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The Choice at Castle Corvaloft

Last updated on November 22, 2021

            The rumbling storm spattered mist and drops against the large window pane, forming many threads of little streams streaking across the glass, their shadows appearing for moments on her face whenever lightning lit the dark. The pattering against the window and the snoring of the bard and monk repelled an otherwise eerie silence. The wizard sat cross legged in the corner of the well-furnished guest room, still and meditative in his trance-like sleep. Despite the dark, she could easily look down at the enormity of the castle—strange, haunting, and ancient.

          I feel more like a prisoner than a welcomed guest.

            She could not stop thinking of their arrival, and how hungrily he looked at Irena. The others chalked it up to his centuries-long desire for his bride. But his eagerness to separate them from her was unnerving. He had stepped in front of them, saying, She will be well cared for. You needn’t worry, as his chamberlain escorted her into the castle. He had stood between us and the castle gate, alone against us four, bowing in his arrogant way, Tinero, Mavos, Barrich, Owl. You each have my eternal gratitude for delivering her, for keeping your word. Your task is complete, and now mine begins. I know not how long it will take, but when I convince her to take my hand, we will all be free of this curse, free of this Plane.

          So certain he was that love would break the curse. Could it really be that simple? Madam Evandra did say the key to breaking curses was often simple, but more often beyond the cursed one’s conceivability. Tinero, the most knowledgeable of the group, doubted Irena would even fall in love with the proud king, but his intellectual curiosity and explanation of the unpredictability of magic urged them to at least try this course of action, to bring Irena against their better judgement to the king. Was this a mistake? Was Irena okay? It’s been days since they saw her.

            She looked at the bladeless black hilt. It seemed to look back when it telepathically spoke. ‘What’s on your mind, my feline friend?’

            ‘I’m just thinking about Irena.’

            ‘Understandable!’ the hilt replied. ‘What a lovely lady, now in the clutches of that bastard king! I tell you, Owl, we should have killed him the moment we arrived! What better opportunity could we have gotten? Did you see how he bowed? Why that little cretin—.’

            ‘Apollo!’ she cried. ‘I vividly remember how you wouldn’t shut up the first time you met him. We already decided we would try working with him.’

            ‘But whhhyyy? He’s so obviously wicked. Honestly, now that the others are asleep, we should sneak into his bedchambers and gut that damnable vampire!’

            ‘I might just do that,’ she thought somberly.

            ‘What?’ Apollo said incredulously. ‘You’re serious!’

            She stood up, Apollo in her paw. ‘Yes, I think I am.’

            ‘Oh, goodie!’ the hilt gleefully said. ‘It’s about time we kill some undead! Especially that traitorous, slimy—.’

            Owl ignored the magical hilt and stealthily exited the guest room. Despite the group’s best efforts, particularly the pragmatic wizard, they could not tame her feline impulsivity. She was going to do what the rest were afraid to do. His employment of them, his invitations to his castle, his charm, charisma, and ego—his stupid curse which trapped them all, and his entire kingdom no less—all of it would end tonight. All of them, including Irena, would be free.

            She silently made her way down the spiral staircase, Apollo in hand and at the ready. She did not summon his blade—her catfolk eyes let her see in the cool, unlit halls of Corvaloft. She stuck close to the walls, keeping to statues, pillars, and any furniture that could hide her should something or someone come upon her. On previous visits to the castle, the king allowed them to “freely” explore, the only limitation being that any area blocked off in any way, by physical or magical means, was restricted. Of course, that didn’t stop the group from breaking into his study, adjacent to which was his bedchamber. Owl would start her search there.

            She descended another spiral staircase, stepping onto the third floor. As she approached the door to the study, she could see a faint orange glow outlining the oaken door. She quietly peered through the keyhole. She froze.

            The regal silhouette sat in one of two armchairs tilted to face each other and the fireplace. In the left chair, a slender figure with long hair rose and walked over to the man. She had on a thin, snugly fit night gown that accentuated her slim yet curvy frame. Owl’s mouth scrunched up in disgust. There was no way she would wear that in front of him, not in a matter of days of meeting him.

            “Goodnight, handsome,” she said as she leaned over to kiss him.

            Owl nearly audibly gagged.

            Irena slipped away from the study and into the room to the left.

            His bedchamber.

            She shook her head. This was wrong. All wrong. How could Irena give herself to him so easily? She, without a thought for herself, climbed up the side of a mill and into an open hatch to help children escape as Owl and her companions fought a powerful coven of hags. She forgave and even inspired Owl when they were imprisoned together in Valkahir. She was the first human to show her true kindness and compassion. She made Owl realize that humans weren’t all evil. How could such a woman be captivated by a pretentious, haughty, despicable man like Srathovir?

            Vampires can charm their victims into doing their bidding, Tinero once said. All it takes is their vampiric embrace, a bite.

            Owl knelt there, her nimble limbs numb and heavy. This whole time, he just wanted Irena for himself. He didn’t care about the curse. He didn’t care about them. And he didn’t care about Irena. Despite what he lost centuries ago, despite the atrocity he committed, he bore no regret. He was a psychopathic, manipulative tyrant drunk on his power as king, and on the power bestowed to him by the Dark Powers.

            He needs to die.

            Owl rose, about to grip the door handle when she stopped.

            He’s immortal. They heard stories of people who stumbled into this Plane, and upon realizing they were trapped, tried to slay the king. All of them failed. The most recent fool was a powerful wizard who dueled the vampire and lost. Some say the crazed mage to the north of Lake Durivich was that same wizard, an intellectual titan reduced to little more than madness from his battle with the Dread Lord of Hrovia, Archmage and Dragonslayer, Conqueror and King, Srathovir von Durivich.

            Tinero wasn’t even sure killing him would break the curse, much less grant them freedom. If they did kill him, and the curse remained unbroken, would they be stuck here forever? These are questions they had discussed, and through repeated deliberation, decided to tell Irena the nature of the curse, her role in it, and how she could be the key to breaking it. Yet here she was. Under his spell. No closer to falling in love with him than when she thought of him as “the devil Srathovir.”

            Owl turned away from the door and climbed the staircase from where she came, wandering and pacing the lonely halls for well over an hour, her tail fidgeting behind her. What do I do?!

            Kill him! Apollo urged. I was always meant to kill him! He slew Master Sergei, Owl! It’s only fitting he die at the end of my blade! And you’re the only one who can do it! You and I can end this, once and for all!

            Without realizing it, she found herself back at the door to the king’s study, mere steps from the man responsible for centuries of terror and death to the people of Hrovia, armed with a magical weapon no other adventurer in the history of this accursed Plane could find. She gripped Apollo tightly, and silently opened the door.

            She was alone. The fire glowed as it burned the remainder of the logs. She walked to the center of the room, around the armchairs, and looked at a small frame on the mantlepiece. This painting, no doubt recent, depicted Srathovir sitting in his throne, regal and proud, Irena, dressed in a beautiful gown fit for a queen, standing next to him, her delicate hand on his shoulder, her smile radiant, her face glowing. Owl unsheathed a claw, cut out the painting from the frame, and threw it into the dying fire. She watched as the flames burned Srathovir before surrounding Irena’s face, her beauty the last to turn to ash.

            Owl sat in front of the fireplace, staring at the fire. She drew an uneasy breath, and stood. It took great effort to pull her eyes from the flames, but once she did, they looked to the door to the left. She stepped forward. She made another step. And another. Her hand shook as she reached for the handle. She drew another breath to steady herself, reminding herself of the techniques she acquired many years ago, leaning on them now in this moment of need. She dexterously stalked closer to the massive fourposter bed draped in sheer curtains. She saw two figures laying in it. On her right, Irena lay there sleeping, Owl’s fearful suspicions now realized. She looked to her left, where Srathovir himself lay on his side, facing away from Irena. Owl tightened her grip on Apollo’s hilt, her nervous hands sweaty.

            Srathovir did not move. He did not seem to breathe. He was still as stone. Unmoving. Unnatural. Unarmed. Owl stared at the vampire, and raised the hilt, ready to summon Apollo’s blade of sunlight. But she looked over him. At Irena. She lowered the hilt.

            What are you doing?

            She gently placed the hilt on the nightstand.

            What are you DOING? Now’s your chance!

            The catfolk turned, her head down, her shoulders slumped.

            Owl, we can end this!

            She walked away.

            Owl…! Owl…! OWL!!!

            She didn’t look back.

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Published inShort Stories
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2 years ago

This was a great story and created amazing tension between the characters during the dialogue. I am curious about the curse which made me more interested to read it.

2 years ago

Great environmental description and world-building through both the characters and the objects around them. It gave it a very fantasy idea

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