I travel to the lands of Malikar as a white knight on a holy quest to free the lands from the tyranny of malevolence. The citizens of this occupied land look for something to give them hope, they also look for something to believe in, so my superiors have been telling me most of my life. These facts I cannot say with certainty as being the truth considering I have never seen anyone from Malikar, this more than anything else weighs on me, more so than the prospect of meeting the armies of the enemy. To risk everything with such uncertainty is human but I had hopes of having the unknown cast away and with it my doubts, still though I will travel on my path that is set before me.
Newly out of training I go forth alone on this quest, as it is the tradition of my order and the calling of my heart. As a knight in training we learn the moral virtues that we use to guide us on our charge but it is the calling to help that is my guide more than anything else. Ethics say that I can only help those who want my help; this concept weighs heavy on my heart because it is illegal to have contact with Malikar until the quest begins, thus the trouble is that I may be going to a people that do not even want my help. It is a teaching of my order that to waste time is a sin so I trust my superiors are not leading me down the wrong path on a quest I can never complete.
As I enter the borderlands I see the black gate which guards the lands of Malikar from those of my order, this is the first of many obstacles that I must pass. It is a well accepted certainty that while my order is not welcome in Malikar anyone else can enter and become citizens of malevolence. A few people each year all victim to the false glories of Malikar and cross this very black gate to new lives as slaves. Do they accept their fate with open arms or do they come to regret their decision once past these walls? Perhaps the stories are exaggerated and the malevolence is not as what everyone says it is? My superiors may say such thoughts are unworthy of a white knight but as knights we must question everything to better understand the possible repercussions of our actions. My questions fade as I resolve myself to the quest, my charge of a white knight to free a suppressed people which this is my calling in this world.
I look up to the gate to see many black spikes protruding from the top with each spike having a head on it, heads from previous knights of my order I conclude. They seem to loom like a grotesque scene from a painting of hell complete with a red sky as a warning to any knight who wants to pass. I reflect on the possible lives of those fallen men, their wives and their children. Could they know the fate of these men, what could their comfort be? Could I bring them their comfort by returning these fallen knights to their families? Such thoughts are disheartening because I am not charged with their return so the wives and children will continue in there sufferings in not knowing and I will continue my suffering by leaving and by meeting with the gate keeper.
"Stop where you are knight," yells out the man with a raspy voice, "no one of your kind may enter these lands." The gate keeper opens a small window revealing an old man deformed, even his eyes appears fogged over with age. If it was not for the wall such a man would be no obstacle for me but there is a wall and I must reason my way past the gatekeeper, one man cannot fight past a wall. "What makes you think that I would let you pass white knight? All of you people are the same, born in ignorance and bathed in self-righteousness, we do not need saving."
"Believe what you will because I cannot convince you to believe what you deny yourself but, I will go where my charge says I must to go. You have no dominion over me gatekeeper, now open your gates for me so that I my help others who look for and need my aid!"
"A man of free will I see before me," taunts the gatekeeper sarcastically knowing a charge has nothing to do with free will. "If you will think for yourself you will find our way is better for all of humanity. You can have whatever you want in my lands young knight, nothing is off limits, there are no rules in the land other than the law of malevolence. You can be a citizen to the lands, for the lands, and of the lands for the betterment of everyone. Give me your name and I will add it to my register there by making you a citizen releasing you from your charge and you may pass without further interference from me."
"My name will give you a power over me as you and I both know so I shall not tell it to you," I respond putting a little force in my voice. "As for giving up my charge and becoming a citizen of malevolence, it will never happen either."
"So it is written and so you believe, such things are in ignorance white knight; a name has no real power. It is just one of many illusions perpetuated by those who really want power and have none of their own because they do not embrace the freedom Malikar offers. I will give you my name in exchange for yours then so you may know I maybe trusted and that power only comes from the freedom I offer to you. My name is Tiberius, keeper of the lands and this gate as you well know."
"I heard of you Tiberius and you are no man of freedom, once long ago you betrayed the trust of the people and it was you who opened the lands for malevolence's armies. The truth is that freedom cannot exist while evil rules over the lands for it consumes anything when it desires to consume, knowing this and knowing you I will not give you my name, a man such as you cannot be trusted. You may have lost faith in my order long ago and fallen into the lure of malevolence but I will not give up the faith that is a part of me. My quest will be to continue for your sake and for the sake of everyone that you betrayed so long ago. Perhaps though there is enough redemption for someone like you, take action now to save yourself and everyone you cursed in your lands."
"I and all the citizens of Malikar are beyond redemption from the moment malevolence entered my lands, you are a fool to offer forgiveness to someone who is beyond it bitter false hopes. Your name though is apparent to me now, white knight. You are known to me as someone that could be open to the freedom my homeland offers to you. Your actions and works speak of a man who acts out of fear of the consequences ignoring his own free will. Knowing who you are, you now may pass through these gates, man of action."
The gates open to the occupied lands of Malikar so that I can continue my charge though I cannot help but wonder what the gatekeeper's last remarks meant. His words could mean nothing at all but then it could be a way to raise doubt in my mind, a way to convince me to give up the quest. If that was his way of trying to put an end to my journey why then would he let me pass at the end when he is in control of the wall? Could he have an insight into my own heart that I do not have? It no longer matters because I leave the gatekeeper behind me as I travel on the road to the Stronghold, the first buffer zone to the capital city, of my own free will.
Perhaps a mile from the gates and not quite in sight of Stronghold I come across vagabond and young man engaged in heavy conversation. The beggar looks emaciated and the young man does not appear to be entirely solid, the first citizens of the lands in bondage I encounter. I attempt to interject my questions into their conversation, without success. They either ignore me or they are oblivious to everything around them. My questions to them: what do you want, what are your sufferings and do you want my help? All my questions will go unanswered through direct means though I listen in hoping to hear something of the answers I seek in their conversation.
"The gatekeeper told me that a man of free will comes to Malikar with the intent of freeing the lands," the beggar says flatly to the young man who seems to take the new more enthusiastically. I left the gate only moments ago only to I find that I am already known to the people. I do not know the mechanics but somehow information travels quickly through this land, faster than in my own homeland.
"I have heard the same from others not knowing if they speak the truth, coming from you it must be the truth." By his tone I believe he has hope that I come to free him from the bondage he has known all his life. "I heard though from the others that this knight would not give me his name to the gate keeper," the young man says solemnly as if a hero needs a name and he stands denied what he always wanted, a hero to worship.
"This man's actions are his name, or so I am told by the master," the beggar says intentionally leaving room for doubt which the young man picks up changing his already serious expression to one of sadness. By his tone before and his inferred doubts I come to believe that hopelessness is the preferred state in these lands, an illness best shared to these people. "For a white knight on his holy quest actions are more than just a name; they are a force against the freedom malevolence offers to us all."
"I say to you both how does it goes there," I ask them again, however they say nothing to me in response. "I say to you how do you do," I question one last time but for all my trying they say nothing to me thus leaving me an observer feeling like some sort of voyeur.
"Do you think there is hope in this man we speak of even though you have misgivings? Will he free us from the freedom we have come to hold as the cornerstone of our lands thus ending this rule of anarchy?" Though they are both of the lands of Malikar they seem to have different views of their bondage, the younger having the desire for freedom from tyranny. It is the same everywhere considering youths, the old accept the way things are and the young are always against what the previous generation gave them, at least until they themselves grow into adulthood and face the conundrum of living. My questions of why it is this way will wait, I have too much to do this day.
"Dare not to hope in these lands young man, you will find only despair and that is against all our teachings." Even in my homeland to despair is the worse of all sins, strange that both our lands have this concept in common. I so much want to ask them why it is so when so much of malevolence can actually lead to despair, a contradiction that will go unanswered as they change the subject. With me being unable to communicate with these citizens I continue on my journey without any further delays adding one more question to my life.
Walking on the road I can see around me that this is a desolate land, not a bird or other animal is around, no grasses grow nor are there the sounds of insects in the air. The air is the foulest of all as the smell of decay permeates with no way of escape as the stench even comes through my handkerchief I use to cover my nose. I resist the urge to regurgitate because I need all the strength I have to complete my duty to the people of this land of decay. My order has always said that this is a land of death purged of all life when the malevolence entered the world, in the total absence of life and the stench of death they seem to be right in that teaching.
I come to two pale skinned soldiers on the road, one on each side guarding the way to Stronghold, which I was expecting such resistance at this point in my journey knowing Stronghold is simply a large camp of Malikar's armies. I know without doubt these are soldiers of my enemy by the armor they carry, on their plate is the symbol of malevolence, a black dragon consuming the failed creation, a snake. It is a belief that the dragon adsorbed the powers of the snake by consuming its body, much like malevolence consuming the land thus becoming a power itself. My normal questions and philosophical nature is now holding in suppression now that I am in true danger having now seen the soldiers of my enemy.
"Halt there," says the soldier on the left as they both lower their spears in a threatening though defensive gesture stopping my advance. "What business do you have traveling on this road?"
"Speak now, speak plainly, and speak immediately," the other solder says with a strong country accent.
I think for a second, because that is all the time I seem to have with two spear points aimed in my direction. I have only three choices at my disposal: to run, to fight or to talk my way to pass them. I will not run like a coward at the first sign of opposition which leaves me with the other two choices. I am under charge to purge the land of the evil infestation however these men could just be under malevolence's influence and not be willing servants. What sort of knight would I be if I kill such men who may not be able to make the choice for themselves? The answer comes to itself as I realize I must do what I must do to complete my charge but I also need give these men a chance to let me pass without a fight.
"I am just a simple traveler on his way home," I begin with an obvious lie hoping to provoke a conversation. I need their trust and for that a frank conversation is a necessity, building trust with a lie is just another contradiction of my humanity.
"A simple traveler you say, then why do you carry a sword and wear the armor of the enemy, why I do believe you are the enemy," the soldier on the left says as he moves his spear into attack formation, his friend follow soon after, "we are not fools."
"I am your ally sent here to help you in a time of great need!" The hostility of the conversation progresses for more quickly than I anticipated, it is naive for me to think otherwise. They are too long under the influence of the malevolence and they only now know the duty of their spears.
"We are nothing thus we need nothing white knight, our master gives us everything we need, nothing."
At this there is no more talk, no more chance to avoid bloodshed as they charge me with their weapons. For as long as I can remember I have trained in the arts of war with my sword as my most trusted companion through the application of those skills. I consider the implications of this fight as I parry the spear points because I know that I am a better fighter than these soldiers who seem to be little better than batchers, they stand no chance against me so if I were to kill them would that be murder? My moral questions fade as my battle instincts take over when I parry and then counter another round of spear thrusts. I come onto the first soldier by knocking his spear away with my shield then mortally wounding him by a sword thrust behind the ribcage and into his lungs. The second dies before he realizes his fate as I decapitate him after his failed charge.
"You truly are a man of action," the mortally wounded soldier forces from his lips. His words remind me of the gatekeepers comments back when I first entered this realm which raises more conflict within myself, perhaps that is the purpose of all their words, to plant doubt within me and in my charge.
"You have known nothing else of me other than I am your enemy from the day of your indoctrination. The sin though is still yours I had not wished to fight you; I hope you can find forgiveness in your death."
The soldier laughs and goes into convulsions, once ended he says, "Too late for that for all parties involved this day." The soldier then dies without another word spoken on the subject leaving me with the question of what he meant by saying that it is too late for forgiveness. Doubt on top of doubts, questions without answers, it is as unending as the stars in the sky leaving me to think that this charge will be the death of me.
I leave their bodies where they lay, where they died with the intent of completing my quest with all haste available to me. I have no choice but to leave them unburied being so close to the main body of the army, no burial for the wicked it seems. I come to the top of the hill that oversees the Stronghold and again I am full of new questions. What makes someone wicked, is it the actions men take, men's intentions, or is it nothing more than the circumstances men find themselves in? Perhaps it is a choice we all make at some point in our lives and everything else is just a consequence of that choice? Lastly am I the wicked one for having left these two men without the basic dignity of a burial?
Just past the battle sight with the solders and I come to the Stronghold, a camp filled with the skeletal remains of the last army of the conquered lands now in servitude to the malevolent master. I am told when their master calls to them these bodies come to life which is hard for me to believe since considering most of the bones are in a state of random disarray. As I pass the first row of bones I can see the skulls turning from the corner of my eyes but as I turn to look directly at them they stop moving and they resume their watching as I turn away from them. It is an unsettling thing to having the dead observe your every move, my only comfort in this situation is that the dead take on action against me and simply watch as I continue to the capital city's gates.
I make my way to the city walls to find the gates closed and without a gatekeeper in sight as there was before. I knock on the doors then the ground immediately jolts from a shockwave that begins just behind me and I turn to see an enormous dragon looking down at me. Its leather wings spread around me making escape an impossibility as the fear of the dragon comes into my thoughts as I am at its mercy. The dragon smiles being pleased with itself revealing two perfect rows of blood stained teeth. All over the dragon is a thick layer of scales, gray on the head which darkens to black as you look down the neck and onto the body which lets me know that this is a very ancient and powerful dragon.
"You do not belong here Sir Markus of the white city; only those of a dark heart may enter the black city." The dragon's voice is like nothing I have heard before in my life, full of contempt and wrath it is painful to hear it speak to me. Despite my pain I form a single question in my mind "how do you know my name,' which I do not have the opportunity to voice before it gives me its cryptic answer, "dragons always know the names of those the encounter."
"I have no quarrel with you, let me pass," I say sounding like a child fearful a parent who is likely to say no. The aura and power of this creature I feel in every bone of my body is so strong that I can only conclude I am a child by comparison to this ancient monster.
"To what end, white knight?"
It is now a dangerous game I got myself into, to battle a dragon with wits is never an easy task. To battle a dragon is never an easy thing whether by wit or by sword versus tooth and claw I realize the deadly game I am now in. A dragon's mind is more powerful than the dragon's physical strength it will known but it is impossible for me to win in a physical contest with a dragon twenty times my size. "I bring a message for your master," a truth to one degree or another and the only response I can offer while under the dragon's fear.
"Then give your message to me and I will pass it along to my master with all expediency. Dragons as you may know are well renowned for there memories, I will recite it exactly as you say it to me. It is your only choice, I will not risk letting a white knight into the city, because of my knowing of your type you must understand."
"It is a message only I can give to him," an apparent answer with no other response at my resource. "As for my type I have no idea as to what you could mean if you mean anything by your words at all."
"Words have a mean that transcend this reality as you well know as a fully trained knight, it is just my words are beyond your understanding mortal because I understand the true meaning of language. See to it you do not try my patience any further, time is of the essence in these trying times. If I must reassure you then I must, I give you my word I will relay the message."
"Reassurance is unnecessary as the word of a black dragon means little to me. There is nothing you can say that will change my mind," an honest answer but obviously the wrong one since the form of language I used will only provoke a confrontation.
The dragon appears to perceive the insult and shows no amusement by my lack of for thought so it moves its wings closer to my body. I know it is now ready to attack with a deathblow of flame but then to my surprise it says: "then I give you a choice, your trust for your life, or just your life."
There it is the trap of this little game, one which I cannot escape and carries the penalty of death. I could try to fight my way out but I have already seen I have no chance against the dragon's strength. I could give in to my more aggressive self and charge the dragon with my weapons even though I have no chance, but what would the moral implications of attacking first? Then what would the implications be of me letting the dragon strike first, a strike which would likely kill me instantly, would that not be suicide?
"Do you want your master to hear the message or not dragon?! I do not have time to deal with the likes of you," I say summoning just enough courage to feign anger in my voice. It is none the less a futile attempt since the dragon has the superior position in this minor war of words.
"Then you will die this day white knight," the dragon responds darkly as it raises its head above me to ready itself in a deathblow of fiery breath killing me without a chance of counterattack.
"Then your master will remain ignorant of the importance of the message I carry to him this day. Things will be much simpler if you let me pass black dragon, I suspect neither of us really wants a fight."
"You assume too much human as I am now hungry thus I would love to sink my teeth into your flesh to nourish my impoverished body. You are most fortunate this day as my master has other plans for you, I will let you pass this time and pray we never cross paths again." How does the malevolence know I am in his lands and why would he let me pass the final barrier to his palace? The answer to these questions I may never know as these lands is full of mysteries. The dragon opens the city gates with a quick thrashing from its tail then hisses at me to make its disgust known with no further doubt possible in my mind before disappearing into sky.
As bleak as the outside lands are the city inside the walls is far worse than anything I could imagine before this moment. The long dead and the decaying are all around like in the days of the pestilence littering the streets with the trash and rats. The bodies seem to meld one onto another massing into one abomination that I can only imagine existing in the world of hell and yet it is in the here and now.
"Hello there young man, could you help an old woman," a question I hear from behind me in an ethereal voice.
I turn to see the decayed form of a woman who is little more than a skeleton with some mummified flesh attached at random over her body. I almost gag at the sight of her having never seen such a creature before leaving my soul full of disgust when it should be full of compassion for such a person. The sin is mine and once I realize this I correct my fault with a single question, "how can I help you?"
"I am so thirsty can you spare some water from your water skin? I do not ask for much, just enough to cover my parched tongue." Water, this woman does not know she is dead, that could be the answer for much of what I see in this land. From the two people on the street, to the sea of the dead at Stronghold, to this woman, all are spirits that cannot move on because they do not know they are dead. This more than anything else brings new meaning to my quest, I travel not to free a land but to free lost souls giving them the final rest that every human deserves.
"I am sorry I have no water with me but I will find a way to free you from this unnatural state you and your people are now trapped in and that will end your thirst."
"Dare not to give me hope young man for to hope is a pain worse than my thirst. I must leave you now or the pain of your hope will become more than what I can bear." The vestige walks away from me and into the mounds of bodies and she melts in rejoining the macabre scene. I cease to question why because my understanding is flawed and answers are not forthcoming at present. I think that I should never hope again because it only invites despair in these lands of the walking dead. I realize quickly that the absence of hope is in itself despair and I should not entertain such thoughts so I ask forgiveness so I may not falter in my charge. I also realize that the people are in bondage by their despair, they do not know that it is despair they feel fooled by a twist of words.
I continue down the streets to the palace where the malevolence has made his home. I find to my surprise that the gates are open and unguarded. The malevolence, who ever he may be, must be powerful if his home is open for anyone to enter or he does not consider me a very powerful adversary seeing that he knows of my coming.
I enter the palace which opens into the great hall at the end of which sits malevolence on his throne of bones. He appears as a black knight, pale in complexion armored in black but only armed with a scepter that is regal in nature. He sits forward on his throne of horrors putting his hand on his chin giving me a thoughtful look. He puts the scepter down then stands up and walks to within a few feet of where I stand. My body feels weak at the moment, either from my emotional state or from his malevolent aura, either way I feel very ill.
"Welcome Sir Markus, knight of the white city, my servants told me that you have a message for me. I believe that it must be an important message for you to attempt to battle my dragon with your wits." He laughs then his laugh echoes around me because the mass of bodies that inhabit the city are now surrounding the two of us and they are also laughing with the malevolence. "The white city is so far away, please join me and enjoy my hospitality of food and drink from the furthest reaches of the world."
"I have come to free this land and send you back from which you came; taking part of your hospitality has no part of that charge," I say taking a chance that he does not respond in deadly force against me.
"Simple and direct, I wish more of my servants were like you in those qualities though rejecting my hospitality is a serious offense I am willing to overlook considering the time you have spent alone in my lands. As to the nature of your quest, it is a problem for the both of us; you will half to kill me for the end that you desire. I am unarmed you see and to kill me in such a state is an evil act in itself one might say, even your own training says it is murder. Once you kill me you will take my place as the new malevolence, come and seal your fate as my successor my son."
I ignore his words as my training directs me to, evil will twist anything to its own advantage, and run my sword through him and the malevolence falls to the ground dead. It is then I remember something from my training, no good has ever come from an evil act. Is the action I take evil or is my action a tool and the result speaks for itself as to good and evil, no it is my intentions I can now conclude with certainty if I am good or evil. It is my intentions that have led me to this hell, intentions to free a broken land and now I have a choice to make because of those intentions.
"All of you leave these cursed lands forever, you are now free. I choose not to suffer his fate" I point to the body of my enemy, "my path is my choosing and I choose not to become the next malevolence." After saying this I realize I could never have become the malevolence, my choice long ago is to be good and therefore the consequence of that choice is that my actions will always be good even if they are at times questionable.