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Underneath the summer sun the guard captain stands tall, feet spread apart, arms at ease. With his body relaxed, he continues his meditation.
Thumb and forefinger form a circle as his left arm lifts sideways until it parallels the ground below while he slowly inhales. Then he brings his hand in towards his chest at the same steady pace until the circle covers his heart. He holds his breath and immediately drops his hips low enough that he's almost sitting midair, while at the same time bringing his right hand to his hip, with its palm facing forward, fingers pointing down. As he holds his breath, energy pulses throughout his body as every muscle tenses. The only break to the stillness is his rotating right hand that steadily moves until his fingers point skyward. He slowly exhales and the energy flows from his muscles into his right arm as each muscle relaxes in turn, and he pushes his palm forward until his arm fully extends.
It's something learned from the Book of Bushido. The Eight Breaths. Eight was a number of power, and so the practitioner was to count three counts of eight during each cycle, for eight full cycles.
Yet Stark was a paladin, and the secondary discipline a paladin trained in must always give way to chivalry. A paladin needed to strengthen the spirit as well as the body. So Stark combined the Spirit Cleansing with the Eight Breaths, and rather than counting, let the essence of each Virtue engulf him, one virtue per cycle.
Today was an exception however. His body obeyed, but mind would not.
"I failed." The words from yesterday's conversation repeat themselves in his mind.
"They escaped. Yes," said Lord Luna
"I understand you may no longer need my services," said the guard captain, as he prepared for the worst.
"What do you want?"
"I wish to serve."
"Good. Then you shall. I am disappointed they escaped, but no one was hurt, nothing was taken, and damage was minimal. Replacing you now would serve no purpose. Experience of this kind is no longer easily found. All major cities are armed with teleport spells for a quick deployment, but you must work without them."
Stark remained at attention, but inwardly relaxed. He marveled again at how different Lord Luna was to his former captain.
If I may ask...
Lord Luna nods.
"When will teleport spells be put in place?"
Lord Luna studies Stark a moment then says, "Never."
"Never?" His eyes widen.
"How hard have you had to work since coming here?
"Harder than in Luna," answered Stark, then added, "but I enjoy it."
Because of the challenge?
Stark begins again.
Yes, that's part of it. But what good is good is that if I fail at my purpose?"
"Captain. Yes you failed. This time. Think about it, and learn from it, but don't dwell on it. This challenge isn't over. We are still here, and you have time to learn. I'm sure you have some ideas already."
"Some," he admitted.
"The teleport spells make things too easy. They breed complacency. What if someone manages to shut down those spells in Luna?" He shakes his head. "No. It is better to be over prepared than under. Should any of the Luna guard transfer here, they would not do as well as you and your men can do at the moment, and you will only get better. I doubt the same could be said of you, if you were to go back."
If I went back, he repeated to himself.
His muscles tighten.
"Keep your eyes open to threats, and all is well."
Without hesitation he said, "I can think of one threat, my lord."
"Melfina is practicing necromancy."
"I see," was all he got in return.
"She agreed to stop until you made your judgment," he said as he hoped for more.
"Then let her know she may continue," he replied. After a moment, he adds, "This troubles you."
"It's necromancy. The Order of Light has been fighting the evils of necromancy for centuries."
The energy courses through him.
"The evils of necromancy, yes. But what evil has Melfina done with it. Have you caught her committing any crime." Stark didn't know what to say. "I understand why you asked. But this is something you will have to learn. Evils have been committed by some necromancers, but not all necromancy is evil." Melfina had said the same to him. "Your own High Father sees it the same way. He supports the upcoming Reunification."
It made sense... but it didn't feel right. He opened his mouth one last time, but Lord Luna spoke before he could say anything.
"Stark, you swore to serve me. Why is that?"
"I-... my lord... because it felt right."
"What exactly felt right."
"I... I haven't really thought about it."
"I... I suppose... when I see you, I see... hope. And right. And I felt... feel, I mean... you will accomplish great things."
"And you think I can accomplish this all by myself?"
He begins again.
Stark hesitates. He wants to say yes, but as soon as he hears the question he knows that isn't the answer.
Lord Luna just smiled.
"I watched you choose your guards. There were a lot of excellent candidates. Not all of them, but you could have selected more had I allowed it. How did you choose who you chose?"
The guard captain pauses a moment before replying, "After deciding who had the appropriate skills, mindset, and attitude, I chose guards with abilities that would compliment each other as a whole."
"But they are all just guards. Don't they need the same skills?"
His body sinks.
"Yes... and no. The Guard will have to grow as the city grows."
"What difference does that make."
I was hoping as the Guard grew in size, I could start specializing smaller units. For patrolling, tracking, night watch, archers... everything.
Lord Luna smiles. "Luna isn't set up that way."
"No. But I thought it would be necessary until the teleport spells were put in place... so I chose guards that-"
"-have the skills you needed now, and the potential to lead or train these future units. You needed the right people by your side to realize this vision of yours."
"So can I accomplish my vision on my own?"
He releases his breath.
"No, my lord."
Lord Luna placed a hand on the guard captain's shoulder. "Exactly."
Stark looked downward, too embarrassed to do otherwise.
Lord Luna removed his hand and looked towards Melfina's shop. "She was young and lost, when I first approached her. But she'd always been inquisitive, determined, and she thinks on a larger scale than most, even if it doesn't always seem so. And when a puzzle catches her eye, she'll attack it like no other. Pity is not the reason she was the first I asked to join me. She may not fully realize what she's doing for me. But she knows what she's doing."
He begins inhaling.
But Necromancy... Stark said to himself. "My lord. How does that fit into your vision?
Lord Luna looked intently at his guard captain. "West Luna will be the city that Luna should have been. Luna excels at trade, but it could be so much more. Luna used to have culture. It used to have parks and museums of its own. Artisans and schools. It used to be a city. Not just a series of shops. West Luna will flourish as commerce and creativity intermingle and lift each other to new heights. It will welcome all who wish to contribute. Luna has become stagnant, and victim to its own greed. It's become an emotionless and impersonal wasteland with only the paladin left as any beacon of light."
His body tenses.
"I know you still have a fondness for Luna. And this is more than you probably wanted to hear. But you deserve to know if you are to serve here. But while Luna seemingly flourishes, you must know it wasn't one mistake that led to the Dragon War. But a culmination of mistakes. Mistakes that are still being repeated."
Stark had no reply.
"You're not convinced. Luna seems to be doing well. But that is only because there is no competition. West Luna will be that. But it will be better. What could be more 'Luna' than that."
He slowly relaxes.
"As it stands, Luna concentrates too much power in too few. There is a better way."
* * *
It feels even more right to follow Lord Luna now. But it also feels more wrong. How can I defend West Luna if necromancy is allowed free reign?
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