A STONE HEART: FEAR

 

            Two shadows trudged uphill, both submerged in darkness. Their protective covering reflected only faint glimmers of moonlight. A knight clad in alabaster armour placed his arm in front of his companion.

            The other man paused and turned his gaze forward. Ahead lied a cavern that reeked of fire and brimstone, waiting the journeyers who sought to complete their task. “Sir Kendrick, we need to leave this Godforsaken place!”

            “I will not leave.” The knight struck his fretful companion with an antagonistic gaze, “And neither will you until our duty to our kingdom is fulfilled, Ironhide.” He swiftly unsheathed his blade. It hummed as it split still air in half. “Now, let us go and slay this demon…”

 

            The white knight and his anxious cohort crept through the serpent’s lair. Into an empty void of sightlessness and anxiety, they ventured, touching the walls to help guide them down the invisible web of tunnels and passageways. Faint sounds of either growls or moans slipped into the ears of both men the deeper they went.

The guttural noise left droplets of sweat on Ironhide’s worried face. He wiped them off with the sleeve of his cloak that covered his armour. The feverish energy that coursed throughout the creature’s home was palpable. Ironhide, it felt as if it squeezed the very core of his soul.  

The chivalrous champion forged through the terror that challenged him as if he waded through breaking tides at the edge of the storm-ridden sea. Unlike his compatriot, the more intense the pressure, the harder he gripped his blade, borrowing strength from his endowed title and what came with it. The praise of those who adored him coursed through him thicker than blood. He gritted his teeth, his passion renewed. He would cut the beast at its throat.

“We’re nearly there. Can’t you feel the blistering heat? They are the flames of its last breaths?” The knight walked until he stepped on a floor so smooth and slippery that he fell on his back. He gracelessly rolled over to pick himself up, littering the floor with jangling coins. The noise was almost purposefully loud, worrying Ironhide as he reached over to give the White Knight aid.          

Ironhide gripped his hand, “This place is cursed. The longer we stay, the faster death shall come for us. If we go back to—”

A robust hand gloved in chainmail knocked Ironhide across the cave’s endless golden treasure. Neither warrior, despite their efforts, could make out the menace.

A set of red and black eyes flashed open high above the feuding pair. They swept through every part, searching for the disturbance.

“I knew you would only get in my way! I will never understand why the King thinks so highly of you.” The knight stood on both feet and picked up his sword beneath a pile of coins and jewels. His eyes rode along the length of his sharpened blade as he asked aloud the only that question plagued him since they set out on their quest. “If I kill you now it’ll save everyone the grief of having to endure your spineless existence ever again…”

            “What are you saying? This place is making you mad, Sir Kendrick.” Ironhide backed away towards another passage.

            Thoom! Thoom!

            The gold beneath their feet leaped high into the air, raining down with stinging force on the men. The floor trembled as slivers of scales and wet tongue lingered within the nearby gold.

            Thoom!

            Ironhide placed his back against the wall in the passage as his kingdom’s champion fell to the floor once again. He stumbled away from Ironhide and the only exit. Violent tremors shook the den, releasing a terrible howl that terrified Ironhide. Suddenly the rocky walls and rattling gold came to an abrupt stop.  

            “Ironhide, help me!” The white knight reached out for his companion, not seeing the moth-like flutters of scarlet flares rising to the top of the den. Sharp talons etched the stone ground beneath gold, searing the knight’s ears with a screeching hiss. He desperately pleaded for, his associate to save him. “Ironhide, come now! Hurry!” As Ironhide stood in the passage he fought notions of the renowned knight’s fading chances of survival. The knight looked over to his companion. Ironhide’s eyes locked on his before glancing upwards to see fear itself. In his own fear, Ironhide vanished in the dark passage. The kingdom’s legendary hero had been abandoned, deserted to face the monstrous beast king alone.

 Heavy steps started making their way toward him. A sinister zephyr pummeled his face as the creature roared, flames falling from the curvature of its colossal mouth. His armour weighed on him more than he thought possible, he struggled to keep himself on one knee. He gripped his blade and struck it in the ground to brace himself as he gasped for air. Each breath he took tasted like burning coal churning in his throat. The atmosphere around him changed altogether; it became hotter than the desert sun.  

            A whirlwind of orange and crimson fire mixed in the mouth of the creature that distorted the natural peace and harmony of the world. The white knight’s blue eyes changed to a wavering violet hue as the flame prepared to char him into nothing but pitch black ash.

            “Help me. My God, help me…” Seeing the drake in the vivid light caused him to regret accepting this unholy task. He awaited death as the flames blew past him, making way through his flesh, baking him into a meal for the beast king to devour whole.  

            Ironhide dropped to the ground as he made it outside of the cavern. Fire blazed above him, giving a frightening but marvelous light to the ebon sky. After the flames had vanished, he rose, his lips quivering from being in the presence of such a beast. Ironhide blamed the white knight for causing him to abandon him to his death. “I told the fool. I didn’t want to leave but what choice was there when his fame blinded him?” Another earth-quaking roar rattled the land his boots stood on. Ironhide decided it best to break for the nearest town. There he could contemplate whether to return to his king and tell the unsettling news that their champion has fallen, or set a course of his choosing for he did not come to this place by his will but by the will of others.