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Shades of Truth - Chapter II

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"Once the call has been made, it must be answered."

Stark had been writing some final instructions to Guard Captain Bear, when Melfina barged in. It seemed she found his note.

Both answering the call and fulfilling his duties as guard captain would not be possible, so Lord Luna was the first person he approached as soon as the Keeper of Lore had left. And Lord Luna had understood. Stark had been hired as a paladin, and must be allowed to be a paladin. The only surprise Lord Luna had shown was that the call had been made so soon. Stark was surprised himself. He hadn't expected it to happen for years.

"It is a sacred journey that must be fulfilled," he tries to explain to the scribe. "I have one day to set my life in order then I must go."

"But why!"

"Refusal means expulsion from the Order of Light. And refusal would bar me from being accepted into any other Order." He added, "I'll come back."

"But you quit! Why would you come back! Is Lord Luna just going to take away Bear's new rank? No!"

"Of course not, that would be wrong. But West Luna has more than doubled in size in a matter of months, and the Guard has grown as well. The city will grow larger still, and when I come back Lord Luna will need more than one captain."

"And how long do you actually plan on being gone!"

He had explained this in the note, but he answers, "The journey itself will only be a few months. Then a few more as I stay at the Temple of Virtue. I may even be back in time for the Reunification."

"Can't I just send you part of the way there so you're back quicker?"

"Melfina. No. This is an important rite. I have to travel on foot. And I cannot take anything with me but my sword and my faith. Meaning I take my sword, ankh, Book of Chivalry, and my Book of Bushido. I can take some supplies, and clothes of course, but no armor. And I must go alone. Through God's will, I will make it to The Temple of Virtue and be greeted by the Keepers of Lore."

"What's so important there?"

"Everything. The Keepers are the guardians of our history, which includes the temple itself. It's one of the oldest buildings still standing from before the time the world shattered. One I get there, they will question me, and test me, and record everything I know and have learned of both Chivalry and my secondary field, Bushido."

"And how will this sacred journey of yours get you home!"

"The Keepers of Lore are both paladins and scribes. They can gate me home," Stark smiles.

"What? Paladins aren't mages. I would have noticed some."

"Only a few select paladins are allowed to study magery and inscription. Taught by the holy mages. When they are finished with their training, they are assigned to the Temple of Virtue, and no other place. And in turn, as Keepers of Lore, they are the ones that appoint a new High Father when the time comes. Same for the Keeper of All, and for all Keepers of Chivalry. Their unique duties ensure that they come in contact with all members of our Order, and so are uniquely qualified to understand and evaluate us all."

"I guess that sounds important." Melfina grimaces. "Well... do they have a gift shop?"

He laughs. "If they do, I'll be sure to get you a 'Death to the necromancers!' plaque."

She hits him.

It was strange how they had come to this point. Something about her still didn't feel right. She had been changed by necromancy, and it didn't look like it could be undone. But he had adjusted. They both had.

"Well, here. I made you some muffins."

"I smelled them when you came in. And they smell delicious," he smiles.

"You better come back."

"I will."

She hugs him. "Be safe."

He grabs onto her shoulders, "You be safe." He didn't say more than that. More would have just led to an argument that wouldn't end well.

"I'll be fine. I'm mostly going to be busy working on my book. I want to release it at the Reunification. If I plan this right, news about it will spread like crazy!"

Stark didn't know how to feel about a book about necromancy being released, but he kept quiet. "I'm glad."

"Ok, I'll leave you alone so you can finish. You better not leave without saying good-bye."

"I won't."

She leaves.

Now where was I? He looks down at paper before him, and can't think of anything else to say.

His job had been the safety of West Luna and its people. That population was growing. Once Draven allowed his museum to become an official part of West Luna, more of the neighbors took to the idea. A new house was even being built nearby, funded by a resident of Luna. Apparently he was offered a large sum of money for his property, if he would move out before the Reunification, so his land could more effectively be used to take advantage of the event.

Lord Luna took an active hand in the growth of his city. Lumberjacks had hired to clear away the nearby forest for even more construction. Both Stark and Bear had been privileged with some of his plans, and had been allowed to provide input on what it would take to maintain the peace of the budding city.

The Sunlight's Nectar will be interesting to watch.

When the head banker of Luna decides to invest in his city, it is a clear sign that Lord Luna is doing something right. Leah had a masterful eye when it came to profit.

More houses, more establishments, and more people, meant a larger area to guard. Bear had already been involved with choosing and training the new recruits. Stark's experience in Luna had made it so he was able to teach Bear a few things, but Bear knew what he was doing as well.

The guard had performed well over the intervening months. Two more thefts were stopped, with some regrettable damage, but no citizen under their care had been hurt. Bear had been able to provide ideas on how to improve their training to adjust to a growing population, and they had discussed countless scenarios of where and how that growth would happen. They had both shared evaluations with each other of all the guards, and how each could most effectively be used. Bear would be an excellent captain.

And so Stark seals his letter, leaves a thank you note for Gwendalyne for all her support and hospitality, and heads out.

Stark exits the doorway of what he had been able to call his home, and at the bottom of the steps, stands Melfina and West Luna Guard.

"We just wanted to wish you farewell, captain," says the new Guard Captain of West Luna.

Stark took the compliment.

"Here," Melfina says, and she shoves a picnic basket in his hands. "Here's some more stuff from me and Gwen. She wanted to be here, but couldn’t make it.

"Thank you." Stark thought leaving would be easy. He was a paladin to his core, and it was a great honor to be called. But he felt himself already missing the sights, sounds a smells of this place. He felt himself missing the people. Stark hugs Melfina one more time.

Bear leads the Guard in a salute to their former captain. Stark looks them over before returning it. Alan had some scars and Warren had a slight limp, but they were all fit and alert, and West Luna would be safe. After the salute, Stark clasps arms with Bear. "You will do well."

"Thank you, sir."

Melfina steps in front of him, "I expect a gift."

"I'll see you soon."

Then Stark turns his back and faces east. The whisper of his prayer carries far into the silence. The paladin stands and leaves without a backward glance.

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