Another First Line Friday. Sort of. This is a bit of a cheat, as its not the story I wrote. The one I flash wrote sucked and I didn't like it at all, so I've gone back and rewritten it. This took much longer than the original draft and of course also breaks my other self-imposed rule of not rewritting or heavily editing. However I like this version much more and am happier to post it.
All that was left to him was duty. The King’s bloodied fingers slipped from his own and Marrick shook with sorrow as he laid his friend down. A stone floor was no fitting resting place for a King, not even one of polished marble inlaid with shining gold, but Marrick had his duty and there was no-where else. The King’s eyes were closing, already seeing beyond to somewhere other than that decorated hall, though his lips moved still, and Marrick had to lean close to hear his final whisper.
And then the King breathed his last.
Marrick wanted to stay and weep. His chest was heaving as though his heart would tear within, the metal of his breastplate seeming suddenly restrictive and unyielding. He wanted to mourn his king, but that was now a grim luxury that he couldn’t afford. Oaths of fealty and bonds of friendship called on him now, forming chains that Marrick would not see broken. From the moment of those last whispered words, every action he took and movement he made would not be his own, they would be his King’s. A lesser man might have railed against such stern duty, but Marrick understood and accepted it willingly. A Knight must see his Lord’s will done.
With careful, reverent motions, Marrick lifted the ancient Kingsword from his Lord’s hand and limped towards the Brass Portal. He almost staggered, caught by surprise. It was already getting heavier. The ornate sword was only slightly longer than Marrick’s own, thought forged from an unknown metal much lighter of hue and decorated by far more intricate designs that were strangely inhuman in nature. He could almost feel it becoming more leaden, as if his arm was weakening. Marrick strained and lifted it higher, not wanting to sully it by dragging it along the floor. After all that had been done with it, all those who had fought for it and over it, he felt he should show some respect.
The Brass Portal took up the whole far wall, it myriad cogs and ornate crystal rods shining in the guttering light from the braziers. It began to open as Marrick approached, runes flaring along its rim and intricate wheels turning inside its mechanism, arcane in part yet also a device more complex than any other he’d ever seen. It was a huge metallic rose unfurling in response to his presence. That was always unnerving, the eerie way the Portal seemed to recognise him and somehow know if he wished passage. Even as he removed one gauntlet and placed a hand on the oddly warm golden panel, Marrick wondered yet again if it was truly necessary, or if the panel was really just there to give Portal travellers some illusion of being in control. He wondered if even the Arcanists who constructed it would have been able to say for sure.
Light flared out from between the burnished metal ring. It made the flickering fires in the braziers seem almost black and reflected off the marble floor and pillars in incandescent, dancing echoes. The Light hardened and stretched like cloth inside the Portal and images formed on its surface. Marrick saw his own features look back at him, writhing among other less defined shapes. The phantom seemed to be reaching out to him, or pushing him away, he couldn’t tell.
The Kingsword thrummed in his hands. Its warning startled his senses and Marrick realised he could hear the fighting coming closer, so close now the Traitor’s men could be right outside the door. Both he and the King would have left a bloody trail that they could have followed with ease. A second later something heavy thudded against the heavy wood; they were trying to break in. Marrick rested the Kingsword onto his shoulder to make it easier to carry and gave one last, painful glance to his dead Liege, then turned and stepped into the Portal’s twisting light while he still had the chance.
The pack swarmed around him, staying just out of striking distance. They’d been dogging Marrick’s steps almost since the moment he arrived through the Portal, clawing up through hidden gaps in the ground or dragging themselves from the shadows between the trees. The creatures were very much like the forest that covered the Other Realm, maddening and alien. Much like the trees and undergrowth, they were oddly beautiful when looked on directly, yet would twist and deform into gnarled, mocking shapes as a person’s gaze moved on. Marrick didn’t know how many there were. He knew better than to try to count them.
A hunched beast with too many limbs and an ugly, scaly hide loped in front of him, becoming somehow beguiling and smooth once in his sight. Its eerie song became a discordant bark as Marrick turned away from it and kept walking.
Marrick had walked between those inconstant trees many times, yet he still had to fight the urge to rush at the creatures. Their constant buzzing and hooting and scrabbling picked away at his already frayed composure. More than once he found his hand tightening on the grip of the Kingsword, about to bring it forward in a sweeping arc only his sense of duty held him back. He knew as well that it was pointless to try to kill the things. When the King had first led Marrick and Knights to the Other Realm, many of them had acted as they were trained and tried to fight the creatures that capered round them. Their numbers never seemed to diminish…and the Knights that made kills were never quite the same again. It was as if something inside them was broken.
The only evil in this place is that which we bring with us, the King had told them, advising them to stop trying to fight. That had been enough for Marrick, although it was hard all the same. The creatures came when the Knights stepped through the Portal, Marrick assumed they left again when the Knights did.
Marrick stumbled as a patch of undergrowth tangled his foot. He tugged himself free with a grimace and gave the Kingsword a worried look. The sheen was gone from it, the previously burnished metal almost black as if with age. It was so heavy. He had to grasp the hilt with both hands just to keep it steady. He looked up seeking his way forward through the trees. He could just make out a change in the light up ahead, a shimmering between the branches like sunlight on water. The Silver Lake was just ahead.
A noise like tearing cloth echoed through the forest behind him. The beasts swarming around him went quiet for a few seconds, their sudden silence nearly as unnerving as their jabbering. Then Marrick heard the sounds. More things, more creatures, louder and darker and more vile. Whoever had just followed through the Portal carried a lot of evil with them.
Marrick growled. He had no intention of failing his duty when he was so close. He lengthened his stride, steadying the Kingsword on his shoulder, and pushed on.
He would reach the Silver Lake first. His duty demanded it.
Marrick fell to his knees, right at the edge of the Lake. His armour weighed him down. He was struggling to keep from collapsing completely and he very nearly let the Kingsword fall into the Lake. Only by strength of will did he manage not to. He had to hand the sword back, he couldn’t just drop it. It felt like he was trying to carry the entire Kingdom, the whole of the King’s honour distilled into that length of unnatural metal.
He didn’t know how long he stared at the Lake. There were no ripples to indicate the passing of any sort of time. The surface was flat and reflective, a silver mirror in a dappled glade. Marrick wasn’t even sure it was water. He noted with some satisfaction that his pack of attendant evils had stayed back, lurking sullenly at the treeline rather than coming closer. Their distorted faces glowered at him, reflected in the Lake like gargoyles.
“Why have you come?”
Marrick blinked and forced his tired head up. He hadn’t heard Her approach. Nor had he seen Her image in the silver. Her voice was like liquid gold and seemed to come from many places at once. She was standing on the Lake in front of him as if She’d risen from beneath it and yet was part of it. Her body and flowing robes seemed to extrude from the Lake and glistened with the same reflective shine. He could barely focus on Her.
“I…The King is dead…” Marrick forced himself to speak, though the saying hurt nearly as much as the words, “His promise was to return the sword…since he cannot…I bring it in his stead…”
She nodded, or seemed to. She had no easily defined features. It was only the vague feminine shape of Her body that made him think of Her as female. She flowed towards him over the Lake, the motion sending glittering echoes of distant chimes through the glade.
“The King is dead, yet he lives still. His word is broken, yet you are his bond. His Kingdom is gone, yet will rise again when needed. All shall be as has been before and will be again.”
She reached forwards, though it seemed more as if Her arm was simply there rather than at Her side. Gentle fingers that seemed both cold and warm, like liquid light, took the hilt and lifted the Kingsword from Marrick’s weary grip as if the blade was a light as air. The blackness seemed to melt from its length and the sword shined until it was the same silver as She was, and the Lake was, and then it was part of her, then gone. Absorbed back to the place of its forging.
“Duty is done. Honour is done.”
Somewhere in the trees branches broke as they were pushed aside and the snarling of the pack grew louder and closer. The Traitor Knights were nearly upon them. Marrick managed to push himself to his feet and turned with some reluctance towards the sounds. He drew forth his own sword from its scabbard, though it was leaden in his hands and he knew he was in no shape to wield it, yet he felt some duty remained to defend the Lake and its legacy. He did not see Her shake Her head, or Her shimmering hand reach towards him. He merely heard her voice, as his armour began to shine silver at her touch. When the Traitor Knights finally pushed through into the glade, all they saw was an immense clearing of bare rock.
“The King and his Knights will serve their duty again, when the need is great.”
It was as if the Silver Lake, the Lady and the Kingsword, had never existed.