by eric drewes

And then a spirit entered the murky swamp. It was not a dark spirit, but one of hope, and it entered the body of the Paladin, deep in his wooden tomb. It began to speak to him:

"Hello" she said.

"Hello" replied the Paladin, sinking into his subconscious. He noticed her feminine shape and voice, and struggled a bow. "Milady"

"No bowing." she replied and took his hand.

"What is your name? did you come to rescue me from my trap?"

"I am Amaltia, a spirit of hope."

"Where do you come from" the Paladin replied..

"Never Never Land!" the spirit giggled.

"How did you know to find me here?" the Paladin asked, puzzled.

"I looked" she replied, "Seek and ye shall find…"

"You have rescued me from doom, please allow my repayment, how can I serve you?" He spoke in quiet tones.

"Do not seek to serve," the spirit said, her body shimmering in the moonlight of his soul. "Just give me company."

And with this, she beckoned and an apple tree bearing beautiful green apples appeared. The Paladin pulled a ripe one from the tree and handed it to the spirit.

The spirit smiled beautifully, and said, "a green apple, my favorite! How did you know?"

"Lucky guess, I suppose" said the Paladin.

"So what are you doing here in this swamp? You do not seem the type…" asked the spirit, peering at him oddly.

"I am trapped, and my friends along with me. We were headed to find the great land called Terrapin, but the trail sloped down and lead us here. Now it seems as though we are trapped forever."

"Your faith will see you through this challenge, young knight."

"I just wanted to do good, I wanted to show the world that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Now my faith is leaving me." he replied.

"Good? There is no "good", there is no "bad" either, abolish that thought now." She spoke. "You can do what you can and no more."

"But there is pain" he replied.

"Indeed, there is pain, and there always will be," she told him.

"I don't like it though, I don't see the reason for it." he replied. "I want to protect people from pain."

"Protecting one is not enough?" she said, placing a golden hand upon his arm. "Besides, we need pain, without pain, how can one know joy, know happiness?"

"But there is so much" the Paladin replied. "I see so many things that are wrong"

"You must accept that," she said, "but not ignore it. You must realize that you cannot fix all the things that are wrong. You'll spread yourself too thin."

"It's just so hard" the Paladin said.

"I know." she replied, her voice sounding more beautiful then before, though slightly more distant. "I must leave now, good luck on your journey!"

"Wait! What do I do now?" He yelled to her.

"Believe." she whispered and was gone.

And so was he. Out of the peaceful sanctuary of his mind and back into the swamp, trapped still in the pit of the cursed withered tree. However, he felt a pulse of strength growing within him. His faith restored, he ripped his arm from the vines and roots holding it in place and took hold of the mighty sword that was entrenched in the tree. He drew it forth from its wooden sheath, and ripped the gnarled tree asunder, freeing himself from its wickedness. He went forth to find his friends and save them, only to find that they were already waiting for him outside the exit. He held the sword up and looked at it. It truly was a blessed Adunai blade, and was quite sharp and quite powerful.

He shook his head though, it was to be someone else’s strength, he decided. At the last moment before he exited the swamp, he threw it back into the murk, where it sunk into the seeping surface of the swamp