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At once I was awakened by the flow of the wind and the ambient sounds that emanated from the vacant field I just happened to find myself in. I didn’t remember where I had come from, or for what purpose. I did not even know where I was going or if there was any place in particular I was supposed to go. I began to feel that familiar feeling of insignificance that everyone feels at one point in their life. Amongst the chirps of birds, baying of hounds, and the gentle “swoosh” of the wind through the trees and shrubbery, another sound that was not immediately identifiable amplified to speaking volume. I could hear this strange voice so close as if the speaker was talking into both ears. I panicked, for hearing disembodied voices isn’t exactly common. I tried to cover my ears, but I could still hear the voice, no matter what attempt I made to plug my ears or drown out the sound. The voice told me to stay calm, and to pay close attention, for what it had to say was of the utmost importance. The sound around me began to fade out so that all I could hear was the voice. I laid my small sack of supplies and my sheath in a pile upon the ground next to where I was standing, and sat down to give this voice my full attention. It began to speak, and soon I knew what was going on… and I became more afraid than I ever remembered being.

The voice spoke about three relics that alone hold the power to keep the earth, universe, and all things intact and stable. A wanderer is chosen by this voice, who is known by the moniker, “The Guardian”. The wanderer must travel to two separate temples separated by vast amounts of land and ocean, collect the relics, and bring them back to the place of appointment to notify the Guardian of the retrieval of the relics. Apparently this trek was taken every millennium, which meant that it had been taken once already in the past. Each temple is protected by a being known as “The Keeper”. They do not have specific names for themselves. Despite the horror of what I was hearing, I let out a small giggle when thoughts of young Keepers with an indifferent mother popped into my mind. The smile fell from my face when I heard the Guardian say that I was the wanderer assigned with this extremely difficult task, and that if I failed the world would no longer be sustained by the relics and would destabilize. The Guardian was not full of bad news, however, and stated that in order to complete this task successfully, I would have to recruit a partner to travel with me. He also stated the few rules of this task, which included the forbiddance to inform anyone of the work we had to do in order to fulfill the task, or to let anyone know the task existed at all. I was also forbidden to enter a relationship outside of the task, and the Guardian ordered that after the task is completed, we must go our separate ways and never see each other again. This was something I could live with: simply recruiting a war partner to complete a job, as it was not the first time I had done something like that. The voice suddenly dissipated, and the sound of the nature surrounding me became audible once again. I picked up my supplies, and while trying to fight off the unease I felt about this encounter, tried to organize my thoughts. I had foul memories of my many failures in the past and I did not know why, out of everyone in the world, I would be chosen for this journey. I decided to visit the nearest town in search of a partner.

The walk to the nearest town was not as difficult as I had expected. I had traveled across the field and through a large thicket of trees. Far off in the distance I was able to see a large windmill and many small huts made of wood and golden straw. When I arrived in the town, not many people noticed me through their everyday routines and social activities. There were many people: some of them commoners, some who appeared to be travelers like myself, some who appeared to be keepers of the peace, and a rare few who seemed to be of nobility. At first I did not know how to pick a partner for this journey, so I began walking around town to see as many people as possible. After I had been walking for over an hour, I came to the conclusion that there may not be a fitting partner in this town. As I was turning to take my leave, I collided with a woman who appeared to be a hunter. We caught each other in a gaze and after a few seconds, she apologized and began to walk away. From her appearance she seemed to be a very distinguished hunter, so I approached her quickly and asked her if she would like to join me in fulfilling the task. For some reason, she seemed to believe what I was saying despite how far-fetched my story may have sounded at the time. She agreed to join me on my journey. We went to the town inn to rest for the night before leaving on our journey. We sat in the tavern of the inn and spoke for hours about life, our journey, and things. After a while of conversation, I seemed to understand her better and realized how hard her life has been, but life was hard for pretty much everyone at the time. Maybe that was why she agreed to join me on the adventure. After a good nights sleep, we packed enough supplies to last us quite a while and borrowed a couple horses from one of the more generous farmers of the area.

We began our journey on horseback across the vast plains and through seemingly endless forests. We rode for days until the weather began to change and the greens died and the animals made nests for themselves and their families. We rode through a beautiful forest of white trees with blue leaves and saw a glint of light just near the horizon. After what seemed like an hour of riding through this beautiful landscape, we arrived at the glint which was actually the sunlight reflecting off of a crystal at the top of the first tower. We didn’t know what to expect from this tower, except that it was protected by a Keeper, so we equipped ourselves and prepared to enter. She had her bow and quiver and I unsheathed my sword. We opened the large stone doors to the temple, and entered. Unlike the dull exterior of the temple, the inside looked very earthy with vines and plant life. The room shimmered with reflections from a small pond in the middle of the room with a pillar standing in the middle of the pond. The pillar had an opening that contained a mysterious-looking item. We approached the pillar and reached the opening. Inside sat a truly beautiful object. It seemed to have a fluidic mass, yet hardened to the touch like a stone. We had somewhat of a sense of security, but not for long as we suddenly heard a harsh rasping coming from a being at the other side of the chamber, blocking the exit. This being had an appearance of dullness, and a figure like dark, worn cloth wrapped around a pole. He seemed to match the interior of the tower almost perfectly, as if he had simply sprung up from the earth, however it is much more likely that millennia passed in seclusion within the chamber caused the drastic change of appearance. The Keeper slowly approached us and began to speak. He spoke of the toils of the world and the corruption, and tried to reason with us against collecting the relics. He made his case which, in the end, seemed completely reasonable and agreeable with, however we were not about to give up on the world so easily… and the battle began.

I flung myself towards the Keeper with my sword held high above me, and she armed her bow and prepared to fire. The Keeper, despite looking stiff and coiled, moved quite swiftly and began an attack of his own. I swung my sword in his direction and sliced. The Keeper let out a fowl scream of painful agony, and his wound appeared to be like that of a chopped root of a tree. Rather than bleeding like a mortal, the Keeper seemed to lose moisture from his roots and began to become more lifeless and stiff with every hit. My partner was shooting her bow with grace and agility, running and leaping around the chamber while pausing for scant seconds of time to reload her arrow. We had received a few cuts and bruises, but nothing too serious as we struck the final blow to the Keeper.  His corpse deteriorated and became many small creatures and drained of all liquid so that the pond in the middle of the room gained a foot of depth. We approached the pillar containing the relic, and effortlessly removed it from it’s perch. The chamber now had such beauty and life as to reassure us that our task was not in vain. We exited the temple and made camp a few hundred yards away. We rested for a while and bandaged our wounds. At the time, we were somewhat relieved because we thought we were half way done with our journey, and so far we came out successful. By the time we had regained our strength, it had become dusk, so I built a small fire and went out to hunt for food. I had a basic knowledge with a bow, and could aim pretty well, so I borrowed her equipment so I could hunt without sneaking up on my prey with a sword. The hunt was fairly easy, and I returned to the resting site we had established and prepared the food and cooked it over the fire. We decided to rest here for the night and leave for the next temple at dawn. We spoke for a while in front of the campfire until the dead of night when not a sound could be heard but the crackling of the fire. I stared into the fire and began to go into somewhat of a trance. I let my mind wander, and I began thinking of events from my past that I would rather have forgotten. People were running, trying to put out the flames that had engulfed our village. I was still a small lad at the time, and I was very frightened. My family got trapped inside of our home, but I was able to escape. There was nothing I could do, but I can never forgive myself for just running away. I could hear people screaming from all the houses around me and people trying to put out the flames but it was impossible. At the time I didn’t know what caused the flames, but considering our whole village was burned to the ground I came to the conclusion that it must have been an assault from an enemy kingdom. I began to shake and was filled with an overwhelming sorrow.

She woke me from my visions of despair, and I gazed into her eyes. Unlike the fire, they gave me a feeling of tranquility and hope. It had been months since we had left on our journey, and I was starting to become emotionally attached to my partner. We slept by the fire until morning, and set out on a path to the next temple. Our ride was much longer than the ride we had previously on the way to the first temple. This time we rode for a couple months, stopping sometimes during the day to hunt for small game, and camping at night to have roasted food and a good night’s sleep. During this time we became very attached to each other, almost as if we were family. We also practiced our skills once in a while to prepare for the battle with the Keeper of the next temple. Over time, I became quite a skilled warrior and she gained the accuracy and agility of a master archer. Just over the horizon we saw a hint of light like a pillar sticking up through the heavens. We sped up our horses so we could make it there well before nightfall and get it over with. As we got closer and closer to the temple, a grim mist began to swell and expand to fill the entire area making it more difficult for us to see our destination. We continued to follow the pillar of light until the temple entered our eyesight. This temple appeared to have been built from huge skeletal remains like those of a dinosaur. The bones were piled together to form an extremely complex teepee. We fastened our horses to a tree and walked the rest of the way, for all of the plant life near the temple was dead and roots protruded from the ground making the walk, especially in this thick mist, an obstacle course. We made our way through the hazardous terrain and came to the entrance of the temple. The large doors smoothly formed of gold and bone suggested the craftsmanship of the architect. My partner seemed somewhat tired from the long trek today, so she agreed to set up camp outside of the temple while I go in alone. She was aware of my skill as a swordsman and had confidence that I could hold my own in battle. I entered the temple feeling somewhat unconfident in myself, and suddenly became ill when I saw the interior of the chamber.

The site and smell alone made me slightly unconscious, and I suddenly realized what I was looking at. There were piles of skeletal remains of animals and humans, some of them still attached to meat and clothes. The walls of the chamber were painted with blood, some of it fresh and some ancient. To sustain itself this Keeper would make trips from the temple and hunt whatever meaty beings it could find. I could see the misshapen black tiles leading to a large throne at the other end of the room, upon which a truly wretched being sat. The Keeper had not noticed me yet, as it appeared to be gnawing on the remains of a small bone. I looked around the chamber to see if I could spot the second relic. The Keeper shifted in his seat and I realized the relic was sitting on a platform above the throne. I looked down slightly and noticed the Keeper was looking directly at me, and he spoke. He welcomed me to his humble abode, and invited me in. Arrogantly, he noted that it was foolishly of me to confront him after such a long and tiring journey. Considering the piles of remains spread throughout the chamber, I concluded that I was just as safe where I am now as I would have been spending the night outside at the camp my partner was preparing. I had to succeed and destroy this being so that he could not hurt her if I fail. This Keeper appeared to be a bit animalistic with gray skin, and white fur patches on it’s head, stomach, arms, and legs. It looked like it could be a teddy bear for a sadistic lunatic. It looked the opposite of the last Keeper, which was plantlike in a way. His hands were decrepit and thin, and had long claws at the end of each finger. I slowly approached the Keeper, as he began to threaten me with a fate equal to those of the remains lying about the chamber. His shouts became louder and louder, as I was but a few feet away. He showed his fangs, dripping with blood and saliva. I drew my sword.

Several blows were struck between both the Keeper and I, many of them deflected but some succeeding in injuring both of us. He struck me to the ground causing me to slide away and lose grip of my weapon. He galloped in a catlike manner to retrieve my sword, and flung it at me with surprising speed. I was barely able to dodge, and the sword stuck in the wall behind me. I struggled for a moment, and finally pulled it from the wall. The Keeper stood watching, licking it’s lips mockingly. I faced the Keeper, shoved my sword hard into the floor, and began to dash towards the Keeper. The sword grinded against the tiles, causing sparks to fly out and the blade to heat up. I reached the Keeper, and pulled the sword upwards to strike him with the heated end of my blade. He tried to counter my attack while I was performing it, but failed and let out a scream of pain. He fled to the opposite side of the chamber jumping from surface to surface. I kneeled for a moment to catch my breath but kept my sword up just in case. He galloped towards me while I appeared to be off guard, but he was mistaken. The battle was then over, after a couple hours of brutal combat. Much like the last Keeper, this one also deteriorated and turned into small creatures but the animals spawned from the remains of this Keeper were far more unpleasant. I had become quite weak from the battle and injured. I limped over to the throne where the Keeper had been sitting, and retrieved the second relic from above the throne. I began to walk away to return to the camp and let my partner know I had retrieved the relic, when I suddenly heard a crash behind me. The throne had collapsed and broken into several small pieces and the wall opened up to reveal another chamber. A voice echoed from within congratulating me on the defeat of the other two Keepers and urging me to enter. I wasn’t sure whether or not this voice was from a friendly source or not, so I sat the relic down and approached the chamber.

I was amazed to see a room coated in gold and various jewels and a being more impressive than the room itself. This was the final Keeper who had the possession of the third and final relic. This Keeper was covered in what appeared to be thin golden armor and a crown adorned with gold and diamonds. Unlike the previous Keepers who used melee attacks, this Keeper wielded a sword fit for a king that possibly belonged to one at one time. Because of the weight of his equipment, he moved more sluggishly than the others. All I had to do to ensure the safety of the world and return the three relics to the Guardian, was dispose of this Keeper. I got a brief glimpse of the relic sitting in a small shrine at the far end of the chamber, and a feeling of sharp discomfort shocked through me. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t immediately know what. This relic held some kind of special attributes that were not present in the other relics. Despite the weakness and pain I was feeling, I felt confident that I could take on this final Keeper and end our misery so that we may live in peace. The final Keeper spoke to me about the task, and how it was formed as a test to calculate the determination of mankind. I now understood why they would choose me, the most unlikely person imaginable to succeed, to fulfill this task. Over the weeks we had been traveling together, we became a lot more strong and wise than we had been prior to the appointment. The Keeper bowed to me, and readied for combat and I did the same.

We met each other in a duel of the swords. He was fast, and because of my injuries from the previous battle, he had a slight advantage over me. I tried an offense of moving quickly around the guardian to strike as many blows as I could. This worked for a short while and his armor began to break and fall off. I was able to land a few good blows to his uncovered body before he became enraged and knocked me to the ground. As he held me at sword point, I saw him turn his head towards the entrance to his chamber and I heard footsteps approaching. I was suddenly horrified when I realized she was trying to enter and probably did not expect another Keeper to be inside, especially with the Keeper from the previous chamber blatantly left in ruins. The Keeper turned from me, and stood by the entrance to the chamber and prepared for her to enter. I tried to pull myself up and warn her or help her, but it was too late. She had run into the chamber and the Keeper plunged his sword into her stomach. I had once again failed to save the person I loved from death, and I couldn’t stand the pain. She fell to the ground and had obviously passed on.

A shiver suddenly whipped through my body and I had become filled with adrenaline and rage, which is a dangerous mixture in a situation such as this. I stood up so quickly I nearly vaulted into the air. I dashed faster than I had ever remembered and plunged my sword into the Keeper. He growled, and began a new attack. I dodged his attacks and counter-attacked with an increasing amount of force. I couldn’t believe what had happened to her, and every second I thought about it gave me more and more fuel against this Keeper. I had entered such a rabid attack that all of the Keeper’s armor had been broken and fell to the floor so that his pale, white skin was bare but for the slashes and cuts from my sword. He landed a hit with his sword which cut a long gash across my chest. I fell to the ground beside her and lay facing her. The eyes that had once given me a feeling of tranquility and hope now gave me a feeling of extreme sadness. I had to defeat this Keeper, if only for her. I shed a single tear, and stood to face him. I had to end this now, for I did not know how much longer I could fight. He looked tired and weary as well. We came together in one last blur of combat, and my opponent was defeated. In a daze, I looked at the relic in it’s little shrine. I didn’t get the bad feeling I did before when looking at it for some reason. Behind me I heard a sigh, but I knew it was impossible for her to still be alive. I turned to face her, and she blinked. Quickly I felt for a pulse which I found to be present. Her wound had healed and closed. Did it heal because we had fulfilled the task? I didn’t know and frankly it was not my main concern. All I cared about was that she was alive. I picked her up and carried her out to the camp she had prepared and packed away the three relics. We stayed at this camp site for a week while every day the environment seemed to improve as well as our wounds heal. We both became strong enough again to take the journey back to the field I had started off in. We rode for days, stopping at each landmark we had seen during our adventure that we thought was beautiful but didn’t have the time to stop and appreciate it. After what we both went through, we had a renewed appreciation for nature and it’s glory.

We arrived in the field where my journey had begun. The ambiance of the surrounding nature was refreshing and a good close to what had been a long and grueling trek. We set the relics upon the ground, sat together, and waited. It was not long before the Guardian spoke to us as it had done before. The Guardian congratulated us on a job well done, when he first noticed all three relics sitting there, but then he realized something was not right. He told us the third relic has lost it’s power. I remembered the strange feeling I had when I looked at the relic, and how the feeling was gone when I collected the relic from it’s shrine. The Guardian told us that the power was still present, but not in it’s original form so the task could still be completed. We became very confused at this statement, and asked what needed to be done. The Guardian told us the third relic had fused within my partner, more specifically the child she was carrying. The relic had contained an aura of peace and life, which had been turned fowl simply for it’s presence within the chamber where such evil had taken place. When my partner had been injured, the peace and life cased in the relic escaped, and reformed within her, bringing her back to life as well as reviving the child! It was indeed a joyous announcement that we were to be parents, but also a horrific turn of events. The Guardian scolded us for forming a relationship, as that was one of the only rules upon entering this task. He said the three relics would have to be reunited, or the task could not be completed. He told us the third relic would have to be cut from my partner and reunited with the other two relics. I immediately refused, because I couldn’t stand to lose her again and especially not by my sword. A large opening had formed in the sky. The relics, supported by the retrievers of them, were to be hoisted up into the opening to deposit the relics and bring another millennium of peace to the world. He reminded us that if the relics are not reunited, the world would destabilize and crumble, and the universe would become blank. We had a decision to make.

She was speechless, and looked to me for an answer that I couldn’t easily give. I thought back to the first Keeper we had encountered. Maybe he was right, and the world didn’t deserve to be saved… I quickly disregarded these thoughts as void, for the world brought me together with her so it couldn’t be all that bad. These thoughts didn’t bring me any closer to a conclusion. I looked into her eyes which now gave me a feeling of tranquility and hope. I had made a decision. The Guardian pondered my response for a moment, not speaking for several minutes. We then heard the words “very well” and the ambiance from the nature surrounding us faded back in. The large opening in the sky turned dark red and the opening sealed itself.  The wind seemed to stop. Gazing into each other’s eyes, we began to cry. The last few moments of the earth had arrived, and we spent them in an unending embrace.

The End
My first full-length microfiction! (4,608 words)
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