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In the Darkness, I walk in the Light.
The night was dark, and the opening of the prayer came to mind. The Profession of Valor was simple, but beautiful. In three simple lines it declared exactly who he was. Stark looked forward to the next Gathering of Light, when he would be able to say it together with all of his brothers and sisters of the Order for the first time. It would be a sight to behold. But that was years off, so thinking it to himself would have to be enough.
In the distance, light still shown through Melfina's window, but she no longer walked in the Light. He knew if he walked close enough, he would be able to sense those vile things that she treated as pets. He would slay them if he could. He would destroy her book of necromancy if he could. But Lord Luna's laws protected them. And without the laws, she would simply summon more creatures or buy more books. He had a duty to uphold the laws, but that duty did not require him to be in her presence.
Melfina. They had been friends. His first true friend since being rescued at the orphanage. He had been one of the Luna Guard, but the others only showed him the respect of a paladin. They didn't know how else to react. He was the only one. He knew other paladins, but no more than as acquaintances. The paladin went out into the world to defend the Virtues, and so most remained in Luna a few short weeks at a time.
His brother had always been his friend, but he was now gone. And now necromancy was taking away Melfina. Perhaps she was already gone. She avoided his presence as well. It was easier for both of them to go about their days when Stark chose to work at night.
Once again, Stark considered the High Father's words. He could return to Luna. He could sleep within the walls of justice, and not next door to a necromancer. Despite the truce, Stark refused to believe the Archduke would allow a necromancer to reside within the city itself. He listened to his advisers, and the Keeper of All and the High Father wouldn't allow it.
But the guard captain couldn't take the offer just yet. Lord Luna was a good man, and would not force him to guard a land he no longer wanted to defend. A simple request would be all it would take. But Stark would not make the request unless he knew there was someone to follow after him. He needed to choose his lieutenant.
There were nine guards. They worked in nine hour shifts, with a new shift beginning every three hours. Stark had worked more hours per day, on fewer hours of sleep, upon his arrival to West Luna. But he did not have a choice. That schedule wasn't sustainable. He needed to ensure that his guards performed at their peaks, so that meant allowing for plenty of sleep, and time to relax and train.
They were given one free day each week. That typically meant asking Melfina to gate them to Luna. If they chose to stay behind, the guardhouse was now stocked with games of chess, decks of cards, dart boards, dice, and other items for entertainment. There was also Draven's museum or Melfina's library of course, but only Loren ever went to The Magic Arts to actually read the books.
After studying them all, Warren had certainly impressed him. There were no city walls here, and no pavement. Talking of his days as a tracker quickly led to teaching what he knew. He had a good head, and they all seemed to respect him. The problem was that he and Ulloa had become close because of it. Couplings were inevitable, but for a lieutenant with a regular guard, it was trouble. That meant Tulip and Stone were also out of consideration.
Camaraderie among all the guards was good, but the longer he took to choose, the longer they would bond as equals.
Why did I take so long?
But he knew the answer. He had adapted well to the differences between West Luna and the City of Light, but he hadn't thought of everything. Becoming a lieutenant normally took years within the Luna Guard, but that wouldn't work here. The Luna Guard was much larger than ten people. And Luna saw more crime.
The Luna guard was legendary, but it could only be legendary because it had to perform. Where there was wealth, there was crime. And many chances to perform meant many reasons to move up the ranks. Those reasons created clear choices that few could dispute.
West Luna was different. Stark watched how they interacted, but that wasn't enough. Their performance in the absence of crime was excellent, but that was expected. It had just been three months since they had been hired, and if they already showed signs of disinterest or a drop in performance, they would be dismissed.
There had only been three events of any significance. There was the break-in at The Magic Arts, which the Guard wasn't ready for. Stark blamed himself for that. They had successfully driven away the nightly traffic to the lands of the League. But that was simply done by making their presence known. Loren had slain a wolf that had attacked her. But it had been injured, and must have been desperate. Stark had no sympathy for wolves, but that didn't warrant a promotion.
Three events. That was it. It wasn't enough.
But he had to make his decision. Stark was their captain. First Captain, in fact, even though the Guard wasn't large enough to need more than one. But he decided tonight wasn't the night.
One week. I'll make my decision in a week.
Just as the thought finishes, a guard walks into view. While not as brilliant as the white cloaks of Luna, the dark green that Lord Luna had chosen hid them well at night. It was a good choice.
Stark uncorks a night sight potion and drinks. The darkness flashes away and Edwin begins signaling.
Nathan says noise by Draven's. Bear by guardhouse. Await orders.
Stark replies. Bear wake others. Guardian formation. Then follow. You and me. Both sides. Nathan move. Caution.
The off duty and newly wakened guards would be sent to guard the shops, while Stark and the three on duty would investigate. There would be no unexpected break in this time. And while the museum wasn't part of Lord Luna's protectorate, Stark was given leave to do as he saw fit.
Edwin relays the orders, then disappears on the other side of the Museum of a Thousand Wonders. There aren't nearly so many wonders, but how much are they worth?
As Stark's eyes track the windows of the building, he catches a head ducking out of sight. It wasn't Draven's.
Stark holds the hilt of his sword in both hands and whispers, "Consecrus arma." The call of his spirit is answered, and his sword pulses with power. For a time, it would be both sharper and stronger than any blacksmith could make it. The Lady Mana favored him with her Gifts once again.
Amidst the Chaos, I'm forged from the Light.
Stark rounds the corner and sees Nathan at the entrance. The guard jumps back as the door bursts open and a bottle flies out. Nathan deftly flings the bottle to the side with the flat of his sword before it explodes, then follows up with a quick thrust as the first thief flees the building.
Nathan impales the thief, but three more rush through the doorway, knocking the guard off his feet. They see Stark and scatter. One alone, two together. Each has a large bag in their hands, so Stark goes after the pair.
The trailing thief drops what he has and angles away from the other. The remaining thief is quick, but as he runs away from one guard, he runs straight into another.
At the sight of Edwin, the thief launches the bag at his head and pivots back around, drawing his weapons. In two strides Stark closes in, raining down justice. The thief readies himself to deflect the sword with his own, then sink his dagger into Stark's head through his chin.
But Stark's sword doesn't cooperate. Instead, its razor edge bites into the other blade and continues on into the thief's shoulder. Edwin moves in from behind, kicks the thief off his feet and disarms him. As Stark pulls out his blade, a pool of blood forms.
"I will close your wound if you answer my questions. How many were you."
With no choice left to him he says, "Just the four of us."
"What did you want."
"The ranger armor the old guy's been bragging about. He would have paid a fortune for it."
Satisfied with the answers, Stark joins his hands as if in prayer, but allows only the tips of his fingers to touch. "Obsu vulni." The power of God flows through him and mends the damaged shoulder. "If Draven is dead, so are you."
Bear shows up with a bag in his hands. "I've killed the one that came my way." Stark nods.
Then Nathan appears with a hurt Draven beside him.
"Looks like you get to live," says Edwin.
Stark says to Draven, "Let me take care of that."
"No need, no need. It's just a bump," he says as he makes his way past the guard captain. "It's all here!" he says after looking into the bags. "They're safe!" His laugh rings loud and carries itself far into the night.
Nathan cheers and Edwin joins in, but before Stark can say anything, Bear lays a hand on Nathan's shoulder and says, "Keep the watch." The two salute their captain and circle back to where they came from while Edwin still holds onto the thief.
A large smile splits Draven's face. White teeth manage to show themselves through the fully bearded face. "Guard Captain, please tell your lord I'm ready to take his offer. It's time The Museum of a Thousand Wonders finally joined West Luna."
Stark bows his head. "Edwin, help Draven collect his things." He nods to the thief, "I will take him to South Luna, and see if there's a reward."
God has placed me here for a reason. His job was to protect the lands of West Luna and guard its citizens. All of its citizens. And she needed protection, even if she didn't see it. So she would have his protection, even if she didn't want it. And he would be her friend, even if she didn't know it.
A gateway was the only practical way to turn in the thief. Before he stepped into The Magic Arts, one final thought ran through his mind.
The Light lives within me. I will Light the Way.
* * *
They all fought well, but Bear kept his head even with the battle heat still in him. He must have served Trinsic well. He was the obvious choice from the beginning. I have found my lieutenant.
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