"Apollyon won't wait for an answer, Thomas."
A breath heaved as wood groaned beneath hard metal slaps, silver-clad hands leaning hard on a table. The armored man - Thomas - slid one to his face, rubbing the bridge of his nose. One eye opened - a swirling orb of gold and green - the other covered by a singular patch. His gaze rested on a woman with bright red hair, greenish-blue pools, clad in cloth and light armor.
"I know, Raina..." He sucked in some air, easing off and over to the woman. Their proximity was intimate, his palms coming to her shoulders. "But...our children..."
The redhead smiled gently, and entwined her fingers with his. Wordlessly, she pulled him along, through the wooden-stone mixed hallways. They stepped out onto a wooden balcony, free hands gripping the banisters. A courtyard lay before them, a stone wall with a gate far across - and a village beyond said walls.
Down below, three young children - two girls and a boy - with hair as red as Raina milled about together: two across from each other, wooden swords and shields in hand, the last sitting on a barrel.
Wood cracked hard against each other as the swords and shields swung and block. The boy winced and flinched heavily with each strike, until the eldest girl finally swatted the shield aside and he hit the ground with a groan on his butt. The barrel girl hopped down, at his side in a near-instant and helping him stand. The other approached as well, cupping his cheek.
"Keep your shield up...I don't want to ring your head like a bell..." She smiled at his slow, shy nod, rubbing her hand up his cheek to his hair and ruffling it. She laughs at his childish batting, the other girl giggling in response.
"Good form, Cadence!"
The three shot their differing colored eyes skyward to the two adults. Blue, Green and Golden met the mixed colors of their observers.
"Thank you, mother," Cadence, the eldest, muttered with a bow.
Raina smiled, and turned her attention to the other two.
"Alex, please be the adult of your siblings and get them cleaned up for dinner."
Alex smiled over at the grumbling Cadence, half-hugging her brother's shoulders as she guided them away.
Raina turned her attention back to her husband, noting the curled corners of his mouth. Her touch on his elbow drew his attention back to her.
"....No," he softly admits. "This...this is for them. Only them."
A Week Later
"But...how long will you be gone?" The little boy questioned, gripping his father's leg. His gaze wide, quivering as he looked up. Still, the older man smiled and patted at his mop of red hair.
"Long as I have to be, to keep my lands safe." Thomas eased down on one knee, and placed his hand upon his son's shoulder. "That is the Warden Oath, Damien. Stand in front of, and protect, the people and the lands of Ashfeld. With honor, and courage."
"Honor...and...courage?" The nine year old repeated, nodding with his father. Then he smiled. "Then I'll do that too! You'll see, father! I'll make you proud!"
Thomas' smile broke into a laugh, and he hugged the boy to his torso. "I already am! Of you, and your sisters."
He stood, taking his son's hand and leading him across the courtyard. An assembled troop stood by the gates, his wife beside them, with his daughters. Alexandra and Cadence shifted their attention to him when they heard his steps, and the former took Damien's hand in hers as he excitedly took his place with them.
"I do not know how long we will be, my children. But...we will endeavor to return as soon as possible." The patriarch's gaze flickered over each of them. Before they fell on his eldest, his fifteen year old. "Cadence, as my eldest, the safety of the province lay upon you. Sir Thorne and his son Gabriel will remain at your side as protectors and advisors as need be."
"I won't fail, father."
"I know you won't, Cadence...I'm proud of you, all of you."
With that, he dropped to a knee and extended his arms, and enveloped each of his children in them. With the three secured, Raina stepped around the mass and hugged them from the other side.
A parting goodbye...their last goodbye.
Ten Years Later
The high-pitched feminine voice, in tandem with a groaning of wooden wheels and the clip-clops of horses hooves, brought the Warden to a groaning awakening. His gauntleted hand combed through his messy, long black hair, gray eyes just barely covered by his bangs. An exhale and a headshake helped little to get the tiredness off his mind, so he let his head sag with his hands on his knees.
"Oh come on, Tom. It wasn't that rough of a ride."
He smirked, and looked up to a face not unlike his own - albeit far more feminine, less scarred. Her hair parted her face and wrapped around the rest of her head like a cover - her slim frame with some muscle beneath brown leathers and cloth.
"Whatever you say, Thess."
"I have proof!" the feminine twin exclaimed, and thumbed to her left, his right. His gaze followed to a Centurion - clad in black steel Praevalitana armor and with a Aquila blade in his lap - and another Warden - wrapped in copper Lederic and a Magnus-style longsword resting against his dome - snoozing beside them.
"...shhh..." Thomas scowled over to his sister, but the smirk on his lips betrayed his mirth. He looked toward the back of the wagon, at the ensemble of horses that trailed behind them - all clad in black and yellow standards. Standard colors of the Dragon's Jaw Legion, a comparatively small legion to that of the great Iron and the former Blackstone, but with Ashfeld in the way it was, order like this was a rare thing to see.
"Well you're lucky. Looks like we're going to arrive at the DJL's capital here in a few minutes."
Thomas swung himself back onto Thessalia, whom looked at a map in her hands...wait, where'd she get that?
"How can you tell? Some...special landmark we passed by?"
"Nope," she uttered with a smirk, and raised a finger ahead of the wagon. He followed it, and he groaned. How'd he miss this?
Ahead, down the dirt path they traveled, was a walled village, and beyond that - the Dragon's Jaw Keep.
They managed to awaken their companions with little effort - the Lederic-clad Warden made a small show of yawning as the Centurion quickly hopped out of the wagon and fell into step with Thomas.
"Let's hope that our Lord's intuition about the Lady of Dragon's Jaw is correct, Thomas" he muttered to the other man, his gaze on the small crowd that watched the three armored men and the leather-clad woman march by - their standards no doubt the attractor here, a faded green with hints of pink on the edges."Would be a shame if this whole trip was for nothing."
"Let's keep an open mind of this visit, yeah, Korvus?" The other Warden finally spoke up, bumping elbows with the Centurion and getting an annoyed glance in response - but the gladius-holding warrior seemed to ease off a bit and respond with a similar gesture."I don't doubt she'll listen to our pleas when she hears about what's going on beyond her walls!"
"Have a little spirit, Korv...like Xavier here."
"Someone has to counter-balance your two's recklessness..." Korvus muttered under his breath.
The three men chose to ignore the snickering from Thessalia, who eagerly skipped ahead of them.
That got their attention, and they looked back up at the path they stepped upon.
Ahead, two men wait for them at the gate that led into the keep. A Warden, like them - clad in silver Horse Lord armor with a Hallida-styled sword sheathed on his him. And the other a Lawbringer - adorned in golden Haldus armor, leaning against his Eleazar poleaxe. The former took a small bow to the approaching four, before he turned his attention to his larger companion.
They only heard the tail-end of what he was saying before he turned and left, "-et her know."
"Sir Gabriel Thorne, I presume?"