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The Anaexian Knights
In the church of Anaexsia, the priests would constantly preach of the wondrous miracles of the goddess and how she brought life to Toivoa:
"Many years ago, Lady Anaexsia brought life to our world, Toivoa. She made humans, plants and animals and gave us all a place where we could live in peace. One day, Heaven was in chaos, and Anaexsia was cast out of Heaven for an evil deed She did not commit. Our Goddess gave Her life to protect us all, and She chose to continue Her life living here as a mortal woman. No one knows where She is now, but surely, Her Word shall spread across Toivoa and awaken her once again as our Goddess! Hail, Anaexsia!"
"Hail, Anaexsia!" the congregation exclaimed.
This was daily life for me when I was a child. I grew up believing in the mighty Anaexsia, Goddess of Toivoa. As a young boy, it was my dream to became a member of the Anaexian Army --- a squad of divine warriors who fought and protected Toivoa in the name of Anaexsia. On the day of my thirteenth birthday – the age when boys are considered men – I left the orphanage in my hometown Aselken Village and began the long journey across the country of Azrelia. My destination? The home base of the Anaexian Knights: Leiren Village.
As I packed my things to leave, my best friend, Averyn, wished me luck. "I bet you'll make a great Knight, Aeiroku! Next year I'll be able to join the Knights too, so I hope that we'll be able to meet again!" I nodded, "Yep! I'm gonna climb the ranks really fast though, heheh! By the time we meet again, I'll be Captain of Anaexsia's army!" I was determined to make my dream a reality – maybe not by the age of fourteen, of course, but someday... someday I would lead the Knights against the darkness and make Toivoa a place of peace and freedom. "Hehe, that's great! Make sure you come to visit everyone here once you're the Captain!" Averyn said, waving to me as I boarded a carriage bound for Leiren.
It would be a long, lonely trip. On the way to Leiren, we picked up a two other boys who also aspired to be a member of the Knights. There was a bit of small talk amongst us, but the coachman – he was a pretty cranky guy – didn't like all the constant chattering and threatened to dump us off in the next town if we didn't be quiet. So, for the next couple of weeks, we were silent. We stopped from town to town to get supplies, but other than that we were always in the carriage.
When we neared Leiren Village, I noticed a big change in the villages – where I lived, everyone was poor and there was little to be shared amongst everyone. The shadows often hung over Aselken due to the growing influence of demons in the area, but here it was like a paradise. The buildings were new and fresh and every village had bountiful food for everyone – everywhere I saw smiling faces and people giving thanks to the Goddess. It made me happy to see that the Knights were working to keep nearby villages safe and prosperous, but it was my dream to bring riches and light to all of Toivoa.
This is where it all began...
Days later, they arrived in Leiren – it was a great city in Aeiroku's eyes; it had everything he could imagine. The city stood within a mountainous region and a beautiful pure-water stream ran through the back of the town. "Wow, this place is pretty sweet!" he exclaimed as he and the other boys got off the carriage. "Really? It's just like home to me," said a boy with curly red hair. "Hmph, it's pretty low-class if you ask me," remarked a boy with short black hair. "That's a pretty lame thing to say," the boy with red hair sighed. "Go to the Church of Anaexsia," said the cranky coachman. "Don't keep the Captain waiting; he's come all this way just to meet you silly brats. Yah!" he whipped the reins and his horses ran ahead. They watched the carriage disappear over the horizon.
Aeiroku was exuberant, "The Captain himself!" he cried. "By the way, before we meet him, what are your names? I'm Aeiroku Onzu, from Aselken Village." The arrogant boy rolled his eyes, "Really? People actually LIVE in that place? The air is thick with shadows, how can people even survive?" he shrugged, "Oh well. I am Eskel de Vardien III of Azumer, son of Duke Avardrem Vardien." he seemed proud of his extremely long title. "Nice to meet ya, Esk. I've never been to Azumer, but I heard great stories about it! Is the Church of Anaexsia really made of gold?" Aeiroku asked with a genuine smile. "U-uh... why yes, it is. The grandest church in all Toivoa, surely. And what of you, little runt? What is your name?" Eskel asked the boy with orange curly hair. "Um... well, my name is Vaelyen Zarias. I'm from Tseras City." the timid boy replied. Aeiroku and Eskel looked at him in shock, "Son of Davarian Zarias, Captain of the Knights?!" they cried in unison. Vaelyen nodded shyly, "Y-yeah... I-I'm kinda scared though, my mom told me to join the Knights and become strong like Dad."
"Hmph, you'll never be anything like him. You're too weak! Myself, on the other hand..." Eskel was gloating. "Aw, you shouldn't say that, Eskel. I think we all should try our best to grow into strong men! It's not about being awesome like Davarian, it's about having the duty of protecting the innocent," Aeiroku said with a nod. Vaelyen blinked, he was in awe of Aeiroku's words. "W-wow... you're so cool, Aeiroku!" Eskel scoffed, "Whatever, let's go to the Church. We don't want to keep the Captain waiting!" The other two boys nodded and they all headed for the Church of Anaexsia.
It was a grand church made of shiny white marble – it stood a great distance above the other buildings of the town, and in the center of the church was the crest of Anaexsia. "Wow, what a beautiful church!" Aeiroku gasped. "Ours was made of wood and stones!" As they all looked upon the Church – Eskel was rolling his eyes, thinking that it was nothing compared to Azumer's – a tall man full-clad in golden plate armor approached them. He took off of his helmet – he was a middle-aged man with dark hair and green eyes; he was very well-built – it was the Captain of the Knights. "Hello boys," he said, then his eyes wandered to Vaelyen. "Oh, Vaely! You decided to become a Squire, hm?" Vaelyen blushed and nodded nervously, "Y-yeah! Mom told me that she wanted me to grow up to be strong like you!" Davarian pat his son's head and glanced at the other two boys, "You'll all grow up strong, I'm sure." he said with a smile.
Aeiroku had only heard about the Captain through vague stories, but meeting him in person was like a trip to Heaven. Davarian was Aeiroku's hero – a man torn by war but still able to smile in the face of the light – he wanted to be like him when he grew up. "I'll do my best, sir!" Aeiroku exclaimed. Davarian chuckled, he liked the boy's enthusiasm. "All right then, what are your names? I don't want to call you 'Trainee A' and 'Trainee B', you know?" Aeiroku was going to speak, but Eskel rudely interrupted him, "I am Eskel de Vardien III of–" Davarian nodded, "Eskel. Nice to meet you, son!" he shook Eskel's hand, who was utterly annoyed that he could not announce his full title. "And you?" the captain asked Aeiroku.
When Davarian spoke to him, he felt special. He thought this was the feeling he would have if his father ever looked upon him – the Captain was the only one who had treated Aeiroku with such warmth and kindness, he truly admired him. "My name is Aeiroku Onzu!" The Captain nodded, "I see, and where are you from? You don't seem to be from around here." Aeiroku looked away, ashamed that he had come from such a poor village. "I...I am from Aselken Village." Davarian slapped his forehead in astonishment, "Aselken! That's miles and miles from here, boy! Weren't your parents against you going so far from home?" Aeiroku looked down to the ground, "I... I have no parents... I am an orphan." The words echoed in his mind. Orphan. He felt worthless.
Davarian put a hand on Aeiroku's shoulder, "I see. Well then, we'll all be your family! Isn't that right, boys?" Vaelyen nodded cheerfully, "Yes, of course! I always wanted a brother!" Eskel rolled his eyes, "Whatever. As long as you acknowledge me as your superior." Everyone laughed, and then the Captain spoke up. "All right, tomorrow your training begins. The rest of the Knights are stationed a few states away and since the reports of demonic invasions are at an all-time low, I have decided to put a year aside to train you all. Be ready, because this training is not a walk in the park. Not only are we Knights, we are the Holy Knights fighting under the banner of our Goddess." he gestured up at the church. "After your training, you must undergo the trial of Anaexsia – if you succeed, you will be blessed with the might of a Paladin and learn the powers required to battle evil."
The boys were all excited to begin their training, but for now the Captain led them to a small house where they would be living for the next year. "All right boys, training starts tomorrow. Have a good night! I'll send someone over to bring you breakfast so you won't be able to complain about training on an empty stomach!" Davarian chuckled and waved, and then he was gone.
Aeiroku and Vaelyen chatted to each other about their lives and their dreams to become great knights, while Eskel lay silently in his bed – he didn't want to associate himself with 'commoners'. At last they all fell asleep and the sun rose as quickly as it had set. The first rays of morning poured in through the shadeless windows, and the boys were soon awakened by a knock at the door. Aeiroku went to answer it, and when he opened the door he saw a very pretty girl around the same age as he. She was pale-shinned and had long, thin black hair with blond streaks in it and timid blue eyes. She wore a simple black dress and carried a large plate covered in food – fried eggs, sausages, a wide selection of fruit and several glasses of ice cold milk. Aeiroku blushed and clumsily stepped out of the way, nearly tripping on his own feet. "H-hello," he said. The girl smiled and nodded at him, then placed the plate on a dining table in the center of the room, between all of the bunk beds.
"I just came to bring you all breakfast. The Captain himself asked my mother to make this food and it was my duty to bring it. I am honored to meet some of the future Knights of Anaexsia," she bowed. Eskel and Vaelyen stared – they also thought she was beautiful.
Some day, I'll make her my woman! Eskel thought proudly. She'll be the Duchess of Azumer!
She's so pretty, Vaelyen already had a crush on her. I hope we can be good friends!
This girl is a great example of the people I want to protect when I grow up. Aeiroku was determined. I will fight to protect her and everyone else who cannot wield the power of Anaexsia. That is my dream!
"I should be going now," the girl said with a curtsy. "Good luck with your training!" As she turn to go, all of the boys wanted to ask her to stay, but only Aeiroku had the courage to speak up. "Why don't you share this food with us? There's more than enough for three, this is a huge feast!" he exclaimed. The girl blushed, "U-um, but..." Eskel got out of his bed and nodded, "Of course. This feast is exquisite, I invite you to join with us in our feast. I would be honored to have such a beautiful girl in my presence," he smiled at her. "Yeah, you're really pretty! You brought it all the way here to us too, so it's only fair that you share with us!" Vaelyen agreed. The girl was extremely nervous, "I-I don't know..." Aeiroku grinned cheesily, "It'll be fun! Why don't we all pretend that we are Knights having a feast after a great battle?! We are celebrating our mighty triumph over the darkness! Yay, yay! There is no more evil in all Toivoa! YAY!" he cheered. The girl giggled and played along, "Anaexsia's Light has cleansed the world!" she exclaimed.
They all sat down at the table afterward and began to eat, and all the while Aeiroku was celebrating the imaginary victory. "Fellow Knights," he raised a glass of milk. "Today we have conquered the evil threatening the peace of our world," he said dramatically. "We must eat... and eat... and eat until we can eat no more! Because Anaexsia would have us do so! Cheers, my brothers and sister!" The girl and Vaelyen laughed and raised their glasses, but Eskel was just rolling his eyes. After they finished their meal, they were too full to move. "Woooow, that was sooooo good!" Aeiroku exclaimed, "Your mom must be Anaexsia's own chef!" The girl giggled again, "Hehe, thank you very much. I will tell her that you enjoyed it." Eskel spoke up at last, "May I have the pleasure of knowing your name?" The girl was slightly nervous, "U-um... Sorayai..." she said bashfully. "Beautiful name, like an angel's." Eskel said. "Some day, I will make you my wife."
Sorayai blinked and blushed, "A-ah..." she was becoming uncomfortable. "I-I think I should go..." Vaelyen frowned, "Aww, but you just got here!" Aeiroku stood up, "Knights, it's time to move out! We have to... umm... it's a special secret assignment!" he ran to the door, opened it and ran out. The other boys were confused, but Sorayai followed after him with a giggle. Annoyed, the two other boys followed as well. Aeiroku was standing in front of the church, "Okay, here's the plan–!!" he was interrupted by an older priestess who walked out of the church. "Sorayai!" the lady said in a scolding voice. "What are you doing outside? You know your body is weak!" Sorayai lowered her head, "Sorry, Mother... I'll return home right away." She bowed to the boys and walked away without another word – she was sad to leave, because for the first time in a long time, she was having fun.
The priestess glanced at the boys, "I hope she wasn't troublesome for you boys. She has a severe condition that has made her bones very brittle. If she were to trip, she..." the priestess paused. "Oh dear Anaexsia, I don't want to think of it." she sighed as she walked off, still talking to herself. "She has great spiritual potential to be a priestess, but I don't want my daughter to be exposed to any kind of danger... if she were to undergo the trial, I am afraid she may not survive..."
The boys looked at each other in confusion. "A shame," Eskel sighed. "I suppose she is not suitable to be my wife after all. I wouldn't want unhealthy, weak children." Vaelyen lowered his head, "Poor Sorayai... it's not fair that she has to suffer like that." Aeiroku silently agreed with them. She was so happy though... I never would have guessed she had such a condition. Maybe we can visit her later to cheer her up! He smiled to himself, Yeah, that's a great plan!
Davarian approached the group, he was carrying four wooden swords and shields with him. "Morning, Squires!" he said and they all turned to him. "Today is the first day of training." He handed each of them a sword and shield. "Our first lesson is attacking and defending. Remember, having a relentless attack might allow you to fell one or two enemies, but if you are facing a large group, you need to have a strategy. Both offense and defense are important in a large scale battle; don't ever forget that you aren't fighting alone, you have allies with you on the field. Protect them, they are your brothers in war." The Captain's lecture continued, "Take these swords and shields with you, but for now you are not allowed to use them. You must first learn the essence of battle with your mind – tactics and strategy are extremely important."
The Captain continued to speak about fighting alongside your allies and fighting as a team instead of solo. He taught them how to scout areas and determine the severity of a demonic attack; he instructed them when to retreat and call for backup and when it was safe to fight. "In conclusion," he said, the sun beginning to set in the sky. "The most important thing is for your comrades to survive and to evacuate all civilians from the site of an attack. Quelling the demons is secondary, but also extremely important." he nodded. "That is all for today, Squires. Tomorrow you will learn the basics of hand-to-hand combat. You have the rest of the day to do as you please. Visit some of the local shops if you will, I'm sure you will be welcomed with open arms." Eskel promptly walked away without a word and Vaelyen decided to visit the shops.
After they had gone, Davarian glanced over at Aeiroku, who was lost in thought. "Aren't you going to go with them, Aeiroku?" he asked. "Leiren has lots of nifty things for young people like you." Aeiroku was brought back into reality, "Well... there was something I wanted to do!" he said with a small smile. "But I need your help!" The Captain raised an eyebrow, "Hm?" The boy blushed a bit, "I wanted to visit Sorayai. I heard about her condition and I wanted to cheer her up, because that's what the Knights are meant to do! To bring happiness to people." he was exuberant. The older man laughed, "Of course, that's right. Sorayai is a very bright young girl with amazing spirituality – she could be an extremely powerful priestess if she were to participate in the Trial. However, her mother is very protective. Her reasons are right, though. I wouldn't want such a nice young girl to be lost. You want to know where she lives, correct?" Aeiroku nodded. "At the back of Leiren is a pond, there you will see a small house with a water-wheel – this is where Sorayai lives." Aeiroku bowed, "Thanks, Captain!" Davarian chuckled, "You're welcome."
Aeiroku ran off towards the back of Leiren Village, picking a few wildflowers he saw growing in the grass on his way. By the time he reached Sorayai's house, the sun had disappeared from the sky and night was rapidly approaching. He knocked on the door and a few moments later, Sorayai opened the door. "Hello!" she was surprised but happy to see him. Aeiroku was holding the flowers behind his back with a cheesy grin on his face. "What's behind your back?" the girl asked, curious. "I wish it was a pizza, but it's not. It's something for you!" he exclaimed, holding up the flowers. Sorayai gasped, "Oh wow, these are for me?" she was overjoyed as he handed them to her. "Thank you so much, these are my favorite kind of flower. How did you know?"
Aeiroku rubbed the back of his head, "Ummm, well I just thought they were pretty." Sorayai giggled and invited him inside; they sat on a couch in the main room of the house near a crackling fireplace. "My mom left to do priestess work today, she said she'll be out of town for a week or two." she said sadly. "I was kind of lonely... so I'm really glad that you decided to visit me!" Sorayai placed the flowers in a vase with a bit of water. When she sat back down, there was silence between them for a time. "What is your name?" she asked. "Aeiroku Onzu," he replied, staring into the fireplace. "I'm from Aselken Village." He waited for the usual guffaw or sneer, but it did not happen. I didn't think she was like that, he thought. She seems like a really nice person. "I've never heard of that place before! Would you please tell me about it? I don't get out much... I've only seen Leiren Village, and I probably haven't seen all of that since Mom hates when I go outside." she sighed.
Aeiroku was surprised that someone was interested in his life, and so he decided to tell her a bit about the place he grew up. "It was a little village with not too many people. We didn't have as many shops as Leiren does, but we were happy just to be alive. I lived in... an orphanage before I came here, I never knew my parents." he paused. Ahh, I'm an idiot. I don't want to make her sad, he scolded himself. "Wow, it must have been like you had a huge family!" Sorayai exclaimed. He was slightly shocked at her response. "Hehe, yeah... it was. I felt a little bit sad to leave because my best friend Averyn was too young to become a Squire, so he couldn't come with me." She frowned, "That is sad. I hope you will get to meet him again some day!" Aeiroku was amazed that she was so engrossed in his words – it made him happy that she didn't judge him. She is such a nice girl! I want to make her smile.
"I'm sure we will!" Aeiroku exclaimed. "He'll probably join the Squires next year, but he'll probably arrive after I've become a junior Knight. Hehe, I'll ask the Captain if I can help train the new squires!" Sorayai nodded, "That's a great idea!" her smile made Aeiroku more happy than he had ever been – he would do everything in his power so that her smile would never fade. "It's pretty late," Aeiroku remarked as he glanced out the window and saw the darkness creeping in. "I should get back to the others." The girl looked sad, "Will you come and visit me tomorrow after your training? I'll bring you all breakfast again if you promise to come!" The boy nodded, "Of course I will! Why don't you come to the church after? You can watch us train," he said. "We're going to learn hand-to-hand combat tomorrow." Sorayai looked down at her lap, "Mother told me not to go outside too much... but I guess it's okay. I just have to be careful," she said. "Don't worry, I won't let anything happen to you!" Aeiroku said as he stood, smiling. "Hehe, please take care of me then, Sir Aeiroku!" she giggled and he blushed. "Y-yeah! Well, I better be going. Bye, Sorayai! See you tomorrow," and so he returned home.
Days turned into weeks, which turned into months... every day Sorayai brought the boys breakfast and came to watch them train. Aeiroku visited her every evening and they talked about their dreams and aspirations together. He learned that Sorayai wanted to become a Priestess of Anaexsia, but she would never do anything against her mother's wishes. After six months had passed, Sorayai's mother became very ill. The other priestesses had begun their mourning – soon she would be with the angels in Heaven. Sorayai was extremely depressed, but before her mother passed her away, she said: "My dear child... I have always loved you, and I pray that you will smile soon. Though my body will die, my spirit will live on.... remember that my light is always in you. Pursue your dreams... just be careful. You will always make me proud, my beautiful daughter." As her life faded, she mumbled, "My husband... have you come to bring me to Heaven...? It has been... so long... since I last saw you..." and then, she perished.
Leiren Village mourned her passing for an entire week – Sorayai's mother was a very powerful and kind priestess, always doing what she could to make Toivoa a better place. They built a great memorial in the cemetery to honor her memory and everyone in the whole town laid a white rose on the grave.
It was the night of the seventh day after her mother's death – Sorayai had spent much of her days here, sobbing endlessly. Aeiroku was always with her, but he never said a word – what could he possibly say? He had no idea what it was like to lose a loved one. "I miss her..." Sorayai said, drying her tears. "But... she wouldn't want me to cry... She wanted me to smile again..." she sighed. "It's so hard... but now I know what I must do." Aeiroku listened as she continued to speak, "I will undergo the Trial, Aeiroku. I want to be a Priestess... I want to serve the Goddess as my mother did."
"You can do it," Aeiroku said. "Definitely. You'll be the greatest priestess who ever lived!" Sorayai smiled a bit, "I will try my best..." she glanced up at Aeiroku, who was still standing beside her. "Aeiroku... thank you for being with me all this time. You have given me so much courage... and you never judged me because of my disability. I really owe you a lot..." she started to cry again, but she didn't know why. "Sora... what's wrong...?" The girl stood up and embraced him suddenly, "You are... all I have left, Aeiroku..." she sobbed. "Please... don't ever leave me..." He hugged her gently, resting his head on her shoulder, "I'm not going anywhere. Even after I become a Knight, I'll stay here to protect the village..." Sorayai had become his best friend, they knew everything about each other.
After that moment, the two became even closer and gradually fell in love. Theirs was a sweet romance; they often spent the night near the pond watching the stars and talking about the future – a future where Toivoa was free of evil.
The last day of Aeiroku's training quickly approached, and on this day he was taken to the Church of Anaexsia to undergo the Trial of Light, the final test before he could join the Knights. The trial measured his spirituality and faith by presenting him with their worst fears and nightmares; in order to pass, he must overcome the nightmares and prove that he had a strong heart of light.
Aeiroku saw images of a ruined village, torn apart the demons. He saw an older version of himself standing in the flames, clad in full-plate armor; tears streamed down his face as he was surrounded by his dead comrades. A few of them were still left standing, but they were overrun – there was no way they could win. They had to retreat, but only he could give the order, but he did not. There was still a shred of hope left... there was still light left in the village, but what was it...? He became obsessed with the vision and tried to find its meaning; he searched through the fiery shambles of the village and nearly became lost in the process. He was pulled out from the Trial by Davarian, who shook his head. "Aeiroku. You have failed the Trial," he said, disappointed. "It was a false vision. You were lead on by the darkness in your heart..." The Captain sighed, "I suppose today I will only be adding two Knights into the ranks." He was genuinely sad, he thought of Aeiroku as another son – he was hurt to have to tell him that he had failed to become a Knight.
"Come on, boys. Let's leave Aeiroku to his thoughts." Davarian said to Eskel and Vaelyen, and they left Aeiroku alone at the altar of the church. He was on his knees, crying. He was devastated to be taken in by a nightmare, how could his heart have been so weak...? "My dream..." he whispered. "It's... gone..." Moments later, Sorayai entered the church. "Aeiroku...? Why are you still here? Aren't you going to th–" But then she saw Aeiroku in tears and knelt beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Aeiroku..." she said, and he looked at her with sad eyes. "I... failed, Sorayai. My dream... is shattered..."
The girl shook her head, "No... you never failed, Aeiroku.." she said. "There is still a dream... that we can share together." Sorayai put her hands on his cheeks and looked into his eyes, "You still have me, Aeiroku." It was true, but his wish... was to become strong enough to protect the innocent. How could he ever hope to do that now? "Anaexsia is a dead goddess," she said, and Aeiroku was shocked. "But she lives on in all of us. The Trial is just a tradition, Aeiroku."
"What are you saying...?" Aeiroku asked. "I never told you this before, Aeiroku, but..." Sorayai was a bit hesitant. "I am... different than the others. I am the Harbinger." she told him. "What does that mean...?" he was confused. "I don't know exactly, I just found out myself... my mother hid a document in the house and I found it while I was cleaning the closet. I don't know where she got it from, she never mentioned it to me. I imagine she wanted to discard it to keep me safe, but she forgot." she sighed. "Maybe it means that you are the Harbinger of Anaexsia's return!" Aeiroku exclaimed. "Really?" she asked. "Well... that means our dream will definitely come true!" he was happy again.
"Because Anaexsia will return to cleanse the world," Sorayai said. "And I'll..." she paused. "Well, that doesn't matter. I passed the Trial a few months ago, remember? I'm a priestess now. That means... I have the ability to let you re-take it!" Aeiroku shook his head, "That's against the rules, though. You'll lose your powers if you do that!" Sorayai smiled, "I'm special. The restrictions don't affect me, I've already tested my powers in various ways. I don't care, Aeiroku. I want to help you! You don't even have to take the Trial, I can just make you a Knight right here. I can give you the powers myself!"
"No..." Aeiroku said, taking Sorayai's hands. "I won't let you commit sacrilege in order to help me." The girl smiled. "...I knew you'd say that." Then, he was blinded by a white light – he felt his soul become full of divine power. Wh-what's going on?!
Aeiroku found himself in the church again, but Davarian, Eskel and Vaelyen were still there. "Congratulations, Aeiroku!" Davarian exclaimed, patting him on the shoulder. "You've passed the Trial!" The boy was completely confused, "Wh-what...? But I... I was..." It was all... an illusion...? What on Toivoa...? "Today, we add three more Knights to our ranks!" the Captain was overjoyed. "Junior Knights, but Knights nonetheless! Let's go to the finest restaurant in town, I'll treat you all," he said with a hearty laugh. Eskel shrugged and Vaelyen cheered. "Aeiroku, why do you look so distraught? You're a Knight, my boy!" Davarian exclaimed. "Y-yeah... I know!" he replied. "Go on without me, I'll catch up later." The Captain nodded, "All right. We'll be at the Golden Canary when you want to join us. Let's go, you two," he said and the two boys nodded, then they were gone.
Minutes later, Sorayai walked into the church. "Hi Aeiroku!" she greeted him. Aeiroku looked at her, still confused. Did she...? No, she couldn't have. "Congratulations on passing the Trial!" she hugged him. "I'm so happy for you. Hehe, I'll be taking the test soon too, then I'll be a full-fledged priestess!" Oh well, I guess I shouldn't worry about it. The Trial was made to try and confuse you, right...? I'm just going to enjoy the moment! "That's great! I know you'll pass it easily. You're the most spiritual and faith-filled person I know!" Aeiroku said with a nod. "Hey, why don't you join us at the Golden Canary?" Sorayai was delighted, "Sounds great!" They met up with the others and had a delicious meal together.
Davarian wished them a fond farewell in the following days – he had to get back to the Knights' post in the capital. Vaelyen and Eskel went with him, while Aeiroku stayed behind to watch over Leiren Village. In order to become a senior Knight, one must pass a second Trial – this was similar to the first, but the dangers were much more real. Aspiring Knights had to fight shades of demons within their mind with the powers and skills they learned, but if they failed, their minds would be lost in chaos until a Priestess healed them. Aeiroku would need to train for a long time in order to overcome this trial – he had to learn how to use his divine magic and continue to practice the battle methods he was taught.
For the next month, Aeiroku took it easy – he moved in with Sorayai and spent all of his time with her. His fourteenth birthday was approaching and when it came, Sorayai made him a feast. "Wowww, that was the best!" Aeiroku said after having eaten like a pig. "Hehe, what about dessert? I made some pie!" Sorayai giggled. "Nooo.... you're going to kill me!" he said with a silly expression. "What kind of pie?" he was interested. "Your favorite!" He gasped, "Apple Supreme?!" The girl nodded and brought him the pie – even though he was full, he ate the entire thing. He probably got sick after, but that's a story for another time.
After that day, Aeiroku spent most of his time training with the sword and the energy of the divines; he taught Sorayai how to wield a blade when they were seventeen and she became his sparring partner. She was a formidable opponent, having great agility and wit, and with her help Aeiroku mastered the way of the sword. He participated in many dueling tournaments in Leiren after he turned eighteen, and by the time he was nineteen he was dubbed the strongest man in the village. As the years passed, Sorayai and Aeiroku became closer and closer, and Aeiroku dreamed of the day when he would propose to her.
When he was twenty-two, he easily completed the second Trial and was the first to become a senior Knight. Eskel and Vaelyen returned, along with another familiar face – Averyn. There was a celebration in the town square with many junior knights who were stationed near Leiren, and even Davarian visited. "Captain!" Aeiroku exclaimed. "It's been nine years since I last saw you!" The Captain looked old and a bit sickly, but his spirit was strong as always. "Good to see you, Aeiroku. You've grown into a fine man! So tell me, how many girlfriends do you have?" he chuckled. Aeiroku grinned, "Only one." he replied. "Soon... I want to ask her to be my wife." The Captain pat his shoulder, "That's fantastic." he paused; it seemed there was something on his mind. "What is it, Captain?"
Davarian's eyes dimmed, "I have something to tell you later, but your friends are here to see you. Even Averyn has come!" he smiled and then walked away. Eskel, Vaelyen and Averyn all came up to Aeiroku – they had all grown into handsome men, but by far Aeiroku was the best-looking. "Guuuys!" Aeiroku exclaimed. "Averyn! It's good to see you, man! It's been YEARS!" Averyn gave his friend a brotherly hug, "Yeeeep! I came all the way here to see you. You're a senior knight already, that's amazing! You're the youngest to ever reach that status!" Aeiroku rubbed the back of his head, "Awww, shucks... I didn't know that, hehe. But I had a lot of help!"
Vaelyen playfully punched Aeiroku in the shoulder, "You're still great, Aeiroku! Glad to see you haven't changed at all." he smiled. Eskel was standing silently with his arms crossed. "Eskel, how are you?" Aeiroku asked. "...You've done well, Aeiroku," he said with a nod. "I acknowledge you as my superior. One day, I hope that I have the honor of calling you my Captain." Aeiroku laughed, "Hahaha, well, Davarian will always be the Captain! We'll serve under him 'till we're all old men, right?" His three friends glanced at each other. "Davarian didn't tell you?" Eskel asked. "Tell me what...?" Aeiroku was a bit concerned. "He's retiring from the Knights. He came here to tell you," he explained. "Actually, he wanted to ask you to take his place as Captain."
"Captain of the Anaexian Knights?! Whaaaat?!" Aeiroku was baffled. "But the Captain is in great health! Why does he want to retire? There's no way I could be a great leader like him," he said. "We all know that's not true," Eskel rolled his eyes. "We all admired you from the start, and even the Captain saw your huge potential when we were kids." Averyn agreed, "Yeah, Aeiroku. You even told me that you wanted to become Captain someday. This is like, your greatest dream! It's finally within reach, aren't you excited?" Aeiroku looked away. "It's her, isn't it?" Eskel asked. "You're still in love with her."
Aeiroku's eyes slowly wandered back to his friends, "Yeah..." he paused. "I... I wanted to ask her to marry me this summer." Averyn laughed, "Oh yeah, they told me about her. Sorayai, right? The daughter of a Priestess? I heard she's pretty hot, hehe!" Aeiroku rolled his eyes, "She's more than just good-looking, though." Eskel sighed, "Will you abandon your duty for her? Will you let many innocents suffer just so you will be happy? Truly Aeiroku, if that is the kind of man you are, I am sorry for praising you." Aeiroku shook his head, "I would never abandon my duty; my dream is still to annihilate all evil from Toivoa. Maybe if I really become Captain... I can make that dream come true. If Toivoa is safe, I could settle down and live with her..." Vaelyen grinned, "You've become such a hopeless romantic!"
"I guess so," Aeiroku glanced away. "Anyway, I'll have to tell her the news. I still have to talk with the Captain about this too." Captain of the Anaexian Knights... I'm dreaming, right? "See you, guys. Thanks for coming to my ceremony! It was a great party, though we should have had more pizza..." he waved to his friends and wandered off to the little house next to the pond. He knocked on the door, but no one answered.
Just then, a gigantic pillar of light fell from the heavens onto the Church of Anaexsia and Aeiroku ran there as fast as he could to see what was happening. When he entered the church he saw Sorayai standing at the altar, bathed in light. She turned to him and smiled as the light disappeared, "I passed my Trial, Aeiroku. I'm finally a true Priestess!" she ran to him and hugged him. "That's great!" he exclaimed. "I knew you could do it!" So she was waiting until I became a senior knight, eh...? Hehe, that sounds like her. "Sora," he said seriously. "I have some news to tell you."
Captain Davarian entered the church, "Dear Anaexsia! Was that light from you, Sorayai?" Sorayai nodded, "Yes! Anaexsia has accepted me as one of her Holy Priestesses!" she was ecstatic. "That's wonderful," he said, walking between them. "I have something to tell the both of you. I know you are very close," he went on. "But unfortunately, now that Aeiroku is a Senior Knight – the only one other than myself, in fact – he has new responsibilities. I am retiring and giving my title to Aeiroku," he explained, and the two looked at him, surprised. Davarian took the shield that he wore on his back and handed it to Aeiroku – a great black onyx tower shield engraved with Anaexsia's crest – as well as his mastercrafted short-sword, Fonanasi. "Y-you're giving this to me?" Aeiroku held the treasures in his hands. "Yes. They are the sword and shield passed down from Captain to Captain," Davarian replied. "As of now, I am but a normal citizen. With my sword and shield I give you all my power," the old man smiled as a holy powerful aura surrounded him and then dispersed, floating into Aeiroku.
The divine energy entered into Aeiroku, blessing him with an enormous amount of power on top of what he already had. Now, he was the strongest Knight who ever lived – there was no man more worthy to be the Captain of the Anaexian Knights than he. "Captain..." Aeiroku said. Davarian laughed, "Haha, I'm just Davarian now." he bowed before Aeiroku. "Hail to you, Captain of the Anaexian Knights, Aeiroku Onzu!"
Aeiroku was greatly honored, "I promise that I will do everything I can, to make you proud!" I've always looked up to him my whole life, I won't let him down! "I know you will," Davarian said. "I always thought of you as my second son, you know. Anyway, I think I'll go on a nice vacation to some faraway island... hmmm, for the first time in fifty years, I don't have any obligations!" He laughed again, "Well, see you kids later. You have my blessing!"
"Sorayai..." Aeiroku said. The woman smiled sadly, "It's okay, Aeiroku. I'll always wait for you. One day, I know you'll make Toivoa a place of peace and light – a world that Anaexsia can awaken to." He remembered the vision he had on the day of his first Trial; he shrugged off the thought. "Let's spend the rest of the day together, okay?" Sorayai nodded, "I'd like that. Let's go to the pond, like we used to when we were younger." So they did.
After that day, Aeiroku had to leave Leiren Village. He traveled all over the country to meet each and every member of the Anaexian Knights; he quickly became loved by all for his heart of gold and dutifulness – he had always placed everyone else's well-being above his own. He spent much of his time training fledgling squires to be even greater than he someday. He lead his Knights to victory in many battles against the demons which were invading his country more often, which made his popularity grow even more. By the time he was twenty-three, he had become a legendary figure.
Still, Aeiroku's heart was torn in two directions – for love and for duty – but his responsibility over the Knights was always priority; without a leader, the Knights would be lost. Not a day passed when he did not think of Sorayai, and always she thought of him as well. She would wait for him to return, no matter how many years it took – she would wait until she died and she promised to even wait after she had gone to Heaven.
Over the next year, he visited Sorayai twice. Then, in the spring before Aeiroku's twenty-fifth birthday, he received a report from one of the Knights who was stationed in Leiren that the city was under attack by a battalion of lesser demons. He was worried and afraid for not only the lives of the people there, but especially for Sorayai.
Aeiroku returned with his Knights to Leiren as quickly as they could travel, but when he returned the city had already been overrun. There were demons everywhere, and the Knights fought to eliminate them while the Captain searched for Sorayai. He had believed her to be dead, but then he found her standing beside the pond – she was covered in blood.
As Aeiroku approached, his heart tightened when he saw that her eyes were empty and dark. "Sorayai!" he called out to her, but she did not respond. The priestess grabbed a bloody short sword that lay at her side – he did not notice – and charged at him, trying to stab him in the chest, but his armor protected him. Aeiroku could not bring himself to lift a hand against her – he was petrified with shock and fear, unable to comprehend what was going on. Still, he held her in his arms...
Sorayai, what has happened?! Aeiroku's mind was in chaos. How could the demons... how could they have possessed you...? His emotions overtook him and he was unable to defend himself; he dropped the black onyx tower shield to the bloodstained grass. "Come back to me!" he begged. "Please... please!"
But she could not hear him. His guard was down, he was defenseless and the possessed Sorayai took advantage of his weakness. She drove the blade through his side, where his armor was worn from his previous battles. As he bled, she begged him to kill her. "Please... kill me..." she was crying tears of blood. "I am... the Harbinger... I can't... fight it... please Aeiroku... spare me this misery!"
Aeiroku drew Fonanasi, tears running down his cheeks. No, no, I will not kill her! I will purify the evil from her and free her from this curse! He drove the holy blade through her torso – its divine energy rushed through her body and purified it, but it was too late for her. She would slowly be turned to dust.
"S-Sorayai..." Aeiroku cried as her saw her body began to disintegrate. There was nothing he could do. He fell to the ground on his side; Sorayai's life faded away as she felt with him, her body turning to dust. He sobbed as the mortal wound drained him of his energy, holding his only love's body in his arms – he had murdered her. The... Harbinger...?
Guilt washed over Aeiroku as his vision began to fade and his life dwindled away. He had failed the Anaexian Knights, he had failed the Goddess... but most of all, he failed to protect the only person who ever truly loved him. Why did it have to end this way...? Why was fate so cruel...? He knew now that what he saw in the past was an omen of this future, but it didn't matter.
Without Aeiroku, the Knights fell prey to the demonic army, one-by-one they were brought down and their corpses were thrown into a blood-red pyre. His friends were the last ones standing; they tried to find Aeiroku in the fiery mess that was Leiren, but they, too fell prey to the demons. The last thing Aeiroku heard were the cries of his dying comrades – his heart and spirit were broken and he was full of regret, but there was nothing he could do.
Aeiroku's life was lost and all turned to blackness. Where would he go now? He had failed them all... could he even face them in Heaven? Did he even deserve to go there?
"What happened after that is a story for another time, my friends." Aeiroku Onzu had ascended to Heaven and become a mighty angel – thousands upon thousands of years later, he became the Seraphim of Heaven, second only to the High Lord. He had been speaking with a group of newbie angel trainees, and they sighed when he ended his story. "Tomorrow we're back to training. If you all do well, we'll have some awesome pizza! Then, I'll tell you the rest of the story. Sound good?" The trainees cheered and then they were dismissed.
Aeiroku stared up at the heavenly clouds, "How many years has it been since I last saw you...? Even now, I haven't been able to find you. But I'll never give up hope, Sorayai..."
"We'll be together again one day; even if it takes me an eternity. Time is unlimited for me," Aeiroku whispered. "In my heart, there's only room for you. I'll find you... I promise. Wherever you are... just wait for me!"
(sorry for the long post!)
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