Soran gazed at the elegant, ornate doors that faced him in a menacing fashion at the opposite end of the long hallway. The floor-to-ceiling double-doors were adorned with golden designs, intricate patterns, and so many different colored gems that it was difficult to determine where the handles were. These looming doors were more than just an entryway to a different section of the threatening citadel in which he now stood. It was a symbol of the arrogance, the pride, and the tyranny that had ruled over the nations for decades. As the people of the nations starved and suffered from poverty, the faceless tyrant paid an exorbitant amount of money on a simple door. Soran could guarantee that the money that went into creating these doors could feed his entire village for a month.
For someone who went hungry on a daily basis so that his family could eat, the very thought of this tyrant’s overindulgence revolted him. The hall that led to the monsters lair oozed with debauchery. The long rug that ran along the stone floor was dyed a dark sandy color and was embellished with strands of golden lace that weaved into elaborate designs. Paintings of decorated war heroes, each with malevolence glistening in their eyes, were hung at equal intervals along the walls. Between each picture, curtains fashioned from fine red silk were fastened to the ceiling and flowed gracefully to the floor.
Regardless of the fact that all of these expensive and unnecessary furnishings were a result of an iniquitous and vile tyrant’s depravity, Soran could not help but be impressed by the beauty of the place. The air of this corridor contradicted the tyrant’s evil nature. Yet, this also made it more ominous. For all the evil deeds that the tyrant had done, he still lived in the lap of luxury with his ill-gained goods. He didn’t deserve any of it. He reigned over the lands as if he were king, and yet not one of his “subjects” had seen his face, or even knew his true name. He was always referred to as “tyrant,” often with some obscene adjective placed disdainfully before it. And he deserved every last one of those descriptions. It was because of the tyrant that Soran had to hunt for food every day. It was because of the tyrant that his family lived in a rundown, moldy hut made of discarded scraps of wood and old rags. It was because of the tyrant that his younger brother was now dead.
Soran clamped his eyes shut, attempting to hold back the tears that were threatening to appear. He couldn’t cry. He couldn’t dwell on his brother’s death at a time like this. There would be time for grief later. Now, he had a job to do, and he planned to carry it out to his last breath. He would avenge his brother. He would avenge all of those whose lives were unjustly cut short. He would avenge the entire continent and fix the destruction and harm that had spread like a plague throughout the nations. He would rid the world of this sinful deviant once and for all.
Soran opened his eyes, the memory of his brother’s death bringing hatred into his eyes. He had lost so much at the hands of this wretched tyrant, and it was time for an end. He had trained for months. He was ready.
His hatred-filled eyes took in the situation he was faced with in the overly extravagant hallway. Guarding the gem-studded doors were two sentinels wielding deadly glaives, which they had crossed in front of the doors, preventing unwanted intruders from entering. They were staring straight ahead, each with black, impassive expressions on their faces. Their expressions and body language indicated that they had not taken any notice of Soran yet, even though he was in plain sight. Part of their training, Soran assumed. They won’t have those emotionless, indifferent looks on their faces for long, Soran thought as he reached behind him to retrieve his sword. His hand closed around the cold, leather-bound hilt of the familiar weapon. As he slid the sword slowly out of its scabbard, he smiled inwardly at the satisfying metallic ring that came from metal sliding against hardened leather. The sound hung in the air ominously, slowly dying down into silence.
He brought the sword out in front of him into a guard position. The sword was as elegant as it was deadly. The three feet of refined steel extended from the hilt in a deadly, single-edged blade, which curved gracefully at the tip. Greenstone lined the unsharpened edge of the blade, giving the sword a unique beauty. This unique and powerful weapon had been specially crafted by the most skilled blacksmith in Soran’s village specifically for the task ahead of him. He had admired every attribute about the sword since he had first acquired the beautiful and effective weapon: the weight and feel of it, the sleek and elegant design, the speed that the weapon allowed. It was the most suited weapon for this mission, being more effective in close range scrimmages than a bow and allowing for more speed and mobility than a glaive or spear. In the hands of a trained warrior like Soran, the sword became a deadly extension of himself. It was as much a part of him as his arm or leg.
With sword in hand, Soran started down the unnecessarily long and ornate hallway, keeping his eyes locked on the two sentries that blocked his passage to the throne room of the detestable tyrant. They kept a neutral expression painted on their faces, still showing no sign that they took any notice of the potential enemy walking unmolested towards them. They simply stood there, frozen in place with their hands clamped around the poles of their glaives. It must take intense training to be able to stare a potential threat in the eye and maintain such a placid expression, Soran reflected.
As Soran drew nearer, he noticed the slightest turn of the guards’ heads. So they weren’t complete statues. Maybe they would even put up a fight.
Soran closed the remaining distance quickly, taking one disdainful step at a time on the insufferable rug. He hoped that his shoes were dirty enough to soil the immaculate carpeting that preluded the great doors. He had the urge to defile anything that belonged to the hated tyrant. He wished to shred the deplorable silk curtains with his sword and a few flicks of his wrist; he yearned to take a torch to the paintings of the contemptible “war heroes;” he imagined himself prying loose the gems that decorated the reprehensible doors. But he didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he maintained his purposeful stride and determined countenance. He would not allow the two guards to see him lose his composure over the tyrant’s excessive self-indulgence. There would be time to desecrate the tyrant’s possessions after Soran’s mission was completed. He might even enjoy that task after the hellish dictatorship finally came to an end.
Soran stopped about ten paces before he reached the sentries, still holding his sword out in front of him. Finally, the guards decided to take notice of the intruder and react. Almost mechanically, the guards brought their glaives out of the X formation and, taking them in both hands, thrust the lethal-looking weapons forward in a threatening gesture. However, Soran knew that, strategically, he had the advantage. In such a tight space, such as the hallway they were in, the one with the more compact weapon had the upper hand. The decision for the guards to have bulky glaives, Soran reflected, was an incredibly foolish one based on the conditions they had to work with. It would be very easy for the guards to get tangled up while swinging the six-foot poles around.
The guard on Soran’s right came forward by half a step and announced in a loud yet monotonous voice, “Halt! Come closer and suffer the wrath of the tyrant’s guardians.” The tyrant’s guardians? This title made it seem as if the lowly, second rate jobs held by these guards, who seemed to blindly follow the lead of an unjust tyrant, were actually prestigious. They didn’t seem to realize that they likely had the worst job in this entire fortress. I suppose, Soran thought, that guarding a tyrant you’ve been manipulated into thinking is great in every way could seem prestigious to someone in that position. However, despite his words, the guard’s pronouncement seemed cold and rehearsed, and it didn’t at all sound as if the man were proud of his job. He hadn’t sounded bored or aggravated about his current circumstances, but simply . . . emotionless. The effect of this was disillusionment. It seemed as if he was disconnected from reality, as if he weren’t really part of this world. Whatever the tyrant’s tactics for training soldiers were, it seemed to take away their humanity. He was even starting to doubt that anyone actually voluntarily worked for the tyrant.
The guard’s threat hung in the air unheeded. Soran stared at the sentinel who had offered the threatening warning, holding his expression of neutrality mixed with a slight trace of hatred. Ignoring the threat that, in Soran’s opinion, was not much of a threat at all, he took a step towards the guards. The guard didn’t move, but simply stated in the same tone as before, “Ignoring my threats will result in your demise.” Soran smiled tauntingly, unconvinced with the guard’s most recent threat. Soran took three more paces forward, noticing both guards tensing up, preparing for battle. “We are required,” the guard continued, “ to attack if you come within three steps of our vicinity.” Again, Soran ignored him and took three more steps forward.
The way the guard sprang into action, Soran almost expected him to screech some outrageous war cry, but, of course, his face remained neutral and his mouth shut. Within less than a second of Soran taking his final step forward, the guard drew his glaive back and forced it downward in a large, accurate arc. The strike definitely had speed, but the guard seemed to handle the weapon in a stiff, mechanical way. The weapon was definitely not going to be used to its full potential.
Reacting to the attack, Soran brought his sword up to a high block position. His sword met the long, wooden handle of the glaive, stopping it long before it had the chance to hit its target. The sword sank into the wood slightly, embedding itself in the weapon. Somewhat surprised, the guard tried to pull back on the weapon to dislodge it from the sword, but Soran took hold of the shaft, preventing him from retrieving the glaive and leaving him defenseless. He then twisted the glaive that he had under his control while simultaneously pulling his sword free. Hearing the low swoosh sound coming from the direction of the other guard who, thus far, he hadn’t heard a word from, Soran brought the first guard’s glaive up to a high guarding position. The other guard’s glaive, which came down in the same way as the first guard’s attack, clashed jarringly with the other glaive, which Soran had guided into its path. He heard a crack as the shafts stuck each other, proving that the weapons had a very low integrity. The tyrant obviously didn’t expect anyone with any skill to confront him.
The second guard recoiled from the impact of the glaive shafts clashing. Seizing the opportunity, Soran pulled the first guard’s glaive away from guard, bringing the guard, who was still clutching the glaive for his life, with it. As the guard stumbled forward, Soran lifted his right leg and delivered a solid sidekick to the man’s lightly armored ribs. The guard released his grip on the glaive and went flying back, hitting the wall of the corridor. The impact of the kick left the guard gasping for air and grasping his chest.
With the first guard incapacitated and weaponless, Soran turned his attention back to the second guard. He had recovered from his recoil and he now had his glaive in an attack position. He made a clumsy side slash, holding the weapon very near the bottom of the shaft, giving him longer reach but a weaker grip on the glaive. Soran jumped back, moving just out of reach of the deadly blade that sliced the air just a hair’s length from his chest. After narrowly avoiding the sloppy but deadly attack, Soran tossed the first guard’s glaive away, far out of reach of the first guard who was still crumpled on the ground clutching his chest. He heard the blade of the second guard’s glaive crash against the stone wall of the hallway, sending sparks flying. He recovered quickly, however, and brought the glaive back in front of him. He moved his right hand higher up on the handle of the glaive, tightening up his grip, and make a stabbing motion towards Soran. However, Soran noticed, the guard was in an unsteady stance, his back heal off the ground and his front foot angled slightly inward when it should have been pointed straight ahead. It would be easy to gain the advantage in this situation.
In order to assess the situation and plan his next move, Soran feinted forward, lashing out with his sword and then quickly retreating. The guard simply thrust the weapon forward in a stab. Well, this’ll be easy, Soran thought. Still, he found it odd that the guards stationed just outside the tyrant’s throne room would have such amateur skills. The tyrant was slipping up, becoming too haughty and careless. His carelessness would lead to his demise.
Moving quickly, Soran started forward, his sword ready. As expected, the inept guard thrust the glaive forward, attempting to skewer Soran. Soran, however, sidestepped to the right of the glaive, taking hold of the shaft in his left hand. While proceeding forward, Soran yanked back on the glaive, causing the guard to stumble. As the guard stumbled, Soran brought his sword across his body, using the glaive shaft as a guide for the weapon. He made haste towards his opponent—still taking advantage of the guard’s poor footing—waiting for his blade to find a target. The sword found a home in the tender flesh of the guard’s throat. It was over much too quickly, not giving Soran the proper satisfaction of taking down his foe.
Soran backed away as the sentry collapsed on the ground, lifeless. He allowed himself a slight, victorious smile at his simple triumph. Just then, he heard a pained groan and turned back to the first guard, who was starting to stand up, still clutching his chest and stomach. Soran, tired with the sentinel’s futile efforts to win this fight, walked towards the guard and, with one swift slash of his sword, cut his life short. There was a low thud as the guard fell back to the floor, and then silence fell like a thick fog over the entire hallway.
Having eliminated the only thing preventing Soran from going any farther, he took a step towards the ornate door. He stopped, however, then bent down over one of the dead sentries and ripped a portion of clothing that had not been soaked in blood from his body. He then ran the cloth over his sword, cleaning off the blood that had accumulated there over the duration of the short-lived battle. Perhaps he was simply stalling. Indeed, he did feel butterflies dancing wildly in his stomach, and his left hand had started to shake. After cleaning his sword off, he cast the cloth away and took time to gather himself, shake off the nerves. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply in and out, and willed his heart rate to decrease. Intense training had taught him how to calm himself, even in the direst of circumstances. He cleared his head of the swimming images of what was to come; he removed any doubt from his mind, replacing it instead with assurance. He would surly fail if even the slightest bit of doubt crossed his mind. His mind clear and his breathing even, Soran opened his eyes slowly, confidence bubbling inside of him.
He was ready. He would finally bring this horrible nightmare to an end. He would be praised throughout the nations, having ridded them of the infamous tyrant. Finally, he would be able to walk outside without the fear of being harassed by one of the tyrant’s warriors. Cut off the head and the body dies. But he would not just cut off the head, he would annihilate it, extirpate it, eliminate it. The tyrant would receive no mercy from Soran. No matter what, he assured himself, I will leave here having extinguished the greatest source of evil there is.
Finally, Soran approached the large double-doors, malice and contempt pushing him forward. He placed his hand on the door’s handle, feeling the cold gold and gems against him palm. A single one of these gems could support Soran’s family for three months, and the tyrant put it there as decoration! It made Soran furious, perhaps even more than the tyrant’s total disregard for human life. That the tyrant could waste such a valuable stone on a detestable door simply baffled Soran.
With thoughts of the tyrant’s abhorrent self-indulgence pushing his resolve, Soran pulled on the handle with his left hand. The door was, unsurprisingly, extremely heavy. It took all of Soran’s strength to simply pull the door open wide enough to get in. When Soran had imagined his encounter with the tyrant, he had imagined himself pulling the door open with ease, as wide as it would go, allowing him to come in gallantly and challenge the tyrant confidently. As soon as he felt the weight of the door, that image shattered. He had to admit, having heavy doors leading to a throne room was very smart strategically. It didn’t allow for much stealth or speed, which would alert anyone on the other side of the grand doors to his presence. No matter, Soran still pulled it open enough to get in, and any forewarning could be made up for in the battle. He just had to be prepared for anything.
With the door pulled open enough to allow him entrance, Soran slipped inside soundlessly, his sword still out and ready to defend or attack, whichever came first. Walking forward confidently, Soran said in a dauntless voice, “Tyrant! I have come to rid the world of your corrupt presence! Stand and—“ He had practiced that speech over and over again until he’d had it completely memorized, but something he certainly hadn’t been expecting made him stop mid-sentence. He had expected a ruthless tyrant clad in layers of armor, armed to the teeth, surrounded by several guards, maybe even a small army. But nothing could have prepared him for what lay ahead. Nothing. The room was entirely empty except for an abandoned throne sitting at the front. There was no one here, not even a trace of human presence. It was completely abandoned.
“No,” Soran said angrily to himself. “No! Tyrant, where are you!?” He felt somewhat foolish yelling to an empty room, but he didn’t care. He’d come all this way, gone through all that training, just to reach an empty room. The cowardly tyrant fled before Soran could even encounter him. But then why had their been sentinels guarding this place so fervently? Why would the tyrant assign sentries to guard an empty room? Unless . . .
Just then, Soran sensed a presence behind him. Reacting quickly, Soran twisted around, swinging blindly. His blade met nothing but the stale air. All that could be seen was the large door, slightly ajar. Soran looked around, calmly taking in his surroundings. There it was again, a sense that someone was behind him. Again, he turned around, making a downward arc with his sword. Again, the blade sliced nothing but air. Something was here, taunting him, mocking him.
“You shouldn’t have come here.” The voice which whispered hauntingly in his ear from behind was so sudden and unexpected that he jumped, startled. He regained his composure, however, and spun around yet a third time, swinging away, hoping that just one of the deadly arcs would find a home. Unfortunately, the swings were again futile. Just as Soran brought his sword back to a defensive position, he was hit from behind by what felt like a foot. He lost his balance and stumbled to the ground, falling on his hands and knees, still holding onto his precious weapon. He tried to get back up, but the foot fell heavily upon his back, forcing him onto his stomach. Luckily, the force of the foot did not remain there, which allowed Soran to roll onto his back. When he did, he finally got his first look at his opponent. A mysterious figure in a pure black cloak stood over him, hands behind his back, face shadowed in a deep cowl. His head was inclined towards Soran, observing him astutely. He didn’t look as if he would be too difficult to defeat.
Soran attempted to get up, but as he did so, a force hit him in the face like a kick or a strong punch. Pain erupted in his jaw as he fell back to the ground. His head swam and the world around him started to spin. He spit out the blood that had begun to pool in his mouth, and he could feel a cut on the inside of his cheek with his tongue. His head now ached from the force.
“Get him to his feet,” The cloaked man in front of Soran said in a commanding yet monotonous tone. “He is exceptionally strong-minded. We will have to break his will.” Soran wanted to inquire as to what he meant, but at that moment, he was swept to his feet by two other cloaked figures that were standing behind him. How had he not noticed them there before? Abruptly being yanked to his feet caused Soran’s world to start spinning again. He stumbled, but the two cloaked men held him up. Everything finally came to rest, and Soran started to get his bearings. He had to do something fast to get out of the enemies’ arms. He had released his sword when he’d been kicked in the jaw, so all he had were his wits to save him.
“You know what to do,” the first cloaked figure, who appeared to be the leader, said. And as suddenly as they had grabbed him, the cloaked men released him. Foolish, Soran thought as he prepared to do a sweeping motion to trip both of his opponents and grab his weapon. Unfortunately, before he could do so, a sharp pain shot through the back of his head before the entire world went black.
Soran awoke in a dark room tied to a chair. He had no idea where he was or how he had gotten there. He looked around, half expecting his brother to run up to him and yell “surprise!” But that didn’t happen, and the longer he sat there, the more of his memory returned to him. He was not at home; he was in the tyrant’s stronghold attempting to assassinate the tyrant. His brother would never run up and yell surprise; he had died over two years ago. He was tied to this chair because the mysterious hooded enemies had captured him. He had lost his weapon, he had lost his resolve, and he had lost the fight. He was in the hands of the enemy now. They could do what they wanted to him now. He was defenseless. With these realizations, an overwhelming sense of dread and failure came over him. Hopelessness now ruled his mind. He would be tortured, or killed, or worse. There was no hope now.
Suddenly, lights came on, blinding Soran temporarily. After several moments, Soran eyes adjusted to the light. The sources of the lights were lanterns placed intermittently along either wall. They did not supply too much light—sections of the room were still cloaked in shadow—but they were enough to give Soran a basic view of the room. It was a relatively small room with no furnishings but the chair in which he sat. The floor was made of hard stone, with no rug placed to hide the simplicity and blandness of it. Looking towards the ceiling, Soran could see several ropes and chains hanging down. He cringed, knowing that those would probably be instrumental in his torture. The wall opposite him was mostly in shadows, and it was from these shadows that the cloaked figure he had seen earlier emerged.
The man in black walked slowly towards Soran, each step deliberate and menacing. Soran put on the most hating expression he could, not allowing his enemy to see his fear. The man continued forward, hands behind his back, head tilted towards the ground. He didn’t seem to be in any hurry. When he came within five paces of Soran, he stopped and tilted his hooded head up to look at him. He still could not see what the man’s face looked like inside the cowl, but he could sense the man’s cold stare piercing through him.
“Welcome,” he said, his voice deep, his tone mocking. “I’m glad you stopped by for a visit.” Soran simply glared at his “host.” The hooded man ignored his glare and continued. “You have an exceptionally strong mind, a steady will. We will have to use other methods.” Confusion grew in Soran’s mind.
“What are you talking about?” Soran asked through gritted teeth. The cloaked adversary, however, did not answer, but simply let out an intimidating chuckle. Soran did not like where this was going. He felt dread building up.
“Enjoy working for the tyrant,” the man said. He said it with a smile in his voice, as if he were enjoying some personal joke.
“I will never work for the tyrant. I’ll kill myself before I help out in any of the tyrant’s evil deeds.” Soran spat the words at the faceless enemy, malice and contempt dripping from his lips.
“You speak too rashly. Unfortunately, you don’t have a choice.” As he said this, he lifted the cowl off of his head, revealing a masked face and close-cut hair. The mask was mainly white, but it had a blood red line dripping down each corner of the mouth slit and five black lines above and below each eye, as well as a long diagonal black line cutting across the entire mask. The eyes of the mask were set into a permanent glare, and the mask as a whole appeared to be scowling. It had a very strange effect on Soran, drawing him into the design emblazoned on the mask. He gazed at it inquiringly, wondering if the patterns were really moving or if it was just his imagination. Suddenly, the masked face turned away, breaking the hypnotic effect. It left him feeling tired, worn out. He wanted to close his eyes and take a short nap, but suddenly, a loud screeching sound broke the silence and snapped Soran into alertness. He looked up and noticed the chains descending, each with a strange looking lantern on it. The sound was excruciating in the small room, but eventually, the chains finished their descent, swinging gently with the lanterns.
As if by magic, each lantern lit itself, one after another. There were five lanterns in all, hung from the ceiling in a pentagon around the masked man. The lanterns were all head high to Soran while he was sitting. The masked man turned back to Soran, fixing him in his permanent scowl. Soran tried to look away, but he couldn’t. Suddenly, the lantern between Soran and the man blinked out. Confused, Soran searched his logic to determine why the light went out, but just as suddenly as it went out, it illuminated itself again. Then, soon after, the lantern in the back left corner of the man went out, and just as quickly came back on. Then the front right corner lantern did the same. As this happened, Soran stayed glued to the man’s hypnotic stare. More and more lights blinked on and off in a seemingly random order, which Soran observed through his peripherals. It went at a steady pace, never going faster than it had in the beginning. Soran sat there, transfixed, his glare slowly melting into an expression of neutrality. Not a word was said throughout the whole experience.
Soran could feel his brain empty, and he became very calm. His memories started to run together, his childhood mixing with yesterday, memories of his mother mixing with those of his brother. Soon, all of his memories had become one, and it turned meaningless to Soran. It seemed as if the memories were those of a completely different person. The memories, now meaningless to Soran, slipped away into oblivion, leaving a blank slate, fresh and ready for new memories. And that is just what came next: memories. He could remember himself running through his village, squealing with delight at his perfect life. He could remember playing with his brother in the yard behind his two-story house. He could remember the evil rebels who killed his brother while trying to overthrow the glorious government that they lived in. He could remember joining the Tyrant’s army with pride, desperate to get back at those who took his brother away from him.
Soran stood, glaive in hand, guarding the magnificent door that led to the merciful and all-powerful tyrant. His muscles were stiff from standing in the guard position so long, keeping his glaive crossed with the other guard’s glaive. His new position was awfully boring, but it was one of the most prestigious jobs there was. He was keeping the tyrant safe from any intruders that might be inane enough to try and assassinate him. Soran couldn’t even understand how anyone could want to kill the tyrant. After all, the tyrant was the one who created the utopian society that they were all lucky enough to live in.