This story was a submission to our March 2022 Short Story Contest.
The hinges of the steel door shattered, as a metal-clad boot sailed through the main entrance to the throne room. The doors crashed to the floor, making an earth-shattering reverberation throughout the entire stone citadel. The knight, fitted in shining, polished steel armour, strode into the throne room of the dark gothic stronghold.
“Cult leader of this stygian citadel, I have come to avenge my brethren!” The knight declared in triumph. He waited for a reply, and as the dust settled to the ground, the silhouette of the man sitting upon the throne of black stone began to fade. The knight received no response, and as the dust faded he realized that the man sitting upon the throne was but a skeleton, long since perished.
“How could this be?” He asked himself, the realization that his quest had come to an abrupt halt overcoming him. He dropped to his knees, his armour crashing against the cold stone floor. It felt surreal, to be inside the fortress in which he had searched for his whole life. His quest for glory, for revenge, all dissipated inside of him. His purpose, his life quest, it was for naught. The one man he dedicated his life to slaying, stood before him, already dead. He gripped himself, then stood up again and approached the skeleton of his foe. He put out a glove and brushed his hand against the skull of the cult leader. He picked it up in his grasp, the rest of the skeleton falling down to the sable floor, shattering and splintering. He held the skull tight in his hand and stared at it, into the eyes of his mortal enemy.
“I was to defeat you, that was my mission. After all you had done, you deserved death, and it came to you. My sword hangs limp at my side, not a foe to slay. Your life has already been claimed and I have been denied the justice of taking your life.” He whispered, resting the skull against his own.
He turned around and began to march out of the throne room. He walked past the felled doors and out of the citadel. His feet sunk into the soft dirt as he walked out of the fortress, with no direction, anywhere but inside the crushing halls of the fortress. He looked back, clutching the skull in one gauntlet. The citadel looked smaller, its windows were more empty, the doors lighter. He stopped, drew his sword, dropped the skull, and removed his helmet. He raised his sword and stabbed it into the ground. He picked up his helmet and placed it atop the pommel of the sword.
“You have served me well, but I no longer need you.” He said, both to his sword and to his previous life. He felt a raindrop land on his shoulder, and he looked up. Drops of water ran and collected down his solemn face as he looked up to the raining sky. He picked up the skull once again and continued his march away from the castle. He ripped off his gauntlets and threw them to the ground. He unstrapped the leather bindings of his chest plate and pulled it off, shedding his heavy armour. He wrenched off his leggings, leaving but his boots and his underclothes on. He began to speed up, reaching the forest's edge as it began to shower upon his naked head.
He paused before entering the forest. He was lost. More lost than finding yourself in the middle of a dark forest, more lost than at the bottom of the ocean, he was truly lost. All direction for him was gone, he was but a leaf flowing in the wind, he had lost all that kept him true. As he shed his armour, parts of him fell off his shoulders, from his knight training to the years travelling with his brethren before they were slain by the cult. As each piece of his armour dropped off, more and more of his past life seeped out of his body, replaced by a void. A lack of anything but a vacuum in his soul, reaching out and grasping for anything to cling to, a personality to envelope, a passion to swallow, a life to imbibe. He paused before entering the forest and turned back to face the citadel. He spotted a branch on the ground. He bent down and picked it up. Now armed with a gnarled and long piece of wood, he was ready to continue. The branch was long enough to be a cane but thick enough to be a staff. He began to rewalk his steps, tracing his way back towards the citadel. He walked through the doors and arrived back where he started, the throne room of the cult king.
He took the skull from his hands, and carefully placed it upon his staff. He took long and meaningful strides forward until he stood before the mighty throne. He hesitated, then sat upon the basalt throne. His new identity had shown itself. Armed with the skull of his enemy, sat upon the throne, the power of the citadel fueled his soul. He took a deep breath, his sense of belonging flowing back into his veins, meaning returned to his soul. He had found his way, he had found a new identity. He realized his future. The years ahead of him were clear, he shall rule. The rain fell outside the windows as he took his rightful place upon the throne, the next ruler of the cult.