Chapter 5 - Book of Fates



The Fates have chosen that the knight recuperates before the inevitable pursuit of the oar.


Well, well, well. Just when I thought all hope was lost, you lot surprise me with rational thinking. What happened, esteemed Fates? Did you get scared of the big bad monster? Or perhaps you care for our Subject? Bah, quit your booing. You know you deserve this for acting so irresponsibly before.


What you choose has consequences. In the course of this epic some mortals will die miserably, some will find happy and — dare I say — fulfilling lives, while others still will remain forever lonesome. It’ll all depend on how you cast your votes.


Now, where were we… Ah, yes… Taking a break.


***


Far off, the monster resurfaces and the knight watches it retreat, swimming up the coastline toward a tall tower teetering on the edge of a cliff. The oar, captive in the creature’s tentacles, bobs in and out of the water like a lure, taunting… teasing.


Is watching something you love being taken away what life is? Or is it just his luck to be struck by misfortune after misfortune? Loneliness tears at his gut.


“It's okay, oar. I’m coming for you,” he murmurs.


“Help!”


The Eternal Knight turns at the elven girl’s scream. The old man, contorted, overgrown with roots, stems, and leaves, has gotten up. Instead of Turcifa’s happy, hobbling gait, the mutant darts toward the elf, like a fire viper, desperate for blood.


Water sloshing around his feet, the knight races back to the beach, but this new monster is faster.


“Run!” he shouts.


Spiny claws swing for the kill, forcing the elven girl to flatten herself against a rocky wall. The air crackles with magic. Turcifa’s corpse collapses to the ground as if all breath was sucked out of it. Then it fills, stretches and bloats, before exploding. Green and pink flesh spatter the beach and the elf. Eyes wide, the girl stares at the carnage, then collapses on the sand herself, unconscious.


The Eternal Knight reaches the scene, lifts the elf and carefully lays her on a dry slab of rock away from the mess, hoping it would prove comfortable enough to bring her back to consciousness. It has no immediate effect. As he stands over her, waiting, a short sword hanging from her belt piques his curiosity. He detaches it and turns it over in his gauntlets. Much as the rest of her uniform, the hilt and scabbard are adorned with extravagant black and gold filigree. The blade’s edge, sharp and unstained, gleams as only a ceremonial weapon would.


He lays the sword next to her. On her forehead is a small, raised, diamond-shaped scar with a dot in its center. She looks to have seen only fifteen summers, but somehow he knows not to judge her on that. Elves age at a different rate than humans, besides he did just witness the girl blow up Turcifa. She isn’t as harmless as she looks. Whether that means he could trust her more or less, he isn’t sure.


When the girl opens her eyes, the sun is creeping up over the horizon, painting the morning sky in pink and purple hues.


“Oh, I am so glad to see a friendly face!” she exclaims. “When I woke up, I thought, ‘This is the dreariest place!’ Then I remembered all the horribly spooky stories about Ferax and about the curse. Do you imagine that I’ll turn into a monster? Oh, that would be horribly tragic! You’ll likely be fine because you don’t have a body, but from now on I should consider every breath my last one. Cato always said, ‘Dawn, live every day like is your last and learn to enjoy silence.’ I think I finally understand what she meant about enjoying the silence because even though death would be tragic, there’s something beautiful about changing into a creature made of flowers. To be frank, I think it’ll be hard to enjoy the silence on the beach. I mean, the waves breaking on the shore make a lot of noise. Don’t you think?”


The girl seems about to continue, but the knight interrupts her. “Back up a bit, elf. Who are you and what are you doing here?”


“Oh,” the girl gasps, “I forgot my manners! I’m Dawn of High-Hauran, squire to Cato, the imperial Sentinel. Before the shipwreck, we were returning to the capital from the front lines of Kaspia under strict orders not to interfere with the Eternal Knights’ prisoner transport. I’m not surprised you don’t remember me. Cato is memorable, but I’m not. She’s the most fashionable, delightful, and interesting trainer one could ever dream of having. Can you imagine learning magic with someone besides her? I can’t. Oh, you would absolutely love her. Her smile warms you up like the crimson sun on a summer sunset, her hair smells of roses and honey, and when she looks at you, you feel as if all the woes of the world disperse up-up-up into the sky. Glorious, isn’t she?”


Skull ringing with all this information, the knight asks: “Wait, what was this mission I was on?” We were on, he thought. There were other knights.


“I’m not high-ranking enough to know. There were a dozen of you transporting a prisoner on the ship. It’s unusual to have so many Eternal Knights in one place as you are so rare, so whoever you were transporting must’ve been important. I firmly believe you should all have unique helmets to tell you apart, but Cato said it would ruin the point.”


“Wait, tell me more about...”


“I mean, I know you have to give up your body to become part of the emperor’s indestructible elite fighting force, but does it have to be so impersonal? Cato always says that you don’t get do-overs on first impressions. It must be tough to make a first impression when you can’t be picked out of a lineup. I always thought the identical armor was rather uninspiring — to live one’s life in magical armor, but without an identity seems like such a waste. Then again, dedicating your life to a cause is glorious and the skull on your helmet adds quite a bit of menacing charisma. Oh, I’m glad I can talk with a person who’s made such interesting life choices. Why did you become an Eternal Knight?”


The knight sighs and sits down, feeling tired. His mangled elbow joint creaks as he leans on the rock besides Dawn. “I don’t know. I have no memory of which you speak. I awoke on this beach with no knowledge of who I am or where I came from. Since then I’ve been ambushed and lost the only thing I connected with. Apparently while marooned on a cursed continent.”


“What a horribly cruel world!” Dawn gasps. “I’ve never heard of an Eternal Knight losing his memory. Maybe an arch-priest can restore it? What an adventure it will be to regain it! A song-worthy epic journey! Well, I can’t bring your memories back, but I can repair your armor.”


Dawn springs to her feet and takes his damaged arm in her small hands. The knight watches her fingers move around the bent metal, enveloping his elbow in a warm glow. Streams of air swirl around them and rush inside between the plates, forming intense yet gentle pressure that pushes on the armor from inside out, slowly expanding it back into its original shape. While she works, she is quiet.


As the last bit of plating smooths out, Dawn looks up at the knight, smiles, and begins to chatter again: “I hope you recover your memories! But ‘first things first’, as Cato says! If we walk along the shore, we might come across a ship that’s willing to take us aboard.” She waves up the coast, the way the monster took the oar. “I’ve heard rumors of pirate enclaves on Ferax. If we tell them we represent the power of the emperor, I’m sure they’ll grant us a passage home!”


The knight considers his options. It’s not like he has any better plans.


“Fine,” he says, “but I shall recover my oar from those ruins as we go. I know little, but that oar felt like a gift from the gods. I’m not leaving without it.”


The girl nods gravely. “I think I see what you mean. I could never replace Cato either. It’s so romantic to commit your soul to a single thing. Oh, I’m so glad we met!”


As they shake hands the girl continues her monologue. “I hope I won’t slow you down with my need to eat and sleep. I’m probably susceptible to the curse too, so I might turn into a plant and attack you. I hope you won’t want to leave me behind even though-” she looks suddenly horror struck, “I think I killed your friend.”


“He wasn’t my friend. He was my guide, which in our situation might be worse.”


Dawn’s lower lip trembles. Seems wielding an oar is etched deep in the knight’s muscle memory, but when it comes to reassuring teenage girls, he doesn’t feel quite up to the task. Uncomfortable, he changes the subject. “Do you have the old man’s golden eye?”


Dawn nods and pulls the glinting ball out of her pocket.


“If this object kept the old man safe from the curse,” the knight says, “it might protect you too. It might even work as a weapon against the monster.” The knight glances back to Turcifa’s splattered remains. “Before the monster attacked us, Turcifa was taking me to his home somewhere close by. It might be helpful to check it out. Or a fool’s errand. Would be just our rotten luck if he lived hidden under a rock somewhere.”


Dawn’s stomach rumbles hollowly. Red-faced, the girl steps back, hugging her belly.


The knight picks up a piece of the monster’s vines strewn around the sand. “I hope you don’t mind going vegetarian for a bit.”



***


My dear, beloved Fates. I present you with only two options today. Choose wisely, you don’t want anyone getting accidentally hurt, do you? Ha ha!


Option 1: It’s time to attack. The Eternal Knight feels he’s ready to face the monster. He thinks the mysterious golden orb and the young novice Sentinel, Dawn, could come in handy. Some improvisation might be required, but that’s life.


Option 2: Key to victory is preparation. The Eternal Knight wants to find Turcifa’s home in case it reveals any new information of what he’s up against. The oar must stay strong and wait a little longer.


***

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