Chapter 3:

Vanities of a Hidden Enemy


Day: 14th Day after the declaration of challenge.

 Time: Midnight

Location: Throne Room

Jude had settled on the glass throne with a few faintly lit torches lighting up the narrow room consumed by a moonless night. The king rested his elbow on the arm of the glistening throne and lowered his ghastly face to his arm. 

The whispers about the duel echoed throughout the kingdom. It bothered him a lot and took a toll on him. The blow to his face knocked his teeth out. It was healed with the help of the healer. However, the blow to his pride remained.

They look down on me. They cowered when I looked at them, but now they are laughing behind my back. I am the scarlet king, the victor of the great war, goddamn it! I united this continent. I slew the undefeatable Ser Armius, the Radiant knight, and now a lowly rogue who is calling himself a knight embarrassed me in front of my subjects. I lived for glory and respect, and this man took that from me. It was something more precious than the treasures and women I won in my conquest.

"It seems like your sins caught up to you, dear brother," Spoke the decapitated head of king's brother Salbator, mockingly. A few drops of blood dripped down from his neck and painted the white marble floor red. The head of the deceased prince hovered by the glassy throne, and the king turned his head to meet its gaze.

"Are you back again?" The king spoke with a blank expression.

"I never left you," a smile crept over his rotten face.

"If this is your way of haunting me, brother. I'll tell you this, I don't regret it and will do it, again and again," The king's eyes were consumed by an intense desire for violence. He knew about his unusual fascination with violence from the start. Yet he embraced it and relished it. It was to him a powerful tool that pushed him to be the greatest conqueror. The dead prince cackled with laughter after hearing the king's reply.

"I am not haunting you. I am not a ghost to haunt people, brother. I am just a fragment of your imagination." stated the dead prince dryly. The king, with an intense gaze, asked, "Why do I imagine you?" It was a genuine question, and the dead prince, with a soft smile, replied, "Only you can answer that question. Look deep into your heart, my dear brother," The dead prince disappeared, and the king rose from the throne and yelled,

"Where did you go? Show yourself! Tell me the answer!" Listening to the king's voice a servant hastened into the throne room and kneeled in front of the king.

"Your majesty, you called for me?" Asked a meekly brown skinned servant.

"I didn-" He paused for a second, regained his composure and continued,

" Bring me some wine," The king ordered with a hint of frustration.

"Yes, your majesty," The servant got on his feet and hurried to the cellar to fetch white wine the king preferred.

Date: 15th Day after the declaration of challenge

Time: Morning

Location: Royal Guard Training Ground

The royal guard had the noble duty of protecting the royal family. They trained every single day honing their skills to protect their king. Samil Halendor, captain of the royal guard, instructed his men. He pointed out their flaws and helped them to fix them. He wanted to make them much stronger as his failure to protect the king troubled him, pointing to his incompetence.

A small wooden fence enclosed the fighting grounds. Tiered rows of benches circled it. There were polished seats in the front reserved only for royalty. The circle was separated by a gap. The gap allowed people to go in and out of the training grounds and it led to changing rooms. The king strode into the training ground wearing a plated armor with a cloak behind his back. It had a white background and a pair of twin golden lions embossed in the middle. Everyone at the training field instantly bowed to their king. The captain of the guard knelt before him.

"My grace, is there anything I can do for you?" The captain of the guard showed both reverence and fear. He knew the dangerous mind of the king. He saw it with his own eyes.

If only I were present on that day. This wouldn't have happened. I failed to do my job. But now I have to be ready and face the consequences of my failure.

"Don't blame yourself, son. It wasn't your fault as you weren't there. But these men are under your command. You train them every single day, yet they let a brute step into my palace and harm me," The King's voice was cold. 

"I know your grace. I will do a better job and prevent any of this from happening again." 

"I am sure you will, but you see, I want to test these men myself because, after all, I am the one who killed the greatest swordsman who ever live."

"My Lor-" The captain wanted to say something but was interrupted by the king's deadly glare. Sp he lowered his head and allowed the king to pass.

"There are 4 of you. I want all of you to attack me at once," All exchanged confused looks, unable to process what the king had said,

"Don't make me repeat myself," Four of the guards hesitantly stepped forward. The king carried a long sword that fit his tall stature. He used both of his hands to carry it. The guards circled him. The king achieved his peak human physique, making him unapproachable. He did a pirouette that made the guards stumble back to avoid the gigantic sword. The king charged at the nearest guards, he didn't wear a helmet, and the guards saw his devilish smile, which made fear creep into their bodies. The king with his long blunt sword smashed the face of a guard putting a dent on his helmet. The second one immediately attacked, but a powerful kick from the king made him stumble to the ground.

This is what I missed these past few years. This feeling I am getting is what I always wanted. It made me go back to remanence my glory days. The blow I gave to Radiant Knight. The horror on his wife's face, the woman who found me undesirable for my cruelty. Yet I made her bow to me with the very thing she despised. She is mine and mine alone. They say greed and violence can lead a man to his downfall. Those who said that were nothing more than incompetent fools who never achieved what I achieved.

The fourth one didn't make a move and observed the fight. The king turned his attention to the man who showed no visible fear. It made the king's lips curl into a grin. The man took a defensive stance. The king moved forward and launched a barrage of attacks. The guard blocked all of them but struggled with the king's speed. The king was driving the guard to a corner. The guard noticed that and parried one of the king's swings stepped to the right. He then promptly swung his sword to the king's face, and he, in time, managed to dodge it by moving back. The guard utilized this opportunity to get away from the king.

"You're good," King said with a hint of excitement which made the 4th guard quiver. He felt something dark and dangerous about Jude's voice. This time the guard made the first move and launched a barrage of attacks. The king blocked them effortlessly, again driving the 4th guard to a corner. The 4th guard was exhausted, and the king utilized that opportunity to strike his feet. However, the guard with cat-like movements inverted his sword and quickly swung his sword to strike the king's face with the hilt. However, the king grabbed it with inhuman strength, got up on his feet and held his sword at the throat of the 4th guard.

"You fought better than anyone here," The king praised him with a smile.

"What's your name, son?"

"Arinshi, my king,"

"Only one of you managed to put up a proper fight, and you are supposed to protect me?" He mocked the guards lying on the ground. Then he strode to the captain of the guard and said,

"I am not angry at you for not being there. I am angry at you for failing to train these incompetent fools." He turned his attention to the fourth one kneeling on the ground, catching his breath.

"I like this one, assign him to protect my daughter. A reckless creature that one,"

Location: Great Forest.

Time: Unknown.

The faceless knight strode through the canopy of trees. He stopped in front of a figure with a goat-like head and the body of a human with skin-like wood.

"You are the same as the day you crawled in here," It spoke softly with a voice soft like a bards.

"No, I am not,"

"Not in appearance, but the rage remained,"

"How does it feel?" The figure asked, glancing at the blood on the knight's armor,

"You know everything, don't you? so why do you ask,"

"Oh, I want to know how you feel about your crusade and the lives you will take, do you feel anything? Remorse perhaps," 

The faceless knight stood silent, not answering the question. "You and I saw the outcome. These past 20 years, the king's reign solidified my resolve. He will always be that way and I am the consequence for his actions" the voice was still demonic, but there was a hint of frustration in the knight's voice.

"I knew you were the perfect man to make a deal. A man who will be a hypocritical man who will be become the cause of a great tragedy" The goat-faced figure glanced at the head in the knight's hand. The face of a terrified man. The faceless knight threw off his helmet.

"Time to wake up," The faceless knight whispered, and Aran opened his eyes.

"It's you, I knew it was someone he hurt but I never thought it was you. How can you be alive?" Vines protruded from the ground and turned into a chair. The faceless knight sat on the wooden chair formed from the ground and held head in his lap.

"I am going to do something you failed to do,"

Joe Gold