The wind blew hard across the ground, whipping my hair wildly about and scattering the pebbles at my feet. The harsh crack of thunder echoed in the distance and the sky began to darken. I was close. So very close.
For almost three whole years, I had traveled across Geridia, searching for the Fear Legion, the most elusive members of the Crownbreakers and their leader, the Deathwind. But perhaps even more than that, I was searching for closure. I had to know what had happened to her.
I gazed at their camp, mere miles away from the plateau where I stood. Soon, so very soon, I would strike. A bolt of lightning flashed in the distance, distracting me from my reverie and illuminating my perch to reveal an all too familiar figure.
I was no longer alone. The figure's face was covered by a monstrous mask made from the fused skulls of some of the fiercest creatures in the world, and his rusted mail was covered by bones. A hide cloak trailed behind him, blown by the wind, and in his left hand, he held a massive blade. The Deathwind. It seemed that my quarry had instead come to me.
“You!” I could barely contain my rage. Trembling in anger, fear, and anticipation, I slowly began to draw my sword and shield as he trudged toward me.
“You have come far,” he said, his voice deep and distorted as though by some magic within his mask. “But I would turn back if I were you. It would be a great waste to all of Attare to see the end of such a skilled warrior here. Leave now, little pawn of the emperor, and I may just spare your life.”
“Silence!” I erupted. “You have been a source of misery in this land for far too long! I will make you pay for your crimes, here and now!”
“Very well then,” The Deathwind said, almost sadly. “You will die here.”
I charged, and a furious cry escaped my lips as my blade met his. Using my momentum, I pressed the attack and rained blow after blow against him, only to have each strike knocked away in turn. He whipped his foot into a gap in my armor, and I heard the loud snap of bone as one of my right ribs shattered under the blow. I screamed in agony, only to be silenced as he slammed the pommel of his sword into my temple. Disoriented, I fell back, barely managing to sidestep a powerful swing that would have split me in two.
Cursing myself for being so reckless, I adopted one of my newly learned stances, bringing my shield up in order to better defend myself while I scanned him for any gaps in his defense. As he stepped into his next blow, I saw my chance. Rolling under his sword, I spun and plunged my blade into a section of his rusted mail. I watched with satisfaction as his blood seeped from under the shattered links.
Unfortunately, this feeling didn’t last long, as the Deathwind whipped his sword in a wide arc, hammering it into my shield as I brought it up just in time. My shield arm went limp as I felt the reverberations from the blow traveling into the left side of my body, further exacerbating the pain from my broken rib. I coughed once and fell to my knees, tasting the metallic flavor of blood as it began to drip from my mouth.
“You are strong-willed, paladin,” the Deathwind murmured. “Far too strong-willed for your own good. Yet you fight us. You must know that you cannot stop us, so why do you resist? Join us, and exert this will of yours over others! You could have anything you desire!”
“All I want is Natalia, you son of a whore,” I spat, my blood splattering his boots.
“Natalia…” The Deathwind’s tone suddenly became much more sinister, and almost mocking. “Such a pretty name… Yes, I remember her. She was my favorite,” he began to chuckle darkly. “Though never willing of course… She had such beautiful screams...”
That’s when I snapped.
Using the last of my strength, I unleashed one final blow, aimed directly at his head. He raised his blade to block mine, but it was of no use. With a scream of pure fury, I drove my sword through his, cleaving it in two before sinking my blade into his mask.
Time seemed to stand still as the Deathwind’s helm shattered and fell to the ground at my feet, leaving me face to face for the first time with my hated foe. I could not believe my eyes.
She stood before me, almost exactly as I had last seen her, from her wavy blonde hair to her deep blue eyes. There was no one else she could have possibly been.
“Natalia… Tali… why?” I felt my eyes brimming with tears. “W-Were you behind all this? What have you done?!”
Slowly, she walked over to me. She stroked my face gently with her right hand, brushing away a stray tear. Over the sound of the storm, I was vaguely aware of what sounded like some voices in the distance.
“Varen, I’m so sorry,” she said, as she kissed me on the cheek. Suddenly, my whole being was wracked by a wave of pain. I stumbled back in shock, gaping at the shattered sword shoved deep into my side, in the same spot as my broken rib.
My vision began to blur, and I became acutely aware of my surroundings. Of the frigid air and my burning hot blood, of the sounds of voices and footsteps, and of the hardness of the rock as it struck my unprotected head. Soon, everything descended into blackness.
The last thing I heard was the murmuring of many voices. The last thing I felt was the falling rain.