This chapter is susceptible to change:
(1090 After Veil)
Light gleamed in through stained glass, the beautiful pieces of artwork depicting battles that the Ascean Knighthood had taken part in throughout the ages. Many construed with pieces of them fighting with Lusus, or during the Rebellion of the Five Houses over forty years ago. It lent the place a heavenly look, not too much different from one of the places of worship that Craeft was used to frequent.
Unlike those places however, there was no calm to be had. The blonde boy glanced around the room he was standing in, emerald eyes watching as his peers were called. Rows upon rows of initiates stood shoulder to shoulder, lending him little room to move, but Craeft found that he couldn’t care much about that. The day was finally close, the day he would finally be joining the Ascean Knighthood, even if it was only to become the lowest of the knights, a mere squire.
Still, it was meant to be a joyous occasion.
Yet, he didn’t feel happy.
If anything, he felt nervous and distracted, his hands clammy underneath the svetli-steel armor that encased them, along with much of the rest of his body. His mouth was dry, and his tongue licked his lips, feeling his breath hitch as the man at the front of the room, full of other similarly dressed squires, rung out another name.
He was an older man. A scar ran across his face that depicted his years of service, and white hair that hung from a loose ponytail. His armor was golden, skintight as the mithril armor protected him as best it could, yet he could still see the nicks and tears that showed with years of battle. Knight Master Berwyn let out a cough as his eyes ran over the page in front of him, his voice echoing throughout the great hall of the Ascean Knight Academy.
“Cenwalch Dalworthy, Irial O’ Coluim, and Yuopio of Clan Carnak, come forward.”
The three stepped forward, their boots clanking across the stone floor, like many of the previous squires from centuries past. Two of them were human, with the fair-skin so common in the Ascean Empire, while the last was a Piun, a human-like race found in the northernmost reaches of the Thiatam Islands, their body covered in feathers and large wings capable of flight popping out of their back.
He wondered how even the non-human could stand tall and proud, yet he, a human could not. They kneeled and the master laid his swerdan on their shoulders, a short-sword that had seen much battle over its years of service. Its blade was silver in color, with the hilt a simple yet elegant dark green.
“You will be assigned to Sir Lambert, who will teach you and help you grow into the protectors that the empire needs. May Miion smile down upon you,” He laid his swerdan on their shoulders, one at a time, the blade clinking slightly against their armor, “And if you fall in battle, may you enjoy the fruits of the Eternal Fields of Elemii.”
“Thank you, Master Berwyn.” They bowed before leaving the room and following a knight, clad in a similar armor to the knight master, if only with a different color and with far less nicks and scratches. It left Craeft with no doubt that the man was probably a newer addition to the knights.
His voice rang out again, selecting another trio of squires who walked forward.
“Baltabeva Stanislavovna, Samarin Danilovich, Brican O’ Neill, come forward.”
Time passed by slowly as the groups of three were led away by their respective knights, the herd of over a thousand squires slowly thinning. Craeft’s legs ached as he stood, but disrespect would not be tolerated, and he refused to allow shame to fall upon his family for his weakness.
He tried to hold back a scowl as he spotted another student looking back at him, with the same sunny blonde hair and piercing green eyes. Even the same tall height granted by having the ol’ Ornok blood running through his veins.
Not a real Proudhill are you? The cruel voice of his cousin rang throughout his mind. ‘Why do you stand like you have no training? Surely, aunt Aethel would have been kind enough to you to allow that.’
‘Shut up.’ Craeft had growled out. ‘My mother taught me many things.’
‘I also taught her many things as well, yet she refused them and brought a bastard into this world.’ The titan of a man looked down upon him with nothing but utter contempt and loathing in those green eyes of his. ‘You’re a disgrace to our family name.’ His grandfather’s sneer as he looked down at him made him flinch slightly, the memory hurting far more than any of the jeers and insults he had felt throughout his childhood years.
His cousin must have seen his face, Cenric Proudhill smirking viciously before he turned back towards the front as Master Berwyn continued on. That look reminded him of the same ones back home, both in Athsbane and in Smobinsk, the ones he had seen no matter where he went when people discovered that he was fatherless.
He hated it. Oh how he hated it, the feeling burning inside his veins. But there was little he could do besides bear it and shove the feelings deep down.
He just hoped that after all this time training, and going from strength to strength, that he would finally be accepted. Though, judging by how little his supposed comrades seemed to notice his existence, he wondered if that would ever actually come to pass.
“Cenric Proudhill, Fedor Victorovich, Deroma Ni’ Scurra, come forward.”
The room slowly grew emptier and emptier, sweat building upon Craeft’s brow. He desperately wanted to wipe it off, hating the feeling as it slowly slid down his face, but he did not want to garner any unwanted attention to himself by moving. He would be the perfect Squire, standing in place until his name was called.
“Ryabov Antonovich, Yonwin Merewald, Gilyov Illyich, come forward.”
Another trio walked forward and Craeft began to worry. The room was growing less and less crowded, yet his name still had not been called. His hands twitched, his breath hitching as he saw more and more students walk forward, yet his name had still not been called.
Had he failed? Did he unknowingly spur one of the knight masters, earning their ire? Or maybe…something else, something more malicious? Perhaps his grandfather had pulled some strings so he couldn’t become a squire, another humiliation to lay at the feet of the daughter that had failed him?
His breathing began to quicken, his eyes widening in fear.
Would he have to go home and tell his mother that he had failed? He didn’t think he could do that. Didn’t think he could look her in the eyes and see the disappointment on her face.
The blonde quickly seized, straightening up immediately as he looked up at Master Berwyn, meeting his eyes. His cold brown eyes narrowed in displeasure at repeating himself, and Craeft could practically feel the temperature drop in the room.
“Miion help me.” Craeft muttered a prayer to the God of the Harvest, but he was sure no deity would be able to save him from the knight master’s wrath.
“If you would stop daydreaming, can you come forward?” His teeth were borne in a facsimile of a smile, a few golden ones glinting in the light that came through the stained-glass windows. The gleam lent him a menacing edge despite the calm tone he spoke with, and Craeft privately wondered how many of his enemy’s must have seen that before they died at the end of his Swerdan.
Nevertheless, he walked forward.
“What should we expect from his kind?”
“How did he even get in here?”
He could hear his fellow’s derision as he walked past them, each one feeling like daggers as he approached the knight master, along with his grandfather’s venomous words. He could not focus on that though, choosing to take glances at the artwork that were along the walls of the Great Hall, letting the pleasant sights drown out the ridicule of his peers.
The painting’s practically glowed, whether from the lighting from the inside or the sunlight peeking in, Craeft did not know, but it was enough to distract him from the harsh words of his comrades. While the stain-glass depicted battles that the knights had participated in, the paintings were of a different sort, seeming to focus on the different aspects of a knight.
Some were of knights exaggeratedly warding off a literal figure of death, while others had them doing charity work. Most had religious depictions of Miion, usually with his traditional scythe, readying the new year for another bountiful harvest. He could not focus on the artwork forever though, as he grew closer and closer to Master Berwyn.
He peered down at him, and he couldn’t help but gulp as his eyes held a small bit of scorn in them. He couldn’t tell whether it was from his status or for his foolishness in letting his nervousness get a grip on him, but truly, he couldn’t find it in himself to care.
Not when Berwyn looked at him much like a tiran hawk ready to swoop down and devour its prey.
He kneeled, and he heard a clank next to him as another figure kneeled beside him. He startled slightly, having been so caught up in his own thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the other initiate’s name being called.
She had straight black hair that traveled down to her cheeks. A hot pink scarf hung around her neck, contrasting against her dark complexion and cupped her face. She was darker than any native Ascean that he had seen, most likely coming from the south western islands of the Thiatam island chain, or perhaps from the continent of Aesir, though he knew of no country over there that had citizens that wore pink cloth like she did. That was certainly something that was more common among the few islanders he had seen.
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes, violet meeting emerald, before she went back to looking at the ground.
He had been in classes with the girl before, he knew that. Her different looks made her stand out from much of the class, making it just that much more difficult to ignore her. Craeft wracked his mind trying to think of who she was, only coming up with a few memories of her quietly sitting at the back of the class with a book in her hand, always reading away while the teacher lectured them.
He didn’t think he’d ever heard her so much as utter a sentence.
Now what was her name again…started with a v. Veleene? Venee? It felt a bit awkward being paired up with someone who was a total stranger to him.
Then again, he had no friends, so no matter who he was working with, he doubted he’d know more than their names and maybe a few oddities.
He felt the blade of Master Berwyn on his shoulder, seizing up slightly as the magical sword pinged slightly as it touched his armored limb. He kept his eyes on the ground as she spoke, pushing any thoughts away as he listened to her words.
“It is not every day that we assign two-squires to a single master, but there was an odd number of you this year.” Berwyn said aloud, Craeft relaxing slightly as his blade moved onto the shoulder of his companion. “Still, you are squires through and through, and you shall serve the Empire to your full capacity.” He could feel Berwyn’s eyes boring into his skull, as if daring him to screw up again, to give him a chance to bloody his blade. “You will be assigned to Sir Finguine, who will teach you and help you grow into the protectors that the Empire needs. May Miion smile down upon you and if you fall in battle, may you enjoy the fruits of the Eternal Fields of Elemii.”
“Thank you Master Berwyn.” Craeft kept his voice down, hoping not to embarrass himself. Though even then, he still seemed louder than the mysterious girl next to him, her voice so low that he could barely even believe she said anything at all. His steps were a bit lighter than before, a weight on his chest lifting as he finally did it.
He had finally become a squire, the first step on his path to Knighthood.
He quickly walked to the right, spotting a knight standing there with his arms crossed, looking rather bored with the proceedings. A large jagged scar ran down his cheek, looking like he had been slashed by the claw of some beast. Or more likely, some Lusus, Craeft reminded himself.
As they approached, he merely motioned for them to follow him, his black armored form walking away, boots clicking and clacking against the stone floor the whole way.
Craeft quickly followed, seeing no reason to stick around and possibly make a fool out of himself. His comrade, whatever her name was, did the same.
They wandered the halls, Craeft only a few steps in front of the girl, as they followed the knight. She trailed behind him, out of view of the blonde man with hair several shades lighter than Craeft’s own, as if she was Craeft’s shadow.
After a minute of walking, Knight Finguine opened a door to a room on the side of the hall. He ushered them inside, revealing the small room to be composed of a few desks and chairs, most likely some sort of storage room.
“So, Craeft Proudhill and…Vel…Vely…” The man attempted to pronounce her name, floundering several times as the sounds left his lips. “Velee…”
“Veliane Tweneboah.” She uttered the words, her voice softer than he expected. It had a bit of a hard edge to it though. Must not have been the first time someone struggled with her name. Then again, Craeft hadn’t even remembered her name, so he knew he had no right to say anything about it.
It did confirm her status as an islander though, certainly from the Thiatam Islands, as her name certainly sounded like one from there.
Having been around his mother as she sold runes to customers that traveled through Athsbane had provided him with a wide berth of information on peoples, something that he knew no school could teach. However, he didn’t have that much information on the Islands, as it was farther to the west than Fleabar was, and not many merchants came from there.
“Ah, an islander.” The man said with recognition in his voice. “Definitely a southern one since you’re human. Which one is it? Orokot, Gourria, or Danoha? Or maybe one of the smaller ones?”
“Sikako.” She ground out, Craeft having to strain his ears just to hear her. The Knight seemed to suffer no inconvenience, replying with a boisterous tone.
“One of the smaller ones eh?” Sir Finguine said. “Probably has that nice beach weather. Shame I haven’t been able to head that far west in a couple years, but,” He sighed, running his hands through his long blonde hair that was tied in a ponytail, the longest part reaching the middle of his back. “Duty calls. A concept you both will become intimately familiar with soon enough.”
“Speaking of duty, Sir Finguine,” Craeft asked, “Where will you be taking us?” His tone was colored with a bit of excitement, even with the bit of fear and doubt lingering in his heart. He would finally be able to prove himself, to prove that he was worth far more than just some unwanted child from a noble family, and make his mother proud.
And after a lifetime of poverty, the pay certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
“Well, we’ve need to be assigned a mission first. Probably be heading east though, as that’s usually where the more fortified locations of the Empire are, perfect for training new squires like you.” He said. “But we’ll just have to wait till tomorrow when we get our assignments.”
Craeft was a bit excited. He had never been to the eastern parts of the empire, nor did many of the merchants that came through Athsbane on their way to the ascean mainland ever talk much about it. Mostly people vacationing or heading towards the larger areas of Fleabar, but it was still mostly an unknown to him.
It would be quite the new opportunity, and at the very least, it would distract him from the nervousness he felt in his heart. If he did this mission right, he could prove to himself that he was a good squire and worth the position.
You are a disgrace to our family name.
Craeft resisted shaking his head as his grandfather’s words rang through his head, like a monster trying to remind him of his doubts, pushing the thought deep down where it could no longer worry him. He knew that, much like a serpent, it would creep its way back out, but for the next few minutes, it would be silent.
“Neither of you are sick or have to grab any medicine before we go?” Sir Finguine asked, his words causing both of the squires to shake their heads. “Good. Then, I’ll need you both to pack all your belongings and meet me down in the cafeteria around nine in the morning tomorrow. We’ll be heading out then and I don’t want to hear any complaints that something was left behind. Got it?”
“Yes sir.” Craeft saluted, putting his hand over his heart as he pounded it against his chest. Veliane mimicked the action, though with far less enthusiasm.
“Good. I’ll see both of you tomorrow.”
The knight left quickly, his footsteps echoing throughout the halls, and a moment after he left, so did Veliane. Last to leave was Craeft, the blonde having a slight spring in his step despite the doubt and nervousness weighing down on him.
He finally had the chance to prove himself.
And he would take that chance with both hands.