Chapter 17 - Kaiden



“So, I’m good to go right?”

“No my child, you were almost drained completely of blood,” Miss Dalia said throwing her hands in the air.

“I get that, but that was then, this is now.”

“You need to take it easy. You can’t just rush out into the world because you feel better. There are still long term effects we may not be aware of yet.”

“I mean, what are the odds something bad will happen? Besides, I got faith in you Miss Dalia.”

“Mother Dalia, I’ve told you it’s Mother Dalia. Are you listening to anything I’ve been trying to tell you?”

“Yes Miss Dalia.”

“Kaiden, you are going to be a handful and I’m much too old for it.”

“I am so not a handful. I’m super chill,” I have no idea why she would think I’m a problem. I haven’t been here long enough to do anything.

It’s good that I’m healthy again. They told me I was a thane for a while. A few years actually. I don’t remember any of that. Supposedly a thane is someone that’s under control of vampires. That’s something they do. All I know is, that’s not cool, and someone should do something about it. That someone might be me because nobody else here is worried about. Not that I’ve talked to a lot of people. But the ones I did, aren’t worried at all.

“Kaiden, did you hear me? We’re going on a tour of the grounds,” Miss Dalia calls from the door, hands on her hips. She is really sassy for an old woman.

Dalia spends so much time walking me around this ancient looking place. It’s like a little city built around this huge temple I’m not allowed to go into yet. Why would you build a huge temple if people weren’t allowed in it? Isn’t that what temples are for? For people to worship. Apparently, I’m going to have to go to school here. That’ll be fun. School has never been fun. Well, there’s a bunch of super killer monks here. So maybe it’ll be cool.

“Hey, when do I get to learn about killing vampires.”

“When you are sixteen, if you choose that path. However, that is not our only way of life,” Miss Dalia says.

“Why can’t I go into the temple?”

“There are many temples here you may go into. The large one, you may not go into unless called to be one of our religious or political leaders.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Boy, when you are a guest in someone else’s homeland you follow their customs and do not make such bold judgements like saying things you do not understand are stupid,” she looks ticked off.

I just sit and listen to the rest of the tour. I don’t ask any questions, and only speak when she speaks to me. I don’t want to make an enemy out of her. She seems like she’s got a little power around here. Probably killed a bunch of vampires too. Old but deadly woman. She’s could probably kill me and no one would know.

“Look at that statue. What do you see,” she says pointing to one of many in a small park.

“I see a person shaking hands with a pointy eared person,” I’m not blind.

“No, that is a statue of the men who founded this place. A man, and an Elf who granted him the land in their sacred forest.”

“So, Elves are real? Like those movies with the ring, and dragon and volcano,” she took a left with that.

“Yes, you’ve met some since you’ve been here. Elves, Orcs, Goblins and more are all real. How can you accept vampires so easily but not others? You have a one tract mind.”

“So, the founders? What’s their deal,” I had to get her back on topic.

“Centuries ago, the world was not as it is today. It was a world at war. Humans fighting elves. Werewolves fighting Orcs, vampires draining us all. Goblins and Dwarves fighting for control of mountains and caves. There was death and despair everywhere. This place was founded as a place where people of all races and species could come and live together. In time, the rest of the world grew peaceful, but it was not without casualties. Still, there were those men and creatures that would harm innocents. That is when our people picked up arms and casts spells to defend those who could not defend themselves. It was not just vampires they fought, but werewolves, orcs, humans, elves. Anything that would harm another with no remorse. Today we still carry on that mission,” Miss Dalia finishes wiping a tear from her eye.

She finishes up the tour at her favorite restaurant and insists I have dinner with her. She makes me order from the kid’s menu. She keeps referring to me as a child but, I’m not a kid. Dinner is just filled with more rules about living here. She keeps avoiding my questions about learning how to fight. I don’t know why she can’t just give me a straight answer about why I’m not allowed to fight. I know she said sixteen, but I’m sixteen. I’m only a kid by a technicality.

“So you’re not budging on this sixteen thing? Even if I am sixteen technically,” I ask moving a green bean to the other side of my plate.

“I don’t make the rules or even enforce them. Your discrepancy is not with me child.”

“Well, can you tell me another story then? One about Jason.”

“Why do you look up to that man?”

“He’s like a superhero. He saved me, and a bunch of other people. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ver seen.”

“Very well, do you know what a Basilisk is?”

“Not a clue.”

“Well, we’re going to have to do a little history lesson, but I’ll tell you about the time he killed one.”

Chapter 16



I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights lately. I’ll probably have some more, but they won’t be here at the temple. Today is the last day for me. I’ve got a few people left to say goodbye to, but most of my affairs are in order. I’ve got an apartment all set up, utilities and all that stuff. I want to bolt out of the door. I’ve had everything set up since I got my sentence. I’ve had most of my belonging sent to the apartment already. Surprisingly Elsar helped with that. He arranged for a few of the people on leave or taking jobs in the city to drop things off for me. He must be over himself with joy knowing I’ll be out of his hair forever in a few days. I could have left already but I’m stalling. Dalia still hasn’t spoken to me. I’ve been trying to say goodbye to her for a while now. There always seems to be something in the way.

A knock comes at the door, I think I’ve had six visitors the entire time I’ve been here. Hopefully it’s Dalia finally come to say goodbye. Instead I open the door to see Elsar, maybe. He’s dressed in casual clothes and has his hair tied back. As far as I’m concerned this is a first for either of those. I knew he was an elf or at least half. This is the first time I’ve seen his ears, they aren’t completely pointed but there’s a point to them. He’s half elf for sure. But why is he here?

“Um, hello,” I greet him hesitantly.

“Good morning, would you care to join me on a run Jason,” he asks jumping to the point and throwing me off by calling me Jason.

“Sure, let me grab some running shoes.”

I didn’t even know Elsar worked out, I had never saw him training. I thought he was purely magic. He isn’t fast, but the man has endurance. We’ve run further than I usually would and we just keep going until we reach the graveyard near the end of the temple grounds.

“Lets take a break,” Elsar suggests winded.

“Didn’t know you did so much endurance training,” I say leaning on a tree.

“I didn’t always do it.”

“What changed?”

“You.”

“Oh wow, casual clothes, tied up hair and jokes. You must be happy to see me go,” I’d have laughed harder if I had more air in my lungs.

“No, I’m serious. You’ve been saying we were stuck in the past for a long time. So I borrowed some techniques from you. Despite what you think. I don’t hate you,” he says looking into my eyes.

“Then why are you such a dick,” language doesn’t matter now. I’ve already been kicked out.

“Because I want you to be better. You have a lot of natural talent, you know your stuff and you work hard. That’s three fourths the equation. The fourth part is strategy and you have no concept of that whatsoever,” he throws his hands in the air confused.

“Then why did you never just say that.”

“Because I respect you as an independent person. Sure, I’ve seen a lot of talented pupils. You are hardly the most talented. But, you are not nearly as dependent on receiving direction as the others. I respect that. If you ever learned how to slow down and not rush in shooting off your guns you could overcome anything, perhaps even death,” he says looking away from me now.

“If it makes you feel better, I don’t hate you either. I really respect you. You’re one of the few elders that actually goes out in the field with us. Even when shit goes South, you make sure everyone comes home alive. So yeah, it’s mutual respect.”

“Jason, you can’t come back here for a while. You may never want to come back here. But, I want you to know, you can always ask me for help when you need it. I hope that one day you’ll call me and I’ll be able give you a hand.”

“Thank you, hopefully, I won’t need your help. But if I do, I’ll know it’s always there.”

“Good luck,” he extends his hand.

I shake his hand and heads back down the path we came. It was good to clear the air with him. But, he’s still manipulative. Not in his words or actions this time. But, the destination he chose. This graveyard is where my parents are buried. I’ve come here twice. Once as a baby, when they were buried. Once when Dalia brought me here at sixteen. Neither time I felt any real connection for the people. It’s not like I ever really knew them, or they cared for me. Still, they are my parents.

I’ve made it to their grave before I realized that I fell for one last Elsar trick. Are people supposed to speak when they visit graves? I don’t really know what to say. I suppose I should say something. There’s a very low chance that I ever come back here again. Everything I’ve thought about since I was younger can be summed up in a few words.

“Hey, I don’t really know anything about either of you. I know I was named after my grandfather on my mother’s side. I know dad wanted me to have a name from this century so my middle name is Jason. Thanks for that one I guess because I was tired of being Isaac, Isran, Isiah, and everything else. Dalia always says that you would be proud of me. She said I look just like you dad, but I act like mom. I guess that’s it. I don’t really have any questions about do you love me or not. That’s what always happens in these books. Now I’m supposed to find some great clarity and activate my latent super powers. Well, thanks for giving birth to me. I guess I’ll catch you next lifetime.”

I’ve got a little time left, so I rush over to Dalia’s living quarters. I bang on the door, but she doesn’t answer. I know she’s there. She’s been ignoring me for the longest but I really need to say goodbye to her before I leave. It’ll kill me on the inside if I don’t. I can hear her behind the door, watching TV and laughing. Only a few minutes left and she’s still ignoring me.

“Look, I know you don’t want to see me now, but I have to tell you this,” I start yelling loud enough to draw some looks from people passing by. Fuck em. “I just want to say thank you. You spent a lot of time raising a fuck up like me. Foul mouth and all but you know I got it from you. I was a pain in the ass for sure. But, you always did your best to keep me in line. Thank you, for that even if you don’t want to see me. I won’t forget everything you’ve done for me. I know you probably don’t want to see me and that’s fine. I just had to tell you thanks.”

“I should have known it was you causing a scene. Mr. Zadok it’s time to go. Please gather any remaining possessions,” Eineke appears like a specter.

The door flies open and Dalia pushes pass Eineke. She wraps me in her arms and buries her face in my shoulder. I hug her back. I remember when I used to have to look up to speak to her. Now It’s like I tower over her. I had never noticed how old she had gotten. She aged gracefully, but I didn’t help. I wonder how old she is now.

“Hey, don’t worry about me anymore. Please,” I ask her.

“Shutup you dumbass,” she says.

I’ve been waiting for this hug for a while now. I’m just glad I could finally see her one last time before I head out into the world. I needed to hear her calling me a dumb ass one last time. Just as a reminder, before I dive into the deep end of the world.

Chapter 15



Most people sit and chat after the trial. I’m the first one out, I feel relieved, a weight lifted off my shoulder. I’m set free from a prison I didn’t know I was in. The first thing I do is take a big breath and smell the air as I walk out. This time I’m greeted by the scent of pine trees instead of this dusty temple. Has it always smelled so nice around here?

“There he is, go speak to him,” I hear Mother Dalia’s voice.

When I turn I don’t see here anywhere in the crowd that’s flowing out. I might be hearing things. I’ll have to give her some kind of gift when I say goodbye to her. I head down the stairs almost skipping. I trip on the last one but I catch myself and laugh at the silliness of myself. It’s almost as if I’m floating on a cloud right now. I lost that trial on paper, but I won. They don’t control me anymore.

“Wait,” a crackly voice calls out. “Isaias, wait,” the voice calls out. I don’t recognize it, but I wait.

I don’t recognize the kid standing in front of me at first. The sneakers have changed for our standard sandals. Shorts and shirt are gone and replaced by the robes new students wear. Finally, it gets to me, this is the kid that was knocked out. The one I carried out of the house back in the woods. He’s been cleaned up and dressed. He could still use a haircut and he still looks frail and skinny, but he’s a lot better than when I last saw him.

“Hi, I’m Kaiden,” he says out of breath.

“Hey, I’m Jason,” I respond extending my arm for a hand shake.

“That’s cool, people just call me Kaiden. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for rescuing me,” instead of shaking my hand, he gives me a hug. It’s not a strong, hug. It’s odd to just hug people the first time you meet. I can’t say I like hugs very much anyway. Still, I hug him back because it seems like he had been waiting on this moment for a while. Finally, he lets go, and I hold on a few more seconds before letting him go. That’s something Mother Dalia taught me. Don’t let go of the hug until the other person does, they might really need that hug. I still hate hugging.

“Well, I’m glad you’re doing alright kid.”

“So, where are we heading next,” he asks with a straight face.

“What do you mean by ‘we’ because I don’t think that’s a thing,” I say with a smile and a laugh trying not to hurt his feelings because I can see he’s serious about it.

“We, as in you and me. Where are we going? They said we can’t stay here,” he continues.

“No, they said I can’t stay here, you’re free to do whatever you want,” I retort taking a more serious tone.

“Right, and I choose to go with you. You’re the one who saved me, you’re one of the only two people that have been nice to me through all this and the other one says it would be good for you to have me along. You can teach me everything I need to know about killing vampires,” Kaiden holds his ground that’s for sure.

It doesn’t surprise me that Dalia is behind this. He’s all but said it. When I heard her voice earlier I wasn’t mistaken. She sent he kid to me. I’m not going to be taking him in no matter what she says. I’m just not good with people. Especially a kid. She’s had a lot of wild schemes in the past but this has to be one of the wildest.

“Look kid, you want to stay here. I’m not the role model that you’ve been led to believe. I only think about myself. I don’t follow rules and I’m unpredictable. On top of that, I don’t really like kids. Nothing against you personally. You seem like a cool kid. But, there’s nothing you can do to help me in my work, which is more than killing vampires,” I try to give him an honest answer with no room for responses.

“You saved me, and a bunch of other people so you don’t think about yourself. I can do magic so that’s helpful and I don’t like rules either. Also, I’m not a kid. I’m just short.”

“The answer is still no. Maybe one day, you can come work with me. Be my best friend or whatever Dalia wants. For now, the best place for you is the temple with the Eremites. They might not like me, and I don’t like most of them; but they taught me a lot. Everything I needed to survive in the world. One day, when you’re eighteen, they’ll give you the option to leave. Take it, find me. Then we can talk and if you still want to team up or whatever, we can. I’ll be doing this for a long time, so you got years to catch up. Sorry, but I’m just not taking you with me. Come see me when you’re older,” the truth again.

I don’t give him a chance to respond this time. He mumbles something, but I can’t hear him. I walk off. I glance back from the end of the path and he’s still standing at the bottom of the stairs. I expected him to be there with his fist balled up and angry, but instead he looks to be on the verge of tears. I feel bad about leaving him. But, I don’t know anything about taking care of kids, or even myself in the city.

Chapter 14




They didn’t know what to do after I pled guilty. They had a whole trial laid out with evidence and everything. One thing I’m good at is always throwing a wrench in their plans. Mother Dalia hasn’t spoken to me since then. She stormed out of the room when I said I was guilty. She probably hoped I would fight it. You can’t fight forever, she told me that. Then the one time I choose not to fight she refuses to talk to me. I love that woman, but she can be so damn fickle sometimes. I never know if she wants me to be a rule breaker or a rule follower. There’s always going to be time to make up with her.

The bigger issue is that it’s taken almost a week for them to get back to me with my punishment. Usually I would have been told by now. A day at most is the longest it has taken before. That worries me. Either they’re cooking up something really vicious or they’re just letting me soak in the pain. I’m not sure which one. Tomorrow I’ll finally find out. I had been sleeping fine until now. Tonight, I can’t really sleep worried about what they might say. In the end, it won’t matter anyway.

I plan to tell them I’m leaving anyway. Being in the monastery isn’t the best option for me. I don’t take orders well. I’m older than most of the people who stayed here anyway. I only stayed out of loyalty to Dalia and a few others. We’ve reached a point where I’ll clash with leadership no matter what. I don’t think they set me up, but I feel like it. They’ll just keep putting me in situations where I’ve got no choice but to make mistakes. Then we’ll have some sham trial and they’ll suspend me. It’s their way of keeping me out of the field and in line. Just a waste of everyone’s time.


“Isaias Jason Zadok, you have pled guilty to a litany of charges. Would you like to make a statement before your punishment is handed down,” Eineke asks. “Perhaps an apology to the elders in attendance.”

“I do have a statement,” I speak solemnly. 

“Very well, please take the floor and clear your heart.”

“Firstly, I would like to thank you all for everything you have done in raising me. From a snot nosed child, to the man that I am today. I stand before you today, not to ask leniency. Nor am I here to apologize for what I have done. I haven’t done anything wrong. Our mission has always been to protect the world from supernatural threats and prevent harm. In the event that we can not prevent harm, we are to heal the wounds and avenge the fallen. We all take an oath, yet it seems that some of you have forgotten hat oath,” an audible gasp from the crowd as I pause. “I refuse to leave a victim behind. I refuse to leave a teammate behind. That’s just who I am, that’s how I was brought up. Use any tools to get the job done with the least harm done. Somewhere along the way weapons and fighting techniques began to be banned. We became more style over substance. I don’t wish to be part of that any longer. If being here means leaving people we could save today. I want no part of it. If you can’t commit to changing the way things are now, I can’t commit to staying here.”

“That’s enough out of you,” Eineke spits viciously.

I take my seat as the crowd whispers amongst themselves. The judges whisper together. Everyone is whispering. I can’t hear them but I can imagine what the conversations sound like. They want me gone, sentenced to death probably I don’t even know if that is an option. Probably want to see another trial combat. They can be blood thirst sometimes for a bunch of eremites. Little do they know I’m ready to go right now. 

“Isaias Jason Zadok, we have a sentenced you to excommunication,” Eineke says bluntly.
The crowd erupts. Laughter, cheers and surprisingly a few people begin to yell out about fairness or how I saved people. I wonder where all these people were when I was getting railroaded at the trial last week. All three judges begin to slam their gavels to regain order in the court. The jury is led out of the room as if someone would attack them for their choice. 

I feel my heart rise back into position where it belongs. The crowd is having a mixed reaction, but I’m not. I catch a glimpse of Elsar and we’ve both got the same grin on our faces. We both got exactly what we wanted. It’s a new world for me, and he’s finally got me out of his. The room finally calms and Eineke gets back to my sentence. The most important part has already been said but there are still the small details to reveal. No excommunication is the same.

“You have two days to prepare yourself to leave. After you leave you will not be able to return to this campus for ten years. You will not be able to contact anyone here for two years. No one here will contact you either. Due to your service your supernatural license will not be suspended. With several pleas on your behalf you will receive a bank account with $10,000 total in the essence of fairness. These funds should be enough for you to find housing and anything else you may need. That is the last piece of mercy that shall be laid upon you from us. Do you have any questions Mr. Zadok,” Eineke finishes reading the terms of my expulsion.

They were more lenient than I could have expected. It was nice of them to give me some money. I’m sure Dalia asked, I’m not sure who else would, but I have some idea. Usually they just send them out into the world to be homeless. Two days gives me a chance to say goodbye to some people. Maybe raid the armory one last time before I hit the road. It couldn’t hurt.

Chapter 13



"This not your first time here. In fact, it is your seventh. Correct," Sister Eineke asks me from the floor looking up to the witness stand where I sit.

"That's correct. I won’t tell any lies," I put on my best polite voice. I know they've already decided I'm guilty. I'm just hoping I can change a few minds. I couldn't get anyone to defend me so I'm here alone. I have to do everything I can.

"Do you recall your first trial?"

"I was caught with banned weapons," I answer honestly.

"How did you get those weapons?"

"From the weapons armory."

"Which armory," Eineke wants me to incriminate myself for sure.

"The experimental, untested and extreme armory," is it incriminating if everyone already knows I did it?

"Which weapons did you take?"

"I took an experimental crossbow. It was rigged to fire exploding bolts of sunlight. It would have been a much better weapon to tack down the vampire threat. However, the bolts took much too long to craft. They were also easy to explode while transporting. I took a shillelagh because I was young and dumb. I was told that Leprechauns once used the enchantments to defend their lands from Far Darrigs. It was indeed enchanted but the enchantments were weak and almost useless. Lastly, I took a staff, that would allow the user to cast out bolts of magic even if they were not proficient with magic. It worked, but the results were varied. Sometimes it could be a blast of fire, other times it would send out a healing pulse or transform the target. It was uncontrollable and therefore useless as well. None of the weapons I stole were particularly good." I explain in detail the weapons I took.

"Can you explain your logic?"

"Sure. There's a very limited range of weapons provided for students to use. Most are outdated. They aren't the best options anymore. Staffs, bows and swords were great options centuries ago. But, the world has evolved. The people who can use magic effectively is even more limited. I can use enhancement magic to increase my speed, strength and durability. Some students can use their magic to fly. But to actively fight? Most of us can't do that."

I actually have Elsar to thank for that one. He understood my concerns, despite being a stickler to the rules. He actually allowed me to test each of the weapons so that I would understand why they weren’t to be used. He hates the idea of me using a gun, but occasionally I catch him smiling. He told me it was up to me to find a weapon that would work for me. He didn’t like what I chose but I know he gets some joy in the fact that I took his advice and it has worked out mostly for the better. He could have raised more concerns and penalties but despite his remarks he looks the other way on it. He’s not all bad, just an asshole who lives in the past.

"Very well, your second offense was unauthorized hunting. What did you hunt and why," Eineke glosses over my answer and moves to her next question.

"I killed a vampire that had been getting closer to the school grounds. It was hunting the forests near by. Students had gone missing and rumors persisted. I got the job done," they let me off easy on that one. It had to be done.

"Your third trial was when you attacked another student in a fit of rage. Is that correct?"

"That is correct," a simple answer for a simple offense.

"Would you care to share the reason why Mr. Zaddok," Eineke presses me harder.

"He stole from me."

"What did he steal?"

"I prefer not to answer," in reality he had stolen contraband from me. A small portable music player. I didn't care for any of the songs but it amazed me how so many songs could be on one small device. I believe it was called a Zune.

"Very well. You next formed a gang, or attempted to," Eineke exaggerates.

"No I attempted to unionize students. We do dangerous work on hunts. The temple receives pay. Often times, large sums. We do not get any of that pay. When asked about it we are told that our rooms and food and clothing are enough pay," if we're doing professional work why should we not receive professional pay? Especially if the temple has one of the highest rates of completion.

"You have your own abode correct?"

"Yes, because everyone else refused due to the repairs that went ignored and the failure to update it"

"I believe having your own abode is a dream many have and you've accomplished it at twenty-one. Bravo," Eineke says sarcastically. "I believe you faced a combat trial for that one. Not many come back from that," she continues. "What was your sixth strike?"

I wait for the giggles to end. The senior eremites and jurors got a kick from that one. They probably remember it much funnier than I do.

"Fraternization," I answer calmly.

This time student observers giggle. A few blush. No doubt guilty of the same. Some looked confused about the term. Eineke doesn't let the confusion sit.

"Would you tell us what that means in your situation?"

"I broke a vow."

"What vow?"

"A vow of celibacy until I reached a senior rank and received a title."

"How shameful. What of your partner?"

"They chose exile," I should have followed the example. I regret it a lot.

"That brings us to your current trial. Disobeying the orders of a field captain and senior Eremite. Two counts of engaging in unauthorized combat. Two counts of refusal to yield and wait on assistance. Abandoning a battle. Causing the injuries of a dozen students. Two counts of engaging a threat outside of your rank limits. 4 counts for the use of prohibited weapons off school grounds. Four counts for storing those prohibited weapons on school grounds. An additional forty-seven counts for each round of ammunition found. Combat attire benefiting of a student. Destruction of temple property for the destruction of your robes. Thirteen counts of attacking Thames. Seventeen counts of insubordination. How do you plead?"

I look into the crowd and see Mother Dalia. She looks nervous. She wasn't able to defend me in this trial. But I know she wants the best for me. Elsar sits several rows behind her grinning at the thought of me being gone and out of his hair for good. Students look disinterested as does my jury. They've made up their minds already. I made my mind up. Several days ago.

It didn't matter how many people I saved. It didn't matter that no one was injured. It didn't matter that Elsar was going to leave those people behind. The deck had been stacked against me. Charges I didn't see as reasonable. Any back up I had was cut off from me. They were going to railroad me on this trial.

"I plead guilty to all counts."

Chapter 12



“That is the decision that has been made, there is nothing I can do about it this time,” Mother Dalia’s words echoed in my head over and over again.

This time they had decided I would face trial for my insubordination. If I won, I would have a six months suspension and everything would be fine. If I lost, I would be excommunicated for six years. That’s just the way things worked around here. They’ve been doing this for decades. It isn’t even the first trial that I’ve ever faced. This one however, feels a little different. It seems that someone besides Elsar wants me gone and has decided to go for the kill with this one.
In the past Mother Dalia would defend me and everything would be great. The problem is after my fifth trial they banned her from defending me. With the sixth trial, I chose trial by combat. That might have been the hardest fight of my life and one I’ll probably never forget.

~~~~~~

They took me to the underground arena, something I had no idea about. Only those in power along with some medics were there to watch. They wanted me to lose, and to suffer, just not dead. A ring of stone awaited looking as if it had been stained by blood over the years. They all took their seats and I stood in the arena awaiting my opponent. I had expected one of the upper Eremites to step forward and fight with me. I had studied all their fighting styles in preparation but there was no point to it. Instead an iron door opened and my opponent stepped into the ring.

A basilisk, I had only read about them. I had no idea they were real, or still around anyway. Large magical beasts like that should have been wiped out long ago. If not by humans, then by the loss of their habitats. Yet one stood in front of me.

I attempted to avoid eye contact with the beast. In stories, making eye contact with it could either kill you, turn you to stone or any number of other horrible options.  From a bowed head I managed to get somewhat of an idea of the creature. For the most part it looked like a snake, a large cobra of some sort. The similarities ended there. Every few feet of body there were two legs sprouting out giving the creature more mobility. While a regular snake would have a mouth and forked tongue this one instead a had a mouth and full set of teeth resembling that of a crocodile. The creature seemed to be covered in a mixture of scales and stone. A fearsome monster by any standards. One I could never have prepared for. Still, I needed to win and I attempted to put some plan together to tackle this monster almost twice my height and surely 10 times my weight.

After what seemed like hours of dodging attacks and avoiding being ended by the gaze I had a plan. I was much faster. If I could cut at the feet until the basilisk was left on it’s stomach I could get the win. I spent another eternity doing just that. Eventually the creature let out a mighty roar as it fell to the ground. I slowly made my way over and climbed on top of the beast cutting out the eyes and holding them as trophies. Some clapped and were impressed. Others were visibly upset. Still, I managed to come out on top of it all. After that even those who were unhappy congratulated me. I served my probation time and everything was fine.

~~~~~

I attempted to arrange for trial by combat this time around. However, I was told that you can only have trial by combat on one occasion. Instead I would need to find someone to defend me during the trial. On the surface, that shouldn’t be hard to do. I’ve asked a dozen people and they’ve all wished me luck but none of them will actually defend me. The worst-case scenario, and the most likely is that I will need to defend myself. Unfortunately, this is my seventh trial and I have the stench of insubordination on me. People aren’t eager to be my friend or be seen associating with me.

I’ve seen Dalia do it enough that I should have some idea on how to do it, but I don’t. Perhaps I should do some research on the world outside the temple. If I can’t come up with a good defense, I’m fucked. Since Elsar levied the charges of insubordination he’ll be the one I’m arguing with. The man knows how to argue. His entire life he’s been trying to get people to argue with him. Perhaps I should look into getting some information about the city.

Chapter 11



The bus ride home is taking twice as long as the ride to get to the forest. I expected them to put me on a bus with everyone else but they didn’t. Instead they sent me on a bus with things taken from the tunnels and the blood bank. The logic was someone needed to supervise the transportation of these assets which are important to an ongoing investigation. Some nonsense they used to send me off alone. Nobody was going to steal stuff from a blood bank they didn’t know about.

This is just another of Elsar’s plans. He wants me to sit here, wallowing in self-doubt. He wants me to admit that he was right. But, if we listened to him we might not have found the victims for days or even weeks. Who knows what could have happened to them in that time? I know he has more experience and he’s been at this a lot longer than I have. But the world is different now. Everyone outside the temple has evolved and the Eremites are still stuck in the past. How things used to be done, just doesn’t work anymore. You need to evolve. A stakeout or randomly returning to investigate until you find something else worked great thirty years ago but not now.

They all want me to question if I did right thing, and to some extent it’s probably working. I’ve been staring out this window having a silent conversation with myself the entire bus ride so far. I could have waited for backup. If I had been there we might have taken out the Strigoi a little faster. We could have gone into the tunnels together. That’s it, just wait for backup next time. But, what if Elsar is the backup again? Would he be willing to follow me? I doubt it.

“Hey kid, you fucked up big time from what I hear,” the bus driver calls out in deep jovial voice.

“No, I saved a bunch of people,” I shoot back on instinct.

“They said you disobeyed direct orders,” he responds knowing their version of the story already.

I don’t have a response. I know he’s just trying to make conversation but I don’t care to speak right now. Especially not about something I’m already in trouble for. Talking about it won’t change anything and I don’t really care to speak with a bus driver about it. I just spend the rest of the ride home brooding in silence.

“Hey kid, I think you did the right thing saving all those people,” the driver said letting me off the bus once we finally arrived at the temple.

“Thanks,” is all I can reply with as I make my way through the courtyard.

Usually there’s people waiting for us when we return from a successful mission. Refreshments, maybe a meal, medics and all that. I take it they didn’t want me to take part in that celebration tonight. I don’t decide to wait around and see what happens. I just make my way back to my sleeping quarters on the opposite end of the grounds.

Most people live in communal quarters. Two to six people in each one. They share a sleeping space, a bathroom, a kitchen and a common room. I was the only person willing to accept the old worn down bunker in the back so I get to live alone. I don’t have a gas stove like the others. I have to chop wood to cook or boil water to bathe but I enjoy the silence of living alone.

I don’t really care that I’m dirty. I toss the remains of my robes to the side. They’ve been shredded and probably can’t be repaired. That was my last set. Next, I start to remove all of the weapons and equipment I have with me before loosening the straps on my body armor and letting it drop it to the ground with a thud.

Not caring that I’m dirty I lie across my bed and try to sleep. I can only sleep for a few minutes at a time, if that can be called sleep. I keep replaying the same events over and over again. I know I did the right thing, but everyone wants me to doubt myself so much that I’m actually doubting myself. This is ridiculous. I give up on sleep for the night. I’ll just have to face my punishment with groggy eyes. Perhaps they’ll go easy on me because they think I’ve been up regretting my actions.

Instead of sleeping I take the time to disassemble and clean my weapons. I’m not very fast at taking apart the guns but I’m very good at putting them back together. When I bought them, I knew they weren’t in the best condition as I had to get them from a seedy source. One day I hope to buy some new ones. Ones where the pieces aren’t beginning to rust on the inside. Still, these make do. With proper care I’ve been able to make sure I only have the occasional misfire. Luckily, I’ve never had them misfire when it was a do or die situation.

The knife is nothing special, just a standard knife they give all the students. Most abandon them once they decide what their primary weapon will be. They might use magic, a bo staff, bow and arrow, or whatever. Usually it’s something old and outdated. I wish the higher ups in the temple could understand just how far they’ve lagged behind the rest of the world. These weapons were all fine and dandy hundreds of years ago, but the world has changed and they won’t leave the walls to see it.

Of course, the think I’m wrong, they haven’t seen the things I have. I haven’t been outside the temple walls without a supervisor for over five years but in the time that I did get to spend out there, it was nothing like the stories they tell us. Buildings stretching high into the sky, humans and magical creatures walking amongst each other and living while ignoring the existence of the other. They have all the same technology as the humans, maybe more. But we’re still trying to fight a war with sticks and stones, forcing ourselves to live on the bare necessities because it’s somehow honorable. If honor meant leaving all those people in the tunnels, fuck honor. I made the right call.

The bus ride home is taking twice as long as the ride to get to the forest. I expected them to put me on a bus with everyone else but they didn’t. Instead they sent me on a bus with things taken from the tunnels and the blood bank. The logic was someone needed to supervise the transportation of these assets which are important to an ongoing investigation. Some nonsense they used to send me off alone. Nobody was going to steal stuff from a blood bank they didn’t know about.

This is just another of Elsar’s plans. He wants me to sit here, wallowing in self-doubt. He wants me to admit that he was right. But, if we listened to him we might not have found the victims for days or even weeks. Who knows what could have happened to them in that time? I know he has more experience and he’s been at this a lot longer than I have. But the world is different now. Everyone outside the temple has evolved and the Eremites are still stuck in the past. How things used to be done, just doesn’t work anymore. You need to evolve. A stakeout or randomly returning to investigate until you find something else worked great thirty years ago but not now.

They all want me to question if I did right thing, and to some extent it’s probably working. I’ve been staring out this window having a silent conversation with myself the entire bus ride so far. I could have waited for backup. If I had been there we might have taken out the Strigoi a little faster. We could have gone into the tunnels together. That’s it, just wait for backup next time. But, what if Elsar is the backup again? Would he be willing to follow me? I doubt it.

“Hey kid, you fucked up big time from what I hear,” the bus driver calls out in deep jovial voice.

“No, I saved a bunch of people,” I shoot back on instinct.

“They said you disobeyed direct orders,” he responds knowing their version of the story already.

I don’t have a response. I know he’s just trying to make conversation but I don’t care to speak right now. Especially not about something I’m already in trouble for. Talking about it won’t change anything and I don’t really care to speak with a bus driver about it. I just spend the rest of the ride home brooding in silence.

“Hey kid, I think you did the right thing saving all those people,” the driver said letting me off the bus once we finally arrived at the temple.

“Thanks,” is all I can reply with as I make my way through the courtyard.

Usually there’s people waiting for us when we return from a successful mission. Refreshments, maybe a meal, medics and all that. I take it they didn’t want me to take part in that celebration tonight. I don’t decide to wait around and see what happens. I just make my way back to my sleeping quarters on the opposite end of the grounds.

Most people live in communal quarters. Two to six people in each one. They share a sleeping space, a bathroom, a kitchen and a common room. I was the only person willing to accept the old worn down bunker in the back so I get to live alone. I don’t have a gas stove like the others. I have to chop wood to cook or boil water to bathe but I enjoy the silence of living alone.

I don’t really care that I’m dirty. I toss the remains of my robes to the side. They’ve been shredded and probably can’t be repaired. That was my last set. Next, I start to remove all of the weapons and equipment I have with me before loosening the straps on my body armor and letting it drop it to the ground with a thud.

Not caring that I’m dirty I lie across my bed and try to sleep. I can only sleep for a few minutes at a time, if that can be called sleep. I keep replaying the same events over and over again. I know I did the right thing, but everyone wants me to doubt myself so much that I’m actually doubting myself. This is ridiculous. I give up on sleep for the night. I’ll just have to face my punishment with groggy eyes. Perhaps they’ll go easy on me because they think I’ve been up regretting my actions.

Instead of sleeping I take the time to disassemble and clean my weapons. I’m not very fast at taking apart the guns but I’m very good at putting them back together. When I bought them, I knew they weren’t in the best condition as I had to get them from a seedy source. One day I hope to buy some new ones. Ones where the pieces aren’t beginning to rust on the inside. Still, these make do. With proper care I’ve been able to make sure I only have the occasional misfire. Luckily, I’ve never had them misfire when it was a do or die situation.

The knife is nothing special, just a standard knife they give all the students. Most abandon them once they decide what their primary weapon will be. They might use magic, a bo staff, bow and arrow, or whatever. Usually it’s something old and outdated. I wish the higher ups in the temple could understand just how far they’ve lagged behind the rest of the world. These weapons were all fine and dandy hundreds of years ago, but the world has changed and they won’t leave the walls to see it.

Of course, the think I’m wrong, they haven’t seen the things I have. I haven’t been outside the temple walls without a supervisor for over five years but in the time that I did get to spend out there, it was nothing like the stories they tell us. Buildings stretching high into the sky, humans and magical creatures walking amongst each other and living while ignoring the existence of the other. They have all the same technology as the humans, maybe more. But we’re still trying to fight a war with sticks and stones, forcing ourselves to live on the bare necessities because it’s somehow honorable. If honor meant leaving all those people in the tunnels, fuck honor. I made the right call.