CHAPTER 35

They stayed the night at the village's inn.

Fayte and Wilson were walking through the rose bushes that night, a sphere of light following them. They were picking roses for Amelia, trying to find the miniature breed that the villagers said would grow amongst the grass. Followers of the Order of the White Rose were highly esteem in Roseville. They were given a small feast back at the inn and the innkeeper would not take their coins for the rooms. Wilson was even told that he could help himself to as many roses as he liked, but Wilson asked only for a handful.

"That wyvern spoke to John," Fayte said. "If it's even a wyvern."

"It looked nothing like a dragon," said Wilson. "And yes, I'm quite certain it spoke to John."

Neither of them were having any luck with the rose. They found a few but most were still young and yet to bloom. Those they were asked not to touch for it would serve nothing but to wither once plucked.

"What do you think it said to him?"

Wilson was searching intently. "Wyvern legends are older than even the Nine Heroes and the Templars. I doubt most of what we know are even accurate. But if the founders of the Order of the Eres Star used to be wyvern riders, then the wyvern might have recognized John's blood. It could have been a simple greeting for all we know."

"So it recognized John?"

"Either him specifically or his bloodline," he said, waving his hand to make the light brighter. "John is likely the direct descendant of a Templar, the Greyblade who broke his oath. He has the blood of someone who was blessed with the power of Might. What we saw in Eres Star Temple has spoken much of his lineage. Sera has her plans for him and it seems we are only the ones guiding him to the path that she has chosen for him."

Fayte plucked at the grass bitterly. "This is my pilgrimage…"

"You can't always be the hero," Wilson told him, laughing with a pat on Fayte's back. "Besides, you were commanded by the King himself to investigate-"

"-the assassins."

Both of them looked up at the man who appeared from nowhere.

"We meet again, squire," said the agent of the Underlord. "Good priest."

The young agent wore a new leather jerkin on this night, one that wasn't torn and cut. His wavy hair had been cut shorter and now the man wore a sash tied around his forehead. His grin was sly and playful but Fayte had seen this man take on more than one Scygard and walked away unharmed.

"The Underlord stole the bodies of the assassins who attacked me and Rinmar." Fayte stood up but made no show to reach for his sword. "The Order of the White Shield does not appreciate the interference."

That made the agent laughed. "You speak as though you are a knight already, squire. "

Fayte held up the royal seal.

"Fair enough," the agent noted. "I bring word from the Underlord. The two assassins are men of Eronaxe."

Mercenaries?

"Archers, the both of them and good ones as well." The agent reached over and plucked a stalk of rose. "They were trusted by Dontoros and the guildmaster had sent them to Saldara on several trips."

"For what reason would Eronaxe send men into the desert nation?" Wilson asked.

The agent smirked but did not say. "We believe it was during those trips that these men were bought."

"By who?" Wilson asked.

"We do not know, but we suspect the Underlord in Saldara is involved."

"The Saldarian Underlord is protecting an enemy?" Fayte said. "Then kill him."

"It is far more complicated than that, young squire. Underlords are not friends. They thread on thin ice when dealing with one another and so plenty of respect is given. On top of that, the Underlord in Saldara is not exactly recognized as one of them. What we do know is that they were likely part of a group that exists solely to oppose the marriage."

"And in Hylan there is another group," Wilson went on for him. "One that also opposes the alliance."

"We already know that," Fayte said.

"We had our suspicion before but now we have facts," the agent said, pointing out the difference. "And then there is a third group and they hail from the Kingdom of the East."

It was the East Kingdom who concerned King Eardon the most. The rebels in Saldara and Hylan were expected and will be dealt with in due time.

The one who killed Jeremiah. "Are the three groups working together?"

"Fortunately for us, they are not even though attempts have been made to join their forces."

"And you know this because…?"

"Because I have tried to broker an alliance between the three."

Fayte said nothing for the agent must had his reason for doing so. "And why were you trying in the first place?"

"The same reason the High Sage offered alliance to Skarm's Shadow," the agent said, nodding to himself. "A smart move I must say. The Underlord was impressed and adopted the strategy. If the three groups had accepted the alliance, I would have called for a meeting with all the leaders."

"Where you will promptly arrest all of them," Wilson said.

"Arrest may be a little too… slow, for us."

He would have killed them all.

"The Underlord has spoken with his contacts in the East Kingdom," the agent then said, turning to Fayte. "We do not believe that the East Kingdom intends to invade. Even so, the alliance poses as a threat to them thus their actions are just them trying to safeguard themselves from the future threat of an invasion by Hylan and Saldara combined."

"But we do not intend to invade them," Fayte said. "At least not that I know."

The agent nodded, leaning in to smell a rose. "The intention of the King does not matter. What matters is that the combined strength of Hylan and Saldara makes the East Kingdom nervous. That is why a single assassin was sent from the East Kingdom to put an end to this alliance."

"A single warrior?" Fayte scoffed. "Whoever sent that assassin thought too highly of his ability."

"The royal family of the East Kingdom did not expect their assassin to meet someone enraged by an ancient demon," said the agent very clearly.

The assassin was sent by a royal family? By the King of the East Kingdom?

"Tell the King to send word that Hylan has no intention of invading them. Have him play politics and hopefully this will soon be an issue no more. The Underlord will speak to his counterpart in the East Kingdom as well to help-"

"No," Fayte said firmly.

"No?" the agent repeated, twirling the rose in his hand.

"Whoever sent the assassin and got Jeremiah killed will be met with justice," he said. "This doesn't stop becoming an issue after the King sends a letter and a basket of fruit."

"Our information points to an Emperor being the one who sent the assassin," the agent said gravely. "Your vengeance ended with the death of the assassin. Be satisfied with that for few who lost a friend even get that satisfaction. The affairs of Kings and nations have no time for a little boy's vengeance."

Not even a King or an Emperor lives above the law. His father had told him that once.

"No."

The agent shrugged. "Then tell your King what you wish. We chose to have you pass on the information for the Underlord respects the role that you play in this. If you insist on being childish about it then so be it."

Fayte knew he was right. If the East Kingdom had only meddled for they were afraid of an invasion as well, then this was a matter for King Eardon to take care of. As much as Fayte would like justice, only a fool would go to war for the life of a single squire.

"There is still the matter of the groups from Hylan and Saldara," said the agent. "We will see to the Saldarians. As for the Magister-Lord, we are certain he is the mastermind behind the Hylan group. But what escapes us still is his intention for killing the squires."

"To draw attention away from the wedding," Wilson said.

"There are more notable figures to assassinate to serve that purpose. And many would make for an easier kill." The agent shook his head. "No. Squires are their targets and we do not know why."

Neither did they. Every squire on his or her pilgrimage reported being attacked. Be it a boy or a girl, the child of a noble or a servant or a merchant, they were all attacked. The agent was right that squires were specifically being targeted here. Is the Magister-Lord trying to put an end to the Order of the White Shield?

"Too ambitious of a task," the agent told him. "If the aim was to destroy an entire Order, we would have heard whispers of it already."

"What if that was the aim?" Wilson asked. "Only you haven't heard whispers of it."

"I assure you that is not possible." The agent turned and began to leave. "This is your job now, squire. I wish you luck."

"Emperor or not, killing the man who sent the assassin will not bring Jeremiah back," Wilson told him softly after the agent left. "You have avenged him, Fayte. Spilling more blood will do no good for anyone."

"I know," he said.

He knew but his heart was not agreeable.

On the next morning Wilson led a prayer with the villagers and took the time to bless them all. He also saw a few people who were ill with the coughs, and advised the local herbalist how she could improve her medicine. Later towards noon, the villagers led Fayte to the reason why he came to Roseville.

"This isn't exactly official," he said, looking up at the statue of the two hooded heroes. "Is it?"

"Not exactly," Wilson said. "But many from the Orders of Rondiar have visited this village, and none have reported it."

A little girl pulled on Wilson's robe. "Mister priest, I got a secret to tell you!"

Wilson got down and leaned in close so that she could whisper.

"I saw the Princess here the other night!" The girl was whispering but she was still pretty loud. "And the handsome Prince who rescued her from the scary monster!"

I was the one who rescued her from the scary monster.

"Really?" Wilson said. "Well what was the Princess doing here in the middle of the night?"

"She was visiting the heroes of course! And there was Sir Raynerd and Sir Purrson too!"

Fayte nearly laughed aloud.

"Truly? The Whiteguards themselves?"

The little girl nodded eagerly. "And the funny jester was there too. And a wizard! But he didn't cast any spells… And-and there was this other guy. He was scary. He saw me. But he didn't say anything."

At least she knows to be wary of a Scygard.

After Wilson had assured her that the scary man wasn't going to come back for her, he sent the girl running off and joined Fayte who went closer to the statues.

"Emily was probably afraid that the villagers would not welcome the Prince."

"I'm surprised she chose to be more tactful this time around."

"Commander Reyner's lady wife is one of the White Rose," Wilson told him. "I have no doubt he convinced Emily. Anyway, I will see you back at the inn. We leave for Tyrox once you are done here."

Fayte looked up at the faceless heroes and stepped forward as he announced himself, Fayte Kaywin. Here to pay my respects to two of the legendary nine who defeated the Great Evil and brought about this age of peace to Hylan.

He held up his shield, his right hand clutching his left arm, and slowly he went to his knee with his head held low and his eyes shut gently.

I am a squire on my knight's pilgrimage,  he told them, feeling the sun on his back. I seek knighthood within the Order of the White Shield, to join ranks with the protectors of Hylan and help defend this peace that was fought for and given to us by you, the nine heroes. And I kneel before you today to humbly ask for your blessings in my journey.

Just as he did when he kneeled before the four heroes in Iredis, Fayte found himself in need of guidance once more.

Jeremiah is dead. He is a friend. A close friend. He was killed and I killed the man who took his life. But the true culprit still roams free out there. And the culprit is an Emperor. An Emperor who acted in the interest of his nation and people.

Sleep helped him understand the actions of the East Kingdom, but it did not help him accept it.

I desire vengeance, yet I am aware of the cycle that I am caught in. My friend, Wilson, has helped me and prayed with me on many days and as many nights. Yet I cannot let go of vengeance. I cannot let go of hatred. Be it for the one responsible for Jeremiah's death, or the Saldarians who took my family from me.

His chest was tightening and his heart felt heavier.

I feel that I cannot let go of this vengeance until it has been taken, until the ones responsible for stealing my mother and sisters from me are punished. And every night when I go to bed and I dream of them, I hear them screaming. I hear my mother screaming. I hear Primrose screaming. I hear Priscilla crying. I hear them calling my name, over and over. But I could not help them. I could not save them. All I could do was watch as the Scygard cut them down.

He was chewing his lips and his eyes began to tear.

I feel guilty… a horrible, horrible guilt. I wish to remove it but I cannot. It reminds me of my failure and it urges me to seek vengeance, to find the ones who created this guilt and make them get rid of it. But this is wrong. Killing is wrong, for if I kill them then the people who love them will seek to kill me. And the cycle does not end.

He sucked in a deep breath and cleared his mind for a moment to steady himself.

I beg you, wise ones, to guide me and help me find peace. Because I am going to lose the girl I love. And this peace that you have fought so hard to protect is now under threat. There is a plot against Hylan and now she is in danger. I am to be her shield but I cannot. Not with this darkness inside me. Not when I fight to kill when I should fight to defend. So please, I beg you both, to help me find peace and let go of this need for vengeance.

Then he thanked them for their deeds and swore to defend Hylan as one of the Order of the White Shield.

CHAPTER 34

The villagers gathered near the riverbank.

"The river has slowed, good priest," said a burly man with leather apron on. "What has happened?"

"A gift from the children of the water," Wilson explained, noticing the crowd. "Is there a problem if theriver has slowed?"

"Aye, good priest," a lady said, with a belt of gardening tools around her waist. "This river is life for our fair village for our rich soil drinks from it. A slowing river is not a healthy river."

How has the waterfall split in two? Fayte was staring at the top and he could see no boulder or protrusion that could be causing this. "Wilson, we'll take a quick look and then have the water nymphs close it again. That should have the river flowing strong once more."

And so they approached the waterfall to the entrance of a dark looming cave. The villagers claimed to have no knowledge of this cave when Wilson ask them, but Fayte had noticed the look on some of the elders. It bothered them that the water nymphs have revealed this cave, but not enough to make them speak up and stop them from exploring the place.

It was dark and dry and the rocks on the ground were loose. Wilson summoned a sphere of light, sending it high above them. They ventured deeper into the cave and the further they went the lower the ceiling became until the sphere was just above their heads.

Then there was a growl.

Fayte slowly drew his sword as did John. They met eyes with one another before they ventured forth and entered a wide cavern. There was a sound of running water above and around them behind the rocks. It was dry yet it was not stifling like the undertunnels in Eres Star City. The cavern was about as tall as a double-storied inn, and as large as the grand hall of the Castle Rondiar.

All around them were weapons and pieces of armours. Swords and axes, pikes and lances, shields and helms, greaves and gauntlets. There were tables and chairs as well, ones made of wood yet still looked firm and sturdy even though it was clear that they had been here for a good long time. Paintings framed in dull gold lay about against the heap of weapons and amours, the colours faded and the images no longer recognizable. There were scrolls and parchments too, books as well on shelves that stood next to each other in a long row.

Fayte would very much like to pick up one of the swords, for he could tell at a glance that all of them were made of Eresteel. He wanted nothing more than to try the shield with the sharpened edge and the Eresteel shine. But like John and Wilson who were both fascinated by what they had found, all three of them were staring ahead of them where the sphere of light shined.

They were staring at a sleeping wyvern whose head was the size of a whole gryphon.

"Wilson…" Fayte said in his most softest voice. "Stop… shining… the light… on, its, face."

"That's a wyvern," was all Wilson could say as he whispered back. "That, is, a, wyvern!"

Fayte wanted to smack his friend but he dared not move. He could understand Wilson's reaction though. Wyverns were legends. Extinct legends. Templars may be legends like the nine heroes, but they were legends whose existence were proven with evidences such as the Eres Star Temple and the Royal Whiteart family. Wyverns on the other hand had no such proof laying around in Hylan.

The legend of wyverns was that before the rise of the Templars there were riders who rode upon wyverns and ruled Hylan. As time passed the wyvern proved untamed and prone to violence while the wiser ones in the wild were even said to be intelligent and tyrannous. The riders were eventually forced to turn against the wyverns and wiped off the last of their kind. In the process, the Order of the Eres Star was founded. In a way, wyverns used to be what Saldara and the Black City was to Hylan in this age.

An enemy.

And it was at this precise moment that John's stomach decided to rumble and growl.

"Should've grabbed a bite first," John said.

The floor began to rumbled as the wyvern roused with a groan. All three of them were well aware of the legends surrounding the wyverns. And so the first thing they did was to turn and run as fast as they could, but the tunnel they came in by was now blocked.

"Tell me that is not its tail," Wilson said. "Tell me that is too big to be a tail."

Rhastior, Bishop Tydon's companion, was the largest white dragon in Hylan when he was still alive. This wyvern in the cave with them might not be as big as Rhastior, but it was still much larger than the three of them. They turned around and prepared for combat. The wyvern had lifted its head on its long scaly neck to get a good look at them.

Bronze scales glinted in the light, each one with a razor sheen to them. The wyvern looked very much like a dragon,  with a long neck, two legs, two arms, and two leathery wings. The difference was that while a dragon's scales were smooth to the touch, a wyvern's could cut your hand to shreds if you ran your palm across them. Dragons had a majesty to them from the way their eyes settle upon you, to how they could sit still and let children play with them. A wyvern reeked of malice from the way its eyes pierced to how its claws scratched the ground.

"This water nymph Queen just sent us to our death," John said, his hands gripped firmly on the handle of his sword.

His words reminded Fayte that they were led here by the Queen of the water nymphs. I have done no ill to her and this is a gift to us. With that in mind, Fayte lowered his sword and even went so far as to sheath it. He approached the wyvern only to have Wilson pulling him back.

"Don't be insane!" he snapped at him. "That's a wyvern!"

"It could be a dragon," Fayte mused.

"It's a wyvern."
"It's a wyvern!"

Wilson and John both told him.

"I'll be fine," he said, pushing Wilson away before approached the wyvern again.

The wyvern lowered its head towards Fayte and met him midway face to face. Fayte felt hot air gushing across him as the wyvern breathe. It choked him even and left him coughing with his eyes tearing up. Standing this close to it, he could tell that even John's Templar sword would do little good against these scales. If the Templars had truly battle wyverns in the past, they did not use swords and lances to bring down these great beasts.

"My name is Fayte Kaywin," he said slowly. "Squire of the Order of the White Shield. Friend to the Queen of the water nymphs."

The wyvern tilted its head and moved it around to get a good look at Fayte, sniffing at him and even prodding him with its snout. Once it was done, the wyvern raised its head and looked to Wilson and John, eyeing them both, before its gaze settled upon John. The two stared at each other for a few moments. Fayte was beginning to relax a little while Wilson was so tensed that his sphere of light was growing more intense.

After a few moments more, the wyvern recoiled its neck and move its tail away before its head settled down and it went back to slumber.

"John…" Fayte called. "What did it say?"

The man shrugged, not too sure if they could move now. "It didn't say anything to me. It was just staring. Did it say something to ya?"

Fayte shook his head.

"Should we leave?" Wilson asked.

We did not come here just to meet a wyvern. "There's a new path over there now that it moved its tail."

None of them were sure but if the wyvern wanted them dead then it would have killed them already. They turned away from the sleeping beast, staying quiet as they followed the path where its tail had been resting before. It led them to a smaller chamber that resembled a room. There was a desk and more equipment lying about.

Fayte took hold of a sword and held it up. Light. He gave the sword a flourish. Well forged. It was the same for the shield. Larger yet lighter, thinner yet no doubt stronger once Fayte held it. He could definitely see himself getting used to a Templar's shield.

"Now that is a big sword," Wilson said.

His friend was standing in front of a two-handed sword with a scale and a pile of tomes around it. The blade of the sword was as thick as his leg and stood from his neck to the ground. Fayte could only imagine how large or strong a man must be in order to wield it. Wilson picked up one of the tomes and began reading while Fayte joined John by the desk. There were inscriptions on the wall in front of the desk, but Fayte could not read them.

"What is it?" he asked, looking at the parchment John was holding up.

"A map," the man said, engrossed as his eyes shifted about. "Looks like there are more caves like this."

"And each with their own wyvern?"

John was unsure about that. "This was made by the Templars judging from all the artefacts. Doesn't explain the wyvern though."

"The Queen said that this was a gift to us," Fayte told him, his eyes wandering to the Templar's shield. "Should we help ourselves?"

"Nay," Wilson said, placing the tome back onto the floor. "This feels an awful lot like one of those plays with a cave full of treasure and an angry dragon guarding it. Put the map to your memory and do not take it with you. We leave no more burdened than when we entered."

CHAPTER 33

Grand-Rosia, home of the Order of the White Rose

The holy city was located south of Hylan and was the closest settlement to the Black City. Ever since the War of Darkness and Light, Grand-Rosia had been deemed too dangerous for travel, with many high ranking officials barred from visiting the city at the same time. The royal family was not allowed to visit at all.

Even initiates of the holy Order could not study there as they used to before the war. Now they were sent to the cities of Iredis and Tyrox where they were schooled and only the gifted ones would make their way to the holy city itself.

Emily had planned to visit the holy city and though her father forbade her to go, she had made her own plans to visit the city in secret. However the Whiteguards could not indulge in her little pranks and disobedience this time around, and quickly put a stop to her plan to slip away and force them to follow her to Grand-Rosia. Fayte wanted to see the holy city as well where Wilson had studied and received his priesthood. Sadly squires were no longer allowed to set Grand-Rosia as a destination since the war as well.

"Has there been any attacks since the war?" Fayte asked, tossing another branch into the campfire.

John was chewing on stale bread while lying on the grass damp with morning dew. The man had complained noisily that this was not enough to sate his hunger, but it was all they had left since they were nearing their destination. Wilson was drying his head after washing up by a nearby stream.

"Only when people of importance visited," Wilson told him, sitting down on a log. "Mostly darklings were sent after wizards and sorceress. They fought and though many were injured each time, the darklings have never made off with anyone nor have they killed anyone purposefully."

"Purposefully?"

Wilson unwrapped his breakfast. "Many were killed from crossfires and accidents. The darklings never seem to truly make an attempt on the lives of the people they were after. The Bishop believed that the Dark Lord was merely testing the mages, to see how far their skills had improved."

After breakfast they began their journey into the forest after travelling for days now on horseback. Understanding now that John was no common mercenary or wanderer, Fayte intended to learn as much as he could from the man, for he clearly had deep knowledge of the Templars.

They sparred and fought often in the day and during the night. Fayte never won. He observed and learned even when John refused to teach him anything specific, claiming that he had nothing to teach. Fighting with John made Fayte realize how easily his shield got battered. Steel was a tough material and much heavier than wood. Making it thicker would increase its durability at the cost of weight, stamina, and manoeuvrability.

"Emily mentioned about Templars who used shields," Fayte asked during dinner last night. "Can you tell me more about them?"

John chewing on a twig as he lay on his back gazing at the stars.

"They're better fighters than ye knights, that's what I'll tell ya."

"Why?"

"For one thing, they're not sissies who hide behind their shields." John stood up and took Fayte's shield, running his finger along the edge of the steel. "See? Blunt. A Templar's shield is more sword than shield."

Fayte immediately thought of many fights where he had used his shield as a weapon to bash his opponents. If the rim of the shield was sharpened as well, that would grant him another method of fighting back. Interesting.

"And their shields are larger." John held up the shield to his chest. "See? Goes down to ma waist. Theirs go down to the thighs. Bigger. Stronger. Lighter."

"Lighter?" Fayte knew the reason at once. "Eresteel."

John nodded, tossing his shield aside. "Too bad they're so rare now."

Eresteel equipment were lost during the fight against the Great Evil. Many were looted and sold and wounded up beyond the Northern Gate. Others were kept as heirlooms and passed on from generation to generation. But according to records by historians and scholars, there should be a great deal more Eresteel yet there were none to be found. It was as though they vanished. Some speculated that they were consumed by the Great Evil. Later on it was believed that the Dark Lord had stolen them for his own use.

The trees packed tightly together and the leaves above them were dense, leaving them with only shafts of sunlight to light the way. They travelled for hours through the forest, which according to Wilson was somewhere west of Redpath. There was a fragrance in the air, sweet and flowery, one that Fayte found rather familiar. He had thought it important to visit Grand-Rosia, for it was home to one of the three Orders of Rondiar. However circumstances prevented him from visiting the holy city so Wilson offered him an alternate location.

The trees opened up and a field of white greeted them.

"Welcome to Roseville," Wilson said, a sea of white roses before them. "The hidden rose village."

It was said that the first Bishop chosen by the nine heroes to lead the Order of the White Rose came from this village. His name unknown but it was the white rose that grew in abundance around this village that became the namesake of the holy Order. How much truth there was to it Fayte would not question for that was centuries ago.

They got off their horses and led the animals on foot down a steep path. Bushes of white rose lined neatly along the path and in even rows. There were men and women tending to the flowers, some of them just spots in the far distance. The bushes stretched at least a league to each side, and beyond that there was a sea of red and further to another direction a sea of blue.

"Roseville is the largest source for roses," Wilson explained, bowing his head as the gardeners yelled their greetings. "If there is Harvesria for crops then there is Roseville for roses."

"Yet Ironsville is not famed for iron ores," said Fayte.

"But we are famed for our ironwork," he said in return. "An iron mine would make us much more prosperous, but mining is a dangerous job."

This village was truly hidden. Fayte had not expected to find such a place in the middle of a forest. A river cut through the village they were approaching. Small houses stood tightly together though there were the odd few on the hills around them. They were descending to the town and it reminded Fayte of the slavers' camp where Emily was taken after she was kidnapped. But this place was much larger and shared nothing else with the slave camp.

"The soil here must be very rich for these roses to grow so well," John said.

Wilson agreed. "The water here is clearer than even the vast and vicious seas to the west and beyond. Roseville is famed not only for her roses but also… that."

As they neared the village, Fayte saw to the south what he knew from books and pictures to be a waterfall. It was not large nor powerful like the ones in the books, but it was a natural waterfall nonetheless and it fascinated him. A group of children ran up to them as they approached the village, and they offered to hold their horses and take them to the stable. Their caretaker, a lady in her thirties, assured them and encouraged them to head on to the waterfall.

"Can't we grab a bite first?" John complained. "I'm hungry!"

"This won't take long," said Fayte.

They thanked the lady and they thanked the children before heading in between the rows of rose bushes towards the water. It was only when they came up to it that Fayte realized how wrong he was. The waterfall was not small. It was mighty and the water that fell thundered onto the rocks beneath. The morning sun and the mist even made a rainbow over the clear water.

Even something as calm water can have such power.

"Have a drink," Wilson said. "You too John."

Fayte dipped his hand into the water and helped himself to a mouthful.

"It is cold and refreshing," he said. "Much colder than I had expected in this area."

Then a blast of water hit him in the face.

Fayte drew his sword but he was hit again and again until he fell over onto his bottom. He felt something hardening around his ankle and it dragged him across the riverbank into the water. His ankle was released once inside the water, and the water nymphs continued to pelt him with balls of water.

"Alright, stop it already!" he laughed. "Children, please!"

They stopped and Fayte watched as the shape of three children formed on the bank of the river, seated next to each other with their legs swishing in the water.

"They bring word from their Queen," Wilson said, standing next to the water nymphs. "She thanks you… …"

"We greet you, Fayte of the Kaywin family, banisher of evil, friend to the water nymphs." A thousand voices in his head was drowning out Wilson's and the water crashing upon the rocks.

Greetings to you, my lady, he thought in return to the Queen of the Water Nymphs.

"We thank you for banishing the taint from our domain. We thank you for bearing the taint for the sake of our children."

Fayte was careful with his thoughts but the Queen heard when he wondered if there were more than one Queen.

"We are many speaking as one," was her answer. "Such is our way."

He noticed Wilson staring at him in concern so he gestured that he was well before pointing at his head. Wilson understood his meaning and left him alone.

"We grieve with you for your loss."

Jeremiah.

"If that is his name then we grieve for the loss of the one called Jeremiah."

I've avenged him.

"Yet still you grieve and so too we grieve and share your pain."

If killing the man who murdered Jeremiah was not enough to end his grief, Fayte wondered if killing the Scygards who murdered his family would help.

"We sense a turmoil in you, friend of the water, it has grown wilder since our last meeting."

During the time you sent us to the slavers' camp?

The Queen did not answer but Fayte felt an energy in the water that indicated to him a positive.

"We wish to aid you for you have aided us, friend of the water, son of the Protector."

I did not ask before, but how do you know my father?

"Your father is known to all and he too is a friend." The Queen became quiet for a moment but the current in the water sweeping his leg began to slow. "We bring you this gift for we sense a deep curiosity. And to aid you, we leave you with these words, friend of the water."

There was no gift that Fayte could see.

"Release what you hold behind you, and swift shall be your blade. Fret not what comes towards you, and enduring shall be your shield. Stand unwavering and resolved shall be your mind."

I don't…

"Farewell, Fayte of the Kaywin family, friend of the water. We bid you well on your pilgrimage."

Fayte felt the voices of a thousand leave his mind, with the roaring of the waterfall filling his ears again. He waded out of the river and joined Wilson and John who were both staring wide-eyed with their mouths hanging open. Fayte followed their gaze and he too found himself in wonder.

"John, what did you do?" Fayte asked.

"Might've drank a bit too much," he said.

The mighty waterfall had split into two.

CHAPTER 32

Like giant claws tearing through the ground, the Wyvern Claw mountain range stretched along the northern border of Hylan. They rode quickly so as to leave this snowy region as soon as they could.

"Is it true then," Wilson asked, riding beside Fayte. "Your heart now yearns for the Saldarian Princess?"

What? "No. What makes you think that?"

Wilson sighed. "As I thought. Clearly you are oblivious but Emily seems to believe that you now fancy Kamille."

Why in the world would she- He recalled their conversation in Iredis, how Emily had asked if he now liked Kamille and how he refused to answer her out of spite. "That is not the case. She misunderstood."

"Then you can tell Emily that you still love her when we return." Wilson could see that Fayte knew doing that would do no good for anyone as well. "Or you can say nothing and let this help her get over you."

Get over me? Was that why we could speak earlier without arguing again?

"She loves you," Wilson said. "But you are too stubborn and afraid to admit that to yourself, but she does. When she told me that you had fallen for the Saldarian girl, I first thought it was your plan to make Emily give up on you. That she might move on and try to truly love Rinmar if she knew that you had already moved on yourself."

Fayte had never planned such a thing.

"Clearly I thought too highly of you." Wilson shrugged. "But it worked out anyway. Emily now believes that you no longer love her and sees her only as a friend. And to her, that is all that matters now. Your friendship."

Fayte pulled on the reins and stopped his horse. No.

"We're going back."

"What?" John went. "I am sick of this cold. I'm not riding back."

"You will only hurt her and make this harder if you tell her how you really feel, Fayte." Wilson rode up to him and lay his hand on Fayte's shoulder. "This is for the best, my friend. Circumstances dictate that you and Emily cannot be together. Forcing it will only hurt the both of you."

"Letting her believe that I don't love her anymore-"

"Will help her more than it hurts her in the long run." Wilson squeezed his shoulder. "Our best friend is getting married, Fayte. Be happy about that. As a friend."

He turned away and began to ride off.

"Do you blame me?" Fayte asked, catching up to Wilson. "Do you blame me for not wanting to attend the wedding?"

"You have your pilgrimage. I know how important it is to you."

"Not more than Emily."

Wilson smiled and nodded. "Not more than Emily."

Fayte pulled his cloak around him closer when an icy wind swept by.

"You may hold off your pilgrimage to attend the wedding, but watching Hylan and Saldara join hands is difficult enough for you, let alone watching the girl you love marry another man." Wilson tossed him a skin of wine and told him to take a sip. "As for I, you need not worry. I have little desire to be there as well."

This was not firewine but it sufficed in warming Fayte up.

"I thought you would want to be there," Fayte said, tossing the skin to John who tossed it right back to Wilson. The man had his own skin of wine. "A Princess's wedding. It will be a grand celebration."

"Yes, I would like to attend for Emily's sake, but I for one do not approve of the marriage either."

That came as a complete surprise but after pondering upon it for a moment, Fayte realized that he had never really asked Wilson about his opinion towards the wedding.

"Emily may be Princess but this is not her responsibility," Wilson went on. "A marriage between our nations will not make Saldara a peaceful nation all of a sudden, nor will a child born from the two. Skarm's Shadow rebelled against their Emperor and Saldara went into civil war. Loyalty to the crown means little to them."

It was very troubling to hear Wilson speak like this. He had always assumed that Wilson supported the marriage. And Wilson had always been wiser and smarter in such matters. To hear Wilson questioning how effective this joining would be did more than just unsettle Fayte.

"But Saldara has been weakened and Skarm's Shadow is in disarray."

"Then what is the point of an alliance?" Wilson asked. "To fend off an attack from the Black City? How? When the nation we seek to borrow power from has been weakened by our own hands. And should Saldara still be strong, they remain a threat to us even with this marriage."

"Then why didn't you say anything?" Wilson may not have been present during discussions about the marriage, but Wilson was a priest and friends with both the son of the Lord-Knight and the Princess herself. He had influence even if he would not admit it. "You should have said something."

"Ya think the King's Council is made up of a buncha' fools?" John said, lifting his skin of wine over his mouth.

Wilson nodded. "Bishop Tydon knew that an alliance would not be sufficient. It was why he believed that the only way to remove Saldara as a threat was to spread the teachings of my Order to the desert nation. Well, that or wiping Saldara off the face of this world."

"If it is such a… such a bad deal, then why would the King and the Queen agree to it in the first place? They should have stopped Emily! We have the power to destroy Saldara and-and then Emily wouldn't-"

"Marry Rinmar and marry you instead?" Wilson cut in. "Do you have an army, Fayte? One that could raise our chances against the Black City?"

They were going in circles now. "But you said that Saldara was weak and-"

"I did not say that Saldara was powerless." Wilson stared at him, letting the meaning of his words sink in. "I said that Saldara is weak and can offer little. Yet the King still wants this little bit of strength, at the cost of his daughter's happiness and at the risk of Saldara betraying us."

The King is giving up so much for just a little more strength? Fayte did not understand. "Why?"

"Because we lost the War of Darkness and Light," Wilson said. "Because the King is desperate and we die either way, whether the Black City attacks again or Saldara chooses to betray us."

It was then that Fayte truly felt how desperate a situation his kingdom was in. "At least Emily's idealistic hope gives us a chance…"

Wilson shut his eyes gently and sighed. "Yes. A chance."

CHAPTER 31

The chestnut horse chewed on the hay as Fayte tied his bag to the saddle.

"I miss Whitesong," he said.

"I miss Amelia," Wilson answered.

"I miss my ale," John said.

They were at the stable near the gate of Eres Star City. It had been two days since the attack. Rinmar was still resting at the castle with Emily. Wilson and the Eres Star castle priest agreed that it was best for the Prince to rest a few days more, for neither priests were familiar with what Promella the herbalist called a 'surgery'.

"I had to cut open bodies and study the makeup of a person when I was yet a priest," Wilson was explaining to the Prince when he woke up. "It is how we learn to heal. Our magic does not make someone better all on its own. It is a directed process not much different from swinging a sword."

"Then I see no problem here," Rinmar said, sitting up on his bed with Emily next to him. "I am well. Let us not delay our return. We have much to prepare for the wedding still."

"I open up corpses," Wilson told him. "Not living people."

And so the Prince stayed and rested for two days more, delaying Fayte's pilgrimage for two days as well. During that time Fayte trained, sometimes alone, sometimes with younger squires in the city, and John who even taught him some moves.

"Ye knights likes ta play defensive," John complained. "Sissies, the lot of ya. If a man holds a sword then a man is out to cause damage. Ya fight. And that means-"

He rammed his shoulder into Fayte's shield with knights and soldiers watching in the courtyard of the City Watch barracks. Fayte stumbled, not because his guard was down, but because John hit him harder than he had expected.

"We hold a sword to protect those who need us," Fayte told him. "We swing it defend the weak."

John scoffed and spat on the ground. "So ya kill a man to save another man. Great plan!"

They traded blows and parries, slashing and stabbing at one another. Fayte was struggling to keep up and his shield was getting increasingly battered and thus less useful by the second. John on the other hand was not slowing down. His sword remained sharp though it was old - very, very old. Normal swords could only be sharpened for so many times, for the steel is thinned each time a whetstone runs across it.

Templar swords, on the other hand, were forged from Eresteel and it did not dull or wear like a normal blade.

"Yer weak," John said, slamming the pommel of his sword on Fayte's shield, creating a tiny hole. "Afraid! Ye don't take risks!"

Fayte rolled away and dropped his shield before it broke his arm trying to withstand another blow.

"Ye bade yer time and ya watch." John charged at him, knocking him to the ground and his sword out of his hands. "Tell me, after watching me for so long, ya found my weakness yet?"

Plenty. But fighting John was like fighting Jeremiah. What made sense in theory did not apply in practice. Jeremiah could perform a move that they were taught numerous ways to counter, yet never have it be countered in combat. He could be exposed but Fayte would be too busy defending himself to take advantage of the opening. It was the same for John.

"Put a sword in a dragon's head and ye kill it." John reached down and helped Fayte up. "Try putting a sword in a dragon's head when it's coming to eat ya."

The horses followed them out of the stable. Outside, the stable master, his assistants, and everyone around them were getting up from their knees.

"You're leaving without saying goodbye," Emily said, glaring at them with Preston on her shoulder.

Wilson looked lost. "But I did."

"Not you! Him!"

"Me?" John went.

"FAYTE!" she yelled.

Sir Percson was laughing softly until his commander nudged him in the arm. Fayte shook his head and got onto his horse, gesturing for Wilson and John to do the same.

"I'm leaving," he said. "Goodbye."

"Aren't you…" Emily was suddenly aware that everyone around them was watching and listening, so she went closer to him. "Aren't you coming to my wedding?"

And watch my nation join hands with the people who murdered my family? "And watch you marry someone you don't even love?" He took care to keep his voice to a whisper.

Emily frowned and for a moment Fayte was afraid he had been too harsh.

"And you?" she asked Wilson.

The friend caught in the middle sighed. "Duty comes first, my sweet Princess."

Emily knew that best. Fayte was aware that while Emily was loved by the nation, she did not have many friends. And now on this day both her friends were telling her that they would not be present on the most important day of her life. She had to feel lonely and he wanted nothing more than to comfort her. Alas Fayte could not bring himself to attend the wedding and watch her marry Rinmar. He did what he thought was the next best thing.

"I want to go," he said, seeing the sudden glimmer of hope in her eyes. "But I can't. Not when we have yet to find out why squires are being targeted and by who. Your father is counting on me for that."

"But you can take a few days off from it, can't you? What other reasons could it be but to draw focus away from my wedding? Or perhaps it is so that the wedding would be postponed to investigate the matter. There could be many reasons but all of them point to the intention of disrupting the wedding." Suddenly Fayte saw how desperately she wanted him to be there. And it just broke his heart. "I'll talk to my father so you can come. Fayte, plea-"

"I'm sorry," he cut in, for if she begged then he would surely give in. "There is too much at stake. We must know for sure."

He saw the hope burn away from her eyes. Yet Emily did not cry, in fact, she smiled at him. A smile that Fayte saw right through.

"I understand," she said, reaching up to hold his hand. "I'm… I'm just glad that you're not mad at me anymore."

Fayte wasn't so sure that was the case.

"I… I have something to tell you," she said. "Something that you will be of interest in."

Emily was straining her neck looking up at him so he dismounted and held her hand again. Wilson and John moved their horses so that the people around could not see them.

I miss this hand, he thought, holding it tightly, feeling the softness and warmth of her palm and fingers. "What is it?"

"I asked… I asked about Kamille." Emily took care not to mention Rinmar by name. "She's a Princess now."

Fayte laughed as the thought of Kamille being a Princess meant that she would be in some sort of a royal dress. "By the light, you are serious."

"It's true," Emily told him, laughing as well. "She had a coronation shortly after she returned to Saldara. Her father announced proudly that she was his daughter even if she did not have his blood. She was the child of the woman he loved dearly and so she was his own."

"That does not sound like the best idea." The Emperor had lost much love when he beheaded the chieftain of the Skarm's Shadow tribe. It may not had been as bad if Kamille was his own bastard, but that was not even the case here. "There is a reason why Kamille's mother kept it a secret."

"But it turned out just fine! The people of Saldara respects strength and they respect the Scygards even more. When they learned that Kamille was training to be a Scygard, they quickly grew to like her. When before she was a bastard with questionable origin, she was now the Princess training to become the first female Scygard in the history of their nation!"

Fayte smiled as he listened to her talk with so much excitement and energy. He missed this. He missed chatting with her like this. And with what Rinmar had told him the other night, Fayte wondered if they might still be able to end up together somehow.

"I am glad to hear that," he said. "Will she be attending your wedding?"

Emily shook her head. "She is in the middle of her training now and does not have the time to make the trip here. But I am sure we will meet her again once she has completed her training."

"I look forward to that day," he said.

For a while they just looked at each other, feeling happy and light-hearted, and wishing that this moment would not come to an end.

"I'm sorry I cannot attend your wedding," Fayte said, hugging her. "I am sure you will be beautiful in your wedding gown."

Emily did not let go of him when he did. "It's… it's all right. You stay safe on your pilgrimage, alright?"

She was sobbing.

"I will."

They hugged for a little while longer so that Emily could stop her tears and dry them. When they finally let go of each other, Wilson came down and hugged her as well, kissing her on the forehead.

"Have a glorious wedding, Emily," Wilson said. "Preston will be there in my stead."

Preston was not aware of that plan.

"Are you sure?" she asked, stroking Preston along his neck after he climbed back onto her shoulders. "Don't you need him in case Fayte gets hurt?"

"I won't get hurt," Fayte mumbled.

Wilson laughed and shook his head. "We will be fine. This way I am assured that both my friends are safe."

"Alright," Emily told him, turning to Preston. "Would you like to be a part of my wedding then? I'm sure we can find a job for you."

Preston barked happily at the idea.

They mounted up and said goodbye one last time before they rode out of the gate. Emily waved at them from behind while Wilson yelled for Preston to take care of her.

"Fayte!"

He looked back to her, seeing her at the gate with her two Whiteguards flanking her.

"The next time we meet, I want to see my knight in shining armour all charged up with the Light of the Spirits! "

Perhaps I can still be her knight in shining armour. Fayte smiled and raised his hand. "As you wish, my Princess!"

CHAPTER 30

Emily rushed down when word of the attack reached her.

They were surrounded by the strong scent of herbs and spices outside the shop. The herbalist's neighbour, a florist, came out after hearing the commotion and was shocked to find the Princess out in the cold. She offered her shelter but Emily refused. Then she offered her hot tea and a chair which Commander Reyner subtly indicated for her to accept.

"Are you sure you're fine?" Emily asked again as she sipped her tea.

Fayte nodded as lumastones were slowly lit around them with torches carried by soldiers. They were on the roofs of the surrounding buildings as well, securing these places in case there were more assassins waiting to strike Fayte, or worse, the Grace of Hylan herself.

It made sense that if the squires were being hunted to disrupt the royal wedding, precedence would go to taking out the Prince or the Princess themselves if the opportunity presented itself. Those assassins were sent after Fate. Likely they were not expecting to find Rinmar there with him. If these assassins were from the East Kingdom, having Rinmar killed on Hylan soil may even spark a renewed war between Hylan and Saldara.

If only that damned Scygard hadn't killed them both.

"Oh m-m-mighty wizard." Mailer was shivering next to Emily. "P-p-perhaps you c-could start a f-fire, yes?"

The wizard glanced at Commander Reyner who gave his approval before starting a small flame in front of Emily. It grew warmer and Sir Percson fed a few firewood into the flames while the wizard set up a defensive spell around the area. A knight with a missing leg joined them soon after, riding a horse with soldiers accompanying her. Fayte noticed Sir Percson bowing his head slightly when he saw her. A humble gesture of respect.

The lady knight greeted the Princess and introduced herself.

"I am Lady Bianca of the Sayde family, your Grace, second-in-command of the Eres Star City Watch." Wilson's aunt dismounted and was about to kneel before Commander Reyner waved her off. "I am sorry to hear of what had befallen your betrothed. The City Watch has failed our duty. We will accept any punishment that Your Grace finds fitting of our failure."

"Death would be fitting," the Scygard murmured, but his words were clear in the quiet night.

"Death would be a tad excessive," Sir Percson answered.

"Were travellers not screened and checked?" Commander Reyner asked.

"Not on other days, my Lord," Lady Bianca said. "But they were three days since before the arrival of her Grace and will be until her Grace's departure from our city. My men had reported nothing suspicious of the nature."

"What goes of the investigation?" he then asked. "I believe the Captain is leading it?"

"Aye, we have ruled out the assassins of being from Saldara or the East Kingdom. They appear to be Hylanders, Commander."

"Could they be men who oppose our marriage?" Emily asked.

"It is still too early to tell, my Princess." Lady Bianca shot a fleeting look at the back of the Scygard who now stood stalwart outside the herbalist's door. "We would have been able to find out more if the assassins had not been silenced."

Emily caught the insinuation and did not like it. "Zabior is a trusted friend. I do not appreciate your veiled accusation, Lady Bianca. He was without choice when he killed those men in order to protect his Prince, himself, and Fayte as well."

"Actually…" Fayte cut in. "He did have a choice."

The Scygard, whose name Fayte finally learned, turned around and met eyes with him.

"Fayte, I do not wish to argue with you about this again." Emily thought this was about his hatred for the Saldarians. "He saved your life. Be grateful."

"I admit that he saved my life," Fayte said, truthfully. The same way I saved Rinmar's life. "For that I thank you, Zabior. But I had overpowered one of the assassins while the other was clearly no match for you. There was no need for you to kill them."

Unless you are afraid of what they might say should they be caught alive.

"Believe what you will," Zabior the Scygard said, turning away. "I killed those men for they are dishonourable men who fight from the shadow. It my duty to exact punishment upon such dishonourable men, and I chose death for they had been foolish enough to make an attempt on my Prince's life."

It was a recurring belief with all the Scygards Fayte had met. Their zealous belief in honour. If Zabior was part of the plot to prevent Hylan and Saldara from uniting, he could have accomplished it since the day he became Rinmar's personal guard. No, as much Fayte wanted it to be, Zabior was innocent and he was allowing his hatred to cloud his judgement once again.

Commander Reyner ceased further discussion of the matter until Captain Resfield returned with a report. Lady Bianca was to remain on behalf of Captain Resfield but Emily thought otherwise.

"I do not wish for you to be here," Emily said, not even looking at her. "Your words have offended our friend from Saldara and you have embarrassed me as host. Leave us."

And so Lady Bianca left, but not after Fayte whispered to her that he would watch out for Wilson. The air was tensed after she left. Commander Reyner stood stalwart behind Emily in a thick fur cloak with his helm on while Sir Percson patrolled the area.

"Bianca, Bianca," Mailer went after a long silence. He was sitting on the ground, rocking back and forth next to the fire. "Now where have I heard that name before? It sounds quite heroic. Bianca!"

Emily was staring into the flames. "Lady Bianca Sayde was a hero in the War of Light and Darkness. She was part of an escort leading a group of healers from the Order of the White Rose through enemy grounds. They were ambushed and after the rest of the escort were killed, she alone held off a horde of Darklings so that the party of healers could escape. That act of bravery eventually led to hundreds of lives being saved. And Lady Sera commended her by helping her make it out of the war alive."

But two from the party did not, Fayte thought.

"I was wrong to send her away like that." She turned to Sir Percson. "Could you ask her to return please?"

"She is a knight, my Princess, not a hound," the Whiteguard said but not harshly, smiling as always. "She was making an insinuation, no doubt, still you should not have been petty by sending her away. But you are a Princess and a Princess is decisive. Speak to her when you can on another occasion and treat her in a manner more befitting of her renown then. Do not show weakness by changing your mind after a moment's thought."

"A leader does not have that privilege," Commander Reyner added, but his eyes were set upon Fayte for these words were meant for him as well. "So be sure to think your words through in the future."

"For you will be the one who bear the consequences," said the Scygard, though no one expected him to. "I know an Emperor who wished he had not decided to take the head of a tribe leader, for he now surrenders his empire to make amends for that mistake."

Rinmar's father lost control of his nation when he took the head of the leader of the largest tribe in Saldara. It made Fayte uncomfortable to hear the alliance being phrased in that manner. Zabior was not wrong. Saldara was now at the mercy of Hylan. For them this was a surrender dressed up nicely as a marriage.

When he saw that Emily was sulking, he thought of something to say that would cheer her up, but Fayte held himself back. It was not his place to cheer her up and make her smile anymore. That was for Rinmar to do now. Unless the Prince did not make it through the night. Strangely, Fayte found himself praying that Rinmar would be fine.

Everything would be so much less complicated if he died, he thought to himself. But then everything would be wrong.

He wondered if this was a sign that he was coming to accept the marriage and the alliance.

It was sunrise when Wilson finally came out, stretching his arms and yawning widely.

"I suppose you will kill me if I tell you your Prince is dead."

The Scygard was not in the mood for jokes.

Wilson gave him a pat on the shoulder. "He is fine. Promella has mended his airpipe and my magic has done the rest."

"This herbalist cut my Prince open." Zabior had difficulty with the notion. "What of infections?"

"Of no concern," he said, just as Preston strode out of the door.

Only then did the Scygard visibly relax. He had stood watch outside the shop for the entire night, moving not a single inch away. Emily was still fast asleep, her head leaning against Sir Percson's waist.

"What of the assassins?" Wilson asked, his eyes bloodshot and tired.

Fayte got up and tossed him a pouch of water. "They are Hylanders. We know nothing else."

Wilson nodded and as he drank the water, they heard a commotion approaching them from afar. Noises like a group of people running.

"Scout, report," Commander Reyner yelled to a soldier on the roof of the nearest building.

"Fayte-" Emily gasped after she was startled awake by the Whiteguard's voice.

"A group of four soldiers carrying a stretcher between them, my lord," the soldier answered as Emily avoided Fayte's eyes. She quickly asked Wilson about Rinmar. "It looks like a knight has been- no, it's Captain Resfield, my lord! The Captain is injured!"

Wilson sighed as he turned away from Emily. "Preston, fly to the castle and get the priest here at once."

The white dragon took off as the four soldiers came into view. They were panting heavily but there was something odd about them. All four soldiers were pinching their noses. As they got closer to them, Fayte could smell the pungent scent of waste.

"The Captain has been poisoned," one of the soldiers told Wilson, his voice nasal with his nose pinch, as he kneeled beside Captain Resfield.

The stretcher was covered with loose waste and vomit. It was a gruesome sight and Sir Percson had led Emily away once they smelled the stench.

"How did this happen?" Wilson did not shy away as the Captain hurled again, his face pale white but his hand gripped tightly on Wilson's arm.

A quick glance was enough to tell Fayte that Captain Resfield wasn't seriously wounded. If anything, only the man's pride had been wounded here. A wound that was deepened when they heard the long, drawn-out noise of flatulence and even Fayte had to turn away momentarily.

"It was the Underlord, good priest," the soldier said, pinching his nose and trying not to look away. "The Underlord came demanding the bodies but the Captain would not release-"

"Spare me the details," Wilson snapped. "How was he poisoned?"

The soldier wasn't sure so another said, "T-they fought, traded blows, but we did not see the Captain get injured."

Captain Resfield pulled Wilson to him and the priest visibly cringed from the stench of his breath.

"He nicked me," he said, struggling to keep himself from hurling again. "Left underarm."

Wilson checked at once and found a bleeding cut there. The Captain's idea of a nick was frightening. Wilson's hand began to glow as he pressed his palm against the wound. Captain Resfield relieved himself again but this time it wasn't through the mouth. A few of the soldiers groaned from the sight and Fayte found Commander Reyner making a sour face from afar.

"Do… something!" the Captain said.

Wilson laughed and patted him on the shoulder. "I will prepare an antidote with Promella's herbs. There is a danger of dehydration if I do not give you the antidote, but this poison was not intended to kill you, Captain. You are safe. Kindly take your Captain to the back of the shop."

"I will kill that man!" the grown man covered in his vomit and waste yelled as his men carried away. "Mark my words! I will kill him with my own- Oh Sera, help me."

Only after the Captain was gone did Commander Reyner came over, shaking his head but smiling still. "What a mess he has made."

Fayte did not find it quite as humorous. Had that poison been a lethal one… "Captain Resfield lost to the Underlord?"

The Whiteguard sighed as he nodded. "The Underlord fights without honour."

The Underlord won. "What honour is there in death?"

"What life is there without honour?"

The Commander's words gave him a pause. Without honour, Fayte would be no different from murderers like the ones who killed his mother and sisters. Honour was important. Very important. Fayte could tell that this was not the first time the Commander was asked this question. He was not the Commander for just skill alone.

He could be Lord-Knight, Fayte realized. Perhaps one day I will be half as wise as him.

Commander Reyner smiled at him and gave him a squeeze on the shoulder.

"Clean this up."

Fayte felt like he was just slapped across the face. "What? Me? Why?"

"Do you see any other squires around here, boy?"

CHAPTER 29

A light tap on the door woke him.

Fayte sat up from his bed to find Rinmar looking at him. The Prince was wrapped in a dull grey cloak. He appeared to be alone but Fayte knew his Scygard was somewhere near. Hylan and Saldara might be at peace now, but not everyone gave their consent to this peace.

"May we speak?" he asked, his eyes flickering to Wilson who was wide awake and staring at him from the other side of the dark room. "Perhaps somewhere private as well."

"Preston will accompany you," Wilson said when Fayte pulled on his boots. "I will stay and watch him."

John was snoring on the bed next to Wilson's, his legs lay spread in an unsightly fashion. Captain Resfield had stayed his blade in the end after Emily commanded that he did. The Captain argued that in light of all that had occurred on their way to the temple, Sera had intended for this man to die here.

"If I am wrong to spare him then let Lady Sera strike me down with a bolt of thunder when we take to the sky."

It made for the most nerve-wrecking gryphon flight they had ever experienced.                                                                    

It was likely not a coincidence that Emily and Rinmar were headed to the temple as Fayte was with John. If anything, Wilson believed that the whole show was for Rinmar.

"It is a message from Sera to you, Prince Rinmar," Wilson had said as they left the temple. "That Hylan is protected not only by the Orders of Rondiar, but by our ancient guardians as well."

Of course, the Scygard took offense but knew to hold his tongue.

"The rebels are broken and weakened after the campaign by the one called Feralina Vladertz," Rinmar had answered Wilson as he held Emily's hand. "Hylan is safe from those in Saldara who oppose our alliance."

Emily was all Fayte could think about as he followed the Prince to the roof of the City Watch headquarters. Emily and Rinmar were both residing within Eres Star Castle, hosted by the new Magister after the previous was murdered by Rinmar's uncle, Lormio La'ou. An awkward meeting it must had been when the Magister met with Rinmar.

The Prince stepped to the edge of the roof, showing no discomfort as the chilly winds swept by. Fayte picked Preston up and hugged the dragon for some warmth.

"I don't suppose you could warm me up without cooking me," he asked.

Preston shook his head.

"You love Emily," Rinmar said, turning around to face him. "And she loves you."

"Love is too big a word for the feelings that we have for each other," Fayte told him. "We were best friends. Close to one another like siblings. No more."

Rinmar smiled but he did not believe. "Were best friends?"

"A Princess has little need for friends in such times."

"Such times is when friends are a Princess's greatest need."

Fayte looked up and found Sera's eye shut to him. "Noble lords and ladies are the only friends Emily need right now. There are still many in Hylan who oppose the alliance."

And some beyond the Northern Gate who might see this alliance too big a threat. Fayte chose not to share this with Rinmar if he didn't know already.

"Yes," Rinmar said, his tone grew solemn. "That is the reason behind the assassination of your friend, isn't it?"

Fayte did not answer.

"Forgive me for bringing it up," he said. "I too am saddened by his death. Emily had spoken about him and his family. He was one of the-"

"What is it about that you wished to speak with me?" Fayte interrupted him, having no desire to talk about Jeremiah with him.

Rinmar apologized for getting carried away. He sighed and looked Fayte straight in the eyes.

"I love Emily," he said. "Just as much as you do."

Fayte nearly scoffed.

"But Emily loves me not."

That got Fayte's attention.

"Emily and I shall wed in name," Rinmar went on, his voice softening, his expression hard to decipher in this moonless night. "But never in heart."

Preston stirred in his arms as Fayte listened on.

"She will bear my child one day, for that is the ultimate goal of our marriage."

Fayte sucked in a deep breath and looked away upon that thought.

"That is what will bind my people to yours," Rinmar told him. "Saldara will truly become a part of Hylan then. And your people will no longer have any fear of us."

"We're done here," Fayte said, turning to leave, for the thought of Emily and Rinmar having a child together was too much for him to bear.

"I will not stand in between you and Emily," he said aloud, stopping Fayte. "I love her and I wish for her to be happy. If being with you is what makes her happy, then I will not be an obstruction to that. I am a Prince and she a Princess. We have our duties and we cannot turn away from them. But I can turn my head away should you two choose to meet in secret."

At this point Fayte was confused, his feelings mixed.

"So long as Emily is happy," the Saldarian Prince said firmly. "All else does not matter."

Fayte wondered if he should be hugging Rinmar for being willing to suffer the shame of his lady wife seeing another man, or stab him for suggesting that he and Emily would commit such an adulterous and dishonourable act. All Fayte knew at that moment was that he felt hopeful again. Suddenly there was a chance for him to be with Emily again. Just as Rinmar said, so long as Emily was happy, all else does not matter… isn't that so?

That was when an arrow burst through Rinmar's chest.

At first Fayte did not react. Rinmar was protected by a seal inscribed upon his heart. The seal prevented any harm to befall him should he be pierced or stabbed through it. But when he saw the Prince fall onto his knees, blood dripping onto the ground, and his green eyes wide with fear, Fayte dashed to him and Preston took off.

He heard a whizz and ducked to narrowly dodge an arrow, hearing it bounce off the ground.

The arrows are coming from higher ground. He searched quickly. Too dark, need more light.

Fayte rushed to Rinmar, drawing his sword, and lifted the Prince with his shoulder.

"HELP!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. "HELP!"

He turned Rinmar around and helped him to the edge of the roof. It would be safer for him to head down by the stairs, but the edge of the roof was much closer and the ledge offered them protection from where the arrow was coming from. At least that was what Fayte thought until another arrow lodged itself right next to his face.

There's more than one assassin, he realized, pushing Rinmar over so that he laid on his side. But he can't see us clearly as well.

Short of throwing Rinmar over the ledge, Fayte knew of no other way to protect the Prince without his shield, so he used himself as bait. He ran off in the other direction, swinging his sword in the air, hoping the blade would catch a little of the moonlight and draw the assassins' direction.

The plan worked… in a way.

He managed to draw one of the assassin's attention. In fact, he drew his attention so well the assassin appeared right in front of him. There was little to say about the assassin. He was wrapped in a dark robe. Slung over his chest was a bow and behind him a quiver. In his right hand was a short sword and with it he slashed at Fayte.

Fayte disarmed him after parrying no more than two blows.

"If it was Jeremiah you were fighting." Fayte lunged and slashed at the assassin, but his sword was stopped by a curved dagger. "You'd be dead already."

Preston screeched.

Fayte swung his left arm to deflect the arrow coming from behind him, a reflex, but he didn't have his shield. Instead he saw a glimmer of gold and heard the sound of steel snapping. The Scygard spun around and Fayte ducked, saving himself from being beheaded. There was a spray of hot liquid on the top of his head before he heard a dull thud on the ground. The assassin he was fighting had fallen limp on the ground.

Beheading a person was easy when acted out in plays. All it took was a little imagination. To truly behead a person took both a sharpened and sturdy sword, as well as an immense amount of force. The way the Scygard beheaded the assassin, he made it look like it was a play. And you didn't need any imagination.

The other assassin that came at Fayte from behind backed away from them, first a step back, then another, before he turned and-

"-NO!"

The Scygard sank his curved blade into the shoulder of the assassin and straight to the heart.

Fayte screamed in frustration. "We needed him alive!"

The Scygard ignored him, ripping out his sword before rushing to his Prince. Soldiers finally arrived at the roof, brandishing pikes and torches. Wilson was leading them and he made his way to Rinmar at once, sending a sphere of light into the air.

They're dead for sure. Fayte turned away from the two corpses and went to Rinmar. "How is he?"

"Normally I would say it is a blessing for an arrow to miss the heart." Wilson snapped off the head of the arrow before he pulled out the shaft from behind. Rinmar screamed but his voice was strained and breathless. It was painful to just hear him wheezed. "But not for our Prince here."

"Save him!" the Scygard yelled, grabbing Wilson by his sleeve. "Save him now!"

Preston let out a breath of fire to force the Scygard away from Wilson.

"Get me the Captain," Wilson said, his hands flaring with light as he pressed on Rinmar's wounds from both the front and the back.

"I am here," said Captain Resfield, staring at Fayte until he nodded to indicate that he was unharmed. "What do you need?"

"Do you know Promella?" Wilson removed his hands and examined the wound, shaking his head before he plunged them in again.

"The herbalist," Captain Resfield said, handing his shield to Fayte before he tightened his sword belt. "Do you need me to bring her here?"

"Where is this Promella?" the Scygard went to the ledge of the roof. "I will bring her!"

"The head of the arrow has torn his lung and airpipe." Wilson ceased his magic and examined the wound again. It was no good. "I have ceased the bleeding but he is still choking."

Rinmar was wide awake now but the Prince was struggling to get a breath, his mouth gurgling with blood that spilled past his chin. Captain Resfield went over and lifted Rinmar in his arms, telling the Scygard to back off and follow him if he was so worried.

"What help can a simple herbalist offer?" the Scygard said, frantic, as he tried to take his Prince away from the Captain. "Release him! I shall take him to another priest in the castle!"

"Then he will die!" Wilson snapped at him. "Captain, take him to Promella now!"

The knight did not wait for the Scygard to approve, leaping off from the roof with the Light the Spirits flaring. Wilson took off to follow the Captain so Fayte went after him.

"Is the herbalist a priestess?" he asked as he chased Wilson down the steps.

"Nay." Wilson said. "But she can cut Rinmar open and mend him by hand."

CHAPTER 28

Hot blood steamed in the air, splashed across the walls and the floor of the hall.

Fayte raised his shield over his head but he could not take his eyes off the scene. The ferocity of the attacks frightened him but the grace of their movements entranced him. This was not a foe he wanted to face. It was akin to watching his own father fight, but there was a fluidity in their movements. One slash followed through with another, their footwork a perfect complement to their strikes, taking them from one beast to another.

The Eres Star Templars were unmatched.

It was a dance that spilled blood with every step taken from one beast to the another. The first spectre appeared right in front of him, cutting the yeti in half before another Templar spectre appeared, joining the first in the bloody dance. Soon the yetis began to flee but their numbers had already been severely thinned. Now the grey spectres of the Templars filled the hall. They did not give chase though in the distance came the sound of dying yetis.

Instead the spectres present in the hall turned around, sword still in hand, and began to close in on them.

"Resfield," Commander Reyner called.

"You are in the presence of Emily Whiteart!" Captain Resfield shouted, his voice deep and commanding. "Daughter of King Eardon of the Royal Whiteart Family!"

The Templars pressed on.

"G-g-g-go away!" Mailer swung out both pieces of his marotte. "SHOO!"

Captain Resfield continued to scream at them, stating Emily's name once more and her father's and her grandfather's, and the Kings before them. Still the Templars approached them, their faces a misty blur but the way they held their swords made their intentions clear enough. What was also clear, though only to Fayte it seemed, was who exactly the Templars were approaching.

"ENNNNDD THE CUUURSSSEEEE!" a voice screeched from amongst the sea of spectres.

"Drop your sword and kneel, John Greyblade," said Captain Resfield. "Do it now!"

Greyblade? The name was familiar but Fayte could not recall from where. Not when there was a wave of murderous ghosts walking towards him.

"You bear the sin of your ancestor," the Captain went on when John did not move, though the man was trembling uncontrollably. "There is no escape from it! Do it before your Princess gets caught in their vengeance!"

A spectre appeared in front of John with its sword raised above its head with both hands.

"DEAAATH UPOON YOOOOUU!" it screeched, a thin and sharp voice.

John was paralyzed as the spectre brought its sword down. And so Fayte found himself sliding in between them, raising his shield and steeling himself to be cut apart like the yetis that lay around them. The blow never came. Instead Fayte caught himself with his breath held the entire time. He gasped for air as he slowly moved his shield away to find the spectre blade just inches away from his face.

It felt more stupid than heroic but Fayte said, "I do not know what sin this-this man has committed, but I was charged to bring him with me by the Queen of the Water Nymphs. She who serves Sera."

The sword did not move and so neither did Fayte but he grew braver then.

"Sera would not have sent him here to die, so John is under my protection," he said. "And I have taken a vow to protect those who cannot. I will not break that vow. Not even to a Templar."

I am speaking to a ghost, he realized. An actual ghost. A ghost.

The living dead was easy to swallow since he could cut them apart. Ghosts and spectres were a whole other subject altogether. Fayte wasn't even sure if there was a difference between the two. He found himself eager to speak with Kestel, curious if the High Sage knew more about them. Perhaps the High Sage had never even believed that ghosts existed. This would surely arouse much intrigue from the little genius.

He felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Are you well?" Wilson asked, staring at him.

"What?" Fayte turned back and saw that the spectres were gone. "The ghosts- the spectres-"

"Vanished," his friend told him. "Yet you did not move."

"They do that." It was John, standing far away from the Princess and the rest of them. "Ya lose ye focus and get distracted by other matters. Makes it hard ta fight them."

Emily was beside him. "That was incredible, Fayte!"

That was insane.

"You stood against a Templar," Sir Percson said, smiling as always. "Incredible? Yes. Wise? Hmm, very much debatable."

"You were going to abandon my Prince!" the Scygard said, pointing with his weapon.

"You are free to report it to my King," Sir Percson answered without a shade of worry.

Rinmar waved his warrior away. "Shush. Sir Percson is a man of Hylan. You would have done the same in his position."

Sir Percson’s duty was to protect Rinmar yet he chose not to when the time came. Fayte could understand why. It was not because the Whiteguard had no honour or that he detested the Prince. Sir Percson wanted to spare Commander Reyner from making an impossible decision.

The Commander of the Whiteguards may be grateful now, but he would have to punish Sir Percson in some manner when they returned to Rondiar. For now though the old Whiteguard’s anger was directed at another knight.

"You knew this might happen and yet you did not think it wise to warn me?" Commander Reyner was shouting at Captain Resfield, the two men standing closer to John. "The Princess could have been killed!"

"Well I didn't think Sera would lead us to a potentially fatal situation!" the Captain argued. "It was a dream, Reyner, and on top of that Sera is a very large dragon. I thought it wise not to question the command of a very large dragon!"

It would seem that Fayte and Wilson weren't the only ones commanded by greater powers to bring John to the temple.

"This is unacceptable, Resfield!" Commander Reyner insisted. "It could have been a mere dream!"

"Then none of this would have happened! But it did happen which means Sera really did give me a command, and that means the Princess was never in danger to begin with!"

"You don't know that!"

"Enough," Emily said.

For a girl her size Emily could really silence a room when she wanted to. Her voice was nowhere near as commanding as Captain Resfield, but the voice of a royalty bore more weight than any Captain's. The two knights lowered their heads and turned towards her.

"If Lady Sera had intended for this man to be here then I believe she intended for all of us to be here as well," she said, glancing at John before she looked to Wilson for reassurance. The young priest nodded slightly for her to go on. "What occurred in this temple was by Lady Sera's doing, and if I had been hurt or killed, then it too was by her doing. I honestly cannot imagine what one could do if a God decides that I should perish."

I would beg to die in your place, Fayte thought, ignoring Wilson when he glanced at him.

Finally Emily sighed for she did not feel well reprimanding two knights of such esteem, so she smiled and did a twirl. "I'm fine. See?"

"Neither of them are your father, my Princess," Sir Percson told her. "I fear a little twirl and a cute smile would not suffice to assuage their fears."

"Well I don't care," she said and turned to the two knights who still held their heads low. "I am well so lift your chins, my valiant protectors, and tell me more of this man and the sin of his ancestor that he bears. Greyblade is a royal name from an age long passed."

Danfred Greyblade, Fayte easily recalled now. The King of Eres Star Castle.

"This man is a descendant of King Danfred Greyblade," Captain Resfield said after a glance at the Commander. The Whiteguard went over to Emily while the Captain approached John. "The last King of Eres Star Castle."

"A good King," John said, mumbling, sitting on the ground.

Captain Resfield scoffed. "Judge a father by the worst of his children. His eldest was the Lord-Templar and brought the nine heroes here to defeat the Great Evil, but his youngest brought only shame to the mighty name of Greyblade and the Order of the Eres Star."

"King Danfred had only one son," Emily said quite certainly. "I learned about him during my lessons with Administrator Langton. There was no mention of a younger son."

"A subject of dispute between historians," Commander Reyner explained. "Most believe there was only one child, others believed there was another. Of the latter they said that Danfred Greyblade disowned him."

The mention of historians made Fayte wonder which side his mother was on.

"To become a Templar was an achievement amongst the highest honour," the Commander went on. "It is said that his second son was the first Templar to ever break his oath."

"Why?" Fayte asked. "For what reason did he break his oath?"

"The Great Evil," Captain Resfield said, standing next to John who was picking at his boot absently. "It is said that Danfred's youngest son had only just become a Templar a day before the Order of the Eres Star marched against the Great Evil. It is said that he fled from the war while his elder brother gave his life so that the Chosen Herald could call upon the aid of the nine heroes."

"And for that he was cursed," Emily mused.

Commander Reyner was nodding. "We often say that those with the bloodline of the Templars are blessed with more strength or power."

"A myth," said the Captain. "A false one."

"But one that has compelled you and many others to greater heights," Sir Percson pointed out.

Fayte had never given this much thought until now. If strength and power were to be passed on through blood, then the blood must flow from that of a Templar. But there never could be a direct descendant of a Templar, for they could not marry and have children, lest it meant breaking their oath. And it was said that no Templar had ever broken his or her oath… save for one apparently.

John could feel their eyes upon him and the question they all shared.

The man remained silent.

"Two of us here were commanded by a high power to guide you to this place," Captain Resfield told him. "And for the first time, Templar spectres revealed themselves and chased away a horde of mysteriously frenzied Yetis."

"The Yetis were likely crazed by Ra’gelor," Rinmar said, standing next to Emily. "A mere coincidence, perhaps?"

Sera is not one for coincidences.

"Perhaps," Captain Resfield said respectfully. "Still, I was not aware that royal Greyblades still walked amongst us."

John sniffed hard and spat out his snot. "I'm about as royal as that."

"You bear the once royal name of Greyblade," Emily said, wanting to approach him but Commander Reyner stopped her. "You are no longer royal but you are still a noble lord by law. You stand amongst families such as the Emerald-Talons and the Vladertz."

That made John laughed. "Did the little Princess just called me a noble lord?"

Captain Resfield drew his sword and pressed it against John's neck.

A trickle of blood rolled past his collarbones.

"I’ve never cared much for fantastical Templar legends, but it is also said that the spirits of the Templars cannot rest until the curse is lifted," the knight with the bloodline of the Templars said. "The curse that has kept my ancestors from peace for centuries now."

"Captain Resfield," Sir Percson said warningly.

"A man cannot be judged for the sins of his father," Wilson stated, nervous now because none of them were close enough to stop the Captain. "Or his ancestor in this case."

John stared at the Captain defiantly. "And it is said that the curse can’t be lifted. Not until the last of them Greyblades are wiped off from the face of this world."

"Yes it is," the Captain agreed. "And here I have, it seems, the last of the Greyblades."

CHAPTER 27

With Mailer crying over his broken marotte, John managed to avoid a confrontation with the Whiteguards. Commander Reyner insisted that Fayte travelled with them by gryphon. He intended to reject the offer until the very end, but when he saw how exhausted Wilson was, Fayte relented.

"Only because my priest is tired," he emphasized to the Commander.

"Of course," Commander Reyner said. "You can ride with Captain-"

"Alright, Fayte Kaywin, you forced me," Emily declared after she made her way over. "As Princess of Hylan, I command you to fly with us! And that is final!"

Fayte and Commander Reyner watched as the Princess turned and attempted to storm away, but because the snow was so deep she had to slowly make her way back to her gryphon.

"As I was saying, you can fly with Captain Resfield."

The royal gryphons were not used to the altitude but they managed well enough. The larger mountain gryphons with their thicker bodies and larger feathers seemed hardly bothered by the cold. Captain Resfield himself was quite comfortable as well, with his knight's armour and only a winter cloak.

"I was watching our dear Princess from the sky," he said when Fayte asked where he had been as he got on the gryphon. "As I was commanded to by Commander Reyner."

"The Commander outranks you?"

Captain Resfield shrugged. "It was wise of him. He may have an eye on her from the ground, but Her Grace is prone to… surprises. Percson and I were in the right positions to intercept if anything went wrong."

"I see." Fayte turned to Emily as they took off, watching as Rinmar helped her onto her gryphon. They seemed almost loving. Already his heart felt worse than his hand. "Why did the yetis go after John?"

"I do not pretend to understand these beasts even after so spending so many years in this region," the Captain told him. "But beasts tend to sense things that we do not. I have my suspicion, but let it remain as such until I know for sure after our visit to the temple. I will share what I know with you then."

At least he has an idea. Fayte was getting a bit frustrated with John and his history. Was he sent to aid me or is he a challenge that I must overcome on my pilgrimage?

Their breaths misted and the cold grew harsher as they ascended to the entrance of the Eres Star Temple. Two monolithic statues of Templars stood guard outside the entrance, built into the face of the mountain. The temple itself was constructed within the mountain. Seeing the statues reminded Fayte of what a great feat it was to have built a temple in such harsh conditions.

"The Temple of the Order of the Eres Star," Captain Resfield presented to Emily and Rinmar. "Home to the legendaryTemplars of ages passed."

Fayte smiled when he saw the wonder in Emily's eyes.

"One day we'll visit the Temple together," he remembered her saying years ago when they were both much younger. Commander Reyner was teaching her about the Templars. The Whiteguard made the mistake of saying that the Temple was high up at Mount Erestor, a place where the Princess would not like to visit for it was bitterly cold. "A little bit of snow won't stop us! Right, Fayte?"

We planned to climb this mountain together, he recalled, following them into the temple. The two of us.

Emily shied into Rinmar's arms when a gust of wind swept by them.

"Focus," Wilson said, squeezing his shoulder as he looked up at the boulders that formed the entrance to the temple. His friend looked better now. "Be in awe. You now stand where great heroes once stood."

He nodded, but found it hard to feel any awe. "John, let's go."

The man stood outside the temple, just a step away from the stone floor. He didn't want to be here. He was hesitant and afraid even but he stepped into the temple in the end. John looked as though he expected something to happen. When nothing did he went up to them and followed them in. Captain Resfield led the way with Emily holding hands with Rinmar behind him. The two Whiteguards flanked them with the Scygard bringing up the rear with Mailer, who still sobbed over his broken stick. Preston took off from Wilson's shoulder and flew ahead to join Emily, perching on her back and sticking his head in between hers and Rinmar.

Fayte and Wilson exchanged a grin.

"The air feels wrong," John whispered as they went on.

"I agree," said Wilson, summoning a sphere of light as Captain Resfield lit a torch at the front. "The Saldarian demon."

"Ra’gelor," Fayte said, louder than he intended, his voice echoing across the hallway.

Everyone halted for a moment but went on without a word.

It was colder inside the temple and just as John and Wilson had both said, something in the air felt wrong. To Fayte it felt like it was noisy, but the noise was not caused by their footsteps and voices that echoed about. The air was still and cold yet he could feel frustration in his heart.

"Remnants of the demon’s presence," Rinmar said from the front. "Steel your heart but fret not. No ill will befall you save for an unsettling sensation. It will pass once we leave here."

It bothered Fayte that such a historical place was now tainted by a Saldarian demon.

The ceiling was tall, at least two stories high, and the hallway led into a great hall square in shape and supported by four columns. Sunlight descended from a gap in the roof and Wilson sent spheres of light in all directions. The priestess accompanying Emily did the same. They lit up the hall and Fayte found the place tidier than he had expected. Judging from the marks on the ground and how there was no snow piles lying about, Captain Resfield must had sent people up here to prepare the place for Emily's visit.

His guess was proven founded when three soldiers stepped into the hall from another hallway. They stood by a corner after making their presence known to Captain Resfield. The knight followed Emily around the place. She no longer held Rinmar's hand, instead, let herself be led about by her own curiosity.

"This was where they gathered," John explained, pointing to wears and marks on the ground. "They had benches and tables here. They would tell stories as they ate. Other times this place would be used for duels and contests."

Fayte did not ask how John came to know this. He only listened and tried to imagine what it was like when the temple was still alive and filled with Templars.

"How often do they pray?" Wilson asked, pressing his palm against one of the support columns.

John quirked a brow. "How often do ye pray?"

Wilson did not understand how the questions were related for he was a priest of the White Rose.

"The Orders of Rondiar were based on the Order of the Eres Star," John told him, pacing about like he could not stand still. "Most of what ye do and stand for now came from them Templars. Fayte's pilgrimage is no different."

"A Templar's Pilgrimage," Fayte mused. "Knights have the Light of the Spirits. What do Templars have?"

"Might."

They turned to find Captain Resfield and Emily behind them.

"How this power of Might is obtained, we do not know," said the Captain. "But it was lost with the end of the Templars and what we hope to use in place with the Light of the Spirits."

"Knights are defensive in nature," John continued, holding up his sword. "Templars are all about the offensive."

"But I have seen pictures of Templars with shields," Emily said, rubbing her arms for warmth.

John scoffed and laughed. "Well ye haven't seen them fight with those shields now have ya?"

"Have you?" Captain Resfield asked.

They all turned to John who slowly lost his mirth. The Captain did not wait for an answer. They went on deeper into the temple and Sir Percson approached Fayte.

"You wander too far from us," he said, softly. "Afraid of the Scygard?"

It was a jest but Fayte could not bring himself to smile.

"If there is an assassin waiting for us here, Captain Resfield's man would have already discovered him." Fayte looked around them. "I can see no place where the assassin may conceal himself."

"Magic beyond the Northern Gate is foreign and unfamiliar to us," the Whiteguard told him, though his smile did not show any concern or worry. "Best not take any chances now."

Sir Percson had his way of phrasing an order, so Fayte followed them more closely, staying right behind the escort. Mailer's bells jingled noisily and irritated Captain Resfield quite a bit. Emily had to ask the Captain to be kind to Mailer many times, and each time she did Mailer would be making funny faces at the Captain from behind her.

Rinmar seemed undisturbed by Mailer's antics. For the most part he was silent and kept to his own, while his Scygard shadowed him. You could not see Rinmar without seeing the Scygard in the same field of view. The jester however, did manage to coax the Scygard into glaring at him every now and then by dancing around him.

"That freak is asking ta be stabbed," John mumbled.

It came as a surprise to Fayte that he felt defensive to hear Mailer being called a freak. "He is a jester, not a freak."

"A grown man prancing around with a mask." John was shaking his head. "Freak I say."

They went through the living areas and sleeping quarters, a large kitchen and an open area where it was said to serve as a garden for the Templars, before they arrived at a wide open space lit by the sun. This hall was similar to the living area where the ceiling was open, only larger in scale by several folds. It was circular with tiers carved into the walls to form seats.

"Another living area?" Emily asked.

"Nay, Your Grace." Captain Resfield led them to the centre and gestured at the faded marks on the ground. "This is where Templars are born."

Fayte judged from how far they had travelled inwards and the direction of the shadows they were casting on the ground. He might be wrong but this seemed to be the centre of the mountain. Right above them was the peak. On the ground Fayte could not make out what the markings were. But he could see from the darken areas and in the grooves, that this was a spot where blood had been shed many times.

"At the height of noon, this is where initiates kneel and swear an oath to their Order in blood," Captain Resfield told them, gesturing at two little spots where the ground had weathered in. "This is where they knelt. It is where they would bleed themselves as they spoke the words."

Fayte noticed the Captain casting a look at John.

A secret family who has been succeeding the Order of the Eres Star for centuries. Fayte looked to Captain Resfield who was now answering some of Emily's questions. Is that what you were suspecting?

A long, drawn out moan echoed through the hallways.

Hurried footsteps came following before they heard a scream. A scream that was let out before a man dies. Commander Reyner and Sir Percson both drew their swords and moved to protect the Princess. The Scygard revealed his golden blade while Rinmar placed himself in front Emily. They faced the hallway where they came from and two of Captain Resfield's men came running through.

"Yetis!" one of them screamed. "By the horde, Captain! I've never seen so many-"

A shadow fell upon them.

There was a flare of crimson and a yeti that descended from the open ceiling was blasted away. The two Whiteguards had raised their shields to protect the two royals from the fire spell. Fayte drew his sword with John and everyone began to huddle into the centre of the room.

Slowly, yetis of varying sizes poured through the numerous hallways. They climbed onto the stone seats, growling and moaning, calling out to one another as they bore their fangs in a show of ferocity. Above them the yetis began to crowd as well, lingering near the edge of the open ceiling, casting their shadows upon them. There were hundreds of them.

They were completely surrounded.

"We're going to die, we're going to die, we're going to die," Mailer kept saying as he hid behind Emily.

"There is a meditation room beneath this hall," Captain Resfield said, positioned next to the wizard. "Can you break the ground?"

"Nay," the wizard said, a bright red tome floating next to him. "My knowledge of the Earth element is too limited for such a task. I may very well bring the whole temple down on us."

"These yetis are different," Wilson pointed out.

He was right. Their hairs were frayed and darker and there was bloodlust in their eyes, a look of madness that spoke of fanaticism. They looked more battered than the ones that attacked them outside. Fayte began to wonder if these yetis had been hiding inside the temple, but surely Captain Resfield's men would have found them while preparing the temple.

"Ra’gelor," Rinmar said as he drew a dagger.

The demon changed these beasts? It would explain the difference in their appearance. "I don't suppose you have a way to scare them off?"

"None," said the Prince.

The yetis surged at them all at once.

A wall of flames ran around them, washing them over with a gust of heat before icy water dripped on them from the melting snow above. The yetis withdrew from the flames as the wizard focused and channelled his mana to keep his flames burning. The priestess placed her hand on the wizard's shoulder, channelling her mana to aid him.

"This will not last," the wizard said.

"Princess, time for us to leave," Commander Reyner said, his eyes flaring with power. "Percson, grab…"

The Whiteguard hesitated when he saw Fayte.

"Whiteguard," the Scygard said when he saw Commander Reyner’s expression. "Need I remind you that my Prince is here under the protection of your King?"

The Saldarian warrior was right and Commander Reyner knew he was. But to save a Saldarian over the son of the Lord-Knight, a man Fayte knew the Whiteguard respected deeply, was perhaps too much to ask of him.

"Don't worry about me," Fayte said. "I won't die here."

Commander Reyner was struggling, more so than Fayte had thought he would, for he had known the Commander of the Whiteguards to be a great and honourable man. Those left behind would surely perish. The odds against them were simply too great. This was a matter of life and death.

Sir Percson grabbed Fayte by the shoulder, drawing a look of surprise from his Commander.

"You are to protect the Prince, Percson," Commander Reyner said. "Take the Prince and get him to safety-"

"I refuse," the Whiteguard said, smiling still as though they were in no danger. "You can kick me out of the Whiteguards when this is-"

At that moment a yeti fell over the flames. It caught fire in an instant but the beast created a gap in the wall, allowing the others to jump through. Shadows were cast upon them and the yetis above descended as well. The wizard reacted, swinging his hands above him as he directed the flames from the fire wall over their heads, blasting the yetis away and keeping them from falling into them.

With the fire wall gone, they were overwhelmed in an instant. Commander Reyner screamed to protect the Princess, while Captain Resfield let out a roar that challenged even the beasts. The Scygard lunged forward to engage the yetis while John screamed maniacally as he swung his sword. Fayte felt energy coursing through his veins as Wilson poured his mana into him, empowering him, a last desperate attempt to protect him.

That was when Fayte saw them.

Templars.

CHAPTER 26

The howling winds swept against them and stole their voices.

Behind them rose the glorious sun but Fayte could hardly keep his eyes open with what felt like a gale blowing against him. He held up his shield to fend it off but the snow was still pelting him from the front. The cold bit him through to the bones even with all the layers he had on. If this was simply why John didn't want to climb the mountain, Fayte could very well believe him now.

But it is clear he has connections to the Templar Order, he thought, stabbing the thick walking stick into the snow to help steady himself. He refuses to share the name of his family. A rebel Templar perhaps? One that has shamed the family?

It seemed the likeliest reason, but it would not explain why he was commanded to bring John along.

Wilson was having trouble keeping up, he knew because the rope they tied to one another grew tensed. John was leading the way while Fayte was in the middle. Wilson and Preston brought up the rear. He pulled on the rope to signal John to stop. Fayte waited and waited, growing worried until a breath of fire scorched the snow and Wilson and Preston came into view. The priest was bundled thickly with wool and Preston had buried himself in front of Wilson, so it looked as though he had a dragon for a second head.

"Can you manage?" he shouted through the wind.

Wilson grabbed him and pulled him close. "This is not right! The wind should not be this strong!"

"Well I doubt the assassins are behind this!" This is an act of Sera. "Should we stop?"

John was pulling on his rope, urging them to continue.

"Magic beyond the Northern Gate are unfamiliar to us," Wilson said, pushing Fayte forward. "We press on, but take extra care!"

As they trudged on, the bitter cold began to wear on him but Fayte dared not ask Wilson for help. He had trained for such conditions while Wilson spent most of his days studying and practicing the healing arts. He would be struggling a greater deal than him. Wilson had to save his energy for himself.

By late morning the forceful winds died down and soon enough they were in the clear. It was as though the winds gave up and decided to leave them alone. Fayte and Wilson fell onto their backs, exhausted and freezing as both of them fought to keep themselves awake. John tossed them a flask and told them to drink from it.

"Firewine," John said, drinking a mouthful from his own wineskin. "It'll warm ya up."

Faye coughed out the first mouthful.

It was like drinking fire. He had not expected the burning sensation down his throat. The second mouthful went down but it was no more pleasant than the first. When he tried for a third mouthful, John stopped him, warning him that too much would put his body in a burning fever.

"Many a man died from too much firewine," he told them. "But when ye lost and trapped in the cold, ye give hands and legs for just a bit of heat. Sometimes even if it means killing yeself."

As Wilson helped himself to the wine, Fayte surveyed their surroundings. It was a slope of pure white against a sky of blue. The snow had covered the rocky and uneven surface of the mountain, coming up near to his knee whenever Fayte took a step forward. He began to worry about frostbite but John assured him that the firewine took care of that.

They rested and ate and soon they were off again. Since dawn they had been climbing, hoping to make it up to the temple before sunset and spend the night at the temple. The yetis would rouse at sundown and though the intelligent beasts were of peaceful nature, climbers were often advised to avoid them.

"How did the Templars deal with the yetis?" Wilson asked.

"Respect," said John. "The Templars left them alone and the yetis saw no reason ta bother them. Templars are highly revered. Critters can sense their presence, while gryphons and yetis may approach them to make friends."

"Did the Templars ever enter into an alliance with the yetis?"

John scratched his face as he thought. "Nay. The Templars were friends with the gryphon, it's how they travel from their temple to the city. And yetis aren't no friends with them gryphons. Nope."

"You know a great deal about the Templars," Fayte pointed out.

"So?" said the man who had grown unfriendly to him since Fayte drew his sword on him. "You don't see me prying into ye history now do ya?"

"You are welcome to leave us after we return from the temple."

Wilson gave him a disapproving look, but Fayte was sure that greater powers at play here would not allow that. Not unless John had served his purpose on this pilgrimage.

Perhaps he is here to impart his knowledge of the Templars to us? A possibility, but they would not know for sure until they reached the temple.

Preston, on the ground now, uncurled his wings and lifted his head.

"We should keep going," Wilson said to break the tense silence. "Alright, let's go, Preston."

The dragon did not respond, his head snapping from one direction to another, until he was turning in all directions. Fayte and John both rose together and drew their weapons. He held up his shield and kept his sword ready by his side. Clearly Preston sensed something approaching them from all around, friend or foe they did not know.

"See anything?" John called.

A landscape of white snow may sound beautiful in a book, but all that white reflecting the light of the sun made it almost blinding.

"No." Fayte squinted.

It was then when they heard a wailing noise echoing from the distance. A cavernous wail that rumbled from a large beast.

"Huh," John went. "That was a yeti."

Before Fayte could ask why yetis were awake in the day, the snow beneath him erupted and Fayte was flung into the air. He fell back into the snow, buried in it, scrambling to get out just in time to jump away as a mighty force slammed down on where he had landed.

The yeti was at least three times his height, casting a tall shadow that engulfed him as it turned to face him. Its entire body was covered in long white hair. Its shoulders were broad and its arms massive like the trunks of trees. It had no neck that Fayte could see and its eyes were small and black. If it stood still and shut its eyes, you would not see it lest you looked long and hard for it. The yeti wailed and bore its jagged teeth in a mouth large enough to engulf his head.

"We mean you no harm!" Fayte yelled, spreading his arms in a show of peace.

To his right he could hear another yeti wailing, this one in pain, as John pulled his sword from the beast who was now soaked in the red of its blood. Two other yetis lay dead around John with more coming from all around them. When the yeti in front of Fayte saw its dead companions, it turned back to him and snarled.

Kill or be killed. "Forgive me then."

The yeti threw its left fist at him so Fayte spun and shielded himself, cutting the yeti across the chest before its fist collided into his shield and knocked him aside. Blood gushed from the yeti's wound and painted the snow a striking red. It was easier than Fayte had expected. As the yeti fell to its knees and bled to its death, Fayte searched for his friend and found him standing unbothered with Preston in his arms.

The yetis are leaving him alone, he realized, perhaps because Wilson was a servant of Sera. Now he noticed that none of the other yetis came towards him.

They were all headed for John.

"BEGONE!" John screamed, cutting them down one after another, severing their limbs clean before he opened them across the belly. His slashes were brutal and his movements were desperate. Fayte lunged into the fray and helped him, ducking and dodging before countering with stabs and slashes. "Leave me be!"

"There's too many!" Fayte yelled. "It's like the whole mountain is after us!"

John was screaming madly until a screech from the air drew their attention. When the yetis saw the gryphons descending upon them, they wailed and flung their fists to the sky, only to be raked by the razor talons and have their fingers cut off.

Royal gryphons? These were no wild gryphons. "Emily?"

There she was, riding atop a gryphon as it drove a yeti into the ground, clawing it open before taking off into the air again. More gryphons descended and attacked the yetis. Soon there were fire bolts streaking into the snow and erupting into blasts more extravagant than deadly.

"FAYTE!"

He spun around the moment he heard Wilson's voice. The yeti was charging towards him but it was stopped when a strike of fury smashed it down from the sky. Fayte swung his sword and stabbed another yeti, driving it back before a gryphon seized it from behind.

Rinmar. They met eyes for a moment before the gryphon took off, leaving the yeti's back torn open.

"Fayte!" Commander Reyner called, his white fur cloak stained with red and his helmet splattered with blood. "Are you injured?"

"I'm fine," he told the Whiteguard. "Emily should be in the air!"

"My job would be a great deal easier if the Princess was one to listen!" Commander Reyner said. "Behind you!"

Fayte turned around yet before he could take on the yeti, a large man cloaked in green swung a golden blade and sliced apart both the yeti's arm. The Scygard leaped off to another and opened its back from the bottom up. The sunrays danced off his golden armour as he moved, leaving only death in his path.

Commander Reyner shook his head disapprovingly when Fayte looked to him.

"These yetis fall quite easily," Fayte noticed, watching as John and the Scygard killed and chased away the remaining yetis.

"Look at your hand," was the Whiteguard's answer, and Fayte saw that it was swollen and bruised.

He staked his sword into the ground and tried to open his palm. The pain was terrible and worse than he had ever experienced. It was like he could feel every one of his muscles and tendons in his hand across his wrist and arm, each one burning hot and painfully sore.

"These yetis do not fall easily," Commander Reyner told him, waving Wilson over to them. "You just fought harder than you realized."

"Fayte!" Emily yelled, jumping off the gryphon before it even landed properly. She fell face first into the snow, startling her entire escort, only to scurry back onto her feet and kneel next to Fayte. "Your hand, it looks terrible!"

Wilson laughed. "We can all see that, dear Princess. Come on now, move aside and let me have a look."

The bruise was bad and would take weeks to heal on its own. Wilson did what he could and soothed his pain, taking away the burning soreness with it. He noted that the bruising was worse than he liked and Fayte might had torn a muscle or a tendon.

"AH!" Fayte winced and pulled his hand away.

"See?" said Wilson. Preston nodded beside him. "I will see to it in few more days after your body has had its turn to mend it. Then it will be easier and safer for me to fix it without risking further damage."

"You cannot climb like this," Emily said, moving to help Fayte stand but he quickly got up before she could. "You shall join us."

"The climb is part of my pilgrimage," he told her, meeting Rinmar's eyes who had been watching from afar quietly. His Scygard stood behind him like an ominous shadow. "It is not a question of whether I can."

A priestess walked up to Commander Reyner and whispered in his ear before the Whiteguard looked over to John. The yetis were clearly after him and it could only be clearer from the sky. Fayte knew what Commander Reyner was thinking. John was obviously no ordinary character, but that was of lesser concern to him now. No, what bothered Commander Reyner was the fact that John was putting Fayte in danger.

"Are you hurt?" Fayte asked.

John shook his head, his grey clothes now dark with blood and his face splattered with it. He scooped a handful of snow and wiped his face like the cold hardly bothered him.

"The climb is part of your pilgrimage, yes," Commander Reyner said. "Getting ambushed by so many tribes of yetis is not."

"So many tribes?" Emily said, turning to the yetis. "That is unlike their usual behaviour."

They all look the same to me, Fayte thought as he looked at the bodies of the white beasts.

"Attacking in the day is unusual as well," said another.

Sir Percson came up to them from atop his gryphon, a peaceful smile on his face as always.

"You are no friend to the yetis," he said to John. "Why?"

"How would I know?" John answered. "They're beasts! Maybe they're hungry or something. Come on, Fayte, we gotta get on going."

A fire glyph appeared in front of John and stopped him.

"Yetis are intelligent creatures," Commander Reyner said as a wizard stepped up beside him. "They do not strike in the light of day without reason."

It came to Fayte's attention then that John was still wielding his sword. The man was silent and Fayte was sure John knew exactly with the yetis attacked him. However he could not share the reason. Just as he could not share the reason why he had that Templar's sword with him. There was no use trying to force his tongue. First the unnatural gale and then the yetis.

Sera is trying to stop you from reaching the temple, Fayte realized and John appeared to be aware as he still held his sword as though he expected more trouble. He began to wonder if forcing John to travel to the temple was the right move. "Perhaps we should continue this-"

A body fell from the sky.

"Mailer!" Emily screamed as she ran up to the court jester and dug him out. "Mailer! Are you hurt? What happened?"

The court jester now wore a mask with eyes painted as crosses with a frown beneath them.

"Nothing to worry now, nothing to worry!" he laughed, swaying unsteadily after he stood up. "I'm fine! See? I am absolutely…"

They watched as he picked up his marotte… in two pieces.

"OHHH NOOO!!!"

CHAPTER 25

The two Templar swords that hung outside Captain Resfield's office were similar to the one John held. The man had become quiet since Lady Bianca escorted them here. Fayte took that as a sign as Lady Bianca pushed through the door.

"Captain," she said, stepping aside to present Fayte and John to the knight.

Captain Resfield of the noble Jonar family looked older since their last meeting in the dungeon. He was there during Jeremiah's wake, but Fayte did not get a good look at the man. His hair had grown longer with more strands of grey, and his beard was in need of trimming. The most notable change was in his eyes, for once they gleamed with fire in a city of cold stones but now they seemed dull like the pale ice.

"Welcome back, Fayte. Forgive me if I do not appear lightened by your visit," the Captain said, leaned back against his seat. "I am, only you remind me so much of Jeremiah. The both of you, finest squires I have seen in such a long time. And now one of you is gone all too soon…"

Fayte lowered his head and said nothing.

"Off to the temple are you?" Captain Resfield said, trying to sound brighter. "Do you think you are prepared for the climb?"

"I have been prepared for years, Captain," Fayte told him, lifting his gaze. "I have longed to see the temple of the Eres Star Order since my father told me stories of the Templars."

Captain Resfield smiled a tired smile. "Do not get your hopes up too high. It has been reduced to battered stone and ice by the wear of time."

"The temple still has great history," Fayte said. "A history which you are familiar with."

"I am," he said, understanding why Fayte pointed it out for his eyes now settled on John. "Greetings to you, friend."

John tightened both his grips on his sword, clutching it like he was afraid someone would take it from him.

"Hello," he said cautiously. "This sword is mine."

His words amused the Captain. "Handed down to you from your mother?"

"Nay," John said quickly. "I won it from my papa."

Captain Resfield nodded and Fayte learned something new.

"That does not prove the sword is yours, but it does show that you are no common man who chanced upon it." He looked to Fayte. "Templar swords are not handed down, but earned in combat. The one he holds is of a different make. You can see the handle is longer and suited to be grip either with one or both hands. The blade itself is only a little longer than the one you have."

The choice to wield it with both hands for greater power and speed. Fayte would like such a sword had he not been trained to fight with a shield.

"What is your name?" Captain Resfield asked.

"They call me John," he said, and said nothing more.

"So you will not tell me the name of your family?"

John shook his head.

"Bring him with you to the temple."

"No," John said, and it was the first time he sounded serious and firm. When the man seemed to notice himself he broke into a grin. "The cold makes my bones hurt. No need to bring me and slow down the-"

Captain Resfield's eyes flickered to a side and the next thing Fayte knew, Lady Bianca and John had their swords pointed at one another.

"I am not going up there," John then said without any grin or jest. "Ye can't make me."

"Then I will take your sword," said the Captain.

"Ye mean to rob me? The sword is MINE!"

"The sword belongs to the Order of the Eres Star," the knight corrected him, rising from his seat. "Items belonging to the ancient Order has been declared a relic by the King, thus without proof of ownership, one cannot possess it."

Fayte was not aware of such a law but John seemed to be.

"Then I will cut my way out of here," he said, escalating the situation with a threat.

At that point Fayte stepped aside and drew his own sword towards John. The look of betrayal smeared John’s face.

"I was commanded to bring you along on my pilgrimage," Fayte said. "I thank you for your aid during the ambush, but if you are breaking the law then as a squire of the Order of the White Shield, I cannot stand by you any longer."

"Bianca might be missing a leg," Captain Resfield said, "but you will be sorely mistaken to underestimate her for that fact. Fayte, I am sure you have seen, fights like no ordinary squire."

Then Captain Resfield drew his own sword and both his blade and eyes flared with power.

"And I have the bloodline of the Templars in my veins."

John was good with the sword. In fact, Fayte was not entirely sure that he could not escape from them, even if he stood no chance against Captain Resfield in combat. Thankfully the man lowered his sword and in return so did they.

"You will join Fayte in his journey up Mount Erestor," the Captain said as he sat down and sheathed his sword. "Or you may leave your sword here and walk away."

How would a trip to the temple decide if the sword truly belonged to John?

"And what makes you think I won't run after I leave?" John asked.

"If you truly have the bloodline of the Templar, then you will not dishonour yourself by going back on your word. You may choose to escape, but you do so as a fugitive and sooner or later you will be caught and imprisoned. It will only be a matter of time."

Fayte turned back to John. From the way he was grinding his teeth, John was clearly having a hard time making a decision here. Fayte knew he would surely choose to make the trip up to the temple, for John was no criminal. He was someone pointed out by the Queen of the Water Nymphs herself.

"Maybe I've already dishonoured myself," John said. "And it doesn't matter to me if I break my word."

The Captain did not answer him, resting his arms on his desk as he went on waiting.

"We climb at dawn," he relented and said, turning to leave. "I don't want ta' have to deal with them yetis while my bones ache from the cold."

CHAPTER 24

Wilson was examining the vial.

"A youngling," he said, returning it to Fayte when he saw that the Dragon Essence was drawing too much attention. "Nonetheless, it is powerful and will likely turn the tide of the battle to your favour."

To consume Dragon Essence was to consume the soul of a dragon already passed on from the living world. Fayte would be granted great power in return but he would also inherit the dragon's memory. The older the dragon, the more powerful its essence would be. But an older dragon would have more years in memory, and that increases the risk of damage to his mind.

"Only if I get the chance to drink it first," Fayte said.

"You drink it only if your life depends on it," Wilson warned him. "And be timely about it as well. Once you consume it you must move onto the offensive. If the assassins are as skilled as the Underlord's agent would have us believe, they will likely be prepared for such a scenario."

The innkeeper frowned at them at they went upstairs. John was still asleep, hugging his sword like a pillow with his drool staining the sheet.

"I still don't understand why we were told to bring him along," said Wilson, pouring them some water.

Fayte sat himself down and took a sip. "If he has any relations to the Templars, we will surely find answers in our next stop."

There was a knock on their door and Commander Reyner stepped in. Lady Feralina was right behind him. The both of them were dressed in their armour and shields by their sides. Wilson welcomed them and poured them water, gesturing for them to take a seat.

"The agent has spoken with you?" Fayte asked the Whiteguard.

He nodded. "Your father will not like this new arrangement. Dontoros and the Underlord. They are not exactly allies to our Order."

"Nor are they enemies," Wilson pointed out. "Neutral parties who now see more benefits in aiding our cause."

"How soon before that change I wonder," Commander Reyner mumbled. "You are off to Eres Star City then?"

They were. Without further clues to take them elsewhere, the only course of action was to resume his pilgrimage. Only now they had agreed to continue without Fayte's escort. At least then they could expect the assassins to strike in a city or a town.

Commander Reyner shook his head. "Your father will not like this."

"We were informed that the Underlord gifted you with an item of great value," Lady Feralina said, prompting Fayte to show them the Dragon Essence. "Guard it well. Use it at the right time and it could save your life."

Again, Fayte wondered if he would even have the time to use it.

"Will you return to Rondiar now?" he asked them.

"Aye," said the Master-Knight. "Your father requires my assistance with the preparation for the wedding. My uncle will be returning to the Princess and resume his duty."

"I've sent word out asking for her whereabouts," the Whiteguard said, glancing at John when he started snoring. "You do not intend to attend the wedding."

"No I do not," he said, seeing no reason to deny the statement.

"The Princess expects you to be there you know?" Commander Reyner told him, his tone softening. "At least, she hopes you'll be there."

"My apologies for disappointing her royal Grace then," Fayte said officially. "She will understand, I am sure. Just as she join hands with the enemy to protect Hylan, I will miss her wedding for the same reason."

Commander Reyner was silent but his gaze was unsettling. The Commander of the Whiteguards was a highly revered man. Fayte could not hold his gaze for long before he looked away.

"I know she doesn't want to marry him," Fayte admitted. "In fact, knowing her, she might even regret the decision already. But with the King's Council agreeing that this is the best course of action, and the fact that she is too stubborn to admit she is wrong, Emily will see this marriage through."

"When she first told you of the marriage, did you try and persuade her otherwise?"

Did I? Fayte could not remember. He only recalled being angry at her. And when she explained to him why she chose to marry Rinmar, even though she did not love him, Fayte found himself at the losing end of the argument. She was doing a noble thing, sacrificing her happiness to safeguard the kingdom that was hers to protect as a member of the royal family.

"I could not," he said.

Commander Reyner sighed, giving Lady Feralina a look before he raised his cup to his lips.

"Your father entertains thoughts of leaving the Order after the alliance is settled," she said. "Are you aware of this?"

Fayte scoffed. Even Wilson was dismissive.

"Lord Frendon will not lay down his shield willingly," Wilson said. "Nor will the King allow it."

"Lord Frendon will not kneel before a Saldarian," Lady Feralina said in return. "And King Rinmar will allow it."

Once again Fayte had failed to consider his father's feelings. To watch as the Princess of Hylan join hands with the Prince of Saldara was one thing. To kneel before the man whose nation murdered his wife and daughters was a whole other.

"He is torn, that is clear enough," she went on. "He swore an oath to defend Hylan and surely another to avenge his family. Now he can no longer fulfil one without breaking the other."

"I think your father blames himself for choosing duty over family when he left for the War of Darkness and Light, though no one could have foreseen what happened to Zywedior," Commander Reyner said. "Leaving the Order will be his choice of family over duty this time around."

That left Fayte wondering why he still remained in the Order. It made him wonder why he was even on this pilgrimage.

"I tell you this only because I wish for you to understand what your father intends to pass on to you," Lady Feralina told him, noticing the look on his face. "He does not think himself strong enough to kneel before Rinmar and call him King. No one can blame him. But he hopes that you, his son, will have the strength to, out of the love that you have for Princess Emily."

Fayte looked up from his hands and met eyes with her. "My love for her will fade eventually."

Lady Feralina smiled knowingly and got up. "You let me know when the day comes."

They woke John after the two knights left. Shaking him didn't work so Wilson emptied the jug of water over his face, startling the man into thinking he was drowning again. After they forced him to take a shower, they hired two gryphons and set off to the west towards Eres Star City.

"I wonder what happened to them," Wilson said from behind Fayte after a long hour of silence as the wind grew bitterly cold. "That family of travelling merchants we met."

Fayte was wrapping himself in a thick wolfpelt cloak, clasping a brooch carved to the likeliness of a white shield to keep the cloak from falling. He thought of the family as he pulled on his gloves. During his quest to save Emily, he and Wilson were headed towards Eres Star City without proper gear for the harsh cold. They ran into the family and their wagon on the road, and gladly accepted warm clothes when offered.

However the city had been overtaken by Rinmar's uncle at that time, and the knights and soldiers of the city were replaced with mercenaries. The family's wagon was illegally confiscated and the last Fayte saw them was in the inn where they sought shelter in.

"I am sure Lady Bianca would have set matters straight for them," Fayte said, glancing back at Wilson to see his reaction to the name of his aunt.

"Will you be paying Captain Resfield a visit?" was all Wilson said.

Fayte nodded, though he didn't look forward to it. They would surely speak about Jeremiah.

"I intend to take him along," he said with a jerk of his head towards John who flew a few meters away from them. "Let him have a word with the Captain."

"It will be too dark for us to make the ascend up to the temple once we arrive," Wilson told him, for even now the sun was taking leave from the sky. "We will spend the night at the same inn. I will have a room prepared for us while you take John to the Captain."

"Do you plan to visit the herbalist?"

"I do, once I have unloaded our supplies."

Their first trip to this city had been an entirely unpleasant one. False knights terrorizing the people, agents of the Underlord killing men in daylight, and not forgetting a demon that smashed the courtyard of the Magister's Court. And so it heartened Fayte when he saw that even at night, the streets were crowded, torches were lit, and even though the cold was harsh, the people were happy.

When Fayte handed the merchant some coins for the steaming potatoes, the man didn't let free of the snack, leaning closer as he stared at Fayte.

"You're him," he said, a wide grin slowly emerging. "Sera bless you, Fayte Kaywin. Ye done our city a great deed."

"I only did my duty, sir," Fayte said quite humbly, but still the man refused his coins.

Further down the street they went and every so often someone would recognize them. Most of them approached Wilson, for he had spent much of his time healing many of the citizens during their last visit here. Some held his hands and thanked him, while others wept softly and told Wilson that he had done his best. The children played with Preston, a group of them bundled up in many layers, screaming and laughing as they did.

Soon the soldiers and knights noticed them and many nodded to acknowledge him. To the soldiers Fayte smiled warmly in the return, but to the knights he nodded solemnly, for he had fought alongside them to save Emily and many of their fellow knights gave their lives in the process.

"Fayte Kaywin," a knight said from atop her mount. Her left leg noticeably missing from the knee down. "Eres Star City welcomes you with open gates."

Lady Bianca Sayde wore her hair down, long and brown, dried from the cold. Her cheeks were flushed and her smile youthful and proud, though it faded when she met eyes with Wilson.

"Hello, nephew," she said.

Wilson turned away from her. "I will see you at the inn."

He took his leave without a word to his aunt.

"I will speak to him," Fayte said.

"You will not," was her answer, though her tone was not harsh but appreciative. "He copes with the loss of his parents by blaming me. That is the least that I can do for him."

Fayte nodded, knowing not what else to say.

"Lady Bianca, this is John. I would like to-" Fayte slapped John across the arm. "Stop staring!"

"Her leg is missing," he whispered not very softly, like it was the queerest thing.

"Would you care for yours to be missing as well?" she asked.

John froze at her words and quietly positioned himself behind Fayte.

"I am under command by a greater power to bring him on my pilgrimage. I wish to know why and I believe Captain Resfield might be able to tell me more." He gestured for John to show her his Templar sword.

"A greater power you say?" Lady Bianca was intrigued but she didn't pry. "Has this man lost his memory?"

Fayte looked to John who only shrugged. "It would seem that way."

Though I am inclined to believe he is hiding something from us.

CHAPTER 23

The sacks were pulled off.

When his eyes finally adjusted, Fayte found himself in a small room with an open window his right and a large painting of a man on his left. It was the same man sitting in front of him behind a desk. The man was huge and could easily catch Wilson and Fayte in a bear hug and have room for one more. He wore only a leather vest over scarred and tanned skin, with hardened callous on the knuckles of his hands where he now rested his head.

A massive axe of ivory and silversteel hung on the wall behind him.

"Eronaxe." Fayte recognized the weapon, his eyes lowering to the man. "And so you must be…"

"Dontoros Eronaxe," the guildmaster of the mercenary guild said, lowering his hands to reveal a grin. "And you are Fayte Kaywin, son of the Lord-Knight."

Two bodyguards flanked Dontoros. One of them, a man, half-naked but armed with a mighty two-handed sword, while the other was a woman with a petite build and her face hidden underneath a hood. This woman had a sword tied to her belt, but it was the large casing strapped to her back that caught Fayte's attention. The dark case was as long as she was tall and judging from how the strap pulled on her shoulder, it was rather heavy as well.

Fayte could hear the wooden floorboards creak behind him. One more stands behind us, two maybe three in the next room. When he glanced out of the window and saw only the sky, Fayte listened keenly and judged from the sound that they were at least three stories up.

There’s no way out.

"Are you done trying to figure out how to escape?" Dontoros asked, his voice deep and powerful.

Fayte frowned at him.

"Bring a chair for the good priest, Peri. The squire may stand."

Wilson accepted the seat and Fayte took the chance to look behind them. Peri stood guard behind them while three other guards were in the next room waiting. Peri shut the door before Fayte was done looking.

"Now then, let's us be on to business." Dontoros looked to Fayte. "A squire's pilgrimage should not take him into Redpath and the Order of the White Shield has no authority in this town. So explain to me, little squire, why the Commander of the Whiteguards and the Master-Knight are both here in my town, and you, are walking openly in my streets seeking a man only a fool would seek."

Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina may not be welcomed here, but Dontoros knew better than to confront them.

"We wish to speak to the Underlord," Fayte said, noticing now that although he was disarmed, the royal seal was not taken from him.

"Regarding…?"

"Matters that I cannot disclose," he told the guildmaster. "I am under royal command by the King himself."

Dontoros turned slowly and gave the hooded woman on his right a look. She nodded in return and nothing more.

"The King suspects an invasion from the East Kingdom," Dontoros said to their surprise, shifting about a few pieces of paper in front of him, settling on the one. "I hold here a request from a man who I suspect is spying for the East Kingdom. He seeks to hire fifteen of my best men. Two archers, three rangers, and the rest warriors."

Fayte had a suspicion. "Was it your men who ambushed me and my friends?"

Dontoros shook his head. "My men are mercenaries, not lowly bandits. And though Eronaxe is the largest mercenary guild in Hylan, it is not the only one. Eronaxe has an agreement with the Order of the White Shield, one that allows us to run this town, and one that I do not intend to see broken."

He set the paper down.

"Share with us information you possess," the woman said. "And information of the Underlord we will share in return."

Fayte looked to Wilson who had crossed both his legs and arms. He pondered on it for a moment but in the end Wilson nodded.

"The Underlord informed my Order that an assassin entered our country from the East Kingdom," Fayte told them. "One of them has assassinated a friend of- a fellow squire, before perishing. We believe there are more and we seek the Underlord's aid in finding these invaders."

"Your turn to share," Wilson said.

The guildmaster smirked. "Our information is much the same, though ours also came with a warning. A warning veiled as a reminder that we are still men of Hylan, living in Hylan, under the rule of the royal Whiteart family."

Even the guildmaster of Eronaxe took cues from the Underlord.

"The Princess's wedding, tell us more," said the woman.

"You are not from Hylan." Fayte stared at the woman whose body was honed for speed over strength. "I've met a man with an accent like yours before. You're from the East Kingdom."

Both the woman and the guildmaster smiled like they were impressed. The woman removed her hood, revealing the round face of a girl with thin eyes that beheld pupils blue as the vast sky.

"Her name is Wei Ling," Dontoros introduced her. "I just call her Ling. She is an ally to Eronaxe and she hails from the East Kingdom."

"Then we have said too much already," Wilson cut in before Fayte could speak.

"Tell us about the Princess's wedding, and the Underlord's agent I shall give you," said Dontoros.

Wei Ling smiled for she knew Fayte and Wilson would cooperate after hearing that. And so Fayte told them what he knew about Emily's wedding. They probed about his journey to rescue her, information about the Saldarians, and Fayte was glad when he saw the startled look on Wei Ling's face when he informed them that a Scygard was escorting the Prince now.

"I've fought two of them a long time ago," Dontoros spoke grimly, weaving his fingers together again. "They are not a foe to underestimate."

"And more will come on the day of the wedding you say?" Wei Ling asked, for the Emperor of Saldara had requested it as a show of trust from Hylan to their new Prince. "Rinmar La'ou, Prince of Hylan. One day you shall kneel before him and call him your King."

That was a very unsettling thought that Fayte was suddenly aware of.

"You say there are those in Saldara who do not accept the alliance," Wei Ling said. "The Skarm's Shadow tribe you say?"

The tribe whose men massacred the city of Zywedior. The people who murdered my mother and sisters.

"A headless snake," Wilson told Wei Ling. "Our High Sage has seen to that with the aid of the Underlord."

"But they are still a strong tribe even after the campaign by the Order of the White Shield to reduce their numbers," Dontoros noted. "Couple their strength with the cunning minds of men in the East Kingdom and Skarm's Shadow remains a threat."

"So there are men in the East Kingdom working with the Saldarians," Fayte said, his gaze shifting to Wei Ling now.

"Men who do not represent the Emperor of the East Kingdom," Wei Ling told him as she crossed her arms. The sleeves of her tunic were short, exposing her toned arms.

She is definitely a warrior.

"Not forgetting those in Hylan who reject the marriage," Wilson added, sharing with them what they had learned of Magister-Lord Raymius.

Fayte was beginning to see the whole picture now. The joining of Hylan and Saldara would make both nations a great threat to many others. Those who would not gain from the alliance would do what they could to prevent it from happening. But the King only allowed this marriage to happen for them to face one threat.

"The Dark Lord," said a new voice.

Standing behind them now was a young man in shirt and breeches of thin linen and a pair of worn leather boots. His hair was brown and his built was slender but toned, not unlike Wei Ling. The Underlord's agent smiled at Fayte.

"However his interest is only with the demon held within Iredis," said the agent. "Greetings, squire Fayte. "

"How do I find the other assassins?" he asked without hesitation.

The agent laughed and looked to Wilson.

"Fayte," his friend called, "I don't think you grasp the whole situation yet."

"Hylan is being attacked from both outside our nation and within it," he told Wilson. "Jeremiah was caught in the middle. I will avenge him by finding the rest of the assassins and then the King can do as he like. Now tell me where they are."

Wei Ling tilted her head but they were all quiet. Wilson looked at him with sympathy.

"So you accept that Jeremiah is gone now?"

"JUST TELL ME HOW TO FIND THEM!" He didn't mean to yell but his voice exploded from within him.

Jeremiah was dead, just like his mother, and just like his sisters.

And the Saldarians had a hand in all of it.

"We don't know," the agent said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. His face solemn. "We are watching the Magister-Lord but his domain is… inconvenient. Our eyes beyond our border are few and unreliable in this matter. We have nothing to tell you."

"Everyone is depending on you now, Fayte," Wilson explained, softly. "As Mailer had said, you're the bait."

"They've killed Jeremiah and they know that we are now on the alert," Fayte said, his fists clenched. "Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina failed to remain disguised in Redpath. How do you expect the assassins, the ones even the Underlord cannot find, to not be aware of them? Wilson, they know that I am a bait now. They won't come after me anymore."

For that Fayte found in his heart that he blamed his father for being so protective.

"They will," the agent said certainly. "For you are the key to breaking Hylan's defences."

Fayte stared at him, looking at Wilson and Dontoros before he turned back to the agent. "Why?"

"If you fall, your father will relinquish his title as Lord-Knight because he knows that he no longer has the mind to lead the Order. Then he will go on a hunt to find the man who killed you and he will not rest until then."

"Feralina Vladertz will ascend to the rank of Lord-Knight," Dontoros took over. "She will need time to adjust to her new position. Her grandfather, Tyden Vladertz, will pressure her to manoeuvre the Order to grant advantage to her family. The Princess's marriage will place a great stress upon her shoulders while her heart will be distracted by Lord Frendon's thirst for vengeance."

"She will be vulnerable," Wilson ended it off. "And her vulnerability is our enemies' greatest advantage."

"And it sounds like your death might very well end the marriage on its own," Wei Ling commented.

Fayte didn't understand. "The sun rises and set even in my absence. The wedding will go on."

"Not if the bride is in too much anguish to even rise from her bed," the agent said. "Let alone go through an entire wedding."

"Emily won't let my death keep her from performing her duties as Princess."

"Then you are a fool," the agent said. "The only fool in the whole of Hylan who cannot see how much you mean to the Grace of Hylan."

Fayte bit clenched his jaws. "If I mean that much to her, then we wouldn't be here right now. There would be no wedding save for mine and hers."

The agent shook his head.

"The Underlord has left me to handle matters in Hylan while he seeks aid beyond the borders of our kingdom. The Underworld is not without our troubles thus I can do little to assist at this time. But I can tell you for a certainty that more assassins will be coming for you and you cannot hope to defeat them alone."

Fayte stood his ground as the agent walked up to him, staring at him in the eye, before he raised a vial between them.

"You will not go on without aid from us." Encased in a steel wire frame, the vial contained a swirling mixture of white and silver with stands of luminous cobalt, glowing in pulses like a beating heart. It was entrancing and Fayte only looked away when the agent shook it. "I require at least one of the assassins alive in order to interrogate him."

"I am a squire of the Order of the White Shield," Fayte told him firmly. "I will not use poison."

The agent smirked. "These assassins will appear before you when you are at your weakest and when you are alone. That I have no doubt. As I have said, you cannot hope to defeat them alone. But you are the squire who saved our Princess from the demon Ra’gelor, and in the process, all of us."

He pressed the vial into Fayte's hand.

"This is no poison," he whispered.

"Dragon Essence," Wilson said, rising from his chair, his mace is his hand now. "How did you come upon this?"

"Calm yourself, good priest. The Underlord is not in the business of dragon-slaying as do some beyond the Northern Gate."

"And beyond the East Kingdom," Wei Ling added.

The agent nodded. "This was a gift to the Underlord. Now it is a gift to your friend."

It was hard to tell whether Wilson believed him. Regardless, he put his mace away and seated himself. Dragon Essence was exactly what it was named as, the essence of a dragon. One would not come upon Dragon Essence without a dragon dying… or killed.

CHAPTER 22

If Captain Landon shared the intellect his brother possessed, Fayte saw no harm in sharing his mission with the knight. Unfortunately the Captain was not studied in the affairs of kingdoms beyond the Northern Gate. His knowledge extended only to the Arcane Scholars, an Order which his brother was a member of.

"The truce between the kingdoms forbids any unprovoked invasion," the Captain had said. "And the Orders of Rondiar are not to be reckoned with. The East Kingdom may have a greater army but unless they can teleport their soldiers onto our lands in an instant, an invasion would not be in their favour."

"Not unless civil war erupts within Hylan," said the Sky-Commander.

It was a matter to ponder upon but the Captain had no doubt that the Lord-Knight had long taken measures against such a scenario. Civil war would not erupt so easily, though it was at its greatest risk since the plague in Harvesria. The town that supplied Hylan with the majority of her crops was struck with a plague, and the King was nearly forced to set the entire town ablaze.

The people along with it.

Fortunately it never came to that. Fayte asked that he be allowed to remain in the city to further his investigations. The request was strongly opposed by the Captain who said that he would look into it himself.

"You're a walking hostage waiting to be taken," Captain Landon had said. "No. I will look further into the Magister-Lord. You will be of more use trying to make contact with the Underlord again. Share what we have learned today with him. The Underlord will likely be more efficient in finding evidences against the Magister-Lord than I am."

Wilson agreed that it was not safe for him to remain in this city. Besides, Fayte still had his pilgrimage to complete. Once they were fed, Fayte, Wilson, and John were escorted to one of the many gryphon roosts where three gryphons from the Order awaited them.

"Renee is a fragile girl," Melanie said after Fayte told her about the ambush. "Lord Jacob should start assigning guards for when she rides into Oaksblade for supplies."

"I am sure he will."

It was past noon but Fayte could barely feel the heat at the rooftop of the tower. There were only seven gryphons present at the moment, some fast asleep while others were eating. As always the gryphon roost was clean though the gryphon master's assistants were filthy. Two boys perhaps ten or twelve were running around fetching buckets of water for the gryphons. Once they were done they got to sweeping the floor again.

"Gryphons cannot rest if their quarters are not clean," Melanie shared, walking them around the roost. She approached one of the gryphons, this one fast asleep, and gently stroked its green feathers. "They are more temperamental than you would believe."

Wilson was smiling quite proudly as he watched Melanie handle the next gryphon, feeding it a slab of meat before scratching the beast under its neck. Riders were often reminded not to do that, for each gryphons enjoyed being handled in a very specific manner and hated all other ways. Melanie was a natural with the gryphons as she was with all the other animals in Ironsville.

"Our visits to Ironsville can be more frequent once Melanie returns," Wilson said as they approached the next gryphon.

"There will likely be more visitors as well," Fayte said, thinking aloud. "Travellers who wish to avoid the crowd at Oaksblade while on their way to the capital. Lord Jacob and the smiths could make some extra coin selling their wares to passing travellers."

"Jayden will see more customers as well," Melanie added, before throwing at a wary glance at John. "Then again…"

John was too busy picking his teeth with a straw to notice.

They approached the three gryphons, saddled and packed with their supplies. The majestic beasts lowered their heads and bowed to Wilson, who returned the gesture respectfully. Melanie stepped forward and embraced Wilson, receiving a kiss from him on the forehead and a word of blessing. She hugged Fayte next, squeezing him tightly before she pecked him on the cheek.

"The next time we meet, you had best be wearing a knight's armour." She turned away without waiting for an answer, ignoring John who had both his arms spread apart expectantly.

They mounted the gryphons and waved goodbye before taking off to the air. When Fayte looked back, he saw Melanie waving at him and Captain Landon beside her, nodding, assuring Fayte that he would watch over her.

It was day when they took off and night had fallen when they arrived at Redpath. The gryphon master snapped at them and complained that he hadn't the space for extra gryphons.

"They are from Gwedoniar City," Wilson told him. "Hired straight from the hands of Sky-Commander Darius."

Upon hearing that the gryphon master's attitude took an immediate turn.

"The Sky-Commander eh? Well you shoulda' said it so earlier!" He yelled at his assistants to find empty roosts for the gryphons. "There, might be a little squeeze but they should be comfortable enough."

"Will you require payment for their lodging?"

"Oh no of course not, good priest," the man said, who earlier didn't even acknowledge Wilson. "How could I accept coins from one of the holy Order?"

Wilson smiled and thanked the gryphon master before leaving with them.

"Straight from the hands of the Sky-Commander?" Fayte asked. "Melanie never said that."

"No she did not," Wilson said with a smile. "I was merely testing if the Sky-Commander's name still held weight amongst those affiliated with the gryphon city."

"The man's a royal," John said, sucking a deep breath as he stretched his arms apart. "And I'm feeling like a royal here myself!"

The coarse sand of Redpath was a dull red in the night. Their last visit to the town of mercenaries was in the day. Fayte shuddered as he recalled the shrine he and Wilson nearly lost their lives trying to protect. Wilson had the situation controlled from the start, but it was still an incredibly tensed moment to be surrounded by so many armed mercenaries.

Sera's shrine was now surrounded by a round patch of grass. It stood out as soon as they saw it, a figure of a white dragon no larger than a barrel. The grass was soft and damp and had clearly spread since their last visit. Wilson pointed out signs of the grass being trimmed. A good sign, for it meant the people of Redpath had accepted the presence of Sera here.

Something yawned next to Fayte's feet.

"There you are," Wilson said. "And our escorts?"

Preston was half-asleep still, pointing with his tail somewhere to the right. Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina were both in Redpath, but now was not yet the time to make contact with them. The day was gone and the streets quiet. In spite of that Fayte could feel eyes set upon him, and mercenaries walking about stared at them openly, recognizing his shield and the garment Wilson wore.

"In the morning," Fayte said. "When the streets are crowded and we are not so conspicuous."

Wilson agreed. Two lumastones glowed beside the shrine as Fayte watched his friend waved his hands over them. Together, the three of them kneeled and remained in silent prayer for a few minutes. Preston clung onto Wilson's back and proceeded to fall asleep. Fayte was surprised to see the solemn look on John after he and Wilson had both risen. He sensed a strain of pain from the frown upon John's lips.

Not all who laugh are happy, Fayte recalled his father telling him once.

Once John was finished, he laughed and claimed he had dozed off. An obvious lie, but neither of them pointed it out. The wanderer led them through the town. It was near midnight now. Only a few armed men walked about, mercenaries going about their own business. Fayte felt that it was strange for he had expected it to be livelier at Redpath even at this hour.

"The Bloody Blade!" John declared as they arrived in front of an inn.

The inn was triple-storied and warm light glowed behind dirty glass windows. They heard noises from within, songs and music, and the voices of men yelling and laughing. It was warm and very much cosy when they stepped inside. The men and women were cheery and friendly as John joined them by the fire.

"Ho, stranger!" a burly man with rippling muscles greeted John. "Traveller or sword?"

"Traveller," John said. "I got me a sword and used to be one though!"

"I'm guessing sword means mercenary," Wilson said, standing awkwardly by the door with Fayte.

"Why would Sera have us bring a mercenary with us?" asked Fayte. "Protection?"

They noticed John gesturing at them and the eight or so men sitting around the fire quietened at once. The bard by the corner ceased his lute and a serving girl hurried away.

"Oie, Billy!" the burly man who greeted John called, all signs of friendliness gone. "You got them Order squeakers at ye door!"

A tall man in a blood-stained apron and a meat cleaver in his hand stepped in from another room. His arms were toned and covered in scars and when he spoke, the missing teeth made it clear that he had been in many fights. They were not welcomed here, that was clear, but the men and women there accepted John as one of their own. Fayte and Wilson were given a room upstairs on account of that.

"We seek ways to contact the Underlord," Wilson told John before the man returned downstairs to join his newfound friends. "See if they know of one."

The sleep was not good with drunk men yelling and stamping their feet downstairs through the night. When morning came Fayte rose with a headache. John was on his bed and stank of ale when they approached him. The other men knew naught of the Underlord, so they left him where he was and went downstairs.

They ate stale bread and a bowl of cold, lumpy potato soup for breakfast.

"Looks good," a lady said as she sat down between them. "The tavern just down the street serves better though."

Fayte let Wilson finish the cold meal.

"We only arrived last night," he said.

"We know." The dining area was empty but Lady Feralina lowered her voice still. "I believe Landon and his knights were with you during your stay in Gwedoniar?"

Fayte nodded as Preston was coughing out the horrendous potato soup that Wilson somehow managed to enjoy. Once the good priest was done with his breakfast, he retrieved Captain Landon's letter and handed it to the Master-Knight. They shared what happened in the gryphon city and that Captain Landon shared their suspicion of the Magister-Lord being involved in this plot with the East Kingdom.

"He was right to send you away. It seems that the situation in Gwedoniar City has grown worse since Landon's last report." She rubbed Preston on the head as she rose. "If that is all, I shall return and report that you are both well."

The innkeeper eyed Lady Feralina as she left, not out of suspicion but lust. They took their leave several minutes after and stepped into the morning light. Redpath's market were not quite as lively as Rondiar City or the streets of Oaksblade. Most here were mercenaries who walked with their weapons in the open, while the merchants were the fiercest looking merchants Fayte had seen anywhere.

They searched for hours trying to find the old woman who spoke with the Underlord's agent. It was a fruitless search and they gave up by noon, choosing instead to ask in hushed voices if one knew of a way to contact the Underlord. The beggars and shady merchants they approached either chased them away or became frightened quickly. Two even ran, leaving behind their wares as though fearing for their lives. And there were the few who fell to their knees at once and begged to be spared.

There were those, however, who were dismissive but knowing.

"They hold knowledge but refuse to speak," Wilson said, drawing quite a bit of attention with Preston on his shoulder.

Fayte was not worried. "If they are spies for the Underlord then word would have surely spread by now. Give it time, Wilson. We'll find what we are here for soon enough."

"I hope you are right," he said, glancing at Preston. "Will you stop feeding strange food to my dragon?"

Preston was happily licking up a stick of brown molten goo.

"It is only melted sugar," Fayte said, holding up the stick while he had another for himself. "Look, the children behind us are having it as well."

A group of scruffy looking children had been following them for hours now. A common sight whenever Wilson walked about with Preston. It was only then that the both of them stopped and took a closer look at the children. They exchanged a glance before lowering themselves.

"Children," Wilson called, a kind smile on his face as he held up a piece of coin. "I have a question and whoever helps me will receive this coin."

When the children seemed suspicious, he bit on the coin and convinced them easily.

"We seek the Underlord," Fayte told them. "Does any of you know how we might contact him?"

The boys and girls looked at one another, mumbling and whispering. Then, a girl, who stood at the front of the group and clearly the leader, pointed behind them. That was when a tall shadow fell upon the both of them and Preston took off from Wilson's shoulder. Both of them swallowed the lump in their throats and turned around slowly. Three men armed with broadswords and throwing axes stood behind them.

The girl took the coin from Wilson’s hand and the melted sugar from Fayte's.

"Greetings," Wilson said, smiling as he started to rise. "A fair morning this-"

One of the children pulled a sack over Wilson's head and Fayte caught a little girl trying to do the same to him. She screamed in his face, just as Fayte reached for his sword to counter the men who would now surely strike him from behind. He was too slow though.

A sack was thrown over his head, tightened, and they dragged him away.

CHAPTER 21

Captain Landon clenched his fist but he did not move for his sword.

Flight or death?

"However," the Magister-Lord said. "On account that you are the son of the Lord-Knight Frendon Kaywin, and your companion is a holy follower of the Order of the White Rose, you are all pardoned."

Pardoned? The Magister-Lord's words confused them, but not the Captain judging from his expression. "We were not guilty to begin-"

The Captain placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

"Count yourself lucky that your father is the Lord-Knight, Fayte Kaywin," the Magister-Lord said, his fat face resting on his triple chins was so smug that Fayte wanted to just punch him. "Now be gone from my domain!"

"Thank you, my lord," Captain Landon said. "Come, we shall take our leave now."

Fayte wondered if he should be glad that their trouble with this matter was over. He could not help feeling as though he had lost a greater battle here. Captain Landon would not speak and had hurried them to their gryphons. They descended and returned straight to the White Shield's tower. Lady Peila, Sir Esmus, and a few other knights rose upon their arrival. Captain Landon shook his head at them and left without a word.

Fayte, Wilson, and John followed him into his office with the Sky-Commander.

"Flight or death means you either fly or you die," the Captain explained. "They meant to throw you off the edge."

"We are not guilty," Fayte said.

"I know that," said the Captain, seating himself behind his table. He pulled out a parchment and a quill and began to write. "So does Raymius."

"Then why-"

"Dissent," said John, running his finger down the face of a white shield hung on the wall. "Dusty."

"Please do not touch that," the Captain said after a glance.

Fayte turned to John and asked that he explained.

"Ye can't take over a country if the people hates ya," he said, plopping himself down on a seat by the wall. "And if ya can't make them love ye, ya make them hate whoever's ruling more than they hate ya."

"The lesser of two evil," Wilson said, his head shaking. "This will never work."

The Sky-Commander begged to differ. "The Princess's marriage with the Saldarian Prince has sowed great dissent within the kingdom already."

"That matter has been dealt with," said Wilson, though he said it unsurely. "The Underlord has aided the King's Council in quelling any potential rebellions."

"It is not that simple," said the Captain, still scribbling away. "Dissent is a seed watered by discord. Numerous representatives from small towns and city Magisters have expressed their opposition to the marriage. The fact that we almost had a rebellion speaks a mighty deal on its own. The King's Council may have convinced the representatives and Magisters that this was the right move to take, but it does not mean that they like it."

"I do not understand," Fayte said when even Wilson seemed lost still. "If they understand where the council is coming from, why would there still be dissent?"

"Because the King's Council speaks to them smart people with their books and big words." John was flipping through an old book now. "These smart people will have to go back and speak to their dumb people, like me!"

Now Wilson was nodding. "Put it this way, Fayte. Lord Jacob may understand that the marriage would bolster our strength against the Black City. But to the ears of Renee and her family, and others like them, they will likely not see past the fact that the Princess is about to join hands with the enemy. And that they, the peasants, will have no choice but to accept that."

"Then we help them understand," Fayte said.

"A matter made all the more difficult with people like Raymius stoking the flames," said the Sky-Commander.

"Pardoning you was just another way to throw wood to fire," the Captain said, sighing, as he held a block of white sealing wax over a candle. "The Magister-Lord will no doubt let word spread that you were convicted. But it will also be known that he pardoned you in light of your father's title and Wilson for him being a priest. Raymius will appear as though his hand was forced, and the integrity of both our Orders will come into question."

He let the wax drip onto the envelop before pressing his seal on it.

"Good priest, would you do me this favour of seeing this letter to the hands of Commander Reyner?"

"Of course," he said, receiving it. "Might I inquire its content?"

"A simple report but one of great importance. The Commander of the Whiteguards is an insightful man familiar with the situation in this city. My brother and I have taken to the habit of sharing information with him in light of that."

"I did not expect to see Lord Reyner here last night," Commander Darius said, addressing Fayte. "Officially he was here to investigate the assassination of his nephew. But he was quick to ask of you when we were alone. Why is the Whiteguard on your tail?"

Fayte hesitated to share due to the nature of his task.

"These walls are spell-binded for privacy and the Sky-Commander is a man to be trusted, I assure you," said the Captain. "But do not feel compelled to share if you cannot. The King would not have commanded a squire on a mission if he had not intended for secrecy."

"How did you know?" Fayte said, to which Wilson made a disapproving noise.

"I did not for sure, but now I do." The Captain smiled and dipped his head. "Forgive me. I sometimes grow gravely bored within this city and seek some excitement for myself. If there is anything I can offer to assist your mission, you need only to speak."

Fayte and Wilson exchanged a look just to be sure the other didn't require anything else.

"Transport to Redpath," Wilson said. "If you could arrange that for us, we would be very grateful-"

The door behind them swung open.

Fayte was too slow to draw his sword as the person dove into him and took him to the floor.

"Oh thank Sera you are not hurt!" the girl said, grabbing his head and turning him about to inspect him. "You're not hurt are you?"

"Melanie?" he said, getting a good look at her after she let go of him. "Well I wasn't before but I think I hit my head when you took me down."

She rolled her eyes and got up, extending a hand to help him to his feet.

"What are you doing here?" Fayte asked.

"Did no one back home tell you? I came here to be trained as a gryphon master. Hello, Wilson." She hugged her friend and glanced around the office. "You lost your dragon again."

"I did not," Wilson said. "When have I ever?"

Melanie said nothing. She just stared at him.

"Fine, so I've misplaced him a few times when he was a hatchling but not this time. He awaits me at the town of Redpath."

Melanie had never been so far from home but the girl looked just the same. Her cheeks were brown with dirt and there were straws from haystacks caught in her clothes. The girl had her old leather boots on, worn and crusted with mud. On her belt were her leather gloves as well as various brushes, knives, and scissors. The blades were new additions to her belt. One would easily mistake her for a boy with her short amber-brown hair, if not for her fair face and small feminine eyes.

"I thought you were dead for sure when I heard you were summoned by the Magister-Lord," she said, glancing at the door. "Go shut the door please."

The Sky-Commander crossed his arm. "I am no servant, child."

Melanie wasn't even listening. She pulled up a chair to sit down on in front of the Captain's table. "What happened when you- why is that door still open?"

Noticing the anger rising in the Sky-Commander, Fayte quickly went and shut the door himself. Wilson filled her in on what transpired when they met with the Magister-Lord. John made a comment about how Melanie sounded like a girl. Then he realized she was a girl and started laughing to himself by the corner.

"My master managed to get a hold of the gryphons. The ones you were accused of riding to death I mean. The fact that he had trouble getting permission to examine them was peculiar enough. It wasn't until he drew the gryphons' blood that he understood why it was so."

"Why was it so then, my lady?" asked the Captain.

Melanie glanced at the Captain before turning back to Fayte.

"Poison, without a doubt," she said. "Very similar to the ones used by your Order after the unification of Hylan against Gwedoniar City."

So that's how they took the city. Fayte found that troubling. There is no honour in poison.

"The earliest of our Order was made up mostly of Vlazion knights," the Captain said, deeply troubled by her words. "And you took your gryphon from Castle Vladertz. Oh this does not bode well."

"Why would the Vladertz family wish harm upon the squires?" Wilson asked. "One of their own was the first to perish. A setup perhaps? To call into question the loyalty of the Vladertz family?"

Commander Darius was nodding, his expression grave. "The noble Vladertz family is one of the greatest families in Hylan. They are loyal to the crown, that I have no doubt even with the reputation of Lord Tyden. Driving a wedge between them and the royal-"

"The Vladertz family have nothing to do with this matter," Melanie said, as if she was just waiting to interrupt the Sky-Commander.

Wilson and Fayte began to notice that as well. They know each other.

"The recipe for the poison was provided by the Underlord," she went on. "When Gwedoniar City finally came into the rule of the royal family, the Vladertz gave the recipe for the concoction to the gryphon knights, as a show of trust. It was meant to be studied and countered for the poison was extremely effective and could be adjusted to take effect after specific amounts of time."

"Poison your own gryphons." John was picking his teeth with the tip of his Templar sword. "Vicious."

"You're saying the Magister-Lord is the culprit behind this?" Fayte asked, his eyes set on Melanie's and his hand gripping the handle of his sword. "Raymius had a hand in Jeremiah's death?"

This time Melanie took a moment before answering. "The first generation of the poison has no more effect on the gryphons. This is a new poison with an improved formula. My master believes that there can only be two suspects."

"The Underlord," said Captain Landon.

"Or someone with great knowledge of gryphons," Melanie added. "Someone from Gwedoniar City."

The Underlord is already assisting us with the investigation. Fayte met eyes with Wilson again, both of them likely sharing the same thought now. And Raymius has already demonstrated just how loyal he is to the royal family.

"Magister-Lord Raymius is working with the East Kingdom," Fayte concluded.

CHAPTER 20

Unfortunately only one royal family was recognized in Hylan.

The Sky-Commander had no choice but to have them sent to a prison cell, following accusations that they had ridden their gryphons to death. The words of his men against theirs and Fayte understood that Commander Darius needed to demonstrate loyalty to his men in this case. Fortunately word seemed to spread quickly and barely an hour after the cell door was shut, it swung open again.

"Good priest, forgive me for my tardiness. I should have been here sooner to prevent this disrespect."

"Worry not, sir knight," Wilson said, dusting his robe as he got up from the floor. "And to whom do I owe this rescue?"

The knight came to attention. "I am Captain Landon of the noble Netis family, knight of the Order of the White Shield."

Netis… I've heard that name before… but where?

"Captain Landon." Wilson shook his hand. "You are younger than I expected."

Indeed, for the man looked no older than thirty. His hair was black with streaks of brown from dyes. His complexion fair and his eyes gleamed with energy. The eyes were what set him apart from the other Captains Fayte had met. Captain Teynier and Captain Resfield both had energy in their eyes still of course, but you could also see the weariness of age within them. Not for Captain Landon though. Fayte did not recall anything of significance about this man. Even so, to be promoted to the rank of Captain at such a young age, and on top of that assigned to Gwedoniar City, there was definitely something more to this man.

The Captain was embarrassed. "Thirty-one is hardly young I think, good priest."

"Young for a Captain and please, call me Wilson," he said, turning to gesture at Fayte. "I believe you know my ward."

"Squire Fayte." The Captain hurried forward and shook his hand eagerly with a warm smile. "It is an honour."

Now Fayte was embarrassed. "I uh… thank you, Captain?"

"I hear that Teynier told a marvellous story of your adventure rescuing the Princess," the Captain went on, still clutching his hand. "You must tell me more when we find the time."

"I'm John if anyone cares."

The Captain laughed. "Apologies, friend, pleased to meet you."

John grinned as they shook hands.

"John is an acquaintance following us on our journey," Wilson explained.

"Ah! Your pilgrimage," the Captain said. "How fares it if I may ask?"

A man outside the cell cleared his throat. "Captain…"

"Oh my, of course, Commander," the Captain said, waving for them to leave the cell. "This is hardly the time or place for chat. Commander Darius and I must see to certain issues pertaining your arrest. Your imprisonment will be seen as a slight to the Order of the White Rose and the Order of the White Shield. Both the Commander and I wish not for any dispute to rise out of this matter."

"As do we," Wilson agreed, assuring the Captain.

"These soldiers here will escort you to the White Shield tower," Commander Darius said, gesturing at two soldiers from the Order. "If all goes well tonight, perhaps we can avoid a trial tomorrow for your alleged crime."

"You believe us then?" Fayte asked.

The Commander scoffed. "Gryphons will sooner drop you than allow themselves to be ridden to their graves. Yes, and I have heard of the incident with that boy from the Vladertz family. I do not doubt that this is another attempt on a squire's life. A pity that two of our friends have to fall because of this. Now the assassin has made an enemy of Gwedoniar City as well."

"I have assigned one of my knights to guard you, Lady Peila," Captain Landon said. "There will be others off-duty and resting in the tower as well, so be assured that you are safe for the night."

Fayte glanced at the Sky-Commander.

"Worry not, I do not take offense," the Gwedonian knight said. "That is just the way it is here in our fair city."

They went their separate ways. The three of them were led through narrow corridors and down steep stairways spiralling down. There were the odd lumastones embedded on the wall every now and then, but for the most part their journey would be in dark if not for the torches the soldiers held. Wilson even had to summon a sphere of light when one of the torches went out. When they crossed bridges connecting one tower to the other, the cold night wind swept their hair aside. It was both refreshing and intimidating, for the landscape beyond was dark and Fayte could hear from the wind how far a drop it was if they fell.

"Netis," Fayte said as they entered another corridor. "Does the name mean anything to you?"

"If not the name of his family, surely the man's own name rings a bell?" Wilson said. "No? Goodness. Landon of the noble Netis family, brother to Langton of the noble Netis family. As in Administrator Langton."

"Ah…" That explained much of the Captain's behaviour. "They seem to both be gentle men."

"It's not a sharp sword that ye need here," John chipped in from behind. "It's a sharp tongue."

Wilson was nodding at the front. "The Netis family is renowned for their intellect. I am not entirely surprised to find him here. Gwedoniar City and Rondiar have always had a tensed relationship. Having your usual Captain here would be a harm to both the Captain and the uneasy peace kept in this city. No, your father needed someone of wits and intellect to hold this post. Captain Landon seemed very much appropriate for the task."

Sounds like a man who spends more time with his books than his shield and sword. Captain Landon may be smart but Fayte wondered if his tongue was sharp enough to keep him away from battles here.

They were drenched with sweat and their legs were sore by the time they arrived at the White Shield tower. The soldier leading them explained that the gryphon knights would fly from point to point. Men of the White Shield were deprived of that privilege here. Wilson thanked them and apologized when it was clear both men were disappointed to find Preston missing from their party. In return he blessed them each and even healed a bad knee that had been bothering the soldier for months.

Within the tower, they stepped right into the dining hall upon entering. It was a large place enough to seat at least sixty men. At this hour the tables were mostly empty. Those who were present had removed their armours and were having supper. Only a hooded figure by the corner of the room drew Fayte's attention. A bow leaning against the table and Fayte could feel the person staring at him from the dark corner. A girl approached them.

"Welcome to our humble home," she said, both her stature and her hair short. She noticed the look on their faces and frowned. "I am not a squire."

"Yes, of course not," Wilson said, quick to flash a charming smile. "Lady Peila I presume?"

The knight crossed her arms and did her best to look authoritative. It wasn’t very effective.

"Yes," she said, looking up at them. "Come along now. I’ll show you to your rooms."

They made the slow climb up to the resting quarters. They washed themselves and consumed a light supper brought up to them with their belongings. John hugged his sword and went to bed. Wilson was worn out as well having caught little sleep on the flight here, so he too turned in. Fayte lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling for a long while before sleep finally found him.

Hours after sunrise, they were roused and Lady Peila was there to greet them. They broke fast at the dining hall with other soldiers, many of them natives of Gwedoniar City, but all much better men than the ones they met last night. They asked many questions about Fayte's adventure, all of them familiar with his quest. They even knew about Emily's version of the story, of how the Prince was the one who saved her and made no mention of Fayte ever being part of the rescue. Not one of the men were happy with that.

"Fancy that! Giving all them credits to a Saldarian!" said one of them.

"An attempt to place the Saldarian Prince in a more favourable light," Captain Landon said, often dining with the men though he had his own private quarter and office.

"Her Grace thinks us too daft if she thinks us to believe her story," a knight with a thick beard said, joining them at the table.

"This is Esmus of the Smior family," Lady Peila introduced. "And you did believe her story. Right up till my cousin’s letter came with the real story!"

The men laughed and slapped the table only to have a flicker of green end their banters. Three gryphon knights stood at the doorway with the Sky-Commander in the centre.

"My apologies for interrupting your meal," he said to the men before his eyes settled on Fayte. "The Magister-Lord has requested for the presence of Squire Fayte and his companions."

Captain Landon rose. "Unbelievable. Come along, Fayte."

"You be fine, squire," Sir Esmus said, patting him on the back. "Our Captain there will take care of you. You be in good hands."

The soldiers echoed after the knight, agreeing that their Captain always took good care of them. They also agreed that it was important he did not forget his sword.

"I thought you said the matter was resolved," Wilson whispered.

They were now led by Commander Darius with the other two gryphon knights following behind them.

"I had thought it was," the Captain said, his forehead creased with worry. "We have an unexpected visit from a man of high ranking last night. I was informed that he was here to make our issue go away."

"A man of high ranking?" John asked.

"A man who fancies the colour of white," was the Captain's response.

Thankfully the Sky-Commander brought gryphons for them so they need not walk to the Magister's Court where the Magister-Lord resided. As it turned out the only way to get there was by flying. To the tallest tower they flew, passing other gryphon knights, ones whose armour grew more ornate as they ascended.

"Royal knights," Captain Landon said to Fayte who rode with him. "Do not underestimate them. Even without the Light of the Spirits, these men can rival even the Whiteguards in an aerial fight. Unity is their strength. These men do not fight alone and that is where their strength lies in the air."

"What if they were on the ground?"

"You have found yourself in that situation just last night I believe. What do you think, young squire?"

They are helpless, was what he thought.

High above them Fayte saw that they were flying towards a platform extended from the tower. A giant gryphon carved of black stones, poised to strike, emerged from the side of the tower. It was massive. An entire street from Rondiar City could fit on it. Upon the head of the gryphon was a round platform. On the outer half at the most precarious edge was a wall that had numerous large openings at regular intervals. It was not unlike the shelves used in stores to display wares, only much bigger of course. They flew to the rear of the stone gryphon and landed.

Strong wings assailed them. They were now above the clouds as though in a whole other world. The sky was a brilliant blue and clear save for gryphon riders circling about. Sky-Commander Darius led them across the back of the stone gryphon to the platform. As they approached the structure, gryphon riders began descending and each one landed into the large openings on the wall. The mighty gryphons screeched and a herald announced their arrival.

The Custodian of Castle Rondiar was decades older than this herald, yet the old man's voice was much louder.

"My lord," the Sky-Commander said. "As you requested, this is Squire Fayte of the noble Kaywin family, son of Lord Frendon Kaywin, Lord-Knight of the-"

"Yes, yes, we all know who he and his old man is, Darius."

Seated upon the throne carved to the likes of two gryphons was a burly man. His skin was dry and his lips chapped. The man had frizzled white hair and his belly threatened to overflow from his lavish silk robe. Two gryphons, living ones, lay resting beside him. And behind them on the wall was an impressive display of more than thirty gryphon knights mounted on their companions. Fayte met eyes with the Magister-Lord and saw what was set upon his head.

Treachery.

"Fayte Kaywin," Magister-Lord Raymius said, the wind tousling his hair but the emerald gryphon crown remained unmoved. "You should be kneeling in the presence of a Magister-Lord."

"I kneel to no-"

"Kneel," Captain Landon whispered, going to his knees. Wilson and John did the same.

Fayte hesitated. He could feel Wilson's eyes boring in on him and John tapping his knee for him to kneel as well. Fayte shook his head and he stared defiantly at the Magister-Lord.

"I kneel only to one King," Fayte said.

The Magister-Lord grinned and the riders around them rose to a chaos of laughter.

"You stand in my domain, child," he said, his arms extending apart. "High above the clouds in the realm of the gryphons. Your Order has no power here. Your King has no power here. In the sky, I am the King. Now KNEEL!"

A strong hand pressed on his shoulder and Fayte was forced onto his knees. The Sky-Commander stood behind him without looking at Fayte. Captain Landon shook his head disapprovingly, whether it was at Commander Darius or Fayte himself, he did not know.

"Fayte Kaywin!" the Magister-Lord called. "You stand accused for the death of two gryphons of Gwedoniar. Do you plead guilty?"

Fayte bit his lip. "I do not."

"My men beg to differ, boy. My men claim that they had witnessed with their own eyes, you and your companions forcing two gryphons to bear your party beyond their strength, exhausting them beyond hope, causing their inglorious demise."

"Lies! We did not ride them to-"

"SILENCE! You do not speak unless spoken to!" he said. "I have heard enough from you. Prepare to receive my verdict."

"What?" Captain Landon said, rising to his feet. "My lord, what is the meaning of this?"

"As Magister-Lord of the great Gwedoniar City, I find you, Fayte Kaywin, and your party of Wilson Sayde and one John of no family, guilty of murdering two of my city's gryphons."

And the audience around them rose into a mix of piercing screeches and shouts.

"I sentence the three of you to flight," the Magister-Lord said, a cunning grin on his face, "or death!"

CHAPTER 19

Not even the royal seal could help him.

The two knights denied the authority of the King in light of the heinous crime committed. It was clear to Fayte that this was more politics and spite than what they had been accused of. These two men were not knights of the Order of the White Shield. They might had been at one point, but their pilgrimage ended without Sera's blessings. While many stay on and serve as soldiers to try once more in the future, others leave in shame and anger, while some simply lose hope.

"Do not think having the Lord-Knight as your father will save you from your crime, White Shield squire," the knight said, tying Fayte up with a thick rope. "Not even your King is above the law."

This man definitely left the Order angry. Fayte winced when the knight tightened the knot. "Our King. And are you sure this is safe?"

"Fear not," said the knight, now tying the other end of the rope to the saddle of his gryphon. "I will not allow you to perish before you stand trial for your crime."

Fayte rolled his eyes.

The knight took out a second bundle of rope and approached Wilson.

"I am a priest from the Order of the White Rose," Wilson said, his arms crossed with Preston perched upright on his shoulder. The white dragon snarled. "I will not be subjected to such ridicule."

"Priest or no priest, you are a criminal and so you do as I say!" The knight snapped his finger and his gryphon let out a mighty screech.

Fayte flinched from the deafening noise. This gryphon was massive and up-close, the beast was nearly twice as large as the royal gryphons. Rakhor, a gryphon Fayte made friends while trying to rescue Emily, would not last long in a fight against this beast. The armour it wore was different from the ones given to the royal gryphons. While those in Rondiar bore plates of white, this gryphon was encased in thicker emerald-green plates, guarding its head and powerful limbs.

Wilson was unfazed by the knight's threat. "I will ride with you atop your friend. Either that or I free both my friends now and have the both of you brought to the King, for disrespecting and threatening a priest of the White Rose."

The knight drew his sword, his partner joining him after John was bounded.

"Listen to him," Fayte told the Gwedonian knights, seated casually on the grass. "I would if I were you."

The two knights glanced at him, contemplating, weighing their chances. Two men and two mighty gryphons against a single priest and a dragon whelp. They knew as well as Wilson did that he was not counting on strength alone to make them stay their blades. No, these men would think twice before raising their weapons at a priest. Not even their Magister-Lord would risk angering Sera just to protect them.

"I remind you, sir knights," said Wilson. "The Order of the White Rose does not stand alone."

Attacking a priest would anger the White Rose and then they would have the Elements and the White Shield to deal with as well. And so it was with that thought that they allowed Wilson to ride atop the gryphon. Fayte and John on the other hand were tied to the gryphons and both screamed their lungs out as the beast dragged them into the air.

"This is worse than flying in Ye'Jou's claws!" Fayte yelled, dangling freely from a single line of rope.

They flew past open fields and dense forests, soaring across the lands over hills and rivers. It was frightening at first, but soon Fayte heard John screaming not with fear but joy and exhilaration.

"I'M FLYING!" the man yelled, laughing and kicking his legs. "WOOOOOOO!"

And exhilarating it was when Fayte let go of his fear. He even took the time to observe the gryphons, how the two beasts soared with such speed despite the armour weighing them down. Gwedoniar City was once the castle of King Duriel Emerald-Talons. Their knights were lords of the sky with their gryphons, and even after the nine heroes had united Hylan under the rule of the Whiteart family, the King of Gwedoniar refused to bend the knee and for many years remained a kingdom of its own.

It was the Vlazion knights, who back then formed the bulk of the Order of the White Shield, who infiltrated the city and forced the last king to surrender. Since then Gwedoniar City had been a repeated cause of trouble for the royal family. Rebel uprising rose from the city frequently and often times prices of gryphons were raised beyond reason. The King would be forced to step in and mediate a negotiation. Fayte remembered reading about Magisters being assassinated during many of the uprisings. Back then the King would appoint an outsider to serve as Magister to the city and an eye for the King. The assassinations soon forced him to appoint someone from within the city. Thankfully that put an end to the murders.

"But would the title of Magister suffice? No it would not," Fayte could still hear Administrator Langton's voice from a few years ago as he went on about the troubles Gwedoniar City caused. "He demanded that he be named a Magister-Lord for he was in charge of the great gryphon city. Without his management Hylan would not be able to enjoy such an efficient flight system he said. I will have you both know, my Princess and young Fayte, that it was my predecessors who came up with the flight routes for the gryphons! They are the ones to be credited! Not some fat old man sitting on a throne that your grandparents and theirs decided to turn a blind eye to."

They flew south through the day very slowly. It seemed the gryphon knights were not in a hurry to get back to their city. Perhaps it was the load on their gryphons having to carry the three of them that slowed them down. They flew past sundown after a stop for the gryphons to get a drink and the knights a bite. They were offered no food but Wilson managed to get them some water. When they were back in the air after a time, Fayte was certain they passed the mercenary town of Redpath. Preston took off at that point much to the knights' anger but there was little they could do.

"By all means chase him down," Wilson had said. "I'm sure Sera would not mind watching two mighty gryphons hunting down one of her defenceless babies."

If the knights were willing still their gryphons were surely not.

Fayte actually managed to doze off. The remainder of the ride had been surprisingly smooth. He rested well but roused screaming not from his nightmares, but from forgetting that he was being dangled on a rope in midair.

"I'm glad to see that you are awake," Wilson yelled from above. "Look ahead."

A beacon of light touched the clouds. Torches and glowing lumastones were embedded around the numerous towers of Gwedoniar City. The fortress was built upon a mountain that served as a great natural tower. Upon it stood towers of bricks and stones, wide and thick, hidden in the night with its dark stones if not for the light. Archers patrolled on the walls held between towers. As they circled around the city, Fayte saw other gryphons flying about, patrolling the skies. Gwedoniar City was accessible only by air, making it all the more difficult to assault during ages past. The ground path on the face of the mountain was too narrow for any army to traverse. Gwedoniar City was a sight to behold in person for Fayte had only seen the gryphon city as drawings within books.

I must learn how the Order managed to take this city in the past, he noted to himself.

Next thing he knew, Fayte was free-falling.

A gryphon caught him in midair and tossed him to another. Fayte screamed as they passed him along, from one to another with their riders laughing away. His anger grew as he realized they were making a sport out of him, so he hushed himself until they lost interest and finally dropped him on the sloped roof of a tower. He roll off the roof and a sack of hay softened his fall. Fayte lay there with his eyes shut for a few moments to allow his head to steady itself. Before the sky had ceased spinning, he was pulled out of the hay and onto his feet.

"Well what do we have here?" a Gwedonian gryphon knight said, chuckling as he shook him about like a doll.

"A squire from the Order of the White Shield," the knight who arrested them said as he dismounted. "Rode one of our poor gryphons to death. Seize the priest as well."

Two soldiers with pikes took Wilson by his arms. A man screamed and landed into the sack of hay behind Fayte, and shortly after John was pulled out. The man was dazed with exhilaration, a dumb grin stuck on his face. He also looked like he was about to puke.

"A squire from the Order eh?" the knight holding him said, his breath stank of wine. The man drew his sword. "Don't get many of you passing by here. Never got me a squire of my own as well. Must be nice having a boy running errands for you! You damn White Shield knights and you little squires. I bet them knights use you squires for other stuff as well."

"Oh I'm sure they do," another knight yelled, standing with three other soldiers. "Them dirty sort of stuff if ya know what I'm talking about."

Fayte didn't, but when he heard the men around him laugh and slap each other on their backs, he knew that these men were insulting the knights of his Order.

"Hey, how's about we send this boy along to Lord Linus?" the knight holding him said. "Too late to have him taken to the Magister-Lord now anyway. May as well earn us a few silver pieces!"

The way they laughed and agreed that it was a good idea did not sit well with Fayte. There was something corrupted about the way they talked. This was not how knights should conduct themselves when handling official matters. If Fayte was arrested then he should be taken to a cell immediately.

"Fayte," Wilson called. "I know these men are trying your patience."

They really are. For these men sorely reminded him of the false knights he fought against in Eres Star City. Men who did not deserve the honour of calling themselves knights.

A burst of light erupted from Wilson's hands and the two soldiers fell away from him, screaming as their hands went to their eyes.

"I see no need for us to be patient anymore." Wilson snapped his finger as he waved his hand at Fayte. A flash of light cut him free of the ropes. "Defend yourself and the honour of your Order."

Fayte gladly did.

He swung his leg up between the knight's legs and seized the man's sword as he toppled over squealing. This was no spar or duel so anything goes. Wilson blinded the knights and soldiers who went after him and proceeded to knock them out with his mace. Fayte swung the heavy sword and jabbed the knights from beneath their chin where their helmets did not protect them. These men were strong but sheer strength alone was nothing without discipline and skill to guide that strength.

Knights they called themselves, but they fought no better than the soldiers beside them. These were gryphon knights, their domain the air and their true swords were their gryphons. Fayte and Wilson fought off the knights and their men but they were outnumbered and the knights grew tired of the fight. Four of the beasts landed upon the call of their riders. They stalked them now and Fayte and Wilson found themselves backed against each other, surrounded and outmatched.

"We did not think this through," Fayte said.

"I was expecting John to assist us," said Wilson, but the man seemed to have collapsed over the sack of hay. "And hoping that by now we've made enough noise to rouse half the tower."

"What good will that do?" he asked, and at that moment a gryphon lunged at him.

"STOP!" a gruff voice shouted.

The gryphon spread its wings and forced itself to land before colliding into Fayte. If not for the voice, Fayte would have impaled the beast with his sword but the gryphon would have also torn him open from shoulder to waist, even with his chainmail on.

"Away!" a Gwedonian knight commanded, stepping into view. "All of you, return to your roosts. NOW!"

The gryphons all turned on their tails and took off into the dark. Knights and soldiers around them hurried to their feet, except for those who were knocked unconscious by Wilson. This man who now stood before them was different. Though he wore the same suit of green armour this man had a commanding aura like the ones Captain Teynier and Captain Windon exuded. Also he did not stink of wine.

"I see my men injured and unconscious," he said, the blue of the lumastones reflecting in his eyes. His jaws large and his physique towering. Fayte found himself standing in this man's shadow. Literally. "By whose hands did this happen?"

"Theirs!" John yelled from behind, still bounded and apparently conscious. "Not me! Not me at all, sir knight! Nope!"

Kick John in the head, Fayte made a note to himself. "Your men-"

Wilson stopped him. He lowered his mace and touched Fayte on the shoulder to do the same with his sword. Wilson turned to the gryphon knight, a commander no doubt, and met his eyes steadily.

"By our hands and by my words," Wilson said. "The squire acted according to my command, sir knight, thus the responsibility is mine to bear."

The man furrowed his brows. "A squire you say?" He looked at his men and not one of the gryphon knights dared meet his eyes. "And for reason did you ask this squire to join you and attack my men?"

"Because your men insulted my honour and bore intentions of sending my ward to a noble by the name of Linus." A flash of recognition ran across the knight's eyes. "I swore a vow to the Lord-Knight to protect his son with my life. A priest of the Order of the White Rose does not break his vows."

The commander gryphon knight raised his eyes and looked at Fayte. "I don't need you to slip that boy's identity to me, good priest. Only my men are fools enough to not recognize Fayte Kaywin."

The knights and soldiers now turned to the one who brought Fayte in. All of them were glaring at him with a look that said, ‘You didn’t mention that to us!’

"As for you, good priest," said the commander. "Wilson Sayde is famed as the youngest priest with his dragon."

Wilson smiled. "Preston is away on business."

"No doubt waiting for us to give him a reason to bring the might of the Orders of Rondiar upon us." The commander sighed. "Forgive me for failing to take my men into hand. I am Darius of the noble Emerald-Talons family, Sky-Commander of the Fifth Talon."

Wilson's smile grew wider. "Emerald-Talons. You are a descendant of the Gryphon King."

CHAPTER 18

The next morning Fayte was found asleep in the castle's great hall.

"You were told to rest," Lady Feralina said.

Fayte opened his eyes. They felt sore with gunk crusting on his eyelids. He rubbed them, feeling the strain and soreness of his back having spent the night here on the bench. He came out after failing to find sleep in his room. But as uncomfortable as his rest was, it was dreamless and for Fayte that could only be a good sign. Perhaps Jeremiah had stood guard over him as he slept. The black coffin lay on a bed of white roses at the end of the great hall. Two Vlazion knights stood vigil next to it.

"Do you accept that he is dead?" he asked.

The Master-Knight was wrapped in plain clothing with a worn traveller's cloak thrown over her simple shirt. Fayte could hear the soft clinks of a chainmail underneath them though. She looked at him, the sunlight gentle on her fair face, her piercing eyes now softened by loss.

"No," she said, turning around to look at the coffin. "And yes. For I see the truth that which my heart denies."

Fayte looked to where Jeremiah lay.

As do I… "The assassin will not strike with two knights of such renown protecting me."

Lady Feralina hardened her expression. "Yes, Commander Reyner and I have considered that. The plan is for us to guard you from the shadows, but neither one of us is trained in the ways of stealth. We have devised a method of communication with the good priest, Wilson Sayde. If you are in danger, the priest will send a bolt of light into the air or his dragon will let out a screech. Commander Reyner and I will come rushing at once."

"But you will not be at my side in an instant," Fayte said, wondering. "Father is no fool."

"Indeed," said a man.

Fayte rose at once when Commander Reyner joined them. The man was dressed as Lady Feralina was, plain, but the Commander's face was well recognized in Hylan. Both knights were without their shields and their swords spoke nothing of the Order or the name Vladertz.

"He has more faith in you than he lets on," said Commander Reyner with a sigh. "Torn between duty and kinship. You will both learn of this pain in time."

They nodded.

"What's the plan from here on, Sir?" Fayte asked.

Lady Feralina explained. "We received word a few days ago from an agent of the Underlord about the assassin. This was a day after you were attacked by the lake. We were also told that the Underlord believes more will come. The Order of the Elements knew about this and was supposed to have assigned an escort to you."

"There were no escort. Lord Quxtin only sent a mage," he said, but that made him wonder. "She did manage to subdue two of the attackers herself though."

"A single mage is hardly an escort," Commander Reyner said. "However Quxtin is not a thoughtless man. I trust he has his reasons and your father will be sure to hear them."

Perhaps he is still upset over father stealing the woman he loved from him. But Lord Fengoth had assured him otherwise. Could the old wizard be wrong?

"Why is the Underlord sharing these information with us? And doesn’t Lord Tyden believes that the assassins work for the Underlord?"

"We have informed him otherwise but my father is a stubborn man. And no, it is not uncommon," Commander Reyner said when he saw the doubt in Fayte. "Likely the assassin has caused a territorial dispute between the Underlords."

"And so the Underlord is using us to resolve the matter for him," said Fayte.

"A matter that affects us as well," he reminded Fayte. "It is for ourselves that we act and not the Underlord. However we do require his assistance. Since then we have attempted to make contact with the Underlord and his agent but to no avail. I understand you came into contact with both he and one of his agents before. I was hoping if you knew of any ways to contact either of them."

The first time Fayte met with an agent of the Underlord was in a massive slavers' camp. Emily had been kidnapped and was brought there to be presented to a group of people interested in purchasing her. The Underlord's agent was one of them. The agent subsequently provided Fayte with information on her whereabouts after they lost her at the slavers' camp. And that was in Redpath.

Fayte recalled how the agent had spoken with a poor old lady selling odd trinkets by the street.

"If she is still there, the woman might be able to tell us how to find him."

The two knights considered it.

"Are you done in Iredis with regards to your pilgrimage?" Commander Reyner asked to which Fayte answered a positive. "Very well, you shall make for the mercenary town. If we find ourselves without luck in the matter of locating the Underlord, we shall turn to Eronaxe and inquire about the bandits that ambushed you."

"The mercenary guild might not welcome our presence there," Lady Feralina said, unsure of the plan.

"Might not?" Commander Reyner laughed. "They will not welcome us there. But I doubt they are foolish enough to lay a hand on Lord Frendon's son."

There it was again, people speaking as though his father was invincible.

"Commander Reyner, if I may ask," Fayte said, raising his hand to wave Wilson over when he heard the doors to the great hall open. "My father threatened Lord Tyden with the lives of the entire Vladertz clan last night when Lord Tyden held his blade to me. I mean no disrespect, but Lord Tyden was taken aback by my father's words, as though he feared my father. And I oft hear, even from the Underlord's agent, that my father was not one to be reckoned with. Why is that?"

The Commander of the Whiteguards and Lady Feralina exchanged a look, greeting Wilson when he joined them.

"Your father is remarkably talented with the sword and shield, and some would say he is also favoured by Sera," said Commander Reyner. "Your father is strong, but it was not for strength alone that he was made Lord-Knight. Leadership and intellect, to name two. As to why so many fear your father, ask yourself, Fayte, in what circumstances do you find others making such a comment about your father."

It took a moment. "When my life is threatened."

Commander Reyner nodded. "Fear not a man who fights with valour and honour. Fear a man who fights with nothing left to lose."

They broke fast in the dining hall with hot bread and cheese. Fayte hadn't the appetite but Commander Reyner insisted he ate more to keep up his strength. His father had returned to Rondiar with the King and the Queen the night before. Emily was to resume her visiting.

It was in the dining hall when Fayte finally saw Priestess Joanne. She was seated at the far end of the table with two other older ladies. The priestess fed herself, fingers pushing a chunk of bread into her mouth, then she chewed, and later swallowed. Lifeless, her actions were.

"She will never forgive herself," Wilson said, a healthy spread in front of him. "The woman was tearless when I met her last night."

"I suppose you couldn't ask how it had happened?"

Wilson shook his head. "Her dragon led help from the nearby village to her and they found Joanne with his body. She was unharmed mostly, save for some scratches and a robe soaked with river water and blood."

They left quietly once they were done with their meal.

Outside the gatehouse, a foul stench of waste overcame them. With over a hundred gryphons and improper roosts for the animals, this was to be expected. Younger squires from the Order would surely be summoned to assist in the clean-up. Fayte and Jeremiah had often been sent to perform such deeds for the people of Hylan. Nobility had little weight once you were in the Order, even if you were the Lord-Knight's son.

"Hey boys!" John yelled, waving.

They were surprised to find the man waiting for them. He was sharing a cup of ale with the gryphon masters who hurried back to work when they saw the Commander.

"A friend?" Commander Reyner asked.

"A wanderer we met in Ironsville," Fayte said, explaining how John was found with a Templar's sword and how they were later asked by the Queen of the Water Nymphs to bring John along with them.

"Is that true?" the Commander turned to Wilson. "The Queen of the Water Nymphs herself commanded it?"

"A message passed on from her to me by her children," Wilson corrected him. "But aye, it was her command to bring this man along with us."

"Then it is not my place to interfere," Commander Reyner told them. "But beware, Fayte, for if this man fights as you say he does, he is no simple mercenary."

"I had intended to introduce him to Captain Resfield once we arrive at Eres Star City, but I understand the Captain is here?"

"Nay, Resfield returned to his city last night," said Lady Feralina.

The Commander nodded. "But it is a wise decision. The noble Jonar family has the bloodline of the Templars. Resfield may know more."

Fayte, Wilson, and John set off first, with Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina to follow soon. John had heard news about a squire's funeral at Castle Vladertz while he was in a tavern at Iredis. When he found out that Fayte was gone, he thought it was only natural that Fayte would be there. A plausible scenario, but Fayte doubt John was without help.

Sera guided this man to us, he thought, glancing at Wilson when John told them how he came to be at Castle Vladertz. Again.

With the remainder of their journey restricted to the air, Fayte expected his pilgrimage to end several days earlier than he had planned. Although the detours he might have to make for the investigation will likely change that. He doubt he would be able to make it for Emily's wedding still.

Nor do I wish to attend.

They soared across the sky under clouds and in the light of the sun. 

"Is it just me or is this gryphon panting a lot?" Wilson asked.

Fayte leaned forward to look at the beast. "What's the matter, girl? Is it the heat?"

It was still early in the morning, the sun yet fully awoken. This gryphon came from Castle Vladertz itself, properly fed and rested last night. Fayte had flown on enough gryphons to know that something was off when he saw the gryphon with her tongue hanging loose.

"Heal her," he said at once.

Wilson's hands were glowing. "She is not harmed nor exhausted."

"Hurry up, boys!" John yelled from ahead. "Or I might just leave ya behind!"

Just as the man finished his words, his gryphon ceased movement and they began to fall. Fayte wanted to save John and he would if his gryphon hadn't followed suit. They descended rapidly, the gryphon's legs writhing about but her wings refused to flap. Within her eyes Fayte saw fear swirling deep with them.

"Hold on!" Wilson yelled, his eyes and body flaring with light.

The light expanded and encased them. Fayte felt themselves slowing but it wasn't enough. A mass of green charged at them from below and Fayte braced himself as they crashed into hard land. For a while everything was dark. He lost consciousness briefly and was pulled awake by the sensation of falling. He pushed himself up and off the gryphon. His chest was sore and he could taste blood in his mouth, no doubt bitten his tongue or cheek during the crash.

Preston growled and whimpered as he nudged Wilson up. The priest sat up and groaned, flinching when Preston happily sprayed him with a blast of white flames.

"Alright, enough, enough!" He swatted the dragon away. "Go do Fayte."

"I'm fine, I don't-" A blast of white flames enveloped his face and he choked for a few seconds before Preston finally ceased. He felt renewed and his head not as dizzy as before. "Fine, thank you."

Unfortunately the gryphon didn't fare as well.

"She gave her life to protect us," Wilson said, kneeling beside the majestic beast. "I could sense her thoughts, her struggle, as she manoeuvred herself to take the impact for us."

"There was fear too, was there not?" Fayte said, to which Wilson nodded grimly. "It was as though she lost her ability to fly… in mid-flight."

Fayte could only imagine losing the ability to wield his sword in the middle of a battle.

"Looks like poison to me," John said.

They were both surprised to find the man unharmed. In fact he looked as though his gryphon never crashed, though it did. The poor beast sprawled on the ground some distance away from them.

"How did you survive?" Fayte asked, approaching the man.

"I'm a lucky man," he said with a wide grin that soon fled from him. "Someone is trying to kill ya again."

This man knows magic, he thought, finding no other way to explain his miraculous escape from death. "So it seems. And he was at Castle Vladertz."

They heard a screech and from above them two gryphons swooped down, slamming them with a gale of wind so harsh it knocked them off their feet. The beasts moved swiftly, riders on their back, and Fayte thought them to be Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina, but he was wrong. These were not even knights from the Order.

"What happened here?" the knight said, adorned with an armour the green of dark moss, spaulders carved into the shape of wings, and from their half-helm sprouted two more. "What have you done to these poor beasts?"

First Vlazion knights and now them. "We have done nothing. They were poisoned it seems."

The knight strode forward, a towering man at least two meters tall. It was hard to look upon his face with the sun behind him. Circling above them was his partner and a gryphon much larger than the ones now dead on the ground.

"Your words against those of two dead gryphons," the knight said, his wide jaws tight with distain.

He drew his sword and his gryphon leaped forward with a ferocious screech.

Fayte backed away and drew his as well along with John, but the second gryphon knight swooped down and knocked them off their feet. Even Wilson was not spared or shown any courtesy. Preston snarled and threatened to breathe fire but the gryphon could tear him apart with a single swipe.

"By the authority of Magister-Lord Raymius of Gwedoniar City," said the Gwedonian knight. "I hereby place the three of you under arrest for the murder of these gryphons."

CHAPTER 17

The white roses scattered to the ground and Fayte expected Jeremiah's grandfather to stab him with a sword right then. All he heard were noises from the nobles behind, disapproving and in shock. He dropped his own dagger as he shook his head and gently shut the lid. Fayte reached for Jeremiah's dagger and removed it.

I will kill the man myself with your dagger, he swore, turning around to come face to face with the tip of a sword.

Lord Tyden did not stab him earlier. That was only because his own father was holding up his sword to the old man's neck.

"You dare threaten my son in my presence?" his father, an unforgiving tone he did not know his father was capable of.

"You dare threaten me, Kaywin?" Lord Tyden said. "Your son defiled my grandson's resting tomb!"

"Then I will have him punished as accordingly, but I will not have you pointing your sword at him."

"And who are you to make demands?" the old man said. "I am no knight of yours, Frendon. I have no ties with this Order that my lineage now swear loyalty to. If it were not for that man you call King sitting there, my grandson would be a crowned Prince!"

"I will say this once, Tyden," his father warned. "Harm my son… and I will see to it that the name Vladertz is as rare as my own."

Fayte could hardly understand why his father's threat seemed to have weight against Lord Tyden, for a flicker of doubt appeared in the old man's eyes. His father, a lone knight, against the entire Vladertz family? He may be Lord-Knight but was his father's swordsmanship that feared in Hylan? It was a matter worth seeking an answer to, but Fayte was a little bit distracted at the moment.

"Father…" Fayte called, watching the Vlazion knights guarding the royal family slowly surround them instead.

"I am a little busy keeping this man from killing you," he said. "What's wrong?"

"ENOUGH!"

In that moment, Fayte swung his hand up and disarmed Lord Tyden. Or at least he tried to. As if it wasn't bad enough to think he could catch a Vladertz off guard, Fayte actually thought he could disarm one of the most skilled swordsman in the whole of Hylan. Thankfully his father was with him, driving the pommel of his sword into the back of Lord Tyden's head. Fayte pulled with all his strength and only then did he managed to free the sword from him.

"Is a suit of black armour all it takes for you to lose your vows?" Commander Reyner was the one yelling, his rage directed at the Vlazion knights surrounding the royal family. "I might be wearing this armour but I wear it only out of respect for my father and the name Vladertz."

The Commander of the Whiteguards drew his sword - the white sword of a knight of the Order of the White Shield. He was several yards away from the royal family, but the Vlazion knights there were visibly taken aback. At that moment, Sir Percson, Sir Airagon and Sir Jaylen all drew their swords and elemental glyphs appeared beneath their feet. The King showed not a hint of fear or bother as did his wife. Only Emily seemed frightened with Mailer quivering and hugging her as though she could protect him. Fayte resisted the urge to go to her.

"I am still a knight of the Order of the White Shield," Commander Reyner said. "Commander of the Whiteguards. By the laws that govern our kingdom, I can smite each one of you down this instant for treason against the royal family!"

The Vlazion knights continued to back away.

And still Sir Percson smiles, Fayte noticed, though his two comrades did not share his ease.

"Thank Sera none of you were mad enough to draw your sword," Commander Reyner went on. "Or my men would have beheaded the lot of you already. Now remove yourself from the presence of the King and keep your helms on, lest I have you removed from the Order."

"Can he do that?" Fayte asked.

His father shrugged as he watched the Vlazion knights hurried away. "Probably."

"And you!" Commander Reyner now turned to his father, Lord Tyden. "The Lord-Knight has been gracious enough today. Threatening the life of his son is no way to repay him."

"You dare speak to me with that tone? I am your father!" Lord Tyden said. "Did you not see what the insolent boy did?"

"You mean the very boy who grew up with Jeremiah in the Order?" Commander Reyner shot back. "The same boy who went through all the gruelling training with your grandson by his side? The same boy who kept Jeremiah alive when they were lost for days in the Frewe Forest? They might not share the same blood but those two boys are practically brothers. Not everyone has a heart of stone like yours, father."

Lord Tyden was fuming. He turned from his son to Fayte and struggled with himself, like he wanted to punch Fayte in the face yet at the same time he knew Commander Reyner was right. There was nothing for him to say so the man turned away. As he left the stage and departed from the funeral, Fayte's father seized him by his tunic and dragged him off the stage.

"What the hell was that?" his father asked once they were in the cover of darkness.

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry is not enough!" he father said harshly without yelling. "I know you are filled with grief. But tossing the lid open? By the light, are you mad?"

"I had to see it with my own eyes!"

"We could have arranged it after the procession!"

He had nothing to say to that. Fayte knew he was in the wrong for allowing his emotions to get the better of him. The King was reassuring Commander Reyner that they were unharmed. The remaining Vlazion knights present removed their helms upon the Commander's order. Lady Feralina was quite upset herself, storming about to assist Commander Reyner.

"Now that you've seen it, are you convinced?"

"That body in there," Fayte looked at the coffin. "How certain are you that it's Jeremiah?"

"It is," his father said. "The priestess accompanying him was there when it happened. Jeremiah fell into a river and we only recovered his body a day after. By then he was bloated and near beyond recognition, but his family has confirmed that it is him. His clothes and belongings were all there."

Fayte didn't know what to think after hearing that.

"This is not your fault, Fayte," his father told him. "No one expected this to happen."

"The assassin came for me after he was done with Jeremiah," Fayte told him, a plan forming in his head. "I shouldn't have killed him. But whoever sent the assassin might send more. I could-"

His father stopped him then.

"I did not risk war with the entire Vladertz family just to send you onto the path of danger." His father held him by the shoulders and stared at him pleadingly. "I know you are in pain for losing a close friend. You might not even believe me yet that it is Jeremiah lying in there, but the wound matches, Fayte. A stab through the eye, upwards, into the brain. There was naught his priestess or any in the White Rose could do, even if he hadn't fall into the river."

Fayte shook his head. His heart was heavy and his mind was clouded.

"The Order will find the mastermind behind this." His father let go of him. "Grieve, my son, but there is still a pilgrimage for you to complete. Jeremiah would want you to."

The remainder of the night went on without further disturbance. Soon the nobles were leaving, most to nearby towns to find a place to rest in until sunrise. Fayte and his friends were gathered near the gatehouse. They greeted the Lord-Knight when he came to address them.

He looked at each of them, his head shaking.

"The best of you has fallen," he said, flanked by Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina. "The Order of the White Rose will answer to me sooner than later for keeping the ambushes from me. As for all of you, I know my knights have trained you all better than this. This was not your fault but it could very well have been. Jeremiah's death-" His father met eyes with him. "-is punishment enough."

They lowered their heads, silent, guilty, and in grief.

"What of our pilgrimage now, Lord Frendon?" Jason asked.

"I leave that to your parents," said the Lord-Knight. "Fayte has ended the assassin who took Jeremiah from us, but I fear more will come. Most of you would have yet to hear but Fayte was attacked in Iredis again last night. Two mages and a mercenary."

Two mages from the Order of the Elements, but Fayte knew his father left that detail out on purpose. No use sowing distrust between the Orders at this time.

Julin nudged him with his elbow for not saying a word of this earlier.

"The man truly responsible for Jeremiah's death is still out there," the Lord-Knight went on. "That is why should your parents decide to allow you to resume your pilgrimage, a mage from the Order of the Elements will be sent to accompany you along with your priest or priestess. All of you will have to travel by air. Strictly by air. I will send word ahead to the affected gryphon roosts for those of you who cannot afford the flights."

A mage to accompany each of us? Hmm.

Jason nodded. "Thank you, my lord."

"Commander Reyner has arranged for all you to stay the night here in Castle Vladertz. Consider it an honour. These walls have witness much over the centuries." His father looked up at the black stone walls, prompting them to do the same. "Dismissed."

Fayte waited until his friends had left before he went to his father.

"You will return to Rondiar until this matter is resolved," he father said and went on before Fayte could object. "But what will happen is that you will find a way to escape. No doubt your friend here will aid you."

Wilson was standing by the side, stepping forward now to join them. "No doubt, my lord."

Preston agreed with a bark from Wilson's shoulder.

"When you were ambushed by the bandits," his father said. "I hear you were alone and you walked out unscathed."

Fayte nodded, glancing at Wilson, worried that his friend would be punished for leaving him.

"And though you had help and were injured from the fight last night, the fact remains that you managed to defeat a mage."

"He and Jeremiah are both on an entirely different level," Lady Feralina said, her long hair laying loose on her shoulder. "He is our best chance."

"I will guard him with my life, my lord," Commander Reyner said. "No harm will befall him."

Fayte was a little bit confused. "I do not understand?"

"A BAIT!"

Three of the highest ranking knights in the Order of the White Shield reached for their swords.

"MAILER!"
"MAILER!"
"MAILER!"

They all screamed, sending the court jester fleeing to the King. All three knights let free of their swords and lowered their heads respectfully.

"Have we come to a decision, Frendon?" King Eardon asked, wrapped in a thick sable cloak with the Queen and his daughter by his sides.

An ice glyph appeared beneath their feet and activated, encasing them in a dome of ice. And now we speak about matters of the secretive nature. An orb of light rose over the dome.

His father turned away from the King and looked at him. "The assassin you killed. He was neither a man of Hylan nor Saldara."

"It was hard to tell, what with his face being bashed in," Wilson added. "But the man had blue eyes."

Blue? "The East Kingdom."

"Beyond the Northern Gate," Commander Reyner said. "Aye."

No wonder the King is here himself. Fayte turned to his father.

"What happened to not sending me onto the path of danger?"

"Son, do you not see the man with the crown on his head behind me?"

"Forgive me, Fayte, that I have to ask this of you." The King stepped forward. "But if the East Kingdom intends to invade us, as absurd as that may sound, I intend to be a step ahead of them."

"This is more likely to be an individual or a small group of them acting on their own," his father said. "But we cannot rule out any possibility. We need to find out why squires are being targeted."

"Say no more," Fayte told them. "I'll do it."

The King smiled widely while his father rolled his eyes. "Relax, Frendon, your boy is gifted with the sword and he will have my Commander guarding him. I am even willing to part with Airagon and have him join Fayte. The man was a ranger before he became a knight if you recall."

Sir Airagon nodded humbly, his hair a curly mess.

"I have a Scygard walking next to your daughter," his father complained. "I cannot spare another Whiteguard for this matter."

Emily's eyes widened. Clearly she was not meant to hear that but thankfully she knew not to speak up at this time. Ever since it was decided that she would join hands with Rinmar in marriage, Emily had been persistent about making everyone accept and treat the Saldarians as friends, to the point of insolence if she wasn't the Princess. The Archimage had clearly given her a wakeup call with her lecture not too many days ago.

"Then Reyner and Feralina will suffice," the King said before clearing his throat. "Squire Fayte, hear my command."

Fayte lowered himself to his knee, pressing on his sword to keep the tip of his sheath from touching the ground.

"As King of Hylan, I hereby command you to investigate the matter of the East Kingdom assassin," the Majesty of Hylan said, his voice loud and formal. "Commander Reyner and Master-Knight Feralina will shadow you and keep you from harm. They will have to leave you on the eve of the wedding when the Grace of Hylan will join hands with the Prince of Saldara. I pray the matter will be resolved before then." The King glanced at Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina before he sighed and his tone softened. "You have saved Hylan from great peril once before, Fayte, no one has forgotten that. I regret that I have to ask you to do so once more. Squire Fayte of the noble Kaywin family, do you receive my command?"

"Aye, your Majesty," Fayte said. "It is my duty to serve and protect the people of Hylan."

"Then rise." And Fayte did, watching his father hand a small white object to the King. "I now present you, officially this time, the Royal Seal of Rondiar. It has aided you once before. I pray it does so again."

"Thank you, your Majesty," he said as he received the seal. We meet again.

The Royal Seal of Rondiar was a small medallion, carved in the same of a shield set upon a ring entwined with roses. It signified the King's authority and with it, Fayte spoke with the voice of the King.

"Rest for the night," his father said. "Commander Reyner and Lady Feralina will give you more details on the morrow. And know that as your father, I worry for you and would not want you to take up this task, but as the Lord-Knight… Fayte Kaywin, I do not know a better squire more suited for this task."

Fayte smiled at him, assured by his words.

"If ever comes the time when you find yourself doubting your own heart…" His father smacked him across the head, lovingly, if that was possible. "Remember that smack and that at this very moment both the King of Hylan and the Lord-Knight acknowledged your capabilities. Believe in yourself, my son."

"Thank you, father," he said, rubbing the side of his head. That was completely unnecessary.

When he noticed Emily coming forward to him, he turned away and asked if he could be dismissed now. The King granted him leave and the mage lowered the ice dome. He hadn't the time for Emily now. His attention was set on finding the mastermind behind the ambushes and the assassination of…

Fayte shook his head and averted his gaze from the coffin.

CHAPTER 16

The clash of thunder rolled in the distance but only tears fell on this night.

Castle Vladertz, once the stronghold of King Adrieyl Vladertz, stood with its black stone walls and looming towers, overseeing the procession in stoic silence. They landed outside the castle where a temporary gryphon roost was put up. Near a hundred gryphons were present, yet their squawks were soft and none screech nor cry.

There was death in the air and the majestic animals knew respect.

"Evening greetings to you, Your Grace," his father said, helping Emily from her gryphon. "We were not expecting you today."

"A squire has fallen," Emily said, accepting a fresh cloth to wipe her face from one of three servants who had hurried forward to attend to her. "It is my duty to be here."

In truth it was not, for people died every day and it was not the royal family's duty to attend all funerals. His father did not speak the contrary and bowed as Emily walked by him. She joined hands with Rinmar who greeted his father with a nod. Sir Percson and Lady Elisen followed. Mailer was right behind them, his bells still attached but if it was possible, none of them jingled with mirth or jest.

"Father."

They embraced each other before his father looked to Wilson.

"Lord Frendon, it was my decision to keep this from-"

"It matters not," his father said. "Your silence on the ambush and that of the other squires did not cause this. Your Order did well in informing the priests and priestesses taking care of my squires. Jeremiah and Priestess Joanne were aware of the danger. I would have preferred if I was informed, but even so, I would have done the same as your Order did at that time."

"Then how did it happen, father?" Fayte said, for he did not believe it did or could.

They heard noises from the drawbridge, a dispute of some sort.

"Later," his father said, turning away from the bridge to look at him. "I received word of the ambush in Iredis. You defeated a mage?"

"It was a narrow fight," he said, "and I had help from a new friend."

To see pride brimming in his father's visage eased some of the sorrow that filled his heart on this night.

"After you have completed your pilgrimage we shall resume your training," his father said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Just as I've promised you many years ago."

Fayte looked forward to that. He was only a page and to be trained by his father was not a painless memory, but he treasured those days and now Fayte looked forward to more of such times. The Light of the Spirits would not be easy to wield without guidance.

More gryphons were landing just as they left. Torches were lit and staked to the ground in place of lumastones. In fact, none of the glowing gems were to be seen. There was an ominous feel to it, but of course, this was hardly a light-hearted event. Two knights followed by his father's side. Fayte and Wilson right behind them. They could not find John in time so they left and would search for him later if time permitted. Estelle had bid them farewell in Iredis.

"I will show you the rest of Iredis on your next visit," she promised. "It was fun fighting beside you, Fayte Kaywin."

"Let us hope our next meeting will involve less excitement," he told her. "And please relay my gratitude to Master Fengoth once more for the letter and books."

At the drawbridge of Castle Vladertz, Fayte saw the two Whiteguards standing beside Emily protectively. Rinmar was behind her.

"Stand down," Sir Percson said. "You are in the presence of the Grace of Hylan."

"The Princess may pass," someone said, Fayte struggled to find the source. "But the Saldarian and the Scygard may not."

Then he saw it. A shine on a shroud of shadow on the wall in front of Sir Percson. It was no shadow but a man donned with an armour forged from night. Fayte had read about this armour before and knew what the knights who wore them were called.

"Vlazion knights," he murmured, looking at Wilson.

"An old custom of the Vladertz family," his father said. "One of the reasons why I kept this from the Princess."

Emily should have heeded Commander Reyner’s advice not bring Rinmar with her. Before the rise of the three Orders, there were knights but of many kinds from the different kingdoms. The Vlazion knights swore fealty to the King of Castle Vladertz. However like the knights of all other kingdoms, the rise of the Order of the White Shield united them with shields of white.

"Prince Rinmar," his father said, stepping up to the group. "I fear I may have to ask for your understanding in this matter."

Rinmar nodded at once but Emily would not give in.

"But Uncle Frendon!"

"Princess," said the Lord-Knight. "You are here to pay your respects. Nothing more."

"It is all well," Rinmar said, smiling at her, patting her hand before he let go. "I shall await your return outside."

"There is a village to the south just a few leagues from here," his father told him, hearing the echo of thunders to the distance. "You may seek shelter there for the time being. My men will send word ahead and Lady Elisen will escort you there."

Fayte expected a protest.

"As you command, my lord," said Lady Elisen.

Everyone could tell that the Lord-Knight was in a very dark mood right now.

They proceeded into the castle. The people present numbered more than a hundred for sure, all of them dressed in black and grey with not a shade of colour. Vlazion knights stood stalwart around the courtyard and on the walls, each one with their black armour and menacing horned helmets. In the centre of the courtyard, seats were arranged and candles were lit. They were given one themselves, a single stick held naked, with no means of keeping the burning wax from dripping on their hands.

"Bear with it," Wilson whispered, accepting his. "A simple gesture to show that all in attendance share pain on this day."

Yet this pain was not well received by others.

"Nonsense!" a man said, his voice loud and disruptive in the hushed night. "Fetch me a holder this instant. I will not have burning wax dripping on my-"

Fayte nearly drew his sword. One of the Vlazion knights came up from behind the man and pressed his gauntleted hand to his mouth. Fayte could see his father struggling to act as the knight dragged the man away.

"Rest assured, my lord," another Vlazion knight came to them and said. "He will not be harmed."

His father sighed. "Please see to it. And remind everyone not to go too far while you're at it. You all return to my command on the morrow."

"We leave only in tradition's sake, my lord," the knight assured him. "We are still knights of the White Shield."

"I am pleased to hear that," he said. "Escort the Princess to the King. And where is Feralina?"

The King is here as well? Fayte wondered if it was because Jeremiah was the greatson of Iyden Vladertz, the Lord-Knight before his father.

Two other Vlazion knights came forward, these two draped in cloaks of dark crimson, and led Emily away with Sir Percson.

"The Master-Knight is with her family at the front keeping vigil, my lord."

"Alright, thank you." His father turned to him. "Here. You will want this later."

His father pressed a dagger to his hand. It was of the same make as the one Fayte received from the Order when he first ascended from page to squire. They parted ways there. Wilson was led to join the noble guests at the rear while Fayte was brought further to the front. It was there he saw more clearly the guests at the front row, all of them standing, and most of them donned with the armour of the Vlazion knight. There were mages as well with red weaves humming faintly against the amber glow of the torches.

"Fayte," said Julin, his dark haircurly and his cheeks covered with freckles. "I'm glad to see you safe."

He nodded at his friends, squires the whole lot of them, and even Jason was in attendance who nodded in return when they saw each other.

"Is it true?" Fayte asked.

None of them answered, only lowered their heads.

Jeremiah is alive, he thought to himself again. Jeremiah won't die so easily.

"Where is he?" he asked.

Julin pointed to the front at the darkness. "Squint a little and you can see it vaguely."

Fayte did as suggested and he could see the outline of a coffin raised on a platform. That whole area was covered in darkness with not a single torch lit. There were stairs to the side of the platform so Fayte hoped that they would be seeing him up close later.

He is not dead. Fayte shook his head. Not until I see it with my own eyes.

"What happened back there?" Julin asked softly. "We heard a man shouting."

"A noble lord was asking for a holder for the candle."

Julin grimaced. "A mistake. Was he silenced?"

Now it was Fayte's turn to grimace. "Not in the manner that you’re implying."

"His throat would have been slit in the past," said Julin, the top of his hand piled with hardened wax. "The Vladertz are strong for a reason. They say a Vladertz is twice as harsh to the enemy as they are to their own. Judging by how they fight…"

Fayte had often listened to Jeremiah speak of his family. Noble families like his tend to have traditions of such. It was how they became strong and feared. There were little to no traditions for the Kaywin family. None that he knew of in any case.

"I fought him during the tournament…" Julin's voice softened to barely a whisper now. "I should be the one lying in that coffin."

As ashamed as he was to think it, Fayte agreed. Julin was a good squire, but he was nowhere near him or Jeremiah in terms of swordsmanship. If anyone could survive those ambush, it would be Jeremiah. But it was an assassin who attacked him. A trained assassin. Fayte doubt he would have survived himself were it not for the scale of the demon empowering him with rage.

"No one should be lying in a coffin," Fayte said, putting his arm around Julin's shoulder. "Do not entertain such thoughts."

A sudden flare startled all of them.

Fayte shielded his eyes as the flaring light eased into the glows of flickering flames. The torches on the platform were now lit and set in the centre was a coffin of black gleaming marble, covered from head to feet with a piece of red cloth that no doubt bore the insignia of the noble Vladertz family. A single man stood on the platform now, his black armour forged with cruel curves, sharpened, such that merely falling on him would cause harm. Held against his waist was a helm with three spikes. Behind him a thick cloak of crimson billowed in the dry breeze.

"We gather today for one of us has fallen," the man said, his hair a startling white and his face wrinkled with age. "One of the Vladertz. One of our blood. One I call grandson."

Lord Tyden Vladertz, son of the late Lord-Knight Iyden Vladertz, Lord of Castle Vladertz.

"My grandson did not fall in combat," he went on, his voice more tempered rage than grief. "His fall was without honour. Stabbed through the eye by the very dagger I gifted him with on the day he proved his worth as a squire. My grandson was murdered by an assassin. An agent of the Underlord."

There were gasps and noise of disapprovals coming from behind them. Lord Tyden looked irritated by that. He was expecting silence but the people present were not familiar with the traditions of the Vladertz family. Turning around, he stepped up to the coffin of his grandson and with a dagger in his hand, stabbed it through the cloth and lid. Once more there were gasps and sounds of disapproval.

"A promise," Julin said, understanding the gesture. "No wonder my father took my dagger away before we part."

A promise? Fayte wondered. "Of what?"

"Vengeance," Lord Tyden said, whose name reminded all of Bishop Tydon, but whose words and actions made the distinction clear. "Until I possess it, I shall not rest."

With that, the Lord of Castle Vladertz left the stage and slowly, one by one, members of the Vladertz family made their way up the platform to pay their respects. There was Jeremiah’s mother, a woman famed for her exquisite beauty but was now veiled with grief, and his father, whose wizard robes glowed a harsh red as smoke rose from the hand which he placed on the lid of the coffin. Fayte had met them before when he came to visit Jeremiah in the past.

"The Vladertz is a family of knights," Julin explained when Fayte asked. "Thus Jeremiah's father, being a mage, was not allowed to speak at such occasions."

Just as the man would never inherit the title of Lord of Castle Vladertz.

"With Commander Reyner serving as Commander of the Whiteguards, the next in line of succession for Castle Vladertz is Jeremiah," Julin said, shaking his head. "Was Jeremiah."

Fayte vaguely recalled Jeremiah mentioning that to him in the past.

Others followed, many were Vlazion knights but only Lady Feralina put a dagger through the coffin. Commander Reyner lingered by Jeremiah in the armour of a Vlazion knight, no doubt torn between duty and kinship. Fayte could not see the King denying the Commander of vengeance. Likely the Whiteguard himself never broach the matter.

"Reyner," it was the voice of the King. "By my command, you are to spend the turn of a moon searching for the man responsible."

The man who sent that the assassin. The true killer.

The Whiteguard looked to the King, Fayte followed his eyes to find the royal family seated at a side near the front. They were surrounded by three Whiteguards, wizards and sorceresses, and Vlazion knights draped in crimson cloaks. Fayte smiled. Gratitude welled on in Commander Reyner's eyelids.

"I will not rest, nephew," the old knight said, his hand grip firmly on the dagger he just impaled. "Not until the man who put a bounty on your head is met with justice."

As the Commander of the Whiteguards left, Fayte was wondering how they were stabbing dagger through marble.

"The lid is wooden and framed with marble," Jason said as he rolled his eyes after he overheard Fayte asking.

Once the members of the Vladertz family were done, King Eardon ascended the wooden steps and paid his respects. He was quiet and quick and behind him Queen Remilda and Emily each placed a stalk of white rose on the head of the coffin lid, adding to the bunch that Jeremiah had collected already. His father was the next to pay his respects and as he did a Vlazion knight came over and told them to rise. Fayte followed his friends as they were led to the side of the platform, waiting as Captain Resfield stood by the coffin where the squire who served him lay. He had not seen the Captain in a long while. Their first meeting in a dungeon in Eres Star City was still fresh in his mind.

When at last the senior knights had paid their respects, it was their turn and Fayte found himself lingering to the rear. He didn't want to go up there. He didn't want to step close to that coffin. He didn't want to accept that his friend was dead.

"Kaywin!" Lord Tyden called, his visage stern. "My grandson awaits you."

Sera urged him on with a sound of thunder.

Fayte nodded and took his first step forward and then another, and another, until he found himself standing in front of the black marble box. The coffin. The place where Jeremiah would rest in forever. He held up his dagger, a plain thing only squires from poor families would receive. Those of noble birth would receive a more lavish dagger, commission for them by their families, one that befitted their birth. Fayte's father was not one for such things and neither was Fayte.

Something landed next to him.

"What is it?" he asked, kneeling with his hand held out to Preston.

The white dragon dropped a dagger into his hand before he flew off. A dagger much more ornate than his own. The same dagger that forced a draw during his duel with Jeremiah. And suddenly Fayte found tears spilling from his eyes. All the hardships they had went through training together in the Order. The pain and the suffering and the laughter and the joys. The memories he shared with Jeremiah came rushing back.

Fayte twirled Jeremiah's dagger in his hand and stabbed it into the coffin.

"I've killed the man who took… who took your life," he said, though his words felt hollow to him. "And now I swear I will find the person… the person who…"

He could hear someone coming up the steps to comfort him, but Fayte only had his mind on one nagging fact. And it was that he could not believe Jeremiah was dead. The best squire he had ever known could not have perished so easily. His best friend was not dead. Not until he saw it with his own eyes. And so he did the unthinkable.

Fayte grabbed the head of the lid and flung it open.