V9i5 May Golden Paladin

Narrated by Shae Strong and Randell Moore

By the time morning came, rumors had thoroughly spread throughout the camp about the flash of light that had pierced the night.

Thankfully, Tiann’a had accompanied the Golden Paladin to his magical training, though she’d remained at a distance. Her prompt action to send word back swiftly allayed alarm and prevented the mobilization of troops. They were still in enemy territory, after all, and it was standard operating procedure that any suspicious activity be immediately investigated.

However, the assurance that the incident was only the Golden Paladin training had had the opposite effect when paired with the dramatic end to the battle the day prior. Soldiers were terrible gossips, after all.

“This is suffocating,” the Golden Paladin murmured with a groan as they made their way through the camp. Hesa, keeping pace with his long stride, chuckled.

While his troops had always treated him appropriately for a leader, their expected respect had rapidly evolved into something like awe. The deep bows and kneeling he’d been presented with for this morning’s rounds made him uncomfortable.

“You’d better get used to it,” Hesa said. “Have you heard what they’re calling you?”

“‘The Light of Hope.’ Don’t remind me. They could have, at the very least, come up with something less cliché.”

Hesa grinned wickedly, clearly enjoying teasing him. “You know how soldiers are. If one of their own has red hair, that person gets nicknamed ‘Blue.’ It’s a sign of their devotion to you that you got something tangentially related to your purpose here. Besides, you’ll amass a great many more addendums to your name before this is all over.”

“Seems they’ve been too idle. We may have to implement a training schedule for the road, so they don’t have breath to waste on such frivolity,” the Golden Paladin grumbled darkly. Hesa looked like she was barely holding back her mirth.

A commotion on one of the camp’s borders caught both leaders’ attention, though laughter floating over the general low hum of camp activity kept the Golden Paladin from tensing up. Then he caught sight of a pegasus winging at top speed in the opposite direction, and knew exactly what had happened. By Hesa’s aggrieved sigh, she’d come to the same conclusion.

They made their way over to the source of the bustle: a crowd standing in a ring around a prone, familiar figure. One in oddly serrated, mirrored, full plate armor.

Clear the space!” The Golden Paladin roared, and watched with muted satisfaction the resulting scramble of bodies hastening to get away. Within seconds, the only remaining people at the armored figure’s side were the Golden Paladin, Hesa, and a crouching medic.

The medic glanced up nervously as the Golden Paladin approached, but kept checking the armored person for injuries. The Golden Paladin waited impatiently while they finished. Then, they too, scurried off. 

The Golden Paladin heaved a long sigh. “Baleraphon. What happened.”

A plaintive voice floated up from under the full helm. “Peggy bucked me.”

“Your pegasus steed — bucked you?”

Hesa raised one hand and cleared her throat. “I’m afraid this might be my fault.”

The Golden Paladin wheeled around to stare at her. “How?

“Ah, shortly — pegasi fall under Celestial’s protection; so, naturally, I can speak to them. But, I’m afraid I’m … not very good at it. Baleraphon had other imperative duties leading up to our leaving Arthur’s Kingdom, so I gave Peggy-Sue instructions to make absolutely sure Baleraphon was here once we’d deployed and he finished with his other obligations. You know his proclivities towards getting distracted, and we can hardly afford that at the moment.”

“I wouldn’t have!” Baleraphon interrupted in an indignant whine.

“... In any case, it appears I was a bit too literal with my phrasing.”

“She dumped me and ran!” Baleraphon cried.

“Technically, she flew,” Hesa said under her breath.

The Golden Paladin coughed to cover his laugh. “Enough, both of you,” he said firmly. Baleraphon, with agility belying his bulky frame, flipped onto his stomach and pushed himself to his feet in one smooth motion.

“Oh well,” Baleraphon said, by his tone putting the whole thing behind him. He snapped a salute. “Reporting, Boss! Apologies for my tardiness! Awaiting orders!”

The Golden Paladin considered Baleraphon. Honestly, he hadn’t expected the eccentric knight to come with them — though, perhaps he should have, given that Baleraphon had initially introduced himself as the Golden Paladin’s ‘shield.’ Planning and strategy flashed through the Golden Paladin’s mind for a moment before he came to a conclusion.

“Marshall Baleraphon, though you’ll be briefed in more detail later, you should be informed that we were ambushed yesterday and have given the order to remain in place until the wounded are safe to move. However, this puts us in a vulnerable position. To make matters worse, we’ve had ‘volunteers’ pouring in from all angles seeking to join the convoy. While I’m certain a number of them are legitimately looking to support the war effort, we aren’t at liberty to take such things at face value. Something I noticed in our time together, before I was … solid, shall we say … is that I was unable to curtail the truth while speaking in your presence. Is this an ability you do have?”

Baleraphon smiled. “Caught me.”

“It’s an open secret. A side effect of the chimera venom,” Hesa scoffed from behind the Golden Paladin. He glanced back at her questioningly; she had a hand over her mouth and her eyes were wide. Apparently even she wasn’t immune.

The Golden Paladin continued: “In that case, I’d like you to accompany the quartermaster intaking the volunteers to ensure we don’t end up with any individuals of ill intent. Report directly to me every two days.”

Baleraphon bowed elegantly, saying as he did, “Got it, Boss!” Then he scurried off.

The Golden Paladin shook his head, suddenly overcome with exhaustion. The last two days had been trying. He asked Hesa, “Have we completed our rounds?”

“For the moment, but you really should take any downtime you have to practice the utilization of Ruin.”

“Excellent suggestion, as always, my Lady. I shall practice Ruin … by visualizing its utilization from a horizontal position on my cot mattress.”

“... Really?”

Long time no see, Bale! Our weirdo knight’s been busy, but he’s back in action! Things seem calm now, but how long will that last? See you next week!

Metacosm Trivia Time!

What’s ‘Ruin’ and why does the Golden Paladin have to practice it while napping?

Hesa and GP’s magic lesson hadn’t ended with the light show. Hesa actually coached him well into the night — thus his insistence on catching some Zs. (He does need just a few hours of sleep.) Poor Golden Paladin — Celestial’s Prophet seems to see him as a guinea pig for the stuff she couldn’t figure out how to make work, and Ruin is one of those things.

It’s magic well known for being the most useless in the metacosm. It does nothing.

In studying it, experts in the field found that in order for it to do something other than nothing, it would need the kind of power that no magus could ever produce. Thus it was determined that it would likely need pure Creator energy.

You see where I’m going with this.

GP was able to use it, both to (and not to) Hesa’s surprise, but it’ll take him time to master.

What does it do in the hands of someone who can channel the Creator? Welp. You’ll have to find that out another time.

N.A. Soleil is a portmanteau pseudonym of the two authors' names.

Art by Melissa Conway and N.A. Soleil