Jasper had to jog to keep up as Fenris took a series of turns and passages, up and down stairs, until Jasper was thoroughly lost. They finally stopped in front of a heavy iron-bound door. The windowless passageway was thick with torch smoke, irritating Jasper’s throat. He tried to stifle a cough.
Without turning, Fenris said, “Once you enter here, you are bound to serve until released by the Septus or by death. Are you certain about this?”
Jasper looked at the door, wondering what could be on the other side. Fenris took his silence for doubt and turned to face him.
“I didn’t want to be a Guardsman,” he said. “When I was a boy, my mother was an Elemental strike leader against the wolfriders in the North Wars. I wanted to be an Elemental more than anything in the world.”
Fenris fell silent for a moment, staring at nothing. Whether from some painful memory or the smoke in the air, his cheeks were wet with tears. Jasper stood still, afraid to move as he waited for his new mentor to speak again.
“I failed the aptitude tests. I couldn’t think quickly enough to pick the right components. I had to give up my dream and applied to be a Guardsman. Here, hard work is enough to succeed, you don’t have to master an art form.”
Fenris leaned in close to Jasper, searching his eyes for doubt or weakness.
“Are you certain about this, young Pim? Will you work hard to succeed, give up your life if necessary to carry out your duty?”
Jasper stared back, unflinching, unwavering. “When I was young, a Guardsman saved my life. Marauders attacked our caravan, killed the mercs escorting us, and plundered our goods. They were taking me and the other children when she appeared. Alone, she fought off a dozen men and sent them scattering, but she was badly wounded in the battle. She gave me this before she died and told me to be strong.”
Jasper reached into his tunic and pulled out a silver medallion, oval with a pair of crossed pikes pressed into the metal. “She was the bravest person I’d ever met,” he whispered. “And I didn’t even know her name.”
Fenris touched the medallion respectfully before standing, satisfied. “Then I know where you must begin. Come.”
He unlatched the door and they stepped through into a long, brightly lit barracks. Hundreds of Guardsmen and acolytes filled the space, sparring, studying, eating, cleaning, napping. A few waved to welcome their newest member.
“We haven’t much time. I will prepare for the journey, your training will begin on the road.” Fenris pointed to a large tome beneath a window with red glass. “That is an accounting of every fallen Guardsman. In there, you will learn the name of your savior.”
Jasper gave him a grateful smile and rushed to the book. Fenris stared after him sadly, wondering if he will survive the quest ahead.