The Twelfth Knight: Part 4

Roscoe had patrolled these streets for years and thought he knew every inch of the city. As he followed the man after leaving the tavern, he found that he still had a lot to learn. There were times he would see a familiar landmark, and he would recognize the general area he was in, but it was at an angle that he had never looked at it before. He was confident in the tavern because he thought he would know where he was going. Now, he might be heading into the unknown.

That wasn’t a pleasant thought to him.

Still, Roscoe knew he had a job to do, so he trudged on. The menacing man didn’t say a word as they made their way from one back alley to the next. Roscoe wasn’t about to complain. There was something about the man that frightened him a little. While Roscoe was both taller and more physically imposing, there was something about the other man that was unnerving. As far as he was concerned, the less interaction he had with the man, the better off he would be.

A building came into sight that he recognized. It sat on the outskirts of town. The building was a storage facility for the man who made and repaired all of the wagon wheels for the castle and the surrounding town. Roscoe had known the wainwright for years and couldn’t believe that he was involved in something like this.

A shudder ran down his spine.

He had known the wainwright for years. If the wagon maker was involved in this, he would be in the building and would recognize him immediately. His plan to infiltrate the mercenary group of Merlinus might be over almost as quickly as it began. Then again, he still wasn’t sure if he was going to Merlinus’ group. It was possible that the group he was on the way to meet was being led by someone else.

Roscoe shook his head slightly. It was times like this that reminded him why he was still the Twelfth Knight of the Kingdom. If he was a better planner, he might’ve moved up by now. If he got out of this mess, he vowed to spend more time studying strategy instead of using all of his time practicing swordplay.

“What?”

Having been paying attention to his own inner monologue, it took Roscoe a few moments to recognize that the question had been directed at him. The menacing man had stopped and was staring right at him. “What?” Roscoe echoed back.

“Why were you shaking your head?”

He put on a look of defiance. “It’s none of your concern.”

“I’m about to introduce you to some very dangerous people,” the man said, slowly moving his hands toward the small of his own back. “People who could make both of us disappear very easily. You’re not worth dying for, so your business is now my business.”

His mind racing almost as fast as his heart, Roscoe somehow remained calm on the outside while he blurted out the first thing that popped into his head. “Look, I know you’re just being careful, but this maze you have us running is getting ridiculous. I just want to get where we’re going and get this over with.”

The man eyed him suspiciously. Roscoe couldn’t tell whether or not the man believed him, although his gut said that he didn’t. Still, all the man said was, “In this business, being careful rarely gets you killed, but being sloppy always does.”

The man walked him over to the door on the wainwright’s building and opened the door for him. He walked in, but not without keeping the man in his sight as he did so. There was almost no light in the area he was in. No windows could be seen. All he saw was a lantern hanging from a stack of wagon wheels off to his left. An indistinguishable figure stood at the edge of the light. Not knowing what else to do, Roscoe walked toward the lantern.

As he got closer, the figure at the edge of the light was revealed to be the wainwright, Worram. Fear covered Worram’s face. Obviously, the wainwright was being held here against his will. The amount of fear radiating from Worram was almost enough to make Roscoe run up to him with a comforting hand, but he caught himself before that happened. If he did that, they were both dead.

When Roscoe reached the light’s edge, more lanterns flickered on all at once. There were no people standing next to them, meaning that they were lit magically. It was a move that he knew was meant to put him off balance and, unfortunately for him, it was working. With magic in play, almost anything could happen. There were too many variables to even begin to formulate any kind of plan. All he could do was hope he could improvise a way out of this situation.

Worram looked at him and the recognition lit up his eyes. Roscoe winced, thinking that the wainwright would blow his cover, but Worram surprisingly stayed silent. Standing next to Worram, just inside of where the darkness was, an older man looked Roscoe over, sizing him up. Apparently satisfied, the older man began to speak.

“I hear you wish to join my crew,” the old man said.

“No,” Roscoe responded. “All I wanted was a job. Maybe if it goes well, we’ll talk about me joining permanently. Until then, I’ll stick with just one job.”

“Sorry. We don’t do just one job. You’re either all in or all out. And people who know about us have to be all in or they’ll become all dead.”

“Merlinus,” the menacing man said as he gestured for the older man to lean down.

Roscoe couldn’t believe his luck. The old man was Merlinus. He had done it. He’d found the mercenary leader that Revis and Matticus had been looking for.

Then he remembered that the assignment was only to find out if the rumors of Merlinus being in town were true. He wasn’t supposed to make contact. And here he was, in a storage facility with the mercenary leader and at least one of his henchmen. Who knew how many others were hidden in the building? All he could do now was keep himself in Merlinus’ good graces until he saw a chance to escape.

“So,” Merlinus began after the menacing man was finished whispering in his ear, “do you want to join my crew or not?”

“It doesn’t seem like I got much of a choice, does it?”

“Excellent,” Merlinus exclaimed happily. “In order to join my crew, you have to perform a task.”

“He already told me,” Roscoe said, pointing to the menacing man. “I’ve got to fight one of your other hopefuls.”

“Oh, no. I’ve got something different in mind for you. Call it a test of your commitment to our cause.”

“And what is this test?”

Merlinus smiled widely. With a flick of his hand, he pointed at Worram. “Kill him.”

The Twelfth Knight: Part 3

After going back to his barracks and changing into civilian clothing, Roscoe went around to some of the seedier taverns in the city. Despite only being just after midday, the first two were almost halfway full already. As soon as he opened the door, every eye turned his way. Most did so openly, but a few were good at hiding it. Roscoe didn’t want to attract this kind of scrutiny, especially from an entire room full of people, so he scanned the crowd and pretended to be looking for someone in particular. When he didn’t spot the imaginary person he was searching for, he spun around and walked out.

The third tavern wasn’t as full as the first two, but it was still more crowded than he liked. It wasn’t until he arrived at his fourth place that he was satisfied with it. Only two of the tables were occupied. One table had three people at it and the other was taken by a single man. This would work out better for him. Sure, he’d still get scrutinized by people, but it would be as each person came in and not as a crowd.

Roscoe didn’t want to stand out so he ordered ale and sat at a table near the back. He sipped on his ale while he kept his head down and eyes up. Never much of a drinker, he was afraid that he’d get drunk trying to maintain his cover. The tavern’s ale was so watered down that it didn’t become a problem.

He sat there for most of the afternoon before the place started getting busy. Most people looked him over as they came in, but a few of them paid him no heed. Those were the ones who were strictly here to drink, he knew. Of course, he also knew that anyone who came to drink the swill served here had to be poor and desperate. Therefore, he had to be careful around them.

A loud bang interrupted the majority of conversations going on around the room. Roscoe felt the bang on his table and looked up to see a large man standing before him. He let his eyes drift down to the empty mug the man had slammed down. His eyebrow raised in question to the man’s actions while he started to slowly move his off hand toward the hilt of a dagger he had in a sheath on his belt.

“I ain’t never seen you here before,” the man growled.

“That’s ’cause I ain’t from ’round here,” Roscoe retorted in an exaggerated accent.

“Whatchu doin’ in here?”

Roscoe put anger on his face. “I’m just lookin’ for work, so why don’t you back up before I put you down?”

The large man stared hard at Roscoe. For a moment, he thought he had pushed too far and began tensing for a fight, but it didn’t come. The man just gave a soft chuckle before walking away. Roscoe kept his relief of his face and downed the rest of his ale. He got up, walked over to the bar, and ordered another. By the time he got it, and returned to his table, there was another man sitting there.

The new man wasn’t as physically imposing as the first one, but Roscoe got the feeling that he was more of a threat. There was a dangerous intelligence behind his eyes. “I hear you’re looking for work,” the newcomer said.

“So did everyone else here,” Roscoe responded. “That don’t make you special.”

“If that mouth of yours hasn’t got you killed yet, you must be decent with a sword.”

Roscoe shrugged. “Not the best, but better than most.”

“You willing to prove yourself to get a job?”

“Depends on what I’ve got to do. I ain’t gonna do something suicidal like storming the castle by myself.”

“What about a one-on-one fight?”

“Who’d I have to fight? You?”

“No, not me,” the man chuckled. “You’re of no use to me dead.”

Roscoe was about to protest that statement, in order to stay in character, but he found that he couldn’t do it. Something inside told him that agitating this man wasn’t a good idea. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the man would be able to kill him, if they came to blows. So, he stayed quiet and just looked at the man.

“Like you,” he continued, “we’re new in town, and my organization is looking to add a few more faces for our operations in the Kingdom. Two of the three positions have already been filled. I want you to fill the other, but another member of our organization would rather have it be someone else. If you want the job, you’ll have to fight the other guy in order to win it.”

“To the death?”

“That’s entirely up to the combatants. If you win, and want to let him live, you’re welcome to, but he may not be that merciful. So, Mouth, do you want the job, or not?”

Roscoe looked down for a moment. From what he knew, Merlinus was new to the Kingdom, like the man claimed to be. If this man worked for Merlinus, this may be his only chance to get close enough to him. If he did it, though, he’d be on his own, with nobody to save him if he fell. What should he do?

A steely resolve burst from within and he looked up into the man’s eyes. With a cold smile, he said, “Let’s go.”

The Twelfth Knight- Part 2

His sword clanged off the practice dummy as he vented his frustration over having nothing to do. Over and over again he struck. Each time, he changed the angle of his attack so that it never came from the exact same position. He twisted and turned during his attacks so that he would be accustomed to being off-balance while striking. Anything he could think of to do, he did.

“If you keep hitting the dummy like that,” came a voice from behind him, “you’ll dull your blade.”

Roscoe turned to see his brother, Conroe, standing there in his full knight regalia. “Don’t worry,” Roscoe scoffed. “I’ll have plenty of time to sharpen it later.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“What are you talking about?”
“I got an assignment that I’m too busy for and I’m going to pass it to you, if you’ll take it.”

“Hold on. You’re the Seventh Knight. If you pass it on, it should be going to the Eighth Knight, not me.”

“As long as it gets done, I don’t think they’ll care.”

“I don’t know…”
“That’s fine. I’ll go give it to the Eighth Knight then.”

“Wait! What’s the job?”

“That’s what I thought,” Conroe laughed. “It doesn’t seem to be a difficult job, but it must be important because it came straight from the top.”

“The Jester?”

“No, the top. Revis.”
Roscoe chuckled. The Jester wouldn’t like hearing someone say Revis was above him in the Kingdom hierarchy, but he’d never find out. “What’s the job?”

“There are rumors that a mercenary named Merlinus is in town. All you have to do is take a look around and see if there is any truth to these rumors.”

“That’s it? That’s the big assignment? That sounds like something best left for the city guard. I don’t understand why he’s bringing the Knights into this.”

“That’s because you don’t have all the information. Look, all you have to do is go around town and ask people, discreetly, about Merlinus. If you come up empty, it’s no big deal. We’re not sure he’s even in town. But, if you do find out that he’s here, you are not to go after him yourself. Once you have his location verified, you go straight to Revis with it.”

“And when he asks how I knew to be looking for Merlinus?”

“As far as the Knights are concerned, I have taken on this job. If you find Merlinus, and report it to Revis, just tell him I was talking to you about my assignment and you took it upon yourself to help me out. I’ll back you up on it.”

“What’s the catch?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re never do anything for me without some ulterior motive. What’s the catch?”

Conroe looked like he was about to protest, but then stopped. “Ok, fine. They told me if I didn’t accept this assignment, I’d have to run some training classes for the city guard.”

“So?”

“The kids are with the in-laws for the next few days and the wife and I need some alone time. We’re not going to get that alone time if I’m doing either of those things. So, I figured this was a win/win. I get my alone time with the missus and you get the assignment that you’ve been wanting. Come on, Roscoe. You know you want this.”

“Oh yeah. It’s my dream in life to help my brother get laid,” Roscoe responded with a roll of his eyes.

“Not that part, you jackass. The getting an assignment part.”

As much fun as it would be to ruin Conroe’s plans, he couldn’t deny that he had been waiting for an opportunity to do something other than train. “Ok fine, but if your wife calls out my name instead of yours, don’t come crying to me.”

“I don’t have to worry about that,” Conroe shot back. “You’d have to bed a woman first before she’d cry out your name and we both know no woman has ever been desperate enough to shack up with you.”

“It’s so strange. I feel sick all of the sudden. I don’t know if I can take your assignment now.”

“Uhh, I meant to say that you’re the best looking fellow in the land and that any woman would be lucky to have you.”

“That’s what I thought you meant. I’m feeling better already. Now, get out of here before I change my mind.”

The two men said their goodbyes and Roscoe went to change out of his practice armor. He quickly put on the armor that marked him as a Knight of the Kingdom. A swelling of pride washed through him when he was done. It never ceased to amaze him how much it meant to him that he had made it into the order of Knights. The Kingdom was full of good people and he was proud that he had been chosen as one of their protectors.

Over the past couple of years, he had grown to know the people of this town fairly well. When he wasn’t training, he patrolled the streets. That was the job of the city guard, but he was bored and needed something to do. Roscoe became friends with the townspeople: the butcher, the baker, the person who made candlesticks. He went to all of them and pretended to be out on one of his normal patrols. Once he was through with the small talk, he tried to subtly steer the conversation towards rumors that there may be mercenaries in town.

They all immediately clammed up. Despite claiming he was just sharing gossip, all three people stopped talking when as soon as he said the word “mercenary”. It was clear that they were afraid. Perhaps there was something to the rumors after all. He had never seen the butcher scared before, and the butcher had been one of the citizens who volunteered to drive the shiny vampires out of the Kingdom a few years back.

Then again, just because people were scared, it didn’t mean that they were scared of this Merlinus person. They could just as easily be something or someone else that’s frightening them. He just needed to find out what it was. Since his friends weren’t willing to tell him, he’d need to go places he didn’t go to before, like taverns and gambling establishments. Those were the kinds of places where people would know what he needed to know.

He just couldn’t go to them dressed as a Knight.

A New Place to Farm

He stopped his wagon for the soldiers guarding the border of this new kingdom. “State your name and business,” the first soldier said.  

“My name is Tomas,” he replied. “I heard you needed people to farm your land.” 

“You heard correctly, but why would you leave your home to come farm our lands?” 

“I don’t have a home anymore. All my land is underwater now that the dam broke during the flood. I managed to grab a few baskets of my crops and a handful of my chickens, but I lost everything else.” 

The first soldier walked around to the wagon and looked inside. When he walked back, he nodded at the other soldier to indicate that Tomas only had what he said he had. The second soldier finally spoke. “We need to ask you a few questions before we allow you to enter our fair kingdom. 

“I understand,” Tomas said. “Security is important. 

The first soldier shook his head. “Not security, no. Matters of security here tend to work themselves out with almost no help from us.” 

Tomas was confused by that answer, but he didn’t have time to question it before the second soldier added, “The questions we ask will be to determine if you are compatible with the people here and how well you blend in with our culture. 

He was still confused. Unsure, he weakly replied, “Okay…” 

“Question one: Can you sing?” 

“What?” 

“Can you sing?” 

Tomas couldn’t believe the question. “Are you joking?” 

The second soldier put his hand on his sword, indicating that it was no joke. Before the weapon was pulled, the first soldier jumped in. “Our princess likes to break out into song for no reason. Therefore, the citizens of our kingdom must be able to sing as well in order to harmonize with her. So, we’ll ask you one last time, can you sing?” 

This was ridiculous, he thought, but if this is what he had to do in order to start his life over, so be it. “I’m not the best singer in the world,” he said, “but I’m good enough to sing in the background. 

“Go ahead and sing something for us.” 

Tomas still felt like this was absurd, but went along with it anyway. Not that he really had much of a choice in the matter. He began singing a folk tune that had been sung in his lands for centuries. The two soldiers stopped him before he got to the third line. 

“That was terrible,” the first soldier said.  

“Completely horrible,” the second soldier agreed. “Can you dance? If you can’t sing, you’ve at least got to be able to dance behind her while she sings.” 

“No,” Tomas admitted. “I lost three of my toes fighting of some wolves that were attacking my sheep. I haven’t been able to walk straight since.” 

I’m sorry,” the first soldier said, “but if you can’t sing or dance, we can’t let you into our kingdom. 

“This is ridiculous,” Tomas protested. “I can farm. Surely, that must be more important to your kingdom than your princess’ songs.” 

Both soldiers drew their swords. “Nothing is more important than the musical numbers of our princess,” they said in unison. 

“But…” 

“Get out of here right now,” the first soldier ordered.  

Tomas hurried to do as he was instructed. After he got his wagon turned around, he heard the second soldier yell out, “And if we ever see you anywhere near the land of Disneya again, we’ll fuckin’ kill you!” 

At the Office

Bob was walking down the hallway to his office when he heard a raised voice coming from one of the other offices. He listened for a second to figure out which office it was before he stuck his head in. The office belonged to a man named Tom. Though Bob found Tom to be a little odd, he thought he was a good guy and wanted to help if he could.

At first glance, however, he noticed that something wasn’t right. There was nobody else in the room with Tom. The light was off on the office phone, so he wasn’t using that, and Tom didn’t have a Bluetooth earpiece that he could be talking into. So, who was he talking to?

It wasn’t the first time he’d caught Tom talking to himself, but it was the loudest he’d been while doing it. The frequency of them had been rising too. This was probably the third time in the past couple of weeks it’s happened. Usually, it was in the break room, though.

“Everything all right?” Bob asked the agitated man.

Tom slowly turned his head until he was looking at Bob out of one eye over his shoulder. It was eerie, sending a chill up Bob’s spine. “Everything is fine,” Tom answered after a few seconds. “I’m just trying to work something out and it helps to hear it out loud.”

Bob relaxed a little. It was an explanation that made at least some sense. Still, he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the way Tom was looking at him. He thought it best to just walk away and let Tom deal with whatever the problem was on his own. “Ok. I hope you get it figured out.” Bob should have left it there, but he inexplicably added, “Let me know if I can do anything to help.”

Bob cursed himself for saying that. Why had he said it? He certainly didn’t want to help Tom. Sure enough, as soon as he turned to leave he heard Tom say, “You know what? I probably could use some help.”

Bob rolled his eyes before whipping back around with a fake smile. “Sure, buddy, what are you working on?”

“No!” Tom screamed.

“No? No what? Do you want my help or not?”

A wicked grin slowly worked its way onto Tom’s face. “He knows.”

The whole thing was starting to irritate Bob. Tom was acting crazy and he still had that uneasy feeling that he’d gotten when he first entered the room. “Stop playing around,” Bob snapped. “I don’t have time for this. I’ve got other work to do.”

Bob stepped toward the door only to have it slam in his face. He jumped. The door had shut by itself. “How did you do that?” he demanded.

Tom took a step closer, the grin still on his face. “He knows,” Tom repeated.

“I don’t know anything,” Bob countered, taking a step back.

“You’re not allowed to know. You must be punished.”

Before he could ask what the punishment was, a shadow flew from out of Tom and hit Bob squarely in the chest. The force of the impact threw Bob backwards into the door. Wood shattered when he hit and the door blew apart. When Bob landed, he had a burning sensation in his chest. His heart pumped faster and faster until it felt like it was going to explode.

Then, it did.

Bob’s head lulled to the side as his last breath left his body.

Tom shook his head, wondering why he was at work. The last thing he remembered was opening the door at his apartment for the pizza delivery man. He took out his phone to see what time it was, and was shocked by what he saw. Not the time, but the date. According to his phone, it was a week later than he thought it should be.

All of that flew out of his mind when he looked up and saw Bob laying in the middle of the hallway, surrounded by pieces of the broken door. “Oh my God,” he said as he rushed to Bob’s side. “Are you ok?”

Tom breathed a sigh of relief when Bob started moving. His relief was short-lived when Bob grabbed his arm and tried to bite it. Luckily, he managed to pull his arm free before the teeth clamped down. Tom jumped back and shouted, “What the hell, man?”

When Bob started moving after him, Tom saw that something was very wrong. Bob’s movements were clunky. It was Bob’s eyes that made him cringe, though. They were completely dead and, while he could’ve been imagining things, Tom would’ve sworn he saw a black shadow pass briefly over them. Tom backed away as Bob started to crawl towards him.

“B…br…bra…” Bob stuttered before finally finishing the word. “Brains…”

Tom turned and ran.

What’s Inside

His alarm went off, signaling the start of another day he would spend at work. He brushed the loose strands of his light brown hair away from his eyes before opening them. If he were being honest, he’d admit that he didn’t like his hair being long enough to fall into his eyes, but the longer hair seemed to be more popular with the ladies. That’s the only reason he kept it.

He rolled over to the edge of the bed and sat up. A yawn escaped as he cursed his lack of sleep. Not only had he been up late putting his hair to good use last night, but what little sleep he did get was fitful. He tossed and turned. While he sleeps, his mind bombards him with images and memories of the times he’s been hurt. And the times that he’s been the one hurting another. Those are the moments that haunt him the most.

Lately, those feelings of hurt had escaped from his dreams and they started attacking him throughout the day. Whiskey and women helped push the feelings away, but they were a temporary fix. Once his bed was empty, or his sobriety returned, the feelings would come back to try to break him down. If things stayed the way they were, his breaking point would come soon.

“It’s too early in the morning for this shit,” he mumbled to himself as he stood up.

He walked into his bathroom and turned the cold water on in the sink. Cupping his hands, he splashed some of the water on his face before looking at himself in the mirror. The water on his hands wet his hair, which pulled back as he ran his fingers through it. Red ran through the whites of his green eyes. Stubble covered his dimpled chin. He needed to shave, but didn’t feel like it. A little bit of growth on his face for a day wouldn’t kill him.

As that thought ran through his mind, his reflection in the mirror smiled. He jumped. That shouldn’t be possible. He hadn’t smiled. Only his reflection did.

A nervous chuckle escaped his lips. I’m just imagining things, he thought. It’s just a manifestation of too much to drink and not enough sleep.

He splashed another handful of water on his face, hoping the cold liquid would wake him from whatever stupor he was in. After staring at his face in the mirror for a minute straight, waiting to see if something else would happen, nothing did. He wrote it off as his mind playing tricks on him. That’s when he got the most excruciating headache he had ever felt. His brain felt like it was on fire.

He grabbed at his head and cried out in pain. His body thrashed about uncontrollably. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes and threatened to block his vision. Somehow, through all of that, he saw what had started this whole thing in the first place. His reflection in the mirror didn’t match his movements.

While he writhed in pain, his reflection stood motionless, with its arms crossed, as if bored by the whole display. He tried to hold still long enough to get a better look at it, but he couldn’t. His body wasn’t responding to his commands. The pain was too much.

To his surprise, and horror, his reflection moved. Its hands shot out of the mirror and grabbed him on either side of his face. “Be still,” his reflection ordered.

His uncontrollable body responded to the demand instantly. “What are you?” he asked when he finally found his voice.

The reflection laughed. It began changing in front of his eyes. He watched as it kept growing darker and darker until it was devoid of all color and light. His reflection was nothing more than a human shaped area of blackness. It laughed even harder as a chill of fear rolled down his spine.

“You wish to know what I am?” it purred. “Then I shall tell you. I am every hurt you’ve ever felt. I am every hurt you’ve ever given. I am every fear that has shaken your soul or has come from your actions. I am your every wrong. I am the part of you that you don’t wish the world to see.”

“What?”

“I’ll simplify it for you. You know how everyone has inner demons that they wrestle with?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, your inner demon isn’t very ‘inner’ anymore.”

Before he could ask what that meant, the dark form lunged at him. Right when it looked like it would hit the mirror, it disappeared. The hands holding his face went away too. Then he felt a thud in his chest and couldn’t breathe. It suddenly felt like he was drowning. He fell backward, the blackness that made up his reflection pouring out of his mouth and nose.

The impact with the ground made him see stars. A black shape appeared in his blurred vision. “Thank you for birthing me,” it said. “Thank you for feeding me and making me so strong.” It paused. “Unfortunately for you, you’ve made me strong enough that I don’t need you anymore.”

The last thing he saw was a surge of blackness coming for him.