(Read This Part Second!! See First Part Below)
Sir Helmsley stepped into the forest, his leather boots crunching the dried leaves and twigs beneath his shodden feet. He held his unsheathed sword in his right hand, which pounded with the blood coursing through his veins, pumped by a racing heart. The overhanging branches shaded the wood from the glare of the early sun, forming a green canopy over his head. The darkness comforted like a blanket of protection while chilling the air with gloom.
Helmsley followed the tracks of his soldiers --though he was no hunter, the footprints were stamped clearly enough for even him to read. The tracks led north, deep into the heart of the forest, and he followed it faithfully, his steps neither hasty or unsure. He walked steadily on to whatever lay ahead.
More than an hour after Helmsley first entered the wood, the tracks he had been so diligently following disappeared. They vanished from sight in the center of a large clearing almost eerily perfect in its circular symmetry. A perfect ring of trees encircled the clearing, their slim white trunks climbing into the unseen sky. Rays of sunlight shone through the trees, illuminating the bare earth and grim solitude. Helmsley knew that this was where he would meet the monster, and here it was that one of them would be defeated. He sincerely hoped it would not be he.
After a few very slow moving minutes of quiet, Helmsley hear a rustling of leaves and the breaking of twigs --sounds indicating the presence of another.
Behind the westernmost tree of the ring, a dark and shapeless shadow emerged. At first, Helmsley believed it to be just a trick of the dappled light in the grove, but he soon saw the shadow lengthen and strengthen until it was clearly formed of flesh, bone, and who knew what else. The monster had some semblance of humanity, but twisted and deformed. Its face -if it can be called such -seemed to transform and shift at every moment. A great odor emanated from the creature. Helmsley shrank back, frightened and disgusted by its ever-changing features and rank stench. The gentleman breathed deeply to still his roiling stomach and stood his ground. He then raised his sword and prepared for battle, whispering a prayer that he will not fail his people.
Then, out of the gloom of the surrounding trees, more shadows emerged and became form and flesh. Then still more appeared, followed by dozens more. In a matter of minutes, Helmsley was surrounded on all sides by hundreds of freakish monsters. At the terrifying sight before him, Helmsley wanted nothing more than to drop his sword, sink to his knees and weep. But Helmsley found a long-lost inner wellspring of strength and gripped his sword and stared at the unsightly and extremely smelly beasts around him. He slowly turned in a circle, wondering which monster would lead the charge.
To his great and everlasting surprise, none did. The creatures gave a collective sniff in his direction and melted back into the shadows of the forest. All except one. One lone beast stood in the clearing, gazing at Sir Helmsley with ever-shifting eyes. Its changing features were all that moved in the silent clearing. Helmsley dared not to even blink an eye, much less move a muscle. Tension stretched like a string on a violin, twanging discordantly in the stillness. Finally, the string snapped --the monster spoke.
"Helmsley," it began in guttural, wet tones, "I was not sure you would come. That your fear would not imprison you in your lovely home." The creature smiled, revealing black rotting teeth and such malevolent breath, Helmsley thought he could practically see it poison the air. Helmsley took umbrage and the mockery he saw in the monster's twisted smile, pointed his sword at the creature and said, "You and your minions have disturbed my people for far too long. You have secreted away or murdered too many of my men. It is your turn to be terrorized and your turn to be destroyed."
"Pretty speech," the monster sneered. "But not enough to instill bravery where there never has been nor strength where there never will be. Prove to me you have such bravery and such strength, and maybe your pretty speeches will serves as a prophecy."
With that, Helmsley lunged for the monster, aiming for its wicked heart. However, Helmsley wasn't quite so sure the creature had a heart, and even if it did, where exactly it would be located on its grotesque person.
To be continued and concluded in Part III.