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.