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The pirate ship was looming ever closer; their battle horn bellowed the call of triumph and their scraping bows made a great and terrible sound. He turned to see the helm morph into a fiery wheel; soon the entire ship would go up in flames. He struggled to remove his armor, which had turned into a cuirass of flame. Finally able to weaken the scarlet seal holding the front and back pieces, he broke its hold. He saw a leather bag, the boatswain’s bag, and secured his gun and knife in it. He pulled the straps over his head and jumped into the boiling power of the sea. The sea had turned into liquid fire and he had to dive deep to avoid the fiery furnace. Eventually, he grabbed hold of a floating barrel and a wind’s wave took him far enough away that he was safe. He looked back in time to see what looked like a sinking flaming dragon framed by a bloodred moon. The bitter loss he felt was excruciating…the loss of his men, his ship, Anabel and maybe even his life itself.
He came upon a small overturned boat and traded it for the unsteady barrel. The winds blew the sea into a whirlpool crystal at times and he lost all sense of direction. Time was blurred by the never-ending succession of the burning sun and the orb of moonlight. Sometimes straining to see in the glowing darkness, sometimes aided by the northern lights, he watched as the moon bloom turned the sea a milky opal color. A shark fin gliding above the water unnerved him and avoiding coral giants strained his already depressed energy. His energy storage was dangerously low and the whole ordeal turned into a strength test. After what seemed an eternity, his feet began dragging and he knew he had reached the shallow waters of shoreline and his heart lifted a bit.
Crawling from the water was no easy task. He was cold, hungry and thirsty. Finally reaching the hot dry sand, he relaxed for a moment and let the heat sink into his weary bones, warming his cold blood. Silently, he gave thanks to the lord of water for sparing his life or could it have been the mythical explorer beneath the depths who saved him? Was the vision of a sea trident just an illusion? Either way, his salvation doused the rumored ancient aquatic curse. Reaching for the bag still clinging around his neck, he removed a navigator (a small hand-held compass), a flask of fallen warrior (which had become nothing more than a salt water amulet), a tiny fire scepter along with his gun and knife. The black powder needed for the gun was long lost to the sea, rendering the gun useless. He leaned back, felt for the chain that held Anabel’s watch and let his mind wander to her emerald green eyes and thick black hair. The fingers of unconsciousness mercifully wrapped around him and he willingly surrendered.
He was one bloody knight indeed, with a black eye and bloody tooth. There was blood oozing from a cut on his leg probably from dragging it over a jagged shell or shark’s tooth in the sand. All in all, though, he was in good shape. An exploration of the dense forest beyond the beach brought him face to face with an overgrown pond and crocodile bush, thankfully empty. Exotic plants, like the carnivorous lily and venus hand trap were abundant. So treading carefully was the word of the day. In the clear crystal of twilight night sky, he could see the constellation celestial hunter. Sometimes, by the heart of the moonlight, a wayward star, a celestial wanderer, would fascinate him and he would ponder the star’s journey.
For a brief moment, he vowed bloody revenge, but his faded soul knew the scales of justice were out of balance. Anabel…..
Anabel’s face had become even more delicate and much paler, resembling an ashen lily. She wore an agony stone around her wrist, tied with the ribbon from the Knight’s gift. The tied ribbon represented their binding fate and she rubbed the stone endlessly, hoping it would absorb all her pain but her chest still felt home to a stone heart. Her guardian was keeping ever close supervision over her for fear she had made a death pack pining over the Iron Knight. But no amount of chastening power from the elder could lessen her despair. Every day she would write him, kiss his name (her seal of prayer), summon the messenger, beg him to use mail wings and fly her entreaties of love to his home. Why was there no accurate sign of him? She flung open the seal of the guardian on the chest that still held the gift he sent her and listened to the sound of the sea. She read an old venetian saga of a hero who, lost during a lunar eclipse, was suddenly shown the way home when a single drop of the sun’s tear collided with a star beam and created the star of renovation. To her, it was a baton of swiftness for his return, and the mental wings of her mind worked feverishly to get him to see it.
The Iron Knight realized his visits to Arabella weren’t in vain, he recognized the poisonous desert stinger and, in particular, the female of the species who had a potent poisonous stinger that was most certainly a death bearer. He also recognized a basilisk’s scale from the king of snakes, a mighty serpent, who had a killing glare and poisonous breath. And, thanks to the witch, he could avoid one poisonous flower after another.
After about the fourth day, he came upon an abandoned expedition camp. Not much was left except tattered remnants of a tent, an old ship’s lantern with no fuel and what looked like a stone well. The well was nothing more than a stone bowl into which was carved an amber pattern with a stone gargoyle holding a stone flower. Certainly no bowl of secret power, it was bone dry. There was a sunken chest that had been used to catch food from the sea, but all that remained was a holey fishing net. A hunting trap could be salvaged using the riveted disk from the closure on his bag and a vine hanging nearby. He placed the trap near a thicket of early leaves, hoping the tender morsels would attract some much needed meat. He used his blade to cut tropical palm fronds, some he used for bedding; one tied to the outside to catch rainwater, his first source of fresh water. A discarded coconut was used as a master flask, his very own flask of miracles.
During the night a soft rain fell, filling his master flask. He heard what sounded like a sea howl and a chain of fear made its way up his spine. He thought he saw something; a raven’s eye, hyena eye or wolf scowl? Finally, exhaustion won out and he fell into a fitful sleep. When he awoke, he found a wild boar, a spirit animal, caught in his trap. Finally, he would have meat to eat and the taste of prey was indeed welcome. It was the natural selection of life and he felt an instant energy boost. With water and protein, his mind experienced a capsule of rationality. Once the skin of wild boar was dried out, it would be a very warm covering. As a winner’s reward, he tied the boar’s fang with some reeds and wore it as an amulet of challenge. In the stone light of the day, he found a hyena’s chain with a hyena’s craft on the end, affirming the eye he had seen during the night.
His flask filled with fresh rainwater and his bag filled with boar meat, he set out to find a way off the island. By noon, the sun resembled a magma sphere and he desperately needed shade. The natural harmony in the nature sounds represented a symbol of balance of the nature spirit that enveloped his bleak shard of soul. Just then, something tall in the distance, beaming like star shine, caught his eye. Finally he got close enough to recognize the structure as a lighthouse.
The entry door had a bas-relief overhead containing a mystic symbol. The room had some kind of illuminating device, a living crystal giving off a misty radiance that gave an eerie night shadow glow to the room. It pulsated with eternal movement and resembled an ever awake eye watching over everything. To his right was the lighthouse keeper’s desk and right in front the telescope, whose shining lens had long since turned milky.
Just as he reached for the manipulator to adjust the telescope, he felt a pin prick in his neck and darkness overcame him. A deadly swish dart had found its target. A glimpse through a murky eye from the fog running in his head yielded a punishing hand wielding a bone whip. They reached a statue in the thicket, next to an overgrown column, and his captor, who he presumed to be a thicket guard, or thicket keeper, locked him in a rusty cage. There was a bird bowl and bird scales…was this a bird cage? A huge binding egg had been tossed in the corner. There appeared to be the remains of three prisoners scattered about the cage and the Knight could make out one other caged skeleton and one skeleton in shackles. This was his memento mori moment, when he wondered about the eternity flow of life and death, when a word of darkness or word of despair was all that ruled him.
It grew unbearably hot; each bead of sweat fell like a lava drop. Night was shivering cold and he had a winter dream where a winter idol, an ice monster with an ice beak, was pecking at him until his frozen body burst into a million pinpoints of light, like a star ribbon.
His sleepless captivity was torture and he was sure some faceless observer lurked about in the darkness. The guard neared the cage; he had one big eye and one dwarf eye and carried a berserk’s ax and a sinister staff topped with a predator head. Ancient thread of lore spoke of a twilight guide, a nocturnal blood seeker, a warlock. Was he about to become a symbol of sacrifice for some warlock’s ritual?
He saw a stranger’s badge, an executioner’s badge, unmistakable in its symbol of doom. He heard the loud blast of a minotaur’s horn (bereft of the actual minotaur) and saw the mighty fang and pack teeth of the twilight sabre-toothed tiger, the rage of the forest. Perhaps this would be a quick death. Silently, he pulled his leader’s blade from behind his boar skin cape, and with a bear’s fury, knowing it was his last hope, grabbed the living chest of the night mare before him. This bloodthirsty idol was the recipient of all his rage essence, a prism of retribution through which he vented every injustice from the time he first met Magus. The last strike was his fibula of rage stomping on the seal of ancient evil on the dwarf’s head. With that drop of force representing the Knight’s final stamp of justice, he released the guard. No longer bound for the sacrificial stone, he had just given himself a warlock pass and he would take this bloody secret to his grave. Almost instantly, the volume of fury assuaged.
After the Knight's cold fury had been spent, he saw a movement of life within the egg. Cautiously, he used his knife to cut the bindings and watched in awe as the most beautiful bird was born. It was huge, and its feathers swirled like a golden storm around the cage. As the bird grew, its size became too much for the confines of the cage, and it broke free. The mythical phoenix, an idol of rebirth, was standing before him. The bird was waiting for him. He carefully climbed each carved scale of the leg and then nimbly traversed the shaft of each feather until he was finally on top. Then the phoenix flight began.
They soared on a wind of freedom through the forest and out to a mountain root chain, resembling the magnificent idol for rock master, the thunderbird. At the center of the mountain heart, the phoenix, belying its size, gently perched on the sacred branch of the mighty oak storm tree. The Knight slid down and took in his surroundings. He stumbled upon a stone sarcophagus, its broken scarab seal tossed to one side. On the edge of a fire altar there appeared to be a tomb of some sort badly in need of repair with a jumble of tomb bricks clustered nearby. Further on was a statue of an apocalypse rider on an infernal horse. Holly berries made a home in a huge statue crack, giving it the illusion of a long, bloody gash. His attention was so fixated on a great iron gate with three dragons adorning the top of a giant metro gates wheel that he didn’t see the gate guard.
Not nearly as menacing as what he faced in the forest, the guard escorted him through the gate and stopped outside the warden’s hut. The guard slightly resembled the inventor Mechanogle. Inside was the warden’s office, a guard swinging a prison baton, an empty prison cell, and an interrogation room. There was a statue of a bear with armor next to the cell.
A blast from an aurochs’ horn brought the guards to attention. One opened the door and an ageless warrior strutted in replete with a light of asgard helmet and lily shield with a winged amulet. There was no visible weapon. He introduced himself as the leader of the gnomes and was thankful for the return of their icon, the phoenix. Suddenly, the Knight thought of the griffin amulet the priest had given him and without knowing why, showed it to the gnome warrior leader. Everyone began excitedly talking and the leader gestured for the Knight to follow him.