The Impure Cross

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Golden Guards

Just outside the walls of Darion, it stood, watching over the city like an eternal golem seated upon a mound of barren rock; the archbishop’s palace bathed in gold and ivory.

Beneath the golem’s feet spread a vast and plentiful landscape.

Green grass and wildflowers covered the floor, while oak and birch trees made up the forest. Amongst the branches of the trees in the thicket blue jays, sparrows, and woodpeckers flew while deer, pheasants, and foxes scurried on its floor. This forest provided the shelter to many animals that would be considered a low priority. Larger beasts, that threatened humans and forced them to construct walls around their establishments, were exterminated from the grove a long time ago, so the forest provided a sanctuary to all those who wished to experience its beauties without the fear of dangerous predators lurking about. The main bloodline to this forest was a river filled with fresh clean water, running straight down its middle. Bathing in this river was not prohibited, but washing clothes and disposing of any waste into it were seen as direct insults to the archbishop’s sanctity and were severely punished.

This, of course, was all under Odium’s possession and he spared no time in issuing strict penalties to anyone who would dare to step foot into his little piece of heaven unannounced.

Of course, a person was allowed to traverse the vast and plentiful green yonder, but only if they fulfilled one of the two sacred requirements. They had to either pay a hefty fee, which most people in the town could not, or serve the archbishop as his personal servant.

Some younger couples would often attempt to go out of the town’s walls and onto the archbishop’s lawn. It is in this situation that they would come face to face with the Sondeliers.

These bulking war machines were scattered all around Odium’s forest. They hid behind every tree and in the deepest, darkest, corners of the grove.

These men could easily be recognized by their heavy white armor, a pure golden helmet covering the entirety of their faces and a long crimson cape stretching from the nape of their neck down to the soles of their metal boots. These elite guardians of the archbishop’s fortress had a shield, about half the size of their body, with the bishop’s signature golden cross encrusted on it, in their right hand and a six-foot-long spear in their left hand. Aside from their spears, each warrior was also equipped with a short sword in oxen scabbard tied around their waste, so that they were prepared for combat at a moment’s notice.

Whenever they saw one of these couples approaching, they would toss their spear right at them, so as to scare them off from proceeding any further. The sight of a six-foot-long pole sticking from the ground would be more than enough to deter most couples as they would not wish to meet the owner of such a monstrosity.

Some, who were either brave or stupid enough, would proceed against their better judgment. For them, the guards had a special surprise.

They would allow them to frolic around; patiently waiting, the guards would stalk them, until the couple thought the coast was clear. Once they were lulled into a false sense of security, the guards would reveal their presence. They would present themselves unarmed and would cordially ask the couple to come with them. Most would go silently, however, some did rebel. They would argue with the guards and, rarely, would get into a physical altercation with the Sondeliers. In these moments, the behemoths were given full control over the situation. They would neutralize the rebels very quickly, even shattering the bones of those who would attempt to get physical with them.

Others, yet, attempted to flee the Sondeliers, fearing the repercussions that the archbishop may have in store for them. Their feet would not carry them far as the Sondeliers would quickly catch up with these deserters.

Their rather impressive speed was, in no small part, due to the reptilian beasts called the Serpentile, which the Sondeliers rode. These beasts had a uniquely slender body with a green back and a golden underbelly. Their reptilian bodies were eight feet long and about six feet high with strong muscular legs, capable of outrunning even the fastest stallion. They were capable of sensing the intruder, even if they were a mile away, and, due to their nocturnal nature, they could see much better in a darkened environment. They were very loyal to those who would regularly feed them and take care of their needs, making them very easy to train. These beasts were very rare outside of Odium’s forest and it is very likely that they were indigenous to this place before the Ordo Solo Deus claimed it in its name.

Whether they surrendered, fought and lost, or ran and were caught, the intruders would all suffer the same fate. They would be taken down to Odium’s dungeon. In this place, their judgment would be cast and they would be punished accordingly.

Those who would go with the Sondeliers quietly were usually leniently punished, the most common punishment being, ten lashes of a whip, while those who would fight them would be punished more severely. However, those who would commit sacrilege, such as washing their clothes in Odium’s river or defecating within twenty feet of Odium’s palace, they could be punished by an indefinite stay at the dungeon. The only way to get out of that position would be if one had a member of the royal family or a high member of the Order vouch for their behavior, but this would not happen often, due to the fact that the voucher would be laying down their lives for the prisoner. If said prisoner would commit any crime against the archbishop again, both he and the voucher would be punished accordingly.

Another way would be to ask the archbishop for repentance. In this case, their sins would be taken into consideration by the archbishop. If he would judge them worthy of his mercy, they would be released from their chance and would serve the archbishop as a member of his court.

However, with such power that the Sondelier had yielded; one thing still remained a mystery. Nobody knew who these powerful men were.

Sure, if you look behind their helmets you could see two human eyes, but other than that, nothing. These men were once members of the surrounding towns. They were very strong and loyal to the Order even before their training had transformed them into Odium’s obedient guards. However, after their transformation, they never felt the urge to leave Odium’s side. They never married nor did they ever visit their families. The archbishop’s safety and security of his property seemed to be the only goals they had in mind.

As the three men arrived in the forest, a spear was hurled towards them and fell just a few feet in front of them.

The archbishop’s horse stopped in its tracks and the other two followed his example. They waited for a short while before two men in pure white armor rode out of the forest and in front of them.

Demeter looked back at their prisoner.

He was worried that the appearance of these men would startle her; however, his worries were quickly dispelled as the woman just looked at him, with her kind green eyes, and smiled. Demeter returned her smile and quickly faced forward.

He couldn’t deny that she was very attractive, but her aura still threw him off a bit. She didn’t seem to be fazed or even intimidated by the guards, the unruly mass, or even Odium himself and that was no easy task since even Demeter sometimes shuddered in the presence of the ancient theocrat. Her actions seem to even encourage her accusers which led the King’s hand to conclude one of two things to be true: either she is a big enough threat to know that she could easily dispatch of them, in which case they were playing into her hands by dragging her so close to the archbishop, or that she already holds a certain level of authority, most likely a noble of one of the neighboring kingdoms, and she is aware that this indictment is nothing more than a formality to appease the uneducated masses.

“Either one of these options poses a different issue that will require a different approach. I will have to assess the situation and act accordingly. She could be a target and an ally at this point,” Demeter thought intently.

His thoughts were broken when a sight of a spearless guard, riding his reptilian beast, appeared before him.

“My lord,” the Sondelier spoke with a slight quiver in his voice as he dismounted his trusty beast “Please accept my apologies! I should not have startled you like that.” As the Sondelier finished he kneeled down and bowed his head in shame.

“It is quite alright,” Odium smiled politely at the Sondelier “You have been following your duties attentively and therefore I commend you. Please inform your brethren at the castle gate that cardinal Cattanburry and I will be arriving there shortly,” Odium finished.

Hearing these words made the guard lift his head up in joy. He quickly rose to his feet and hailed the archbishop.

“Your kindness truly knows no bounds,” the Sondelier spoke enthusiastically; “I shall do as I am commanded. May your honorable light shine forever within these walls! Glory and honor to your might!” he continued to shower the archbishop with praise as he mounted his scaly steed.

As he was doing so Demeter heard a barely audible chuckle coming from behind and he couldn’t help but smile as well. Once the grateful guard had left his sight, Demeter approached Odium.

“Didn’t you forget somebody, sire?” Demeter said ‘subtly’.

“If you are referring to yourself, then no,” Odium answered coldly.

“Would you mind telling me why, if I may be so bold to ask,” Demeter pushed on.

“Your utter disrespect of my authority back there should be reason enough for me to forbid you access to my home,” Odium replied, slowly beginning to flare up, “However, I do have a task that I truly believe you are more than qualified to do.”

“What might that be, your holiness?” Demeter asked though he already knew the answer.

“You are to take the prisoner to her cell and examine her until I am available to conduct further inspections,” Odium stated in a factual manner.

“If that is what you wish, I will be happy to oblige,” Demeter responded cordially.

“I am glad to hear that. At least we can come to an agreement on some matters,” Odium said dryly and Demeter chuckled at his remark.

With these parting words, they separated.

Cattanburry and Odium followed the path to Odium’s palace, while Demeter rode with the white-haired maiden to Odium’s dungeon.

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