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August 6, 2018
Lose Your Head
MADD the King
Over the shoulders of the mountains lay vast foliage. Its growth spread as far as the icy shores would allow them to. The trees stood tall and proud, threatening the height of the rigid mountains. Before the Endless Winter brought on by the Moon Era, the forest was once alive, glistening springs surrounded by an army of wild grass. The Rising Era was truly just that, magical. Every day basked in the glory of the Sun above, which has now fallen under a pale glow, like it has forever been blocked out by the hands of God. Everything from the leaves to the shapeless shrubs sprouting from frozen paths bathed in lifeless white. A cold atmosphere trapped the forest behind biting winds and fleeting snowstorms.
On this evening, there wasn’t a sound to be heard in the Chesney Woods, for the spirits were not usually active during daylight, and the animals have long since been gone. The wind of the west called out slowly, soon picking up the pace into a chilling howl. A crisp shade of red washed over the bare backs of every crooked tree. And then, all at once, shadows burned and dusk dawned on everything, making way for an impending storm.
In between the limp branches, two knights trudged their way through the mounds of snow. Their heavy suits made it extremely hard to maneuver in, what with the increasing snowfall pushing them back. But, nonetheless, the men carried on.
The clouds sparked to life, providing a beat for the wind to sing to. Like enchanting black diamonds, frozen rain pelted the knights vigorously. It was almost impossible to see.
“We’ll never make it if it keeps on like this,” One man, remarked. “We must find shelter somewhere—anywhere!”
“Over there!” shouted the other man. In the distance, through the almost opaque clouds of white, the men could just barely make out rising smoke.
They marched quicker, if that was even possible, weighed down by their heavy suits.
They had never intended to get mixed up in all this. In fact, they should have been back, safe and sound at the kingdom by now. Warm and huddled around a fire, retelling their accounts through the mysterious world of spirits and monsters—they had been dreaming of that day, honestly, ever since departing from the castle. But now, look. Upon losing their map, they’ve become utterly useless, lost within the dark, ominous woods. And home seemed further and further out of reach.
As they approached salvation down a winding road, they could make out a small cottage just up away. Three good-sized oak trees loomed overheard, their naked branches reaching down to scratch the tip of the roof. Loose wooden shackles wavered in the wind. Some had even blown away already, far gone by now. The house itself was quite small, spread wide but only stood about five foot tall with rounded edges and aged stone. Chipping paint overlapped each other, cracking to its fullest extent.
“This is our salvation? A hut fit for a gnome?” the young man grumbled. He huddled against himself, failing to find warmth between his metal arms.
“Quit yer whining,” The other man grumbled. “If this is all we got, then this is all we got.”
He hesitated as he lifted his hand to meet the door. Something…something wasn’t right. They had been wandering for days now, and hadn’t seen a single cabin besides those that had been abandoned. No one lived out in the wilderness anymore and haven’t for centuries. The spirits were just far too violent. So, who would be brave enough—better yet, dumb enough to live all the way out here?
Even while the pit of his stomach performed acrobats, he sucked in every doubtful ounce in him, and proceeded to knock.
Nothing came after.
“Pardon our intrusion,” He began to shout, “But might you care to help out two travelers?” Shivering in the cold, they waited but there was no answer. The chimney heaved, like a dragon’s belly; its breath was warm full of fire. Someone had to be home.
“Hello?” the knight wailed again, banging with determination this time. Still, there was no answer. Though the wind bellowed in their ears, calling for their heads, the knights refused to give into the cold, into the arms of death. Both men began to pound this time until the door finally budged. While the door creaked open freely, the knights thought it strange for it to have now suddenly given way. Had it been unlocked the entire time or had someone opened it?
There was no real time to think as they shuffled inside, shutting the door behind them. Darkness, not a homeowner, greeted them first. Suddenly, light broke through to meet them, provided by small, swiftly lit candles that were scattered about the room. The space was cramped and packed with dusty furniture. Before looking around some more, the two decided that it was about time to remove their heavy armor.
“Ah, much better,” the younger man with a head full of chocolate curls sighed; he had placed his helmet on a nearby table and was now driving his hands through his hair, shaking away any frosted flakes. He was small in frame, fair-skinned and his face was completely bare. He couldn’t have been older than 19.
His partner was a much older man, and his stature was quite larger than that of his friend. His hair was thick like his beard, blonde and flowed past his shoulders. Like a tormenting stomach ache, the man couldn’t shake his bad feeling, and he wasn’t so quick to get comfortable.
He turns to his friend, “Hmm…don’t you think this is all a bit strange?” He questions in a monotone voice, as if he was revealing a secret.
“Ah, what do ya’ mean?”
“Well, for start, who lit all of these candles? Also, what about this,” the older man steps towards an empty fire pit full of ash. “We were absolutely certain of the smoke we saw. But, I see no fire here.”