Aaron smiles and pats his son on the back. Niander watches his father walk back to his seat and not until Nurse Agatha touches his shoulder does he realizes the wetness of his eyes. Quickly turning, he makes his way off the stage and back to his spot next to Victoria. He uses the corner of his tunic to wipe his eyes, and to his dismay he catches Carlo snickering at him. It takes all of his power not to tear into his new enemy.
Niander grips the hilt of his new weapon throughout the rest of the ceremony,Victoria tries to calm him by holding his hand but his grip crushes her hand. After the last of the Virin young are received Nurse Agatha takes the stage again, “You have all witnessed a very holy tradition, since the second century of the first era the young of our people have gone to the abbey at birth and have returned to our society greater than the last generation. I am honored to say to call this ceremony, complete.”
“Not so fast Aggy,” a raspy voice calls out from behind the Virin. Niander can hear the curses of people being pushed out of the way. The old man from the roof who flashed himself walks past him with a young man following close behind. “It ain’t over till the last of the young is introduced.”
“Gad, you old coot, this ceremony is for the abbey young. Who is this shabby blond thing you bring onto my stage?” Nurse Agatha asks. Niander could hear Troy remind Malcolm of Gad Lorn being one of the judges.
“This young man is the butcher’s son from the Lowers.” He says rather pleased with his interruption, “I saw him beating a group of older boys when they tried to steal from his father’s shop. His vicious nature tickled my intrigue and I thought it would be fantastic if he joined the ranks of the Virin to, as they say, mix things up.”
A very nasty murmur swept through the audience, none thought it was very funny to have a peasant so close to the expensive shops. Gad gives the audience a stern look and pulls a diamond out of his pocket and brandishes it menacingly, “one more word and I glue all of your mouths shut.”
“As I was saying, he is a very special boy. The things I saw him do, though rather crude, were spectacular none the less. His father agreed to let him live with the monks while he trained with these spoiled brats.”
“Tell me Gad,” Nurse Agatha says, now visibly angry, “how will this young man afford his training? These brats, as you called them, still have to pay for their schooling.”
“What do you think this was for,” he responds obnoxiously and holds up the diamond and tosses it at the blond boy. “Keep the change.”
The boy holds the stone in his hand, his eyes so wide in disbelief they run the risk of falling out of their sockets. Nurse Agatha curses under her breath and waves the boy on stage, “come up here you blond fiend and introduce yourself.”
The young man walks tentatively up to the stage and faces the audience, nods to them as respectfully as a nod can be given and turns to speak to the stunned group of Virin young. “My name is Galel Mince, as Master Lorn has said, I am the son of a butcher. I have four sisters and two brothers that are older than me. Every year I would follow the parade of Abbey children on their way to the rejoining. Something inside of me always whispered that one day I would be here. I always pushed it aside as a stupid fantasy. But here I am, with a fortune in one hand and an opportunity in the other. I hope I learn as much from all of you as I expect to learn from the priests and Fell worriers.”
A worrier sitting next to Aaron stands, his massive shoulders block the four sitting behind him. “How good are you with a blade, boy?”
“I can hack through a Migder with two strikes.” Galel responds a little unsure of himself.
“Well, good for you.” The man sits back down nodding approvingly.
“Told you he was good.” Gad nudges Londo. “The boy would kick your ass in a heart beat.”
“Well it is very nice to meet you Galel, now go stand with your peers.” Nurse Agatha says then turns her burning eyes to Gad Lorn, “since you’re here why don’t you and Master Al’Gurah introduce yourselves?”
“Love to but old Ryker is still hobbling his way up the hill,” Gad cackles and punches Londo in the arm. “I ran circles around him till I got bored.”
“You didn’t run circles around me you old fool.” A strong voice calls out from behind the crowd of Virin. Niander turns to see an old frail man politely making his way through the assembled young. This is supposed to be the Grandmaster at Arms, he does not look well enough to be the master of his own ligaments. Only the fire in his eyes show the years of training and combat he has seen. He slowly makes his way to the stage and up the stairs. He raises his hands as if to strangle Gad but only places them on his shoulders in a friendly greeting. “You limped like a crippled dog and had that blond boy half carry you the rest of the way up.”
“If you had jumped off your roof like I did, you wouldn’t be spry either.”
Smiling Ryker pats Gad on the cheek and turns to face the adults. “As you all know, today we will have a small competition among the children. Master Lorn and myself will judge as they attempt to impress us in with their skill, or disappoint with a lack of it. As this is a competition, we have a prize for the last two standing. They will have the opportunity to train with us during their first year of proper schooling. It is an honor they will undertake and struggle they will try keep.” As he speaks Nurse Agatha busies herself with a small table and two large ceramic pots. “Anyone willing to enter may do so by dropping their name into one of these two pots, the red will be for strength and the gold for knowledge. Or as the more simple of our clan know them,” he eyes the wide shouldered warrior, “fighting and Feruh.”
“I was thinking Al, why not allow them to be in both?” Gad says with a smile.
“Because each in itself is demanding, attempting both would be cruel.”
“Fun. Exactly my point, so if any of you little critters want to do both feel free to enter twice.”
“No they won’t.” Ryker demands.
“Fine, have it your own way, boring old man.”
Niander and the rest of the young turn to look at each other. Hushed planning spread through the mass, they didn’t have to fight if they didn’t want to. Many didn’t have family in the Fell and saw no need to prove themselves in such a way. Niander saw relief spread across Gregory’s and Troy’s faces. A bankers son didn’t need to fight, and a tycoon’s boy barely needed to lift a fat finger, they will not be putting their names.
Niander knew he was proficient with a blade, but Feruh had always been his gift. Learning under the eccentric Gad might be a frightful thought but he can not deny that there is much to learn.
All talk stops when Lord Lanker arrives at the ceremony. He had not been there to receive Malcolm, only his mother was present, though she didn’t look to interested when she forced a huge medallion into her son’s hands and turned to sit back down. Lord Lanker wore a crisp black robe spangled with gold, every single one of his features told a story of importance. The cloud of councilmen and priests he trailed walked with smugness painted on their faces. He stopped only long enough to allow everyone time to salute him, then made his way up to the stage.
“I, your Lord, bring the blessing of Baktu to this ceremony and competition. As an offering to our god I will have my son Malcolm Lanker enter into both feats.” He looks over at the and searches for his son. Malcolm hurries up to his father a moment too late to hide the fact that he was not recognized. He salutes his Lord and father and quickly drops his name into each of the pots. “Now, young Virin children, your Lord would like those brave enough to enter as well.”
The burliest of the young are the first to push their way to the stage and drop their names into the red pot. Niander looks at Victoria, shaking her head she makes her way to her parents. Even though she would do well in either category, Niander knows this is not her nature. Many more than he expected walk away from the competition, but he is happy to have Michael walk with him, they enter into the golden.
After the names are entered, sixteen in total, Gad takes the red pot in both hands and shakes it. Two paper birds fly out and circle his head while he puts the pot down. He attempts to catch the birds but they fly away from him, those ready to be chosen laugh nervously. Hiking up his robs, Gad lunges wildly at one of the birds and pins it between his hands and Ryker’s chest. He turns and raises the bird dramatically into the air. The other bird, sensing danger flutters into a shrub. Gad sneaks up to the green sanctuary and plunges himself elbow deep after the bird. With a yalp he lifts both hands triumphantly. “Goon and Delfar, up you go.” He crumples the birds and tosses them on the ground.
The two massive boys, taken aback, look at each other for a moment before climbing onto the stage. Neither Ryker or Gad give them any direction, they stand at the foot of the stage and watch. The two boys shrug their shoulders and and square off. Goon, the taller of the two looks as if he could lift a proper anvil over his head. Delfar, squat and sturdy looks like he weighs as much as a cart horse.
They run directly into each other. The sound of two bodies crashing into one another echos through the garden. The strikes thrown could knock down a tree. Goon beats the palm of his right hand into Delfar’s face, while the latter tries to strangle his opponent. Goon uses his speed to circle behind Delfar and wraps his arm around the others thick neck. Delfar tries to pry the other off, with little success. In desperation he pushes back into Goon until he looses his footing and the two fall off the stage onto the cobblestone. The back of Goon’s head cracks open and gushes blood, this only throws him into a fury. He locks his wrists and squeezes Delfar into a limp, purple faced corps. Goon tosses the body aside and stands. He salutes Gad and Ryker, then the crowd where his father and mother cheer the loudest
As Delfar’s body is removed, his parents leave the ceremony arguing with one another on whose fault it was that their son turned out so soft. Gad makes his way back onto the stage smiling and plunges his hand into the golden pot. Lifting the two papers up to the fading light of the sun he calls out, “Gaunt and, I want to say Dickleferd?”
“Dirkfeld! Amanda Dirkfeld” a thin girl pipes up, her cheeks red with embarrassment.
“Learn to write clearly girl, I haven’t the time to decipher your scrawls.”
She and an equally thin boy walk up to the stage, side stepping the pool of blood. Gaunt has a mess of red hair drooping over his eyes, Amanda stands proud, though still red. The two look at each other and nod. Muttering their mantras gives the other time to counter, meaning very little happens for two minutes. Gaunt’s mess of hair blocks his vision and as he tries to fix it, Amanda takes advantage, blood spills out of his ears, nose and mouth. He falls unconscious.
Amanda jumps up and down for joy and hurries to join Delfar in the winners section. Another group of scribes collect Gaunt as Gad makes his way to the red pot. “Anticlimactic to say the least. Disappointing, if not only to use a kind word. Lets see, another set of barbarians. Malcolm and Carlo.”
Niander smiles at his friend, though he wishes it was his named paired with Carlo. The two walk up to the stage and unsheathe their swords. Carlo lunges and is parried easily. He takes a swipe and is countered again. In frustration he lifts his sword high and just before he can bring it down Malcolm cuts him in the belly. It is only a flesh wound, Malcolm is toying with him. Enraged Carlo swings wildly, making his opponent retreat a few steps before he can parry again. Malcolm uses the momentum to spin turn on his heel and drive the hilt of his sword onto Carlo’s head. Blinded by a stream of tears, he pivots on the ball of his foot and attempts to stab Malcolm. Instead he runs himself neck first into the blade.
Malcolm uses his boot to push the dead boy off, and wipes his blade clean on Carlo’s shirt. Malcolm Salutes his father before joining Goon and Amanda. “This poor stage is going to be a mess,” Gad says pulling out a set of names from the Golden pot.
By the time Niander’s name is pulled out of the golden pot four more young are carted away by pages, two are dead the others only wounded. He stands facing Vol Acara, a beautiful young woman with a fantastic handle of Feruh. She smiles sweetly at him and adjusts the top of her dress slightly. He smiles back and bows to her.
A darkness fills the inside of Niander’s mind. He can hear a woman screaming in agony accompanied by a man’s terrified wails. The sound of flesh being torn apart cuts through the woman’s screams and she goes quiet leaving the man to weep alone in the darkness. Breathing calmly, Niander pushes the veil aside and finds Vol deep in concentration. Smiling he thinks of his mantra and walks away, leaving an image of himself behind. The darkness fades away and knows Vol still thinks he is standing where she last physically saw him. Niander looks up at the audience and struts over to an unaware Vol, places a hand on her shoulder and attacks.
Her skin turns cold, she is lifted two inches off the ground, rigid. Her eyes snap open but all she sees are the horrors being fed to her by Niander. Every Villain he has ever read about are now performing unspeakable acts on this young, beautiful girl’s mind. He watches as she reaches into her dress and pulls out a small dagger. He can feel her trying to will the blade into him. His voice echoes in her mind and he convinces her to slice her own throat.