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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Fantasy · #1832787
Not every legend is what it seems.
June 26th, 2020: Wow, 10 years since I looked at this. I'm slacking. I am (slowly) writing a prequel that relates to this, not sure how much of this story will remain intact. Once that story is told, don't know how much of this will still make sense. I am putting this back up for review even though I've only made some minor changes. These latest changes once again put the story arc closer to the direction I want it to take. I have trimmed the story down a little in hopes of making for a faster-paced tale.

What's to come? For this particular story, not much. Maybe one day I'll tell it in long form, for now, it remains a short story. The Ornessians and Kaltor will certainly be back in other stories. As for the Ryk's, for now, the brothers 3 are only a part of this tale. But the Ryk family, ancestors, and descendants will be present throughout all the stories related to this tale. Keep asking about those revisions and ask about that prequel. I'm a lazy writer, but if I'm pushed it will get done -- Lightbringer

I Am Not A Hero

         I am not a hero. The story I tell does not excuse my actions, nor my failure to act. I do not ask forgiveness. What I am... what I've become, weighs on my conscience. Everything I am is a lie. I don't want to spread false truths, but I am a coward. I cannot let the lies continue but in my shame, I'm afraid of telling the truth. It's gone too far, there's no way out. They think I am a hero, a legend, their champion. What would they think... what would they do, if they discovered I nearly cost them everything?

         Kaltor had returned, a monster in the form of a man that had been defeated centuries ago. The storytellers lied, as they often do. Kaltor was just a villain from a story forgotten by most, he wasn't supposed to be real. A dark sorcerer with the power to control the dead who could kill with a single touch. The wizards of old had gathered, led by a champion wielding a sword of immense power. Together, they defeated Kaltor and his army of the dead; and with that sword, Kaltor was slain. But that was just a story, Kaltor was never slain, merely frozen in a moment, frozen until another champion could arise to finish him off for good.

         That sword was no work of fiction, it was real and deadly. It had been passed down over the centuries, kept safe. But the sword was never in danger, not of being destroyed, not of being wielded by the wrong hands. It was passed down with one purpose, to ensure it didn't go missing, to ensure it would be ready if and when Kaltor returned. It was a sword forged with one purpose: to destroy darkness, destroy evil. It was a weapon and therefore could not understand the shades of gray that exist in men. Each hand that wielded that sword, however briefly, was judged unworthy. The sword saw darkness and fulfilled its purpose; it didn't matter if the man wielding it was a good man, if the sword found darkness, the wielder's fate was sealed.

         So who was I in all this? I was the man who could wield the sword, the one it found worthy. The Ornessian Prophets said this proved I was the champion spoken of in the ancient scripts. I alone had the power to stand against Kaltor and rid the world of his evil once and for all. I was young, I didn't believe their stories. If Kaltor was so evil, so dangerous, why had I never heard of him? They showed me the ancient scripts. Scraps of old parchment, forgeries for all I knew; I couldn't read Ornessian, how could I know anything they said was true? Their claims fell on deaf ears. Desperate, they conferred amongst themselves. They cast an ancient spell that allowed them to share their visions with me, allowing me to see visions of Kaltor's past deeds. Each vision was more terrible than the last. When the visions came to an end I sank to my knees, tears in my eyes.

         There was no explanation as to why the first champion had failed. Those mystics who remained had not the power to kill Kaltor, no one on the battlefield was worthy to wield the sword; the few who had tried died before they could take even a few steps toward Kaltor. So they bound his power instead, banishing him into the earth, freezing him in a moment until a champion arose who could kill him. They convinced me the stories were true, how could they not? I'd seen the visions, I'd wielded the sword. My doubt remained that I was that champion but knowing what was at stake I followed their guidance.

         They introduced me to a man named Alryk who, along with his brothers, would instruct me in the ways of combat. While his brothers trained me in what I felt were more practical skills, Alryk focused on discipline. He was a stern and unforgiving man who insisted that understanding both my motivations and the motivations of my opponents was more than any fighting style his brothers would be teaching me. His methods were brutal yet efficient as he focused not on teaching me how to wield a sword or dodge an attack, but instead on how to take a hit or fight under the influences of alcohol or toxins. He tied weights and chains to my arms and legs, forcing me to spar his brothers under restraints. He didn't care about style or finesse, even though he had an unmatched grace with any weapon he handled. He didn't believe in training with kid gloves. He wanted results. If I wasn't at my best, he'd let me know it. I knew I was not meant to overhear the conversation but the words still ring in my mind. Alryk stood in conference with the prophets. His words were direct and simple, “He's not ready.”

         His brother Edryk trained me in martial arts and weapons and that it's not the strongest who always win fights. Though when he pushed the dark hair out of his face and flexed his muscles in our combat sessions, it was clear that he felt a little muscle couldn't hurt. Edryk was as good with a sword as he was with his words. Edryk had a way of commanding his troops; it never felt like he was telling us what to do, it felt like he was telling us what we would have wanted to do. Knowing how Edryk fought I could never understand why he always deferred to his elder brother until they walked onto the training field to spar. Sparks flew as their weapons clashed. The two seemed equally matched until I noticed the focus in Edryk's eyes and the sweat pouring off his brow. The fight ended in a draw but I had no doubt that had it been a true battle, not an exhibition, Edryk would have lost. Edryk was an impressive fighter but he'd never be a match for his brother.

         Ozryk, the youngest of the brothers, trained me in stealth and survival skills. The blonde-haired youth still looked more boy than a man yet he was far more capable than most war veterans. He was filled with passion. Everything he did was for his elder brothers. He cared more about impressing them than he did about the prophecies. He considered me to be his peer; he respected me but it was his brothers he considered the true heroes. He taught me the importance of shadows and how to use them to spring on an unsuspecting enemy or spot them before they could sneak up on me. Ozryk's greatest skill was his ability to anticipate his opponents' actions. It was one of the most important things I could learn and one of the skills I would fail to use when the time came to face Kaltor.

         When they thought I was ready the prophets trained me in mysticism and magic. I knew how important I was, I alone could wield the sword and a destiny to fulfill. There was no one and nothing that could stand in my way... I was wrong. For a while, I lived up to their expectations. I led men into battle, claiming victory against Kaltor's armies. I defeated a number of his lieutenants. I felt invincible. I would not discover my weakness until I faced the dark lord himself; the day when everything I was became a lie.

         The casualties were high as we breached Kaltor's fortress. We lost men on the field as arrows rained down from the battlements. Lost more men fighting through the courtyard as magic rained down on us. A mere fraction of the original invasion force made it through and their numbers were diminished even further as we worked our way to the throne room... all because I led the strike without Alryk's consent. When we smashed through the oaken doors, Kaltor's elite troops were waiting for us. Every one of his elite was armed with steel or deadly magic. We stood face to face with his men, weapons raised. As we were about to clash a single word sounded. "Hold". The voice came from the throne where Kaltor sat.

         Seated on an obsidian throne he looked down at us. No fear, no display of emotion. He glanced over at my troops before turning his gaze on me. He smiled. His teeth were pristine white and perfectly straight. He pointed a finger... the blast of darkness threw Ozryk back, his body slamming into me, crashing us into one of the stone pillars surrounding the room. His screams echoed through the chamber as the dark power tore him apart from the inside, flesh and bone exploding outwards. Covered in Ozryk's remains, feeling his blood running down my skin, I froze in terror. "Oz!" I heard his brothers' voices scream.

         Alryk had finally caught up with us, too late to save his youngest brother. The disappointment in Edryk's eyes was telling, the flash of anger in Alryk's was even worse. Their words were lost to me as I stood frozen, dripping with Ozryk's remains. Alryk sounded the retreat but Edryk stepped towards Kaltor, calling out to a couple of the soldiers to protect me. With a battle cry, Edryk raised his sword and charged the throne. Kaltor's elite were no match for him as Edryk cut down everyone who stood in his way. Inspired by his ferocity the men were quick to join the charge. All the while, Kaltor remained seated, tapping away at the armrests of his throne, laughing at the slaughter, not caring which side was doing the killing.

         A prophet, the only one that had made it this far, grabbed Alryk and pulled him from the fight. Instructing Alryk to protect me, he told him the prophecy must not fail. That he had to get me out of there at all costs, that the chosen one must get to safety before Kaltor strikes again. All around us men were dying. The prophet was downed, hit by a stray blast. Alryk would not abandon his remaining brother; he would not retreat. He screamed at me, demanding I stand up and fight. When my terror became unbearable and I tried to make a run for it, he grabbed me and hauled me back into the room.

         The numbers dwindled on both sides until all that remained were me, the downed prophet, the remaining brothers Ryk, and Kaltor.
The dark lord continued to smile, amused by it all. Alryk relaxed his grip on my arms when he realized how few of us were left. How many of them would have survived if I had not been frozen by inaction? If the brothers had fought side by side? The Prophet groaned, inadvertently causing Edryk to turn his head. It was a brief distraction, but one that spelled his doom.

         Like his younger brother before him, Edryk, Kaltor's newest target, was obliterated, nothing more than a stain of blood on the marble floors. They were all dead. Only Alryk and the injured Prophet remained. The prophet was hurt, possibly dying. Amidst it all, Kaltor remained seated on his throne, not a scratch on him as the blood pooled around his boots.

         Rage flashed through Alryk's eyes as Kaltor sat there laughing. Barely looking at me, Alryk tore the sword from my scabbard and shoved me to the ground. He must have known what would happen, must have understood what drawing that sword would do to him. The only weapon capable of killing Kaltor could only be safely wielded by the chosen one. As I watched him slowly approach Kaltor, I felt a surge of shame. Too afraid to fight yet too petrified to run, I watched Alryk walk towards his death.

         He challenged Kaltor, even as the sword's magic began its search for the darkness that lay hidden within. The laughing Kaltor rose to accept that challenge. Toe to toe they fought, blade to blade. Overpowered and outmatched, Alryk continued his assault. Every cut, every hit, every moment he held the sword brought Alryk one step closer to death. And when Alryk fell, Kaltor would come for me. The two men fought in a flurry as their blades lashed out. Alryk, bleeding from various wounds, gave ground as Kaltor danced around him. Kaltor was toying with him, laughter punctuating every one of his cuts. Or so it seemed.

          Alryk didn't fight like other men, his was a true dance of the blade. Every movement, whether an attack or defense, was calculated until the final blow, the last blur of Alryk's sword. Kaltor stopped laughing, the smile faded from his face as he grabbed the blade piercing his chest, stumbling as he pulled it free. Coughing up blood, he fell to his knees, breathed his last breath, and collapsed. Kaltor was dead, felled by Alryk. For a moment I thought the prophecy was wrong, it had been Alryk all along who was the real champion of which prophecy spoke. Then I saw his face, that ash-gray pallor. He was never meant to wield the sword, holding off its magic just long enough to do what had to be done. Alryk took a single step toward me and collapsed, dead before he hit the ground.

          I sunk to my knees. It was all over. The only thing left to do was try to keep the last prophet from dying. I bandaged his wounds the best I could, constructing a rudimentary litter to carry him on. In that, I failed too. The wounds and the distance were too great. As he lay there dying, I told him what happened, that Alryk had fulfilled the prophecy in my stead. Somber eyes on me, he placed a trembling hand on my arm, swearing me to secrecy. What really happened didn't matter, the prophecy must be fulfilled. History must record me as the champion regardless of the facts. No one could ever know the truth. He died shortly after, leaving me alone to carry the secret, the burden of the lie.

         When I returned to the city I told the people that the brothers Ryk were instrumental in defeating the dark lord but did not tell them of my cowardliness. I took credit for killing Kaltor. Boasting success I almost convinced myself of the lie. When night came, there was no room for boasting. Struggling to sleep, all I heard were Ozryk and Edryk's screams echoing in my head, all I could see was the haggard face of Alryk. The death of the brothers haunted me. The days when I don't wake up in a cold sweat have long passed. I would never have a decent night's sleep again.

         I wanted to forget everything the prophets told me. The people had the right to know the truth but I was ashamed. I had lied to them. The longer I waited the worse it would get, but I was too afraid to tell them. What would happen to me if they discovered the truth? I could envision the looks on their faces, their heads turning away from me in disgust. Would they reach for their weapons in anger and seek revenge for their fallen comrades? Then I envisioned those faces who would lose hope and fall into despair if they know their hero is a failure, a lie. I do not know which group I am most afraid of facing.

         Months have passed since I threw the sword in the river but the nightmares still come. The guilt eats away at me. I've considered throwing myself in after the sword. Let the river take me, I think as I watch its dark waves calling out to me. This time of year the currents are strong and the water is ice cold. I would not survive long if I went for a late-night swim. It's the coward's way out, a suitable way for me to die.

         I am a coward, too cowardly even to take the coward's way out. I sit at the edge of the water once again and stare hopelessly at those dark waves. It's not dying I'm afraid of; I'm afraid of what's waiting for me on the other side. There will be no heaven for me. I am responsible for the death of so many good men. Whatever is waiting for me on the other side must know this. I am not... what I pretend to be.

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