First post! This was one of my first stories that I wrote for English. We always hear the perspective of the one person who succeeded, never one of the the ones who failed. So I gave a voice to one, just to show that they can be just as noble or kind as the one who succeeds. Don't forget I was only twelve and a half when I wrote this, so please no negative feedback.
The soft clip-clop of the horse’s footsteps echoed off the silent clifftop, mirroring the beating of the knight’s heart. His breath came out in white plumes, curling into the darkening sky. He strained his eyes, searching for any signs of his prize. He double checked his compass, then the faint stars overhead. Everything was in place.
The knight had been training for seven years, since he was ten for this, his first quest. His face was still unblemished. His hands, while calloused from years of wielding a sword, bore no scars. His armor was shiny; his shield hadn’t even the tiniest dent, and his sword had no blood on its blade. His only fault whatsoever was a mark above his left eye, where he had been nicked by a thorn on a race through the forest of his home. His horse was obviously tiring, but it shouldn’t be long now. The small dog in his bag barked softly, and he scratched behind the dog’s ears. It settled back down into the pack.
As the horse’s rhythm continued to be the only sound for miles, the knight’s mind started to wander. He had to bring the mask back to his family. It would provide both money and honor. He was his family’s only hope. His twin sister was crippled, his mother spent all of her time sewing, and his father was a lowly baker. He had been fortunate when Sir Henderson noticed his ability to use a sling and took him on as his apprentice. He had worked harder than any other apprentice, while still helping his father at the bakery. But he was finally about to be rewarded.
His quest was simple. Ride to the farthest cliff to the west, before the land fell into the Unpassable Sea, where, as the name suggested, from where no had returned alive. At this cliff lay a mask. But not just any mask. The mask of Alavor, the last of the Delans. But it was guarded by something of mass proportions. No one knew what. Bring the mask home, simple. The scant amount of information they knew was collected from a homing dove, and those were unreliable. No, he must return to the present, everything depended on his success. The little dog yipped again. And then he noticed it.
The plant was hard not to notice, he thought. It blocked out the stars and the faint light they cast. The air seemed to get colder as he approached. The atmosphere seemed to hold the stench of old leaves, wet swamps, and rotting eggs. The plant itself must have been 70, no 80 feet tall and jade green. The smallest vine was as thick as the knight, and the biggest could have wrapped around a large house with ease. Thorns protruded from all over, each ranging two to six feet long, with a point that was sharper than any knife, as far the knight could tell. The leaves on this plant were ovular and about six feet in diameter with what looked like barbs on the bottom. And this plant was alive. The vines swung back and forth, making a whipping sound. The thorns flashed in the dim light. The leaves curled and shook. The entire thing seemed like a thousand different beings, each independent.
The knight’s first thought was, it’s a plant. This realization made him laugh out loud, though the laugh was hollow and rang out humorless in the air. His breathing got quicker, and his heart pounded a little faster. The dog whined and the knight pulled the creature out of his bag. It was a scruffy thing, with bulging eyes and patched brown fur. But it was immensely loyal, so the knight kept it, and they were constant companions. Now the little dog sat curled in the knight’s lap, growling softly at the plant.
The knight took the dog off his lap and dismounted his horse. He placed the tiny dog on the horse’s saddle as the horse lay down on the rock. He gave both animals a pat and a small kiss on the forehead. These three had been through so much together, it seemed fitting that they should be here with him. The horse nickered softly, and the little dog yipped and licked his hand. The knight then turned around to face the monstrous plant. He walked slowly toward the thing until he was about 100 yards away. A gentle breeze made the hairs on the back of the knight’s neck stand up underneath his helmet. The simple gesture put the knight on alert. He looked toward the sky where the stars twinkled overhead. He looked to the North Star, the only constant in the swirling of the galaxy. He took a deep breath. He needed to approach this thing with caution.
He reached for one of the many small rocks in his pocket, a habit of using the sling for so long. He tossed the rock about 20 feet away, just within reach of the plant. The vines immediately fell upon it, about five at once. They seemed to inspect it, then they tossed it away, going back to their swaying motion.
The knight gulped. He didn’t know how to defeat the plant. If he made a distraction, he had maybe a half of a second’s head start. How to defeat it? He could try slicing off any thorns or leaves that came his way. But no, the vines themselves would wrap around him and suffocate him before he could react. The knight paced back and forth, considering his predicament from all angles. He could try riding his horse into the fray, but no, he couldn't risk his horse’s life as well as his own. He could try holding onto a vine, but the others would pick him off. He scanned the plant once more, and he saw it.
The mask was resting by the base of the plant, right up against the stem that had to be twenty feet in diameter. It faintly glittered gold in the dimmest of light, and it was easy to miss. The knight’s heart soared. The mask! He couldn’t believe he was truly laying eyes on it. It gave him new hope. And the vine closest to the mask, the knight noted, was smaller and seemed weaker than the others. A plan started to form in his head. He took his old sling from his pocket, as well as a few rocks. He pulled the visor of his helmet down and he took a deep breath. Everything he had worked for in seven years was coming down to this. He aimed his sling at the mask. And fired.
It missed the golden edge by a finger’s breadth. The knight sighed, reloaded, and fired again. This time he managed to move the mask a little farther away from the stem, closer to the weak vine. Then the knight took about three-quarters of his remaining rocks, and scattered them, while simultaneously running forward, unsheathing his sword.
The knight let out an unearthly cry, and the battle that ensued was unparalleled in history. Even the most experienced, strongest knights couldn’t have done it. He became more animal than man, whirling his sword, slicing vines, thorns, and leaves. He jumped over some vines, slid under others. He felt the scratches of barbs and thorns on his hands, heard his armor being dented and shredded. The horrible stench was much stronger as he was surrounded by the plant. The wind blew in his face, tipping his visor off. He then felt his face getting whipped and sliced as well. Scars he knew would last forever. The sharp taste of copper coated his throat like butter. His sling lay forgotten on the stone ground. His muscles burned like all of the fires from the sun had gone into his body. He used this strength to push ever farther, ever deeper. Everything comes down to this. Everything comes down to this. This thought kept repeating in his head, and he had no control of his body. His arms swung the sword, though he didn’t feel any connection to the movement. He legs pushed forward, but they didn’t send a message to his brain. His eyes tunneled to his soul, all the passion, anger, sorrow, joy, jealousy, and determination. The weak vine was easy to maneuver around, and his finger connected with the smooth surface of the mask. And he screamed.
It was the worst sound in the world. Everything living thing within a thousand miles heard it and cringed. The dog and horse watching lost their hearing permanently. The plant shuddered, the ground shook worse than if an earthquake had just struck the land. The man’s entire soul came out through his mouth. One long, unbroken, piercing note. And with that note, he knew all was lost. The mask had too much magic. He was going to die. After his voice gave out, the vines held still. And everything was quiet.
The only sound was the man’s heart in his ears. Wait… his heart? He was alive? It took the knight a second before he truly comprehended the fact. He could save his family! He could help his sister! His father would be a king, not a lowly baker. And his mother would be queen and never have to touch a needle and thread again. He was so happy he could cry. The horse and dog wouldn’t be alone! This was the best day of his life! He knew he would tell this story to his children, they would tell it to their children, and his story would never be forgotten. The wind had picked up speed, blowing frigid air into cracks in his armor, stinging his cuts. But he didn’t care. A smile spread across his face, wider than any the knight had ever smiled before. He was so ecstatic he whooped aloud. And that was his fatal mistake.
The plant came to life again, like nothing had ever happened. The man had dropped his sword earlier and was defenseless. The weak vine encircled him, slowly suffocating the noble warrior. And all of his happiness evaporated. He realized that he was not special, not chosen, and he was going to die, for real this time. His breath was coming out weaker and weaker. He saw his family, his friends, everyone that ever mattered to him flash before his eyes. I hope that no one else will find themselves so unlucky ever again to end up like me. Forgotten. The knight thought this, silent tears beading in his eyes. And I hope the next person will succeed, bring honor to their family and be a king. I’m sorry to everyone else that it wasn’t me. With this, he could relax, embrace death, and be serene in his final moments. In the end, his last thought was of the small dog, still sitting on his pack.