclaimed Mordecai. “A Crimson Walker!”
“Your majesty—!” Angriz began.
Before he could complete his words, the being spun its sword arm in a circle, launching huge longsword faster than a blink. A red streak in the air, and the scarlet blade was buried to the guard in the king’s chest. An instant later, the weapon faded to a mist, and reappeared in the creature’s paw.
“Father!” screamed Lady Orwen, with a wail of immeasurable grief that would haunt me to my dying day.
Mordecai threw his fist at the knight. A blinding flash of light followed an instant of absolute blackness. The entire left side of the Crimson Walker’s torso disintegrated. Royal guards flooded the room as Angriz roared and charged. His enormous sword slashed through the monster’s middle. A split second later, threescore arrows thudded into the abomination.
A scarlet boot crashed into Angriz’ head, sending him tumbling into the polished black granite wall. Green blood poured from the half-dragon’s mouth as he struggled to rise. A sudden slash of a crimson blade decapitated a dozen men. To my shock, unstoppable thing shimmered back into existence. The world turned ebony once more; but this time, when the light returned, our foe remained unharmed.
“Get down!” bellowed Angriz.
Everyone dropped flat. The mighty warrior gave forth a roar reminiscent of his monumental dragon ancestors and a terrible conflagration issued from his open maw. Eagar flames roiled over the huge red knight, slowing and beginning to melt it. Not yet defeated, the Walker bent, plucked up a severed head, and flung it at the half-dragon. The cranium rocketed through the flames and lodged in Angriz’ open mouth, extinguishing the inferno. Lady Orwen chanted… something. I had no idea what. My attention was on Angriz at the moment.
His maw lengthened, becoming a muzzle. His teeth grew longer and sharper-looking. His fingers elongated and fused until he had three digits and an opposable thumb tipped with a thick, black talon. His body began to elongate, his muscles stretching and growing bigger. His feet extended, and narrowed, the toes, capped with long black claws, ripped out his boots. His scales, once a lustrous gold, turned a mottled yellow banded by a greenish bronze.
The Walker soon grabbed my attention again, wading through the amassed guards, slaughtering them by the dozens with every swing of its immense blade. Blood ran in rivers across the floor. Men and women fought with great courage, but futilely. Their blades shattered on the scarlet armor. Mordecai flung his arms skyward and bellowed out strange words. “Dragostea Hoarl!”
Seconds later, colossal skeletal hands, surrounded by hellfire, arose from the flooring and latched upon the Crimson Walker.
“Tulak Harool!” cried Mordecai.
The bone fingers began to squeeze. The Walker appeared to crumple, then flexed horrifically, shattering the hands and whirled its sword arm again. Over the tumult of battle, and screams of the wounded, came Lady Orwen’s voice.
“Shut your eyes!” She cried out, her speech a strange mix of terror and exhalation. “He’s coming! Shut your eyes! Shut your—” Everything else spiraled up and out of range.
With her first command, almost everyone obeyed and turned away. I, however, did not. I was too entranced by the sight of a brilliant white light which engulfed her body. I almost didn’t recognize her form. Her clothes burst into flames as the illumination grew even brighter. I perceived a ringing at the edge of hearing. The buzzing and light increased in intensity. Every body hair stood on end. A final brilliant flash, as if I was next to a detonating nuclear device, then, the eerie speed with which the incandescence vanished made my heart race.
I ran to Lady Orwen, stripping off my shirt as I went. She braced her weight by grasping the rear of her now deceased father’s throne. Her jaw set and firm, she yanked herself back up when she started to slide. I tugged it down over her head, covering her nude form. Even at this moment, I had to admit: her body was fantastic. I never viewed an unclothed woman before. Nothing, not a scrap of fabric, a loose thread, nor any ash indicated she’d ever been clothed before. I wondered what caused her clothes to burst into flames.
Shaking away the useless thoughts, I turned to what was happening behind me. What I saw, took my breath away as if I’d been punched in my solar plexus.
The being before me, head brushing the ceiling, stood around 3.65 meters tall, and one hundred fifty-two centimeters across his shoulders. Two enormous white wings spread out from each shoulder, almost touching the opposite walls, and then swept back to rest against his body. Bulging muscles rippled under his golden skin. He was bald, yet the most beautiful, perfect being I’d ever seen. I knew, without a doubt, this was an angel. He drew a large claymore that shone like mercury. As he did so, the Crimson Walker swung its blade. The celestial warrior blocked with his. A final swift flash of light, and they vanished. This proved too much for me, and I slumped into darkness.