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Night Hunter's Hope
Author's note: The cover photo for this book is completely random and has nothing to do with the actual story; I had no other options in choosing a photo!
Crimson gazed afar at Cerpet Lake viewed out below the ragged cliff he stood upon, glistening in the sunlight, looking like a misshaped dot in a large valley formed with curvy hills and clustered trees. It rolled out like a scroll for leagues, inhabiting wild gazelle and ferocious leopards; it was a lovely scene molded in a detailed masterpiece.
“A beautiful sight,” the young woodcutter sighed quietly to himself, standing on the edge of the cliff and allowing the sun to warm his pallid skin. Golden hair ruffled with the subtle wind, light and smooth. The corners of Crimson’s mouth lifted to form a gentle smile. This is my paradise, he thought. Hours of hard labor in the beating heat still did nothing to ruin his comfort under the sun’s rays, ever so inviting as he took joy in the brilliant light.
Crimson was nearing his seventeenth birthday where he could finally work alongside his father Grenald, supplying wood for Markel, the small village hidden at forest’s edge. Whilst his mother kept their humble hut clean and provided dinner from the garden and the meat they bought, Crimson chopped wood for many hours of the day as a left-hand assistance for Grenald, as his father made a decent living sharpening axes and cutting trees for the town. His father was well-respected and taught Crimson to embrace work, but also enjoy life.
“My boy,” he heard a familiar, low and kind voice from behind. Grenald watched him with a bright smile lighting his tanned face, underneath a thick, scruffy black beard.
“Father,” he replied in a smooth tone. “Is it time for more work?”
A soft chuckle escaped the man. “Ah, Crimson. Always the responsible boy I raised well. Nay, I give you the rest of the day off. Aron has been asking for you, though. He wishes to resume your training.”
Crimson inclined his head. “Thank you, I ought not to leave him waiting.”
Grenald was brawny and barrel-chested, earned from years of handling heavy tools and smithing weapons, and took an immune to blistering heat and harsh winters, therefore hardly ever resting to wipe his brow year around. Not only an honest worker, but known to be kind and full of honor. His top priority, however, was his wife and child, whom he cared for more than anything life could offer.
Erineth proudly called herself Grenald’s wife, and was even sweeter than he. She fascinated in studying Heartfall’s history, reading countless books, and also followed in her own mother’s passion as an herbalist, fumbling with strange plants and Mandrake roots, and making love potions and lingering poisons. Erineth mostly tended the house and ran her own shop; most folks entitled her as the town healer. With their combined income, the happily married couple was far from peasants, and even saved a good inheritance for their son.
Crimson adapted a few qualities from each parent: he was muscular and well-fit, shaped and toned over his own hours of labor; not incredibly bulky, but strong enough to handle himself. The most important manners he had been taught, apart from obeying his parents, were to deeply respect his elders, those with authority, and, especially, women. He recalled his father telling him frequently in childhood, “Listen carefully to those around you and be quick to offer a hand, but lend not your heart and trust so easily.” Crimson, too, like his mother, took interest in history and read often. Though his hands had no talent for alchemy, his mind was willing to learn.
Grenald placed a hand on Crimson’s shoulder. “Now,” he said, looking at him directly in the eye. “Go pay your daily respects to Fehov. Aron will be waiting at his weaponry.”
With a last farewell, Crimson traveled down the slanted road leading to Markel. A gentle breeze tickled his cheeks as he observed the luscious atmosphere: thick trees dressed in a bundle of fresh leaves formed a tall wall on either side of the dirt path, with large roots tailing in different patterns along the ferny grass and exotic plants. From the knowledge of his mother, Crimson could identify some of the more effective ones: the pod-shaped ferns dotted with dark yellow swirls, named gelphies that commonly grew near forbus trees, could be used as tonics when crushed thoroughly in liquids and mixed with tospawn beans. Snow-white flowers that stuck out like sore thumbs in most forests were deadly to eat, useful in poisons, called delweed. Its only cure was to eat a caltic mushroom, which could also be used favorably and eaten harmlessly.
Green mosses and large caps tangled wildly among the trees, giving Ayer Forest a livelier tinge; many individual species lived deep within. Stretching out for leagues from both sides, this was where Crimson enjoyed to roam and chop wood, but never strayed far from the beaten path. A major road outside of Markel led directly to Falner, the nearest city, and provided the only easy way to each town. Otherwise, it was nothing but forest. Apart from the other activities, Crimson liked to bring his sword and train next to the stream near town, or read one of his large assortments of books and scrolls.
Arriving at Markel, the bustle of townsfolk and caravans greeted him. Most were out of their homes and walking to multiple shops, stands, and trading posts. It was more crowded than usual, as horses’ drug caravans and a few guards coated in chained armor patrolled within the town.
The traders are in town! Crimson had forgotten all about it, now thrilled. The traders came about once a year at random times, selling fresh food, fine jewelry and trinkets, useful supplies, ancient and rare artifacts, weapons and armor, and the entire sort. Many journeyed from distant cities across desserts and mountains, carrying valuable and interesting items. Some even told tales and stories involving past kings, mythical beasts, brave heroes, and great lands beyond Heartfall. Songs were also exchanged, usually around nightfall.
“Step right up!” Crimson heard a man yell over the noise. “For do I have some valuables for you! Magical amulets that bring good fortune to the wearer, statues retrieved from ancient tombs and even a spellbook to delve and learn the arcane arts…”
His voice was muffled by dozens of excited and curious villagers. Eager, Crimson dug in his fabric pockets for some coin, but unfortunately found none. Disappointed, he shrugged it aside and headed toward the chapel. It’s probably a load of troll dung, anyhow. Crimson had heard stories of fortune tellers, sight seers, and historical wizards, yet had never witnessed any of it and disbelieved half the tales. The little magic that actually existed in all of Heartfall was extremely rare and nigh impossible to learn, and most of it was evil and dangerous, as he had been told throughout his life.
No one occupied the tiny chapel in the center of Markel but the town priest, Vipir. His bald head reflected the candlelight above, hunching over a book whilst sitting in the front row behind the alter.
“Crimson,” he greeted, looking up with a grin. “Come to pay refuge to the god of mercy and family?”
“Of course,” he replied. Vipir had on long white robes and a golden amulet around his neck, with the symbol of Fehov, one of the many gods that ruled from above. . He spent the majority of his time praying and receiving blessings, spreading Fehov’s worship among the town and helping the poor. Crimson’s deep blue eyes aimed at the priest for a moment before he approached the alter and fell to his knees.
O great Fehov, he began in prayer, eyes closed and head bowed. Father of Family and Giver of Mercy, may your mighty hand watch over my mother and father, and allow me to bring praise and honor to them and achieve good works.
Rising up, Crimson touched a hand to his heart as a sign of respect, and then turned.
“Short and sweet today, eh?” Vipir said courteously, smiling at him. “Always one to stay true to the gods. Aye, I wish everyone had your spirit, Crimson.”
“Please, sir.” He smiled politely. “I wish only to protect my family.”
Vipir chuckled and rose, moving closer to Crimson. “Ah, a fine line of faith. Boy, do you know why it is always honorable to worship the gods?”
Crimson didn’t respond immediately, thinking. He sat at one of the pews, leaning down and resting his hands on his legs. Father reminded him constantly that blessings and acts of kindness from the gods was not a reward for good works, but a gift; they gave it out of purity.
“Blessings are given to us when we worship,” Crimson echoed his thoughts. “When we pray out of selflessness.”
“Exactly!” exclaimed Vipir. “Exactly. You, Crimson, pray for your family and their safety. In that, young one, you shall receive true blessings from the great divines.”
Crimson beamed, pleased by the thought. Remembering Aron, he rose, saying, “Thank you for your time, sir, but I must meet with Aron the blacksmith.”
“Of course, of course,” excused the priest. “Take care now, and give my regards to Aron!”
Bowing respectfully, Crimson rose and made his way. Stopping just at the old wooden door, however, the traders’ announcement rung in his ears.
“Um, sir?” he asked, spinning around. “I had a question regarding magic…”
Vipir’s attention was caught at the words, as he looked back with an indifferent expression. “Yes, young one?”
“I heard of a trader selling odd trinkets, and speaking of a spellbook…I was wondering, is that sort truly real? Were there really wizards who could call upon magical forces?”
Surprisingly, a wicked grin lighted the old man’s face. “Ah, magic is a very mysterious and impossible concept to us humans, yes? Stories tell of powerful sorcerers possessing abilities to cast magic from their palms: fire, lightning, water, and summoning creatures from different realms, or charming and tempering with the minds of others.”
“Yes, but are they real?” He repeated.
The priest laughed quietly and stood up from the pew, looking at him. “I suppose that is for you to believe, hmm?”
Crimson grinned, and with that, left Vipir and the chapel behind.
Aron’s Armory was in sight, with the owner standing just outside of it. Broad and hardy, the tall man scratched his beard, thicker than Grenald’s, and looked at Crimson with two, beady black eyes.
“Took your sweet time, did you?” He boomed in a hard tone, his voice far from friendly. “Thought it amusing to keep me standing here in the heat?”
Guilt enveloped Crimson, and his face became hot and red. “Apologies, Mr. Delry, I meant no—“
A loud chuckle barked from the blacksmith, slapping a hand to his apron. “Ah, come off it! I’m only stretching your chain, lad.”
Relieved, Crimson couldn’t help but laugh with him. “How’s old Grenald doin’?” Aron asked with a wink.
“Fine,” he said. “His job is holding well, and we have enough meat to last a month.”
“Fantastic! And Erineth?”
A smile spread across Aron’s face. “Good, good. I was hopin’ for a good report, what with this feud rumoring across Heartfall.”
Confusion swept over Crimson. “Feud?”
“Aye. Rumor has it that Emperor David Morian himself decided to leave the palace to go search for sum’ weapons or whatnot.” Aron’s face was wrapped in concentration. Chattering citizens and banging caravans strode all around the two, filling the environment.
“Is that so?” Crimson was warped with questions. “He left the palace just to search for weapons?”
“Well, not entirely,” started the blacksmith. “Here, let’s go inside me’ shop and I’ll fill you in. Then we can get started.”
Upon entering the armory, multitudes of finely steeled cuirasses and shields aligned the stone walls. A pit of fire lay in the middle, whilst swords, axes, and bows hung on weapon racks in various places. A counter was in the corner of the room, behind which Aron stood when the shop was open. His wife, Delphine, currently stood there running the store. She smiled and Crimson when he walked in.
“How’s about a mug of ale?” Aron asked Crimson.
“That sounds refreshing,” he replied gratefully. He took a seat at a far table in the back next to a smoldering sword in the making.
Moments later Aron returned with two large mugs filled up completely. He took a seat on the other side of Crimson and slid him one, which Crimson gulped down happily.
“Now, about Emperor David…” continued Aron, taking a drink of his own mug. “Folks ‘been talking around here, and it would seem he decided to go on a…well, expedition, in order to find these rare items scattered across Heartfall.”
“So a few valuable weapons are worth leaving the palace unattended?” Crimson interrupted.
“Ah now, you didn’t let me finish,” confided the blacksmith in his scratchy tone. Crimson apologized and he moved on, “The king isn’t leaving his palace unattended. He’s a lot bloody smarter than that… dammit, he’s the best emperor this land’s seen in decades! Nay, his wife… uh, Violet, I believe her name was…is taking his place until he gets back. And, here’s the thing: as it turns out, these ‘items’ are not just old ancient swords and that sort. S’matter of fact, David’s out looking for the rarest and most powerful weapons, armor, and items that can ever be found in Heartfall.”
Crimson pondered on the new information for a minute, resting his hands on the round wooden table. “Wait…” he concluded. “The most powerful? I’ve heard many tales regarding powerful weapons and artifacts. If half those stories are true, then wouldn’t finding the best be—“
“Impossible,” finished Aron, nodding his head. “Aye. See, David thinks he can roam out in the wild and magically find all these incredible weapons, but I’d sooner believe a dragon will destroy Markel tomorrow!
“It does sound illogical,” agreed Crimson.
“Even if he did manage to get his hands on sumin’, wouldn’t ya’ reckon he’d have a fat chance getting past whatever’s protectin’ it?”
True. “Any artifact like that would be sure to have some sort of protection, maybe hidden in an ancient crypt or something of the sort.” Crimson took another gulp.
“Hmm. And I’ll tell ya’ what the craziest part ‘bout this is.” Aron leaned in closer, staring directly at Crimson. “The emperor didn’ tell anyone where he was goin’. Not a damn soul!”
Shock flashed on Crimson’s former-curious expression. “David told no one?” he repeated, incredulous.
Aron shook his head, almost glaring at him with a hard stare. “Nay. Thas’ why the entire Empire is throwin’ a hiss fit! Neither the Elder Council nor the servants know where he went, or where he’s goin’. Not even his wife!”
Crimson could not suppress his dumbfounded countenance. “Why in Dursvagon would he not tell anyone? Did he at least bring a companion?”
Aron was vigorously shaking his head before the last word uttered from Crimson’s mouth. “Not even that! He left alone. I’d reckon if he’s not back by the end of the week, they’ll be sendin’ the whole army lookin’ for him.”
More questions flooded Crimson’s mind. “Did he say how long he would be gone? Does he even know where to start? Can he fight well?”
Aron snorted at the last question. “Fight well! He’s one of the best bloody fighters I’ve ever ‘eard of! Of course he can fight. Yet he never said how long he’d be, nor do they think he even knows where to start.”
That’s outrageous! The Emperor of Heartfall cannot simply leave on some quest to search for artifacts. Why is he even going? What exactly inspired him in the first place? “And what if these weapons of such were not made by humans? What if not by elves or dwarves?”
The blacksmith shrugged, slamming his mug down. “We all have questions,” he said. And if these items were made by an elf, there’ll be a lot of problems in gettin’ his hands on that, especially if they still have a hold of it.”
“Would they not bend to his royalty?”
“Nay, not if it’s precious to them. Elves are a stubborn race, they are.”
“And what of dwarves?”
Aron paused before answering. “Ah, they’re a mysterious bunch. Reckon they’d put up a fight to, if it came to it.”
Crimson was far from getting all his questions answered, but he couldn’t see how Aron had all the answers for him. “How can our emperor simply just leave, noble as he is?” He was mostly thinking aloud.
“He has to have a good reason,” Aron supported, even as shocked and frustrated as he was. “David Morian is a great man, wiser and braver than I thought men could be! I don’ fully agree with it all, but there has to be a good reason. I’m not a strong believer in destiny, but gods’ better have a firm grip on that man, bless his soul.”
“Maybe he prayed beforehand,” Crimson suggested. “Or maybe even one of the gods spoke to him.”
Aron held back a laugh, but shook his head. “If ya’ wanna believe in that sort, go right ahead. As for me, I just think these artifacts are much better than we believe, for him to go outta his way like that.” He took another huge gulp and finished off his mug. “Want some more?” He asked, as Crimson’s was nearly gone as well. He nodded and the blacksmith got up to refill.
During his brief absence, Crimson dwelled in the many questions and problems that now swarmed his brain. If the emperor is out there somewhere, he thought, He must have overwhelming strength just to survive, even if only a week. Several dangerous animals and creatures inhabit Heartfall…he must have a miracle…
As a new mug of ale was placed in front of him, Crimson openly asked, “How is his wife able to know all that needs to be done at the palace if she hears neither word nor whisper of David?”
Aron drunk deeply from his mug before answering, “I reckon he left a list of the most important essentials, but I haven’t a clue on the rest. I’d say he’s contactin’ her somehow, but that would require revealing his whereabouts.”
That gave more for Crimson to think about. “If he has no food or fresh clothing, how is he supposed to survive without visiting any towns? And as royalty, wouldn’t you think he would be unwilling to leave comfort and rich robes for a mere journey?” Royalty is usually a stubborn bunch.
“Ah, King David is different than most nobles I’ve heard of,” he retorted. “He doesn’ view himself as royal or rich half the time, even in his own palace! Nay, his mind works in stranger ways…I’d wager my best ax the Elder Council is furious.”
“Do you suppose they will disposition him?” Crimson asked.
Aron wiped some ale dripping from his chin. “Impossible. He’s from a royal family. Even if they wanted him to step down, which I know they don’t, the Elder Council couldn’ do a thing.” He scooted his mug aside and pulled out a pipe from his pocket, lighting it with a match. A plume of smoke fluttered in the air above. “By Tyran, boy, I thought you studied often!”
Crimson shifted uncomfortably. “Not much in Empire terms,” he admitted. “Mostly old folklore and Heartfall history.”
The man shook his head, appearing amused. “An emperor can’ simply be dispositioned, and the Morian family has been rulin’ Heartfall for over a century.”
He thought absently for a moment, and then Crimson asked out of curiosity, “What is Emperor David like?”
Aron’s beard rose from the smile that spread across his face. “He’s a great man, from what I hear. Born with an astounding wizard for a father, and a loving, supportive mother. He trained in more than one of the top academies in the world. I reckon he’s incredible with a blade, and even more impressive with magic.”
A sudden flare of awe suddenly overtook Crimson. “Wait, so you mean magic does exist?”
The blacksmith looked confused, puffing consistently in the pipe. “Well o’ course there is, boy. What’d you wager from all those historic figures told by storytellers?”
“Well…” the young woodcutter fondled in his thoughts. “I assumed most of it was myth, considering I never seen not a single hint of magic in my life.”
A short burst of laughter sounded from Aron. “Says the sixteen-year-old who’s never left Markel!” he scoffed. “Eh, ‘tis true magic is exceptionally rare and even more difficult to learn. But understand, boy, it does exist.”
“Can anyone in Markel use it?” He wondered.
He shook his head, finished with his pipe. “No, not in Markel. Like I said, it is very hard to learn, but I’ve seen a man or two use it before. Nothin’ masterly, of course, but a few charms here and there.” Seeing the peculiar look on Crimson’s countenance, Aron added sternly, “Don’t get any ideas, boy. Magic is extremely difficult to learn, even the simplest of spells, and nigh impossible to master. Besides, it is highly dangerous and causes death annually. Waste of time and life, if ya’ ask me.”
The small consideration Crimson had shrugged aside. “I wasn’t planning to try much, anyhow.”
Aron shifted. “Believe me, Crimson, the closest ya’ ever gonna get to magic is a blessin’ from a god, and those are hard to come by.”
“What else do you know about David?”
The blacksmith looked thoughtful, staring off into space, mug in hand. “Eh, not too much. Hey, ya’ hungry?”
Now that he had mentioned it, it was hours since Crimson last ate, and his stomach growled desperately. “Actually, yes.” With that, Aron rose and once again left the table. Crimson sipped at his ale, thinking even more deeply on his emperor’s odd decisions. I’ll never understand why. I don’s suppose anyone will, for a while. Could it really mean that much to him? What prowesses do these items posses?
A platter of meat was placed in front of Crimson along with a small portion of steamed mushrooms. Aron also set out a bowl of fruit in the center of the table. Starved, Crimson, eagerly begun tearing up the venison and stuffing it in his mouth; it tasted scrumptious and well cooked. “’Ow long ‘as David been ‘one?” he asked with his mouth crammed.
“Do you always eat like that?” Aron laughed, taking a bite of his own meat. “Two days ago, he left the palace.”
“What gave him the influence to begin with?” He asked, this time with less food.
Yet again, his question could not be fully answered. “Dunno. He never said, or revealed his source of information.”
Crimson was already picking at the strawberries, the light reflecting off them and showing the small hairs that grew from the fruit. “I don’t understand…”
“You’re not alone,” assured the blacksmith. “Nor do I, and many others. What is the real value of all this, or the outcome? Is our king searching for total power? Doubtful, he already has that. What about untold riches and heaps of gold? Probably has more than enough in his treasury. So what, then?”
Crimson was just as stumped. What, how, when, why? Every answer led to a dozen new questions, and every question left another puzzle.
Just then, a scrambling villager burst through the door, panting. Crimson and Aron immediately jumped up, surprised. “Everyone!” He shrieked. “Come quick! An adventurer traveled with the traders, says he’s got something major for all of us to here! Come quick!”
The blacksmith and woodcutter glanced at one another. Crimson uttered, “Do you suppose it could be about…?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Aron murmured. Together, they left with the villager, even more confused than before.
Several people gathered in an immense circle around something covered from Crimson’s view. He stretched out his neck, looking for anyone he was close to or whom everyone gathered around. Pushing through the jumble, he and Aron finally managed to get a decent position. The sun was bright overhead, the sky clear, a wave of heat hovering over Markel like an invisible cloud.
The man standing in the center was older-looking, with a short gray beard and rugged robes, hiding his ankles. His face was wrinkled and solemn, his eyes a dim shade of green. He leaned on a long, poorly-carved wooden staff in one hand, stuffing his other in a feruled pocket. Low mummers rattled from the spectators as each eyed the strange man suspiciously. Most of the traders, however, seemed to be occupied. They must already know what the man is going to say, Crimson assumed. He stood very still, only the rustle of his robes from the light wind showing any sign of movement. He appeared to be in deep concentration…Or was it concern? Crimson couldn’t tell which, watching his eyes examine everyone around him with distant revelation.
After a few suspenseful minutes, as new people began arriving, the man finally spoke: “I am here to inform all of you, to warn you, of a most horrible and dangerous threat.” His voice was worn and rough, but loud enough for all to hear. Complete silence fell among the crowd. “I have traveled from city to village in the past few weeks, after discovering something so frightening and preposterous, I dared not believe if I hadn’t seen.” Another worried glance was exchanged between Crimson and Aron.
“Many of you will refuse to believe what I am about to tell you, as this terrible legend was claimed to be a myth, and tales of this news had died ages ago. Yet what I speak is nothing but truth, and I plead for you to heed my words!” Silence. The man looked at each individual with desperate eyes. His mouth barley opened, but loudly he spoke, “I have searched for a solution to this problem, but none may come! No god, army, or king may save us from this threat. For by my eye and my word, the Ones Most Feared have, as foretold, returned to Heartfall.”
The strangest shock and terror spread rapidly throughout the group, with mixed reactions: Surprise, anger, disbelief, fear, dismay, and confusion. “Absolutely not!” An angered voice yelled from within the citizens. “That’s outrageous!”
“Can it really be true…?”
The odd man raised a hand for silence, and it took a while for the stirring to calm. “Please, please,” he hushed. “Yes, it is true. From what the gods predicted centuries ago, has finally come to be. Believe or not, though I beg for all to be prepared, for anything could happen!”
Crimson was totally lost. As different reactions and chaos erupted around him, nothing made any sense. The Ones most Feared? What in Dursvagon is that? The traders eyed the crowd with presumptuous glares, and guards began ordering for silence. Wives were clutching their children with fretful eyes, husbands roared and complained, and the majority looked either furious or flabbergasted. Focused eyes bore into the robed man, as he himself stood in patient silence. Apparently, this was much bigger news than expected.
“Now is the time for panic,” the man spoke again. “Now is the time for action! To stop this threat, all must work together and be brave, defend your lands! Make haste, for the greatest danger ever brought to Heartfall challenges us all!”
It was no longer a murmur, but a distraught outrage. All the guards had to draw their weapons and shout over the noise; Crimson was left in the darkness. Aron himself was viewing the rage, but held a different expression, as if he knew what was going on, but knew not what to think of it. No one paid attention to the strange man anymore, only talking amongst themselves, seeming to be in furious debate or unresolved panic. Crimson’s mind ran wild, unsure of everything. Added with his endless curiosity regarding the emperor, this knew rumor about the “Ones Most Feared” rampaged. Could it be an evil lord? A rebelling army? An old and awful legend brought to life? Or even a world-ending threat? Crimson was only sure of one thing: it wasn’t good.
“I was afraid o’ this,” Aron muttered. Crimson turned to him, desperate for answers. “Aron, what does all this mean?” he pleaded. He sighed meaningfully before responding, “If it’s true, then it means…Dragons have returned to Heartfall.”
Aron nodded, staring intently with unreadable concentration. His beady eyes did not illuminate with the faintest twinkle, seeming indulged in thoughtful darkness. “If it’s true,” he repeated skeptically.
Scanning back to his confound studies of ancient prophecies, all Crimson recalled involved a scroll informing how dragons existed within Heartfall many millennia ago, but the only piece of information he remembered of them was having great strength, brutal powers, and grew massive in size. “I know little of dragons,” he confessed aloud, looking up at the blacksmith’s doubtful expression.
He hesitated before replying, “Horrible creatures. Powerful, merciless, and evil. Acting as vicious lions and flying across the lands, destroying all in its path. Years ago before Leaforge came to be and even before the founding of Heartfall, dragons lived and ruled over every human, dwarf, or elf.” A look of bitter resentment crossed his face. “I don’t know much of the beasts’ me’self, but I know enough to be afraid if they truly have returned. I wouldn’ take it too literal, though; the legends of dragons died centuries ago.”
Still befuddled, Crimson turned his attention back to the old man, still standing queerly in the center of his audience. He attempted to read his mixed expression, but the only fact the young woodcutter resolved was a look of deep concern or worry. Perhaps the man is speaking the truth. Maybe he foresaw a vision from the gods, he thought excitedly, unable to ignore his fascination for divine figures. Crimson was not particularly religious, aside from his daily prayers for his family, but fathomed at the incredible power and unmatchable supremacies they possessed. Or more likely, as he said, he saw the dragons with his own eyes. He wished to learn more of the great creatures everyone so highly feared, but thought better than to pry more information from Aron, as reluctant as he seemed on the subject. Crimson realized, with shocked surprise, the odd man had vanished from his location. His eyes flickered from one direction to the other, but he was nowhere to be seen. How strange.
“Crimson,” grunted Aron. “Come, I naught wish to remain in this jumbling crowd of lunatics. Let’s head to the stream and continue your training.”
“Yes, sir.” Without argument, Crimson followed him to his shop, where their food still lay, cooling over time. “You still hungry? Good, then we’ll just take a few essentials and be off. Retrieve your sword from its rack.” Crimson did as he was told; it was a simple blade, resembling more of a short sword, light in weight and quick to strike. Its finely forged steel gleamed when exposed to light, glinting at a sharp point. The butt was also made of steel, but embedded to fit comfortably specially in Crimson’s hand. After taking a few jugs of water and two loafs of bread, the two went on their way.
Grenald and Aron had been close friends for quite a few years, and Grenald asked for Aron to give Crimson sword fighting lessons in order for him to learn proper defense in case the time ever occurred, even offering to pay him three crowns a week. Over the past five months, Aron happily taught Crimson everything he knew, reviewing the many tactics in fighting with a sword, how to counter other attacks, and, most importantly, how to stay alive and win. It was a fairly basic training process, but enough to keep Crimson out of danger.
“I must say,” Aron said as they walked across thick weeds. “You have improved quickly over the months. I’d say you’re getting’ better than I’d hoped, and would rightfully make your father proud.”
“Thank you,” Crimson acceded pleasantly. “You teach me well.”
Aron chuckled softly. “Ah, I’m no master. But with your skill, you needn’t worry about helplessly gettin’ slaughtered. You’d put up a good fight,” he added, this time laughing loudly, echoing throughout the vastness of Ayer Forest. A herd of deer nearby sprinted away from the noise, startled. The stream running near Markel was only a mile west of the town, so the journey wouldn’t last long. “Now, let’s review your status,” Aron suggested along the way. “In your style of combat, you are quick to strike and maneuver speedily, light on your feet. Your blockin’ could use some polishing, but as for dodging and parrying, you do just fine. Your eyes dart whilst in combat, which is good…I’d compare you to the Serpent.”
In sword fighting, there were three strategic styles, each referring to an animal: the Serpent, the Lion, and the Wolf. The Serpent strikes without warning and is quick to react; the Lion fights aggressively with powered hits and the Wolf battles with fanciful tricks and a small mixture of both, to sum the three up briefly. Aron, as he claimed himself, sword fights as the Wolf. “I enjoy the style,” Crimson said with a grin.
“Keep it up! A Serpent combatant is difficult to befall, but be warned: even the slightest error or slip for the Serpent could end in a fatal blow.”
Crimson locked the advice in mind, and soon they approached the trickling stream. A view of awed beauty surrounded it, with lavish trees blowing in the wind, butterflies fluttering peacefully, and green grass completing it all, with a mixture of scattered flowers and gorgeous plants. The stream itself was crystal clear, its water pure and cold, making up the home of many unique fish, and, when cooked, utterly exquisite. From one side to the other, the stream was about as wide as a vertical doorway, almost river-sized, a small waterfall streaming down along the rocky floor of the fresh water.
Aron, standing just by the water’s edge, drew out his own blade; forged from his own hands, its texture was that of bronze, but hard iron rested under it, making it stronger and more durable. It was slightly longer than Crimson’s steel sword, but also lankier. “Draw your blade,” he commanded from a few yards’ distance. Crimson did as he was asked, already preparing his stance. “Today will be very simple,” he instructed. “You will simply duel me to the best of your abilities without striking a fatal blow; wouldn’ want us to kill each other.”
Crimson gulped, but sought to keep his composure. “What if I slip up?” he voiced.
“Then it’ll be my eyed,” he replied simply, showing no hint of fear in his tone. Without warning, the blacksmith launched himself at Crimson, and their swords met with a loud cling. Immediately, Crimson side-stepped and twirled his blade, only to be blocked twice by Aron. He then jumped back and swiftly jabbed, parried again. Aron twisted and slashed to one side, but Crimson was too quick, dodging the blow with ease and slashing a counterattack. Another smooth block by Aron, and yet again their blades made contact. This process continued for several minutes, both participants thrusting and dashing in every direction, using complex maneuvers and vigorous swings in attempt to outdo one another. Sweat pouring from his face, Crimson suffered a low blow to the knee with the hilt of Aron’s sword. A short yelp escaped him, but he recovered quickly, moving faster than his opponent. Finally, after both were too exhausted to carry on, Aron panted, “Stop! That’s enough.”
The heat had drained their energy much faster than usual, and a series of small cuts and black bruises covered Crimson from head to toe. Aron had his own share of sores and marks, sprawling flat on his knees and drinking deeply from his waterskin. Crimson too drunk from his jug, completely out of breath, also splashing cool water from the stream on his face; it felt refreshing.
“That…was brilliant,” sighed the blacksmith, still worn. “I haven’ had a good duel like that in years!” He laughed meekly.
Crimson agreed, wiping the sweat off his brow. Attempting to stand, his muscles tensed painfully, and his body was sore to move. I’ll be feeling this for a few days. He flexed and stretched out his arms, legs, and shoulders to try and relieve the tension and cramps, and the pain faltered slightly. Silence followed the two for a while, allowing them to rest. Finally, Aron spoke: “You have improved, boy. I’m proud…Reckon after a few more sessions like this, and there’ll be nothin’ left for me to teach you.”
Relaxing his figure and laying back with eyes closed, Crimson inferred, “But how will I ever stay good if we end my training?”
“We’ll break you in a few times a month to make sure you don’ lose your edge,” he ensured. “But besides that, I’ll be done with you.” There was no bitterness in his tone, but instead gratitude and pride. “You’ve done very well.”
Pleased, Crimson let the topic go and meddled in thoughts. As their training for the day ended and silence occurred once more, his mind drifted to the outburst from earlier today. Dragons…They seem so terrible, but Aron refuses to even acknowledge the possibility of their return, if there is one. From all my studies and folklore, reading about history and witches, ghosts and vampires, kings and heroes…I never came across anything except for that one scroll involving dragons. The realization aggravated Crimson, and thwarted him in questioning. If these creatures are so important, why, in the sea of books I researched, have I hardly heard of them? If they wreak such havoc amongst the people of Heartfall, how come no one has spoken of them until now? Were they truly forgotten over time, as Aron said? Or are they so vile, after their…disappearance…everyone ceased to have any recognition of them? Questions, questions, so many questions.
“I wish I knew more to tell you about ‘em,” Aron said, guessing what Crimson was thinking of. “But like I said, I don’ know much either. They haven’ been mentioned in quite some time.”
“Were all of them evil?” He asked before he could stop himself.
“S’far as I know, aye. Legends tell of their ruthless nature and unknown magic…that’s of most I can tell you.”
Crimson dwelled further in the information. Dragons could use magic as well? He was becoming more and more interested in magic, and yearned to learn more. After he voiced his curiosity aloud, Aron replied, “I’m not an expert in that sort, either…the only thing you need to keep in mind is that magic is very dangerous and unpredictable. Avoiding it would be of wise choice, and those magicians who use it mark their own graves.”
“But it’s powerful, is it not?” He retorted.
The scruffy man chuckled darkly. “Oh yes, magic is very powerful; to shoot fire from yer palms or manipulate the minds of others? Some of the strongest weapons a single man could use.”
“So why avoid it entirely, regardless of its dangers?”
Suddenly, his tone thickened. “Boy, people die every day for overestimating their own abilities in magic! Death is never worth all the power in the world. Keep that in mind.”
Crimson wished not to bother the blacksmith further, so he dropped the discussion. Time elevated in more silence, the bright sun slowly streaming across the endless blue sky, east to west. Though his thoughts still marinated in the mysteries of dragons and questioned the ways of Emperor David Morian, Crimson held his tongue and wandered freely. Aron breathed heavily as wearisome engulfed his figure, balancing him between consciousness and sleep. The calm aura of the still forest sent Crimson in the same state, observing swirls of pigeons fly by and insects scurry harmlessly. Soon, he drifted to a deep but thoughtful sleep…
Crimson walked in a sinister woods resembling Ayer Forest, close to Markel, hearing the sounds of screaming in the distance. Panic-stricken, he sprinted furiously towards the danger, but his feet would not carry him further than the mere outskirts of town. He could see no one; only hear their echoing shouts and cries for help. “Crimson! Run!” The shrill voice of his mother sounded from afar. “They’re coming!” He extended his hand, eyes wide with fear, desperate to save his family. “Save yourself!” Grenald yelled. “It’s too late!”
Thick, black clouds formed in the sky above, intense lightning flashing and darkness seizing the land. Spouts of fire rose plumes of smoke over the village, displaying how serious and tormenting the threat was. Crimson was helpless, never moving any closer to Markel and hearing the pleas and terrified warnings of his parents, all those he loved…
A horrible, thunderous roar that sounded more realistic than any dream could rumbled the earth, and Crimson woke with a start.
“Crimson, boy!” Aron shook the woodcutter awake. Eyes splitting open, the pink-orange sky glowed above. “Come, we dosed off. Time to take you back home.”
Slightly shaken up, Crimson followed without question back through Ayer Forest, thinking only on his nightmare. The dragons…. They couldn’t truly be real, if they were that monstrous and vile. He thought better than to ask Aron more of it or tell him his dream, instead walked in silence. Images flashed through his head. What really disturbed him most was not the nightmare, but the dreadful possibility it could actually happen. I’ll talk to Mother and Father about it when I get home, he decided. They’ll be more willing than Aron to discuss it.
Crimson shivered, the night air cooling significantly. Strange insects of every kind, some glowing with blue light and others with multiple wings, invaded the darkening forest. Black dillies that widened over a foot and lined with violet shades and white pollen bloomed, only coming out at night, called furlies. Bisemisc that only sprouted under a full moon and gleamed with yellow light that was hot to the touch came out tonight, surrounded with hersti insects. Countless stars filled the heavens, illuminating mysterious glows and producing an alien-like atmosphere. So many mysteries and puzzles revolve in Heartfall, Crimson thought, gazing at the sky and gathering his cluttered thoughts. Gods above, why do you not answer all of our questions?
Markel came into view, lit by torches walling the roads and outposts of houses. The chapel, small but pillaring higher than any other building in the village, loomed in silent wonder, reflecting the gloom of moonlight. Crimson made a mental note to pray to Fehov tomorrow, this time seeking answers. The stone patters of the floor throughout the town were cold at night, and farmers rounded up their animals in barns. I hope Father remembered to put up our chickens and pig.
“Well, Crimson,” Aron said as the approached Crimson’s hut. “I enjoyed spendin’ time with you today.” He smiled passively at him, his thick beard mimicking his movements. “You’re well with a sword. Give Grenald and Erineth my regards, and don’ you think on that dragon nonsense.”
Crimson bowed, saying, “Yes, sir. Thank you for your time.” Raising a hand in farewell, he entered his home.
The room was stiff with a pungent smell as he walked in. Erineth kept an alchemy table in one corner of the hut, piles of ingredients littering it. Two small furnishings made up the living room, sitting next to a roaring fireplace. Grenald’s wood ax rested on a weapon rack above the chair he usually sat in; the main room was spacious enough for several people, warm and comfortable. Grenald sat in his usual chair, reading Heartfall History, Second Era.
“Well met, Crimson,” Erineth greeted in her kind tone. “How was your day with Aron?”
“Interesting,” he replied, taking a seat on the opposite chair. “My training went well.”
“Good,” she enthused. “Supper will be ready in just a moment.” Her light blonde hair fluttered with her every step.
Grenald looked up from his book with a smile. “My boy,” he said. “We’ve missed you today. How fares Aron?”
“He asked about you. He is doing well, and wishes us the best.”
“Good man, Aron! Are you hungry, my son?”
“A bit.” Crimson couldn’t mask the disturbing thoughts in his expression, but fought to relax his face. His body was still sore from training, straining just to walk and move his arms. Noticing the many bruises and cuts, Grenald commented, “Looks to me like some rough practice today.” He laughed. “How does Aron look?”
“Not as bad,” he grinned. “But a little beaten up.”
Erineth then called for dinner, and the three took their places at the table. A bask of fresh bread and steamed vegetables laid out in front of them, along with a bowl of cold soup and a small plate of chicken; Erineth handed Crimson a bottle of mead.
The dinner was delicious. Crimson stuffed down two slices of bread before using his fingers to eat the hot chicken, a handful of vegetables, and slurping down the tasty soup. He touched the bottle of cold mead to his lips, taking a few swigs. The three exchanged cheery conversation during the meal, Erineth babbling about her ingredients and Grenald joking about work. When all were finished, they took spots next to the fireplace and Grenald pulled out his lute.
“It’s been a while since you played us a song or told a story,” Erineth said, obviously pleased. Grenald laughed and replied, “Well, I felt the need. Now, I’m going to sing of the Dragon War from the old ancients.”
Crimson flared with shock. He has never sung of dragons! Did he hear the old man speak today? Before he could interrogate, Grenald began:
Banished in blood, from the old Lords’ Rule,
The Dragons yet roamed, in cold-blooded cruel,
Dashing and destroying all kings and their thrones,
Every one now cowered, at Kishvakii’s new home!
No human nor dwarf, no, not even an elf,
Could withstand the might, of King Solenbum’s Knelt,
For he bowed to the Dragons, in fear and defeat,
And all hope seemed lost, at Kishvakii’s new fleet!
But then the gods came, bringing deception to fuel,
And every Dragon was lost, in Durog’s new rule!
But as a last threat, He spoke in great rage,
Saying they soon will return, with an even stronger rage!
“And so summarizes the Dragon War in the beginnings of time,” Grenald explained.
“The gods were the ones that stopped the dragons in the first place?” Crimson asked, struck with new realization.
Grenald nodded. “Durog, the King of the Gods, was furious of the dragons, proclaiming more power than a divine, even calling themselves deities. Because of their hunger for power, the gods banished all the dragons to Dursvagon, permitting them an eternity of suffering.”
“And Durog warned that they would soon return for vengeance, even after locking them away for eternity?”
“Yes,” concluded Grenald. “As much power the gods have, all of their strength combined was not enough to prevail all of the dragons forever. They would soon break free of their grasp, and then return to Heartfall, seeking new rule, but also having revenge raging in their souls.”
A sinking feeling destroyed Crimson’s hope.. “You must have heard the old man in town today, then?”
He nodded solemnly. “I did. If the man spoke truth, we are all in danger.”
Crimson knew not what to say, an essence of fear and hopelessness enveloping him. “What do we do if they have returned?”
“Even if they have, it would take years for them to regain full power and begin to spread death across the world,” Grenald assured. “You see, if and when the dragons finally manage to escape Dursvagon, they will be weak and drained of power, and also alone. That was another part of Durog’s curse; to make the creatures recover their own power. So, let’s say they have returned; it would take more than a decade for them to even begin reforming power within themselves, and much longer to start creating an army. In the meantime, Heartfall would be preparing itself, along with the emperor.”
Makes sense. Relief warped Crimson. “At least we’d be safe for the time being,” he said.
“Of course.” Erineth was listening to the conversation in silence.
“Who is Kishvakii?” Crimson asked yet another question, his curiosity unsustainable.
“He is the Dragon Lord, their king,” Grenald informed. “He is the golden elder dragon who formed the dragon army, thus beginning the War.”
So the dragons could…think?”
“Well, of course,” Grenald chuckled. “The dragons were as intelligent as the elves, perhaps more intelligent. How did you assume they formed an army?”
“I didn’t really think on it,” Crimson admitted.
“Yes, they were an intelligent race,” Grenald confirmed. “If it were not for the grace of the gods, they would have succeeded in taking over Heartfall thousands of years ago.”
“But wouldn’t the gods just stop them again, if they returned?” He questioned.
“No. After they rid of them the first time, Durog warned they would not stop them a second time, for it drained them of too much power. Once they come back, it is up to Heartfall to stop them.”
It gave Crimson, already overwhelmed with questions, more to think about. “Is there no race strong enough to slay a dragon? Not even a wizard or a group of warriors?”
“Even a group of elven wizards would have a difficult time slaying the weakest of dragons. They are no easy victory, my boy.” Grenald sipped his mead. “Long ago, when a town of dwarfs decided to use their command animal abilities to form an army of trolls and giants, they still lost a lot of good warriors and most of the troop to take down one dragon.”
From Crimson’s studies, dwarfs were noted to have special abilities to talk to animals, and convince them to listen to the dwarfs. Elves had powerful magic, that of which Crimson never believed until he discovered that magic truly existed, and humans were skilled warriors and leaders. “Is it really that hard?” He asked in disbelief.
“Absolutely. Dwarfs, in their many cultures, performed rituals to honor all the dead lost to the dragons. Elves never fondled much in traditions, but even they prayed for relief of the beasts. The only reliable fighters of the dragons would have to be master wizards, human warriors who were given the strength of vampires, and large armies.”
“Vampires?” Crimson interrupted.
“Yes. Vampires, despite their horrific nature, ended up to be fare fighters of the creatures, what with all the abilities and prowess they possessed. They have their own history, too, you know.”
“Were they ever good?”
“Gods, no!” Grenald scoffed. “Vampires are horrible, venomous insects who should never be allowed to walk freely in Heartfall. And, in most places, they’re not. No matter what uses they have, all of them deserve death.”
“What about armies? Didn’t the Empire send out troops?”
“All they had,” he said. “The Elder Council wouldn’t allow one warrior to sit out. They sent men to every city and town in Heartfall.”
“And it still did little to help?”
“Aye. Nasty beasts, those dragons.” Grenald finished off his mead, laying it next to him. He stroked the fire for a moment to keep it going, Erineth clutched to his side. The fire was dying quickly, and the night was cold. Grenald swore under his breath, muttering, “I’m all out of wood…gave it all to Caldack today.” He shuffled around briefly, then looked over at Crimson and asked kindly, “Would you mind going out and fetching some wood for us, my son? You can take my ax.”
“Of course.” Crimson rose, taking Grenald’s ax off its rack. “I’ll be back soon.” He looked back at his parents’ smiling faces before walking out in the cold night.
The air was chilly, making Crimson shiver, feeling colder than it already was. He clung to the heavy ax and strode out in Ayer Forest, taking a route directly behind his house. The night was still and the moon bright, lighting the tips of the tall trees, the sound of a thousand insects buzzing the forest. All the trees nearby are too thick, he thought hastily. I’m going to have to travel further.
Twigs snapped under Crimson’s feet as he delved deeper in the dark forest. At sun’s light, Ayer Forest was breath-taking and vividly stunning. At night, however, under the full moon, its shadows cast an eerie feeling, creeping in every direction. It was spookily silent, making the hairs on Crimson’s neck stand up. He felt foolish to be frightened in these woods, but couldn’t ignore the uncomfortable scenery.
Minutes past. Crimson walked deeper, scanning every tree for a small enough one to chop. So far, he had little luck. A quiet ruffle interrupted his thinking pattern, and his eyes darted to a nearby bush. Nothing.
He began walking a little faster, a cold sweat running down his spine. Again, something moved. Nothing was there. It’s all in my head. Wishing he would have brought a torch, Crimson broke out in a jog, the weight of the ax slowing him down. He relied on the weapon to keep him safe if trouble came, but the ax wasn’t made for fighting. Still, it was much better than his fists.
Another ruffle. Again, nothing was there. Frightened, the woodcutter frantically searched for a tree, any tree, and small enough to quickly chop down and leave with a few splinters of wood for the fire. He squinted in the darkness, unable to see clearly, and started running as fast as he could with a heavy tool in hand.
Then, like a shifting shadow, a figure materialized in front of Crimson, stopping him dead in his tracks.
Its snow-white skin glowed strangely in the moonlight, its eyes deep and red, the same color and shade as blood. Its features were flawless and precise, smooth as glass. Whether male or female, Crimson could not tell, but it eyed him with a ravenous expression.
Many emotions flashed before Crimson. The first was fear, a terrible, endless fear that stretched out to his deepest nightmares and sung a song of death, beating like the rapid pulse of a dying heartbeat, feeding on his breath. It was a more vivid and alive fear than he had ever experienced, threatening to consume his body in a fury of molding flames and melt off his flesh. Every emotion he had ever felt faded into a mere shadow of uncertainty as this new feeling of immense fear questioned reality and dug deep to his core, his soul, his essence.
The second was hopelessness. There was no point to run, no accomplishment in pleading, and certain defeat to fight. It was as if a wind sprite sucked out his every happy thought, his deepest desires, and his inner pride, replacing it all with hopelessness. Unwilling and involuntary, the two emotions swirled together to form a mass of destruction, and he knew, all hope was lost.
The third and last was depression. Like an ocean wave, sadness flooded him, sinking him further below the surface, stinging his very being and drowning him in a sea of loneliness. No one could save him from this torment, the gods had abandoned him to a life of depression, and it evoked his body until nothing was clear but his own demise. Depression acted as a void, forging him beneath all shreds of forgotten memories, only remembering sadness…pain…loss…dread…
Acting as one, those three emotions shaped Crimson into who he was.
The strange figure, feeling like a storm cloud rolling over Crimson, stood watching him, watching his torment. He could not move, his body frozen with fear. The figure muttered something in its own tongue that sounded so horrifying, a new wave of terror infiltrated Crimson. Slowly, it sauntered forward, closing in the large gap between it and Crimson. Its fiery eyes reflected his every fear, nightmare, and dread, almost foreseeing his death. There were no thoughts foiling through Crimson’s head, no sense of acknowledgement. He merely stood in silenced horror, watching the figure draw near.
It was only a few feet away now, walking like a hungry wolf on two feet. Slowly, never making a sound, it closed in the last few spaces between them. Even slower, it leaned in its head, inching toward Crimson’s neck. Its breath was cold as ice, chilling his body to the bone. Breathing in, breathing out, like it was savoring every precious moment. Crimson’s heartbeat thudded at an uncontrollable rate, seeming to urge the figure on, rallying it. It was ever so close now, not even an inch, still as quiet as darkness, obliterating every sense Crimson had. Soon, it would divulge him, rip out his heart, and send him to a tormenting afterlife. Closer. Each moment passed like a lifetime, each second lasting an eternity.
A sinister, snake-like tone escaped the figure’s lips, sighing only one word that Crimson did not understand: “Vulsh.”
Then everything went black.
Overwhelming pain surged through Crimson’s body.
Like a strong electric current, a type of excruciating liquid flowed within him, seeming to burn his intestines and destroy his system in withering torment. Crimson felt as if a herd of buffalo trampled over him while breathing fire and setting him ablaze. At first, it had happened slowly; seeping like scrip jelly directly on his bones, skin, and muscles. Then, as it gradually progressed, it pierced his bloodstream sharper than two-edged swords, moving slower than mist over an ominous clearing. Deep singes that felt like stabbing spears with poisoned tips pounded in random areas like a beating pulse; acting as if it penetrated Crimson’s very core, dissolving his soul…
A bloodcurdling scream exploded from Crimson’s throat. The pain was too agonizing, liquid acid boiling in his veins, until the only solution that he would accept welcomingly was death itself. Burning, stinging, it all jabbed into Crimson’s heart and body as he twisted and thrashed on the grassy floor. He drifted in and out of conciseness, but whether awake or not, the pain never left him. He knew not how long it lasted, but when it finally subsided, he fell unconscious for another time.
Crimson awoke suddenly, his eyelids popping open. What he saw alarmed him; every detail was clear to him, from the ants crawling through cracks on bark yards away, to the trickling moonlight beaming hundreds of tiny particles. His hearing detected sounds it could not have before as well: dozens of legs sputtering across the dirt, leaves brushing against one another from the treetops, and birds chirping leagues away. However, what alerted Crimson much more greatly at the present time was a sensation of uncomprehending thirst broiling in the center of his throat, yearning for only one thing, something he needed to hunt for in order to obtain. Something that consumed all his attention, something he would kill for: blood.
Breathing in deeply, thousands of life forms instantly inflamed his nostrils, but not one of them ranked potent enough for Crimson to waste his time on. His mind was clouded, his raging instincts pounding to the most intense degree. In only a fraction of a second, he his empowered senses located a young traveler wandering through Ayer Forest a few leagues away. Without thought, Crimson dashed to where the man walked.
Trees and scenery flashed by faster than a war horse going full speed, wind pounding against the eager hunter’s skin. Within moments, Crimson spotted the traveler with keen eyes, grinning in satisfaction. He could smell the blood, feel its delicious liquid pulse…
The traveler fell dead before he could realize it, and Crimson quickly drained his blood. It tasted perfect and welcoming, quenching his enraged thirst and instincts. He then stood and allowed the corpse to fall lifelessly to the ground. As the blood spread throughout the hunter’s body, gradually, everything became clear and his thoughts cluttered together…
What have I done? Horror slammed Crimson’s emotions. Realization crept in at what he had just committed, and what begun to truly unfold. He recalled events of his attacker, but only remembered faint, subtle details. Reality now struck him: his senses were significantly increased; he felt a powerful bloodlust, and his body proved to be much stronger and faster. Could I truly have become a…?
With supersonic speed, Crimson darted to the flowing river nearby. Arriving, he looked upon his reflection—and gasped in shock.
The golden hair he had grown used to now held a brighter, more radiant color, glowing in the bright moonlight. Each individual strand elapsed neatly in a wavy fashion, smoothing over perfectly, lining together. It no longer bushed out awkwardly or sprang in an unorganized, windblown manner; it now lay lightly and coherently on his head, summarized in very distinct detail. Crimson lifted a pale-white hand to his face: smooth, flawless, and aligned in a more triangular shape that burnished the outline of his jagged jaw, matching to make his appearance more manly and beautiful. His fingers were more profound and boney, caressing his glassy cheek. From his nose, eyebrows, and forehead, all appeared more angular and perplexed. Crimson’s lips were as red as royal velvet, smoother than the surface of a calm lake. His neck produced no veins or bloodlines, only soft, snowy skin in a straight line. Crimson grinned to reveal his teeth: pearly, completely straight, with two deadly sharp fangs. Finally, he examined his own eyes; even redder than his lips, they shone with stunning beauty and bright awe, like a sunset at dusk.
“I look so…incredible,” Crimson murmured, also surprised to hear his musical voice that flowed like a gentle stream. He marveled in his new, dazzling appearance for several moments before he pulled away to look up at the lingering moon. Am I now so…evil? He wondered inwardly. Crimson could still feel the luscious desire for human blood deep in his throat. Have I truly been doomed to an eternity of forsakenness? He pleaded to the gods, begging for insight. When no answer came, tears of blood streamed down his countenance. He remembered all the horrible things Grenald had told him, and now felt dreadful in what he now understood. Reluctantly, he sighed and thought of everything that now portrayed.
I’m indescribably princely, he confirmed obviously. My appearance is fairer than any mortal my eyes have ever glimpsed upon. He then automatically reached a hand to touch his face once more: his skin felt harder than before, but still soft and firm. I can run at unnatural speeds and all my senses have gained extraordinary benefits. Looking ahead, Crimson was curious to experiment further. In a small effort, he bent his knees slightly and pushed from the ground. He soared up, reaching the treetops in a whip of air. Incredulous, Crimson looked down: I must be over twenty feet off the ground! A moment later, his body floated back down and he landed noiselessly and cat-like. Amazed, he explored even more. Glancing at a tall hugesk tree nearby, he fluttered next to it and clamped his right hand firmly on the rough bark. His muscles barley flinched before it groaned and shuttered under his feather push, and giant roots snapped from underground to the surface. The next second, the entire, fifteen-foot tree tipped and fell over in a loud slam. I didn’t do anything more than flex my fingers! Crimson flabbergasted at his new strength, pondering on all he could now accomplish.
Before he began to celebrate, Crimson’s mind flicked back to the defenseless traveler he had just recently murdered. I killed a man, he thought venomously. Just to satisfy my own cravings… Bitter resentment and guilt washed over him. Crimson clenched his fists, standing beside the fallen tree somewhere deep in the vast Ayer Forest. What am I to do now? The new vampire also realized how his thinking capacity increased tenfold; he could now thing much more quickly and logically than he ever had before. However, logic was not a reasonable consideration for Crimson now.
His mind flashed to his family: the courageous face of his father, the loving embrace of Erineth…He thought of Aron and his enjoyable company, even Vipir, the friendly priest. How will I be able to face them again? Crimson wondered how long he had been suffering from the vampire’s bite. It had felt like an eternity. Fear rolled over him, for he was afraid he would not be able to return to his loved ones. From what I now know of vampires, I must learn to control this unbelievable temptation for human blood, lest I wish to never see them again. He then realized another disturbing thought as his mind searched for any possible solution: If I must kill in order to live, why should I be living myself? Facts of Crimson’s new life foiled around him; He would now have to kill others in order to survive, remain alone until he mastered his bloodlust… And the sunlight! His eyes drifted once more to the bright moon that now looked dark and sinister to the vampire. I will never be capable of seeing or being in sunlight ever again. That revelation pained him, but not nearly as strongly as the thought of not being with his family for Fehov knows how long. Crimson wished now he could not feel emotion, but they seemed to be even more powerful and distinctive than as a human. He dropped to his knees and shed more tears of crimson liquid, his entire figure shaking.
No more sunlight, no more family, now living a life of murder, darkness, and loneliness… he curled up in a tight ball among the grassy floor, holding himself firmly and sobbing for some hope, some form of light in his new world. Is there nothing I can do?
Minutes passed with each feeling like hours, each feeling like a throbbing wound to the chest. Crimson clutched his heart, noticing he felt no beat, no life. It took longer than normally for him to regain himself, to sigh once more and think. He stood up and scurried to the rivers’ edge. Crimson dropped his hand in the rapid current, feeling the cool water flow between his fingers and fish peck at his palm.
Drinking blood is no longer an option, Crimson finally decided after a span of hard thinking. I refuse to end another man’s life for my own sake, even if it drains every ounce of my strength and willpower. He repulsed at the very thought, shivering in disgust. I cannot be out in the light. That much was already obvious. It will be quite some time before I have the strength to face my parents or any human. Yet I still must feed to function properly and maintain self-control… The longer he could fight to resist blood, the stronger the temptation. He then vaguely considered the animals around him. Yes! Their blood could suffice.
Eager, Crimson toned his senses and listened for the closest prey. He quickly identified a lone elk drinking from the river a few miles away. His eyes darted in its direction, and his body moved even faster. Soaring through Ayer Forest, he soon caught the animal and tackled it to the ground before it could glance up from its gulp. Desperate, Crimson snapped its neck in one solid flick and sank his sword-sharp fangs deep in the elk’s throat. He sucked the blood rapidly, feeling it coil down his stomach…and nearly coughed it up.
The blood was utterly repulsive, dissatisfying, and practically useless, like trying to quench a parched man’s thirst with dry sand. Still, he noticed a small, microscopic subside in his cravings, but was so subtle he knew it would take all of Ayer Forest to tame the inner beast within him. Disappointed, he tossed the flimsy corpse aside and rose up slowly from the dirt.
That generally overrules that theory, Crimson thought grimly. The little hope he had quickly vanished into oblivion, now bringing back painful stabs.
The crevices in Crimson’s forehead did not exist even as he narrowed his eyes and concentrated harder on new ideas. I cannot give up yet, he thought half-heartedly. It’s only been bare over two hours. Several possibilities swirled through the vampire’s brain, each seeming more unlikely than the last. He idly observed spectacle insects and glooming flowers that surrounded him amongst the thick array of trees and swaying grasses. The faint trickle of the stream did nothing to grant him peace, nor did the fantastic glints of stars illuminating overhead. Trembles of devastation crept inside him, his encouragement for solutions subdued by horrible frights of despair.
Despite the chattering bugs, gently gushing river, and howling animals, Crimson heard nothing but silence echo in his mind as possibilities began to waver and vanish. Almost without thought, his ears detected a pack of wolves scavenging nearby. The alpha sniffed furiously but, and somehow Crimson knew, it could not identify his smell. Strange, he confided. Is my scent invisible to other living creatures? Curious, the vampire strained his hearing and picked up the gentle prodding of hooves across grass: a deer. Experimentally, Crimson knelt and gripped his hand on a smooth rock next to the stream. He ran his finger across its surface for a moment, and then carelessly tossed it in the river with a light flick. The rock created a louder splash than he intended, sending scattered ripples through the river that quickly disappeared under the current and casting a fury of droplets shooting in the moist air. I am defiantly not fully aware of my own strength yet. As expected, the small deer popped up its ears and summarily sniffed the atmosphere, searching for any close predators. Strangely enough, the animal failed to realize Crimson’s nearby presence and soon resumed its normal routine, totally oblivious.
“It’s true,” he confirmed aloud. “It’s as if my scent does not exist anymore, avoiding detection.” Perhaps the better to hide from my innocent prey, he thought with a grimacing snarl. He then relinquished within himself every book or scroll he had ever stumbled upon involving vampires, making a curious and mostly desperate attempt. The information he gathered was either unhelpful or that of which he already knew: they feed on the blood of humans, cannot be exposed to sunlight, have enhanced senses and physical abilities, and, as he now understood, could not be detected by scent. Crimson shook his head, wearisome of covering the same basic concepts. There has to be more, some sort of loophole or valuable solution. Instantly, the instructive words of his father vibrated in his head: “To every bad situation and unfortunate event lies a meaning of wisdom and accomplishment that can be found.” Crimson believed the words to be true…until this happened. Do the same principles apply for one like me? He seriously doubted it, also knowing how badly Grenald hated the creatures. He couldn’t possibly include vampires in his statement.
The more time passed in endless navigation for solutions, the less Crimson had to work with. Finally, he narrowed down to only two possible outcomes: control his raging bloodlust and confront his parents in the latter future, or end his life. The second outcome was only considered because of how viciously Crimson was beginning to hate himself. If I cannot control this lustful thirst, he concluded. Then my penalty will be death.
Crimson rounded his thoughts and started his practice immediately. Venturing like a feather in a thunderstorm, he dashed through Ayer Forest in search for the nearest human. Get close enough to smell his blood but far enough to resist, he reminded himself. The closer he was to the blood, the stronger his temptations. He would tread carefully in his practices until he maintained better control. Despite himself, Crimson enjoyed the exhilarating rush from his great speed, feeling the sensation driving his legs to move faster. After several minutes of running and traveling more leagues than he believed possible, Crimson realized that his body did not tire from the extended movement.
An invisible wall of stone slammed Crimson to a sudden halt. It was distant and irreverent, but a small whiff of blood wafted his nostrils from far northeast. The alien-like sensation quickly rebated itself within the vampire, churning his every desire into one confound purpose. No matter how light he scented the human, it felt just as strong as the first time. All reason and logical thoughts dropped and vanished, his nerves aligning equally and tensing for just the right second—in one heart-stopping instant—to kill his prey. Without a subtle question of doubt, Crimson darted toward the direction of the blood.
As each mile was covered, the illustrious urge strengthened. The target, still several leagues away, rested comfortably in a hut far out in Ayer Forest. No enemy could stop Crimson now, for he set his existence onto drinking the sweet, succulent blood. Although his last feeding, being only hours ago, lessened his thirst to a significant degree, it did not change the yearning he carried. A small fraction of his brain remained in tact, however, and tried to employ reason.
No! No! No! I cannot take another life; innocent blood shall not be spilled! Crimson fought the powerful beast inside of him with all his might, but to no avail: the decision was set in stone. Distance covered, Crimson’s eyes located the dingy hut holding his sleeping victim. His instincts felt no desire to be stealthy and precautious, only to destroy everything in his wake and claim the human.
In an impact strong enough to knock over a mountain, Crimson threw his body against the wooden walls of the hut. Like gathered sticks, the entire wall smashed and exploded under the blow with a loud boom, sending thousands of splinters and wood chops flying in every direction. Nearby trees shuttered under the aftermath, threatening to topple over. The remaining pieces of the cabin collapsed, but Crimson swiped the now awake and screaming woman from the destruction with iron-gripped arms. Not wasting another moment, he swiftly attacked the human’s neck, a little too forcefully; her head busted and splotched under his teeth and sprayed pools of thick, oozing blood. Crimson licked and drained every droplet in sight and tore open the woman’s flesh with quick bites, sapping more blood and ripping the corpse into gory strands and broken bones. Her intestines leaked out and slumped to the ground with a slosh, like dropping soaked meat in a pile of mud. He drunk the waterfall of blood eagerly, staining his tunic and pants. Finally, when he was satisfied, he tossed whatever bits of the woman he still held and scurried from the scene, leaving the rubble and bones far behind him.
Seconds later, after the destruction was beyond the range of his sharp vision, Crimson stopped. Stained clothes, bloody teeth, dirty hands, and filled stomach, he dropped to his knees. Now I have killed two, was the only thought he processed, repeating it over and over in his head until burning images of the helpless woman scarred his brain. A fresh flow of bloody tears inked down his cheeks, blending in with the red liquid dried up on his skin. Shaking hands made no attempt to wipe them away, swinging his body forward and plowing his face hard in the dirt. Loud sobs escaped the vampire like cries from a wounded animal, howling in the night that replicated his eternal midnight. He knew not where he was, lost somewhere deep in the forest, begging for someone to come and end his life. “Father!” Crimson threw back his head from the ground and creamed at the sky. “Please forgive me, father!” He shouted Grenald’s name again and again, haunting images of his father eluding him. He would hate me if he looked upon me now; his thoughts were pleading and crushed. If he looked into my cold, horrible red eyes…He would wish me dead. Erineth sprouted within him. Mother…you would want the same. Crimson knew he would not have to face his parents in order to understand what they wanted; the thought of his parents hating Crimson stabbed him stronger than any pain he had endured throughout the short—but eternally long—hours he had become a creature of the damned.
In that moment, Crimson made his final decision.
Standing up more staggered than a drunk, he clambered to his feet and trotted through the forest once more. His scent still detected the pack of wolves from before, this time much further off. With determination in his step, he reached the animals in little under a minute. The pack of five wolves pawed the dirt and sniffed in the night; thick, black and gray fur, long snouts, vicious teeth, and piercing eyes, each wolf stood four-feet tall, massive in claw and jaw. The moment the alpha, taller than the rest, spotted Crimson, a low growl set ten eyes on the vampire. He stood very still, staring at the wolves with blazing eyes. Attack me, he rumbled in his head. Attack me now!
As if on cue, the entire pack barked and charged at Crimson, teeth barring. The fastest, skinnier wolf reached him first, pouncing from a yard away with outstretched paws. It leaped in the air and made contact with his chest, but at first, Crimson hardly noticed. Though bigger in size, the wolf bounced back from the hit as if it ran into a tree, yelping in surprise. A second wolf, thicker than the last, snapped its jaws at Crimson’s left leg. The bite felt itchy and scrappy, but otherwise causing the vampire no harm. The next second, the alpha jumped and directed an attack at his head with a mouth wide enough to clamp Crimson’s entire skull. He flinched vainly, for the strong bite merely tickled his scalp. By then, all five wolves were aggressively clawing and biting every part of him they could manage. Crimson allowed the attack to rage on for several moments, but never even felt so much as a hair fall from his head. That’s impossible! He bellowed inwardly, frustrated. Finally, his fighting instincts took control, and he flashed arms faster than blinks at the wolves. A solid punch to the jaw instantly killed the alpha male, while he twisted two hands around another’s snout and snapped it easily. A third wolf prepared an attack but yelped as Crimson kicked its nose, sending it skidding across the dirt for over a hundred yards. Lastly, he flashed a firm hand to one of the remaining animals’ throat, hosted it up in the air, and slammed it against the last wolf. The impact was so strong it shattered the bones of both wolves, and all were dead.
Crimson stared blankly at the five bodies scattered around the area. A fetal attempt at dead tragically lost. He wondered on how difficult his life would be to end if he easily overpowered a pack of merciless animals. He didn’t ponder long, but simply continued on his hunt, his feelings indifferent and wholly desperate for death.
An hour later, Crimson’s small attempts proved worthless: finding the flowing stream, he had plummeted into its icy depths and allowed the current to drag him underwater and carry him downstream. He filled his lungs with water and tried drowning himself, also slapping against jagged rocks once he had floated far enough. Both causes lead him no ending, for he still functioned normally after suffocating for several minutes underwater, the rocks jabbing him harmlessly. Finding a pillaring waterfall dozens of miles within the vast forest, he jumped from its peak and landed not in the water below, but the pointy rocks beside it. Stings of subtle pain pricked his body, but nothing close to fatal. Crimson also came across a massive grizzly lounging next to a cave, yet quickly proved to be more than a match for the bear. Attempt after attempts, not a single idea brought him to his death, and Crimson began to wonder if it was even possible for vampires to die.
Feeling outrageously foolish, Crimson struck an idea as he gazed up at the lightening sky. How could I have been so simple-minded? He crawled into a damp cave nearby and watched as the fiery sun broke over the tall trees and slowly shed rays of sunlight through them. Of all the wild moves he had attempted throughout the never-ending night, Crimson had learned of how strong his body was and how broad his mind. After suffering for several hours, he finally found the one solution to put him in the grave he deserved. No longer will I live as a pitiless, vile creature that feasts on blood. Now, I will save the lives and harm of my parents by ending this horrible life! Thinking of his parents, a whelp of pain swelled in the pit of his stomach. Images of them flashed in his head once more; Mother…Father…Why must it end this way?
The obscured and filthy vampire watched as traces of sunlight sprouted and brightened Ayer Forest to its dazzling beauty he had come to understand and value over the years. If fate had to claim him, Crimson was glad it could be here. Scenes from his life rolled by like clouds foiling in the sky: Erineth cradling him as a young boy, telling Crimson stories of ancient heroes and wonderful tales; Grenald smiling and laughing whilst watching his one and only son swing an axe for the first time, chopping wood; his former best friend, Breynolf, wrestling with him in pastures and playing silly games of pretend; Vipir reciting lovely prayers with him on days of worship and pouring blessings in his life; and finally, Aron splashing ale on the ground while rambling about a story, or swinging his sword and teaching Crimson how to block. Pleasant thoughts flooded Crimson for the first time since the beginning of the night, savoring every happy memory and second he had left. He remembered the happy smiles of his parents that seemed like ages ago as Grenald played his lute and sung songs of righteous tales. The vampire laughed openly, thinking back on the threat of the dragons. It amazes me, what seemed like such a horrific event now means nothing to me, even if I had lived another half century or so. For once, a smile formed across Crimson’s face, enjoying the memories of the wonderful life he had lived. Though tragic as it seems it must end here, I have no regrets.
The sky had brightened now, almost out of the dawn phase. Crimson’s sanguine eyes looked up at the destiny he was about to face. Slowly, he stood up from the rock he sat upon. He gradually walked to the mouth of the cave, emphasizing each step, knowing they would be his last. His figure still dirty and putrid, Crimson walked even more slowly as the distance nearly ended. Finally, he stopped at the thin line that separated a small patch of shadow and the bright exposure of sunlight beyond the cave, a thin line that separated Crimson from life and death.
“Mother, Father,” he whispered quietly. “I love you.” Then, with a last, deep breath, Crimson stepped out in the sunlight.
Crimson immediately fell to the ground.
Just as the bright beams of light touched his pale skin, a powerful surge of energy drained out of Crimson, too weak to stand, and also supplied a series of painful burns that punched at his body like angry goats. The pain felt similar to his first experience as a vampire, but more outwardly than from within him. Crimson gritted his teeth but resisted the urge to scream, hugging himself tightly as he rolled on his back; his piercing eyes popped open, looking above, and quickly snapped shut, the light hurting them. This is ridiculous; he shuttered inwardly, head thrown back in pain. But I must endure it…It’ll kill me eventually…
Several minutes passed, and nothing looked hopeful. The seconds Crimson spent in the torturing sunlight brought upon him more burning sensations and weakness. Finally, he could take it no more; with an effort of strength, he hoisted himself from the ground with a loud whoosh of air, and then scrambled frantically back to the safe shadow of the cave.
“That was…horrific,” he huffed aloud, breathing heavily and shaking as if he just ran across Leaforge. The blood stains on his brown tunic taunted the suffering vampire as he looked down on it, utterly confused. Sunlight does not kill me, he thought with bitter dissatisfaction. It only takes away my strength and causes straining pain. Shaking his head, Crimson stood up and turned to look at Ayer Forest: expectantly beautiful, lavished with incredible plant life and scurrying animals. I’ve ran out of options. I now fully believe there is no simple or ordinary way for a vampire to die…I must discover how to end this life. Too numb to feel emotional pain, Crimson’s mind set once more on accomplishing a proper suicide. His unblinking eyes stared vaguely at the forest before him, contempt thoughts leaking through its siliceous red. An old, disturbing idea crossed him for the second time, and Crimson knew no other alternative. He waited impatiently for the sun to set, fought back the lump in his throat, and dashed into the night.
If his heart could beat, it would be vigorously exploding from Crimson’s chest at this moment. The sight of his parents’ hut bore into his eyes, and a great fear swelled in the vampire stronger than ever. “Mother, Father,” he whispered. “If I could ask for one last wish, it would be your forgiveness.” With a giant leap of fate, Crimson rose from the bush he cloaked himself in and approached the cabin door. He could hear his father talking hastily with Erineth: “….I know that, darling, but he’s a strong boy…I promise, he’ll find his way back…”
Knowing he would regret every action henceforth, Crimson rapped the door quietly with his knuckles. Grenald answered a moment later, poking his head out. The look on his face changed very quickly, and he uttered, “Crimson?”
Before the vampire spoke, his entire vision deluded him.
Scenes flashed by….Erineth’s scream…Grenald’s fury…Crimson’s desperate plead, fighting back his instincts with all his might…
Nothing else made sense.
Cold, oppressive darkness surrounded the eerie cave. Though Crimson could see perfectly even in the blackest dark, he did not feel at home.
He curled into a ball in the farthest corner of whatever section of the cave he was in; determining how deep he had been placed, Crimson supposed it was the very end.
Several months ago, Crimson had attacked and killed his mother and then Grenald drug him deep into Valor Cave shortly after. The vampire was plunged with unbearable guilt, begging to be put out of misery, and gladly allowed his father to place him far from any aspects of life. Since Crimson was frozen at age sixteen forever, he could not die of old age. Therefore, he had lived all this time, ravaging on rats, goblins, and insects. Unwilling to live, Crimson did not journey more than half a mile to search for blood. He did not have any sort of weapon or armor, nothing but rugged clothes to cover his skin. Crimson knew a few fighting techniques, but never bothered to attempt to fight his way out.
It had been hours since Crimson last fed. His skin was deathly cold naturally, so the temperature did not bother him. A single rat scurried several yards away in the far side of the chamber. Ravenous, Crimson straggled on his hands and feet like a dog towards the animal, moving quicker than he though he could when he was so hungry. He swiped his clammy, pale hand at the rat, catching it with ease. The rat squealed and twisted in Crimson’s hand, trying to break free of his shaky grip.
Crimson’s throat burned like fire and dry as bones, aching madly for any means of blood. Crimson could feel the rapid pulse of the rat, its blood pumping swiftly through its veins. Without hesitating, Crimson launched his fangs, his mouth covering most of the animal’s small body. The rats’ blood oozed out easily down Crimson’s throat. The blood was dirty, disgusting, and unsatisfying, but it was all Crimson had. In less than a second, the little supply of blood the rat had was drained, and it lay flat and lifeless in Crimson’s palm.
Crimson tossed the rat to the ground, grunting in displeasure. His throat still burned with distaste, but it cooled slightly. A few seconds later and he was back in the same corner, curled into a ball, praying for death.
Since old age was not an issue, Crimson had tried other means of death. He had spent over four months without consuming a single drop of blood, hoping he would die of starvation. Unfortunately, it only left an excruciating, infuriating burn in his throat, but did not kill him. The longer Crimson went without blood, the more his throat burned and body weaken. But no matter how long he went, death would not occur.
Crimson had tried to let the goblins bite, claw, and strangle him to death. After several hours of brutal beating from four goblins at once, Crimson’s fighting instincts overtook him, and he wildly killed the goblins. His body was weak, but it could withstand brutal attacks. And if Crimson could not fully control himself, his fighting instincts would take over for him. No goblin or rat could put him to his death, and Crimson’s wounds healed in short periods of time. Old age, starvation, and vigorous beating did not bring Crimson to an early grave.
But what could? He was already dead.
With no other hope or courage, Crimson had continued the same pattern for many months: curling in a corner, sucking the blood of goblins and rats, and begging for an eternal sleep.
Crimson hated himself and his own existence.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months. Nothing was changing, nothing looked hopeful. Crimson truly felt he was stuck in this cursed life and routine forever. If he could cry, he would be bawling. He prayed and begged to Fehov, that he would destroy his body and send him to a restful grave. Crimson hoped that creatures would rip out his insides and tear his limbs apart, cloaking him in a fiery underground until he died. He prayed that the goblins would eat any remains of his body so that he would never be able to come back for any possibility. Though it was impossible for Crimson to sleep, he closed his eyes once more and let fear, humility, and misery eat his soul.
Another goblin fell to the ground as King David swung his silver long sword. Not even the skeletons and ghosts were close of a match for him, much less the weakling goblins. David’s imp disappeared beside him after killing the last goblin.
“Foolish creatures, traveling in packs,” David murmured to himself. “A hundred of them would fall in a battle against two orcs.”
The King kept his sword drawn, walking carefully in the dark cave. A torch blazed brightly in his left hand, keeping the way in front of him revealed. David had been walking and searching for over three days in Valor Cave with no luck; not a single sign of the Rose Arrow. Yet David’s mind was set, and his heart made: he would not leave the cave until he searched every inch. David chuckled at remembering his high servant’s worried remark:
“My Lord,” Brian had said. “You are planning to visit several locations and travel all over Heartfall without a single warrior or beast to accompany you?”
“Brian, dear servant,” David had replied. “I fear not a single creature or man in all the land!! As long as one shall remain pure at heart, there is nothing impossible. Besides, if the need arises, I have my summoning spells. And please, how many times must I remind you to call me David?” With a last smile, David had left with only a sword, dagger, a pocket of gold and a small supply of food tucked in the many pockets of his robes.
It had been more than a few months since David left, his wife fulfilling his place while he remained absent. The king had promised that he would be safe, and would not return until he found everything he was looking for. Though once every week or two, David would send a letter to his Palace, informing how he was doing, his progress, and a few orders and requests he needed to complete for Heartfall without revealing his location.
Not even a rat was seen for several long minutes as David crept silently through the dark, quiet, cold cave. He was nearly at the end, David assumed, spending so long constantly walking and searching with only very few hours of sleep. He avoided sleeping very often or for too long while he was deep in caves, tombs, or fortresses. Only in calming places in forests or open lands did David truly sleep as long as he needed to.
The torch started to diminish slightly after another hour of walking; the king quickly lighted it back up with a small ember from his palm.
Finally, King David started to approach a large chamber. By the way it looked; he could tell that this was the end. David smiled as he walked in, but stopped suddenly in his tracks.
Crimson jolted his head up when he heard faint footsteps coming in his direction. As he looked to the other side of the chamber, he noticed a wealthy-looking man approaching with a torch.
Crimson stayed curled on the floor but his head up; he knew that he could see the man long before the man could see him. When the man stopped, Crimson saw his window of opportunity in the man’s right hand.
“Kill me,” King David heard a rough, weak voice grunt at him.
David walked slowly forward and noticed a figure in a ball on the damp cave ground.
“By the gods,” David murmured. “It doesn’t look human.”
“Kill me,” the figure grunted again, a little more pleading. “Please.”
“State your name,” David ordered.
“Crimson,” the figure replied weakly.
“What are you? Why are you here?”
“I am a creature of the damned; I deserve to die. I was left here to suffer.”
David took another step closer. “Rise, if you please.”
Crimson stood up slowly and faced David. His face looked worn and lifeless, as if a single breeze would crumble it. It looked like a man; his body was limp and pale.
“You are a vampire,” David inquired.
“Yes,” he huffed.
“You mean me no harm. Tell me, why are you here? How long have you been imprisoned here?”
“I am here because my father brought me after killing my mother; I’ve lived in this cave for several months.”
David began to understand, and was filled with compassion.
“I am David Morian, Emperor of Heartfall. Come with me, I will free you of this cave. Along the way, you may tell me everything about you.”
Crimson’s heart flipped at the name: the emperor! This is who Aron spoke of! He immediately felt gratitude for the king, but hated to receive what he did not deserve: kindness.
“Thank you so much,” Crimson said. He followed David closely out of the chamber.
“Here,” David turned to Crimson. “Take this glass dagger. Use it when the need arises.”
Crimson took it and walked with him. “Sire, I have fighting experience with blades, but I am no master,” he informed David.
“No matter,” David replied. “I will protect you and teach you properly. And please, call me David.”
The two walked in silence for a few minutes before David spoke.
“Now, young Crimson. I must know much about you, but first the basics. How old are you?”
“Sixteen,” Crimson replied. “About five months as a vampire.”
“And your father brought you because of what you had become and your mothers’ death?”
“I have studied vampirism before, but perhaps you can tell me more about it. But first, how did you become one?”
“I was going to get wood for my parents in Ayer Forest. Several miles from home, I saw a figure appear before me. It was a vampire, and it bit me. I suffered for twenty-four hours in the depths of the forest, attempting many forms of suicide, before I confronted my parents…and now here I stand.”
“Interesting…” David muttered. The two continued walking, David with his sword out and torch lit, but nothing was in sight at the moment.
“Vampires have incredible speed and strength,” David started. “They have smooth and pale skin, unaffected by average weather temperatures. They are immortal and do not age… That is all I know about them,” David admitted.
“There is much more,” Crimson muttered, disgusted with himself. “All of which I know just by being one. A natural instinct.”
“Hmm…I am very interested in learning more about your kind,” David said.
“Sir,” Crimson pleaded. “I hate what I am, and I haven’t a family! Please, even if I am free of this cave, I do not want to live like this. Not live as a killer, a soulless creature of the damned!”
The king stopped and faced Crimson. “Dear Crimson,” he said sympathetically. “You have a purpose. Goodness can find its way in every situation.”
King David’s words sounded true, but Crimson was not satisfied.
“Sire, please! I have been living a meaningless life of misery and torture for what feels like centuries! If there is no other way to destroy what horrible creature I am, then I want death as my comforter!”
David started walking again but didn’t say anything, deep in thought. Valor Cave continued in cold darkness, the torch as David’s guide. It was all too quiet for nearly an hour, not a beast or restless soul in sight. Finally, David spoke.
“If you must be so reluctant,” he began. “And I understand why. Then perhaps we can find the Cure for Vampirism potion. At the Magic Academy in Vardeg, there rules a powerful mage. He will be able to provide the cure. Though I must warn you,” David looked solemnly at Crimson while still walking. “When I exit this cave, I am not returning to the city. I am on a very serious quest, my friend, to find some very powerful items. If you so wish to have your cure for vampirism, then you must journey with me. Journey with me through every peril, dangerous location, and obstacle I face.”
Without hesitating, Crimson agreed. “Yes. I’ll do anything.”
“Then it’s settled.”
The two continued walking in silence, anxious to reach the end of the vastness of Valor Cave.
For the first time in months, Crimson had hope. No longer would he be damned, a lifeless force of nothing. He would not be entitled as a hated murderer. Crimson would be a normal human, living a regular life.
Death did not have to be an option.
“The beasts are unusually seldom,” David mustered. It had been over four hours since they had started walking, and had seen or heard nothing more than scurried rats.
“Now then,” David had stopped and sat heavily on the stony ground. “Let us rest a while, dear boy.”
Crimson sat down across from the King, thinking only on his new freedom.
“Plenty of time to get to know each other,” David smiled, withdrawing his sword. “Tell me, now. Can you consume anything else besides blood?”
“No,” Crimson replied. “Only blood. Human blood gives our kind strength, and the full power of a vampire. Any other type of blood, however, will only partly satisfy our thirst. It will not give us full strength or let us use our natural gifts. It keeps us… ‘Alive,’ is the best denotation I can give. But it does not complete us.”
Crimson looked fragile, pale, sick, and extremely breakable; dirt poor, unhealthy, and mistreated. David had on righteous robes of red, long brown hair and beard, and a dazzling wedding ring. He was somewhat young, yet wise and extremely powerful. Incredible sword skills gifted him and earthshaking magic pulsed through him. He was rich, respected, and noble. David took goodness and honesty in every circumstance, and never left anything undone or anyone unhappy.
“Indeed…” David grumbled, deep in thought once again. “That is your only reason for hating what you are, because you are a natural killer?”
“Mostly, yes. My parents had every reason for hating what I am. Even I do.” Crimson slumped his head in shame.
“You are burnt by the sunlight, correct?” David asked, changing the subject a bit.
“Yes, but it strangely does not kill me, only weaken.”
“Are there any other myths that are true or false?”
“I know not….we cannot sleep; at all, under any circumstance. Close our eyes and rest, maybe, but never sleep. I am unsure of any others….I have not experimented too thoroughly.”
“Curious…is the temptation for blood very strong?”
Crimson’s throat burned with more intensity than ever, his every muscle straining at the pulse of David’s blood. He could smell the gentle flow; hear the soft beat of his heart. It smelled so delicious, so irresistible. Though it was not nearly as strong now, because the cold and damp cave drowned out most of the lust, considering how weak Crimson was at the moment. After what he brought to Erineth gave him a new and powerful resistance as well.
“Yes,” Crimson admitted. “But it’s much more minor right now, since my body is weak and this cave is so moist and thick.”
“I see…” David replied slowly. “Indeed, we will need to be very careful. If your body was working properly, and we were out in a clear area, do you believe you would be able to resist?”
Since it had been months since Crimson’s body was strong and he had clearly smelled human blood, he could not be certain.
“I’m not sure…I’ve had no practice, and it has been a while. It’s almost impossible for me to guess, but considering how strong it is now, I would assume it would be nigh impossible.”
“Yes…thank you for your honesty, young Crimson. Caution will be most essential when we exit this cave. Since we’ll be traveling together for quite some time, I will indeed need to know your every thought and feeling as a vampire. If it’s not too much to ask,” David added with a friendly smile.
“Yes, sir,” Crimson agreed respectfully.
“David, my boy! Call me David. Now, what are the unique talents and gifts as a vampire?”
“There are quite a few. As a natural cause, we can see very clearly in the dark. Our senses of smell, hearing, and sight are very pronounced and perplexed. We can move without making a single sound, and run effortlessly without tiring.” The vampire was outrageously disgusted, wishing he knew not any of those facts.
“Nothing more I can truly say.”
David sat quietly in thought for several moments before saying anything. “Interesting, very interesting indeed…Well, I am thankful you revealed so much. We will need to learn more about you as we travel. Let me have a quick meal and we will continue our journey out of here.”
Crimson watched David eat a loaf of bread and slice of cheese; a very small meal for a wealthy king. David did seem trustworthy, and he was Crimson’s emperor. He was honored to travel with the King, and owed him Crimson’s life for giving him the cure from the only thing he hated with a burning passion.
“I must ask,” the King stated as he stood up, finished with his meal. “How often do you need to drink blood to stay, ah…healthy?”
“I would estimate…about once a week,” Crimson replied. “when it’s human. But, with animals and creatures, every few hours if I want to stay decent. I’d say about five or six times in a twenty-four hour period.”
“I see…how is that so possible, when you cannot be in the sunlight? For most vampires, I mean?”
“I am unclear of that as well, and I have no desire to drink any blood of the innocent,” he replied, pursing his lips.
“Hmm…well, if we must find a way for you to hunt…”
“No,” Crimson cut David off suddenly. “I will not kill or harm another human for my own desires! I’d rather starve to death and be weaker than limbs. I’d just as soon die and end my existence than spill innocent blood for my own needs again.”
David’s heart warmed even more toward the noble vampire. “Crimson,” he sighed. “You may believe you haven’t a soul, but your heart is bigger than most. Good, noble, kind, and righteous as any vampire I’ll ever lay eyes on. Crimson, my boy! Your nobility and self-control will be put to the test outside of this cave, but I have full confidence in you! You will prove to yourself that even you have a heart.”
Crimson smiled at the King and held out his hand. David gladly shook it, and a partnership was made.
“Listen, my boy,” David looked straight at Crimson. “I will help you in all of your troubles until you are cured, and I believe more than ever that you will be true to my quest. Now let us leave this cave, and face our destinies—together.”
David, the great, powerful, and noble Emperor of Heartfall; alongside Crimson, the lost but purely kind vampire. The two righteous men continued through the too quiet Valor Cave, resting in the hands of what could be a beautiful—or terrible—fate.
“Before we leave this cave, you will learn how to fight better.”
It was two hours later; David had stopped and faced Crimson. “Yes, it is true that we haven’t seen anything for a long while now, most likely because I fought many of them off on my way to get you by fate. Yet I can guarantee you there will be many beasts, spell casters and monsters out there that will prove to be a challenge. Not only will you be cured of your vampirism, but you will know how to fight well with a sword and use good magic.”
Crimson listened intently to the king, his hand clutched on the glass dagger. He was still intrigued by the arcane arts, remembering all he had been told about it.
“You may not have a sword now, but daggers are an excellent way to start. Draw your dagger, and I will show you a few techniques.”
Crimson did as David commanded, and David drew out his silver long sword.
“Now, here is how you will handle yourself…”
David was a very good instructor, but it was difficult for Crimson to keep up. After nearly an hour, David finally paused.
“That wasn’t bad; you will be decent before we leave here, and plenty good enough for the simple creatures lurking in Valor Cave.”
David started walking again, Crimson following close behind.
Valor cave would be creepy to any average human, with towering chambers, thick darkness, and an eerie chill. It was brave of David to travel alone in a cave this deep. A single goblin stood several yards away, an iron dagger in hand.
“Ah,” David sighed, almost sounding disappointed. “Only one goblin barely armed. Here, you must be thirsty.”
David raised a hand and a small streak of lightning shot quickly from his palm, temporarily illuminating the chamber around them. With a surprised shriek, the goblin flipped in the air and landed lifelessly to the ground, instantly killed.
“Drink,” David waved a hand toward the corpse.
“Thank you.” Without another word, Crimson swiftly approached the dead goblin, hovering over its body on his hands and knees.
Crimson inhaled; the blood was cold, dirty, and very unappealing. It was already flowing very slowly, almost as dead as the goblin. Though his throat burned with thirst, his nerves did not yearn for the putrid blood. Reluctantly, Crimson bared his fangs and sunk them deep in the goblin’s throat. It ran roughly down his throat, dimming the burning sensation briefly. Disgusting, like a human swallowing mud.
When all the blood was drained, Crimson’s throat had cooled. Though it still burned ravenously, the pain lessened slightly.
Crimson rose, not a drop spilled.
“How are you feeling?” David asked.
“A little better,” Crimson said tonelessly. “Though there’s hardly a difference.”
“I was afraid of that.” David looked worried. “Anyhow, let us continue.”
Crimson was almost mad at himself for allowing David to free him, but naught spoke of it.
He had to admit: nearly everything about being a vampire was useful. Yet nothing was ever worth killing over. Crimson already hated his very existence and knew that he well deserved death, even though he was already dead. Crimson shuddered at the thought.
“David, I’ll never understand,” Crimson said. “I deserve nothing but to die, to be destroyed. Why do you insist on helping me?”
“Greatness lies deep in the heart of every man,” he replied simply without looking at Crimson. “No matter what the situation, goodness will find its way to those who are pure at heart. Crimson, my boy, I know you are good. Together, we will learn that.”
Crimson didn’t reply, but simply kept following him.
With an occasional goblin, there wasn’t much trouble in the cave anymore. David taught Crimson more on how to use a dagger, and Crimson paid full attention. Every time a goblin was killed or rat was found, Crimson would drink its blood to try to stay as strong as possible. The burning barely quenched, the pain weakly dimmed. On the plus, Crimson was getting a little more used to David’s smell, so the lust weakened slightly. The more Crimson was around a certain smell of blood, the better he could handle it. He and David both agreed it would be very useful for Crimson to get as used to David’s scent as much as possible while it was weak, so that maybe it would be a bit easier when they left the cave.
David trusted Crimson’s partnership, even though most would think differently of a vampire. David saw the good in him, and was determined to prove it to Crimson. Nearly a day had passed of constant walking, Crimson’s feeding, and short meals for David. With this much progress, it would not be long until they reached the end. Crimson was more than eager to be normal again, no matter how his life turned out to be. In this state, Crimson couldn’t feel the sense of calling himself “alive” or “normal.” Everything could be stronger and better as a vampire, but the cursed mark of a murderer and burn in the sunlight repelled Crimson from anything close to that kind of horrible manner. Whatever he faced out there: tribulation, battle, humility, and rejection, even death. Anything was better than what he was now. But Crimson knew, deep inside, that once he was a normal human again, everything would work out. No more blood lust, killing urges, hatred, suffering, living on dirt. The world would be his to explore, and he would highly achieve anything he went for.
“I need to rest,” David sighed, looking exhausted. “Crimson, my boy. You never sleep, so you’ll make a perfect watch. If any danger comes that you cannot handle, wake me immediately. Understood?”
David took a spot on the cold ground and fell almost instantly to sleep. Crimson sat next to him, keeping a sharp watch for any enemies.
A fire was made close to where David laid; he seemed to have shot an ember from his palm and engulfed a pile of rubble. Crimson had no need for the warmth of the fire, but kept close to it still. He would let David rest for as many hours as he needed, for he more than deserved it. A king should be on a warm bed in a giant bedroom, decorated with rich velvet and silk. Yet David chose to sleep on a cold, stone ground beside a fireplace with a vampire, just to find what his heart burned for. A noble king, prepared to do anything, even help an undead creature like Crimson. He would never, ever be able to repay the righteous Emperor, even if Crimson lived another hundred years. Unsurprisingly, there was no sound to be heard, not a goblin in sight. David slept peacefully for several hours, Crimson not daring to disturb him.
All of a sudden, a growl rippled through the eerie silence.
Crimson jumped up, instantly aware. He wasn’t paying attention, distracted long enough for a skeleton with a bow and arrows standing just on the other side of the chamber. Accompanying him were three wolves, growling angrily. The skeleton looked like their leader, prepared to notch an arrow.
Crimson pulled out his glass dagger, ready to fight. He wasn’t going to wake David from his restful sleep, and it was time for him to stand up for himself for once.
This was going to be a bloody battle.
The skeleton didn’t utter a word, just raised one long, bony finger at Crimson. Immediately, the wolves barked and broke in a run, charging straight at Crimson.
Crimson dove forward, meeting the first wolf quickly. His blade stuck right through the wolf’s nose, sending a spray of blood in every direction. The wolf howled and jerked back, the dagger sliding out. A second wolf jumped from Crimson’s left side, knocking him to the ground. The wolf growled and snapped at Crimson’s panicked face. Crimson yelled and jabbed the dagger instinctively in the wolf’s shoulder. It yelped and jumped off of Crimson, blood oozing from the large gash.
Before Crimson could look for the third wolf, a sharp pain shot through his shoulder. When he looked, an iron arrow was stabbed deep in Crimson’s right shoulder, the pain blinding him. He couldn’t focus, couldn’t react. Crimson gritted his teeth and barred the head-splitting pain of the arrow. He jumped up and held out his palm. Right before he reacted, one of the wolves slashed its large paw at Crimson’s outstretched arm, leaving four deep cuts that intensified the pain. As a last resort, Crimson chucked the dagger at the nearest wolf, but missed by an inch. His shoulder pierced, his arm gashed, Crimson was blinded by intense pain. Suddenly, another arrow met his stomach, only doubling whatever pain he was feeling. A moment later, one of the wolves jumped on his back, slashing its paws wildly, striping his back clean open.
This was what he deserved. Crimson would die now, sliced open and pierced with arrows, to his eternal bed of slumber. The pain was too much, too great to handle. It shot through his body like a beating pulse, every slash feeling like the sharpest razors to his bare skin. The wolf kept slicing, the other two closing in. The skeleton prepared another arrow, ready for the kill. This was what Crimson deserved, above all people…
A blinding, dazzling white light illuminated the entire cave from behind Crimson. It was extremely cold, even to Crimson. The wolf on his back was gone. The light brightened, and then vanished in a quicker flash. A shattering sound echoed the chamber, and then all was quiet. For a moment, crimson felt nothing but deathly pain. Suddenly, a hand touched his ripped up back. A bright, warm white light flowed across Crimson’s entire body, feeling like heaven’s water. The pain vanished quickly, and Crimson felt normal in only a few short seconds. He rose to his feet and turned to see David standing there. Around him, balls of ice littered the chamber floor. Crimson noticed the arrows were gone, and the holes completely sealed up.
“Be a bit more careful, eh?” Surprisingly, David was chuckling. “I used a minor frost spell to freeze them all, and then shattered them. I healed all your wounds with a minor healing spell, of course. How brave of you to stand up to them all on your own, but please try not to get ripped to shreds.” David chuckled again, placing a firm shoulder on Crimson’s back.
“Thank you,” Crimson mused. “I am sorry, I should’ve been thinking…”
“Come now, Crimson, no harm done! It’s not like you were close to dying, hmm?” David smiled. “I see you forget how hard it is for someone like you to die sometimes. Well, I feel more rested, so let us continue, shall we? We’ll be there soon. By the way, good fighting, my boy. I couldn’t help but notice how badly those wolves were bleeding.” David winked, then turned and began walking with his sword drawn. Crimson smiled and followed behind him.
A few hours passed, and David focused more on teaching Crimson more fighting skills. Crimson was slowly getting better, feeling a little more confident. Towards the end, Crimson killed two goblins on his own and sucked their blood. He was getting better at fighting, at David somehow grew to trust him more. Crimson felt even more respect for David, and honored his partnership. The two were starting to become close, and the journey had not even begun yet.
“Ah, yes,” David breathed. “That, my dear Crimson, is the exit to Valor Cave.”
Straight ahead, an opening could be seen. “It’s dark out now, so we’ll be able to leave immediately,” David informed.
At long last, the King and vampire took their first step out of Valor Cave. A long and traitorous journey unraveled in front of them, and both rested in a destiny they now shared.
The cool, gentle breeze of the cloudless night sky welcomed Crimson more than anything he had ever felt. Beautiful stars, swaying trees, and the gentle trickle of a nearby river. Valor Cave opened at a peaceful spot deep in the Great Forest. Crimson dropped to his bony knees and embraced the cool grass beneath him.
“Fifty years…finally free…” he murmured, feeling better than he could ever remember. He noticed nothing else for several long moments; his rugged clothes, bony structure and pale skin made him look poorer than a beggar.
King David laughed quietly behind Crimson, enjoying the sound of Crimson’s glorified and relieved sighs.
Crimson could not enjoy his freedom for too long before the wind shifted direction.
Crimson inhaled deeply and jerked his head up. What he smelled was beyond any scent he ever breathed in. smelling more delicious, more mouthwatering than any substance, Crimson had to have it.
Nothing else in the world mattered. Crimson longed for the blood, would kill to have it. Completely irresistible, David’s blood pulsed warmly inside him, inviting every nerve in Crimson’s body.
Crimson jolted up and turned to David, eyes wild with thirst. His throat burned with a deeper craving than ever before, screamed across his entire body. David’s eyes bulged, suddenly aware of Crimson’s strange behavior.
“Crimson,” he directed. “Hold your breath. You don’t want to do this—it’s not who you are.”
Crimson crouched down, ready to pounce. He bared his fangs, and a deep growl escaped his lips. David raised a hand at Crimson, a warning to stop. Before either reacted, the wind shifted directions. Suddenly, a new scent flooded Crimson’s nostrils. It smelled just as sweet, yet even more delicious. He turned his head and in the far distance was a female human attaining to a flock of sheep outside of a barn. She was nearly half a mile away, but Crimson knew he could get there before David could blink.
Crimson shot toward the woman like an arrow from a bow. In a second, he knocked her hard to the ground. She barely shrieked before Crimson covered her mouth, hunched over her. Her warm blood pumped rapidly, ever pulse more delicious than the last. So sweet, so succulent…
“Crimson!” David roared. He sprinted down to where Crimson was and drew his sword. When he approached, he halted just a few feet away, staring intently at Crimson.
“Hold on to yourself,” David whispered to him. “You are a good person. Find the will, Crimson. Know who you are, on the inside.”
Crimson heard David’s words, but was almost too blind to understand him. The blood drained to the surface of her dark skin, hot and flooded, like spring water to cool Crimson’s craving, burning throat…
This was not what Crimson could be. Deep inside, a man of nobility struggled inside of him, fighting the lust of the honey-sweet blood. Eyes wild, fangs bared, Crimson fought inwardly to resist. A comforting hand rested on his shoulder.
“Find the will,” a voice pleaded. Every truth, every lie that spun like a storm in Crimson’s head…he could not waste what he truly was.
“It doesn’t matter what you are on the outside…it matters what fights in your heart.”
Crimson loosened his tight grip on the woman. Reality was coming back; it was all starting to make sense. Crimson was not a killer, a bloodthirsty creature. He was a boy pure at heart, and wanted to keep it that way. Crimson held his breath, resisting the impossible craving of the ever so delicious smell…
Crimson jumped off of the woman and landed ten feet away, exhaling heavily. The girl jumped up, screamed and ran inside. David sighed in relief and slowly approached Crimson.
“My boy…” David murmured. “From this day on, you will be made rich in goodness. Well done, brave and noble vampire.”
Crimson had full control of himself now. “Oh, David!”
He fell to his knees, ashamed at what he almost done.
“Don’t worry,” David placed his hand on Crimson’s shoulder. “You did the right thing brilliantly. I have no shame.”
David lifted Crimson up and patted him. “Now, we have a journey to continue. Let us make it to the nearest town before sunrise.”
Crimson smiled back at David, and the two began walking once more.
Crimson missed the sunlight. He remembered the way it would warm his skin, beam down from the beautiful sky. At times, he would lay in green pastures with his mother and feel the radiant, relaxing energy of a summer’s day. The thought of his mother sent a sharp pain through Crimson, the first emotion other than fear and depression he had felt in months. Even more sadly, he remembered the furious, distraught look of his father…
“Maybe it is true,” Crimson muttered to himself. “Maybe creatures, such as me, have hearts; I can feel emotions.”
“Emotions of fear, pain, depression, or anger come from the mind,” David stated aloud, walking quietly beside Crimson. “Emotions of love, kindness, sacrifice, and gratitude come from the heart. All feelings that are evil will be boiled and flamed in your head, but all feelings of purity and goodness come directly from the soul.”
Crimson thought about the King’s words for several moments, pondering his wisdom. He was amazed at how right David sounded, and would value his knowledge on the perilous journey ahead.
“Dawn will break in little over an hour,” David warned, the first time he spoke in a while. “And we are still quite a few days away from the nearest town. We are forced to find shelter, and find it quickly we must.”
He scanned around the vast wilderness, Crimson following his lead.
“If you do not mind me asking, David, but what are you looking for on this long quest that caused you to leave your Palace?” Crimson asked curiously.
“Ah, questions later, my boy,” David answered impatiently. “First, we need to focus on finding shelter.”
Crimson agreed privately and scoped around. After a moment, he spotted what looked like a destroyed, ancient ruin just over three miles away.
“David, a ruin!” Crimson explained, pointing a pale, bony finger. “Directly east!”
“Excellent!” David cheered. “We must take great haste, for time is short.”
The two began jogging at a covering rate toward the ruin, not wasting another second. Though Crimson’s body was still meek, cracked, and breakable, he still had the ability to run faster than David. Yet he kept with his pace, David being healthier and more athletic than he looked.
In thirty minutes, the travelers reached the crumbled ruin. Tall, unknown artifacts, white, cracked statues and buildings, and a wooden door that lead inside of a large, crumbled tomb. Standing just outside the wooden door was a goblin skirmisher with a steel mace and iron shield.
“Here we are,” David sighed, slightly out of breath. “The goblin has not spotted us yet. My boy, you can defeat this creature on your own with ease.”
“Yes, sir,” Crimson replied, drawing his glass dagger. He crouched low, planning to be stealthy. Crimson watched the goblin with keen eyes, seeing its every muscle twitch and the even pulse that pounded softly in the crick of its neck. He did not dare breathe unless to speak, for he was ever the more cautious of David’s alluring blood. To add to the temptation, Crimson was thirsty, his throat forever burning to an intense degree. Like a predator in the night, Crimson swept quickly at the goblin in utter silence, reaching it before David had time to turn his head. In one single, swift movement, a gush of green blood oozed from the goblin’s neck, Crimson’s blade stained. It muttered a feverish cry, dropped its weapons, and fell with a thud to the ground, twitching as it slowly died and suffered. Crimson watched without remorse at the jittering goblin, watching the muddy, distasteful liquid flow like a waterfall from its throat. Shortly, the creature stopped breathing, and it fell into a painful, restless grave. Unable to withstand the overwhelming thirst any longer, Crimson dived and began draining all the trickling blood that stained the grass and dirt, not missing a single ounce. When he arose, the burning sensation lessened once again, but never quenching, never subsiding. Crimson’s throat would burn, burn forever despite how much animal or human blood he consumed. That was his eternal curse in his sleepless existence.
“Well done, my boy,” David congratulated Crimson, joining him. “Now, the sun is beginning to peak. Quickly, in the tomb!”
The two entered the monumental tomb, completely unaware of the dangers that lurked inside, unsure of the beasts that roamed within, and trapped for twelve hours in this mysterious and possibly fatal ruin.
The air was thick, the tomb deep. Flights of stairs lead down to the lower part of the tomb, the walls made of white bricks traced with hundreds of cracks. Spider webs, crumbled rocks, and fallen pillars were all they could see from down the steps. The narrow hall echoed at the slightest noise, seeming to go on forever. Distant moans and scurries could be heard from far down the stairs and halls.
“I believe…” David murmured slowly. “We have just entered a cursed tomb.”
Crimson’s sanguine eyes widened with horror. “A cursed tomb?” He repeated.
David nodded. “Yes, I’m afraid so. We must be very…vigilant.”
At least I’ll fit right in here, Crimson thought grimly to himself. I’m just as horrid as any creature we’ll find in this tomb!
David drew his silver long sword. “I may have powerful magic and can work well with a blade, but Crimson, I warn you: the beasts and ghosts we will find here will not be our greatest challenge. The real fight will lie inside our minds. Remember that.”
Crimson pondered over David’s words of warning and looked out into the hallway they stood in.
“Carefully,” David said. “Follow me. Use great caution, and warn me of any danger that reaches your keen eyes before mine.”
With vigilance, the two began creeping down the stony, cracked staircase into the thick fog that mystically floated in front of them. It took them longer than ever to reach the end of the stairs, walking slowly down the hall, eyes constantly darting in every direction and David’s glistening sword raised high. Only faint moans echoed in their ears, sending chills down their spines. David was chilled in the cold tomb; Crimson did not shiver from the temperature, but of his own fear. As the moans grew louder and the fog thickened, a large, old wooden door greeted them sinisterly at the end of the stretched hall.
“Careful,” David repeated in a tone barley above a whisper. “I will unlatch the door.”
He paused for a moment, then quietly pushed the door open, unable to mute the eerie creak that followed. Inside, more fog and louder moans awaited them. Just as they entered, a blood-curtailing scream shattered the spooky silence.
Automatically, the two jumped into a fighting stance, ready for battle. Forming out of the fog like a ripple through water, a spectral figure with the body outline of a human came into existence in front of them. Crimson drew his dagger, ready to strike, but David jerked out a hand. “This ghost cannot be harmed physically,” he warned. “Only by magic. Prepare your best spells, for I fear this one is not alone.”
Crimson obeyed and concentrated on the magic within him; like a blazing fire, a heat wave rushed through his body, starting from the center of his head and scaling down to the soles of his feet. Hot as molding iron, thousands of particles shooting just under Crimson’s skin.
As predicted, several more ghostly figures formed and shaped out of the deathly fog, surrounding them. David raised his hand, palm out, at the nearest ghost. A sudden blast of fire shot from his palm, engulfing the ghost. In a fury of flames, the ghost shrieked a haunting, echoing scream and vanished into nothing. Crimson exploded the magical fire within him through his right hand and immobilized another ghost, disappearing with the same scream.
“You cannot defeat us,” a bone-chilling voice rasped from somewhere in the room, sounding snake-like. “Our numbers multiply by the second, and death greets you with open arms!”
Suddenly, an edgy feeling crept uninvited into the back of Crimson’s mind. Uneasy, he couldn’t identify it, giving him an uncomfortable feeling.
“We can walk where others dream, rule where others weep. Surrender to our wishes, and join the after-life freely!”
The uncomfortable sensation grew, evading a larger section of Crimson’s mind. The shrill voice now sounded like it came from his head:
“Hello, Crimson,” the voice greeted in an almost soothing tone. “Yes, we know who you are.”
“Get out of my head!” Crimson yelled, shooting another fireball. David let out a frustrating growl and shot illuminating bolts of lightning from his palm, vaporizing every ghost he struck.
“Why must you resist us so fiercely?” the strange voice questioned. “Give up, and all your struggles will end.”
The sensation intensified once more, overtaking more of Crimson’s thoughts.
“You are already dead,” it reminded. “You do not deserve to walk among the living. Join us, Crimson…”
Crimson released a furious yell and unwillingly shot a block of ice from his palm. He is right, he thought sullenly to himself. I am worthless, nothing. I deserve to be buried in a grave…
“That fool David has been lying to you, Crimson,” the persuading voice grew more powerful, sensing defeat. “There is no purpose for your life. You are a bloodsucking demon, nothing more will ever amount you…”
As the voice became louder and the uncomfortable sensation grew painful and overwhelming, Crimson’s vision faded. Dots sprouted lightly around him, the fog seeming to overpower the mystical room. Dozens of ghostly figures drifted all around him, swarming him, become one with hundreds. David moaned and dropped his sword, a horde of ghosts surrounding him and separating him further from Crimson. Depression and despair filled Crimson’s head, consuming his very being and swirling him to a dream-like mist of hopelessness, a dreaded nightmare.
“You grow weaker,” the voice laughed, now sounding deep and demented, drumming loudly in Crimson’s head as if it took over his entire brain. “Soon, very soon, my forces will rule you, and I will drag your existence out of this body. You have no soul for me to prevail, yet I will end the fabric connection that allows you to walk, hanging on by a single thread of reality…”
The ghostly voice laughed darkly once more, and Crimson fell to his knees, drained of physical strength. With his swirling vision and diminishing conscience, he could make out the hundreds of ghosts that hovered everywhere, chuckling quietly with a thousand voices.
All is over, Crimson thought dreadfully, his mind drifting away. I have escaped death with David once, but not a second time. I will now get what I deserve, a restless grave…
“We have won,” the voice reigned victoriously. “The mighty forces of death rule over the pathetic wastes of the ones who breathe. Now, Crimson, I will show you to the fiery after-life you will spend eternity in…”
A tremendous, agonizing heat waved over Crimson, causing him to scream at the top pf his lungs. A blazing fire erupted around him, burning at his flesh, though it did not melt it off.
“Remember who you are.”
Suddenly, in Crimson’s weakest and most torturing defeat, David’s words echoed in his head. He screamed and used every nerve and muscle of his strength to hold on to those words, imagining David’s powerful face.
“The real fight will lie inside our minds. Remember that.”
With one last, desperate cry, Crimson pushed with all his might and yelled, “YOU WILL NOT RULE OVER ME!”
Instantly, the fires quenched, subsiding the pain. A moment of relaxation crossed Crimson for half a second, and the demonic voice yelled in anger. Standing up quickly, he threw a fireball in the path of multiplying ghosts and found David hunched on his hands and knees, moaning consistently. Using his superhuman strength, Crimson lifted David to his knees and shook him.
“Grab hold of yourself!” he shouted over the noise. “Find your will, King!”
In that, David blinked and regained himself. His blue eyes flashed with venomous anger, and, in one massive explosion, a series of blue flames shot wildly out of him.
Every ghost engulfed, all the fog dimming into the intense light. In a last, defeated scream, the sensation broke in Crimson’s head, and he gathered full control of himself once more. The powerful spell that David had cast cleared the area, leaving the room wide and clear, a faint screech dimming in the background as the fog completely vanished.
“We…have done it,” David sighed, gasping for breath. “If it were not for you, dear boy, all hope would be lost.” His red face lightened after a minute, his shaking decreasing. Crimson, horrified by the experience, clasped him firmly on the shoulder.
“You are the real hero,” he congratulated. “You are more noble a king ever to walk this planet, and I mean that in every way.”
David smiled with deep appreciation at him. “I am proud to call you friend,” he stated, his voice thick with emotion.
After a moment, David picked up his sword and faced the spacious room, Crimson standing loyally by his side.
“We must continue,” David converged reluctantly. “The path ahead is still long, and I yet search for my precious items. Once we are through and night has risen outside, we may freely leave this…horrid nightmare.”
The two brave travelers continued on their way through what had almost been their second grave.
A period of quiet emptiness relieved Crimson and David, and the two had time to converse.
“David, I must ask,” Crimson started. “How old are you?”
“Older than I look,” he replied with a hardy laugh. “In my youth, I have found many ways to appear young, though I am not as old as my grandfather yet. Now, allow me to inquire: I have learned that vampires can see in the dark, are not harmed by garlic or crucifixes, cannot enter a home unless invited, have an unquenchable thirst for blood that forever rages, can affect the way they convert someone to vampirism, cannot sleep, have enhanced speed and strength, and, of course, burn in the sunlight. Is there more I need to know?”
“You know much,” Crimson commented. “Everything else would be vain detail that is unnecessary.”
“Very well,” he said. “Regardless, you will receive your cure soon enough. I have a feeling neither the Rose Arrow nor the E.D. Helmet will be in this wretched place. No elf or dwarf would have hidden it here, even for sure safety. Elves are wise and magical and dwarves are strong, yet it is much more likely they hid the Helmet in one of their private hideouts, or maybe even an abandoned fortress. As for the Rose Arrow, I know not of any warrior or mage that has the will to hide such an item here; but do not take my word for it.”
Crimson listened closely to all the King said, but also thought self-consciously about the thirst that grew stronger in him each passing second. He was used to the alluring scent of David’s fresh and healthy blood, though when his throat burned more intensely, it flared in his nostrils to an unbearable level…
“My King,” Crimson spoke meekly. “I am getting very thirsty, and the lust is beginning to rule me.”
David immediately looked cautious, his finger twitched. “Ah, yes,” he mused. “That could be a problem…Crimson, my boy! We must begin to train vigorously on the blood lust, to give you full dominion over it! I know you are becoming stronger at resisting, but we need full precautions….hmm…yes…yes, for now, I have a solution.”
He stopped and faced Crimson. Drawing a small silver dagger from his robes, he raised his left arm out. Taking the dagger, David sliced a small cut in his arm, a trickle of blood rolling down and dripping to the ground. Crimson’s eyes widened with horror, the temptation for David’s blood increasing tenfold and screamed in agony. His throat flared stronger, the internal fire seeming to consume into an excruciating dryness and pain.
“Drink as much from me as you need without making me too weak.”
“Oh, great King!” Crimson knelt down, compassion filling him. “As incredibly noble as your offer is, I cannot! I will not take your blood, yet your heart is filled with goodness for even offering!”
“Please, it would do me pleasure,” David insisted. Crimson felt an even greater bond and gratitude for David, in all of his righteousness and golden heart. He bowed and thanked him once more before gently sinking his fangs into the wound. He sucked the blood slowly and painlessly, careful not to take too much. It tasted strong, warm, and delicious to Crimson. More luscious and appealing than any other blood he had ever consumed, the burn in Crimson’s throat diminished significantly, and great strength and hidden power pulsed through him, flowing through him just as the blood did. Incredible, overwhelming, and tasteful, the full strength and abilities of a real vampire finally surged through Crimson. His cracked face smoothed and became flawless and glowing pale-white, his eyes molded into a more liquefied and striking blood red. Perplex bruises sketched around his eyes; his skin now faintly glowed with a strange, unworldly light. Crimson became audacious and shatteringly handsome, immersing calm and fear all at once, just as he was the first time he became a vampire.
Crimson released himself, not spilling a single drop. “Thank you dearly, my king,” he said; his voice had changed to a quiet, persuading tone, appealing.
“It was my great honor, dear vampire,” David replied, beaming at him. “I see you have now retained the full qualities of a vampire, yes? How do you feel?”
“Strong,” Crimson admitted. “My throat has been quenched almost completely, only a small heat simmers quietly. My willpower has also grown stronger within me, as well as my speed and magic.”
“Excellent!” David looked pleased. He healed his small cut with a simple snap of his fingers, using a healing charm.
The two continued walking and Crimson wondered in his new form. He no longer felt bound by lustful temptation, almost as if a normal Breton with superhuman strength. Natural instincts and abilities became stronger and more controlled to him, all of his senses increasing. Crimson could hear every scurrying creature and crawling spider from every direction of the vast tomb; he could see every tiny crack and floating dust particle leagues away. He could smell the ancient stench that wafted dimply in the air, along with animal odors that had once passed through here months ago. Everything was vivid, clear, and noticeable to Crimson’s eyes, ears, and nose. Nothing could escape him, all was around him. He could make out the scruffy hair on David’s chin he had never noticed before, microscopic.
“A time of silence has elapsed us for too long,” David sighed after thirteen minutes and forty-five seconds. His hair swayed slightly when he walked, his robes wavering in the gentlest movement. His eyes had a tint of sag beneath them, displaying tiredness. Inside, he swirled with exhaustion that mixed with his emotions of fear and awareness. Astounded, Crimson realized he could sense every emotion that David felt at the present time.
“I need to rest,” he huffed. “Dear boy, may I ask you to keep watch as I sleep? I cannot continue much further. First, I must eat…”
“Of course,” Crimson replied amiably. “Sleep as long as you’d like.”
Thankfully, David sat on the ground and pulled out a loaf of bread and jug of water, divulging it rapidly. Soon, he drifted to sleep. Crimson sat next to him calmly, aware of everything around him and watching cautiously.
Nothing broke the eerie silence, not a ghost was near, for Crimson sensed all for miles. Relaxed, he floated in his own thought, able to think much more broadly and quickly than before. Crimson could think of a thousand thoughts and situations in a short second, able to comprehend more than David could in an hour. With his blood lust almost gone, Crimson somewhat accepted the fact of what he was at this very moment, but never liking it. If he could become human, he would very much take it. A bitter thought suddenly crossed Crimson’s mind; for him to be this strong and healthy, he had to consume the blood of a human! Not only a human, but of his one and only friend, David Septim. He was disgusted with himself now, ashamed at the unrighteous and evil truth. The little acceptance Crimson had over himself quickly vanished, and he disliked what he was even more than before. He swore to himself that no matter how terrible it was or how tempting the blood lust became, he would never drink the blood of any human, especially David, ever again. Crimson’s existence filled with care and understanding, and he quickly realized it was because of the wise guidance of David.
Only half a second had passed since David had fallen to sleep, and time was overwhelmingly longer to Crimson than ever before, considering his new and wide thinking ability. Each second passed like an hour; another depressing fact of his horrible being.
For what felt like more of an eternity than his fifty years of existing, David finally awoke. A look of satisfying slumber crossed his sleepy face; in moments he roused completely.
“Ah, relaxing,” he sighed, climbing to his feet. “Now, I feel refreshed. Shall we continue down this haunting endeavor?”
“Have we a choice?” Crimson replied with a forced smile. They chuckled and went on their way, feeling closer now after yet another near-death experience.
An array of old and creaking coffins aligned a narrow hallway during their walk. Uncomfortable and tensing, but no harm came from them. The thick and strange fog still enveloped the area around them, but with his new perplexed eyes, it did not diminish Crimson’s sight. Thinking of David’s humanly vision, he stepped warily in front of him and guided him through the mist, careful to keep David aware of any misfortunes or stumbling cracks. Minutes ticked by, and the atmosphere seemed to only thicken with each step. No ominous moans or noises could be heard anymore, though everything seemed to be pulling in a tight strain. Their footsteps grew louder in the increasing echo; Crimson was still greatly astounded at all he could hear and make out. His strongest sense, as he quickly realized, was his smell. Better used for stalking my innocent victims, he thought dryly. He would never allow himself to forget those horrifying facts.
“My boy,” David huffed, his voice sounding somewhat off. “Can you see anything ahead?”
Crimson could sense his David’s body weakening in the intensified heat of the deep tomb. His pulse beat more rapidly, sounding like a battering ram to his profound ears. He needed water and rest to be able to fully function, and his emotions also swirled with doubt and unconfirmed hopelessness.
“Don’t let the aura of this tomb or the increasing temperature befall you,” Crimson spoke firmly. “You are much greater than all of this.”
He nodded, slightly comforted by the vampire’s words. “You never answered my question,” he added after a pause.
“I see a wooden door similar to the first one we encountered,” he replied. “I cannot tell what lies beyond it.”
David didn’t respond, but kept close to him. He drunk vigorously from a jug every few seconds, keeping his body hydrated. Finally, they approached the door. Upon opening, only another open cavern greeted them, filled with empty fog and clambering dust. Without comment, they continued walking, daring not to waste a single second. It was over an hour before either spoke, dedicated to releasing themselves of the haunting tomb’s deathly grasp.
To his great surprise, Crimson had felt not a simple petty desire for blood, and it had been much longer than he was used to. He was relieved and almost happy, but still venomous at the thought of whose blood supplied him with such strength and control.
Paying closer attention to David’s rapid breathing, Crimson knew he had to help in some measure; it was the least he could do for his savior. He skimmed his broad mind, searching for just the right spell. He located a healing charm specifically meant to be used on other people. He wondered if it would work, and locked onto it. Holding out his hand, a ball of a mystical white and holy glow formed, immersing a shine of sparks and warming light. He reached out and touched David from behind him, and the spell took its toil. A brilliant fuse of dazzling energy moved like an outstretched wave and intertwined around the King’s arm, moving in a twirl out to his shoulder and lapsed to his neck, tallying down his back and ending with a snap to his legs and feet. David breathed heavily in obvious relief, his strength returning to him in Crimson’s achieved satisfactory. The vampire marveled at the new magic he now possessed.
“Dear Crimson,” he abolished. “That was excellent, and wonderfully used! Magic is a very dangerous and powerful quality, when used wrongly could ultimately destroy our very beings. Casting destruction spells such as fire invites the possibility of burning your insides or vaporizing your soul. Tempering with the arts of illusion may very well cause permanent and terrible effects. Yet you, my boy, have worked the hands of a talented wizard!”
“Thank you, David,” Crimson smiled pleasantly. With their new strength, the two walked more placidly, making better time. Again, each second felt like an hour to Crimson’s vast and unending mind, conserving the unlimited personalities of the night creature, living forever in unattained purpose.
He noticed from afar the outline of a massive spider, creeping silently at the end of another chamber. Crimson warned David, allowing him to prepare, but he unexpectedly refused.
“I would very much like to see this new power of yours, Crimson, this new… incredible figure.” He smiled confidently, gazing at Crimson with deep, meaningful blue eyes. His mere presence provided so much strength, a sort of bold honor or transforming nature. Filling with pride, Crimson gladly obliged.
He dropped his mind. Immediately, the instincts and nature that built his existence took over, engulfing all traces of humanity. A wild, strong, and merciless creature sprouted out of him, becoming not one with his self, but a whole new beast of tremendous skill. His breathing stopped, his thoughts ignored all specks of reasoning. His eyes, brilliant and bright, deepened to a more sinister tint, displaying fear in the hearts of innocence. The giant spider came into clear focus, as if it was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that existed. Blood and lust was of no concern to Crimson now, only the sweet pleasure of killing his victim, his enemy.
He was the predator. The spider was his prey. Only that simple fact held meaning now, every other aspect completely shielded and forgotten. With the strength of a hundred strong men and the speed of storm winds, the king of all hunters lowered his head and silenced all movements. The venom that pumped lively in the spider, its sharp pincers and hairy legs, all of it was hopeless and puny in the eyes of its demise. He had never felt such an overwhelming purpose, a vital nature that had been buried under the countless years of pathetic blood that was not of humans. Crimson bared his unbreakable fangs, took in a deep breath, and moved in one fluent motion towards the spider, reaching it in less than a second. Automatically, he flashed himself onto the insect, catching it off guard. His hands moved quicker than it could screech, and its life was ended instantly. Scoffing, the drooling blood had no appeal to Crimson, and he fluttered off the corpse. The spider was no challenge, no match to the vampire, and he wished enviously for better competition.
Crimson had become a fearless night hunter. The pride of power warped in his head, temporarily swelling him. Judging the smirk on his face, David knew of his arrogance as he approached.
“Very good, Crimson,” he muttered, his voice sounding more serious than his usual hardy tone. “Though you would do well to remember not to let self pride and power rule your mind. Every man has faults and weaknesses, and the sense of arrogance clouds those facts, making you unaware of them in times you need them the most.”
“When would your weaknesses ever be needed?” Crimson asked, confused.
“You will know when the time comes… even our weaknesses can become our strengths; you have to understand them in order to overcome them.”
Crimson pondered on David’s words, looking aimlessly at the dead spider. After a moment’s passing, the walk continued. His mind wandered, thinking deeply in the affairs of all that had occurred in the last day; such adventure already unfolded in Crimson’s life, and there was much yet to be done. What more perils would come in the next cave they ventured in, or in the wild lands where these valuable items rested? Whom would they meet, what sights would they view? Would they face death a third time, a fourth, a fifth? Could they ever escape it again, or would the third time be their last? These questions foiled in Crimson’s head, each one never holding an answer. Whatever it took or trials they faced, he would stick with David till the very end; that much was clear. His own life was easy to risk for David’s sake, for he still understood that he was already dead, and everything he was rested in the king’s hands. He owed David more than he could ever realize, and if there was a purpose, like David firmly believed, then this was it. This was all that waited for Crimson’s life, whether it as filled with adventurous tales and exciting stories in the end, or if it simply ended his existence. If fate and destiny truly controlled everything, then all would be done and finished for a set reason.
“Why do you believe in destiny?” Crimson questioned to break the silence, keeping up easily with David’s pace.
“There have been too many unexplainable events and drastic circumstances in my life for me to believe it all happened by chance,” he replied. His expression changed into deep thought as he paused and continued. “To sum it up. Yet answer me this: why does the sun rise at dawn? Why do the stars shine in the evening? Why is everyone born, and why do we all die? Is it all for nothing? I have studied much throughout the years, seeking answers that only lie in the deepest oceans, searching for meanings hidden in the stars. All the secrets to human life, every reason for every death, and the alignment and difference of good and evil, smart from clueless, and right from wrong. For every answer I discover, two new questions infiltrate. For every purpose I reveal, several new options and choices submerge from them. Crimson, my boy, there is no limit to all the knowledge we can posses, no mystery that is too far to reach. Yet as a rebuttal, there are also so many things in this world that make absolutely no sense, an endless scroll of possibilities, choices, and discoveries.” He stopped again for a moment, allowing it all to sink in and conjuring deeper thoughts. “Life is not a mere process of breathing, functional nothingness, and then claimed by death. Likewise, death is also not the end of everything, the cut off of all that was worked for and accomplished. Both have vital meanings and great journeys, Crimson, and it requires a pure heart to understand that. You need not wisdom that expands further than the east to the west, nor do you need knowledge of every book and complex scroll. The true secret to finding all answers lies within every heart, and those who love can learn it.”
Even as a vampire, Crimson had to think very hard on all that David was saying. “Are you saying that only those who love another can find the purposes of life and death?”
“Yes and no,” he said, stroking his scratchy beard. “To love one is to accomplish one of life’s greatest meanings. To be able and willing to love is to find those meanings. Whether it is the girl of your dreams you desire to live for, or a well trusted brother that is always at your side… regardless of who it is and for what reason, love is what gives all life a true purpose. Strung by destiny, handled by fate, whatever the perspective, nothing happens by chance. Of all this and every reason for every person, that is why I fully believe in destiny.”
Overwhelmed, Crimson remained quiet, soaking in all that he had heard. It was all so much, all so deep… Even so, he finally begun to understand more of who David really was, and took into consideration all of his views. Was all that he spoke right, or was he simply mental? What he said, in some ways, was hard to believe and grasp. I suppose I’ll just have to learn for myself, he thought. Though some things are becoming clear to me. I shall listen more carefully to David and witness all his adventures. Then, maybe, I will have a better understanding of what I’m seeking.
Neither spoke again for a while, until a shinning ray of hope filled them: the exit to the tomb could be seen, and darkness covered the sky, apart from the illumination of thousands of stars.
Joy overtook the two, and they dashed with high hopes out of the dreaded, haunted ruin.
“Brilliant!” David exclaimed, inhaling deeply and welcoming the fresh, cool air. Crimson smiled happily at the stars, nearly as relieved as he was the moment he stepped out of Valor Cave.
“Finally, we are out, and free of the cursed danger,” the king battered. “Let us enjoy this freedom as long as we possibly can, and take a short break. Our journey has only just begun, and so much is yet to be done. I shall rest now, dear boy, and you may sit and enjoy yourself.”
Crimson flashed a smile, but a sinking feeling disturbed him. As David huffed and sprawled out on the damp grass, he echoed the words of his partner in his head, realizing how true it was…
Our journey has only just begun.
The looming night remained calm and contempt as the patient vampire sat next to his sleeping Emperor. Crimson watched insects ripple on a nearby stream; rivers seemed to flow quite frequently in the massive forest. Thousands of brilliant stars created a welcoming light of peace, colossal planets of different forms and sizes revolted in the sky. The two moons of Tia added to the glow, making marvelous nights of wonder. Darkness had no reign of power in such a beautiful masterpiece, even more incredible than daylight, but not as bright.
Each blade of grass was in clear detail as it bristled in ruffled winds, and Crimson observed everything in a more comforting manner he had not indulged in what felt like decades. So soothing, alien-like, and unworldly… he found himself lost in the glorious mysteries of space and reality. If he did not desire the need for blood, Crimson would have been almost honored to be a creature of the night. Every dazzling sparkle of the endless sea of galaxies appealed to his deepest thoughts, even a small scrape of his nonexistent soul reached out to the stars, as if his body would be left behind as he explored the wonders. He was incredulous at how much this gorgeous night attracted him; he made a mental note to ask David if it was natural for everyone to be attached so vividly to the night sky. Yet why would anyone be unappeased or dissatisfied with a marvelous universe that was created as the sun set?
Crimson was not completely aware at first that David was stirring. He rose automatically with a stiff yawn and glanced at his partner. “How long have I slept?” David asked warily.
“A few hours,” Crimson answered softly, his voice low and quiet, yet smooth as silver.
“Ah,” was his faint reply. After a moments’ stretch, he spoke again, “Dusk must have fallen just as we exited the tomb, for it to still be this dark.”
Crimson agreed and stood up in a quick flourish. “Shall we continue, my King?” he asked amiably.
“David,” he corrected him with a chuckle. “Yes, yes we shall. I’m a bit hungry, but bread and cheese grows old quickly. I believe I’ll treat myself with some nicely cooked beef, and a little mead to wash it down.” He shuffled through his many-pocketed robes for several moments, finally pulling out a steak wrapped in foil and a red bottle. “I packed a few decent meals for when the need arose,” he explained, smiling his jolly smile at Crimson. “I’d offer you a hardy swig, but I respect your strange diet.” It was funny for him to hear David attempt humor, even as enthusiastic as he was, though he cracked a laugh, adding to the mood.
As soon as he had finished, David stood up. “Now, then. Are you ready to go?”
Crimson nodded. He figured they still had a ways to walk before anything else happened, so he didn’t mind the continuation. David patted him on the back encouragingly and started walking.
It was quiet for a while. The sky remained brightly lit with stars, the air cool. David hummed merrily to himself, causing the mood to feel happy. Crimson examined the fine, glinting glass dagger he had been given by the king from what felt like so long ago. He couldn’t believe it had only been less than two days since David had found him in Valor Cave. He had learned so much, been through dangerous situations and all of it was barley touching the beginning! Bewildering, he thought.
A groaning feeling crossed Crimson. Slowly, the burning in his throat was beginning to emerge, stronger and stronger. It had been nearly twelve hours since he had drunk David’s blood…
Immediately, he began to notice changes. His supersonic hearing was mincingly subsiding, little by little. His strength, though microscopically, was already starting to fade. The lust and burn was the only senses that were rapidly increasing. Sometimes, Crimson believed he struggled within himself more than the perils around him.
Without warning, David stopped. Surprised, Crimson halted right behind him. All was silent, and the king did not shift. Confusion swept over Crimson, and he slowly walked over to read David’s expression.
It was… shock. Eyes wide and alert, his face hard as stone. Crimson had never seen him so stunned…he was worried.
“David, friend, what is wrong?” he asked, a hint of concern in his tone. He didn’t reply, remaining frozen and stiff.
Just then, Crimson heard a noise in the distance. It sounded like a low echo of thunder, but too far away to clearly make out. His eyes looked up to the heavens; there was not a single cloud.
He turned his attention back to David. “My King?” he spoke again, this time placing a gentle hand on his hard shoulder. “What is it?”
Still no reply. Crimson was beginning to feel a little frightened now. What could possibly have such a strong king so…terrified?
The noise sounded again, a little louder than before. It still sounded much like thunder, leaving Crimson stumped. Was the thunderous sound frightening David? He would almost assume the king was merely afraid of storms, considering how lost Crimson felt… a storm that could not exist.
“David, please!” His voice turned pleading. “Speak! What has you in such a fright?”
Again, no reply. David did not twitch or move a muscle, his hands frozen at his sides. He was leaning slightly, one foot out as if he had been stopped mid-track. Crimson tightened his grip and softly shook him. No response.
The sound was heard once more. This time, even closer than before, it sounded more like… like an animal of some sort…
The first and only words David finally spoke left Crimson feeling dreadful, for he never sounded so horrified, speaking just above a whisper: “This… is not good.”
Suddenly, the ground vibrated meekly from under them, following the thunderous noise. Alert, Crimson turned and darted his eyes to the sky. What he saw threw him completely off guard, and dumbfounded his entire being. Before he could protest, David confirmed his fears in one uttered word:
Crimson first noticed its size and beauty. Massive, powerful wings that flapped strongly at its side. Its scales glowed wonderfully under the light of the stars like hundreds of jewels, all embedded together perfectly. Its angular, diamond-shaped head was long and held intimidating green eyes. Its jaws were wider than Crimson, its teeth sharp and deadly. Its long, spiked tail swayed behind it with the beating of its wings flying gracefully and incredibly fast in the open sky.
It roared again, vibrating the ground. It sounded like a combination of thunder and a lion multiplied times ten. It was bigger than a large house, its wings as long as trees. Fear plunged deep in Crimson, and he fully understood why David was in such shock.
This was a battle they would not live through.
Desperate, he looked to David and shrilled, “What are we supposed to do?”
After a moment, David shook his head and regained his brave figure. “The only thing we can do,” he said, his voice returning to its strong tone. “Fight.”
Without argument, Crimson grabbed for the glass dagger tucked in his rugged clothes. The monumental creature was almost at their heels, looking fierce and determined. It looked at Crimson directly in the eyes, and erupted another roar.
David muttered a few words under his breath that Crimson did not recognize, then, a wooden bow suddenly materialized in the king’s left hand, along with a quiver of arrows at his back. “I’ll shoot it while the beast is in flight,” he started, expression hard and serious. “You will throw whatever magic you can cast and avoid its fire; keep your distance, do not attempt to use that dagger! You’ll be killed.”
Hastily, the vampire did as told and withdrew the dagger, then quickly began searching his brain for all glints of magic he had discovered from becoming the night creature. Incredible; I barley believed in magic only months ago, and now I’m using it! Crimson identified sprouts of energy deep within him and called the magic forth, ready to use at a moment’s notice. The mighty dragon looked terrifying and merciless as it swaggered above him, closing in. He could hear the loud beat of its wings and feel the earth tremble at its ligneous roar.
The time for action must have arrived, for David notched the conjured arrow in the bow, pulling back far and aiming directly at the dragons’ left wing. With awesome accuracy, the king released and sent the arrow whistling through the sky like a sharp gust of wind, dimly visible even in Crimson’s hawk-like vision. The shot proved good, and jabbed straight through the beasts’ leathery flap, ripping a small hole and continually flew by as the arrow made its mark. The dragon growled in angered fury but never wavered in the sky; the blow merely enraged it.
“It made no difference!” Crimson exclaimed.
“It will take more than one flimsy arrow to harm this monster,” David barked, harsher than Crimson ever heard him. “Besides, these are simply conjured arrows, not professionally woven. Now keep your eyes focused and magic ready! It’s about to strike.”
As if it heard the king, the dragon released another roar and bent back its wings in a spiraled dive, the distance between them now greatly diminished. Its speed once again took Crimson off guard, and panic struck him briefly. “Duck!” David shouted at just the right moment; the dragon snapped mighty jaws that could break through steel armor, flapping its wings and gaining altitude once more. The force of wind that followed knocked David clean off his feet and ten yards away; Crimson lost balance as well, but regained faster than the king. The dragon yelled in beastly frustration and swooped in a sharp turn, rushing higher in the air and locking its glare back to the two adventurers fumbling on the ground.
“Blast,” David swore, shuffling back on his feet. “Let us be more careful!” Summarily, he notched another arrow and turned his focus on the angry dragon flying madly in the sky, as if throwing a tantrum. The second arrow pierced the air and zoomed towards the beast, this time making contact with one of its glistening scales close to the dragons’ front leg. After a soft thump, the arrow bounced off its skin and plummeted down to earth. The dragon growled again and increased its velocity. Without waiting for more results, David then notched two arrows at once, drawing back and sending them both flying. Fortunately, one managed to pierce through the same wing, but the other merely glanced off scales. Low curses seeped from David’s lips as the dragon dived again, glaring at them. Unexpectedly, a deep rumble sounded from its stomach, and a burst of white-hot flames exploded from the dragon’s mouth.
The only reaction Crimson had was to flinch and cover his face, which would have ended with him as a pile of ashes; thankfully, a yell echoed from David and a massive force of energy sprang in front of them like a wall, radiating a strange blue glow. The magical shield held up against the flames whilst the dragon changed course and shot overhead. Just as quickly, the force of energy vanished, and David grunted a sigh of subtle wearisome. “Crimson,” he said. “My arrows will eventually take out a wing, but there is no time for measly blows, and I must save my magic for more appropriate times. You must act, my boy.”
Crimson took no thought; calling from within himself, the vampire summed enough energy to produce offensive attacks. He looked upon the beast in the sky, angling its every movement, calculating the small muscles that moved and adjusted to the dragons’ every motion. Its large green eyes rested on him as it beat its wings, turned, and flew towards him. Microscopic particles of magic jutted rapidly within before pulsating at his palms. Finally, Crimson threw out his right hand and forced the energy outward; a brilliant flash of lightning shot out faster than the arrows and zoomed at the dragon. The last thing it saw was a bright light, and then the bolt slammed into its nose. Howling in pain, the dragon temporarily lost control as it roughly shook its head, tiny streams of electricity snapping across its face.
“Yes!” David cheered. “It wasn’t fatal, but the blast harmed it—that’s all we can hope for right now.”
Crimson swelled with accomplishment. I wounded a dragon! His celebration quickly ended, however, as the beast flared its nostrils and continued its dive for attack. “Prepare yourself!” David ordered, thus readying his bow once more. “This battle is far from over!”
The powerful beast charged onward with bloodthirsty eyes drilling at its targets, and another plume of fire blasted from its throat. It formed and shot like a massive fireball, hurtling in Crimson’s direction and singeing the grass below, illuminating the night. Such awful luck to be out in a huge opening somewhere lost in Ayer Forest. This time, the two fighters simply rolled out of its pathway, but both could feel the flooding heat. David gritted his teeth in pain at the intense radiance, watching the ball explode against a tree and create a large forest fire.
“Crimson!” he shouted over the roaring flames and approaching dragon. “I must put out that fire; now is your time to cast more spells!”
The vampire nodded briskly and called upon another sum of energy. His body—unable to grow physically weary—still felt weakened at the effort to throw the lightning bolt. Even so, Crimson tossed his tiredness aside and thrust out two hands. Using his amazingly quick thinking analysis, he revised all the spells he knew to cast based on simple teachings from David and his own instincts as a vampire: fire, lightning, ice, and healing. Even those few are very limited. I can maneuver and produce the spells in several different manners, but I am still incredibly vacant and unknowledgeable in the arcane arts. Shrugging away the thoughts, Crimson knew he still had to try. The dragon nearly ready for another attack, the vampire released large amounts of magic and managed to fling giant shards of ice from his palms. The massive hail slammed against the dragons’ diamond-shaped skull, and Crimson heard, as one of them hit, a heavy thud! And the beast blinked in surprise. Diverging course, it growled and gusted itself high in the air, changing direction just before it smacked into Crimson. He grinned in relief at damaging the creature once more.
Suddenly, Crimson’s mind slammed into a stone wall, and he nearly collapsed from the impact. The magic he had used drained him of strength, and his brain disoriented. Knees buckling, the vampire dropped to the ground under the immense absorption and weakness.
Behind him, David had already used a series of water spells to completely extinguish the flames, but did not waste any more energy restoring the plant life. He hurriedly went to Crimson’s side and lifted him to his feet with one strong hand. “Get up, my boy! Here, take some of my energy…” the king hummed quietly for a moment, and a great wash of power engulfed Crimson’s innards. “There is much I will teach you regarding magic,” David informed. “Now, to arms!”
David then drew out his bow again and readied an arrow as the dragon skimmed restlessly above, manipulating another attack, its head slightly damaged and left wing subtly wounded, tiny droplets of blood falling like rain. A conjured arrow whizzed at the beast, connecting to its thigh, bouncing off scales harmlessly. Crimson—overestimating his new wave of strength—sent a stream of tiny bolts of electricity zapping out of both hands, holding his palms outright and allowing them to flow out naturally. A few sparks claimed their target and stung random parts of the dragons’ body, but caused no more harm than bee stings to a human. “Careful,” David warned, aiming another arrow. “Don’t waste magic on blows that will not suffice decent damage.”
A deafening roar sounded from the dragon, as it had dozens of times before, and it sunk in a deep aril dive, throwing its entirety at the vampire and king. Reacting, David tossed his bow to the ground and unsheathed his sword. Crimson, on the other hand, jumped out of its way and flung a block of ice at the beast. Just as his hailstone banged against its head, David shouted a battle cry, drove his blade deep into the dragon, and ducked from its snapping jaw in just the right splinter of a second.
Shocked, Crimson noticed how the sword pierced directly through the dragons’ throat, stabbing just below the outline of its jawbone and nearly sticking out the other side. The beast howled in pain like a wounded tiger, wavering in the sky and falling closer to the ground. “That made a mark,” David confirmed. “Now, at least, it’s more hurt and won’t be able to breathe fire.”
“Will it not die?” Crimson asked, unable to remove his gaze from the now-clumsy dragon.
“Eventually, but not fast enough for us to be out of danger.” The beast flew as if drunk, roaring and wildly breezing through the air. A moment later, it slammed into a tall tree, crashing it down, then another…finally, a large crater formed where the dragon landed hard on the grassy floor, almost skidding into the river. “Here’s our advantage!” David shouted. “Follow my heel!”
The two galloped toward the fallen creature, David retrieving his bow and Crimson preparing a spell. After shoving past a few ferns and stepping over giant depressions where the dragon slid across the ground, they arrived with the beast laying flat on its belly, still bellowing. “It is too injured to gain altitude anymore,” concluded the king, glancing over its body. “And it’s badly wounded. Yet it still has enough strength to kill us, so take caution; I’ll elude it with more arrows—do what you will.”
As an array of arrows sprouted from every part, save the scales, of the dragon, Crimson shot a few minor lightning bolts at its wings. Furious, the beast raised its head and roared at the two, turning its head for attack. Crimson trotted back in fright with deluxe speed, and David sidestepped to a safe position. Determination written across his face, the powerful king thrust out an arm and sent a bolt that far exceeded Crimson’s at the dragon’s mouth. With incredible illumination and earth-shaking power, the lighting proved strong enough as the terrible dragon was struck and befallen.
And the battle was over.
“I can’t believe it,” Crimson murmured, staring at the giant corpse before him, examining the massive, glistening scales and oversized teeth. “I…we…slew a dragon…”
“That, dear boy, is the mighty power you and I posses together,” David said, a smile forming across his countenance for the first time since the battle begun.
Warnings of the old man from so long ago spiraled in Crimson’s mind. “But, David…this means that the dragons have returned to Heartfall!” He almost shouted in realization. “But…my father said this wouldn’t happen for years…”
“Ah, and so I believed as well,” the king agreed. “Yet it appears this dragon threat is worse than expected…Crimson, I fear with these beasts roaming Heartfall, our journey will be much more perilous than I originally thought.”
The vampire knew it to be true, but still warped with astonishment and disbelief. All things he had come to believe and understand ultimately vanished in that moment. “Come now,” David spoke. “There is much that needs to be done…hmm…yes, yes. I know what must be done.” He then approached the corpse and recovered his sword with a great tug, and casually pulled at one of the dragon’s loose teeth and slipped it within the many pockets of his robes. Turning back to the astoundingly confused Crimson, he smiled and said the famous words, “Let us continue.”
“Power is what we need,” David explained as the two ventured deeper into Ayer Forest, leaving the remnants of the fearsome dragon behind them. “As the Dragon Threat is now confirmed and a serious problem for Heartfall, we must posses greater strength if we are to complete this quest.” His royal robes fluttered at his back with each step, his trimmed brown beard lifting and lowering as he spoke. The man strolled in confident authority, as if showing his greatness by the velvet that clothed him and figure he carried.
“What sort of power? Crimson inquired, scurrying close to the king and observing the vast wilderness around him lighted by pure moonlight. He acknowledged the dim trickles of slithering specs that shone strange traces of enlighten horizon overpowering the stars above and knew that dawn would break in little over two hours. The vampire still sensed his undesired thirst that threatened to peak over his self-control since before the dragon fight began, but decided to forthrightly ignore it at the present time. To help contain his binding nature, Crimson examined the similar trees and chattering insects surrounding him as the two travelers switched from an open field to the usual array of cluttering plants.
“Ah, I have been thinking on the matter even before the battle we just experienced,” David mused. “You see, I believe—with what I have learned by journeying with you—that vampires hold unique and incredible abilities that are, in the current state, beyond your knowledge.”
His words lingered in Crimson’s mind for a moment as he considered the possibility. “Perhaps you are right,” he confided. “But what exactly gave you this idea, my liege?”
An amused chuckle bubbled from the king. “My boy, must I consistently remind you? My name is David; David Morian, Emperor of Heartfall, yes, but also David, your friend.”
“My apologies,” Crimson murmured.
David appeared to not be upset and continued amiably, “The idea struck me as I slumbered just before we exited Valor Cave, as a matter of fact.”
The statement stumped Crimson in confusion then. “A dream?” he echoed, stepping over a log strewn over their path.
“Aye. Dear Crimson, there is much you will learn about me throughout our travels, but in this moment, you need to simply trust me.” Dismissal encouragement shone in the king’s eyes, and Crimson somehow knew he spoke truth. After a short nod, he resumed, “Yes, a dream. In my hours of rest, revelation and confirmative blessed me. I now wholly understand precisely what the dream meant, and how we are to proceed with it.”
“Do all dreams grant us foresights or wisdom?” Crimson interrupted, puzzled in what David relegated but intrigued at its mysterious indulgent.
“Questions are wondrous beauties that allow further knowledge and essential understanding,” David replied smoothly. “Unfortunately, those of which you seek I will not fully answer right now. In return, I shall ask you a question that you likewise cannot thoroughly complete: What are all the sources of power in this universe?”
Crimson looked at the king indifferently; he knew the answer to that. “The gods,” he said. How can I not thoroughly complete his question?
David raised an eyebrow, skepticism written across his all-wise countenance. “Are they?” he questioned. “Do the gods above truly hold all sources of power? Is there no more? Do they actually exist?”
“Of course they exist!” Bewildered defense sprung across Crimson. “Are you an unbeliever, King of the Empire?”
“By your quick reaction and accusation, you are extremely religious and a strong dedicator to supernatural deities.” He remained calm and friendly, seeming unraveled by Crimson’s fierce interrogation.
“Fehov has watched over and protected my family for many generations,” he affirmed. “I am no priest or convict leader, but I do know that the gods are indefinitely real.”
“Yes,” David resolved. “You place faith in supreme figures that you have never physically seen or spoken to, and similarly have not blessed your family in any noticeable way or have given unto you anything obvious or blunt. Where does this incredible faith come from, young one, if no trace or touches of deities have revealed themselves personally to you?”
Just then, anger and ignorance for David pounded inside Crimson. “You do not believe…” he attempted to control his tone, wavering slightly between words. He greatly respected and favored the righteous king, but strongly disagreed with his lack of religious beliefs.
“Those words never spewed from my lips.” Surprisingly, David was smiling. “I do, of course, believe in the gods. However, I do not think they are the only forces of supremacy that pertain power amongst this world.”
This man; always wrought with confusion! “What are you getting at, David?” An edge of annoyance tainted Crimson’s tone.
“Patience will lead you far in life, my boy,” the king husked, not a tint of aggravation consuming him. “Now that we have covered our religious motives, I sense an overwhelming power that can be gained for vampires that does not categorize within any divine being…Alas, in a profound base; one could almost consider it unworldly, but certainly not beyond supernatural intelligence regarding deities. Thus, it does not originate from the gods; only its own heritage.”
“I do not understand.”
A quiet walk entranced the travelers as they scurried placidly in Ayer Forest. A lone doe trotted past them in haste, momentarily startled by their presence. Reminded of his thirst, Crimson cringed at the luscious groan that shook like prison chains inside of him. Practice self control…let it taunt you for just a bit longer…he repeated the words in his head several times, formidably returning his attention to David. “Then allow me to simplify,” he concluded. “Our destination right now is Junigre City, a large civilization filled with many unique dwarven cultures. Upon arriving, I will take you to one of their massive libraries where you shall delve in multitudes of books and ancient scrolls relating to vampires. Only after completing your research will you fully understand what powers your kind posses and how you will use them.”
A series of questioning problems alerted Crimson at David’s devolvement. The first and most obvious, he openly asked: “But David, will these people take kindly to meeting a real vampire?”
“Take no fret in that; I will assure them you are with me and perfectly harmless.”
But that’s not true. I could break at any moment… “Very well, but what about your exposure? My old blacksmith told me once that you kept your location hidden, for you didn’t want others to come looking for you.”
Sullen defeat etched the king’s merry face for a brief second as he replied, “Ah, well it would seem certain situations prevent me from doing so. Yet worry not; once we set off, our location shall return a mystery, verily we are careful not to let anyone follow us.”
“What of sunlight?” Crimson pushed on, pursuing every possible aspect that could prevent them from reaching civilization. “Day will birth shortly, and I cannot avoid contact from the outside whilst you walk among the city unaccompanied by me. In addition, how will I remain civilized as I sulk in libraries or inns throughout daylight hours?”
“Remaining civilized is of no priority to you right now, Crimson,” the generous and kind king said. “And I will not leave your company unless to eat or sleep. We are on this journey together, and we shall not easily separate until it is over.”
David seemingly overcame his every obstacle, and Crimson finally agreed, “Very well. How long will we be staying in Junigre?”
“As long as it takes for you to finish your studies.” David scuffed his thick brown beard and walked evenly beside Crimson, occasionally reaching out a hand to touch the bark of a tree or stroke the leaves of a plant.
Crimson enjoyed the term “studies,” excited to finally indulge in books and exercise his eager-learning brain. Hauntingly, his throat sizzled in refinance as he clamped a hand to the crook of his neck. “How will I feed,” he worried aloud. “whilst we rest in Junigre?”
David did not seem to take deep thought in the matter, answering almost immediately. “I will arrange for a supplement of animals to be at your disposure whenever the need may arise.”
He must have been pondering on this for quite some time. Whatever he dreamt about, perhaps it is unfolding nicely…
Before he spoke again, David inferred, “You will need to feed just before we arrive, and very thoroughly if I might add; the less precautions we have to take, the better. I trust you, dear boy, but vigilance is always of the essence.”
He agreed wholeheartedly and invited the silence that returned to them. Crimson gazed at the gentle stream that flowed only yards away, looking at the calm trance of Ayer Forest humming around him. As beautiful as this forest is, I will be quite glad to leave it; I feel like I’ve spent too much time surrounded by towering trees and restless bugs. Curiosity now springing him, the vampire asked, “David, what sort of dwarven cultures are in Junigre?”
He did not respond quickly, a thoughtful look burning in his countenance as usual. “The dwarves originally adapted in Heartfall long before humans,” he began. “Arriving shortly after the fall of the dragons. They favored the animals that inhabited the world, and took fondly of the plant life around them. The dwarves viewed forests and animals as beautiful gifts in Heartfall, and therefore adapted and customized in that basic form. Over the years, it all became very sacred to them, and the dwarves soon created many unique cultures, religions, and formalities of different animals, ancient woods, and fruitful greenery. And so, to summarize the ways of the dwarves, we are more than likely to find peculiar and incredible artifacts, buildings, rituals, and several other notabilities within the large city of Junigre.”
Fascination swelled inside Crimson, and he hungered for more information. “Interesting…what more can you tell me of the dwarves?”
David smiled brightly. “My, my, of all your interests in learning and you have not stumbled upon books regarding dwarves?”
“Actually, I have, although most of it reminisced in folklore…the majority of my studies involved royal history of Heartfall, heroic tales, and deities.”
“The dwarves have many gods and worship within their race. What of that?”
“I only read about the chief gods that ruled over Heartfall.”
The king scowled amusingly. “Dearest Crimson, there is much more in this universe to learn about.”
“All of which I am eager to learn,” Crimson insisted.
He then laughed shortly and continued, “Fantastic! Let us return to the topic, then: what precisely do you wish to know about them?”
An infusion of questions erupted from the vampire: “What are they like? What gods to they serve? How do they adapt to such cultures? What history follows them and which talents are they known for? Why did they favor animals and plants…?”
“Whoa, my boy, grab your hilt!” David chortled. “One question at a time!”
He apologized sincerely, and then started, “What are the dwarves like?”
In no feverous hurry, the king walked quietly for several moments, humming to himself. “Dwarves, like humans, all have distinct personalities pertaining to each individual. The majority of them, however, are born small in height and with green skin. Most have scruffy beards and speak in rough, strange voices, sometimes in hushed grunts. Though most dwarves are kind, hardy people, some can be quite vigorous and inclusive. A few of their inherited talents include excellent blacksmiths, powerful rouges, and incredible woodcutters.”
Just like my father, Crimson thought with a sting. “If they valued plant life so dearly, why would they chop trees?”
“Ah, very observant, Crimson; you see, the dwarves do not cut trees for regular purposes, such as firewood, construction, or material. No, they chop wood for religious sacraments and visual growth. The answer to how is this: dwarves possess specific magical enchantments and bloodlines that allow them to multitude trees and greenery by the figs and bark of wood, producing more than they sacrifice. Also, some of their gods require certain types of wood in order to summon or contact them—strange, yes, but it is of their nature.
“There are a few dwarven religions that involve the worship of animals, including elks, boars, and cows. If you wish to learn more in those beliefs, I would suggest searching inside the libraries you will be visiting or asking local residents. You will be astounded by how highly these people portray and respect animals, by the gods…but even so, animals and plant life are not everything to them; there is much more about dwarves that can be explored.
“Now all dwarves do not eat the flesh of animals, which is considered a terrible abomination. Therefore, eating meat or fish of any kind is strictly forbidden, and not even on the rarest occasions do they touch it to their lips.”
“Dwarves do not eat meat?” Crimson repeated, completely befuddled.
“That is correct—bread, vegetables, and fruit is all they consume.”
“But didn’t you also say they greatly valued plant life as well?”
“I did, but not nearly as favorably as animals. Even the dwarves can accept the vegetation of vine and soil, but yet there are those out there that do not partake in it; but as a whole, vegetables are not frowned upon and are commonly eaten amongst dwarves.”
“How will I drink the blood of animals during our stay, then? Surely they won’t allow it in Junigre.”
“In most cases, you would be absolutely correct, dear boy. Not even outsiders or different races are allowed to eat meat within dwarven cities. However, when I said ‘arrange,’ I actually meant that I personally will provide you with animal blood that I will gather outside of Junigre limits.”
Given that knowledge, Crimson bowed gratefully. “Thank you.”
“Not a problem at all, dear boy! It is the least I can do for such a committed friend.” His blue eyes brightened proudly as he took a brief pause from his speech, looking at Crimson honorably.
“Why were the dwarves such good blacksmiths and rouges?” Crimson asked after a few seconds.
“Apart from their fondness in animals and plants, the dwarves took vital interest in weaponry, especially after the Great War between their king, Orrenk, and the elves. Many of them began working in hot flames and iron, fascinated in the craftsmanship of swords, axes, and warhammers. Dwarves are the race that officially created smithing, as a related fact; dragons merely started it. After many decades, they gained reputation for their fine crafting of weapons and armor, thusly known to be great blacksmiths. As for rouges, the weapon style the dwarves most frequently used shaped them into people now considered rouges, and for their body type and culture.”
Crimson liked everything that David informed him of the dwarves and respected their qualities. I am now even more eager to reach Junigre and understand more about them. “How much longer before we arrive at the city?”
“About another hour; it is just at the end of Ayer Forest, to be more specific.”
At the end? Crimson could hardly believe it; Markel is located at the very beginning of Ayer Forest! He never knew that a large dwarven city populated on the other side. The only other places he knew of besides Markel was Falner. And the sun will rise shortly after we get there.
Crimson could not resist any longer after a few minutes of silence passed. “David, I must feed…I have been thirsty since before our battle with the dragon.”
David became sympathetic and alert. “Ah, yes. Very well…here, let me cast a simple spell…” he stopped suddenly and closed his eyes, deep in concentration. For a quick moment, he didn’t move; then, his eyes popped open and he turned around. Following his movement, Crimson was surprised to find a dead buck directly behind them. “Enjoy,” the king said with a hardy smile. Summarily, the vampire hopped onto the deer and quickly drained its blood. Once again, it barley quenched his throat, but satisfied his raging thirst to a smaller degree.
Moving onward, the travelers meddled in their own thoughts quietly. Multiple translations of the dwarves foiled through Crimson’s brain for a long while, wondering on the matters. David remained infused beside him, fingering his wedding ring and chewing on a loaf of bread he acquired from his pocket. Thinking on other issues, Crimson asked, “David, how will you as the emperor take care of the dragon threat?”
The question seemed to catch the king off guard, and he hesitated before responding. “Well, dear Crimson, I plan to send a very detailed letter to my palace explaining every job and preparation that needs to be done in order to ensure safety across the Empire. Then, I will list a series of tactical strategies for the army to use to protect Heartfall from immediate danger, and emphasize many essential diversions in attempt to ultimately defeat any dragon that becomes an instant threat, rather than developing an attack on every dragon in Heartfall individually.”
“That seems reasonable enough…will your wife know whom to directly contact within the palace to further activate all of your plans?”
“Yes, I shall also specifically name each person that will need to be fully informed on the matters.”
“I see…I hope the letter is thorough enough.”
“It will be, my boy.” The king smiled, confident in his abilities.
Just then, a faint opening could be seen through Crimson’s vampire vision. Narrowing his eyes, he noticed how the array of trees folded and continued endlessly along a sideways path, but abruptly stopped at a small clearway leading outside of Ayer Forest. “Junigre will be about a mile down a steep hill just outside of this clearing we will soon approach,” David said after a moment. The vampire could make out the slowly-glowing shades of light forming across the sky, and realized that time was short on their hands. Maybe another half hour…that’s just enough time for us to make it, if we make haste.
“Ah, to sleep on a warm bed, have a belly full of rum and a nice plate of fresh fruit…” David dreamed fondly in relaxing thoughts. “Perhaps I’ll even treat myself to a glass of aged wine and steamed mushrooms.”
Ten minutes later, the two men passed their last tree and opened up to a broad view of Junigre City.
The city was stunning.
Tall, dazzling white walls of silver steel surrounded the base, stretching farther in the distance than even Crimson could see. Golden buildings and placid machinery covered most of the area, along with farmland and gardens populating every inch of earth outside the city walls. Animals of every kind herded with multitudes of dwarf farmers: cattle, sheep, chicken, pig, and goat. Groups of deer, gazelle, horses, and elks divided many sections of the massive grassland accompanied by no less than two dwarves, and small ponds ripe with fish spotted in areas over the land. The rest of Junigre was unidentifiable because of the large walls.
“Incredible,” Crimson breathed. “I’ve never seen so many animals of all kinds in one place! And the walls, the city…it looks amazing from here.”
“Just wait,” David said, beaming at him. From below, the vampire winced and noticed specs of average-looking people amongst the thick crowd of animals and dwarves. “Those are humans!” he exclaimed.
“Did you think it would be nothing but dwarves?” David chuckled. “Come; let’s head down there before the sun rises.” The two jogged down the narrow incline and made their way to the bustling city. Upon arriving, they were soon greeted by a dwarf who was nearly two heads shorter than Crimson, a scraggly white beard, and a chubby figure.
“Hail, friends!” His tone was loud and welcoming. “My name is Gronak. You folks new to Junigre?” As he glanced from one to the other, his expression suddenly became ghostly and stunned.
“Quite,” replied David kindly. “Pleased to make your acquaintance; I am David Morian, Emperor of Heartfall. And this is my good friend, Crimson Grenaldsson.”
The dwarf’s jaw dropped, and he grew outrageously confused and overwhelmed. “You…I…he…Emperor David, sir! Please, please, follow me!” Gronak bowed hastily and guided them through the swarm of different animals, leading them to enormous gates of silvery white. Crimson glanced at David, but he appeared indifferent.
Entering Junigre, Crimson was shocked to see astounding buildings that rose higher than the trees, each etched with gold, silver, and bronze of all designs. Chattering dwarves roamed the spacious, grand entryway of the city market. Merchants and traders from every culture sold and prospered in the city, selling food, supplies, weapons, and clothing. It was fabulous and remarkable, monumental and comfortable.
“Over there we have our main Temple, where most of the city comes to worship Jugreth, the dwarven chief god. To the far north of the city lies the Resu Castle, home to Baldor, King of Junigre…”
Gronak went on, explaining various locations and commenting on different temples, inns, and primary visits within the city. It was larger than Crimson had expected, and he wondered on how Gronak could remember it all. “…And each night just after dusk, the entire town gathers to partake in song, drink, worship, and storytelling. We hope to see you both there; My Lord, if you would please follow me to the castle and speak with King Baldor. Mister Grenaldsson may come, as well.”
Everything moved at haste, both the vampire and king barley having time to glance around. “We’ll observe more momentarily,” David promised, and they followed Gronak inside the pillaring castle.
Two human knights coated in steel-plated armor stood on either side of the giant door containing the kings’ quarters, each wielding heavy axes tipped in shinning silver and dressed in iron hinges. They bowed respectfully at Gronak as he spoke with a gesturing hand, “This is Lord David Morian, Emperor of Heartfall, accompanied with Sir Crimson Grenaldsson. Allow them to pass.” Unquestioning, the knights opened the doors, and they rushed inside.
The quarters proved as impressive as the rest of the city. Decorated exotically, the room streamed with thin vines elapsing the leaf-coated walls and smooth floor; wild plants with several colors sprouted in neat lines leading to a large throne at the northern side, ferns of which Crimson did not recognize. A tall statue stood behind the great throne looking like an ancient dwarf, embedded with flawless rubies and tokens. Sitting atop the throne was assumingly Baldor; his beard cut neater than others, his skin a darker green, and face wrinkled slightly. A massive two-handed axe rested in a stand next to the tree-carved throne, and Baldor sat calmly and figuratively.
“Your Majesty,” Gronak said with deep fondness and honor. “My sincere apologies for arriving uninvited.”
“Rise,” huffed the dwarf, for Gronak had lowered to one knee. “There is no need for apologies; your trespass is forgiven.”
“Thank you,” he continued, rising slightly. “I bring to you King David Morian, the very Emperor of Heartfall, along with his steward companion, Crimson Grenaldsson.”
Baldors’s beady black eyes squinted at the names. “By Jugreth,” he murmured. “Emperor David, what brings you to Junigre City?”
“Please, must we indulge in such formalities?” David mustered, smiling amiably. “A pleasure to meet you, Baldor; you may call me David.”
“David,” he mused. Baldor stood up roughly from his throne and slowly stepped down three stairs to ground level, facing them.
“Let me introduce my trusted friend, Crimson—he has been a wonderful ally on my very long quest.”
“Ah, yes…so I heard of your absence from the palace. Details of your quest escape me, though I knew it must be important to abandon your duties, my liege.”
“Aye, indeed. I mean you no burden and ask no specific favor, dearest Baldor; I am simply here to allow this young boy to study at one of your incredible libraries.”
“Studies, you say? Is that all you have come for?”
David looked ashen for a moment, and then composed an embarrassed expression. “Well, I wouldn’t reject a comfortable inn and hardy drink, but I intend on paying full price whilst my partner and I stay here.”
“Nonsense! You and Crimson shall not waste a coin, I assure you. Now, the boy, here…I see that he is…?”
“A vampire, yes.”
“Ah…well…I assume he is of no threat, lest he not be in your company?”
“He is quite civilized and harmless,” David informed. “Alas, studies will be of our only concern…would you perhaps suggest a lovely library for us?”
Baldor thought for a second. “Yes…might I recommend the Lebran Library, located southeast beside Wakwash Inn? That is our largest library, my King.”
“Excellent, we shall make our way there shortly.” Crimson remained quiet during their conversation, unsure of how to address the discussions or kings.
“Must you take leave now? Why not sit a while and fill me in on your perilous journeys?”
“That would be lovely,” David agreed, and immediately began divulging in detail. Crimson had to admit; the king was very eloquent when it came to speaking, a natural master. He stood patiently and listened intently on the conversation, never hinting towards any restlessness or boredom.
“How remarkable,” Baldor muttered after several minutes. “We will have to meet once more before you take your leave of my city, my lord.”
“Of course.” David flashed a smile. “Now, I’m sure young Crimson is eager to see the city…I will take leave now, thank you so much for your time…”
They scooted out the door and left the castle, Crimson exuberant to explore Junigre. Gronak pointed them toward Wakwash Inn, and the vampire’s eyes drifted to the lighting sky. “You shall begin your studies at dusk tomorrow…after the party and your exploration.” David winked. The inn was tall and glistening gold like the other buildings when they arrived. Inside, Crimson was surprised to see not a single fireplace or bar, only a few tables and a small counter. “Welcome,” grunted the impish dwarf behind the glassy counter; he also noticed how nothing was made out of wood. David requested their finest room and paid for it, and also asked for a pint of rum. He gulped it happily as they scampered up the staircases to their room.
Upon entering, the large room consisted of a huge bed enriched with soft fabric, a small stand, velvet carpet, and aligned wardrobes. It’s comforting and nice, but not nearly as royal as I had expected.
“I will have a tray of food brought up to be, and then I’ll be off to bed; I’m rearranging my schedule so that I will be well-rested at night and dreary during the day. You, my friend, may do as you please until I awake, just don’t leave the inn…are you hungry?”
“No, I just fed,” he murmured. “I’ll wait for you to rouse, friend.”
With that, it was only a few moments later that a dwarf knocked on their door carrying a stoutly tray; peas and beans, a lump of garlic, a bowl of pears, a loaf of bread, portions of oranges and carrots, and a tall glass of apple-wine. The dishes were silver-rimmed bowls and encrusted plates. Expectantly, Crimson noticed not a single ounce of meat.
The king ate the food quickly and unmannerly, enjoying the fresh tastes and flavors. “Mmh…if everyone could grow fruit and season grains this exquisitely, there would be no need for meat.” He picked happily at the beans and stuffed pieces of oranges down his throat, drips of juice rolling down his chin. Finally, all was wiped clean, and David sighed and sipped at the remaining wine. Soon, he passed out on the warm bed, leaving Crimson sitting at a chair in the far corner.
The timeless day progressed. Thoughts and body undisturbed, Crimson sat very motionless on the crafted chair made not of wood, but something unknown to him. He stared out the glass window and watched the sun inch across the sky unnoticeably, shinning down upon the hundreds of glistening rays of gold and silver buildings, casting bright beams on eloquently constructed temples and monuments. He thirsted to understand each statue’s precise meaning, visit the beautiful buildings and pay respects at all the temples. He yearned to speak with one of the dwarves, listen intently to his voice, information, histories, and daily routines. Crimson was not bothered that they might be spending several days, if not weeks, in Junigre. He would study hard and carefully, memorize the many pages he would excess himself in, learn the titles and information of the books and scrolls he would read, and all the while have plenty of time to roam the incredible city.
David snored loudly, apparently gaining much-needed relaxation and proper sleep. Crimson’s eyes occasionally drifted to the slumbering king, taking a moment to appreciate all that he has done for him. The bed sheets crumpled and flopped when David shifted in his sleep, curling his fingers around the smooth silk burying his unshaven face in the feathery pillow. The bed had ornamented canopies and rich-embroidered hangings, being the finest room within the hotel. David had emptied his pockets of fat coin purses, strung arrays of weapons, scruffs of food, and other varieties. His silver long sword rested on a compatible rack next to the small table where Crimson’s dagger lay.
For what seemed longer than twelve hours, the sun finally set, sending an orange glow tipping Junigre; David had not stirred whatsoever during the entire period of daylight. Crimson slipped quietly out the room and fluttered downstairs to the counter.
“Good evening, sir,” grunted the dwarf, a hint of fear glinting in his beady black eyes. “What is it you need?”
“I would like a fresh glass of brandy sent up to the Emperor’s quarters, if you please,” Crimson said in his gentle, soothing tone.
“Of course, of course! Will you and His Majesty be attending the bonfire? There will be a load of food, hardy drinks, and cheery song!”
“We will, thank you.”
Crimson scurried back upstairs, entering to see David rousing.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked, smirking at the king’s knotted hair and bleary expression.
“Quite,” he mumbled. “Ah, I forgot to take notice; you need to bathe and dress in more comfortable clothing. All that blood-stained mess could leave people frightened, and I’m sure spending so much time in a cave left you filthier than a one-eyed toadstool.” He smiled wearily, scooting out of bed and folding the sheets. He gathered the items he disposed from his pocket and fixed his hair unprofessionally with his hands. “Why don’t you go down to the bathing pools and clean yourself up? I will have fresh clothes sent to you before you finish. I believe I will tidy up as well, and perhaps shave a bit…”
Crimson agreed and headed back down, passing the butler carrying the requested brandy along the way. He asked directions to the bathing room and wasted no time getting there. The narrow passageway that leads to the pools was dark—to human eyes—and quiet. Crimson walked slower than usual through the hall, soon approaching a large opening.
This room was even darker than the hallway, and would have appeared completely black in normal vision, but not to the vampire. Crimson could view everything in the room; a massive depression filled almost all of the space holding gallons of water, plumes of steam filtered the air above, rising entirely to the towering ceiling. Looking to the right, Crimson noticed a supply of soap resting atop a tiny stand, along with a small pile of sanitary towels. The atmosphere was hot and peaceful, and although Crimson was not affected by average temperatures, he still enjoyed and felt the heat of the room. He stripped from his dirty clothes and slipped into the pool.
The water was warm and calming, soothing to the touch as his feet slid in it. At first, the water barley submerged his ankles, but as he glided further, it became deeper, finally reaching just above the bone line of his waist. With a soft chuckle, Crimson realized that it had probably been made for dwarves. He sunk himself deeper in the still water, allowing his head to drop below the surface for a few seconds. Emerging, Crimson curiously observed his body for the first time since his drastic change in DNA.
His muscles were much more profound than Crimson had previously thought; his stomach and chest outlined into solid completion, bulging to a satisfying measure without looking abnormally insane. His pecks were hard and jaunt, his arms and shoulders displaying every muscle individually with astounding deviancy; no vein jutted out throughout his entire figure, only smooth skin and burly features. Crimson also noticed, with faint surprise, that he had not a single hair apart from his head; he did not see any bushy strands under his arms, tiny hairs sprouting his face, not even any hair around his groin. As a second realization, every scar or mark Crimson had ever received over the years had vanished, leaving no reminder of his hardships or battles.
“Incredible,” he murmured lowly. After he finished with his examination, the vampire drifted to the soap and began washing himself thoroughly, removing all stenches and remnants of blood. Once done, Crimson walked back to the deepest end of the large pool and let his body soak in the relaxing water. He submerged several times, feeling the liquid overtake him, ignoring his screaming urges for blood, as he still practiced to taint his appetite. He knew not how much time had eased by, but Crimson finally rose from his comfort and floated to the towels.
Astoundingly, someone had already laid out a organized pile of clothes for him. He stepped out of the pool, water dripping profusely from his body, and picked up one of the thick cloths. Crimson dried quickly and examined the clothes; a gold-trimmed tunic with intricate markings along the base, satin-woven pants, and leather boots. Impressively, the clothes fit perfectly and proved to be very comfortable.
David met him at the door of the hotel, beaming at him. The king had shaved his scruffy face and changed clothing; he now wore a finely woven, red tunic and expensive pants, still appearing royal, but with more standard clothes. “There you are! Here, tidy up your hair and let us be off to the bonfire!”
Thrashing with excitement, they followed the fast-gathering crowd toward a massive fire that could be located a league away in the center of Junigre. Thousands of dwarves and hundreds of humans bustled in the huge assortment and chattered merrily. Arriving at the fire, King Baldor stood in the midst of the circle next to the roaring flames, seeming unbothered by the intense heat. He raised his hands for silence and spoke loud enough to where all could hear: “People of Junigre City! Tonight like any other, we gather here to share in incredible fun, cheery feast, and welcoming music! But tonight, however, we have two very special guests we would like to recognize that will be visiting our wondrous city. Please welcome, in full respect and honor, our very own David Morian, Emperor of Heartfall, and his traveling friend, Crimson Grenaldsson!”
The entire jumble erupted in deafening cheer as they stepped out in the open where everyone could see, a bright grin flashing David’s face and an embarrassed smile from Crimson. Dwarves and humans alike applauded and welcomed them with open arms, flooding the city with excitement and exuberance.
Then everything set in motion. Lutes and flutes of all types appeared, and music flowed throughout Junigre; Crimson saw that wood did not keep the fire ablaze, but some sort of blue substance that he could not identify. Mugs and racks of beer were passed around, dwarves sang heroic tales of their ancient heroes, exotic fruits and peculiar vegetables were served, along with trays of bread loafs. The celebration and thrilling wild lasted for several hours, drunks stumbling within the group and humans reciting old poems. Finally, it all ended with an assortment of prayers to Jugreth and other dwarven gods, then King Baldor dismissed the crowd whilst the bonfire slowly diminished.
“That was extraordinary,” David exclaimed, his eyes swirling slightly.
“Fantastic,” Crimson agreed.
“Now then, are you ready for your studies? Gronak has agreed to escort us to Lebran Library, and also insisted you ask him any question you wish while there. Then, I will stay with you as you commence in learning.”
High hopes and rattled anxiety swarmed inside the vampire as the time finally arrived for him to delve in the histories of his kind.
Lebran Library stood taller than most of the other buildings.
Thick pillars held up the foundation made out of white marble, encrusted with strange symbols intertwining around the bases, of which Crimson did not recognize. Bronze rims etched across the outline of the triangular-shaped roof, and the colossal doors replicated the same symbols framing in gold. It reminded the vampire of a massive half of a coliseum, apart from the Lebran Library words written gigantically on the front. Smiling, Crimson stepped inside with David and the dwarf.
His jaw broke free of its socket. Thousands of bookshelves higher than three giants reached the tall ceiling above, crammed with volumes varying in sizes, along with countless series of scrolls and stone tablets. The alignment of shelves stretched farther than Crimson had previously imagined, and dozens of dwarves shuffled along the hallways, replacing books and assisting other wanderer; multitudes of chairs and tables lined across the monumental library, applying comfort and rest for all readers. Gronak appeared satisfied by their reactions, saying, “Yes, this is Junigre’s most impressive library. What is it you were searching for, Sir Crimson?”
“History and information about vampires,” he replied, eyes darting around the vast room. David took a keen interest in Lebran as well, awing at the sea of possibilities.
Gronak left and quickly returned with an unbalanced stack of several books, no less than six. “Start here,” he said, slamming the pile in front of them. “These give basic information and a little background history regarding vampires. I will remain inside this library whenever you need me.” With a last bow, the dwarf trotted away into the void of knowledge.
Fascinated, Crimson followed David to a comfortable set of squishy armchairs next to a blazing fire, carrying the mass of books. “I will take half the pile,” David insisted. “and begin reading. Whenever you find anything new or interesting, let me know, as I will do the same.”
The two lost themselves in thick volumes as hours trickled by; Crimson read deeply in a large, red book with leather binding, wrinkled pages and peculiar inscriptions along with English translations. The text was written in an elegant script, explaining the origin of blood creatures and their native inhabitants. Once certain page attracted his attention:
Blood drinkers of old were believed to be possessed with demonic forces overrunning their very souls, controlling the extent of their nature and implanting them with unique and horrific abilities. Rituals of converting mortals to immortality involved baptizing the mortal in a container of black liquid, surrounded by candles, and chanting, “By sins wrath and fear below, let blood become this mortal’s foe, embrace the weak and kill the strong, for all men suffer long!” Many other incantations followed the basic enchantment, though most seep with evil meaning and have been forbidden to record by Homulgus rulers.
A shiver ran down his spine. Such awful creatures… have I truly become inherited to this? He read on, memorizing every important fact and manuscript. David also continued in research, reading a bit faster than he. Time elapsed more quickly than usual, and it felt like no time after Crimson finished two full books, each over seven-hundred pages long I read much faster than before!
Then David slammed his third book shut halfway through. “I believe that will be enough for today. Is there anything you’d like to share before we go explore the city?”
Apart from the disturbing rituals, he did not think any of what he had learned was worth any use, so Crimson shook his head. “Very well; I shall gulp down a nice jug of water and we’ll be off.”
They scurried out of Lebran Library, leaving their books behind for later, and opened out to Junigre. Many of the people were still wandering around, so they blended in well with the crowds.
“Where would you like to go first?” David asked, strutting merrily beside him. “The coliseum? Historic buildings? The temples? The farmlands?”
“Let’s visit a temple first,” Crimson suggested, looking around with his bright, wicked red eyes. “I wish to learn more of dwarven religions.” They immediately headed for the nearest temple, which structured smaller than most but designed with the same white-marble and symbols. Uniquely, however, the ancient foundation etched figures of animals and worshipers along its incisions.
Entering, Crimson was shocked to find nothing more than blue, velvet carpeting, a few pews, statues lining neatly on either side, and a large basin engulfed in a bright, dancing flame. The statues included a massive cow carved from stone, a boar dressed in glinting rubies, and other random animals coated in different jewelry.
A dwarven monk sat on his knees next to the basin, lifting his hands and muttering under his breath, wearing linen white robes. When he heard them enter, he stopped, turned, and rose to his feet. “Oh, Your Majesty!” he squeaked in a high-pitched voice. “What can this old monk do for you?”
“We have come for mere observant and curiosity,” he answered kindly. “What can you tell us about this temple?”
His beady eyes brightened. “Well, Your Grace, this is the Temple of Divinity, where dwarves come to worship the sacred animals of our land. From the humble pigeon to the honorable cow, we give respect and sacrifice to our beastly overlords.”
“Why do you worship these animals?” Crimson asked with lingering curiosity and indigent.
The monk smiled at the vampire, but with a fixed gaze and stiff posture. “We worship them because of the blessings they have given us; the pigeon plants seed so our crops may grow, the cow grants us milk to drink, the boars solid protection, and so on and so forth.”
“If I am not mistaken, you worship certain animals because you believe they are intelligent life forms who bring gifts and supplement into the world?” Crimson’s tone did not sound doubtful, but simply confirmative.
“That is correct.”
Once the dwarf covered a few interesting details involving the religious cultures, they finally excused themselves and continued their exploration. “That was much more simplistic than I had hoped,” Crimson muttered, walking evenly next to David.
“Indeed. Come; let us find something a bit more intriguing…how about the Great Coliseum? You can learn more specifically of the dwarves and all the information you are eager to learn.”
“That sounds much more appealing,” he agreed.
They made their way to the gigantic building of the museum, unsurprised to find it to be extraordinarily large on the inside.
Within it lay various artifacts and tablets containing assortments of information, protected by several guards dressed in leather armor.
“Welcome,” one of them greeted when he spotted them. “What do you need?” he acted indifferent regarding the emperor and vampire’s entrance.
“Whom would we speak with in order to learn more about…these many artifacts and dwarven cultures?” David asked.
“That would be Fuldam over in the western area, standing next to that ancient statue.”
They found the dwarf and approached him. “Hello,” David said. “I am here with my friend searching for more information about your people. Care to give us a tour?”
“I would be honored,” the dingy but muscular dwarf bowed. He led them to the beginning of the coliseum and pointed to a strange monument of a dwarf dressed in an unknown armor and wielding a great axe. “This is a statue of King Orrenk, who was the founding father of Trunaph, the native land of the dwarves. After defeating the elves in a great battle, Orrenk claimed dominion over the desert land; but the dwarves were not satisfied, and soon set sail and made refuge in Heartfall, therefore becoming the first natives of this land.
“Now Orrenk was a brilliant and powerful man, sending troops to make civilizations across Heartfall and cherishing the forests and exotic greenery that formally inhabited it. It wasn’t for many generations until the elves finally confronted the matters and arranged a peace treaty with King Orrenk, allowing them and the dwarves to live peacefully together…humans did not exist at the time, and most of the issues and domination ended before their arrival.
“And in conclusion, that is roughly how the dwarves came to be in Heartfall. Now, moving along, let me explain the unique cultures that slowly developed.”
Fuldam guided them to an old smithing station, with a few iron ingots and worn weapons. “Smithing became a significant part of our lives shortly after the Fall of the Dragons, but it was not the most important factor when comparing to the animals of the earth. How this fondness came about revolved primarily around Lord Jugreth, who, in ancient tablets, told of their incredible favorability and significance. Since then, the dwarves have cherished the mysteries and ways of animals.”
“What about the heroes of old?” Crimson interrupted.
“There were many: Sir Tronarg the Great, Hamlu the Wise, Quarn the Blacksmith…but their stories do not unfold until after the rebellion of Jugreth ceased and the dwarves reclaimed victory across Heartfall. We’ll get into those details later; first, let me tell you about a few of our traditions…”
The dwarf continued walking until he stopped before a stone tablet written in an unfamiliar language. “One of the dwarves most sanitary traditions you have already encountered: gathering the town for a great bonfire and commencing in song. Others include the old ritual of growing certain fruits within the gods’ given time period, in which the vines ripen and produce more abundantly for many months. I’d tell you more, but the list goes on, and I’m sure you would be more interested in other ramifications.”
Before the dwarf could move on, an overwhelming sensation surged inside of Crimson in that instant, and he knew it was only a matter of time. “David,” he whispered urgently. “I must feed.”
Understanding swept his countenance. “Dear Fuldam,” he said. “I am afraid you will have to excuse my friend and I, for it would seem I have a matter of urgent duties that foolishly slipped my mind… we will return as soon as possible, of course.”
Fuldam did not seem upset by the hasty escape. “Oh, not a problem at all, My Liege! I look forward to acquainting you again.”
They both rushed out the coliseum, and David spoke rapidly, “Go back to our room and I will have enough blood to you very shortly…this will require a bit of magic.” Crimson quickly made his way to Wakwash Inn, hastily sweeping up to their comforting quarters. As promised, David returned with a tray supporting dozens of glasses of thick red liquid, smiling fluently. “Here you are.”
He chugged the glasses down swiftly, tasting purges of lion and jaguar. The blood tasted slightly more appetizing than other he had consumed, cooling his throat, but still far from satisfying. Once he finished, he slumped into the soft bed and sighed deeply, relieved.
“You need to tell me of your thirst more frequently,” David murmured, looking at him directly. “I cannot keep record of the time, what with the constant worries and planning within my head, and all of that sort…” the man bore a deep expression, reflecting his many years of experience. He casually dug inside his pants and pulled out a scrap of parchment, along with an inkwell and quill. David summarily scratched with a thoughtful look for several moments, finally summarizing his writing with a quick signature. “I have written a thorough letter to the palace,” he explained. “I will deliver this to a courier, have a nice snack, and we shall return to our studies for the remaining hour of the night. Is that fair?”
“Good; follow me, if you please.”
They then found the nearest courier, handing him the letter with a waxed seal, and David grabbed a handful of grapes and bread. Minutes later, they found themselves back in Lebran Library, noses dug in collections of books.
Indulging in page after page, nothing useful occurred to Crimson for a long while. It wasn’t until only ten minutes before sunrise that a small piece of information caught his eye; a subtle portion of a page he flipped to contain a simple paragraph:
Putting aside all natural abilities, the vampires received the strongest of their powers through their language created by Vampiric Ancestors; those of immortal blood-suckers could speak in this tongue, summoning supernatural energies and abilities given by their mysterious and powerful bloodline. Only true Masters of the Vampiric Language could use it most effectively, and only vampires could use the language properly.
“David!” Crimson exclaimed. “I think I have found something…good.”
“What it is, my boy?” he asked curiously, leaning in from his chair whilst still holding a large volume. His eyes changed from mischievous to utter surprise in a matter of seconds as he read the paragraph. “By the Storm Lords,” he whispered. “Can this be…plausible?” He abruptly snatched the book from Crimson’s hand, a singe of shock crossing him briefly. David’s mouth quivered while his liquid-blue eyes darted from one side of the page to the other, the temperaments of his brain working relentlessly. As if he had just been struck, the king jumped from his seat, hair acting with the motion. He looked again at the book swiftly, then turned and fixed his omnipresent glare on the exasperated vampire. “Get back up to the inn,” he commanded in a stern tone. “Do not ask questions or wander around; go immediately! I will return to you by daybreak.”
Crimson froze for a moment, unsure of how to react, swarms of thoughts trampling his mind. “Go!” The king shouted, jerking him back to sanity. He did as ordered and rushed out the library, moving with more grace than an acrobat. Crimson looked neither a dwarf nor human in the eye, almost running to Wakwash, his feet never making a sound against the hard stone that carpeted Junigre; a few bystanders stared wide-eyed at his quick, fluent stride, but he paid them no attention. He reached the inn much faster than usual, darting directly to the quarters David had rented and slamming the door behind him.
I have never seen David so…upset. Crimson shook his head, contemplating between the kings’ furious glares and the paragraph that caused it. A Vampiric Language…it sounds dark; powerful, perhaps, but unmistakably dark. If such a thing truly exists, it would sure be a dangerous yet incredible weapon…but what about it infuriated David so?
He paced around the room, attempting to configure all his jumbled thoughts. Nothing seemed understandable or possible to Crimson; so many unexplainable events had fumbled in his life over the past few months, each one defying that of which he believed in and accepted. His impacting eyes glanced from corner to corner, inspecting every angle and crack within its recesses. Time seemed dreadfully wicked and tedious in David’s absence, minutes passing like pricking needles inside human flesh. Growing mentally wearisome of preceding the same monotonous pattern of pointless pacing, Crimson finally decided to plant himself in his usual chair and impatiently wait for the king.
Pink infusions rolled into view as the sun broke over the horizon, then progressively clocking across the sky. Crimson folded his arms and stared blankly out the window, fretting consistently inwardly of his vanished friend. His worries changed to frightful concern when the sun began to set, eyes drifting constantly to the door. If he has not returned when the sun has completely subdued, I will go look for him, he decided.
Not seconds after his conclusion, Crimson heard with deluxe ears two sets of footprints shuffling downstairs and hastily making its way upward. David burst through the door a moment later, eyes bulging and hair tangled. A tiny scar marked his drained cheek and his clothes were strewn and dirty, but otherwise the man looked normal. “Crimson,” he said, taking rapid breaths. “We’re leaving—now. I have packed food for myself and clothes for you, and I have weapons…no time for anything else. Let’s go!”
Without question, Crimson followed him quickly out of Wakwash Inn, and just like that, their visit ended.
Half an hour afterwards, the two strolled in a hurried pace across a massive, grassy field, Junigre City falling behind them. The sky was cloudless and open, stars streaming above. David had tidied his clothes and hair whilst they walked, but he did not glance at Crimson for more than a second, keeping his eyes forward and stride fast. It was several minutes before Crimson finally dared speak.
“David, please tell me what is going on! Why did we leave? Where are we going?”
“I’ll explain later,” he replied impatiently. “Right now we are going to an obscured location for specific reasons—I will tell you everything once I feel we are far enough.”
He did not interrogate further, keeping up with David’s trot. Once they crossed the large field and stopped at a dingy area hidden behind huge boulders, the king halted and faced Crimson.
“There is much I need to tell you, and you must pay very close attention, for I will not repeat myself.” Crimson nodded simply and he continued. “The information you discovered proved not only to be correct, but also much more powerful than either of us imagined; dangerous as well.”
Crimson took a step back in reproach. “The Vampiric Language is real?” he echoed. “What does this mean?”
“Let me explain more thoroughly: during my absence, I traveled far---magic journeys a long way in this world—and grasped my hands on some very essential scrolls, precisely giving key information on this…language. What I have gathered truly astounded me, and I have seen and encountered that of which you have never dreamed of. Crimson, this language, and I do not exaggerate in the smallest degree, may very well be the most powerful aspect we could possibly gain on our quest.”
No word or thought came to Crimson in that moment, a disturbance that seemed to be happening quite frequently over the past half decade. Unintelligently, he merely responded, “How?”
David leaned closer to him then, eyes piercing through the vampire. “This language is far from simple words; with it, one could cast powerful spells, posses overwhelming attributes, and endless possibilities far beyond belief, abilities I cannot hope to express by what I speak! Crimson, young one, I have learned how to access this language, but it requires a vampire…listen to me! Are you willing to commence in your ancestral inheritance?”
Crimson became uncontrollably overwhelmed by the rash decision David had laid out before him. Why is he thwarting me with such a monumental choice such as this? “David, I…I do not know…can you tell me more about it?”
David relaxed his figure and sighed deeply as realization acknowledged him. “Oh…yes, of course. I am piling too much onto you at once…allow me to verify: the Vampiric Language, as you know, was created by your ancestors, which happen to be the first vampires ever to exist. There were only three of them, all brothers, and they combined their vast wisdom and created a language that could exceed all others, something that contained great power. Together, they formed the words and magic, forming a language that only they could understand…and that summarizes shortly how it began.
“After reading over the scrolls, I have learned that once the three brothers finished, they spoke in the new language and, more or less, ‘died,’ but first bided their souls inside any mortal that became a vampire. To simplify, the ancestors virtually live inside your soul, Crimson, and their language is available to you.”
“How do I use it?” he asked, absorbing all the information and bubbling with a mixture of different, intense emotions.
“Well, you must venture deep inside your mind and locate the source of your Vampiric instincts…then, take an object, any object, and bind your soul inside of it. Once completed, you will spiritually be contacted directly by the Vampiric Ancestors, and they will thusly explain further.”
“Hmm….here,” David concluded, digging inside his pockets. “Take this dragon tooth and use it as your object of binding. I was instructed to take it in the dream I had, and now I know of its use.”
Crimson took it, noticing David had fashioned it into a necklace using plain, thin rope. He hesitated, looking at him. “Are you sure we must proceed with this, David?”
“I know it seems dangerous and mental, but you must trust me.” Despite his reluctance, the king seemed confident in the decision.
Taking a deep breath, Crimson closed his eyes and searched within himself; strange flows he had not felt before cultured dimly inside him. He reached out to the speckles, more and more, until finally, the sensation grew strong and controlling. He tried to pull from its draw, but the energy waved over him and—
“Homulgus! Why art thou here?”
Crimson lost contact with reality, the tendrils of his soul fragmenting from position and swirling inside an unknown abyss. Darkness foiled from every direction, blocking out his vision and creating ghostly images that weren’t there. He attempted to move his body, but nothing happened; it was like he became a transparent figure that limited all motions apart from his eyes and mouth. He tried to cry out, yet no sound came, only silent screams. The thickening black pushed against him, mentally strangling him, creating a darkness that not even he could see in. For the first time in his new life, Crimson felt cold in the chilling, mysterious atmosphere, sending uncomfortable sensations throughout his entire body.
Something formed out of the elapsed nothingness. Like a shadow shifting in the dark, a figure slowly materialized before him, coming into existence. The first and only thing Crimson noticed was a pair of illuminating, blood-red eyes, even more astonishing than his own. They stared at him unblinkingly, gazing through him like diminishing vapor. The eyes sent a stab of fear inside him, wishing more than anything to run away and hide like a small child. Then, oozing into view, a glint of dazzling silver hair made its way to Crimson’s sight, shinning like its eyes even though there was not a speck of light. Whatever this is, it is far from anything I’ve ever witnessed thus far.
“Creature of the night,” hissed the dark, snake-like voice. “What brings you to our realm?”
He did not know how to respond, only meddling in his own horror at the frightful sound of its voice. Its mere words seemed to radiate with indescribable power and terrible darkness. Images of his most awful nightmares flashed in Crimson’s mind between each word the creature spoke: Erineth’s blood spraying the hut, his wild, angry snarls, clutching his mother’s corpse in his arms…
“Speak now, vermin, or feel the wrath of the Brothers!” the voice shrieked, the figure now coming into clearer focus; it was obviously a vampire, but different at the same time. All its features were more breathtaking and perfect, its build more muscular, yet slim. The vampire had long, striking silver hair, boney cheeks that somehow reflected centuries of existence, and unique skin that glowed more favorably than Crimson’s. To his surprise, the mysterious vampire was smiling wickedly at Crimson, revealing perfect teeth and sharp fangs.
An uncomfortable and dimly painful sensation webbed inside Crimson, his body wishing to shiver in response but unable to. The black room continued to disorient as if his eyes were shifting in and out of focus, blotches of misty white fluctuating his vision. The creature, however, was almost completely exposed before him, showing long robes of satin hanging past its ankles; the vampire, by the structure of his visage, appeared to be male. His penetrating stare never left Crimson’s eyes, intent and, to his disdain, amused.
“I have already scanned your mind, Crimson Grenaldsson, so there is no need to remain silent,” he spoke, his voice changing to a normal, cold tone. Though his voice was icy, the vampire still smiled, his eyes relaxing subtly.
Crimson blinked, incredulous. “How did you…?” he began.
“Read your mind? It is quite easy, you see, for us.” His smile broadened, and Crimson noticed the plural term.
He decided to change topics. “Wh-where am I?” he stammered, cursing himself for allowing his voice to crack.
The swirling abruptly stopped, and nothing but blackness surrounded the two figures. The ominous creature stood just a few feet away, hands behind his back. “You, young woodcutter, stand in the realm of the Three Brothers, between the dimensions of life and death.”
His words plunged Crimson in a sea of fear and confusion, his body remaining frozen by some unexplained force. Before he could choke out another question, the male spoke, “I am Ventice, one of the three vampires whom created our language. My brothers and I rule the land of night creatures, in a continuum separated from the living, yet undisturbed by the dead.” He spoke softly, but with piercing intensity, the dark bruises beneath his eyes seeming ominous now. “And you, Crimson, have called upon us in your time of need with David Morian.”
Crimson attempted to not express his mild surprise at all Ventice knew, but failed entirely. He felt lost in darkness, mentally and literally, as he stood before a vampire that was more powerful than he could dream.
“You are filled with questions and uncertainties,” Ventice continued more monotonous, his eyes fixed on Crimson. “But I will not allow them to be answered now; there are more important matters at hand. State your business outwardly, and let us get on with this…interruption you have brought.”
His rational straightforwardness caught Crimson off guard, and he struggled to remember exactly why he was here. “Apologies, sir…,” he began. “Ventice, milord….I wish to learn in the Vampiric Language,” he managed.
“So I am aware,” he bemused. He seemed pleased at the confused expression upon Crimson’s face, for he concluded, “It is better to hear the words spoken out of your mouth than fumble your mind for confirmations. Now….”
Ventice gathered his thoughts for a quick second, and then continued. “There is much to explain, though I will only offer very limited time; it is a great honor to be in my presence, vermin, and you would do well to remember that.”
Crimson bit his tongue and replied vehemently. “As I shall, sir.”
“Good,” he smirked. “I will cover with you brief basics regarding our language. Do not take anything I tell you lightly, for this is a very serious and dangerous matter. Understood?”
Ventice nodded once, impatience lighting his eyes. By his attitude, he thought it was a great waste of time to be conversing with Crimson. “I will not grant you a second meeting by your own will, so listen carefully: the Vampiric Language provides immense power and abilities for any vampire, but it takes years of practice to master even a simple word of power. To use this language takes more than merely learning the word; it requires full concentration and astounding willpower, and even more so to speak the word most fluently. Physical strength is never greatly diminished, of course, but if spoken wrongly, the language could severely harm you or kill you. And just to summarize, only vampires can use this language properly, and any other attempts from other beings will ultimately fail.” Ventice paused, reviewing Crimson’s expression closely. “You do not understand everything about vampires, not even close,” he murmured, a gleam in his eyes that Crimson did not recognize. Perhaps he was reading his mind again?
“I suppose I’ll have to verify our ways more clearly to you,” he sighed, standing in the same position as before, looking unrealistic. “You are vaguely aware of your new senses and bloodlust, correct?”
“Yes,” Crimson replied bluntly, still unable to move an inch.
“Well, I assure you, there is much more. Only after a year of living as a vampire will your full senses and abilities awaken—a little fact to keep in mind. Only then will you fully understand what I am about to explain.”
Ventice glanced over Crimson once more before resting his eyes upon his countenance and resuming.
“You have felt the burn of the sun, realize the impossibility of ending our existences, surged with uncontrollable thirst for human blood, and explored in your renewed and godly senses, strength, and speed. You are aware of your transformed appearance, broad thinking capacity, and immortality. That, however, is only the basics of vampirism.
Once you have existed as a vampire for a year, much will begin to change: your physique, sight, and smell will slightly increase and become more profound; your magical energy will grow stronger, along with your vampiric abilities. But, more unfortunately, the bloodlust within you will also increase in strength, making it that more difficult to resist when necessary….what you feel now is quite dim compared to what will come in the future.
“All that you need to know of our kind, at the moment, I have told you. Now we will discuss briefly the topic of our language, and I will send you off. Were it not for your extreme case and situation in Heartfall, I might have not bothered to summon you here. As it is, I will tell you what must be done.”
Ventice’s mouth twitched as he stared with an unreadable expression at Crimson, who remained silent and keen. Budding arguments sprang inside him, but he decided to not speak his mind to Ventice now—that he would hold until absolutely necessary.
“Apart from the power and dangers, the Vampiric Language is complex and nigh impossible to learn, and even harder to master. Yet I will give you two very simple words in the language, one that is simply that, a word, and another that is pulsed with extreme magic, and could be vitally useful to you.”
Ventice verified Crimson again, looking hesitant, almost unwilling, to inform him. Another long sigh escaped his lips as he muttered quietly, “Outrageous….foolish creatures….if it weren’t significant….” He finally composed himself and spoke louder. “I cannot stress to you the importance of this, and if I were given more time, I would greatly prolong these…teachings for the sake of Heartfall.”
“Why is time so short for us?” Crimson blurted out, curiosity getting the best of him.
Ventice flashed with anger for a single instant, then just as quickly smoothed his expression and smiled pleasantly, but with unmistakable evilness. “Events are unfolding quite strangely at the moment, hasting my speech. Well, there is no immediate danger, but time is short for all that we must cover. A hundred years would be far too short, even….” Suddenly the vampire faltered, his eyes flicking away from Crimson, his mind drifting elsewhere. “Blast,” he cursed in a single breath. “I’m afraid I must dismiss you now….,” his expression became urgent, tangibly intense, as his eyes fell back on Crimson. “Listen to me, vampire. I will summon you again when things are more….presentable. For now, I want you to focus on this particular word: Singu. Do not ask me to explain anything right now, you must go….until next we meet, Crimson Grenaldsson.”
In an array of swirling mist, the room and Ventice slowly faded away from Crimson, the silver-haired vampire glaring at him with keen, expressionless eyes. “No, wait!” he protested, thousands of questions foiling in his mind, but it was too late. Everything dimmed away in a void of nothingness, falling back like a sinking rock.
Crimson awoke with a start, the bright stars above temporarily blinding him from being elapsed in solid darkness for so long. Mind still whirling, he rose up swiftly and glanced around, blinking several times. He lay upon a soft bed of hay and pine needles, next to the large boulder he had lost conciseness from. A stuffed leather bag rested beside him, its containments unknown as it was closed. The night was cool and moist, quiet except for the distance chorales of frogs and a running stream. David sat a short length away, humming lightly and gazing at the sky. When he arose, the king’s blue eyes darted to him, and he smiled warmly. Crimson noticed that he no longer wore his velvety garments; instead, he dressed in full-plated armor of a greenish texture: a hard, steel cuirass; skinned, leathered gauntlets; ivory boots with twining symbols; and a burgundy helmet, all colored and designed in the same, green-like fashion, yet furnished from different necessities.
“You’re awake,” he said. “What is it you encountered?” For some unknown reason, the king looked subtly eager but obviously unsurprised, as if he already knew the answer.
“It was…a very short meeting,” Crimson explained wryly, his unawareness reaching his eyes that looked at David without truly seeing. “I met with Ventice, one of the Three Brothers….”
“The Ancestors,” David breathed in confirmation.
“Aye. He spoke to me, telling me more about vampirism…” and so Crimson explained all that he had said, ending with the unfamiliar word that Ventice instructed him to focus on. Once he had finished, David had a thoughtful look on his face, his eyes turned away from Crimson.
“Hmmm…...” he mused. “Curious….very curious, indeed. So little information we were given on such a broad and complicated matter….,” the king huskily took a swig out of a round jug, filled with a liquid that smelled like aged wine. He fell silent for a few minutes, lost in his own realm. Crimson waited patiently, trying to concentrate on David and ignore his clustering thoughts.
“There is no more time to waste,” David murmured, not quite talking to Crimson, but more to himself. “Yes….yes, I must.” He rose up, then, armor clinking with his movements, and turned to the vampire. “Crimson, the word that Ventice gave you is indeed part of the Vampiric Language, meaning, ‘fire,’ in their tongue. Learning how to use it will now be your top priority, and I will fulfill mine.”
Crimson was stumped, questioning on how the emperor knew the word, but dared not ask aloud. David walked to the large bag and dug hastily in it, muttering under his breath something unintelligent that Crimson did not understand. “I will train you further in weaponry and give you proper armor,” he explained. “We will not rest at another civilization for quite some time, and we will need to be wholly prepared for the dangers that await us.”
“I’m strong enough,” Crimson said with pride, confidence rising in him for the first time since their journey began.
The king chuckled as he replied, “If it were not for your vampiric strength and instincts, I would consider you a mere apprentice, and just barley.”
Crimson was offended by his statement, but kept quiet. It’s better than squire, he reminded himself encouragingly. “What exactly are you planning to do, David?”
“I believe I have finally discovered the location of our first item,” he informed. “It is still several leagues away, but we should arrive in less than two weeks, if all goes well. I’m wearing a set of dwarven armor I obtained from Junigre, and I will give you the same type, but in a lighter form for your style of combat. Yes, here it is.” He pulled out pieces of the suit and laid it at Crimson’s feet as he now was standing up. “I have also gathered several weapons for both of us, but first, let me show you how to put that on properly.”
And so the king fastened the brooches of armor onto Crimson, leaving his undergarments on, and soon he was fully suited in dwarven armor. David then returned to the bag and shuffled through it. “I have all the supplies we will need for our journey, and you will be able to feed on animals along the way. I have enough food so that we will not have to stop at all, again, assuming that all goes well….”
David soon had a long, oddly curved sword in his hand, equally as long as the silver one he wielded before. He handed it to Crimson and said, “This will be your new weapon. Before we leave, I’ll train you to use it more efficiently….or would you prefer to begin with the longbow?”
The vampire fidgeted in the new armor David had fitted for him, tensing his muscles and observing its leathery texture lining the outlines of his burly tendons. He looked at the longbow David pulled from the bag, carved out of oak wood. Crimson already had a little experience with blades from his previous, mundane years of training with Aron. A lump formed in his throat as he thought of the merry blacksmith, wondering if he would ever be able to see him again. Giving that knowledge, he answered slowly, “Let’s start with the bow.” He sheaved the sword at his belt.
“Very well.” David obtained a flat, grey-colored quiver holding a sheath of arrows. Once he latched it over Crimson’s shoulders and gave him the longbow, David stepped back to examine his work. “That particular bow is good for long-distant shots and precision. The arrows were woven from honey root and tipped in steel, laced nicely with pigeon feathers. Quite a lovely set, I must admit.”
He then began to instruct Crimson on how to notch an arrow properly, to hold his breath and position himself on a flat surface in a good, solid stance; draw back the string carefully to its maximum length, and take careful aim. “Shoot at that jumble of trees ahead,” he commanded. Crimson did everything as he was told and released the arrow, watching it whiz to his targeted destination and take its mark, quivering on impact and sending splinters flying from the bark.
After a few more shots and an hour of practice, David finally stopped him. “Well done, Crimson,” he praised. “You’re not an expert, but very impressive for your first time….we’ll make a decent archer out of you yet.”
He eventually rested and strung the bow behind him with the quiver. Fully dressed in armor, a sword at his side and bow at his back, Crimson felt like a true warrior for the first time, a companion to the emperor.
David himself carried a steel, long sword and heavy shield designed with a large symbol covering its base: a lion wedged between two blades. “I will be fighting mostly with magic and enchanted weapons,” he explained. “Which is also something I need to teach you. For now, as long as you can shoot an arrow, that will be good enough.” He approached Crimson, sword drawn, and studied his Demeter. “We will move on to your training in swordsmanship before we continue. Draw your blade and let’s begin.”
This was all moving too fast even for Crimson’s broadened mind; David immediately thwarted him into training after he woke before he could even make full sense of the word Ventice had given him to meditate on, which still swarmed in haunting confusion in his brain. Fire, he kept thinking. David lunged forward cautiously and began furious training, teaching him various attacks and defenses whilst they dueled. The king, once again to Crimson’s surprise, was incredibly fit and did not tire quickly. It was well over an hour before he even stopped, hardly a drop of sweat representing his drained fatigue. He wasn’t even out of breath.
“That will do for now,” he said absently, deep in thought. He withdrew his weapon and turned back to the large bag, shifting through its many items. Crimson thought aimlessly while he was occupied, gazing, as usual, at the brilliant night sky. There are so many things about this king that I do not know, he suddenly thought, reminiscing on all the man had done and spoken since they had first met. Always filled with….mysteries.
Ten minutes later, David had stopped his scavenging and stood upright with a tension in his spine. He turned to reveal his deep eyes entranced in unknown clouds, staring emptily at Crimson. Finally, he shifted with the breeze and smiled slyly. “Time to go, young vampire.”
“Where are we going?” he asked again, hoping for a better answer.
“A place that is sure to be heavily enchanted and guarded….a cave, actually.”
Crimson groaned. Not another cave! “What exactly are we looking for?” he mumbled.
“Let’s skip those details and focus on more pressing issues, such as the fact that we will be faced with great dangers far worse than anything we have encountered before,” he replied, a sinister grin darkening his humorous expression.
“Even more so than the dragon?” He gulped, an edge of nervousness creeping his inner being.
“That is a very big possibility.” David looked solemn for a moment, then summarily switching back to his wicked grin. “But first….we need horses.”
Crimson never spotted any travelers, for they rarely traveled on a common path, usually strolling across fields or forests. There were, however, other problems.
“Trolls,” David muttered. Ahead, four bulky, muscular creatures with grey fur and squinty faces sulked clumsily in the wide grassland, Junigre City in sight. They each were slightly taller than Crimson, but their arms were as thick as beer barrels. Eyes beady and small, they reminded him of stubby lumberjacks.
“Strong and obnoxious,” the king informed, aggravated. “More unintelligent and left-footed than a chicken without a head.” The brutes didn’t seem to notice the approaching men, grunting like drunken sailors.
Crimson smelled their repulsive blood, but it was enough to remind him what he currently needed. He noticed a stunning difference in their rapid pulse, and asked in bewilderment, “Do trolls have two hearts?”
“Yes, and three fingers on each hand….some have three eyes.”
How queer, he thought.
The four beasts goggled aimlessly until one finally noticed David, and shrieked in daffy, scratchy tones. “They have bronze, but nothing close to knowledge,” David said. “Just keep your guard up and you’ll be fine.”
They stopped suddenly, and Crimson drew his bow. “Time for a little archery practice,” he mumbled.
David smiled then, saying, “Indeed. I believe I’ll observe this battle and test your abilities.”
The vampire’s eyes lit up as he notched an arrow. The trolls were jaunting towards them now, walking more with their hands than feet, using giant fists. He held his breath—something that did not disturb him after a length of time—and took aim at the nearest beast. Let’s see if little instruction can pay off. Eyeing carefully and pulling back with his right hand as far as the string would allow, Crimson released the Oakwood arrow, ripping through the air in a whistle. His vampiric strength made the strenuous work of drawing back a bow very easy.
To his immense surprise, the arrow sunk into the lead trolls’ esophagus smoothly, causing red liquid to ooze from the mark. It screamed loudly and fell back, being knocked a few feet from the solid force of the blow. Crimson rejoiced briefly in his head, proud by his fortunate accuracy.
“Very good,” David applauded. “But the skin of trolls is extremely thick and harder to cut through than human flesh. It will take more than a single arrow to kill one.”
The others shrieked and growled angrily, increasing their pace, all eyes now on Crimson. In just under a minute, he approximated, they would reach him. Even in the heat of battle, Crimson was vividly aware of everything around him: the damp air that followed the array of clouds covering the bright sky, patches of dirt inhabiting various insects; the sounds of trickling water, shimmering blades of grass, hooting owls, infuriated trolls, nine heartbeats; and the familiar, growing thirst that simmered inside him.
Crimson readied a second arrow, taking aim at a new troll that streamed ahead of the others in its fury. He took littler time to prepare his next shot, and released it within seconds. Disappointingly, the arrow flew past the creature’s scalp, plucking strands of hair, but nothing more. Swearing quietly, he went to grab a fresh one from his quiver, but a quick hand stopped him.
“No,” David said. “Use your sword. They will attack too quickly for you to shoot another arrow, and I want you to fight the rest with a blade.”
Crimson nodded and put away the longbow, reaching for his sword and grabbing its hilt firmly. With the sound of steel sliding against steel, he drew his blade and prepared his defensive stance. The new troll took no glimpse at his weapon, and lunged forward, pushing his entire body off the ground.
Reacting swiftly, Crimson drove the blade forward and heard it stab through its gut. If it were not for his enhanced muscles, the weapon might not have cut in the troll’s skin, but it worked for him. It howled in pain and swung one massive fist, ignoring the pool of blood that flooded from its stomach. The punch connected to Crimson’s left cheek, jerking his head lightly, but it didn’t pain him as much as it should have. He cringed a little and felt a sprouting bruise, but it was not enough for him to squabble over. He angrily twisted his blade and dug it further in the beast, making it howl louder and attempt to jump back, squirming roughly.
He saw, from his peripheral vision, a second troll lunge at him, but paid it no attention. He lifted the wounded one clean off its feet from the sword with little struggle, and heaved it sideways at the other troll, the blade slipping from its innards and creating blood splatters. They rammed into each other with a tremendous bang! And sent them both sprawling.
That didn’t stop all of them. One troll came at him with fists swinging, and the other, arrow still jabbed in its throat, stood up clumsily and joined the brawl. Crimson twisted fluently and slashed at the nearest, then twirled left, stabbing at another. Both gushed with long cuts, never quieting their furious yells. He moved like a graceful acrobat and faster than an autumn breeze, lashing relentlessly at every grey-furred runt he came in contact with. The fighting lasted for two short minutes, and finally, all the trolls were too wounded to defend themselves.
Crimson’s eyes darted frantically to the puddles of blood that stained the grass from a one-hundred foot radius, glaring wildly at the moaning trolls. Ravenous, he threw himself onto the floor and soaked in all the liquid in sight, drinking it without thinking whilst killing the remaining creatures. His thirst quenched in little improvement, eventually leaving nothing but empty corpses.
Sword stained, tunic ruined, and mind cleared, Crimson withdrew his weapon and walked slowly to David, who waited patiently ten yards away from the battlefield.
“I’m impressed,” he said as Crimson approached, a gentle smile on his face. “That was better than I expected, actually.” He placed a hand on his shoulder, looking with bright eyes at the vampire’s face.
Crimson, on the other hand, was sorely ashamed of himself, jaw locked in place. “I couldn’t help myself with those trolls,” he mumbled. “I….lost control. Even when the blood was utterly unappealing, I still drunk it without thought.”
“There is nothing wrong with drinking their blood,” David replied, looking mildly confused. “Why feel such shame?”
“I know it wasn’t wrong. But I feel so ashamed because I was unable to drink out of my own will, unable to control my thirst….,” his voice became soft, almost a whisper. “If I cannot contain myself from mere, repelling blood, how can I ever resist the next human we meet?”
David understood then, his eyes softening. “How is it you were able to resist in Junigre?” he asked in a soothing tone.
“I….don’t know,” he admitted, thinking harder on the question. “I just…wasn’t thirsty when we were near the dwarves, I suppose.” He shrugged.
“What about my blood? How are you capable of resisting it?”
This put Crimson in more confusion. He tried to understand why, taking in the scent of David’s healthy, luscious blood. It smelled wonderful, of course, but his urge to drink it was faint, practically nonexistent. “I know not,” he confessed again. “It is appealing to me, but….it’s as if I’m….used to it already.”
“Hmmm….,” David mused. “How interesting….that is definitely something to think about. No matter, let’s not dwell on these mysteries right now; we need to reach Junigre’s stables.”
Five minutes later, they arrived at the horse stalls, being nurtured by no less than five dwarves at one of the smaller sections. David chatted happily with them for a while, and soon guided two horses toward Crimson. One had snow-white fur and a beautiful mane, prancing in each step. The other was light brown and just as lovely, trotting easily beside its companion.
“This one is Iceblade,” he said merrily, nudging his head at the white one. “And here is Adrinna.” The king looked pleased by the horses. “Iceblade is faster and born for speed, Adrinna being the warhorse, hardy and strong. Which would you like?”
Crimson was stunned and flattered that David allowed him to choose, humbled by his generosity. He examined the two for a moment, looking over their build and beauty. “I want Iceblade,” he finally answered.
Smiling, he handed Crimson Iceblade’s rein. “Hop on! I assume you know how to ride a horse?”
Crimson nodded and mounted Iceblade. David followed and kicked Adrinna, and she whined and trotted forward. He did the same and Iceblade followed behind, the two now continuing their quest, dashing across the fields of Heartfall.
The foreign word rang in Crimson’s head over and over again, trying to decipher its hidden meaning. He focused on nothing but that word as they trudged along on their steeds, armor clinking with the movement of the horses, attempting to find some form of power or use in it. David munched on cheese wedges and carrots and drunk from a bottle whilst the leagues trailed behind them.
Out of nowhere, thoughts of Grenald flooded Crimson’s head, clouding his concentration. A single, red tear rolled down his cheek as his father’s smiling face filled him, a large gap in his chest ripped at the hole that contained his loving memory. I’m so sorry, Father, he thought pointlessly. I meant for none of this to happen. One day, I swear I’ll come back to you…I will make it all right again.
“Crimson,” David’s gentle voice broke him of his grieving. He snapped his head in the man’s direction; he had made Adrinna trod closer to Iceblade so they could converse without difficulty. “Your father still loves you.”
He looked at the king’s sincere eyes, half-wondering how he knew exactly what caused him to cry. “How can you know?” he mumbled pathetically, letting his voice break.
David smiled, a hint of oldness lighting the crevices around his eyes. “Dear boy, you need only trust me. Grenald cares for you now just as he always did. I promise that I will take you to see him, whenever our quest is complete.”
Overwhelming gratitude blossomed in Crimson, a fresh wave of tears streaming down his cheeks. “Thank you,” he whispered, not caring about his figure for a moment.
He regained his composure and began concentrating on the vampiric word again, studying it coarsely in his brain. After a half hour of continued silence, Crimson noticed the thick clouds above spreading almost entirely now, dark and heavy.
“Call it an intuition,” David mused, looking at the heavens. “But I believe it is going to rain.”
And rain it did. Moments after he uttered those words, drops of water started falling, and soon it turned into a downpour. Lightning struck and illuminated the sky, thunder following and shaking the earth. Crimson was soaked from head to toe, and Iceblade whined and jerked in panic at each flash. Miraculously, Crimson could still see unnaturally well through the walls of water, but not well enough, and David sure had trouble. Howls of deafening wind roared the surrounding area, powerful gusts buckling their horses and sweeping tree branches and dust particles. It grew stronger by the minute, finally raging to a very dangerous degree.
“David!” He yelled as loud as he could. “Where are you?” He lost sight of the man and his steed, the wind picking up, the rain seeming to block everything from existence. Iceblade swerved away from a fallen tree and nearly bucked its rider off, but he held on tighter. More surges of lightning startled the horse again, and this time he released his grip and jumped off, avoiding a crash directed towards another scattered tree.
Something caught Crimson’s eye. A dark figure blacker than the clouds above, like shadow on shadow, formed in front of him, unrecognizable through the downpour. It was the shape of a human, but much too tall and bulky to be David. He squinted his eyes, trying to make out the image, standing awkwardly in wet grass that was quickly turning into mud puddles. The mysterious being, Crimson finally understood, held something large in one hand, raising it above its head. He searched frantically for David or Iceblade, loud drops pounding around him and furious windstorms. “David!” he shouted again.
The figure moved closer. Unconcerned at the moment, Crimson walked blindly in the mass of chaos, his way lit only by intense, blue streaks. As turned sharply, lightning flashed, and the massive figure revealed itself in the light.
It was a giant.
Bulging arms larger than logs, a thick beard, blotchy skin, and a wooden club bigger than a warhammer; the giant was trotting toward Crimson and grunting stupidly. The vampire stepped back in shock, stunned by the towering creature. I’ve never seen one with my own eyes!
He would have reacted faster, but the giant’s presence still surprised him. A long, muscular arm swung down at him, Crimson not completely visualizing with all the destruction around him. The club made contact, knocking him back with astounding strength. He flew five yards and splashed in a large puddle, his head dancing. “What in the name of Durog—,” he spat water from his mouth. The giant charged forward.
For the second time, Crimson was wiped off his feet, a shot of pain shaking his bones. He gritted his teeth, confused and infuriated. Crimson, gather yourself! he thought. After several blinks, he jumped up from the mud and locked the giant into focus.
“I can’t believe I’m fighting such a beast,” he muttered. “The stories tell of their nigh impossibility to defeat and incredible strength.”
Crimson hesitated as the giant ran for him, unsure his vampiric strength could withstand it. He drew out his sword, ready to strike, and shifted in his armor. The creature neared in, and he slashed his blade automatically.
A clean cut swept across the giant’s rough skin and scraggy tunic, but it hardly noticed the green blood that seeped from the wound. Unsurprised but frightful, Crimson sidestepped out of the monster’s second swing, missing him by miles; the giant had no speed compared to the vampire.
What am I to do? I cannot befall this giant whilst trudging through a storm and look for a horse and a king all at once! The wind picked up, and Crimson’s hair blew wildly with it. His thoughts swirled viciously, searching for any solution to his unfortunate problem. Magic was out of the question, as David recently warned him of using it unprofessionally. He almost grabbed for his longbow, but thought better of it; fifty arrows would not claim this beast. His last solution was his sword, or….
“Singu!” Crimson shouted without thinking, clutching his blade. Out of nowhere, a series of blue flames erupted from the giant, sending him ablaze. Although rain fell heavily from the sky, the fire appeared immune, and he could feel the immense intensity of its hotness from yards away. The giant screamed in a low, pained voice, shaking its body and running in panic-filled shrieks. A strange sensation fluttered in Crimson’s brain, and everything blurred before him. After a long cry, the flames instantly subsided and the giant crashed to the ground, dead.
He was unaware of what unfolded around him for several minutes, dazed and bewildered at what had occurred. The rain eventually let up, and Crimson found himself sprawled on the watery ground, staring up at a lighting sky and fading stars. Groaning, he flipped over and clambered to his feet, examining his surroundings. Branches still quivered and thunder could be heard far in the distance, the grassland now flooded. Crimson felt for his belt and grabbed the butt of his blade with a sigh of relief. His longbow remained at his back, surprisingly, along with the grey quiver. Eventually gathering his composure, wiping the mud from his armor and collecting his thoughts, the vampire sighed deeply.
Where is David? Was his first and top concern. And Iceblade or Adrinna? What am I to do now? Worried and flustered, Crimson gazed at the befallen giant that lay before him on its stomach, lifeless and massive as its body stretched several yards. He was utterly amazed that he managed to kill it, and even more stunned by the power he had used of the Vampiric Language. I want to learn more, he thought in astonishment. I want to delve in its magic and ability….
Pushing his fascination aside, Crimson focused intently on how he could find David, ignoring his searing throat that continued to boil, pleading for blood. Before he could so much as lift a foot in search of his righteous king, a gentle, tugging sensation startled him from somewhere deep inside of him. He stopped immediately, familiar with the mystical pull. It was like a cold, ghostly hand wrapped around his undead soul, prowling him towards an ominous fate. Fear embedded the vampire as he froze in place, oblivious of what he should do. The prodding grew stronger, almost painful, seeping his intestines with icy chills that crept up his spine and up his neck. Five seconds later, an evil, snaky voice whispered in his ear, “Come to us, Crimson.”
And he was gone once more.
The blackening void did not alarm Crimson as much as it had before, yet his body transfixed into the same, unmoving position. The dark figure appeared more quickly than last time, and he recognized Ventice’s silver hair as he materialized in front of him, smiling sinisterly.
“Ah, we meet again,” he said in a quiet, velvety tone. “Welcome back.”
Crimson struggled to flex just a single muscle, uncomfortable at the immobility. Annoyed, he spoke without thought, “Why must you summon me in such a cruel, venomous way?”
Ventice’s relaxed expression did not falter in the slightest, maintaining its smooth structure. “However will you survive in the dark ways of the vampire if my simple summoning frightens you, Grenaldsson?” he questioned coolly.
“I never wanted this life,” he snapped. Watching his ancestor snarl in frustration caused Crimson to flinch inwardly, and he fumbled for better words. “I-I am sorry, sir,” he stuttered. “I meant you no offense. Forgive me….I will not misspeak again.”
“That is better,” he replied, returning back to his controlled composition. “Now, let me continue. I will not confound you in this….realm as I did before. No, you shall accompany me to our home.” He grinned then, a wicked glint in his sanguine eyes. “Consider it a favor for rushing our meeting from earlier. This time we have much more time to converse all that is needed to be discussed.”
Before he could protest, Crimson was suddenly engulfed in bright-orange flames, though unscathed from its heat. He screamed in surprised terror, and vanished from the black room with the fire.
A moment later, Crimson stared at three tall, blood-red thrones that stood in the center of the marble-stoned, circular room lit by several surrounding torches, looking more like a torture chamber than any home. Sitting atop the towering thrones were two similar vampires on either side of the middle, with Ventice sitting in the center. Each had shiny silver hair, perfect features, and radiated with power.
“This is the home of the Three Brothers,” he announced proudly. Crimson noticed gladly that he could move freely now.
“There is much to discuss,” Ventice continued. “Before we move on, however, I must compliment you on your fine work of Singu in our tongue. Well done.”
“How was I able to use it?” Crimson blurted.
“Interesting you should ask….your vampiric instincts kicked in at the heat of the battle, causing you to explode in your natural power. A rare case, indeed, but you managed it. I would not hope on doing it again anytime soon, though.”
The other vampire to Ventice’s right twitched, and spoke in a deep, rumbling voice: “I believe a proper introduction is necessary, Ventice?”
“Quite,” the third agreed in a subtle tone.
“Very well,” Ventice mumbled, seeming aggravated by his companions, brothers, whatever they were to him. “Crimson, this is Osimru.” He gestured to the one with the thunderous voice. “And Brawin.” Both of the ancestors bowed respectfully and exchanged Crimson friendly greetings.
“It is a pleasure to meet all of you,” Crimson bowed. “I am more than pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Yes, yes,” Ventice muttered impatiently. “On to more important matters!” His brothers fell silent and his face became relaxed again. “Now, then; Crimson, I assume you have many questions, of which I will now answer unless I think otherwise.”
Crimson wasted no time in petty inurnments. “Where is King David?”
“He and your steeds will be waiting for you when you take your leave of us,” Ventice replied simply. “Next question.”
He does not wish to waste time either, he thought. “What more can you tell me of vampirism?” he asked, fulfilling the vampire’s wish of simplicity.
“That will be covered at a different time,” he answered tonelessly.
“Will you teach me more in our language?”
Ventice appeared more pleased, as Crimson seemed to broach the appropriate topic. “I will teach you another word or two, but you must remain ultimately concentrated on Singu. Do you understand?”
He leaned forward, eyes filled with sincere importance. “’Vampire’ in our language is ‘Homulgus.’” He was in deep thought for a minute, then said, “….That is all I will tell you for now. Your learning in these words is significantly vital, you understand.”
Crimson nodded, absorbing the new word. “What more must you teach me?”
Ventice’s smile turned slyer, almost natural. “There are many….gifts for you to learn and understand. A vampire who knows his or her true talents hardly needs the skill of magic, only their mind.”
“Tell me more,” he urged.
“After an immense amount of practice, the possibilities are endless….read and scan another’s mind, teleport to different locations, control a small part of the weather….and more.”
Crimson was intrigued. “Teleport? Control weather?”
“And turn invisible, transform into animals, lift objects with your mind,” Ventice added, eyes burning.
“That is….unbelievably incredible.”
“Indeed. As I’ve said, the possibilities are quite endless. I and my brothers will instruct you in these ways as a vampire, become your mentors, until you are all-powerful and strong enough to end the threat of dragons in Heartfall.”
Enlightenment overtook the young vampire. “Wait…. you say that you are training me to fight dragons?” he asked, confused.
Ventice shook his head, never removing his gaze from Crimson’s face. “No, Crimson….you are destined to defeat the dragons; we are merely preparing you.”
He was positively befuddled. “Destined?” he repeated. “But I am simply accompanying David on his quest….”
“Many mysteries lie in this world,” Ventice said gravely. “From the day of your birth, you were placed in the hands of fate to defeat the mighty Dragon King and his army. I am aware of most events that have occurred and are to occur in your life, Grenaldsson. And so is your emperor.”
This was too much for him to take in at such short noticed. “To cover this,” he whispered slowly. “I was born to fight and defeat the dragons, but what say you on my destiny with David, or becoming a vampire?”
“All part of an ultimate plan. David refused himself to tell you of this until he thought you were ready, but I took the honor. Crimson, you are the one Heartfall is looking for.”
“No….,” he mumbled. “I cannot believe it….”
“It is much to think about, yes. But it is very much true. I have brought you here to not only train you in the Vampiric Language, but to inform you of what lies ahead.”
“How do you know all of this?” he interrogated, holding back sheer frightfulness and depression. “Why me? What am I supposed to do about it?” Now I understand why I was given the honor of meeting my ancestors….
“Peace, Crimson. I have much to tell you, and the sun will be rising in a few short minutes.”
Ventice focused even more intently on Crimson, and then continued in a fast breath. “Here is what is to come: You will journey with David Morian on this quest and locate the items he seeks. During this adventure, he will train you to become stronger in magic and also to be a better swordsmen and archer. I will be calling upon you at times to give you more words in the Vampiric Language and help to train you in it. My brothers and I will do everything possible to keep you strong and safe, but even we have our limits. You will discover more of the powers us vampires’ posses, and use it to your advantage. Once you complete your quest with David and he restores everything necessary to his throne, he will decide to give you all of what the two of you have found in order to strengthen you and give further preparation to what we call, ‘The Final Battle.’
“Numerous events and tragedies will come during all of this, and will ultimately test your strength, willpower, and commitment. Dragons will cross your path from time to time, but most are already preparing for the great army that Kishvakii is forming. In the end, there will be one destiny that will determine the fate and existence of Heartfall, the Empire, and yourself.”
Once again, I am left overwhelmed by too much information, of which most sounds utterly impossible! Crimson thought in silent anger and astonishment. Why has David kept so much from me? How does he know all that he does? Why is all of this centering on me? But the most confusing and unanswered question pooped into his head that had many times in the past few months: What am I to do now?
“I understand how implausible this must be for you,” Ventice continued. “Any sane man would be overwhelmed. However, there is little I can say and do for you at the present time; David has placed your body protectively under bushes until the sun subdues, but the two of you must hurry. Time is short.”
I….know not what to do,” Crimson choked, wiping away a blood tear that escaped his eye.
“I will send you back to David,” Ventice mused. “But he is not to know everything I have revealed to you, lest events change by his acknowledgments. Speak nothing of what I just explained, but the rest will be fine.”
Crimson swirled in an emotionally mass of contemplation, confusion, absurdity, and fear. No matter what he understood before, everything was uncertain to him now. What with the destiny, dragons, and David’s withholding, adding on to the intense training and learning he would have to do, Crimson was broken.
“You must leave now,” Ventice said after a while. “Stay hidden until nightfall, and then arise to accompany David and Iceblade. Continue your quest immediately; let not a second be wasted. Understood?”
He nodded glumly. “When do I begin my training in the Vampiric Language and abilities?” he asked dully.
“By the second sunrise. We shall not prolong your training any more than necessary, but David must first obtain the first item in order to fully begin.”
Crimson nodded again, and the Three Brothers all turned their eyes to his countenance. “I bid you farewell,” Ventice smiled. “I will see you very shortly. Be vigilant, wise, and strong.”
In that instant, the chamber faded from existence, and Crimson was reattached to his soul and body.
Crimson waited for the sun to finally cease before rising jumpily from the pile of ferns. He quickly noticed David, who was sitting beside him , the reins of Iceblade and Adrinna tied around a nearby tree. His face was solemn, eyes keen, the sky bright with the night stars.
“David!” Crimson exclaimed.
There was no need for an explanation, apparently, for David immediately stood up, put away the food he was eating, handed him Iceblade’s rein, and said sternly, “Let’s go.”
Just before they mounted their horses, Crimson noticed David scribble something unreadable onto…a journal, perhaps?
“Tell me something,” David mumbled, hopping on Adrinna.
“It takes years of practice to learn the basic art of reading minds….and you can do so much faster in the Vampiric Language?”
“Not easily,” he replied. “That also takes a lot of concentration. Wait, how did you know?”
David’s grave personality vanished for a brief moment. “I have my sources,” he grinned. Then it disappeared just as quickly. “But we shall not waste any time on training…we’ll travel onward for a while as long as I deem necessary, then we will stop and begin working on your magic skills.”
Iceblade sprinted across shifting plains and colorful terrains, the earth vibrating beneath them with each trot. Crimson freely thought as the minutes ticked by.
I haven’t begun to gather everything unfolding around my life. Little over six months ago, I was conversing with my wonderful parents and enjoying a fine meal, and now I’m riding a horse with the Emperor of Heartfall as a bloodsucking demon! And I also recently discovered I am destined to overthrow the dragons that now roam in our land, adding to the perilous quest I am to complete with David and the timeless amounts of training I must endure…it is beyond my grasp. He stared ahead contently and watched the ground fly behind him, the wind brushing against his skin, cheeks, and forehead. Will any of this ever become clear to me? I understand the general concepts, but my brain cannot wrap around its entire meaning….and the thirst! Crimson automatically cuffed a hand to his neck, tightly holding Iceblade’s rein with the other. And Grenald…will I ever face him again? Despite David’s promise, I feel as if he will be nothing more than a distant memory. My murdering Erineth is more than enough to lose his love and blessing; as for Aron and the others, I’m sure I am greatly despised amongst Markel. If I one day return to my home village, I will most likely be hanged or beheaded….
Crimson halted his steed upon David’s command, and he realized that they had stopped beside a humongous lake. Squinting, the vampire could barley make out the other side, seeing a small dock and dirt path.
“We will have to swim across the lake,” he mused. “But training must come first.”
Crimson helped him tie the horses around another nearby tree and followed him to the lake’s edge. Behind them, a distant field with scattered trees; above, an endless sea of twinkling stars. No breeze could be felt as the air was calm and cool.
They gathered a bundle of sticks and dry leaves, placing them in an organized pile close to the water. David lit it with a small fireball from his palm, and soon he was roasting raw lamb chops over the flames. They sat in silence for a time, the king scarping down the meat and drinking the fresh water of the lake from his re-filled jug. The food smelled unappealing to Crimson’s nostrils, thinking only of succulent blood.
“I’ll return shortly,” he murmured. Ina single wisp, Crimson skimmed through the Great Plains until he located two foxes rummaging in the area. He killed them instantly and drunk from their corpses, arriving back to David in minutes, the burn in his throat dimmed.
He was not used to David’s serious attitude and straightforwardness. He husked up once he swallowed his last bite and ordered, “Get up. It is time.”
No arguments. Crimson walked with the king a few yards from the still-roaring fire. “Magic is a very complex and tedious art,” David started, hardly looking at him. “You must be extremely precautious and always alert, lest you wish for me to sweep up your ashes off the dirt. The various spells you conjured was only because of your vampiric abilities, but I assure you, real magic and the understanding of magic is much more diverse and powerful.”
It was not hard for Crimson to listen to his rapid teaching, but an edgy concern disturbed him at David’s tense figure. “David,” he interrupted. “Please, tell me, what exactly has you so….anxious?”
He stopped his pace, finally looking at Crimson directly. A deep sigh escaped him, and his ice-blue eyes diminished its sparkle. “I apologize, my boy,” he said gently. “I am stressed at all that faces us at the moment, and our first item is within our reach, just a hair breadth away….I naught wish to fill you with fret.”
“I understand completely,” he said sympathetically. “We are burdened right now…but now the topic has been broached, you never told me what we’re about to obtain.”
A small smile touched the corners of his lips. “An arrow,” he informed. “known simply as the ‘Rose Arrow.’”
Crimson wrinkled into a puzzled expression. “An arrow/” he repeated. “A single arrow?”
“Aye. It is very powerful, I must say. It is sleek and bendy, woven by a mighty wizard centuries ago. The Rose Arrow is unbreakable and can pierce through the strongest of armor and skin, and enchanted to do shocking magical damage on contact; nearly always a near-fatal strike. Once the quiver containing the arrow has been claimed, the Rose Arrow itself will always return to the owner after it has been shot or lost, allowing it to be used over and over again for any length of time.”
“Impressive,” Crimson breathed. “When will we reach it?”
“At this rate, no later than a week. But I must warn again,” he added. “It will be guarded with many enchantments, traps, and creatures. The only way to get it is to delve in the cave that holds it and survive through its treacheries. But enough of that; let us begin.”
And so David instructed him on clearing his mind and concentrate entirely on the element of lightning, which would be his first spell to learn. “You have conjured lightning before, but to use the real bolts of magic is tenfold more powerful. Focus.”
He closed his eyes and thought of the thunderstorm that he had witnessed, pinpointing the intense flashes that illuminated the sky. Holding out his right hand aimed at a tree, he felt tiny particles of energy simmer deep inside his body. A minute later, gradually and slowly, the particles increased and vibrated faster, eventually bubbling stronger and spreading to his chest and stomach. Whenever a new thought would worm inside his brain, the energy would considerably diminish, and he would have to concentrate even harder to merge it up again. He struggled to control the particles, feeling his body shake and fight vigorously against the magic. This is much more difficult than I imagined, even for my vampire body!
The amorous particles tingled like tiny jolts, boiling and gaining strength as it seeped through his arms, legs, and face. Crimson, after several minutes of continuous struggle, felt the magical energy vibrate his entire body, almost painfully boiling to an electrifying degree. Finally, once his being could handle it no longer, he shouted aloud and released it from his palm.
To his disdain, only a small flicker of lightning sparked out of his hand, no more than tiny beam, and summarily vanished.
“Not bad,” David commented. “for your first time. Now, try again, and this time, concentrate harder.”
Crimson faced two hours of brutal straining as he repeated the process again and again. Once, he managed to release a subtle streak that struck the tree, and although it only chipped the bark, he was proud of it. Without sweating, his physical strength was drained significantly, and he fell to his knees.
“That should be enough for now,” David said. “I don’t want to push you too hard. Remember not to do so whilst in combat, or you’ll do more damage to yourself than your opponent. Rest up for a moment, then draw your sword.”
Once rested, Crimson pulled out his blade and battled the king for another hour, mimicking his movements and trying his instructions. This did not wear the vampire nearly as bad as the magic, and he matched David quite well. “Excellent!” he laughed. “You are doing wonderful! You’ll have no trouble in a fight as long as you use your sword.”
They finally stopped and withdrew their weapons. “Your Serpent skill with hand-to-hand combat is impressive, and satisfying for now. Remember in the future never to train with a tree and iron blade; nothing rusts iron more than wood.”
Crimson nodded and waited for his next command, looking upon the king’s eyes keenly. His mind drifted incoherently as he stood patiently, not bothered in the least by his endless tutoring. David then thwarted him in an hour of bow training, giving him multiple targets and correcting his poses. His mind, however, disconnected from focus after an hour passed.
“Enough,” David said. “That will do.” His eyes washed with fret, not seeming to reach and hold its usual light. He sighed warily and mumbled, “I’ll need to rest for a few more hours…Crimson, when I wake, it will be time to face our quest.”
He nodded, stringing the longbow. “I am ready.”
With a last smile, David prepared a bed for himself and drifted to sleep, Crimson only imagining what his dreams contained.
“Why is it,” Crimson asked after the king stirred three hours later, “that I must wait until after this quest is complete before you change me back to a human?”
“Our task at hand is more urgent right now,” he replied. “But I promise your time will come.”
Crimson was not wholly aware of his surroundings as he helped the king swim their steeds across the glassy lake. David ate scraps of food when they reached shore, but not a minute was wasted, mounting the horses and pushing onward to the mysterious and dangerous cave. All of our work is leading up to this moment.
The luscious fields were filled with wildlife, the sun bound to rise in half an hour. As David stopped next to a small pond located far away from any civilization, a thoughtful and worried expression puzzled Crimson.
The king approached the water, bending down—armor clanking with his movements—and stroked its surface with a soft, sketching finger. A quiet hum echoed from him. He shuffled inside a pocket beneath the dwarven suit and, for the second time that took his notice, pulled out the tiny, leather-bound booklet that resembled a journal. David also held a quill between his right thumb and index finger already dipped in ink and began writing, seeming lost in thought. Crimson, fluttering with curiosity, did not dare ask him what he was doing.
“Crimson,” he murmured after a few moments.
“Yes?” Crimson raised his tone so David would hear him, a nervous edge to his voice as he watched the lighting sky.
“You told me you can hold your breath underwater indefinitely, correct?”
“Yes,” he repeated, disliking where the conversation was leading, a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Hmmm….,” the king mused. “Dear boy, I am afraid we have but one route to take.” His eyes stayed fixed on the pond after he finally put away the notebook.
“Are you certain the water can protect me from the sun’s rays?”
“I’m positive,” he answered bluntly. “Now go; we have little time to waste.”
With a deep, reluctant sigh, Crimson did as he was asked and stepped into the cold pond. Seconds later, his body was completely submerged, although he took a deep breath as a natural reaction before doing so.
The bottom of the semi-shallow water was covered in white sand; a surprisingly unexpected sight. Fish fluttered by, some in pairs and others alone. Different plants and fungi grew wildly on the floor, creating an underwater land. All in all, to Crimson’s satisfaction, it was quite a lovely pond.
When is that man ever wrong? He complained inwardly as the water brightened from the beam of sunlight that struck its vibrant texture. His skin was unharmed and body functional, wading mechanically in the drifts of water, shifting uncomfortably; holding his breath proved to be dissatisfying and without pleasure. He waited with increased impotency, the hours dragging beneath his feet like hot coals.
Crimson almost jumped out of the water in shock as the familiar tug pulled at his soul, more quickly than before. Gasping a mistakable breath, he vanished in thick darkness and into the void of the Three Brothers.
“Welcome back,” Ventice greeted for the second time, smiling indifferently. “I am beginning to enjoy our time together.”
“We have hardly spoken personally during my visits, sir,” Crimson replied plainly, already getting used to their uncomfortable, sinister presence. The other two sat in statue-like silence.
“Yes, well. I will not beat around pointless chatter, Grenaldsson; we have something to discuss with you, and then we shall begin your instruction in the Vampiric Language.”
Crimson didn’t say anything, standing with his arms at his sides and staring expressionless at the ancestral vampire.
“As you are already aware, you will be reaching your destination in a matter of three days to obtain the Rose Arrow. There will be many obstacles and traps along the way, but there are two that will give you and David the most…difficulty.”
“And what would that be?”
Ventice grinned. “First, there will be a werewolf with great strength that will fight the two of you to the death.”
Crimson heard of werewolves before, and knew enough about them to know that it would be no match to him. “What of it? My vampire strength exceeds that of a werewolf, and I have David by my side.”
“Ah, but here’s the trick: this particular werewolf has been enchanted with powerful energies that prevent him from being harmed by a mere blade, arrow, or spell; not even silver will do.”
The vampire’s countenance switched from arrogance and was now incredulous. “What must we do, then?” he asked shrilly.
Ventice was unconcerned about Crimson’s fear, more than amused. “How would you ever live without us? I believe you will find our alliance…quite useful during your quest, Crimson.”
“I am already in your debt, milord.” He bowed.
“So you are,” he chuckled. “I will give you a very unique scroll that will aid you in slaying the beast, if done properly. It should lead the two of you to sure victory.” Ventice moved his hand so fast; the dingy scroll seemed to magically appear in his hands, too fast even for Crimson’s eyes. “Here,” he said.
Crimson caught the scroll in midair, which was bundled together by a single black lace. It was a simple piece of parchment. Unfolding it, the scroll revealed a strange symbol: a large, ink-black circle with unfamiliar letterings covering its entire center. “I don’t understand,” he whispered.
“But your king will,” Ventice confirmed. “I’d advise you to put that away for now. Moving on to our second problem, this one is much simpler, but regardless of its simplicity, I doubt even David’s brilliant mind could unravel the mystery.”
“What is it?” Crimson asked curiously.
“If and when you arrive at the last door, of which behind it contains the Rose Arrow, you will be asked a question. The only way to advance through the door, of course, is to answer the question correctly. Any wrong answers will result in a rather fatal....accident. I want you, and only you, Crimson, to answer thusly: Death.”
Death. “That’s it?”
“That is it.”
“That doesn’t sound too complex,” Crimson muttered.
A short burst of laughter erupted from Ventice, a sound that was clear and silvery. “Foolish boy, do you believe that a simple riddle will be your greatest challenge in that place?”
The warning behind his words meant little to Crimson, but he noticed it all the same. “Of course not,” he retorted. “But I’d expect something more….intelligent for a final puzzle.”
He chuckled darkly. “Oh, trust me, boy,” he growled. “Once your mind is nearly lost and you’ve stared fear in the face, you’ll be damn glad that the riddle is no more than what it already is.”
Those words sent a shiver up Crimson’s spine. “Message received,” he said quietly.
“Now that I have given you the information you need,” Ventice continued, “we will now discuss more on the Vampiric Language; I cannot stress enough the importance it plays in your quest and abilities.”
“But wait,” he protested. “How come I am the only one able to answer the final riddle?”
“Ah, that is a matter I am not obliged to discuss with you.”
He sighed sharply in frustration but didn’t speak, waiting for Ventice to continue.
“Your progress in the language is astounding, but you have not begun to scratch the surface. You must always remain in total concentration, visualize vividly, and release all of your inner energy without killing yourself. Keep practicing ‘Singu’ and memorize ‘Homulgus,’ but I’ll give you more words to meditate on. ‘Homulgus is important to learn as it will be used frequently to unleash the depths of your abilities with the language.
‘Kan’ means ‘Animal’ in our tongue. To use your vampiric abilities, you must combine certain words and use them in a sentence, and if you are in absolute concentration and visualization, the power will unleash. For example, if you were to say, ‘Homulgus Kan Ve Snake,’ you would morph into a snake for a limited time depending upon your power. ‘Ve’ means ‘Change.’ Are you following?”
Crimson’s jaw dropped in amazement. “I think so…if what I understand is correct; I have the ability to transform into any animal I choose?”
Ventice nodded. “You understand correctly. You can do anything imaginable so long as you speak the words correctly, Grenaldsson. To alter your physical body in the form of another is a very advanced transaction, and would take months of solid practice. I will not be starting you off in such complexities; we will begin with walking on water.”
He could not believe his ears. Can all of this truly be possible?
“Walking on water is amongst our simpler abilities, though even that is difficult. Combining ‘Yul,’ meaning ‘walk,’ and ‘Akai,’ ‘water,’ will allow you to do just that. There is no need to add ‘Homulgus’ in the beginning, for most of the words are directed towards you. But it was required for the previous notion, as it was a much more complicated procedure.”
Ventice laughed openly at Crimson’s puzzled and awed expression. “Would you like a demonstration?” he asked kindly. Crimson simply nodded in response.
And the chamber suddenly shifted, and Crimson stared out at a vast, sparkling ocean, his feet planted deep in the cool sand under the gorgeous sunlight. The scenery was beautiful.
“h-how did you….?” He stammered.
“My brothers and I have the ability to see anything we wish as long as we can visualize it. Yes, the water and sand will feel very real, but it is all an illusion….nothing can harm you.”
“It’s like your own, personal world,” Crimson breathed in envy.
Ventice smiled slyly. “You can do the same, you know. It’s all in the language.”
He had no reply to that; his heart was already swelling at the pure beauty around him, envious of the perfection. “It’s all too…perfect,” he whispered. I must be a god to have this kind of gift. For the first time, Crimson did not view himself as something dark and horrible, damned to death. In that moment, he felt something more….like all the world had come together.
Ventice stood quietly at the water’s edge, gazing out at the endless sea that dazzled wonderfully in iridescent gleams, and Crimson watched him patiently.
Ventice took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and whispered, “Yul Akai.”
A strange ripple stirred at his bare feet as if they were made of liquid glass, and he took one step into the wavy ocean. Miraculously, the vampire kept walking like it was solid ground, scurrying effortlessly as the waves brushed against his ankles. Overwhelming excitement surged throughout Crimson’s body, causing him to shiver automatically, at witnessing the incredible event.
Ventice turned his head and smiled at him. “Why don’t you join me?” he asked in a humorous tone.
“How?” he asked eagerly, his red eyes shinning.
“Picture the cool water beneath your feet,” he explained. “Feel the wind brush against your cheeks, the sun warming your skin. Concentrate on the image of you skimming fluently across the water, combine the words….and walk.”
Crimson nodded, his nerves wiring. He stepped closer to the waves, already visualizing with all his might. He closed his eyes, feeling his surroundings; the smell of the sea, the freshness of the breeze, the relaxing warmth of the sun, and the refreshing tickle of the water at his toes….it all felt too good to be real—and he remembered with disappointment that it wasn’t.
“Yul Akai,” he whispered without thinking, too concentrated on the perfection of the beach. This was a paradise he pleading wished to escape to, to live in for all eternity. If only he could master it now, his life would be beyond anything he could, or would, imagine….
“Open your eyes,” Ventice murmured from beside him. Popping his eyelids open, he almost shrieked in surprise; Crimson was standing on top of the water, ten feet from the beach.
“This exceeds far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” he said in exasperation.
“It is marvelous,” Ventice agreed, flashing a smile. “And I must say, to accomplish this on your very first time….you’re gifted in our language, Grenaldsson. It would take most at least a few hours before they could manage it.”
Yelping in surprise, Crimson abruptly sunk from the surface and found himself knee-deep in the cold ocean.
“Ah, but no surprise you were unable to hold it for more than a few seconds,” he laughed. He walked back to the sandy beach, and Crimson followed at his heels.
“You wish to stay at this location,” Ventice commented, staring at Crimson as they sat near the water.
“Aye. It is the greatest place I’ve ever been to.”
“You’ve never visited the ocean?” he asked, bewildered.
Crimson shook his head, never removing his gaze from the unending sea. “I lived far away from large bodies of water; we had only a river. It was a lovely town, of course, but nothing compared to this.”
Ventice smiled, staring ahead as well. “Interesting.”
“Why are you being so kind to me?” he asked suddenly. “I assumed an ancient, ancestral vampire such as you would be vicious and evil.”
“I have lived for many millennia,” he responded, deep in thought. “I have learned much in my time, accomplished great tasks and ruled various countries. Yet in all my years, I have never been faced with a crisis of this extremity since the Dragon War. The only thing we can all hope for is to be….a friend.”
“Are events really that bad?” Crimson asked, also thinking deeply.
“Indeed. Do not flatter yourself with my generosity; if everyone understood your significance in all this, even your father would beg to be in your presence.”
The thought of Grenald pained Crimson as it had various times before. “I’ll never understand,” he whispered.
“No, you won’t. One who boasts of their great wisdom is merely a fool, but he that can admit the things he does not understand is wise. Sometimes, that of which we know is our biggest struggles, and that of which we cannot clearly understand is our greatest strength. Be truthful and open to what is beyond your knowledge, and that will make all the difference.”
Crimson smiled at Ventice, showing his gratitude. “I appreciate your words,” he said. “I will carry them always.”
“Good. But I’m afraid that ends our lesson for today.” Ventice stood up then, holding a hand out for Crimson. He gladly accepted it and rose with him.
The breathtaking beach faded from existence, and Crimson soon stood oddly in the eerie chamber of the Three Brothers, Ventice back at his throne. The flickering torches and black curtains looked more ominous and uninviting that before after what he just left, leaving his comfort and joy with it.
“Review to me the words you have learned today,” Ventice ordered in a soft tone, staring at him with gleaming eyes. The other vampires remained nonexistent as usual.
Crimson racked his brain quickly, thankful for his superb vampire memory. “’Yul’ means ‘walk,’; ‘Akai’ is ‘water’; ‘Kan’ is ‘animal,’ and ‘Ve’, ‘change.’”
“Excellent,” Ventice approved with a grateful murmur from his brothers. “You are a fantastic student.”
“Thank you, sir.” He bowed again, but with feeling this time.
“I look forward to our next lesson, Crimson. Inform David of all you learned, and I will call for you again upon the next sunrise after your success of gaining the Rose Arrow. The sun should just be setting below the horizon now, well enough for you to resurface.”
“Again, I thank you.”
“As you were, Crimson Grenaldsson.”
And the Three Brothers dematerialized in front of him.
The rush of air in Crimson’s lungs felt like a wash of heaven, even though his body didn’t require it. Water dripped from his tunic and hair as he clambered out of the water, shaking the droplets off his body.
David was—as always—waiting for him when he stepped onto land, once again looking determined and totally focused.
“It is good to speak with you again, my friend,” David smiled despite himself. His armor glowed awesomely under the starry stars, and his scraggly beard was beginning to grow back on his profound chin. “I assume you have much to tell me?”
“More than you know,” he bemused. And Crimson immediately ranted every vague detail of the wonders he had experienced and words he had learned, gushing relentlessly until he covered every proximate encounter.
David looked nearly as shocked as Crimson was when he learned it. “That is…amazing,” he mumbled. “What you explained to me is greater than most spells I have ever used or heard of.”
“Can magic do any of those things?” Crimson asked in disbelief.
“There are very few spells that can temporarily alter the physical appearance of a human and morph into small animals, and even those are extremely advanced and require masterful training and decades of practice.”
“And walking on water?”
“Nothing I have ever encountered, and I’m quite old.”
“Being able to turn visual images into physical realties?”
“Not even Master Wizards who have practiced in the arcane arts for millennia can do anything close to that sort.”
“Amazing,” he breathed, unable to think of any other word to express his wonder.
“Truly.” David sighed and gathered his belongings that were shrewd out on the grass and untied Adrinna. “Well, there is not another moment to spare. Grab Iceblade and let’s get that arrow.” He smiled encouragingly, seeming to regain some of his joy and courage.
Crimson smiled back and mounted his steed, prepared for whatever tribulation they might face in the near future.
The next few days were uneventful. They traveled nonstop by night and Crimson hid by day, and David kept himself fed and rested whenever necessary. Despite the exotic lands they crossed, Crimson couldn’t get rid of the hard lump that remained clogged in his throat. He fed on wild animals whenever the hunger became too overbearing, never tensing his muscles as their destination drew closer and closer.
“There it is,” David shouted from his horse over the wind, pointing ahead. And sure enough, a narrow, rocky opening formed on the edge of two massive boulders smashed together. The cave went down into the earth below into a giant, underground cavern that went on for leagues. “We leave the horses behind; it’s just you and me now, dear Crimson.”
They dismounted quickly and stood at the mouth of the cave, blades drawn and torch lit. “This feels all too familiar,” Crimson said, chuckling softly.
“Are you afraid?” David inquired seriously, looking at the haunting void of rocky darkness.
“Yes,” he confessed, clutching his curved sword.
“And I,” he mumbled. “Let’s go.”
And they descended into their destiny, leaving the comfort of Heartfall behind them.
The eerie, cold oppressiveness of the dark cave sent a shiver of familiar nightmares down Crimson’s neck. David grasped his torch firmly and crept forward, vigilance written deep in his eyes. Every step seemed an eternity long, the enclosed walls clustering them together and making the vampire feel uncomfortable. A fearless creature of the night, he thought. And I am scared of a mere cave!
“I can feel the dark magic pulsing inside these rocks,” David cautioned without a hint of joy or humor in his tone. “We must be as careful as possible, for anything can happen in here.”
Crimson breathed heavily, stepping over rocks and miniature stalagmites. Rats, spiders, and bats inhabited the cave, but he feared they were not the only creatures he would encounter. Their footsteps echoed loudly, their armor banging together like heavy, steel shields; stealth was out of the question for this part of the quest. Fortunately for them, he didn’t believe sneakiness was on David’s mind, but rather extreme caution and precise footing.
Crimson sniffed the moist, rotten air, searching for any danger or challenges that his nose could detect. He also scanned with his eyes, but nothing harmful was in sight.
The slightest noise would cause the two ventures to jump, and sometimes David, as a reactant, shot fireballs from his hands. Yet they still saw nothing threatening as they slowly walked, not daring to blink or stop even for a second. The tension was killing Crimson’s insides, every muscle in his body twitching constantly and voluntarily, straining to remain fully alert and prepared for attack.
After turning a few corners, David was beginning to grow suspicious. “Surely this is not it,” he whispered. “Danger is bound to strike us at any moment.”
But danger was taking its time. The looming chambers and empty passageways continued for nearly an hour, endlessly dragging on in painful anxiety. Crimson licked his lips and wiped a strand of blonde hair from his eye, expecting the worst whilst hoping for the best. Any moment now, a troll or demon would appear and mercilessly attack them, or they would stumble upon a trap that plunged them to their doom….various situations rolled through his brain, each one making him cringe. I hope we can get this blasted arrow and get out of this death chamber.
“Wait,” Crimson threw a hand out at David, his ears detecting something. “We may be in trouble.”
“What is it?” David asked sternly, eyes darting in every direction.
Mocking laughs could be heard in the distance, sinister giggles that didn’t make sense to Crimson. He listened harder; there were three of whatever it was, sounding like human females, but more devilish….
“I might be misinterpreting,” he said quietly, almost a whisper. “But I think there is….witches ahead.”
“Witches?” David repeated, eyes widening.
He nodded, still listening. “Is that dangerous?”
“If you are correct, then yes. Witches have powerful, wicked magic not practiced by average sorcerers or wizards. Their witchcraft is meant to bewitch the minds of others or create deadly poisons. They can even summon illusion.”
“Basically like herbalists with magic?” Crimson guessed.
“Basically. Stay alert; this won’t turn out well, especially since they are most likely expecting us.”
When they finally made their way closer to the witches, David walked more slowly and tediously, now able to hear them with his own ears. “I’ll need to prepare wards to surround us so that we won’t be affected by any illusions or manipulations. The only thing you need to worry about is attacking; is that clear?”
“Crystal,” Crimson breathed in reply.
They crept to the edge of the corner the three women were located, and soon they heard nothing. Before David could look over at Crimson, a sudden burst of green light shattered the silence.
“Fight!” David yelled, jumping away from the illuminating energy. “Our wards are up, just fight!”
Crimson charged forward with his blade held high, immediately swinging. He almost screamed in horror at the hideous women: green, blotchy, and terrifyingly ugly. They resembled much how he had pictured them.
One shrieked as he stabbed the wretch in the chest, and she exploded in green flames. She must have done something, for Crimson felt a sharp pain jab at his arm. He twirled and sliced a second witches head clean off, and she, too, burst into green balls of fire. Crimson heard the last witch follow suit, and even more quickly than it happened, the battle was over.
“Let me check for poisons,” David said the moment he reached Crimson. After mumbling a spell, he relaxed his expression. “All right, you’re clear.”
“That wasn’t much of a fight at all,” he scoffed.
“I’m surprised, myself; but I wouldn’t get comfortable, boy. That was just the beginning.”
They continued down the same path, staying as alert and tense as before, maybe even more so. Crimson gripped his sword with both of his hands, watching the tunnel ahead and David beside him.
Ten minutes later, they arrived at a small opening in the cavern that was no bigger than a cheap inn room. In the center of the chamber was an obvious , wooden trapdoor shaped like a square.
“How creative,” David muttered. “Yes, well, I suppose we should go through; there is no other way to take.”
“Aye,” Crimson agreed.
He squeezed in behind David down the door, climbing down a rather tall ladder inside of a completely new area.
It was clear to him now; this was not a simple cave.
The massive room had towering rock walls on either side, wider and bigger than Junigre City in one single chamber. By the looks of its size, it would take hours to walk through; but that was not what disturbed them.
“Dammit,” David swore aloud, using vulgar language for the first time that Crimson ever heard. “It’s a giant maze.”
Tall, strangely built walls occupied all of the room, zigzagging and turning in multiple directions, creating, quite literally, a maze.
“How are we ever going to get through this?” Crimson asked incredulously. The walls were much too tall to see over, and it was impossibly too big to walk through without spending weeks trying to find a way out.
“I know not,” David admitted. “But we must do the only thing we can—let’s start walking.”
The young vampire and wise king took their first steps in the maze, unsure of which direction to take, what to expect, or if they would ever find their way.
Crimson’s mind was about to explode as they hit one dead end after another, twists, turns, and roundabouts. Everything in the maze was confusing, tricky, and frustrating. David would constantly flick his eyes down one path, grunt in aggravation, shake his head and change directions. Crimson had challenged puzzles before, but none as mind-boggling as this.
A low, indistinctive growl rippled through the air from somewhere deep in the maze. They both froze in place, awareness instantly lighting their eyes. Crimson listened to the best of his abilities, but not another sound was heard.
“Keep moving,” David choked. They began walking even slower than before. It wasn’t but a few steps later that something else disturbed them. A peculiar fog entranced their path ahead out of nowhere, and they halted as something formed out of the mist, in the shadowy shape of a large cat of some kind. Intense, green eyes glared at them from the foggy void, starling the vampire senseless.
“Welcome to the Maze of Madness,” the figure slithered in a mystified, feminine and dreamy tone. “I am the One Who Whispers, whom has many faces, and I come to bring you nightmares and good fortune.”
Its contradictions were questionable, but neither David nor Crimson uttered a word, dumbfounded at the lioness’s presence. Her lips never moved as it came more clearly into view, but every word was rumbling and crystal.
“Among this maze lays many mysteries,” she continued. “If you wish to find the Rose Arrow, you must do what you dare not, and sacrifice what you deem right.” David’s eye twitched, but other than that, his posture was stiff. Crimson clutched his sword. “Your heart is your enemy here,” finished the One Who Whispers.
And just like that, the mist faded and the creature was gone, leaving the way unperturbed.
“Does that make sense to you?” Crimson asked wryly.
“Oh, it makes perfect sense,” he muttered without sarcasm. “We’ll need to watch our emotions more than anything….they’ll drive us mad.”
“What exactly was that lion? It seemed….unnatural.”
David simply shook his head and started walking again. Crimson sighed and followed him.
Another growl echoed the monumental maze, sounding identical to the first. It sent a shiver of doubt slithering in Crimson, and he had to shake his shoulders. “What is that thing?” he asked in a hushed tone.
“Shh,” David silenced him. “I have a hunch, but questions won’t get us anywhere. Just keep your sword out, mind focused, and mouth shut.”
They stalked down thousands of hallways and entries, finding the same thing in every turn: darkness filled with nothing. Occasionally, the growl would fill the silence, but most remained uncomfortably quiet. The torch in David’s hand was dimming, casting creepy shadows on the suffocating walls around them. Crimson felt his thirst beginning to rise, but his mind was so occupied, it hardly bothered him. His ears picked up faint noses here and their, but nothing worth tuning in.
When the growl echoed again, it sounded much closer than before, coming from the left. Crimson’s shivers returned.
All of a sudden, the path they were taken approached a split, one leading left; the other, right. They gasped at their significant differences; the path to the right was clear and straight, with exotic flowers blooming magically from all directions, like a master garden. On the left, it was covered in darkness that even Crimson could not see through, the floor and walls littered with pointy, snaked thorns.
Crimson burst with laughter, and David looked at him as if he were insane. “What is it?” he asked.
“How can this be any more obvious?” He was still shaking in chuckles. “We take the thorny path. This is a pathetic excuse for a—”
He stopped short, eyes wide. Looking at the gorgeous path, a strange bubble simmered inside of him, filling him with exuberance and positivist. What is this? He thought briefly before happiness overtook him.
“I believe you are wrong,” David argued, also swelling with joy. “We must take that lovely trail….would you be crazy enough to not?” He grinned happily, laughing.
“Of course!” Crimson joined in his laughter, ready to run through the garden. He glanced at the other, sinister trail and almost upchucked; an utter repulsiveness surged through him the moment his eyes touched the pathway.
“Should we analyze our decision before making it?” the king suggested.
“Why would we do that? The choice is obvious!”
Upon saying the last word, a disturbing intrusion struck his brain. It reminded him of the demonic voice that infiltrated his mind so long ago, but angelic instead of demented. Crimson! Do not walk down the lovely garden; do you not remember what the One Who Whispers warned you about.
Crimson protested swiftly. Who cares? Nothing so appealing is evil! Just look at its exotic beauty….how can you be so selfish?
Selfish! I am trying to help you, Crimson! Now go down the thorny path unless you want to die!
He grew annoyed then, wishing the voice would go away. No! I think I can tell the difference between what is good and what isn’t. Leave me alone!
Don’t you see how blind you have become? This is absolutely dangerous! Take the dark path if you want to find the Rose Arrow. What’s the harm in trying?
Crimson looked at David, who was thinking in hard silence, and he had a feeling there were voices echoing in his brain as well. What are you telling David? The same lies you are feeding to me? He snarled.
No; I am telling him the truth, as I am you. Now please, follow the dark path. Its voice turned persuasive and lovely. Please.
It was getting difficult for him to argue, but Crimson locked his jaw. No, he refused again.
Why must you be so stubborn? The angelic voice pressed. You are wasting time!
Correction. You are wasting my time.
He huffed and took a step toward the garden, but the voice yelled abruptly, Stop! You’re making a grave mistake!
Some part of Crimson’s mind yearned to listen to the pure voice in his head, but he continued to fight. I said, leave me alone! He growled childishly.
The force of its voice became stronger, and more persuasive. Crimson, I beg you to see reason. Please, stop.
He regained his conciseness, and with a last tug of willpower, Crimson pulled away from the powerful lure.
“Crimson!” David exclaimed. He grabbed the vampire’s shoulder and forced him to look at David directly. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” He blinked. “I….the temptation is gone.”
“As is mine.”
They turned their attention to the dark path, pulsing with evilness. Crimson marched in it, confident of his choice now. David followed closely behind, and both still grasped their weapons in preparation. Crimson stepped carefully over thick thorns at his feet, unable to use the wall for support, scurrying across its jagged edges and vines. David hopped a few times over taller thorns, almost stumbling on Crimson.
Since it was completely dark—and Crimson’s vision could not penetrate it—they treaded forward like bats, frequently jabbing their boots on sharp points. The growling sounded threatening in the pitch black, but it did not stop them from moving.
Finally, after several cuts and falling like drunkards, Crimson and David stumbled onto solid floor and into a lighted pathway. Sighing in relief, they looked out at the familiar, routine-like patterns of the maze, never coming to an end. “When will this be over with?” David asked rhetorically, echoing Crimson’s frets.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he shrugged. “But we have to keep going.”
“That’s good spirit, my boy,” the king smiled. “Aye, let’s make it through this.”
Just as they covered another ten yards, the growling—which was louder than ever—made Crimson jump out of his skin. Faster than a cheetah, a giant, muscular beast landed in front of them merely feet away.
It looked like a man, but with excessive amounts of black hair and shirtless. Its chest was barrel-sized and thick with fur, its eyes wild and pure white. It had an oddly curved beard, clenched teeth, massive claws for hands; and giant, hairy feet without shoes. The only thing that covered its body was a ragged pair of ripped pants.
Before either of them could react, the werewolf attacked, reaching them in a single leap.
Automatically, David thrust out his blade and sunk it in the werewolf’s chest. It ignored the blow and swiped a claw at him, gashing his face and knocking him to the ground. The beast shouted at Crimson in a roaring tone, and then turned sharply and bounded away on its hands and knees, much faster than any human.
“David,” Crimson gasped, dropping his weapon and falling to his knees, touching his scarred face; four cuts racked across his countenance, dripping with blood. A strong impulse singed his throat, but he fought with all his might against his thirst.
“Never mind me, it’s just a few scratches; I’ll heal it easily with a spell. We need to follow that werewolf, for he will lead us to the Rose Arrow.”
With a quick snap, the wound closed but left its mark, yet David was unconcerned at the moment. Retrieving his sword, he and Crimson sprinted in the direction of the fleeing beast.
David panted as he pushed his legs further, athletic enough to run for a while, but nothing compared to Crimson’s speed. He easily kept up with the king’s pace, not wanting to sprint ahead of him. They charged forward without daring to stop and rest, eyes and minds focused on their target.
“There it is!” Crimson shouted. The werewolf had stopped at a large gate intertwined in large thorns and magically falling rose pedals. The beast sauntered by the door, snarling at them as they approached; it was still too far for David to see.
Suddenly, a thick wall sprouted from the ground and blocked their path, made out of rose pedals and leaves. They halted just before slamming into it, examining.
“What in Dursvagon is this?” Crimson cried in frustration.
He was about to cut through with his blade, but David grabbed his shoulder firmly. “No,” he murmured significantly. “It won’t work.”
Then, out of the prettily bundled wall, the most beautiful girl Crimson had ever seen materialized in front of them. Black, wavy hair, a velvet dress, dazzling eyes, and a gorgeous smile; His heart shattered at the sight of her, bewildered by her presence.
“If you wish to continue,” she purred in a lovely, mesmerizing voice, “you must first answer my riddle.”
Crimson was too tongue-tied to speak, but David seemed unaffected. “What is your puzzle?” he asked unkindly.
She smiled brighter. “What is the illusion of love?”
Her question was simple, yet challenging. Crimson took no thought in it—he gazed at the angelic woman with a drooling expression, not caring about anything else in the world. His mind focused purely on the girl, unaware even of David.
“Beauty,” David replied after a brief moment of thought.
Her shinning smile dimmed slightly. “Correct,” she said. “Congratulations, you may pass.”
She and the grassy wall shattered in a thousand pieces, disappearing as they hit the floor. “How did you—” Crimson started, then cut off. “Forget it….let’s fight the werewolf!”
“Yes. We must use the scroll Ventice gave you; it is the only wat to stop it, remember?”
Actually, he had already forgotten. Crimson smacked himself in the head and tossed David the scroll he had tucked safely in his pocket. While he was unraveling it, the werewolf growled and sprung for another attack.
“Singu!” Crimson shouted, but nothing happened; instead, the beast slammed it body against his, sending them both sprawling on the hard ground.
David, muttering under his breath as he stared at the scroll, was oblivious to the battle. Crimson, with all his might, pushed the werewolf off of him, causing it to fly yards away and land loudly on its head.
That was enough. The scroll David held glowed brightly, along with his eyes, and a plume of smoke formed beside him. A ghostly figure slowly floated into existence, moaning and groaning profusely. Once the smoke cleared, a sight that would haunt Crimson for the rest of eternity burned his eyes.
It was Erineth.
His mind completely blanked out, a stab of pain stronger than all of his struggles combined gashing his heart. “Mother,” he whispered. His breathing came out in sharp rasps, clutching his chest and dropping his weapon. She looked just as he remembered; golden hair, dippy features, and bright green eyes. But she did not smile at him, only an expression of torment and longing.
The tears streamed freely now.
It’s all worthless, he thought helplessly. Here my mother stands, dead and lost, as I face a merciless werewolf in the presence of David, nearing the end of my trail. Kill me now, O graceful gods, and free me of the anguish that rips at my soul….
Over the time he had spent with David, Crimson was beginning to accept who he was as a vampire, but even more importantly, he was gradually forgiving himself for the murder of his mother. Soon he would look past it all, live peacefully with his king, and eventually forgive all the wrong he had done and the sins he had committed.
Now all of that vanished before his eyes.
The last look his mother gave him was a look of depression and eternal sadness, and then her wraith shot at the werewolf and disappeared inside of it. The beast jerked by the force, eyes wide with surprise, and let out a tortured shriek. It gripped its stomach and lurched on the floor, howling from some inside pain as Erineth took her toil. After a few, excruciating seconds, the werewolf stopped its struggle, falling limp.
“Crimson,” David’s gentle voice drifted in Crimson’s ears. He felt his hand touch his shoulder, Crimson on his knees, staring blankly at the lifeless werewolf.
“What is the point in continuing to live,” the vampire mumbled in a pained voice, his heart aching. “when the lives of those who matter most are taken from us?”
Without a word, David dropped his sword, faced Crimson, and embraced him in a tight hug, laying his chin on the top of Crimson’s head. “When someone we love is stung by death, our best way to honor their memory is to live in happiness, not mourn. They want nothing but what is best for us, and we live knowing how special and caring they were.”
“But I am the one who killed her,” Crimson sobbed. “How can she love a horrible demon?”
“That was not a fault of yours,” he answered peacefully. “And you are perfect just the way you are. If Erineth could stand before us now, she would wrap you in her arms as I am, and would hold nothing against you.”
“How do you know?” he demanded pathetically.
“Love is not difficult to understand,” he whispered.
They remained there for a long while in silence, hugging one another, and then stood up, Crimson wiping away a last tear. “Thank you,” he murmured. “were it not for your strength and company, I would be dead.”
“Until the end, my friend,” he beamed.
They approached the thorny gate and faced it. At first, nothing happened. Then, a sliver of words written in red molded subtly on the door, reading:
If one so wise wishes to proceed,
And realize what you really need.
What is an Archer’s last wish,
When pride is lost,
From an arrow’s miss?
“I am the only one who can answer it,” Crimson reminded. He stepped closer to the riddle, and then said in a monotone, “Death.”
The great gate creaked forward in a loud rumble like an earthquake, the thorns snaking away to the sides of its hinges. Upon opening, Crimson and David stared eagerly at what it contained. There, in the center of the room floating above a gigantic rose was the Rose Arrow itself.
“There it is,” David breathed in awe. The arrow was slick and pristine, red in color and woven with rose pedals at its tip. It looked girlish to Crimson, but lovely just the same. Its velvety black quiver rested below it, smooth and perfectly made. He gazed at its marvelous texture and radiated power, yearning to reach out and touch the arrow, to use it against all his foes.
David, slowly and preciously, stroked the Rose Arrow with a shaky hand. Once no traps or magical wards appeared, he grasped it and its quiver. He placed it gently in the quiver, and it magically vanished from his hands and on his back. Crimson oohed in amazement.
“The Rose Arrow is ours,” David confirmed, positively beaming with accomplishment. Crimson grinned with him, cheering outwardly. Suddenly, a square-shaped exit materialized behind the massive rose, leading out of the cryptic maze. They gladly took the opportunity and walked uphill.
“I must say,” David said as they walked upward. “I could not have achieved any of this without your help.”
“I am forever in your dept, my King, in more ways than I can express,” Crimson replied kindly.
He smiled. “As am I, dear boy. We have been through much together….and to think, you have only known me for a few weeks!”
Crimson laughed at the realization. “It feels like centuries,” he admitted.
They reached their exit, opening up onto a bright, beautiful night sky. “We have completed a very important part of our quest,” David mused.
Crimson gazed at heavens and moon, enjoying the relaxing breeze. “But it’s not over yet, is it?” he asked with honest curiosity.
“Far from it, my friend.” He continued to smile, recovering the enthusiastic personality Crimson had grown to love.
“I give fealty to you,” Crimson said sincerely. “I will walk with you always.”
“And for that, I am forever grateful.” His strong smiled faded a bit, and his expression flickered. “But for now, however, there are some vital issues I must attend to. Something I cannot bring you along to, I’m afraid.”
“What do you mean?” he bewildered, almost hurt.
“Ah, my boy, I would be more than honored to take you, but it is a matter I alone must do. He glanced over at the two horses still tied to the tree. “I will be taking Adrinna and leave Iceblade with you. Do you see that village over there?”
David pointed to the east, and Crimson noticed the small clumber of houses in the distance. “I must ask you to go there and stay for a while. Whenever I get the chance, I will be sure to send a letter to you.”
Confusion overpowered his hurt, but Crimson was not pleased by the idea of leaving the king. “How long before you return?”
David smiled sympathetically. “I know not, but of course, I will not leave you alone. I will send for one of my warriors from the palace to accompany you in a matter of weeks, and he will be at your command until I return.”
Weeks. Crimson attempted to hide his sadness. “Very well—may the gods watch over you.”
“And you, young Crimson.” The king’s face flashed with sadness, too, for a quick second, then he gathered himself. He handed Crimson a small pile of gold. “This will cover your room and anything else you require during my absence.”
David began to walk off, Crimson following, and mounted Adrinna. “Before I take my leave of you,” he said. “I want you to keep something in mind: friendship can overcome even the strongest of enemies, and numbers will always exceed over bronze.”
Crimson did not understand what he meant, but simply nodded. Smiling proudly, he waved a hand in farewell, watching the king trot away into the night.