A gloomy peace settled over Nazland as morning arrived. In those early hours of the day, no sun was present in the open sky, rather its glowing presence could be seen and radiating from the eastern bluffs, casting shadows on the plains and farmlands around the city proper. Within the tall walls of the city - ancient walls, which had withstood bloody battles and bloody armies - citizens began to stir. Night watches of the famed National Militia wrapped up. The cinders of a building destroyed overnight - a product of the Mage Guild's violent rebellion - died out, and rubble began to get cleared.
In the heart of the city, two structures stood higher than the rest. On was a military fortress, which ordered and maintained Nazland's armed forces, which were the strongest on the planet at that time. It was known simply as the Citadel, the stone fist behind the Royal Régime. The other building was further down the street and was equally large, albeit in a more pompous. It was the Royal Palace, residence of the one and only Queen of Nazland. Like the Citadel, activity there never ceased, whether the sun or the moon was reigning above. The Monarch herself hardly got any sleep, between councils, meetings, negotiations and tribunals. One such council was to start that morning.
The subject of it nervously waited outside the Chambers, anxious to be called in. He was by no means a man, but it might've been difficult to call him a boy either. He wore old chainmail and had a large sword awkwardly strapped to his back. It had been a long night for him. The trip to the city was a long one from his home, even with royal escorts. The roads in the east are rugged and poorly mapped, so much so that even natives can lose their way if conditions are poor. The boy's carriage twice nearly flipped over on the uneven roads, rudely interrupting his attempts to rest.
Benches lined the outside of the room the boy was told to wait in. The space itself was mostly bare save for banners on the wall, which displayed Nazland's national seal, as well as oil lanterns which hung from the ceiling. Two guards stood on either side of a large oak door, and the boy was afraid to look at them straight in the eye. Footsteps could be heard down a hall to the boy's right - someone to announce that he should enter the Council?
No, the boy realized, as a figure stepped into the room. She was young, possibly younger than him, wearing a white blouse and loose-fitting pants. She had a rosy face and cool green eyes, with her dark hair wrapped into a braid. She held a bitten apple in her right hand. "Who the hell are you?" she asked, taking a bite out of her snack.
"My name's Lysander," Lysander said, trying his best to smile.
The girl smiled back, revealing apple residue on her white teeth. "Ha, that's a funny name."
"Um, thank you?" the boy said, adjusting his seat to move slightly farther away from the girl.
Much to Lysander's dismay, the girl on moved forward, sitting down next to him. "I'm Celeste," she said. "Kinda a weird name too, I hate it. Guess it runs in the family, though, because 'Amelia' isn't much better."
"My sister," Celeste rolled her eyes.
"Is she named after the Queen?"
The girl giggled, as if what Lysander said was funny. "Nah, I just think my family liked the name." She took another bite out of her apple.
"Say, where did you get that? I'm starving."
"This?" Celeste swallowed. "In the garden. There's a big tree that's near the fountains that grows apples this time of year, want to see it?"
"Um, no thanks," Lysander looked away from the strange girl. "I've got to go to a Council right now. The Queen will be in attendance."
"Oh! A Council?" Celeste smirked. "Who did you kill?"
"No, no, nothing like that," Lysander waved his hand dismissively, beginning to get annoyed. Truthfully, the conversation might have actually been calming his nerves.
"Then why all the special treatment?"
"Apparently they want to name me something," the boy explained. "A Hero of the State."
"Hero of the State?" Celeste shot Lysander a strange look. "That's ... odd. Do you even know what the title means?"
"Well ... no. Can you please enlighten me? I'm a bit lost."
"You're telling me," the girl said. Rumblings could be heard beyond the Council door. Lysander's heart sank. It's coming.
"Hey, why are you here?" he asked.
The girl just smiled, shaking her head. She stood up, turned her back and began to walk away. "Good luck in the Council, Mr. Hero."
"Wait, what does that mean? Wait!"
Just as Celeste left, the Council doors opened. A squire poked his head through. "Her Majesty will see you now, sir."
"The High Council of Placement will now commence," Queen Amelia boomed, standing up from her high throne, which was situated in the center between four chairs on either side. Despite not sleeping for the past few nights due to mage trials, she looked very awake and alive. Truthfully, the young Queen was quite attractive, albeit in a very severe way. Her voice could carry through a room very easily and her eyes gave off a wave of intensity. Most men wished not to talk to her face-to-face alone
Moments after the throne room grew silent again, the large doors on the opposite side of the hall creaked open, and three people stepped inside. In the center walked a boy, somewhere in his teens. He wore chainmail under a tunic, which clicked as he walked. Two chairs to the right of the queen, a man named Jonas – a member of the Advanced Guard – chuckled to himself. This should be over quick...
Flanking the boy to the left and right were two guards, who were guiding him down the large hall until he stood in front of the nine thrones, staring up at the council. "Good morning," Amelia gave one of her famous icy glares down at the nominee, "Please state your name and business with the court."
"My name's Lysander, your Majesty," Lysander gave a quick, awkward bow, "I'm here because I was called to ... I mean, I wish to be chosen as a Hero of the State." Jonas bit his lip, trying not to crack up.
"Very nice, and who gave you recommendation for such a post?"
The stood for a second, pondering, "Um, some village elders, and that tax collector you sent to my town. You see I got this sword, and it's supposed to be magic or something…" The chamber grew dead silent upon the mention of the m-word. "Er, I mean enchanted! I dunno it just does some freaky stuff." He drew the blade – with some difficulty – from his back. The sword looked simple enough, albeit it was bronze, which was an irregular material to be in the hands of any normal blacksmith.
The Queen turned to the man sitting directly next to her, "Minister Claus, can you examine the nominee's sword for any… abnormalities?"
Claus, who was the Minister of Science, nodded. His eyes turned a bright purple hue as he looked down at the guest's blade. After a few moments, he spoke, "It's not enchanted. The aura on it is a bit odd – maybe it was in a war or something – but besides that … it's just a sword."
The boy looked like he wanted to interject, but Queen Amelia called, "Lysander, do you have any combat experience?"
"Why yes, of course. If you wish to defend our lands as a Hero, you must be skilled with death. Ever fought in any wars? Kill any monsters that are above average? Conquer a dungeon?"
"Well, you see," Lysander looked down at his feet, "My parents are farmers. I really haven't had much experience fighting. But when I'm with this sword, there's-"
"I'm afraid we've heard enough." Kohl, Minister of Defense, stood up. He had recently lost an eye while fighting the Mage's Guild, and he seemed particularly angry today. "He's just another country bumpkin. I don't see any reason to-"
"I'm sorry," Minister Claus butted in, raising a finger. He was once again staring at the boy's weapon; his eyes shined a strong violet. "Although he is not fit for the post of Hero – yet – I kindly ask that he be considered for the National Militia."
Jonas cringed a little bit. Militia recruitment was his responsibility, partially. I'm gonna have to say something... "My apologies to Councilmen Claus, but the National Militia looks for applicants with prior experience in war, or at least training."
"Oh, I have some training," Lysander smiled, "Ever since I got this sword I've been working pretty hard at-"
"Speaking of which," Claus cocked his head, "How, exactly, did that weapon come into your possession?"
"I found it, sort of," Lysander shrugged, "It was just lying near our local shrine. Guess someone's not a fan of bronze. My village elder saw me with it and went crazy. Kinda odd now that I think about it…"
"Okay, that settles it," Claus turned to his Advanced Guard counterpart, "You're training the kid."
"What?" Jonas stood up from his chair, "The Militia may do a lot of things, but recruiting children with no combat experience is not part of our regiment! Ever since the Phantuni War we have maintained a strict-"
"Jonas," Claus smiled, "Just do it. Kid's got promise. Trust me, I can see some things you can't."
Jonas scowled, "Very well. I will test his qualifications."
Queen Amelia stood up, "So we have agreement. Lysander shall be applied to the National Militia. Council dismissed."
"So what can I do for you, sir?"
Jonas turned angrily at the boy behind him, "First of all, none of this 'sir' business. I am not your commanding officer, and you are not a member of the Militia."
"Exactly, that's why I want to-"
"Secondly, equip your sword correctly. A blade like that should be in its scabbard on your belt."
"I tried that! But every time I start running, the scabbard bangs up against my leg and it's kinda a pain. It's much more comfortable on my back."
"Pain's good for you. Deal with it," the Advanced Guardsman barked.
Lysander nodded slowly and attached his sword to his belt. "Um, excuse me? Do you know what Hero of the State means?"
Jonas stopped dead in his tracks. "That title is given to a protector of Nazland. A Hero is someone who is bigger than themselves, and everyone knows it. If they hadn't lived, the kingdom would have fallen."
"Geez," Lysander gasped. "And the village elders wanted to give that to me?"
"They most likely just wanted the Queen's attention, even for a few brief minutes," Jonas shrugged. He studied the boy's sword, now at his side. Although he couldn't detect auras, there was something interesting about the blade, although Jonas couldn't put his finger on it. It was finely crafted bronze, and looked fairly balanced. Someone like this shouldn't have a sword like that. "Say, kid," Jonas clasped his hand together. "How about we make a deal? You give me that sword you've got there and - if you make the militia - I'll let you have first pick on any of the weapons crafted down in the Citadel Armory."
"Um, no thanks," Lysander grasped the hilt of his blade. "I was given strict instructions to hold on to it."
Although he nodded on the outside, Jonas felt an influx of rage burn within. "Fine, fine. Say, how about you head down to the yard, and start drilling with the soldiers? I'll meet you down there in a sec." The Mage's Guild might have to attack the training yard this afternoon. Wouldn't it be a tragedy if Lysander were one of the victims? His sword would be up for grabs, though...
A bunch of creepy looking men lazily sat at a table in a darkened room in the basement of the castle compound. One more man briskly charged in and joined them.
"Took you long enough, Jonas. We were beginning to lose faith that you'd show. Have a seat."
"Sorry, the Council meeting ran a bit long. Let's get this over with fast. My men patrol this wing in about an hour."
"We'll be fine," said the man at the center of the table. The odd thing about him was that he wore a mirror-like mask that completely covered his face – no eye or mouth holes. The only thing you saw when you looked at him was your reflection staring back. "I'll know if something is up. Now, give us the news."
"Everything is working as you said it would," Jonas gave a quick bow. "I hope Claus or Kohl hadn't given you trouble."
"Quite the contrary," the man's voice spoke out, and everyone in the room listened, "In fact, He thinks we are ready to set things in motion."
"But of course," Jonas agreed. "Yet, I still wanna meet this associate before things go down."
"All in good time. Do you have the floor plans?"
"Right," Jonas handed them over to the man, "Your Guild better come through for me, Layton. I think Claus is on to me, or just pissed. He sent me on babysitting duty."
"Oh really, with whom?"
"Some guy from the country. Has some wicked sword, but doesn't know at all how to use it."
"'Some guy', you say?" Layton's voice crackled, "Would he be, by any chance, behind you?"
Jonas spun around quickly, finding Lysander standing at the doorway, halfway concealed. Jonas spun back to his associates, and realized that they had disappeared. Damn magic. "Whoa, kid! why are you down here?"
"Sorry, I just wanted to see where you were sneaking off to. Then, I heard the voices and-"
Great. As if conversing with the Mage's Guild wasn't dangerous enough, I'm gonna have to kill somebody… "Look, let's make things really simple and painless," Jonas drew his sword, walking slowly toward Lysander.
To the Advanced Guardsman's surprise, Lysander stood his ground, not even looking at the exit. The kid drew his own sword, which for some reason seemed very visible in the poorly lit room. Was it glowing?
The Guardsman laughed, "Kid, you should seriously consider-"
Jonas was never able to finish his sentence.
Quickly – faster than Jonas could register, Lysander leaped into the air and lunged at the Guardsman, making a slice at his throat.
There was splash of blood and a tremendous thomp as a corpse hit the floor.
The wound to Jonas' throat was so clean, so precise, that it had nearly decapitated his head from his body. Soon investigators were on the scene and Lysander explained his story to the first high ranking person he saw. It was Helen, who also happened to be a member of the Advanced Guard. That day she was charged with protecting Princess Celeste, who angrily told Helen to get out of her room. The Guardswoman didn't mind, as this was much more exciting. "So the man had a metal mask on, with no eye holes or anything?"
"Yeah, Jonas called him Layton. He and the other guys disappeared after he pointed me out."
"And your altercation with Jonas?"
"Um …" Lysander stared down at the corpse of his enemy. It made him sick to his stomach. "I don't know what came over me, I guess. I just remember holding the sword and ..." His voice trailed off.
Helen nodded. "Well, given the fact you just hacked down one of the greatest warriors in Nazland, I think you did a little bit more than hold a sword."
Lysander nodded. He remembered the way that one man stared at him in his confirmation trial. More specifically, at his weapon. "What should I do now, ma'am?"
"Tell the Queen what you told me. About the plans and what not. She won't believe that you took out Jonas, so just say that you and he together tried to bust the meeting."
"But that's lying, Jonas was the bad guy in this."
"Perhaps," Helen shut her eyes, "And I'm sure there are plenty of other bad guys we don't know about right now. If word of Jonas' treachery reaches the public, our Régime might be called into question."
Lysander nodded, although he had a bad feeling in his stomach, "Ma'am, why do you believe me? I mean, I could've lied about striking down Jonas."
"No you didn't. I can see your aura, you're telling the truth."
"My aura?" Lysander cocked an eyebrow. "So that means you're-"
"Shhhh," the Guardswoman put a finger to her lips, "Let's just say some of us don't want to kill normal people, or join a damn guild. Now find Queen Amelia before I change my mind about you."
"Yes, ma'am!" Lysander darted back upstairs, feeling an array of amazement and terror.