Chapter 24 - The Kiln
Soft wind rustled the woman’s flaming red hair, small particles of grey settling upon the curtains of fire that hung to her broad shoulders. The world was silent, save for her own breath and whispering wind.
Twilight enshrouded the unsettling ashen dunes about her, thick cloud cover stifling any sunlight aside from precious few rays that managed to pierce through, bringing sporadic light to the desolate wasteland. Twisted arches of grey stone reached up from a sea of ashen dunes, bearing massive stalactites of unnatural formation. At the centre of the scene loomed a single monolithic tower of breathtaking construction. Despite its dilapidated state, the Kiln of the First Flame stood proudly guarding the sea of dead ash it lorded over.
The woman’s jade eyes slid across the landscape slowly, taking in the depressing scene without flinching or wincing. Observing the state of her kingdom in tight-lipped irritation, a growl was her only response. Yet this was not caused by what she saw, but for the simple fact of her having no clue to where she was.
Orlai glared at the foreign tower and strange dunes with thinly veiled suspicion. Previously, she’d been in her bed trying to sleep, but now stood in this husk of a world. After “father’s” interrogation, there had been no others who visited the glorified cell of her room. For hours Orlai sat thinking, wondering, scheming, plotting, moaning, groaning, and roaming the small space of her room. Regardless of the passage of time, the sun never set or even moved during her machinations and furious declarations. Exhaustion and impossible confusion at her situation had forced her to bed, wanting nothing more than a moment of rest - at which point she somehow arrived here. She felt as if she was being strung along by an unstoppable current, pulling and yanking her through a river of mysterious origin to a destination of impossible explanation. So many things had happened in such a short time with such density and abruptness she could barely wrap her head around it all. Jaw grinding stubbornly, Orlai’s head shook itself of the unsurety weighing upon her mind, hand instinctively grasping the handle of the Sunlight sword sheathed on her hip.
Surprised, Orlai looked down to find her equipment had returned. The Sunlight shield comfortably sat on her arm and Silver Knight armor fitted snugly around her. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, she dared not question such a blessing.
It had been a blow to find her gear taken, feeling naked and vulnerable in the innocent white dress given to her by the servants of the God’s palace. Confidence beginning to kindle she clung to the emotion. Clumsily marching over the ash dunes towards the Kiln, something called to her within.
Cresting the top of a larger ash dune Orlai halted, gaping down at a wedge formation of five fully armed and armored Black Knights. Flanking the formation were two knights, each bearing a magnificent sword which rested by their sides ready to be drawn.
Helping to make up the core of the formation, the third held aloft a massive great sword that seemed to mimic a single black flame, possessing a golden hilt and beautiful craftsmanship. Next to the third the fourth knight wielded an enormous double-bladed axe possessing engravings of equal if not greater skill than those of its cohorts, the weapon casually resting on its shoulder. Heading the wedge was a knight wielding a black halberd, it’s golden tip reminiscent of the rising sun as it was raised in challenge to Orlai.
Surprised at finding others in such a place Orlai continued to gape at them dumbly, staring in awe at their weapons and armor. Each towered over her, at least twice her height they bore exotic armor of black steel, the very same as the man in black. Each of their helmets sported a pair of twisted black horns that vaguely reminded her of a dragon. Or a demon.
In one fluid movement the knights raised their shields, weapons flourishing stylishly, to effortlessly charge up the treacherous ash of the dune. Forgetting herself, Orlai took a step back.
The Demon raised its spear, red eyes fixed on Orlai.
She dived, spear burying itself in the wall with an explosion of shattered bone and broken stone. Orlai tumbled through piles of bones struggling to find a foothold whilst spitting out several finger bones, and looked again at the man in black, still motionless. Terror gripped her body and numbed her senses. She couldn’t do this alone, she co-
The Demon hit her with the wooden butt of the spear. Flying into the air and against the wall Orlai gasped as the air escaped her lungs. She sucked air through clenched teeth, landing on her knees, holding her stomach, unable to breathe as the Demon raised its spear once again.
It is not the weapon that makes the warrior. It is the warrior that makes the weapon.
I am proud.
Iron will steadied Orlai, calm purpose overcoming fear. She smoothly drew the sunlight sword, shield raised defensively. His teachings centered her stance, the dunes untrustworthy footing. If she held they would crush her, despite her favorable position. The knights would next expect a charge though.
With a fierce war cry she stormed down the slope, screaming for blood and glory as adrenaline pumped through her veins. Spurred on by a single raspy voice of a soft-spoken nature a deadly snarl paved itself across her face, the cold sweat of anxiety and exertion crawling across her cheeks as the wind howled past. Her hair whirled about her head in a blazing flurry of orange. The Knights did not falter, weapons lowering in anticipation. Flecks of flame beginning to peel off the metal of the Sunlight sword, Sunlight shield shimmering brightly in spite of gloom of the Kiln, Orlai’s grip tightened.
The halberd twirled above the head knight’s horned helmet, blade crashing upon Orlai’s shield - in a blast of light the Black Knight was thrown off his feet, soaring over its comrades. There was no time to celebrate. Next, the mighty axe whistled through the air, smashing into the solid metal of the Sunlight Shield, shattering its weakly defiant shimmering light. Orlai stumbled back, shield arm flung to the side as she flailed exposing her to the great sword that followed. Without hesitation the third knight sliced at Orlai. She responded with a desperate swing of the Sunlight sword in a last ditch attempt to parry. Upon contact with the greatsword her weapon exploded in flame. Losing both the axe and greatsword wielding black knights in the flames, Orlai yelped in surprise, her footing slipping on the slope of the dune. Tumbling head-over-heels she twisted her body, barely managing to break momentum and roll to her feet once again. Shards of black armour littered the ash and instead of what should’ve been five knights before Orlai, only three remained; the halberd and straight swords users. Whatever dignity the Knights had formerly possessed was now lost, all of them sprawled haphazardly across the dunes and partially submerged in the ash.
Apparently the sword had exploded. Dazed and amazed Orlai couldn’t help staring at the sword, blade glowing faint orange.
Hastily the three Knights pulled themselves out of the ash, standing on guard and holding their ground. Orlai felt their cautious gazes upon her from the depths of those black helms viewing her in a new light - much like how she now saw them:
They weren’t unstoppable machines of exotic black steel , they were beings that could die like anyone else. Sunlight sword spinning between her nimble fingers, Orlai grinned mockingly at the three remaining Knights.
“Change of heart boys?” She sneered. They ignored her, reforming into a wedge with the halberd once again heading it. The Knights and Orlai regarded one another. Motionless yet poised to attack or defend at a moments notice. The Knights held formation, waiting. Orlai on the other was breathing much heavier than she should. The sword and shield grew heavier, limbs threatening to stiffen, it had only been a day since Orlai had been abducted hadn’t it? However, her hair had grown noticeably longer in a single day, but that didn’t matter. This must a dream. It was a dream wasn’t it? Just a vivid dream after she fell asleep on her bed. She exhaled loudly, relaxing.
This was a battle. Thought impeded battle and wasted energy. It would be actions, not words, that decided the outcome of battle.
If her body was not in the proper condition a drawn-out fight would only result in defeat. Her victory would be decided by speed. Silver boot digging into the ash as she kicked off, Orali dashed across the dune towards the three Knights as her mind worked furiously.
She had no idea how the sword and shield used their abilities but could make assumptions based on previous encounters. Both seemed primarily defensive or reactionary, only activating when she was attacked or desperate. However these traits were useless to her for the moment, a defensive battle impossible due to the unexpected degradation of her body. Though when she had… for the lack of a better word, been in “God Mode” both the shield and sword became highly offensive. Even when sparring with the man in black the weapons had managed to show a level of power far beyond the norm. What was the correlation?
Roaring Orlai collided with the halberdier who easily rebuffed her assault with a shield bash. Rolling with the blow Orlai tumbled backwards to her feet. The straight sword holder to the right slashed down at her. Orlai, already expecting one or both of the straight swords was prepared to deflect the weapon. Halting the sword’s decent with the sunlight sword she turned the blade, glancing the Knight’s sword to the right, exposing its back. Stepping under the Knight’s guard she inserted the Sunlight sword beneath its right shoulder and twisted, tearing the glowing blade out in a large cloud of white ash. The Knight stumbled, its sword dropping to the ground as its shield swung around in a wide arch at Orlai, though she had danced out of range. Arm hanging limply Orlai shot a triumphant grin at the knight.
The choreography of battle began again as the halberdier renewed his attack.
Nimbly blocking and dodging through the hail of blows dealt by the halberd wielder, she struggled to find an opening within its attacks. Its defences were rock-solid, she was loathe to risk anything fancy as she would only be able to engage the halberd wielder for another second or two before the final straight sword user assisted. Growling in frustration due to the odds stacked against her Orlai backed away, catching a bash from the unharmed straight sword on her shield as she retreated. Irked that the sunlight shield was too heavy to properly parry Orlai continued to back away with one eye on each of the Knights as they came. Further irritation flashed when the third Knight, previously injured, appeared at the side of his allies, sword arm back in action.
Orlai’s body protested the strain angrily, limbs sluggish and mind fogging she fought against fatigue. The unharmed Swordsman on the left darted forward, straight sword glancing off her shield, immediately followed by the Knight on the right who broke her block and knocked her to the ash. Halberd already raised, the final Knight slammed its weapon home in Orlai’s chest. Agony ripped Orlai in half, eyes fixed to the light devouring blade of abyssal black lodged in her chest.
She could see two oncoming swords in her peripheral vision.
This was the end.
A single flame erupted into existence before her and burned in a furious maelstrom, filling the world with vibrant life and a bright light that could not be quenched by anything but time itself. Thousands of years, hundreds of thousands of faces burned away as the dark encroached upon the dying flame, the holder of its soul withering as the passing of time withered him until only ashes and a single cinder remained: the Chosen Undead.
“I am the dais upon which this world turns.” Boomed a voice Orlai did not recognise,
“I am he who commands the sun.”
Orlai’s eyes watered as blinding light swallowed the Chosen Undead, replaced by a giant man adorned in blood red robes wearing a tall golden crown upon his brow. Curtains of greasy white hair hung over his eyes, mixing with an equally messy beard. A pair of dull, glassy blue eyes sunken within the wrinkling face of man older than time itself, the eyes holding wisdom gained only from an eternity of life. Orlai was entranced by the man. He looked down upon her and smiled softly,
“I know you,” He rumbled. “I did not expect to ever have the chance to meet you Orlai. Do those fools still call you Astra?”
Orlai could not respond, words refusing to come to her aid.
“I see,” Sighed the man. “You are not yet ready. This explains why my Knights attacked you...”
“Return to the False World, my child.” The pain faded, soft light flowing into Orlai’s consciousness to whisk her away”Remember that there are no real truths. Only those you choose to believe.”
Orlai gasped, bolting upright in the extravagant bed of her gilded cage, icy sweat beaded on her forehead. Running a hand through her short fiery hair, Orlai felt as if her muscles were tense enough to stop a sword. Looking around to confirm that she had in fact returned Orlai exhaled. Putting a hand to her chest and recalling the blade of the knight and man with the crown Orlai wondered, what had happened?