Chapter Four, Scene One: Kaleb Steward

On September 3, 2014 by T.
Kaleb duels Cerverec the Redeemer

Kaleb duels Cerverec the Redeemer.
art by sohlol @Deviantart.com

Death

The Stave and the Shroud: Chapter Four, Scene One

It was always the same nightmare.

I charged down the hill. Colliding with legions of animated effigies, the Condemned. They tried to stop me, clawing and biting, grabbing and pulling. They couldn’t break my charge. My legs powered through the mass, Ivory Tusk ripping through flesh, limbs, and life itself.

Soaked in blood, as I reached the bottom of the valley, I met him.

“Cerverec,” I spat.

The golem dismounted from his iron horse. He dropped his crimson cape on the grass, and unsheathed Man Eater, his two-handed sword.

I wiped Ivory Tusk on my leggings, and prepared for the duel. There was nothing inside the armor in front of me. Steam escaped his helmet, and a mechanical click put Cerverec in motion. His first step was clumsy, but the second was faster, and the third was like lightning. A clean cut to the head. I had the presence of mind to raise my hand, and the blow grazed up against my shield, knocking me down.

Staggered, I discarded the shattered wooden shield. I picked myself up, but Cerverec descended upon me again, a second blow. That one I dodged by rolling on my side. My reflexes made me swing Ivory Tusk against his hamstrings. The blade met metal, and reverberated through my shoulder.

Of course, I thought. Golems don’t have hamstrings.

I danced the dance of death. I parried and I deflected. I lunged and I hit. The Redeemer was unstoppable. He was not human. He was a killing machine.

“You are mine,” a gurgle of a voice like boiling water came from inside the steaming armor. “I claim your life in the name of Justice.”

My hands were bloodied with blisters, my eyes were clouded by sweat. I was losing ground, strength. He came with a side swing. I stepped into his blow, and tried to knock him off balance. He resisted my impact, and his gauntlet came hard against my face.

I felt my nose sink against his weight. I was blinded and took to the ground.

I heard a baby crying, and said a prayer for Fate to be kind to my little girl.

“Are you ready?” the Redeemer gurgled.

“I surrender my life in the service of Light,” I said. The blade struck true, completely severing my right forearm. I could still feel the hilt of Ivory Tusk in my grasp, except my hand was detached from my body.

“I surrender my life in the service of Fate,” I shouted through the pain.

“Say the words.”

I couldn’t. The baby cried again. My little girl would be taken from me. She would be devoured by wolves. She needed me.

“I denounce all violence,” I said instead. “I choose to live the life of a deserter.”

“No!” The Redeemer boiled, raising his sword with all his might.

“I denounce all violence,” I screamed, and collapsed. The last thing I heard was the sound of metal hitting against something hard, and breaking it.

#

Kaleb jumped out of bed screaming. He looked at the soft glow of the oil lamp, confused, and saw Jazel standing over him.

“It was a dream,” she said. “You are safe, father.”

Kaleb wiped the sweat off his bald head, and sat down. His right arm was tense, the muscles on his forearm felt as if he still held his sword. He looked at his missing hand, touching the stub and feeling the pain all over again.

“It is always so real,” he massaged his forearm, trying to relax. “Always so painful.”

“Here,” Jazel offered him a glass of water.

He drank the water and got up. “I need a walk.”

In the quiet of the night, Kaleb found solitude. He roamed aimlessly through the underground temple until the images in his mind became foggy. He walked under palisades, barefoot on the rocky surface of corridors, and ended up by the Gates of Stonehaven.

What is waiting for me out there, he thought, touching the enormous metal base. He looked up, toward the sentinels by the watch tower. He wondered if they could see anything in the dark of the Bleak. Or if it was all death outside.

He sat down, back against the cold hinges of the giant doorway, looking at the interior of the temple.

Are we safer here? Are we ever safe?

Stonehaven sprawled in front of him. The cobblestone street, wide enough for three wagons, winded down a path, and entered the temple’s courtyard. Shaped like a triangle converging on the Gates, the courtyard opened as it went deeper into the stone, until it reached the white marble steps of the Banquet Hall. Gazebos, benches, and fountains decorated the outskirts of the courtyard, called Common Square. A massive fire-pit lighted its center, a circular stone depression twice the length of long spears that blazed in orange and red, sending a column of smoke billowing to the ceiling and out into the dark crevices of the underground gallery.

The common folk, citizens and traders, retainers and house guards, slept on the Common Square. Tents, bedrolls and makeshift bedsteads dotted the courtyard. The population of three cities condensed under the roof of a mountain temple. All sleeping, dreaming they were safe. All thankful for having survived the year of the Bleak.

Kaleb knew that much, that only ordinary people convinced themselves of such illusions. The wise, however, knew they were already dead men.

To him, Stonehaven, the temple in the Ranging Mountains, looked like a hollow globe the very mountain seemed to embrace. In the dark, sitting with his back to the Gates, Kaleb envied their peaceful rest.

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