CHAPTER 44

When Fayte finally had his first sleep since his trip to Mount Tyrus, he found his dreams assailed with splashes of scenes like memories taken from another mind. He heard voices and sounds unlike any he heard before, a cacophony of noises that flooded him. There was death and there was evil in the memories, a cruelty so heinous he felt wounded as though stabbed by a blade.

The next morning Fayte found out from Wilson that he had roused in the middle of the night in a fit foaming from his mouth.

Wilson and Julin grew increasingly worried as Fayte passed out twice since that night as they set off for home. The first time he foamed in the mouth again while during the second he nearly bit off his tongue.

"It's the Dragon Essence," Wilson said, sticking a twig into his mouth after Julin pried it open. Fayte had fallen off his horse. "His mind and body are fighting it."

"Why?" Julin had asked, the boy frightened out of his wits when Fayte's eyes started rolling into his head.

"A Dragon Essence is what it is named, the essence of a Dragon. To consume it is exactly what it means. Our mind and body is not made to host our own soul and that of a dragon's. That is why it will fight it but hopefully in time it will come to accept it. As time passes on the Dragon Essence will eventually fade away."

"Will there be any remnant effects?"

Wilson shook his head. "Not that we know of."

Fortunately Fayte did not have any more relapses during the flight north. They arrived at Oaksblade Town before noon, sooner than normal flights, for Wilson had asked that the gryphon master gave them his best. There they hired horses from the stable for Whitesong was with Renee and Amelia, waiting for him at Ironsville.

Waiting to be disappointed.

They rode off together and midway of the journey they bid farewell to Julin. Fayte wanted to fetch Whitesong first while Wilson hoped that the townsfolk could cheer him up.

"I will be fine," Fayte said when they bid Julin farewell. "Please tell my father that as well and that I will return to Rondiar after a short stay at Ironsville."

Julin was relieved to hear that and became more willing to part ways then.

And so Fayte and Wilson rode for Ironsville. Along the way Wilson counselled him and explained that no one in Hylan thought him unworthy to receive the Light of the Spirits. However Sera was wiser than all and she knew what they did not, so if she had not saw it fit for him to receive her blessing, then she had her reasons and it was up to Fayte to figure out why.

"Maybe she plans to make you a Templar," Wilson mused.

"Tried it," Fayte said. "Didn't work."

"Ah, that explains the second bolt of lightning then."

Around midday they could see the trails of smoke from the smithies in Ironsville. A reassuring sight to the both of them. They had been gone from home for a while now and missed it sorely. Wilson missed it even more for he longed to hold his sister again and would not shut up when he got started.

"Amelia! Amelia! Your brother has returned!" Wilson said, checking again that the miniature roses were in his bag. He held up a regular white rose. "Do you think she'll like this big one?"

"Seeing as how she's going to join the Order soon, I don't see why she wouldn't."

Wilson smiled to himself and held the rose in his mouth before he urged his horse into a sprint.

Sera, what is it that you plan for me? He looked to the sky. I am lost and confused, so please, just give me a sign.

He shut his eyes and took in a long relaxing breath.

Smoke? The smell was different. No, this is not the scent of Ironsville. This smells like burning wood.

"FAYTE!" Wilson screamed, and the fear in his friend's voice frightened him. "FAYTE!!!"

"Come on, boy, as fast as you can, GO!" He pushed the horse into a gallop. Fayte reached to his side and untied his shield, slipping his arm into it before he drew his sword.

They rode with all their speed towards Ironsville where the smoke trails were thick and black. They were not the smoke trails of smithies and burning coal. They were smoke from houses burned to the ground and the closer they got the worse it looked.

"AMELIA!" Wilson screamed as he charged into the town. "AMELIA!"

The entire town was set on fire but most of it had already burned out. Lord Jacob's house was burned to the ground, pieces of weapons from his collection stuck out in the heap. The air was dusty and the smell of burning wood was all around them. Their horses refused to go deeper into the town so they got off and ran in.

"Amelia!" Fayte screamed, looking in horror at the burning heap which was once Jayden's tavern. "Aunt Silvia! Lord Jacob! Lady Linda! Jayden! Renee!"

No one answered and they could not see far with the smoke in the air. Wilson had summoned more than ten spheres of light now, sending them flying in every direction.

"AMELIA!" Wilson yelled.

"Wilson!" Fayte rushed to his friend.

His friend was pulling burning wood planks out from the heap of debris. He didn't even notice his robe catching on fire. Fayte sheathed his sword and tried to pull Wilson away, but his friend shoved him aside and knocked him back with a spell when he tried again.

"AMELIA! ANSWER ME! AMELIA!"

No one can survive that, Fayte thought as he stared at the burning heap. No one.

"DON'T JUST STAND THERE!" Wilson screamed at him. "FIND HER! FIND HER, DAMN YOU, FIND HER!"

The priest swept his arms and tore off his sleeve after it caught fire. He hadn't found anyone in the wreckage so Fayte shook his head and began searching around again.

There are no bodies, he realized. They must have ran!

"Wilson-"

A glint caught his eye. Fayte pushed away some of the wooden debris and found a severed hand. For a few grave seconds Fayte stood frozen. He did not recognize the hand but he knew the ring. An iron band commonly worn by the lady wives of Ironsville. Only this one had a jewel embedded in it. The lady who was given this ring did not want the jewel, for she was not one to fancy such luxury as did her husband. However he was magister of Ironsville still and her the lady wife of the magister.

- The little one… - A voice spoke in his mind and Fayte found himself looking up.

Fayte saw a little girl hugging a little wooden box in her arms, wandering about as she cried.

He almost cried. "Amelia!"

She turned to his voice, her cheeks stained with tears and ashes. "Fayte? FAYTE!"

"AMELIA!" Wilson rolled out of the pile of wood and ran to her. "AMELIA!"

The girl started crying uncontrollably at the sight of her brother and Fayte started making his way to her. It was hard to tell from where he was but Amelia looked unhurt, only dirty and sweaty and utterly terrified. That hand belonged to Lady Linda and Fayte had a feeling that it wasn't the only thing she lost. Amelia started making her way towards her brother.

At least she's fine, Fayte told himself. At least-

Amelia fell forward and her box flew out of her hands.

It hit the ground and broke open, spilling the little glass vials of miniature flowers. Her prized collection over the years shattered on the ground in a thousand pieces. One of them stood out to Fayte though small they all were. It was the flower that Amelia wanted to give to him, but he had her hold on to it until he returned. It was the miniature white rose they found on Emily's birthday.

And now it was coated with blood

The tail of an arrow was sticking out from Amelia's back as she lay flat on her face.

The very sight of the little girl laying on the ground, motionless, with an arrow in her back woke something deep within Fayte. He heard a moan from deep within him. It trembled with pain and sadness, crying out for someone dear to it. And when its call was not returned, Fayte felt his chest burning up and the moan became a roar.

A mighty dragon's roar.

It took over and Fayte moved, sprinting, overtaking Wilson who screamed and cried as he removed the arrow and flipped Amelia over. Fayte raised his shield as a burst of light, brighter than he had ever seen, erupted from Wilson's hands. The sound of metal tips bounced off his shield and some even pierced through the steel. He surged forward, not a thought in his head, just carried forward by an bestial rage, propelling him towards the group of men with the bows and arrows.

They dropped their bows and drew their swords when they saw him, but Fayte unleashed his fury and cut them down before their swords left their sheaths. Each time his sword screamed across the air, a life was extinguished, and every time his shield charged, a man breathed his last breath. One after another, he didn't know how many, but he just went on and on until he felt a pain in his shoulder.

Fayte looked at his shoulder and saw an arrow pierced into it. He could not move his shield arm. As he reached to break it off, three arrows found their way into his chest. Time slowed and he wanted to snap them off so that he could return to the fight, but two more went to his left leg, one to his right. That was when something shoved him to the ground from behind and he fell, landing on his side with his back to the men with the bows and arrows. Fayte saw a great white body leaping over him.

The arrows stopped hitting him after that but all he could see then was Wilson screaming and crying, bathed in light growing so intense that Fayte had to shut his eyes. At some point he passed out and when Fayte roused again, he did not stay conscious for long, but he heard a few things.

"This boy has the Royal Seal of Hylan on him," a man was saying. "Why does he have-"

"By Sera, that's the Lord-Knight's boy!" Another person shoved the man side. "Fayte! Fayte Kaywin! Can you hear me? Bring Joanne, HURRY!"

"Ian, she's still with the priest-"

"To hell with the priest!" Sir Ian said. "I have the last of the Kaywin family dying in my arms here! I will not lose him as well!"

The End.

CHAPTER 43

A second horn was blown, the signal to retreat.

"Fayte, get Raymius out of here!" Captain Windon yelled, fending off a flood of dark mist with his shield. "NOW!"

"Move," Fayte said, dragging the Magister-Lord with him as they both gaped at the rising wall of dark mist.

Lormio La'ou appeared at the base of the mist. His eyes seething with crimson as large tendrils struck at the Captain. The rangers took shots at him but the black mist consumed every arrow fired at it. Captain Windon fought back with the Light of the Spirits. At first Fayte thought he was holding the mist back successfully, but Fayte realized it was only because Lormio La'ou's attention was not on the Captain anymore.

"KAYWIN!" the Scygard mage called with a voice no longer his, but the unnatural shriek of a demon. It was the voice of Ra'gelor. "KAYWIN!"

"Wrong Kaywin!" Fayte yelled, making a run for it in the direction opposite of where the possessed Scygard was coming from.

"Fayte, over here!" It was Wilson and a band of rangers with a path cleared for him.

Fayte turned to Wilson and ran with Raymius, pulling the man along with him. Escorted by the rangers, they made their way through the town of Harvesria. The town famous for its natural beauty with the scent of flowers in the air and the calming sight of greenery all around was no more. Now the air was filled with the stench of smoke and dying men was all they saw. The sound of battle surrounded them and Saldarian soldiers appeared at every corner.

"Get on the gryphon," Ranger Tessa said when a few of the majestic beasts landed in front of them. Two of the gryphons swiped at the Saldrian soldiers on the other side, while the other gryphon lowered itself so that they could get on. "Hurry!"

"What about the rest of you?" Fayte asked as he helped the Magister-Lord on.

"Our work here is not yet done." She put arrows between the eyes of Saldarians as they spoke, keeping them from getting close. "May we meet again, Fayte Kaywin. Now fly!"

The gryphon took off at her command, taking Fayte and Raymius into the sky. Just like the last time Fayte was here, he flew off with battle beneath his feet and men seeking to bring him down. Wilson continued to throw blessings at the rangers, empowering as many of them as he could before he was out of range. The other gryphons carried town folks and both White Shield and Gwedonian knights, leaving only the rangers behind.

From high above Fayte could see how futilely outnumbered the rangers were, but it would take more than numbers to defeat the Rangers of Hylan. With Tessa leading them, the group of elite soldiers banded up and took to the roof, scaling walls with ease to reach the top before making their way back to the town square.

"Could you sit properly?" Fayte said, feeling the Magister-Lord lean his entire body weight on his back. "We're not out of danger yet."

"Fayte!" Wilson yelled from behind.

"Listen, squire, I don't think I'm going to last long…" Raymius sounded very weak and his breath stank like Captain Yonus's. "The royal family… they're in a danger…"

"He has an arrow in his waist," Wilson said, flying next to Fayte. "Land quickly. I need to heal him."

Fayte rushed the gryphon, urging it on to fly swiftly back to the forest.

"Form a perimeter and watch for movements from Harvesria," Fayte ordered the soldiers as he helped the Magister-Lord down from the gryphon with Wilson. "The rest of you do what you can for the injured."

The farmers and people from Harvesria scowled at Fayte and at the injured Magister-Lord. They did not blame Wilson though as he worked to remove the arrow.

"Listen, squire…"

"You have a plot to kill the royal family," Fayte told him, crouching next to Raymius. "We know. We've already sent word ahead."

The fat magister looked dazed and his eyelids were fluttering. He had lost a lot of blood.

"Good…" Raymius said, his voice raspy and he could no longer lift his head with his thick neck. "Tell the others… tell them to stand down…"

"The others? You mean the rest of your men in Gwedoniar?"

"Tell the Talons to stand down…"

"By the light!" Wilson had removed the arrow but he tossed it away and got away himself. A flash of light burst forth from his hands and it continued with a few more pulses. "That arrow was laced with poison."

Damn Saldarians. "Is it lethal?"

"You, dagger." Wilson called to a soldier, catching the small blade with his left hand. He proceed to stab the palm of his right hand, drawing blood from the wound. "Judging from his symptoms, yes, very."

Fayte wanted to rush to his friend but Wilson shook his head.

"I am safe, do not worry. This is just a precaution. The magister though, I am afraid his fate is sealed."

"Tell them…" Magister-Lord Raymius exhaled and his chest began to sink. "I failed… Tell them… I am… s… sorry…"

Yes, you failed. Fayte got up and stepped away from the corpse. And many died in vain because of you.

"Squire!" one of the soldiers Fayte sent to watch the town called. "Captain Windon approaches by air."

Fayte stood over the dead man and looked upon his face. A single man had caused so much grief and destruction. If not for Raymius the Saldarians would not have been able to get so deep into Hylan. Even if he hadn't been poisoned, King Eardon would surely sentence him to death for treason.

Harvesria remains captured. The townsmen were huddled together in the distance, watched over by the soldiers as Wilson tended to their wounded. But at least we saved some of her people.

There were the other gryphon knights as well. Captain Yonus had taught him a humbling lesson. Whichever side these men were on, there was no denying that the blood of Hylan ran through their veins. They were men of Hylan and as a member of the Order of the White Shield, Fayte had sworn an oath to protect them.

"By the light," Captain Windon said when he saw the Magister-Lord's body. "What happened?"

"The Saldarians got him with an arrow laced with poison," Fayte explained.

The noise from the other injured men and women drew the Captain's attention. He looked at them, at the few people they managed to save. His gaze returned to the Magister-Lord and in the end he sighed.

"Yonus was a good man," said the Captain. "He was always so intense even when he was a squire. I could never stand him. It was your father who taught me to see the good in Yonus. He was good with the sword and his integrity was unquestionable. The Order has become lesser without him."

Captain Yonus had reminded Fayte an important lesson. He had been so clouded by his hatred for the Saldarians that he had forgotten his oath. He had condemned the gryphon knights just because they worked with the enemy. He was ready to cut them down without a second thought. Perhaps that was why Sera denied him her blessing at the summit of Mount Tyrus.

"We needed Raymius," Captain Windon explained. "Without him, the gryphon knights in Gwedoniar City may not stand down. There will be more unneeded bloodshed."

The rest of Captain Windon's knights joined them in the clearing. They had ridden out to Harvesria when the fight began, signalled by the rangers most likely. But it was a short fight and the horn was blown for them to retreat before they could even join the fray. Fayte nodded at Jeremiah and Julin who both stood behind the knights.

"Fayte, that Scygard I fought…"

"He is Lormio La'ou, uncle to Prince Rinmar. Clearly he still has some leftover magic from the demon."

"As I suspected." Captain Windon nodded. "Jeremiah, take a gryphon and fly for Rondiar. Make sure the Lord-Knight has been informed of the plot against the royal family. Report to him of what has happened here. Fayte and Julin, return to the Order and end off your pilgrimage. You will be redeployed soon enough after the royal wedding."

The Captain turned to the rest of his men.

"We will setup camp here and await reinforcements. Start drafting requisition orders for supplies from nearby villages. We are not leaving until Harvesria has been liberated. We are not leaving until every single one of those green-eyed bastard on our soil is dead."

Fayte turned away and joined his friends as they left.

Every single one except for the one marrying our Princess.

CHAPTER 42

Fayte shaded his eyes with his hand as he watched the gryphon knights above them.

"Relax, boy," Master-Ranger Lenthil said. "None of them will bother coming all the way down."

According to the Master-Ranger, the arrangement between the Saldarians and the Gwedonians was that the gryphon knights would need to only mind the sky. Unless a small army was marching towards them, the Saldarians would take care of any visitors on the land. Their order was to turn away any travellers looking to enter the town. And right now the five of them looked just like travellers on horseback.

"Those are your men?" Captain Windon asked.

They were all tensed save for the rangers. Fayte counted five men by the south entrance. Harvesria had no walls or gates since it was located in the heart of Hylan. It was just houses built close together to serve as a funnel into the town. The people standing guard were all dressed in a uniform foreign to Fayte. It comprised just a few thin metal pieces on the chest, with the rest of the outfit made up of yellow fabric. The uniforms looked poorly made.

The uniform of a Saldarian soldier.

The ranger that came with them whistled a tune and one of the soldiers returned with a tune of his own. Like two birds singing to one another. The ranger nodded at them, answering the Captain's question.

"My men will pretend to search us, just in case one of the gryphon knights above is watching." Master-Ranger Lenthil was checking their surroundings as they approached the town. His eyes darted about, for what, Fayte was not sure but possibly for signs of an ambush. "After that they will escort us into a building where the idea would be to kill us for refusing to turn around and leave. We will sneak out through a back entrance and make our way to the square from there."

When they arrived at the south entrance of Harvesria, the Saldarian soldiers came up to them with spears in their hands. Their uniforms made be poorly made but their weapons were not. Fayte resisted the urge to draw his sword. It was only until the soldiers came up close to him that he relaxed, for while these rangers could dress like Saldarians, the colour of their eyes could not be made green.

"Fair noon to you, good priest," one of the rangers said with a smile even though he was shaking his spear threateningly at them. "I must ask that you dismount now, blessed one."

"Of course," Wilson said, slipping off the horse from behind Fayte.

"The patrols are thin. Most of the Saldarians are resting now," said the ranger reporting to Master-Ranger Lenthil. "Captain Yandor and his men put up a good fight."

"Captain Yandor is a good fighter and an honourable knight." Captain Windon got off his mount. He glanced at the sky before he pulled his hood lower. "How are his wounds?"

"Bandaged but blood still flows. Forgive me, Captain, but I'll need to shove you now." And the ranger did. "Move it now! All of you!"

No telling who might be watching us. Fayte looked about, trying to spot any signs of an ambush.

"You learn quick," the Master-Ranger said when he noticed what Fayte was doing. "It is usually the shadows that you need to mind, places where normally you would glance over."

Fayte nodded, understanding, and paid more heed to those places.

They went in the building and lingered for a while before heading out again. They split up to avoid drawing attention from above. Captain Windon went with the Master-Ranger while Fayte and Wilson was led by Ranger Tessa.

"Of the noble Vladertz family," she said, introducing herself as they moved through the dark alley. "Jeremiah is my cousin."

That surprised them both.

"You must have been quite surprised then to see him alive?"

"Aye, I was," she said, holding up her hand as she peered around a corner. After seeing that it was clear, she waved them onward again. "Normally we don’t get news so quickly, us rangers don't get much rest, but word of the East Kingdom assassin reached us quickly. The Lord-Ranger had to split us up because of this. The Lord-Ranger to support Rondiar defences while the Master-Ranger investigated this matter. I hear you were tasked to this investigation as well, Fayte Kayin, and by the King himself no less."

So I wasn't the only one looking into this matter. It made sense. After all he was a single squire and this was a matter that threatened the entire kingdom.

"I was and my investigation has led me here."

"Just as ours did. We were following a different thread. Gwedoniar was hiding something and our contacts there reported sightings of Saldarians. The Master-Ranger did not believe it, not until our ranger eyes saw those green-eyed bastards ourselves."

They crossed the street quickly into another alley and walked closed to the rear walls of the houses.

"You were at Gwedoniar City then?" Fayte asked.

"Not my squad, no, but my comrade saw you. Her name is Ameris, says you're better looking than she expected." Ranger Tessa stopped and turned around to look at him. She nodded. "I agree."

Fayte fumbled for a response and before he could come up with one, the ranger turned and continued to lead the way.

"Hush now, we're close."

They slipped into a house filled with the scent of spice. Ranger Tessa ran all of a sudden, a burst of speed as she raced across the room and slit the throat of a man. She drew her bow before the Saldarian soldier even hit the ground, loosing her arrow into a second soldier who had barely turned around to find out what caused the noise.

"Come," she said, heading up the stairs with two dead men in her wake.

"Elites indeed," Wilson said, muttering a prayer for the dead soldiers.

The ranger led them to the second level through the window into the next house. She paused and placed a finger on her lips before crouching low. With her ear pressed to the floor, she listened.

"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?"

Fayte was startled by the noise outside and he grabbed his sword, but the ranger pushed down on his hilt, preventing him from drawing his weapon. She had her finger on her lips again before pointing at the floor. She held up three fingers.

Three soldiers beneath us.

Ranger Tessa pointed at the window but held up her hand telling them to wait. She pushed her foot on the wooden floor, testing, searching for something. The ranger was careful not to make much noise, but wherever she placed her foot the floor would creak ever so slightly. After a minute she found the spot.

A ceiling beam, Fayte realized, following the ranger as they crept across the flooring nailed to the solid ceiling beam underneath. Once across the room they crouched next to the window. The ranger peered out first before gesturing for Fayte to have a look. It was Raymius who shouted. And when Fayte saw who the Magister-Lord was upset with, he felt like screaming himself.

"What's wrong?" Tessa asked, noticing his darkened expression.

"I have no intention of betraying you!" said Magister-Lord Raymius. "You on the other hand, you have poisoned my gryphons!"

The Saldarian soldiers had their spears levelled at the gryphon knights who in turn had their swords drawn. None of the Gwedonians were on their mounts, the gryphons beside them had all fallen on their sides. It was a mixture of Saldarians and Hylanders in the town square with the Magister-Lord standing in the middle confronting the man leading the Saldarians.

"Lormio La'ou," Fayte said, staring at the man who kidnapped Emily and summoned Ra'gelor. "He's supposed to be dead."

Yet there he stood in his thick robe of green billowing in the afternoon wind. Lormio La'ou, the Scygard mage, wore only his golden armour but no helm. His slim head and sharp features resembled little to Rinmar La'ou, his royal nephew.

"Your men have given up your lies, you wingless swine," said Lormio La'ou. "I did not even need to stain my blade. A bag of gold sufficed to loosen their tongues."

"Rinmar slit his neck open," Fayte recalled the day at Eres Star Castle. "Spilled his blood but it was what he wanted. Lormio La'ou used the blood to summon Ra'gelor."

Fayte noticed the glimmer of white near the Magister-Lord. It was Captain Yonus, bounded and sitting on the ground behind a group of anxious gryphon knights. The Saldarian soldiers outnumbered them three to one. Unlike a knight of the Order of the White Shield, gryphon knights were not blessed with the Light of the Spirits. They relied on their companions in battle but right now the great mountain gryphons were all incapacitated.

A man draped in only his undergarments was flung out from behind a group of Saldarian soldiers. He was covered in lashes and festering wounds with little fat to his skin. Fayte saw the expression on the Magister-Lord's face and knew at once the Scygard's accusations to be true.

"The bag of gold may have loosened his tongue." Lormio La'ou looked at the man and his very gaze made the man shake and cry for mercy. "But we had to be sure all the same."

"He knew nothing!" said the Magister-Lord. "He is not even a knight!"

"Is that so?" Lormio La'ou drew his sword. "Very well then."

Before the tortured man could beg for his life, the Scygard mage ended it. Yet it was not the swiftness of his strike that made them all gape. It was how Lormio La'ou's eyes glowed crimson from the kill, as if energized by the man's death. The gryphon knights were visibly upset by that act.

"They knew that man," Fayte realized, seeing the anger and hearing the cries from the Gwedonians.

"Moris is one of our finest gryphon masters." Even Raymius is shaken by this man's death. Fayte felt sympathy he did not expect when he saw the sadness in the Magister-Lord's movement. The man fell to his knees, his hands outstretched and shaking as if afraid to touch the body of the man. "He was a dear friend… He… He knew NOTHING!"

And right when Raymius lashed out and rose to his feet, Lormio La'ou lunged forward with his curved blade and swung the killing blow. The golden scygard blade drank blood and life, but not from the Magister-Lord. Ranger Tessa gagged Fayte right before he screamed, pulling him away from the window lest he drew the Saldarian's attention. But Fayte's mind was already past his emotions. He knew that he had to act now and join Captain Windon, for the knight would not allow Captain Yonus's sacrifice to be in vain.

A horn was blown. A signal from the Order of the White Shield to attack.

"Really?" Ranger Tessa was surprised, rising to her feet as she began loosing arrows into the square. "This is suicide!"

Why? Fayte thought, as he vaulted out of the window and landed into a roll. He drew his sword and cut through the Saldarian soldiers, catching them unaware from behind. Raymius is not worth it? Why? WHY?

Fleeting shades of arrows raced across the ground. Enemies fell before Fayte could even touch them with his sword. He ran forward, bounding over dead men and striking down living ones. When he came upon the first gryphon knight, he rushed to strike the man first but the knight dropped his sword and surrendered.

Coward, Fayte thought, running towards the Magister-Lord. Cowards, all of them. You gave your life for cowards!

He slid down and shoved the fat and unharmed magister away.

"Captain Yonus!" Fayte called, assessing the wound on the knight's chest. The wound was many things, deep, long, bloody, but all Fayte needed to know was that it was fatal. "WILSON!"

He was in such a rush that he had forgotten about his friend. Wilson was nowhere to be seen behind him. Only soldiers from the Order joining the fray, while rangers rained arrows down from the rooftops. Captain Windon was engaged in a fierce battle with Lormio La'ou. The white knight blazing with the light of the spirits, while the Scygard was shrouded in a dark mist.

"Captain, hang on, I have a priest on the-"

The Captain pulled Fayte in close.

"F-f-fool!" The knight coughed blood on Fayte's face. "Go! S-save them!"

"You're the one who needs saving!" Fayte said, a flash of anger when he recalled how the Captain had went after him when he was trying to save Emily.

"Gr-gr-gryphons," Captain Yonus was choking and each time he strained blood would flood out from his wound, "m-men! S-save, save them!"

"The gryphon knights?" Fayte was at a loss with what the Captain asked of him. "They attacked your town and betrayed-"

Captain Yonus cried and yanked Fayte close to his pale face. The scent of death heavy on his breath as he heaved a breath before speaking.

"They are men of Hylan!" Captain Yonus hurled a mouthful of blood before his grip weakened. His hand fell while his eyes rolled back. "Shield… them…"

As the Captain went limp in Fayte's arms, he felt his own limbs give way from the purity of the knight's dying words. Captain Yonus was always described as a zealous man, and he was indeed for even until his dying breath, he remembered his oath as a knight of the Order of the White Shield. An oath that Fayte had forgotten in his moment of rage and spite for the gryphon knights.

"Why…?" mumbled the Magister-Lord, who remained where Fayte had shoved him and could only stare at the dead Captain with a lost expression. "I attacked him, his town. I… I hit him with my own hands. Why…?"

They are men of Hylan. Fayte lay the Captain down gently and picked up his sword and shield again. That is why he did it.

"Because he is a knight," Fayte said, dragging the Magister-Lord onto his feet. "And as a shield of Hylan, it was his duty to protect a man of Hylan. It was his duty to protect you. Just as it is mine now."

CHAPTER 41

They landed some distance away from Harvesria near the edge of the forest. As they descended they saw smoke trails rising from the town of harvest. Fires but small ones judging from the thinness of the smoke. There were fifty of them here in total. Spearfort would be sending about a hundred, but they would be travelling by land and not expected here until sunset. The Captain had sent word straight to the Lord-Knight in Rondiar as well.

"My father will likely bolster Rondiar's defences than send men to aid us," Fayte said as they trudged through the forest towards Harvesria. "And it sounds like there will be an attack on Rondiar as well, so I doubt he'll have the resources to spare."

"We are on our own then," Wilson said.

Fayte nodded.

"Not quite," Captain Windon corrected them. A lone man approached them from the opposite direction, hooded with an ornate bow and a quiver of arrows slung over his chest. Fayte glimpsed numerous knives and two short swords underneath his cloak. "Greetings, Master-Ranger."

The hood of the Master-Ranger was lined with dull metal carved to the likeness of a dragon.

"Captain," the man greeted softly with a nod. His eyes were thin and moved inquisitively, twitching and glancing quickly at Fayte and Wilson as well as the other men around them. "Are squires trained to draw their swords on allies now?"

Captain Windon didn't understand the question until he turned to Fayte. His sword was not drawn but Fayte had his hand gripped on the handle of his blade firmly.

"The Rangers of Hylan are not famous, but surely you would have learned about them in the Order," he said.

"Forgive me," Fayte said, but still his hand did not move. "But the Master-Ranger is not alone."

He is not alone at all.

That drew a smile from him. The Master-Ranger glanced over his shoulder and whistled. Wilson and the other soldiers were startled when more hooded figures stepped out from behind trees and shadows. Every one of them had a bow and were armed with knives on their vests and belts.

"You are Jeremiah Vladertz I presume," the Master-Ranger said.

"Fayte Kaywin," he answered, taking his hand off his weapon now. "Jeremiah is standing beside the Captain."

Jeremiah crossed his arm and eyed the Master-Ranger.

"Is this man a friend or a foe?" Wilson asked. "I do not appreciate the tension."

"This is Master-Ranger Lenthil of the Harper family," Fayte explained after the Captain gestured for him to. "Second-in-command of the Rangers of Hylan. They are a lesser known unit within the Hylan army led by Lord-Ranger Leena, also of the Harper family."

"These men are the elites amongst our soldiers," Captain Windon added. "Master-Ranger, if you and your men are here then I hope that I have made an unnecessary trip."

"My father must have deployed them here to protect Harvesria," Fayte whispered to Wilson. "Without the Captain's knowledge it seems."

"The Saldarians have taken over the town," Master-Ranger Lenthil said plainly.

"Then you have failed your mission."

"They flew in on the backs of Gwedonian gryphons," the ranger said. "Good job letting in our enemies, Captain. Good job to the Fearsome Five as well."

Fayte knew very little about the Rangers of Hylan, but he had heard his father grumble about the politics within the Order before. On paper, Master-Ranger Lenthil outranks Captain Windon, but the latter is a noble and a knight blessed with the Light of the Spirits. That made matters complicated at times.

"Report," the Captain said as his expression grew sullen.

"About a hundred gryphon knights and twice the number of Saldarian troops. They attacked the heart of Harvesria from the sky and took the town from within. While the attack went on, gryphon knights were grabbing farmers from their fields and taking them back to the town."

Hostages.

"Captain Yandor and his men are trapped inside with the townsmen. I've sent a report to the Lord-Ranger and Lord-Knight. We are awaiting further orders now."

"Three hundred enemy forces." Captain Windon shook his head. "You are keeping something from me, Lenthil. Yandor's men should have been able to defend the town with help from your rangers."

"That's Master-Ranger to you, Captain," he said, reminding the Captain of the difference in their ranks. "And yes, I am keeping something from you."

The Master-Ranger crossed his arm and said nothing more.

"Well, spit it out then!"

"The enemy had twice that number before you arrived."

Politics aside, Fayte had a feeling that these two men also shared a personal history. The Master-Ranger was out to make the Captain look bad, and the man was doing a good job so far. Wilson stepped forward with a scowl on his face.

"Has the enemy made any demands thus far?" he asked.

"And who's this?"

"Wilson of the Sayde family," Fayte introduced him. "A priest from the Order of the White Rose."

The Master-Ranger recognized that name.

"Ah, the young priest." Lenthil removed his hood and bowed a little. The man had short hair like Fayte, but his nose was crooked like it was broken before and not given the time to heal properly. "Greetings, good priest."

A noise from the foliage above prompted the rangers to reach for their weapons. They relaxed only when they saw Preston landing on Wilson's shoulders.

"Greetings to you as well, companion of Wilson Sayde."

"His name is Preston," Wilson told him. "Back to the matter at hand."

The Master-Ranger nodded. Wilson's presence seemed to have made the man more sombre.

"My scout reported that Magister-Lord Raymius just arrived earlier in the hour. The townsmen are held in the town square, along with Captain Yandor and his men. The farmers are unharmed but most of the knights and soldiers are badly beaten up. Captain Yandor is wounded, a gnash on his arm, but not fatally so."

"Do you have a plan to rescue the townsmen?" Wilson asked.

They can't. Not without casualties.

"Aye, but it is a risky one. This task requires the aid of the mages from the Order of the Elements. A defensive spell to protect the townsmen and injured while we strike the enemy."

"I have three mages with me," Captain Windon said, turning around to look at them.

"The three of us not suited for the task," one of the mages told him. "We specialize in the school of fire magic. Our control over defensive magic is insufficient."

"So far there has been no movements within the town," Lenthil told them. "It appears as if they are waiting for something."

"Rondiar," Fayte said.

Captain Windon nodded. He knew what Fayte was thinking.

"We have reasons to believe that there will be an attempt on the lives of the royal family," the Captain explained. "It may have already happened. However, the royal family is heavily guarded especially on this day. No harm will befall them."

That information helped the Master-Ranger to understand.

"They're waiting for the royal family to be killed off," Lenthil said, though he remained troubled.

Why would Raymius need to come all the way here just to wait for King Eardon and his family to be killed?

"What's the matter?" Captain Windon finally asked having noticed the expression on the Master-Ranger for a while now.

"Raymius is here," Lenthil said. "What for? Why not wait within the safety of his city?"

"To lead his men to battle," said the Captain, but even he find that doubtful. "Hmm, I see your point now."

Raymius is not a fool but neither is he a warrior.

"We shall wait for further orders from the Lord-Knight," Captain Windon said.

"Or we can rescue them," the Master-Ranger mused, as if only to go against the Captain.

"We are not risking the lives of the townsmen."

"You may think poorly of me for saying this but my biggest concern here is not the lives of the farmers." Master-Ranger Lenthil's expression became grim.

Our crops.

Captain Windon was drawn deep into his thoughts.

If the assassination attempt in Rondiar fails, they could burn our crops and stores before waging a drawn out war with us. It will not assure them victory but time would be against us. And even if we do win the war, Hylan will face food shortage for months. A prime opportunity for the Black City to attack us again.

"Could that be why Raymius is here?" Captain Windon asked. "To give the order to burn the crops?"

"It seems the likeliest of all reasons," said the Master-Ranger.

But it wouldn't serve Raymius to starve Hylan if he intends to usurp the throne. A last resort perhaps?

The lack of information bothered the Captain greatly. The man paced about as he thought. Orders from Rondiar would arrive after sundown at the earliest. And reinforcements would come even later.

We need more information.

"I need more information," Captain Windon said at last. "Can you get me into the town?"

Master-Ranger Lenthil let slip a smirk.

"I can do more than that," he said. "I have men on the inside controlling the southern entrance of the town. If your mages can send a message for us, I can sneak a small party through into the town."

"How small?"

"Five, including the both of us. I'll be taking one of my rangers with me. We will want the priest with us, so that leaves you with one."

"I am afraid that I cannot leave my ward," Wilson said, stepping back to stand next to Fayte.

"Fayte's pilgrimage has ended," Captain Windon told him, casting a wary glance at Fayte. "Your duty has been fulfilled."

"My duty is only fulfilled when I see my ward safely back to his father."

"Need I remind you that there are Saldarians in that town holding Hylanders hostage? Fayte's pilgrimage is over and he was not blessed by Sera. I cannot take him with us."

"I understand, Captain," Wilson said most understandingly. "Then you cannot take me as well."

The Captain's expression grew dark as he turned and stepped up to Wilson.

"You may not be from my Order but as a knight of the Order of the White Shield I have command here and I command you to come with us into the town!"

"As you command then, Captain," Wilson said understandingly, again. "Fayte shall just have to follow."

Before the Captain burst a vein on his redden face, Fayte pulled Wilson aside but his friend pushed him away.

"Fayte has been commanded by King Eardon to look into the matter of the East Kingdom assassin."

"And that matter has been resolved," the Captain reminded him.

"Not quite," said Wilson. "The East Kingdom assassins were colluding with the Saldarians and the Gwedonians. Right now we have a town full of them. Fayte is bound by the King's command to investigate this matter until the end. The last spot in the party belongs to him."

Both Fayte and Jeremiah braced themselves for what was to come. Julin had long begun to back away from them. His instincts for survival sharp as always They were expecting Captain Windon to go into a rage but instead the man just sighed.

"I know what you're trying to do, Wilson." Captain Windon shook his head. "Sera doesn’t work that way. You're a priest. You should know better."

Wilson remained steadfast, standing with both hands behind him, a steady look in his eyes as he addressed the Captain.

"I do this not as a priest," he said. "I do this as a friend."

Another chance for me to prove myself worthy, Fayte realized.

"Fine." Captain Windon relented, turning to Fayte. "If it's to be a squire then I guess I can't do any better than you."

Jeremiah casually cleared his throat.

"Quiet, Vladertz." The Captain turned to addressed the others. "The rest of you shall remain here and await further orders. Be ready for anything, even for a full assault. If the situation calls for it, we may have to risk a rescue attempt immediately before Rondiar gets back to us."

After Captain Windon appointed one of the Tyrox knights to take command, they gathered their equipment and followed the rangers to the edge of the forest. Fayte found the Master-Ranger staring at him just as they were about to set off. The man shook his head and led the way mumbling to himself.

"…Leena's going to put an arrow through my knee if the Lord-Knight's boy gets scratched…"

CHAPTER 40

Emily held the sword by her side and gestured for him to kneel.

"For bravery and valour, I knight you," the Princess of Hylan raised the sword with both hands and carefully, she tapped him first on the right shoulder, then she whacked him in the head by accident, and tapped him on the left shoulder, "Sir Fayte Kaywin, Knight of the Order of the White Shield."

Commander Reyner smiled. "Now you have him-"

"And Commander of the Whiteguards," she went on, going back to tap him in the right shoulder while taking care not to hit him in the head again. "After Commander Reyner is too old to play with me. And Lord-Knight of the Order of the White Shield. After grumpy Iyden falls asleep… and never wake again."

"Princess!" Commander Reyner called but she ignored him.

"Oh, oh, and eternal protector, personal knight, and best friend, of the Grace of Hylan, me, Princess Emily of the Royal Whiteart family!"

And then she hit in the head again by accident.

"Are we done?" Fayte complained.

The little Princess looked up at the Whiteguard. "Are we?"

Commander Reyner made a disapproving noise. "Quite so, my Princess. Now, all you have to do is tell him to rise, go ahead."

"Get up, Fayte."

"Properly," he said.

Emily stuck the wooden sword into the ground because it was heavy and tiring her arms out. "Rise, Sir Fayte."

And so Fayte did, beaming as he rose and felt a few inches taller than before he knelt.

"That, my Princess," Commander Reyner said, "is how you will knight your friend when he returns from his pilgrimage after receiving Sera's blessings."

Fayte walked past Captain Windon without a word and said nothing to Wilson as well. He said nothing when asked if he was hurt. He said nothing when asked what happened, though Jeremiah was quick to fill them in about the crisis. He said nothing in the City Watch when the page asked if he would like breakfast while the others made preparations. He said nothing when John came by, but the man kept talking anyway.

"Tis will be farewell, Fayte," said John, standing at the door to his room while Fayte lay motionless on his bed. "I think I should be thanking ya, fer helping me find me purpose. I've uh, I've lost my purpose for a long while now. I just kept wandering and wandering, drinking and then wandering, then I drank some more and I kept wandering some-"

Fayte made an irritated noise.

"Yeah, I didn't know what I should be doing with my life. But meeting you, meeting you made me think real hard. Haven't think so hard in a while, but meeting you made me do that. And I know what I need ta be doing now. That map I saw, the one in the cave, I took it."

That got Fayte's attention, but he did not say anything.

"Nothing happened so, I guess it's not a bad idea to be taking things." The man grinned, waving the rolled up map in his hand. "I'll be using this to find them other caves, find all of them Templar stuff. Your Order can have what I find, I don't need them. But uh, at least I got me some directions now, places to go, things to do. I say that beats wandering around all the time."

There was nothing that Fayte wanted to say to John. He could not even find it in his heart to be glad for the man. All he wanted now was for John to leave him be.

"I thank ya, Fayte Kaywin. If you ever need me help, I'll be there. And as for Sera's blessing… well, I don't know what all the fuss is about, but I've been doing fine without it my whole life!" He laughed, awkwardly, and quickly fell silent. "Take care of yeself, Fayte. Goodbye."

He heard John's footsteps, but somehow the footsteps sounded like they were coming closer to-

"Sera works in her own ways, boy," John exclaimed, bending over the bed so that his head was now over Fayte's. "But whatever she plans, just know that you are more knight than any of them other knights I've come across. Good luck in Harvesria!"

With that, John gave him a slap on the arm and left.

When it came time for them to leave for Harvesria, Wilson dragged him down to the ground level and sat him down by a table. Captain Windon sat down with Fayte.

"I've sent word to the towns around Harvesria and nearest cities to send reinforcements." The Captain noticed that Fayte had not touched any of the food brought by the page. He also noticed the absent look in Fayte's eyes. A hopeless gaze. "Spearfort will send the most soldiers, but we're expecting help from the capital itself as well."

Fayte nodded tiredly.

"Sera has decided that it is yet time for you to become a knight. You will be blessed with the light in good time, Fayte. For now, you are still a squire of the White Shield. You have a duty still. Your kingdom needs you now."

No response.

The Captain glanced at Wilson and Jeremiah who were both watching from afar with Julin in their company. Wei Ling was seated at another table enjoying a drink.

"You spoke too highly of this Fayte Kaywin, Jeremiah," said Wei Ling, sipping her drink.

Wilson glared at her. "You best speak something highly about this outsider too, squire."

"Forgive her, good priest." Jeremiah turned to his friend. "Shush. Failing one's pilgrimage is a grave matter. I too would be inconsolable if it was me."

"You said his family was killed by the Saldarians," Wei Ling went on, enjoying her drink. "Is failing his pilgrimage a graver matter than having Saldarians invade his home?"

Fayte turned to look at her.

Captain Windon grinned but remained silent. He gestured subtly for Jeremiah to do the same.

"In my country we have a saying in our language." Wei Ling lowered her drink. She held the old wooden cup gracefully with both hands, one gripping the side while the other lifted the base, like it was an ornate object made of glass. "Failure is the mother of success. I trust it explains itself."

A simple enough lesson. Failure is but a stepping stone to success. Learn from each failure and improve. Never give up.

"Jeremiah says you can try again." Wei Ling got up and begin to leave. A knight stood waiting for her, tasked to escort her to the Northern Gate, but in truth it was to ensure that the East Kingdom warrior left Hylan. "I imagine your second pilgrimage would be much more difficult if this Raymius gets his way."

Jeremiah left with Wei Ling to see her off, just as a soldier entered the barracks and informed the Captain that the gryphons were ready to leave.

"Harvesria cannot wait," Captain Windon said, rising to his feet in his full armour. "If your path to become a knight ends here today, then stay. Otherwise, you had best grab your meal for the ride. We have Saldarians to kill."

The flight to the town of Harvesria gave Fayte much time to ponder. All those years he spent training and preparing for his pilgrimage. Everything he had worked for came to naught atop Mount Tyrus. He resented Sera for denying him the Light of the Spirits, but he knew that this resentment was surely one of the reasons why he was denied. Yet who could be judged unworthy and yet still accept the judgement? Fayte was guilty, for he wondered why someone like Julin could be deemed worthy yet he not.

Julin deserves to be a knight, Fayte told himself. I am his superior in swordsmanship, but perhaps nothing else it seems.

"Trust in Sera, Fayte," Wilson told him as they soared across the vast sky. "The time will come. That time may not be now, but it will come."

"You don't know that."

"But I do."

Fayte looked at the back of his friend's head. "How?"

"For I have faith in Sera."

"Faith is just blind belief," he said, and he hated himself for it. "An empty hope. A false hope."

Wilson was silent for a moment. The roaring wind was loud in their ears as the gryphons kept a steady pace. They needed to get there fast but rushing would only exhaust the gryphons. How fast they flew will not matter if they cannot even reach their destination.

"There are times when what we need is hope. False hope can be made true in the right hands, with the right amount of determination. True or false, hope gives us strength to continue moving forward. And so long as we move forward, there is progress and with it comes opportunities. You will go on another pilgrimage and when that time comes I will be by your side once more. The day you are blessed and knighted, I will be by your side, my friend. That I promise you."

A wave of warmth caressed Fayte from within his chest. The heat was soothing and invigorating. Wilson's words inspired him much but Fayte suspected that this was a remnant effect of the Dragon Essence. Regardless, the warmth and Wilson's words left him renewed.

Fayte straightened his back and looked forward.

Keep moving forward, he thought. I will keep moving forward.

CHAPTER 38

The remaining warriors joined the attack.

The Scygards danced together and struck in unison, the timing of their strikes and slashes a complement to the other. Fayte struggled to keep up, parrying and guarding, searching desperately for a chance to strike back.

I can't beat them together!

In less than a minute the Scygards disarmed him and the East Kingdom warriors took over. Fayte was going to raise his shield but the warriors swung their swords down on him from high above. That would force him to raise his hands to protect himself, leaving his front exposed, so he didn't. He rolled back and crouched to keep himself small, raising his shield overhead as he anticipated the two blue-eyed warriors striking him. Instead he felt a huge weight pushing down on his shield like someone had thrown himself over it.

They're lying down on me! The Dragon Essence!

"Get him, now!" one of them shouted.

The weight kept him down, he couldn't reach the Dragon Essence, and before Fayte could roll them off, he felt a heavy blow to the back of his tailbone. He screamed in pain and the weight on his shield went away. Two men grabbed him by the arms and lifted him onto his feet. He couldn't tell who with the blinding pain on his back. Fayte was helpless as the two Scygards spun and each of them slashed him across the chest. Their curved blades ripped across the exact same spot and sliced through his chainmail.

The third Scygard ran his blade into Fayte's chest.

"You are strong," the Scygard said, tearing out his blade and splattered blood all over the ground. "But you are only a squire."

They released him and Fayte fell onto his knees. His vision began to blur. The pain was excruciating and soon it would knock him out, but he refused to die like this. He would not fall. Not yet. Not when help was flying straight at him.

"Is that one of yours?" the Scygard asked.

A gryphon was soaring towards them.

"Nay," said one of the gryphon knights. "That breed is used for travelling over great distances. It should be headed for the city. Why is it flying at such a height?"

"Because it's not headed for the city." The Scygard turned back to look at Fayte before looking to the men standing behind him. "Remove his helm and take his head. Let us be gone before that gryphon can reach us."

Fly faster… he thought to whoever was coming to save him. Sera, a bolt of lightning now would be great.

They pulled off his helm and tossed it aside.

The gryphon knight who spoke earlier crouched in front of him and took off his own helm. Fayte recognized him. He was one of the gryphon knights he fought in Gwedoniar City. One of the bad ones.

"Wishing you'd killed me then, aren't you?" The man grinned at him before he stood up and lifted his sword. "This is for the mockery you made of me then, you piece of white shield squire filth. For the Gryphon King!"

There was a gust of wind. Followed by an ear-piercing screech of metal being torn.

The gryphon knight screamed before falling to the ground in front of Fayte, his hands covering his face where blood flowed freely. More gusts of wind followed and the men behind them screamed as well. Fayte felt his ears and cheeks stinging and he could even hear scratches on his armour.

"I thought she was taken care of!" one of the East Kingdom warriors yelled.

"REELIS!" another gryphon knight screamed. "REELIS! Come to me!"

A massive gryphon slammed down on the ground and its shadow engulfed them.

"Take down that other gryphon! Go! Kill it and the girl its carrying!"

The gryphon screeched and took off again.

"Take the boy's head already," one of the Scygard said to another. "We leave at- NO! STOP HIM!"

Fayte raised the vial over his mouth and consume the Dragon Essence.

The burning liquid seared its way through his throat and scorched his tongue. He screamed in pain but also in fury and might as energy raged through his entire body. The gaping wound in his chest burned but the pain caused by the Dragon Essence overpowered it and at the same time it empowered him.

"On bended knee, under Sera's watch, I take this oath," Fayte said, opening his eyes to reveal two flaring orbs. "To swear loyalty and faith to the Order of the White Shield."

The clouds above them began to part as all three Scygards turned to come after him. They didn't get far. The ground in front of them was suddenly torn up by the wind, keeping them from reaching him.

"To defend and to guard, never to grieve or shame," he went on. "With my sword as my honour, I wield it only when I must."

Fayte could feel the burning energy as the Dragon Essence searing its way through his body to the very tip of his fingers and toes.

"To protect the weak, the innocent, and the oppressed," he spoke the words, picking up his shield and sword. "With my shield as my life, I rest only when peace is kept."

The wound in his chest began to burn and he winced and bit his lips as he bore with the pain, for he knew that the Dragon Essence was healing it as he felt the wound mending.

"In the face of despair, under the blitz of blows," one of the Scygard drove through the wind, his armour screeched with scratches, and he surged on charging straight at Fayte, "with the memories of my loved ones as my strength, I stand unwavering."

Fayte braced himself to meet the Scygard head on, but someone landed right in front of him. With a shield in his hand, the newcomer met the Scygard and kept him from reaching Fayte.

"For I am Fayte Kaywin," he said. "Knight of the Order of the White Shield."

Light engulf the summit of Mount Tyrus as Sera answered his call. Fayte felt the energy of the Dragon Essence continue to surge in his veins, but he did not feel anything from the light. Perhaps it was because of the Dragon Essence, but when the light was gone, he felt no different. Strong and unstoppable, but that was the effect of the Dragon Essence. The light did not affect him at all.

"Who are you?" the Scygard called just as another person landed behind the other Scygards right in front of the stone table. "Name yourself!"

The spirits did not answer me, Fayte realized, as he stood up and looked upon the familiar back of a man whose hair was long and tied into a tail, who held a white shield in his left hand and a knight's sword in the other. It wasn't me the light came down for.

"I am Jeremiah of the noble Vladertz family," he said, raising his shield. "Knight of the Order of the White Shield."

"How did you survive?" the Scygard asked, no doubt as shock as Fayte was.

"That would be me," said a girl who stood in front of the stone table.

I know this girl.

Her dark hair was long and tied into a tail like Jeremiah. She was fair and had a fierce beauty much like Lady Feralina. Her clothing was queer but familiar and Fayte realized that Administrator Langton and Kestel wore clothes much like hers, though her sleeves were short and she wore a wide leather belt and a leather vest over her pale green robe. The first time Fayte met her, he did not know what it was that she carried on her back, for it was long and resembled a box. Now as he looked at the weapon in her hand and recalled the gusts wind that had been protecting him, he was surprised by his discovery.

Fans, he realized, as he met eyes with Wei Ling, the girl from beyond the Northern Gate.

Two armoured gryphons flew over them and landed behind the gryphons knights. Fayte turned to face them, his heart pounding and his entire body shaking uncontrollably. It was the Dragon Essence causing this, pumping him with so much energy that he felt like exploding.

"I'll take care of them," he told Jeremiah, right before a gust of wind swept by and opened the two East Kingdom warriors from neck to waist. They bled out in an instant. "What did I just say?"

"They are the reason why she was sent to Hylan," Jeremiah explained. "Let's just say she is a very efficient person."

Now there were three gryphon knights of which one was blind while the other two had their gryphons with them. Fayte wasn't concerned with the men. It was the gryphons that posed the greatest threat, for they were large and fierce and heavily armoured.

"Finish off the Vladertz," Fayte heard one of the Scygard said. "We will try and hold off the Red Wind."

Try and hold off? It was rare to hear a Scygard admit that he could not best another person in combat. Who is this girl?

"I'll explain everything later," Jeremiah said. "Are you fit enough to fight?"

The roar of a dragon rang in his ear.

Fayte burst from the ground and leaped into the air, higher than he had ever jumped, and crashed down on the first gryphon knight. Fayte bashed him in the neck with his shield, once, twice, and cracked his neckguard on the third before breaking his neck. The gryphon rammed into him. His shield took the blunt of it and he let the force throw him back, rolling onto the ground until he was right back onto his feet. He laughed and he laughed madly for the sensation was beyond anything he had ever experienced before. He laughed so loud that the gryphon knight hesitated.

Once more he heard the dragon's roar.

The sunlight caught the face of his blade and it danced across the air with the gryphon knight's sword. They would trade blows and parry each other's attack, but every now and then the gryphons would rush in and try to catch him off-guard.  Fayte was small and too fast for them though. He ran circles around them, jumping over them and even onto them when he realized that there were gaps in the gryphon's neck armour.

Fayte drove his sword into the opening  and the gryphon wailed.

He leaped off just as the other gryphon flew over and tried to tear off his head. But his leap was not just to dodge the other gryphon, no, Fayte leaped and he came down on the blind gryphon knight. There was a blast of light and in a surge of energy, Fayte swung his sword and beheaded the man with a single clean cut.

"BROTHER!" the last gryphon knight screamed. "NO! NOOO!"

His screams were filled with so much agony that it stunned Fayte even in his state of rush. The pain in his voice reminded him of his own and of his father's. It brought him back to the day he found out that his mother and sisters were dead. On that day Fayte screamed and cried until he could no longer, and his father was mad with fury until two wizards and a sorceress had to bind him with their magic.

The gryphon knight charged him in a mad rage and Fayte snapped back to reality. He flipped his sword and knocked the man out with the flat of his blade. This man will surely deny the crimes placed before him and the Magister-Lord, but Fayte trusted the Underlord to have ways to make him speak.

Vengeance breeds vengeance, he thought. One day this man will seek to avenge his brother.

"Stand down," he told the two gryphons. "I do not wish to harm either of you."

The two gryphons charged at him.

They too were driven mad with fury over the loss of their companions. When Fayte leaped into the air to avoid them, he was rammed into the ground by the third gryphon. He hit the ground hard and felt his left arm break. But he did not lose his sword so he stood up and faced the ferocious beasts. The third gryphon was covered in blood and had pieces of its armour torn off. Unfortunately it seemed that the gryphon who brought his saviours here did not survive the battle.

Even with the Dragon Essence, three Gwedonian gryphons were too much for Fayte. These were not men. Fayte was used to fighting men. These were great beasts, ferocious and now mad for blood over the deaths of their companions. The right tactic would have been for him to take them out first, but Fayte got carried away. Three gryphons were too many for him.

I need the Light of the Spirits.

"Jeremiah," he called, wincing as the bone of his broken arm snapped back into place, healed by the Dragon Essence. "I need help."

The gryphons took off into the air and circled him, diving at him with breakneck speed that forced Fayte into a series of rolls just to dodge them. There was no way for him to strike back. They were too fast in the air and too powerful to stop. He glanced at Jeremiah and saw his friend disarming the Scygard before running his sword into the Saldarian's neck.

Jeremiah's eyes were flaring with the Light of the Spirits when he turned to Fayte. The sight of the three gryphons circling in the air took him aback. Fayte could tell that his friend wasn't sure what to do. He did not blame him. Fayte was at a loss himself as well. All he could do was roll and dodge until finally he was caught and the gryphon pinned him down. That was when Jeremiah jumped in and bashed the gryphon in the face with his shield to chase it away. He pulled Fayte up and the both of them face their backs to the other.

"And now we're both trapped," Fayte said. "Great."

"Wei Ling!" Jeremiah yelled. "A little help please!"

The girl was now wielding a sword and held a fan in her other hand. She was fending off both Scygards and every now and then a gust of wind would shoot out from her fan, leaving a gaping wound on the ground.

"I believe your friend requires our aid as well. By the way, do you know she works for Dontoros Eronaxe?"

"She doesn't. I'll tell you more later."

All three gryphons dove in at the same time. It was sheer madness. At this speed they would break their own necks ramming into each other, but it would surely spell the end of the both of them. This proved how deep the bond was that a gryphon knight shared with his companion. The end of one meant the end of the other. Fayte wondered if the gryphon knights would take their own lives should their gryphons perish in combat.

Sera, help us.

"GET DOWN!" the girl screamed.

Suddenly there was a gale blasting over their heads. Jeremiah took Fayte to the ground with him and covered their heads with the shield. Fayte could hear metal tearing off from the shield, and he could feel his legs getting scratched all over like a thousand knives running all over them.

When the gale finally stopped, they looked up and found the girl bent over on her hands and knees. The gryphons were gone and the ground around them was covered with tears. Fayte watched as the wounds on his legs began to mend, but Jeremiah was wincing in pain for his did not.

That was when they noticed the two Scygards on the ground right next to them.

"By the light-"

Fayte rushed to his feet just as the Scygard did and parried the attack. They were at each other's throats again, slashing and parrying each other's attack until suddenly, the Scygard's blade snapped into two. Fayte would have won right then but unfortunately, his sword broke into pieces as well.

The wind.

The Scygard raised his hands and reached for his neck, but Fayte drew the dagger from his shield and plunged it into the visor of the Scygard's helm. The Saldarian went limp instantly and dropped to the ground dead. Behind him, Jeremiah was finishing off the Scygard whose legs were bloody red.

"Don't," Fayte said.

"Fayte Kaywin telling me not to kill a Scygard?" Jeremiah scoffed, holding his blade to the Scygard's neck. "I do not believe my ears."

"We will learn more with him-" The Scygard impaled himself with the sword. "Alive."

For a while they just observed their surroundings. Dead men lay all around them with the ground soaked with blood. Wei Ling was fine, leaning against the stone table as she breathed heavily to catch her breath. Jeremiah seemed well too considering that he was alive.

"You all right?" Jeremiah asked him.

Fayte nodded, holding up the dagger. "You?"

His friend had an eye patch over his right eye. "Alive and well, my friend."

Fayte nodded again, dazed, and still staring at the dagger. "I thought you were dead."

"I know," Jeremiah said, looking at his dagger. "I am sorry to have caused you grief. The ruse was necessary."

Fayte was still nodding as the energy from the Dragon Essence began to seep away.

"I'm glad you're back," Fayte said at last, returning the dagger to its rightful owner before they embraced each other. "Thank Sera, you're alive."

CHAPTER 37

Thousands of squires had taken this path where once the mighty Templars gave their lives to fend off the Great Evil.

Fayte began at sunset as planned. He wore his chainmail over his shirt and over it he donned his armour, sent over from Rondiar before he set off on his pilgrimage. Fayte had spent much of the day sleeping and when he rose he spent a little while sharpening his sword. He traded in his shield for a new one at the City Watch, before taking it to a smith to hammer in a slot for his dagger. This little trick was how Jeremiah forced a draw with him during their duel in the squire's tournament.

Jeremiah's dagger was now in that slot.

The royal family of the East Kingdom sent someone to prevent the alliance between Hylan and Saldara. The royal family did not specifically list Jeremiah as someone to be taken out. No, his death was an act by the assassin and him alone. Now the killer is dead. Vengeance was sought. Yet Fayte remained in grief.

Grief is never given away, only caused.

Night had fallen and the air grew colder but onward he marched.

Saldara was an enemy and there were many in Hylan who could not forget and refused to forgive. Fayte knew that he would be standing amongst those people if he were not one of the Order of the White Shield. And if I was not a friend to the Princess. Zywedior was sacked and a city filled with innocents brutally killed.

There were only two ways to respond to such an atrocity. One involved the extermination of an entire nation, for if they killed only the men responsible, then the families of those men will seek vengeance. The cycle would not end. The second way was to forgive. Both ways seemed equally impossible to Fayte.

One path sinks a person's soul to an abyss of darkness while the other opens it to a garden of light.

Sera's eye looked straight down upon him and his pack grew heavier but onward he marched.

Emily was a girl. Princess was only a title. She was a girl and Fayte had fallen in love with her. Sadly not all love will lead to a happy ending. They were not meant to be together. In this world there were bigger things than the happiness of two people. Emily was not his to love and he will not dishonour her. Rinmar, by noon later in the day, will become her wedded husband. He will take the name of Whiteart, as was the law of their Kingdom. They will have a child together and one day that child will rule Hylan and Saldara both. Fayte could only hope to be by that child's side, as a Whiteguard if not the Lord-Knight of the Order of the White Shield.

I love Emily. I will never stop loving her. But I will not dishonour her. My heart shall yearn for her day and night, and I will live with this pain just as I live with the pain of losing my mother and sisters.

Daybreak.

Fayte loosed his pack and dropped it. He stepped forward and with that step he arrived at the summit of Mount Tyrus. Nine flat stones stood on the outer rim of the summit, each of them at least two meters wide. In front of the fifth stone, directly ahead of Fayte, was a stone table. That was where the Chosen Herald had died and it was said that till this day, the stone table was still red with his blood. But Fayte could not see the stone table.

For nine men stood in front of the stones.

The three to the left were wore robes of dark velvet cloth, with loose sleeves and their swords tucked into their waist sash, and a cowl that showed only their striking blue eyes. The three to the right wore thick plates green like emeralds, with helms carved to the shape of gryphons. And lastly the three in the center wore a thick cape of deep forest green, their golden armours gleaming in the light, and their curved sword hungering in their hands.

Fayte reached into his pocket and touched the Dragon Essence to assure himself that it was there. Not yet.

"Fayte Kaywin," said one of the Gwedonian knights. "Your time to die has come."

The warriors from the other kingdoms turned slightly to look at the Gwedonian knight, as if judging his choice of words.

Fayte lifted his chin and showed no fear.

"You will die today," he went on and the Gwedonian knights drew their swords. "And your death shall spur forth the end of this unrighteous rule by the false King."

So that confirms the Magister-Lord seeks to usurp the throne.

"My death will mark the end of nothing," he told the Gwedonian knight. "All it will do is save that fat Magister-Lord Raymius from feeling the tip of my sword piercing through his heart."

"King Raymius is the righteous ruler of Hylan!"

"If anyone from Gwedoniar should rule it should be Commander Darius."

"Darius is a spineless and unnatural man. A coward who is too afraid to seek glory and honour, too weak to right what was wronged."

"And Raymius is stronger?" Fayte laughed, wondering what the knight meant by unnatural. "The weakest squire I know could best that man."

Without a doubt now for that squire recently became a knight.

"And what role you play in this, men of the East?" Fayte asked them, for their blue eyes left no doubts. "Hylan has no intention of invading your Kingdom. Your Emperor is courting war out of false fears!"

"Just kill the boy already," said one of the East Kingdom men.

"They do not represent their puppet Emperor! These are the true men of the East Kingdom and they only wish for the rightful ruler to lead Hylan," said the gryphon knight, "so that our nations may at last be allies."

They're not with the Emperor? Puppet Emperor? Fayte found himself with more questions after that revelation. They will likely kill Raymius as soon as he takes over, assuming he succeeds.

"I won't even ask why you three are a part of this."

The Scygards remained silent. They were disciplined warriors. They had only one task here and it was not to strike a conversation.

These Scygards are not with Rinmar or his father. The situation was clear enough. Magister-Lord Raymius had found friends to help him overthrow the Royal Whiteart family and seize the throne for himself. The Scygards were expecting a reward of some kind, perhaps a seat of power or even the title of Emperor in Saldara. As for the men from the East Kingdom, it would appear that the Underlord's information was inaccurate. Just as they were when the agent said that these men were not working together.

"There is one thing that I have yet to understand," Fayte said. "Why kill the squires?"

I need to buy time. Someone must have seen these men come up the mountain. Sera, I could use a friend now.

"Jeremiah Vladertz," said the gryphon knight. "Grandson of Tyden Vladertz, Lord of-"

One of the East Kingdom men shook his head and drew his sword, prompting the two others to do the same.

"You Hylanders talk too much."

The men from the East Kingdom moved when no one else did. Fayte drew his sword and raised his shield, meeting them head on. They leaped into the air and surrounded him, but Fayte rolled and dodged and blocked their attacks, easily wounding one of them with a cut across the cheek.

Fayte did not stop then, the face of his dear friend in his mind, he surged at the same man he wounded. Fayte unleashed a flurry of slashes and stabs at the man, forcing him to go on the defensive. He took care of his rear but none of the other warriors were coming at him, so he swung his shield and feinted, catching the warrior off-guard and ending him with a slash across his neck. Blood spewed from the wound as the East Kingdom warrior who first drew his sword fell to his knees and collapsed.

Fayte turned around and faced the rest of them.

Eight more to go.

The two blue-eyed warriors looked absolutely shocked, while the gryphon knights seemed disturbed by what they had just witnessed. Only the Scygards remained composed, their expressions hidden in the shadow of their helms.

"Tyden Vladertz is the Lord of Castle Vladertz," he finished what the gryphon knight was going to say.

That was when Fayte remembered what Jeremiah's grandfather had said.

"If it were not for that man you call King sitting there, my grandson would be a crowned Prince!"

"You killed Jeremiah because he was heir to the Vladertz crown?" That is a downright stupid reason. "There are still hundreds of other Vladertz out there!"

"Hundreds who are not the heir," said the gryphon knight. "Hundreds whose claim is weak. Weaker than the Magister-Lord of Gwedoniar City. The people of Hylan will side with the Magister-Lord, or rather, his son, Raylus Emerald-Talons."

Fayte thought for a moment that the Magister-Lord was a member of the once royal Emerald-Talons family. However the man was not and neither was his son.

"No one will believe that!"

"Who shall question his claim?" said the knight. "Not Darius or his family. Dead men cannot speak."

"You kill them?" Fayte tightened his grip on his weapon. "You killed Commander Darius and his family?"

"How I wish I could have that honour." The gryphon knights drew their swords now. "Darius is dead by now but not by my hands. You though, you I get the kill."

Commander Darius was a friend and now the man was dead along with his innocent family. And the attacks on the other squires were just a diversion. Fayte noticed the large shadows circling on the ground. Three mountain gryphons were flying overhead. I can't win this fight.

"Why am I still a target?" he asked, hoping to draw this out until help arrived… if help was even coming. "To wound my father?"

The gryphon knight lowered his sword and laughed. "You-"

"End this," said the Scygard in the middle as he turned away.

Fayte was startled by the speed at which the other Scygards came at him. The East Kingdom men barely turned around before the Saldarians over took them, launching themselves at Fayte and began their assault on him.

CHAPTER 36

Seeing that there was no longer a need to draw out the assassins, Wilson insisted that they hired gryphons from Redpath and flew to their final stop.

"We still don't know why they are after squires-"

"You were tasked with the investigation into the matter of the East Kingdom assassin," Wilson said the third time in this argument. "Not the Hylan assassins nor the Saldarian assassins. Your investigation has come to an end."

"The agent said-"

"I care little for what the agent said. I am your friend, Fayte, and I am also the priest responsible for your safety on this journey, and I say no more unnecessary risks," Wilson stated quite firmly. "We ride for Redpath and we fly to Tyrox from there. End of discussion."

They did not speak to each other from Roseville to Redpath where they hired gryphons without lingering about. John wanted to get more wine but they promised him that he would find more than he could drink in Tyrox. It was late after sunrise when the city finally came into view.

Tyrox, the Hero City. The significance of this place was not the city of Tyrox itself, but the mountain that led to its creation as people believed that the land around this mountain was blessed. For Tyrox was situated at the base of Mount Tyrus, where the brave Eres Star Templars fought against the minions of the Great Evil, battling with their lives to see the Chosen Herald up to the summit where he would summon the nine heroes.

It was where Fayte would end his pilgrimage and receive the Light of the Spirits from Sera.

"You have defeated a band of bandits," Wilson yelled for the wind stole much of his voice. "Killed an assassin from the East Kingdom, defeated a mage on your own, and did battle against two Hylan assassins. You were the true hero who saved Hylan when the Saldarian demon threatened us. Even if we had travelled by land, no fool would dare confront you."

The trip up Mount Tyrus was to be made alone. Priests were there to protect and teach their squires, but this final part of their journey was for them alone. If there were still assassins out there waiting to attack him, Mount Tyrus was where they would surely strike. Fayte was not afraid but Wilson's words had reassured him and reminded him that he was strong.

The city glittered in the morning light as the two gryphons descended smoothly. Tyrox was large and rich and home to many merchant lords who controlled certain goods in Hylan. From silk to rare wine, gems to white gold, Tyrox was the richest city in Hylan. But even as the city glittered and shined, its beauty could not compare to that of Iredis, and its walls were not so high as the ones that protect Rondiar.

"Another squire!" the jolly gryphon master said. "Welcome, welcome, to the final stop of your pilgrimage!"

He thanked the kind man and his assistants before leaving the roost to enter the city. The walls of Tyrox were not so daunting as the ones that stood for Eres Star City. With the right tools Fayte could see himself scaling it with much ease. He smiled and bowed his head at the soldiers by the gate.

"The Hero of Hylan has arrived at last," a knight called from atop his horse. "Tyrox welcomes you, Fayte Kaywin."

"Fair morning to you, Captain Windon," Fayte said, pleasantly surprised to see him here. "What brings you to Tyrox, Captain?"

"Matters of the Order," the man said, greeting Wilson and John before dismounting. The last time they met, Captain Windon was still on leave. Today the man was in his suit of armour with his helm around his arm. "Your father believes that squires might be attacked here."

"And he sent you here?" Surely a Captain had more pressing matters to attend to.

"No he did not. He merely tasked me to ensure the safety of all squires who arrive in this city. I only arrived yesterday to check on things." He placed a hand on Fayte's shoulder. "I did not expect to see you here today."

The Captain led him into the city.

Tyrox streets were wide and crowded with stalls filled with hot buns and vegetables and fresh meat. The morning crowd was out and about, with ladies haggling and children chasing one another. A few boys stopped when they saw them, pointing at the Captain and then at Fayte. They seemed to recognize him so Fayte smiled and wave at them.

"Why not, Captain?"

"Why? Well because tomorrow is the day Hylan joins with Saldara," he said, and saw that Fayte had clearly forgotten. "The marriage between the Grace of Hylan and the brave Prince Rinmar who so gallantly said nothing as our Princess showered him with false glory for rescuing her from the evil sand demon."

Fayte had to laugh and the knight softened his expression.

"I do not judge you for giving the wedding a miss, Fayte," he said softly. "I would not attend myself even if your father had not prevented me from attending."

"Father would not let you go?"

The Captain nodded. "None of the Captains will be in attendance tomorrow. Nor will any person of high command in the other Orders. Your father does not want the Orders of Rondiar headless and without shoulders should there be a mishap during the wedding."

He's afraid that the Saldarians might try something.

"I know what you are thinking, but the Saldarians are not your father's only fears."

"The matter of the East Kingdom will soon be resolved," he told the Captain. "They have-"

Wilson cleared his throat.

"He is Captain Windon," Fayte said. "We can trust him."

"You were commanded by the King," Wilson reminded him. "And so it is to the King who you shall report to. No one before him. Not even your father. I trust you will understand, Captain Windon."

"Of course, good priest," said the Captain, and he tapped Fayte on the back his head. "Do not share information so freely, not even with those you think you trust."

John suddenly overtook them.

"We'll stay at that inn." He pointed at the inn, then his finger moved to the building right across it. "And I'll be at that tavern."

And off he went to get himself drunk.

"I see he is still with you," said the Captain. "And for what purpose did he serve on your pilgrimage?"

Fayte shrugged when he thought about all that happened. "He is possibly the last surviving member of the once royal Greyblade family. What purpose he serves Sera has yet see fit for us to be in the know."

"The last of the Greyblades, that man?" Captain Windon was doubtful. "Well, as you said, Sera works in her own ways. So tell me, when do you intend to make the trip?"

He turned to the north where the mountain stood with its high peak amongst the sky. All of a sudden a bolt of light shot down from the sky onto the peak of Mount Tyrus. The people around them quietened for a moment and watched as the clouds were blown apart by the shaft of light. Slowly the light began to fade, leaving a gap in the clouds. And when all seemed normal again, everyone around them cheered.

A knight has been born.

Captain Windon was beaming with pride. "You best hurry, Fayte. I hear Sera just blessed Julin."

That was Julin? Fayte laughed for he was surprised and truly glad for his friend. "The same Julin who forfeited the fight when he saw…"

"Yes, that same Julin," the Captain said. "I was worried about him to be honest, but after Jeremiah's death, I saw a fire in that boy's eyes. I met him yesterday at the headquarters just as he was about to set off. He told me that if anyone should have died, it should've be him. But Sera allowed him to keep his life instead of Jeremiah, so he swore that he would become a knight for Jeremiah. He resolved to become stronger. You will be amazed at how much the boy has grown in such a short period of time, Fayte."

"I should hope to duel with him soon."

The Captain seemed confused. "Oh you misunderstand. Julin is still an embarrassment with the sword, but on the inside, he has grown tremendously."

Hearing from the people around him, Fayte found out that Julin was the sixth squire to have received Sera's blessing. The sixth squire out of the six squires who had arrived thus far. Every one of them now blessed with the Light of the Spirits. All that remains for them was to be knighted by the King himself for it to be official.

"I leave at sunset," Fayte said, and before anyone could protest, "just as the Templars did when they escorted the Chosen Herald up the mountain. I will arrive at the summit as the sun rises. And is it then when I will say my oath and let the spirits judge if I am worthy."

Ascending the mountain in darkness was not wise, but there was a clear path leading up to the peak of Mount Tyrus. It was symbolic enough for the Captain and Wilson to not try and dissuade him.

"I will await you at the foot of Mount Tyrus at high noon," the Captain informed him. "I shall like to be the first to challenge you to a duel, Fayte."

"Respectfully, Captain," said Fayte, "I shall enjoy beating a Captain for my first victory as a knight."

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.