Price of Loyalty
Sir Kenneth scrambled over hill and grass swept crest as he fled through the Evermist Valley. It had been several days since the ferocity of the lone chimera decimated his patrol but since then he continued to run through the land from the moment he woke until the time he passed out. The Rayward knight forced himself to run as fast as his bowlegs would carry him. The sounds of the killing and slaughter were long silent but the memory of Sir Kenneth’s brother knights dying in most gruesome fashion proved a powerful motivator for the man to keep his breakneck pace. The stocky knight continued to run as fast and hard as he could until he found himself drenched in sweat and on his knees from fatigue.
Sir Kenneth thought to get back up and continue his flight away from the place where so many men had died but in his labored panting the man found a moment of clarity. Sir Kenneth realized that he had done a sufficient job of fleeing from the beast that destroyed the rest of his comrades. Now the knight realized that he needed to be moving towards something resembling civilization. If Sir Kenneth was to continue wandering aimlessly through the expansive realm of the Evermist Valley then he would likely expire from exposure sooner rather than later. The knight understood that he needed to compose a plan to return back to the rest of his regiment. It would not be so easy a task as the man was largely unfamiliar with the lay of the land and so far Sir Kenneth had done a splendid job of getting himself lost.
As his pulse began to settle and his breathing became less erratic the knight wiped the sheets of sweat from his face and began to look over his surroundings. He was fortunate enough to have collapsed on one of the valleys high rolling hilltops. Sir Kenneth’s vantage point allowed him a strong perch to access his position. It did not take the man too long before he was able to detect the signs of a travelers road tucked away in one of the lower dips of the valley. He rested a few moments longer and focused on regaining enough strength and will to rise and press on towards the road. The man was desperate for some water to cool his heated core but all he had were the clothes and armor on his back. He hoped that once he made it to the road that it would not be long before he encountered some kind of sign that indicated where he was and more importantly how he could return to the rest of the Rayward regiment.
As Sir Kenneth recuperated on the hilltop his mind returned to the attack of the chimera at the farmstead. He thought of how sure his patrol had been of victory when the beast reared its horned head. After defeating the herd of smaller chimaera Sir Kenneth had felt near invincible. Only, once the fighting had started again was it realized that the Rayward Knights were horribly outclassed by the newest threat. The beast had shredded through armor and flesh like an oar cutting thru water. Well-equipped veteran warriors had fallen to the monster in droves. It was as swift a defeat as could be imagined. The worst part of it all was the sound the chimera had made during the whole bloody affair. It was like a perverted marriage of laughter and painful screaming.
In fact it had been that very sound that was the source of Sir Kenneth’s dishonor. The man had been able to stand his ground even after the first few of his brother knights had been flayed into bleeding strips of meat by the chimera. Once the beast’s voice had reached the knight’s ears, however, the man was unable to face the monster any longer. In a gross display of shame and degradation, Sir Kenneth had fled the battlefield propelled by the grotesque noise of Rayward men dying and the chimaera reveling in slaughter.
The Rayward knight shirked off the sting he felt from his dereliction of duty. He began to tread down towards the path that would take him to safety. As he went on his way he tried to think of a way to justify his failure to stay and fight. The reasoning that soothed his troubled spirit the most was that, if all men had been butchered there and then, nobody would have been left to carry a warning back to the rest of the regiment. True that it was not strictly within Sir Kenneth’s authority to make the decision who should leave from battle and relay a message but he felt that a slight undermine of the chain of command was a forgivable offence. As the knight walked on aching legs he began to mentally prepare what he would say to his superiors once he was safely back within the Raywards forward encampment. Sir Kenneth knew that he needed a good story to explain why he alone survived the encounter with the chimera if he were to avoid accusations of cowardice.
By the time he reached the travelers path, Sir Kenneth had found the words he liked in order to describe the massacre at the farm without seeming like a deserter. As he set foot on the packed dirt of the road his memory went back to the farm once more. His mind was plagued by the haunting sound of the chimera’s voice. It was a memory that was unshakable for the knight. Sir Kenneth tried to push the thoughts from his mind but he was completely unable to do so. The recollection was overwhelming. As the Rayward man attempted to free himself of the repetitive thought he realized something that nearly mad him blackout from fear. He was not remembering the sound of the chimera, he was hearing it again. Sir Kenneth looked up towards the crest of the hill he just walked down and he saw the horned silhouette of the monster that had destroyed the rest of his patrol.
Sir Kenneth screamed in terror and began to run as fast as his exhausted body would allow. He fell and stumbled over himself again and again in a panicked frenzy. In that moment all knightly virtue was void from the man’s being and he was little more than prey. Sir Kenneth felt a heavy blow strike him in his back and he tumbled to the ground. After a moment of nothingness the knight lifted his head and saw a massive cloven hoof in front of him. The Rayward man followed the hoof up the length of the chimera’s body. Sir Kenneth took in the intermingling of coarse grey fur and bright green scales that adorned the beasts hide. At last Sir Kenneth met the monsters piercing black eyes. The man’s mind threatened to break from the spectacle that was present before him.
“Please, do not kill me,” said the knight with a trembling childlike voice.
The chimera snarled and glared at the puny little man. It exhaled a breath that stuck of rot, copper and blood. “If you wish to purchase mercy then make your offering,” growled the creature.
Sir Kenneth was taken aback by the statement. In truth he had expected the monster to spill him open on the spot right there. “Please, anything…anything I have…everything…my loyalty is yours,” groveled the knight. He was unable to think of honor or duty in the moment the only thing that filled Sir Kenneth’s mind was the primitive need for self-preservation. He was only glad that there were none of his brother knights left alive to witness his utter humiliation.
“Your loyalty…” started the chimera with sinister inflection. With a careful accessing gaze the creature looked over the disheveled man. Its eyes lingered on the Rayward crest embossed on Sir Kenneth’s breastplate. The monsters hand shot down and lifted the Rayward knight into the air. The man screamed in surprise as he was held only a hairs width from the monsters face. “So pledge your loyalty to me, Koin and my kind, the children of dragons,” snarled the beast.
Without any thought Sir Kenneth sputtered a reflexive response. “I pledge myself to you, Koin and the children of dragons. I swear on my honor.”
Koin laughed in the man’s face and gnashed its teeth while running the talon of its index finger along the length of Sir Kenneth’s jaw. “Your honor is without value. A man who would change his loyalty so flippantly is worthless.”
“No please, I will give you anything you wish. I can serve you well. Please do not kill me,” begged the Knight as his bladder emptied and tears welled in his eyes. “Anything, I will give you anything.”
“Yes, you will. You will give me anything and everything,” Koin said with grand malevolence. The chimera’s claws raked against the emblem of Rayward on Sir Kenneth’s armor and the sound filled the air with a vile squealing sound as metal was torn apart.