Chapter 14 - Book of Fates



The Fates decided to kill the monster.


My dear wise Fates, there is a saying among mortals that every story must come to an end. I think it’s nonsense. Utter stupidity. The greatest lie ever told. The world is a never-ending cycle of lives, deaths, and rebirths. It never stops turning its wheels of mystery. Whoever came up with the phrase must have been an uneducated buffoon. There is a much better phrase coined by yours truly that I’d like to introduce you to: ‘the story must go on’.


***

“The least we can do is put an end to this family tragedy,” the knight says as the horror of Turcifa’s actions dawn on him. “Warpack, can you hear me?”


An enthusiastic squeak rises from the mushroom warriors within him in a response.


“We are approaching the battle. I say we surprise our enemy. The monster is still unaware we have penetrated its tower. If we’re stealthy, we may succeed in killing it. We’ll keep our word to your king, sworn on a warrior’s honor.”


Excited, the mushrooms climb out of the ripped armhole, shrieking “For mushroom king!” as they spill down to the ground en masse.


“Um, prince knight sir,” Dawn’s voice trembles as she speaks. “I wouldn’t dare imply any disrespect because Cato taught me to respect the chain of command, but I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t mention this. One time I failed to bring to Cato’s attention that her shoelaces were untied and she ended up tripping while briefing a battalion of mages and got laughed at and I always thought she’d have preferred me telling her and preventing the embarrassment.”


“Dawn, what’s your point?”


“Ah, yes! I wanted to tell you we’re not surprising anyone because these vines have been moving more and more and I think they’re about to attack. I should have told you before. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt your speech!”


If the Knight had eyes, they would have rolled like water wheels. If he had time, he would have explained that the key to winning battles is clear communication, not the chain of command and that if they wanted to survive dangerous situations, it would be helpful if Dawn got to her point more quickly. But the Eternal Knight had no such luxury. By the time Dawn makes him aware of the slithering tentacles creeping around them, it is too late for a second speech.


The knight steps in front of Dawn, who squeezes herself behind Lady Mafra’s glass container, and — his battle-hardened oar in hand — blocks, ripostes, and hacks the writhing tentacles into pulpy bits of plant meat. The Warpack follows his example and bravely — if ineffectually — fight the incoming barrage. Alas, for every tentacle the knight defeats, two more appear. Soon the laboratory is full of thrashing plant-matter amongst which the knight recognizes a handful of the rosette-headed monsters he’d battled on the beach. Behind them in shadows stands a small child-shaped green creature.


“Miss Areia,” Ren starts, but at that moment the child-monster launches a solid wooden branch, sharp as a lance, that flies toward him, bypassing his defences and piercing his chest plate. Maybe it’s the force of its flight, maybe it’s the note that resonates through his armor, but at that moment the knight can’t move. Terror fills him.


This wound in the armor shouldn’t have incapacitated him. No, this is different, he thinks. A fear seeping from another time, another place...


Ren Londaar is a young man — strong, capable, charismatic, but right now his eyes are darting from side to side, face to face. He’s seeking a way out: escape, salvation, mercy. Some part of him still expects to wake up from the nightmare, but the iron collar biting into his neck is too real. He’s naked, chained to an altar, illuminated by candlelight and surrounded by darkness. Before him stand three of the queen’s gold-clad handmaidens, their faces hidden behind a lacy faceplate carved into the shape of a skull. They hum a monotonous tune, as spiritless as they themselves are.


“Mother! I never competed for the crown! I swore I’d go into exile!”


The great queen Thyra approaches her son, a curved ceremonial knife in her right hand. The cold blade touches his throat, its edge rasps against his stubble as it slides up, lifting his chin.


“Yes, my sweet son, I know. You were always such an obedient boy. But I raised you for this,” she says, voice calm as if explaining the most natural thing to a child. “There is no greater sacrifice than becoming one with Ealan. Now hush, mother is working.” She blocks Ren’s mouth with her left hand, then pushes the blade deep into his chest. He can’t breathe. The world seems so small: just him, the pain, and his mother’s beautiful, blood speckled face in front of his own. The handmaiden’s song grows louder. He doesn’t die when the queen twists the blade. He doesn’t die when she plunges her hand into this chest. He sees her long nails bite into his beating heart, and he’s still not dead.


She hands it to one of her handmaidens. “Prepare it for the armor. I want the new Eternal Knight ready to serve before sunrise. The emperor misses his brother.”


Ren comes to on the floor, Dawn kneeling beside him.


“Prince knight sir, wake up! Please! I need you!”


He feels his chest. There’s a rupture in the armor where his heart would have been. He gets up, oar in hand. The child-shaped monster has disappeared, but more rosette headed creatures flood the hall, crushing the Warpack left and right. The phantom pain lingers in his memory and makes him falter.


Dawn looks panicked. “I don’t think we can get out of here! What are we going to do?”


“We cut our way into the belly of the beast, or we die trying.”


Dawn gulps audibly. “I suppose this could be a romantic way to die. You with your oar, me with my air magic — armor and elf, fighting to the last scraps of metal and flesh. I suppose it doesn’t matter much, if there’s no one to make it a story.”


Ren nods. “As romantic as it gets,” he says. “To death?”


“To death!” the mushroom warriors closest to them shout in response, skittering toward an incoming Noxis. They leap into the air, and explode on contact with the monster. Without thinking, Ren pins Dawn to the ground and shields her. The force of the blast pressure hits his armor and rumbles the very structure of the tower, shattering the glass spheres around them, releasing the fluids and creatures inside.


Dust and smoke swirl around Ren and Dawn. The monstrous jungle that had surrounded them is burned to a crisp, clearing a path out of the laboratory. Mushrooms, unharmed, totter around seeking still moving plant matter, poking it to death.


“Warpack,” the knight asks, bewildered, “can all of you do that?”


The warrior mushrooms cheer in answer.


“Are we going to burn our way forward?” Dawn asks. “Seems dangerous, although I bet that would get us close to former Miss Areia.”


“No, Dawn. I have a new plan — one that we may yet survive. We will bring down the tower and escape before it collapses on us.” To the mushrooms, Ren cries: “Warpack, target the walls!”


***


The rest of the battle is simple. The mushrooms, eager to sacrifice themselves to avenge their clan, accept the plan and send an evacuation warning to their king through the mycelium network. Ren and Dawn double back to the tunnel and run amidst the echoes of explosions, tremors, rubble, and falling stonework.


When they emerge into the light, the tower already teeters and shakes against the grey-blue sky. From high atop the cliff, the mushroom clan at their side, they watch as the structure buckles and falls, the tower dropping into the sea like a felled tree, dragging Noxis with it to a watery grave.


“I could have died so many times today,” Dawn says, dropping to the ground, exhausted. “Almost makes me wish I was made of metal.”


She closes her eyes, breathing in the ocean breeze, letting the wind cool her burns and play with her hair.


“I took many hits today, Dawn,” Ren says sitting next to her. “Unlike flesh, I cannot heal my wounds. The wind and the salty sea will rust me from inside and out, and the more we fight, the more I will disintegrate. I may not be affected by the Noxis curse, but my eternal life lasts only as long as this armor does. Besides, you know the sacrifice you said I’d make for my brother? You were wrong about one thing: it wasn’t voluntary — I was forced to become what I am now. There’s someone in the empire who sacrificed my body for her god’s favor and I believe all the Eternal Knights have suffered the same fate. Our sacrifice to serve the emperor must be a lie.”


Dawn’s eyes widen while the knight speaks. She stays silent for a long moment, looking at the dark grey sea and the waves that roll and break in an endless cycle.


“Prince knight sir, I’m sure I don’t understand much, but what I mean to say is that I understand now what Cato meant when she said that in the absence of a superior commander you should always follow your heart. And I know you don’t have a heart because you don’t have a body, but I’m being metaphorical, so it doesn’t matter. What I’m trying to say, prince knight sir, is that you will know what to do, and I’m with you wherever you lead us.”


***

And so, my devoted Fates, we’ve arrived at the conclusion of the first arc of the Eternal Knight’s story. Ren Londaar is no longer a mere memory-less hulk of armor walking around aimlessly on the shores of Ferax. Instead, he’s become a champion of mushrooms, slayer of Noxis, defender of friends — and most importantly — the owner of a fine battle oar.


But fear not! This story is far from over! The legend of Ren Londaar has only just begun and I present you with the most important decision so far: what will drive the Eternal Knight’s motivations and passions during the next arc of his story?


Remember my dearest Fates, this will define the future.



Option 1: The Eternal Knight swears to free Ferax from the Noxis and continues on as the mushroom’s champion. The road will lead them deeper into the continent of Ferax. Who knows what they will find there?


Option 2: The Eternal Knight dedicates himself to finding a way home. Ren doesn’t understand much about his past, but he knows that the empire is in danger. Thyra, his mother and an evil sorceress, needs to be stopped.


Option 3: The Eternal Knight’s mind is plagued by the fear of disintegrating into nothingness and he cannot focus on other goals before he becomes fully human again. He will seek out someone to help him gain his body back.


***


The chapter voting closes every Monday at 8:00 AM WEST (Lisbon, Portugal time).


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Author's note:


In honor of the long-awaited reunion of the knight and his oar, we're launching a small merchandise collection! We'd like to thank you, dear Fates, for sticking with the story week after week. This would literally not be possible without your engagement.

CHECK OUT THE SHOP!


And on other news, today is Kaya's 32nd birthday! We'll spend the day roaming around the Lisbon botanical gardens and raiding the plant shops. If you want to make a special gift to her, make one of your friends into a BoF reader and she'll be extra grateful!




-Silver and Kaya






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