Appendix A: Chapter 10

[Editor's note: Chapter 10 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland slowly turned back around. He saw a figure at the other end of the chamber, holding a torch. The light from the torch illuminated the suit of blood-red armor that the figure wore, the light gleaming off the spikes that adorned the armor’s helmet and shoulders. The helmet’s visor was raised, but at this distance Roland could see nothing inside it other than darkness.

Roland instinctively moved his hand to the hilt of his word. “What have you done with her?” he demanded.

“She will soon meet the same fate as the boy,” the figure replied, motionless except for the light atop its torch.

“What do you want with her?”

“That is none of your concern.”

“Who are you?” A terrifying thought bubbled forth from the back of Roland’s mind. “Are you–?”

“The Demon King?” the figure replied, still motionless. “I am but his humble apprentice. When the appointed time has come, I shall succeed where he failed. None will stop me.”

“I will.”

“You? Here, alone? I think not. No, you shall renounce your oath and swear one to serve me. Or, you shall die. The choice is yours.”

Roland drew his sword and pointed it at the figure. Its blade glowed white, casting light throughout the chamber.

“I see the stories they tell of the paladins of Telerand are true,” the figure replied. “So be it.”

The figure slammed its empty fist against a stone, and the walls of the chamber burst into flame, cutting off Roland’s escape path. It then threw its torch to the ground, hefted a broadsword, and charged at him, more quickly and silently than Roland thought possible. Roland tossed his torch aside as well and darted to the side, out of the figure’s path.

Roland quickly assessed the situation. Given the figure’s movements through the chamber, Roland could probably assume that whatever traps there were in the chamber had either been set off already or had been disabled. The figure that now turned to face him again was not nearly as encumbered by his armor as Roland would have suspected, which suggested that some kind of magical power was at work, which could also explain the walls of flame it had brought forth. Roland put the flames out of his mind for now; he could worry about how to deal with that once he had defeated his assailant.

The figure advanced on Roland again, this time with measured, deliberate steps. Roland ran to circle around and swung his sword, aiming for a gap between two of the figure’s armor plates. The figure deflected it with its broadsword, and made an awkward attempt to strike Roland on the downswing. Roland twisted and dove to the side, leaving the broadsword to deliver only a glancing blow that his chain mail repelled. Roland let his momentum roll him once along the ground and then smoothly righted himself to face the figure again.

The figure had already hefted his broadsword and was beginning another swing, this time aimed squarely at Roland’s body. He quickly moved his sword to block the blow, but the impact caught him off balance. As he staggered back, his heel wedged itself in the gap between two stones in the floor. Roland fell backwards, landing in the middle of the flames blocking the entrace to the chamber.

Roland winced from slamming into the floor and instinctively shut his eyes, bracing for the searing heat. Only after a couple excruciatingly long seconds did Roland realize that the only pain he felt was from where his back had hit the floor. He forced his eyes open, and saw that the flames he had been certain were there moments before now seemed insubstantial.

In the light cast from his sword and the other walls, Roland saw the figure slowly advancing towards his position, readying its broadsword to strike the final blow. Ignoring the pain as best he could, Roland rolled towards the figure, catching it mid-step as he slammed his body into its leg. The figure stumbled forward, failed to right itself, and fell face-forward onto the floor with a dull thud.

Roland had expected the deafening clang of metal on stone, but it was definitely a thud.

Not worrying about the sound for the time being, Roland seized the opportunity to get back onto his feat. He ran to the figure’s position, still lying prone on the floor, and placed the blade of his sword, now glowing more fiercely than before, in the crack just below the figure’s helmet.

“Move and you die right here,” Roland commanded.

“Ow,” the figure replied. Its voice had lost the menacing booming quality it had had before.

“Drop your sword.”

The figure opened its hand, and the handle of its broadsword dropped a couple inches to the ground. Keeping the blade of his sword in place, Roland stepped around just enough to kick the broadsword, sending it skittering across the floor.

“What have you done with Anna?” Roland demanded.

“She’s unharmed, I swear,” the figure answered, a nervous tone creeping into its voice. “The boy, too. My men took her to see him, that’s all. Just let me go and I’ll explain everything, I promise.”

“You expect me to believe you?”

“Does it look like I’m in any position to take advantage of you? Take a look around you. Look carefully,” the figure stressed.

Roland carefully looked around the room, never letting his eyes leave his former assailant for more than a second. The walls were no longer on fire; instead, Roland simply saw rows of torches illuminating the room. Had the walls ever been on fire, or had it just been an illusion? Now that Roland was able to think about it, there hadn’t been any smoke at all, nor had he felt the heat of the flames at all even before he had landed in the fire.

Roland also looked carefully at the figure that lay before him. Its armor looked unusually dull and rough, almost as though it weren’t made of metal at all but rather… painted wood? With his foot, he pressed against one of the shoulder spikes, and it immediately snapped clean off.

“What, exactly, is going on here?” Roland asked in a voice that betrayed growing befuddlement.

“Like I asked, let me up and I’ll explain everything. You’ve probably figured out you could kill me just as easily whether I’m standing or lying here, right?”

Roland considered this for a few moments, then reluctantly removed the blade from the figure’s neck. The figure slowly rose to its feet, noticably wincing as it got up. Its arms slowly reached up and lifted the helmet off its head.

With the helmet removed, Roland saw clearly that the head was… definitely a head. Two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth, all in the expected places. Its brown hair had been matted down by the helmet. But beyond that, Roland’s brain seemed reluctant to commit itself to any futher level of detail.

“I do apologize about the whole kidnapping and subterfuge thing,” the man explained, “but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a little first-hand research done into how effective this get-up is. I’m sure you can under–well, on second thought, maybe you can’t, but that’s all right. Do you mind if I get rid of this outfit? Come on, I can’t see how you could object to your big enemy shedding his armor, right?”

Roland stared at him, glowing sword still pointed at him.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,’ then. I’m sure if you object, it’ll be obvious pretty quickly, right?” the man smiled as he started removing his wooden armor, revealing underneath what Roland could only describe as perfectly ordinary clothes underneath.

Roland continued to struggle with the situation he now found himself in. “How did you do that… thing… with the walls?”

“Ah,” the man’s eyes brightened, “pretty neat, isn’t it? I discovered it when I was first exploring these ruins. There’s a lever over there that activates a mechanism in the walls that strikes flints on each of those torches. It needed a little maintenance to get it working again, but it’s a pretty great effect, especially if you’re not expecting it. I would’ve loved to see what else like that there must’ve been around here,” he added wistfully.

“And the walls of fire?”

The man looked at Roland quizzically. “The walls of… oh, I see! Really? You’re even more succeptible to suggestion than I thought! Walls of fire, wow, that was a nice touch. I didn’t even know that sort of thing was possible.” He fished a leather-bound notebook and a pencil from his pocket and scribbled in it, reciting as he wrote, “‘possible field effect on certain individuals in some circumstances; further study needed to determine limits.’”

“What does that mean?”

“And here I was worried you were going to get suspicious of the whole thing. I mean, it’s such a huge cliche, isn’t it? Labyrinthine ruins, dark corridors filled with traps, the kidnapped damsel, the epic battle, oh, it was all just so perfect! And you just ran with it!”

Roland was still struggling to figure out what the man was even talking about.

“I mean, traps don’t make any sense anyway, when you think about it. Why trap your own hall? You’ll probably set it off on yourself half a dozen times by accident long before any intruders even get near it. Ah, but when you think about it,” the man continued, inexplicably pleased with how things were proceeding, “there really was a trap there: the trap to make you think there was even a trap there, distracting you long enough to nab the girl. Really, I should be thanking you; I would’ve hated to think all that time spent scraping away at the floor for a situation like this was all for nothing. I only regret my swordfighting skills have atrophied so badly. I had thought I would’ve lasted at least another couple minutes against you. I really ought to practice more, but there’s only so many hours in the day, you know?”

“Just, stop,” Roland said, holding out his empty hand before rubbing his temples. Tell me, in nice, short sentences, who you are, and what in Yssindria’s name you’re doing here.”

“Ah, right. Introductions. I’m Mattias. I’m here to save the world from certain doom.”

Chapter word count: 1,735 (according to wc)
Total word count: 18,442 / 50,000 (36.884% complete)

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