The knight ascended the ruined hill, as grey clouds swirled above a sky split asunder, and lightning wreaked havoc in flashes of perfect chaos. Though the thunder made its fiercest effort to shake the earth, a message sent by the Gods to dissuade him, the knight pushed on relentlessly. The sound of his march matched that of the explosions in the sky, so mighty that brief showers of rain plummeted to the ground intermittently, like fallen angels, battering the rock and ruin.
A stifling smell of decay and ash pierced the knight’s visor as he reached the base of the hill. An ear-splitting sound much like slowly breaking bone echoed adjacent, and the knight paused briefly. Beside him, a faceless woman adorned in rags emerged from a great stone slab, as if spat out from its throat. Her jawline stretched until it hung loosely below her chin, and she pointed towards the summit of the hill and the stone staircase that led there. Wordlessly, her blank face watched the knight as he turned his attention away and began the climb.
A wayward lightning bolt struck a nearby tree, and it burst into flames, casting a smoke signal into the dead skies. Steadfast, he clamoured towards his one true goal. Wretched moaning distracted him and he cast his gaze at the ground beside him to see a burnt man with only a torso left, crawling for his ankles, a fevered look in his eyes. The knight heard the man whispering with great strain, his voice ragged and depleted as he repeated over and over again a single word.
“No, no, no…”
The knight drew his blade and unceremoniously ended the stranger’s suffering. It was not an act born of kindness, but of contempt for what was lesser. The man on the ground quivered and let out a harrowing moan before burrowing his fingers into the dirt and laying still.
A sharp corrosive smell arrested the knight’s senses as scattered plates of armour, long since succumbed to rust and decay, littered the hill near the top. The knight noticed the design of the armour reflected the cultures of many, some of which he did not recognise from any battlefield. Emerald sparks blew past the knight, thrown by the howling wind. As each particle brushed the knight’s armour, he felt a terrible cold, as if being plunged into a frosted lake.
Near the apex of the stairs, something moved on the ground, and without warning a raven three times its normal size flew up at the knight. He raised his shield to guard against its monstrous talons, just in time for the vicious creature to permanently scar it. The knight struck the raven in the wing with the sharp edge of the shield, before pinning it down and beheading it with one magnificent swipe of his sword. The raven melted into black liquid, which burned through the stone stairs, vanishing below ground to the doors of Hades.
The knight finally reached the summit, and was greeted by a cloaked figure, wrapped in smoke, with golden eyes acting as a lone source of light. Its movements were delicate, as if it were made of glass, and it watched the knight with a passive alertness, as if attentive to his movements but unthreatened by them. The knight stopped before the figure blocking his path. The creature spoke, its voice like two voices; a roaring fire met with an ocean’s hiss.
“Why have you come, knight?”
The knight declined to answer.
“It matters not whether you reciprocate. In every iteration of a tale, in all manner of consequences fathered by chaos, your words are a mere formality.”
The knight remained silent.
Golden eyes flashed enigmatically.
“I see. You have been made not to speak. Allow me then to recollect the thought. Reforge the moment we need, but a glimpse in time in a river perpetually flowing.”
The figure’s eyes disappeared behind a veil of black.
The knight waited.
A moment later the golden lights flashed once more.
“I am simply the ferryman. Where the boat takes you is your choice. Now choose, knight.”
The knight waded through the smoke and emerged on the other side of the ferryman’s body. For one single second that the knight had been submerged within the smoke, his heart had stopped beating; a blink in which the knight felt a connection to the burnt half-man.
The golden-eyed creature vanished.
Ahead, the knight knew the object of his desire waited for him.
The knight heard its serrated song before he saw it. Before him a mystical blade impaled grotesque stone. Its magnificent pommel pulsed with a malachite glow. The sword hummed as the knight approached; his final hope to attain the power of a god. In doing so, he would forever bring an end to the plagues of vanity, corruption and lust that had transformed his once decadent homestead into a dying soul that had never been granted the honour of a grieving.
As the knight reached out for the sword, the ground beside him fell inward as if at the mercy of a sinkhole. From the bowels of mud emerged the faceless woman once more. Her limbs contorted back into place, breaking and twisting, as she reset her jaw. The knight tightly gripped his shield, steadying it, but the woman made no hostile movement. She slowly reached a hand towards her throat, passing through the skin, and grabbed hold of her larynx. The woman applied pressure, and blood pooled over her hand and dripped down her ragged clothing. She held her hand there, as if to keep it all together. She spoke in a low tone, without any movement of her jaw, in a voice that was reminiscent of a blade being sharpened on a whetstone.
“You are certain of your path, drifter. Yet are you able to remember how it is you came to be here, in this nexus, absent of any beginning?”
The knight again offered only silence.
“Your intentions are noble, but you are a child in this life. A child enamoured by endings, illusions of what you can control, and I see yours buried behind the plates of your armour.”
The knight ignored her, casting his gaze back to the sword.
“Your decisions here, drifter, shall shape everything, and change nothing.”
The woman vanished.
The knight gripped the hilt of the majestic weapon before him, and the sword brightened. He pulled with ferocity. As the stone relinquished the sword, he begun to feel a searing pain. Beneath his armour, his skin burned. Pain, was merely an old friend. Resolute, he grabbed the weapon with both hands and wrenched it free in one devastating movement; the weapon’s malachite aura delivered a burst of green light into the swirling grey skies above.
The clouds disintegrated in flashes of lightning. Tumultuous bodies of rain bore down upon his back. The knight fell to his knees, fatigue taking hold of his limbs with an ironclad grip, and he rested against the ancient pommel. The mystical sword hummed again, and with its song a noxious laughter emanated in his mind. The knight felt a corrosive invasion of matter within his head, as he slowly realised that the blade itself had communicated with him. Fate, his grandstanding nemesis, invoked the last laugh over choice. Instantaneously, the knight’s skin ignited. The bone beneath withered to dust, taken by the wind. His armour turned to malachite, and within a beast awakened, as the burning knight surrendered sentience to the sword.
The world dissolved into shadow and black mist.
For a fleeting measure of moments, there was absolutely nothing at all.
And then the knight awoke, sprawled on the ground somewhere else.
Everything slowly shifted back into focus. He was still within the realm of the sword, except he felt lighter, his armour gone. The knight tried to get to his feet, but failed to find the strength. He realised with an alarming shock that he could not feel his legs. He glanced behind him, and saw that his body was completely severed from the waist down. Finally breaking his vow of silence, he let out wretched moans of agony and grief. He was only afforded a few precious seconds of humanity, as thunderous footsteps shook the stones beneath his fingertips, forcing him out of his momentary stupor. The fallen one looked up at the shadow towering over him.
He saw the knight looking down at him.
And he finally understood the prophetic whims of chaos and calamity.
He reached out towards the knight, a veiled attempt to stop him.
“No, no, no…” he croaked.
The knight plunged the sword into his back.
The fallen one buried his fingers in the dirt, clamouring to maintain the weakest of grasps on life as the knight left him behind. The corners of his vision were already darkening, inviting shadow songs. And when the time came that he could hear his own heartbeat slow as his mind, body and soul prepared for its final surrender, a familiar apparition appeared once more.
Golden eyes pierced the black mist of his vision.
“In all eventualities, in every fragmented memory of our cyclical meetings, life eclipses chaos to court perfect death.”
The ferryman roped a chain around the fallen one’s torso and dragged him down into the depths below, where he was placed gently into a boat absent of any colour or texture. As the golden-eyed collector took him across the green waters, the fallen one cast a final gaze over the realm he would leave behind; in time to see a burst of green light ascend to the heavens. And when the heavens responded with divine absolution, the lightning it sent back was malachite.