Wasp

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Domire and Tido stalled. Good-hearted Misolfa spoke up first. “Of course! We would love to let you go first, wouldn’t we, boys? I mean, we will all just be sitting here for the next eight weeks anyway, right? It doesn’t matter so much what order we go in.”

Domire said, “Um, yes, that is fine. Misolfa’s right, there’s no problem.”

“Well,” Tido said, “I guess that’s okay, but can I go next? I mean, if it doesn’t matter so much.” He looked at his siblings.

“Alright, then!” Misolfa said, beaming. “Then Domire and I can just wrestle it out for the third rotation. Or just flip a coin. Maybe we could…”

Valkyr interrupted her. “Okay. Right. If you’ll excuse me, I want to get started right now. I’m sure I’ll find my way about the cavern quickly enough, and somebody can slip me my dinner later.” She turned to go and Aton grabbed her wrist.

“Wait, Valkyr. I admit I feel somewhat down about not beginning my own adventure here, but I am glad for all of you. Good luck, sister, and I’ll see you on the other side.” He offered her an embrace, which she took quickly before turning and heading down the hallway. She turned into the first door she came to on her right and closed the door behind her.

Pascho stepped closer to the group. “…You all look like you’d be interested in a tour of the house. You were all looking every-which-way, so I will go ahead and show it all to you, of course leaving the entrance to the cavern last. Come see the kitchen first.”


Valkyr smiled to herself. She was ready to begin.

Turning to look at the wooden doors, Valkyr paused and thought. She had descended a steep, narrow path in a rocky corridor to arrive in the chamber where she now stood. Three doors waited for her here, lit by several lanterns that did not flicker. She spared the lanterns barely a glance to wonder when they were lit and why they did not flicker as they should, then focused on a long, recessed cavity in the wall. It held four sizeable packages, carefully wrapped and bound in leather and twine.

Valkyr stepped towards one of the bundles, sensing the release of her impatience drawing nigh. This package was clearly hers. It shaped roughly like a bow, though it had a lump in the center. Despite the obvious, these clues were not what told her this was her package. She knew. She could feel it, ever since stepping off the Fassendais. She knew where to find it. It was part of her, and it could not be hidden from her.

After a moment’s pause in anticipation, she reached a hand out and pulled at the twine. As she pulled and unfolded the leather wrapping, Valkyr found her bow. Nearly as tall as she and with a sinuous double recurve, it made her feel her heart racing again. It was beautiful. It appeared to be made of metal, though she couldn’t say what type. It did not even seem to stay the same color as she looked at it. At first it seemed purely colorless, silvery. Then it took on a slightly golden hue. As she stared, she thought it even looked bluish. It was covered in intricate designs, all flowing smoothly from tip to tip. Too intricate to etch or carve, she thought. Most importantly, it was hers.

“Wasp,” Valkyr named it in that moment. With it she could sting from above.

More than eighteen Turns unused—no, that’s not right. Eighteen back on Tasala. Here on Harrval it has been over twenty-two Turns. Either way, seventeen Years, and there is not a speck of rust on it. Valkyr picked up the bow and plucked the shining bowstring. It did not need to be strung or relaxed. It gave a quiet but sharp twang and oscillated, singing its vibrations through the shaft of the bow and into her hand.

Next to where the bow had lain was a quiver filled with arrows. The arrows in the quiver had two different shapes and colors of fletching. Valkyr removed an arrow with golden fletches that curved back in towards the nock at the back of the arrow. It was light, about three feet long, with a flat golden head that curved back to meet the shaft, as the fletches did.

Valkyr started bouncing on the balls of her feet, unable to contain the energy she felt. Quickly she grabbed the quiver and ran the five paces to the three doors on the opposite wall of the chamber. She threw the middle one open and saw a training room filled with dummies for skewering and pummeling. She may return here, but it was not what she sought right now. She opened the door on the left and found a much larger chamber.

The chamber was long and narrow. It was probably some 30 yards from side to side, but it must have stretched some three hundred yards long. It receded into the darkness at the far end, showing hay bales at several points along the way. How long had these chambers been prepared for her and her siblings to come train? No matter.

Valkyr found a table to set her quiver on and brought up the arrow she had in her hand. Deftly she nocked it, drew the bow and aimed, and released. The arrow flew towards the far end and hit the target she had chosen, driving halfway in. This bow was the best she had ever held. She needed more of this feeling. She drew another arrow from the quiver, this time one with silver fletches that pointed back away from the shaft, rather than curving in to meet the nock. Likewise, the head had wicked reverse-pointed barbs that would prevent a wounded enemy from removing the arrow easily. She nocked it, pulled the bowstring, and let the second arrow fly. More.

She grabbed the nock of a third arrow and pulled on it, struggling a little to get it out of the quiver because of the angle; she had not pulled far enough out. Impatiently, she slung the quiver over her shoulder and whipped the third arrow out. She could push the bounds of possibility of accurate speed volleys with this bow and these arrows. At the very least, she would try.

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Departure

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Domire, Valkyr, Misolfa, Tido, and Aton took position in a straight line facing their parents, backs toward the Thallenrose, and knelt on one knee. Together they bowed their heads and uttered in a loud voice, “Kindred and people of Grendhill, we have been commissioned at this time with taking the next step to prepare ourselves to protect this land. We Depart now and will return with the might of Aguneg’s Promise in our hands.”

As Reedl approached, the five siblings rose, turned, and stepped onto the Thallenrose. They made room for Reedl to stand in their center and faced outboard around him, facing outboard toward the crowed on all sides. They each saluted the crowd in their own way, presenting their weapons ceremoniously. Aton held his dao crossed in front of him.

Reedl spoke, “Hexti miti Harrval conti pondere!” The world around the six of them vanished.

Aton reflected internally as they flew. The group had not been touching each other when they launched and so he was unable to see or interact with Reedl or his siblings. He was completely alone for a few minutes.

The oath he had just uttered to the people in the square felt like an empty promise. He supposed it was true enough. Aguneg’s Promise to Grendhill had created the Farella’s weapons. The Sagewoman was a particularly talented one, according to legend, and had somehow been able to confer some of her supernatural gift upon Gren Farella all those generations ago. He hadn’t become a Sageman, nor had any of his descendants, but the gift of the Royal Arms and the talent the Farellas displayed had proven hereditary, and tied to the throne. The King and Queen’s children were born with them, but the princes and princesses who did not inherit the throne did not confer the gift on their children. The Farella dynasty did have the intelligence of the Sages, proof enough that the weapons and talent came from Aguneg’s Promise. Sages were always intelligent. Not genius level, but you would never come across one who was not smarter than average. There was their health as well. The Farellas, like Sages, were almost always in excellent health until an age when the years would finally catch up to them and they suffered the weakness of seniority. It seemed no disease could keep up with them until then.

Aton had not been granted a weapon at birth, and because of that he felt different, apart from his family. However, he had unmistakably been given exceptional prowess. He had dexterity and speed seemingly superior to anyone he had ever met, excepting within his family. Even with them, they could only best him with their respective weapons of specialty. He had every mark of Aguneg’s Promise except the most obvious and visible one. He had no weapon of his own.

Exactly what was Aton Departing for? The view? The stars flying towards him certainly were a sight he always looked forward to, but even that inspiring sight seemed inconsequential in view of the task his siblings had. What was he supposed to retrieve that he did not already have?

Domire had his sword to meet. He had fought and trained with all types of swords, but now he would meet his own. He would certainly find it the ideal length and balance for him, and even styled in a way that would match his personality. Valkyr would surely feel like she were meeting her soul mate or reuniting with an old friend when she held her own bow for the first time. Misolfa and her hammer. Tido and his axe. They would all have a very meaningful two weeks in isolation. They would all Return with an extra glow in their cheeks.

Aton was competent, but he was different. He would come back to Grendhill just the same as he was when he left.

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Speech, Continued

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“Aton, you have been a unique case your whole life,” Domido said. “Yes, you have trained with your brothers and sisters, studied with them the business of the Farella heritage and way of life. You have done your part to learn everything expected of you as a Farella. And yet you have been different.”

King Domido directed himself to the crowd. “For centuries and generations, since the founding of this nation, my family has ruled in Grendhill. We take no credit for the benevolence and bravery of our progenitor, but we have inherited a legacy to adhere to principles of concern for others. Furthermore, due to the declaration of one of the wisest sagewomen in history, we have inherited the unnatural attribute of possessing a weapon since birth, along with it the responsibility to guard this land against its enemies.

“For centuries, our ancestors have stood ready to defend what the first King of Grendhill united. We have the advantage, by no virtue of our own, of marvelous weapons that don’t grow old or rusty. We have been charged to remain ready to use these weapons against your enemies. As you have just witnessed, Domire, Valkyr, Misolfa, and Tido are prepared to take up the weapons that have belonged to them since birth.

“Aton is different, as you already know. Aton was born with no weapon. However, Aton is still most definitely one of us. It is customary among our people to try to have a sageman or sagewoman present at the birth of our children and tell us their Impressions of the babes. I expect most of you were told what Impressions were read of you at birth, giving a hint of what kind of person you would grow up to be.

“Such is the tradition in the Farella house. We recorded the Impressions of Domire, of Valkyr, of Misolfa, and of Tido. We have identified the named traits that each of them bears within, and have watched as these traits begin to form in their personalities. The sageman had no Impression of Aton. He told us there was a chord shared with the rest of our family, but he had no distinct Impressions. Some might be frightened of this.”

King Domido looked at his son, Aton. “Aton, I like to think this leaves you with great freedom. I have watched you train, study, and apply yourself with great diligence and determination. You studied multiple weapons, keeping your horizons broad. You have shown us your choice that you will be a man of honor and wisdom, worthy of the Farella name. Though your brother Domire and I can best you with a sword, Valkyr with a bow, Misolfa with a hammer, and Tido with an axe, you have distinguished yourself in skill and speed above all others. You carry an aptitude for whatever situation you find yourself in, particularly with any weapon you may be wielding.”

Domido neared the end of his remarks. “People of Grendhill, Aton Farella has matured in his training, and is as ready as I can prepare him for any new challenge or possibility his path may present to him. Aton, you may Depart to find your way.”

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Speech

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King Domido and Queen Mifalla strode forward from the shade of one of the lean-to shops at the edge of the square. They were smiling and clapping slowly.

The battle over, Domire and all the fallen invaders began climbing to their feet. Some of them hobbled or placed their hands over sore spots as they stepped aside, clearing the way for the King and Queen. Several would have bruises from this bout. Good training didn’t happen without the occasional bruise or scrape.

“Well done, my children grown up!” Domido called out loud enough for the whole square to hear. “You have put on a fantastic display for us all this morning, and shown that you have not ignored your duty to these people. To my eyes, you have all prepared well, and we are all proud to see you off today. Before we can do that, I call on the opinion of your training masters. Come forward and speak on their readiness!”

Normally this would only have one master coming forward. This time it was three. Master Pilbon stepped forward first. Valkyr felt a twang of her nerves against whatever mistakes she might have made that Pilbon would point out in front of everybody. She was surprised by what he said instead.

“Valkyr Farella, I have trained many archers in my time. I have coached and criticized them to the best of my ability. In much less time than the decades I have studied the bow, you have distinguished yourself and made yourself nearly my equal.” He turned to face her father. “King Domido Farella, Valkyr Farella has matured in her training, and is ready as ready as I can prepare her for any new challenge or possibility her own bow may present to her.”

Domido nodded acknowledgement, then turned to his daughter. “Valkyr, you may Depart to Retrieve your weapon.” She stepped towards the Thallenrose, where Reedl was also approaching. When they both came close to it, they stopped and waited, facing King Domido.

Master Sergeant Espilion of the royal guard stepped forward next. “Misolfa Farella, I have studied many weapons in my time, and have carried the hammer of your great-grandmother with me at all times for fifteen years now. I have provided you the best instruction I know how, and have prepared you the best I could to wield my weapon’s successor, with its particular style that it is likely to show you. You are ready.” His last sentence was prescribed by ceremony. “King Domido Farella, Misolfa Farella has matured in her training, and is as ready as I can prepare her for any new challenge or possibility her own hammer may present to her.”

Domido nodded acknowledgement, then turned to his daughter Misolfa. “Misolfa, you may Depart to Retrieve your weapon.” She stepped towards the Thallenrose and joined Valkyr and Reedl.

Captain Sambi of the royal guard stepped forward. “Tido Farella, you have surprised me on a daily basis with your strength, physical as well as moral. No matter how difficult I made your training you constantly faced it with the assured air of one who has already completed the task. Nothing phased you, and you worked hard. I merely guided you. You have prepared yourself. King Domido Farella, Tido Farella has matured in his training, and is as ready as I can prepare him for any new challenge or possibility his own axe may present to him.”

Domido nodded acknowledgement, then turned to his son Tido. “Tido, you may Depart to Retrieve your weapon.” He joined Valkyr, Reedl, and Misolfa next to the Thallenrose. Domido spoke next. Here he had to fill two roles in the ceremony: that of trainer and that of his role as Domire’s father.

“Domire Farella, I have not trained so many students as your siblings’ instructors did. However, I had many masters provide me their training and critique. I have had hundreds of adversaries in the practice ring over the years. You have matched them, and remind me much of myself at your point in life. You are undoubtedly ready.” He looked around the edge of the square and raised his voice, addressing all present. “People of Grendhill, Domire Farella has matured in his training, and is as ready as I can prepare him for any new challenge or possibility his own sword may present to him.” Domido lowered his voice to a more personal level again, but still as audible as it was before. “Domire, you may Depart to Retrieve your weapon.”

Domire walked towards the Thallenrose, leaving Aton standing alone in front of their parents.

The King then paused, looking around again at the crowd, at the guards present, at those who had fought in the ceremony, at his dear Mifalla, then their four children already acknowledged, and finally at Aton. This had to be different from all the Departures previous. There was no denying that Aton’s situation was different.

“Aton Farella…” Domire began.

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Battle Farewell 4

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The parties collided and the fight in earnest began. Only moments later, the second party joined. The guards did not lend their support. In a real fight they would have, but this occasion was a show, partly a test, and a rite of passage. This fight belonged to the five siblings. Evacuation and archery support were allowed, but when it came to calling commands and the brawl itself, the Farella family used this as an opportunity to show the people who they still had leading them.

After the archers had done their brief part, thirteen attackers and four sagemen remained for the siblings to take care of. Two armsmen fell to Valkyr’s arrows, another limped, and three were taken from the fight by Tido’s knives before the opposing parties met in close combat.

This left thirteen armsmen and three sagemen to face. Though they put up a good fight, the sixteen couldn’t hope to win against five Farellas. All they could try to achieve was removing a couple of them from the fight before it was over.

Domire, broad-shouldered and distinctly bearded—brown, matching his eyes—for a boy of 15 Turns of age, leaped into the fight, bringing his sword down on one opponent and then another. His powerful strokes could be deflected sometimes, but they could not be ignored.

Valkyr, tall and clever-looking with her hair pulled back and concentration in her green eyes, hesitated for a brief moment before joining the melee. She began to move her bow to her back where it could be locked in place so she could pull out her knives. Deciding instead that she was still not partial to the knives, she started using her bow as a staff, swinging its familiar weight around in a whirlwind. Where she aimed to strike, she hit.

Tido, curly-haired and stockier than his siblings, swung his blunt practice axe as though he had had days to carefully plan each blow. His dark eyes considered and knew that each strike would meet its mark. Though he did not always make sure to hit his opponents where their armor left them vulnerable, they got the idea—a real axe in those hands would have gone right through any plate or mail of reasonable width to be worn. Few dared to try standing in his way, and when they did, they fell quickly.

Misolfa, running into the fight with her short hair swinging and with a twinkle in her blue eyes, swung her hammer decisively. Its relatively lightweight construction gave her the poorest imitation of her real weapon among her siblings, but she didn’t let that get in her way. It clanged on armor and smacked limbs, certainly leaving a bruise wherever it hit.

Aton, though he was running, entered the fight with such a calculated and deadly grace that he seemed to stalk deliberately into a pit of vipers. Domire, Valkyr, Tido, Misolfa—all fought very well, all were on the point of being masters of their respective instruments of defense. All would soon collect their weapons and hurtle towards the superlative of skill. All were almost certain to become the most skilled at their respective weapons among anyone alive, with the exception of an uncle or aunt, or their own father. But Aton had no weapon. Aton had no such guarantee of supreme expertise. He did have the fabled Farella agility though, and his own determination. He wasn’t sure what it would turn out to be, but Aton would be all that he could be. He thrust, slashed, and parried, turning, blocking, and attacking with all the effort he could muster.

Moments later it was over. Aton found himself facing the sagemen and holding blades to the throats of two of them, breathing hard. Tido held the third one by the shoulder and kept his axe ready. The attackers had all fallen. The Farella siblings had won. The onlookers at the edge of the square were cheering. Something was wrong, though. They were hushing each other and quieting down. They looked proud, but perhaps somewhat dismayed at the outcome.
Aton, Valkyr, Misolfa, and Tido all turned their heads. Domire had fallen.

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Battle Farewell 3

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The majority of the guard force in the square started walking briskly through the people doing commerce, getting them out of the square. At the same time, archers around the square nocked arrows and sighted in on the group that just stepped off of the Thallenrose. The group stayed tight together and started sprinting toward one of the gates. They knew they’d been seen.

As people cleared out, Domire got ready to give his next signal. He did not wait long. This is why the crowd was limited at all times. Thinner crowds could be cleared more quickly. Expediency was even more necessary now that the group was on the move. The attackers spied Domire as he raised his other hand, this time his left, as he put his right on his sword hilt. The assailants shifted their course towards Domire. He extended the first two fingers of his hand, then swung his hand down and forward., at the same time giving a verbal command. “Archers, let fly!”

A dozen arrows sped towards the group. At the same time, another group of six appeared on the Thallenrose. They immediately started sprinting. As soon as they were clear, another half-dozen men appeared. The first round of arrows hit the dozen men running at Domire. A few missed entirely. Some hit at oblique angles, deflecting off the men’s armor. Three got good hits, thudding as they bounced off and fell to the ground, their blunt points causing no damage. One landed on a neck—the struck soldier obligingly went down. One hit a leg–the man fell to the ground, but held his sword up and at the ready in case he still might be part of the fight. He started to get up, staggering as he feigned injury on that leg. The third hit an arm. The “wounded” man kept running, but switched his sword to his other hand and held the hurt arm close.

In the moment when the third half dozen had appeared, Domire called, “Folllow volley on the rear! Foot, charge on front!” The archers nocked and drew bows for another round to loose, this time on the fresh group now stepping off the Thallenrose. As they stepped off, another half-dozen appeared.

Aton and Valkyr leaped from their staging point and ran towards the spot where Domire and the forward group would collide. Valkyr pulled back and loosed as they ran, falling back as she slowed to steady her shot. When it was gone–aimed true to hit an attacker in the shoulder next to his breastplate–she pulled a new one from her quiver and repeated the action.

Aton could see Mifalla and Tido jump from their vantage point on the other side of the square. Tido had a liking to carry throwing knives along with his axe. He started pulling them out from their hiding places and throwing as he ran. A neck, under the ribs–the knives would have been deadly if they weren’t made of leather-bound wood. The attackers he hit slumped to the ground.

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Battle Farewell 2

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But it was unlikely there would be any assault or raid today. Today was ceremonial. A time to show off, but also to prepare that much more. Yes, it was different from yesterday because of the onlookers, but the most important detail of difference was the Thallenrose. It was no wooden platform. After this exercise of defense, he and his siblings would Depart. Then Domire, Valkyr, Tido, and Misolfa would Reclaim their weapons. They would spend their time in isolation. Then they would Return, victorious at having gained their symbolically potential strength. Aton had nothing to Reclaim.

Aton’s father had encouraged him to take his token time in isolation as well. He was offered the chance to take as much part in the goings-on of the whole event as possible. In times when it was only one Reclaiming his or her weapon, there was a Return ceremony two weeks later. This time, it was planned for eight weeks later…or ten weeks, if Aton wanted to take advantage of his time. Aton had refused. He didn’t want to come back from a supposed Reclaiming empty-handed, the same as before. Aton would act out the Departure, then do his best to return to life as normal. Not going to be easy with everyone else gone, he thought.

Aton glanced at Valkyr one last time before splitting his gaze between Domire and the Thallenrose to watch for a signal. Valkyr nodded, then also looked to Domire.

In the corner of his vision, Aton saw a group of men appear on the Thallenrose. Six of them, its full capacity. One was clearly the sageman who brought them here. As soon as they stepped off, six more appeared, again including one sageman.

Domire raised his arm in the air, palm forward. He opened his hand, spreading his fingers, then closed them and brought his arm down, his fist to his heart. A signal to all the guards in the square. Clear the square it said to one group, and wait to another. A short bird call sounded twice in succession. Men began to move.

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Battle Farewell 1

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Grendhill

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Aton and his siblings gathered around the city square. This square, though kept uncrowded by observation of the law, was at the heart of Grendhill’s economy. It was not the only source of prosperity; Grendhill had its own farmers, blacksmiths, craftsmen, and people of all other trades, but this square was Grendhill’s interface with most of its international trade. This square was the site that defied the natural law. This square was the home of the Thallenrose.

Aton huddled at the side of the square, under one of the lean-to awnings with Valkyr. Like yesterday, they looked across the square at Domido, Tido, and Misolfa. This time was different though. This time was their Departure. They waited until the time of seventeen Years after birth, rather than Turns as they normally counted. This was ceremonial. This marked their passing from childhood and early adolescence into pacifist warriors who were fully ready to defend their land if needed. This time it was actually in the square. This time was actually at the Thallenrose.

The square had been prepared for this event. All the merchants and peddlers had been advised that the Departure was happening today. Not that they needed to be reminded; the royal arms would be collected soon and they knew it. Nevertheless, the royal guard had passed through at intervals, days and hours before, reminding everyone. They were to carry on business as usual, but as was hoped in the event of a real invasion or raid, they were to get out of the way when steel was bared.

The Farellas had to evoke their rapport with foreign entities as well for this event. Traffic through the Thallenrose was monitored, though not controlled, at least for most of the day. This involved posting Grendhill’s guards on foreign worlds, all that Grendhill had knowledge of, to be ready at a specific point in time. Traffic was allowed to flow, but at the given time it would be halted for a short time. Except from one location. That location was changed each generation, but that would be the assault launch point.

Aton could feel his nerves mounting. The Thallenrose was such a simple object, and yet so unique in the entire world. Because of its economic and military strategic implications, the square was large, kept clear of structures except at the edge where merchants vied for booth space, and surrounded by walls. These walls, ten feet high and two hundred feet apart, arranged in a square, allowed for a greater peace of mind in the rest of Grendhill. These walls were always manned and gave constant advantage to the home position, should there be an assault.

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Introspection Stings

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Grendhill

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Aton sat on one of the castle walls, looking out over the city of Grendhill. The wall beneath him, with its decorative impressions of large blocks sticking out an inch or two, was centuries old, having been built during the same time as several other defensive structures in Grendhill. The square surrounding the Thallenrose was another example. These were built in the early days of Grendhill, begun within a few years after Unification, as the kingdom gained identity as well as a need for a comprehensive defense system. Aton absentmindedly reviewed the defensive strategy in his mind, waiting for evening to come.

Invaders may attempt to enter from without the walls surrounding the city. The walls were twelve feet high at their lowest point—modest compared to other city walls, but deemed sufficient for Grendhill’s needs. They were duly patrolled and equipped with weaponry, though visitors were generally given the benefit of the doubt at the gate. After all, Grendhill hadn’t seen a direct attack in many years…

Hostile forces may attempt to control the water supply. Grendhill had redirected a stream to flow through the city, and maintained several large cisterns full of water at any given time. However, and despite the stream being buried for several miles upstream to prevent others from exploiting it, the water supply remained something of a vulnerability. The stream was drawn off of a major river though, and it was deemed infeasible for invaders to be able to poison the entire river sufficiently to be an unavoidable threat to Grendhill’s stream.

Enemies may originally appear as friends. Anyone could decide to turn against the throne at any time, it was true. Yet, there were safeguards in place. His father’s advisors included some of his most trusted acquaintances, some from childhood, and strict dogma was in place for evaluating any visitors as well as staff not counted within Domido Farella’s inner circle. Furthermore, visitors—foreign and local—were given quarters on the west side of the castle, opposite the royal chambers, and with the Guards’ offices in between. The royal chambers were also well above ground level, so almost nothing could reach them from the outside, short of flight. And always, there were archers within sight of the royal chambers’ balconies. Anything that might try to scale the walls would find scant enough purchase as hand- and footholds that even the worst archers would have ample time to remove them before they reached their goal.

Invaders may attempt to arrive by the Thallenrose. Aton and his siblings had practiced defending against that possibility today. The platform acted as a doorway to dozens of other worlds, and was the most carefully defended chink in Grendhill’s armor. If the Thallenrose was thought of as a doorway that could only fit a small number of people at a time, the doorway also had another side. The important difference is that this door had many other sides to it. It was not possible to post guards on every alternate other side to the door. For one, that would be a significant addition the number of guards Grendhill required, beside the added commerce-interrupting traffic that changing that many guards would create. And perhaps more significantly, Grendhill could not post guards in that many other lands and kingdoms without expecting to host as many foreign guards at the Thallenrose. No, foreigners guarded themselves against entry, not exit, and Grendhill had to be content with doing the same.

Cross-world invaders do not care what time of day it is in Grendhill. Just a reminder that the square surrounding the Thallenrose could not suffer from relaxed guard at any time of day. Different worlds had different day lengths, different Turn lengths. True, the square was less active at night, allowing fewer guards at night because it was easier to watch, but it had to be watched nonetheless. Invaders may arrive at midnight in summer, having just left their launch point early in the morning in mid spring, as refreshed as can be and with eyes needing no adjustment to the dark.

Grendhill must be ready.

Royal arms are always on duty. Unbreakable and flawlessly sharp weapons were handed off from relieved guards to their replacements, with some constantly on site at key locations, at gates, at the Thallenrose, outside the royal chambers. Others stayed with key indivuals. Captain Bailen carried one. Still others were assigned to training, so the Guard could be accustomed to how the legendary arms felt in one’s hands. But the majority were assigned to particular posts, always ready to fight when needed. This was also a reminder to Aton that he did not have a weapon of his own.

The Farella house is always on duty. This was less literal. It was a reminder to keep up with training, to stay in touch with the Guard and possible threats present, to be ready to jump into the defense of Grendhill at any moment.

Aton felt another sting. He could never be as ready as his siblings without his own Instrument in his hands. He made do with his twin dao, but he knew it would never be the same as his brothers and sisters, as his father and his family experienced with their Royal Arms. Tomorrow he would take part in the ceremonial Departure with his siblings, a symbolic short quest to retrieve their weapons, and immediately return home. His siblings would stay behind and spend two weeks each in isolation, becoming familiar with their own personal tools of defense. Aton would return home.

Why did it have to happen now, anyway? Some fifteen and half Turns, just to stick with the traditional Year calendar? Some great-grandfather of his wanted his children to go when they turned seventeen Years old. Silly. Why not just wait until the sixteenth Turn?

Aton looked up from his sullen reverie and saw Valkyr walking herself home for dinner, uncomfortable-looking guards not following her as she passed them and told them to stay where they were. Did she still have flour on her clothing? Mother wouldn’t be happy if she saw that. At least brush it off before leaving the baker’s shop, Aton thought ruefully.

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Brief Interim

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Grendhill

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King Domido Farella watched as the latest petitioner left the court. While the next one was shown in, he saw four of his children entering through a door to the side. Domire was the first to reach him and take a seat next to him.

“Where’s Valkyr?” Domido asked him.

“She’s getting flour on her hands or something. She said you excused her.”

Domido nodded. “Ah, that I did. Well, she’ll be back for dinner, anyway. And all of you need to get ready for your trip. Are you packed up yet?”

Tido answered. “Yes, mostly. Not much left. We’ll be fine.”

Aton looked a little uncomfortable. “I’m still not convinced I fit into this Departure thing, Father. I’m not going to go get anything. What’s the point in going at all?”

Domido looked at him, inspecting his mood. The next petitioner was in place and ready to address him. “We’ll talk about this more in detail later, Aton. For now, observe well. If something happened to the rest of us and you were left alone, you would sit where I am sitting and rule Grendhill, Royal Arm or no, and you would do a good job of it. For now, you must prepare.”

Domido turned forward in Gren’s Seat to face the petitioner.

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