The hardened eyes of a thousand beaten Britannians, weary from battle and ready for death, watched the tortuous and agonizing process of their commander, Sir Nathaniel Hightower, being clad with the golden armor forged by Mondain’s hand. Nathaniel’s cries of pain echoed across the silent battlefield as all the soldiers, man and beast alike looked on with some small sense of fear ringing in every heart for the horror they now witnessed. When it was done, Nathaniel rose to his feet, the smoke still rising from his smoldering body and a renewed fury against the Pallid Knight swelling into a perfect rage.
“Now, I will end thee,” said Nathaniel, through clenched teeth.
The Pallid’s Knight was cold and hollow. “We shall see.”
The two knights, infused with Mondain’s black magic clashed in an unholy and brutal duel. With each strike given and blow received, Nathaniel could feel the unmistakable satisfaction of battle, each strike feeding the armor’s bloodlust which the armor itself had created in him. Yet, with every strike and every drop of rage accumulating in his heart he could feel his strength and vigor grow. Before long, the Pallid Knight was pushed from an offensive into a defensive position, as the brutal blows of Nathaniel took on a hateful character. Combined with his unsurpassed skill and technique, Nathaniel soon struck down the Pallid Knight.
But something in him had changed. Nathaniel looked back to the Sosarian Knights when they cheered for him, but he could not see them any longer as he once did. The comradery he normally felt was missing, replaced by a hollow indifference and behind that, a hunger for violence. He knew then that he would no longer be able to lead these men. He would have to fight his internal battle alone.
“Knights!” he bellowed, “Retreat! Return to Britain at once! I have defeated this traitor!”
“No!” the Pallid Knight growled, getting back on his feet, “Kill them! Kill them all!”
What followed was what may have been the most grisly battle in recorded history, as Mondain’s Legion, anxious for war, eagerly charged against the Sosarian Knights while the Pallid Knight, backed by his five fellow fiends, descended upon Nathaniel. The Sosarians fought a desperate battle against a massive army of monsters lost in the frenzy of their bloodlust while Nathaniel fended off the Knights of Mondain, each one proving a fearsome foe even for his strength and skill. Yet, as the melee erupted and Nathaniel engaged in the most strenuous and desperate battle of his entire life, all of the fear, anxiety, hatred and rage was fed into Mondain’s cursed armor, extending its vile grip on Nathaniel’s soul inch by inch. With every furious swing he could feel the armor taking over, but he knew he could not stop lest his knights be annihilated completely.
Many men died that day, but the remnants of the Sosarian army escaped total destruction. What would remain of Nathaniel as the dust of war settled was a withered man too exhausted to fight another battle, either outside… or inside. As Mondain’s legion began marching for camp, the six knights of Mondain gathered around the kneeling form of Nathaniel.
“Sir Nathaniel,” uttered the Pallid Knight, “Thy steed.”
As the Pallid Knight spoke, the Dread Lord led by the reigns a heavily armored horse, marked with Mondain’s royal crest.
The Pallid Knight continued, “The war is not over.”
Several months later…
Nathaniel stood in a dark, torch-lit room filled with corpses of the noblest knights he had ever led. Somewhere in the darkness the form of Xaerhaonohr, the vile demon he had consented to release, shifted in the shadows and then emerged into the light. A wretched smile marked its hideous visage as it licked the blood of the Mysterium Fidei from its claws.
“Ah, my wayward knight,” the demon crooned. “What a price, what a price…”
Of all the massacres Nathaniel had seen or dealt, this one struck home. The knights of the Mysterium Fidei, after swearing their souls to the wily demon, were given the weapons needed to put down the Knights of Mondain, but when the demon returned to collect what was owed they fought him to the death; every one. Even Nathaniel lended his fearful power, but nothing could prevent the demonic pact from completing itself – not even the might of Nathaniel clad in the armor of Mondain. Every single friend, companion and comrade of the knight had been slain. Now, he was all alone. Except for the unwanted, present company, that is.
“Is it not beautiful, my wayward knight? Canst thou not appreciate this beautiful agony, this malevolent masterpiece?”
Nathaniel sneered. “No. I cannot appreciate the morbid machinations of a creature as lowly as thee.”
Xaerhaonohr tilted his head, “My machinations? But this is what is best! They’re not all MY machinations, dost thou not see? Thou givest unto me far too much credit…”
The demon tread across several corpses, picking up one in particular and ripping open the dead man’s chest. From within he took the man’s heart, and ate it, seeming to savor it. “Mmmm,” the demon said, chewing, “What is best, my wayward knight, is that this terrible tragedy was written not by me, but by the unequaled cruelty of nature herself.”
“Explain thyself,” the knight demanded curtly.
“Truly, I wish I could claim to be the ultimate mastermind. But verily, thou art living proof that goodness and virtue is little more than a convenient past-time for mortals such as thyself. All of man has striven to embrace this failed method of living – burdening themselves with these needless rules of morality which do one thing, and one thing only: weaken him against those who do not share his morals, and make him vulnerable to those not burdened by weak, emotional impulses that command him and every soft-souled mortal like him to cow themselves before a guilt that haunts, and plagues them – a disease on their soul. Forsooth, in submitting to this pathetic, internal weakness all of ye mortals deserve to die like the hollow cattle which thou art. Yet, for thee, my wayward knight,” the demon said, as a severe, crooked grin stretched across his malformed countenance, “thou art fighting a noble war indeed. Thou seest it as what good is left in thee fighting to survive against encroaching evil. Instead, behold it as so: what thou thinketh is good in thee is only attempting to infect thy soul and rob thee of thy noble savagery. Taketh mine advice: stop fighting for the sake of this unnatural morality. Stop embracing this philosophy of weakness. Nature has made it impossible for thee to achieve this foolish notion of ‘good’, dost thou not see? If thou had not taken this armor, Sosaria would have fallen to Mondain. Thou hadst to embrace the darkness if thou truly wish to earn a victory. When thou finally embraceth evil to fight evil, thou wilt finally understand: there is no evil – only a disease that thou calleth virtue, and a warped, malformed perspective of nature that comes with it. Goodness is ultimately impossible. Every man will abandon it when it is no longer convenient. This is why it will always be a hollow, and hypocritical dream.”
In a puff of black smoke, the demon vanished, and all that remained was a cruel and cold silence. Had it all been worth it? The seemingly unstoppable onslaught of the Knights of Mondain had indeed been stopped, but thanks to the demon’s trickery, only delayed for a time. Mondain himself was still fighting to control Sosaria – the war was still on. Only now, his comrades, the knights of the Mysterium Fidei, had all been vanquished and their souls owned by a demon most foul.
Was Xaerhaonohr right? Was this whole quest to uphold virtue simply a hollow theatre to quench man’s guilt and feeble conscience? Was it only a momentary distraction, an amusing sideshow adopted by man between his fateful returns to his truly ordained nature of bloody, wanton destruction? Or had the Wayward Knight succumbed to a limit predetermined in every man and woman living, a point at which virtue is no longer possible? If there is a point where virtue is no longer possible, what are we fighting for?
The Wayward Knight retired to his tomb beneath a plot of land that would one day be the city of Trinsic. It was too late for him. Redemption would no longer be possible. Nevertheless he would enter into a timeless slumber and rest, awaiting the day of the return of the Knights of Mondain. If the highest ideals of virtue were no longer within his reach he could, at the very least, uphold those not yet sullied by the cruelty of fate and pray not to be taken again by the armor’s beckoning bloodlust. With one hand, he dragged the lid of the sarcophagus over him, encompassing himself completely in the serene silence and comforting darkness of the tomb.