This short story was written by Blaze for Northern Lights' tenth anniversary, 2002. The inspiration comes from the Rheingold quest.

[Northern Lights]

Caught in a Mantrap

by Blaze
Written for Northern Lights' 10th Anniversary, June 6, 2002

He felt the feeling of spring come into the air. The temperature warmed, which awoke the birds in the Oak Grove. Meltoff from the Blizzard Pass trickled into the stream by the Forest Track. Small yellow buds showed their heads tentatively in the Magnolia Tree by the Mansion. The mockingbirds and robins chirped the news: the WitchKing had been defeated. The IceCrown had been destroyed.

William was in the Temple of Paradise when Gabriele arrived there after completing her quest. Many residents of the realm gathered by the Temple's warm fire to congratulate the Legend on her achievement and hear stories of the icy realm she had just come from. The mighty ArchWizard Og came with a little yellow duck following him. Ellyll the WoodElf swung down out of the trees. An infamous DemiGod called Kalzar appeared with an ear-splitting bang. Even the Goddess Vitastjern came, her presence given away by the scent of roses that preceded her.

Other mortals entered, including Tiggerone and an ugly goblin who went by the cumbersome name of WxrtlHltl. William, too, was a mortal, having just become a Knight after finding an important lost earring in the Troll Forest. He knew Gabriele was a Legend, more powerful than he, but still only fairly well built. He wondered how someone of her size could have defeated not only the evil WitchKing, but the paralyzing IceFear as well. He heard the WitchKing could fire icy rays at mortals, freezing them to death. This King was also rumored to curse all one was carrying, so that it never worked quite right again. How had Gabriele done it?

William lurked by the wall covered with old runes, listening to Gabriele tell of how the IceFear had made her nauseous and nearly pass out, and how the WitchKing was insane. Her hair was still wet with frost, and her face looked haggard. Everyone listened intently, their eyes widening as she described the desolate landscape of the misty northern land. Og healed Gabriele and took her to Ellyll's Treehouse to rest. William frowned, shooting a dark look at Gabriele as she limped out of the Temple. Everyone thought she was so great.

Why was everyone making such a big deal about this, William wondered. There were more dangerous parts in the realm of Northern Lights. He'd heard that swarms of mosquitos lived near the pyramids, that bit mortals to death. He knew evil demons dwelled in and below the Elven Forest, and that dragons of all colors had been spotted around the Braidwood Forest. Gabriele had only fought one being. I'd like to see her take on a herd of dragons, William thought.

Dragons, William pondered. I am certainly powerful enough to take on a bunch of those. Gabriele might be a Legend, and probably thought she was stronger than everybody in Northern Lights, but she was only a girl, and not very big or strong. William was proud of his Knight status and knew he was much stronger than some girl. WitchKing, so what! William would take on these dragons in the forest and show them all. These dragons breathed fire, which was worse than a land made of winter.

William rummaged through his backpack. He'd collected a shortsword--good for swiping at monsters, a jacket made of mithrilrings, and a pair of gloves he'd found near a small well. Taking a deep breath, he announced his quest to those remaining in the Temple.

"I will seek out and destroy those dragons which dwell in Braidwood." William put on the bravest face he could muster, waiting for the shock of those not quite so daring.

Kalzar peered at him quizzically. "Are you sure you are equipped enough to take on such a task?"

William sighed dramatically. "I will rely on my own strength as a Knight," he answered.

"These dragons," Kalzar said. "Their breath will singe all that is not covered with armor. Your skin will blacken and you will die."

"I am quick and strong, they will never have a chance," replied William.

WxrtlHltl spoke in a low, growling voice. William had forgotten this creature was still in the Temple. "Take this." The goblin extended his scaly claw and handed William a large, undented shield. A green dragon had been painted on the shield's right corner.

William accepted the shield and raised his eyebrows at the shield's lightness. It weighed next to nothing. "Can such a thing be of any good to me?" He asked the ugly monster.

WxrtlHltl let out a soft growl, and bared his yellow fangs. "Fool!" He hissed at William. "You do not know the power this shield holds. It is a dragonshield."

William had never heard of it. He shifted it from his right to left hand, feeling how light it rested on his body. This thing was too light to be of any protection!

"You are gracious and generous," Vitastjern said to WxrtlHltl. "This will prevent the dragons' deadly breath from ever touching William."

Blushing, William bowed to the goblin and thanked him.

"A bit of advice before you depart," the Goddess said.

William turned, a look of question on his face.

WxrtlHltl growled again. "Most people show respect when spoken to by Vitastjern." Under his breath, he muttered "Ungrateful, disrespectful fool."

Hastily, William bowed to Vitastjern. He wanted to get out of this Temple, it was beginning to smell from this hideous goblin.

The Goddess smiled happily. "Be sure to examine the forest well," she said. "Long ago, the Ancaster Knights roamed Braidwood looking for mink and fox. The fur of these animals was collected and made into clothing to be traded on the Empire. Watch your footing, and mind the larger creatures."

William nodded solemnly, exiting the Temple. Vitastjern, Kalzar, and WxrtlHltl shook their heads.

Blinding snow bombarded William in the Blizzard Pass. Night had fallen in the land, and the peaks of the mountains could not be seen. William struggled against the wind, straining to see ahead of him. Was this what the land of Midnight had been like for Gabriele? Well, he would not be defeated by this storm. Leaning into the howling wind, he trudged south through the Pass.

A light was barely visible in the distance, and William knew he was getting close to the Warm Haven. Maybe he would stop in for some ale, and to listen to any news the mandolin-strumming bard might have. He began to walk faster.

A low growl directly in front of William startled him. Stopping, he peered ahead into the white gloom. The growl came again, louder this time. Before William could do anything else, a large, furry, white monster towered over him. It roared as it glimpsed William, and swiped one hairy paw at him. The thing drew blood as its claws slashed William's hand.

The Yeti! William had come across this thing before, but managed to run by it before it could grab him. He cursed the blizzard that took away the view of the Pass before him.

The Yeti hit William very hard with its bare hands, never stopping its angry roaring. William retaliated with a slash to the monster's head with his shortsword. This infuriated the Yeti, and it picked William up and tossed him to the frozen ground.

William's breath rushed out of him as he hit the ground. He sat panting, glowering at this white monster. It looked weakly built, and here it was throwing him down. He had more important quests to do, and this thing was holding him up. How dare it! William staggered to his feet and rushed the monster. He plunged his sword into the monster's chest as hard as he could, once, twice, again. Blood splashed from the wounds, darkening the Yeti's fur with crimson.

The Yeti roared, but this time it seemed halfhearted, diminished. William knew it was dying. He thrust his sword at the creature again, but didn't need to. It had sunk to its knees, and keeled over on the icy ground. It let out one last grunt of despair and reached one bloody claw towards William. William stomped on it and kicked it aside. He stepped over the Yeti and examined himself. Aside from the wound on his hand, he was still in very good condition. Triumphant, he continued south. Foolish winter creature, he thought. No match for me.

The Blizzard Pass widened into a Valley, with many trees and a small waterfall. Beyond the waterfall, William walked through patches of snow, and knew by the small sign stuck into the ground that he had reached Braidwood. The snow was not so deep here as it was in the Blizzard Pass, but it was still cold. William's breath steamed from his mouth and nose, but he was still fairly warm from his fight with the Yeti. Small creatures poked their heads around trees and gazed at William. A Skylark examined him from a high branch, and a moose trotted close by, trying to sniff him. There was a mink with very sharp claws, one of those the Knights sought so long ago.

William knew he could easily kill these animals and gain strength from doing so. But he was here for dragons; he would not waste his time on these small things.

He looked around him for clues of the dragons' whereabouts. He checked the trees for burn marks and looked at the snow for their footprints. He stooped over the ground looking for fallen colored scales. Nothing.

Muttering to himself, he looked around, beginning to feel disoriented. Had he already been in this part of the forest?

He grew angry again. He would find these dragons who hid from him and slaughter them! They were hiding because they were afraid, because he was a big, powerful knight, with a fireproof shield! And they should be afraid! No amount of fire could touch him, and when he saw the first one, he would plunge his sword right into its filthy heart--

Snap.

The trap was old and rusty, leftover from the days when the Ancaster Knights hunted in Braidwood. And it was large. Big enough to trap one of the bears that still stomped through the woods. Despite the many winters that had battered it, its spring remained sharp. Its metal teeth bit into William's leg, and he dropped his sword and shield, screaming in pain. Now it was his turn to bleed, and the blood arced into the frigid air. It steamed as it fell upon the snow. William paled, falling to the ground. He pried at the trap's jaws with his fingers, trying to force it apart. It would not budge. Gritting his teeth, he pulled harder, and cut his fingers on its rust-coated edge. The blood seeped over his hand, and his grip on the trap slipped.

"Help me!" He screamed into the forest. A startled ptarmigan flew off, and a fox bolted. Tears forced themselves from his eyes as pain traveled up his leg. He had to free himself from this trap!

Gasping, William yanked at the trap one more time. Blood ran out of his leg in a steady stream. The blood seemed to carry his strength out along with it. He could not move the trap.

He tried screaming again. "Help me! I'm stuck in a trap!" His only answer was Braidwood's silence.

As a last resort, he reached for his shortsword and tried to cut the big trap. His hands trembled and it slipped from his grip, tumbling to the snowy ground. He kicked at the trap with his other foot, but only succeeded in digging the trap's jaws deeper into his leg.

His vision was clouding now, and it was getting more difficult to breathe. His hands and feet grew numb from the cold, and shivers shook him. As he watched, light snowflakes began to fall, and his teeth clattered together. Blood flowed freely. As his body emptied of its life, he slumped, his hair spread out beneath him on the snow. Red splotches melted parts of the snow that gradually covered him.

When night fell in the realm, those who had been in the Temple gathered at the Old Seadog Inn for some ale and fresh fish caught off the Island.

"The Knight has not returned," WxrtlHltl noted, wrapping his claws around a smooth, chilled glass of Kingsland Ale. "We would have felt the land shake as the great dragons fell."

Kalzar shook his head, and Og frowned. Og waved his hands and uttered the words to the spell that would tell him William's location. Concentrating, he listened to his inner voice, straining to hear over the loud table of orcs in the corner. Finally, he looked at the others solemnly.

"He has fallen into a Mantrap," Og announced.

"Is there still time to rescue him?" WxrtlHltl asked.

"We will go there," Kalzar said. They gulped the rest of their ale and rose. Outside the Inn, Vitastjern spoke the words that would teleport them to the cold forest, and they found themselves standing before a blood- covered mound of snow. It was still snowing in this part of the land, and Og pawed some of the freezing layer away from the pile on the ground. William's face was revealed, frozen in a grimace of pain.

Vitastjern shook her head sadly. "The arrogant ones who do not listen to wisdom as it is presented to them will fail in their quests." Using the strength bestowed upon her as a Goddess, she pushed the snow off the trap, yanked the trap open, and freed William's leg. His leg thumped to the snow, useless. He had been dead several hours.

Together, the four carried William's body out of Braidwood and laid it to rest in the Graveyard near the decaying church.

The news of William's defeat spread throughout the realm, and the bards nodded knowingly.

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