The Missing Son
His right foot bounced off of the wooden floorboards. Music played all around him. Folk songs about Slayers and their bravery were being sung. The tunes, as delightful as they were, were almost completely fictitious, thought Nicholas. He took the final sip of ale from his mug then got up, and readied himself to leave.
“By the Lord, you’re one of ‘em, ain’t you?” One of the inn’s patrons shouted to Nicholas as he tied his scabbard back round his waist. He glanced over at the patron and gave him a knowing look. One that told him all he needed to know. The Inn fell to dead silence. “Yes.” Nicholas murmured as he rolled his eyes. His quiet words were followed by an eruption of cheers and questions. He didn’t care much for it all, no Slayer did to his knowledge but they were considered heroes by many in Winterria, and were they were treated as such. As Nicholas tried to make his way to the exit, a crowd swarmed him. Their many voices blended into one indistinguishable racket. Nicholas continued to push to the exit when one of the voices caught his attention. “My son! Can you find him? Please!” He paused in his tracks and so did the crowd. He turned to the woman, and everyone went silent as he spoke, “Your son?” He asked.
“Aye, he- he went missing whilst playing with his friends, just last night. I tried getting the guard involved but they wouldn’t have any of it. Said I was crazy, and that he’d be back soon enough.” She held back her tears but Nicholas could hear the cracks and shakes in her voice. Robert, his teacher, always told him that a Slayer’s job was to help those who couldn’t help themselves, and weren’t being helped by others. This seemed, to him, exactly that kind of situation. “Where was he last seen?” Nicholas asked the woman, as the crowd watched on. “I’m not too sure. His friends- they- they’ll know. They live in the lower city, just near us. I think they were just outside the gates, in that grassy area, playin’.”
Nicholas turned away from the woman, and the crowd watched, silently, as he left the Inn. He made his way through the bustling streets, past the illustrious Winterrian markets and into the lower city. The stench from the faeces on the streets was overwhelming. With every step, Nicholas gagged at the terrible smell.
His heavy, gauntlet-clad hand knocked against a decaying, oak door. There was no response. Nicholas raised his hand to knock again, when the door creaked open. There was no-one to meet him at his immediate eye-line. He looked down and a small boy stood in the open doorway. “What’d you want, mister?” The boy looked up at Nicholas, not even remotely afraid of him, his armour or his weapons. “I take it you're the boy’s friend.”
“Which boy? There’s a few of us around here.” The boy jeered.
“The one who went missing.” With those words, the young lad’s smirk vanished from his face and he turned five shades paler. “Good, so you know who I mean.” Nicholas crouched down so he was level with the boy. “What happened last night, boy?”
“Leo, get away from there! That forest has monsters in. Dragons and such.” Leo laughed as he danced about, just at the edge of the forest. “Oh, Robin, do lighten up!” Leo cried out at his concerned friend, “There’s no such-” Before he could finish his sentence, Leo was pulled into the dark abyss that was the Blackwater Woods. Robin stared into the forest in fear and shock. He was paralysed: frozen in place. “Leo…” He muttered.
Nicholas sighed and stood back up straight. “Blackwater?” Nicholas asked Robin, reassuring himself he had the correct location. “Aye, sir.” The boy snapped out of the trance-like state he was in whilst telling Nicholas his story, and looked up at him, “I promise I didn’t mean for anything to happen to him. I love Leo, he’s one of my bestest mates.” The child began to worry.
“Don’t worry, I know you didn’t, boy.” Nicholas patted the young lad on the shoulder, “There’s many evils in this world, you’re just too young to know about them yet.” He set off, away from the house and towards his next destination: Blackwater Woods.
The sun began to set beyond the mountains. The moon rose and cast it’s blissful, bright light on all that was in sight. Nicholas and his stead trotted along the snow covered road towards Blackwater Woods. It had gotten its name some two hundred years ago, when the world started anew. The streams and river that ran through the woodland turned black and became, almost, poisonous to all those who drank from them. The locals didn’t know why this happened, and it’s still unknown to this day, but they suspect it may have been connected to the disease that caused good men to turn to daemons. Nicholas brought his steed to a halt and dismounted. He was at the edge of the forest now, and didn’t want to bring his horse along in fear that something may happen to it. He stroked it’s mane before setting off into the dark depths of Blackwater Woods. It was eerie on the inside. The trees completely blocked out the moonlight, making it hard for Nicholas to see what was making the noises all around him.
After a few minutes exploring the woods, Nicholas heard what seemed to be a voice. His hand instantly fell to his sword’s hilt. He continued to search in the pitch black, trying to follow the voice. “Help…” He heard being whispered. It felt so close, like it was being whispered into his ear, yet so distant. Nicholas had a bad feeling. He didn’t like what was happening at all. “Help me Nicholas…” That voice. Nicholas recognised the voice now. “You’re dead!” He cried out.
“Only because you killed me, boy.” The voice responded, in it’s same monotone, calm manner. “I- I had to!” Nicholas removed his blade from his scabbard and readied himself. “You were going to kill King Brom. You were sick! I had to…” Nicholas slowly started to break down as the voice continued to provoke him. His head began to pound. BRUM! BRUM! It was as if there were thousands of minuscule drums within his head all playing the same dull tune in unison. Nicholas dropped to his knees as the voice kept mocking him. “I did all I could…” He mumbled, defeated. His eyes grew heavier and heavier, as did his whole body. He collapsed backwards and lay on the leaf bed. “I- I’m sorry…” His eyes closed and he took a final deep breath before dozing off into a long sleep.
“Help!” The voice cried out, only this time it wasn’t Robert’s. Nicholas’ eyes opened and he brought himself to an upright position. He took a couple of deep breaths and looked around. A few of the sun’s radiant beams managed to sneak through the dense canopy, and brought a new light to the dark woodland that hadn’t been there when Nicholas was last awake. “Hello?!” He cried out in response to the voice that had awoken him, “Hello! I’m here to help, try and find my voice!” Nicholas got to his feet and began to search the woodland for the boy, Leo, who he’d come for originally. “Please! The dragon! It’s going to get me!” Nicholas paused for a moment, in disbelief. Slayers were told of one monster: daemons. They had different names in the different kingdoms but none of them were “Dragon”. They didn’t even remotely resemble what a dragon looked like, Nicholas thought. He continued his search for the boy, trying to follow the cries for help, after a split second of questioning what he’d just heard.
Leo tripped as he was running through the poorly lit forest. When he turned around he saw it. The dragon that he’d be running from. It was huge; twice the size of any man he’d ever seen. It had a deep, blood-red line running from the tip of its tail up to the crest of its skull. It was wingless. “Help!” He cried, in a final attempt for Nicholas to find him.
Nicholas rushed through the woods, desperate to not be responsible for another person’s death. “Help!” He heard the boy’s cry and his head snapped into place. His eyes focussed on where the voice had come from and he ran to it, sword in hand. As he sprinted towards the voice, he saw him. Leo... and the dragon… he couldn’t believe it. But now was no time to pause and think about it. Nicholas continued his sprint and threw his sword back as he approached the menacing beast. He brought the blade down with all his power and might and created an incredible wound in the dragon. It fell to the side and Nicholas pulled Leo to his feet and behind him. “It’s a dragon! They warned me about the dragon that lived here, but- but I didn’t think it was real!” Leo panicked. Nicholas watched as the beast got to its feet. He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. “You killed me, Nick. You killed me.” Nicholas suddenly opened his eyes as the beast lunged at him. He was caught off guard. The terrifying beast took him to the ground and disarmed him. It tried to bite his head off but he caught it’s open mouth. The upper part of it’s jaw was gripped by his right hand, and the lower was in his left. “I did it.” He admitted as he held the dragon’s jaws apart, “I killed you. I threw my sword through your chest. I did it. But I didn’t want to.” He cried out, as he slowly, using all his strength, began to force the dragon’s jaw further apart. “You were my only friend.” There was a sudden crack, as Nicholas dislocated the beast’s jaw. “I’m sorry.” As he muttered those words, he pushed the dragon’s jaw wider apart, and then in two. Nicholas rolled the dragon’s body off of his own and got back to his feet. He was now wearing a speckled crimson mask. He grabbed his sword from the ground and sheathed it. “Let’s get you home, boy.” He gave Leo an endearing and comforting smile as they set off to find their way back to Winterria.
“You’re a Slayer, aren’t you?” Leo asked Nicholas as they rode through the gates.
“Aye, I am. I was raised this way since I was just a boy.” Nicholas focused on the road as he spoke to Leo.
“Do you think I could be one?”
“Sure.” Nicholas humours him.
“How do I become one?” Nicholas brought his horse to a halt.
“Find me in a year or two, and I’ll train you.”
“Sure, why not?” Nicholas dismounted and helped Leo down. They continue their conversation about how to become a Slayer as they enter the Inn. Even a day or so later, songs of Slayers are being sung by the Winterrians who crowd the inn. Nicholas walked over to the innkeeper, with Leo at his side. “Where’s the boy’s mother?” Nicholas asked in a cold tone. “Who’s?” The innkeeper looks over his counter and sees Leo, “Oh, Mrs Taylor. She’s just over there.” Nicholas’ eyes followed the innkeeper’s pointed finger to the woman who’d initially asked him to find her son, sat alone in the corner. He made his way, with Leo, to her and sat facing her. As soon as she saw her son her face lit up. She grabbed him and brought him in close; hugging him tightly. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” Nicholas nodded at her, “What do I owe you?” She looked at him, and he could see her gratitude in her eyes.
“Nothing.” He remarked. She gave him a warm smile, as he got up from his chair. “Keep an eye on him. He’s a special lad.” Nicholas gave a subtle nod to the pair and turned to go on his way.
As he took a step, he collapsed. “By the Lord! Someone get help!” Mrs. Taylor rushed to Nicholas’ side, as he lay unconscious on the tavern floor.
His eyes slowly opened. He didn’t know where he was, or what had happened to him. He rolled over and saw a woman by a table. “Where- where am I?” He managed to get a few words out. The woman at the table rushed to his side, once realising he was awake. “Shh- Shush. Everything’s okay.” Nicholas lay back and took a deep breath. The air smelt like a concoction of herbs. It smelt medicinal. “You’re coming down now.” The woman continued, “I had to craft you a herbal cure. I don’t know what you’d been doing but something bad must’ve happened to you, mister.” Nicholas was helped up to a sitting position, then she continued to explain what had happened to him, “You collapsed. Luckily, Mrs. Taylor got you to me. You were mumbling all about killing someone.”
“Robert, right?” Nicholas chimed in.
“Yeah, that was the name you kept using.” She pressed her hand against Nicholas’ forehead, “Well, you’ve not got a temperature anymore. I don’t know what happened to you…” She paused as she realised she hadn’t gotten a name.
“Nicholas, but whatever it is, you’re clearly not dealing well with it.” Nicholas struggled out of bed. “I’ll be fine. Slayers aren’t easy to break.” The woman gave him a look of concern as he put his top and armour back on. “Thank you, though. Whatever you did, it appears to have worked.” The woman nods, the concerned look still on her face. “Farewell.”
Nicholas rolled his shoulder as he left the woman’s home. Thankfully, someone had tied up his steed outside of the building. Nicholas gave a brief smile as he petted his horse. He untied the steed from the fence and mounted it. He turned around and began his gentle trot down the lower city street. As he passed the Inn, he heard the faint songs from within. It brought a smile to his face as he left, to hear the fictitious ballads of former Slayers being sung.