Chapter 1:

Sustained Pulse

To the Dire Ends: Bloodstained kNight

Against all expectations, my eyes open.

Staring up at the clean, white ceiling is a far cry from finding myself laying at the bottom of a dark chasm. Still, breathing gently, all of my previous experiences are as clear as when they had happened.

I had entered into a dungeon with my confidants, my fellow knights at my side. In the heat of a battle, I’d been gravely wounded and I’d fallen asleep in the arms of a reflection. While I had been too confused and delirious that any of my descent could have registered with me, now that sobriety returns to my mind I begin to realize how strange all of it had been.

Nevertheless, I drop it from my mind. I’m alive. That’s enough for now.

Sitting up comes surprisingly easy. Though I’d been so grievously wounded, the most I feel is a sense of lethargy making my movements come out more sluggishly than I’d like them to. But when I run my hand against my chest to touch the tremendous wound I’d been dealt, I can only feel a single, small scar. Though breathtakingly spectacular, I simply breathe a sigh of relief in response. For better or for worse this breed of miracle had become more commonplace than I’d ever fathomed it would.

My impossible mending was the work of one that I could never once mistake.

As I think of her, my savior coincidentally steps through the doorway into the infirmary and our eyes instantly meet. Her own that are a deeper night blue light up with surprise as she sees me back to consciousness. Quickly, an expression of joy replaces that look.

She strides to me with poise and elegance. Her long, black hair lightly sways and glitters a verdant shade in the light of the sun. Its small, winding curls bounce with each step. The morning rays peering in through the window stripes at her smooth, dark skin when she seats herself at my bedside. Her colorful dress of mixed, vibrant colors is illuminated brightly, standing out from behind the white coat she wears.

“Good morning, Hakan. You continue to prove that you’re quite a man for personal disaster.” Her voice is smooth and carries a distinct accent that makes every word she speaks nearly ring like a song.

“I can’t say that I’m proud that I’ve ended up here again under these kinds of circumstances. I can only say thank you for taking care of me once more, Remedy.”

“Of course. I knew from the moment we’d met that I’d had my work cut out for me. It was a glad thing to hear that this time you weren’t as frivolous with your own life.”

“If that thing’s sword hadn’t slipped past my defenses, everything would have turned out differently. But Rozyuka is safe and that’s what matters.”

“How very on brand.” A bubbling giggle rises from her lips. “A part of me wants to give you another talking to, but I suppose you did all that you could this time before resorting to becoming a pin cushion. I won’t lie that it’s still worrisome wondering what would become of everyone if you hadn’t made it through. There’s only so much that even I can do and Ziodha needs its king alive.”

“Is it just me or does everyone always resort to saying quips like that when it comes to moments like this?” I sigh partly defeated, partly with irony. “I’m not-.”

“‘I’m not a king.’” She takes the words right out of my mouth. “As you like to say. But the point will always stand that we can’t do this without you. For so many reasons. But the reason I find most important is that you’re our dear friend.”

“…Here I was thinking you weren’t going to give me a talking to.”

“A part of me wanted to so I decided to let that part of me have its fun.”

As she grins towards me, I feel a warmth in my heart. A sense of comfort to be heckled by my dear friend after having escaped death once more against all counts and logic.

“You and I both know that a blade in the heart isn’t going to be enough to stop me. I’d already made my promises and I have no intentions to go back on them. There’s no calling it quits, even if I’m cut to pieces.”

“I know, I know. You’re a little bit tougher than all of us. If it wasn’t for how stubborn you are, this story could have been over so much sooner. I’m just grateful that’s not the case. I’ve never seen anyone push the limits quite as much as you have. For having had no part in the life of a knight before all of this started, you’ve done well to become an example of everything we’d taught you.”

“I was taught well enough. Both by all of you and by experience.” I take a deep breath and relish in the feeling of my chest being minus one obscene puncture. “I can remember most of what happened before I’d woken up here, but I feel like I’m not exactly remembering things correctly. I’d expect that Rozyuka and the others had informed you as to how I’d been left as the mess I had been. Would you mind telling me what went on after I’d blacked out this time?”

Crossing her arms and legs, her smile takes on a more solemn appearance as she begins to recount the events to me.

“They’d told me that after all of your enemies had been eliminated, you’d lead the way into the exiting hallway. But midway through you’d began to grow even paler and look more out of touch. When you’d stopped along the way, you’d asked the others if they had seen a white rabbit hopping along. That was the moment that they’d known something was wrong.

“There was nothing in that hallway but vines and flowers. Yet you began to tell them about tables and cards and mirrors. Your body began to give out and before you could hit the floor, they’d made sure to catch you.”

She gives a brief pause to look me in the eyes and all of the concern she feels for me is clear in their dark green color. I nod to her and plead for her to continue.

“There was no time to lose. They’d rushed you out of the dungeon as quickly as they could manage. The moment they could use it, they’d placed a homing beacon to bring you back here to me. From then I’d gone to work to keep you with us.”

“Yes… I see…” I say to clue her in that I’d been listening but my mind is quickly turned inwards as I begin my attempts to make sense of everything I’d seen while I’d lost my mind. “I’m still in amazement at times just how much technology I didn’t know had existed until I’d met with your kingdom. It’s saved all of us so much trouble. If we weren’t able to return from there then I’d might not be here.”

“You look like you have something more than technology on your mind. Did something else happen that I don’t know about?”

“It’s probably nothing. I’d just had a bit of a moment in hallucination there at the end. Everything I’d told to the others, I’d seen it myself. But I don’t think that counts for much since I didn’t have it altogether given all of the blood loss and the fact that my heart was splayed open.”

“Well, I’m not certain about that. Sometimes we see things that may seem nonsensical but may have important meanings for us as individuals. But it’s strange; white rabbits, tables, clocks, mirrors… I don’t know nearly as much about your own culture, but I could almost swear there had might be at least something significant about all of it.”

“You could say that. But I shouldn’t think too deeply about it right now. I can tell that you’ve done a wonderful joy as usual. In this condition I should be able to go out and greet everyone myself. Let them know that I’m back together again.”

“As much as I would hope to ask you to stay, you’re looking as antsy as ever to go back to your duties.” Her chin falls into the palm of her hand as she visibly struggles to keep herself from saying anymore.

“There’s no time to rest. Not with everything that I have depending on me. When I meet Zenith and Nicinon, I’ll see if they’re ready to go on our patrols for the day.”

“I think they’d be happier if you’d take at least today to rest. Maybe they can take care of patrols by themselves.”

“They could use my help. I’m the one in charge of our knighthood, after all. Even if just the three of us. Especially since it’s just the three of us.”

I raise up from my bed. A reluctant expression balances on Remedy’s face as she watches me begin on my way. I pick the neatly folded shirt sitting at my bedside and loft it over my head and onto my body. I take it in stride that my frequent admittance to Remedy’s clinic has resulted in the others simply preparing a change of clothes for me ahead of time before I’d wake.

I meet before her as she remains seated, contemplative to herself.

“Thank you again, Remedy. I’ll make sure to do something in return for this. I promise. I hope you can tell that I’ve at least learned better than to trouble you too much and I apologize that it’s come to this again.”

Looking up to me, she appears a touch weary. But she lets all of that fatigue go with a single deep breath.

“I know that I really can’t hold you, so just make sure you’re safe. I know that you love everyone so much and you love your kingdom the way that you do. It seems more and more it’s impossible to get between you and your resolve.”

“I have to do it. It isn’t just that I’m left no other choice, you’re right about that. I love this land and everyone in it and I’ll give anything to keep all of it safe. I’ll make sure that Ziodha returns to peace. The way that it was meant to be. Someday everyone from your kingdom, everyone that had arrived after this war had started will see Ziodha for what it really is.”

“I understand. I’ll always support you every step of the way.”

I nod to her and begin on my way to my duties but at the threshold of the door I hear her voice pick up one last time. A minute wavering ripples through its cool tone.

“It’s true that you can survive as many blows and injuries as you can manage. You can take it all on and keep going so long as you can look past the pain and the fear. But…” she takes another deep breath to steady herself before she speaks to me her greatest fear, “…none of it is free. Every injury you take, every time you’re harmed, it’s playing with fire. Don’t forget… that your soul is at stake.”

“…I know… I remember. I understand that it might be frightening. For you, for everyone. But I’d rather it be me than anybody else. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it through to the end for everyone.”

“I knew you would say that…” The singing rhythm of her accent carries on but its song has become melancholy.

“It’ll be okay. We’re all going to make it through this together. We’ll all be able to return home.”

I give her one final glance, a smile and a wave, and I return to my duties.