‘Ballad of a Failed Knight’ Chapter 1

Here’s the first chapter to the Ballad of a Failed Knight book I’m writing. It introduces a number of characters and sets up what readers may expect going forward in the story. Though it doesn’t give much story details beyond the prologue, I figured starting with a battle in the woods might hook the reader. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Please let me know your comments below!

I couldn’t decide which AI generated pic I liked more so here’s two alternates to the masked magician, the “phiraana mantrik” as I call the mages of this world. It basically translates in Indian to ‘spell wielder’ though that’s according to Google. Anyway, enjoy!

Chapter 1: An unexpected Visitor

The wind that blew North from the Ashen Mountains became silent, and the morning dew on the emerald blades of grass that acted as a carpet for the Kingdom of Gelang became still; even the three suns who broke dawn not too long ago, balancing high above the swirling clouds, held their breath. Nearly fifty armed men and women geared up in hefty iron medieval armor scoured & preserved from the times of old moved several yards out from the north side of the thick weathered stone castle walls that encompassed the small city and its lively citizens. Proud to be one of the dozen surviving civilizations of a post-apocalyptic Earth now called Pangeotus, Gelang felt like the last line of defense against the horrors of the outside world, in which there were many. Crafted and molested, torn down and rebuilt, destroyed and reshaped was the Earth once again by the worshipped Gods that used it as their tabletop playground.

Among the captains of the knights stood a rather intense expression on Isaac, although hidden under his dark periwinkle antlered cold steel helmet and unique armor which shined in the rising sunlight. Newly appointed to lead the Delta Lieutenants  and the last line of defense against the invading horde of monsters, he and the rest were summoned to the front lines for what was a very unexpected encounter. Stern blue eyes gazed out the slits of his helm, out at the insect-sized swarm of beasts that were creeping closer to the castle.

Yards beside Isaac stood another captain that couldn’t help but glance over at him. Lancel was Isaac’s older cousin, but had little faith in his younger relative. This was by no means Isaac’s first encounter with monsters. But having very little experience with encounters of the outside world, Lancel felt there was plenty of room for Isaac to mess up horribly, especially for an amateur like him. 

“Don’t drop your fucking guard, Zac!” Isaac heard his cousin’s off-color advice clear as day, but chose to ignore him. He knew Lancel was jealous he’d gotten the first kill. Isaac wasn’t competitive, but it didn’t mean the others hadn’t seen this as a game; his cousin sure did. 

Glancing down by his feet where the deranged falcotrice he just bludgeoned with his morning star laid, Isaac starred into its cold, dead foggy black eye. Contempt is all he felt, for out of all the Kingdom, he perhaps held the greatest hatred for monsters and anything inhuman.

Lifting his heavy greatshield with both arms, he waited. A sudden twitch of the grizzly snout was enough of a reason for Isaac to slam the shield down, completely decapitating the bird by the neck; thick black blood oozed out, soiling the dirt below his feet. Although the foe should’ve been a formidable one, especially after being tainted by the God of chaos, Isaac is no ordinary man, as he himself is graced with the divinity of another Goddess. Great Strength, high endurance, and resounding courage are just a few of the graces Isaac borrows from the Goddess who calls him her Pillar.

This action was enough to turn heads in astonishment. Lancel scoffed. There were even a few chuckles; you could be blind and still see the rivalry between the two relatives. 

“Listen up!” Captain Eileen roared in a deep stern voice loud enough to be heard down the line of knights, “This may be the first time in combat for many of you outside advanced training,” she paced around the grass ahead of her squad, “if you haven’t noticed, this excursion is rather unusual even for me. There are many types of adversaries; big and small, slimy and scaly, big swingers and fast movers. And from the looks of it we’ll be facing them all today. Lieutenant knights”, she looked over at the Alpha battalion she commanded, “stay close to your captain, and follow orders.  Keep your guard up and weapons ready! I better not see a single casualty today!” That last sentence wasn’t nearly as bombastic as the rest. With the shiniest brooch fastened to her crimson cape, Eileen cracked her threaded whip which even the trees echoed its impact.

“Captain Eileen is right!” Captain Jacquelin chimed in with greater enthusiasm, “Remember your strengths, and keep your eyes facing forward! Look after your own selves and pay no mind to your comrades; distractions are fatal! Stay sharp, and look alive out there!” she thrusted her bronze spear in the air. She was a favorite among the captains, especially for the crude and perverted Captain Hermetus, both for her positive demeanor as well as her gorgeous looks underneath her revealing chainmail, which she claims mobility is the driving factor behind leaving several exposed gaps in her armor. She would raise the army’s spirits even with the harshest of outcomes.

At this point the approaching horde of monstrosities looked larger than just insects as they made their way past the woods and into the clearing. Hissing, yelping, growling, and moaning became more audible, which didn’t help the cavalries’ morale. Several knights shifted nervously in their boots. Suddenly, a violet ring appeared with a thunder, hovering about ten feet above the ground. Several gasps were made; even old man Captain Brawn, who wore the heaviest armor and who always grumbles in response to everything under his thick gray mustache, didn’t grumble at this, but instead held his breath. 

Then the violet ring expanded tenfold in size and revealed a deep black hole, an Abyss far too deep to stare into. A cloaked figure emerged from the ring, which then shrunk and disappeared behind, as quickly as it appeared. The floating phantom wore a pitch black hooded cloak speckled with golden stars of the eternal galaxy. Beautiful gold embroidery of the stars also lined the trim of the cloak and base of the skirt. The prominent curves on the phantom revealed to everyone that the figure was in fact a woman. But the most noticeable feature was the white porcelain mask with gold symbols that wrapped around its edges and bled through the cheekbones and around the eyes and mouth. Even more striking were the bright pink eyes that illuminated under the velvet hood and behind that eerie mask.

“Citizens of the Kingdom of Gelang,” a deep and supernatural echo of a voice rang out from all around, “your kingdom has committed a great evil far grander than the sight before you.”, she lifted an arm to highlight the monsters that had stopped before her. The monsters took as much of an interest in the phantom as the knights have. “Over the past thirty years, your people have conquested throughout Pangeoutus, stealing treasures that do not belong to mortals.” The phantom’s horrifying eyes glanced at a number of captains. “Return the artifacts of Eirise from whence you found them, or the world will feel the wrath of the Gods. Disobey the University of Phantasmos and you will feel my wrath.” 

Her voice rang as if the Gods themselves spoke through her. Several knights fell on their knees, and a few even wept where they stood on the plains against the castle walls. Most of them have seen very little work of magic before, and this appeared to be all too much for some. The captain reacted in their own unique ways; Brawn made a low grumble. Hermetus didn’t hear a thing and only stared at the phantom’s feminine figure open-jawed. Eileen looked yards away over at Lancel for support, but Lancel just scrunched his face in disgust. Isaac had no idea what the mysterious stranger was talking about, and responded by holding a tighter grip on his shield and morning star. It was none other than Captain Jaquelin who responded.

“You don’t have the right to give us orders! Our kingdom has its own agenda and you have no right to tread where you don’t belong!” Jaquelin retorted, “This ends now!” She looked back to her squad and boasted “Spearmen, watch me end this, and get ready to celebrate our victory!”. She looked back to the phantom in the sky and pointed at her, “You’re dead!”.

Just then, Captain Jaquelin took a deep breath and narrowed her gaze, focusing on her floating target. Lifting her long bronze spear in her right hand, she put all the weight on her right leg and twisted her body, pushing her arm out and throwing the spear right at the phantom. Everyone; men and monsters, looked toward the direction of the spear in flight. Carried by the wind, the spear would enter right into the stranger’s heart, and she would fall dead to the ground and the monsters would give up and flee; everyone would celebrate with a giant roast and drink mead and Captain Hermetus would confess his feelings to Captain Jaquelin and the two would wed and birth a pair of cherubs and live happily. That would be a pleasant thought. But many unpleasantries will follow in this dark tale you’re about to hear.

As the sharp spear was about to strike the supernatural character, the cloaked phantom shifted over enough to dodge and grabbed the spear by the center of the shaft with her black sharp-tipped metal glove. She then spun 360-degrees and threw the spear directly back with even greater speed and precision. In the next instant, the spear entered right into Jaquelin’s neck, where a large hole in her armor exposed her entire collarbone. Blood gushed from the wound, and her knees buckled. 

“Jacky!” Captain Hermetus screamed, very close to breaking his formation and running over to her. Several Lieutenant knights started to cry, especially the members of Jacquelin’s battalion. No one would tear up as much as Hermetus. Jacquelin fell over on her spear, which responded by digging further into her neck. Dead.

Anger, frustration, and sadness erupted among the knights, especially their leaders. It was a cold autumn day, but that didn’t stop beads of sweat from forming on the foreheads of knights. 

“Anyone else dare to challenge me?” the cloaked woman questioned the line of knights below, the pair of neon pink eyes looking over each and every captain. Brawn looked up at her with heavy eyes that showed no emotion, gauging her strength, but still not daring to lift his greatsword. 

“Who are you?! What do you want?!” Eileen howled at the masked menace, putting on a strong-front while holding back tears, glossing over the phantom’s earlier introduction. Death for the knights was uncommon in Gelang, since monster attacks were rare and neighboring towns hardly ever attacked, but Jaquelin was her close friend despite having opposite personalities. She gripped her whip by the coil, blood seeping from her hand as she dug her palm into its sharp edge. 

“I’m a phiraana-mantrik, a magician of sorts, and I’ve come to prevent a great calamity.” the phantom replied in a calm but vocal manner. There was little hostility in her voice, however her previous action showed how far she would go to get her message across. The hundreds of monsters that made a wall far below and back from the witch appeared to lose interest in her, and proceeded to march forward in a messy clump of bodies. 

“Final warning,” she continued, “you can’t all be this ignorant. A select few of you know what will happen, yet choose to stay silent despite full-well knowing the consequences.” As she spoke those words, the portal opened again and the menace reached her slender cloaked arm into the void and pulled out a silhouette staff taller than her, which glowed a vibrant purple hue, the tip appearing spherical with a sharp crescent that curved around it. The portal closed once again. “By the way, there appears to be a traitor amongst your captains, not that it’s any of my concern, however”. 

“Archers!” Lancel hissed. He wasn’t in charge of the archery battalion, but Captain Emiya wasn’t about to object to him commanding his unit. The light-armored, leather-clad lieutenants spaced out, and drew the notch of their wooden bows. It only took one word for them to hastily prepare a full on assault, “Fire at will!” Emiya and Lancel’s voices became unison. In mere moments, a rain of arrows fired away at the floating menace and the enemies now crossing below her. She began to spin her shrouded staff at an unnatural speed, which knocked back every single steel and wooden arrow that happened to fly toward her. Everyone, especially Emiya, was utterly shocked. Despite serving their purpose and taking out a chunk of the weaker monsters like the canine & pig hybrid muttyhams which flopped over on their sides with dead eyes and drool leaking from their stubby snout, or the short and greedy goblin-like pasteur gobblys who cursed like high-pitched sailors and bled out while they failed to pull the arrows out. The arrows did little to take out the thick-skinned pale draugulubs who stood twice as tall as any man and with clammy skin that acted as a coat of armor, as well as the slimy slithering limbless suqiths that glided across the grass and make it slick with its bodily fluids. But the surprise was for none other than that levitating magician with the neon eyes and twirling black staff that deflected everything. 

It was none other than Brawn who spoke up with a hoarse voice reflecting his age, “Captains! Lieutenants! Fear not of the mage and her antics. Focus on the immediate threat ahead of you!” the old man took command, “Archers fall back! Spearmen and shieldmen enter the front! Swordsmen group around and flank the left side! Axemen flank the right side of the enemy!”. Brawn raised his wide greatsword with both hands and pointed it straight out, not to the phiraana mantrik, but the mass of beasts and monsters on the ground approaching. His command was encouraging to all the knights as it gave a clear direction on how to approach the incoming danger, but Eileen was curious why Brawn didn’t command the captains to create  a full-on assault of the phantom mage, that would make the most sense, right? Surely all the captains could overpower this masked bitch she thought. In reality, Brawn knew all too well that despite his strength, he was no match for the witch’s speed, nor did he know what other terrifying power she was capable of. 

Isaac tensed up, quickly looking over his shoulder to his battalion. He just as quickly gave orders to his eight lieutenants under his sole command, Phillip, Brendon, Emmanuel, Jeremiah, Katelin, Monique, Dalton, Gilbert. Isaac had been working with and training the band of diverse recruits for merely 3 months, barely having the time to hone their strengths with the blade and mind and worked to minimize their varied weaknesses like fear. He was by no means the harshest nor the toughest on his battalion; Eileen had him beat there, but he also wasn’t lax on them either like Hermetus was with his trainees. Perhaps the greatest strength Isaac could offer his students was none other than courage; that ability to keep persevering in the face of danger, no matter how harsh. If Jacquelin could raise the morale and spirits of her group, Isaac would give his team the power to endure any scenario or hardship. He raised his mace in the air.

Meanwhile, Lancel finished bickering with his battalion about how to approach the ever creeping wave of enemies, and ran off on his own, charging head first towards the phiraana mantrik. “I’ll be your next target!” Lancel beckoned, plowing through a group of flustered pasteur gobblys with his iron lance. His gauntlets that gripped the hefty rod shone a vibrant hue, but not from the sunlight that rose higher and higher in the sky to get a good look at the brawl below. He seemed untouchable. 

“Idiot! Don’t rush ahead on your own!” Eileen scolded him. She sent her battalion off in three groups, then tried making her way towards the phantom herself. At this point, the clashing of blades and clubs and daggers could be heard across the countryside. A yelpish squeal of a pierced muttyham could occasionally be heard followed by a low moan of a draugulub swinging their club around, or a sharp hiss of a sneaking suqith underfoot accompanied by the occasional grumble from Brawn, and of course shouts from everyone else who had the strength to wield their swords and axes and maces.

“She’s mine!” Lancel snarled at Eileen. Rumor among the lieutenants suggests the pair have a sensual relationship, despite Lancel being a loose cannon and Eileen being far more mature than he ever could. He had charming looks with his bleach blond hair and chiseled jawline that made even Hermetus jealous, despite his childish persona. When it came to competitions, Lancel needed to stroke his ego, and other parts that fastened beneath his waistline.

“Perfect,” the phiraana mantrik replied to his claim of her with a smile beneath her intimidating mask, lowering herself to the ground and stopped spinning her staff, “you’re just the one I wanted to silence anyway!” As Lancel’s silver gauntlets began to glow a strange hue of blue as if preparing for something major, the iron lance was thrust towards the phiraana mantrik with incredible speed. But with even greater speed did the phantom shift her stance just barely enough to dodge iron. And again Lancel thrust is lance. And again she just barely dodged it. And again. And again. After almost a dozen failed jabs from the irritated captain, with the phantom’s staff in both hands she tapped his left gauntlet, only a tap however. Suddenly his armor no longer shone, as if deactivated. 

Suddenly a loud crack was heard, and even the phiraana mantrik turned her hooded face to see who had caused it; Lancel could’ve used the opportunity to get a successful jab in, but the phantom calculated his confusion and inability to attack beforehand. Isaac had thrust his mace into the ground, which looked thrice as large due to a vibrant blue glow around the spiked head of the weapon. 

“In the name of the Goddess of Purity, Eirise! I call for your aid in my time of need!” Isaac chanted, “Let your fist strike Pangeotus whence you once roamed! And open the sunlight upon these tainted hearts!” Just then, another crack was made, and the place once called Earth shook and split yards in front of him in a trickle of rippling light. Dozens upon dozens of monsters screamed in agony; muttyhams left and right squealed and fell through the cracks below, their paws having no chance to catch the ledges. Pasteur gobblys cursed amongst themselves with wide eyes that burst from the ultraviolet light and ragdolled onto the dirt below. Draugulubs turned back to run away, some slipping from the splitting Earth and falling over and crushing other monsters on impact. Isaac made sure no lieutenants were in his line of sight when he unleashed that ability, and while it raised the spirits of many of his comrades and even saved a number of their lives, others found excuses to raise complaints.

“What in Baahlarvus are you doing, Zack!” Lancel spat in Isaac’s direction wide eyed but not as surprised as the others, “You’re gonna kill someone using that power you shithea-” in that moment the phiraana mantrik took the distraction to whip her staff around and slam Lancel in the head and chest, knocking him unconscious under the vibration of his helmet and crushing his chest plate which in turn broke a few of his rib. “Distracted fool” she spoke. He was sent soaring several yards back and sent him crashing into a number of his own lieutenants. While the blow caused minor head and bodily trauma and wasn’t fatal, the witch would have certainly silenced Lancel with a charged attack with her magic had Hermetus not rushed over and closed the distance between himself and the one who killed his lover. An immense roar could be heard deep in the thicket of the woods. The war raged on.

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