A Determined Soul

The knight crumpled into a heap against the wall, his deeply-dented armor scraping loudly against the slick, poorly hewn stones as he slid down to the floor. He should have barricaded the door, but he didn’t even have the strength to lift his visor, much less pile debris against a rotting door. He sighed, coughed, and then grew still.

[It is time.]

He grunted as he dimly became aware of the figure crouched at his feet, and the pitter-patter of rain upon his helmet. He lifted his head slightly, and noticed that the ceiling of this chamber had long ago collapsed – thus water had begun to fill the chamber here in there in fetid puddles. How long had he been asleep? He tried to lift himself from the rubble he was strewn upon, but his limbs failed to obey his commands – another violent cough wracked his chest, and a thin wheeze escaped his lips as he gasped for breath.

[Your lungs are collapsing. Your body is mangled. Your right arm’s tendons have been severed below the elbow.]

“Ah,” grunted the knight, “I had wondered why…” He wheezed again, in an effort to laugh, but a bloody mass escaped instead. The remaining gauntlet twitched, but failed to rise in an attempt to wipe his chin. He spat, sat silently for a moment, and then asked offhandedly, “My sword…?”

The figure lifted a hand from their knees and pointed at a discarded, shattered blade near the doorway.

[Like you, it is a ruin.]

Once more, the knight grunted in reply. The loss of his sword was a personal blow, but a numbed one. Somewhere in his fractured memories, he recalled that it was a gift. For what purpose, he couldn’t possible remember, but the sword was supposed to remind him that… No, its purpose was beyond him, now. Trying to remember did him no good but make him recognize the void where those memories were once housed.

[It is time.]

The figure was closer now, squatting beside the knight, atop a pile of rubble. Their eyes met for a moment before the knight glanced away, spitting the bloody foam that filled his mouth in order to make room for the words, “Not yet,” before his head fell to his chest and his breath came out a rattling sigh.

Once the knight fell silent again, the figure slowly unfolded themselves to rise to their full height. They towered above the prone knight, but they did not move any further, neither acting a threat or as a comforting presence. They simply observed, and waited, until, finally, asking…

[Why?]

Despite the near-silence of the question, the knight stirred. Once more, he lifted his head, and though he struggled to breathe, his words slipped out in a hushed rasp that somehow yet belayed amusement, “I don’t think you’ve ever asked that before.”

When the figure didn’t reply, the knight groaned and tried to sit upright. His back slowly straightened, and his head lolled to the side when he made contact with the wall. The tightness in his chest was relieved for a moment, and when his left hand explored the stabbing pain in his midsection, it found the handle of a slender knife. The knight attempted to pull it free from his ribs, but the bloody tool kept slipping from the grasp of his twitching gauntlet.

[Why do you persist?]

It seemed like a reasonable question, but the knight didn’t answer, at least with his words. The rain was still tapping incessantly upon his head, and was beginning to annoy him. Despite his inability to control his fingers enough to pull the blade out from his body, the knight was able to gradually his helmet’s visor away from his face. Successful, he let his his head loll back against the wall and closed his eyes – the sound echoed less painfully in his ears, and the cool rain felt comforting as it coaxed the dried blood away from his parched lips.

[How can you smile?]

The knight was coaxed from unconsciousness once more. The figure had moved slightly away, crouched now on the floor near his feet again. Although he was familiar with the figure, he never could read its expression – still, the question betrayed a certain incredulity, so the knight sighed and attempted to shrug, “The rain feels good.”

[You are in pain.]

“Still it… it still feels good.” The knight spat again, blood drooling from the edge of his mouth. He suddenly recalled something of use, and carefully began to pat his hip, searching for a small drawstring purse at his side. Gently, he pulled away a bit of ragged cloth, and wiped his mouth, staining the yellowed fabric with the coppery sheen of old blood. As though invigorated by the sight, the knight mustered his energies to stand. He had wasted too much time, here, resting, he realized. His legs lacked strength, and what remained of his armor felt like it weighed ten stone, but he somehow manage to rise up to a knee.

[Your body is shattered.]

With a grunt of effort, the knight began to shakily stand. His useless right hand limply steadied his body against the wall, and he took a step passed the figure, towards the rotten doorway. His armor creaked as he moved haltingly, and his breath was nothing but a groaning wheeze, yet, somehow, he had managed to pull himself to a standing position. With an exhausted sigh, he began to drag himself towards the rotten door at the entrance to the chamber.

[That is enough. It is time.]

The knight nearly collapsed at the doorway and the figure reacted with a small step forward, but the knight grunted his objection, “Not yet,” while holding out a bloodstained gauntlet to stop it from coming any closer.

There was a moment of hesitation from them both, until the knight reached down into the shallow pool he knelt in and pulled out the shattered remains of an old sword. With some difficulty, he used the blade to push himself off the floor, and somewhat steadier now, placed his right hand against the door and struggled to push through.

[You died.]

The door shuddered before finally giving way to the knight’s will. With another exhausted sigh, the knight lower his visor and limped through the doorway, calling out to a figure who was no longer there.

“Not yet.”

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