TOME OF ETERNAL DARKNESS

The Missing Page

Holy Knight

Experience has shown,
and a true philosophy will always show,
that a vast, perhaps the larger portion of the truth
arises from the seemingly irrelevant.

-Edgar Allen Poe

A.D. 2004 – Rhode Island

After I ended the threat from Pious Augustus and his Ancient, I began to feel a pull from the Tome of Eternal Darkness, as if the tome was incomplete. So in traveling the world, searching for missing pages of the tome, my journeys led me to Amman and surprisingly, to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Within one of the scrolls, concealed by holy magick, rested a missing page from a man I wanted to know more about. Charlemagne the Frank. It took some "convincing" by the government and church to give me the missing page as it wasn't a Dead Sea Scroll. I have gotten it though and couldn't help but immediately devour the knowledge once I returned to Rhode Island.

A.D. 814 – Amiens, France

"Thou art not skilled by arm but by mind," a strong yet gentle voice spoke to the young man on the ground, always on the ground after the twenty-eighth sparing match this day.

"But Charlemagne, I need to grow stronger. How else am I to be like you?" the youth said, standing to his feet and arming himself again.

The knight grinned; his usual delightful smile at his protégé. Indeed, the young man had courage, nobility and cunning to match any knight of the court and if not for his lack of physical strength, the young man would've been an apprentice knight long ago. However, Charlemagne knew the truth, as he brought his blade to bare, quickly outmatching his student and sending him to the ground once more. The young man has reached a limit he could never hope to surpass. And he was sure his student knew it too, to his utter frustration. The young man came from scholar blood, not a warrior's, and his family blood kept his body from growing stronger.

"Enough Tony. Thou cannot win unless thou goes against the code," Charlemagne grimly stated.

Anthony flinched by being called "Tony" and only Charlemagne, his mentor, was the only one he would ever permit to call him such and Charlemagne knew it and thus used it all the time. The student flinched again by the remark. To go against the code was not an option. Perhaps if he did cheat, fought dirty, he might be able to finally claim victory. But such a victory would be hollow without honor. No, Anthony would never go against the code.

"Wash thyself off. I have something of importance to tell thee," the knight passively said.

It wasn't so much of the command that had Anthony rushing towards the river but the way it was said. Only one other time had the squire had the unfortunate luck at seeing his mentor not in high spirits. How dire… or perhaps urgent it was had Anthony cleaning and returning quickly

Charlemagne looked onto his pupil. What he would tell him would reshape his world and not for the better. To see reality as it really was and not how one perceives it, was terrifying. Did he have the right to ruin this young man's life with such knowledge? Charlemagne knew he didn't but someone needed to know his greatest battle and the knight couldn't continue to keep it only to himself much longer.

"What dost thou know of me?" Charlemagne asked, waving for the youth to take a seat by the river bank. The question had the young man at attention.

"You are Sir Charlemagne the Frank, born in Wessex and knighted by King Egbert in the year of our lord…"

"Past formalities," Charlemagne instructed.

"Yes, well," Anthony took the hint and finally sat down. "You've battled in many conflicts, fighting honorably and truly in the name of God. Each battle victorious with minimal casualties and each soldier lost you insist that you, yourself, would visit the homes of the families who lost a father, a brother or a son and give them the grim news."

Charlemagne listened as his pupil recollected all of his heroics and noble deeds. To the king, he was Charlemagne the Frank, soon to be head knight of the entire knighthood. To the priests and bishops, he was a blessed man of God, a true crusader. To the Eternal Darkness, he was a holy knight, a paladin. And through all of Anthony's recounts, the knight nodded his head, though he wasn't really listening. Perhaps, the young knight was now having second thoughts. Lifting his eyes to his squire, he noticed he was being called and by the looks of Anthony's face, it wasn't the first time his name was spoken.

Again, Charlemagne nodded and acted like he was listening and his name being repeated was also heard. The knight could hope Anthony thought he was lost in his own past. But it was far from it. Charlemagne strolled up to his pupil. It was light of day, high noon in fact, which was a great comfort. He knew he could speak freely to the boy before him without the evil beasts overhearing them.

"Tony, before I speakth my story, thou must promise me to keep it to thyself. Swear it!"

"On my honor, I shalt not speak it again."

"Tony," Charlemagne sighed, squatting down to eye level with his protégé. "Swear thee wilst not speakth of this to anyone. Not even his majesty if so he decreed."

The words struck the squire as if his mentor balled up a fist and punched him square in the face. How wide his eyes grew, how difficult it was for him not to shutter. Charlemagne, his idol, has kept a secret from the king! Such an act was treason and the penalty for that was the gallows. What dark thing could the knight been keeping?

Anthony quickly shook that thought away. He knew Charlemagne the Frank. All his life, the squire loved his mentor like a father, though by age, they were closer to brothers. The knight was his hero. Every single knight, touched ever so gently by power, became corrupted and used their power for their own ends. But not Charlemagne. Chivalry, honor, discipline. Where knights go wrong, when written in history, Anthony hoped Charlemagne's character was the true vision when someone would think when they hear the word "knight," and not some man who would pillage small villages, rape innocent girls and kill his fellow man in the name of Jesus Christ without a justifiable reason.

"On my word, not even if the Pope himself demanded it of me, I would not breathe a whisper," Anthony promised, staring proudly at his mentor. That brave statement brought a chuckle to the knight.

"Well, I do hope that never happens," Charlemagne's smile vanished as he stood back up, turning his head to the heavens, as if gazing far into the past.

"It begins, five years ago…"

A.D. 809 – Ashdown Forest, Sussex

"So even thou hath at least some honor, foul beast!" Charlemagne called throughout the full mooned night.

The forest was silent for the two combatants and their respective armies. Regardless how often the young knight informed his men about the enemy, they couldn't help but tremble at the sight, the smell, of the living corpses before them. The zombies on the other hand, seemed very, very hungry and eager.

The darkness began its attacks on this single knight for a few years before he came into possession of something they wanted. But every single time he pushed that darkness away with his discipline and honor. Never before has the darkness found someone, a great prodigy, who didn't quiver in terror at the sight of the abominations or to lose his sanity to their gazes. Instead he would charge with his sword and head held high, promising on his honor and in the name of God that he would destroy the beasts.

How he managed to keep the dark battles a secret, especially when he fought, fatigued on the battlefield during the day was a mystery. Perhaps it was his youthful stamina or maybe his faith in the Lord that kept him going… or at least alive. But more than that, the darkness grew restless and soon Charlemagne learned of the leader. A former Roman centurion came across an artifact belonging to an Ancient, a creature before the dawn of humanity. None of that mattered, really, to the knight. He had a name. Pious Augustus.

After many difficulties and battles, the knight, though going against his better judgment, permitted a powerful creature, a vampyre, to take a message to the undead magician. They would meet on an open battle under the next full moon. This would give the nemesis's that never seen one another equal footing. The darkness couldn't battle during the day and the brilliant moonlight would guarantee his own men a chance to see their opponents. But not trusting in the evil liche, Charlemagne kept his best archers hidden in the trees. If Pious disappointed him now and would indeed fight honorably, then Charlemagne knew if a single arrow took flight, his own honor would be completely destroyed.

"I was once a man who followed your silly code but yes… I came at your request. You can't possibly defeat me, so instead of battling and having you losing a good hundred and fifty men—" Charlemagne winced. The liche knew about his archers. "—we can avoid all of this. Just give me what I want and you and your men can be on your way."

"CHARGE!" Charlemagne commanded, pulling the reins of his horse to have the animal reel.

In a deafening wave of war cries, the platoon rushed at the slow moving and groaning undead. Sword against claw, teeth defected by shield, true good against true evil. It was an epic battle Charlemagne was witnessing and knew, too, it would never be recorded. As two vampyres entered the fray, several arrows rained death upon the creatures. Only the howl's of men voices were heard for the undead moans were easily drowned out. The knight knew his role and soon slipped into the shadows.

Pious watched on in amusement as the humans, terrified as they were, fighting on. Amazingly, five zombies died for every one man. However, if Pious could smile (difficult to do without lips) he would have the biggest grin on his face after a long time. A true battle… a true war! The bloodlust bubbled up inside of him, begging him to join the melee. It's been so long since he wielded a sword or cut down an enemy. But the liche shoved the bloodlust down. The men would die and Pious had an unlimited army. He could simply summon more undead if the need arise.

A snap of a twig lifted the liche's head. He didn't have to turn to know who it was nor did he fear they would attack. Honor bound, a weakness to Pious's way of thinking, would keep the knight from attacking from behind. He wouldn't turn to face the paladin and instead, Pious continued to watch the carnage.

"Pious Augustus, face me!" Charlemagne ordered.

"Ah, Charlemagne the Frank of the Light. The holy knight, the last paladin. Tonight, you will die but when I want you to," the liche replied while not making a move to turn.

"This is what thou seeks?"

It was not the question but the pulse of magick that spun the liche around. Before Pious, the youthful man in silver armor and golden hair blowing in the night's breeze held out the item that started all of the knight's constant battles. Holding it and amazingly so with his bare hand, was an Ancient artifact. When a mortal would touch an item made of Ancient flesh, their own would rot away until they were nothing but a walking husk of meat. The liche face and body was the sheer sign of decay. Yet, by some miracle, only Charlemagne's hand was affected by the magick.

"Impressive. You hold the artifact without losing your flesh," the liche chuckled. "At least, not all of it. You must hold a lot of your own power in that young body of yours."

Charlemagne looked down to the item and back to his foe. The liche, he knew then, was forever lost to humanity. Charlemagne was not "special." He didn't have a hidden power. The only thing he had was honor… and faith.

"Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me…"

"ENOUGH!" Pious bellowed. A stroke of lightning slammed into the top of the liche's staff, which caused the combatants on the field to give pause. It was only for a moment before the battle resumed. Like the flash of lightning, Pious's anger also vanished.

"You seem like a bright young man, so perhaps you'll understand what I'll tell you. Your god… he's a lie. When people start to question the unknown or don't have an answer to greater questions, it becomes easy to say a being beyond us that we cannot see, cannot touch, is the answer to those questions. The deity, your god, was created by man to comfort others that there is a life beyond the here and now. Join me and know a true GOD! You can see it, you can touch it and its promises are beyond your imagination!"

"Thou art pitiful," the paladin said, receiving a deep, evil look from his enemy. "For faith, one must not see but believe. To witness God would destroy faith itself. With your god," Charlemagne pointed an accusing finger. "There is no spirit, no soul, no belief! 'Tis a demon full of lies, I say!"

A blast of lightning soon erupted from Pious's staff the moment the last word left Charlemagne's soft lips. The magick, with all its strength and ageless power, simply bounced off of Charlemagne. In the name of God, the paladin charged but Pious knew God was not with the man. No holy power, no matter how strong someone's faith was, was nothing compare to the power of the Ancients. Plain and simple. It was the artifact Charlemagne held in his hand that protected him but not his horse.

Calling forth the magick his Ancient has bestowed upon him, Pious sent a wave of flame at the knight. Thinking it was just another futile attack; Charlemagne continued his gallop until he noticed he was flying through the air. His horse became ash in a matter of seconds.

Crashing in a heap of metal chained armor, Charlemagne almost lost both of his precious items, his family's bastard sword and the Ancient artifact. With a groan, he rose, standing face to face with the liche. Even though he was no longer on horseback, the knight felt confident he had the advantage. Pocketing the artifact, Charlemagne charged with his two-handed sword up high. Though Pious was undead, he was still physically weaker than the knight and his greatest weapon, magick, was completely worthless. However, Charlemagne soon realized his error.

With an overhead chop, the paladin hoped the liche would block with his staff, giving him a chance to completely destroy the foul weapon. But the liche stood his ground and only reacted at the last possible second. As the blade descended, the undead wizard fell into the blow, wrapping the staff and his arms in a full circle, entangling the blade. With a twist, Pious knocked the sword out wide from the flat end of the blade, following through with the top of his weapon slamming the fine wood into the knight's temple.

The crack of bone breaking had the knight reeling and for his credit, he did not fall nor lose consciousness. Plunging his blade into the soft earth below to keep his balance, a surprising glare soon was shot at Pious. The liche remained still as a statue. The speed, the grace, and the execution of perhaps a so simple of move and counter spoke volumes to the knight. One advantage Pious did have on the youth, experience. Charlemagne's knowledge in battle was truly a limited thing compare to the centuries this creature's wisdom. Still, even that fact would not detour the holy knight.

Removing the blade, the knight focused on the center of the liche, since now he saw three Piouses. Again, he charged, taking greater respect for his enemy. Before he was close enough, Charlemagne pivoted, thrusting his sword out to pierce the liche. It was a feint though and the knight side stepped, swinging his blade horizontally.

But Pious didn't even flinch from the thrust and soon he was below the deadly weapon. Missing his opponent was something the knight disliked the most. The weight behind such a huge weapon made it impossible to react if someone dodges an attack. So the knight was force to follow through with his swing as he knew he couldn't stop the staff from crutching into his chest.

Again, with his great stamina and determination, the knight only staggered back, though he felt his sternum being quite bruised. An influential, ageless call came to him just then, begging him to speak just a few simple words, words that would heal him. But in a split second, he sealed the call away as if he simply put a cork on a bottle..

The internal battle of wills was not lost to Pious. Though the battle lasted only a few seconds, it was nonetheless breathtaking. To shut out an Ancient's call and so instantly at that, was unheard of. The liche unconsciously backed up. His Ancient, he knew, could pop his head like a grape if he challenged it to a battle of wills. Who was this kid? Pious thought.

"Who the hell are you? One who can so silence an Ancient call?"

Charlemagne tilted his head in a confused manner. What was the liche talking about? To the knight, which his code and ethics were absolute, he only listened to two voices: that of himself and God. Ever since the knight came across the artifact, the call become common and shutting it up was second nature, without even a thought. Raising his sword before him in a salute, the knight called.

"I am Sir Charlemagne the Frank. Destroyer of darkness and bringer of the light."

Pious gnashed his teeth together. Indeed, his act of pushing back the Ancient was impressive but that also meant Charlemagne didn't care about the magick and its obvious powers to heal and protect. The liche still could defeat the man, even with his confidence waning from the knight's zeal. For the first time, Pious took the initiative.

Like a madman, the liche began his assault, swinging his staff from left to right, from the top of his staff to the tip of the bottom. Regardless of the speed he had, Charlemagne kept up easily enough, parrying each blow as they came. With each strike the knight fell back a step, hoping to get into more of the thickets in the woods to use as a shield. However, his eyes widened at the true motive behind the attack.

Each strike was poised to hit him in a weak point in his armor. If Charlemagne didn't keep up and parry, it would cost him. What was worst the back and forth attacks were too quick to even try a counter attack. But even though he was on equal footing with the liche, something still grinded against his warrior's instincts. The damned creature was wearing him down!

Charlemagne was indeed the most magnificent warrior to come along in decades. With his uncanny tact, his superb energy and his complete dedication to God, he was destined for greatness. No one could ever dream to outlast him in single combat. He was just too strong, had too much endurance and was too stubborn to give up even when his body wanted to.

Now with this undead… thing, before him, he knew, though it could be quite some time, he would eventually tire. Pious didn't need to breath. He was held together by magick and he would never tire. Pious would win and how doomed the world would be then.

A growl, so feral, escaped the knight's lips. Such an uncharacteristic expression on the knight's face had the liche back a step for only an instant. An instant Charlemagne didn't waste.

Getting into the liche's defenses, the knight shouldered the creature in a bull rush, knocking it back a couple of feet. Pious couldn't get his balance and just followed the only law he couldn't disobey, gravity. But the fall was more instinctual than the liche's thoughts, for if he continued to fight to keep his balance, he would have been cleaved in half. Instead the blade torn into his gut, deeply, yet it was not fatal.

"Thou cannot continue. Do thee world a favor and relinquish the Ancient artifact," Charlemagne instructed, placing a boot between the liche's shoulders, pinning him to the ground.

"This world belonged to the Ancients long ago, holy knight. My god, the almighty…"

His words were soon cut off as the boot planted itself to the back of the liche's head, feeding him dirt.

"Thou shalt not call a demon in thy presence. The battle is over, the light is won. 'Tis not too late for thou. Repent against the darkness, Pious!"

In response to the knight, a triangular circle encased itself around the liche. Surprised, Charlemagne jumped away from the evil witchcraft happening at his feet. He couldn't see their glow nor hear the demonic voice, but he seen such type of runes before. What vile spell was Pious concocting?

"Indeed, I admit defeat, human," Pious said, crawling to his hands and feet. "But the war shall continue."

The liche grabbed onto a small alien looking creature that gave off an eerily cry, followed by three glowing waves of energy. Soon Pious was fading from reality with a soft voice following with, "We will always be comings. The darkness will always be coming."

"A trapper," the knight said calmly to himself.

Pious's last words echoed into the night. Charlemagne figured the crafty wizard summoned the trapper only for an escape, the coward. Cheers soon erupted from ahead of the knight. In a clearing, Charlemagne fellow knights moved about in the moonlight.

When he came, a hundred and fifty warriors followed but only twenty-five remained. No sign of the creatures of darkness could be found, as if the battle they just fought was all in their head. But this night, this battle, would only be a whisper in history, to be manipulated in time of bards of King Arthur and his noble knights. To Charlemagne, the cowardly Pious Augustus would return but not for a long time.

A.D. 814 – Amiens, France

"So the evil creature escaped? Why have you not told the king about any of this?" Anthony had to ask.

"I told thou, for thou would believe me. To tell any other soul would seem maddening," Charlemagne answered and was glad to see his protégé nodding in acceptance.

It still was unusual for the knight to figure out why he had the urge to speak on this specific day to confess that fateful battle to anyone. In his heart, he felt God himself must've been speaking to him. Such was a double edge sword to the paladin. He was proud to hear the blessings of his Lord but the blessing always meant more. Soon, he would have to take up arms again.

Perhaps it was the rumors that unnerved the paladin so. Word from the law spoke of mysterious vanishing of people into the night and the shady characters that made the darkness their home were not at fault it seemed. The paladin truly believed Pious was back and doing his usual dark deeds. But the day was still long this summer and there was no reason to fear an attack. The darkness will come as Pious put it, but after dusk.

As time was growing old it still wasn't on his side. There would be a day's march to the church where a bishop believed an evil artifact was in their midst and God sought fit for it to be destroyed. That artifact was in Charlemagne's possession and the paladin was more than happy to rid the world of the cursed thing. Even though he would be at a disadvantage when once again confronted with the liche, which was just something he would deal with once it came up.

"Tony, please head back to town. I have an appointment with the bishop," Charlemagne instructed. With a nod, the youth was off.

He knew as the sky painted itself in twilight, that the holy knight had to stop his travels. Though the church was no more than an hour away, he dared not move forward. To carry an Ancient artifact only brought death and madness wherever it went. Charlemagne would never bring the evil artifact into the church at night.

Backtracking as much as he could to distance himself from civilization, the knight found a thick grove, full of trees. Taking in all the terrain, Charlemagne prepared for the battle that may come. Taking a seat on a fallen log, the knight waited.

The night crept on, moving slowly and anxiously to the witching hour of midnight. So far, with his four hours of waiting, the night felt like any other night for the past five years. Owls hooted in the trees, wolves howled to the moon, and crickets chirped in the thicket.

Over the years, the knight trusted in his instincts and he knew once he would drop his guard, he would be finished. The night life continued to sing there song as God and nature wanted it to be, as it should be. Nothing was out of the ordinary.

Patience was a virtue and the knight excelled at it. It was one in the morning but he sat, waiting with ever vigilance. He would not falter, even though the promise of sleep beckoned. Failing was never an option. In fact, the word "fail" never left the knight's lips once in all his life.

As the distant church bell rang, singling three o' clock, the night life fell deaf, as if the darkness grew restless of the stubborn paladin. Nonchalantly did Charlemagne draw his sword, sinking it deep into the earth. He wasn't surprised as the soil quivered and the hidden zombie (how he knew it was there was a mystery) soon ceased it spasm.

Soon the paladin noticed he was surrounded by a horde of undead. Though the number was great, that fact had an opposite effect. The undead had to be summoned and each one took its toll on the caster. After the zombies, easy opponents, the paladin won't see much sport after this encounter.

As three advanced slowly to the knight, their piercing eyes meeting his, the stupid creatures didn't react accordingly to the uselessness of their maddening gaze. The three advanced a flash from the two-handed sword later, three heads rolled.

The creature's bodies fell in unison and the knight soon pivoted around. Four zombies moved to the knight, two on either side. Lifting his mighty sword up high, he swung to his right with his right arm and without losing momentum, the right hand came back to the center, handed the hilt to his left hand and then the blade swung in opposite direction. Four zombies in a matter of seconds fell to the ground, cleaved at their torsos.

More and more of the horde continued to come, each meeting their end with a single stroke. Using his desired terrain to the fullest advantage, Charlemagne ducked behind trees only to spring back out, dismembering another creature of the damned. Backing away into the overgrowth so only two zombies could reach him at a time. Any zombie lucky enough to swing a claw only made a teeth grinding noise of claws against armor.

Though after taking down half of the monstrosities; Charlemagne was finally tiring. He lost track of time but already an hour had passed. An hour of dodging attacks with his heavy armor, swinging relentlessly with his sword. And in the last thirty-six hours, he didn't get a wink of rest. But though his flesh was weakening, his spirit urged him on. They were only zombies and only a score remained!

Six soon surrounded him, slowly but fearlessly, reached out for the paladin's throat. Thrusting his mighty blade into the center zombie's gut ahead of him, Charlemagne spun, attempting to hack all of those around him from the center. The sickening sound of tearing of flesh and snapping of bone didn't even have the knight cringing. Though two managed a good swipe at his face, the wounds were minor compare to the utter destruction of the six.

But such a move, though effective as it was, took a lot of strength right out of him. Soon his breathing came heavy and his muscles screamed in agony. The night beckoned him into the comforting blanket of sleep. The knight growled those feelings away. He'll have plenty of time to sleep once he was dead.

The remaining dozen zombies fell two or three at a time from the invincible holy knight and his powerful sword. Such was the strength of Charlemagne the Frank. Long ago did his stamina ceased. Only his sheer will forced him onwards. Once the battle was over, the adrenalin finally ended, did the knight sank his sword into the ground and used it as support.

Twilight, beautiful twilight created in the east, alighting the night to a darken blue. The battle with the darkness was finally over. He could rest.

"What?" the knight shouted, hearing what sounded like a demonic voice behind him and soon his on echo repeated the question.

As he gazed over his shoulder, the knight couldn't help but bulge his eyes as the circle of runes that appeared in thin air. In the silhouette of twilight, the knight couldn't make out the glowing runes and the first few chants he missed but there was no doubt what the spell was. That of summoning.

"Pargon… Aretak… Pargon… Pargon," the demonic voice finished. From the center of the circle dropped a massive, tight muscled creature with a hunched back. The beast's body was one of solid flesh, not the usual husk of undead Charlemagne always seen. Its body resembled that of a shaved gorilla but at least ten feet in height. The most descriptive characteristic of the beast was its three heads, sporting rows of dagger size teeth.

"Pious, oh what hath thou done? To go so far as to summon a demon," Charlemagne gasped, not in shock but from sheer exhaustion.

The beast roared and the howl sent a natural shiver down the paladin's spine. Though he never witnessed such a beast, he heard legends, more like scary children bedtime stories, about such monstrosities. They were stuff of nightmares that lived under children beds. Some called them boogey men while others called them horrors.

Slamming its foot to the ground, Charlemagne fought to keep his balance. But keeping his footing was just the reason to put him off guard to the greater threat, that of the magical lightning on the ground that coursed up the knight's body.

And slipped off as if it were there.

"Oh, thank thee Lord," the paladin praised, taking his sword in hand.

Again, the holy knight easy believed his god protected him and refused to give even the slightest thought that of his real shield, that of the Ancient artifact, was the cause. The holy knight charged, parrying a mighty claw. Flipping his sword in his hands, the knight thrust his blade true, right into the gut of the beast. He was rewarded with a powerful backhand from the beast.

Two of the three heads growled or perhaps they laughed at the poor, frail man struggling to his feet. Never before has Charlemagne been hit so hard! The world spun out of control and the knight fell to his knees, emptying his stomach. The blow rattled him, blasted the air from his lungs but as a man of the light, Charlemagne once again refused the darkness of the unconsciousness.

The lumbering horror stumbled its way to the knight but unlike the zombies, the beast's long and powerful strides brought it to Charlemagne in a few easy steps. The knight just barely brought his sword up to bare when the beast once again backhanded him. Out he flew from the blow, stopping instantly as his back rammed into an unyielding tree.

"Blasted demon of darkness," Charlemagne spat, ignoring his saliva was the color of crimson. "The vileness of reality. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change—"

The prayer was cut off as the beast wrapped its huge claws around the paladin's throat, heaving the man up into the air. Strangling his prey, the beast howled again, sending a despicable feeling into the paladin. But even though he was tired and wounded, hanging in the air by this beast, Charlemagne kept his wits about him and accepted the only opening he had. With a desperate chop, the two-handed sword came down, three evil heads rolled away from their necks.

Gasping for the much needed air, the paladin dropped down from the loosen claws. The beast fell slowly but before it could ever lay down, dead, on the ground, it vanished as if it was never there.

The morning birds began their song as the sun rose in the sky, bathing the land with its life giving glow. Such a sight normally filled the knight with energy but it was just something he could not get. After a night of battling a horde of zombies and nearly being killed by a demon without having a wink of sleep in a day and a half, the only thing the paladin wanted to do was find a nice little hole to crawl into and sleep. But as promised to himself and God, he had a mission to complete.

The bell began to toll, seven bongs. Even this early in the morning, the church was bustling with commotion. Many of the clergy were busy getting everything spotless for the evening mass or at least it was a good excuse. The true reason they were touching everything up was to impress the bishop and their soon-to-arrived, guess, Sir Charlemagne the Frank.

The paladin, bruised, cut and tired walked into the church with his head held high. It didn't take long for the crusader to be swarmed by priests and questions he knew he could not answer. He would not lie, especially in the house of God but to tell the truth would send him to the asylum. But with a smile, the knight just waved them off, telling them he would be fine.

And saying such made his heart sing. He was housed in the home of the Lord with priests who would be more than willing to tend to his wounds. Most importantly, it was daylight. No creature of darkness would come until dusk.

"Pardon me, my lord but I must ask to claim your weapon. We do not permit such items of war to be carried in this place," a young acolyte gently said.

Charlemagne smiled and handed the youth his sword, which the boy soon toppled over from the unexpected weight. The knight's smile became a full belly laugh as the boy more dragged the weapon than carried it.

"Charlemagne, over here," an elderly priest whispered, waving the knight to an adjacent room. The smile never leaving his face, he nodded and followed the old priest.

In the room, six elderly priest gathered, one being the bishop, talking about a ritual of sorts. As an intellectual himself, Charlemagne guessed the ritual was to destroy the artifact in some holy ceremony. The bishop ceased the talk as the visitor arrived. The years, the knight noticed, was not kind to the high clergyman. His skin seemed more ashen in color than fair and his eyes seemed caved in. The holy knight just shrugged it off. The bishop was a high authority to God. Most likely he spent all his waking hours within a church that may have only held little windows.

"Ah, Charlemagne. We are in the middle of something of great importance but what I've heard that you have information for us in this matter. You know with what I speak?" the bishop gently asked cryptically.

Charlemagne nodded, both from the need for secret and to answer the question. Tied to his belt, along his back and covered by his cloak, the paladin grabbed the evil artifact. Presenting the item showed many emotions in the clergy. Awe, desire, spite and much more all rolled into one. But the bishop, he noted, shown only signs of determination.

"Give me the item so we may dispose of it," the bishop sneered.

Charlemagne was indeed taken aback from such anger from a man of God. But then again, the item was a sentient of evil, a true abomination. Regaining his composure, one who always would trust in the great priest, the knight almost handed the item over. But before the bishop could touch it, Charlemagne recoiled.

"What's the meaning of this, Brother Charlemagne?" the bishop asked, quite confused by the paladin's actions.

"I shalt place it on the ground where thou must cover the evil thing. To touch it with thou flesh," Charlemagne paused and removed his chained gauntlet, showing his fellow holy men the outcome of his ignorant action. "It will corrupt thou."

With a snap of his fingers, the bishop sent into action two priests, where one scooped up the item in a jar while the other slipped a plate underneath it. Somehow, defying the will of nature as the damned thing it was, it began to hover in the center of the glass, ignoring the laws of gravity.

"Thank you, Brother Charlemagne. I shall take the artifact and rid the world of its vileness," the bishop promised, taking the item gingerly in hand. "Await here until my return."

And with those parting words the bishop left and locked the door behind him. Charlemagne first initial thought, his gut instincts told him something was amidst. To be locked into a room with five priests was far too unusual. But then the paladin just shook it away. There was nothing to fear in the house of the Lord.

"Please, Brother, you seem tired. Let's get you out of that heavy armor. You'll feel as if the world and burden you've been carrying finally be lifted off your shoulders," a priest kindly recommended with a smile.

Charlemagne returned that smile and nodded, working the straps off his heavy chainmail. He heard many gasps as his newest scars from claws that no animals could make seemed very visible to the clergy. Yet, none inquired about the injuries, which made the knight more at ease. The five took the armor, piece by piece to one of two huge chests in the room, safely placing it in and locking the chest.

"You've done well, Charlemagne. You've managed to carry that Ancient artifact for several years, not giving into the Ancient's call, defeating the darkness almost nightly," a priest closest to the chests acknowledged.

"Thou knowest much," Charlemagne's eyes began to dart from one priest to another. True, he was in the house of the Lord; true, it was morning and the sun was shining brightly. However, the knight could not shake the feeling of danger around him as the hairs on the back of his neck started to stand on end. Ever since he heard the rumors, he thought it was too convenient. A rustle from the locked door only took his attention for the briefest of moments.

"We are the men of God! Of course we would know all," a priest to the knight's left mocked.

"Charlemagne," a muffled voice, blocked by the door called out. It was Anthony. Charlemagne hoped the boy wouldn't get involved but somehow he did. The rustling stopped. The knight didn't contemplate it further, putting the squire out of his mind.

"Men of God, thou say? To say such in this holy place is blasphemy!" the knight roared.

"We are men of God. Just not your god," a priest to his right smirked.

"The darkness has claimed you my brothers. 'Tis sad," Charlemagne said confidently, though he was further from feeling secured than he ever felt in his entire life.

He was trapped, he knew and silently he applauded Pious Augustus. The liche failed to take the artifact by force so he was wise enough to change tact. The rumor to rid the world of the item that he desperately wanted destroyed, using his own church as a façade was the best touch. The night before, sending a horde of zombies and a demon to weaken him and made him feel secured in his church during the light of day, dropping his guard completely and surrendering not just the artifact but his sword and armor without so much as a struggle was all part of the liche's plan. Even locking him in a room with five dark priests must've been part of the plan to trap the knight. And how he fell for it!

"It is more of a disappointment to our master that you must die now," the priest by the chests said, moving to the second box. "But our god demands your life."

Not likely, Charlemagne thought. He had neither sword nor armor. He knew he could defeat five old priests with even less than what he had. The chest clicked open. His fears were soon realized as two demonic looking creatures jumped out of their dark prison. They were extremely thin humanoids with two hooked arms that gave one an impression of a praying mantis.

Darkness creatures, though seemed weaken, were walking during the daylight hours! His doom was complete, for the two beasts slowly stalked him; he knew these things would be beyond him without his sword. One sprang at him, which only flew farther as the knight grabbed it in flight, pivoted his shoulder and through it against the wall.

The desperate move left his back to the second, which took the advantage and sliced into his kidney with little trouble. Growling through the pain, Charlemagne swung his massive fist, back hitting the beast in its head. It staggered from the blow but wasn't too harmed. Swinging one hook high, the knight caught it with his hands but the creature was not a stupid zombie. The first blow was to distract the knight enough for the second hook to bury itself deep into the paladin's gut.

Charlemagne howled in anguish, not willing to except defeat. Even though the demon had him at every disadvantage, he would not relent. Releasing the hook, his hands soon grabbed the small skull of the beast, lifting it high into the air and shaking it about. The creature swung with abundance, hoping to strike a fatal blow but only able to leave shallow scratches along the arms of the knight. Once it was completely disoriented, Charlemagne stopped swinging and squeezed its skull.

"In the name of God, return to HELL!" the holy knight cried, twisting the creature's head in a hundred and eighty degree spin, snapping its neck.

Charlemagne smiled at the crumpled creature but as he turned, his victory was short-lived. Jumping into the face of the knight and to Charlemagne's utter horror, the beast was burrowing into his mouth! Somehow, the demon managed to manipulate its body such that it could infuse itself into a human body. Once inside his very being, he felt his digits and limbs moving by their own accord. However, something deep inside the knight, further than the simplicity of muscles and nerves, Charlemagne called out to his faith and the strength of his spirit. Back in control of his body, the paladin punched a priest in the face.

"How?" one baffled priest demanded, cowering away from the great man.

All five priests backed away from the man possessed but obviously not possessed by a bonethief but by something more. They were impressed on how a man, frail and tired, was able to kill a bonethief in single combat but to witness the impossible; Charlemagne continued to fight while a bonethief was inside him!

Soon the knight's face contorted awkwardly and the priests put their hands up to cover their faces. What rage and holy wrath could paint such a face on a proud man? Their question was answered to their relief, as the bonethief escaped its host's body, blasting away his chest.

Even with all his faith and determination, Charlemagne couldn't stay up from the mortal wound. The ground soon came to swallow him up, into the darkness he never feared. As the knight, who fought so bravely for the sake of the light, fell into oblivion, he prayed out loud to God to bring the world a savior. His last word, be it delirium or God speaking through to him, he uttered it backwards, saying "Roivas." Then, all he knew was peace.