The knight had followed the voice for months. Wearied, they had crossed worlds all to chase the voice that kept whispering in their heart: You almost have. The voice flirted with promises of happiness and pleasures, futures and treasures. And so the knight pursued. Wrapped in layers of gleaming armor and armed with a sword strong enough to slay any monster, they pursued. No matter how the sun burned or how the cold clawed, they pursued.

Some days the voice chattered endlessly, keeping the knight company through lonesome times; most of the time when the voice withdrew it was during the times the knight most needed the comfort of its familiar allure. More than a dozen times during their trek the knight had fallen, exhausted and near death, ready to given up on a voice that would not return. And every time the knight decided to yield the voice would find them once more. Sweet hooks of comfort upon every syllable and pledges that it would never leave the knight for so long. The knight had proven its devotion and so the voice would stay. And it would. For a while.

Still the knight went on. Until the came upon a tower. It was here, the knight knew, that the voice called home. The knight’s quest for the voice would soon be done.

Circling the tower was a moat. The water so deep it was black. The voice urged the knight on with playful taunts that of the knight was true then they would cross the moat to reach it. Without a bridge though how? To cross in such heavy armor would mean death. But to the knight’s question only silence replied. And so the knight removed their armor, piece by piece. It was unnerving to be so defenseless. Sword fastened to their back, the knight crossed the moat. The waters were sticky and pulled at every motion to cross, holding the knight like molasses and sapping their strength. Creatures in the depths nipped and bit at the knight as they swam and yet never scale nor fin did the knight see.

Across at last, the knight heaved for breath while the voice praised their perseverance. Ahead however was the tower, looming so high it blotted out the sun. The knight circled the base finding however that there was none. In desperation the knight called out for the voice’s guidance. But only the wind blowing over the stones answered. Abandoned just before their triumph. The knight refused to believe the voice would leave them so; the voice needed them. If there was no door then the knight would make one.

The sword sparkled with every slash against the stone wall of the tower. Each time biting a bit deeper, cutting a bit harder, breaking a bit more. It was grueling work. And slow. The knight staggered through the darkness until the sun rose again, and again, and again. It took weeks and months and years. All in silence the knight toiled. The promise of the voice forever in their heart.

After laboring in solitude for more years than the knight had traveled there was a door just large enough for them to crawl through. The sword was a ruined splinter of metal now. It was frightening to be so weak. The knight squeezed through the shallow passage, jagged stone tearing at their flesh. A small price to pay.

Standing and stretching in the misty dark the knight saw that here—here indeed there was a door. And at last the voice spoke. It praised the knight for their determination, and if they just opened the door then the voice would fulfill every hope and wish the knight had. Tears washed lines down the knight’s dust-covered face. Their own voice a harsh croaking plea, asking the voice to unlock the door, begging it. The voice’s laughter was a wind chime in a spring breeze as petals fell like soft snow.

“Why should I open the door from this side when you have already come all this way to find me. You have so nearly proven yourself to me, dear knight. You need only find the key.”

Lights flickered up the tower walls around the small locked room. On every inch of those wicked high walls hung key after key. Keys of all sizes. Keys of all cuts. Keys of all colors. Millions and millions of keys. Tears threatened to spill over once more. But the knight had come so far and done so much, surely now—so close to the voice, the knight could prove to the voice their unending loyalty and love. Surely now.

So it began. From the bottom row up, the knight took a key and tried the lock. By the fifth week the knight was ankle-deep in keys and they went to and fro. By the fifth month the knight had to scale the walls, blisters on their fingers and bruises on their knees. Years passed and at last the knight held the final key. It slid into the lock with no resistance and then—nothing. No click. No turn. Nothing.

“My dear silly knight, you never even noticed the key hanging there.”

High, high above, hanging from a spider’s web woven across the hole in the tower a small, silver key caught the light of the moon. The knight hung their head and felt their heart beat hard and with pain.

“Please, won’t you let me in. I have traveled across worlds; I have dropped my defenses and abandoned my strength; I have given you years and blood and sweat and tears. Please, please, let me in.”

At this the voice hissed. It berated the knight for being so weak. Their lack of willingness to climb a bit further was all the proof needed. The knight didn’t care, never had, not really. If the knight were sincere then they had only go a bit further. It was not so much to ask for all the happiness in the world.

The knight looked at the key. And they looked at the door. They looked down at the lines On their hands. They felt the old creak of their bones. The knight picked up their old splinter of sword and with a shot true and strong the key came down from the sky and dropped at their feet.

And then the knight turned of their heel and left out the small passage, leaving the key behind in the dirt. The voice sputtered and cried, still the knight went on. Across the deep moat once again, but the fangs did not bite and the claws did not scratch. The knight fastened in every piece of the rusted old armor and lifted a foot.

“Wait!” The voice cried. “Don’t leave. You’re so close. I’m right here. Don’t you want me?”

Wind rustled through the knight’s silver hair.

“Not anymore.”

And then they stepped back into the world.

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