Our Last Goodbyes
rating: +23+x

For the first time in his life, as a Templar and as a warrior, Melbrecht was fleeing from the field of battle.

This was no organized flight or strategic retreat. He and his Templars had broken from the field, running towards the safety and sanctity of the Brightshome. For the first time in his life, a grandmaster of a Templar order fled with his men, abandoning all the trappings of honor and station as he ran for his life down the main way.

Of the two hundred and fifty Templars who sallied out of the walls the night before with him, only fifty had stood with him before they broke. Of those fifty who stood, only thirty had escaped being cut down as they ran- eleven Templars, nineteen neophytes.

It was a debacle of the highest order, a stain of dishonor to sully the name of the Order of the Horn for years to come- but now, Melbrecht couldn’t care less. He looked back, saw the doom approaching him from behind, and was reminded of the last fight to come.

Behind him, the remnants of the enemy army marched by slowly and impetuously, as if they had all the time in the world. At their head was the imposing figure of Asser Clef, clad in resplendent white armor stained with the drying blood of the High Priestess. At his side, the Scrantonum blade of Saint Agatha’s witch-sword glowed with a dark crimson light, having tasted the flesh of the witch.

As he looked upon the Brightshome, Asser Clef smiled.

All around them, from the impoverished quarter of the Altostown to the grey stone manors of the Spirit Quarter, the entire city stood still and silent, as crowds came to watch the scene unfolding in front of their eyes.

The city was falling yet again, as another army marched down its streets, heading towards the Shrine at the top of the Hill of the Amulet.

But no shrines were burning now, no people were slaughtered in the streets or were savaged by the jaws of the invaders. As Arnven fell for the second time, it fell in total silence- under the familiar guises of humanity.

The Holy Foundation has returned.

Raetor watched the procession from the great window, a glass of wine perched in his hand. On his lap sat a small book detailing the outstanding accounts of the merchants within the city, written by himself in a time that now felt lost so long ago.
As the enemy army continued to head down the main way, Raetor set down his wine glass on the windowsill. Beside it, he laid the book of accounts. It was useless to him anyhow- the city had fallen.

He stood up from his seat, and quietly made his way down the stairs leading into the deathly silent Hall of Saints.

Leaning on the wall next to the statue of Saint Mann, he took the unassuming shortsword that he had set aside only two hours earlier. He sighed as he gave it a few practice swings, remembering the carnage from the Battle of the Way and the fight to come.

If this was meant to be my final day on Earth, he thought, examining the blade, then I will spend it in service of my city.

Then, with a thundering crash, the broken fellows of what remained of the Templars streamed into the Brightshome- tired, wounded, and crushed.

Raetor turned to meet them, his steps picking up as he sheathed his sword in the scabbard around his waist.

“Where is the grandmaster?” He said, his tone hard and angry.

None of the Templars or neophytes turned to look at him, even as they seated themselves among the statues of the saints and the engraved words of Lord Bright.

He crossed his arms. “Dead, then, I assume?”

A long, broken laugh answered Raetor as the door opened once again to admit the slouching form of Grandmaster Melbrecht, wounded and bloody, still holding onto the shaft of his long spear.

Raetor turned in shock, as Melbrecht hobbled into the hall and unceremoniously slumped on the marble wall.

“Believe me, Raetor,” Melbrecht said, his voice now rendered hoarse by his incessant shouting during the battle. “The grandmaster himself wishes he was.”

“What happened out there, Grandmaster?” Raetor said, moving quickly to face Melbrecht. “You adhered to no plan agreed upon by the council, leaving the city open to internal conflict. I had to order my own people to slaughter the-“

“Straight to the point, eh?” Melbrecht said, cutting Raetor off. “It was the Lady’s idea. Nearly worked, too- Their army was in chaos, a third of them were dead. It’s not your place to question her.”

“My place, Melbrecht,” Raetor began. “Is to make sure the city proceeds as it should. With your unwise attack outside these walls, you’ve compromised the peace of the city.”

“Heh, so fie on me, hmm? Since I was so callous as to leave this city’s walls to break the siege that threatened to destroy it?” Melbrecht chuckled. “I have no time for your numbers, Raetor. I followed the Lady’s plan to the letter.”

“The Lady is dying.”

Raetor’s simple response caught Melbrecht off his guard, breaking his resolve as he looked up incredulously.

“Wha…” Melbrecht came to his feet in an instant, moving to close the distance between him and Raetor. “What?!” He said, his voice bellowing and angry.

Melbrecht placed his hand on his head, frustrated. “Where is she?” He asked.

Raetor moved his head in the direction of the inner sanctum. “There, with Brother Jaelen.”

As Melbrecht moved towards the sanctum, Raetor caught his arm and stopped him.

“They’re saying their last goodbyes right now, Grandmaster.” Raetor said, his voice levelled in a tone of warning. “It would be prudent not to disturb them.”

Melbrecht turned to look at him, his face contorted in fury. He raised his hand in preparation to strike him-

Before he lowered it, his face softening as the news began to sink in.

The Grandmaster of the Order of the Horn crumpled then and there, his knees striking the floor as his heart grew heavy and his world began to crumble.

Then, almost as if the once formidable Grandmaster had been replaced by someone else, Melbrecht began to cry.

Jaelen’s steps rang hollow on the polished floor as his fingers tightened around the hard, bejeweled amulet.

He moved into the Hall of Saints, where the statues of the different men and women of significance to the Church all stood at the sides, their faces both kind and hard, standing as they were arrayed in the hall.

He walked past all of them without a single glance, walking towards the end of the hall as his heart began to grow heavy with each step he took.

Only the amulet kept him company as he continued the long walk down the hall, its soft warmth reassuring him as he prepared to face what the world had in store.

When Jaelen finally emerged out of the cold hall, he found Melbrecht crumpled on the floor, broken and in tears. Raetor stood over the Grandmaster, turning to look at the monk as he kept this sword close to himself.

Brother Jaelen took a deep breath as he took a step forward, wearing the amulet around his neck as it glowed with a beautiful green light. In an instant, his chest felt lighter and stronger than it ever had before, as he looked back at the faces of the people gathered around him.

“Our city…” He began. “Our city has fallen. Our enemies march down the main way, their army ready to slaughter our people and take away our Lady.

“We’ve tried to break them outside our walls, to send them away from us while we still had the strength to do so. We failed then, but we will not fail now. We are your leaders, your councilors, the men of this city who you have entrusted your lives and homes to. Now, the enemy sits outside of this very shrine, waiting for the chance to break us once and for all- we have failed you the first time… but we will not fail you now.

“This is the last fight of our lives, my friends. We’ve fought outside our walls, within our city, within our shrine, dedicating our lives so that Arnven can live on. How many of our Templars died on this blessed land when the animals came at the Battle of the Horn? How many of our militia died at the foot of the walls when we called for their swords and their spears?

“You’ve all given so much, and I can ask for no more.”

Jaelen’s eyes turned to Raetor, then to Melbrecht. As the assembled Templars and neophytes watched on, he drew his breath one final time, preparing for the words he was going to say next.

“The enemy numbers in the thousands, and we in the dozens. A last stand now will be noble, but foolish- a story that will be passed down future generations as a foolhardy task.”

Jaelen drew the spear from a rack at his side, raising it in the air with his good hand. “So I ask you now to let me fight Asser Clef, man-on-man, deciding the fate of this city in a last clash of sword against spear.”

At this, the entire assembled crowd of people erupted into murmurs, their eyes drawn to him in mixed expressions of admiration and resigned hope. He felt a hand wrap around his arm, as the tall yet slouching figure of Grandmaster Melbrecht forced him to meet his eyes.

“Have your senses left you, Jaelen?!” He said, speaking in a harsh whisper. “Asser is a legend among men, wielding relics and armor of saints. You are a monk, bereft of formal training, all but naked without a single plate of armor, and armed with only a spear. Do you wish to die and pull us down with you?”

Raetor paced to Melbrecht’s right, his eyes drawn down in thought.

Melbrecht continued to speak, the fingers of his right hand digging into Jaelen’s shoulder. “You have not a single chance, Jaelen! Reconsider now, I command you-“

Raetor placed his hand on the Grandmaster’s shoulder before he could say anymore. “It’s a foolhardy prospect, yes,” He said, turning to face the both of them. “But not one without merit. He will surely be slaughtered if it’s just him…”

“But what if it were three of us?”

Melbrecht and Jaelen both turned to look at him, their faces contorted into the same expression of surprise.

Raetor leaned in. “Think about it, will you not? The Cardinal will think his victory secured, and his honor redeemed. Should we step out to propose a duel to the death, with the entire city in the balance, facing a merchant, an old warrior, and a monk- he would think it easy.”

“But as far as plans go, it is one that has the closest chance to success. Melbrecht will be our spearhead, thrusting forward to distract the Cardinal. The brother and I will be striking at the weak points in his guard, judging when the time is right to weaken him and get past his armor. It will have a scant chance of succeeding, yes, but if we do, we take away their leader and save the city. I say we do it.”

Jaelen nodded solemnly. “I agree.”

Only Melbrecht stood unconvinced, looking at the both of them with increasing disbelief.

Then, his face became one of resignation, nodding along with the both of them.

“Fine,” The Grandmaster said. “I shall accede to your insane plan.” He chuckled. “I’ve not much to lose anyway. If Bright Himself deems this our last fight, then let us spend it fighting for the Lady and the city.”

Tension suffused the air around the shrine, as the army and the citizenry waited for the answers of the people hidden within.

Maera, now openly on the side of the Foundation, stood beside the white-clad form of Asser. Even now, nervous sweat ran down her face, as the tall Doctor Cardinal waited at her side in silence.

It had been only three minutes since the army came to a stop in front of the Brightshome, surrounding the Hill of the Amulet and keeping away the surrounding nobility and normal citizenry from the view of the Shrine’s entrance. Though she’d feared that Asser would immediately give the order for his army to enter the shrine and kill all those inside, the past few minutes had stood testament to the message that the Doctor Cardinal wanted to say:

This was a matter of the Church, and no one else can say otherwise.

Maera took a deep breath, maintaining her veneer of placid composure as her knees quivered beneath her long gown.

I’ve done much to bring us to this point, she thought as they waited. For this all to fall apart now would be-

Then, the white doors opened, revealing three lone figures as they marched through the entrance.

Brother Jaelen stood far to the right, his face hard and uncompromising- much to Maera’s surprise. Around his neck lay an amulet of beautiful design, built around a peculiarly beautiful grey-green jewel that shimmered no matter where you looked at it from. His brown monk robes had been shed in favor of a shorter and darker battledress that blew in the wind as he walked. In his good hand, he held a sleek Templar spear, one of northern make and design.

In the middle, Grandmaster Melbrecht slowly walked forward, his unkempt red hair tied behind him. His hobble was gone, replaced with a dignified walk as his polished plate armor shone in the lamplight. His right hand held a much longer Templar spear, similar to Jaelen’s in design yet obviously made for a larger and more imposing man. Wrinkles lined his scarred face, as the old warrior of fifty made his way down the steps of the Shrine.

To the left, Guildmaster Raetor marched in step with his fellow councilors, his cold gaze drawn in the direction of Maera. His close-cut hair gave him an unbelievably stern look, one befitting a general or soldier more than it did a leader of merchants. His full beard, along with the chainmail armor and coif, did nothing to disabuse her of this notion. As he walked, he kept his hand on the sword at his scabbard, his piercing eyes still meeting hers as they moved to meet Maera and Asser.

Asser stepped forward to face them, and Maera followed suit.

The cold autumn air blew through the city, as Asser began the parley.

“How fares the witch?” He began, his helmeted face betraying no emotion as he spoke. “Not good, I assume?”

Melbrecht, at the head of the three councilors, smiled. “The High Priestess is grievously injured, though she heals even now.”

“She does?” Asser said, his voice incredulous. “Send her my regards, then. She will be in my company soon enough.”

Off at the side, Maera noticed Jaelen hold the amulet resting on his chest.

“So,” Asser began again, stretching his arms in front of him in an accommodating gesture. “Have you come to surrender? To receive our terms? Time is a commodity I do not want to waste.”

“We’ve come to discuss our terms,” Raetor said. “The terms that you will take so that you may leave our city in peace.”

“I think the Foundation’s position on that has become quite clear,” Asser replied, his hand casually thumbing the hilt of the bastard sword at his side. “Give us the witch, or her body. Additionally, the heads of the traitor leadership who have not either died-“ He pointed to the direction of the walls outside, where Garvin lay dead. “-or who have not atoned for their sins by aiding the Foundation in achieving proper justice.” He motioned his head in the direction of Maera, standing beside him.

At this, Melbrecht and Jaelen’s heads moved in her direction. Melbrecht’s glare pierced into her, but Jaelen’s expression was one of pity and disappointment. She hung her head low to avoid their gazes.

Raetor stood, unwavering, his eyes focused only on Asser. “Do you consider yourself to be a man of honor, Doctor Cardinal?”

Asser’s gaze turned to regard Raetor. Suddenly, all feeling in his voice receded. “Yes, merchant, I do.”

“Then you have heard of blood duels, yes?”

Asser chuckled, moving his head to the side in a show of disbelief. “You are testing me.”

Raetor drew himself up, taking a step as he closed in to face Asser, their faces almost touching each other as their level heights put them on equal ground.

He smiled. “What if I am, Doctor Cardinal?”

A long tension permeated the air around both of them, as the people of Arnven and the soldiers of the Foundation watched the scene unfolding before them.

Raetor faced the helmeted Cardinal in silence, his hand pressed firm on the hilt of his sword.

Melbrecht looked on, his arms crossed.

Jaelen held tight unto the amulet around his neck, whispering something to himself as he watched both figures face off.

Asser’s left hand was tightly gripped around the witch-sword as his right fist quivered at his side.

Maera could only look on with bated breath, her hand drawn up to her mouth as she watched.

No.” came Asser’s answer, said through tightly gritted teeth.

Raetor laughed at his face- a jeering laugh, one that continued for several moments as he chuckled in front of Asser’s face, ridiculing a man of high blood and station like one would a weakling man.

His laugh echoed into the cold night, through the crowd and the streets and the homes, spreading the news far and wide of the cowardice of Asser Clef.

Asser brought his fist up into Raetor’s cheek in answer, sending him to the ground to meet the cold soil.

The once cold warrior in white now felt fury and rage permeate his veins as his vision darkened. He drew his sword with speed, bringing it up to strike-

Before Jaelen and Melbrecht leapt to his aid, blocking the bastard sword with the solid steel length of their Templar spears.

“If you wish to kill him,” Jaelen began. “If you wish to kill our Lady,”

“Then you’ll have to fight us.” Melbrecht said, his voice low to a growl.

Asser met their gazes, before he withdrew his sword with a quickness meant to preserve his pride.

“So…” He said through gritted teeth, taking his right hand off his sword as he casted his helmet aside.

“Fucking…” He used the flat of his left palm to clean the blood of the high priestess off his sword, coloring the soil near him a dark red.

“Be it.” He took the sword with his other hand, levelling it at the both of them as the priceless Scrantonum blade glowed with a dark malevolent light.

Raetor drew himself up victoriously, wiping the blood off his nose as he drew the shortsword from his scabbard.

“Yes,” he said through a bloody smile. “A legendary warrior with the blood of saints is finally ready to answer the challenge of a monk, a merchant, and an old man.”

He chuckled again. “As expected of him.”

“Do you accept the challenge of a blood duel?” Jaelen called out, his spear at the ready. “Do you agree to only yield in death, to surrender your claims on this city should you lose?”

Asser Clef licked his lips, his grey eyes burning with contained rage. “Oh,” he said, as he relished the fight to come. “Oh… yes.

The Cardinal struck first, swinging towards Raetor with a quickness unseen before.

Raetor barely dodged the blade, swerving at the last second as Asser’s sword came dangerously close to his face.

Melbrecht thrust forward next, striking at Asser’s knee where the plates of his armor met.

The skilled warrior deflected it effortlessly, shaking Melbrecht off his balance as he moved to chop off his head at the neck.

“No!” Jaelen shouted, kicking the Cardinal in the ankle and causing his foot to slip on the soil.

Perilously close to being caught off balance, Asser brought his feet close to each other as his blade grazed Melbrecht’s cheek, shedding blood on the ground as he quickly withdrew.

“Striking at once, hmm?” Asser said, drawing his lips up in a smile. “A coward’s move.” He took a step forward, thrusting his sword towards a vulnerable Jaelen as he went for his unarmored torso-

Before feinting with a quick change of direction, bringing his sword down to strike Melbrecht’s knee, cutting through his kneecap with a satisfying schliiik!

Raetor’s eyes widened in disbelief as he saw Melbrecht scream in pain as his leg buckled under him.

Then, like the work of a master swordsman, Asser drew his sword up in a final strike-

-slicing through Melbrecht’s throat quickly and silently, causing a steady torrent of blood to stream from the slit in his neck as the old warrior fell to the ground.

“Yours is the work of amateurs,” Asser jeered as he watched Melbrecht writhe helplessly on the ground as he choked on his own blood. “Your guards are clumsy, your reactions are slow- he was the only one who posed a threat, and he went down easily.”

Jaelen turned his head as Melbrecht began crawling forward towards Asser, leaving a trail of blood on the ground as the old warrior used his good hand to clamp on his bleeding neck.

Asser answered the trap the dying man posed without hesitation, bringing his bastard sword down into Melbrecht’s back with a soft schrak, as the old man’s ribs gave way to the razor sharp witch blade.

Raetor seized the opening by swinging down into Asser’s unprotected wrist-

-which he deftly dodged as he withdrew the sword from Melbrecht’s corpse, making sure Raetor’s blade only hit air.

Asser and the two remaining councilors withdrew again, as they caught their breaths and moved apart to prepare the next phase of the fight.

“Foolish bastards.” Asser said, his sword levelled in front of him as the three of them circled around each other. “You were wrong to challenge me.”

Now it was Jaelen who struck next, thrusting forward to meet Asser.

Asser deftly dodged, his blade meeting a swing from Raetor as he made a counterswing bound for Raetor’s face.

Desperate to end the fight, Jaelen moved forward with the spear again, thrusting the point forward to the vulnerable point on Asser’s ankle…

…but not before Asser struck out Raetor’s eye in one swing, eliciting an agonized cry from the guildmaster.

A splitsecond later, the point of Jaelen’s spear cut through Asser’s leg, piercing through the cloth under the armor and evening the playing field.

Asser drew up painfully as he stepped back on his damaged leg, gasping as he pulled back.

Not more than a few meters in front of him, Raetor came back to his feet, his balance unsteady as the blood from his missing eye flowed down his cheek.

Recognizing the opportunity, he made an overhead strike on Raetor’s head…

…before changing direction and striking Jaelen’s chest, sending him to the ground.

Darkness enveloped the world, as Jaelen felt himself hit the soft soil.

He felt something warm soak his chest, and lifted an arm to stem the flow.

He heard the dull clangs of steel on witch steel as the darkness closed on the world around him.

The wound on his chest felt colder and colder. It dulled his exposed flesh as he felt himself close his eyes, embracing the memories as they came.

Then, he saw her, laying on the cold stone bed of the inner sanctum.

Sigurrós closed her eyes, the words she said paining her as she spoke them.

“I… I think I’m dying.”

“By Bright…” Jaelen said, his eyes wide. “H… how?”

Sigurrós lifted the stump of her right arm, showing Jaelen the soft red glow emanating from within the bandages. “The Doctor Cardinal, he…” She breathed in deeply, the effort hurting her ribs. “He possessed Saint Right’s witch-sword, and used it to cut my hand at the wrist.”

She grinned weakly. “It’s the end of the path for me, Jaelen. My magic grows weaker by the moment, and it takes more and more for me to open my eyes.”

Jaelen only stared at her in silent shock, tears drawing paths down his cheeks.

Sigurrós put his hand in hers, clasping it tightly. “Just… stay here, by my side for now, alright?” She used her stump to lift his head for his warm brown eyes to meet hers, ignoring the sharp pain as she did.

She saw the grief and loss etched across his face, and tears began to gather at the edges of her eyes, too. He didn’t want to let her go, even if Bright himself emerged from his amulet and commanded him to.

She breathed in again, biting her lip before she began to speak. “Keep by my side, Jaelen. I want to speak to you now, just like we did before.” She smiled, even if the expression on her face seemed all too fragile. “No more high priestesses, no more councilors, just… as friends.”

The tears kept cascading down Jaelen’s face as he looked away from her eyes, his breaths coming in brief gasps.

Then, almost imperceptibly, he managed a small nod. “Al…” He began, his lip quivering slightly as he spoke. “Alright.”

Sigurrós’ hand held even tighter onto his, as she bit her lip even harder in an effort to hold back the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes.

“Remember… remember when it was just us at the inn? I used to watch you pray every night to Bright, reciting the procedures over and over again. From the first night I saw you, you just seemed so… devout. Faithful. Kind, most of all.” She chuckled again. “Every time you instructed me in my spellwork, every time you taught me the New Tongue over the old, you always seemed to have that… spirit. Always.”

At that instant, she could hold the tears no longer. “I miss those simple times in the inn, Jaelen. It was just us- learning, teaching, talking, crying, laughing.”

“I miss it too.” Jaelen said, wiping the tears from his face with the sleeve of his robe. “Bright knows that much, I’m sure.”

“I can’t do this…” He breathed in, his tears falling again as he began to speak. “I can’t do this without you, Sigurrós. I… I just can’t.”

“You can, Jaelen.” Sigurrós said, meeting her eyes with Jaelen’s own. “You must.”

“You have a city to take care of now, when I’m gone. You’ll be leading Arnven to a new era, a new beginning, away from the reach of the Foundation, from the troubles that have followed us.”

“We owe it that much at least, Jaelen.”

“But Asser…”

“Asser will fall, as all evil under Bright must.” She bit her lip again, moving closer to him as she spoke. “I’ll be there with you from the moment you step out of this shrine to the moment you leave this Earth. I’ll be there when you step into the Land of the Saints, waiting for the moment you come to join me. I’ll be there in every blade of grass you see, in the countless stars in the dark night, in every marble stele and in every shrine.”

She whispered something under her breath, and a soft green light appeared between their interlocked hands.

“Wear this when I’m gone, when you’re facing down Asser and you have nowhere else to go. I’ll be there to guide you.”

Then, in an instant, Jaelen embraced her, taking away all her pain as his warmth enveloped her entire being.

“Thank you.” Jaelen said, whispering into her ear.

Sigurrós could only smile, closing her eyes as she felt the darkness approaching her.

When they parted, Sigurrós was peacefully at rest, her body still holding the warmth he gave her.

Jaelen’s tears fell for the third time as he mourned the girl he had loved for so long, and it felt as if the world had come to a stop around him.

When he found the strength to stand up many minutes later, he unfolded his hand to find a small amulet nestled within, a jewel the color of her eyes kept at its center, pure and beautiful.

It shimmered now, in the darkness, a small speck of light in the distance of the black void that encompassed him.

He moved forward on unsteady feet, stretching his hand out to meet it.

His fingers closed on the warm amulet- Sigurrós’ last gift.

He held it to his chest as he curled up in the darkness of the void, his feet leaving the ground as he floated upwards.

Live, Jaelen. The amulet said, its warmth ever comforting. Live… for me.

I can’t. He said to it, floating through the dark space. I want to be with you.

A chuckle answered him, light and constant, bright and warm. Now, it wasn’t the amulet that spoke. It was Sigurrós, living within it- living within him.

I never left you, Jaelen. She said, her glow suddenly growing brighter and brighter. Remember what I said?

Then, as they both floated through the void, he closed his eyes, letting the warmth take him to wherever he needed to go.

Then, she spoke once again.

“Open your eyes, Jaelen.” she said.

And he did.

Her shimmering eyes met his once more, her sun-colored hair floating free in the void. Her smile never left him, as she brought her face close. The warmth in her arms told him all that needed to be said, as they were reunited once more.

“You’re…” Jaelen began, tears gathering at the edges of his eyes. “You’re here.”

Sigurrós brought her face close, meeting her head with his as they both drifted through the void in each other’s embrace.

“I told you I would be, didn’t I?” She said, her eyes light and beautiful. “I said that I’d always be with you.”

“I…” Jaelen smiled. “I’m not a good listener.”

“Liar!” She said, jokingly. “You are, Jaelen!”

He laughed for the first time in what felt like a long time, pressing her close to him as he felt her warmth once again. “I give up,” He said. “I am.”

Sigurrós giggled. “Then you remember what I told you to do, right?”

Jaelen looked at her, a tinge of sadness touching his smile. “I do, you know I do.”

She brought her finger up, touching his nose affectionately. “Then do what I told you to do, alright?”

Jaelen turned to object. “But I don’t-“

“Shhhhh…” Sigurrós said, hushing him as she brought her finger to his lips. “I’ll be here when you come back.”

She gestured to the void surrounding them. “Then, when you do, maybe all this wouldn’t be so dark.”

Jaelen smiled for the last time. “Wait for me, alright?”

Sigurrós nodded, smiling back. “You know I will.”

Then, she summoned a lick of green fire with a snap of her fingers. “Remember to use my amulet when you need it, alright?”

Jaelen nodded, feeling the jewel in his hands as his fingers closed over it. “I will.”

Sigurrós smiled widely, and then put a glowing finger to his forehead, causing light to envelop him once again.

The last thing he saw of her when he left was the shimmer of her eyes.

Jaelen awoke to the sound of clanging steel and restrained anguish, as a wounded Raetor countered another blow from a hobbled Asser. The Cardinal pressed the attack, his swings suddenly growing ever more desperate as Raetor clumsily blocked each strike with his own sword.

Jaelen came to his feet, the amulet glowing with power as the wound on his chest steadily healed.

Hiil, a gentle voice said in his mind, knotting the open flesh together as he picked up his sword from the ground.

“ASSER!” He called out, picking up his spear from the ground.

The Cardinal turned his head at the sudden shout. Seizing his chance, Raetor thrust forward before his sword was struck from his hands with one blow.

Then, with a quick downward thrust, he brought the sword down into Raetor's back.

Silently, he drew his sword from the guildmaster's body, turning to face Jaelen as he moved forward.

“You’re supposed to be dead.” He said as prepared to swing, lifting his sword above his head.

Jaelen felt an enervating energy flow through his veins, as he let out his final battlecry, thrusting the spear forward with inhuman speed in an attack that the exhausted Asser just barely managed to block.

"That's…" Asser said, drawing his sword back. "That's impossible!"

Wordlessly, he thrust his spear again and again, exhausting the Cardinal as he wasted time countering each and every strike with his blade.

With each attack, the Doctor Cardinal withdrew further and further, just barely managing to counter each of Jaelen's quick thrusts.

Then, he saw it- a weak spot in his guard.

Smiling triumphantly, the Cardinal lifted the sword above his head to exploit Jaelen's mistake-

Before he felt Raetor's fingers clamp around his ankle, digging into the open wound that Jaelen had wrought and breaking the balance and concentration that he had only a few moments earlier.

With one decisive and final thrust, Jaelen cut through Asser's throat, the point emerging out of the opposite side of his neck and killing him instantly.

Jaelen gritted his teeth as he looked into Asser's eyes, the shaft of his spear still locked in his throat.

Then, he spoke, his words final.

"You have no idea of what's impossible."

He pulled the spear from the Cardinal's throat, ending the duel as he watched the life retreat from the warrior's eyes.

Asser fell to the ground, his blood staining the soil beside the dying body of Raetor.

They had won. All was well.

To my dear Sigurrós, wherever you are,

I bring good tidings.

Asser is dead, killed at my hands while your power flowed through me. After the duel, peace was levied between ourselves and the Foundation. In truth, it was only Asser who had the drive to pursue something so close to a full war with our people- the Church was spent and on the verge of breaking, as the schism intensified within and the remnants of the animals invaded from without.

After the dust settled in Arnven, I rose to become High Priest, leading our people to greater times ahead. We rebuilt, albeit slowly, creating something new from the ashes left over by the siege. A year later, people were flocking once again to our city, worshipping at our shrines and trading with our merchants. It was as if nothing happened, and I am glad.

Though tensions remain high and the schism rises ever higher, the tenuous peace between us and the Foundation still endures, as Arnven becomes its own nation unto itself. Already, more and more of the eastern cities follow our example- Utgard, Eridar, Necramundas, and Finrys being chief among them- becoming sovereign and independent from the Foundation which we all once shared, following the word of Bright yet eschewing the commands of the Council.

I just hoped that you’d been able to see it- you, Melbrecht, Garvin and Raetor.

Maera herself lost her status as councilor soon after the duel ended, returning to her family in disgrace. I forgave her, if you can believe it. A year after, she started becoming a vital member of the nobility again, calming down the people who wanted reprisals against the merchants after the Battle of the Way. Maybe, in time, she will return to the council as the Lady Advisor- my new councilors never fail to tell me so.

Heh, I guess that as the city settles into peace, I’ve taken much to reminiscing. Your amulet still hangs around my neck, never leaving its rightful place. Sometimes, I put my quivering fingers around it to remind me of you. It never fails to make my chest light again. Asser’s crimson sword hangs next to the statue of Saint Rights, untouched for years after the duel. Your old robes… I put in the chest inside your room. You’d like that.

By Bright, has it really been five years? Sometimes I forget that you're no longer beside me, your eyes wide and shimmering like the jewel in your amulet. Sometimes I call the new Grandmaster by Melbrecht's name, or regard the Marshal or the Guildmaster like I would Garvin or Raetor. This final peace is silent and tranquil, yet sometimes I can't help but be reminded of the cost.

But every day that passes brings more life to the city, more trade for the merchants and more followers to worship at the shrines. The past five years have let us rise, and now we stand ever higher, pursuing our own path as we make our way to the world that Bright intended for us to claim.

Once my work is done, I’ll find you in the land of the saints, Sigurrós. Don’t forget to wait for me there.

Forever yours,
High Priest Jaelen.

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