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EnemyWithin63
09-18-2010, 08:29 AM
This a story of Mikael Kreoss soon after he became a Knight Exemplar but before he became a warcaster (he discovers his abilities due to events in the story). It's been a awhile since I've read the storyline and I don't know if anything has come out that could contradict this, and although I'm a Menoth player I don't have the money to buy the book, spent it all on Zealots. But I made everything as accurate as I could, so if there is something that is blatantly wrong and contradicted by canon, let me know and I'll change it so it works. Ther will be at least one and possibly two more installments to this story, please post any comments, critiques, etc.


The Exemplar?s Wife

The clang of swords rang out from the practice yard of the Order of the Wall. The late afternoon sun cast its rays on the two combatants, one of them a giant almost six and a half feet tall, the other one more slender and just under six feet. The larger combatant had about fifty pounds on his opponent, but the smaller man was faster, and also deceptively strong. He handled his greatsword with about the same ease as the bigger man. The giant grunted and thrust at what he thought was an opening, but the smaller man whirled and parried with such force that he threw his opponent off balance.
The smaller combatant tried to follow up on this, but his opponent recovered and regained his stance, blocking each attack and then going on the offensive one more. Their fight had been going on for almost a half hour in this fashion. Finally, the smaller man saw his chance and parried his opponent?s attack close enough to the hilt to force his opponent?s sword off to the side, and then he twisted and swung, hitting his opponent clean in the side. Dulled steel impacted padded leather with a whumpf! The bigger man grunted and went down.
The smaller man lifted his face guard and reached down a hand to help his former opponent up. The bigger man accepted, breathing heavily. ?Damn me to Urcaen, Dartan, how do you keep doing that? I?m twice your size and five years older. I should be whipping you like the newest trainee.? They walked over to a bench and sat down.
?It?s called the Stone and Mortar Stance, Mikael. It?s something every paladin learns and masters. It?s a defensive stance primarily, but it can also to be used to my advantage. You are much larger than me; I need to wear you down before I can throw you off balance enough to score a hit. In order to do that, I need to hold my own against your attacks. And don?t forget, it wasn?t long ago you were officially inducted into the Knights Exemplar and ceased to be ?trainee?.?
Mikael Kreoss took off his own face guard and wiped a stream of sweat from his forehead. His face was not a handsome one, unlike his friend Dartan who made half the women of Sul swoon when he went out in public. Mikael?s face was a strong one, though, with a long, jutting, square jaw and a mouth that seemed made for sternness. But now he was grinning.
?One day, Dartan, one day I?m finally going to win one of our matches. What?s the score so far, fifty to zero??
Dartan snorted. ?Actually, I kind of stopped counting how many times I knocked you to the ground.?
Mikael slapped his friend on the back. ?Now I see why the scrutators call your order impudent. Well, my daily beating is over, now I need to go lick my wounds over a hot dinner with my wife. She?ll be waiting.?
?Well, I wouldn?t want to keep you from your husbandly duties. I?ll put the equipment way. You?re probably too sore and broken to move too much anyway.?
Mikael growled in mock anger. ?Hey, watch it. I?ll get you one of these days. Same time tomorrow??
?Of course, I?ll let you salvage a bit of your dignity and refrain from making a snide comment.?
?I appreciate that.? Mikael waved to his friend and then set out for equipment room, where he stripped off his padded leather armor and donned the white tunic he usually wore out in public. His armor was back at the barracks of the Knights Exemplar, where many of his new brothers lived, and where he might have lived as well had he not been married.
Marriage was something that was frowned upon by the Knights Exemplar, since when one was inducted one was supposed to eschew baser needs in devotion to one?s new brothers and above all in devotion to the Creator. Still, Exemplars could marry after induction, and if one was married before induction, as Mikael had been, then no one could say anything against him. Marriage was also sacred among the faithful of Menoth, and to expect a man to cast off his wife to join one of the warrior orders was unthinkable.
Mikael rolled his massive shoulders, trying to get the aches out as he walked down the dusk lit streets of Sul. His practice sessions with Dartan Vilmon were exhausting, especially after a day of training and learning scripture with the Knights Exemplar, but they were worth it. Mikael felt much stronger and faster since he began practicing with Dartan, and even the grim Seneschals who oversaw their practice had praised him on more than one occasion, and they were as sparse with praise to their pupils as the scrutators were with mercy to heathens.
Of course, Dartan Vilmon had already become something of a legend. He was 19, and already a full Paladin of the Order of the Wall. Everyone knew the story of how he had fasted at the door of the Order for a week before they took him in as a pupil. He quickly surpassed every expectation they had for him, jumping years ahead in advanced sword techniques. It was rumored that even the Grand Paladin could not defeat him in single combat, although Dartan would never slander his superiors. After all, being a paladin was more than just knowing how to swing a sword, as he had told Mikael on several occasions. Dartan told him that even if he was a better swordsman than any of his superiors, that did not make him a better paladin than them, and he still bowed to their knowledge, wisdom, and experience. Mikael might have felt shame at being constantly defeated by any other opponent or sparring partner, but not Dartan Vilmon. Even Knights Exemplar that were not so fond of the Order of the Wall as Mikael was (and there were several of them) recognized Dartan Vilmon?s superior prowess with a sword.
Mikael reached his house and walked in, ducking his head so as not to bang it against the top of doorway. When he and Sara had chosen this house, the feature that had sold them on it was the high ceiling. The top of the doorway, however, had several painful encounters with Mikael?s forehead before he learned to duck before entering. He smelled roasting meat and vegetables, and his stomach rumbled. The noise drew Sara out of the kitchen area, and she ran over to him. He kissed her, and then gently picked her up and carried her over to the dining area.
Sara was a native of Sul, the daughter of a baker who owned a store not too far away. She was beautiful, dark haired and slim, with a hint of Idrian blood giving her a slightly exotic look. When Mikael had first come to Sul from his native Khador, he had bought bread from that bakery exclusively just to see her, and finally he had asked her father for his permission to begin a courtship with her. After a long, stern discussion about Mikael?s faith and life ambitions, he had given his consent, and a year later, Mikael and Sara had gotten married in the city square.
Mikael put her down in a chair at the table, and went to go get the food, but Sara got up. ?Sit, Mikael, you?ve had a harder day than me. I assume by the lateness of the hour that you and Dartan were training again.?
Mikael sat down in his chair, which had to be specially built to his proportions and reinforced. Mikael was over three hundred pounds of solid muscle, and he had broken two chairs before they had gone to have a special chair made that could hold him. This chair was made from a sturdy dark wood imported from the north, and the legs were twice the thickness of a normal chair. It was also wider and had a reinforced back. Sara brought the food over and placed a large slab of meat on Mikael?s plate. She took a smaller piece for herself, since she did not have the appetite her husband did, and then served them each some cooked green vegetables. They said their prayers to Menoth solemnly, and then began to eat.
Mikael dug in, and within minutes there was almost nothing left of the meat. ?How is it, Mikael??
?As always, it is delicious, my love.?
?I think you married me just for my cooking skills.?
?Well, that was one important aspect, I?ll admit.? Sara jabbed him with her spoon and giggled.
Sara talked about her day at the bakery, and Mikael talked about his day at the barracks and about his practice session with Dartan. Sara continued to help her father at the bakery, although when she eventually bore children her responsibilities would be to them. Mikael and Sara had been trying to conceive for some time now, but so far there had been no luck. Mikael wanted sons, predictably, and for the most part he wanted them to enter the Knights Exemplar, but he wanted at least one to enter the Order of the Wall. Sara would be happy with children of either gender.
After dinner, Mikael and Sara both cleaned up, and they carefully wrapped the leftovers. If they were improperly put away, then they would spoil. Then, they went together to the nearest temple for an evening sermon. The masked priest moved about on the pulpit animatedly, citing from the scripture with passion. Towards the middle of his sermon, he stared directly at Mikael, his eyes locking gazes through his mask with the knight. ?And those who stand in the way of the Creator will burn!? Mikael felt a chill go through him. Did this priest know him? Despite being a knight twice the size of the priest, Mikael felt a chill at the intensity of the priest?s stare. Sara moved uncomfortably next to him.

EnemyWithin63
09-18-2010, 08:31 AM
When they got back home, Mikael and Sara went to bed, and tried once more to conceive a child. When they were done, they lay together quietly for a few minutes, basking in the pleasant feeling that always came after. Then, Sara began to speak hesitantly.
“Mikael, I have to tell you about something. I went to the temple today to recite my midday prayers, the same temple where we went tonight. That…that priest, he kept staring at me while I knelt to pray before the Menofix at the altar. I’ve seen him before, watching me, and although it made me uncomfortable I ignored it. But today, he came over, and he caressed my face, saying ‘Menoth smiles upon you, beautiful lady’. I ran out with my prayers unfinished, for which I hope Menoth will forgive me. Priests aren’t supposed to touch their congregation, and especially not like that.” Mikael was silent for a few moments.
“Tonight, during his sermon, the priest fixed me with his gaze when he said that those who stand in the way of the Creator will burn. I could almost feel his hatred, yet I had no idea who this man was beyond being just the local priest.”
“I’m…scared of him, Mikael. I’ll go to another temple from now on, but…I don’t know if that will help. There’s something about him that makes me think he won’t give up.”
“For now, go to a different temple. I will see if I can find out who this man is, and what can be done about him.” He turned to Sara and kissed her. “Don’t worry, I won’t ever let anything happen to you.”
They kissed one more time and then went to sleep, Mikael with a massive arm around his wife while they slept. Sara’s dreams were troubled. She dreamed of when she was a little girl, and her mother had just died from the wasting-sickness, a disease suspected to have originated in the Cryxian Empire. Her father was grieving, and couldn’t make enough bread to fill his quota and feed himself and his daughter. He had to bake enough to donate a certain amount to the Knights Exemplar for their rations, as did every other baker, farmer, and other producer of food. If he didn’t, the scrutators would come to find out what the problem was. And when that happened, it never ended well. Her father was barely making enough to complete his donation, and he and Sara were starving.
“I’ll bring you food,” someone said. She was playing in the dirt, outside by the street. It was the neighbor’s son, a boy her own age. But she couldn’t remember his name or what he looked like. Up until this point, she hadn’t even remembered him. His family had moved to another part of the city soon after her mother had died.
“I’ll bring you food,” he said again and when she turned towards the child’s voice she saw that the young boy was wearing a priest’s mask, and its eyes were glowing with an unearthly light. Sara awoke with a gasp, and then was calmed by her husband’s unconscious, sturdy embrace. The sky was beginning to lighten outside, and her father would be up already kneading dough. Sara carefully slipped her husband’s arm off of her so as not to wake him up, and then went to bathe before she went to the bakery. Mikael would wake up in about an hour to go to the barracks, but for now she knew he needed his sleep.
She pulled on a nightgown, and then a robe over that. Although the days were hot year-round, mornings were typically cooler. Then she went out to the back of their house to draw warm water from the well. As she tied the rope to the bucket and lowered it into the well, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She let the bucket drop and turned around quickly. The priest was standing there, in her own backyard. She choked on a scream, and stepped back, feeling the stones of the well against her legs.
“Who are you? What do you want?” The priest was silent, his masked face impassive. Then he pointed his staff at her.
“You are mine, Sara. You always have been.” Then the priest walked away, his ceremonial robes swirling around him.

To be continued…

EnemyWithin63
09-25-2010, 02:11 PM
A/N: Here's the next installment. I'd love to hear some comments, if anyone's reading this. I'm open to criticisms too, so by all means, if you have anything to say about this story, anything at all, go ahead and post it. I've been writing creatively for awhile, I'm used to criticism, and I can take it maturely and use it in my future writings.


?I can tell you only the name he took after he swore his oaths and joined the priesthood. I cannot tell you his name before that or who he was before he joined the priesthood. That information is for our order and the Creator himself to know. Why, may I ask, do you wish to know this information?? Scrutator Janius fixed Mikael with an inquisitive gaze through his mask.

?This priest...he may be behaving inappropriately towards my wife.?

Behind his mask, the scrutator's eyes narrowed. ?How so??

Mikael realized at this point that anything he said against the priest might offend the scrutator, since they were of the same order. ?He seemed...overly affectionate, if you take my meaning, and this priest's attention is unwanted.?

?I see.? The scrutator was silent for a few seconds. Mikael doubted that he believed him, and his doubts were confirmed with Janius' next sentence. ?Are you sure that the priest's attention is unwanted by your wife?? The scrutator got up and went into another room, and then came back shortly with a scroll. ?I have a report here by the priest you are inquiring about, saying that a woman, an Exemplar's wife to be precise, tried to seduce him.?

?I don't believe that. I trust my wife, and even if I didn't, it's plain that she's terrified of him. He crept into our backyard this morning, and approached her while she was drawing water from our well. This man came to our house!? Mikael clenched his jaw in frustration.

?Calm yourself, Exemplar, or I will have to report your conduct to your commanding Seneschal. And I'm sorry, but I believe the word of an ordained priest over that of a...? the scrutator trailed off as he looked at the scroll, ?...baker's daughter. Especially a baker who has at times barely been able to make his donations to Menoth's Cause.? The scrutator paused for a second as he contemplated his next few words, and then continued. ?The priest's name is Talius, that is all I will tell you. I think you should have a long talk with your wife about this, first. If anything bad were to happen to an ordained priest of our order, anything at all, we would do a full investigation, and all involved parties would be subject to...interrogation, if you take my meaning. Are we clear??

?I understand, revered scrutator.? Mikael decided humility would be the right demeanor to take.

?Good. Now I have other matters to attend to, so if there is nothing else...?

?I'll be leaving now. Praise the Lawgiver.? The scrutator nodded, made a motion of benediction, and then dismissed Mikael, and Mikael headed to his practice with Dartan Vilmon.

Dartan tossed a sword to him as he walked out onto the practice yard. ?You're late, Mikael. That means I can't take my time beating you and let you pretend that you're actually putting up a fight.? Dartan noticed his friend's dark expression. ?What's wrong?? Mikael hesitated to tell Dartan, but then figured that since the Order of the Wall was not on the greatest terms with the priesthood, chances were low that Dartan would report him.

?There is a priest that is...stalking my wife. He surprised her in our backyard this morning, and he put his hand on her face once during her prayers. The scrutators don't believe me, they think she tried to seduce him.?

Dartan sighed. ?Scrutators. Come, Mikael, let's sit on the bench and postpone practice for a little while.?

They walked over to the bench. ?Do you believe me??

Dartan laughed. ?Of course. I was sighing because of frustration with the priesthood, not because of you. Our order has a very...different take on the way Menoth can be served and worshipped best. I and the rest of my order don't see how torturing and killing our own people for the slightest transgressions will gain us favor in the Creator's eyes.?

?But if they violate the true law-?

?I'm not talking about actual heathens, Mikael, although I'm of the opinion that even they should be left to their own beliefs. The Creator can sort them out without our intervention, but don't tell the scrutators that. I'm talking about the faithful man who forgets his prayers because he's busying working and providing for his family, or the woman who misses a sermon because her child is sick. According to the scrutators, those are offenses worthy of punishment, and repeated transgressions may merit execution for heresy. Do you really think that they should be given over to Reznik??

?There is something wrong with that man, I'll admit. Killing is necessary at times, I would not have joined the Knights Exemplar if I didn't believe that. But it should not be...relished, as Reznik does.? Mikael considered Dartan's words. ?No, I guess they shouldn't. Perhaps mercy should be shown more often to those who are not obvious heathens.?

?I'll tell you something else, Mikael. I may jest about how one-sided our matches are, but truth be told you're the toughest opponent I've ever had. You'll rise within the ranks of the Knights Exemplar, I have no doubt of this. And when you do...remember what you fight for, and what you represent. We are both warriors of Menoth, but we are also sworn to defend His people, even if that means saving them from others of His flock. This applies to all of the warrior orders of the True Faith, although the Knights Exemplar and the others don't teach this much anymore, your order is known for its obedience to their theological superiors. Sometimes this comes down to outright cruelty and sadism, I've heard some pretty gruesome stories. I don't mean to disparage the Knights Exemplar, Mikael, I know that the majority of them are good, faithful, and courageous men, but they do not question authority, which is why the priesthood promotes your order and the others instead of mine. But sometimes, many times in fact, authority needs to be questioned.

?The Order of the Wall fights to defend the faithful of Menoth. I am no pacifist, Mikael, I will slay without hesitation anyone who threatens Sul or her people, but I will never raise a hand to anyone who holds the True Faith in his or her heart, regardless of whether that person follows the laws set by the priesthood. My point in this grand little speech of mine, Mikael, is that you should fight for the people and for Menoth, not for the scrutators. Despite what they may think, the scrutators are not divine, they are not always right, and they often have an agenda that has nothing to do with Menoth's will.? Dartan fell silent, out of breath from his rant.

?I'm starting to understand that, Dartan. This priest Talius, I am certain that his actions are not guided by the Creator, and the scrutators won't listen, they're too busy defending him because he's a member of their order. If it got out that one of them was pursuing another man's wife...?

Dartan smiled grimly. ?Exactly. Following their own agenda, not the Creator's. The Canon of the True Law says that no man shall seek to consort with another man's wife. If the priesthood wishes to appear divine and beyond questioning, even the actions of one can tarnish their reputation for years to come. You won't receive any help from them.? Dartan paused. ?As for me, I believe I will do a bit of investigating on your behalf. You talked to the scrutators, they'll be on the lookout for you. I may also have a chat with this priest Talius as well. Now I believe we should get some practicing in before it gets dark, wouldn't you agree?? They stood up and headed to the practice area.

Creaux
09-25-2010, 03:19 PM
I'm enjoying this! Waiting patiently for the next chapter!

EnemyWithin63
09-26-2010, 08:55 PM
A/N: Thanks for the comment, Creaux. I'm glad you like it so far. Here's the next installment. This story is actually shaping up to be a bit longer than I intended, It should be finished in 2 more installments, 3 at the most (not counting the post after this).

Sara’s hands shook as she set the table for their dinner. Mikael stood in the kitchen finishing the dinner that Sara had begun. It was actually food left over from the night before, they had just reheated it and put a bit more seasoning on it to replenish the flavor. Both of them were happy with routine and fairly bland meals; Sara had grown up grateful for any meals her father was able to provide, and Mikael was used to routine rations at the Knights Exemplar barracks.

They sat down to dinner, said their prayers, and then began to eat. Mikael told his wife about his visit with the scrutators. “I went to see the scrutators today. They wouldn’t tell me much, other than that the name the priest took when he joined the order was Talius. They wouldn’t tell me his real name, or who he was before he joined the priesthood.” He paused, not quite sure how to tell Sara the rest without upsetting her more. “Sara…there’s more. This man, he has reported to the scrutators that you tried to seduce him.” Sara opened her mouth, the beginnings of anger beginning to show on her face, and Mikael continued quickly. “Don’t be mistaken, I tell you this not because I believe it but because the scrutators do.” Mikael covered her small hand with his gigantic one. “I trust you, and I know you would never encourage the twisted affection of this priest, or that you would be unfaithful to me. But the scrutators don’t, and they want to protect the reputation of their order. The scrutator I spoke to warned me against retaliation.”

“What can we do? If the scrutators will not sanction any actions against this man, what options do we have left?”

“I told Dartan about the situation. He said he would find out what he could and talk to this priest on my behalf. The scrutators warned me, but they didn’t warn Dartan, and I doubt he would care if they did.”

“Are you sure he can be trusted with this? If the scrutators find out that you tried to go around their direct orders and investigate Talius through other means, if Dartan sells you out, you could be brought in for chastisement. You might even be…executed.” Sara said this last word in a horrified whisper.

“I might be worried if it were anyone else, but I trust Dartan. And besides, his order has no love for the priesthood, and many of Dartan’s strong beliefs are in direct contradiction to those of the priesthood.”

That night, they went to a sermon in a different temple, with a wizened old priest who barely even glanced at Mikael. This sermon was not as animated and filled with righteous fury as Talius’ sermon had been, and Mikael suspected that this had as much to do with the priest’s aged, whispery voice and bent back as it did with the subject material, which was forgiveness and absolution of sins against the Creator.

Mikael found it relaxing to hear a sermon on forgiveness and mercy instead of obedience and punishment. It did make him think of Dartan, whom he had involved in something that could have serious implications for all three of them. Mikael felt a pang of guilt. He had no right to involve Dartan in this, whether he had volunteered to help or not. If Mikael hadn’t told him, Dartan wouldn’t be risking chastisement and violations in order to help him. Sara held his hand and leaned against him, sensing his distress. Forgive me, Dartan, but I’d do anything to keep her safe, Mikael thought. I didn’t mean to involve you in this, but we do need your help.

Mikael awoke with a bad feeling in his gut. Sara was gone, but this was not unusual; she left for the bakery at the first light of dawn. He worried that perhaps she had been accosted on her way to the bakery, but as he passed by on his way to the barracks he looked inside and saw her removing a fresh tray of bread loaves from the titanic oven in the bakery’s kitchen. Not wanting to distract her, he continued on. The feeling intensified as he read and recited ancient scripture, practiced under the watchful gaze of the seneschals, and polished his armor for inspection. Soon, he would begin patrolling the city as the more experienced Exemplars did, but for now his acceptance into the brotherhood was still too fresh.

He approached the barracks of the Order of the Wall with trepidation. There was something wrong, he could feel it. When he arrived, Dartan wasn’t out in the practice yard as he usually was. Mikael looked for him in the equipment room, and then ventured into one of the Order’s many meditation rooms, where he found not Dartan but an older paladin. The older man turned to him.

“You’re the Exemplar that brother Vilmon practices with every afternoon, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. Do you know where he is?”

The paladin sighed. “He’s been arrested, I’m sorry to say. He’s been accused of threatening a priest.” Mikael’s blood ran cold.

“There must be some mistake, Dartan would never-“ The older man nodded.

“I know Dartan Vilmon well, and I agree. He was my best pupil, and now he is a full paladin and thus my equal and colleague. But the priesthood…they have a way of twisting the truth and exaggerating words and actions.”

“Where did they take him? It’s my fault he was arrested, he was helping me.”

“The Hall of Inquisition, I’m afraid. But do not place the blame on yourself, it is the priesthood that did this to him. Dartan Vilmon made his decision to help you because that’s the kind of person he is, the kind of paladin that we train in our order. It is our duty to serve people in need of help and to protect those in danger. Even if those duties contradict the decrees of the scrutators.”

“I must go. Thank you for your help, elder.” Mikael ran out of the room. The older paladin tipped his head to one side in contemplation. I’m not that old, friend Exemplar, the paladin thought to himself.

Mikael ran across the city to where the Hall of Inquisition stood looming over the lesser buildings surrounding it. The Hall of Inquisition had a menacing feel to it, and had never been the scene of a happy event. The only people who entered were those that enforced the laws, such as the Knights Exemplar and the Temple Flameguard, and those accused of violations. The former entered solemnly and silently, the latter entered screaming proclamations of their innocence. Mikael entered.

The floors above held the chambers of the scrutators and clerics responsible for judging and sentencing the accused, as well as the senior inquisitors. Below the building were the dungeons where the inquisitions took place and the prisoners were held. The guards, Flameguard of lower rank by the looks of them, glanced at him curiously, but did not stop him as he descended the stairs to the dungeons.

Mikael’s pace slowed as he looked in horror at the cells to each side of him. Dartan’s words to him the day before struck him with a clarity that they had not had before. Mikael hadn’t understood because he had never been here, had never seen this. But he suspected that Dartan had, although he did not know how. But Dartan had understood, and had tried to impart that knowledge to him. The holy law had seemed so clear cut to him, either you obeyed it or you didn’t. If you didn’t, then you would be punished. But this…Mikael couldn’t condone this, not for even the most heinous of blasphemies. Killing or maiming in battle was one thing, necessary and honorable in its own way, but torturing people who couldn’t defend themselves was cowardice in Mikael’s eyes.

In one cell, an inquisitor burned a prisoner repeatedly with a hot poker. Mikael saw that the man was missing an eye, and he shuddered at the thought of how the man might have lost that eye. In another, an inquisitor was cutting the thigh of a woman clad only in a loincloth. How can this be holy? Mikael thought. How can this be Menoth’s will? The horrors unfurled into the distance, and scenes of pain and suffering continued as Mikael walked on. In one cell, an inquisitor was cutting off the ear of a man while a scrutator looked on. In another, a man was tied to two beams of wood while being whipped across the back repeatedly.

Mikael recognized that prisoner as Dartan, and Mikael ran to his cell, which was open. Reznik, his helmet off but his mask still in place, stood holding the whip up for another blow. A scrutator stood counting. Dartan’s back was already a bloody mess.

“Come on, High Executioner. My grandmother whupped me harder when I talked back to her. Surely you can do better than a-“ Dartan coughed harshly, and spit a small amount of blood out. “-sixty-five year-old, ninety-five pound woman?” Reznik snarled and raised the whip higher. His shoulder-length, stringy black hair mimicked the motion of the five-tailed, barbed whip.

“Stop!” Mikael grabbed Reznik’s arm. Reznik was one of the few men in Sul the size of Mikael, and his gaze was level with Mikael’s. He turned to lock gazes with the Exemplar, and Mikael saw that the executioner’s eyes were blue and as cold as midwinter in Khador. The executioner wrenched his arm from Mikael’s grasp and backhanded him hard enough to send him sprawling into the bars of the cell. Enraged and feeling slightly humiliated, Mikael jumped to his feet. The scrutator held up his hand.

“Cease your actions, both of you. I will not have a fight in these dungeons.” The scrutator turned to Mikael, his masked face unreadable. “Why do you intercede in this holy cleansing of sin?”

EnemyWithin63
09-26-2010, 08:56 PM
“This man is innocent. He is my friend, and I know that he would never threaten a priest. And any actions that he is accused of are my fault, because he was acting on my behalf.” Mikael glared at Reznik. “Chastise me, then.” Mikael flexed his back muscles. The winter winds of Khador that Mikael had borne as a child held more of a sting than any whip could hope to inflict. “Let’s see you whip someone your own size, executioner.” Reznik chuckled and made as if to strike Mikael, who stood unflinching.

“I said stop, Servath.” The scrutator’s tone was sharper than before. “I believe this man has been cleansed enough, and if he has been wrongly punished than I pray Menoth forgives us.” The scrutator turned to Dartan Vilmon. “There is an infirmary on the first floor. The monks there will apply salve to your wounds.” The scrutator untied the paladin and handed him his tunic. “Perhaps you should give the clergy a wider berth, my paladin friend. I have shown you mercy today, because I don’t believe that your friend here would willingly enter the Hall of Inquisition and walk through the dungeons to find you if he were lying. But others may not be so reasonable. I am not a merciful or kind man, paladin, I am a hardened instrument of Menoth’s will. But I do not believe that Menoth’s will involves punishing innocents. I cannot speak for my colleagues, however, so you may want to consider this a lesson not to cross the priesthood.”

“Thank you, revered Scrutator…” Mikael began.

“Severius. That is the name I took when I pledged myself to the priesthood.”

“Thank you for showing reason and mercy, Scrutator Severius.” The scrutator nodded, and made a gesture of benediction and dismissal. Mikael half-carried Dartan out of the cell and through the dungeons. After they had climbed the stairs, Mikael brought him to the infirmary, where the attendant monks busied themselves applying salve and stitching some of the wounds closed. They also gave Dartan a cup of water, which he downed in one gulp. Dartan coughed, although this time no blood came out.

“Mikael, I know who Talius is, and I think I know why he hates you. It’s not just because he lusts after your wife, there’s…more to it than that, and you won’t like it.” Then the sedative, which the monks had secretly put in the water they had given him to make him rest, took effect and Dartan Vilmon slumped to the table unconscious.

Bringer Of The Void
09-27-2010, 01:00 AM
@EnemyWithin63

Wonderful Fiction You wrote...

I believe that is 100 % Faithful at Canonic Fluff Text and yet presents Characters of the Protectorate in an Interesting and Original Light...

Keep up the Good Work.....!!!

EnemyWithin63
09-29-2010, 01:59 PM
A/N: Thanks for the comments, everyone, glad you're enjoying it. Here's the next installment, let me know what you think.


Sara walked cautiously home from her father's bakery, a couple loaves of bread tucked securely under her arm. She shivered despite the afternoon heat, and looked from side to side for the glint of a priest's mask or the flash of colored ceremonial robe. He wasn't following her, and she made it to her and Mikael's house without any difficulties. She entered the house and headed toward the kitchen, her mind turning to what she would cook for dinner.

She let out a high pitched shriek, and the loaves of bread dropped to the floor. The priest sat in the dining room, in Mikael's chair. He looked ridiculously small sitting in a chair custom built for a man twice his size, but he terrified her regardless.

“Hello, Sara. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

“My- my husband will be home soon, and he'll kill you for this!” Sara shouted at him. The priest chuckled.

“No, he will not be home any time soon. He's out trying to save his friend Dartan Vilmon from the inquisitors. I heard Reznik specifically requested to be the one interrogating him, he was jumping at the chance to 'cleanse' a paladin.” He shook his head. “Reznik enjoys his job far too much.”

“How do you know this?”

“I am the one who put Dartan Vilmon in the Hall of Inquisition. He threatened me, and none of Menoth's warriors may threaten a member of the priesthood. Believe it or not, it wasn't a total lie. He did threaten me, but not with violence. He threatened me with what he had discovered about my identity. His suspicions were confirmed when he caught me giving one of my secret sermons, for my true faith.” The priest reached into his pocket and pulled out a small tome entitled The Book of Morrow.

“You're a-”

“Yes, I am a Morrowan, as were my parents before me. I suppose that means you don't remember me from childhood. I lived next door to you, Sara. Even as a child, I was enraptured with you. When you and your father were starving because the Knights Exemplar needed to their precious rations, I didn't think that was fair. I promised to bring you food, and so I went to the barracks of the Exemplars. I slipped into their kitchens unnoticed, since the Exemplars have never hesitated to use children for labor. I grabbed some packages of food and left without anyone seeing me.” He paused, and Sara concentrated, trying to remember whether the neighbors' boy had ever returned with food for them. He hadn't, or at least he had never gotten a chance to give it to her.

“I don't remember you ever coming back with food.”

“That's because I didn't. I was only a child, I didn't realize what the symbol on the packaging meant, that it might catch the attention of someone. The symbol meant that the food I had taken were military rations, and had no business being carried out of the barracks. Two passing Exemplars noticed me carrying the packages and followed me home. As soon as I entered my parents house, the Exemplars knocked the door down...Sara, do remember when you stopped seeing me around the neighborhood?”

“Yes, I thought you had moved to another area of the city.” The priest laughed harshly.

“My parents were Cygnaran spies, and they were in the middle of using arcane mechanika to transmit a message to our country when the Exemplars burst in. My parents had discovered that the Protectorate had plans to rebuild their militia, and would rise up again. One of the knights hit me with the flat of his blade and knocked me to the ground. My father pulled an arcane pistol from under the table and fired at the knights, but the bullets bounced off of their armor. One of them held me down while the other put my parents to the sword, and destroyed my parents' transmitting machine. Then they dragged me into the kitchen, and lit the fire beneath the oven.” He paused, and locked eyes with Sara. She was listening with horrid fascination.

“When the surface was red with heat, they pressed first my left cheek against it, and then my right one. They said they were burning the blasphemy out of me. I screamed so loud and so long that for a week afterward I couldn't speak at all. After they were done they dropped me to the floor. I'm certain that they meant to kill me too, but at that moment two more Exemplars showed up, one of them a Seneschal. The first two went in to talk with them about what they had found, and I crawled away.” The priest lifted his mask, and Sara flinched at the mass of scar tissues it revealed. His hair was ash-white, although he wasn't much older than her.

“My face was a burned and bloody ruin, and my hair turned bone-white that day, but miraculously my vision wasn't damaged by the heat, although by all rights it should have been. I bandaged my face and lived on the streets for a little while, until I came of an age where I could petition for entry into the priesthood, where I could wear a mask that would hide my face. Normally they would never accept a street urchin, much less a disfigured one, but they let me take the theological tests. I passed them all flawlessly, since my parents had taught me the scripture of Menoth exhaustively, not because they wanted me to worship your sadistic god but to protect my identity and theirs.”

“I preached the word of Menoth in public, but I carefully approached those I believed to be weak in faith, and introduced them to the Book of Morrow. I now have a significant following here in the city of Sul, and soon we will depart for Cygnar. We will buy our citizenship with the information we have on the warjacks being built in secret and the militia that the Protectorate is training. Cygnar will descend on your little piece of land and tear you apart, since your forces are not ready yet. The Knights Exemplar, the Temple Flameguard, and the Order of the Wall will be crushed by the superior military of Cygnar, the most advanced and civilized nation in Immoren. I will complete the mission my parents began so many years ago.”

“You-you can't. Do you know how many innocent people will die? Most of us have nothing to do with the military, we only wish to worship Menoth in peace while we live. If called into duty, we will defend our homeland, but many of us just want to live peaceful devout lives!”

“Sara, I came here today for a purpose. I am telling you everything for a reason. I have loved you since I was a child, and I came to you today to ask you to come with use to Cygnar. Turn your back on Menoth, he is a cruel and merciless god. Turn your back on the Protectorate, it is a savage and evil theocracy. Come with us to Cygnar, where citizens are treated with mercy and children are not burned by the ones who are supposed to be protecting them! Turn your back on your barbaric husband, who joined the same organization that burned my face off, killed my parents, and forced your family to starve! How can you love a man who belongs to the Knights Exemplar?”

“Never,” Sara said softly. “I will never turn my back on the Creator, and I will certainly never turn from Mikael. Maybe some of the Knights Exemplar are cruel and heartless, but Mikael is not one of them. He wishes only to be an honorable and brave warrior for Menoth and for the Protectorate. He would never burn a child because his parents were Cygnarans.”

The priest's scarred face twisted into a scowl, and he lowered his mask to cover his face and head again. “I should have known, but I still harbored some hope. Both you and your husband will die, then.” He made a gesture in the air, and two acolytes appeared from the kitchen. “These are two of my recruits, Amos and Kale.” He motioned toward them. “Hold her.” They grabbed her arms and held her in place. The priest tossed the Book of Morrow at Sara's feet, and walked over to the entrance, and opened the door and began shouting to the people passing by. “Morrowan! Exemplars, Flameguard, faithful of Menoth, come quick, there is a Morrowan that masquerades as one of us!” He turned back toward Sara. “I hope the irony is not lost on you, Sara.” An Exemplar and two Flameguard burst through the door, and saw Sara held by the acolytes, the heretical book at her feet.

“This woman invited me to her house, to seduce me, I suspect, and so I brought two of my most trusted acolytes with me. When I arrived, she pulled out that blasphemous book and began quoting out of it to me! The words burned my ears like fire, and my acolytes knocked the book out of her hands and restrained her. I tell you, she is possessed of some Cygnaran sorcery, or is perhaps a Morrowan cleric herself!”

“He's lying! He's the Morrowan cleric, and he's going to sell the Protectorate out to Cygnar!” The two Flameguard soldiers looked toward the acolytes. “They're in on it too, they're traitors just like him!” Sara continued. The Flameguard soldiers took Sara from the acolytes, her hands held behind her back. The Exemplar picked up the Book of Morrow between two fingers, as if it were a decaying animal. He turned toward the priest.
“You did well, honorable priest. You are a paragon of faith and devotion in these troublesome times.” The two Flameguard soldiers and the Exemplar knight escorted Sara out of the house and in the direction of the Hall of Inquisition. The priest Talius turned to the acolytes. “Back to the Temple. Her husband will be looking for us soon, and we need to be in position for when he does. Tomorrow, we depart for Cygnar.”

thesavage
10-03-2010, 01:23 PM
This was very fun to read. I hope you write more about the Protectorate of Menoth soon.

EnemyWithin63
10-04-2010, 06:17 PM
Thanks, I'm glad everyone's liking this. I have another installment or two coming, the story's not over yet (trust me, you'll know when it is). However, the next two weeks I have a ton of schoolwork due, three midterms, and a research meeting (I'm in a doctoral program, so we get no mercy), but I'll get back to it after all this crap is done.

EnemyWithin63
10-14-2010, 10:11 AM
A/N: All right, here's the second-to-last installment, the next one should be the conclusion. Oh, and another well-known character makes a brief, implied cameo in this installment, see if you can guess who it is.

Mikael stood thinking, as Dartan Vilmon slept and recovered from his wounds. The monks occasionally came over to his bed and applied more salve or chanted hymns for his recovery. A hierophant would have made the recovery go a lot faster, Mikael thought. But even the acquitted must not be deserving of the services of a hierophant.

Things were happening faster than Mikael could understand. How could Dartan have threatened Talius? Mikael refused to believe that Dartan had physically tried to harm an unarmed man weaker than himself. No matter what, Dartan would never do that. Talius was causing a lot of problems, and eventually even the priesthood would take notice, if only to be the ones to act first before their corruption could be made public. Either the man was completely insane, or he didn't really care about being a priest. Mikael felt a chill run down his back. Menoth's glory, that's it. Talius was getting ready to make a run for it, but where? And why? And most importantly, what did he want with Sara?

Mikael looked down at Dartan, and then beckoned to one of the monks. “Will he be all right?”

The monk bowed and said “Yes, sir Exemplar. He should recover before morning. A lesser man would be healing for a week, but your friend is strong.”

Mikael smiled grimly. “That he is. Believe it or not, he beats me regularly in our practice sessions. Mikael paused, and fixed the monk with a severe look. “You and your brothers make sure his needs are attended to, and you make sure he heals as fast as he can, understand?” The monk nodded. “If you don't you'll answer to me. I must go now, but I will back to check on him later.”

“Yes sir Exemplar, I under-” There was a commotion outside the infirmary, where a new prisoner was being brought in. From the sound of the screamed proclamations, the new prisoner was female. And Mikael recognized that voice. Glorious Menoth, please, I beg of you let the new prisoner be anyone but who I think it is. Mikael ran out of the infirmary and into the hall, where two Flameguard and an Exemplar where forcefully escorting a dark haired woman to the dungeons. Mikael felt a sick feeling in his stomach. Even from this distance, he recognized his wife.

“No! Stop!” He ran over to where the trio of military figures were dragging his wife to the dungeons. They stopped and turned toward them. Behind his mask, the Exemplar's eyes narrowed. “You can't arrest her, she's my wife! She's innocent!” He reached them, and the two Flameguard released Sara, where she fell to the floor, sobbing. The two Flameguard stepped forward, spears raised. Mikael towered over them both, but he was unarmed and unarmored.

One of the Flameguard, a woman, addressed him. “The scrutators will determine her guilt or innocence. She will have a trial in the Courtyard of Sulon tomorrow morning, where you may speak in her defense. If she is acquitted, she will be released into your care. If you try to take her before that time, you will die as a traitor to the Protectorate and to Menoth.” The tip of her spear suddenly blazed to life with flame, and Mikael felt the heat against his face.

Mikael looked at her flaming spear and back to the Flameguard duo. “Is that trick something all you Flameguard can do now? Because as far as I know that's new.”

The other Flameguard stepped forward. “No, she's...special, and very skilled in battle beyond her unique talents. But we will both be forced to kill you if you interfere. You are bigger, but we are armored and armed.”

The Exemplar locked gazes with Mikael, and as he did so he hauled Sara roughly to her feet. “You are a new initiate to the Knights Exemplar, Mikael Kreoss, am I correct?” Mikael was silent. “Stand down, initiate. Do this the right way, and your status as an Exemplar knight may count for something in her trial. But trying to free her now will accomplish nothing more than your dishonorable death.”

“What has she been charged with?” Mikael asked with tension in his every word.

“She has been accused of being a Morrowan cleric and a Cygnaran spy. She's also been accused of trying to seduce and convert a cleric of Menoth.”

“That's ridiculous! She's never even been to Cygnar, she's lived her entire life in Sul! And she's never worshipped any god other than the Creator!” Mikael paused, catching his breath. “And as for the second part, that priest in question is a liar, a heretic, and he's been stalking my wife for several days now.” Mikael glared at the trio.

“Forgive me for saying so, brother knight, but perhaps your love for this woman has blinded you to the truth. Perhaps you are even under one of her heathen spells.” Mikael growled softly, and the female Flameguard raised her spear closer to Mikael.

Mikael clenched his jaw, and his eyes watered, but he backed away from the female Flameguard's blazing spear. “Sara!” He called to her, and she looked up at him. “I will find a way to get you acquitted. I will get the truth from this priest, and I will free you.” She tried to say something, but she had lost her voice from screaming, and it came out only as an unintelligible whisper. The Exemplar hauled her to the stairs, and the two Flameguard covered him.

Mikael watched helplessly until Sara disappeared completely from his view, and then he ran toward the entrance. Once outside, he saw that the sun had just set and dusk was falling. The heat of the desert day was fading with it, and the cool air soothed his skin but not his rage. He ran in the direction of the temple where he had last seen Talius. I will force him to tell the truth, if I have to drag him kicking and screaming to the Courtyard of Sulon tomorrow, Mikael thought. It would be fitting to drag the lying priest in the same manner as the Flameguard had dragged his wife to the Hall of Inquisition.

People in the streets quickly moved aside as six and a half feet of muscled Khadoran fury barreled through. The image that kept rolling through his head was Sara being dragged down into the dungeons, to be subjected to the ministrations of the scrutators. She would have a trial, but how often was anyone accused of heresy ever acquitted? She had been dragged down into the dungeons, and he had been helpless... He clenched his fists hard enough that his fingernails drew blood from his palm, and ran faster. The streets, shops, and houses were a blur to him, he had only one destination, Talius' temple. He had been able to do nothing, nothing, NOTHING!

He reached the massive doors of the temple and threw them open effortlessly. He strode down the entrance hall, and entered the main chambers. Talius sat lazily on the altar, his face unreadable behind his mask, his hands deep in the folds of his robe. “TALIUS!” Mikael roared, and strode forward. “You lust after my wife, and when she rejects your advances you try to have her killed? Did you think I would just stand by and WATCH?” Mikael wasn't far from Talius now. The priest pulled an object from the folds of his robes and pointed it at Mikael.

Electricity jolted through his every nerve, and he was brought to his knees. It dissipated, and Mikael gasped for breath. Talius shot him again with the arcane pistol, and Mikael writhed on the ground. Several acolytes who had been hiding in the shadows jumped forward and held Mikael down, twisting his massive arms behind his back and putting their bulk on top of him. Talius stood up and walked forward. When he reached the subdued Exemplar he knelt down, put a hand beneath Mikael's jaw, and forced the Exemplar's head up to look at him.

EnemyWithin63
10-14-2010, 10:12 AM
“In answer to your question, Exemplar, I did not expect you to stand by and watch. I expected you to rush into my temple in a blind rage, without stopping by the barracks for your armor or weapons, and without stopping to formulate a plan. And you fulfilled all my expectations admirably.”

“That's a...Cygnaran...arcane pistol.” Mikael gasped from the floor.

“Yes and no. It was my parents' only weapon, before the Knights Exemplar executed them in cold blood. I was as powerless to stop it as...well, about as powerless as you are to stop Sara's execution. But I did manage to recover the pistol, and I made some alterations to it. The old pistol fired a metal bullet enhanced with arcane energy. I altered it to be able to fire bullets of pure arcane energy that dissolve into the surface they hit. The old pistol was useless against Exemplar armor, but this one...even if you did have the presence of mind to retrieve your armor and weapons, you would have been a little harder to take down, but not that much. Your own armor would have electrocuted you.”

“You're...the real Morrowan...cleric.” Mikael spat out.

“Very good! It doesn't take long for you to put things together, does it? Now can you tell me what we're going to do with you?” Mikael was silent. “We're taking you with us to Cygnar as our prisoner. You know Cygnar has inquisitors too, by the way. You will be...our gift to the Cygnaran throne. And our proof, as well. If they doubt our story, you will talk. And their inquisitors make the scrutators look like sadistic little children. You think this arcane pistol was painful? They can make that seem like the softest caress of your Sara.” He spat out the last word vehemently. “Amos, my staff please.” One of the acolytes handed Talius his staff, and he brought it down on Mikael's head with an audible crack. Mikael slumped unconscious in the grip of the acolytes. Talius brought the staff up to his face for close inspection, and looked at the decorative Menofix, now flecked with Mikael's blood. Grimacing in distaste, Talius wrenched the Menofix off of the staff and flung it across the room.

“Put him in restraints. Make them as tight as you can, and make them strong. Also, bar the doors, and make sure no one walks in here. If anyone asks, there will be no sermon because I'm sick. Or even better, you can say that the Morrowan ***** who was arrested today cast a spell on me.” Talius chuckled and walked out of the main chambers and into his personal ones, to finish his preparations.

marijnh
10-14-2010, 11:37 PM
I think I can tell where this is going, but I'll let you surprise me anyway ^_^

And was that Feora burninating his face with her spear...? :P

EnemyWithin63
10-15-2010, 09:42 AM
Yep, it was implied that the flameguard with the burning spear was Feora. I didn't want to state it outright, because I've already got Vilmon, Reznik and Severius as characters in the story, so I figured it would be too much of a coincidence if Feora and Kreoss also knew each other at this point. This way, they still interacted without it being a big deal. Kreoss never knew her name, and I'll say that Feora forgot Kreoss's name a short while after. He's probably one of many that tried to save a loved one from the Hall of Inquisition, and I doubt she gave the incident a second thought. Feora's minor part in this story is done, but Vilmon, Severius and Reznik still have parts to play. After I finish the story, Marijnh, tell me if your predictions were correct. The next and last installment will be a long one, and as such it may take me a little longer to finish it, but I will finish it. Hopefully it should be up by the end of next week, I'm going to work on it today, and tomorrow if I'm not too hungover :P

EnemyWithin63
10-17-2010, 07:25 PM
A/N: All right, here is the last installment of the story, and I'd love to hear what everyone thought of it.


Mikael Kreoss awoke feeling like his head had been cloven in two. Sunlight streamed through the temple’s high arched windows, and stung his eyes with its brightness. The feeling was akin to waking up after having drunk a full bottle of Khadoran liquor. He had been tied up thoroughly and tightly; his arms were bound behind his back with thick ropes, and his legs were chained together. He tried to stand up, but fell before he even got to his knees.

Mikael looked at the angle of the sunlight coming through the windows, and judged the time be mid-morning. Menoth forgive me, Sara’s trial will be soon. If I’m not there, if I can’t offer proof of Talius’ treachery…Mikael closed his eyes, refusing to consider the possibility. He struggled again to rise, and this time almost made it before falling to the cold stone floor with a thump that brought Talius into the room.

“Ah, I see you’re awake. Did you sleep well?” Talius’ voice was cold and mocking, and his face remained hidden behind his mask.

“Why did you involve Sara? And why me? Why not some other Menite, maybe a cleric who would have been easier to subdue?” Mikael fixed Talius with his best attempt at an intimidating glare, which did little under the circumstances. He remembered the bitterness in the false priest’s voice when had spoken Sara’s name.

Talius was silent for a moment. “She was mine before she was ever yours, Exemplar. Even as a child, I looked out for her and protected her. And it was my attempts to bring her food when she was starving that brought the Exemplars to my house, where they discovered our true identities as Cygnaran spies. Everything that happened to me, my parents’ execution, and…” Talius lifted his mask to display hideous red burn scars covering both sides of his face. Mikael recoiled in horror. “…and this. This is what they did to me, after they executed my mother and father. All of it was because of her, for her. But then she goes ahead and marries an Exemplar, a betrayal that cut me to the core.”

“She never knew what happened to you, she was young. She barely remembered you.”

Talius lowered his mask, covering his burned visage. “That is true. That’s why I approached her yesterday, to see if I could persuade her to join me. I told her everything, and she still refused me. But I did not do what I did simply out of vengeance, I am a man of logic and reason. Once she knew who I was and what I intended, I had to discredit her in order to protect my own identity and mission. Her trial will also provide a wonderful distraction for our escape from the city. Between the public spectacle of a suspected Morrowan cleric’s trial and what I have planned here, our disappearance will be the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. By the time they figure out we’re gone, we’ll be almost at the Cygnaran border.”

“And what is it you have planned here?”

“That is what we’re in the process of setting up before we depart this savage land forever. Amos! Kale!” Two of the acolytes from the night before appeared in the doorway. “Start setting up the charges, and prepare the detonators.” Talius turned his masked face back to Mikael. “We’re going to offer up this temple as a sacrifice to your vengeful god. These devices were taken from the Flameguard barracks a few days ago, and I’ve been working on them since. I’ve always had a talent for mechanical devices. They will create a blaze that cannot be extinguished like normal fire. The city will spend days trying to contain it before it can spread. In all likelihood, they’ll think that I and my acolytes perished in the fire. But by that point, I won’t really care what they think. Me, you, and my followers will be in Cygnar by then, under their protection. Well, my followers and I will be under their protection, you'll be under their...inquistion.” Talius chuckled.

Mikael watched as Amos, Kale, and a few other acolytes carried large wooden boxes into the main chamber and set them up around the room. Attached to each was a small metal box that occasionally threw off sparks of electricity. Mikael looked at the windows, and saw that mid-morning had shifted to late morning. He felt a dead weight in his gut. Sara’s trial would be beginning.

From the entrance, there was a loud thump and a yell. Amos flew into the main chamber and landed on his back, blood flowing from a gaping wound in his chest. The other acolytes turned and drew their own weapons, short swords that were easily concealed. Talius drew his arcane pistol. Dartan Vilmon strode into the room clad in full plate armor, wielding the sacred firebrand greatsword that was the hallmark weapon of his order. He was followed by another paladin and an Exemplar knight. Dartan's usual easygoing, lighthearted manner was gone. Now his eyes blazed with fury and purpose. On his face was an expression of cold rage. Even Mikael couldn't help being a little frightened of his friend.

Talius cursed and fired his arcane pistol at Dartan, but Dartan blocked it with his sword and the energy dissipated against the sacred weapon. Three acolytes leapt at him, and Mikael watched in amazement as he parried every blow, his blade a veritable storm of steel in his hands. Mikael realized that Dartan had been holding back in their practice sessions. But skilled as he was, the acolytes were also skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and although he could engage them Dartan could not land any killing strokes of his own.

Talius fired at the other paladin, who dodged the arcane blasts and tried to advance on him. The Exemplar ran over to Mikael and cut his bonds with his relic blade. Mikael recognized him as the Exemplar who he had confronted at the Hall of Inquisition. “You…you’re one of the ones who arrested her.”

“Yes, and I’m sorry for that but I was only doing my duty. Something didn’t feel right about that arrest, and your friend” he glanced toward Dartan, “found me while I was making my report at the Hall and convinced me.” The Exemplar offered him a hand, and Mikael took it. The Exemplar pulled Mikael to his feet. “Go to the trial. We will be along shortly to offer testimony, but you must get there before noon.”

Mikael looked back, and saw that the other paladin had been brought to his knees by a direct hit from the pistol. And now the priest was pointing the arcane weapon at one of the wooden boxes. Before Mikael could shout a warning, an explosion threw all of them back. But Talius was still standing, his robes in tatters, his mask fragmented. His mouth was set in a hate-filled grimace, and he pointed the pistol at another detonator and pulled the trigger. Another explosion rocked the temple, and Mikael coughed on the smoke. Talius was still standing, still holding his pistol. He was on fire, but seemed not to notice. Flames licked the fabric of his robes. He pointed it at another box. “We have to get out of here, now!” Mikael called to the others.

Mikael got to his feet and pulled the other Exemplar up. He searched through the smoking, heat-filled haze for Dartan and the other paladin. Dartan was half-carrying the twitching, convulsing form of the other paladin, whom the arcane blast and explosions had seriously injured. The four of them ran for the entrance, but Mikael cast one more look back. Talius’ entire body was aflame, and as Mikael watched his hair caught fire too. Talius screamed, an unearthly, hideous scream that could have sent a chill through even the warwitches of Cryx, and then he pulled the trigger and fired on the last detonator. Mikael, Dartan, the Exemplar, and the paladin were barely through the arched entrance when the temple exploded behind them. The blast threw them again, but it threw them away from the burning wreckage of the temple.

EnemyWithin63
10-17-2010, 07:28 PM
Mikael coughed and sat up. The others were doing the same, although the paladin and the Exemplar seemed to be in bad shape. Dartan seemed relatively unhurt. Behind them, the temple continued to burn with a ferocity unmatched by normal fire. When the flames would finally die out, there would be nothing left of the temple but ashes. Mikael shook his head in sadness at the last, mad deeds of Talius, and remembered his hate-filled expression as he sacrificed himself in his attempt to destroy the temple and everyone in it. And Mikael felt a sick feeling in his gut as he realized that it was his beloved Protectorate and the Knights Exemplar in particular that had engendered that maniacal hatred in him.

Mikael got shakily to his feet and looked up at the sky. The sun was nearing its zenith, and Sara's trial would be almost over. Dartan saw him looking at the sky and knew what he was thinking. “Go, Mikael. I must help these two get to an infirmary, but you can stop the trial until I get there. I will testify, and these two will as well once they are better. Sara can be saved, but you must get there in time!” Mikael nodded without a word and took off running.

The streets seemed emptier this morning, and Mikael wondered if Talius had been right in that most of the population would gather to watch Sara's trial and presumable execution. Mikael clenched his jaw and continued running, pushing his tired and sore muscles to their limits. The Courtyard of Sulon was at the highest point in the city, on top of a massive hill from which one could look out over the entire city. The scrutators held trials and executions there because they believed the height brought them closer to Menoth, and made verdicts more clear.

Mikael cursed their decision as he propelled himself up the hill. He slipped on a rock, stumbled, and felt something in his right leg twist and give way. A jolt of pain shot through his leg, but he continued, now favoring his left leg. The midday sun beat down on him, as hot and merciless as Menoth's gaze. As he reached the top of the hill, he saw that Talius had indeed been right. The hilltop was packed with civilians. In the center, Mikael could see a scrutator speaking to the crowd. Behind him, Sara was kneeling on the executioner's block, and the executioner was none other than Servath Reznik. Behind them, several warjacks stood ready to be activated, to keep the peace if necessary. Mikael realized that there must be someone with the talent for wielding mechanika among them, a warcaster.

Mikael began pushing his way through the crowd. “Let me through!” He shouted hoarsely. “Please, she's innocent!” Most of the people got out of his way, although a few of them Mikael had to personally move. But it slowed him down, and when he finally stumbled into the center he fell to his knees, a pitiably singed, exhausted, and injured figure despite his massive size. He locked eyes with the judging scrutator, and in a voice so raw that it was barely above a loud whisper, declared “Stop this trial, I implore you! I have evidence of this woman's innocence. Others will be along to testify on her behalf as well, please grant her an extension.” With a shock, Mikael recognized this scrutator as the one from yesterday in the dungeons, Severius. Although masked, he had the same straight, rigid posture and authoritative air about him. Hard but fair, is how you described yourself. Merciless but just, Mikael thought. A long moment passed, and then Severius nodded his head to Mikael in assent. Before he could speak his decision, though, there was movement from behind him.

Reznik had been holding his blade over Sara's neck in anticipation of the verdict, and it now crashed down, severing her head in one blow. Mikael screamed, and Severius turned around in bewilderment. Mikael collapsed to the ground, the events of the day and the night before finally catching up to him. And when he did he found himself somewhere else. He had somehow gotten behind Reznik, and he towered over the executioner. His body and limbs were large and powerful but stiff and heavy. I'm in the cortex of a warjack, he realized. In one hand he carried a large mace, and his other hand was empty. Each hand was larger than the executioner's head.

Mikael reached out and struck the executioner with the empty hand, clenched into a fist. Reznik went flying back, twisting his head in surprise. Mikael stomped toward him, carefully stepping over Sara's body. Later the tears would flow, but while in this titanic metal body Mikael Kreoss could shed no tears. He reached down and grabbed the executioner with his empty hand and picked him up. Reznik was completely still as Mikael brought him up to eye level. Was that just a hint of fear he saw in Reznik's eyes behind his cold iron mask? Mikael felt something sharp penetrate his upper back, a large spear jutting into a ***** in the warjack's armor. The distraction was enough to jolt Mikael's consciousness out of the warjack, called a Crusader, Kreoss remembered faintly, and back into his own body. The Crusader, now devoid of a guiding consciousness, dropped Reznik to the ground, where he fell with an undignified clatter.

The warcaster must have intervened in the battle, Mikael realized. As he groggily sat up, he wondered who it was. He didn't have to wonder long. As he looked up, he saw the scrutator Severius holding his staff up, a glowing aura radiating from his rigid form. His staff was raised in his right hand, and around his left circled a halo of golden runes. Behind the scrutator, Mikael saw the warjack that had attacked his Crusader, a smaller warjack called a Revenger. As Mikael watched, the glow dissipated. The Revenger withdrew its spear and moved away from the Crusader.

Severius turned to stare down at Reznik, who lay stunned on the ground. “I will deal with you later, Servath.” Severius' voice was no longer mild and controlled, as it had been in the dungeons. Now it was commanding and filled with authority. “You have just executed a possibly innocent woman, and you have performed an execution without my final verdict. I was about to grant a trial extension to hear the new evidence. I gave you no permission to execute her! You forget that I too have some influence with the Hierarch, and I will see you punished for this.”

Mikael wasn't listening. The rage had gone from him, and now he could care less about Reznik or Severius. As he stood up, he spotted Sara's headless body lying on the ground. He stumbled forward, past Severius, past Reznik, and over to where she lay. He knelt by her, and pulled her limp, lifeless body into his lap. He could feel the last traces of her warmth beginning to dissolve, and the air suddenly felt cold around him despite the midday heat. Cold and empty, as his life would be without her. The tears began to flow openly, and Mikael felt no shame. He buried his face in her rough linen tunic and wept.

The crowd began to dissipate, and even Reznik picked himself up and sullenly walked away. After a while, only Severius and Mikael remained in the Courtyard of Sulon. Mikael's eyes finally ran dry and he looked up from where he cradled the body of his wife. Severius walked forward and put his hand on Mikael's shoulder. “She is with the Creator now, in Urcaen. If she was indeed innocent, then she is enjoying the blissful afterlife of the faithful.” Severius' movements and speech were uncertain. He was a man used to dispensing justice, compassion was for the paladins. Mikael stood, a sad, empty expression on his face.

“Come, Mikael. We must talk.” The Exemplar met his gaze. “I do not blame you for what you did to the Hierarch's pet madman, but I did still have to stop you. Reznik...is also a warcaster. He is a fledgling one, but given time he still would have activated a warjack of his own to fight your Crusader. There were hundreds of people around, and a warjack battle in the middle of the crowd would have killed many.”

Mikael was silent for a moment. “This...this is all too much. My wife is dead from the accusations of one madman and by the sword of another. And now you tell me I can control warjacks, that I have the talent? I don't want to be a warcaster, I want to be an Exemplar knight, a husband, and...a father.”

“You can be both a warcaster and an Exemplar knight. As for being a husband and a father...due to the extenuating circumstances, I will petition for you to be allowed to marry another woman if you desire. Permission for that is not granted lightly, but since it was the Hierarch's own executioner that wrongfully killed your wife, I think it will be granted. And whether you want the talent or not, you have it, and it is your duty as a faithful Menite to use it for the benefit of the Protectorate and for the glory of Menoth.”

Mikael sighed. It was a pitiful, defeated sound. “I can never love another woman as I loved Sara. Any other marriage I entered would be empty and loveless, and I have no wish to inflict that on a good Menite woman. I will not re-marry. As to being a warcaster...I know nothing of this, what happened today was surely just brought on by...what happened.” Mikael could not bring himself to say it out loud.

“What happened today was not due to chance, Mikael. You reached out and connected with that Crusader. It used to be one of mine, but I think it will serve you better now, once I have it repaired. You will be trained on that warjack first, because you are familiar with it, and may even have some kind of bond with it, but as to that time will tell. You feel that your life has lost its purpose today, and perhaps nothing can truly replace your wife. But perhaps today you have also found a new and different purpose for your life as well.”

EnemyWithin63
10-17-2010, 07:29 PM
Behind his mask, Severius scowled. Although he did feel some measure of sympathy for the Exemplar, he was not used to giving comfort, and his patience was running low. He was also having trouble to relating to the Exemplar's plight, as the life of a scrutator is a solitary one. In addition, he was not used to feeling sympathy, and found the emotion somewhat uncomfortable. But, if Severius did this right, then one day he might have a powerful warcaster loyal only to him, the one who had comforted him in his time of need and showed him where his true path lay.

Mikael turned and walked over to the Crusader he had connected with not too long ago and put his hand on the metal plating, warm in the afternoon sun. It was faint, and perhaps he was imagining it, but he could feel something there, maybe not a true connection yet but the possibility of one. Sara, is some piece of you in there? Some wisp of yourself that you left behind as you soared up to Urcaen? He had connected with this warjack mere seconds after Sara had died, perhaps that meant something. He turned his head back toward the scrutator. He could tell the man had ambition, and Mikael figured that Severius had ulterior motives in convincing him to train as a warcaster. But Severius might also have his uses, and Mikael suspected that despite having his own reasons, Severius did actually mean what he had said.

“I will train as a warcaster, as you request. But I will also devote myself to the Exemplar Order, and that will be my primary responsibility. And this warjack...it will be mine to command and control?” The scrutator nodded, perhaps a bit too eagerly. “It is agreed then,” Mikael affirmed. The middle-aged scrutator and the Exemplar knight walked slowly back to the city proper.

The clang of swords rang out from the practice yard of the Order of the Wall. Dartan Vilmon was as fast and nimble as ever, and again Mikael could barely keep up with him. His leg had healed, thanks to the ministrations of a hierophant. Severius had ordered the healing, and had also managed to have Reznik sentenced to the dungeons for a week, and to be whipped for an hour straight every day of that week. Severius had offered to allow Mikael to do the whipping, and Mikael had considered it. In the end, he had declined. He hated Reznik, but if he allowed himself to take pleasure in the man's pain, especially when he was defenseless, that would make him no better than his nemesis.

As Mikael's thoughts turned toward Reznik, his strokes became faster and more powerful. Soon it was Dartan on the defensive. Mikael pictured himself fighting Reznik in a clergy-sanctioned battle. He pictured the expression on Reznik's face behind his mask as Mikael defeated him, driving his blade into the executioner's chest. Or perhaps smashing the man's face with the hand of his Crusader. His strokes grew faster and stronger still, until the unthinkable happened; Mikael saw a break in Dartan's defenses, and he swung his practice sword into it. This time Dartan fell to the ground with a grunt. Mikael knelt down and helped him up.

“Damn, Mikael. What you lack in speed or accuracy you more than make up for in raw power. Glad I never got hit before today.” It was an attempt at their old friendly banter, but Dartan's expression still held a look of sadness, and the remark was too forced. Worst of all, it reminded Mikael of happier times that seemed ages ago.

He would not be going home to have dinner with his wife after their practice session, instead he would be going to the barracks, where he now lived with the other Exemplar knights. His and Sara's house was no more; he had donated it to another family in need of a place to stay. The one time he had been back there to get his and Sara's possessions, he had been eager to leave. It was too empty, too desolate without Sara there. The fact that she would never be there again hung over the house like a cloud.

Mikael smiled grimly, in an attempt to respond to his friend's attempt at joviality. “I guess it's fitting that in our last practice session I was finally able to beat you.”

“Your warcaster training starts tomorrow, then?”

“Yes, Severius himself will be one of my teachers. They've even allowed me to 'keep' the Crusader warjack that I first made contact with. Severius says that I may have made some kind of special connection with that warjack, and one day that connection could prove to be very useful.”

“You seem to listen to a lot of the things that Scrutator Severius says.” Dartan said quietly.

Mikael glanced sharply at his friend, and then his expression softened. “Don't worry, Dartan. I will never forget about what we talked about. I will never become like the scrutators. I have seen too much cruelty and corruption in the past few days to ever be able to blindly follow the priesthood, even Severius. I will always admire the Order of the Wall, as I have since I was a child. And I will always defend the reputation of your order to anyone I meet. I may not see you for a long time, Dartan, but I will never forget what you did for me and Sara, even though we weren't...we couldn't...save her.” Mikael paused and then continued. “The Knights Exemplar and my warcaster training are all I have left, the only purpose in my life now. The more I focus on those things, the less that I have to think about Sara's death. Even if that makes me a coward.”

“That doesn't make you a coward, that makes you human,” Dartan said.

“I know, and yet I still feel like I'm hiding from something.” Mikael paused to gather his thoughts, and then continued. “Perhaps one day I will rise within the ranks of the Knights Exemplar. If and when I do, I will change our order into one of courage and honor, and purge the sadism and brutality from it. I cannot forgive Talius for his actions, but I do recognize that it was the actions of the Knights Exemplar that led to his maniacal hatred and treachery. They should not have done what they did, and if I ever become a leader within the Exemplar Order, I will make sure that those things do not happen.”

“I look forward to that day, then, Mikael. If anyone can retain his honor and values even while under the authority of the priesthood, it's you. And I look forward to the day when we fight side-by-side as warriors and brothers of the faith.”

“Thank you, Dartan, and I too look forward to that day.” They clasped hands briefly, and then each went their separate way.

Creaux
10-17-2010, 08:47 PM
Great ending. Thanks!

I like to think that the injury to his leg explains his SPD 5 :)

Bringer Of The Void
10-17-2010, 09:20 PM
Excellent Novelization, that capture many of the Defined Hints by Official PP Canon, while retaining quite a Fresh and Original Take on Important Characters...

Especially the Idea of Sara's Soul still lingering in what will be Kreoss Personal Character 'Jack is a Masterful Idea and also the Personality of Dartan Vilmon is powerfully played...

I don't know if You plan to write in the Future to have these Characters featured in other Novels, but the "Fantasy Potential" in the Iron Kingdoms is so wide to allow Limitless Possibilities...

Sara's “Higher Soul” could be granted a "Time-Limited" Resurrection by Menoth during a Pitched Battle; in Canon Fluff the Lawgiver God does not “Transform” the Deceased in Archons like Morrow, but could be other possibilities (maybe the Testament of Menoth would bring to Kreoss a Sealed Envelope afer its “Trip to Urcaen” with the Signature “From Your Deceased Wife”)...

Especially a Powerful Nemesis like the Fallen Priest could be interesting in a Classical Movie-Style Comeback, with Talius perhaps becoming a Flaming Spectre like Blackbane's Cryxian Wraiths...

Or if You like Hints inspired fom Star Wars Darth Vader, there is yet an Official Character that is a Scarred Steampunk-Cyborg, maybe arrived on the Shores of the Nightmare Empire as an Hideously Wounded Ruin of a Man and rebuilt by Cryxian Mad Scientist as a Powerful Solo with Combat Potential approaching a Warcaster...

Maybe the Mikael Kreoss that You described in Your personal take on the Iron Kingdom Fluff will face again Talius on the Battlefield , but this Time its Name will be changed into Darragh Wrathe...

Anyway a truly Awesome Story.....

marijnh
10-18-2010, 02:37 AM
That was a fantastic read man, well done.

The general line of the story was much as I expected (from my last post on down), but the detailing made it surprising and original. Definately worthy of a sequel :)

EnemyWithin63
10-18-2010, 01:57 PM
Thanks for the responses, and thanks for reading. You've all given me a great boost in my confidence as a writer. I wasn't intending a sequel, but I didn't quite realize how much I had gotten attached to the characters. I do like the idea of Talius returning, perhaps he is rejected from Urcaen by both Menoth and the Twins, and is doomed to wander Immoren as a wraith. I have to think about that and the other elements I can introduce. Eventually I will write a sequel, but before that I'm going to write a prequel, which will encompass an element of this story that I left out deliberately. The new story will take place in Khador, when Mikael is 12 years old and his father is pressed into hard labor by his debtors, in a mountain mine in northern Khador. I already have a rough outline planned in my head. I don't have a title yet, but it'll be the next story I post. And thanks again for reading, and also to those who responded.

redscores
10-18-2010, 02:00 PM
The writing is really awesome... someone should write a cygnar story like that... but I have a too ****ty english to write epic stories, and I am not the most creative one *looks at Enemy* :p