The Heart of the Night

A breeze blew over the tiny cottage that summer night; and though the man who owned the cottage slept soundly with his wife beside him, both exhausted from the day’s work, their son of about seven winters, moved restlessly on the animal skin that was his bed.  For the breeze did not bring cool refreshing air, but instead more heat, and with the heat came dark dreams to trouble the boy’s sleep.

He was outside searching for his friends who were hiding in the dark shadows of the night.  Whomever he found first would have to take his place in the seeking and it would be his turn to hide; he was good at that.  Before he had sufficient time to find anyone, however, he began to hear screaming.  He did not know where it was coming from, it seemed to come from everywhere, all around him, the village itself seemed to be screaming.  Then he recognized the screaming to be coming from his friends … and then … from the women of the village as well, the men were shouting; but above all those horrible screams and sounds of frightened people the boy could here another sound, a terrible sound of crackling laughter.  He ran from that sound, the sound of death, destroying everything it could, simply to bring pain to the living.  It was a hungry sound, a hunger that could never be satisfied.  The boy tried to hide, but the cottage in whose shadows he hid betrayed him, its timbers snapping apart exploding and cackling with the horrible laughter, the creature of which, the boy was suddenly in front of, a horrifying bodiless thing that glowed of red heat with only a mouth open ready to devour him.

His eyes snapped open as he sat upright in the single room of the tiny cottage; he was breathing hard and his clothes were drenched in sweat.

It was quiet.  Or so he thought at first, but then he realized that there was a noise coming from a distance, from the opposite side of the village he thought, then, to his terror, he recognized it as screaming, and it was becoming louder and louder.  He jumped to his feet and ran to the nearest window to escape, but when he got there he stopped, there, at the opposite side of the village, he could see a bodiless red hot glow.

He heard his mother and father sit up, awakened by him.  “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”  His mother asked.  He turned toward her and pointed out the window.  She came beside him and as she looked out he saw concern mixed with fear fill her face.

“What is it?” he heard his father say.

“Fire,” she answered in a hushed voice, “The village is on fire.”  Suddenly the screaming was all around them.  The cottage next to them burst into flames and dark figures darted about killing anyone who escaped the burning cottages.  His mother, terrified, dragged him quickly to the window facing the woods; his father had gotten to his feet.  But before she could lift her son out of the window the door burst open and a nightmare stepped into their home.

It was in the shape of a man covered in a pale silver armor his helmet in the shape of a skull and a sword that curved and twisted like steel fire.  Death himself had come for them.

“Run!” his father shouted rushing at Death while at the same time two soldiers dressed in the same pale armor stepped behind their evil lord.  With a speed that almost seemed lazy Death thrust his wicked sword deep into his father’s belly dispatching him easily and pushing him to the floor.  A scream escaped his mother’s lips, and with a desperate strength lifted her son out the window in an attempt to save his life.  It wasn’t enough.  Before she could lower him to the ground the boy saw the twisted sword rip through his mother’s breast spraying him with her warm blood as he fell from her arms to the ground.  As he got to his feet he could see through his hot tears the skull helmet at the window in place of his mother’s face.  A sharp whisper came from its unmoving jaws, “Kill him!”  And as the boy turned to run he saw Death’s soldiers coming for him.

He ran as hard as he could up the hill towards the woods wiping the tears from his eyes with his sleeve so they could not blind him and make him trip.  Still the soldiers were faster and stronger than he and were catching him quickly.  He had the lead, however, and if he could make it to the woods he could hide from them in places he knew they could not get to.  Now he was up the hill, only a little farther and he’d be in the shadows of the trees; but just as he thought he had reached his goal and would be safe among the trees a strong hand grabbed his shoulder, twisting him around and throwing him to the ground in the same action.  He knew it was the end, so the boy closed his eyes and waited for the soldiers raised sword to bite into him.

It never happened.  Instead, the boy heard a crash and opened his eyes in time to see a huge black horse flying past him trampling Death’s soldier beneath its powerful hooves while its rider leapt from its back crashing into the second soldier with force enough to bring the hilt of his sword in direct contact with the soldiers breastplate, the rest of the blade protruding from the back squirting his blood on the ground.

Once the knight had taken care of the soldiers of Death and seen to it that no others were close at hand he whipped his sword clean and approached the boy whom he had just saved.  The boy noticed that the knight was still rather young, only about twenty-five winters; he wore solid black armor and had no helm on his head.

“Are you alright?” the knight asked in a loud whisper.

But it was too much for the boy.  Now that he was safe everything that had happened rushed in upon him and he could no longer keep the tears from falling.

“Stop that!” demanded the knight.  “I did not save your life just now so you could weaken yourself through weeping like a little girl.  I have come to give you a chance; the same chance your mother gave you when she lifted you out of the window; the chance to avenge her death and your father’s.  My name is Nox and you are coming with me and I will protect you, but until I have taught you to take the life of the one who has destroyed yours you will know me as Domine, or Master.”

Seeing no other option left open to him, the boy followed the knight finding a purpose to this new life that had replaced his former one which had so suddenly come to an end; the purpose of taking his revenge on Death.


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