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The Knight and the Angel

The Asylum

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a part of The Knight and the Angel, by Zero Reaper.

An ancient castle built to contain the Broken while a cure was made. With all hope of a cure long gone, here the Broken remain - trapped, to await the end of the world...

Zero Reaper holds sovereignty over The Asylum, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

318 readers have been here.

Setting

Located upon a mountain at the very northmost peak of Helladhell, this great castle was built eons ago to house those who seemed to be soon to Break in the great Purges of Belorast; witch hunts in all but name, these crusades found any who could be conceived as at risk of Breaking and sent them north to the Asylum, where they would await either a cure, or the end of time - whichever came first. Some Broke on the journey; others took longer, far longer, holding onto the faintest hope for thousands of years, until finally realising that no rescue or cure would ever come. Now, there remains but one lonely, mysterious inhabitant...
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The Asylum

An ancient castle built to contain the Broken while a cure was made. With all hope of a cure long gone, here the Broken remain - trapped, to await the end of the world...

Minimap

The Asylum is a part of Helladhell.


Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: The Knight Character Portrait: The Angel
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Image


The icy wind howls over the walls of the Asylum as a dark figure walks the battlements, silhouetted against a concrete sky.

A cloak flows out behind him, steel-plated boots clacking against the snow-covered stone; he walks with perfect ease, every movement practiced flawlessly as snow flares up around his boots with every step, then slowly calming itself on the dark-coloured steel that encases his body.

Over his back, a heavy-bladed bastard sword; at his hip, a few slender daggers, along with what seem to be a few pouches for supplies, although they hang limp and empty. In his right hand is clutched what seems to be a long, rusted steel spear; torn from the sharp spikes that ring the castle, an improvised weapon, an extra precaution in a place he does not know. There is a heaviness to his step; he seems exhausted, yet alert, a dark gaze from behind his hood scanning the snow-covered courtyard below for any possible signs of movement.

"Only skeletons," I whisper, as though my mind returns to my body after a long absence. Noting in a distant way, I find this to be happening more and more often; to simply leave my body, observe myself as though another. Perhaps it says something - that I have lost myself since that day, that I no longer understand who I am, simply an outside observer witnessing actions without comprehension.

Unusual questions to be asking myself as I stalk the spiked battlements, but such questions are all that remain now. Such philosophical treatise are the last bastion of our sanity; the last thing that separates us from the Broken. After all, we both cower in the dark; both exist only for the sake of existing. Neither of us seek any more than what we have.

No matter how much I try to hide it from my searching internal gaze, I cannot help but find that perhaps even I am guilty of these crimes against my humanity.

Not after today.

I take a few steps along the roof of the castle, carefully watching the spiderwebbed stone, avoiding any area that could be conceived as dangerous or unstable. After all this time, I refuse to die to a shattered stone.

After what feels like altogether too long a walk, I reach what seems to be a metal-barred grate in the stone; beneath, I can make out the shape of a mattress, rotted and torn away, delicately embraced by the skeleton of a bedframe. Next to it, a pile of what can only be cups; heaped up in an enormous hoard, in the single cracked ray of grey light that the grate allows in. Another sign of the madness of the Broken. Desperately seeking a purpose.

It be humorous, had I not seen so many friends do the same.

I keep walking, looking in on grate after grate. No signs of life, not even Broken - just the occasional skeleton, and the signs of madness in every room, hoards and carvings and destruction everywhere I look. An Asylum for the mad, all the same - but not mad in the way one would usually term an asylum.

Mad because they had simply realised the inevitable.

Suddenly, I slam a fist against the snow-covered stone, hearing a resounding crack! as my armoured knuckles send cracks racing across its surface. Pain rockets up my arm as I stagger backwards, realising what I have done; there are a few horrifying moments of fear before I realise that I have not inflicted enough damage to crack the roof, and fall in.

"I cannot lose..." I mutter to myself, rubbing my knuckles gingerly, before pounding them against my palm and speaking against with more force. "I cannot allow myself to lose!"

I feel energy surge through me as I reaffirm those words to myself. Good. I am still human. Still holding onto my humanity.

I pick up the fallen improvised spear - dropped when I punched the ground - and continue to make my way across the roofs of the buildings of the Asylum, leaping from one to the next gracefully, an art well-practiced over the eons. I glance into every room I see, but witness nothing. I am returning to the courtyard, refusing to let despair set in just yet, slamming the door in its face again and again, before seeing something in a room that gives me pause; I kneel to take a closer look.

A sitting, humanoid figure.

Suddenly, it glances up at me, seeing me. I almost jolt in surprise; peering closely, I still see light in its eyes, can still see the cold, harsh light reflecting off soft, smooth skin. The faintest bit of joy ran through me, an emotion not yet lost to me.

This one is, by some miracle, still human.

Perhaps, now, I can begin.

I say nothing, but ruffle through the pouches upon my armour until I find what I seek; the supposed 'master key' to the Asylum, purchased for the hefty fee of my armoured helm from a trader in Winterhelm on my pilgrimage north.

I look again, closely now, at the human; I cannot identify gender nor age, only the distinct smoothness of skin and lightness of eyes. There's a fire in those eyes, a drive; one that refuses to die. Not angry, not hateful, not like mine, but a drive all the same. They must remain human. I have a chance.

No words pass. It feels wrong for now. I do not know for how long this human has remained sealed in their cell; perhaps it is locked, or perhaps it is barricaded. Either way, the key might well be an asset to them.

So, with a deep breath, I drop it onto the patch of snow beneath the grate.

With that, I am gone at a swift walk, marching my way across the Asylum rooftops; the exhaustion is gone, replaced by light, by action. My aching muscles still remain, but my life, my humanity -

I am still very much alive.

And I am still very much human.

Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: The Knight Character Portrait: The Angel
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#, as written by Beffiye
I have lost track of how long I have been sitting in this room, though it is hard to have any real sense of the time here in the Asylum. Sometimes, I count the seconds, but this time I was trying to pull back every single memory I could, trying to see if I could measure how much humanity I have left. Most of my memories are hazy and blurred, but maybe that is more to do with the human mind than it is to do with my soul. I hope so.

I am brought properly out of my thoughts by a loud crash, and it is then that I start to hear other noises coming from outside. It’s just faint footsteps and the odd clanging now, but I stare at the floor and listen intently as the sounds eventually start to come closer.

The footsteps get louder, and suddenly stop all together, and I can feel a pair of eyes on me. Calmly, I look up, a small part of me curious as to who is above me, the rest of me just seeing. A dark figure is looking down on me, its features blocked out by the sun. We stare for a moment, then it rummages through its pockets, looking for something. When it looks back at me again, I can make out its eyes, anger and hate lying beyond them.

We say nothing as we look at each other, then suddenly a small, metal object drops through my grate, and the figure is gone.
I look at the place where the object fell warily, then uncurl my legs and heave myself off the bed I was resting on. I walk to the patch of snow and crouch next to it, my fingers sliding along its surface until they wrap around something cold and smooth. Lifting my hand up, I hold the object up to the light, and see that it is a key. It looks old and worn, but also elegant, with beautiful carvings in it. I slide it in my coat pocket and stand up, wondering what to do now. I suppose I should find what this key unlocks; I have nothing better to do.

A strange feeling is wedged in my chest as I slip out of my room and begin striding down the corridor. I eventually identify it as tiny mixture of hope and excitement, a dream that this key could finally get me out of here, that it could change my fate. With that realisation, my pace quickens in what I hope is the direction of the main doors, and soon I begin to run.

The Asylum has almost the same interior everywhere you look, but I am now certain that I am going the right way. Every flight of stairs I come across I descend, my feet landing in worn down foot holes or breaking pieces of dead wood. The rooms and corridors I pass through start to widen out, and I know that I am almost at my destination.

Eventually, I slow to a walk as I approach a small but sturdy looking set of doors. I panic when I see the lock wrapped around them, for I know that these are not the main doors. If my key fits this lock, it will not open the main doors. If it does not fit this lock, I cannot go any further. Gritting my teeth, I pull the key out of my pocket and look at it as I come to a stop in front of the wooden structure. I try and slide it into the lock, but it won’t go very far in at all. It clearly does not fit. For a fleeting second, I feel disappointed, then I become emotionless once more. Wrapping my arms around my body, I let the key slide through my fingers and drop to the floor as my body goes numb. I am not ready to be Broken, but my fate will come much sooner if I can’t get out of the Asylum.

Just as I’m about to turn away, something catches my eye. I bend down to the lock for a closer look, and discover that it is not holding the doors as firmly closed as it first seemed. The chain it is attached to has actually been knotted and wrapped around the door handles many times, making it look shorter than it really is. If I can just unravel it a bit, I might make a gap big enough for me to slip through.

A flicker of hope sparks and dies in my chest once more as I focus my mind on the task in hand. It takes a lot of concentration and cursing, but finally I can wedge the doors far enough apart to create a sufficient gap between them. I pick the key back up, and cling on to it as I squeeze my body through the doors. Once I’m out, I straighten up and turn to face the final task; the huge doors in front of me that lead to the outside world.

Hands trembling, I hold the key out in front of me as I walk towards the door. Carefully, I slide it in the lock, and it fits perfectly. I turn it, then slide it back out again. The key is deposited in my pocket, and I gently push on the door, eager to see what is outside, what the world looks like.

However, the door won’t budge, and I tut at myself for thinking everything would work out like a fairy tale. The door is big and heavy, and hasn’t been opened in hundreds of years. Of course it’s stiff.

Backing up, I crouch over as if I’m about to pounce, then run at the door, yelling. At the last second I fling my leg out and kick it, my foot connecting with the wood and pain shooting up my leg. The door opens a little, and I grab it to steady myself. Cursing, I limp outside, and gasp at the world I see.

Everywhere is covered in snow, and it looks so beautiful, yet so empty. I feel like I am already familiar with it, like I am reuniting with an old friend, and perhaps I am. I must have been a part of the outside world before I came to the Asylum, but I just don’t remember it. Smiling a little, I begin to walk towards what looks like the courtyard in the distance, admiring everything I see as I pass it. I am in search of the figure that helped me, I need to pay him my thanks.

I also need him to guide me through this world that I am being introduced to again.

Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: The Knight Character Portrait: The Angel
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I find myself running across the rooftops, energy flowing through my veins as I have not felt it to in many, many years. There's a lightness to my step, almost a joy; I have found someone who remains human, after all these years.

I have been alone a long time; this much is without question. I do not recall how long - I passed a few words with the trader in Winterhelm, what, two years ago? It had been a much longer hike north than expected - I had been injured and laid up in the Hermit's Hut for some months, which then compromised my ability to move.

It is easy to forget how time passes when one has witnessed so much of it. I remember that day with the trader, resting in the dark as he inspected my helm - allowing myself a brief moment to pause and be swept upon by exhaustion - as though it were yesterday; yet the way the stars rest in the sky indicates that it has been two years, or thereabouts.

In a way, time has lost its meaning now. We once defined time as the reaper; that which takes all in its inexorable march forward, inescapable. Yet now we were free of death; time was no longer the reaper, but simply the arrow of cause and effect, playing over and over again.

Causes lost to history, and effects that possessed no consequence.

Reaching the edge, I duck off the edge of the roof, plummeting to the snow-covered courtyard; there is a heavy clunk of my armour as I roll along the ground, absorbing the impact from a fall of twenty feet or so - movements as familiar to me as breathing. The snow helps absorb my fall; I feel the bones in the courtyard crack against the steel plating of my armour, skeletons weakened by hundreds of years exposed to the elements cracking dust into a hollow sky.

I walk to the centre of the massive courtyard; it occurs to me that, lost as I was in thought, I have no knowledge of my orientation, and thus, which direction the human will come from. So I simply walk to the centre of the courtyard; there seems a small area there, clear of the skeletons for reasons that I cannot understand - I find the compulsion to be free of the dead stronger than it typically is.

Upon reaching it, I stand rigid, alert, my whole body tense, improvised spear still held firmly in my left hand, base-down in the snow, point still staring up into a steel-coloured sky. The stance of a soldier; I know better than to let my guard down, even here. Perhaps this human is the only living thing here - it certainly seems as such.

But I do not know if I can yet trust them.

As this thought crosses my mind, I hear a crash, and upon gazing, see the great armoured door of the Asylum's central building open a crack. A few moments later, a small figure emerges; limping a little, yet staring around, having never seen this world in an age, this place lost to their understanding. I cannot see them; a hood conceals their features, but I check their build. Small, waiflike; I find myself surprised, having thought that if any remained, it would be some famous soldier, perhaps a Warlord of Belorast or one of the great Crestan Shadows, or perhaps a fallen brother of the once-legendary Winter Knights. I had expected a tall, strong soldier.

And yet only a slip of a human emerges from the dark.

I stand my ground, watching them closely as their limp recovers, walking towards me; the distance is perhaps a thousand feet in the vast courtyard, filled to the brim with skeletons.

My hand curls tighter around the spear. I knew from the start that this would be my final chance at completing my mission.

My lonesome road ends here, one way or another.

Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: The Knight Character Portrait: The Angel
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#, as written by Beffiye
As I draw nearer to the courtyard, my weary eyes that are still getting used to the light make out a tall, broad figure in armour, watching me from his place in the centre of the courtyard. The floor around him is littered with rotting skeletons, and it makes him look powerful and majestic, a king who towers above them all. I am certain that it is a “he” now.

My eyes focus back down onto the bones of the Broken while I move. I killed them all, back in the Asylum, but there were few bodies to be found. Perhaps these are them, but if so, how did they get out here? Or if they were killed by someone else, why are there so many of them?

Then there is the troubling question of what this man wants me for. My emotions may be dulled down, but my brain and my instinct are not. If this man has let me out of the Asylum, a building which I have been trapped in for hundreds of years, then he must want something off me. Whatever it is, I owe it to him, and I do not like to be in debt of another person. Well, I don’t think I do anyway.

Perhaps he wanted a soldier, a warrior, or perhaps he was looking for someone specific. Maybe there was once someone in there who he cared for, if he still has the humanity to care, and I killed them. If I was still myself, I would be apologetic about that.
I’m not the same person anymore though. I haven’t been for a long time.

Upon reaching the edge of the courtyard, I begin my rocky path inwards. The rotting bones have a habit of slipping and crumbling beneath my feet, but I am not thrown off balance easily. I pull my hood further down over my head and keep my eyes lowered until I reach the centre of the yard, and stand on bare ground once more.

I am now no more than a few feet away from him. I don’t know how it is expected for one to great another, so I bow my head slightly, then lift it, and I see him properly for the first time.

I scan my eyes over his body, assessing, taking in his strong armor. I have not seen a human for a very long time. Then my eyes meet his once more and stay there. I don’t try to speak, for I fear that my voice will no longer be of any use to me after all these years of nothing but the occasional battle cries. I was always the quiet one, anyway.

Now it’s up to him to make the first move, and tell me what he wants.

Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: The Knight Character Portrait: The Angel
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I look the figure up and down as they approach, keeping the improvised spear tightly in my grasp; I cannot afford a mistake now. I do not expect them to attack - they were not Broken, not yet - but I cannot die here.

Or can I? I established a long time ago that I cannot complete my mission alone - that is why I am here, after all. Without the aid of this figure, what hope do I have? There are so few left now; the last human I saw was in Winterhelm, but he will certainly have long since Broken - he was on the very brink when I found him. Before that, the human I met in the icy wastes, whom I had talked with. Cut him down myself, as so to save him that pain.

I cannot die of my own accord; such was the spell that was cast over humanity, all those eons ago. I cannot take my own life. If this human Breaks here, I will be alone in this place, just as they were. Ironic, come to think of it.

I inspect the figure closely as they approach; they appear unarmed, but I refuse to let my guard down. Upon closer inspection, I come to realise that they are a she - slender build, slight rise of chest, slight flaring of hips. Under that hood, her face is all but invisible; but her gender is unmistakeable now, perfectly clear in the way she walks and how she holds herself.

I am surprised, somewhat; I had, I now realise, expected a man, a tall, strong warrior of the ages, one of the great heroes of legend. Instead, I realise, all I stand with to show for my journey is a small, slender, frail-looking woman; she seems so light that even a breeze could carry her away. Which, thinking of the Tearing Winds that even now howl over the battlements, is actually more of a literal problem than one would expect.

She approaches closer, and my grip tightens around my spear, until she stands perhaps two feet from my armoured form; I realised now that I must be at least a head taller than her, possibly more. Is this what I have sought for so long? What I have fought so hard for?

Then she looks up at me from under her hood, and I see her eyes.

And I realise that she is what I sought.

Her eyes are the first thing that strikes me. Coloured a piercing hazel, there's a wideness to them, a brightness; almost a wildness. Not the dark, despairing eyes of a Broken. Not the hate-filled eyes of a psychotic killer, either. There are so many things in those eyes; fear, confusion, anger, surprise, excitement, and even - dare I say it? - hope. They flit from sight to sight, analysing me simultaneously with a wonder that seems childlike and the caution of a hardened veteran.

Looking away from them, I observe the rest of her. Her skin is pale, incredibly so; her face young, much younger than I'd thought. Her ageing must have stopped when maybe she was just out of her teens, little more than a girl; there's a litheness to her form, a tightness to her muscles. Somehow, she appears to have maintained at least some level of fitness; she does not appear to have eaten in quite some time, but I can correct this later.

And, gazing upon her form as a whole, the tiniest bit of recognition sparks in my mind.

I shift it out of the way, focusing on what happens next. I realise now that we have stood here for some time; inspecting one another, warily, waiting for one or the other to make a move. Finally, she inclines her head slightly; a tiny greeting of sorts, not a formality in any place I am aware of. But then, it will be a miracle if she even remembers how to talk.

I find myself wondering what I, if I had not seen another living human for countless centuries, would be questioning at this moment. How long has she gone without talking? How many times had she imagined freedom, tried for it, only to have it wrenched from her grasp?

"No," I find myself saying, voice deeper, heavier, more monotonous than I remember it, "This is not a dream."

Taking up an old custom upon a whom - one long lost to history in all places, but still remembered by the few men who were once like me, who once clung to the same creed - I drop to one knee, spear still held in my right arm, left arm supporting my armoured weight upon the ground, head bent for a moment before looking up at her from beneath my dark hood; in this dark light, the long hood will only expose a part of my face. That thought comforts me.

"Knight," I state simply, evenly; somehow, I feel that she will understand its meaning, understand that it is all I have left to call myself. "Do you recall your name?"






((A couple of things -

1) I included a reference to Knight vaguely recognising her. It's possible that they briefly crossed paths once in the distant past, or there is another option that I will reveal later - I leave this up to you, and we don't have to discuss it now.

2) I'm thinking that perhaps she doesn't recall any name at all, so Knight names her? Just an idea.))

Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: The Knight Character Portrait: The Angel
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#, as written by Beffiye
We stare at each other a few moments longer, and then he speaks.

“No. This is not a dream.”

A dream? I don’t know what is a dream and what is not anymore, or if I dream at all. My past, my life, has moulded itself into one big, continuous memory. I guess that if I do dream, I am certainly not dreaming now. The figure said so, and I shall take the figures word for it. There is no one else’s’ opinion to consider.

The well-built man then drops on one knee, and bends his head for a moment before looking back up at me. This is a greeting that I recognise, and I think I like it. I am drawn to his eyes for a moment, the most prominent feature of what little I can see of his face, even though they are almost obscured.

“Knight,” he says in a calm, level voice, and a brief flicker of confusion passes over me. Then I understand; Knight is what he is referring to himself as. It is what he is calling himself, or a name that someone else has given him.

“Do you recall your name?” He prompts, and I run the jumbled mess of my memories through my mind. I don’t remember anyone ever calling me by anything, I don’t even remember the last time I spoke to a human being, let alone the last time one spoke to me. If I was my past self, would I be overwhelmed by this?

It then occurs to me that Knight actually expects me to answer him. Of course. I had almost forgotten how humans communicated; we are not telepathic. Or at least, we weren’t some centuries ago when I last checked.

I clear my throat quietly and uncertainly, then again, a bit louder. It feels strange, and I’m not sure if I’m doing it right, or if it’s preparing my voice for its first proper use in hundreds of years. I lick my lips slowly, then open my mouth and test my voice out.

“I don’t-“ my voice is small, and then it cracks, so I break off and start again. “I don’t recall ever being given a name, no.” Again, my voice cracks as I speak, but I am a bit louder and I don’t sound anywhere near as bad as I thought I would. At least I can remember how to speak.

I regard Knight uncertainly, still wary of what he wants. Perhaps he thinks that I am a relative or long lost lover of his, and he is mistaking me for someone else. Or maybe I am that someone else; my memory is too much of a blur for me to confidently tell you who I am. I don’t know who I do and don’t know. The world is lost to me. I don’t really care.

I notice how Knight is still tall, even when kneeling down, and how much armour he wears. I hope that he is nowhere near becoming Broken, because if he is to turn on me then regardless of how many I have taken down in the past, I would have no chance of survival.

Good. I am still hanging onto my humanity. I don’t want to die, or become Broken. These are positive signs.

I pull my lips away from my teeth and stretch them into a sliver of a smile, then quirk my eyebrows upwards a little. That feels nice, like I’m stretching out my facial features. I have not rearranged my facial expression in a long time. If I smile and am polite, perhaps Knight will explain to me why he freed me from the Asylum. He seems like a true gentlemen who would appreciate manners. Provided that I can remember how to act in a well-mannered way.

“Thank you for rescuing me,” I start, my throat feeling a little sore as I speak, having just being used for the first time in years just a few moments ago, and I bite back a wince. “What is it that you want me for?”




((I like the idea of Knight naming Angel. I will make a decision on the path crossing thing when I know both options.))

Setting

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Character Portrait: The Knight Character Portrait: The Angel
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I stand, feeling my muscles and bones stretch out as I change from looking up at her to down upon her; not degradingly, although whether it looks as such or not I cannot know.

Instead, wholly illogically, I feel almost a trace of protectiveness flash through my mind; she looks so small, so timid, so afraid. I am entertained and elated by this discovery - I thought that protectiveness was an emotion long lost to me. Perhaps I am not as far gone as I once thought.

In order to protect something, you have to throw away everything.

The words flash through my mind unbidden, spoken in a different place, a different age, a different world. Words the ramifications of which I had never considered until it was too late, a lack of consideration that led to the gravest of my mistakes.

I cut off the protectiveness in the space of an instant.

She speaks, and I listen to her voice as much as her words; it breaks a few times, small and quiet, almost inaudible beneath the howling winds; her pronunciation feels a little off, although that was expected from the beginning. Who knows how long she has been here, how long since she has talked to another? Perhaps she barely remembers the words, or perhaps she is from an age long past, and things were pronounced differently back then.

Language's evolutions never seem relevant until you encounter them, I think to myself, with a hint of amusement. There were so many oddities that had been caused by our sudden, unwilling immortality; some, like this, were entertaining, fascinating.

How must it have seemed at first, to those who had first discovered it! They must have felt as though they were Gods; how proudly they had declared that they had saved mankind, how joyously their praises had been sung. How would they have reacted, if they saw what this world had become? A barren, hollow wasteland, where you considered yourself lucky if you had screams to keep you company at night instead of just the damnable silence?

She smiles a little at me as she finishes introducing herself; I know that I should feel something now, but I simply find it buried under a swamping weight of pity for her. It seems as though it has been to long since she has smiled; as though she does not remember how to do it properly anymore.

"No need to force your smile. Save your energy," I say, quickly mentally kicking myself for the harshness of the response. All she had wanted to do was be kind, and there I had functionally insulted her in response. It had, indeed, been far too long since I had held a proper conversation with someone. Nevertheless, the damage was done.

I think back over her previous words, how she does not ever recall being given a name. Somehow, I feel more pity for her over that than for her imprisonment; without a name, what does a human become? Names are what we give each other to call out in the night, when we are afraid that they have died. It is a great travesty to forget yours, and if what she says is true, a far greater crime to never be given one.

I look her up and down; dark clothing and hair silhouetted against the perfect-white snow, the refined nature of her youthful features, the wideness of her eyes. There is something slightly odd about her features; not unattractive, but unusual all the same. Something almost unearthly, in a way. Perhaps it is how she stands so silhouetted against the whiteness that causes it; but she is, now, something that can only be described as ethereal.

For some reason, I am distinctly reminded of stories I had heard in the most distant memories I held.

"Angel," I say to her, voice a tiny bit less heavy now. "You deserve a name. That is now yours." I turn away, take a few steps away from her, gazing up at the ash-coloured sky for a few moments before turning my focus back to her. "As to my purpose..."

I turn back suddenly, a force now to my body, my actions, to my words; almost a violence, in a way.

"I am here to ask your help."

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#, as written by Beffiye
Knight is standing now, and he towers over me in a way that might have once unnerved me. Back in a time when humans were the only monsters.

He speaks harshly to me, and my smile drops. Was he hinting that he does not want me to smile? I can’t help it if it looks fake. I haven’t smiled for a long time.

I let my shoulders sag a little, and place my hands behind my back, squeezing them together nervously, waiting for him to answer my question. If only I could see more of him underneath that armour – but I can’t. If only I could drink him in the way that I can feel him doing to me now. I feel like I am something on show in a circus, and to look at him like that would make us even. Instead, I settle for staring at the ash-coloured sky beyond us.

“Angel,” I hear him say, and it is hard not to startle. I look at him, wide eyed, as he turns away from me. “You deserve a name. That is now yours.”

My name is Angel? That sounds kind of nice. It also sounds oddly familiar, like it is a word that I have heard before, but I can’t put my finger on it. Oh well. The letters roll nicely off my tongue as I whisper it in the wind, too quiet for Knight to hear.

“Angel,” I whisper. “Angel and Knight.”

Except there is no Angel and Knight. I don’t know the first thing about him, or why he saved me. Hell, I don’t even know the first thing about myself.

I stare at his back as he begins to speak to me again, imagining what kind of man lies beneath his armour. He is probably well muscled, and I already know that he is tall. His hair is most likely a dark colour, and his eyes a sparkling green. When these physical features used to be valued qualities, when life was about love and happiness, my past self would probably have liked him very much. At this moment in time however, I don’t really have an opinion. I just need to know what he wants.

He suddenly jerks around, almost violently, as if he is ready to strike. I flinch, my legs automatically trying to back away, but he speaks before they get the chance.

“I am here to ask your help.”

I freeze. Knight wants my help? I’m still unconvinced that he has the right person. Even if he wasn’t looking for someone specific, I am of no help to anyone. Why does someone like him want help anyway? It seems like I would be more of a hindrance than a help. I am weak, I am new to this world, and I am almost Broken.

“What do you need my help for?” I ask him, my voice almost drowning out in the wind. I fold my arms across my body, the biting cold air beginning to get to me as it swooshes past. “I can’t guarantee that I will be useful for anything.”

I turn my body slightly away from him, trying to shelter myself a little against the wind. My dark, unruly locks of hair are blown into my face, and I realise that my hood fell down a little while ago. Never mind. It’s not really of much use to me at this moment in time. I glance back over my shoulder at Knight, waiting for him to answer.

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As she stands and awaits my answer, her hood falls, and for the briefest of moments, I am struck by one thing - she is beautiful. It catches me off-guard for a moment; a kind of beauty the likes of which I have not seen in so long, something pale and innocent about it. She looks off at the sky - not at anything, but simply far away, staring at the ashen clouds, her expression unreadable. She seems so lonely, standing there, looking off in the distance, dark, twisted hair storming its way into her face.

I do not find myself attracted to the beauty; do not find myself drawn to it. It is not beauty as such. There is something unusual to her, something ethereal, something otherworldly. I would not dare approach it - for it seems as though it would fall apart too quickly if I should ever touch it. It is as though I am looking upon a masterful painting, not a human being.

After I have declared my purpose, she flinches away; I realise that I have moved too suddenly, rendering her fearful. I silently curse myself again; of what did she deserve this? Forgetting practicalities, she is truly deserving of kindness, I feel, as much as anyone. All she has been is locked away here; she has committed no great crimes, not as far as I know. There have been none to commit crimes against. All she has ever known for however many centuries is loneliness, and now I - her saviour - am terrifying her with my mere presence.

Was this what I had become, after all this time? Was this what I had turned into? Once, I know, I was looked upon with reverence and awe. My armour shone like the sun itself as I stood in the middle of great tournaments and in glorious battle, and even on that last day, as the world around me burst into flames and I spun and danced and fought, it had burned with the brilliance of a thousand stars, and the forces of light had rallied to my side - not enough, never enough, but they had rallied all the same. How far have I fallen now, that I would be so uncaring as to terrify an innocent girl?

And why don't I care?

There is something inside me now, I know it; perhaps it is the realisation that now, I am within reach of my goal. It is not elation, though. Far from it. I think that it is fear.

"I can't guarantee that I will be useful for anything."

As she finishes speaking, I consider her question for a minute. I will profess, I had expected a soldier or warrior; whoever she is now, she is going to be of less use than I had anticipated. But combat was never the issue with this journey. The issue is the traps I will run into, the puzzles that this world demands be solved before I can know the Answer I seek; things that were always designed to be solved by two, not one.

Perhaps they had reasoned that no one human should ever hold the power of what lay inside. I have heard only stories, stories from failed adventurers long in the past, but they said that these traps and puzzled had required trust, required caring. Tests not of intellect, but of the bond between two people.

They must have known, all the way then, that one who is incapable of love should never be capable of holding the power they had created.

Coming to this realisation, I find myself rather more pessimistic about my odds, and shut it down in an instant, choosing to answer the pale-skinned raven maiden before me instead of be embroiled in dark thoughts any longer.

"There are tests ahead of us that demand four hands, not two," I say, looking past her, refusing to gaze upon her again; I cannot afford to look at her unmasked appearance. There is something that still distinctly unsettles me about it, and I must remain wary, even now.

"As for what I seek... come with me."

With that, I begin walking towards the staircase that leads up onto the high battlements. From here, one can see Winterhelm; from here, one can see what became of among mankind's proudest cities. There, when she sees the world that lies beyond, I will explain to her what she needs know.

And nothing more.

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#, as written by Beffiye
He appears to be thinking for a moment, then his gaze slides beyond me as I push my hair out of my face and wait for him to speak again. What little I can see of his face remains almost emotionless, his thoughts and feelings hidden well beneath the surface. I wonder if I look like that now.

Gazing at him, I feel a glimmer of recognition, and then it is gone again. I can’t shake the feeling that I have stood here before though, looking at someone the way I do now. That once, when I first came here, I stood up here with someone. Maybe they were bidding me goodbye, or maybe I had come out to see them. Did I feel betrayed by them? Had they sent me here? I don’t know now, for the memory has faded away once more.

Once Knight has given me a hint at what he wants, I turn back to face him as he speaks again.

“As for what I seek…come with me.”

He begins to walk away from me then, towards a staircase that leads upwards. I hesitate, wondering if I can trust this stranger. He did free me from the Asylum though, and in this world, humans are of little threat to one another. There are bigger problems at hand. With a small nod to myself, satisfied that I can trust him for now, I follow after Knight, walking at my own slow pace so that I can see where we are headed to.

I follow Knight up the staircase, my hands trailing along the stone wall that surrounds us as we work our way up, trying to spark more memories. How did I get here? I can’t even remember that far back. I wonder if I had friends, a family, a normal life. Did I have someone I loved? If I did, they will be dead or Broken now anyway, but the thought almost saddens me a little. I wonder if I once had a beautiful life where I was loved and treasured and I loved and treasured others, but now I couldn’t remember them and they couldn’t remember me. That seems like a pointless life, to have worked so hard to get a relationship right, to be fortunate to have someone who cared for you, to have it all washed away from your memory. To be nothing in each other’s eyes if you ever saw each other again.

I should live the rest of my life to the full, even if everything is doomed to be forgotten. Even if I have already led the best life anyone could have ever hoped for, just to have it mean nothing to me, to have it taken away. My destiny is to become Broken, but if the Broken have memories, I want to have some good ones. Or if I die and there is a Heaven, it would be nice to look back and know that I made the best of my situation.

I allow myself a small smile as I carry on walking behind Knight. It seems like I have more than one thing to thank him for – as well as freeing me from the Asylum, he has put a tiny spark of hope in me. I haven’t felt emotions for a long time, and this is the one that has stayed the longest ever since I was freed.

Maybe my destiny isn’t as close as I first thought.

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I walk in front of her, clambering up the stairs with far lighter steps than one who wears my armour should be capable of; I have worn it many years, and have become all too used to it. For that matter, I cannot recall removing any part of it for many years now.

It's funny, I realise, how much things like this have become second nature. Once, I would have complained about the discomfort; now, it is just another part of my life. I stopped caring about such meagre things as 'pain' a very long time ago. Indeed, I find myself relishing the few moments a day where it pinches my skin, causing me to flinch a little. Pain is good. Pain means I'm still alive.

Eventually, we reach the top of the wall, and we are suddenly assailed by the massive force of the Tearing Winds, no longer guarded by the stone. I move fast enough to duck - this high, they are worse than usual, much worse. They must have changed direction since I arrived - earlier, they were far weaker. I can feel myself getting pushed to one side, and in a moment, my steel-gauntleted fist has grasped her hand, stopping her from moving any further.

"We're fine! Just keep walking!" I shout over the massive sound of the wind, and start making my way for one of the watchtowers at the corner of the Asylum. Reaching its top, we will have a good enough view.

Carefully standing, I lead her along by her hand, careful to ensure that she isn't blown away by the force of the winds - even in my heavy armour, I still have difficulty standing and walking in a straight line. If I let go, she will be too easily disoriented, and may plummet to her death. I've found too many corpses in the wasteland, lost in the winds, to let her go now. I am too close to winning this.

After what feels like an eternity, we reach the inside of the watchtower, and I drag the two of us inside, releasing her hand before quickly making my way up the stairs to the roof of the building. I open the hatch and am sure to stay low as I creep towards the edge, eventually slumping against the ordinary waist-high walls of the battlement. I sigh heavily, realising that I am more tired than I should be; no matter, however. Once we leave this place, we will be in the shadow of the castle, and after that, it's not an exceptionally long walk to the Hermit's Hut. We should be able to make it in one trip.

With that decided in my mind, I just sit there, regaining my strength and waiting for her to emerge.

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#, as written by Beffiye
When we reach the battlements, I am hit with such a force of wind that all my breath is knocked out of me. I don’t think I have ever been in such violent winds before, and they are pushing me to the side, away from Knight. He has ducked, but I didn’t think to do that and it’s hard to move my body now. Just as I start to fear how far the wind is going to push me, Knight grabs my hand and stops me from moving any further away.

“We’re fine! Just keep walking!” He shouts, but I don’t think I ever had the option to stop anyway. If I just stopped and stood in the middle of the battlements, the wind would just sweep me away and take me over the sides of the building.

I refuse to die at the hands of the wind. After all this time, I should be stronger than that, but I’m not. Without Knight here, I would just plummet to my death.

I realise that we are now approaching a watch tower, and pretty soon he leads me inside of it. There are yet more stairs, but I am fit and used to exercise, so it’s nothing. He releases my hand, and I pause for a moment as he quickly hurries up the stairs. I didn’t realise while he was holding me, but now that I have let go, it has occurred to me that I just had the first human contact in hundreds of years.

I liked it. It was comforting. I want it back. Yet more proof that I am not Broken.

Knight is already well ahead now, and I can hear him opening what sounds like a hatch. Shaking off my thoughts, I hurry up the stairs, taking two at a time, eager to catch up with my saviour and not fall behind. I don’t want to be left on my own again. I have spent too much time alone.

When I get to the top of the stairs, the hatch is already open, and I see Knight slumped against the battlements. I crawl over to him, scared that I will be caught by the wind, and when I reach him I notice that he looks kind of tired. He must have travelled far to come here, which raises yet another question; why would anyone even come to the Asylum? It’s such a hard place to access, full of nothing but the mad and Broken – or at least, it used to be.

I crouch next to him, once I am convinced that the walls will keep me safe.

“So, what did you want to show me?”

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There are a long few moments crouching there, behind the stone walls, when everything just stops.

I slowly shut off my sensations one by one, listening for the tiny pitch changes in the wind that will tell me when I can stand without fearing having the flesh torn from my bones - the reason why things have taken so long to reach here in the first place.

First, I close my eyes, barring the harsh white and grey world from my vision; I feel the sounds prick at my ears a little more, everything around me that little bit different to before, slowly more and more precise.

Shut out my ability to smell, the faint scent of ash that seems to pervade everything, ignoring the ice-stained stone around us. Then goes taste, the faint copper tang that's been on my tongue all too often of late.

The last to go is touch - one of my only two senses remaining to me, I can feel everything, the drop of water snaking its way down my neck from where it crept in under my hood, the slight cutting of my armour plating pressing into my flesh, and-

Warmth?

I realise that, where I am crouching, she is right next to me, and I can feel her warmth. A quiet, human warmth, unlike anything I'd known in so long; something oddly comforting, oddly natural, about its place next to me.

I cut that off too.

And then I can hear everything, hear the beating of my own heart, hear the way she hesitates to breathe this air around us, hear the cracking of the ice underneath the cold-burnt sun. Hear the slight tonal changes in the wind; I have no knowledge of how long I crouch there, of how long I remain in one place, unmoving, unthinking, knowing only the sounds of the wind, waiting for them to subside.

After a few long moments, the pitch lowers a little, and with a sudden force of movement, I return to reality, grasping her hand and wrenching her up to face out over the vast, ice-covered wasteland before us, pointing out towards the darkened battlements and towers of Winterhelm in the distance, black monoliths over an ice-coated landscape, resting just above a foggy ravine wherein the city was protected.

Even from here, the ravages of the ages are clear; the way the towers have cracked, so many fallen to earth, never to rise again. The way the bricks have fallen away, weakened through the thousands of years they have stood, the once-proud fortress now looking like some enormous child had treated it as his playset, built and cast aside to fade from memory, an ugly corpse of its former glory.

I lean over her, as so to be able to whisper into her ear over the Tearing Winds that claw at our eardrums; once more, I feel the warmth of her skin, incredibly faint through my heavy armour plating, but unmistakably present. I cut it off in an instant, unwilling to allow myself that - I cannot treat her as anything more than she is. She is a tool to me, nothing more. That is all she will ever be.

I tell myself that I am doing her a favour.

Better used than Broken.

"That city was once one of man's greatest creations," I say, voice a little less leaden than before; a speech I had gone over a thousand times in my head, yet I cannot summon it to mind now - another cruel twist of fate, I muse and curse in the same thought. Thusly, I improvise. "Now, it's little more than ash. Everything in this world is just ash now. The plague of the Broken, that which you were imprisoned for..."

I hear the pitch raise a tiny bit, and hit the deck, pulling her to the ground with me, as the winds intensify once more. I feel my hood whip in the wind as they intensify; if I had remained standing even a few more seconds, it would have been torn from me, as would her hair and then our skin and bones. I cannot lose that hood. I must remain faceless to her.

I must.

"It wasn't a plague," I whisper, realising that my armoured gauntlet is still curled around her hand; for reasons beyond my fathoming, I do not let go, fearing her reaction to these words. "It was human nature. It affected everyone. Now..."

I feel something tiny die inside me as I find myself forced to admit the truth - I have no evidence otherwise, no way of proving anything else, no matter how much I might want to.

"As far as I know, we are all that remains of humanity."

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#, as written by Beffiye
For a long time, Knight does not answer me. He shuts his eyes, and I begin to wonder what he is doing. Did he hear me? I don’t want to say it again. The less I talk, the better; I am not used to talking, and for as far back as I can remember, I have liked silence much better. Words are a simple way to communicate. Things such as actions, or even beauty or nature, are much better. They speak louder to me, they have a meaning that reaches your soul.

I am surprised that I still remember my opinion on that. The one thing that I have left of myself before the Curse of Immortality. Before the world became Broken.

Suddenly, his metal plated hand grasps my own, the material cold on my skin, and he yanks me upwards. I suppress a small squeak as I allow myself to be pulled with him, feeling the wind hit my face as I stand. He points out to our view of the icy world around us, and I notice crumbled towers in the far distance. They are cracked and falling down, and they stand in odd positions, as if there were supposed to be more than what can be seen now. No doubt many of them fell down. They are ugly corpses, yet beautiful in a sense. They are breath taking to me, and I cannot imagine how it must have looked in all its former glory.

I feel his presence get closer as he leans towards me, the howling winds whistling through the tiny gap left between us. He begins explaining what we see, and I find his voice to be a small comfort in this vast, empty world. A small part of my mind must know what the lands used to look like before I came to the Asylum, because although while I was in there I could never imagine what the outside world looked like, I feel like what I see is not what I was expecting. Which is strange, because I was not expecting anything.

He breaks off mid-sentence, and I am dragged to the ground with him. A moment later I see why, the winds have picked up again, to much more violent levels. His hood whips in the wind, and I watch for a hopeful moment, wondering if I will get to see his face. I want to know what my savior looks like; I want to know if the human in there looks like me.

I haven’t seen my reflection for thousands of years. Even the briefest of glimpse at him would give me some idea of what I look like.

He carries on talking as if nothing ever happened, and I notice that my hand is still in his. I keep holding on, as if I am holding on to my humanity.

I listen to him intently, his words sinking in deeply. Whereas I am not keen on talking myself, my view on listening to others is a more positive one. Although I still prefer silence.

His speech falters for a fraction of a second, but it is enough for me to know that what he will say next is bad news.

“As far as I know, we are all that remains of humanity.”

This should panic me. It should make me sad, it should shock me. Instead, all my emotions switch off, leaving just determination. If we are all that remain, I must stay humane. I must not Break.

I haven’t been shut down. I’ve been woken up.

I am not the only one in this world. Knight is too. I owe it to him to keep hold of my humanity. I need to keep hold of my humanity. And if I’m not doing it alone, I have more of a reason to.

After musing this over, I simply nod.

“I didn’t expect there to be a world outside of the Asylum anyway.” Then, I gesture vaguely to the view that we just left behind. "Why did you bring me up here? I thought this was the answer to what you want from me."

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The thought only then enters my mind that I have not, in a direct manner, answered her question; this thought actually entertains me a little. How typical of the man I once was - always talking in half-truths and riddles, never granting a straight answer, always demanding that others infer my meaning from my actions. How high-and-mighty I tried to place myself then, how glorious I thought my own image - and all for nought.

When I had heard my old comrades joke that it would take the end of the world itself to teach me some humility, I did not expect their words to ring so tragically true.

I feel her hand hold onto mine with a little pressure, a little force; the warmth penetrates only through my armoured gauntlets the tiniest bit, but it is enough, enough to awaken things in me that I had long buried - comfort, and at once, discomfort of a different sort. This is not right. I should not allow her this - I am betraying what I once swore in this action.

Yet I allow her, and myself, this transgression. What does the past matter? The dead wish nothing of us - they know only peace and contentment. As do the Broken, albeit in a far more pained manner - for them, the contentment leads itself to despair.

If there is a God, He has a very peculiar sense of irony.

I force myself to smile for her, adjusting my head slightly so that it will be visible to her; I offer the tiniest squeeze of my hand. I summon up what little remains of who I once was, the bluster and force of action, turning for just an instant from the lonesome, near-hollow knight errant before her into the strong, brave, charismatic warrior who once inspired an entire nation to war.

"We, Angel," I say, with the skeleton of a confident grin on my face, "are going to save the world."

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#, as written by Beffiye
I wait for his answer, and am surprised when he looks over at me with a smile. That’s a first. Then, I feel his grip on my hand tighten ever so slightly for a moment. A reassuring squeeze. My heart squeezes with it as I start to grow anxious for his answer.

“We, Angel,” he says, and my heart leaps at my name. I feel like I am ever so slightly wanted, cared for by just a fraction, now that I have a name. I have some identification.

“Are going to save the world,” he continues, and I feel confused. Why on Earth would we do that?

“There is no one left to save,” I whisper, my eyebrows furrowed as I think. “Why must we save the world if there is no one left to save?”

What is the point? What does the world need saving from, anyway? It’s impossible to restore the destruction and chaos that was forced upon it. Even then, if you could get rid of all the Broken, and the demons, and rebuild the world, why? Who will benefit from that?

Then another question pops into my mind. “How would we save the world?” Surely you can’t get rid of all the evil. Not even a warrior so good that he is referred to as Knight. Not even a man who has lasted so many years and not Broken.

And certainly not me.

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#, as written by Beffiye
I listen intently to what Knight is telling me, a tale that I had not heard before. At first, he seems to speak in riddles, but then he talks of the cure, and another memory is sparked up within me.

We used to gather in small groups, in one another’s rooms, and speak greatly of the cure. We would talk about why we were sent to the Asylum, and speak bitterly of those who turned us in. We would talk about what we would do once we got out, once we had the cure. How we would make them all pay.

Though we spoke ill of our old neighbourhoods, we were not too far gone in those days. Only a few of us had Broken, many still remained. We had hopes and dreams, we had a future – or at least, we had been given that illusion. We were young and naïve, and thought that the Curse of Immortality was just a hitch in our world. Something to tell our families, when we were older.

It was nice, to have that innocence. To have your own ignorance and stupidity shielding you from the truth. But we could not hide from it forever.

I still can’t remember how I ended up in the Asylum. Maybe one day, it will come to me. Whoever turned me in, and anyone involved in the Purges, I would like to kill with my own bare hands. A flare of anger smarts in my chest. They ruined me; they changed me. I want to make them pay.

They are most likely already dead though. Dead, or Broken.

Knight continues his small tale, and I extinguish the burning flame of hatred. There is nothing that can be done about it now, and why should I get worked up about it? I have been through so much worse than just getting here.

The more he talks, the more hopeful I begin to feel. His words imply that this spell can be cast – by the two of us.

"And besides - things are, ultimately, at their worst. If nothing else, this will allow us to continue fighting, even for just a little longer."

Things are at their worst? I have no idea what it is like out there, but if this is our mission, our quest, then I am willing to take it on. I will face the dark.

The determination grows stronger, pushing through my body, which is usually so numb to emotion. I understand that we are just going off a legend, and there is nothing to say that it is true, but as far as I am aware, it is the best shot that we have.
And after thousands of years cooped up in the Asylum, I want to take it.

“So, you want us to try and find this spell, and cast it,” I say, more of a statement than a question, just to clarify what he has told me. “What do we do now? Travel to Cresta?”

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I see the tiniest starburst of anger in her eyes as I mention the cure. Of course she would - pity flashes through my synapses as I consider her fate up until now, a long and tragic tale. I release her hand when I talk.

"We journey for Cresta," I say, a wistful expression upon my face. "One way or another, our age ends in these coming days. Our adventure - if you want to call it that - is going to be the last of all adventures."

Gazing upon her, I still cannot understand how she yet lives. How she has remained human, all this time; she should have long since lost her will to continue her existence, yet she is quite clearly still sane, or whatever passes for such these days. Her strength must be - I go to think inhuman, but if she were inhuman, she would long since have broken.

Rather, she is perhaps the most human entity I have ever encountered.

Perhaps, with her aid, can we make it? It has taken a long time, and much of my energy, to make it even this far. What a tale would this be, I wonder? Two ageless beings, on the final adventure, the final crusade. Setting out to do-

What, exactly?

Just then, there is a tiny moment where, suddenly, I am snapped out of what could only be termed my reverie; the absurdity of my actions occurs to me in the space of an instant, the ridiculous nature of what I've spent so long chasing after. It is as though a veil is pulled from my eyes, just for a moment.

What am I doing? Who am I now? I am not who I once was, that much is beyond reproach. What madness is this that I've sought? This is no longer my land, no longer the age of heroes. The golden age, the Battle of the Eclipse, the Great Crusade, the Siege of Hell, are long gone. The pyres that once lit this land with their beautiful glow are little more than ash.

And what am I now - everything gone, name and title and ability, all that remains a single role, with so much tying it down.Knight. A title that was never mine to bear, that I once wore with such pride. Nobody's left to care now - what am I doing? This is not the story of a brave warrior and his beautiful companion on a heroic journey to save the world.

This is just the story of two nearly-Broken souls, on a fool's crusade.

I catch myself just in time, slamming my fist into the side of the battlements. Pain shoots through me, breaking me out of the spell that I had been consumed by; an electric bolt cutting its way through the nerves in my arm, causing my muscles to spasm in shock. My eyes, that I had not realised closed, have suddenly shot open, the whole world brought back to me in far more colour than before, the clarity of ice and blood occupying my mind.

I exhale heavily. That was far, far too close; I nearly Broke, and not for the first time. Those are the thoughts of the Broken - not sadness, not fear, but self-doubt. Questioning the reason that one still lives. Questioning whether the will to live remains at all - and after that, only the desire for a death that cannot come.

"It is amusing, from a certain perspective," I mutter to her, a slight note of bitterness in my tone. "Man was not designed to become immortal. Fear of death is what lets us live, but without that fear, we Break, trapped in an eternal torment. There's a distinct irony to it, there can be no question of that. He who refuses to die for anything will find himself endlessly running from eternal torment, yet he who would die for something has nothing to fear."

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#, as written by Beffiye
I have just been freed, yet Knight speaks of the last things that we will do. I don’t mind though. Now I have a purpose to set my sights on. Get to Cresta and don’t Break. We have to get to Cresta.

His gaze falls upon me, and I stare into his hood. What I can make out of his eyes look back at me, and they seem rather familiar. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to them. He must remind me of someone that I loved and lost millennia ago.

Then his eyes close, and I can no longer delve into my recollection. If I could see his face, maybe I would know what he is thinking. The atmosphere has become tense and gloomy. Sometimes it used to go like this when someone was about to Bre-

His fist suddenly flies into the battlements, and I flinch back in shock. Red liquid bleeds onto the snow as his eyes shoot open, and I wince as I watch him. He was quite probably close to Breaking. I don’t even have to see one’s face to know anymore.

I am not worried though. He is obviously strong to be able to snap himself out of it. Not that I ever doubted him in the first place. He sighs, and speaks to me bitterly.

I nod in reply, musing over the fact that I am not the only one still alive and suffering from the past. Knight was not born yesterday. He has suffered too.

“And if you fear nothing, not even death, you become Broken,” I whisper. Sighing, I look back towards the hatch that we emerged from.

“It may be a good idea to begin our journey and not get too caught up in our thoughts,” I hint, wrapping my arms around my body again. The sooner we are walking, the sooner I will warm up a little. Besides, I am eager to get out into the world, and away from my dungeon that we stand upon.

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I nod, saying nothing more, mind still on my near-Break moments ago; keeping low to avoid the winds, I make my way over to the hatch, and throwing it open, drop through. Heavy boots slam against wooden floorboards, splinters flying around my ankles for a moment; I wince at the sound, the whole tower seeming to shudder slightly at the action. By far the loudest sound it has heard in centuries, in all likelihood.

I need to hold on; I can't let myself go, now now of all times. That was too close, and if it happens again around her - no, I need her to have faith in me. As long as she has faith in me, I can have faith in myself. As long as I can make her think that I am who I once was, that I am still the strong and proud knight come to save her, then I can believe it a little myself. Believe it enough.

I look around the tower; in one corner is a bronze lever. Poking my head out the window, a brief inspection indicates that it leads to the whole building's gate mechanism, still locked after all these years.

Nonetheless, out of curiosity, I walk to it, and give it a solid kick with a steel-armoured boot. No luck; it doesn't budge an inch. Unsurprising. It must have rusted shut after all these years. I realise now that I haven't given as much thought to my escape as I perhaps should have, so caught up was I in my desperation to find someone, anyone, in this place.

No matter, I resolve to myself. This place contains too many graves already; it will not become mine.

I look out the window again; in one corner of the vast courtyard is a skeleton next to a pile of rubble. A careful inspection reveals that the damage nearly goes to the very edge of the wall; I might just be able to force down the last few rocks. Before I turn away, I give a last, wistful glance to the skeleton. What a tragic fate - to Break, just as one is about to reach freedom.

"We'll head back to the courtyard, look for another way out," I say to her, with a sigh. Inside me, a voice that I am all too familiar with snarls -

How pathetic. Crawling out of this place like some kind of rat. What have you come to, 'Knight'?

I shut down the malice-filled call of self-doubt in an instant. At this point, it'll only get me killed. So will everything. I need to feel next to nothing, but not quite nothing. It's an interesting balance, no question of that. Keeps me on my toes, I think, with the ghost of a smile, more to myself than anyone else.

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#, as written by Beffiye
I follow after Knight, slipping through the hatch and closing it behind me. I wonder when the last time was that someone stood up there, apart from us. Were they survivors trying to escape? Or were they guards, who thought themselves so high and mighty with no idea that they too would Break someday? Who knows.

The floor shudders beneath me as Knight stomps around, and I quickly hurry down the stairs, worried that they will break beneath me.

He strides towards the window and looks out as I safely exit the stairs, then walks over to a bronze leaver. Taking his lead, I tail after him, but keep a distance. I stand and watch as he kicks the leaver, but it doesn’t budge. I wonder what he thinks it does.

I walk to the window myself, to see what he was looking at, and see a huge set of gate not too far away from us, chained firmly shut. Presumably, that is our way out. In front of them, lie hundreds of bodies of the deceased, and I have to have been the murderer of at least half of them. We used to kill the Broken in packs, like wolves, but I have been the only one left fighting for a long time. The only one to blame the deaths upon.

I cannot let myself think like that. One would much rather be dead than Broken, anyway, and although they did Break, I ended their misery. My eyes fall upon one corpse in particular, a withered skeleton lying next to a crumbled part of the wall. Suddenly, my vision is filled with a different image, I am watching through the eyes of someone else as a young girl, a younger version of me, is trying to pull bits of the old wall apart. I step forwards to help her, feelings of hope, happiness and excitement stronger than I remember ever experiencing before welling up within me, then suddenly, everything changes. She is struggling to move the stone bricks, she is too weak. I move forwards to help her, but even though we struggle and use all our strength, the stone won’t move. We have to get out, I am desperate. I slam the heel of my hand against the rocks, angry, and let silent tears fall down my cheeks as blood trickles down my arm. The girl next to me is much the same, but she is not just angry, she has given up. I gasp as I see the familiar look on her face, but it is too late…

Giving an almost silent gasp, I push a hand against the wall to steady myself as I snap out of my flashback and the young girl melts into a lifeless corpse once more. Whoever it was, I knew them. I was trying to escape from the Asylum with them when they Broke. Why must they have Broken when we were so close to escaping?

"We'll head back to the courtyard, look for another way out," Knight’s voice says from behind me, snapping me out of my thoughts completely. He sighs, and I turn to face him, before eagerly heading for the door of the watch tower, not waiting for him to follow me. It is when I open it that I pause, for I had forgotten the Tearing Winds that rage between us and the next set of stairs that lead down to the courtyard. I don’t want them to blow me away, so I have to wait for Knight to come and take the lead.

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I watch with cold eyes as she staggers against a wall, gasping for breath. Another memory, another flashback; one moment, she was gazing into the beyond, and the next, she seemed near-Broken. Another near miss. I feel the faintest tug on my heart; a part of me wants to go to her, comfort her, tell her that I will not allow that to happen to her - but I don't.

I can't.

Not anymore. That part of me, the man who could do and say those things, died a very long time ago. Even if I could bring myself to try, it would be cold, false; only drive her further into her despair.

So I just watch.

She steps out onto the battlements tentatively, fearfully; she steps back from the threshold of the door, fearing the wind itself; it is a dark place, this, one where we are not meant to tread. Not a world fit for man. How far the mighty have fallen, I muse; once, man thought that we could bend this world to our will - now, we cower in fear from it. Oh, how those hubris-filled scientists and alchemists would weep if they could see what had become of their beloved species.

I step forward beside her, taking her hand; this time, I hold a little tighter, making sure that she will not fall from the force of the Tearing Winds. And there is something else there - something else there, something I thought I had long forgotten. Comfort?

I discard the thought as soon as it enters my mind. Just the last bloodstains of who I once was, nothing more.

Sensing a slight lull in the winds, I make a quick run across the battlements, intentionally slamming my boots into the ground to increase their traction; she is dragged behind me for a few moments, surprised by the suddenness of my action, before making her way beside me, her light feet silent compared to my heavy boots.

Eventually, we reach the stairwell down to the courtyard, and I slow, allowing the two of us a moment's pause. I am unsure of her level of fitness; it does not seem that she would have had much chance of exercise in the last few hundred years, after all. No matter - she will progress quickly. It occurs to me that it would do well for the two of us to practice some sparring; even I am rather out of practice, and while the fact of her survival indicates that she has some skill, she may have forgotten what it is to do battle.

That can be discussed once we reach the safety of that hermit's hut in the distance. For now, we have a long march ahead of us.

I make my way across the courtyard, the improvised spear hanging heavy in my hand; I am glad to have taken it, as it will be far better-suited to this purpose than my bastard sword. It is then that I realise that I am still holding onto her hand - with the tiniest note of alarm, I separate, before laughing a tiny bit at myself. Look at me - embarrassed by such a gesture! I thought myself long past such things; it is a pleasant surprise to see such an innocent, simple emotion. What a day of discovery this is proving to be!

Reaching the pile of rubble, I jam the tip of the spear into one of the chunks, and press my weight on it; after a few seconds, it shifts slightly, and a crack of light is visible through the wall. My chest lightens - success!

Looking around, I see a fallen metal spar on the ground from the spikes on the walls, and pick it up, tossing it to Angel. I give her a quick nod before turning back to my work; she will know what to do.

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#, as written by Beffiye
Knight comes up behind me and takes my hand, then suddenly takes off across the battlements, dragging me behind him like a kite. Quickly, I push myself on and catch up with him, his tight grip never letting go as his boots slam into the ground.

My fitness is not too bad, but I am glad of the quick pause he gives us as we slowly go down the stairs. It is very hard to run in that wind, after all – it really takes one’s breath away.

I follow him across the courtyard, trying to avoid looking at the skeletons that are scattered around us. Part of me is curious, especially about the one that we are approaching now, by the crumbled wall, but I refuse to look at her. I can’t really afford to have another flashback right now, even though it would reveal my history to me. Our priority is getting out of here.

Knight drops my hand suddenly with a small chuckle as we approach the rubble, then pushes his spear into the wall. I hold my breath, then it begins to move a little, and daylight can be seen.

We can do this. We can escape my eternal prison.

He tosses me a metal spar that once used to sit atop the walls and gives me a small nod; I take that as an indicator that I should begin to work towards getting us out too. Weighing it up in my hands for a moment, I thrust it forwards so that its spike gets lodged in the rubble, like Knight did, and push on it until it begins to move. Light seeps in through little gaps and cracks, and I pull back and jab at it again. Soon, a stone brick has fallen.

I continue my work again and again, making much less progress than Knight, but still moving some rubble nonetheless. A light sweat breaks out on my skin; I am not used to exerting myself in such a way. The spar feels comfortable in my hands as it stabs the crumbling rock. Some of it is so old that I don’t even have to shift it, a few thorough stabs and it crumbles away.

I am ever conscious of the pile of bones at my feet as I work. They belong to that girl, who stood in this same position and tried to become free like me, but much less successfully. After that flashback, I can’t shake the minuet feeling of guilt that sits in my stomach, but then, I must have done a lot of things that I regret.

You can’t let your emotions get the better of you in this world.

Still, part of me wonders about my flashback. Why did that girl look so much like me – or, what I imagine myself to look like? My brain certainly seemed to think that she looked like me. And why did I let her Break? What made her Break so suddenly?

Unfortunately, you can’t change the past. Especially the past that occurred hundreds of years ago. You can change the future though. That’s what we are setting out to do.

We will change it, however big or small. For one thing, we will get out of the Asylum. We’re almost out. The hole that we are making in the tumble down wall is almost big enough now.

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More and more light shines through, permitting glimpses of the outside world; I can make out a few ice-stained rocks, and in the distance, mountain peaks. A cold, harsh light shines through it for a second as the clouds over the sun thin a little; I find myself blinking, stunned by the whiteness.

Is this death?

So many people say - or said, I catch myself; lying to myself is doing me no favours - that you see a light upon dying. I've never been able to see it that way; I can't imagine a light, can't imagine some sort of brightness that you go into when you die. I barely dream these days, so I imagine it just like going to sleep; one moment, you're conscious, and the next, you're gone. A peace.

And yet so many people clung to the idea of a light. To the idea of a next life after this. What would I do, were I to find a next life? If I could not escape the torment of merely existing, even in this world? Would I see all those who've died around me?

Would I see-

I slam my hands into my spear, wedged into a rock, sending it rolling free with some force. I can't let myself think that again. Can't ever let myself remember that name, a name that died long ago. She might live on in my memory, but death is all I can do for her now. She'd want to be forgotten. Want to fade away. Want to cease to exist...

I shake myself out of my thoughts; turning my attention to Angel, I see that she is working fast, faster than I'd expected. There's a force to her, some life inside - not quite energy, but life all the same. I imagine her almost like a water wheel, constantly turning without fanfare or even being aware of its own existence, yet turning all the same, being tumbled along, refusing to stop for the commands of any. Silent, but strong all the same.

Eventually, the hole is nearly big enough for one of us to fit through, and she looks out; I catch, just for a second, a glimpse of hope in her eyes. She has not set foot outside here in more than a thousand years - entire civilisations have risen and fallen in the time she has spent here. And this is her escape.

I take a look at the last chunk of rock; the gap is tall enough, but not thin enough for even her to fit through. The boulder is large, too large to be moved by leverage, even if we both applied our effort; a cracked, ugly, brutish beast of an object, cracked up and down. As I see the cracks, a memory flashes through my mind.



"This one doesn't look too tough, Captain," says the crinkled, wizened mouth of the venerable Sir Gough to my right. The sun shines down upon the red-brick training courtyard, the sound of clashing steel and laughter filling the air. "Remember what old Sir Emiyus told us, rest his soul?"

"What? That one can declare themselves a truly strong spearman if they could shatter a boulder with only their spear?" I laugh, spinning the hefty weapon in my hand. "I'd rather not wreck my new spear this soon, Gough."

"It's a fine weapon, Captain, one of the finest I've ever seen," Gough says, voice with the approximate texture of gravel. "The craftsmanship is extraordinary; the blacksmith told us that he cast its core from the femur of Thorn himself. A dragonbone spear is a rare thing, and you would be wise to test it."

"I rather doubt I'd have the strength," I say, sighing and leaning back against the wall, inspecting the engravings on the side of the gilded weapon - I do not understand the language they are written in. "It's a big rock, and a pointless one. What'll this prove?"

Gough laughs, before declaring, "Let it be known to all men bearing witness that I hereby bet the Dragonslayer a cask of ale that he is capable of shattering this boulder with a single strike!"

I sigh again, heavily this time. No getting out of it - Gough won't ever let me forget it if I fail to rise to this challenge. And, as a true and honourable knight, I have no choice but to try to shatter it. Even now, the crowd gathers around me, cheering and hollering, waving their swords, axes and spears in the air. The air seems to almost crackle with their energy; I'll have a riot on my hands if I turn Gough down.

I take a few steps into the centre of the courtyard, in front of the chunk of rock. Why it's there in the first place, I can't even remember; probably left over from when this courtyard was carved out of the old quarry, and no-one could be bothered moving such a large boulder. For the crowd's sake, I give a dramatic twirl to the enormous lance in my hand. More cheers break out around me. I can't help but grin now, joining in with the excitement.

Then, in the space of an instant, I grasp the centre haft of the great spear with one hand and almost its very end with the other, and with a mighty roar, drive it forward with all my force. There is an almighty crack!, seeming to break the very air around me, an enormous cloud of dust obscuring everything around me for a few long moments.

But then it settles, and before me is only what looks to be a rather spread-out pile of rubble.

Cheers erupt around me, and I grin; even though I now owe Gough a cask of ale, I can't help but be proud of my achievement. Another story to my name, I muse, another thing that children will grow up learning. I never asked for this fame, but I can hardly feel myself complaining at it.

"Hail to the Dragonslayer!" Gough roars, and a few moments later, a group of soldiers in the crowd join him. Within moments, the chant has begun, again and again - 'Hail to the Dragonslayer! Hail to the Dragonslayer!' - until it surrounds me, consumes me. Triumphant, I thrust the lance into the sky, letting loose a cry of victory amid the cheers around me.

For a second, I feel to leave my body, seeing myself for the first time - a knight in shining armour at his moment of triumph, splitting the sky with his blade, silhouetted against the burning sun.

And I realise that I am afraid.



I blink back into reality, realising that I am staring at my improvised spear. Can I still do it? Maybe. That was a long time ago. I was stronger then, fitter, braver. My spear was among the finest weapons ever crafted by human hands, not a rusted steel spike torn from the battlements of a castle.

Am I still the same man?

Can I ever be the same man?

I gaze upon the boulder before me, and with a deep breath in, place my hands in a familiar position - one halfway along, the other near the base. Poor for precision, but excellent for a powerful thrust - once upon a time, I could penetrate even the hide of an Ancient Dragon with this technique, given a weapon of sufficient quality.

Drawing the weapon back for only a second, I slam the steel spike forward, aiming for a crack in the boulder. In the space of an instant, there is an almighty crack!, and I find myself surrounded and obscured by dust once more. Coughing it out of my lungs and waving it out of my face, I look up, seeing if I have succeeded.

Sunlight streams through the newly-created gap.

And so, with a smile of pride on my face that I have not felt in so many years, I take Angel's hand.

And together, we step into the new world beyond.