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Finally on his way, the Knight bypassed the mailbox in search of a messenger. Scanning from every direction, the Knight caught a glimpse of a messenger’s helmet seemingly walking unattended atop a half-wall. When he called out, the entire form of the messenger came into view and the Knight thought it funny how this stranger had become his fate messenger, delivering his most ardent and deep feelings to a woman he didn’t know he’d live to see again.
Onward to Cloud City Customs where he would obtain a gladiator’s writ. This official document was printed on wiseman’s parchment etched with a golden watermark. Then a magic press would emboss the writ with the seal of courage and it would be sent to the Council of Elders for the reigning mage’s signature. This ensures the writ will act as an opener of doors kingdom wide.
Passing the station under the mechanical semaphore signal he watched in awe as the guarding automaton spun the signal as needed. It took years of master instruction to perfect the signaling, which acted as a digital detector for recognizing life forms. The heart of the mechanism was the famous mechanogle gear, a sharp-toothed gear invented by the dwarf Mechanogle himself. He belonged to the Nibelung Grip, a race of dwarfs who, according to an ancient oversea yarn, possessed a treasure. The exact treasure was any loyal mechanic’s secret and bound to remain as such. But it was rumored to be some sort of portal activator, which the Knight admitted was way beyond anything he could imagine. Next to the mine opening was a charcoal chest, empty except for ash particles, waiting for the next mine cart’s load. The steam mechanism began hissing and he heard a work alarm sounding. The mechanical heart of Mechanogle’s invention also served as a site-seeing operation and he positioned himself under the station clock by the old turnstile in time to see a half-full train cabin and empty passenger car steam past.
After finishing his business with Customs, the next stop was more personal. The chapel was dark and calming. A sad gargoyle, carved into the elfish bas relief, looked down at the pitiful somber figure. He entered, walked past the confessional, lit a ritual candle by the altar, then sat down and silently offered a healing prayer for the heaviness of sin encompassing him. In the corner stood a heraldic colossus which was embossed with the sectary sign of the galloon of forgotten legion. A mortuary wreath had been placed at the foot of the statue. Memories flooded back, and he swore he could hear the haunting hymn of dawn from his childhood. A priest emerged from the darkness and placed his holy hand on the Knight’s shoulder. Understanding this as a sign of penance from the Knight, the priest had a very special gift for him. The Knight stood and followed the priest toward the dark ambon in the mirror nave to the left of the grand altar. The priest reached into the sepulcher and pulled out a small phylactery containing the griffin amulet. This ancient relic was rumored to house an ancestor’s spirit that would aid only the life line of the bloodred order. Silent, the priest handed the amulet to the Knight and walked away. He knew he would understand its power in due time and, as he left, the Knight dropped a royal gold coin into the donation box.
Outside, he walked around a crypt with a statue of angel, past a headstone whose markings had weathered, towards the cenotaph with the larger than life iron horse engraved with an aristocrat’s sign that memorialized a dead ambassador. The ambassador had been a legendary peace keeper, but had been lost in a far off conflict, his body never recovered. As the Knight’s mind wandered, he touched the family ring on his finger, the only truly fancy ornament he wore every day and swore he was seeing his father’s own aristocratic finger. He caught a glimpse of a coffin fastener and coffin seal on the ground, along with a broken statue, remnants of the dwellings of these unfortunate souls. There was a wreath of spring encircling the horse’s neck made up of yellow spring flowers, white snowdrops, red fireflowers and blue irises. At this moment, he wanted desperately to speak to his father. Because of the war, his father currently ruled under the sign of rocky throne and the Knight felt his father’s disappointment in him as a sign of denial. Would his failure constitute legend elimination among the clan or would he return a hero? Tears of impurity ran down his cheeks and his heart was no more than a strangled ruby. There was no wise saying to assist him now. Failure was not an option…he would return for Anabel and the werewolf throne.
Following the next bend in the road, the guard’s room just outside the castle armory came into view. As he approached, one of the guards immediately raised his guard shield. But upon recognition of a Knight of the first order, the guard relaxed. The Knight pulled out his tower key and unlocked the massive metal door of the armory. Once inside, he took in the huge array of weaponry….along one wall were ancient weapons like the bow and arrow of stoppage, dragon’s whip, knife of peril, blade of terror, cannon of purification, dagger of mercy, demonic whip, ritual blade, saw of sorrow, shackles of chaos, steel mite, torture whip, torture hook, wheel of sorrow and whip of terror, all rumored to have been used in the greatest battle pit of all, the march of the undead, or the war of good vs. evil. The armory also housed a medal of slaughter displayed in a replica hangman’s pit that had been worn by the infamous happy hangman, who delighted in his work and whose image, riveting with its power of fear, made people shudder. In a corner stood a heavily rusted iron maiden, an ancient torturing device not known for its presumption of innocence. But taking center stage was the infamous Spectral Blade. This blade freed the castle from the elemental of the abyss and would forever be revered.
Ignoring the death shackles, grave blade, silver arrow, silver bow, proper shield, shield of filth and shield of order, he moved to what interested him this day. Under a weapon stamp crest, he picked up a leader’s blade, sword of law and tower shield. He also helped himself to a few of the black stars. He left the armory suitably armed.
No stranger to the local blacksmith, his visits there were always very profitable for the smithy. That infernal armor of his was always getting dented, or welds coming undone. He insisted that the armor look near perfect. He handed over his blades and the smithy got to work igniting the purifying fire and using the steam tool and steel grinder to soften and shape the blades. Then this man, who had an iron chest, used all the force of his heavily muscled arms to swing the heavy hammer, which really looked like a giant’s hammer, against the great anvil. Each pounding produced a sparkle flamer from the hot blade until he was satisfied with the hard steel edge.
His belongings packed, weapons secure, and gladiator’s writ in hand he walked purposefully to the harbor. His ship would sail before sunrise, at first dawn’s ray, and he would stay aboard that night, the harbor acting as a spirit’s barrier between him and Anabel. He forced himself to regain his soldier duty decorum and tried to block out the scorching fire in her eyes. As he looked out over the sea, the waves rippled under the moon shine and the northern star was bright. His quest for the mandrake root had begun.
The messenger had delivered the Knight’s token of love to Anabel. Once the evening meal was finished, her guardian informed Anabel of the delivery earlier that day. Anabel squealed with glee at the little pink box with the dark pink bow. Carefully unwrapping the tiny package revealed a beautiful silver box. Its contents were an actinia and a pair of lovely emerald earrings. After reading the Knight’s note, however, her smile faded just a little and the actinia’s sea echoes held sadness and an apprehensive tone. She used a small mirror obelisk on her dressing table to try on his mother’s glinting earrings and gasped at the eternal light emanating from them. She ran immediately to her golden chest and took out her father’s sparkling watch. She lost no time in calling for the messenger to deliver the watch to the Knight that very night. Search all night if need be, but the Knight must know her feelings mirrored his. The next morning, as the time clock woefully tolled, the sun’s wings flared out over the sea like a monster of the dawn and she knew her wait would be long and lonely. She prayed he would find peace and order and that a divine path seeker would shine its astral lamp to guide him back home to her safe and sound. She would pray every day for such astral protection.
What started out as a fair wind, turned into an eastern wind that was promising to morph into a thunderous blow. The ship was a fine one, built to handle the perilous sea. The bow figurine was a massive wooden mermaid, painted with berries from the mistletoe branch, crushed ruby coral and crushed moonstone and mounted to the cutwater of the ship. It had replaced the dragon head for purely aesthetic reasons. The ship’s compass was beautiful with a hand-inlaid wind rose and a golden eight-pointed star with a wind chart having tick points at all eight winds directions. The flag showed the colors of the knight’s banner with the symbol of the abyss as a sign of respect to the sea.
Just then a deafening thunder blast sounded from the port side. There was no lightning bolt accompanying the roar, but the Knight felt for the thunderstorm talisman that Arabella, the witch, had given him. Then he realized the sound wasn’t a heavenly rumble at all but came from a ship that was approaching. The cannonball had ripped a hole below decks and created a scorching fire like a fire spring rising from the depths. The smoke was so intense that he had to blink away a smoke tear. He needed to loosen the hoist and pulley of the mast to free it, but the rope was a flame loop from top to bottom. Salvaging it was useless. Just then, another fire ball erupted from somewhere on the ship. There was flying boat debris everywhere. Wanting to get a closer look he picked up the spyglass.
The pirate ship was flying the pirate standard (the jolly roger) of the infamous flying dutchman and it looked like a furnace of war, with its cannons belching smoke and sparks. It was quickly closing the gap between the two ships. Obviously, the blood greed of the bloodsucker pirates was pulsating at fever pitch and they were hoping to add to their pirate loot. The Knight knew the pirate code was not an encrypted page, but rather blatant in their criminal intent to sink any ship into the silence of abyss. He saw an eye of hatred, a murderer’s eye, looking back at him from a pirate with an eye patch and butcher’s hook in place of a hand.
His ship needed to be held steady to have a chance so he ran to the chained chest which held the golden anchor. But the clinging anchor, with links of steel, wouldn’t release. Somehow the linking part had a knot, and the adamant nail became a melting pin under the intense heat. Using a lion’s strength and the butt of his gun, the only tool he had at hand, was useless as a chain breaker.
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.