• The night was a chaotic blend of winds and rain as a storm passed over the celebrating kingdom. Despite the weather outside, the tavern was lively and bustling with people from all over the country side. Free ale and feast was being given in honor of the Prince's wedding and everyone seemed to be joining in the festivities. Singing and dancing echoed across the small place while the smell of livestock and ale mingled around them. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves in the cozy, dimly lit place. All except for one person who stayed on the far side of the room, away from the growing crowd and close to the roaring fireplace. The cloaked man drank heavily from his large mug as he listened to the merry people on the other side of the room.

    'It is true what they say, he scaled the highest mountain to seek his queen!' One man shouted from the center of the group.
    'They say he slew a dragon to save the Princess!' A second raised his tankard in a salute.
    'And fought a thousand ogres to return her riches!' Another shouted in reverance.

    Many similar comments were made and shouted out until it became a song of valor sung to honor a hero whose name they had forgotten in their drunken stuper. But still they carried on. The man in the corner, sitting with his back against the flames, watched the crowd become more and more boisterous with each passing drink. He sighed heavily to himself, wishing he could be amongst them. But what joy he wanted could not be obtained in celebration for another, no matter how hard he tried. The ale left a bitter taste in his mouth and got to the point to where all he could do was stare at the dark reflection of himself in its still surface.

    'Something the matter with your ale, love?' the barmaiden had approached him several times, asking similar questions with concern in her voice.
    'No, m'lady,' he said just loud enough for her to hear him over the rambunctious crowd and took a drink from the mug. She waited a few moments before bowing her head and walking away with a deep sigh.

    The man sat in silence, thinking to himself about the Prince's recent salvation and what he would give for something so wonderful. Hours dragged out in the time of minutes but despite how late it was nor how slow time was moving, the tavern only grew more crowded by new faces. Finally, he decided it was time to call it a night and stood with loud clinks and clunks of connecting metal underneath his cloak. Several coins were tossed on the table as he turned to walk out the door. A few men from the crowd caught his motion and turned their heads to look but quickly gave their attention back to the singing and dancing.

    'Leavin' already?' the barmaiden asked as he passed by the table she was scrubbing. He silently nodded as he walked past her and out the door. She frowned and watched him walk away. 'Good night then, General...'

    The storm had not let up since the General had first stepped into the tavern several hours before. If anything, it seemed to have gotten a bit worse to reflect how the general was feeling. He welcomed the cool, comforting rain but could do without the persistent wind that wanted to strip him of the cloak that was protecting him against it. The walk back to the barracks was a long and muddy one that men of his status usually rode horses to. The General used the distance between the castle and small village to clear his mind, but often failed to actually do so.

    The path had long since been flattened and hardened by the footmen that usually walked its course. Even now the General was passed by soldiers that had recently gotten off duty and were heading to the tavern as well. Several managed to give the commanding officer a salute while others kept their face to the ground as they tried to protect themselves against the storm. He paused momentarily to look at the castle that ruled over his homelands and several regions scattered just beyond the king's borders. He felt a sudden emptiness as he realized what awaited for him inside. His chest heaved in a great sigh as he pushed himself to continue with the rest of the distance to the gates.

    Just as the tavern had been before, the castle was alive with celebration but on a much larger scale. Guest kings and royal courts were attending the Prince's wedding. Yet, even in the upper classes the rumors of the Prince's feats were passed from tongue to ear. The general sighed once more as he pushed past the numerous guests that he swore were intentionally blocking his way. Several smiled and waved for his attention, only to be returned with a polite bow while he continued on to his personal objective. Just as he reached the door, a voice called to him. The one voice he wished, almost prayed, that he could have avoided for the rest of the evening.

    "Vledamir!" the Prince's voice called out to him. "My brother. Where have you been?"

    The cloaked man stopped just within a stride's distance of the officer's hall and cursed under his breath. Lowering his head, the General slowly turned to face the Prince and bowed as he had done many times over the years. He raised his head to see the Prince return the bow and straightened up to look at his kin who was accompanied by the person Vledamir could only assume was the princess he had gone on an adventure to claim as his bride and queen. The Prince held tightly on to her hand and smiled to his brother.

    "Prince Rerian," he bowed once more as he spoke his name.
    "Brother, how many times do I have to say there is no need for titles between us?" Prince Rerian chuckled. "We are blood after all."
    "As many times as it is needed, m'lord," Vledamir bowed his head. "Despite blood, you are meant to be King."
    "Bah! Have it your way then," the Prince sighed. He clapped a hand on his younger brother's shoulder. "Well, while we are on topic. This is my bride, Princess, soon to be Queen, Cerilene of the Grand Duchy of Meredith."

    General Vledamir gave the Princess his full attention for the first time. As he met her gaze, the emptiness he had felt as he had looked at the castle from outside its walls returned by with a greater pressure. He winced in pain but otherwise kept his composure. He gripped at the plate mail that protected his torso and bowed towards the queen, more so in pain rather than obligation. From his prone position he gently clasped his the Lady's hand and brought it up to kiss the gem that had been embroidered with gold and laced around her finger.

    "Never has such beauty been seen in these lands, or any other," Vledamir spoke the routine words as he had done for the queens and princesses of other kingdoms. "But you will have to excuse me. I am not feeling as well as I should in such presence."

    Without being dismissed, Vledamir left the future king and queen to their guests. Lady Cerilene recoiled a bit as if she had been struck, but Vledamir heard Rerian assure his bride that it was not her fault and it seemed that something was truly afflicting the general. He nodded in the direction of his brother before carrying his bride off to the company of those that wish to voice their praise and blessings for the two.

    Vledamir stumbled down the hall clutching at his chest. Slamming hard into the carved stone walls as he made his way to the sanctity of his quarters. The fire in the hearth gave the room a orange glow as it heated a kettle of water for the general to use as he pleased. Without bothering to undo the plate armor that had been fitted to his body or even silence the screeching kettle, Vledamir fell on the bed and quickly fell into a deep sleep.


    General Vledamir had been following the voice that was calling for him. Hand over hand, he had been climbing the side of a mountain in pursuit of the one whose voice filled his thoughts. He had long since passed through the realm of the King and into the caressing hands of the gods. Clouds lay under him, masking the land beyond as much as it hid the path ahead. Still the voice called to him and he continued on to find who owned it.

    Hours passed. Days passed. Vledamir was almost completely drained but was more determined to reach the summit. He reached into the clouds and pulled himself up as he had done again and again. As he lifted himself unto a ledge an open plain filled his view. A dreamland, a world not even the Kings below had seen sat before him. In the center of the field sat a castle and off in the distance was a small farming village. This place was familiar to him, but he could not recall where it was that he had seen it before. Before he had realized it, he was just outside the castle gates and had begun walking inside.

    'Oh, sweet Vledamir.'

    The voice called out to him again and again. He followed the winding passageways in the labyrinth like structure all the while trying to find the source of the voice that guided the way. He passed by tapestries that looked dull and worn from age as well as paintings with what appeared to have been warped from exposure to the elements. At the end of one hallway he found himself walking towards a light that opened up to a balcony that over looked the field below. As he grew closer to the exit the voice became louder and louder as it called for him.

    'Oh, Vledamir...'
    'My love, Vledamir. You have come.'

    There was a young woman who stared off into the distance. Her beauty was unmatched by far. The General could do nothing but stare at her as the princess turned towards him. She smiled at him and reached for his hand. She seemed to glide to Vledamir who was frozen in place in awe of such a beautiful creature. He felt the silky smooth grasp of her hand around his. As his fingers slowly touched the edges of her hand, the Maiden let out an angelic laugh before disappearing in a veil of white rose petals that drifted away in the wind.

    'Vledamir...' her voice called to him from the heavens. 'You will find me, Vledamir...'

    'Damn it, man! How much did you drink last night?' the deeper, masculine voice ripped him from his slumber. Vledamir woke to find another commander shaking him awake. He had to all but fight him off in order for Kaine to be sure that he was awake. General Kaine quickly rummaged through his fellow officer's wardrobe as he prepared Vledamir's ceremonial armour plates.

    "Vled, you over slept!" General Kaine yelled at the groggy Vledamir."You're going to be late to the wedding!"

    Vledamir was wide awake at the mention of the wedding and joined his brother in arms in rushing to get ready for the Prince's wedding. He was still trying to fix a shoulder piece as the two ran out of the door and into the hall. Vledamir cursed himself again and again for sleeping so long. Kaine and him arrived in the main hall just in time to see the bride being walked down the isle by King Lysander I, father of Rerian and Vledamir. Everyone's eyes were on the two walking towards the Prince. Vledamir easily made it to where he was supposed to have been without anyone noticing, still cursing under his breath. Just as he arrived the Prince leaned towards him, eyes still locked on to his bride.

    "I'm glad you could make it brother. I hope you are feeling better, for today is a great day and I wish you to be apart of it."

    Vledamir sighed to himself and responded accordingly. The emptiness felt like a weight in his chest. But he ignored the feeling and looked at his soon to be queen and sister-in-law who was gracefully walking down the aisle. He smiled a genuine smile for the Prince and his bride. Just as she made it to the alter the sun rose to look into the large hall, filling the entrance with a blinding light. Vledamir looked away and towards the priest conducting the ceremony. Just as the priest caught his attention, he heard the same angelic voice he heard last night that seemed to radiate from the marble angel behind him.

    'Vledamir. My sweet, loving Vledamir.'

    It was then that he knew exactly what he needed to do. Something he should have done a long time ago and something his brother had recently done himself. General Vledamir of the Holy Demrial Empire needed to find his own damsel in distress. His own queen.

    It had been three weeks since the joining of Prince Rerian and Princess Cerilene. Vledamir had not delayed in making preparations for the journey ahead. His brother was well aware of his intentions and excused him from the general's duties for as long as Vledamir desired in hopes that he would find the same happiness that the Prince had. He had left the castle on horseback with no true destination in mind with only the wind at his back and the sounds of hooves thrumming on the ground under him. But if there was one thing that he was sure of is that he would find the one he had longed for.

    The days became routine as he made camp just after sunset, had the dream that inspired the journey and woke up more determined than the day before. Nine days into the journey, he caught some travelers deep in conversation about a princess who was said to have long, golden sewn hair that stretched for many fields. He slowly passed by the men who paid no attention to the General's eavesdropping.

    '....said she was being held captive by some old flea-bitten witch somewhere east,' said one traveler.
    'Any man that could rescue her from that tower would be in for a bit more then riches. Oh ho!' chuckled a second one.
    'I'd be willing to bet my purse that she won't be in that tower for too long,' smirked a finely dressed man with a sword on his hip.

    The three men looked at each other will chuckles and grins. Vledamir knew the discussion of the princess had passed to another topic, so he headed off in the direction that the first man had spoke of. Several hours went by before he caught sight of the tower said to hold his damsel. The hour grew late before he had made it to the tower. The General made camp just beyond the tree line. The idea of him finding his own love in that tower filled him with a joy that has long since been absent from his heart. The thought allowed him to drift into a peaceful sleep. As the night crept away and dawn broke over the land, a voice coming from beside the tower woke him from his sleep.

    'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!'

    Vledamir quickly awoke and looked from behind the tree that he had slept against. There, raising his hands towards the tower, was the man dressed in finery that he had seen talking with the travelers. 'A prince,' Vledamir thought to himself. 'Just my luck.' As he got up and began to pack up his camp, he saw a golden thread being tossed out of the window in the tower. Stopping what he was doing, he examined the rope closer. He gasped as he realized it was, indeed, the hair of the maiden above. Just as he noticed it, he laughed as the prince began climbing the hair like a rope.

    "I wonder if she likes her hair being pulled like that," the masculine thought made Vledamir grin. "If not, I'd hate to be that guy when he gets to the top of the tower."

    After the camp was finished being packed, he continued on to see what awaited him in the next lands. Vledamir had the creeping suspicion that his journey was far from over.

    Unfortunately, Princess Rapunzel was not the last to have been stolen from Vledamir. In the lands of the south, he had come across a sleeping beauty that had been put into a deep coma by a cursed spinner. He had heard stories of how to awaken the sleeping princess and fought a dragon to claim what he believed to have been rightfully his. The creature known as Maleficent had taken many forms in combating Vledamir. In the end a dragon lay slain and another Prince claimed his bride while Vledamir returned from victory. The battleworn General was furious but kept his tone and composure long enough to escape the castle. Battered and injured, Vledamir continued on his journey to the next kingdom in hopes she awaited him there.

    As he had done for many nights, he made camp shortly after the sun disappeared beyond the horizon and dreamt the dream that comforted him and renewed the faith in the journey. Cries of the heartbroken awoke him just after dawn had broken across the forest. He awoke to find himself in the presence of the forest Dwarves and various animals surrounding the glass covered casket of a beautiful maiden. The Dwarves had told him what had become of the princess and that some old witch had tricked her into taking a bite out of a poisoned apple. Vledamir felt a sorrow in his heart as he looked upon her.

    "I'm sorry that we had never the chance to meet, m'lady," Vledamir said as he bent to kiss her. "For you would have made me the happiest man in all the lands."

    Just as he bent to place a kiss upon her lips a shadow appeared beside him and quickly knocked Vledamir aside. The General landed on the soft, dew covered grass a few feet away. He heard a dark laugh as he looked upon who had struck him. A man embroidered with that of royalty was hunched over the body of Snow White, pressing his own lips against her cold, lifeless ones. But to his and Vledamir's amazement, the princess' eyes fluttered open. She gazed upon the Prince for a moment and smiled at him. She mouthed the words 'My prince' which made Vledamir's heart sink into the weight that already been occupied by the feeling of emptiness. Vledamir shook his head at the two who had once again pressed against each other.

    Days would pass by before the wayward general would hear anything about princesses or even kingdoms as he traveled further and further from the reaches of the western kingdoms and into the heart of the desert. He had managed to survive the ocean of sand and heat as he arrived at a kingdom that was hidden behind the highest dunes. It was here that Vledamir, the warrior from the west, found one princess to be to his liking. An adventurous girl who was always getting into mischief with the castle guards and wanted nothing more than individuality.

    As fate would have it, the day of which the Sultan, the King of the Sands, was to introduce the well-traveled General Vledamir she had ran away from the palace with someone that he had heard a guard call a 'street rat'. He realized that his hope for joy was stolen by nothing more than a common thief and left the Palace Guards to their duty. Vledamir was gifted with many exotic gifts by the Sultan himself before heading back through the desert and towards what fate had in store for him in the next kingdom.

    'Cinderella!' he heard a bitter, old and yet incredibly classy woman call out to who Vledamir could only assume was her maid. A ragged but youthful and beautiful woman emerged from her house and bowed. He heard her say 'Yes, stepmother' which made Vledamir cast a glare at the dark looking woman with disgust. The stepmother gave Cinderella an order to prepare for someone's arrival. As the older woman walked inside she was followed by two girls that made Vledamir's skin crawl underneath his armor. Vledamir waited outside on a stone bench, thinking of what he could say to someone so beautiful, so breathtaking and so abused.

    As he sat there in quiet thought, a carriage pulled up. Inside was a tired looking man carrying a pillow with, what appeared to be, a glass slipper resting on top of it. The slipper intrigued Vledamir enough to make him want to watch what was happening inside. A large window gave him full view of the room where the royal messengers were attempting to shove the slipper upon the foot of one of the two girls that had made him flinch. He watched with amusement as they struggled to get the glass slipper over the slightly larger feet. The messengers realized that the slipper didn't fit long after Vledamir had made that observation.

    Vledamir was all too eager for the men to leave so that he could talk with the girl inside. His eyes went wide when he realized that she hadn't been present in the fitting. Once again curiousity sparked his attention as he looked inside the open doorway that the messengers were coming out of. As if on queue, Cinderella was rushing down the stairs. Before he noticed anything else, he heard the crashing sound of shattering glass as the slipper fell to the ground. Vledamir let out a sigh of relief as he watched the room crumble around the shoe. To his horror, and apparently the stepmother's as well, Cinderella pulled out a second glass slipper which fitted perfectly with her own slent foot. Vledamir knew this meant someone else just found their happily ever after. It also meant that his journey would not end there.

    Several more days passed before he heard anything from travelers or merchants from the various routes. One rumor caught his attention. The story of a princess unclaimed by a prince and still awaiting her own Prince Charming to rescue her from the clutches of evil. He wasted no time in charging towards the mountain fortress that was said to be holding the princess against her will. The same story he had heard over and over again on his travels, but he was hoping that he at least had a chance to obtain his own happiness.

    Two days after he had heard something he arrived at a fortress that was more ominous that they had let on. The rock of the mountain and stone of the outter castle had been covered by a thick layer of grey ash from the lively volcano that the castle seemed to hover over. An old, rickety bridge was all that connected it to the mainland from what he could see at least. Cautiously he stepped across the bridge, wary that most of the planks had been worn away by time and heat. Several had snapped under his weight, but he had made it to the other side safely. He drew his sword from his back and stepped into the castle.

    The place reeked of death and natural gases that flowed in from every nook and cranny that Vledamir stepped over. Traces of large scratches and places that appeared to have been scrapped away using great force riddled the inside of the castle with what wars and battles had taken place within its walls over the years.

    Using knowledge of basic damsel placements, Vledamir ruled out the chance of this place having a dungeon or even a basement and began his search for the tallest tower. It was not as hard a task as he predicted it to be. The largest tower had a faint glow coming from him. The faint glow of hope as Vledamir felt it to be. He climbed the steps slowly, his heart racing faster with each step he took closer to his future. He stopped at the top of the stairs and took a deep breath. A warm breeze blew up from the bottom of the stairs and pushed the door open to reveal a room with a single bed inside.

    Vledamir lowered his sword as he walked towards the bed with a large curtain surrounding it. His hand trembled with anticipation as he pushed the veil aside. His hand slid from the heavy silk cloth of the curtain and lightly struck the icy metal of his legplates. The only thing laying on the bed was a shriveling white flower. The fireplace behind the bed had been alive with the faint glow he had seen in the window. As the embers cooled and the red glow died away, so did Vledamir's hopes and dreams to find the one for him. Before leaving the room, the General took a glance out of one of the window.

    He watched the world pass by for a few moments as he mentally mapped out the path he had traveled to get here. The forests to the west, the plains to the southwest and the sands that covered the world to the south and east. Nothing else awaited him. His search was over and it was time to head back home, back to a life unchanged by the journey. He had to look away from the window before the pain in his chest consumed what was left of his emotions.

    Resheathing his sword into the holster, he retraced his steps back to the mainhall of the castle. As he made it through the front archway, he heard foot steps in front of him. Vledamir raised his head to see a man clad in armor, weapon at the ready and staring him down. The General did not draw his weapon, instead he kept walking. As he passed the knight the General spoke in a soft, grim tone.

    'No happiness awaits you here, friend. It's best for you to go home before you witness as much disappointment as I have.'

    The knight only blinked from behind the helmet he wore. He dropped his guard and looked between the large castle and the man who had come from it. He let out a sigh and followed Vledamir's advice and path back across the bridge.

    Almost a month later Vledamir returned home. He had come from the opposite direction as he had left from. He traveled across the open field only to realize that he knew this place. Fields for as far as the eye could see and in the heart of spring, greater lands than any king had seen before awaited his view. He was staring at the image from his dream, moreso he was staring at his homelands. All along he had been dreaming of the castle he had called home since birth.

    Before he knew it he was standing at the gates, staring deep into the main hall where the wedding had been held. The soldiers stationed at the front cheered at the return of the General, but he did not share in their joy. Instead he looked at the castle as he had done in the dream and what he had done before. But something told him not al of what he had dreamed was real about this place and that he had been walking in the wrong direction. Leaving his horse and items with the guards Vledamir turned on his heels and began walking in the opposite direction of the gate.

    He used the distance of the worn path to think about why exactly he was being led towards a place he had often spent in his luxury time. As he walked it began raining, replaying a memory from a few months before. The tavern was not as lively as it had been, but there were plenty of people there enjoying a nice ale after a hard day's labor. As was the usual, his table was vacant, reserved for him alone and so he sat with his back against the newborn flames that would grow as night would come. He was lost in thought when a tankard was placed in front of him.

    'Here you go, General. It's good to see you again, m'lord,' spoke a familiar, angelic voice.

    He did not respond at first, still lost in his own thoughts. But as the brew settled an image appeared in the glassy surface of the ale. He had to blink several times before he realized what he was looking at. Slowly he raised his head so that he could see the woman who had been serving him the same brew, in the same seat, in the same tavern for nearly four years now. His chest froze with air locked inside as his eyes opened in full protest to what he was truly seeing. As she caught his gaze, she smiled that smile he had seen many times in his dream. And he knew that he had found exactly what he had been looking for.

    "Forgive me if it's not my place, m'lord. But is it true what they say? That you traveled the world slaying creatures no one man was said could defeat? Seeking obstacles not one man could overcome?" she held her smile as she looked at the General. "Why did you do that? Were you searching for something?"

    Vledamir could do nothing more than smile himself. He could go into great detail as to what he had done on his journey and everything he had seen and witnessed, but he reduced it to one simple statement. One that made him sound foolish, even in his own head. He sighed as he took a deep drink of his ale and gazed once more at the female.

    "Oh, fair maiden," he chuckled at the thought. "Believe it or not, I was searching for you."