Once A Hero

Part 1 of Cursed Sword

The knight was a hero once. The princess called her that, at least, before sending her on this quest.

Princess Eira does not speak idly. She is special, heir to a powerful bloodline, able to tap into ancient powers. When she speaks, one must listen. Her visions foretold a dark and terrible threat to the kingdom—that if left unchecked might tear apart the very foundations of the world.

The world needed hope.

Legends speak of a powerful sword, long hidden, able to vanquish any foe, if the right hero were to wield it, and unlike a princess, a hero could always be anyone, even someone from such humble origins as Leora.

Chosen for her skill in battle, for unwavering determination in the face of hardship, and for some unnamed quality the princess saw within her heart, Leora was given her quest.

Here, now, at the end of a long journey, the knight arrives at her destination.

She stands in the corpse of some ancient temple, a ruin that might once have been impressive, but which has been slowly reclaimed by roots and moss, and suddenly doubt clouds her heart.

The silence of the grave greets her. Even the heavy thud of her footsteps is choked and smothered by an unsettling pressure in the air all around. Leora’s breathing is labored. Sweat slicks her brow. She grits her teeth and pushes deeper into the ruin.

In the center of all this decay she finds an intact chamber. If there was ever a door, it long ago crumbled into dust. Leora moves past words carved at the entrance in some ancient, dead language, setting foot inside a room somehow more desolate than the rest of the ruin.

Her eyes are drawn to the altar in the very center, on which rests a small, cloth-wrapped bundle bound to the altar with thick lengths of solid-gold chain.

The knight takes one cautious step after another, approaching the relic that she knows must be her prize.

The cloth itself, thick and many-layered as it might have once been, has rotted as much as anything else here. As she approaches, she catches a glimpse of strange, otherworldly light peeking through a hole in the fabric, and her heart skips a beat.

A faint hiss displaces the chamber’s silence. It’s only after the knight takes a deep breath to steady herself that Leora realizes she has been making the sound herself through clenched teeth.

An eternity later, she reaches the altar. Sweat beads on her skin. Her hands shake.

Trepidation or no, her hands know what to do with the chains binding the weapon. She grips them, flexes, and the solid gold links crumble to dust as easily as ancient, rusted-through iron.

The work of the sword’s magic, certainly. It wants to be free. Its light beckons.

Such a beautiful weapon, its sable hilt simultaneously practical and lavishly crafted with fine details to draw the eye, its guard fearsome and predatory, bearing a lovely gem like an unblinking crimson eye, the light of its blade an enchanting and indescribable color.

The knight discards her old weapon in an instant. She reaches for the sword. Her fingers brush against it, gentle and reverent, before wrapping around the hilt—feeling its weight, its strange and comforting warmth—grasping it firmly and pulling it from its ancient prison.

Swinging the blade through the air, it feels like no other sword she ever wielded. Its power courses through her sword arm, filling her muscles with exhilarating strength.

A wispy thread wends its way into her mind, and she shivers with the first glimmer of understanding.

The knight was a hero once.

But as she strides away from that ancient gaol, she doesn’t feel like a hero. The sword has changed her. With its power crackling through her body, she is more powerful than she ever was before.

Better than a hero. An unstoppable threat.

The threat is here. Eira knows this with the same certainty as she knows which way the sun rises in the morning. Her dreams have slowly been taken over by nightmares—dread visions of blood and chaos and terror and awful, sadistic laughter.

She puts her faith in the brave champion who has not yet returned. She prays for a miracle to come in the form of her bold and beautiful knight bearing the glowing sword spoken of in legend, the one she only catches glimpses of in her prophetic dreams.

That sword must be the key to victory. Her heart tells her so.

Still, the threat is here, and the princess has heard no news of her hero. What news she receives from her messengers is terrible. Knights lost, soldiers slaughtered, the Westfall outpost razed to the ground. Time is running out for the kingdom.

Sounds of shouting jolt Eira from her rumination. She hears the clashing of swords and the screams of dying guards. The castle is under attack, and it sounds like the assailant is getting closer. Glancing out the window, a trail of destruction littered with armored bodies confirms her worst fears. The threat isn’t just here, it’s right here.

With one last—all too close—wet thump, the violence ends. There is no time to think, no time to fear, before the door slams open to the princess’s personal chambers.

Eira glares toward the doorway, but defiance flickers and fights with a sudden, confused spark of hope. She recognizes the woman looming in the door frame, with her raven hair and piercing eyes. Half the knight’s armor is missing, and her wild grin, a predator’s sharp and feral baring of teeth, is out of place, but the princess could never fail to recognize the woman who seized her attention from the moment she laid eyes on her.

Her eyes fall to the shining sword of legend, now dripping with the blood of royal guardsmen. There is no mistaking the blade from her dreams. Her hero won the power to vanquish her foes, but this is not the outcome the princess hoped for. All of this is wrong!

“Leora…” the princess begins, then falters, momentarily at a loss for words. “What have you done?”

The knight approaches slowly, radiating a menacing power that grips Eira’s heart with ice-cold fear.

“I’ve done exactly as I was commanded, your majesty,” she says, her voice like bared steel, sending shivers down the princess’s spine. “The power of the sword is mine, and now there is no enemy who can stand in my way.” With a flourish, she brandishes the blade. “Just as we planned, right?”

The princess shakes her head in disbelief. “But my guards… those soldiers you killed…”

“Loyal to the king, not to you,” the knight replies.

The princess can’t help but notice—and not for the first time—just how much the other woman towers over her. She swallows a lump in her throat, taking a step backward, feeling the wall behind her blocking further retreat.

“Are you loyal to me, then?” Her heart pounds in her chest with something more than just fear. “Will you hear me if I command you to put down that sword? There must be some fell curse upon it, and—”

Leora’s booming laughter interrupts the princess, making her shrink back involuntarily. “Your majesty, you don’t understand at all. This sword’s gifts have made me unstoppable.” She takes a step closer, and there is a manic, dangerous light in her eyes as she speaks. “With a swing of my blade, I slay lesser soldiers by the dozen. They fall to me like paper dolls. Would you truly have me set aside this power? Would you set aside this power if it were in your grasp?”

The princess feels a quiver of something like excitement at the thought. She always lived a life circumscribed by the demands of her role and the edicts of her father. Leora must once have been similar in her own role as knight, she realizes, but it’s clear that her terrifying new power grants her near limitless freedom to pursue her every desire. In spite of everything, she finds herself acknowledging a certain allure in that.

“If I don’t understand, then make me understand,” Eira begs, her stomach a knot of confusion and despair, her heart hoping for some explanation for what has become of her hero. “Tell me about this power.”

The knight’s eyes brighten with eagerness. She tells the story about the razing of Westfall, growing more animated the longer she speaks. The princess leans forward in rapt attention, absorbing the tale of her battle. Although, the princess thinks to herself, it sounds less like a battle than an absolute slaughter. Leora shows no remorse and leaves out no detail of her bloody conquest, painting a picture of a battlefield covered in gore, bodies strewn wherever they fell, even describing the screams of the wounded and dying as music to her ears.

Whenever Eira heard stories of great battles before, they were always described as viscerally horrifying. Not at all like this, with such fascinating hunger filling the knight’s rich, dark eyes. There’s a strange thrill to hearing Leora’s words, describing something so terrible with such naked pleasure.

“My every swing felled an enemy, cutting through armor as easily as flesh.” The knight closes her eyes for a moment in relish. “But it goes beyond strength; my speed has increased tenfold. No, more! I cannot describe the feeling in mere words, princess, of reaping men as easily as wheat. They might as well have been standing still, baring their necks in surrender.”

How frightened they must have been, set upon as they were by this perfect warrior. The princess unconsciously tilts her head slightly, exposing her own neck to Leora, imagining the tip of that blade at her throat, the slow bite of cold steel reminding her of her own mortality, the wicked pleasure on Leora’s face as it sinks into her vulnerable flesh and brings a hot, wet flood spilling down her chest…

She forcibly shakes herself out of the scene, returning to the present moment.

“The bodies of all those people…” The princess licks her parched lips, her voice quiet and thin, nearly a whisper. “When you looked and saw what you did to them, how did you feel?”

The knight’s grin widens. “It was a sight to behold. Severed limbs, mangled torsos, bodies broken and bent in ways they could never survive. Blood slicked the ground. The stench of death was everywhere. It was a massacre.” She comes closer, her voice losing some of its boisterous tone and taking on an intimate quality. “It was art, and that battlefield was my canvas. I felt unstoppable. Without a scratch on myself, what else could I feel but exaltation in my own power?”

The princess shudders, imagining the scene, both repelled and drawn in by the vivid description of mass murder. “No wonder the legends spoke of the sword as such a powerful artifact. It is fearsome indeed.”

The knight is not finished. She continues with barely restrained passion, describing yet more killing in her assault on the outpost. It seems her true goal was the knight-commander stationed there—a woman the princess remembers as proud and austere—who had apparently, years ago, done Leora a great wrong. An unforgivable crime, the princess agrees, and she takes a grim satisfaction in hearing of her champion’s revenge.

Gods, if she’s honest with herself, it’s more than grim satisfaction, she can feel the heat flooding her cheeks. She can’t help how her face flushes upon hearing how Leora used her bare hands to do it. Thumbs in the eye sockets, the knight applying enough force to crush a woman’s skull like an overripe melon.

The satisfaction of licking her hands clean afterward.

There can be no more doubt. Leora, the tall and dashing knight, her chosen champion and the long-secret subject of her longing, is the evil the princess has spent years planning to fight. Yet now that the knight is here, having become the threat she was always fated to be, the princess finds herself a prisoner of her own desire, torn between horror and shameful, perverse admiration.

She could never, not in a hundred lifetimes, pit herself against Leora.

Eira’s breathing is heavy, her hands trembling with an excitement she fears to name. Her eyes drift to the sword in Leora’s hand.

The larger woman catches the direction of her gaze, taking another step closer until the princess can feel her hot breath on her cheek.

Leora’s voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper. “You want to feel the same power, don’t you?” she asks, brushing a strand of hair from Eira’s face with her free hand. “You want to hold someone’s life in your hands, to snuff it out on a whim, to take what you want without consequence.”

Their faces are so close, she can smell the taller woman’s sweat. Those piercing eyes seem to peer down into her very soul, leaving no room to hide.

The princess nods, unable to deny the truth lurking deep down inside. She wants to feel the elation, the rush that the knight describes, even while part of her screams that she shouldn’t want this, that it’s evil, that something very wrong is happening here.

“I…don’t know if I can do this,” she says, her voice wavering and uncertain.

“You can, my dear,” the knight responds, her hand cupping Eira’s face, eyes suddenly burning with a possessive fire. “You just need to be brave enough to take the first step, and the sword and I will handle the rest. Let me show you the pleasure of destruction and domination.”

Eira loses her grip on herself, giving in to Leora’s irresistible magnetism. She leans forward, pressing her lips to the knight she wanted from the very beginning.

The knight’s kiss is not soft and gentle, like she always imagined it might be. It’s fierce and punishing, bruising her lips with the force of her hunger. For all its lust, there is something cruel in the kiss, contemptuous of the princess’s all-too-human weakness. She whimpers, as unable to resist Leora’s inhuman strength as she is unwilling to try.

The knight’s tongue pushes its way past her lips, and as she welcomes it into her mouth, she tastes the first spark of energy leaping into her. A pleasant tingle rapidly intensifies to pinpricks, then to a raging inferno pouring from the other woman’s mouth into hers. She gulps it down greedily, even as it starts to feel like fire in her veins, as the sword’s malevolent power corrupts the magic of her bloodline into something altogether new and deadly.

She feels the cruelty and malice in the deluge, and she eagerly drowns herself in it until no fear remains, only twisted pleasure.

The kiss leaves Eira breathless and unsteady, but her newly enhanced magic, awakened to its true potential, thrums in her blood, aching for an opportunity to be unleashed against her enemies.

A whisper in the back of her mind sharpens her. The world comes into sudden focus, as though a veil has been lifted from her eyes. Her beloved knight was right, this world is filled with so many opportunities for conquest and domination. How did she fail to see it before?

She was weak, that much is clear. Afraid to wield her own magic for more than parlor tricks and divination. Afraid to pursue what she truly wanted. The princess looks her knight up and down, admiring the swell of her chest, her thick legs, those strong shoulders. Not anymore.

It is now clear to her that the sword is more than a mere artifact of great power. It speaks directly to her mind with its own intelligence and will, its own desires and goals. The blessings it grants also collars them both, binding them into servitude. She feels no resentment, however. She will happily serve as long as she still gets to take everything she desires.

Starting right now. The princess grips her champion by the collar, pulling her into another kiss with the force of a lifetime of pent-up need.