This is the finale of Volume 1!!!! I hope you guys are enjoying these. If you missed any episodes, click here to see a complete list of episodes with episode descriptions!
EPISODE 9: THE BATTLE OF TWO BEASTS
“Malam!” I shout as loud as I can, my arm raised to protect my eyes from the smoke in the air. I stumble forward, leaning against the stone wall in the sitting room, and shout again, “Malam!”
It’s a good thing the people of this village built their houses out of stone. The fire sprayed into the house through the windows and caught the roof on fire, but overall the building is unharmed. I run towards the stairs to see if Faith is all right, but she is already at the bottom of the steps, arrows on her back, bow in hand, and boots on her feet. “Come on!” I say, leading her towards the door.
We reach the threshold when Faith says, “Wait! What about Kirk and Laura?”
Frustrated but determined, I reply, “I’ll get them. Don’t go anywhere!”
Franticly, I run up the stairs, coughing as the smoky air burns my lungs, and I hurry down the short, narrow passageway to Kirk and Laura’s room. I fling open the door, fearing that a piece of the roof might have fallen on them, or for some reason they got cooked alive.
I stop in their doorway and my jaw hits the floor. They are both heavily sleeping, each of them snoring loudly. I shout, “Get up! We’re under attack and the house is on fire!”
Both of them snap awake and sit upwards, and Kirk yells, “I didn’t do it!”
Then the couple looks at me, and their confusion is evident. I hold my hands out in a hopeless gesture and say, “What the heck is wrong with you!?”
Seemingly, a pang of understanding courses through the couple, and they scramble out of bed. I expect them to come with me out the door, but then my eyes widen with surprise when both Kirk and Laura leap out of the room from a window beside their bed. I shake my head and run down the stairs out of the house.
When I reach the streets, my heart starts beating rapidly. I don’t see Faith. I told her to stay here. Would she really go off by herself, amid all this chaos? “Faith!” I call worriedly. I look down the road but don’t see her anywhere.
“I’m down here!” I suddenly hear her say, her voice strained and tight.
I look down and to my left in the direction of her voice, and I see her beneath the giant body of Kirk, who is being squashed by Laura. I feel relief. “Oh, there you are,” I say.
Faith reaches for me and gasps, “A little help!”
I step forward and push Kirk and Laura off Faith. “Thanks,” she breathes.
“No problem,” I say. I feel comfortable knowing that Faith is with me and the fact that this town is full of large, burly men. This is not a desolate, helpless village. I feel confident that we can handle this band of Evil.
I turn towards the center of the village, and that’s when I see it. My head lowers and my brow narrows. I face it with determination and anger, my courage unfaltering, at least as I watch the beast walk slowly into the main intersection. A mere black shape against the background of blazing fire, the dragon spreads its wings, searching for new prey. I have never seen a dragon, and I never expected to run into one. But I can see why they are so feared. I guess I should count myself lucky; this dragon is only about twenty feet tall. It’s only a little taller than the houses, which stand at about eighteen feet. I look over at Faith and say, “I’m going after the dragon.”
“I’ll keep people away from the dragon,” she says. I can tell she’s feeling nervous, maybe even scared, but we both start forward in the direction of the dragon. I am already developing a plan when I come to a halt, seeing the dragon corner a family against the side of a house. The father holds a pick, and he charges the dragon. I start forward to help him when the beast rises on its hind legs, and it opens its mouth. From within the depths of its belly, a bright yellow glow runs up through the dragon’s throat, and a huge burst of fire erupts from its mouth. I stop, and my eyes grow wide. The beast aims at the man, and with a loud scream, the father is engulfed in flames. I want to look away, but I can’t tear my eyes from the sight. I feel tears form in my eyes, and I watch the black, lifeless body of the man fall to the ground. His wife and children shriek, and they start crying. Then the dragon turns its gaze upon them, and with a swipe of its paw, the voices of the family fall silent.
I grip my sword as tight as I can and hiss through my teeth at the dragon, “Damn you!” Then I run off, ready to initiate my plan. I hear Faith call to me, but I ignore her. I know what I need to do. I know that the dragon deserves death, and I will give it the punishment it deserves.
I rush down the street, my arms out behind me, and I shoulder my way into a house that is not burning. I ignore the family huddled together in their sitting room and rush up their stairs to the second floor. Raising my head, I strike at the ceiling repeatedly, marking out the shape of a square. Then I breathe, preparing myself, and then I bend my knees and jump. I burst out onto the roof, landing on my feet, with my left hand placed out in front of me on the roof for balance. I stand and sprint away.
Leaping from house to house, I near the center of the village. Every few seconds a blast of fire erupts from the center of the town, and I hear screams of pain. I run faster. I am only three houses away when I see the dragon rear on its hind legs and watch as the fire builds in its throat. I leap one house, then another—
—the dragon aims—
—when, crying out, I jump from the top of the last house before the main intersection. I slash as I fall, and my sword flashes in the firelight. I land on one knee and listen as the dragon grunts. There’s a pause, and then a spray of blood bursts from the wing of the dragon. The beast arches its back and roars, releasing its flames toward the sky. His would-be-victims, a pair of small boys, run away. The dragon turns to face me, and I rise from the ground.
I take up a stance, beholding the dragon with hatred, even as the beast claws at me. I jump away and up, and the monster’s paw strikes the ground, earth and ashes flying into the air as a result. I land on my feet, but the beast came after me without hesitation, and I duck another blow right before it hits my head. It feels like only an instant passes, yet already I see fire building up in the dragon, and I run to my right as a torrent of flames blow towards me. There’s no real cover I can get to without getting torched, so I run faster, circling the dragon, barely outrunning the flames. When they stop coming, I seize the chance to rush forward and slice the beast’s tail. I don’t know where my courage comes from, but I am determined to make this dragon suffer.
The dragon roars and its tail lashes in response. I try to jerk away, but the monster’s tail strikes me in the chest, knocking me into a house bordering the main intersection at the center of the village. I notice a cluster of people running down a street at my left, and some of them stop and look. I wish they would leave, but at the same time I like having an audience.
I charge the dragon, but it sweeps its wing through the air and I am hit off my feet. I tumble backwards, groaning with pain, but I quickly rise. The dragon stands tall for a moment, approaching me, and then it bites. I sidestep, and almost dodge the attack, but the tough, scaly temple of the beast rams into my shoulder. I stagger away, but not before I cut the beast’s face. The monster screams, and I see its belly begin to glow, when an arrow pierces its stomach. Casting my gaze behind me, I see Faith standing atop the roof of the building at my back. She shoots another arrow, this one bouncing off the dragon’s shoulder. While the beast is wounded, I shout to Faith, pointing at the villagers behind me, “Get them out of here!”
Faith nods and loads another arrow, turning in the direction of the villagers. I note with dismay that a group of Evil is about to attack the villagers, but the men of the crowd step forward and clash with the Evil, attacking with picks, hammers, and swords. I turn back to the dragon.
I shout with fury and run at the monster. This dragon burned a man to death and killed his wife and children. For this I want to make the beast suffer, but just because it is alive and evil, I want to give it a miserable death!
The dragon strikes at me, slamming its paw down in an effort to squash me. I duck under the blow and keep on running, my heart racing as I narrowly escape the attack. I am right in front of the dragon and running at top speed. Gripping my sword with two hands, I slash the dragon’s leg off. I run until I am a safe distance away, and then turn around and smile. “That’s right,” I say as I watch the dragon scream and thrash. “Writhe in pain, you monstrous bitch! Cursed be your soul and cursed be your fate, that you would ever act evil in front of John Hedekira!”
The monster rises from the ground and claws at me, its eyes full of malice and rage. Yet my sword flashes upwards, and I cut the paw of the beast from its arm. The dragon falls onto its back and wails. “Scream!” I shout. “Scream as the pain burns you!” I see the tail of the dragon whip towards me, and I lunge forward and slice the tip of the tail off. The monster cries all the louder.
I know I have won. Bounding forward, I leap atop the dragon’s chest and stab. The beast gurgles, and I grin. It gurgles as I gurgled when I was bleeding out, drowning in my own blood in my own home. I stab twice more, and the dragon finally ceases moving. I jump off the beast, satisfied with myself.
Then I hear Faith’s voice call, “John, come on!” She is standing in the road where the villagers clashed with the Evil. I join her, jumping over dead humans and beasts alike, and she explains, “The Evil are trying to capture the villagers. They headed for the front of town.”
“They’re trying to leave,” I say, angrily, “Are you hurt?” I ask her.
She shakes her head, “No, you?”
“Bruises,” I say, “that’s all. Thanks for helping me.”
“Thanks for killing the dragon,” she returns.
We run together to the front of the village. Two squads of grim men join us, their breaths falling heavily with exhaustion. Ahead of us, I see a cluster of Evil running towards the gate of the town, which has been broken down. As we grow closer, I can distinguish, on the backs of many beasts, large bumps. I peer harder, and I realize that the bumps are the women, children, and even men that the Evil are carrying off. “Why are they capturing them?” I wonder. “Are they hungry?” I think of Soror and Frater, and remember how Faith said she had seen my siblings with the band of Evil that invaded our home, alive and uneaten. I grimace, determined to figure out what the Evil intend to do with the humans they are trying to capture.
We catch up with the beasts, right as they reach the gate. I can’t stab any of the Evil in the back, lest I hit one of the unconscious humans they carry. So instead I sprint forward past a beast carrying a tall woman. Once I am in front of the monster, I jump and turn in the air so I face the Evil, and I stab it in the chest. Around me, the men of the village fall upon the beasts, and they easily subdue them since the Evil are carrying their fellow townspeople.
One Evil charges me, holding his axe high. I parry the axe and growl as I fight against the weight of the beast’s blow. At my left, I see another Evil attack me, swinging his sword for my side. I grunt, franticly trying to think of a way to dodge both attacks, when Faith suddenly jumps in front of me and blocks the sword with her knife. I sigh with relief. We both push our foes backwards; I kill my foe with a stab in the gut, she kills hers with a stab in the throat. I am looking for another opponent when Faith points and pulls me forward, saying, “Come on!”
I see who we are chasing after. A lone Evil is running away with a little boy on his back, out of the village towards the forest. We follow him, weaving past men and beasts alike, and we rush out into the field that precedes the forest. We are gaining on the beast, and next to me I see Faith draw back her arm and throw her dagger. It pierces the Evil’s leg, and I rush forward and hastily remove the boy from his back. Faith pulls free her knife, blocks the dagger of the Evil, and cuts off his hand in a swift uppercut. She draws back her dagger to kill the beast, but I quickly say, “Stop! I have a question for this Evil.”
Faith steps away, and I transfer the boy to her. Stabbing my sword into the Evil’s shoulder, I ask stiffly, “Why are you capturing humans? Tell me if you don’t want to die a slow death!”
The beast looks at me and says, “I cannot tell—”
I twist my sword and the Evil grunts. “Damn you, tell me!” I shout.
The beast hisses through his teeth and growls. I make as if I am going to twist my sword again, when the beast says through clenched teeth, “Fine. I will tell you. But only because the answer will bring fear into your heart.” The Evil smiles at me, and then answers my question. “We are capturing humans and taking them to the Gray Lands.”
I’m confused. It doesn’t make sense. “Why?” I question, “Why the Gray Lands?”
The beast gurgles, and then replies, “We must obey our master. You do not understand; you could never comprehend his power!”
“Who?” I question. “And why are you taking the humans to the Gray Lands?” I don’t know if I can contain myself any longer. Who is he talking about? What’s going on?
The beast coughs, gagging, and then in a hoarse voice he says, “The Gray Lands have become an altar.”
“An altar?” I hear Faith say behind me.
“An altar for what?” I urge.
The Evil breathes deeply, and slowly says, “An altar upon which all Knights and Beloved will be offered as a sacrifice…” he pauses and smiles, staring right into my eyes, and he finishes, “…to the God of Death.”
TO BE CONTINUED IN VOLUME 2…