Arthur examined his equinox as he and Sara walked towards the Citadel, “Are you nervous?” he asked.
“Nervous? No,” Sara answered, “Just anxious to get this over with. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Arthur laughed, “Me neither!”
“Hey!” Sara said nudging him with her elbow.
“Sorry, but I can remember your first day of training as if it were yesterday,” Arthur said, “You were so bold and confident when you first stepped foot in that Citadel. By the end of the day you were bleeding and could barely walk.”
“You have to give me a little credit,” Sara said, “I was half decent considering I was just a beginner and you had what…twenty years of experience. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that sparring on your first day of training is not required.”
Arthur shrugged, “What can I say? I had to do something about that attitude of yours. Within a few days, you changed from an arrogant bull to a scared girl. And I must admit I would have bet good money that you would quit. Then one day it was as if something inside of you snapped. You were just different. You had a lot more respect for the rules, your peers, and your teacher.”
“I’ve always respected you!” Sara said though she knew Arthur knew otherwise, and his wide-eyed look confirmed it, “Okay, maybe I didn’t at first, but I do now.”
Arthur slightly arched backward, holding his sides, “If that were true, you wouldn’t have been so rough with me this morning.”
“Hey, you told me…” Sara started saying.
Arthur waved his hand, “I’m just pulling your leg.”
A little boy suddenly ran up by Sara’s side, “Hey, are you a Guardian? You have to be! When I grow up I want to be a Guardian, too!”
Sara stopped and smiled thinly at the boy, “What makes you think I’m a Guardian?”
“Well, you’re here, and you’re talking to Arthur,” the boy said, “Hey, Arthur!”
“Hello, Robert,” Arthur said.
Robert looked shyly at Sara, “Can I ask you something?”
Confident she could answer any question, Sara said, “Sure.”
“What’s the difference between a Rhean and a Vesuvian?”
The answer was so easy Sara didn’t have to think about it, “Vesuvians are one of several races that live here in Rhea. When we speak of two or more of those races we call them Rheans.”
Embarrassed, Robert blushed and chuckled with his teeth clinched, “Oh…so they’re the same. Vesuvians, Fenrir, Khothu…they’re all Rheans.”
“Don’t forget the Hegirans,” Arthur added.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Sara asked.
“This is our field trip!” Robert said excitedly.
“You shouldn’t stray from your classmates,” Sara said, “You might get lost or worse. Hurry up and go find them.”
“I’m not worried. I’m surrounded by Guardians,” Robert said. He darted off towards a group of kids playing around.
Arthur shook his head, “Sara, let me give you another good piece of advice. Don’t take being a Guardian so seriously. Lighten up a little.”
“What do you mean by that?” Sara asked.
Arthur explained, “Being a Guardian isn’t exactly a way of life, and at best we’re just a paramilitary organization, not some secret society.”
“Don’t you think it’s necessary to protect what few secrets we have,” Sara asked, “I’ve studied our texts on the Rheans. We know very little of their abilities and fighting tactics, and even less of their culture or society.”
Arthur sighed, “Even so, we can’t close our doors to our own people. Granted, we have secrets, but it’s important for our people to see us and know that we’re here for them. If they can’t see that, we’ll begin to look like the Rheans.”
A glance at all of the people who had come to visit the Guardians told Sara that Arthur was right, “I guess I can’t argue with that,” she said, “Still, I’m worried about our security. Anyone of these people could be a spy or worse, they could be tortured to tell what they know. I mean…a field trip inside the Citadel.”
“I think you worry too much.” Arthur said.
Sara and Arthur reached the front, wide-open doors of the Citadel and continued inside.
“Then let me ask you this,” Sara began.
“I’m already trembling,” Arthur snickered.
Sara asked, “Have we ever tried to have an open dialog or some kind of treaty with the Rheans?”
Arthur thought for several seconds, “You know what? Your sister was given that assignment! There have been a few exchanges here and there, but nothing significant.”
“And why is that?” Sara asked.
“I don’t know,” Arthur replied, “What’s your point?”
“We should try to learn as much as we can about them. Know your enemy, right?” Sara said as she and Arthur stopped at one of the dormitory halls.
“Get dressed, “Arthur said, continuing down the hall.
Sara entered her dorm room. After bathing and dressing up in a clean uniform, she stepped back into the hall.
Arthur was several doors down heading toward her, “Ready?” he asked.
“Yes.” Sara answered.
“There’s one thing you should know before we move on,” Arthur said, “The Consular won’t be able to make it, so an Elite will knight you.”
Sara’s mouth and shoulders dropped like anchors.
“I’m sorry, but that’s the way it has to be.” Arthur said.
Sara’s head and arms reeled back, “No! It’s bad enough I don’t get a ceremony, and now I have to be knighted by an Elite.”
Arthur grabbed Sara by the shoulder, “What are you saying? You are getting a ceremony, and an Elite replaces the Consular if anything ever happens to him.”
Sara could no longer hold her head up, “I thought the reason I was graduating alone was because I did so well.”
“You have done well, very well,” Arthur assured her, “I’ve taught you everything I know and you’ve passed all the tests.”
Sara didn’t feel any better. Her ceremony seemed to be getting cheaper by the minute.
Arthur rubbed her back, “Sara, don’t worry, okay. Trust me. Just because you’re being knighted differently doesn’t make you any less of a Guardian.”
Sara grunted in anger.
“Alright?” Arthur asked, lightly pushing Sara on the shoulders.
“Alright.” Sara mumbled.
They left the hall through a stairwell and entered a much bigger hall. Two Guardians escorted them to a large set of double doors decorated with ebony and ivory trim.
Guardians called the next room the Chamber of Ascension.
Standing before Sara halfway through the room was an Elite, Thomas.
Elites were Guardians who only took orders from the Consular. Sara slowly approached Thomas and knelt before him. She could feel her heart pounding.
Arthur and the escorts stood to the side and watched.
Thomas pulled an odd-looking weapon, a halo, from his holster. It was similar to a chakram. This one was a foot in diameter. Most of the ring was sectioned off with razor-sharp blades. Only three sections between the blades were safe to hold. If an untrained person tried using this weapon, he would most likely end up hurting himself rather than his opponent.
Holding the halo above Sara’s head, Thomas spoke, “You’ve trained long and hard to reach this point. The road ahead is filled with great danger. But with your knowledge and your skills you can overcome them. Always remember that you are never alone. From here on, you are now part of a special order. Rise, and go forth as a Guardian Ranger.”
Sara stood, maintaining a stoic look as she watched Thomas turn and leave through a door at the back of the room.
Arthur approached behind her, “Now before you start complaining, that’s about as long as the regular ceremony. We like to keep it short and sweet.”
Sara stood motionless, now almost in shock, but managed to crack a smile, “That’s it?”
“Be proud, Sara,” Arthur said, “Not everyone makes it this far.”
Sara wished it were that easy. She had gone through hundreds of painful sparring sessions and long hours of studying to become a Guardian. There was a sense of accomplishment, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just…cheap.
Arthur flicked his finger close to her ear to snap her back to reality, “We’ll see the Marshal today. He’ll give you your very first assignment. You have some time, so you can go ahead and tell all your friends.”
Sara looked at Arthur in disbelief, “Tell them what? That I graduated by myself in a ceremony that lasted ten seconds?”
Arthur shook his head, “You’re not the only person who’s ever graduated alone. Granted, there are very few who do, but I told you, being knighted differently makes you no less a Guardian.”
Sara let out a long sigh, “I guess so.”