“There are less elaborate methods to getting himself killed, and less painful too I might add,” Kalwyr cast a stern glance at Varidan as he bandaged his ribs, the effect of the stern glance fell short in effect, as Varidan was not intimidated by his friend’s anger.
“You send Skylar to me, Kalwyr, and with what he said I could hardly do nothing.” He winced when he felt the deft fingers examine his ribcage, his body was bruised all over form the duel. Tamarlaine… he had defeated Tamarlaine, he still could not believe he had survived the encounter with the best swordsman of the order.
“I did not send him to you,” Kalwyr spread a thin layer of salve on the bruises then announced with a gesture that he was done. “I only felt that the boy was troubled, and said that you are a good comrade to confide in. Had I known what he had seen… Varidan there are easier ways to prove a murder than Trial under the Light! What were you thinking?”
Sitting up Varidan pulled the tunic on, he had to bite down a noise when the chainmail armor followed, his battered body disliked the additional weight. “I did what had to be done, Kalwyr, openly, no maneuvering, no politicking.” He could not go on, for the door of the Healing House opened and one of the Templars entered, it was Ergain, one of the trainers here at Fortress of Lights.
“I apologize for interrupting your duties, Healer Kalwyr,” he said, “but I have to inquire if any of your charges have wish to participate in a Trial Extraordinaire.”
Varidan frowned. “What trial is so urgent that you cannot wait till next Feast of Swords?” he inquired, directing his gaze at Ergain.
The older man flinched slightly, heaving a sigh. “Skylar’s Trial,” he said grimly. “his deeds almost toppled a High Lord Commander and thus he cannot remain Novice any longer.”
There was no arguing with his logic, a Novice pulled so deeply into Templar affairs better proved himself to be fully grown… yet, Varidan felt an echo of resentment in the words. There were those who did not entirely agree with Tamarlaine’s fall and while they could not say a word against him, they would send an unprepared novice into the trial. “I will be part of it,” he announced, there was no chance to stop the trial, the law allowed for such a decision, but he could make sure that it was conducted according to the law. There was a glimmer of surprise in Ergain’s eyes but then he nodded. “Very well, come with me.”
The Hall of trials was a simple, empty hall where the chalices were placed. Templar trials… they actually were Seeker Trials, as only the Seekers had the Power to influence the mind so deeply, and send them into the Dream, where the trial happened. They were the last to arrive - the people present were according to the law: The Weapon’s Master, Novice master, Three Seekers, and Three Witnesses from the Templars.
Varidan had only taken his place in the circle, when steps announced the arrival of one of the Trainers and the Novice. Varidan had met Skylar only two days before, when he had learned of the murder of the High Lord Commander, he had not seen him since, but the youth - he was about 17 - held himself tall, though he was pale.
“Skylar, Novice of the Order, you are summoned here to face the trials of the Templar,” The Novice Master began to speak. “with any novice the law dictates that he has one chance to refuse the trial and try again within a year. In your case, I still am compelled to offer you the chance…”
“That will not be necessary,” Skylar’s voice was firm as he spoke, “I will face the trial.” Their eyes met across the hall and Varidan allowed for a small smile to show on his face, the youth had courage and it helped to know that one was not alone in the Trial hall.
“Very well,” the Novice Master went on, “then you will hear what no novice hears before coming here - this is a Seeker’s Trial, it will strain your mind and the consequences will be as real as any physical wound.” He raised his arm, displaying a long scar. “I received this in my trials. You have to pass through the dreams, the seven chalices give you, if the Light finds you worthy, the Blessing will be passed on to you.”
It was one of the many mysteries that survived from the old church down in Caldera, though much of their old knowledge had been lost when Caldera had been burned. “Once the trial has begun you must continue, no matter what - failure to do so will result in death as surely as failing one of the seven stages. Do you understand that.”
“I understand,” Varidan well remembered standing in Skylar’s place, the final trial was one feared by all Novices, no one entered it with a light heart. For being unprepared Skylar held himself well, Varidan wondered if he had been one with an early calling already approaching the end of his Novitiate, he did not seem like someone who had come in only two or three years ago.
“Good. Of the three witnesses one may your guide, if you so wish.” The Novice Master finished the formal part. “Name your choice and the trial may begin.”
Skylar raised his skin and again his eyes locked with Varidan’s, of those present in the hall, they both knew why they were here - because their meeting had brought down the avalanche of revelation of murder inside their own ranks. And while the High Hall was assembled to deal with that, they both knew that this was the direct repercussion of it. “Knight Varidan, I would ask you to be my guide as I walk into the Light,” Skylar’s voice did not quiver when he spoke.
“I am honored,” Varidan replied, keeping to the formal response. He knew how good it was to have an ally in this hall, in the trial. “let us proceed and all will be done that may be done under the Light.”
He approached Sklyar and gestured him to approach the first chalice. “The first Chalice is for strengths and how to understand them, be strong. The Light guide you.” He said, the words were prescribed in the code, there was little enough that was allowed outside them.
The chalice ignited - cold silver shining in blue light. Skylar touched the blue light with his hand and froze in place the next moment, his entire body swirlled by a bright, cold light. Watching, Varidan found was harder than going through it - he could see the reactions in Skylar’s locked form, flinches, injuries, pain shining on the face - but watching it was harder than he had thought.
When Skylar came from the trance he panted. “The first step was taken, but the path requires more than strength,” Varidan announced leading him on. “the second time is for faith, remember that faith is more than belief.”
Second, third and fourth chalice passed by, and Varidan would say Sklyar was doing well, many a Novice collapsed after the third or fourth, many were shaking or crying by fifth and after sixth few stood without problems - Varidan knew he had been in tears after fifth and thought he could never face sixth. Each step was harder than the one before. Skylar held himself well, there were no tears and no collapses out of him, though his step became more stiff after fourth chalice, the Blessing began to settle on him early - a strong one then. Would he be able to carry it? Varidan wondered, when the fifth chalice had Skylar’s frozen form quiver in agony, fifth, standing for abiding and endurance was always hard to bear, but what lay ahead - pain and doubt were even worse.
Skylar was shaking when he came out of the trance, biting down a noise of pain, Varidan steadied him - that was permissible, he had received much the same support during his own trial. “The sixth stands for the suffering we all face from our enemies, for your fears - remember that we all are in the Hands of the Light, and what it decrees for us will be right in the end.”
Watching Sixth trial told Varidan why he’d never be Novice Master, he could not come here each year again, watch the trials and lose students to them. He could not… and he never would. By the time the chalice released Skylar, the youth had gashes all over his body, his arms were bleeding and his eyes were wide with horror. “One more,” Varidan said under his breath. “the seventh stands for all that is holding you back. Go with the Light.” The last was the most cruel of them all, necessary though it was.
The waiting took long, Varidan tried to show the calm, inapproachable facade to the outside, but he could not. He hated having to watch, having to wait for the trial to end. It took long, longer than Varidan thought it would. It had to be already evening outside.
When the Chalice released Skylar he stumbled forward, both knees hitting the ground, tears marred his face and fresh injuries stained his body. Varidan helped him up. “The path was ended,” he said the formal words.
The Seeker Monk approached. “It is done,” he announced, “the path was ended and the Light embraced his son. It is done.” His eyes directed on Skylar he went on. “Skylar of Echo Ridge, you will spend the night in prayer and contemplation of the burden that you will take upon the morrow when you swear the oaths of a Templar…”
Varidan arched an eyebrow, all oaths were given to the High Lord Commander and he was dead without a new one yet announced. How did the Seeker plan to circumvent that?
Behind them the door opened, in reflex Varidan came around, standing between the Novice and the arrivals, he had expected something to go awry with this unorthodox trial since the beginning. In the doorway stood three members of the High Council, plus two more Seekers. “Varidan of Coldshade Heights, you are summoned to submit yourself to the High Hall and to be tried under the Code no one may break. The Light keep you safe and guide your path.”
Had the Earth opened under him or the Council announced him the new ambassador to the Aeld, Varidan could not have been more shocked. They could not mean that. There was only one trial they could call him for now and that… he was not ready for that, not to say too young by several decades. “This cannot be right,” the words were out before he could stop them.
The Weapon’s Master shook his head. “You cannot refuse that trial, Varidan, you know that. It is the call no one may postpone or evade. Choose your two witnesses of trust if you must, but do it speedily. The Light does not wait on the man to be ready.”
They meant to do it… Varidan’s head was spinning. No High Lord Commander had ever been called that young. Politics… maybe they had chosen to mete out some punishment? He wished he could believe it was impossible, but ever since learning of Calcuran’s murder, he knew that there were things not right inside their leadership. Two Templars, two men he could trust to have his back in this? Only one of his closest friends was here, Jehán and who for the second? Whom could he trust. A thought came to him… one that might work.
“As my witnesses I name Jehán of Port of Storms, and Skylar of Echo Ridge,” he said out loud, straightening up.
The Weapon’s Master frowned. “Skylar is only a novice, the witnesses need to be Templars, Varidane.”
“The witnesses need to have ‘passed the trial of the Templar’” One of the Seekers said dryly. “the law never stated that they had to have sworn the oaths. He has you there Tarin.”
The Weapon’s Master shot Skylar a glare. “You better grab your blade and keep your head, young one. You will be ready to drop by the time you’ll begin your night of vigil.”
Flanked by Jehán and Skylar Varidan followed the three silent council members to the council hall. The trial of the High Lord Commander. He did not know what to expect, he only knew it was the hardest trial that had survived the burning of Caldera. If this was a trap of sorts… the only advantage he could hope for, was that Skylar had yet to render his oath to not use his Blessing to harm others. Not a good thought. He felt a gaze upon himself and his eyes met with younger man’s and he saw encouragement there. They both had to pay the price for bringing down the greatest traitor in the history of the order, and they’d not give in. Strange he’d find encouragement in his young comrade.
Head held high Varidan walked into the High Hall, ready to face what lay ahead.