There are two roads to Torkertown. One, the shorter and more direct route, leads across a barren upland moor, and the other, which is much longer, winds its tortuous way in and out among the hummocks and quagmires of the swamps, skirting the low hills to the east. It was a dangerous and tedious trial, so Delphine of Moria halted in amazement when a breathless youth from the village she had just left overtook her and implored her for God’s sake to take the swamp road.
"The swamp road!" Delphine stared at the boy. She was a tall, gaunt woman, Delphine of Moria, her darkly pallid face and deep brooding eyes made more somber by the drab Puritanical garb she affected.
"Yes, ma’am, tis far safer," the youngster answered to her surprised exclamation.
"Then the moor road must be haunted by Satan himself, for your townsmen warned me against traversing the other," Delphine said.
"Because of the marshes, ma’am, that you might not see in the dark. You had better return to the village and continue your journey in the morning, ma’am," the man said.
"Taking the swamp road?" Delphine asked.
Delphine shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.
Then, she said to him, "The moon rises almost as soon as twilight dies. By its light, I can reach Torkertown in a few hours, across the moor."
The villager said to her, "Ma’am, you had better not. No one ever goes that way. There are no houses at all upon the moor, while in the swamp there is the house of old Ezra who lives there all alone since his maniac cousin, Gideon, wandered off and died and was never found—and old Ezra though a miser would not refuse you lodging should you decide to stop until morning. Since you must go, you had better go the swamp road."
Delphine eyes the boy, piercingly, and the lad squirmed and shuffled his feet.
"Since this moor road is so dour to wayfarers," Delphine said, "why did the villagers not tell me the whole tale, instead of vague mouthings?"
"Men do not like to talk of it, ma’am. We hoped that you would take the swamp road after the men advised you to, but when we watched and saw that you didn’t turn at the forks, they sent me to run after you and beg you to reconsider."
"Name of the Devil!" Delphine exclaimed sharply, the unaccustomed oath showing her irritation; "the swamp road and the moor road—what is it that threatens me and why should I go miles out of my way and risk the bogs and mires?"
"Ma’am," said the boy, dropping his voice and drawing closer, "we be simple villagers who like not to talk of such things lest foul fortune befall us, but the moor road is a way accurst and hath not been traversed by any of the countrysides for a year or more. It is death to walk those moors by night, for it’s been found by some score of unfortunates. Some foul horror haunts the way and claims men for his victims."
"So? And what is this thing like?" Delphine asked.
"No man knows. None has ever seen it and lived, but late-farers have heard terrible laughter far out on the fen, and men have heard the horrid shrieks of its victims. Ma’am, in God’s name, return to the village, there pass the night, and tomorrow take the swamp trail to Torkertown."
Far back in Delphine’s dark eyes, a scintillant light had begun to glimmer, like a witch’s torch glinting under fathoms of cold grey ice. Her blood quickened. Adventure! The lure of life-risk and drama! Not that Delphine recognized her sensations as such. She sincerely considered that she voiced her real feelings when she said:
"These things be deeds of some power of evil. The lords of darkness have laid a curse upon the country," Delphine said. "A strong man is needed to combat Satan and his might. Therefore I go, who have defied him many times."
"Ma’am," the boy began, then closed his mouth as he saw the futility of argument. He only added, "The corpses of the victims are bruised and torn, Ma’am."
"See what I got on my back? Demons fear it. This evil you speak of shall fear it as well," Delphine said. And then, she went her way down on the long and dark road that went ever on and on during the brink of Night. The pilgrim stood there at the crossroads, sighing regretfully as he watched the tall, rangy figure swinging up the road that led toward the moors.
The sun was setting as Delphine came over the brow of the low hill, which debouched into the upland fen. Huge and blood-red, it sank behind the sullen horizon of the moors, seeming to touch the rank grass with fire, so for a moment, the watcher seemed to be gazing out across a sea of blood.
Then the dark shadows came gliding from the east, the western blaze faded, and Delphine of Moria struck out boldly in the gathering darkness. The road was dim from disuse but was clearly defined. Delphine went swiftly but warily, Greatsword and her Bow and Arrow at hand. Stars blinked out, and night winds whispered among the grass like weeping specters. The moon began to rise, lean and haggard, like a skull among the stars.
Then suddenly, Delphine stopped short. From somewhere in front of her sounded a strange and eery echo—or something like an echo. Again, this time louder. Delphine started forward back. Were her senses deceiving her? No!
Far out, there pealed a whisper of frightful laughter. And again, closer this time. No human being ever laughed like that—there was no mirth in it, only hatred and horror and soul-destroying terror. Delphine halted... she was not afraid, but for the second, she was almost unnerved.
Then, stabbing through that awesome laughter, came the sound of a scream that was undoubtedly human.
Delphine started forward, increasing her gait. She cursed the elusive lights and flickering shadows, which veiled the moor in the rising moon and made accurate sight impossible. The laughter continued, growing louder, as did the screams. Then sounded the drum of frantic human feet faintly. Delphine broke into a run.
Some human was being hunted to death out there on the fen, and by what manner of horror God only knew. The sound of the flying feet halted abruptly, and the screaming rose unbearably, mingled with other sounds unnameable and hideous. The man had been overtaken, and Delphine, her flesh crawling, visualized some ghastly fiend of the darkness crouching on the back of its victim crouching and tearing. Then the noise of a terrible and short struggle came clearly through the deep silence of the night, and the footfalls began again, but stumbling and uneven.
The screaming continued, but with a gasping gurgle. The sweat stood cold on Delphine’s forehead and body. This was heaping horror on horror in an offensive manner. God, for a moment’s bright light! The unnerving drama was being enacted within a very short distance of her, to judge by the ease with which the sounds reached her.
But this hellish half-light veiled all in shifting shadows so that the moors appeared a haze of blurred illusions, and stunted trees, and bushes seemed like giants. Delphine shouted, striving to increase the speed of her advance. The shrieks of the unknown broke into a hideous shrill squealing; again there was the sound of a struggle, and then from the shadows of the tall grass a thing came reeling — a situation that had once been a man—a gore-covered, frightful thing that fell at Delphine’s feet and writhed and grovelled and raised its terrible face to the rising moon, and gibbered and yammered, and fell down again and died in its own blood. The moon was up now, and the light was better. Delphine bent above the body, which lay stark in its unnameable mutilation, and she shuddered, a rare thing for her, who had seen the deeds of the Evildoers and Witch-Hunters.
Some wayfarer. She supposed. Then like a hand of ice on her spine, she was aware that she was not alone. She looked up, her cold eyes piercing the shadows whence the dead man had staggered.
She saw nothing, but she knew—she felt—that other eyes gave back her stare, terrible eyes not of this earth. She straightened and drew her Greatsword, waiting. The moonlight spread like a lake of pale blood over the moor, and trees and grasses took on their proper sizes. The shadows melted, and Delphine saw! At first, she thought it only a shadow of mist, a wisp of moor fog that swayed in the tall grass before her. She gazed.
More illusion. She thought. Then the thing began to take on shape, vague, and indistinct. Two hideous eyes flamed at her—eyes which held all the stark horror which has been the heritage of man since the fearful dawn ages—eyes frightful and insane, with insanity transcending earthly insanity. The form of the thing was misty and vague, a brain-shattering travesty on the human form, like, yet horribly unlike. The grass and bushes beyond showed clearly through it.
Delphine felt the blood pounding in her body, yet she was as cold as ice. How such an unstable being as that which wavered before he could physically harm a man was more than she could understand, yet the red horror at her feet gave mute testimony that the fiend could act with terrible material effect. Of one thing, Delphine was sure; there would be no hunting of her across the dreary moors, no screaming and fleeing to be dragged down again and again. If she died, she would die in her tracks, her wounds in front. Now a vague and horrible mouth gaped wide, and the demoniac laughter again shrieked but, soul-shaking in its nearness.
And amid feat threat of doom, Delphine deliberately leveled her long sword and swung it around, once. A maniacal yell of rage and mockery answered the report, and the thing came at her like a flying sheet of smoke, long shadowy arms stretched to drag her down. Delphine, moving with the dynamic speed of a hungry wolf, swung her greatsword with as little effect, and she charges quickly towards the beast, and she uses her blade and thrusts into the center of the misty attacker. The blade sang as it passed clear through, encountering no substantial resistance, and Delphine felt icy fingers grip her limbs, cruel talons tear her garments and the skin beneath.
And the Deadly beast went slowly before Delphine, and she pulls the Sword out from its Stomach and its blood stains the ground.
"I’ve had enough of you... Hellish Beast," Delphine said.
"And... who... are you? You who walk on this earth and carry your blade and soaks the tip of your sword with the blood of demons?" The demon asked.
"Me... I am your executioner. You reek of fear, and you kill innocents who walk this road," Delphine said. "I am the one who walks on this earth and hunts the creatures of darkness. And when I’m done with you, you will beg for forgiveness. Humanity ill needs an unholy monster such as yourself."
"You cannot triumph here, fool! You have no comprehension of what you are up against. You will taste my Claws, and you will feel them rip through your body until you are dead. But enough talk, have at you!"
The beast began to charge quickly towards Delphine, and she started to charge quickly towards the Beast, and a duel emerges. The beast charges towards Delphine, and he uses his claws, and he tries to attack Delphine; she blocks all of his attacks. Then, Delphine swings her greatsword, and she also tries to attack the demon, and he also blocks her attacks. Both Delphine’s greatsword and the demon’s claws began to be clashing with each other; each blow was like a thunderbolt. They clashed openly and quickly, and each swing of their attacks began to shake the ground and was like a hammer going through the tip of a nail.
They clashed and didn’t miss each other as they kept fighting and swinging their weapons, and none of them gave in. Again, the beast charges towards Delphine, and he uses his claws, and he tries to attack Delphine; she blocks all of his attacks. Then again, Delphine swings her greatsword, and she also tries to attack the demon, and he also blocks her attacks. And yet, both Delphine’s greatsword and the demon’s claws began to be clashing with each other; each blow was like a bolt of lightning. Delphine was not one to give in to her enemies, and she was not one to surrender; she was a demon hunter who would fight on to the very end.
They clashed and didn’t miss each other as they kept clashing and swinging their weapons; neither one of them surrendered. Yet again, the beast charges towards Delphine and uses his claws, and he tries to attack Delphine; she blocks all of his attacks. Then yet again, Delphine swings her greatsword and also tries to attack the demon, and he also blocks her attacks. And yet again, both Delphine’s greatsword and the demon’s claws began to be clashing with each other; each blow was like a large earthquake. Delphine lived a life of darkness and despair, and her only purpose in this cursed world is to defeat the demons of hell in any form that they exist in.
They clashed, and they did not miss each other as they kept fighting and swinging their weapons; both fighters refused to accept defeat. Once more, the beast charges towards Delphine and uses his claws, and he tries to attack Delphine and she blocks all of his attacks. Then once more, Delphine swings her greatsword and also tries to attack the demon; he seemed to have the same luck and skill as she had. Both Delphine’s greatsword and the demon’s claws began to be clashing with each other; each blow was as if the gods themselves watched this battle commence. Delphine did not know what her fate would be, but she knew that she must hunt, fight, and kill until she seeks and defeats the Grim Reaper.
They clashed, and they did not miss each other as they kept clashing and swinging their weapons, and none of them gave in. And then, with all of her anger and all of her fury, Delphine uses her greatsword and stabs the demon in its chest, and she pulls back the sword. Lots of blood began to splatter all over the place, and lots of gore started to stain the ground that they were standing on.
"Took you a long time to get me. That should make this moment sweeter... but not enough to wash away the bitter taste of failure," the demon said.
And then, both Delphine’s sword and the demon’s claws clash with each other, and one final blow was drawn between them. The last blow that each wielder used against themselves was so sharp that the ground itself began to shake. And then, Delphine counters the attack and uses her greatsword, and she stabs the demon onto his chest. She pushes the sword deep into the creature’s gullet, and more Blood began to drain out of his body and fall onto the solid ground. Then, Delphine pulls the sword out of the demon’s chest, and she goes for the final killing blow onto the demon.
She goes towards the demon, and she cuts off his head; it flew off his body, and the rest of his body fell onto the ground. And so, the battle between Delphine and the giant demon ended during this long night as the blood moon shines high in the sky. Her long, beautiful blonde hair began to breeze with the wind that blew around her as the night carried on. Delphine puts the sword back to her sheathe, and she went north and walked forward on the long, dark road that went ever on and on. As she walked, she saw a massive hut that was next to the way that she was walking on, and she decided to go towards that hut.
But, before she could do that, she went to the village of Torkertown, and she told her tale to the ones who were guarding the walls with their very lives. The hut of old Ezra, the miser, stood by the road amid the swamp, half screened by the sullen trees which grew about it. The wall was rotting, the roof crumbling, and great pallid and green fungus-monsters clung to it and writhed about the doors and windows as if seeking to peer within. The trees leaned above it, and their grey branches intertwined so that it crouched in semi-darkness like a monstrous dwarf over whose shoulder ogres leer. The road, which wound down into the swamp among rotting stumps and rank hummocks and scummy, snake-haunted pools and bogs, crawled past the hut.
Many people passed that way these days, but few saw old Ezra, save a glimpse of a yellow face, peering through the fungus-screened windows, itself like an ugly fungus. Old Ezra, the miser, partook much of the quality of the swamp, for he was gnarled and bent and sullen; his fingers were like clutching parasitic plants, and his locks hung like drab moss above eyes trained to the murk of the swamplands. His eyes were like a dead man’s, yet hinted of depths abysmal and loathsome as the dead lakes of the swamplands. These eyes gleamed now at the woman who stood in front of his hut. This woman was tall and gaunt and dark, her face was smooth and claw-marked, and she was bandaged of arm and leg.
"You are Ezra of the swamp road?" Delphine asked.
"Aye, and what want ye of me?" Ezra asked.
"Where is your cousin Gideon, the maniac youth who abode with you?" She asked.
"Gideon?" He asked.
"He wandered away into the swamp and never came back. No doubt, he lost his way and was set upon by wolves or died in a swamp or was struck by an adder."
"How long ago?"
"Over a year."
"Indeed, Listen now, Ezra, the miser. Soon after your cousin’s disappearance, a countryman, coming home across the moors, was set upon by some unknown fiend and torn to pieces, and after that, it became death to cross those moors. First men of the countryside, then strangers who wandered over the fen, fell to the clutches of the thing. Many men have died since the first one. Last night I crossed the moors and heard the flight and pursuing another victim, a stranger who knew not the evil of the moors. Ezra the miser, it was a fearful thing, for the wretch twice broke from the fiend, terribly wounded, and each time the demon caught and dragged him down again.
"And at last, he fell dead at my very feet, done to death in a manner that would freeze the statue of a saint."
Old Ezra’s eyes shifted furtively. Yet the somber expression of Delphine of Moria never altered, and his condor-like stare seemed to transfix the miser.
"Aye, aye!" muttered old Ezra hurriedly; "a bad thing, a bad thing! Yet why do you tell this thing to me?"
"Indeed, a sad thing. Listen further, Ezra," Delphine said. "The fiend came out of the shadows, and I fought with it over the body of its victim. Yes, I overcame it, for the battle was hard and long, but the powers of good and light were on my side, which is mightier than the powers of Hell. At last, I was stronger, and I killed the fiend with my Sword in my hand."
Old Ezra started, stared wildly, seemed to shrink into himself.
"Nay, why tell me this?" he muttered.
"I returned to the village and told my tale," Delphine said. "I knew that now I had the power to rid the moors of its curse forever! Ezra, I have done that which no other can do. A wanderer... defeating an active fiend from the gates of Hell itself."
"Indeed... you deserve a reward. Tell me, what shall it be?" Ezra asked.
"I do not need a reward. But I will tell you this. Because you have never humbled yourself to tell anyone that you have cursed this land, now God himself has cursed the days of your life, and soon, your life on earth will be finished," Delphine said.
"What are you saying?" Ezra asked.
"God has numbered the days of your life and brought it to an end. You have been judged and found wanting... your house shall be taken from you and given to someone else. I’m leaving now... suffer now for all eternity for the very crime you committed in yourself."
And then, Ezra started to see this vision come back to his eyes, and he remembers everything that has occurred. But then, he saw that everything Delphine was madness, and then, he pulls out his dagger, and as Delphine turned to leave, he charged towards her to kill her. But as he tried to stab Delphine in the back, the armor that Delphine wore was strong enough to deflect the blade, and the dagger shatters and crumbles into many pieces. Then, Delphine pulls out her ebony dagger, and she stabs the older man in the chest, and she pushes the blade deep into his heart.
"Who... the hell... are you?" Ezra asked.
Delphine said to him, "I am the instrument of death before my enemies. I am the one who runs from both the living and the dead. I am the bringer of destruction and despair to the demons of Hell. I am the one who will not hesitate to eradicate from this cursed world, all of those who defy the one true God. I am... Delphine of Moria, the Ebony Warrior."
Then, Delphine pulls the Dagger out of Ezra’s chest, and he falls to the ground, and he could not get up as his blood begins to leave his body. He draws his last breath, and he dies on the bloody ground as Delphine left his house, and she did not look back. She didn’t care at all what would happen to him, for she was already on her way to another village. Delphine walks forward, and she was on her way, her scars left her body, and she was once again, wandering this cursed world. The world before her very eyes was dark and cruel, and the demons of Hell always roamed the earth in the Night.
Delphine kept walking on the long, dark road that went ever on and on, and she never knew when her journey will end and never knew when the day will come when she reaches her greatest enemy.