by C. T. Hill
I am the Night Terror, the Whispering Prince, the Shadowdancer.
|*** Note to the Reader: This piece is written in a style unlike any I have ever tried. It inspired the novel I am now writing which envelopes the life and adventures of the main character, Kareth. The novel will not be written in the same style, for reasons I am sure are easily understood. A lot of the story is open ended and various titles and places may not make much sense. I realise that this creates a bit of confusion, but I meant for this story to be more about the narrator's emotions coupled with the common people's rumor mill and less about the actual size, location, and politics of the nation it is set in. I hope you enjoy the read, and some day perhaps the main idea will make it to print. Thanks!
I knelt down and dug my fingers into the dark clay earth; it was cold and hard, keeping it from absorbing the blood from my hands. I pushed the coarse grains through my fingers, working them into the crevasses of my skin, they were cool and soothing. The mixture turned a deep color of red and black; this unity of me and nothing, this insipient attempt at cleansing. Perhaps it was a ritual. One I rehearsed automatically and without purpose, as if I was looking for something. Like the earth held the very secrets I was searching for.
And then part of me would ask, do I even want to know them?
“There was a time before, long ago, when there were heroes everywhere. Don’t really see that in today’s world…suppose it’s just the way things are. To answer your question though, sure I know of him. I mean, I figure you could walk in any direction for a thousand miles and people would know his name. Takes a special kind of person to be that well known, feared even.” Fram Gooding, Town Elder
“You asking me if he is real, because if that is the case I might as well just turn my back and walk away from you right now, crazy question like that. Of course he’s real; people don’t just conjure up stories of a man that don’t exist, not ones like those we heard.” Mason Thatch, Halor City Guard
I looked east, down the steep slope to the village below. It was barren, it was quiet, it was still. It was a perfect display of that which we leave behind, an image of mortality dressed in nothing, standing forgotten and cold. And then, sometimes, I would wonder if we will ever be forgiven for what we do to each other.
“It does make a difference, especially in his case. I mean, you cannot sit here and tell me that he isn’t a monster. Even I know about what he has done and I’m not even looking to.” Mina Teller, House Wife
People would rush into their houses, like a great plague was washing through the streets and their shut doors were the only barrier against it. "Passover me please," they would say. Watch carefully as the shutters peek open, hiding an invisible audience, creating curiosity through the presence of fear. I suppose you can never really know what it is that is so terrifying about oneself, though. They used to say the Vint caused that kind of fear, that it possessed that kind of power, but not anymore. Now there is something else to fear.
Give me virtue, take it away, and present the world my emptiness.
“Tis funny that you askin that, cause just the other day me n’ ole Jeb over there was just talkin about em’. You know what they says though, that no one has never seen him. That he walks from place to place, feeding on men’s souls and striking ‘em down by the thousands. I heard there in’t an army bout the world that he ha’nt beat. Tough to say though, honestly, cause ther’s jus so much we on’t really know, get what I’m sayin?” Grist Renal, Travelling Field Hand
“If youda’ asked me about a man, just any man, I coulda’ told you some stories, but you gone and asked me bout him. It ain’t right to speaka’ the gods so.” Imra Selvin, Servant Woman
They say you should never go looking for trouble, that enough finds you as it happens. Then I find myself asking, who is they and what the hell do they know?
“Problem is that it is all rumors. I mean, you are here trying to figure out the same thing that everyone else is. It would make sense that there is someone out there like him, for where else would the stories come from? But it is hard for me to imagine a man so powerful, so strong, so merciless. No, I have thought about such things before, a long time ago, and honestly, I always end up at the same place. If he really is, if he really was, then why has no one ever seen him?” Braise Filman, Shop Owner
With war, it is always the same story. Find me an army of squirrels that fight to the death over acorns, or boundaries of trees, or the fluffiness of their tails. You find me that and I will agree that the world is simply violent. But you can’t, not here or anywhere, and then you realize that it is not the world that is wrong, it is only us.
“Of course I’ve seen him, who hasn’t? He likes the north roads they says. Wants to stay away from the Vint they says. Try and find him in the south, or the east, but you don’t see no beeves in the mountains now do ya? I reckon he comes about this way twice a year, hard to say though, could be next month, could be next year.” Old man Pallor, Elder
“I heard that long ago he had him a wife, real pretty too. Even was talk about him being a farmer or something like that, maybe a hand. Something tragic happened though, wouldn’t ya know. Suppose that is the way these stories go, right? Yeah something terrible anyways, his wife ended up dead and then the rest is just rumors and fables. They say he was birthed that night though, or rebirthed I suppose, birthed in blood, the blood of his fallen wife, the blood of his loss. Eerie eh.” Unknown Traveller
The climb down is always the hardest part. The fields lay on the western borders at least ten kilos away. You can hear the horses coming for leagues, though that does not mean you can get back in time. It is like when you have a child. You hear them crying from the other room, this agonizing wail of fear and pain and you are moving before you know anything, but it is always too late at that point, whatever happened, happened, and is forever out of your control. Sure, you can be reactive, try and put the pieces back together, but they have a tendency to fall in places you do not expect.
And then sometimes... they are lost forever.
“Please do not take this the wrong way, but are you sure you know what you are asking? Because this sort of talk only leads to one place, and it is dark there, darker than you can imagine. Well then, ask it quickly if you must, for we can but wait on the dead.” Helena Chiram, House of Manerion
The climb down is always the hardest part. Rain has soaked the ground for days and the rocks are coated with a slimy mold that might as well be ice. You do not think about it though, for if you stop to process what was actually happening, if you take the time to let your mind adjust, everything will be lost.
Shadows are cast everywhere amongst the fires, fires burning on your hope, on everything that you know. Push the feeling back that she is dead. Push the feeling back that everyone is dead, this whole town of your friends, of your family. Doors swing to and fro loosely on rusted hinges. Moans dance through the night sky, but these are not human. The wood cracks as the fires eat away at what is left of the broken buildings.
Pretend this is not your worst nightmare; close your eyes and dream of a better time, of a simpler time.
“I suppose it is assumed that the Vint had something to do with Traemor. Though, you should ask yourself why and for what purpose? The Vint is vast, too vast to need worry about a small trader village north of the wall. Tell me, what is gained? It is absurd that I am even answering these questions, as if my husband needs defense. The Vint is above justice, the Vint is justice.” Helena Chiram, House of Manerion
After a time you just know that the sting will stop, that your vision will return; though after moving through the town for who knows how long it remains as a powerful reminder of what has occurred, the vastness of it all. I had been through building after building, yet the crumpled up bodies that I came across were not of her.
It is a haze; not the air, for the smoke did that part, but the memory of what happened. Push it aside I said, make it disappear.
“I heard you talking with the Lady Helena. It is a dangerous game you are playing, child. I tell you, I cannot understand why you are even here, but I suppose that is not for me to know. Be wary of the Vint, for it has eyes and ears everywhere. We are not talking now, you and I, for you are not of this court, understand? Good. Take the long road to the east, the old town of Haxley lies there not five days away. It is not a town that you would have heard of, for the Vint wishes it so, but it is there nonetheless. Go there and perhaps you will find what you are looking for, or at least some answers that may lead you down the right path.” Jansan Gumt, Butler, House of Manerion
Charred fingers grasped the remains of a love knot. I reached to it only to watch it crumble away into dust, leaving only a blackened hand.
These faces I have seen, they were everyone, they were no one; her face was not amongst them.
Take this gift, this lump of coal wrapped in silk, and pray that you receive no other.
“Are you asking me if I have heard the story of the tragedy of Kareth? Well child, I cannot perceive a more absurd question. It is only one of the most well-known fables throughout the entire Vint. Listen to me, peasant, I have tolerated you for this long, but your constant questioning bores me. Kareth is a fable, as is the burned town of Traemor. Look at the maps if you please, where is this town, and where are the people that resided in it?” Helena Chiram, House of Manerion
I have heard people say that it is better not knowing whether or not we have lost someone that we love, as if not knowing will leave us a strand of hope strong enough for us to latch on to and ride out the rest of our lives on.
I suppose I chose a different path. I had lost her. That was the only thing I knew for sure. All of my pain, hope, fear, and love left with her. With what I had remaining, I decided to be something different, something terrifying. Though it was not always so, for in the beginning I can say that I was anything but.
“Haxley you say? Can’t say I have ever heard of it, but the empire is large, possible a town such as that has gone unheard of to my ears. There is only one way to go from here though. That’s right; the long road leads to all places. I tell you, if you figure this town is out there, the road is your best bet.” Unknown
“Picture the fiercest warrior in the world and you get a glimpse of Kareth. I cannot say for sure what his physical appearance entails, though, for I have never actually laid eyes on him, nor has anyone, at least not that I am aware of. And, if anyone says as much they are probably lying. Come to think of it, it would actually make more sense if he did not actually exist. Huh…well anyways, what is it that you needed?” John DeLaen, Bar Owner
It is that split second after you open your eyes, just before you realize where you are, who you are; that is the most peaceful part of life. And then it hits you, all the pieces of your life compiled into one fluid image of how you envision yourself. Perhaps to some this moment is dignifying, but here I sit torn between what I know and what I feel, this ultimate struggle of two things I cannot control.
Tell me that all of this has a purpose. Tell me that I am here for something more meaningful than simple existence. Tell me that I am not just a leaf hopelessly fluttering to the ground.
“Let’s say, for instance, that this town that you are searching for does exist. What reason could you possibly have for locating such a place? I believe that that answer in itself will give you the answer to whatever it is that is driving you. Ask yourself, I mean really ask yourself, if these doors were shut for a reason so long ago, are you sure that you want to reopen them?” Catherine Hest, Innkeeper
“I dare say I have heard of such a place, long ago though, and from the ramblings of an old man, I am afraid. There is an old farmer, lives over to the east, big ole house all alone. Name’s Edgar. Try and be courteous, old bastard has the shakes, scares easy. If this town truly does exist, or did, I’m sure old Edgar will know about it.” Bret Langston, Blacksmith
I thought that once I found the answer, that once all was said and done I would finally be content, that I would finally have found peace. And then I find myself standing in this clearing of what used to be a thriving village, of what used to be home to someone, to countless someones.
I look around and see what has been left behind. The once smoldering ruins of shops and houses. The trees lie parted where streets once set, burn scars still visible on their aging husks.
No, I am afraid that I have never laid eyes on this place, this slumbering tragedy, this abandonment of souls, this town they call Haxley.
“Pray you leave this place and never return. There is naught to gain from this quest but despair. No, I dare not say what I know, for his spies watch us even now, even here... Listen quickly and I will tell you how to find that which you covet most, that which haunts your soul, that which holds you prisoner. Go now, child, and do not lose yourself in these petty matters. Live your life to live, not to escape death.” Unknown Voice
And then you do find what you were looking for. You remember everything. You realize the truth of things and you hate yourself for it. Allow me this one moment of grief in hopes that I can finally put this behind me, that I can finally move on, but I had finally been shown the path. It was not an expected one, nor a visible one, at least not at first, yet there it stood nonetheless.
Take what you want from my actions in the past, some were justified, while others were not. None of that matters though, for we are forever left with the actions that we have committed; regardless of the outcome, regardless of our intentions. And through all of that I have left this mess of a world, this travesty that I have created. All of it based on a truth that I had denied to myself. All of it based on a lie that I had fabricated.
“I heard a story of this tragedy and it was not pleasant. You see... Kareth is a man of many names. He was the Night Terror, the Prince of Blades, and the Whispering Prince. He was the Dreamslayer, the Moon Prince, and the Shadowdancer. One thing is for certain, he was the most feared warrior in the entire world. He was feared throughout the entire Vint, much less the surrounding villages; though you might find that this tragic story has more of a fold in it than most are aware of. Sit and take a listen as I tell you the story of the great Kareth.
“His story started so long ago, even before he was born. Panthos was a Kingdom like no other, and the Silent King Maras wanted nothing more than to conquer it. His words were wrought with betrayal, and he tricked the beautiful Queen Lessandra into opening the city gates with a lie of love. Before they could be killed, Queen Lessandra and her unborn child were whisked away to safety on one of the Isles. The child was none other than our famous prince.
"Take what you will from the stories of the Vint King, but one thing is for certain, the man is a kinslayer, and his actions could not be forgotten, least of all by the young prince. It was not until much later that the prince found out that his mother had been slain and that his unlikely companion had disappeared with naught to tell. Some say he secretly loved her, though he was a man of honor and would never have moved on such a feeling, while others say that his companion had more of a blood tie to him than first thought.
“No one knows exactly when the Kareth we know was born, but the day happened long ago with the screams of an empire to greet him. He was born of fire, he was born of tragedy, and he was born of rage. He went on to be the plague set against the entire Vint. He was a vigilante they would say, a curse on those that did wrong. However, others would say that he killed at will, regardless of moral standings. None of that mattered though, for he was known nonetheless. I beg to guess that he did what he felt was necessary.” Unknown Storyteller
You know all that you have done in your life. Of course some of it becomes foggy, and some of it we choose to forget, but all in all you know what you have done, you know who you are. And then, through all of that which has happened, you finally realize what created all of this, what is ultimately responsible.
The answer is that it was I. I refused the Vint long ago when I was young. They knew what I was capable of. They knew how important I was, but I chose a different path... and that choice cost me everything, that path changed the entire world.
Looking back, I believe that it was her smile that changed the world. What I used to look at as a place where only violence and destruction lived, transformed into something I would not have abandoned for all the gold and silver in existence.
I chose her. I chose life. And because of that I was given death.
I created this monster inside of me; I created it by my own ambitions of happiness, ones that I should have known were out of my grasp.
And so here I stand, this life accomplished, this life wasted. I am a hero. I am a nightmare.
I am Kareth, and I am but what is left. I open my arms to that which is in store for me. I accept all that I deserve.
I cherish all that I have lost.
Wash me, cleanse me.
Word Count: 3,263 not including the note to reader.