A Short Story by emil4383


Author: emil4383
Created: March 16, 2017 at 05:29 pm
Upload Type: Short Story, M (16+)  
Category: Fantasy | Action | Adventure
Upload Stats: 166 views

The Warden

The Warden

The city was quiet. Dead. The marble and limestone buildings were deserted. The streets were empty. 
Andrew did not like it. He had been traveling for a month now, and he had never felt this uncomfortable. Was he being watched? He shook off the silly feeling. He had not seen another living soul since he crossed the border. The entire country was abandoned. Even his horse had left him. A week ago it had stopped and refused to go any further. He had tried goading it to continue, but eventually it threw him off and galloped in the other direction. With it, it took most of his supplies and gear, like his tent and cooking supplies. Something had scared it, he was sure of it. But what? There had been nothing nearby, no one for miles. The only supplies he had left were in his satchel, and they were running out fast. The only thing he had left were nourishment vials, small flasks filled with tasteless green goo. It kept him going, but he took no pleasure in it. His horse fleeing was not the only thing to make him feel uneasy. It was not just the city where people were gone. It was everywhere. The population had just up and vanished. He did not know why. No one did. The roads were slowly being taken back by weeds. The fields bore no crops.

Fortunately, there were plenty of empty beds. He had no trouble finding shelter for the night, since there were no people left to own any house or hut. Who would mind, he had thought. No harm done. He had almost enjoyed traveling alone, despite the odd situation he was in. It left him time to think, to ponder his pilgrimage. Why he had set out, what he was looking for. The dream was still clear to him. He had it every night, even now. It almost seemed to grow clearer the closer he was to his goal. The Grey Lady visited him, bolstered his courage and his will. She showed him the Black Cathedral, its towers reaching high into the air. How it rose from the now dead city, as majestic as ever. She had showed him its gates and what waited beyond them, the halls and the door to the Inner Sanctuary, hidden behind the altar. Something inside awaited him, and the Grey Lady had pointed him towards it. He woke every morning with a sense of wonder, his vigilance renewed by the privilege of serving her. She was truly a god. He wished she had come to him before, if only so he could have worshipped her longer.

He continued through the city. He was close now. He felt it in his bones. The talisman around his neck was drawing him to the Cathedral. He barely felt the weight of his armour, the shield on his back, the sword at his side. He wore a grey and blue tunic under his cuirass, its metal covering his torso. He had known he would travel far, and it was the heaviest piece of his armour. The gloves and boots were leather. He had considered chainmail, but the risk of danger did not justify the exhaustion that it caused. His helmet was in one of the horse’s packs and had disappeared along with it. He kept walking.

He emerged from the labyrinth of residences and empty shops into the city centre. And there it was. The white paving ended, its place taken by the black marble rising towards the sky. The grandeur was undeniable. It rivalled the Royal Palace at home in size. He had never felt so insignificant in his entire life. The beautiful stonework and incredible scale made him feel like an ant, as if this whole place had been built by deities. They had used their heavenly powers to construct this wonder in sharp contrast with the rest of the city, the black spires piercing the heavy clouds, the gargoyles on the roof keeping a watchful eye over the morose remnants of their kingdom, the gates covered in gorgeous patterns of gold and silver. At a snails’ pace, he moved towards them, marvelling by the pure awe of what was before him. It had exceeded the visions in his dreams. And even then, he could not deny the ominous feeling it gave him. This was the end of his journey. It was impossible to say what he would find inside the walls.
The gates slid open with surprisingly little effort, creaking as they revealed their interior. Long rows of columns on each side, the walls covered in religious tapestry, showing the myths and legends of a vanished kingdom. Torches long burnt out hung on each column. The glass stained windows were remarkable, made with intricate patterns and colours, placed high above the floor, letting what little light there was outside in. The ceiling was adorned with silver chandeliers. A long path of white limestone went directly from the gate to the altar. It reminded him of the churches he had visited when he was young. The lit candles, the monks in the corners, the whispered chanting, all culminating into a feeling of mysticism and holiness.  But this place was silent and no worshippers had been here in ages. Their fake gods had been forgotten. The dull sunrays that managed to break through the cloud cover gave the Cathedral a bland look, undermining the architectural wonder. A pity, Andrew thought.
His footsteps echoed loudly, an almost menacing sound throwing itself between the walls. The Black Cathedral was truly a marvel, he thought as he praised his God for the chance to experience it for himself. His heart skipped a beat. The echoes of his own steps were replaced by those of a stranger, another creature in the Cathedral. He grabbed the hilt of his sword as he prepared to draw it. He had not even considered the fact the he would face human resistance this close to his goal. The Grey Lady had not prepared him for this. He listened. The steps had started out softly, but were now growing in volume. The echoes made it difficult to locate its source. He looked around him, at the entrance, the altar, the stairs on each side of the altar. The stranger emerged from the left one.
He was tall, maybe eight feet, and his face was completely covered by a close helmet. His breastplate was visible under a torn tunic. The brown fabric had multiple slashes and holes in different places, and chainmail stuck out from inside the sleeves. His broad shoulders were covered by spaulders.  The gauntlets seemed to be made from the same steel as the rest of his armour. It was grey and dirty, making it clear that no one had cleaned it in a while, and what appeared to be a claymore hung on his back. He did not carry a shield.
He walked until he stood before the altar, facing the intruder. His arms were at his sides. Andrew could feel the eyes inside the helmet staring at him. The stranger made no move to initiate communication.
Andrew found it all quite unsettling. He had fought in wars and fended of assassins when he was in the Royal Guard and His Majesty’s Commandos, but the man in front of him was different. The aura around him was undeniable. An aura of fear and despair was emitted from him.
-“Who are you?”
Andrew was the first to talk. He was not even sure if he would get a response, or if he even wanted one. His instincts tore at him, begging him to turn around and leave, to forget everything about this frightening figure before him.
-“I am the Warden.”
The voice was deep and alarming, ringing throughout the Cathedral. Andrew felt chills down his spine, slowly spreading throughout his upper torso and all the way to his fingertips.
-“The Cathedral does not welcome you. I ask you to leave. Your pilgrimage ends here.”
He felt like the Warden saw right through him.
-“I can’t,” Andrew stuttered, “I simply wish to enter the Inner Sanctuary, you must let me. I have no desire to force my way through.”
His voice grew more controlled, as he attempted to be polite in this peculiar situation. The Grey Lady’s talisman gave him strength. He could not fail her when he was this close. He wanted to tell the Warden of her, so they could bask in her glory together, share her favour. He would let him pass then. Surely he had heard of her.
-“The Grey Lady sent me. I only obey her wishes and I don’t want to quarrel with you. She is an understanding and gentle goddess. She will forgive you your missteps if you let me pass, I know this. Don’t do something you’ll regret.”
Andrew was starting to doubt if his adversary even had a reasonable side, if he was even human. He looked at the Warden, not sure what reaction to expect. A heavy silence dominated the Cathedral for a few moments.
-“Your false deity has no authority over me. There is nothing holy about her witching ways of trickery and mischief. You are under her spell, pilgrim, and there is only one release.”
The Warden sounded even more grim than before. Reaching for the sword on his back, he slowly made his way towards the intruder, the echoes of his footsteps filling the halls.
-“Your lady has lied to you. She is nothing more than a lustful parasite and has nothing to do with any true pantheon. She wishes only to prey on sacred ground, her seething ways corrupting your mind. I wish there was another way.”

Andrew had not been scared in a long time. He figured his military service had done a good job of hardening him, and he had been grateful for that, even when he slipped away in the dark of night to begin his journey to this damned land and its Black Cathedral. He had stolen a horse from the stables and raided the kitchens for supplies. He never imagined this trip would kill him, and he cursed himself for ignoring the possibility. Quickly, he pulled forth his sword and shield, bracing himself for the fight to come. The dread crept over him. He shouted at the Warden that he did not have to do this, that they could part with no harm done. He was ignored.
The Warden burst into a sprint, covering the distance between the two rapidly. The heavy armour did not seem to slow him down at all. Andrew readied himself.
The Warden slashed with both hands, using his speed to increase the power of the strike. Andrew threw himself to the right, jumping under the blade. He rolled and landed himself in a crouched position, blocking the next strike with his shield. The sound of steel against steel smash reached his ears, the force of the blow pushing him further towards the marble tiles. He scurried backwards, trying to get back on his feet. The Warden let him.
Andrew was stunned. This colossus of a man had shown him genuine mercy, even when he could have finished his opponent. He did not even seem to be bothered by the weight of his equipment, and he swung his sword with little effort. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.


-“You have no reason to extend this fight, pilgrim. Drop your weapons and I will make it swift.”
Did he actually sound sincere? Whatever hollow creature lurked inside that plate truly tried to convince his opponent that a quick death was the best option. And what had he meant, when he spoke of the Grey Lady? Andrew knew that he could not turn a blind eye to such slander. The talisman around his neck vibrated aggressively, jumping up and down on his chest, as if it had its own life. It drew him towards the creature opposing him, the last trial of his pilgrimage. He prepared to make his move, to go on the offensive.
He was too late. The Warden sprung forward, the claymore carving the air as he swung it perpendicularly towards the ground with a single hand. Once more Andrew only dodged it by a hair and saw his opening. He thrust his blade into the Warden’s breastplate, hoping he would break through. A shock rippled through his arm as the blade was stopped by the armour. With his free hand, the Warden grabbed Andrew’s shield, wrestling it from him in one violent motion. Andrew was stunned. The same hand returned and grabbed him by the collar. Next thing he knew, he flew towards a column.
Blood dripped from his mouth unto the marble floor. He had to get up. From the corner of his eye he saw the Warden approaching, making himself ready to deal the finishing blow. He was on all fours and had to support himself using his sword to get up.


-“You should have accepted my offer. Your fate is your own doing.”
His voice was grave. A ripping noise was heard as he tore of the torn remains of his tunic.
Andrew was terrified. Suddenly he had no idea why he had even come to this place, why he had trusted in the Grey Lady, how he had heard of her, how he had come in possession of the talisman dangling from his neck, providing no help in his most perilous hour. Had the Warden been right? Had he, a member of the Royal Guard, been tricked by some foul creature intent on leeching him for every bit of religious fervour? It was so absurd, that he wanted to cry. And now he was to die for his foolish mistakes in a place where no one would find him. To all of his friends, family, and comrades he had just disappeared in the night, never to be seen again. A sigh left his lips. It was hopeless, he thought. He had no chance against this supernatural behemoth. Any strikes against the breastplate would most likely be fruitless. Then his brain went from despair into the cold, analytical part that had served him so well during his military career. Instead of seeing doom, he saw possibilities. He could not see straps holding it together. An attempt at them would also be incredibly risky. He would have to be immaculate in his accuracy, while also avoiding the claymore. One hit and he would be torn to shreds. There were no visible weak points in his armour, no soft spots to take advantage of. Even if he could create a hole in the breastplate, there would still be the chainmail. Time was running out. The Warden came closer and Andrew had no plan but to dodge any strike that might come his way. He did not have enough faith in his blade to try and parry a direct hit from the massive claymore. It was good steel, but he could not risk it.
He backed away, trying to buy himself time to think. He had not seen the Wardens’ back but it was not impossible that there was an unarmoured spot at the knee’s tendon. It might not kill him, but surely it would slow him down, maybe enough so that he could escape.

The Warden was still a few meters away from him. He had thrown him a good distance. Andrew roared and then sprinted towards his attacker. He hoped that such a bold move would catch the Warden off-guard but that was apparently too tall an order. He just had to evade one strike and get behind him. Failure, of course, meant death. The Warden grabbed his claymore with both hands.

Andrew dodged the thrust without slowing down. The slash came from over the left shoulder and towards his foe’s knee. The cut did not go as deep as he wanted it to, but the scream of pain from the Warden left him satisfied. The hulking knight turned around quickly, but Andrew was already out of reach. Blood dripped from the wound and unto the floor. He was weakened, that much was sure. And at least he bled. The possibility of some ancient spirit haunting this place had been ruled out. Flesh and blood. Good to know. He sidestepped and kept his distance from the Warden, moving over to grab his shield. He bowed down and picked it up without looking away from the armoured menace. A glimmer of optimism sparked inside Andrew. He could still get out of this. He had not taken much physical punishment and he was not out of breath. His opponent was bleeding and had had his manoeuvrability compromised. The breathing from inside the helmet became louder and more rapid.


-“You will not get away with this. It ends now,” the Warden hissed, his voice revealing disdain and anger. He lowered his claymore and shifted it to his left hand. The right hand he held out in front of him. Andrew heard a faint humming noise, barely noticeable. The gauntlet’s different parts rustled against each other. Andrew did not know what the Warden was planning, and he did not mean to stick around to find out.
He turned and ran for the exit. To hell with his mission, to hell with the Grey Lady and to hell with the Warden, he thought, and tore the talisman from his neck. None of it was worth dying for.


-“You cannot run from me!” the Warden thundered behind him. The humming grew louder, transforming into a crackling, the vibrations bouncing between the walls. Andrew looked over his shoulder to see what the Warden was up to.
He raised his arm over his head and moved as if he was to throw a javelin. A thunderclap boomed throughout the Cathedral. Andrew’s eardrums were struck by a shattering pain, and a flash briefly threw horrifying shadows against the walls. He fell to his knees cursing, his hands covering his ears. Right above his head, a lightning bolt flew by, the sizzling noise only short, as it was replaced by the crash it made when it hit the wall.
Andrew turned and stared at the Warden in disbelief. He approached, limping slightly because of his wound, more ominous than ever. His hand still hummed, ready for another strike. Andrew’s breathing grew faster as his optimism was replaced by terror. He bolted for the gates in a final attempt to avoid the Warden’s line of fire. Once more the humming became a crackling and Andrew dodged to the left, closing his eyes. A thunderclap, a sizzling, a crash.  Andrew opened his eyes again, adjusting his course. He heard the humming again, now louder and more vibrant, as was the ensued crackling. He had no idea how the large the next lightning would be. He thought that if he could just make it out of the gates, he would be able to lose the Warden in the labyrinth of streets. He was close to the gates; he just had to survive the next lightning strike. He turned and hid behind his shield, trusting in its sturdiness to cushion the blow. It was a mistake.
When it was hit, the shield was blown to pieces. Even then, there was enough force to lift him off the ground and throw him towards the marble wall.
He woke up face-down on the ground. His vision was blurry. His ears were ringing. Every inch of his body hurt. His shield arm in particular was tormenting him. He tried to get up, but his muscles would not listen. Instead they responded with more pain. The Warden was no more than a few feet away from him. Andrew tried to claw his way towards the gates, but to no avail. The Warden’s boot pushed him towards the tiles, his strength restricting his movements. Andrew screamed as the Warden shifted his weight. He could feel his back break. The crunching noise sickened him and he wanted to throw up.
-“I pity you.”
The Warden’s voice bore a hint of sadness.
-“I am truly sorry that I have to do this.”
Andrew did not understand. Surely the Warden had a choice. Who was forcing him?
His thoughts were interrupted abruptly when he heard the claymore against his cuirass. It penetrated it with ease, piercing first his lung and then his heart. Blood filled his mouth.

The Warden pulled out his blade when he felt the resistance of the marble. The intruder before him was gurgling, his blood slowly painting the floor. There was little life left in him. The Warden lifted his boot and walked away, leaving his vanquished opponent to bleed out. It was not the first trespasser, and it would not be the last. Every time he felt them enter the city, he hoped that they would stay away from the Black Cathedral. He took no pleasure in his duty. He did not pride himself with the blood on his blade, the scratches in his armour, or the scars on his body. All he felt was regret and bitterness. Even his wound felt numb and insignificant. He knelt before the altar, dropping his claymore and removing his helmet. He prayed.
  



© emil4383 - all rights reserved

Author Notes


I wrote this about a year ago but polished it up a few times since. Not sure how I like it though. I haven't really published anything on here for a while, but I would love to know what you guys think.


 
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