It no longer feels like a curse. The heat crawling under your skin. The clanking of armour plates dulled by crackling embers in your ears. Knight of flame astride your skeletal horse, charcoal hoofprints that inspire… fear? Reverence? It matters not. All that matters is that they put the fire out.
That they try to, anyway.
They set you out onto battlefields. You leave scorched earth, bodies wrent entwain, and not a drop of blood wasted. A temporary dousing. But there is always another war. Another chance that the next spill will drown you, extinguished by the exsanguinated.
If this is death, then you’ll take as many as you can with you.
You do not think, much. Feel- even less. But one thought troubles you. That there could be a peace long enough that you can’t find enough blood to cease the fire. That what’s left of your soul will be tempered in flames.
And you were right to fear.
For peace comes in the guise of death.
Scurrying rats and blotched handkerchiefs. There are fewer battles, and what little blood there is is caked around the sores of the dead. But you continue.
And one day you will cleanse the rot in light and smoke.
But that cleansing will not come for you.
For fire reigns-
in veins eternal.
Thirty seconds before the end.
She is far better at this than you. She handles her blade like it’s another limb, as if it were natural for every woman to be born as flesh and metal. Maybe it is; maybe you just never learned. You’ve been on the defence the entire time, her flashes of brilliance clumsily parried again and again and how much longer do you think you’ll last, really?
Twenty seconds before the end.
You’re getting closer to the wall. There are no spectators. You could just run. She would be the only audience for your shame. Could you take that? Short sharp hair frames her soft face, teeth clenched in concentration, and you know you have lost because you watching her more than her sword.
Ten seconds before the end.
Is this what you want? She is you, but better. Would it be so bad to be driven through, to become a monument to her? You’re against the wall. You can feel the exhalation of breath as she pulls back her sword. The smell of roses in the garden. Take in every sense you can before-
Her hand on your cheek. Her sword through your ribs. You bleed into her.
Ljilja lit a candle. The knight was asleep, for now. A titanic corpse of a man, looming and shrivelled. The honey in the wax helped to mask the smell. Her fingers traced his atrophied arms, loose skin hanging off the bones. Poison? Witchcraft? He hadn’t said. He hadn’t really said anything, just stumbled in through the door, waving his poleaxe, yelling and foaming at the mouth, before falling to the floor with a sound like thunder. It was a miracle that she and Senka had been able to lift him onto the table.
She brought the candle to his face. His helmet was fused to his neck with some black, tar-like substance. She gestured for Senka to bring a knife- no, a chisel would be better; some of it had crystallised, rotting flesh intermingled with shards of obsidian. Senka’s shaking hand was a stark contrast to her blood-stiffened gown.
The candle could no longer fight the stench.
Chunks of tar and skin littered the floor.
A crack, enough to lever off the helmet. The knight stirred, his arm reaching for… the light? God? “Not here,” she said, and lifted off the helmet, strands of tar holding on for dear life-
A face. Just a face. Hollowed out and empty, bones and all devoured by something within. She stumbled back into the room, yelling for Senka.
The knight rose from the table.
You shall have no gods before Him, you shall not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. But this god has you at the tip of his sword. Armour adorned in holy relics, how could the blood on his hands be less than that of Christ? You try to flee but your legs will not obey, frozen by his divinity. He promises that you will be a worthy sacrifice. To what is unclear, but the conviction in his voice assuages your doubts. You are meant to die here. It’s in God’s plan.
In a village in flames, you alone have been chosen. The blade scrapes across your clavicle. He says something in Latin that you cannot understand. It is not your place to. Yet despite yourself, you plead for mercy. To his better nature- either let you go or make it quick. He smiles, silently, and you are sure that he will grant you neither.
A flash of divine inspiration. You push yourself onto the sword, sanctifying his armour with your blood. His smile falters. You have stained his relics, fragments of the true cross, a lock of Mary’s hair…
and he has left you,
slumped on his holy blade,
staring into the sky,
waiting for deliverance.
Birthed from the tree. It lacks: a) flesh b) blood c) soul
But not points. Thorns. Those it has in abundance. This wooden simulacrum of a knight, fingers reaching for the sun- the light intersected by knots of leaf and weed. Does it think? Feel? Would you ask the same of a newborn? Scraping through the undergrowth, it reaches for its oaken sword. An instinctual call to violence written into the rings of its flesh, far older than its birth. By the time it has creaked its way out of the forest, the sun has set, the only light from flickering candles in village windows. The knight grows and shifts to these dull flames.
The village is silent, save for the sound of a dull, repetitive chopping under thatched roofs. Splattered remains cling to the knights’ thorns, dry summer grass stained scarlet. It opens the door to the nearest house. It has learned quickly, even without a human teacher. In the centre of the room, a brambled butcher hacks at the corpse of his flesh doppelganger, thorns sticking and tearing out chunks of meat. He tosses an arm into the fireplace, stuffed and smoking with mangled bodies. His head creaks around to face the knight.
“Yours is next door.”
“Did you hear what happened to Sir Dion? He’s been missing for some time. Frightful business. They say he met a girl on the road- no, not like that. You know he has always been a man of temperance. This girl couldn’t have been more than fourteen, yet her rough-hewn auburn hair bounced on ill-fitting pauldrons, and she dragged a claymore as she stomped through the mud. Sir Dion dismounted his horse and told her to turn around, that these roads were no place for a girl. He was sure by her rags and shining armour that she was a scavenger, a dirty magpie picking from the bodies of honourable men. He would see that she saw justice; he would take her into town to be made an example of.
But then she turned around. That bob of auburn hair framed a single, giant eye in place of all her features… save for a grinning mouth. Her left hand reached into her rags and pulled out a set of scales, gilded and glittering as if they had never been touched by human hands, yet the name Dion had been etched deep into the metal. The knight reached for his sword. The scales tipped.”
Her eye blinks.
“What do you think happened next?”