The day finally came. Altonian troops marched forth from the south. These were not the makeshift warriors of the north, whose ties to the nation went back only a few generations. These were men who had known nothing but Altonia as long as they could trace their lines. Men from the heart of the nation, with names like Bornryn or Matiaryn, heroes from long before even Tori's celebrated ancestors. These were true Altonians, members of the Knight Captain's army.

At their head was no knight, however. The people, long anxious for the sign of help from the queen, dispaired when they saw that only a squire had been sent to aid them. When questioned, he proved not to have been sent to protect them at all. This young man knew nothing of their plight. He had been sent with this small detachment of men to give aid to the royal hunter. The queen knew nothing of the mountain's darkness or the foul creatures that had attacked.. The messenger had never reached the city. He had been waylaid by the cold or by the blades of the spreading chaos.

Tori arose in conversation several times, but he was never near the army or the squire. He missed the people's praise of his work, giving him credit for their survival. He did not answer the squire's request to speak. He hardly spoke at all. He was far too busy watching Larlia pack her things. He watched her ready herself to return home.

For a long while he was silent. He tried to speak and tried to stop her, but every gentle word seemed insincere and forced. She was leaving him, running from him and returning to what she was familiar with. She had once spoken of safety, praising the feeling of security she felt in the city. Perhaps she had always intended to return, to take his book and his courtship with her, resuming again the following year. This seemed the cruelest action to take, but it turned about in Tori's mind until finally the doubt and the hurt forced him to ask the question.


"Please do not make this difficult, Tori," she replied, keeping her back to him as she loaded her pack.

"Difficult? Shouldn't it already be difficult, leaving the man you claim to love?" His arms were folded over his chest and his face was twisted in an uncharacteristic scowl.

"Don't," Larlia pleaded, her voice straining and her hands becoming still. "Please."

On a normal day, Tori would have seen the signs before him. He would have known how hurt his friend was and he would have softened his tone for her. He would have shared her pain and tried to understand what her body was telling him. That day, however, he was not normal. He was not himself.

"Don't what?" he demanded. "I deserve to know why you are leaving. I deserve to know why you are taking my book and our courtship, running back to the capital and away from me." His voice twisted and turned cruel. "I deserve to know why it is not difficult to leave."

"You could always come with me," she retorted. She turned and he finally saw her tear-streaked cheeks. "If you wanted to be with me so terribly, you could make the journey by my side."

"And do what? What is there for me? I am not a knight and I am not a squire. I have no one there to employ me and no skills to offer anyone who did. There is nothing waiting for me there."

"There is me. There is our courtship."

"There is, but I cannot eat love," Tori snapped. "And your love could not even keep you here."

The tears began again and this time they nearly swayed Tori's heart from anger to pity. He felt a touch of guilt and the beginnings of remorse. Perhaps, he thought, he had been too harsh on her. He paused his words and silenced his voice, hoping the quiet would clear his thoughts. His head and arms felt heavy and each breath was a labor. He breathed deeply, trying to push back his anger.

She did not, however, give him time to quiet his furious temper. Her words struck back at him without hesitation or thought.

"Do not dare act as though you are the only one who hurts today," she demanded. "You haven't the slightest idea how I feel."

"Because you will not tell me," Tori shouted, raising his voice at her for the first time. "How can I know when you cannot even give me a reason for leaving? All I can guess is that you love your city more than you love me. If that is the truth, then I do not know why you even accepted my book."

"Because I am afraid," Larlia finally admitted, lifting her voice to match his. There was silence for a lifetime within that house. Giving voice to her fears, saying them aloud, seemed to be more than Larlia's heart could allow. She broke, weeping both for the courtship that lay before her and for her own lack of courage. Tori's anger gave way and he wrapped his arms around her. She responded by burying her face in his chest. "Those things are here. Those monsters are covering the mountain and they will kill me if I stay."

"I can protect you, Larlia," Tori offered. "If you stay, I can keep you safe."

"No, you can't," she protested, quieting speaking into his body. "You only run away."

Tori felt the words. They rattled about his mind and shook his body, settling into his stomach and sinking it down. He wanted to object, to bring up all the courage he had shown in the past, to remind her of his sword's strength and his armor's power. He nearly reminded her of the great feat that had won him that suit, but it was all a lie. In truth, Tori knew she was right. Given the chance to prove himself, he had failed. That night in the forest he had shown her his true nature.

"But I love you, Larlia," Tori pleaded, hoping those words would sway her mind and convince her to remain with him.

"And I love you, Tori. More than I could love anyone or anything, but your love cannot keep me safe."

That night he was finally alone. His father was gone. Larlia had left him. The villagers kept their distance. For the first time since his world had changed, the young man was alone with his thoughts. His mind, finally free from distractions or the interfering joy of his love-struck heart, berated him for his failures. His dying father. The dead Beast. The laughing monsters. He had ample reasons to punish himself. As his mood worsened and his guilt assaulted him, he found sanctuary in the ale his father kept in the house.

There was shouting to be heard in the home that night. Every corner, every table and chair held some memory that taunted Tori. His parent's bed, where he had entered the world, mocked him and so it was destroyed. His rage gave him new strength, but it was not satisfied with the bed. It quickly turned to his father's chair, where Torias had shared all the wisdom he held, even when the young man would not listen. For this it was cast outside and shattered among the fields.

From room to room Tori wandered. He gathered the ax and took it to the table where he and his father had shared their meals. The food had never been fine, but there had been joy to give between them. The memories were there. The taste of the food, the sound of his father's laughter, the thoughts tormented him, but as the blade fell upon the old, tired wood, this pain became dull. As he destroyed the table, his mind grew more distant. The hurt began to fade. As he lay there, weeping and shouting into a bed of splintered wood, he felt both pleased and disgusted with himself.

It was morning's light that awoke him, finally reaching high enough to peer down at him through the window. He stood and found his body unresponsive. It ached and protested as he climbed to his feet. His steps were heavy, but he had to move. His boots pained his head as he walked, but he still trudged on. He donned his armor and felt its weight upon his weary shoulders. His spear held firm in his hand. His body screamed for him to stop, but he continued on.

He reached the door and recoiled from the light, but still he managed to struggle forward. He had only a vague idea of where he would be going. After a few steps he turned his head to look at the overlooking mountain. That mountain, the source of his pain and torment, stood in the distance and mocked him. It had taken his world from him, forcing Tori to take action for himself.

He turned his back to the peak and began to walk. He marched, not passing through his village and unseen by his people. He continued on until midday, never turning to face the home he had left in shambles. By the setting of the sun that evening, he had crossed into the northern kingdom. He took his name and the armor of the Beast and left the chaos and Altonia behind.