Letters from Ireland
Part 2

Everything that I am, everything that I have done, has led me here.
Angelus, in Becoming, Part 1

Acathla the demon came forth to swallow the world. He was killed by a virtuous knight who pierced the demon's heart before he could draw a breath to perform the act. Acathla turned to stone, as demons sometimes do,
Angelus, in Becoming, Part 1

The knight leaned foreword in the leather saddle and urged the white horse into a deeper stride. The setting sun shone on polished silver mail that jingled against a new leather doublet. The silk undershirt was a blessing, there was little chafing. They were good vestments, crafted carefully by the best artisans in the town. The horse was well-groomed and of finest stock; everything had prepared her for this.

The knight tested her sword in the scabbard again, a habit. Her hand moved to it as easily as her breath moved within her. They were nearing the great mound. She swung lightly off her mount and landed on the sheep-shorn grass. She turned and looked at the sun slipping over the green hills and stood strongly, waiting. It would be a fair fight against treacherous enemies. Only maintaining the standard of honor guaranteed success in this. She kept the chivalric code at home in her heart. She was the Chosen One.

Her mount began to nicker and stomp nervously. The knight stroked the long white nose and caressed the flicking ears, whispering comforts. She had no fear, not any more. Her path was clear, and void of choice. Therefore, to succeed the only option. She whispered again in her horse's ear, then smacked his haunches, sending him away. If the knight walked away from this test, there would be a world to receive her, and that would be her solace. This was no place to leave a vulnerable animal. The demons would soon waken. Soon after them, the real test. She reached inside her doublet and brought out her cross, blessed by the friar. It hung over her mail, clinking faintly. She reached into the pockets of her leather garment and re-counted her wooden stakes, 12. One for each. No room for mistakes, no time to waste pulling a stake back out. Impale and move on. She must proceed with timely precision.

The knight walked carefully, testing the ground, and stopped when it shivered under her feet. She stomped three times, warning her enemies of her approach. She rounded the mound and slipped behind a great stone, stepping down into the ragged chasm. She paused at the entry and looked out at the world once more, giving it promise with her enormous dark eyes. She unsheathed her sword with a graceful sweep and held it aloft; the cross emblazoned in the steel glinted orange. By Bridgid, she said silently, and by the Holy cross, I will conquer. And the world will live.

The knight descended into darkness.

She looked down. The way was steep and uneven, and she was soon greeted by a waft of foul air, the smells of blood and death and rotten flesh. Dripping water echoed on stone. The knight swallowed and moved down.

"Virtue!" came a bellow from deep below, "I smell a virtuous girl!"

The knight finally emerged into the cave below, expecting pitch-darkness, but meeting the faint light of tallow tapers. One dozen enormous demons surrounded her, several of them cloven-footed, yawning and snuffling, yellow eyes fixed on her. She planted her feet and sheathed her sword.

"She is ready to perish, if only we would join her on the journey," a rasping voice mocked her, "She has lived her life to this moment in pursuit of perfect virtue. She has never caused an injury without making amends. She has never lied without confessing. She has never spent more effort on her own desires than on those of others. She has righted every wrong in her path. She has lived strictly by the code of chivalry since early childhood. She is courageous beyond courage. In short, she is the most tedious being at large in this short-lived world of light,"

"Prepare to die," said the knight quietly, and the demons surrounding her exploded in laughter. It sounded like a thousand angry snakes.

The knight stepped to her left, swinging her fist, and left a stake buried in the heart of a demon. The demon burst into a small cloud of dust as she leaped onto a tall stone. She swept her eyes over the cave, soaking the lay of it into her memory. Circular, with a run of tall stones around. Puddles of stinking water on the floor. A passageway at the North end. The candles went out.

The knight's long years of training did not betray her. She closed her eyes. Demons could see in the dark, and she could not. She had been trained for this. A cloven hand clenched her by the scruff of her neck; she swung an arm backward and staked the demon, who's weight was suddenly gone from her. She stumbled back, falling from the height of the stone. She hit the rocky floor with a grunt. She had time to hold a stake above her as another demon threw itself onto her chest, and dissolved into dust. She scrambled foreword, her scabbard dragging on the ground, clanking. She was seized by her feet and lifted upward; she sat up in mid-air, wielding another stake, and fell again as her enemy dissolved, this time into a fetid puddle. Four, she counted.

A blow came out of the darkness, tearing across her face. She felt her eyelid rip. No matter, she was not relying on her eyes. She was tempted, in a small place in her heart, to hit back, but there was no time. She sank her fingers quickly into the demon's face, dragging it foreword, and staked it. Five.

Her left arm was taken by one demon and her right by another. She relaxed her right arm and snapped a kick out to her right, breaking the demon's knee. The one on her left pulled her back against him, twisting her wrist, nearly snapping it. He leaned over her shoulder, breathing into her face. A lesser warrior would have fainted, it was the breath of the grave. The demon twisted again, and the knight cried out; her wrist splintered. She wrenched from his grasp, spun quickly, and staked him with her good hand. She fell to her knees, her sightless instincts finding the other demon, and shoved another stake home. Seven.

She was grabbed by the waist and hoisted up; she was tossed against the wall of the cave. The wind rushed out of her. She crawled, one-handed, on the cave floor, trying to rise. She was kicked savagely in the head. Her mind went blank; she shook it off. A demon landed on her back. She twisted lithely beneath it and thrust wood into it's heart. Eight.

She coughed, pushing herself onto her feet, and walked in a circle, crouching. She felt and heard them shuffling and splashing around her. She stood very still. A demon rushed her and she didn't dodge quickly enough. She went down, but she staked him in mid-fall and hit the floor alone. Nine.

A cloven foot blasted into her face. She managed to grab the ankle and pulled, bringing it down with her. It wrapped both hands around her throat and squeezed, and the knight was glad, because it chose to fight without hands. A bad choice. She staked it. Ten.

A faint light was beginning to seep into the cave from the North passage. Acathla was coming. Soon he would emerge, and if he drew breath, she would fail.

"You will never stop Acathla," it was the same voice she had heard when she entered. The knight stilled herself, listening intently to the oversized toenails sloshing along through a puddle of stinking muck.

It was a good sign, when they started to talk. Demons liked to talk, but they did so like many humans, out of nervousness. The knight stilled herself again. The light was beginning to work to her advantage; she was beginning to see shadows. But she was running out of time. The two best fighters were left, or the two biggest cowards. They were avoiding her, trying to wear her down.

Well, time to bring them to her. She started for the North passage, for Acathla.

A demon jumped on her back. She snapped her head backward, slamming the back of her head against it's face and stunning it; she turned and staked it. Eleven, but that one was too easy, that one had been the coward. This last one might be smarter and stronger.

She resumed her stride for the North passage. The light was turning from dull yellow to red. She heard the last demon's voice behind her. It was following her. Her heart began to pound. She needed to reach Acathla.

"Virtue," hissed the demon, "Is there never to be pleasure for you? Nothing to life but constant sacrifice and the knowledge that the reward is yet another sacrifice, the greatest one of all. I know your vice, brave knight, virtuous knight. Your vice is pride. Who but one so proud could presume to bring down the ascent of the dark power, who but one so full of conceit would come ready to die for the privilege of being the Chosen One? Pride will kill you one day. One day, when you are indulging in that pride, perhaps, showing off for a boy in your little village, or holding your fine sword aloft in the sun for all to see, one day your pride will undo you,"

The knight turned and faced the demon, smiling into it's yellow lizard eyes.

"One day you will be defeated," it snarled.

"But not today," said the knight, and she staked him.

The knight strode into the North passage, following the light.

She entered a small chamber that was lit with a sinister glow. The demon Acathla's form wavered in a tall stone, the shape of his body lifting and sinking like a shape in wet sand. He seemed to see her, and grinned. Time for the battle. Acathla could only swallow the world if he did so in defeating her; he would need to draw only one breath. Then the world would be his supper.

The knight cleared her mind. The demon's form began to emerge fully from the stone.

The knight pulled her sword from the scabbard. The sound went singing against the walls. She lowered her head and relaxed her shoulders. Timing was everything. If she struck too soon her sword would hit stone. If too late, the demon would have time to take a breath and all would be lost.

Acathla's body came completely forth. He began to open his mouth.

The knight charged. Acathla grasped her easily in his enormous hand and held her, looking at her hungrily as she squirmed in his grasp. He held her over his mouth, ready to suck her in with his first breath. She delivered a kick to one of his teeth, and he dropped her. Her foot was broken. She staggered up. Her vision wavered. She could only see out of one eye, the other was swollen shut, but her vision in the good one was unsteady. She winced as she tripped over her own foot and fell.

Acathla grinned.

The knight looked up at him and anger rose in her. Anger from pride. She charged again, but Acathla seized her by the waist, squeezing. Two of her ribs broke. He shook her back and forth in his grasp. His mouth was almost completely open. The knight swung her sword high and buried it in Acathla's chest.

Acathla released the knight. She fell on the floor, hard. She lay beneath him and looked up in wonder, watching his flesh harden and turn to stone.

Acathla was defeated.

The knight struggled up, blinking her one open eye. She limped out of the chamber and through the cave, up the entry passage and into the night. She was greeted by a faint new moon, a low-hanging sliver of pearl in the sky. She sat on the grass and stared at the stars. Her ribs cried out with each breath, her wrist trembled with pain. Blood flowed from her eye. Her foot throbbed. And her heart sang.

And then I woke up. It's strange how I was surprised that she was you. Not you, but you. How can I explain? You are now, but you were then, too. Or maybe it's my imagination. I'm not sure. Some dreams are too vivid, they herald things, they warn. Some are just ravings of the brain. But I saw her face, in the dream, with strands of blonde hair trailing across her cheek in the twilight breeze, and with those eyes. I have never seen eyes like yours. It makes me think that you came to fight him again, it was the most difficult battle of your life. It was the hardest kill you ever made. It was hers, too.

I miss you.