26th of Summertide, year 1186 of the Age of Men
Dennovar, largest city of the vale.
Lord Galahalt stood with his hands clasped tightly behind his back as he watched out the window of his estate. A fine, frail thumb cautiously rubbed the knuckle of the other hand. It was sore and worn from age, but its smoothness reflected no sign of manual labour. The carriage he had been waiting for rolled up the stone pathway; lanterns lit upon the forefront cut through the gloomy fog that prevailed the evening dusk.
The old man smiled softly when two armed guards pulled a man clasped in iron from the carriage. He walked over to cabinet and from it withdrew a glass bottle of expensive brandy, setting it carefully upon his writing desk. He sat down at it, placed a pair of spectacles precariously upon the bridge of his nose, and began to examine a few papers.
Some time passed before the knock came on the elegantly carved door of his study.
“You may enter,” Galahalt said, watching over his glasses as a pair of servants opened the door. A man in decorated armour that had certainly seen its years of use strode in, plumed helmet tucked neatly under his arm. He bowed as he entered.
“Ah, Captain,” The old man sniffed, “Please, please come in. I was just going over my accounts and about to pour myself a glass to take off the evening’s chill. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
The man frowned, his grizzled face was dotted with an afternoon shadow as he looked behind him.
“Unpleasant business, I’m afraid. Bring him in, boys.” At the captain’s command two guards dragged in a man with his arms bound by iron. He wore tattered black clothing and reeked from lack of wash.
“Is this the man who attempted to kill you in market, my Lord?” The captain asked, gesturing towards the prisoner. Galahalt blinked repeatedly, taking hold of the arms of his chair and raising himself to get a better look.
“His name is Neil Patrick Adams, a wanted cutthroat and highway man.” The captain added. The man in question starred at the older man who was eyeing him, eyes wide and chest rising and falling in quick succession.
“M-m-my Lord,” He stammered, pleadingly. Lord Galahalt frowned,
“That is most certainly him. He’s the wretch who scarred my son, the flesh of my flesh…” He sat back down, wincing as if sore from age. “You say he is wanted for other crimes? Good. I hope you’ve more than enough evidence of his miserable existence to see him hanged.” He said coldly, upper lip turning into a sneer.
“That we do, my Lord,” The captain said, bowing. “Thank you for your cooperation.” He added before turning around.
“What!” The man roared, surging with newfound strength that belied his form. He tore at his bonds, trying to move forwards. “You pox! Y-you withered old-!” He sputtered. “We had a deal! Get these chains off of me! Give me my gold, damn you! I cut him! I cut him good! Where’s my damn gold?!” he cried, gnashing his teeth.
Galahalt rose from his chair with alarming speed,
“How dare you!” his voice cracked like thunder that silenced the room. Everyone watched the nobleman as his burst of rage gave way to a weakened quivering.
“To accuse me of harming my own son, my flesh and blood…” He whimpered, the frailty of his age evident now more than ever. He slumped into his chair, breathing laboriously as a hand covered his eyes, pushing his glasses away. “After what you’ve done… M-my son, my only son,” He stuttered.
The guards snarled, one striking a furious blow with a rod to the struggling prisoner’s back.
“I’m sorry to have brought this fit upon you, my Lord,” The captain said, with a curt bow.
“Please… please just take him from me…” The nobleman motioned away with his hand, the other groping for his spectacles.
“As you wish, my Lord,”
The man was dragged, kicking and screaming throughout the halls of the great manor. Lord Galahalt walked to his window, standing straight and tall, holding his hands behind his back. He watched the guards drag the man out of his home, stopping only to bludgeon him before throwing him back into the carriage.
He waited till they rode off before returning to his desk and gently removing the glass stopper from the bottle. The only sound in the room was that of brandy pouring into a tumbler.
The old lord had no use for an assassin so easily apprehended.
A fine, frail thumb cautiously rubbed the rim of the glass. It was sore and worn from age, but its smoothness reflected no sign of manual labour.
It was dark. Cold. A slow drip of water could be heard, but not seen. The smell of mold and rot hung in the damp air, stinging the nostril. Dull embers glowed upon the walls, casting eerie shadows and twisted silhouettes of human shapes. A young man, knelt upon the stone floor. He was naked save for a few shreds of cloth. His breaths came out in shuddering gasps, sweat dripping from his matted hair. He shuddered; chains were wrapped tightly around his chest, binding his arms behind his back.
“Honour!” A twisted voice growled. The sharp blow of the rod landed, driving the nails and rusted edges of the chain into the victims flesh.
Gawain cried in pain. He winced tightly and clenched his jaw.
“Servitude!” The voice continued. The blow fell hard, and strong as the first. The chains grew wet with blood.
“Chivalry!” Another blow.
The creature repeated the three words like a mantra, striking with the iron rod each time. A chorus of voices cheered, chittering and snarling, hooting and calling.
Gawain shuddered, his sweat and life blood mingling.
“Look, look!” The deep voice boomed. “See how the chains hold him!” The chorus of chattering voices cheered. “See how they weaken him!”
“N-no!” Gawain sputtered through gritted teeth, staggering to his feet. “They do no such thing!”
“Break them! Break them!” The voices sung. “Be free!”
The young knight stumbled as another blow landed.
“You are bound by the imagination of men! What is law? What is… order? Chains, chains, chains! They do not exist! Break them!”
Another blow landed and the resounding chorus continued.
“Join us! Break them! Be free!”
Gawain stumbled into the middle of the room, a swirling mass of black devilish faces surrounded him.
He stopped, slipping a finger into one of the links in the chain. He pulled for a moment, holding it. The figures around him stopped, waiting with anticipation.
“Law…” He sputtered. “The rules upon which we agree, that we might co-exist peacefully with one another…” The figures watched him. Gawain slipped his finger through another link in the chain.
“Order… that by which rationality governs chaos, and produces productivity and good works from the world around us.” Another link in the chain.
“Justice… Upholding the law by which we establish Order.”
“Honour, Chivalry, Servitude… Higher notions still to rise above the flesh and obtain the noble spirit.”
The chains rattled gently as the knight pulled at them, slipping from around his body. It hung heavily in his hands. The figures around him were silent. He gripped the chain tightly. It swung in a slow loop, rotating, picking up speed with each pass.
“Bonds? No… These form a weapon. A weapon against anarchy and discord!” The chain whistled now as it spun. Suddenly it arced like a whip and lashed out.
“No! No!” The imps hissed, scattering as the chain flew about the room, flaying their backs while they scrambled to escape. They screeched and clambered along the walls, scratching out burrows or passing through stone and melting into shadow.
The black, bulging shape of a fattened ogre with small, glowing, diabolic eyes stumbled into a corner. Alone now with the knight, it gripped the iron rod defensively. It breathed heavily, eyes scanning for an escape.
“See how they flee,” The knight spoke, his chain lashing the ground, creating fiery sparks. “See how they abandon their own!” another eruption of sparks. “It is all it takes to cast one of your kind down… One link in the chain to stand and be strong, to hold fast and inspire the others to do the same. And together-!” The chain whistled, swirling around the leg of the black mass. “You will fall” The ogre yelped, arms flailing as it slammed heavily onto its back.
The links spun, wrapping around the neck of the fallen demon.
“As long as men and women are willing to stand for law, and order,” Gawain spoke through gritted teeth. “You cannot win.”
“W-wait!” The dark shape of the ogre sputtered, choking. He seemed to grow thinner, more human. “I’m innocent! He paid me! HE PAID ME!” It gargled.
“Enough of your stories and lies, begone, demon!” Gawain snapped, and pulled fiercely on the chain.
A bell tolled in the grey city. Neil Patrick Adams, a cut throat found guilty by the crown, was hung until dead.
Gawain bolted upright, wet with sweat and gasping for air. The old cleric, Tharren, sat watching the fire, chewing on a pipe. His form easy to make out in the firelight, while the hills around them were claimed by darkness.
“Nightmares, boy?” He mouthed around the pipe. “I don’t blame you… S’not everyday a man confronts a monster like Kybal and lives.”
The young knight swallowed and held his head for a moment before looking up at his senior. Shivering, he slipped out of his bedroll and shuffled towards the fire. Gawain threw himself down on a log opposite of the old man. The clear night sky was dotted with shimmering stars, no ceilings or bars insight. Still, the knight shuddered, rubbing his arms despite the warmth of the campfire.
“I, I killed a man,” He muttered.
“Nonsense boy,” Tharren coughed, tossing Gawain a pipe. “Just a few kobolds. Believe me, you can get them by the dozen. Breed like rabbits and cost half as much.” He puffed out a few rings. “Have a smoke, savour the victories you can, lad.”
Gawain took the pipe and stuffed a bit of tobacco in it before lighting it. He coughed hoarsely, his face reddening. Tharren grinned.
“A bit stronger stuff than a rich lad would be used to, I suppose,” He mused. Gawain returned the smile, and controlled his coughing, taking a second puff.
“Just been a while old man, just been a while,” He smirked, clenching the pipe between his teeth. Gawain sat up with Tharren for a while and listened to the wood crackle and watched the flames dance in flickering steps. An unnatural chill had settled deep within his bones.
“It seemed so real…”