He had coaxed from them much of their own history, but their worldly knowledge was limited to the string of valleys where their ancestors had isolated themselves. For most of his queries where they could not manifest an answer, they referred him, with kind humor, to a fabled city of knowledge, which was said to be a proper place for his strange questions. The knight still pressed on, and they told him true of their own ignorance. This world down here was not as he had expected, and their terms and names for the adjacent people and places were created only a generation before. The lack of good maps proved to be a disappointment. He had spied a rough attempt at cartography pinned to the wall, but there was no discernible scale, and limited to the local mountain range. He would have stayed there for days if he could. He hadn’t realized how much he dreaded the solitude of exile. He found the commanders pleasant enough to provide some needed company, but the men weren’t of his kind, and their temperament to him was stiff and artificial. The knight knew the impossibility of his immersion within this group and saw them as neither friends nor enemies. He therefore milked as much out of their collective minds as he could. In the moments after sunrise, his sensors had passed on some critical information. Distant vibrations were detected. It was a rumble that equated to hundreds of hooves. He had sensed the returning army was nearing their valley, and it would only be a slice of petty time before the guards along the walls could catch sight of their friends.
The four commanders of the valley people sat around the broken table, hostage, hungry and tired. As their night went on he felt less and less fear from these men, and began to suspect they might know more about his armor and it’s weaknesses than they originally let on. The knight was confidant that he could fight his way out of any trouble that came, but there is no man who believes he could fight forever. If he stood and faced the returning army it would only lead to senseless slaughter and eventual retaliation. And these men were not the enslaving butchers as he had originally assumed.
On the subject of the slaves their soldiers had been moving, out by the muddy ponds, the commanders all held a stubborn resolve that their actions were just, and that the weak folk were prisoners, convicted of stealing the yield from the crops the valley folk had planted. The captives were being taken to the ruins in an attempt to exchange them for five of their own. These five of their own, and the context of their entrapment seemed to be a tender subject as each commander’s face conveyed either shame, rage, or an odd combination of the two when they spoke of their lost ones. Their story felt genuine and he made sure to study their eyes over the hours together watching for tells of deception. After he was certain of their belief, he reluctantly decided to let them live on and tell this tale of another day. He had wanted a reason to tear the tower down, an excuse to unleash his great accumulation of frustration. Frustration born from disgrace. He wanted a selfish release but his code had a clause about the innocent, and these were a people of laws. Their laws were rooted in the same code all knights of the heavenly Kingdom follow.
The knight they had initially thought him to be was known up in the Kingdom, infamously as Kress Tanchuck. Tanchuck was a rebel who was disgraced and exiled by the minds of Pegagon for firstly slaying a fellow knight in a consensual duel and then defying his mentor. Tanchuck’s story was told to young squires as a warning , stressing the importance of obedience, and with each generation his character went from rebel, to heel, to villain, to nemesis of all right and good. Tanchuck had left no signs of an evil legacy down here, and connecting the tales to what he learned of the man filled him with angst. Were the mentors of the Kingdom telling stories of him to the children? Was he the newest monster in the histories? Tanchuck’s crimes were awful but his own were worse. No, they wouldn’t take a lasting notice of him, not in the Kingdom he had left. Up there, murder had turned prolific, he was just the only one they caught. he must do as Tanchuck did, keep the code, don’t let his old blood rule. His legacy he made down here would be far greater than the one he left. He had to keep telling himself, and remember that Tanchuck proved them wrong, whether they knew it or not. Monsters don’t write laws. The comet knight was anxious to go, but clueless about where to.
A more pressing matter returned to his thoughts. His sensors estimated the army would cross their final ridge and be seen within a few minutes. He didn’t want to stay and slay his way out so he asked his final question as he stepped to the doorway. “Where is Tanchuck’s armor?”
The young commander looked to his bearded comrade, the bearded man looked to the scarred man, who then looked to the bald one. The four sat in silence testing his patience. The knight dropped his visor and swelled the inner linings of his suit. His transition to ‘battle-ready’ was a clear sign of his intent, as he strode over to the eldest commander. He placed his gauntlet cold against the man’s bare scalp.
The bald man spoke in a sputter. “His… armor was stolen, or… It walked away, or… some fools even say his closest took him to the island city, some ‘Tower of Truth’. We heard and forgot the stories, but few men alive truly know.”
The knight removed his claw from his head and headed back towards the door. Just as he stepped out into the morning air the young commander shouted after him. “If answers is what you want out of life, the island city can serve you. There is a great power that knows everything.”
The knight dug his hands into the wooden railing and turned around to face the young man.
“The pilgrim’s path is simple. Follow a river to where is ends, chase the standing star, and keep within sight of the endless.”
The knight stopped his recording and plunged himself over the balcony. He flashed down past the morning guards and smacked into the dewy ground with earthy plume spreading out among the mist. He heard the shouts of distant guards and the echos of others heralding the return of the army. The public began to stream out of the little sheds that dotted the barren grounds and it wasn’t long before the knight noticed a few frozen faces, meeting his gaze with gaping mouths. He eased at their petrified reactions and casually strode to the wall and slipped out the same hole which he had slipped in through. Once he was outside the perimeter and scaling through the mountain brush, he looked back to the central tower. On the balcony the four commanders debated with grief-stricken faces, gesturing to the opening gate. He felt safe from slaughtering them, even proud at his restraint. He had, after all, come here with the intent of brutality.