I wasn’t even supposed to be here.
Let me tell you something. If a guy comes up to you claiming to be a knight of the stars, just keep walking. Don’t humor him like I did. Otherwise you’ll be caught up in more nonsense than you’ll know what to do with, such as using your staff to strike down creatures with rotting flesh hanging off of their bones.
“I didn’t think they would move this quickly,” Orion muttered from beside me. His hand cannon took down three of the monstrosities.
“You know these things?” I asked, extending my staff to puncture a creature that had attempted to corner a Cedaridge citizen. To the young man, I said, “Get indoors somewhere! Barricade the entrance and arm yourself!” On trembling legs, he obeyed.
“In a manner of speaking,” Orion said, his tone much too casual for my liking. “They are the offspring of nightmares.”
“The enemies of your stars?” I asked.
I didn’t have time to roll my eyes, for more creatures appeared in front of me, looking for a fight. This was not what I expected to do on my way home at all. Soldiers and guards of Cedaridge were joining the fray, protecting homes, businesses, and their people enough so Orion and I were able to slip into the local inn for a breather. Fortunately the creatures had yet to grasp the concept of doors and were content to attack outside of the buildings.
I murmured a thank you to the innkeeper when she passed along hot drinks to Orion and me, but Orion didn’t notice his own. He was busy staring out the window.
“What is going on?” I asked.
“The stardust was lost, Edith,” Orion said.
“The stardust that created the veil between your world and the nightmares,” Orion said. He finally looked back at me. “I am a Star Knight, one who protects the stars and the wishes and dreams of your world. Recently, the stardust was taken, and I was sent to find it.”
I took a long sip of my drink, the cider burning my tongue as I avoided responding to Orion’s claims. He appeared to take my silence as contemplation and returned his vigil to the window. The top of my staff had pieces of skin on it, and I grimly started picking it clean.
“We must see the princess.” Orion’s exclamation, accompanied by him popping up out of his seat, startled me enough to nearly drop what was left of my cider.
“What is this ‘we’ business?” I asked. “I was just supposed to pass through Cedaridge to get back home.”
“What?” Orion’s brows furrowed.
“Look, when we found each other on Bellum’s Path,” I said, “I let you stick around since we were going the same way and you were handy in that fight against the bandits. Once we reached here, we were supposed to wave good-bye so I could be on my merry way. Good luck seeing the princess. I’m going to finish cleaning my staff from the monster guts on it and go back to my village.”
“How are you going to get back to your village?” Orion said. “Alone?”
“I’m pretty experienced in fighting off bandits, robbers, and the like,” I said, “but thanks for the concern. I’ll be fine.”
“Edith.” Orion was standing in front of me, his head leveled with mine. “Please, I can’t do this alone. I don’t know this world.”
“All I know is my village, this castle town, and Bellum’s Path to Shepherton,” I said. “How much help do you expect me to be?”
“Well…” He shrugged and gave me a crooked smile. “You’re pretty experienced in fighting off bandits, robbers–”
I stepped around him. “Good-bye, Orion.”
“Please, Edith!” He grabbed my arm. “At least help me find the princess.”
“What do you need the princess for?” I asked. “Besides, even with all the monsters roaming about, I doubt the guards would let a couple of no-name people like ourselves waltz up to Princess Isabella.”
“Wait, we have names,” Orion said with a frown. “Orion and Edith–”
“The princess does not have audiences with common people unless we request it,” I said.
“I’m requesting it now,” Orion said. “Why is this so difficult?”
I shook my arm out of his grip and made it to the inn’s exit, swinging open the door. A monster lunged for me instantly, but it was killed by Orion’s hand cannon before it could reach me. It crumpled to the ground, the flesh and bones dissipating into sickly purple smoke.
“I’ll help you get rid of these monsters,” I said. “As soon as the path is clear, I’m going home, understand?”
“Fine,” was all Orion said, and we emerged into the overrun castle town once more.
We struck down monsters whenever they were in our way as we went down the stone paths that led to the castle steps. Multiple times we found ourselves fighting with Cedaridge soldiers and the common citizens who were brave enough to take up arms – be they in the forms of swords, sticks, or even frying pans – against the monsters.
“A breach! There’s been a breach at the castle!”
Soldiers’ panicked shouts were heard above the clamor of weapons, and Orion had whirled me around so fast that I nearly lost my grip on my staff. Orion held me with one hand and used his cannon in the other to blast away monsters as we dashed through the crowd and toward the castle.
“Still don’t understand you,” I said above the cacophony of battle.
“It’s okay, just go with it,” Orion shouted back. I moved so I was by his side, his grip on my arm falling, and together we crashed through the hordes of monsters that were breaking into the castle.