In the grand chamber of the Guardsmen, Jasper Pim pushed through the crowd of couriers and apprentices on his way to the court. The din of conversation pressed on him like a physical weight. Something big must be happening but he was too anxious to stop and find out what.
He reached the North Doors just as the bells began to toll, drawing everyone inside. Jasper rushed to a seat just three from the Septus, where the seven High Protectors sit. He clutched his satchel eagerly, waiting for the rest of the seats to fill. He surveyed the high, domed ceiling and the tall, narrow stained-glass windows depicting acts of extreme valor. The air was thick with incense, a mixture of sandalwood and clove. He sighed, content. This is where he belonged.
The heavy doors on either side of the Septus opened and The Seven emerged to take their seats, wearing white and purple robes tied with thick golden ropes. Jasper could see the gleam of armor beneath the robes and he smiled knowingly. The High Protectors would always be Guardsmen first and foremost, ready for battle. Some day, that will be me up there, he thought.
The crowd settled in their seats, growing quiet as The Seven looked out over them, waiting. Finally, the High Protector nearest to Jasper, a woman, spoke.
“We greet you, people of Arexia. We see many new faces today, faces with but a single purpose. Let us not delay that purpose.”
A side door opened and the Guardsman from the square marched through, still in full armor but without the pike. He turned to face the Septus and clamped his arm across his chest in salute. The Seven bowed slightly in unison.
“Guardsman Fenris Corrigan reporting an incident which occurred yesterday evening. An Elemental duel, sanctioned by the Kiven Competition, resulted in the death of a competitor.”
Loud whispers from the crowd grew into murmurs as everyone started talking at once. The central High Protector, an elderly man with bushy white eyebrows, held up his hands for silence. When the noise subsided he motioned for Fenris to continue.
“The accused is Nalla Windhorn of the Purple Rose Order. She resisted arrest and fled the scene. It is my duty to apprehend the fugitive unless the Septus deems otherwise.”
“Did she really use fire?” someone from the crowd shouted.
“How else could she beat Andor?” another answered.
“Will it still count as a win?” another asked, a little more quietly. This drew more shouts, both supporting and admonishing the question.
Jasper watched in fascination as the Septus had to control the crowd once again. He could see the annoyance on Fenris’s face and wondered what it would be like to be standing there, about to embark on a journey to apprehend a dangerous fugitive, and having to listen to the prattle of commoners whose chief concern was their wagers on the competition.
“Carry out your duty, Guardsman Corrigan," the first High Protector said. "Apprehend the fugitive by any means necessary and bring her before us for judgment according to the Special Laws.”
“Thank you, Septus.” Fenris bowed but the High Protector held up her hand.
“You will not be going alone, Guardsman. Jasper Pim?”
Jasper’s heart thudded in his chest. He rose shakily and nearly collapsed when all eyes turned to him.
The High Protector smiled proudly. “We have a new acolyte. Congratulations, young Pim. You are charged with accompanying Guardsman Corrigan, to learn from him and assist him on his quest, and to carry out his duty should he fall.”
“Me?” Jasper’s voice quivered. “But I just graduated yesterday. Shouldn’t someone a bit more experienced--?”
The High Protector’s smile dropped from her face. “Are you questioning the Septus, Acolyte Pim?”
Jasper felt the blood drain from his face. He shook his head and rushed down the steps to where Fenris was giving him a disapproving look.
Fenris turned to the Septus and clamped his arm over his chest. “By your command,” he said evenly. He turned on his heel and marched back out, Jasper on his heels wondering how he could be so unlucky.