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The Knight and the Angel

The Hollow Lands

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

A dead world that yet dreams...

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

414 readers have been here.

Setting

This world once had another name, but it is lost to history. Now, they are only known as the Hollow Lands - a place of crumbling ruins, storm-wracked seas and vast, forboding forests that slowly reclaim any creation man dared to inflict upon it. There are three significant landmasses - Helladhell to the north, Nevria in the south and Belorast to the west. This is no longer a land for men; to the north, there lie the Tearing Winds, to the west, the Burning Plains, and even the once-beautiful central land of Nevria is now inhabited by hellish demons. And even without those threats, there remain the Broken; driven into hatred by despair and grief, many now attack whatever they see. There are rumours that there are other lands, but the seas are far too rough to even think of passage; if they do exist, they remain lost to history. To those trapped in these Hollow Lands, they are all that exists - this is where we are born, and this is where we shall die.
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The Hollow Lands

A dead world that yet dreams...

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The Hollow Lands is a part of The Knight and the Angel.

1 Places in The Hollow Lands:


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#, as written by Beffiye

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"More will become clear, as time marches onwards," I say to her, realising the difficulty in explaining my mission; perhaps this is why I have been mocked so often for it, no? After all, the means is as convoluted as the end. But I cannot admit the end, perhaps cannot even admit it to myself - it ill-befits us all, ill-befits what I seek. But I need her to trust me.

So, once again, I lie.

Or is lie the wrong word? After all, it might well be truth. It is, indeed, what I first promised myself, first promised her, and what I still seek. Perhaps I am just too cynical now to believe in it anymore.

"In the great city of Cresta, there is a great, beautiful spire, the most beautiful of them all," I explain - a truth, that much, a tower I had gazed upon so many times with my own eyes. "It was the home of those who laid this curse upon our kind, once upon a time. There is a legend - or a historical tale, call it what you will - that says that they once attempted to fix their mistake, to create a cure - the cure that you were promised when you were thrown to languish in the Asylum."

I stare beyond her for a moment, exhaling. That much was true - I was certain of it. The question now remained as to whether the rest of what I spoke was truth, or just a story that parents told their children to prevent them from Breaking too young. "But they completed it too late; the Fall of Cresta consumed the city, and as with many of the great spells of old, it required two to cast. By the time of its completion, only one of these great architects remained; and thus, there the spell remains, lost to us forever."

I shake my head, allowing myself a tiny, cynical chuckle - not a laugh of warmth, but one born only of cold and contempt, with only the tiniest ray of hope shining through the noise. "It might sound absurd, but there is at least some truth to it, that I know." And now for what I know to be absolute truth, more truthful than perhaps anything else in this world. "And besides - things are, ultimately, at their worst. If nothing else, this will allow us to continue fighting, even for just a little longer."

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#, as written by Beffiye
I take the end of the rope, and look at it nervously. I’m not sure if I ever abseiled before, but my mind seems to understand the basic concept. I hook the rope around my waist and pull it tight, then place my hands further up, ready to start descending.

Starting off is the hardest. I reverse slowly, my head screaming at me to stop as I lower myself down the cliff face. I try not to let myself slip, but the cliff face is quite jagged and harsh. I just hope that the ropes don’t break.

While slowly climbing down, I try to distract myself. I have not felt this nervous for a very long time; killing the Broken has become second nature to me, and there was nothing else to fear. Now though, I could die so easily. One wrong move and I could slip, and if the ropes aren’t strong enough, that will be the end of me.

Maybe it is a good thing to be afraid. By feeling fear, even when it is a small amount, I feel alive. The fear of dying is making me feel more alive, more human again. I am not just some emotionless statue, I am a human. I have feelings, and I have fears, and if I don’t ever forget that, I will never become Broken.

I let the fear take me over, and adrenaline pumps through my veins. I feel so awake, so alive, like I can take on what is left of the world. I can fight the battle against the Broken, internally and externally. I can save the world.

Then, my feet hit the flat part of the cliff, and I lower the rest of myself down. Placing a hand against the cliff face to steady myself, I look out at the view, and at how far down we have to go. It’s enthralling. The thought of carrying on excites me.

In fact, this whole adventure does. There are things that will get in our way, there always is, but for now I am care free. I just abseiled down a cliff face, and I will be doing many more dangerous things in the future.

I like danger. The old me liked danger too. She was always a daring soul.

Pieces of information about myself are coming back quicker than I expected, even if they are only small. They are shaping me into a proper person again. They are giving me more emotion.

I pull the loop from around my waist, then look back up at Knight, snapping out of my unusual happy thoughts. How is he going to get down? Will he be able to pull the rope back up again?

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#, as written by Beffiye
Knight’s descent is much more dauntless than my own. I step out of his path and then look up at him, and am surprised by what I see. Taking hold of the rope, he jumps, and my eyes widen as I hold my breath. What is he doing?

He slides down the rope, much too fast for my liking, and apparently his too. He shoves his spear into the ice beside him, increasing friction and slowing him down. Then, while I am fighting the urge to cover my eyes, he lets himself drop to the ground.

The sound of his body hitting the ground is not a pleasant one, and I wince. He falls to one knee with the impact; but at least his armour has protected him.

Gritting my teeth, I realise that I had turned slightly away when he fell, so I turn back to face him. I am surprised by what meets my eyes.

His hood has fallen down, and I can see his face properly now. His eyes are green, like I thought they were, and show glimmers of what is in his soul, though those glimmers are encased with a hard shell, like a man who has seen too much. His dark hair is tousled and moves slightly in the wind, small tufts of it flopping over his chiselled face.

I don’t think he wanted me to see this, so I drop my gaze to my snow-covered boots as he unties his rope.

“Yes, though I think you found it rather more exhilarating than me,” I say, thinking back to his display. “And I was defiantly the more graceful of the two of us.” Allowing myself a small laugh, I look out over the cliffs again, trying not to let my eyes wander back to his face; I am curious. Instead, I think about the task ahead of us.

“Are we going to be abseiling down all the cliff faces?”

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#, as written by Beffiye
As I wait for Knight’s answer, I steal a glance back at him, and see him pulling his hood over his features once more. I have left mine since it fell down, for I felt no need to hide myself. Now, I pull it back up, and impatiently tuck my hair into it, away from my face. If my hood is up, I will be much warmer.

Am I warm enough in my current clothes? I suppose so. I am quite cold, but then one expects to be in this sort of weather. In all honesty, I don’t know what the average temperature is for a human. It was always cold in the Asylum, so perhaps I am as warm as I ever will be now, but I don’t recognise it.

I don’t even know how many layers of clothing I’m wearing. However much it is, it will have to do, because I don’t see Knight carrying anything that I could possibly wear.

“My clothes will suffice, I think,” I say, looking down at them. My cloak’s split in the middle allows me to look at my trousers and boots, and the bottom of my top. I don’t think I’m wearing particularly warm clothing, but it shouldn’t be a problem. “I am used to the cold. It was always cold in the Asylum.”

The name tastes bitter as it falls off my tongue, and I turn my eyes towards the mountains once more, away from Knight. For a fraction of a second, I think I can see a small, dark figure running along the mountain paths across from us, then it shimmers and disappears.

The Asylum. Typically a place for the mad, before it was branded as the place for the Broken, though I suppose the Broken were mad. Is that what I am? Is my sanity leaving me now? Has it already left?

Suppose that I am insane. Suppose that I am hallucinating now, like I just did when I saw that figure, that figure that looked like the girl in my flash back. My whole freedom could be a lie, a working of my mind…

No. I will not let myself think like that. That is the way that the Broken think, and I am very much still human. I am free. My memory has been freed too, causing my mind to play tricks on me as the world sparks up pieces of my past.

That is all it is.

Yet if I was sent to the Asylum, why am I still here? If I was deemed close to Breaking so early on, why have I not? What happened that caused me to be sent there?

I can’t doubt myself now. I will worry about my past later.

“Let’s continue onward,” I say abruptly, walking towards the edge of our platform, towards the sloping grounds. I pause, waiting for Knight’s orders on how we are to get down.

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#, as written by Beffiye
Knight mutters something I can’t quite hear, then walks up behind me. He steps over the edge of the plateau, then after a moments pause, takes another step. He stays close to the ground, his spear clenched firmly between his fingers. I have never seen anyone walk down a mountain like this before.

“Stay low,” he says, and I crouch, making sure my spear is positioned like his, presumably to be used if I slip. "I'll tell you where I learnt this trick another time. Quite a story. For now, just stay low and close."

Oh, I didn’t think Knight was ever going to reveal anything about himself. That will be interesting, no matter how insignificant the story is. I suppose he will want some stories in return, but of course, I remember so little. Perhaps when we settle down for night I can have a really long think, and try to open my my mental box of memories. If I just think hard enough, maybe I will remember who I really am.

I wonder if, as well as the long passage of time, my reluctance to be my old self is the problem? If, when I came to the Asylum many years ago, I tried to lock away all my memories of my past self, for they just made me sadder. And when my peers in the Asylum Broke, I locked away those memories too. Maybe I am struggling to remember my past because it doesn’t want to be found.

Sighing, I follow Knight, keeping low to the ground and close behind him. My hands are wrapped so tightly around my spear that my knuckles are white, and I make every move with extreme caution. I may be used to hand to hand combat, but I’ve never crawled down a mountain like a crab before.

I suppose this journey is just going to be one risk after another, and when I get to Cresta and look back, crawling down a mountain will seem easy.

If we get to Cresta. I wouldn’t like to accidently kill myself before we have even gotten out of the Asylum’s sight.

Hopefully, I will have some skills prepared for our travels. They may be a bit rusty, but I don’t want to be more of a burden on Knight than I already am. I’m supposed to be his companian, not someone he has to look after the whole way, someone he has to contstantly think about.

I can fend for myself. I just need to learn the trick of the trade in this new world.

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#, as written by Beffiye
I would say that the walk down took a considerable amount of time. Back when time was a scarce thing, that is. I may have referred to it as “a few hours” back in those days, which I think meant a lot. It’s a grain of sand to me now.

When we reach the flat ground once again, my arms are tired and slightly sore. I sigh and flex them out a bit, as I follow after Knight. He looks up at the sky, but I stare straight ahead, looking at the approaching trees, dusted with snow. The trunks and lower branches look like they have been frozen in time, untouched for centuries. The top branches are not like that however, they have toppled down, or been twisted by the Tearing Winds. Again, the destruction seems somehow beautiful to me.

We walk between the trees, and I allow myself to occasionally twist my head around and take in what is to the sides of me. The trees stand close, and tower over me, as if they are holding me in, protecting me. When the sun goes down, as it will do soon, it will be a different story.

“How much do you remember?” He asks me quietly, and I get the uncomfortable realisation that there could be anything lurking in these woods, waiting to put an end to us.

“Not much,” I say softly back, my eyes fixed on the forest around us. “I haven’t even tried to remember myself for a long time. Small things are coming back to me, if I try hard enough, and there are things that I seem to just still know about myself. I can’t really visualise anything though. Small memories are coming back to me, but usually without the pictures.”

I pause, running my mind over what little information I have. The only memory that I can picture is my flashback of that girl, who I have come to realise must be my sister. Or rather, must have been.

“I think I was there with my sister,” I say, pulling my hood further up as it starts to fall down. “I don’t know why, though. Surely if I was deemed close to Breaking so early on, I would have Broken by now.”

I look up at him, curiosity in my eyes. “You have obviously been around for a long time too. Surely you don’t remember everything? Do you clearly remember what your life was like before the Curse of Immortality?”

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She's right - it doesn't make sense, but that's exactly why I came to the Asylum in the first place. Anyone to have been deemed so close to Breaking so early, and to be able to yet live despite that pain, must be strong, inhumanly so. She wasn't what I expected to find, admittedly, but she must contain strength beyond imagining; and so, I silence any misgivings I might have about her abilities to accompany me, for to have lasted so long without hope, she must be stronger than anyone else I have ever met.

I make my way through the forest, spear still gripped tightly in hand; the bend in it is infuriating me, but I resolve not to halt to fix it until we have found rest for the night. Hopefully, we will find a cave; if not, a tree branch will suffice, above the ground but at least somewhat protected from the wind and rain by the thick canopy over us.

She gazes up at me, and I tense, knowing what comes next. I have always dreaded such questions; I cannot escape my past, but I can avoid thinking about it as much as possible. About what happened. About who I lost.

About what I did.

"Do you clearly remember what your life was like before the Curse of Immortality?"

"Not much," I say, looking down at her with a gaze like ice. I glance away; best not to accidentally intimidate her, or give her the impression that I don't like her. I need her alive, and she will last much longer if she believes that I care. So I look forwards as I talk, my voice flat and dispassionate.

"I remember bits of it. Not clearly - memories are all corrupted now, distorted, twisted. Merged together with the present in ways that shouldn't be possible. But I know what happened. Couldn't forget it if I tried."

And I'm not telling you, I mentally add. I can't afford to tell her who I was. If she finds out what I did - no, I need her to have faith in me. Faith means strength; strength means life. As long as she's alive, there's still hope.

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#, as written by Beffiye
I nod, and when his pace quickens, mine does too in order to keep up with him. We might find somewhere safe to rest. We might not.

My breath is visible in front of me as I begin to get a little out of puff. I’m getting tired now, more so than I already was, and I’m sure Knight feels the same. I’d quite like to rest up and delve into my mind for my stray memories. It’s intriguing, not knowing about my past self. I want to remember myself again.

Still, I have plenty of time to do that. We will be traveling to try and save this world from its slow decay, after all. Then what will happen, I wonder? Who will there be left other than ourselves to embrace the peace we bring? If we make it, if this all works out, what is it for?

No matter the answer, it’s better than being locked up in the Asylum. I’m free, and I’m doing something, and even if it proves to be the end of me, I won’t regret it.

My past self might have disagreed. Before the Curse of Immortality, she might not have liked dangerous things. I don’t know for certain, but I don’t think that she was a very daring girl. She would rather be locked up than risk her life, or so she thought. As time wore on, I guess she changed, she started evolving. When she was locked up in the Asylum, she wanted to get out. The monsters were only in the hallways of her prison, and the outside world was her safety. Soon, however, it became her knowledge that the world was no longer safe anywhere. She began to be risky, fighting for her life in the hallways of the Asylum, trying to escape. Then, when everyone had Broken, she changed into me. When she realised that she was the only one left…the change was quite sudden. One minute, she was a sobbing heap, the next, she was locking away all memories, all emotions, picking up an old knife and unlocking the door to her room, preparing to face the Broken.

Then she became me.

When I reveal my memories, I won’t become my old self. She was not strong enough. Yet, I won’t remain as the cold soldier that I am now either. I will have the right balance of both girls, hopefully.

I let out a small sigh, and look up at the sky. The trees have begun to get a slight bit thinner on the ground I think, so hopefully we will find somewhere to rest soon.

I wonder if Knight will tell me anything more about his self upon this journey. I will certainly get to know him on our long travels, anyway.

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I watch the shadows as they grow, starting to claw at our boots as they slowly consume the ground. The sun falls through the sky faster and faster; we have little time now. At night, things roam these places - monstrous things, things that rule this land to their will, or the lack thereof. The Broken shuffle about, finding what they can, killing what they will, just in a desperate, mad attempt to feel something.

They will roam, come dark; they prefer the night, the burning sunlight tearing at their flesh. The contrast is striking; once, I would have marched through such a place without fear, one hand resting on the hilt of my sword, ready to cut down any in my path. Now, there are far too many to cut down. This is not a place for humans.

But then again, no-where is anymore.

Eventually, as the sun is perhaps but moments from dripping below the horizon and my searching gaze grows more and more panicked, I see a small hollow within a great tree; I brush an armoured gauntlet against her shoulder to catch her attention, then point to it. She nods quickly and makes for it; I notice a haste in her steps. She is afraid of this place. She is right to be. So am I.

She crawls into the hollow, a gap in a tree formed of a bent trunk and twisted, knotted roots; upon entering, there is a little more space than I had first thought, and I am able to fit, albeit barely. She will be able to lie down, with difficulty - I will not. I do not resent this. I doubt that I will be capable of sleeping anyway.

After settling in and unslinging my pouches along the ground, I pass her some dried jerky from one of my pouches; it is tough and tasteless, but it keeps well and weighs little, and contains enough energy to keep us moving. I make a mental note to try to find her some fruit when we make it further south.

I finish eating quickly, and while she continues - looking at her, I briefly wonder how long it has been since she has eaten - I begin talking. I had, after all, promised to tell a story. Perhaps it will succeed in lifting her spirits.

"As I was saying," I say, "I was a young man in Cresta - perhaps 'young man' is overstating it, as I was little more than a boy, especially when considering both our age - I spent much time with two good friends, Christine and Gough, both of whom later became knights whom I served alongside. We spent our days getting into all manner of trouble; we just couldn't stay out of it if we tried."

As I talk, a smile crosses my features, the memory warming my body. "Anyway, one sun-drenched day, Christine came up with the idea of watching the knights train - in those days, they were called the 'Adeptus Custodes'. She was always a fierce one, Christine, always gunning for a fight; she wanted to get better, and so, she wanted to watch them."

I glance outside; the night falls quickly, and I can already barely make out the shapes of the trees in the forest. A shudder involuntarily courses through me. "So we spent the next week preparing - grabbing climbing gear, ropes, clothes that would blend into the gilded walls of the Great Keep, and so forth. It was quite an exercise; we were clever children, and we knew what we were getting into."

"So anyway, we spent two days slowly climbing across the roofs of Cresta. It was a difficult task, without question, and it took us some getting used-to; that's where I picked up the trick of staying low down a slope, as it lowers your centre of mass. But eventually, we made it from one end of the city to the other, and were climbing on the walls of the Great Hall itself. However, we were distracted from our 'educational mission' - as Christine refused to stop calling it - by a service going on in the Hall itself."

I smile at the memory of what happened next; something that has lingered in my mind all these years, one of the few memories where I don't see so many Broken, where the colours still remain bright and life-filled, just as they were that day. "So we crept in through a cracked window at the ceiling of the Great Hall - more of a cathedral, really - and started creeping along the rafters, still dressed in dirty, dust-covered clothes. And there before us - we couldn't believe it! - the Emperor himself was rather furiously negotiating with a diplomat from Belorast."

The image pops into my mind of that moment - the awe on Christine and Gough's faces as we realised that we were in the company of the Emperor himself, the holiest and mightiest figure in all of Cresta, revered as a god by the city's inhabitants. Standing there before us, resplendent in gilded robes, sceptre in one hand, angrily berating the diplomat over some disagreement or another. We couldn't believe what we were seeing.

"Anyway, I was crawling along a thinner rafter to get a better look when it broke, and I went plummeting to the ground. Now, the Great Hall is a massive chamber - tall enough, it's said, that an Ancient Dragon could walk through with its wings extended and not clip them on the walls - but thankfully, or 'unthankfully' depending on perspective, something broke my fall. This 'something' being the Emperor."

I can't help but laugh now at the memory. The sheer absurdity of that moment - not even fear, but confusion, staring into the aged, wizened eyes of the Emperor as he stared up at me from the ground in utter shock.

"Anyway, I promptly untangled him and staggered backwards, while the Emperor's guards at the edges of the room stepped forward. For a few seconds, I legitimately thought that I was going to die. That was about when Christine and Gough decided to drop in front of me."

The two of them had always been more physically competent than I had, and they took the fall much better; Christine immediately stepped over to check me for injuries. That, however, wasn't the excellent bit.

"Anyway, the Emperor - who was in the middle of a tirade against the Belorastian ambassador - pushed himself to his feet and didn't know how to react. After a few long moments, he just sort of kept going against the ambassador, and this, Christine took exception to."

I chuckle again a little now, a warm, smiling sound. I miss this memory. I haven't thought of it in much too long.

"Anyway - Christine, being who she was, decided to step forward and punch the Emperor for daring to interrupt her while she was taking care of her friend. I frankly couldn't believe it - I could swear that the guards were already planning to kill us, and then she went and punched him in the stomach. Hell, no-one could believe it. I seriously thought we were all going to die - the Emperor just stood there, staring at us, dumbfounded."

"And it was at this point that the Belorastian ambassador started recounting a story of how his son had once punched him at a state meeting. The Emperor laughed and talked about his own son, and soon, they'd forgotten all about us; when one of the guards asked the Emperor what to do with us, he just waved us away, enthralled in conversation about their children with the ambassador. With no better plan, we just walked right on out of there, dusty clothes and everything. The guards were astounded."

I smile one last time, thinking over the end of that day, how confused and undeniably inspiring we'd felt as we emerged from that great structure, into the scorching Crestan sun.

"And so that, Angel, is the story of how me and three friends accidentally managed to prevent a war. One of the few memories that I still like remembering," I say, raising my head a little, allowing her to see my smile.

"Anyway, you must have your fair share of stories. What fun things about your life do you remember? There must be something."

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A new beginning...

The hell is that supposed to mean now? The words, however many times I've thought them, feel very different when said from an external source. More real, somehow; as though now, there's some distinct, tangible power to that concept. To that hope.

But her, of all people - why should she be saying that? How could she? She's lost everything, had everything taken from her... how can she still have faith in a new beginning? Even I don't, and my suffering has been but a fraction of hers, all things considered. Just how strong is she?

I smile a little at her story; she laughs a little as she tells it, a pleasant sound. She smiles well - it is a relief to see that. I remember, once, that Christine told me that humans feel better when they see others smile. Perhaps that's one of the things that we do that Broken don't - smile.

It feels odd, imagining her as such a carefree girl on a sunny farm, flirting with young men. 'Flirting'... the world itself feels odd to me now, something long-gone. In times past, when I still retained my knightly honour, I would have scoffed at the idea - I barely recall the word's meaning, but I do recall that I was quite bad at it. Gough was always better-looking than me anyway - hanging around him never did me any favours. I smile a little at the memories, pulling my hood down after she does. I didn't much mind him being better-looking than me. I'd only ever had eyes for one person anyway.

My hand curls into a fist at her memory.

Forcing myself to relax, I look to her. "So then, you like your new name, I take it?" I ask of her. Going over her words, I take note of her mention of horses - if we can find a horse, her ability to ride will be convenient. I once rode - and rode well, at that. But that was many years ago, and I am unsure of how much I remember. Horses are hard to come by these days; because of the savagery of the Broken, most are too fearful of humans now. Capturing one, if we find one, will prove difficult.

I glance outside, watching the dark; I see nothing, only blackness, but I know that I will need to be ready. My fingers curl around the hilt of my longsword. If anything wants to harm us, I will use this heavy old blade to explain to it in full why interfering with my plan is a mistake.

I briefly glance back inwards. The night will be long and cold; I am thankful for her presence here. I can feel the warmth coming off her, even if only a little, through my armour plating. Another human will make freezing to death less of a problem.

Which only leaves about a million other things to try to kill us.

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I nod to her as she answers my query, and give her what I assume to be a reassuring smile; I'm not sure if I can still smile reassuringly, but the memories of this feel familiar. Many years of comforting the wounded on the battlefield have taught me well. It seems that even our darkest moments teach us important things. So I take my best shot at a reassuring smile, and try to inject some warmth into my words.

"I will not permit you to break. I promise you that much."

Another impossible promise.

But when you've broken as many promises as I have, where's the harm?

She rests back against the tree trunk with a contended sigh. She must be tired. I feel less so than usual; reinvigorated by the day's events. I decide that I will fall asleep when we reach the hut, be it tomorrow or the day after. There, I will take off my armour, lay down my sword and relax at long last; perhaps take a few days, learn who she really is, train her in the arts of war before continuing south to Winterhelm.

Shifting slightly into a more comfortable position, leaning against a root, I keep my hand braced on my sword, staring outside, only occasionally giving glances to her; she is drifting off to sleep quickly. What will she witness, I wonder? What dark nightmares await her? Or, like me, when she sleeps, does she see nothing?

I've always found sleep to be rather like a death that I wake up from. One moment, I exist, I am a part of this world - the next, everything I am is gone, replaced by a corpse that still breathes. Only to be thrust back to life when the sun rises to fight another day, and die that night once more.

My own private Valhalla.

"Fear not," I say, nodding to her. "I will not fall asleep. When we reach a safer place, then I will allow myself to rest; no sooner. No harm will come to you while you sleep."

And, with that, I look outside once more; I see a snowflake fall onto my armoured gauntlet, fleeing across the faintly-warm steel, its beautiful pattern melting into shimmering water, then disappearing completely, as though it had never existed before. Another falls in front of me, and yet another; they begin to layer the armoured gauntlet that lies outside the hollow, a beautiful pale, barely visible in the dark; so clearly contrasted against the dull, worn steel of my armour plating. Their beautiful delicacy a stark contrast with the roughness of the instrument of war I clad myself in.

There's still beauty in this world, I realise; a simple knowledge, an obvious one, but striking nevertheless. Still these brief moments of beauty, watching the snow fall in the dark, watching it so intricate, so beautiful, for just an instant as it descends from the heavens, before returning to Earth and disappearing completely.

This, I realise, is the first time I have recognised and contemplated beauty in centuries. Perhaps...

I do not allow myself to finish the thought.

Hope is still a luxury that I cannot afford.

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Despite her response, it is clear that she is alright; I can see it in her eyes as she shakes the snow off herself, her body moving with some semblance of fluidity, as though completely ignoring what had only moments ago taken place. She's tough; she doesn't realise it yet, but she's tough. She will need to be.

I do not say this to her, clever enough not to tell her, but this is one of the weaker things I have witnessed. Faster than most, admittedly, but by no means the worst. Once, I had fought all manner of horrors spawned from the very depths of hell; led the charge against armies the likes of which this world had not seen before or since. Been crowned a hero - perhaps not the true hero, but a hero nonetheless. So why had this single beast, this insignificant, twisted, emaciated monster, caused me such difficulty?

But then, this was not back then, was it? Things had changed. I was no longer the legendary Dragonslayer Knight, no longer the Hero of Cresta. I'd lost the right to both of those titles many years ago. I no longer stand in the resplendent golden armour that had once seemed so invincible, so proud; now, I just wear rusted, mismatched armour, carry a stolen spike and a battered bastard sword. I am no longer any of those titles and accolades that had once been heaped upon me.

Now, I am just a man, and like all men, I could die all too easily.

Or perhaps not, I think, with a quick glance to her as we begin walking onwards through the forest. To her, I am 'Knight'. All the things that word means - I've betrayed all of those rules a thousand times, but what if I can maybe - just maybe - start again? She doesn't know what I did. To her, I remain her rusted saviour, come to spirit her away from the Asylum - to her, perhaps I can be that hero again.

It would all be a lie, of course, but then, isn't everything?



Even in the short span of the last few weeks that I journeyed in search of the Asylum, I have already forgotten the sheer force of the Tearing Winds upon the vast plains of Helladhell.

It pulls at me like the claws of some great demon, gusting up as we emerge from between crevice and onto the open plains. I see her flinch and stagger, and lash out with one arm, grabbing her around the shoulders, keeping her steady; I weigh more than her, can help keep her anchored. I pull her hood up over her head, then mine; from the angle in question, the wind will not blow them off our heads, and I am deeply thankful for this.

"Hold fast and keep low!" I shout, as I bow my head, making myself a smaller profile for the winds; I keep my armoured gauntlet tight around her, trying to figure out a more effective means of movement. Nothing comes to mind.

I take one step forward, then another, boots sinking deep into the snow. It is going to be a long journey, I think to myself, as I walk; it is slow going, taking each and every step cautiously. If I hit a rift and sink deep into the snow, that will be the end of us both. Walking in these winds is a difficult experience; I see nothing in the distance, only wisps of ripped air over the blasted-flat landscape, relying almost entirely on my own sense of direction to keep us where we want to go.

The sky has become cold and grey; I do not know how many hours until dark, but I would guess somewhere around twenty. Time travels oddly here, and I hope that it is simply the unusual geography of this region that makes it so. I am unsure of what I would do if reality itself begins to break down.

This journey has enough complications already, I think, with an unconscious glance down towards the woman I hold against the winds.

Enough complications already.