For A Promise
For A Promise12 mins 39.2K 12 mins 39.2K
The castle was huge, with towers on all four corners so high that it would take about eighty men on top of each other to scale them. The outer walls were about ten feet thick, and in the night’s darkness most rooms were still plunged in darkness. The vines that grew up to most windows were black and misshapen, mottling with death and decay. Ravens and vultures encircled the castle, obscuring the moon from view, and casting an eerie shadow dance on the castle on the whole.
Kitlon saw none of it. Or rather, if he saw it all, he gave it no import. The sole object of his focus was the open set of doors, inlaid with intricate woodwork, depicting the gods of the inhabitants, being worshipped, ruling, and in quite a few intimate poses with each other. He frowned. What had pulled him across the continent was surely inside the castle, and still alive. He could feel it. Yet there was no sign of life. The path before them, the only one leading to the gate of the castle, looked as though it hadn’t seen footsteps in over a decade. There were none going in, but none coming out either. There were no hoof prints to suggest horses, or signs that any wagons had ever travelled on the road.
He took another step to the gate, and he could swear the gate had moved. Not to an ordinary eye, but to his archer’s eye, there had been a tiny movement. Kitlon immediately got off his mare, whipped out an arrow and nocked it against his longbow. Alert, he then took two more steps forward. There, the gate did move this time – Inwards, as though inviting him in. Kitlon decided he was simply a sitting duck, whether outside or inside. He calculated it was about a hundred paces from the gate to the inordinately carved doors. If he could run and shoot at the same time... He took off, without pausing to look at his horse, which had whinnied and backed away the second he left the reins. There was time to deal with that later, if he could get out alive, with his treasure.
By the time he was at the gates, they were wide open, and he stumbled a little when he noticed there was no one pulling on them. Pulling on the bowstring immediately, Kitlon pointed it upwards, then sideways on both ends, to look for any contraption to explain for the gates. There was nothing to be seen. A loud shriek from the castle made him turn around, but he could see nothing through the windows of the unlit rooms. Just as he made to relax, Kitlon felt a slight breeze on his neck, and turned instinctively, loosening an arrow. He had the next one nocked by the time the present one thudded against the now shut gate. Kitlon shivered in spite of himself; the gates had shut behind him without even a whisker of sound. The closed gates marked the sealing of his fate – a thing he had known for long.
With nothing else to do, he turned and moved for the door, alert for any hidden archers on the walls. The castle loomed over him, and a smell of death and decay reached him. He ignored his impulse to relieve his stomach and climbed up the stairs leading up to the door. As he reached the last step, Kitlon tensed seeing the door open without a sound, just like the gate. He hesitated for a moment to enter, and then decided he had to do it. For love. For himself. For a promise. And then he stepped into the castle, underneath the arching doorway engraved with the welcome phrase:
“Sleep not in the house of the dead”
Dead end. Maybe if he went back the way, he could go a different way from the hallway, Kitlon thought, as he turned and walked back up the corridor. The door in front of him was the same door he had opened countless times already, and would have to again. He turned the knob and pushed to enter a new room – a different one than the one he had traversed a few minutes earlier. He sighed, unsurprised but resigned and readied his sword. The undead could be anywhere, waiting for him. All the room held for him, however, was a table with a pitcher of water and dried bread.
Kitlon almost laughed in desperation and shouted. It was an animal bellow, nothing held back. The house would keep him fed, just to be food for the undead and carrion. In a fit of blinding anger he pushed the table, toppling the contents. Immediately realizing he had no clue when he could eat again, he jumped to save the water from spilling. Then he settled down, and started munching on the dried bread.
How long he had been there, Kitlon could not tell. It seemed like years to him, but he couldn’t be sure. It was long since he lost the advantage of his arrows in these cramped up rooms and ever changing hallways, and in any case, it didn’t matter. The arrows decayed along with the zombies he took down, and he couldn’t use them again. It seemed only the raw steel of his long sword could withstand these creatures. He closed his eyes, and tried to think. He ignored the pain from all the searing clawing and cuts he bore as his proof of survival for so long in there, and tried to search for his princess. He could still feel her, alive, somewhere in the East.
“All of them had been her friends, her confidants,” a voice in him said. “They betrayed her, and this was their punishment.”
“I am her friend.” Kitlon replied, “I will rescue her.”
“You are nothing but a madman who hears voices,” the wind whispered.
“No, I love her. And I promised. I will rescue her,” he croaked, sounding more confident than he felt.
“You are a failure. You don’t deserve her.”
“Trying doesn’t matter when you don’t succeed” the voice sneered, “You will die. And she will too. You know it. I am you, you are me.”
The stench of decay in the room, always present, suddenly increased. Kitlon smiled as his hands gripped his sword. He forced himself to open his eyes, sleeping was a good way to get killed in here, and looked into the shadows at the approaching figure.
A rotting woman, sickly green, with part of her insides hanging, and maggots peering from inside one of her eye sockets moved towards him, arm extended, as though to hug him. Kitlon barked a laugh at the thought, and to music of war and victory, one sung in a lost age, started to dance, sword in hand.
His wounds restricted him, so he never went for the thrust. It wouldn’t make a difference to stab the heart of the undead anyway. So he danced, slicing away at the unfeeling woman who approached him, fending off his blows without much effort. Without warning, she moved her left arm around him, and Kitlon felt her dirt riddled nails dig into his shoulder. He immediately went against instinct, turned towards her and brought his sword down, severing arm from body. As the arm fell limply to the floor, he ducked too from a retaliatory blow from the zombie and punched his fist into her thigh. As she slipped under impact, Kitlon jumped, raising his sword above him, hilt pointing down, and as he landed, thrust his long sword down into her outstretched neck. With one swift move he twisted his sword, dismantling the head from the trunk. Even as the zombie’s body lay twitching, Kitlon cut off a piece of her faded out skirt, still in grime and dried blood, and used it to clean his blade off the black infected blood. As he picked up his satchel and retrieved the half loaf of bread, he muttered again, “I’m coming, Y’vaine.” He gulped down the remaining water in the pitcher, and took the East door, to his goal.
He felt her still, but not closer, farther away instead. It seemed the door had taken him to the north-west end of the castle instead of the East. He cursed and reopened the door he had come through and entered into the south-end ballroom. It was a circular huge room with eight ornate pillars holding up a balcony section. As Kitlon walked into the ballroom, he could see four doors, including the one he had entered through. One was in the direction he felt the princess. One was at the opposite end, and the other two equally distanced on either side of the pair. He remembered being in this room many times, although he was sure he had never come across this room before in his life.
Kitlon remembered the awe of being at a royal ball. The room had been different, and yet the same. He remembered dancing with Y’vaine on the night she was to select her prince consort. Her eyes, deep pools of honey, had been so deep that he thought he could drown in that pool without thought or regret. The softness of her small but pretty hands and the scarlet of her full lips were still fresh in his memory. He remembered her tears when he was hung right there, in that room, for crimes undeclared. She had yelled and sobbed in desperation as those she had trusted had pulled her away from him.
As the memory of seeing pain in her eyes washed over him, he fell down with a wail that echoed around the room. He clutched his head and tried to deny that he had failed her. The voice in his head was crackling with madness just as he was shrieking in horror. Tears blinded him, and he did not notice the shadows moving behind the pillars, till one of them grabbed him by the neck and flung him across the room.
Kitlon remembered he had been thirsty for vengeance when he had returned to the House. He had known the way; he had reached the ballroom within minutes, cutting through the sentries. The ballroom had been empty, and plunged in darkness. He had heard sounds, and thrown knives into the shadows. As the first of the zombies had reached him, Kitlon had torn his head apart with his bare hands. The rest had converged on him just as he saw the light ropes tied high on the pillars. He remembered hearing the princess’ wails once more as death took him.
The memory of a wail long gone by spurring him on, he danced between pillars, trying to fend off the zombies. With one hand raised he felt for the rope he had glimpsed in the memory, and finding it, pulled himself up. From the height, he hung upside down, swinging at the heads of the undead gathering below. There were more than a dozen now.
Kitlon remembered entering the ballroom from the balcony above, being chased by giant lizards shaped like men. He had jumped on and off the benches as he turned and shot arrow after arrow at their eyes. He had stumbled off the edge of the balcony and hung on the ledge of the ballroom. He had hauled his quiver up and pulled himself up, only to find one of the creatures waiting. As he had shoved a spear into his chest, Kitlon had blinked at the suddenness of it as he fell.
Kitlon hauled himself up the rope just as the creatures found the knot for the rope and started to chew through it. He swung himself onto the nearest ledge, and ran across to where his memory told him he should find arrows. He sighed in relief when he saw the quiver he had just seen covered in grime and dirt. He immediately nocked the arrow to his longbow, and shot down three of the monsters. As he ran around the ledge looking for a rope to climb down, he saw lizard men with spears in their hands approach him from both sides. On one side he had the balcony wall, and the other was a steep fall to the undead.
Kitlon was being pressed down by the undead on one end and the lizard men on the other. He knew he could not hold them off much longer. He also felt Y’vaine behind him. As he kept backing, he reached a door. She felt near, as though she was just behind the door. With one hand behind his back, he opened the door, and the creatures moved back, shying away from the light. Kitlon turned around, and saw he was facing the castle gates. As he stepped back in shock, the door shut of its own accord. He finally had a way out. As the undead moved cautiously towards him, a wish arose in him – to escape, to get away from all the pain, from her. Then a voice in him spoke, “If you abandon her, you are the same as them, these scum who cannot die in peace.” He nodded, if there was no way out, he would try again. And he met his death with hope.
Kitlon jumped down, rolling to a stop in front of the undead, which looked at him cautiously. He smiled at them grimly, “Let’s end this.” He felt Y’vaine behind him, behind the same door he now knew led outside the castle. But he also knew something else. Something he had learned along the way, along each of his mistakes, with each of his deaths. As the creatures charged onto him as one, he opened the door wide. The undead squealed and shielded their eyes, trying to get out of the light. And Kitlon ran through the dazed monsters with his swords, dancing in an elaborate dance in all directions, but with eyes only for one door. The one opposite to the one he had opened.
Without waiting to look back on the massacre he had just created, Kitlon turned the knob and opened the door. There she was, on the throne in the middle of the throne room, the woman of his dreams, of his many lives. He had finally reached her! She saw him, and her eyes teared up just as she spoke, with difficulty, “You came!”
“I told you I would never abandon you, my angel.”
She smiled, but then saw something past him and shuddered in fear. He turned, sword ready at his side, to face the undead filling into the room. He would need to get past all of them to rescue her, to escape from his curse. He did not know how. He knew he was going to die. But surprisingly, he was not afraid. He turned to the princess, Y’vaine, and kissed her forehead. He whispered into her ears, “I will not abandon you. I will come again. I will fight again. I will rescue you. Keep hope. Keep love. For it is your love for me that pulls me to you.”
She looked at him with wide eyes as she realized what he meant, and began to cry again. He got up, brushing away her tears. “Do not cry love, I am not lost. I am just finding myself. Smile for me, cheer me on, for you are my destiny, and I will come for it.”
With that he turned away from Y’vaine, and walked to the antechamber where there were now more than three dozen undead and lizard men. He smiled.
“Let’s dance one last time.”