Chapter Four.

The trip wasn't far as by nightfall the three had reached the small village of Barkdale. A small settlement just off the main road between Ridgewell and Dawnhelm, Ryker had noticed a sign pointing towards its direction on his travel but with nothing significant there he avoided the detour. However, here he stood just at the outskirts of the village, backtracking on his journey to get home for the sake of a stranger who might not even be innocent. Fletcher allowed Ryker to remain free, but the young apprentice knight never allowed his right hand to leave the hilt of his sword. In close enough quarters Ryker was unsure if he could draw his revolver or aim his rifle before a trained swordsman could cut him down. Running through the encounter in his head he decided it'd be best for him to get some distance before taking aim. hopefully nothing of such would take place on this night between the two.

"About half a days trip." Ryker broke the awkward silence that had engulfed the trio since their journey began, "You didn't make it very far."

Mia forced a fake laugh, "I fled west actually. Made it about three days out before this little brat caught me."

Fletcher looked almost proud in his achievement, "I'm from the East Church but I had business in the capital. When I got word of the warrant I decided to see if the harlot had fled west."

"Call me a harlot one more time." Mia growled annoyingly.

Ryker ignored their usual arguing, "You've been to the capital?"

"Yes." Fletcher responded, somewhat surprised that something such as visiting the capital of their kingdom was enough to peak the interest of the mysterious man. Fletcher couldn't tell but there was something different about this man. It wasn't his clothing or the unusual weapons he carried, but it was the way he carried himself and acted. Your usual traveler would never stick their nose out for a prisoner under the captive of a Holy Knight, even one in training. Yet, here stood Ryker Winters a mysterious traveler who not only admit that she might be innocent but now puts his freedom at risk for her, "The Priest Council is located in the capital. I was sent there so it could be recorded that I finished another phase in my training, my progress will be reviewed by the officers of the order and archived."

"How are the mages in the capital?" Ryker questioned, from his understanding it was most likely magic that brought him to this world and it would be magic that world take him back home.

Fletcher grinned, "Best in the kingdom."

Mia rolled her eyes, "The best in the kingdom are out fighting the war with the rift."

The trio entered the town and in the weak moon light Ryker could spot the tower of the chapel in the distance. Ryker could tell the mention of the rift bothered the two deeply, but he knew if he asked about something like the rift the two of them would only question him further. For now he would hold off on asking about the rift, soon enough he would have the answers he needed just not from these two. Ryker noticed several villagers gathering outside their homes, whispers and hushed voices filled the streets. Their eyes set of the red haired mountain girl, it was obvious her last visit to the village was made public to all. Yet, no one called out to her or harassed her for attacking their priest. Mothers hid their children behind them and fathers avoided eye contact with her. Dogs whimpered in fear and the village watch who stood guard slowly turned their backs on the trio. Fletcher looked a bit nervous, ether he was unsure about bothering the priest so late in the night or he was actually worried that the judgment of the church was wrong. Mia looked just as worried, she was afraid of seeing the priest again or she was nervous that she'd be discovered. Approaching the small chapel on the hillside at the far end of town the three slowly approached it. Its large wooden doors were closed and there was no sign of a candle lit.

"Doesn't look anyone is home." Mia pointed out, her golden eyes scanning each window carefully.

Fletcher nodded, "We shouldn't wake the priest up if he's asleep."

Ryker ignored them both as he pushed past them and with a heavy hand he banged on the wooden doors loudly. After a minute of no response he turned to face the two and with a loud grunt he slammed the bottom of his boot into the door, leaving a dirt imprint of the bottom of his wood on the nicely white painted doors. That's when Mia's golden eyes caught sight of a light flick to life in the far bottom floor window, a weak gulp escaped her lips. Ryker took his distraction as a chance to unbutton his holster, giving him easier access to his revolver if needed. The light passed by each window on its way towards the front doors of the chapel. Ryker took a step away from the doors, joining the other stood at the bottom step of the building.

The doors creaked to life as pushing them open was an elderly priest. He was dressed in a night gown with a white silk robe, his face wrinkled and his hair nearly all gone. His brown eyes looked up at the three faces, they looked tired at first until they fell upon Mia. They became wide and his hand started shaking at he raised a finger up at her. Stumbling back he was able to force a few words out in shock, "Why is she here?"

"Holy Knight Apprentice Fletcher Hempsworth." Fletcher quickly took a knee tugging on the chain as he did so, "Oh Priest Lawrence of Barkdale I'm deeply sorry for intruding on your night of slumber."

"Holy Knight I demand to know why this witch is here?" Lawrence demanded, the hand that held the candle shaking and a low moan escaping his cracked lips.

"Oh I'm the witch?" Mia laughed angrily, her golden eyes alive with rage and frustration. The chains on her shackles shook to life as her muscles tensed up and she slammed her foot on the first wooden step leading towards the priest, "You have some nerve you perverted priest! You try to sneak a feel at night and before you can get your shriveled up hands on me I beat you bloody! That makes me the witch here?"

"Silence!" Fletcher roared, he was done with her unbecoming behavior and would not have it in front of a priest. Standing up he presented himself to Lawrence, "I have brought her here as it seems there are some that question her innocents."

Lawrence looked as if he had gotten a grip on his emotions as the shaking stopped, "I don't care what the people have to say I saw her brutality and rage when she attacked me!'

Fletcher nodded in agreement, "I understand but-"

"Enough young knight!" Lawrence growled, "You're lucky I don't have you banished from the order for this! How must I preform my holy duties in the morning after you've brought this nightmare back to haunt me?"

"Once again-" Fletcher tried to defend himself, but the priest cut into him again with his words.

"You're far to young to be questioning your superiors." His voice became harsh, "An apprentice wakes me up at the dead of night. Well I hope you had no desire to complete your training be-"

"I don't believe that she's guilty." Ryker interrupted him.

Lawrence snorted at his remark, "Who are you?"

"Doesn't matter." Ryker explained shaking his head with a smile, "I couldn't help but notice how influential the church is here in this kingdom."

Lawrence looked taken back by the stranger's approach, "Of course we are! The church fights for the people, we make sure they can sleep easy at night from the threats of darkness and we provide for them!"

"People would kill for their church, correct?" Ryker added on, Mia looking at him like he was insane as she had no idea where he was going with this.

"If the church required the act than yes, but only if it was for a better tomorrow for the people." Lawrence explained, his voice a bit softer now and his brown eyes confused as they turned their attention to the oddly silent apprentice. One would see how having his emotions under control the priest could come off as very charming and gentle.

"You provide for this village?" Ryker asked, his voice more harsh than before.

"Of course."

"You care for these people like they were your children?" Ryker hissed.

"Every single one of them."

"So these people who you care for so deeply and protect would kill for you. They follow your religion like a beacon of hope and yet when we brought the women who harmed you and defied your church they just stood there." Ryker finally got to the point, Mia's frown suddenly changing into a grin as she realized where he was going with this. Fletcher looked shocked and confused, he had no idea what to say or what to do. An apprentice to the church he should of defended the priest and silenced the defiler, but yet he just stood there unsure. He had been with the order since he was six years old, they had provided for him and protected him. The order and church was his life, but he had never questioned it until now. For years he fulfilled his duties as a future knight and brought joy to so many people, but today the first time he was ever completing a mission for the church on his own and here he was questioning himself. He didn't know if it was because he wasn't ready to be tasked on missions on his own without a leader or maybe it was because for all his years he'd been surrounded by blinded followers. Every time he'd question the church just ever so slightly, he was greeted by the warm words of an appointed Holy Knight or a carrying priest. He never was allowed to think for his own and now he stood with a vicious mountain warrior in chains and a mysterious traveler questioning his fate.

"These people are peaceful!" Lawrence cried out, "I'd never expect them to throw a stone in my name!"

Ryker growled annoyingly in frustration as he knew any further discussion on this would lead nowhere. Mia was still in shackles, Lawrence refused to budge, and Fletcher was still unusually silent. Ryker could tell the young apprentice was in a battle of emotions, unsure if he should follow the nagging feeling deep inside or follow the cause that had basically raised him. That's when the corporal's eye fell upon his hands, Fletcher no longer grasped his sword allowing Ryker the opportunity he had been waiting for. His hand shot up and before anyone could even blink his revolver was drawn, taking a step back for extra precaution he cocked back the hammer. Everyone glared at him baffled at the sudden change of pace, Mia glared at the metallic object with curiosity as being a warrior of the Mountain Clan she had seen plenty types of weapons but nothing like this. Ryker cleared his throat, "Lets give the villagers a visit."

"This is absurd! You threaten a man of the church, with what some sort of trinket?" Lawrence cried out finally over these accusations, "Young knight you will escort these two to Dawnhelm immediately and maybe I'll consider leaving this out of my next report."

"Yes, sir." Fletcher responded, as he went to grab the object from Ryker's hand when it suddenly jumped to life. An ear piercing sound filled the night air and a bright light sent Fletcher stumbling back, Mia dropped to the ground in fear of the sound. Lawrence however stood in place as if frozen by a type of barrier magic. His eyes wide as they glared at the door in front of him, the newly painted surface now pierced by some sort of magic. Just inches from the priest's head was a hole in the door, it was deep and shredded through the door like a knife through warm butter.

Lawrence slowly turned around shaking once again but this time out of true fear, "Your some type of dark mage."

"No mage." Ryker corrected him, "Unless you wanna see what this thing can to do a human head I recommend you do as I say."

"Ryker, what are you doing?" Fletcher hissed, his voice carrying an odd amount of concern compared to the anger he should of been showcasing, "I was willing to ignore the slander you spoke of the church but I can't save you from threatening a man of the church."

Ryker turned to Fletcher his eyes cold, "Free her from her chains."

"Yeah, finally some justice is being served!" Mia cheered out, as she stuck her tongue out at the young knight who annoyingly unlocked her cuffs. Grinning she snatched the chains from his grasp, "Time that you're placed in chains."

"No."

Mia turned around in shock as she was surprised Ryker was willing to threaten a priest but against chaining up Fletcher. The corporal shook his head at her, "The boy is innocent. He's only following an order that he's know for his whole life." Ryker couldn't blame Fletcher for following the only life he has ever known just like how Ryker never held hate towards the regular soldier in the German army. Your average man would of never been able to detect the lies the priest spoke, but Ryker was not your average man from this world. In his world his country was fighting a war against an enemy force who was punishing a whole group of people based on their religion. Ryker had seen enough high German officers being taken prisoner to tell which ones were innocent of war crimes and which were guilty. Liberating France we watched as the people pointed out the officers who were guilty of war crimes against the Jewish people, by the time they left the country Ryker became an expert at judging people. In this country it was far to easy. He could tell the church abused its power by the way Mia acted when he defied the church, a women who seemed to be as much as a nonbeliever anyone could be showed fear when Ryker did such. He watched how Fletcher just blindly followed the order that he was forced into at a young age. Finally, he could just tell by looking at the priest that he was a man of many wrong doings. The people of this village carried the same sad eyes the people they had liberated all across Europe.

"I don't think we'll need to visit the villagers." Mia warned her new ally, the four of them turning to see the sound of the gunshot had attracted the attention of the whole village. Women, children, and men gathered behind a small group of poorly armed village watchmen. Their blades were drawn, but their faces showed how they were unsure who to arrest. The people all whispered amongst themselves and a few children awed at Fletcher's armor, some even pointing at Ryker's revolver.

"My people!" Lawrence cried out raising his hand high in the air, "In the name of the church please rescue me from these two bandits and this fallen Holy Knight!"

Fletcher spun around, "Fallen? I would never betray the church!"

"Shut your mouth you perverted priest!" Mia cried out as she nudged Ryker, "Or he'll turn your face into a bloody stew."

"Mia I appreciate the enthusiasm, but let me handle the talking." Ryker assured her, the mountain warrior chuckling out of embarrassment as she tended to get out of hand. With his revolver still aimed at Lawrence the paratrooper turned his attention to the villagers, "Don't allow him to use the name of the church to push you around!"

No one spoke up.

"This women is innocent! He attempted to force himself on her and before he could she beat him bloody!" Ryker announced as he could tell Lawrence was becoming more and more worried with every word. Grinning he continued, "He uses the power of the church to hide his deeds! We have a Holy Knight Apprentice right here, just say the word and we can arrest this false priest!"

Still no one spoke up.

"What is wrong with you people?" Mia cried out, her usual fierce eyes now filled with pain. She approached them causing the watchmen to turn their blades at her out of fear, "You all and I know first hand at what a creep this guy is!"

Not a single villager spoke up.

"Am I the only one with enough courage to teach this man a lesson!" Mia shouted, frustration and fear now boiling her blood. This was her chance to set herself free, but she needed the villagers to be on their side. Without the village it was their word against the priest.

"The priest he provides for us." A elderly women called out, her voice weak and afraid.

"He allows us to live in peace." A man with a burly beard added on.

Ryker nearly laughed at that comment, "He allows you?'

"He is never short on his quarterly supplies! He uses the money from the church to give us food and blankest!" A child cried out, as if he had spoken taboo two adults pulled the kid back. Mia and Ryker both shared a look of confusion, but for the first time Fletcher showed a look of actual rage. His icy blue eyes could freeze a man in place and his muscles became hard like steel as he tensed up.

"Quarterly?" Fletcher growled, his right hand now grasping his sword's hilt so tightly his hands became an unusual pale. Ryker however never turned his revolver at Fletcher, he didn't think the boy was a threat just yet.

Lawrence stumbled back nearly tripping over a lose floor board, "Young knight I know what you must be thinking-"

"Silence!" Fletcher spat angrily, his right hand ripping his sword from its sheath with lightening quick speed. The blade gleamed in the light from the villager's torches and moon light, the blade was sharp and newly polished. Lawrence released a low whimper at this sight as he attempted to retreat into the chapel, but he was greeted by the powerful fist of Mia. The mountain warrior sending the elderly flying several feet into the dirt just before Fletcher. Fletcher glared at the priest with disgust, "The church supplies every outpost with monthly allowance for the settlements under their care."

"It's not what you think!" Lawrence pleaded, now on his knees. Ryker almost found it humorous how the once proud priest had fallen so quickly into despair, but that was until he saw the look in Fletcher's icy blue eyes. The look of youth and pride was replaced by anger and killing intent, Ryker had seen this look many times before.

"Fletcher lets just take him to Dawnhelm for judgment." Ryker tried reasoning with the young boy.

Fletcher shook his head, "Ryker I appreciate you shining light on this matter, but this is business between a fallen priest of the church and a member of the order."

"You can't kill him." Ryker argued, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

Mia's golden eyes looked at him with an unusual carrying feel to them, "You must let him handle this matter."

"What is this another law of the church?" Ryker spat annoyingly, he was tired of this power the people allowed the church to have over them.

"Not at all, it's the right of passage into manhood." Mia explained, "In the Mountain Clan every warrior must pass a final stage into manhood. Some boys who fear the ocean are thrown into the sea, some boys fear mountains lions so the elders pit the boy against one, and some boys are simply afraid of the dark so they're left in a dark cave."

Ryker shrugged her hand off him, "Fletcher is not part of your clan though."

"That's correct." Mia acknowledged that her customs didn't apply to him, "However I do believe that no matter the background every warrior must face such a challenge. He might not be mountain born, but today for the first time in his life Fletcher will pick the path you wants to follow."

"Even if that path leads to you being imprisoned for a crime you didn't commit?" Ryker was shocked by her sudden change of personality. The usual loud and aggressive mountain girl was now soft spoken and kind, maybe that's what customs and traditions brought out in a person. Her mountain traditions might not be as extreme as the traditions of the church, but maybe in someway they were similar and that was why Mia could connect with Fletcher so much at this moment.

"That's why I got you and your magic spell." Mia snickered, as Ryker sighed at her sudden personality return.

"Young knight! I swear I've been saving all the extra coin from the monthly allowance to throw a festival for the people!" Lawrence cried out, hands clasped together as if he was praying and on his knees. His body shook terribly as he realized his dirty deeds had been brought to light and the villagers watched unsure what to do. Lawrence had abused his power for years, telling anyone who spoke up against him that they'd face the wrath of the church if they attempted to appose his rule. Yet, some were conflicted as even when he secured a steady paycheck from their monthly allowance he stilled protected them and supplied for them.

"I will bring you to Dawnhelm and there you'll take the place of Mia Storm in court." Fletcher growled, his icy blue eyes slowly loosing its killing intent as he lowered his blade. His muscles becoming less tense and his hand loosening his death grip on his sword. Ryker was relieved to see this as he slowly lowered his revolver.

"Bring me to the Eastern Church for judgment." Lawrence begged speaking lowly, "I promise you'll be rewarded handsomely."

"Yes, I'll be rewarded with a promotion for freeing this village from your unholy rule." Fletcher agreed, as such an achievement like this by only an apprentice would most likely lead to the next step of being fully knighted into the order.

"No, no, no you stupid child." Lawrence cackled as he stumbled back to his feet. Swaying ever so slightly the priest seemed as if he had changed as he now looked more confident, "You think my duties here were unknown to the Eastern Church?"

"Lies!" Fletcher hissed, he couldn't believe the priest would tarnish the name of the Eastern Church just to save his own skin.

"He's not lying." An elderly man in the old attire of a village watchmen called out as he stepped forward, "We've been visited by countless associates of his including the Eastern Paladin. It seems they look away as he lines his pockets and in exchange they get a few coins and free supplies from our village."

"Silence! How dare you slander the name of the Eastern Paladin!" Fletcher looked fearful and confused, "He's the commander of the Holy Knights stationed on this coast! He's a man of honor and respect, he'd never stoop so low!"

Lawrence cackled loudly as he now stood tall and proud, "Do you dare attempt to expose your own brothers! Even if you tried do you think anyone would listen?"

"The whole Eastern Church is corrupted." Mia gasped, her hands now shaking as she realized all three of them were done for. She'd be arrested for assaulting a priest, Ryker for defying the church along with threatening a priest, and Fletcher would be denounced by the church along with possible execution. Lawrence would write to his superiors about this act of treason and their lives would be over as they knew it. Mia knew the power the church had and that's why her people avoided it, but these villagers were innocent and yet they'd likely be punished. The child orphaned for speaking out, the village watchman killed for stepping forward, and the everyone would go without meals for allowing this to happen.

"Now stand down before I-" Lawrence was cut off by the sudden surge of pain in his chest.

Mia's golden eyes became wide and Ryker's jaw nearly hit the ground, standing before everyone stood Fletcher with his blade buried deep in the chest of the corrupt priest. Blood dripped down the once newly polished blade and the priest's shaking hands gently touched the blade, whimpering weakly as he attempted to remove the blade from his chest. His cracked lips opened up to speak, but only blood gushed from them. Fletcher had turned his back towards the priest and jabbed his blade into the old man's chest, unwilling to watch the man die. Fletcher's hands shook as he stood there, his eyes glaring at the ground as not even he could bare to see what he had just done. Lawrence attempted to speak, but just as the air escaped his lips he slumped forward.

Dead.

Ryker's voice was even shaken, "Fletcher."

"He was evil and corrupt!" Fletcher cried out, his eyes tearing up as he realized what he had done. "If I didn't kill him all three of us would be sent to prison and possibly death! The people of this village would be punished and would suffer for this!"

Mia stumbled forward and placed her hand on Fletcher's shoulder, "You've completed your trial and this is the path you've chosen."

Fletcher shook his head, "I'm still a man of the Holy Knights."

"He's right." Ryker agreed, watching as two watchmen removed Lawrence from the blade. Fletcher glared at the blood soaked blade for a moment before Mia pulled out a rag to clean it off. It was unusual to see these two acting this way towards each other instead of arguing, "As long as this never reaches any higher ups we can figure this all out."

Fletcher froze in place as if he had seen a ghost, "Where is his aid?"

Whispers escaped the lips of every villager some looked panicked and others began to ran off towards the village most likely to search for this aid. Ryker turned his attention towards the chapel, "I'll search the chapel for his aid!"

As if some sort of trigger the sounds of the chapel's stable bursting open filled the night air. In the glow of the moon light Ryker could make out a figure on horseback making way towards the main road. The old village watchman cried out, "That's his aid!"

"He's gonna report our crimes." Fletcher whimpered lowly.

"I got him!" Ryker shouted, as he holstered his revolver and grabbed his rifle. It was dark and the aid already had some distance between them, but all he needed was a lucky shot. Taking aim he didn't have time to perfectly line up his shot. Firing off two shots he watched the bark on a tree exploded just a feet feet from the rider. Firing off another shot and another he watched them miss their target. Finally, adjusting his grip on the gun he fired off a single shot and watched it burrow deep into the right shoulder of the rider. However, the rider gripped the horse tightly and stayed on. Riding off they were swallowed up by the darkness of the night.

"It's over." Fletcher whimpered in despair.

"I wounded their shoulder!" Ryker called out.

"If there's blood I can track them!" Mia called out, grabbing his pack from Fletcher's pack and began digging through it for her supplies.

"Wait really?" Fletcher suddenly was filled with hope.

Ryker grinned, "This isn't over just yet."