11 The Black Knigh
"Here, lay down here." James invited me to sit on a well constructed bed while he used a variety of medicines. It was a well structured 'home', if I could say that. The floor was covered with a grey carpet. There were numerous wooden chests on the right side of the wall, locked in key. The cave itself had two floors. On the second floor, he crafted an observation room, where one can keep an eye on intruders. There was also a stack of bows with different colors and sizes, with a basket of arrows hanging on the wall. And the best of all, he has this amazing dog named Shadow. I am a lover of animals, especially dogs.
He gently removed my armor, as my arm was bleeding from the claw marks of the Shade. With a cloth, he gently scrubbed my injuries which made me shriek a little from the pain.
"Sorry." I said, a little embarrassed. But, he smiled at me. "No need to apologize. I screamed much louder when I had my injuries. So, no need to get embarrassed."
I nervously laughed a little. It was a relief to see a real human in this world. At least, my faith is restored, knowing that Alister is somewhere around here.
"What's your name?" His soothing voice said. I rapidly blinked.
"Joan. It's…nice to meet you, James."
He scrubbed again. "To be honest, I am happy that there are still humans alive here. Ever since that day when I disappeared from my home, I felt that my life lost it's purpose. Casthynia, a world filled with NPCs that exhibited emotions…They are fake humans. I could never live with that." He turned his head toward me, locking eyes with mine.
"What happened to you? Did you disappeared from your hometown too?" He asked.
I nodded. "It was at school. We were attacked by Shades. I still don't understand how or why this happened. I never thought that my own life will break apart so quickly."
He clicked a box from the table and grabbed some healing bandages. He twirled around the bandages on my arm until it squished. "I also thought the same thing. My town was attacked too. It happened so fast. How did this happen? Do we…live in a fake world?"
"That's crazy! Even the thought of that was true, that doesn't explain why the world itself came apart." I said, turning my head away, trying to convince myself of the facts.
"Have you…began to see the names of people? Back on Earth?" He asked while sitting beside me.
I nodded. "It was out of nowhere that…I began to see names and levels and their occupation. I thought I was hallucinating. I wanted to say my troubles to my parents, but…they will mock me. They will say I was crazy. The sound of it was ridiculous anyway."
He chuckled. "You are not alone on that, Joan. I began to see names ever since I was a kid. I instantly knew the names of my companions at school. And, even strangers. They will freak out when I say 'Good morning, Frank' to a stranger. But now…"
I raised an eyebrow. "Wait. You asked my name. Does that mean…?"
He got up from the bed. "Yes. I can't see names anymore. It happened after two weeks. After I lost my Master."
This revelation caught me off guard. I never thought that…James was a Player, a part of the war. I mean, in theory, he could have let me die there, but now that he's saying that, perhaps he no longer participates in the war because his Master perished.
"I know what you are thinking," he went to look for a cup of water and handed it to me. It was cold and fresh. Shadow wag his tail as he watched me drinking it. "When I arrived in this world, I was given the hardest task to form a pact with a Master I encountered on Oceania. Well, in truth, I really didn't want to. But eventually I did, because my friends saw me as the stronger one. I became the Archer Class, which my Master taught me the ways of the Arrow."
His eyes looked glassy as he looked over the wooden chests on the corner of the wall. "My two best friends came with me in this world. Their names were Petra and Owen. We were summoned on a Cathedral, where a man stood before us and told us of the War of the Crown. As you can imagine, we were shocked. Our lives turned to a twisted turn the moment my Master offered the decision for us to choose. It was…obligatory. There was nothing to do to change that. So, they voted for me to hold that task. And my master and I formed the pact."
I sympathized with him. I was also forced to form a pact. "You don't have to blame yourself for that. Perhaps they saw you as a brilliant leader who can overcome anything."
His face darkened. "It's because of me that they are gone."
James started to grit his teeth. His anger of failure has grasped his body as he punched the wall. Shadow whimpered as he tried to comfort him.
I gulped. "How did they died?"
He stood there in silence, but as he breathed out his anger away from him, he continued talking to me with his soft voice.
"Have you ever wondered why I created this house? It was supposed to be our base. My friends and I gathered enough gold to buy supplies at Oceania and build our own cave so we can do missions. It was an ambitious plan, and my Master liked the idea. Petra and Owen loved it. They loved their beds, they liked the storage chests, they like the second floor observation floor. Until one day…my Master told me that the Shivering Forest arrived with a new guest. Someone who held powers beyond this world."
He crouched and touched the wooden chest. "My Master decided it was time to meet our opponent. I told my friends to remain on the house, because it was going to be dangerous. But…" He gritted his teeth. "They wanted to come along. They wanted to help. Even though…it was a battle I couldn't see myself winning. I was scared."
"Eventually, we met in battle. It was just one man agains't the four of us. But then something went wrong. He…corrupted my Master. He turned him against us. It was an inevitability that the battle turned the tables. His smile…his gruesome smile when he stabbed Petra and Owen as they pushed me from my Master's grip. His sword damaged me, but I fled as I heard their screams. Their bodies being consumed…" Tears started to come out. He started to grieve. I can't blame him for that. I gently touched his broad shoulder and hugged him. It came out from me as I started to reduce his pain. I never thought that his story was tragic and sad. But as he spoke his story, he never had the time to grieve at all. It really opened my heart. Makes me wonder how will I feel dying in this world of lies.
"Its not your fault, James." I managed to say, as he continued crying.
His grief came to a stop as time itself went on through the night. It was midnight according to the Status screen. James asked me if I will like something to eat, and to be frank, I was hungry. Shadow was sitting on the floor, watching the exquisite flavors he was adding on his little kitchen he made. In truth, you can cook more quickly and efficient by using the 'Cooking System' implemented in this world. All you have to do is add the ingredients, the spices and the timer and in a matter of minutes the food was served. He explains to me that being a cook requires time and practice, because of the level it needs to be used. For example, if you want to add more ingredients than the basic ones, you have to cook a lot to raise your levels. If not, most the presented food are…not tasteful. Nevertheless, the smell of pork infested the room with delicious flavors.
"Hope you like this, Joan. I'm really good at cooking. Even though it takes the fun of cooking it in real time." He said with a beaming smile as he placed my plate on the wooden table. Glistening pork exhaling hot delicious air, with white rice and a delicious salad on the side.
I instantly began to eat as he sat down with his own. Shadow started to whimper a little, begging for a little bite of his pork. Eventually, he snatched a piece of it and gave it to Shadow gladly.
"Did you were an excellent chef back in the real world?" I asked with a gingerly smile.
He chuckled. "Well, my mother taught me the culinary arts. I must say she taught me well. I had multiple dates back then, and mostly they gave me positive reviews. So, yeah, I was quite well attracting women with food."
I suddenly got a little embarrassed as my cheeks burned hot. "Jeez, you really didn't need to say all that story. Saying that you were a good chef was sufficient enough." We both laughed together, making the sad mood we had earlier much less than now. I really was happy talking to him.
"So, where are you going now, Joan?" He asked as he finished his plate.
"I'm heading into the Golden Castle. I'm looking for a friend, and that's my only lead. Do you know the road to get there?"
Suddenly, his face turned dark. Something bad triggered him. "The Golden Castle…"
I started to study him. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
He sighed. "In order to head to the road toward the Golden Castle, you have to go through the old gate." He focused his eyes on me, with a sentimentality sensation. "That's where my friends died, and my Master lies in there."
I was shocked. There's no way I can get out of this place without a Master. If James' former master is as powerful as he says, then I have no doubt I won't have a chance in hell to defeat it.
"James, I…" my throat got stuck. I wanted to say that his hospitality was great. That, I felt more alive than ever since our mutual conversation, even though I met him recently. But, eventually I blurted out the words. "I have to leave. I have to find my friend."
"Joan, it's dangerous. Don't you realize that? My former Master is a powerful swordsman. I felt it's mana. Nothing can kill him. I tried escaping this forest, but he always shows up. And I always get in danger." He said, trying to convince me to stay for a while. But, I can't stay here forever. I have to continue my journey, much less waste my time. What if Jeanne finds me again?
But I insisted. "James. Why do you want to stay here? There's nothing more than sad memories. Don't you want to move on? I know that your friends died but you have to live. Find a purpose to move forward. Why don't come with me and together we can defeat it?" It's a gamble. His expertise of this forest will be valuable, and his knowledge of his former Master. With him working together, just maybe we can join forces.
But James didn't say anything. He just stood up from his chair, deep in thought, and went upstairs without looking back. Shadow whimpered as his master went up the stairs. Perhaps he understand also that sometimes life can be hard but we have to move on.
I was laying in bed as silence haunted me. Not a word of James ever since he went upstairs. I didn't want to talk to him, because he probably would not respond back. And I wasn't planning to go outside in the middle of the night, especially since his corrupted Master is somewhere lurking in the Shivering Forest. I have to convince him…He has to help me.
"Joan!" I heard his voice calling. Shadow went up the stairs with me to the observation room. As soon as I climbed the stairs, my eyes widen as I saw him wearing his brown leather armor. His long bow was attached on his back and a few arrows on his disposable. He turned his head and made a half smile at me.
"Joan, I…have decided to go with you. You are right. I'm sorry. Perhaps with you, I could find the man who corrupted my Master. I guess…being stuck in this cave made me delusional. But," He grabbed my hands with his firm hands and his cheeks blushed as well as mine. "I…would like to protect you. I want to leave this world. Go back to my life. Ever since I saw you, you gave me hope. Hope that one day, I can see my hometown again. So…" He gulped as he timidly tried to say something else but I nodded.
"James, it will be an honor to have you. It's because of you that I'm still alive. Together, we can find a way and leave this world. Back to our old lives." Shadow barked with happiness. James rubbed his chest and responded with a happy tail wag.
He waved his hand toward the window. "Ok. Over there lies the old gateway toward the Golden Castle." The old gate was lit with torches. It was a large grey door with tree branches attached to it.
"I propose we leave on the morning. The Shades won't be active toward the day, which will be easy for us to traverse. For the time being, I will prepare some arrows and help you improve your armor."
"Then let me help. You have done so much for me. At least let me repaid you, James." He blinked, but eventually smiled and nodded.
Throughout the night, James and I spend the hours improving my sword and my armor which I checked the status of it and gain defensive points which could really improve my battle stance. As for James, he did an amazing job with his crafting ability, building numerous arrows. He really invested so much on resources when his friends were alive. Thanks to him, my sword got a huge improvement, more sharper than ever. As the time of morning was upon us, James and I gathered our inventory and set out on our way toward the Old Gate. James looked at his home and his memories. I saw him smiled and then stood tall toward the swampy road.
James used Shadow as a guiding partner in case unknown enemies approach us. The Shivering Forest was indeed a place for horror. But the path toward the Old Gate was unguarded which was much better for us. Most of the beasts and monsters were hiding on other areas of the forest, where they could prey on the innocent much easier.
"It's been some time since I got out of that cave. It feels strange." He said while looking around.
"You'll get used to it." I promised him.
The Old Gate stand tall as we climbed the old stairs. The old door was strangely inviting, waiting to be opened as freedom awaits us. James stood frozen in place as something lurked in the entrance. The wind was blowing evil and malice.
"…He's here." James said as he took out his bow. Shadow growled as the enemy approaches. I unsheathed my new sword and shield as the air felt heavy. Falling like a meteor, it bombarded the ground with a tornado of fuming smoke. Inside of the darkness, James' former Master emerged, with a black armor, glistened with red veins. A huge round shield and a claymore brought fear in my body. His helmet was shining with evil, as it glowed with hungry crimson eyes.
James and I exchanged looks and nodded. It was time. James told Shadow to stay put until the battle ended. And so, I let out a battle cry as I approached the Black Knight with fierce. The knight swung his giant sword on my shield and held on. James and I coordinated our battle plan. I was the center of attention and James the attacker on behind. I saw James letting out a rain of arrows with explosions toward the knight, but his HP didn't hesitate to go down. His armor was well fortified.
The fuming knight eventually pushed me and smacked me away from him as he rapidly approached like a jet to James from behind. James was almost caught off guard as he dodged the powerful lunge of his claymore, missing an inch of his throat. Thus, he bought some time from his recoil and left from danger. I took the opportunity to charge him again, but this time I swung my sword to his left, where his shield was not protecting. That chipped a little of his HP but it's not enough. Eventually, the black knight grew angry as the sound of a madman roared inside the dark helmet. It was the sound of a shrieking animal.
"He's going berserk, Joan! Just like last time" He said as he prepared his smoke arrow. His eyes were wide and filled with fear, although his morale was stable. As he launched it, a white smoke enveloped the area which I took the opportunity to retreat for now.
"Damn. Never expected him to be so strong. How did you manage to escape from him?" I said panting.
"Using smoke arrow." He said as he took out an explosive arrow. "But that didn't stop him. I almost died because of him. I told you he is powerful."
"I have an idea." I said as I looked my skills on the menu. "I can use a Holy magic to enchant my sword. This will hurt him as he is weak to light."
"Templar class? Nice." He agreed. The only thing I have to do is use my power to break his armor, that way, he can use his arrows to damage him.
The shrieking roar came from the mist as he lunged at us with his sword, blasting a wind at us. I quickly protected James from harm, but the durability of my shield took a heavy hit. Soon, it will break down. The Black knight grew more wild and fierce as he swung his claymore more and more harder, pushing me back into a corner. I gritted my teeth as I took a hit from him.
"Joan!" James yelled as he jumped with his explosive arrows and brought down the enemy with flashing bombs. It worked somehow, as James reported that the black knight's armor cracked. Now, it was my chance as he got distracted. Pushing with heavy force, I charged him.
My sword glowed bright as my mind traced the skill in my head, bringing me more power. I yelled with fury as I brought him down with dazzling lightning. The fuming knight retreated from the light as the armor cracked again. His HP chipped more than before.
I commanded James to throw a smoke arrow again, warning me that there is two more left. He threw it as I escaped into the mist. Now, the black knight grew more angrier and angrier, swinging his sword in the air, hitting nothing. As the mist dissipated, he came right into James off guard, grabbing him on his throat. My heart was pumped as my feet quickly went into the knight and slashed with my sword. With the sound of metal penetrating the thick black armor, I managed to damage him. James fell on the ground as the knight twitched unnaturally.
"Look!" He said coughing. Indeed, the former Master's armor broke, showing a red core, beaming alive. Could this be his weakness?
"It must be his weak spot." I concluded. Knowing this, this might be our chance to end him.
But the raging knight expelled black smoke, enveloping the scene. In the darkness, James and I got separated. Only the bark of Shadow can be heard nearby. I braced my sword and shield, bracing myself from any imminent attack. I stood alone, as I called James out. But no response.
"Help…me…James" A distorted voice said in the distance. My eyes were twitching at every interval, scanning the area for the enemy.
"Why…did you abandon…me?" The distorted voice said with an agonizing tone.
"No…It can't be. You are not Petra. You are not Owen. You two are dead. I saw it!" I turned my head toward James' voice. It seems that his former Master is trying to deceive him using his friends' voices to confuse him.
As the smoke dissipated from the ill smoke, James stood there frozen in place as the knight caught his attention. Surprisingly, the black knight wasn't eager to attack. Instead, it remained watchful like a statue. James, trembling in fear as he brought his longbow pointing at his former Master, twitching with every movement.
""Help…me…James." The voice said.
"I'm sorry…Petra. I'm sorry…Owen. It's my fault that I…" With a grieving voice, he let out his deadly arrow from his fingers. With a whizzing sound, it landed right into the beaming core and shattered. The black knight roared with pain as the smoke formed into a tornado. Then, silence. The former knight laid on the cold floor, lifeless.
James crouched into the floor, gritted his teeth from the exhaustion of the battle. I never expected this but…we won.
"It is done…"He murmured.
I extended my hand at him, and he looked at me with such liberation. The pain of his past now gone, he feels freedom as his eyes targeted the old gate.
Together, we opened the old gate, pushing the heavy door on the side. Shadow ran inside the old road, happily wagging his tail. It felt like freedom. But in the minutes of celebration, a heavy force pushed me inside, just at the moment when I heard a tap behind. As I turned my head, I saw James' left side of his stomach bleeding. Stuck inside, was some sort of dark tentacle sprouting. Then, a shuddering roar shook my body. The black knight was behind him.
"James!!!" I cried as I quickly got up. I saw in my eyes what was behind him. It was some sort of hole coming from the black knight which sprouted numerous tentacles from him. I grabbed my sword to save him but he stopped me, blocking the way as he winces from the pain.
"Joan…It's too late. I can feel my body getting weaker and weaker. It's too dangerous to fight him. He will consume you." James said, holding his breath from the pain.
"But I can still save you. Let me finish him." I said as my eyes swelled with tears.
"No. Even though we cracked his weak point, his power grows more. I can still feel him." He winced as the tentacle dragged him more. He held his hand on the gate. The black knight shrieks like an animal, yearning for food.
"Please, let me help. I can save you. I can…" My failure as a Templar is not knowing any healing magic. If I stayed with Jeanne she will have eventually taught me how to use it. But now, I stand here being useless.
"Don't worry about me, Joan. You have a mission to do. You have to find your friend. You promised." He said with a soothing voice that broke my heart. His handsome face now struck with paleness. Blood tricked from his belly.
"But I…" But he shook his head. "Listen, I want you to help me close the gate. It's the only way to prevent this creature from coming after you. Do you understand?" He said weakly.
"Please James, I can fix this…" Tears fell down on the ground, as I tried to held my composure. I didn't want to lose a friend. I didn't want to lose someone who was real as I. Someone human.
He smiled. "You already did. "You motivated me to move forward. I want you to live. To survive. You have to return home with your friend. You gave me the courage to move on. And for that, I thank you." The Black knight roared as more tentacles stabbed him, dragging him even further. Red crimson gently touched the dirt as it spread with more droplets of blood.
"Now go!!!" James pulled the door with force as the tentacles tried to drag him once more. I eventually did the same as I pushed the door. Little by little, the old gate was closed, as I caught the glimpse of James' brown eyes as he held an explosive arrow, his last resort. In his mouth, he muttered: 'Thank you', as I grabbed Shadow from the ground, whimpering in sadness. Sprinting from the battle, a huge explosion erupted, knocking me down on the ground, as my ears grew silent. As the minutes go by, and Shadow licking my face, I continued walking toward the old road, not looking back, as a strange bell shook the very foundation of the earth. A Master and his Player has been eliminated.