Chapter Four:

The Damsel

IT TOOK FOREVER, but the prince finally found out that he was not made to live in the woods.

"Stupid grass, stupid trees, stupid nature," he muttered as he walked through the forest. So far he had been tricked out of his spare shirt by a group of pixies, gotten stuck in a mud swamp, and lost his golden ring. And all of this was before he reached Helavex.

"Why do I have all the bad luck?" he shouted into the air.

This, dear reader, was one of the most untruthful things Edward has ever said. He's a prince, with a loving father and best friend, has opportunities that many could only dream of, and it is only when he actually has to work that all his good fortune has caught up to him. Unfair, you might ask? Not in the least. In fact, it makes for thrilling entertainment.

Just when Edward was about to give up and head home, he reached the top of the hill and saw the edge of Helavex spread out before him. The forest was thick, barely letting any light shine through the trees. The prince was amazed by the sheer size of the forest. Forgetting his misfortune, he ran down the hill, ready to tackle his quest head-on and rescue the damsel.

When he stepped into the forest, though, the atmosphere changed. The temperature dropped drastically and, if it is even possible, Edward could feel the danger in the air. He wanted nothing more than to run back to the sunshine and out of Helavex—and I think that he would have, had not it been for his pride. He was too proud to not fulfill his quest now. He would finish it, and that started by not running away.

Edward gazed around the forest as he walked. The trees were double the size as the ones in Dracone, and they were covered with thick vines. There was never a moment when the strange world that he had entered was quiet: the birds sang, the branches snapped beneath his feet, and the creatures that lurked in the darkness moved about. He glanced over his shoulder nervously. Magic was laced through the air; it played around Edward's face, tickling his skin, and then was whisked away by the wind.

Suddenly, Edward realized why the Helavexons had loathed being confined to the forest. Darkness swirled throughout the trees, a powerful force that made his body scream, begging him to return to the outside world. Light barely reached the forest floor, making the slightest movements seem sinister. The prince hated being in woods—he could not imagine having to live there.

Deeper and deeper into Helavex he went, until the roaring sun disappeared behind the trees. Camp was a small tent, set up between two thick trunks, and a fire. Edward had debated whether or not to set a fire, afraid that the flames could attract unwanted visitors, but a cold set over the forest at night, despite the summer weather. Edward curled up in the tent, wishing dearly for his warm bed back at the castle, and fell into a deep sleep.


The prince awoke the next morning with sore muscles and a heavy heart. He pulled out his map, and figuring out his location, realized that he would get to the fair damsel in one more day. The icy chill that had frozen his heart started to thaw at the thought of seeing the beautiful woman's face once he rescued her.

Midway through the day, the forest started to thin, though the trees were still larger than those in Dracone. Soon, they parted all together, and Edward was faced with a beautiful sight. From atop the hill he stood, he could see a large lake below. The cool water shimmered in the light, so dark blue that it was almost black. A river bled into the lake, tearing though the landscape like an open wound, until it disappeared amongst the trees.

Edward continued down the side of the hill through a path that twisted around the trees until he reached flat land. A beach made of dirt and sand stretched out in front of him, letting the gentle waves of the lake lap at the coast. He cupped a pool of water with his hands and smelled it. When he was sure that the water was fresh, he drank until his thirst was quenched, and then filled up his water skin. It was the best water he had ever tasted, sweat and cold. Edward wanted to do nothing more than just sit and stare at the glimmering lake, letting life's troubles slip away with the waves.

The surface of the like started to break in front of Edward, and he watched with drowsy curiosity. The top of a head floated toward him, long, golden hair floating around it as if it had a life of its own. Soon the entire head emerged, revealing a beautiful woman. Her features were delicate, with a soft, straight nose, and full, rosy red lips. Her eyes, like large pools of water, were so blue that they mirrored the sky. She swan closer to the shore and pulled herself onto a smooth rock, lying with her back facing the sun. She wore nothing but the silver scales that covered her lower half. The tip of the fishtail splashed the water playfully. She smiled at the prince, her hair falling over her shoulders and in front of her body.

"A beautiful day, is it not?" she said, her voice the lapping of the waves.

"Yes," Edward breathed. "Beautiful."

The mermaid laughed, and he could hear the crashing of the waves on some distant shore. "Why don't you come and join me?"

Something tugged at the back of his mind, warning him not to go near the gorgeous maiden. The sirens were known for sending ships to their doom. But there was something so charming and pleasant about her that Edward did not want to leave. Still, he did not touch the water.

"Why, might I ask, are you in a lake," he said wistfully, "and not the sea?"

The mermaid dipped her long, delicate fingers into the water. "Long ago, my sisters and I found a river coming from the sea. We followed it, coming upon this water pool. We have been here ever since." She looked up at Edward, smiling sweetly. The siren opened her mouth and started to sing. A cool, but not unpleasant, sensation ran though his body, as if the sea was rushing through his veins. Her voice was perfect, creating a melody that made the prince's senses tingle. He wanted nothing more than to join the mermaid in the lake, to sink to the bottom with her in a lovely heap.

Edward walked into the water, letting it splash against his feet, until he was up to his knees, with the maiden right in front of him. The song played through his body, and he could barely control himself. Each step he took seemed to be taken by someone else.

The mermaid slowly reached out to touch him, continuing to sing. She wrapped her fingers around his cheek; her touch was cool. But almost as soon as she touched him, the mermaid recoiled, screaming. The sound, so horrible that Edward could not believe that it came from the sweet voiced siren, shook him out of his trance. She held her hand against her body, her wail slowly quieting.

"What did you do to me?" the mermaid hissed, her beautiful voice rising in terror. Before he could answer, she slipped back into the water, diving, her tail cutting through the air before it disappeared beneath the water.

Edward waded back to the shore and dropped into the sand, staring out across the water, waiting for the maiden's return. He had hurt her, and Edward wondered how that could have been. He wanted to ask her what had happened, but the long he sat there, the more he realized that she would not return. Reluctantly, Edward pulled himself to his bags, which rested by the trees. Something lightly hit against his chest with each step he took. Surprised, Edward pulled out Klotho's necklace.

I forgot about this, he thought as he held the jewels up to the light. The necklace was supposed to protect him from magical harm. The mermaid, a creature of magic, had tried to lure the prince to his death, Edward realized. The necklace had protected him.

He gathered his things and, after refilling his water supply, set up camp away from the lake. After his encounter with the mermaid, and now that his mind was finally clear, he wanted to get far away from the water. Who knows what else lurked beneath the surface?

The night was long, and sleep did not come easy for the prince. Edward awoke at dawn, ready to start the day. He was, dear reader, actually very ready to have the quest done with and to get back to the comfort of the castle. The forest was not as thick as the beginning of Helavex, though the trees were still thick. Edward traveled northeast toward the ruined towers that held the princess. According to the map, the ruins, once part of an ancient castle, had been named Heddwyn by the Helavexons.

The prince stretched his muscles as he walked. It would be easy to rescue a fair lady from a rundown tower.

The sun was in the center of the sky when he saw the tip of the tower breaking through the clouds. Edward shifted the pack on his back and drew his sword from his scabbard. The trees started to lessen and soon he was in clearing, a hill rising up before him. Resting on the top of the hill was a fallen tower, the stones deteriorating by time. Vines wove their way throughout the remaining stones, and moss grew over everything. Edward easily climbed the hill, examining the tower. A stonewall surrounded the area and when he stepped over it, he found another fallen tower, similar to the first. This one, however, had carvings on the tower, some half covered by moss. Edward looked up, and he saw that the standing tower was to his left. He made his way through overgrown trees and came to another clearing, this one with a large stone fortress. The prince gaped at the size of it. Thick and tall, the round building could fit half of the Draconian army.

At the very top of the tower was a small stained-glass window. Edward debated whether or not to call up to the damsel, but there might be others guarding the tower. He needed to keep the element of surprise and prayed that they had not seen his coming. Edward made his way around the fortress, searching for a door, an opening, anything. On the exact opposite side from the window was a wooden door, so old that it appeared to be hanging on one hinge, vines wrapping around the rusted metal. He could knock it down with one kick and rescue the damsel in no time.

It was so easy. And Edward, thankfully, had the very sense to know that that meant something was wrong. Carefully, he poked the door with the tip of his sword. The blade began to grow hot, so hot, in fact, that he almost dropped the sword, but a cool sensation ran over his hand, soothing his palm. There was only one explanation for it.

Magic.

The door—no doubt the entire tower—was laced with magic. The door had started to waver, as if surrounded by an unseen heat, but as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Now carved into the center of the ancient wood was the symbol of a flame, slightly burn around the edges of the mark. Edward gulped. This was a warning. Someone—or something—did not want him to go into the tower. He pushed back his shoulders confidently. He had to though. The very life of the fair maiden might be at stake.

Besides, even if the very tower was made only of magic, he had Klotho's necklace. Edward pulled it out of his shirt, the two jewels glimmering in the light, and once again touched the door with his sword. As the heat rushed across his hand, and as the cool sensation followed, the jewels glowed. As soon as he removed the blade from the wood, the crimson necklace stopped shining.

"Interesting," he mumbled. Before he could turn back and leave the cursed tower, Edward pushed open the door and stepped into the dark opening.

A wave of heat hit him, not unbearable, but not comfortable. He waited a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. He was in a small room with a staircase in front of him, disappearing as it turned inward. Carefully, he made his way up the stairs, taking care with each step. The necklace, however, never glowed. Edward wondered if the enchanted door was the only magic in the tower—that it served as a deterrent and nothing else.

The higher he went, though, the more uneasy he became. Edward had a sense that there was magic in the tower, but he not met it yet. When he turned a corner of the spirally staircase, though, the necklace began to glow. He tucked the jewels back under his shirt, hiding the light, and stopped. The prince could hear a soft, steady breathing, as though someone was asleep. The next step he took increased the breathing. The more steps he took, the more he realized that the creature was quite big, for he could hear it, but not yet see it.

That changed with the next corner he turned. A long, dark shape lay at the outside of the flight of stairs. It continued up into the darkness, out of sight. Edward bent down to look at the end, surprised to see that it came to a thin point, though the end was at least as thick as his arm. It was difficult to see in the dark, so he took out the necklace, covering it with his hand so that the light streamed through his fingers, and held it up to the shape. Immediately, the light glimmered back, revealing black scales. Edward recoiled, trying not to make any noise as he backed against the wall.

The thing lying on the stairs was a tail. And Edward had a horrible feeling what it was connected to.

Slowly, he continued on, his sword held out in front of him. Edward tried not to make any noise as the breathing grew louder. Then, he passed a leg, as thick as both of his arms, complete with long claws. A large, lumbering shoulder came out of the arm, but the rest of the body disappeared in the darkness. The heat had increased, and Edward now knew that it came from the creature. The prince prepared himself to pass the head of the beast, but he suddenly stopped. A cool breeze of air rushed toward him, and then stopped.

Edward momentarily wondered where it had come from, but he quickly pushed the thought from mind. It was an ancient tower and there could have been holes throughout the stones. He turned back to the creature and the prince realized something. He could kill it.

Oh, the thought of killing the beast sent shivers down his spine. But think of all the praise he would get! A mere prince killing such a monster—one who did such an act on his own behalf was worthy of being king!

Edward grasped the hilt with both hands, ready to strike. "Beast," he said, "prepare to be slain."

As the sword went down, he swore that he could hear a shout. But nothing mattered once the blade connected with the scaly skin. A deafening roar filled the air as the mighty head of a dragon was thrown back into the soft light. The creature had deep, red eyes that glimmered as much as the jewels. Long, ivory-colored teeth stuck out of a huge, red mouth that snapped shut in pain. The head whipped around to find the assailant. Edward waited until the dragon tried to turn its body toward him, and struck again at the white body.

A crimson stream of blood flowed out of the wounds. The dragon's head snapped at Edward, but he dodged it. The beast roared again, a deadly sound, and reared back, building up air in its throat. Its head came down and a torrent of fire came out of its mouth, spiraling toward the prince. He put his arms in front of his face—and realized that he was dead. There was no time to dodge the flames. This was it—it was the end.

The blast spread out around Edward, as if there was an unseen wall in front of him. The heat was agonizing, and the light was so bright that he had to close his eyes, but he realized that none of the flames had touched him. In disbelief, the prince glanced at the necklace. The jewels were glowing brighter than they ever had. The dragon had not yet realized that Edward was not destroyed by the blast, and he had time to act. He lifted his sword above his head and charged at the beast.

Before he even got there, something knocked into his side, sending him flying down the stairs. He lay across the steps, banged up, and looked up at the dragon in fright. But it was not the creature that had sent him down the stairs. The figure of a person, unidentifiable from the shadows, stood a few steps ahead, facing the dragon. The creature's long tail whipped over Edward's head and slammed into the figure, sending them backwards. He jumped up, barely catching the fallen person before they both slammed into the ground.

Angry, the dragon turned toward them, rage burning in its red eyes. It sucked in the air, and Edward knew that fire would soon come out of its mouth at them. He was protected from the flames, but the person on top of him was not.

You can give the other half to a person in danger and they will have the same protection as you, Klotho's voice said in his head. Not even thinking, Edward pulled the jewels apart, surprised at how easily they separated and pulled the other half of the necklace over the person's head. Both jewels started to shine.

And then the fire hit. Like before, the flames spread out around them, the heat pushing against them, but not enough to burn. Edward grabbed the person by the wrist and pulled them down the stairs. It was to their advantage that the dragon had to turn its large body around to chase after them. However, another blast raced down the staircase, the momentum pushing them down. They tumbled over the stairs and soon were crashing through the wooden door.

"Quick!" yelled Edward, not looking back as he jumped through the ruins. He ran down the hill, crashed through the trees, and kept running until he was out of breath. The prince sank to the ground, coughing, and tried to catch his breath.

The tip of the tower could be seen in the sky. It amazed Edward, though, how far away it was. Had he run all that way? The black dragon was out of the tower, now, and had crawled up the outside of the tower. Its top feet rested on the tip of the tower. The dragon roared into the sky, angered that they had escaped.

Also trying to catch her breath, sitting across from Edward was a young woman. She stared at the prince in shock and disgust. "What did you just do?"

To be continued…