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The large chamber which covered the entire ground floor of the tower, which led between the Tier Three settlement and the inside of Fastidious House, was not as empty as it should be.

When I departed, there were only two crude guards sitting at a rough desk whose job was just to monitor the rough metal tools lent out for the wood carvers. During busier times, so my Brother told me, more people would come and help in taking care of the harvest which was delivered into the chamber.

Instead of those two crude guards, there were eight elite guards sitting on benches. All were fully armoured with their full mail armour and chest plates. Their weapons and shields were nearby, and by now, most of the elite guards had picked their weapons and shields up.

The celling of the chamber was covered with an array of lights which made a mockery of the night sky.

I wasn’t sure if it was the location of the manure and the way its stench permeated through the air; the unwashed nature of the Tier Three; the mud which was trailed in throughout this chamber; or the crude furniture, other than those rough benches the elite guards had been sitting on, which had been pushed to the sides of the chamber. But this chamber felt strangely rural and uncouth compared to how the rest of Fastidious House felt. But in its uncouthness, it had a form of homeliness that the sprawling mansion of Fastidious House lacked.

Everything there was so rigid, so seemingly perfect, so well put together. It didn’t feel like a home, just a design piece. No mess was allowed to intrude anywhere, so much so that not only did each person have a small train of servants follow them to make sure that nothing was ever out of place, but groups of them roamed the hallways and rooms just on the slight chance something was out of place.

Other than me, no one thought of this as strange. And it wasn’t as if I could ever bring the topic up with my Brother because I knew this was how things were before this body left here to head towards the Temple. What was strange was how that book which I had started to read before heading to the Temple was still on the table when I came back a decade later.

Even fully armed and armoured, now that they had their swords and shields ready, they did not move to attack me.

At least that was something positive.

Through my new connection with Fastidious House, I constructed a simple block chair with a high back so I could lounge back upon it. After clearing a patch of the ground from the mud, basically I just moved the dirty stone outwards, leaving a circular patch of clean stone from which I lifted the chair out of the ground fully formed.

I stepped into the clean patch of ground and sat down in the solidly built chair.

Now that I think about it, didn’t it look a bit like a throne? A solid, high-back chair.

Shrugging to myself internally, I collapsed onto my throne-like-chair.

‘You know, we are more alike than what you believe.’ I said.

All of them were still looking at me wearily. They were all showing signs of discomfort, but I wasn’t sure of the reason. At least none of them were getting ready to attack me.

‘Please, sit,’ I said, motioning to the benches they’d gotten up off a moment ago. ‘There’s already been enough blood shed these past couple of days.’

One hesitantly made their way to a bench and perched themselves on the edge.

‘It’s not easy being a solider, isn’t it?’ I started off saying. ‘Before I ended up here, I spent ten years at Outer Heart. Ten years in one of the harshest environments for soldiers. When there I saw soldiers of all types break.’ Why the heck did I start talking about soldiers breaking down? But I was relying upon a few traits and my concept to help me move through this speech. ‘But I also saw soldiers that seemed weak at first, rise to great heights. Maybe the greatest rise was of a small boy who rose from the lowest to reforming much of Outer Heart.

‘I will tell you a secret. That boy was one of those whom seemed weak. But he never was. He had moments throughout his climb when he stumbled. Despite stumbling, despite cracking, never once did that boy break.’

Another two soldiers were now perched on the edge of the benches.

‘Before he was even a solider, he entered, explored, and reported back on the existence of a new Fissure; alone. It was a strange Fissure, not a labyrinth carved out of the depths of misery, but one which spread as wide as the sky above.

‘Before they even got to Outer Heart he entered the Fissure a second time. This time, he was not alone. He went in with his fellow troops. Within the frigid depths of the Fissure he taught the soldiers about the importance of unity and team work.

‘With his lessons they escaped the frigid depths of the Fissure, fighting off monsters who had previously almost wiped out an entire group of Elites. As the lowest of the low, he showed great bravery. He even saved the life of the commander of the Suppression Forces, dragging her back all by himself whilst beset by stocky monsters as large as caravans which had large gapping maws of sharp toothed terrors.’

Only one soldier now stood now, but he was leaning heavily upon his spear, as caught up in the story as the others who were perching on the benches.

‘They fought their way out of the Fissure moments before it closed. The once aloof commander now called upon the boy at odd moments of the day and night. Things changed. Then the commander left, taking with her most of the troops he had trained. They were replaced by an old fool, one who thought they knew it all because they had been there before.

‘And what a fool they were. They undid all the changes that young boy made. Then came an expected Fissure. What came out of the Fissure was not expected. Instead of the hordes of flightless birds, there came those most dreaded of foes: the wicked goblins.

‘Yes, alone, most are no match even for the weakest of the Tier Three soldiers. They wear no clothes, yet alone armour. They carry no weapons, but their own sharp teeth and claws. They are scrawny, with gangly long limbs. Their misshapen heads seem too big for their scrawny bodies. And they shuffle along rather than walk with pride.

‘But they are clever. Maybe not as clever as we are, but clever all the same. Theirs is an animal cleverness, one which is quick to take action and lead others into traps of their own making.

‘And that Fissure was their home. They knew it well. Knew all the hidden and narrow passages which humans couldn’t take. It was in the darkness of that Fissure that the boy came to understand the true dangers not only of those beasts who lived within the Fissures, unfathomable chaos, and more dangerous than either of those: rigidity of order.

‘Order is important. The boy knew that. He did what he could to aid those who had been ordered to hold firm. But that was a fool’s order. The solider’s knew it; not just the Tier Three but Tiers Five and Seven too. But because of an order from their fool of a commander, they had to guard an outcrop.

‘Only the boy, not tied to the order by the grace of their divine blessing, and the fool of the Commander who left the others behind to die survived that Fissure. And the only reason the Commander survived was because the boy took pity on them and despite having lost the use of an arm, and one leg being horrendously injured dragged the panicking commander out of the Fissure moments before it closed.’

A shield fell to the floor with a loud rattle. All eight soldiers were staring at me, and I smiled at them.

‘In the end the boy was the only one who survived that Fissure. They executed the commander for their foolish actions within the Fissure. But did the boy get rewarded?’ I shook my head. ‘No. No, they didn’t. Before their body had fully healed they were forced back into the ranks of the Disposal Troops. But he, having never left Outer Heart, had no unit. So he was treated as a unit by himself. One lad treated as six. Thankfully, never having to carry the cargo of six. Often by themselves and often ignored by even those whom he should be fighting alongside.

‘Time and time again, he gained converts. And those converts always begat more converts. After ten years at Outer Heart the changes he brought were immense. His changes, reforms, brought with them increased survival for all. Not just the Disposal Troops, but the Suppression Troops too. And despite some equally horrid battles, some which he was again lucky to survive, he kept on living and making life better for all.’

I stopped lounging and sat up straight, looking all eight soldiers in the eyes.

‘Do you know what he did next? After those ten years of spent reforming Outer Heart?’

None of them dared to make a noise. All of them shook their heads.

‘He came back home, tearing off the facade he’d been wearing which had him pretend to be a Tier Three. He did what he did when he turned up at Outer Heart. He observed, watched, started learning. Finding flaws and weaknesses, finding ways to fix the brittle rigidity without sacrificing the true strength of flexible order.

‘The enemies in his home were no less dangerous that those which he faced within those dark labyrinthic confines of the Fissures. His brother was slain. He too, was attacked. But what those who attacked him failed to realise was that he was like them.

‘He was a solider, trained though harsher lessons than they had ever dreamed of facing. Not only was he a solider, he respected them and understood them, he was one of them. So he would learn his lessons and not be overconfident in dealing with those who threatened him.

‘Soldiers deal in Death. Soldiers, though, do not set out to kill needlessly. Death often comes unbidden and unannounced, especially upon the battlefield. But never once does a soldier bring needless death. True soldiers have a strong and flexible core which holds onto order without being brittle.

‘I am a True Solider, one who brings Death. But not needless death. I am strong, yet flexible. I hold on to order without being brittle.‘

Trait 1: Solider of Death, renamed and transferred to Domain Trait
Domain Trait 5 Unlocked: True Solider

I quickly ignored the message, from the way that these people were gazing at me with something akin to hero worship, now was the time to get their loyalty.

‘If I was not a True Solider, you would all be dead. Not one of you, not all of you together, could hope to slay me.

‘Instead, I would welcome you—not ruling over you as the Head of Fastidious House to his retainers—but by my side, as fellow True Soliders. True Soliders who would bring in an era of strong and flexible order, which will allow us to reform Fastidious House into the envy of the Heartlands as to how powerful a House run by True Soliders can be.

‘Will you lend me your strength, fellow soldiers?’

Almost as one, they stood up tall, and placed their closed fist over their hearts. A sign of honour and respect towards those whom they deemed worthy.

My conquest of Fastidious House had started.

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About the author

volcanicMole

  • England

Bio: From the outside it may seem like vM is plain and boring. From the inside, though, he is anything but: he is an inquisitive explorer who constantly hunts for ways to burst out of the constraining confines of the ordinary world we find ourselves in. To fulfil this longing he creates vast and wondrous worlds full of adventure where the burning brilliance of heroes stands strong and bright against the almost all-consuming darkness of the world.

Those vast worlds of adventure are not his only siren call: he is a loving father and husband (even if he is accused of being a bit too silly at times).

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