The Proving

By , Greenville, SC
The rain soaked his armor. It ran down his shoulder plates in rivulets, and he could hear the constant, heavy sound of the rain striking his armor. The water had run through the chain mail joints and was rapidly seeping into the wool padding. He ignored this discomfort, focusing on the task at hand. The storm clouds had covered the forest in a permanent twilight, the gloom only briefly illuminated by the occasional flash of lightning. The Boy was on edge. The darkness and disorienting lightning flashes would give the beast a definite advantage if he wasn’t careful. Suddenly the cursed lightning flashed and he heard something rush through the brush behind him. He whirled around swiftly, expecting to see the beast’s talons at his throat, and saw a doe fleeing away, spooked by the lightning. With a quiet whoosh he released the breath he had been unaware he was holding. At this rate his nerves would kill him before the monster had a chance. As he tried to collect himself, he reflected on how he had come to this, chasing a demon through a stormy, endless twilight.

He had been so proud when he had finally completed his training and graduated from the Tower. The years had been, pushing him to his utter limits. The Breakers had run him through torturous exercises time and again, ensuring he could withstand both the physical rigors of combat and the spiritual perils of demonic influence. And yet, despite all of the Tower Breakers’ efforts, he had not allowed himself to be broken. At the end of his training he had stood proudly on the raised dais with his comrades as the Grand Sentinel accepted them as novice Templars of the Order. He remembered vividly the burning pride he had felt as the elder had placed seal of the Order around his neck. He could still feel the gentle warmth of the sun as it shone over the ceremony and hear the pennants with the Order’s emblem as they snapped about the stage in the light breeze. That day had been the proudest moment in his young life.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts and set off through the damp leaves. He couldn’t afford to get lost in the past now, he had to stay alert for any sign of the demon. As he surveyed the area around him, he came upon a series of tracks. He paused for a moment, senses still alert, and placed his hand against the side of a tree, feeling the soaked moss squelch beneath his armored palm, as he knelt to inspect the tracks. They were fresh, and the distinctive shape left no doubt. The demon was close. Dual emotions of dread and excitement rushed through him upon this discovery. He knew what the beast was capable of, the sheer horrors it had visited upon its victims, but this was the moment for which he had trained so hard. He leaned against the tree and listened carefully. The rain had picked up, making it harder to hear around him. As he stood he recalled the face of the Blade Commander who had offered him the task.
The beast was a High Demon that had already slaughtered three entire farmsteads and the two Templars that had been sent after it. This would be the last time it would be offered as a Proving. If he failed, the Order would have to send a Vanguard, or even a Hunter, to remove the threat. The young Templar had readily accepted the challenge; eager for his Proving. The Blade Commander’s face had been grave as the Young Templar accepted the orders and set out. The solemnity and sorrow in the man’s eyes haunted the Templar even now.

A flash of lightning and its thunderclap violently shook him from his reverie and his hand flew to the hilt of his sword as he scanned the forest around him, worried that the demon had snuck up on him. His Proving, he just had to keep that in mind. If he could survive this and kill the monster he would become a Hunter, rather than waiting several years for a meager promotion to Watchman. The Hunters were the most powerful and feared agents of the Order, receiving orders from the Grand Sentinel himself. With this fresh in his mind, the Templar followed the beast’s tracks deeper into the wood.

The Boy followed the tracks for some time, heading farther and farther into the dark shadows of the forest. Suddenly the tracks stopped. The Templar tightened the strap on his helmet. He had been willing to sacrifice some visibility for the extra protection of the T-slit visor. His head swiveled about as he tried to locate the beast, but, besides the tracks, there was no sign of it anywhere. Suddenly a bird’s nest fell down next to him. It was his only warning. The Templar dove out of the way as the Demon came crashing down where he had been standing seconds before. The Templar turned his dive into a roll and jumped to his feet to face the beast, no longer certain who had been predator and prey. Initially all he could see was the Demon’s back, the muscles rippling against its skin as it stood. Its serpentine tail whipped around it as it rose and turned to face him. Then the Templar beheld the awful vision that was a High Demon. Its skin was an ugly dark purple, like that of a bruise that had just begun to heal. Its body was a mockery of a strong man’s, radiating strength and power in an almost tangible aura. Its fingers and toes ended in large talons, while bony plates covered its forearms like small shields. A black mane poured down its back from between the two massive, pale, sweeping horns that sprouted from its forehead and swept back over its head. The worst part however was the beast’s face. It looked like the face of some high-born nobleman, with strong features and an intense stare. The only markers of inhumanity on its face, after its skin, were the beast’s eyes. They were truly monstrous, completely dark orbs as black as the Void. The eyes seemed to tear into the Boy’s very soul. The beast pulled its lips back into a smile, revealing massive, glistening teeth as it contemplated what to do, just as a cat considers how best to toy with a freshly caught mouse.

The young knight made a conscious effort to keep his terror in check as he sized up his opponent. The beast was incredibly powerful. No wonder the Order had deemed it a worthy Proving, a Hunter born from this monster would be incredibly powerful. He forced his fear to the back of his mind as he readied his blade; his hands tightly wound around the hilt.

For a moment the whole world seemed to hold its breath as the two combatants surveyed each other, neither one moving an inch. Even the raindrops seemed to suspend themselves in the air, as if not wanting to fall and miss watching the battle. Then the world released its breath as the two opponents barreled towards each other. As they met the Boy was almost bowled over by the sheer force of the monster’s charge. The beast lashed out with its talons, determined to keep him on the defensive. The Templar parried the blow, his hands stinging from the power in the strike. He had sparred against strong opponents in the tower, but they were nothing compared to this. He attempted a quick riposte, but the beast easily batted his blade aside with the plates on its left arm. As he tried to recover, the beast’s left hand snatched out and grabbed him by the helmet. He felt the pressure immediately as the demon seized his helmet and began to squeeze, trying to crush his head. The Templar swung his sword up with one hand as he disengaged the helmet’s strap with the other, ducking out of his helmet and putting distance between him and the demon. The Demon looked at him and smiled as it finished crushing his helmet, crumpling it as easily as if it were made of paper. Then it threw the ball of crushed metal aside and began to advance on the boy. The Boy knew he couldn’t allow the beast to charge again, so he waited until it drew a closer and lunged hoping to catch it off-guard. He had barely moved before he already realized his mistake, he was far too slow. The beast easily dodged the thrust and batted his blade aside with one arm as it brought its talons slashing across his body. The Templar barely managed to pull back from the full blow, the demon’s claws raking across his chest plate. Suddenly his world went red with blood and agony as the beast’s claws tore through his armor and into his chest. He could feel the wool padding in his armor greedily sucking up his blood, sticking to him like a grotesque sponge.
The beast smiled at him as he tried to raise his sword. It had drawn first blood, and it was enjoying playing with the boy. Suddenly it darted towards him head-on, trying to take advantage of his injury. The Templar braced himself, ready to receive the Demon’s charge. The beast sped up, unable to contain itself with its victim so helpless. The Templar held his ground as the beast drew nearer and nearer, mud and leaves flying from beneath its feet as it charged. When it had come close enough that he could almost count its teeth, the Templar suddenly dropped to one knee and thrust his sword up towards the demon’s heart as hard as he could. The last thing he saw was the genuine surprise on the demon’s face the split second before impact. The demon struck the blade so hard that it was torn from the Templar’s hands as the beast flipped over him and went tumbling away. The Templar pulled himself to his feet and turned to look at his foe. The blade stood out through the Demon’s shoulder, but as it rose the Templar’s heart plummeted. He had missed. At the split second before impact it had managed to pull away enough so that the sword had been buried through its left shoulder instead of its heart. Blood poured from the wound as the Demon stood shakily. It turned to face the boy, all the composure gone from its face. It was furious. The boy had hurt it, and now he would pay. It gave a full-throated roar, bearing its fangs as it prepared to charge. The Templar drew his short knife and steadied himself. If he was to die at this monster’s hand, he would die fighting. The two opponents faced each other, and with a primal scream, charged. This time the force of the collision sent them both to the ground. The knife spun from the boy’s hand and the two were soon grappling across the forest floor. The demon narrowly missed his head with its talons as the Templar tried to lock both of his gauntlet covered hands around its throat. Then the beast pinned the boy as it wrapped its tail around his neck, choking him. The Templar’s world began to burn and go dark as he couldn’t breathe. His hand groped around in the brush as he struggled to get air. Suddenly, it came across a rock under the leaves. His hand closed around it, and he swung the rock as hard as he could into the side of the demon’s head.

Blood sprang from the side of the stunned beasts head as the rock tore a jagged line across its thick skull. The Templar took advantage of its surprise and flipped the two over, ripping the demon’s tail from his throat. The beast quickly recovered, and the grim wrestling bout resumed. It managed to grab his left arm with its good hand and squeezed, snapping the bone almost instantly. The Templar screamed and responded by grabbing his sword and twisting it deeper into the monster’s shoulder. As blood sprayed from the wound, covering the Templar the beast screeched in agony. Soon both creatures were howling and grappling as blood ran from their wounds and bathed the water-soaked leaves and exposed roots. The demon was starting to lose its strength due to the grievous wound in its shoulder, and the Templar was eventually able to pin it under him, straddling its chest and pinning its arms to its sides. He drew back his metal plated fist and struck the beast full in the face, shattering its nose and sending more blood spraying. The creature was stunned from the blow, but the Templar had already drawn back to strike again. He hit it again, and again, and again. Eventually the demon went still but the boy couldn’t stop. He kept striking until his arm couldn’t move anymore. Finally, his arm hanging limp by his side, he slumped over the beast, unable to believe it was dead or, even more incredibly, that he was alive.

For a long time the boy just sat there, the rain washing the blood from both him and his disfigured opponent. He looked deep into the demon’s empty eyes, staring at his reflection in the now empty voids. Slowly, he drew a small blade bearing Order’s seal and thrust it deep into the monster’s chest, ensuring the creature could never return. This task completed, he took some of the demon’s blood and anointed himself with it in the sign of the Hunter. Then he closed the demon’s eyes and rose slowly, deliberately, triumphantly. He stood over his opponent and howled, his head thrown back to the heavens. He screamed and screamed until his throat went raw, each howl reminding him he was alive, and that he was the victor. He had Proven himself. The seal on the small blade began to glow. As he stood over the monster, thin tendrils of energy sprouted from the beast’s body and touched him. Suddenly he felt the Demon’s strength and power flowing into him. So this was how the Hunters became so powerful. Not only had they killed a demon, but had they taken the beast’s power for themselves. As the Demon’s strength poured into him, he felt his wounds heal healing, and watched as the power flowing into him instantly burned the rain around him into steam. Soon it was over. The last of the tendrils of light winked out and the Boy turned away, heading for the nearest town, his twin auras of steam and power writhing around him like two massive whirlwinds of energy. The next town would have an outpost with a new assignment. He was a Hunter, and he needed prey.





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GentleRain said...
Jan. 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm
The imagery is so vivid! I love the struggle and word choice. Keep posting!
 
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