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 [Fanfic]Intermission- A Knight's Valor

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RyIII
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PostSubject: [Fanfic]Intermission- A Knight's Valor   Wed 13 Apr 2011, 6:56 pm

Note- this fic is a followup on my previous one, Brotherhood of the Sword. If you haven't read it, you probably ought to, if you want this to make sense- at the very least, it's not particularly long.

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Part 1: City Life
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On the homeworld of the Vascani, it was approaching late summer. the sun was never especially merciless in this part of the world, but the cooling off the took place towards autumn was a welcome relief to those who lived in the capital, all the same. For the smiths and forgemasters that lived in the capital, merely working with the tools of their trade could be almost unbearable in some of the hotter parts of the summer months, with the shade of the great tower providing only slight relief from the beating of the sun. It was now a reasonable time of morning, early enough to be considered as such, but not at one of the ungodly hours where the sunlight was forcing people to be awake who would rather not be at that time of the day.

Up since those ungodly hours were two of the guardsmen of the city, manning the north gate. Not that any interlopers were expected here, in the very center of the Vascani domain, but a little extra vigilance didn't cost much.

Jonais yawned a bit. The duty of standing about for long periods of time in who knows what kind of weather meant that the armor for the outer guardsmen was somewhat lighter than the type generally assigned to soldiers in the field- That meant, for them, breastplate, pauldrons, rerebraces and greaves, with hardened leather and gloves to cover all else. He leaned on his tall halberd, looking out with his blue eyes. He yawned softly, and looked to his partner. "Hey, Tarius."

The other guardsman blinked. "What do you want, I was just busy daydreaming about something other than this."

Jonais smiled. "Ah, just business as usual, then. So, any chance something interesting will come through?"

Tarius leaned back against the wall, closing his own green eyes. "None whatsoever. Anyone important is already in there, and they have their own ways of leaving that don't involve this gate."

Jonais paid poor enough attention so that he was surprised, in fact, when there was someone standing in front of him. He had been guard long enough to recognize the annoyed throat-clearing of a knight, and their armor was distinct enough that he could recognize who it was at a glance. The guardsman stood to attention as quickly as he could. "Sir Milegeus! Good to see that you have once again returned."

Milegeus looked over the guardsman. "I am not staying for an especially long time, but there is some business that I have to settle while I'm here. I have brought guests from another world, however, and I will be informing the guard commanders that I do not want them to be harassed or given any other undue 'attention'." The armored knight looked between them. "But I think the word of a knight that they will conduct themselves properly would be enough, I think."

Jonais nodded. "Yes, sir. They are clear to enter."

Milegeus entered the gate. he was soon followed by Mylera, who in turn was followed by Asfal, clad in his kingly armor, as the Vascani seemed to appreciate such fine crafts, and bringing up the rear was Lena, dressed in her uniform of the Dreamworld soldiers, Valis sword at her hip, though she hoped not to have to use it. She muttered a bit to herself. "Valna does have some strange ways about her, at times."

After they had left, and were out of earshot, Jonais tapped the other guardsman lightly on the top of the head with the blunt end of his halberd. "I hope that'll show you for opening your big mouth."

-----------------------

The ancient city stretched before Lena's eyes. Vascadis was a city well-befitting of an ancient people like the Vascani, though it was not quite impressive as what had sprung up around Castle Vanity in its untold years of existence. Her eyes, however, were mainly drawn to the great, white tower that dominated the very center, and all of its balconies and banners. Lena realized how much she must look like some manner of tourist, and did her best to control her gaze. Milegeus must have somehow guessed that's what Lena's eyes would be drawn to.

The knight looked up. "That tower was the first thing built after we had finished our war against those who had enslaved us. It is the home of our sovereign, as well as the Knight-Captains of the orders. We won't be able to go there immediately- and besides, I would think that you would all want to get settled before doing anything at all."

Asfal nodded. "I had been meaning to ask where we would be staying, good knight. I know that there is certainly room in this city for guests."

Mylera smiled. "You'd be staying with us, in the knight quarters. We have plenty of room, as homes for the knights were built to hold family and guests of those who were knighted."

Lena herself looked up and down the busy streets as they moved towards the Knight Quarters. There was little here that would have seemed out of place at home, except for the noticeably larger number of guardsmen. It made sense, considering the rather martial bent of the Vascani people, and as she walked along with them, her blue eyes fell on something- It was certainly Kaevoras, in his own uniform, and he was sitting on top of a tall lamppost outside of the Knight Quarters.

Lena blinked as she looked up him. "Excuse me, but what are you doing up there?"

Kaevoras seemed startled out of his funk. "Well, some people like to exercise in the mornings, or call on friends, or guard the city. I sit on lampposts and watch things." It dawned on him who was speaking. "And I think that I have much more of a reason to ask you the same thing, Lena. One does not go to another world as a mere part of a leisurely stroll." He smiled down at Lena. "At least, for those of us who are not legendary warriors, I think."

Lena nodded, and looked back, seeing that the others were waiting for her, and quite patiently. She looked back up to the white-haired knight. "My queen wanted to send an emissary here, but Milegeus insisted that I should come too, and the queen agreed... So, I basically just had to come along, no matter what."

Kaevoras smiled. "Well, we all have our duties, Lena, people like us most of all. As repayment for sparing my life, though, I will give you one piece of advice for your stay in our world." Kaevoras turned serious- she could see it in his every movement, and the sudden absence of his rather whimsical manner of speech. "Marshal your words and presence here carefully, Lena. Our lord has forgiven you for what you have done, as have I, Milegeus, and Vaijoras, but there are many who bear resentment. We are not all as pure as our lord, and you know this- if were were, we would all be knight-captains. Never act with anything but the utmost respect and reverence towards the one you have slain and those who were close to him." He smiled once more. "But! If you would like to come visit... Well, I'm sure Milegeus would tell you where I live."

Lena nodded. "Well, all right. I'll see you around, and thanks." Lena walked back to the others, but looked over her shoulder at Kaevoras, who took one last look up and down the street before hopping down from the lamppost and dashing off.

Milegeus looked over to Lena. "Exchanging some greetings?"

Lena nodded. "He just was giving me some helpful pointers."

------------------

Milegeus's home was on the 4th street of the Knight Quarter, each street having been named for the particular order that it housed, so that all members of a particular order might not be distant from each other, except when they were away from missions. Milegeus's home itself was quite comfortable, yet tasteful, two fine stories with cobblestone pavement from the streets leading up to the front door. This miniature manor seemed quite large enough for the needs of the knight and his guests, and soon enough, all four were indoors, a main room with comfortable and practical furniture, no doubt half picked by one or the other occupant of the house. Lena reflected that the stairs alone would be strong enough to support a fully-armored Milegeus.

The knight himself, however, was going through the ritual of removing that armor, carefully hanging up each piece on a rack set up in the back corner of the main room. "Well, this is our home, for when me and Mylera have to come back here on business, these days. I'm still a member of the order, so it hasn't passed on to someone else." Melegeus removed his helmet last. "The only question, then is where you all will be sleeping."

Asfal sat down, opening up his bag of books. "As I'm not the kind of creature who exactly 'sleeps', these days, having found a useful substitute, I think it's a rather moot point as far as I'm concerned. If such a notion disturbs you, just consider it a part of being an ancient sorcerer-king."

Milegeus smiled. "Hardly. The Knight-Captains don't even need a substitute."

Lena Looked around, peered into the kitchen, and then looked up the stairs. "Hmmm... Well, I guess I'll be sleeping-" She stopped immediately as she felt a tug on her sleeve from the much-taller Mylera, and looked over into those shimmering, golden eyes. "-in Mylera's room, it looks like."

Mylera seemed pleased with the outcome, and Milegeus nodded. "Fair enough- I don't say this to be mean, but Mylera doesn't have many friends here." Asfal looked over at Milegeus, as though the knight was still being polite even while he was saying something that may be considered rude. Milegeus did his best to salvage things. "Ah, Mylera- do go get some things from the market- we'll all be eating in during the time that we're here, as far as I know." He looked back to Asfal, as though expecting the king to say that he didn't eat, either.

Mylera smiled, and nodded, before looking back to Lena. "Ah, I'll be out for a bit- do feel free to get yourself settled." Mylera went back out the front door, closing it behind her.

Lena went up the stairs, as Milegeus and Asfal began discussing matters of state, and the very good reasons it was difficult for a foreigner to get a direct audience with the Vascani King. It was really a lucky guess that she picked out the door to Mylera's room at the first go- though they could understand each other, the Vascani written language seemed far different to the one used in the Dreamworld, and she merely picked the one that seemed resemble the name of her temporary roommate the most.

It was a fine room, to be sure, and a bit more posh than the other rooms in the house. The bed wasn't as magnificent as the one Lena had back home, but was still quite large, making the sleeping arrangements rather convenient. there ere a couple of dressers, a mirror, a large window to let in the sunlight, a spare set of claw-bracers hanging on the wall, and other such things. What drew her eyes the most, though, was what appeared to be a "teddy-Milegeus", in his fully-armored state.

Lena opened up her own travel bag, taking out her spare clothes and other things, when a sealed scroll dropped out, bearing the wax seal of the royal house of the Dreamworld. She could only assume that it was left there by Valna before the group had left Vanity Castle, and so opened it up, and read it immediately.

To my loyal Lena,

I know you have probably wondered why I insisted that you go with Milegeus to the Vascani homeland, joining Asfal on his mission. The answer is not a simple matter, as you might have guessed, so I thought I might explain my reasoning to you, as you have likely just arrived in their homeland as you read this.

The Dreamworld has been beset by many enemies over the years- even in recent times, the dark powers of Rogles, Megas, Glames, and Galgear threatened our world with utter dominion by the powers of evil and unrelenting tyranny. They were enemies with whom there could be no reconciliation, and their aims prevented us from any sort of peace. They would not yield to anything other than force of arms.

When we were attacked by the Vascani, you were able to defeat them without slaying every knight that came through, and their knight-captain's last request was that our two peoples would know peace with each other, for now and ever. I realized then that these would be conquerors were not held to motives like plunder and power, and that there was a chance for something more than mere tolerance. I sent Asfal because he is wise with words and means, and has a royal bearing himself.

As for you, Lena, I sent you because if you can comport yourself well, those who still feel resentful at the slaying of one of their great leaders may also be willing to forgive what had happened as part of the normal course of battle, and yet see you as a kindred spirit-in-arms.

The second reason is that Mylera seems to have taken a shine to you. I could not determine all the reasons, but what I have gleaned from Cham and Mylera herself, she never believed that someone like herself could be strong. A Valis Warrior does not merely wield a sword. She desires to do right as well, and I can think of no better influence for such than yourself. I know that you will do nothing to prove me wrong.

Your Sovereign,
Queen Valna


Lena sighed as she lay back on the bed, rolling up the scroll afterwards. She crossed her arms behind her head as she lay down, closing her eyes as she thought about what Valna wanted from her. It was a bit of a tall order to make peace with heaven knew how many knights might still be angry with her, but at least Asfal was here to help out on that score.

She closed her eyes, taking a nap on the bed.
------------------------

She was awoken a couple of hours later by a bit of a commotion downstairs. Unable to make out anything that was being said, so she headed downstairs as soon as she got herself off of the bed. She saw the situation as soon as she got back down. Mylera was rubbing one of her hands, Milegeus was looking suitably indignant, and Asfal was sitting quite calmly, as he usually did. Lena decided to ask. "Excuse me, but what happened?"

Milegeus nodded. "I didn't mean to bother you, but it seems that Mylera has caused an incident in the market."

Mylera looked back at her brother. "You know how people who hang out there still see me like I'm some kind of street rat! But... I had to show them that I wasn't going to run crying anymore."

Milegeus sighed. "She knocked someone flat."

Mylera looked back at him, and then to Lena. "I did! And I swore I'd do whatever I could to make them stop, that I'd become worthy like you!."

Milegeus's eyes widened. "Mylera... think very carefully. What exactly did you swear?"

Mylera looked to her brother, and then down a bit. "I swore that... I'd do whatever to took to make them think I was worthy, that I'd become a knight if I must."

Milegeus began to rub his temples, and Asfal looked over. "Hmmm... I suppose there is no way to excuse this as an outburst of youth?"

Lena shook her head. "Sounds unlikely. The Vascani take their oaths rather seriously, if you remember correctly."

Asfal nodded in understanding, while Milegeus went on. "One doesn't swear any oath lightly, especially not one like that. Recanting an oath can cause a huge loss of face- the Vascani prize duty greatly- duty to the king, and duty to oneself."

Lena shook her head. "There's no way to let it down gracefully?"

Milegeus closed his eyes. "It is extremely difficult, if not impossible. How will I find a way?"

Asfal sat there quietly, before offering up something of his own. "I suppose there is one question that is both important and easy to answer that has been unfortunately avoided so far. Can Mylera actually become a knight?"

Milegeus looked at Asfal with stark disbelief written so boldly over his face that one might think that the knight had suddenly become a monument to it. However, he did nod in response. "There are not many and the mainly belong to the Free Knights, those who work outside of the orders as ranging emissaries and scouts of the Vascani. Are you seriously suggesting...?"

Asfal smiled. "I am. It seems the most practical course. After all, you have trained her to defend herself for years, most likely, Cham has pushed her hard to wield her full strength, and Lena here seems to have brought out some desire for courage that lay deep in her heart. If she does, you will not lose face, she will gain the respect she so desires. and if you worry about her youth, Our Lena was 14 years old when she first took up arms- and then she proved herself worthy of the Valis sword, threw down the armies of a great enemy, and overcame the power of the Sovereign Ring to vanquish a great evil."

All of the other pairs of eyes in the room looked to Asfal, who then stood up. "Well, there are things I must see to myself, but I hardly see the harm in making such a thing happen." Asfal walked out of the door, himself.

Lena and Milegeus were left to puzzle out just how to go about doing that.
------------------------


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PostSubject: Re: [Fanfic]Intermission- A Knight's Valor   Thu 14 Apr 2011, 10:58 pm

Part 2: Foundations.
-----------------

Asfal stood in the great hall of the great tower. Entry was easy enough to get- he looked important and imposing enough so that the guards had no choice but to let him in- and it hardly mattered anyway. Asfal considered that if he did try to get up to any sort of mischief in the home of the Vascani King, he would have to fend off a Knight-Captain, a task he didn't consider himself especially well-suited for- at least, not at the moment.

He had expected the great statues that lined the halls to be there, somehow. Such a place might seem empty without them, and he assumed that they were all knights and such of some importance.

The one who greeted him, however, was another of the Knight-captains. Dressed in finely etched, bronze-colored armor, and wearing a red cloak over his shoulders, he was also difficult to read- as he, too wore a solid visor down over his eyes and face, with no slits for eyes that normal people might require to see. Asfal knew that such things as him could see with far more than just their eyes. He 'looked' to Asfal, and spoke in that seemingly all-surrounding voice. "It is not often that outlanders visit this place- far less so, to see our king."

Asfal put his hand on top of his staff- that is, to say, his trident, with the offending tines removed. "Now, really? How were you able to divine that I was here to gain an audience with your majesty?"

The Knight-Captain paused for a moment. "You came in here with an air of honest purpose. You are no tourist or troublemaker. If you were a tourist, there are certainly other sights far more worth seeing in this world. I am Azzanthius, captain of the 6th order of the Vascani knights, the Shield of the King. What I cannot divine, however, is your name."

Asfal thought for a moment as to how to introduce himself. "My name is Asfal, the once-king, and I do have some business with your own sovereign." He stopped at the introduction, preferring to let the knight-captain ask more questions to see if it would reveal more of the Vascani's character.

Azzanthius paused for a moment. "Our world welcomes foreign kings that come in peace. What concerns have your people with our own?"

Asfal shook his head. "I come as an emissary on behalf of another, queen Valna of the Dreamworld."

That actually got an uncharacteristic reaction form the knight-captain, who actually seemed to tense. As though ashamed of a moment's weakness, he soon replied. "Not long ago, Merogius was killed in the Dreamworld by one called the Valis Warrior, Lena Brande. He was respected and loved by many here, and even others who shared his station often deferred to him. At his last request, we have made peace with Valna's people. What more is there to ask of us?"

Asfal considered. "Since ancient times, both of the peoples have been beset on all sides by those who pledge allegiance to the dark forces that seek the enslavement and destruction of all things that have done no thing to invite such terror but be outside of their control. It would, indeed be better of our worlds were to help each other in defending against the depredations of those who would style themselves the dread conquerors of all things."

The knight-captain stopped for a moment, then paced back and forth across the hall. "...Your queen must be mighty indeed, to keep the loyalty of the Valis Warrior, and to be bale to command the king of another people to run such an errand. There is no time in memory in which another world has asked for such a friendship with us. The fact that such interest comes from a people whom we attacked is perhaps even more surprising. I shall have to bring this matter to the king, and will relay his decision to you."

Asfal gave a small bow. "Thank you for your consideration. How will you contact me?"

Azzanthius nodded. "You will know."

Asfal turned to leave, but a few steps short of the exit, he was stopped by the knight-captain's voice. "By the way... The reach of our king is long enough so that none who bring hardship and death upon our people could escape punishment for their wrongs against us- knowing what happens in this city is trivial to us. We know that you have brought the Valis Warrior with you to this place, and I do hope, dearly, that she is here humbly and honestly, also as one who would be our friend and not as one who would lord over us the death of a great leader of men. Even the just may be... inconsiderate while flush with victory."

Asfal looked back, and nodded. "Well, if you are worried about her character, why not meet her yourself, sometime?"

Azzanthius responded quickly this time. "I had planned such a thing as soon as I knew she had arrived. There is something that must be settled with Lena Brande."
----------------------

Lena wasn't particularly surprised that the sight of two combatants sparring on the front lawn of someone's house wasn't enough to gain curious onlookers, at least in consideration of the part of the city they were in. Lena had borrowed a Vascani practice sword for this little session with Mylera, as she was certain that using the Valis sword for even this practice match would ruin Mylera's claw-bracers outright rather than give her a more lengthy practice. The sword she was using was a bit wider and longer than she was used to, but no swords worth using are enormously heavy, so she managed to adjust well enough.

Lena did have some time to assess Mylera during the clash. The other girl was certainly competent- not as much as the veteran knights that she fought during their attack on the dreamworld, but the passed on methods of her brother combined with her expressed strength and, most importantly of all, the will to use it, meant that Mylera at least had the makings of a good fighter. There was only so much she could so without introducing Mylera to real experience on the battlefield- though Cham's training was close enough, in many respects. Cham was eerily good at generating mortal fear.

It was the third session of the day, and both had really had enough for the time being. Mylera did, however, ask the same question as each time before, while, wiping the sweat of all the skin she could reach. "Hah... How did I do this time?"

Lena looked to Milegeus, but the knight simply nodded to Lena, letting her take it this time. Lena looked back to Mylera. "Well, keeping your enemies on your toes, there is something as too aggressive in a normal fight. For surprise attacks it's all right to attack with both claws all the time- against most you'll want to use one of your hands to defend as well- It's your real advantage, fighting as you do, and it makes up for your lack of reach with the claw bracers."

Milegeus nodded. "And remember the old saying. 'There's only one kind of Vascani who's worse alive than dead."

Lena blinked at that. "Well, what would that be?"

Milegeus narrowed his eyes a little. "It's not a thing we like to discuss often, even amongst ourselves. Among us, the answer is rather... Understood."

Lena could only shrug. She decided not to press the matter, even though Milegeus, and the Vascani in general, tended to be rather forthright about just about everything. She decided to change the subject anyhow. "I'm sure there's a martial test, but I know that duty and discipline are important around here. How are those tested?"

Milegeus nodded. "The first is an examination of principles. A series of questions presented as problems on the field. They're presented differently depending on the candidate, but-."

Mylera interrupted. "They're given by a knight-captain, because they can... Well, 'see' isn't exactly the right word, but they can tell, somehow, how you feel about the answers you give."

Milegeus looked over at her. "Just how do you know that?"

Mylera blinked. "Well... You told me?"

Milegeus considered. "In truth, I'd never though it would be something you would ever need to know."

Lena nodded. "And the last one?"

Milegeus shook his head. "I am sworn to secrecy. To be honest, the period of testing is quite brief- the First King wanted there to be as few unnecessary barriers as possible to those who wished to become defenders of the realm. Much of the training, however, is actually about preparing for the trials ahead, along with the more practical training. Knights have obligations that regular soldiers do not."

Mylera had a seat herself. "So... Do you think I can do it?"

Milegeus thought for a moment. "It's certainly possible, but it really depends on you as much as anything we can do to help you get ready."

Mylera looked up at Lena, perhaps one of the few times that such a thing could happen, considering. It took a moment for Lena to realize that the girl was silently asking her the same question, but she responded appropriately, keeping in mind the ridiculous amounts of violence she had to deliver in the trial she took to become the Valis Warrior. "Well... If it's anything close to what I had to go through, you may have to ask more of yourself than you think that you have. In being honest, I would say that you should expect a good deal of pain before you're through."

Mylera shivered a bit, but nodded to Lena. "Well... I'll still do my best, and more, when I need to."

Lena looked to Mylera for a moment, and decided to sit by her on the grass. "Well, now it's really a question about what you want, Mylera. You can have all of the skills and wisdom you like, but even with all that, what drives your life will be what you desire."

Lena could see that this wasn't a question that Mylera was asked particularly often, as the girl tensed somewhat as she wrestled with it. "I... Well..." She stopped for a moment, collecting her scattered thoughts together. Milegeus looked on, quite interested himself. Mylera hooked her arms under her knees, lifting them up and hugging them to herself. "I want people to stop thinking that all I've done is hang on to the hem of my brother's cape. that I'm just a street rat who got lucky, And... I want my big brother to stop having to worry about me. If I become a knight, even thought I won't be as strong as big brother or you, Lena, all of that will happen, I know it. It'll help me, and help him, too."

Milegeus considered, and leaned back against the door of their home, looking over for a few moments at Lena and his sister, before thinking. "I'll talk to Vaijoras tomorrow. As he is currently the most senior knight in the Brotherhood of the Sword, he can arrange the tests for whenever you're ready to take them."

All doubts about Mylera's dexterity disappeared form Lena's mind as Mylera basically leaped over her to hug her brother at the doorstep. "Ah, really? Thank you... I won't let you down, just you watch!"

Lena smiled, always fascinated by Mylera's ability to switch moods at the drop of a hat. It wasn't especially long until she was on the receiving end of a similar embrace which she didn't expect- and given the difference in size between the two, it was rather trivial for Lena to end up settled comfortably in Mylera's lap for the hug. She didn't care to resist the display of honest affection by the girl, however, and decided to let Mylera speak. "And... I won't let Lena down, either."
---------------

It was late that night that Azzanthius stood in front of Merogius's tomb in the Great Cemetary. The massive slab was etched all over, top, sides, and even bottom with the deeds and accomplishments of his long life, but what caught his gaze the most was the last line- 'Slain in Battle'.

Old friend, you know that I am not one given to much introspection, but you know now how I feel- that your death is a shock to all, and to be overthrown by a single opponent defies all precedent to the time of the First King- the thought that there is one stronger seems almost beyond the reach of imagination for many. I have-

His thoughts were interrupted by a blue-eyed young Vascani woman, dressed in white and blue robes of a somewhat priestessly nature. "Excuse me, sir, but it's exceedingly late, and..." Azzanthius looked to her. She backed off. "Ah, I'm sorry! I didn't know it was you, at first."

He responded. "Vylestri... In a few days time I will need you to stay home. You needn't perform any of your duties then. If others ask, it was my command. Nothing shall have to be explained."

Vylestri nodded, her own near excessively long, deep blue hair flowing behind her as she moved off. "Yes, as you wish."

He continued his thoughts when he was once again alone.

I have read your will. Even I cannot fathom why you have written what you have written, but I will execute it to the best of my ability as one who was your brother-in-arms. In but a few nightfalls, I shall act on those instructions you have left regarding the one from the Dreamworld named Lena Brande.
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PostSubject: Re: [Fanfic]Intermission- A Knight's Valor   Sun 17 Apr 2011, 5:11 pm

Part 3: Test of arms
----------------------------

"...and that's how things stand now, really. An interesting development, would you say?"

As everyone was answerable to someone, so was Kaevoras, who stood before Azzanthius, the Knight-Captain.

Azzanthius shook his head. "Perhaps, though I'm not sure what you might expect me to make of it. It seems a perfectly natural course of events to me, and one that we ought to let run all the way through."

Kaevoras smiled, and gave a bow. "That's all I wanted to hear- I will continue watching to see what happens, though. Perhaps you may find devils in the details that I may miss."

Azzanthius paused, 'looking' directly at Kaevoras though that blank visor. "... When Merogius first brought you to the tower, I had thought he had gone a bit mad, and that you were little more than a fop in a suit tailored by smiths. All he said to me was that 'the difference between virtue and vice is a matter of application'. It seems my respect for his wisdom was well-founded indeed."

Kaevoras smiled. "I'm happy to live up to your expectations. I would like you to know that I, too, am eager to see how this all turns out, but I would expect that there are others who might feel just a bit differently. I shall leave you now- you have more important things to do than deal with me all day." Kaevoras gave a bow, and headed out the door.

Azzanthius knew that he was merely trading one guest for another. In only a few moments, he was joined in his room by Vaijoras. It was rare enough to see the veteran knight out of his armor, but he was dressed crisply in his deep red uniform, bearing the badge of the Brotherhood of the Sword, a great gauntlet holding a sword by the blade. His flame-orange eyes looked over at Azzanthius, and his short hair matched the color of his uniform. Vaijoras took the time to rub one of his temples, his thumb passing over his battle-etched face. The Knight-Captain 'looked' over to him, next. "Ah, Vaijoras. You seemed quite insistent on seeing me. Is there something that troubles you?"

Vaijoras nodded. "Indeed. Milegeus came to me with a startling proposition yesterday. He asked me to arrange trials for one who sought to enter the knighthood. I asked him, then, if there was some apprentice of his that we had overlooked in the past months. After a moment's pause, he said that it was actually, in matter of fact, for his sister. He expounded on her training under himself, and others, her skills, and so on."

The knight-captain looked passively at him. "And?"

Vaijoras never wavered. "I refused. There was a time when, at all events, she might hide herself under Merogius's cloak rather than face others. Now, after some months of living in other places, she is suddenly full of a desire to become a knight. the Valis Warrior seemed to take quite a personal interest in performing her training- I felt I was right to be suspicious of her intentions, considering our recent history with the Dreamworld."

Azzanthius considered this in a moment's pause. "And you came to inform me. I have been aware of the actions of the Valis Warrior while on this world, and I will be judging her character in my own good time. As for my advice to you, Vaijoras, I would go back to Milegeus. Tell him you spoke in haste, and that your memories of Mylera revolve mainly around her skittishness and fragility- well, not in the physical, certainly. Tell him then that you are open to setting up a time for Mylera to take the test."

The knight relaxed, but then tensed once more at the response given. "Sir, are you sure about this?"

Azzanthius nodded. "Mylera will be no traitor to us, no matter her tutelage. Of this, I am certain."

Vaijoras stood straight as ever. "My lord, we went to the dreamworld with seven knights. Four of them are dead now, including our captain. While I never mean any disrespect when I say such things, you can afford to be optimistic about her intentions."

The knight-captain now 'looked' directly at Vaijoras- Azzanthius could be quite unsettling when he pleased, and that blank metal gaze was one of the prime instruments of his authority. "Indeed I can. Leave this for me to decide. While I appreciate your caution, Vaijoras, we lose little in acquiring a new defender of the realm, especially if some hidden courage has appeared in her- I have heard from some in the market that Mylera's nerve now has some steel in it. We lose nothing by seeing how far it can take her."

------------------

There was little to be done in the few days that led up to the martial trial, except to train Mylera, giving her a day of rest before the trial itself. Even Lena's perception told her that there was little more she could do to improve what the girl already knew. Even consulting the Valis sword wasn't able to give her much more insight into how to prepare Mylera for the task it hand. It worried her slightly that she wasn't going to be able to do anything to help Mylera once she was in the circle of equals, but she was just going to have to put faith in others than herself. As she thought back, she realized that almost all of her experiences with combat involved her directly- she never really had time to watch other people fight in any sort of detail.

Now, apparently, she was going to have a front-row seat.

It was good that Milegeus told her about the actual conduct of the trial, and it did make more than enough sense to her. She would be put up against a knight from one of the orders, most likely the Brotherhood of the Sword in this case, and would have to stay in the fight. Every so often, a new opponent would step in to replace the previous, meaning that she would face a series of perfectly fresh opponents as she got more and more roughed up, stressed, and exhausted. While it might not have seemed fair to most, to Lena, it made more than enough sense. Battle was not always fair, and testing how one was able to bear exertion and fatigue in addition to actual fighting technique seemed more than sensible enough.

It was a literal seat, too- the secluded amphitheater where the trial took place seemed to have a select audience, though why the invitation was extended to her, she had no idea about. She had just settled own when she felt a prickling sensation on the back of her neck, and the Valis sword grew hot at her side. She turned her head slowly back to see who, or what else had joined them. The blank metal visor that covered his face marked him as one of the knight-captains. She watched Azzanthius take his own seat further in the back, Lena not doubting he could see things well enough no matter how far away he chose to view what happened below. Why is a knight-captain here? there can't be so many that they can afford to have one preside over something this routine.

She put the thought out of her head. she knew that there would be another knight-captain in the city, and it made sense that one might simply do a spot-check on the trials to see how they went, or maybe even to spot an especially promising candidate. She watched as a few other knights and guardsmen filed in, moving aside to allow Milegeus to sit next to her. She was half glad to see that he was about as nervous as she was, and briefly reflected on the idea that the two of them might be a bit more on-edge than Mylera at the moment.

Lena was almost relieved with the bell sounded, and Mylera stepped out into the arena below. She had cast off her cloak, a wise enough move so that there would be less to catch at unfortunate moments.

It was then that she heard the all-encompassing voice of Knight-Captain Azzanthius, a deeply forceful but erudite sound. "Now begins the first trial of Mylera Vandis, in her journey to becoming one of the knights of the realm. There is naught that must be said- all below know their duty, and are asked no more or less for this task."

Lena considered what had been said, and figured that consider what duty normally asked of a Vascani knight, this might well have been a relief.

The first knight came in, dressed in far more pedestrian gear for this fight, as though the knights were not allowed to use their personal armor and swords when chosen to administer the test. It was almost jarring to see one in something other than the finely-forged and detailed suits that they normally wore, but these tests might also serve to ensure that the other knights could still put up a good showing even without their customized arms and armor.

When considering that all Mylera had to do was defend herself, she seemed to acquit herself fairly well. She was agile enough to even escape a number of the attacks, rather than be forced to parry or deflect them with the claw bracers themselves. Lena smiled as she saw that Mylera's opponent didn't seem to be especially skilled at dueling agile opponents- perhaps, then that's why he was chosen to go up against her first. There was more than one person in that circle that needed to be tested. Mylera did fight somewhat defensively throughout the whole time, properly saving herself for another round, but there was one instance where Mylera found an opportunity. She tucked a hand down, and actually caught the knight's sword within the blades of her claws, moving in quickly to bash the knight's helmet with the heavy 'top of her claw bracer, where the blades were stored. This clearly stunned the knight, giving her some breathing space.

Lena wanted to even chuckle a bit, but it was stifled by the fact that, even though there was a solid visor between his eyes and herself, she could feel the gaze of the Knight-Captain on her for most of the proceedings. She felt it lifting only briefly, and that was when the first knight was called back after fifteen minutes. The second one seemed to be more skilled at engaging Mylera- at the very least, she wasn't able to dance circles around him, despite the fact that the knight was clad head-to-toe in armor. The girl was forced to work harder this time, even forced to parry attacks to her legs with the armored boots that protected her shins. Mylera grunted and winced, but eventually learned her opponent's speed, beginning to flow with his own movements. speed alone wasn't going to protect her entirely, but it did make the blows she had to parry less harsh in the flesh and bone beneath her gear. She wasn't struggling, as it were, but her body was being worked hard. Lena glanced over to Milegeus, who was looking on with some concern. Lena leaned back as she looked on- Mylera was doing fine now, but how well could she keep this up?

Again the gaze lifted. She didn't consider it past the Knight-Captain to know everything that was going on below while observing her at the same time, but this was rather uncomfortable scrutiny. However, she did consider that Kaevoras had warned her about such a thing Lena did her best to play the passive observer. Mylera had begun breathing audibly as the second knight left, using the time between when he walked out and the third knight walked in. Her eyes widened as he went in to attack almost immediately, and that loss of focus caused her to be struck in the side by the blunted sword. She coughed and gasped, but gained her feet again before another strike could be landed on her. She was left to scramble to defend herself, and was too harried to gain a good eye for her opponent's timing. Mylera was able to stay standing, and Lena was sure that is what counted most, but it was almost painful to watch Mylera shift and grunt as she parried the heavy blows, the girl huffing and sweating in the light of the arena. that is, watching without being able to do anything to help the girl.

Lena felt like this went on for just a little longer than the other sections, but that might be the effect of watching another in distress. Just as it seemed to get almost unbearable, the time was called. Mylera had a sigh of relief, and leaned back against the wall.

Lena subconsciously joined Mylera in that sigh as she watched the third knight leave- and Mylera was not looking in especially good trim.

Lena's own eyes widened as she saw the next knight walked in. Despite the basic gear and generic sword, she knew those burning eyes and that powerful bearing. The Valis Sword grew hot at her side, noting presence of one she had fought before.

It's Vaijoras!

Lena didn't even shake her head. Vaijoras was currently the most Dangerous knight in the Brotherhood of the Sword. Her fight with him showed her the true dangers of battling the knights of the Vascani. He was one of the elite of the Vascani knights, and Mylera would stand no chance against him even when she was fresh. Now... Lena knew that this would be painful to watch, but she couldn't show it.

Vaijoras showed his mettle with his first swing. Mylera hastened to parry, but the blow was so strong that it actually crushed the blade-sheaths of one of her claw bracers. Mylera cried out from the blow, and barely got out of the way of the next. Vaijoras didn't seem to move in any hurry, but always seemed to be in striking distance of Mylera, forcing her to pull into awkward positions to try and avoid the full force of his sword.

Soon enough, though, another swing crushed her other claw bracer, getting the same response. Lena didn't see theat Vaijoras was particularly enjoying this, and she looked to Milegeus who was forcing himself to be stoic. Lena forced herself to watch as well. Her friend was in clear distress and pain, and there was nothing at all she could do about it. In fact, she was expressly forbidden from it- and how much harder must it be on her brother?

All Lena could see were moments as Mylera struggled- and failed- to keep up with the veteran knight.Lena clenched her fists until her knuckles turned white. A kick to her knee twisted Mylera's leg, causing her to sprawl to the ground on her front. She tried to scramble up, but a boot to her back struck her back down flat, then Vaijoras placed his boot on Mylera's back. Mylera looked up at her seemingly-invincible foe, and tapped the ground four times with one of her hands.

Lena could hardly bear it, but Azzanthius raised his hand. "That is enough. Mylera has passed here the martial trial, withstanding the required three foes and overcome by the fourth."

Lena's gaze turned to Vaijoras as he left, and followed him. He must have felt it as well, as he stopped, and turned to face her. "I know you may think me a brute, Lena Brande, but how much worse would those who are our enemies treat her?"

Lena nodded, and then turned to her friend, but Milegeus had already hauled her up onto her back, not being sure if she could currently stand on her own after the thrashing she took from the veteran knight. Lena's own eyes turned to look at the Knight-Captain, but they only met that inscrutable visor that blocked his eyes.

She only sighed, and then followed Milegeus- Mylera would need more than just physical care, to be sure.
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PostSubject: Re: [Fanfic]Intermission- A Knight's Valor   Tue 19 Apr 2011, 10:09 pm

Part 4: The Lantern
----------------------

Tending to the injuries of another was certainly an enlightening experience for Lena. She was used to others, even Valna herself, tending her ow injuries after the horrible fights against the knights, but keeping an eye on someone who had never experienced that kind of a beating before was forcing her soldier's hands to be somewhat more tender with her charge.

Milegeus was certainly involved- apparently, the martial society of the Vascani had also developed a great variety of medicines for the aches and injuries sustained by its populace and soldiers. While their magical arts were not nearly as refined in that sense as the Dreamworld, it was still a good enough start to get Mylera well on the road to recovery. It had occurred to Lena that she was now being someone else's big sister- despite the fact that the girl in question was around a year older and a full foot taller.

While Milegeus did most of the initial work on applying everything that his sister needed, he was, as a knight, rather bound to respect her modesty. This meant that Lena was stuck rubbing Mylera's shoulders as she bathed. Lena considered herself fortunate that Mylera had a fondness for bubbles, otherwise the Valis Warrior might well have to answer some odd and unfortunate questions asked by her brother, or, if she ended up seeing him again, Kaevoras.

A sharp, low gasp meant that one of her hands had found a spot that was still particularly sensitive, and Lena was a bit more gentle there. "Sorry about that."

Mylera slowly shook her head. "Nah, it's all right." Mylera sunk back in the tub. "Lena?"

"Yes?"

Mylera turned her head to look directly at Lena with her golden eyes. "Is it always like this?"

Lena thought for a moment, putting aside what possible meanings 'it' might have. She wasn't about to lie to Mylera about this, whether it might change her mind or not. "Not always- sometimes you'll get out okay, and other times you might win, but you'll be worse off than this. Like when you saw me carried back from my fight with Merogius."

Mylera winced a bit at that. "Well, I hope to never have to fight something like that."

Lena nodded. "Well, so do I. It was terrifying."

Mylera blinked. "But you won anyway?"

Lena nodded. "Well, being absolutely fearless isn't all that cracked up to be, I'd say. If your brother wasn't afraid for you in that earthquake, where would you be now?"

The Vascani girl smiled back at Lena. "Nowhere that I'd want to be."

------------------

Lena was surprised at how easily Mylera slept, but then remembered that the girl was probably quite exhausted. She turned over what happened in her head, over and over. Vaijoras had forgiven her for killing their lord, but did he carry a grudge for other things? she sighed a bit, and looked out to the night sky through the window, deciding to get some more sleep.

She wouldn't get any.

Lena heard a voice calling her name. It was no doubt the voice of the Knight-Captain that had attended the martial trial. "Lena Brande- step outside- I would meet with you."

Lena looked over at Mylera, and then realized that the Vascani girl couldn't hear the call. Only Lena herself was hearing the voice of Azzanthius. The Valis Warrior slipped neatly out of bed, and changed into her regular Dreamworld uniform as quickly as possible, putting on the Valis sword as soon as the skirt was properly in place.

True enough, he was standing right there, carrying a bronze lantern. Considering that Vascani could see well enough in the dark with those luminaries they call eyes, and that Azzanthius could see roughly anything, she wondered for a moment why they might even invent lanterns in the first place- until she could puzzle it out, she assumed that it was more for her benefit than his. the two of them stood there for a moment, until Lena considered that Lena somehow already knew why he had come to see her. She did venture forth some words. "You want me to come with you?"

Azzanthius moved on. Whether or not she would come along seemed to be non-negotiable, and Lena figured that it would be best to come along. Lena was a peaceful guest, and Asfal's own mission could depend on how Lena carried herself in the meantime. She soon followed along with Azzanthius, catching up with him easily. His peace was measured, deliberate, and Lena might even call it cautious if she didn't know that nervousness was not something generally in the psychological repertoire of Knight-Captains. She followed him through the wide, open streets, the only sounds being the quiet thump of his metal boots. There were still some lights in some of the houses and buildings, some Vascani obviously not ending their day in the middle of the night.

After walking for what seemed to be a very inordinately long time, she came up with him to one of the large inner walls of the city- even though the gate had been obviously locked down, Azzanthius opened it up with a key that didn't look to actually fit the lock, at least at first. He pushed it open slowly, the huge gates opening soundlessly despite the size and weight of the hinges required for such a construction. They closed behind her on their own, and Azzanthius turned to her. "We can speak freely now. It would be unseemly for the supreme mediator of the city being found disturbing the peace at night."

Lena decided to take that as a frank statement rather than as a joke, though it could go either way. "So, why have you brought me here?" Lena looked over and saw that she was in a great cemetery- nothing but graves and tombs, statues and mausoleums as far as the eye could see, all etched, some grown with ivy and lichen, but all of the words remained clear. The cobbled paths existed entirely for the convenience of the living visitors.

Azzanthius walked along the paths, and Lena followed. "Nearly one fourth of the land in this city is given over to those who have died. Many of those are citizens of this city who wished to be buried, but many are those who died in defense of our people, who wished to be buried in the city of the First King rather than anywhere else. Recently, someone important was buried here- you know well who it is."

Lena didn't need any more verbal prodding to know who he was talking about. "So, we are going to see him?"

Azzanthius gave a single, slow nod. "That is correct."

Lena followed him as he navigated the various paths. She was sure that during the day there were those who could give directions or maps of the place, but for now, she was dependent on the Knight-Captain to lead the way through the resting place of untold Vascani.

With eventually being the key word, they eventually came to the tomb of Merogius, sealed with a great slab. A silver plaque marked his name, and Lena looked at the descriptions of deeds that covered the slab that sealed his resting place. Azzanthius set the lantern on a stone pedestal nearby. "I have dismissed the keeper of the graves in this section of the cemetery for the night, so that we might speak freely. I knew that you were here since you had arrived, Lena Brande."

Lena blinked. "Well, how did you know, who would've-" Lena stopped to consider. "Kaevoras."

Azzanthius gave another nod. "In the absence of other orders, he is my eyes and ears. I have brought you here, though, because there is a matter to be settled between us, concerning Merogius. I would not take you to holy ground to fight with you, and you know this."

Lena felt the reflex to lean on something, but nothing within reach seemed especially comfortable, and being sacrilegious was not a good way to make a strong impression. "I know that he was seen as a great leader among you."

Azzanthius 'looked' to her. "Indeed. He was greatly respected for his skill and wisdom. Many of the knights, even those among our own ranks, called him the 'Captain of Captains'. his death was felt deeply by all. However, there is something more immediately pressing, and it concerns his will."

Lena blinked. "His will? Did he know that I would kill him? Could he really see that far?"

He shook his head. "The will of an immortal being is a curious thing to read, as it must foresee a great number of eventualities. I have executed a small number of such wills- While being slain in battle has not happened to one of us in a great while, some allow themselves to drift into oblivion, weary of the burdens placed upon them, once a successor may be found. While we can technically live forever, we were not made as gods and goddesses are from our outset, to withstand such long centuries. Besides, courage and sacrifice are greater legacies to leave to eternity than merely the presence of one's flesh and bones."

Lena thought. "I still find it hard to believe that Merogius would leave something to me."

Azzanthius nodded. "That is true- that is why he had left instructions merely addressed to the one who killed him. If his slayer were unjust and terrible, it is up to all of us Knight-Captains to find and slay it together, to show that none are beyond the reach of the king. If his slayer was just, he had something else in mind."

Lena knew exactly what that meant. "So you came to the martial trial to have a look for yourself. So... What did you see?"

Azzanthius considered. "You don't seem the sort of person who would slay him out of mere malice or in pursuing vain glory- I doubt that one who followed such things would be able to kill him in the first place. But I did feel the deep concern you held for Mylera as she was battered in the arena, and your desire to be able to help her. You have undertaken quite the project in helping guide her to knighthood- I will have something to say you once it ends, either way. But..." His other hand emerged from under his cloak, and it held a familiar sword in its scabbard. "This is to go to you."

Lena considered refusing it, but then remembered that among the Vascani, the last request of the Knight-Captains cannot be refused. She took that huge, two-handed sword in her hands, looking up and down the silver-banded black sheath, until she made her way to the hilt of the sword itself, The pommel set with a bright sapphire. She drew it gently, the base of the blade partly encompassed with what looked like a dragon's maw, and running up and down the flat of the blade itself was an etching of a pair of intertwined, serpentine dragons. Lena knew exactly what this was. "This is...!"

Azzanthius nodded. "He had two of them made, in case one was lost or broken. This is the one he used to fight with you on the day you killed him. He left this to you for two reasons- he was not one to begrudge others a trophy taken from a great battle, and that he would have it that a virtuous foe not forget his own courage."

Lena nodded as she took the sword, sheathing it and giving a nod to the Knight-Captain. "I know that I won't. so much has changed these past few years, and there are things I can never forget. But are you sure it's all right to give me a weapon like this?"

Azzanthius nodded. "Though it is a fine sword, it's true potential lies in being wielded by a knight-captain. It's true strength is useless to-" He looked over, into the darkness. "Someone else is here."

Vylestri emerged from the shadows. "Ah!, sorry, I just forgot something- I didn't know you were talking to someone, Captain."

Azzanthius nodded. "I was finished, anyway, really. There is no need for Lena to continue talking to one such as myself. I shall be going now, Vylestri, but to mind my words a bit more seriously next time." Azzanthius left the lantern behind for Lena. "And do mind my words to you, Lena Brande. We will be speaking again."

As Azzanthius moved off to whatever business he had to attend to this late in the evening, Lena picked up the lantern, and went back to looking over the inscriptions on the slab. Vylestri moved up beside her. "You are Lena Brande?"

Lena nodded slowly. "I am. Seems my name is known around here almost as much as it is back home, these days."

Vylestri continued. "A Knight-Captain hasn't been slain in battle in over half a millennium. It's always a shock when it happens, I've heard- some expect them to be as constant as the rising of the sun."

Lene stopped paying attention to the words on the slab. "Well, to be honest, I don't think most people go through life wanting to ever really kill someone. It was the only way it was going to end. I was bound to defend my homeworld, and he was bound to the last by his sacred duty. It was unfortunate, regrettable, and necessary. I wish it wasn't."

Vylestri smiled. "Well... If it helps any, Lena, I don't think that you're a bad person. Neither did Merogius, I'm sure, and neither does Azzanthius- though it's hard to tell, he is my ancestor, so I've picked up a bit on how he expresses himself."

Lena smiled back. "Thanks. It really helps to hear something like that when you're a warrior."

She even gave a small bow, to that. "Being the keeper of the dead can give one a rather long view of the world... Besides, when a knight's last request concerning the one who killed them is not 'revenge' but 'peace', what does that say about his foes?"

Lena held that smile. "Well, thank you again, but I have to be going. I also have things to see to, but maybe I'll come by here again, sometime."

Vylestri gave another small bow. "I think I might like that, Lena Brande. It is a rare thing for the dead to hold their end of a conversation, after all."

Lena bowed in return, and moved on, eventually finding her way back across the city, and to bed.
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PostSubject: Re: [Fanfic]Intermission- A Knight's Valor   Wed 28 Sep 2011, 6:59 pm

Part 5: Chains of Command
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While Lena had an inkling that such a thing would be required of whose entering a more wizardly profession, she didn't really expect to ever actually see a time when someone she knew would fall asleep in the middle of a pile of books due to crash studying. It had been like that for the past week at least, and at least she was getting the benefit of exercise as she cleared the heavy books off of the table at every mealtime. it was only with the verbal and sometimes physical intervention of her brother that Mylera even went to bed at all, and Lena was forced to keep her stoic resolve on hand as she watched Milegeus pick up his sister and haul her upstairs. Through all this, she did take the time to look through the various books that were either left behind or were otherwise unused, and it came to her that she probably ought to learn the Vascani written language at some point, as well as numerous other social handles that would probably be helpful considering the possible increased interaction. For example, she learned that Mylera only had half a name.

Lena blinked a bit when Mylera let this little nugget drop. "How does that actually work?"

Mylera nodded as she looked over and down to Lena, putting down the last of the books off of the table. "You see, one of the things that somehow managed to survive the worst of the Dark History was that we were still invested in our skills as craftsmen, so it was considered that what you did was also who you were, in some respects. of course, knightly names, as they were all warriors, tended to get more, ah... Poetic. For example, my brother's full name is 'Milegeus-Who-is-Stone's-Master'. However... Since I've really done nothing to tell about, My name is simply 'Mylera-who-is'. It's not really something to be pleased about, as you might well imagine." Mylera looked down at herself a bit, too.

Lena smiled. "Well, I guess we're all working hard to change that, aren't we?"

Mylera nodded slowly as she sat back down, after putting the last of the books out of the way of the table. "Mmm! Absolutely. I don't want to have to go through all of this and just come right back around to where I started. Still, though, even after all of this studying of strategy, I can't help but feel that I don't even know half of what I need to for the test. I don't even know what I'm missing, either."

Milegeus took a break to look out of the kitchen door, and Lena couldn't help but giggle every time she was presented with the incongruity of Mylera's hulking brother wearing a cooking apron. "That's because the knowledge of strategy isn't the only thing that's tested. Such things will only take you so far in the realm of battle, so you must also show the fortitude and will to make decisions in the field that you'd never consider in the rest of your life.

Lena could see that Mylera didn't quite grasp what Milegeus was getting at but Lena had more than enough of an idea of her own- and if the trial of Command was as brutal in its own way as the martial trial then she was looking at long nights spent consoling Mylera. Speaking of which, the Vascani girl wasn't looking all that encouraged by her brother's words, so Lena reached up to put a hand on Mylera's shoulder. "Look... All you'll need to do is keep your head on straight, and things should go well enough for you. We're not saying that it will be easy, certainly, but..."

Mylera put her own hand on top of Lena's, and then leaned against it. "I know, Lena... But if either you or my brother hoped that I would fail, then you wouldn't be doing all of this yourselves, right? Even if my brother is limited in the ways he is allowed to help me with the tests."

There was a thumping sound that made Lena think that Milegeus was actively fighting the ingredients of the night's dinner. She was a little bit surprised at this gesture from Mylera more than that, though. "You know we're all doing our best to help you do yours."

Milegeus finally emerged from the kitchen, looking downright dignified in comparison to his aproned appearance before. "And you aren't going to be doing your best at anything, unless you eat something. Basic military principles, and all that. I'm not sure how our knight-captains sustain themselves, but I'm sure they have to, even if it's not necessarily on what we might consider food."

Lena could hardly complain about Milegeus's cooking, even though his skills were likely born of times when he had to simply throw together whatever he could find in the field and make it palatable, or even just edible. Given the meats and vegetables available in Vascandis, however, his concoctions never failed to please. Milegeus continued. "Anyway, these tests are always administered by a knight-captain, as the test itself requires their special talents to perform. Don't let his scrutiny make you flinch, however. They judge only your performance on the test, not other, extraneous things."

Lena nodded. "Still, I can see how being evaluated by one of those could be a nerve wracking experience. I've only met two, and their powers seem to extend far beyond the martial realm."

Mylera paused for a bit in her eating. "Two?"

Lena silently cursed herself, and sighed, resigning herself to telling the truth. "Knight-captain Azzanthius came by one night- he wanted to settle some things with me. Not in fighting, he wanted to see what kind of person I was... And that he would have more to say to me later."

Milegeus nodded. "Getting the attention of a knight-captain can be a boon or a bane, depending on how one handles one's self. If he says will do something, it will be done."

-----------------

The time of the trial would not be delayed, however, and Mylera found herself ushered into the tower. She was led to a dark chamber, and as soon as the door shut, she could feel the overwhelming presence of a powerful being. Knight-captain Azzanthius stepped forth from the shadows, allowing his own aura to illuminate his form as he regarded Mylera through his opaque visor. "You who have passed the martial trial now come forth before me to be given the second test. In this test, you shall be entirely in my power to judge as I see fit. Do you accept this?"

Mylera nodded swiftly. "I do."

Azzanthis nodded slowly, and raised a hand. "As you accept my judgment, so you accept the trial itself. Go now, Mylera, and command as you see fit." A white, glowing circle surrounded Azzanthius's outstretched hand, and Mylera's vision was soon filled with a long, white flash which she could not shut out no matter how tightly she closed her eyes.

When she did eventually open her eyes, however, she found herself not in the chamber, and, indeed, nowhere at all in Vascandis. She had now idea at all where she was, come to think of it, and her own clothes and weapons now looked far more knightly than she remembered. Mylera had to take a moment to get her bearings. She was in the field, standing in front of her tent, and regular Vascani soldiers were milling about here and there, making their own fun as they waited for the inevitable orders. Orders, Mylera realized, that she would have to give. As far as she knew, it was a live test. She swallowed and asked. "All right, so what's the situation?"

One of the officers among the soldiers nodded. "My lady Mylera, we have been tasked with scouting the southern pass. Our knight-captian fears that our enemy, Lord Ceraliun, will be using it to route a force against our army while it is engaged elsewhere, causing many losses. The knight-captain cannot be with the army due to other pressing matters, so it is up to the rest of us to be the eyes and ears for the rest of the knights and soldiers for the time being. What are your orders?"

Mylera took a deep breath to calm herself. "Very well... tell the rest of the soldiers to be prepared to leave. We'll need to get there as fast as possible, and it may be a long march."

------------------

Lena was not left with little to do, as there was a surprising knock on the door. Mylera had just left for the test, and it was a heavier hand then hers that knocked, yet lighter then Milegeus's, which sounded like he was besieging the door with a battering ram. This left one possible other, who entered casually once Lena opened the door. "Hello, Asfal... Sorry if this sounds rude, but just what have you been up to?"

Asfal nodded. "I would ask you the same thing, but I shall answer first. Apparently all visitors to the king must be detained while they are having their discussions with them, so I have spend a rather non-trivial number of nights in the great tower of the city as the king's guest, with complimentary lock and key. Not that I blame them, considering their past history with foreigners."

Lena had herself a seat. "I hope that you eventually got to meet with their king, at least."

Asfal nodded slowly. "Indeed I did- I wouldn't have come back here if I didn't. We have had many long talks, and he would like to meet with me again, soon. It seems that it's not often that other worlds send diplomats with honest motives, after all. He seems to rely heavily on the judgment of his knight-captains."

Lena thought for a moment. "Did you manage to reach any agreements with him yet? Valna will certainly want at least something to be decided before we come back home."

Asfal shook his head. "The king here is quite guarded. He seems to be waiting for something before he's willing to come to any other decision other than to talk more. I think that something depends on your own particular efforts, Lena. you must admit that it seems suspicious that a Vascani woman leaves for months, then comes back with an extreme change in personality, looking to be inducted into one of their most celebrated bodies of warriors almost immediately on her return."

Lena blinked. "Surely he doesn't think that we did anything to brainwash her?"

Asfal nodded. "We should assume that a great many things have been done to the Vascani over the ages. We have not done such a thing, but it may yet be another reason you and I are being so closely watched by others in he employ of the city. Besides, turncoats are not unknown, even among humans, and all have their own reasons."

Lena leaned back on the couch. "So, what exactly did his majesty have to say?"

Asfal took a seat of his own, despite the fact that the perpetually-armored former king looked like the sort who should always be standing, or, at the least, sitting on a great throne. "He said that he trusts the judgement of his knight-captains, and that he is certainly willing to give us peace, but he would need to give anything more some careful consideration. It appears it has been some time since an alliance was last offered to the Vascani, and certainly not in this king's lifetime. He says he will have to meet with his councilors, by whom I'm sure he means at least one of the knight-captains-"

Lena's eyes narrowed. "Azzanthius."

Asfal nodded slowly. "I see you've had the pleasure of meeting him as well."

Lena stretched. "I wouldn't exactly call anything involving him a pleasure. If I didn't measure up, he said that he might well have been obligated to try to kill me, too."

Asfal sat thoughtfully for a moment. "That makes sense, in a strange sort of way. Persons of noble station are occasionally rather picky about who can honorably kill them. By the way, where is Mylera?"

Lena looked out a window. "She had to run off and take the test of command. It's probably being given by Azzanthius, too. I do hope she's doing well. If it's anything like the martial trial, it's going to be just brutal towards the end."

Asfal made an 'ah' of understanding. "Well, as always, when the work of others ends, yours begins again."

-----------------

Mylera was getting to her wit's end.

She knew she had done things technically correct, at least, as she was able to minimize the losses she was taking, but the battles were almost constant, and she often barely had time to make a workable plan, much less a good one. There were enemies coming through the pass, and a great many of them, in bits and pieces. Granted she had managed to reduce most of what had come through the pass to bits and fleeing. The constant fighting had put her on the edge, and she seemed to only get any sleep between frantic, last-minute strategizing.

Her own losses were beginning to mount over the days of combat, or at least they felt as much, as that distinction was beginning to lose all meaning. The one thing that seemed normal to her was eating, and was one of the few things she was remembering to do regularly. She sat at her table outside, her head in her hands. All the flanking and ambushes and whatnot seemed to run together in her mind. She and her men were on the defensive, and she knew it, and there was now way to just pick up and leave without exposing their backs to the enemy.

One of the officers among her troops approached her. "Lady Mylera, I am sorry to disturb you, but there is some news."

Mylera looked over to the officer. "What is it?"

He nodded to her. "My lady, one of the enemies we captured in the last battle seemed unusually confident despite his status as a prisoner. On further examination, he decided to inform us that the enemy will be sending a large force of their cavalry through the pass behind them, no matter the outcome of their own scouting. We cannot stand against them in open battle."

Mylera shook her head. "I see... I was just thinking about our situation, and something I was wondering. Is there any way we could block part of the pass? The maps say it's rather narrow at a couple of points."

He hesitated a moment, and nodded. "I believe I know the paces you are talking about, and twenty of our remaining men would be able to haul part of the obstacles and palisade of our camp to block the enemy while we left to report on the approach of the enemy to the main army. But..." He paused again.

Her mind filled in the blanks. The obstacles could be easily thrown aside if they were just left undefended, and those twenty would have to be left behind to defend it. She didn't want it to be true, but every man who stayed behind would almost certainly dead before any rescue could be accomplished. She looked back up to him. "I may have to ask a great deal of the men."

He nodded. "Of course. We will do whatever you may ask, my lady."

Mylera turned it over in her head. Risk twenty of the hundred she had left, or take a greater risk in trying to hold the rest of her force all together. Certain death for one meant certain escape for the other, but not dong that would mean throwing everything to the will of the gods. Either way had no appeal for her, and were certainly murderous.

The only thing to do was to ask others to die for her.

She watched the volunteers leave camp as far as she could, as her own solders packed up to head back to the main force. She looked down as she tuned away, walking towards the horizon as the sun rose. The rising light filled her eyes as she looked towards it, and then something curious happened.

Mylera found herself back in the dark chamber, with Azzanthius regarding her from behind his opaque visor. "The trial has ended, Mylera. One remains."

She blinked at him. "Was that real?"

Azzanthus stood stone-still as he responded. "Your role was not, but the battle was real, long before your time. Even before mine. I gave you that battle to see if you could do better, and you have. There is no more to discuss on your passing."

Mylera looked at Azzanthius, her eyes misting up. "Ordering men to their certain deaths was the right choice?"

He nodded slowly, mechanically, even, the gesture unnatural in its smoothness. "There will be times when you must do this. There may be a time when you ask it of yourself. Such are the ways of battle, where no single life is sacred."

"But-"

Azzanthius held up his hand to interrupt. "The knight who was the actual commander of that battle chose to try to preserve all of his men. In the end, he saved none, and the cavalry attacked our army while it was otherwise engaged, causing many deaths that were needless. We discourage profligacy with the lives of our countrymen, but when you command men, it is inevitable that some, or even many will die, and all you can do is reduce the number who do, and you did so through making the correct decision in a moment of crisis. There is nothing more to discuss. Go home and reflect on this before your next trial."

Azzanthius left the room through his own means, and Mylera sank to her knees, looking down at herself, and then her hands, into which she buried her face.
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