Chapter IX: GrendelMature

Alexander, now in possession of the soul blade Tempest, continued northwards toward the Germanic Tribes and their kingdoms. He knew that in order to both obtain the Holy Grail and release Gwendolyn from her captivity, he would need a strong horse, and the horses of the Germans were among the best in the world, and would surely be what he needed in his quest.

As he arrived in a certain Germanic kingdom, he noticed something incredibly odd about it: the kingdom seemed dead at first glance, all the lights were out except for the lights in the large castle, from which emanated a great deal of merry laughter... but even from a distance, the laughter seemed to ring hollow, as if it was to disguise a nameless fear within the hearts of those inside. Alex decided to ask about it once he made it inside.

Once he reached the door, he knocked, and suddenly all was quiet, as if the sound of the door had killed the charade of bravery within. The door slowly opened, and a sigh of relief was the greeting he received. He was bade welcome and asked to stay and partake in the meal they were having. Alex noted that even while he said this, the fear had not entirely left the room... but one soul in particular stood out from the rest.

This one person was a woman, Alexander guessed somewhere in her mid to late twenties, having red hair braided in a long tail, freckled flesh upon her muscular frame, and a bare chest, as if proudly displaying herself without armor, as many of the warriors inside had on, as well as Alexander himself in his black iron carapace. Alex noted that she alone out of the people in the room seemed genuinely merry and strong, while everyone else shivered and acted like sheep being introduced to a new guard dog. Alex then smiled: Gwendolyn was still the most beautiful girl he ever met... but this woman was without a doubt the most magnificent.

Alex approached her calmly and asked if he could sit next to her. She turned and stared into his heterochromatic eyes with her muave ones, and a look of curiosity shined in them for a moment, but it passed and she bade him to come and sit next to her.

The woman and Alex shared a drink and proceeded to converse. "What happened to your eye?" Was the first question that the woman put forth.

Alex stared back at her. "Despite the fact that I find that a rather personal question, I feel obliged to answer: my left eye was the result of a deal my father made with some foul being... I'm not sure entirely of the details, but apparently I was close to death upon my birth, and my mother died giving me only half alive into the world... and my father was so racked with sorrow and grief that he made a deal of the most unholy kind... I fear that soon that bargain may be the end of me..."

The woman put her hand on his shoulder, and a look of genuine concern shined in her eyes. "I hope you survive this ordeal, my friend. Tonight will be rather rowdy."

Alex raised an eyebrow. "Before I ask what you mean by that, can I ask of you what your name is?"

The woman smiled. "I am called 'Red'. May I ask of you your identity as well?"

Alex nodded. "My name is Alexander Gerard Kahner, though 'Alex' is much easier to say. I am a knight of Britain, and I have come here for a horse to speed me along my quest... but now I must ask you, why is everyone here afraid as though the shadows themselves will jump upon them and throttle them in their sleep, and why do they try so hard to hide it?"

Red sighed. "Well, since you are here, you might want to know what it is you have gotten yourself into... this kingdom has been suffering from troll attacks. A particularly nasty troll, whom the local villagers call 'Grendel' has been coming here for a fortnight, devouring villagers, travelers and noblemen alike, and has become so feared that the king has hired me and anyone else brave enough to kill this mad troll... and we are waiting for it to come, for it will be attracted to the lights and sounds within these walls, and then we will fight it to the death."

Alex thought of another troll he knew, but this one was unlike Ethelred Balore. "I know of a troll myself, but he is a kinder soul than the one we are about to meet. It was him who forged me this sword..." he pulled out his blade Rapture, and withdrew it from its sheathe. "This sword has helped me in many a battle, and is forged from Macedonian silver... but I will not use it tonight against the troll. I have a new blade I wish to try." And he motioned to Tempest, which lay rested by his side.

Red shook her head. "The troll, as I have heard, is impervious to weapons, and so to use a blade against it would be a waste of time."

Alex thought about this for a second. "Then how can we kill it? Besides, the sword I shall use is no ordinary blade... I doubt even King Arthur's Excalibur would match it. Even if it fails, then I still have one sword after the ordeal."

Red was about to answer when a nasty banging was heard against the door... as if a bull had charged straight into it. The whole place went quiet, and then the guards began to move towards the door, ready with beams to secure the door shut once the monster had made its way in. "It seems you will have the opportunity to test that sword, my friend."

The door burst open, and a hideous creature came through, howling with rage and bloodlust. Alex saw that it was nothing at all like his friend Ethelred: it looked more like a being forged from solid stone than hardened flesh, with a bloody mouth filled with sharp teeth and eyes glowing with hate. It stood as tall as the feast table was long, and it hunched over like an animal accustomed to killing as a way of life. Alex readied Tempest, and Red stood, her body prepared in a fighting stance.

The beastly Grendel charged, grabbing the nearest man and bit his head off, blood spewing everywhere. It didn't bother to chew, it just tore the flesh off with its teeth. Red charged forward, and delivered a punch to the monster's stomach, causing it to spit out the the poor man's head upon the table. It then smacked Red aside with its long arm and moved toward Alex, as if drawn in a trance to his blade.

Alex took the opportunity to strike, swinging the blade down upon the creature's left arm as hard as he could... but then, the impossible happened...

Tempest, the soul blade, shattered against the monster's rocky skin.

Alex's eyes opened wide with anger and surprise, and was subsequently kicked in the chest by Grendel's massive foot. He slid along the floor until he hit the opposite wall, and his chest armor fell apart upon impact, exposing his thin frame. Blood oozed down from Alex's forehead, having hit the wall incredibly hard, and Alex could feel a fury burn within the pit of his stomach... a fury that seemed not to belong to him at all...

Red, meanwhile, had grabbed Grendel by the arm and was proceeding to pull as hard as she could, while Grendel struggled to free itself, a look of anxiety spread upon its face. It didn't notice Alex get up, nor did it see the darkness glowing in his left, golden, slitted, scarred eye. It was only when Alex began to climb upon its back did it notice, and flailed its free arm in an attempt to grab him. Alex made his way to Grendel's head, and proceeded to slam his fist into the creature's head, again and again, until finally, a cracking sound emanated the room and blood and ooze poured from the wound in Grendel's head.

Grendel was now in a frightful panic, and shook Alexander violently off and tried to make a break for the door, but his arm was still held by Red, and while the creature tried to drag her along the floor, Alex got back up and made his way slowly towards Grendel. Grendel saw him, and its eyes filled to the brim with terror, and almost escaped out the door... but then Alex slammed the door right on its arm, a violent crack echoed through the room. Red still held Grendel's left arm, and Alex continued repeatedly slam the door on the creature's arm, each time Grendel howled in pain and the sounds became less and less solid and more and more fluid. Finally, just before Alex was about to slam the door one more time, Grendel screamed: "Mother... help me!"

Alex stopped for a second, realizing that the creature could speak! But the feeling of astonishment vanished quickly, remembering the man who had his head ripped off and the bleeding wound upon his own head. He yelled back: "Tell your mother that Alexander Gerard Kahner, the Black Knight of Camelot, has come, and that this happens to those who challenge me!" And with that, he slammed the door one final time, and Red fell upon her back, the severed arm of Grendel flying into the air and landed in the fireplace.

Alex breathed slowly and heavily, wiped the blood from his forehead, and walked up to Red, helping her up. "Sorry... don't know how I could get that angry..." He then looked at where Grendel's arm had fallen and, to his surprise, there sat in the fire a gauntlet unlike any he had seen before.

He walked up and lifted it gently out of the flame, and examined it curiously. "It seems that certain creatures, when they die or are dying, leave something behind in the form of weapons or armor... how interesting." Alex put the gauntlet on and a surge of strength flooded into his body. He felt twice as strong as he had before, and the gauntlet flowed with power. Alex smiled. "At least Grendel gave something back for breaking my sword."

The next day, Alex and Red were hailed as heroes of the kingdom, and were asked to stay longer. Red decided to stick around a little longer, wanting to make sure Grendel was good and dealt with, but Alex had to leave, saying that he had a long journey ahead of him, and he wanted to get it done so that he could focus his attention on freeing Gwendolyn from the giants. Red heard this and said to him: "I've heard tell of a dragon that guards a horde of treasure beyond any that has been seen before. The artifacts are said to be solid gold and magical as well, giving the owner tremendous powers. I'm sure such a treasure would satisfy those two giants, and you can free your lady love from their grasp."

Alex smiled and stated. "I would like her to love me, but she must do so on her own free will. If I force my love upon her, I would be no better than the giants. So once I free her, I will have to part from her."

Red smiled back. "'If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, then it is yours.' I believe that is how the saying goes."

Alex nodded. "Farewell, Red. Until we meet again."

The two of them would indeed meet again, but under completely different circumstances than either expected... and the reunion would be far from pleasant...

The End

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