Once upon a time there lived a boy called Northum, who loved animals fondly. One day, a few days after his eighteenth birthday, he saw a man beating a horse in the woods, its pleading neighing slicing through the cool evening air.
Without thinking, Northum ran towards the horse and beat the man with a bag of apples he had, his anger seething out of his mouth in breathless hissing.
You see, reader, Northum had an affinity for animals, but also had quite the temper. When the man, who was both shocked and angry that a young boy was battering him, starting to beg for him to stop, Northum continued, until the man retreated, nursing several bloody bruises as he scarpered away.
They say no good deed goes unpunished, and whilst this is largely total flibbery, in Northum's case he had unfortunately just battered the King of Snipplelot, a race of ancient beings who used animal pain as their life force.
The King that day returned to his hidden kingdom, atop a pomegranate tree in the woods, and summoned his darkest most twisted advisors to exact revenge on young Northum. They concocted a plan so devious, it made the devil himself shiver in his pyjamas. After some dark muttering, a lot of spitting and a potion that smelled of stale milk, the spell was complete.
From that day on, Northum would be followed by a tall, gaunt figure only he could see. This figure, known as the Rankalank, carried a purple spear, and always stood at a distance from Northum, in total silence, his rigid position reminiscent of a soldier ready to fight until his dying breath. He was clad in black armour with silver swirls running down his chest, and he wore an iron mask which housed a perpetual open-mouthed scream.
Northum noticed the Rankalank a few days later, and soon realised he was the only one who could see him. For a while, he observed him, and soon realised he was largely harmless. But, oh how wrong he was.
One day, Northum was walking with a young girl he planned to propose to. As they stopped in a grassy meadow, he got down on one knee, and with fumbling fingers, opened a small wooden box which housed a ring he had been gifted by his grandmother.
The girl, whose name was Rothium, smiled brightly, a single tear running down her cheek. She then looked confused and exhaled, collapsing in a heap. Northum scrambled to his feet and screamed. She had been impaled through the chest by a purple spear, thrown from a great distance by the Rankalank, who was striding menacingly towards them to retrieve it.
Northum tried desperately to save Rothium, pleading with her to stay awake, but alas, it was too late. As she breathed her last and her green eyes reflected the sky she could no longer see, the Rankalank appeared.
Northum flew into a rage and tried to tackle him to the ground, but the Rankalank calmly grabbed him by his throat and threw him aside like a rag doll. The Rankalank retrieved his spear and turned to Northum, telling him in a rasping voice that the moment anyone would fall in love with him, he would immediately murder them. He was instructed to perform this task for exactly 50 years, or until Northum had become so bitter with life that he had killed himself, although the Rankalank warned him of trying to end his misery early.
Five years passed, in which time Northum became angry, reclusive and resentful of all things gentle and kind. His soft young heart turned cold and stony, and he refused to be kind enough to let anyone near him, lest they permeate his clumsy barriers and put themselves in harms way.
Through all of this, the Rankalank stood at a distance, staring at Northum, still as a statue, but quick as the night. For a while, Northum tried to outrun the creature, but to no avail - he was trapped in a permanent misery.
Northum even tried to end his torment once and for all, but the Rankalank constantly saved his life whenever he put himself in danger. Whether it was leaping off a cliff, angering a group of bandits or drinking poison berry juice, the Rankalank silently rescued Northum, to ensure his suffering wasn’t cut swift by the mercy of death.
One day, Northum met a sagely old man in an inn, who nodded sadly and said he knew of the Rankalank and its tortuous ways. But then he said something that made Northum jump in surprise.
There was a way to free himself of the Rankalank.
A forgotten witch named Shyna lived on the edge of Grizzanga forest, and her heart was known to hold immense magical power. If she delved inside her chest and pulled out her glowing heart on the night of a purple moon, and handed it to him willingly, the sheer power of her magic would break any curse.
Northum didn’t sleep until he was at the edge of Grizzanga forest, and he soon found the witch. She was a small woman with sharp features who wore a red shawl. Her eyes probed him warily, and for a long time she daren’t approach him, but she soon let her guard down and allowed Northum to join her for supper.
The next purple moon was exactly 1 year away, and in that time Northum gained the trust of Shyla, who became more warm and welcoming with each passing day, grateful for the company after so many lonely years.
Northum chopped firewood, cooked for her, mended her shawl and taught her how to shoot bow and arrow. Some moments, he would find himself smiling for a moment too long, and catch himself, reminding himself that his purpose was merely to trick her. Something cold and forgotten would stir within his chest, but he would hastily smother the feeling in dollops of selfishness - he had been through enough, and she was his ticket out.
One year later, Northum took a very sprightly Shyna to the top of a hill to witness the purple moon. She skipped merrily along the path, jostling him and laughing at the stars speckled across the sky. Her eyes shone brighter than ever, and she had even gained a new smile wrinkle from the laughter of the past year.
As they approached the top of the hill, Northum asked Shyna that nothing would make him happier than seeing her glowing heart. At that moment, Shyna reached inside her chest, and pulled out an object that glowed so brightly, Northum had to cover his eyes in wonder. Her heart illuminated the entire village below them, with wild golden rays spiralling high into the sky.
Northum spotted the Rankalank, standing at a distance, suddenly begin to stride towards them up the hill.
It had detected a woman who had fallen in love with him.
He hastily asked for Shyna to give him her heart, but Shyna became suspicious and confused. Northum pleaded and told her of the terrible Rankalank, and Shyna’s eyes filled with tears.
She nodded silently, a tear running down her cheek, and handed her heart to him. She wiped her cheek with her red shawl and said that even though he had tricked her, she still loved him dearly, and hoped he found peace. Northum looked down at the glowing heart in utter disbelief.
He was finally free of the curse.
The Rankalank reached the top of the hill and held his gleaming spear at the ready, preparing to end Shyna. She stood there, resolute and with gritted teeth, and spread her arms out to the heavens. The Rankalank drove his spear down towards her chest with the might of 1000 men, and there was silence.
The Rankalank grunted and then gasped. In the time it had taken him to blink, Northum had thrown himself in front of the spear, and was staring up at the Rankalank with a scowl upon his face, the spear embedded deep within his chest. The Rankalank roared into the night, for his victim had been killed by his own hands.
For the first time in many years, Northum cried, a mixture of relief and sorrow that death was coming to salvage what was left of his sorry soul. The Rankalank screeched and turned to smoke, and was never seen again.
As Northum looked towards the stars, he was overcome with an immense grief that he hadn’t polished his heart more. He had become a detestable person, and now his time had come.
Shyna kneeled by his side, and slowly reached inside his chest with her magical hands, and plucked out his heart. It was grimy and cold, but a faint glimmer danced on the edge, smothered in a smoky greyness.
In the middle was a hole from where the spear had pierced it. Shyna took her heart from Northum’s cold fingers and held each heart in one of her hands. She looked towards the purple moon and smashed them together with all her might, a mighty thundering crack heard as both hearts shattered, but instantly melded into each other with a crackle and a hiss.
You see, reader, when a heart is shattered, the only way to help it heal is if it detects a loving heart. As Shyna held immense magical ability, she shattered both hearts with sheer force, but they both mended nearly immediately, as they both sensed another loving heart nearby.
Shyna held her hybrid heart to the night sky. It had a twisted patchwork of glowing and darkly veined patterns weaving over and under one another, fusing both hearts together inexplicably. She then swiftly broke the new creation over her knee and placed one half in Northum’s chest, and the other half in hers.
Northum awoke with a start and cried with relief that he was still alive, and he and Shyna lived together forever more, and the Rankalank became a wispy memory, shared over crackling campfires for many years to come.