Chapter 1: The First Meeting

    As I entered the tavern, I wished to turn around and look somewhere else to spend that night because there they were, half a dozen soldier from Daruk talking and laughing with each other in a table just by the entrance. I still couldn’t understand how the people from godless lands allowed foreign soldiers to just walk through their cities without any protest. Since this was just a kingdom, I could do nothing. There was no way to contest for power without having to fight the king, countless soldiers and aeveral war-wizards of 4 or more elements.

    The moment I stepped in, the soldiers looked at me and reached for their weapons. The entire tavern became quieter. They knew I wouldn’t make the first move as a Paladin. Since I wasn’t carrying a banner, for all they knew I could be the paladin of Lux that came to the tavern that night for the sole purpose of killing them; after all, 4 out of the 7 gods were not their allies. 7 even though most don’t consider Kass, the neutral one, one of the gods because he hasn’t made any apparition in the last half century, nor he did claim any part of the world as His.

    “Well, if it isn’t our favorite Paladin...” Said a drunk man looking at me waving. One of the soldiers started to walk in my direction. “Hey, Archene! Be nice to all of the clients.” Yelled Anne from behind the counter as she saw the soldier drawing their swords. The message was crystal clear. ‘Archene, if you fight in here, I am going to tear your heart out of your chest.’ Anne was a nice person, but when she told someone to not do something, someone either didn’t do it, or someone suffered the rage of a thousand suns while trying.

    Ignoring the fact that I haven't drawn any weapon... though I didn't carry any, the soldier kept walking towards me. Attacking a paladin is considered a declaration of war against its god, but since they knew all the paladins they should not attack and I wasn’t one of them, it made sense attacking me. Before the soldier that was walking in my direction got close enough to strike me, Six materialized. He suddenly grabbed the soldier’s arm, and disarmed him letting the sword fall onto the floor. Even though Six was a Major from Unheil’s Army, or maybe because he was part of His army, he never broke rules or allowed anyone under His power to break them. Always found it ironic that one of the most trustworthy person I knew server a God known as The Mischievity.

    Not breaking the grip, Six looked at me and said. “What are you doing in here? According to my sources, only Lord Unheil’s army was allowed through Tristan currently.” He twisted the soldiers hand making him kneel down and grunt in pain.

    “I have no army or kingdom on my back.” I answered him calmly. He looked incredulous for a moment, almost laughing, but not to my surprise. I was the only Paladin Kass had ever made, I only had been His Paladin for 6 months, and I hadn’t made any public appearances.

    He looked into my eyes. “I can’t sense lies in your words, but you could still be here to attack or sabotage.” An ability that I greatly disliked about dark casters was their power to know when someone was lying, and the worst part about that spell is that I haven’t figured how to cast it yet. As soon as he said that I could still be planning to attack his troops, I got a feeling that something bad would happen. For some reason I instinctively answered, “Unless making their swords less sharp with my guts counts as attacking them, I doubt I would try to strike first.” I sighed and took a deep breath. This really isn’t my night. “I just don’t think I am in the mood to fight people in a place like this.”

    Six let the soldier go, and extend his right hand for a handshake. “Major Six, of Lord Unheil’s First Army.” Wasn’t I told that already? I shook his hand. “Archene d’Night, Kass’ Paladin.” Suddenly, all the soldiers on that table started to laugh. Six looked back at his subordinates, but they kept laughing. As they all laughed, one of them said, “Since when does the neutral one have a Paladin or resources to have one at all. For all I know, he is hiding in a hole in the middle of nowhere.” Six raised his hand and opened it as he pointed at his subordinates, “Lord Kass has not ever made any move against Lord Unheil or any of His allies. Therefore laughing at His Paladin may cause His wrath to rain down on us.”

    I tried to look at them with my most serious face, but since I wasn’t very good at looking serious, I just grinned. Inside me I felt a surge of energy, and I instinctively clapped. Like most of the times that Kass granted me his ‘blessing’ to do something, my body just started to act on its own. Long black blades formed on each of my hands. Time seemed to not pass to the others as they didn’t move at all. I walked past the soldiers hitting them with the dull side of the blades as they seemed to not be moving. I saw one of them blinking very slowly before I hit him. After going past them, I turned around and looked at them. Their bodies were still not moving. They didn’t even seem to have have felt the blows, but Six head was slowly turning to where I was; then slowly he looked at me. The swords disappeared, and time flowed normally again.

    The soldiers fell to the floor, gasping for air, as if they had boulders in their chests. When I took notice of what I had just done, I bowed at Six. He looked at his subordinates flailing in the floor. “They are lucky that you just didn’t cut them in half.” I didn’t know how I knew it, but I was sure that he was about to displace them with magic. That would usually move the target to somewhere where they were likely to die, like miles high in the sky, the bottom of the ocean or inside volcanoes.

    Six looked at his subordinates on the floor again and then behind me, at several subordinates that also were in the tavern. Only at that moment, I was able to notice that there were about 50 soldiers filling almost every seat in the tavern. “The next one with intent of causing any damage to the Paladin of Lord Kass will not have such...” He looked at the soldiers in the floor for a few moments before continuing. “...light punishment.” He said grinning at the soldiers. Tension grew in the room, and there was a prolonged quietness. His turned into a smile. “Well, then, let’s go back to our normal business.”

    I looked around as the soldiers started to turn around and drink their drinks quietly. In less than 2 minutes, they were already drinking normally again. I walked to the counter where Anne beckoned to me to get closer. “What were you thinking? You can’t just attack someone’s troops and expect for them to not do anything about it.” I sighed and nodded at her. She asked out loud to the soldier with a moderately serious tone,“Is anyone here hurt?” The soldiers seemed to ignore her completely. My face started to look serious. “They would be dead now if I haven’t attacked them.”

    After a few quiet moments of she staring at me, she just moved to serve the clients. As I was about to call her, Six seated by my side. “What is your reason for coming here?” I looked at him, and thought for a few moments. “No real reason. I just came here for a job.” He looked at me as he raised an eyebrow. “What kind of job? Paladins can do many things depending on their element, but since you are you, I believe that you know all of them well enough.” I sighed and nodded at him. “I am here just waiting for someone. Nothing that is related to your God.”

Six nodded at me and stood up. Moments later, Anne came chuckling, “Did you see his face? He looked very frustrated. What did you tell him?” I smiled at her. “The same thing I tell everyone that asks me why I am here.” She sighed and looked at him worried. “I bet he is just waiting for a reason to attack the us.” I nodded and she went back to serve others again.

*    *    *

    The tavern was full and loud. Loud laughs and steps could be heard through the disorganized music produced by the drunk players. There were many tables filled with Daruk soldiers in their black armors. Six was talking with two of his subordinates about the incident with the Paladin earlier. His subordinates had an angry look on their faces though after sometime they just went back to talk and drink with each other. Six went to the counter and sat a stool away from Archene.

    The tavern was warm though it was midwinter in Crisallis Town. It was night outside, and there were torches and light orbs lit to illuminate the tavern. Light orbs are magically enhanced usually fist sized crystal spheres that can convert mana into light. The more mana is fed to the orb, brighter it shines.

    The soldiers, in general, were uneasy with the presence of a Paladin who was not their ally in the same tavern. Most of them feared that he would just go berserk and kill all of them as he showed that they could be defeated with ease by him. Some of them were angry at Six for doing nothing when Archene attacked the small group of soldiers. A few were still happy that they were able to find a place to rest since they left Daruk’s border.

    Though the soldiers varied in looks, they all seemed to be physically strong, tall and had the exact same uniform, a suit of black leather armor with the red insignia of Daruk on the chest. The insignia was basically a circle with snakes coming out of the circle looking like the light coming out of a red sun.

    Six was sitting a stool away from Archene, both of them a light orb placed in front of them by Anne since there were top customers. The orbs almost didn’t illuminate anything as they were being fed no mana. Like most of the soldiers, Six was tall and had a very light skin. His black irises and long black hair only added to his intimidating look. In addition to the black armor Six’s soldiers wore, Six himself also had  black long coat with red trims and silver button in the front though they were not buttoned. Daruk’s army insignia lied on his right arm and left side of his chest.

The material used to make the coat was unlike most cloths, silks and leathers people could get access to since it was dreamweave, a magic-made material that a magic user with enough talent is able to make for himself. Dreamweave was different from mundane material for its ability to resist damage that would certainly be able to destroy other things; an arrow would get stuck to it as if it was a thick plank of wood even though it was as thin as fine silk and extreme temperature such as the heat of a desert of the chill of a tundra would be almost nonexistent for the user of the material. The material was even able to morph into different colors, sizes and forms though most archmages and wizards would simply make coats. A problem that dreamweave had was that it drained the user’s mana with time, so most magic users would simply disperse it when not needed... the ones who didn’t were normally the ones who were too strong to care about the ‘meager’ amount of mana being wasted on it.

Six was was quietly tapping the light orb delivering mana to it and making it become brighter for a few moments before dimming again. Archene was sitting there even quieter than Six looking behind his back to see if the soldiers were still uneasy. If anyone entered the tavern at that moment, Archene would be the one to be noticed first as he was the only one who was not behind the counter or was not wearing Daruk`s pitch black armor. He was wearing a black leather long coat with a high neck though it did not reach his shin, and has red trims on the edges. The coat has 8 graphite colored buttons in the front, and to its lower end the coat stops by his knee. On each sleeve, there was a small belt with a graphite colored buckle around the wrist area. On the back, there are 3 scarlet red quadrilateral diamonds, or rhombus, that point all towards a point by the center of the upper side of the jacket. As the coat was unbuttoned the coat, it was possible to see a plain scarlet red shirt. His black pants, even though they are not loose, have a pair of belts with graphite buckles. The pants are finely woven though they seem to be made of a malleable thick cloth. He has fingerless black gloves made of a smooth leather-looking material. He was wearing some fancy black leather shoes that seem to be very flexible and adherent. Despite his clothes, his light brown skin, silver-ish hair and crimson eyes marked him as a foreign in this lands as most of the people in Valedor have brown hair and eyes.

*    *    *

They are not stopping to stare. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. I looked back again, and half of the soldiers were still staring at me. I looked to my right and Six was poking his light orb. I sighed deeply as I saw a mix of anger and impatience drawn on his face. I scratched my head and signaled to Anne, and whispered, “Get them all some drinks... I’ll pay when the messenger arrives...” She looked at me and sighed before whispering back, “She better get here soon, before Malesh decides to kick you out until until you pay for the food and drinks you’ve already bought.” I nodded back, “She is getting here tonight... I guess...” The messenger was already late by a few days.

She shaked her head as she got several wooden cups filled with cider and the local brew. Following her with my eyes, I smiled as the first group of soldiers got their drinks and cheered. They cheered for a moments, or at least until she pointed at you. They suddenly started to talk to each other quietly, but even as they were discussing with each other, they were still drinking from the drinks you brought them. Similar things happened on the other tables. After some time, they relaxed a bit more. It was a success.

As she finish, I turned to Six. Well, it would be hard to have him relax and be nice too... but from what I remember, high ranking members of their armies like competitions and ways to show off their power... I looked at the soldiers, some of them seemed to be playing Zhau and some card games. I sighed.

Zhau was a simple game to play. It basically consisted in using a half a meter long white piece of cloth or dreamweave. The two players would grab it from opposite end, the long ends of course, and they would let their magic flow through the textile. If being used in common cloth, it would either start to emit some faint light and become hotter, or simply burn if the user was strong enough. If used on dreamweave, it would usually show the color of the users aura. The main objective was to let your magic get to the other side of the textile. Beginner usually just let all their magic follow out, but more experienced magic users could control their magic in a way that they can actually use some strategy.

*    *    *

    I poked the light again and again. My first five senses were off to not give me unnecessary input or distract me, but my Presence was all over the room. Did I underestimate him? What is he trying to do? The Paladin of Kass was talking to the waitress, but he must be repelling part of my Presence to hide what he was saying. He must be even stronger that I thought if he was able to feel my Presence AND repel it.

    As I mindless kept poking the ball, the waitress started to get drinks for... Why is he getting drinks for my soldiers? Is he trying to convert them into his cause? Or is he poisoning them? Is he trying to make them revolt? Or is he planning to extracting information from them? He kept checking each table after they were giving the drinks. His plan must be working if he is smiling. The waitress is also whispering... something to them. Is he also blocking my Presence there? Even if it was partial, he certainly would know that sooner or later I would find out about this. If he was planning to allow me to know, it can’t be some kind of covert activity. Considering that, the most plausible explanation would be that he was trying to convert them into his cause.

    I see... When he came in and attacked the soldiers, he showed them he was powerful and aggressive, but by not killing them he showed them he wasn’t merciless or at least saw some value in them. When he treated them with drinks and gave them those messages, he was probably making them question my leadership, so the next step would be clear; the removal of the current leader, me.

    I reduced my Presence area to just stay a few feet around me, and allowed my first five senses to work normally again. As I looked around, I noticed he looking at me with a devious smile. He is certainly good at misleading others. If it wasn’t for me knowing his plan, I could even have thought that he was smiling with happiness. Suddenly, he stood up and walked towards a group of soldiers.

    I grit my teeth, Great! If I make a move before him, it may be interpreted as a declaration of war... even if I just ask him what he is doing, the implications I’d be making would be considered a declaration of war, but if I wait too long or at least until he clearly do something, it may be too late. Then I wait until he revealed a weakness or something bad on his plan.

*    *    *

    I walked towards the soldiers playing Zhau. They didn’t draw their weapons and tried to cut my throat so they are not as aggressive anymore. I smiled at the group of two soldiers gritting their teeth as they hold a piece of cloth. Both of them looked a lot alike, almost pale skin, blue eyes and blonde hair. The shortest though had short hair while the taller one had a longer hair. According to the cloth, the shortest one had an aqua blue aura and the tall one, who seemed to be about my height, had a mainly black aura with some red lines.

    The tall one seemed to have more raw power than the short one, but the short one seemed to be managing quite well. While it seemed like the short one was just slowing the tall one down, his strategy was remarkably good. He was cutting through the black aura and then separating part of it, and since after the parts were separated from the source of the aura they faded. It still seemed to be hard for him to go against someone with so much raw energy. The black aura seemed to be moving like a spear with countless spikes with spikes in the spikes while the blue aura looked like a web with several intersections and many thin lines touching the border. In between the thin lines of the blue aura the cloth was bare with its normal grayish white color.

A minute later, it was over, the short one seemed to have spent too much mana while trying to hasten a bold move and lost. When the black aura touched his hand he quickly dropped the cloth. His face was angry, but it was hard to know what he was angry with, himself or his opponent. They shook hands and the soldier who was watching took his place with a smile on his face.

*    *    *

Archene watched a few matches. He nodded at himself every few moments as if he was analysing their strategies. He had never seen people dueling with magic in such harmless way before, so in his mind, it was reasonable to watch the games for some time. Even though he didn’t know it, the style of someone on games of Zhau tend to reflect their inner personality and way of thought, so many wizards in the west find their disciples by observing how they play the game. This led to over time kids playing it with each other and eventually kids didn’t care anymore about the reason for them to play that game as they had fun playing it.

Knowing that Zhau was a great way to understand one’s mind, Six was talking to himself trying to figure the reason for Archene’s seemingly random actions. A reason that didn’t really exist, however his thoughts kept telling him that Archene was there to disrupt his chain of command and take power away from him.

    *    *    *

The matches were entertaining. After watching some of them, it was possible to know that they had 3 different different units or teams. One was a reconnaissance team, they used minimal amount of mana and liked to block their enemies flow of mana to weaken them. There was a direct attack team that sent waves of magic or tried to pierce through anything in their way. The ones that used waves tended to have waves of same size with similar space in between them. The last team seemed to used several small attacks sometimes concentrated, sometimes haphazardly spread, to defeat their enemies. The attacks seemed to be like tiny arrows of mana flying from one side of the field to another. I looked back at Six and as I thought, he was looking at me looking at his subordinates matches. I sighed and lightly beckoned at him. He looked surprised, annoyed and angry at me for a second; then his face got emotionless again as he stood up. Suddenly, the tavern was quiet, the number of civilians seemed to have dropped drastically since I entered the tavern, and about everyone inside the tavern now were Six’s soldiers.

His face was serious; as serious as the face of a man about to invade an impregnable fortress, alone. Suddenly, whatever feeling he felt, it disappeared as he opened his mouth and said, “Finally decided to challenge me?” I chuckled for a moment as the ambient seemed to harden and stop any interaction between the people in it, “Yes, but just because it would be hard for me to go against you without knowing the rules.” I smiled. He shook his head and sighed with some surprise in his face. “No, that wouldn’t be very intelligent.” He nodded at himself. He clapped once without letting his hands away from one another for some moments. He murmured something, and as his hands separated, a silverish piece of a silk looking material appeared, dreamweave. The piece of silk-looking dreamweave was half a meter long and about half as wide as it was long. He held the field from the upper side, so that I could hold it from the other end. The soldiers seemed to surround us, trying to get a good look at what was happening though many were still far in their own tables asleep or drinking.

The End

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