“What news do you bring?” Commander Wright asked, barely taking his eyes of the recruits that were being vetted. Only a select few would go on to become Keepers. Most as Balan knew would end up in foot infantry, glorified guards to riches, or general law and order.
Balan had a certain disdain for the commander but he dared not let that influence his mission. “Grand Master has summoned as many Keepers as you can spare from the fort, Commander. The orders for them are to reach The Hallow as soon as possible.”
Commander Wright grunted but said no more. He simply hurried down the stairs and charged towards the huddle of young men dueling with one another. “Anyone dare to challenge me?” He boomed, glaring at Balan briefly before circling around, looking at the frightened faces. “Anyone even managing to catch me off guard will get a ticket straight to the sanctuary with Keeper Balan here.”
Some young men seemed to consider the proposal only briefly. There was one among them who put up his hand and stepped forward from the throng.
“What’s your name, young man?” Wright asked.
“Siyon Lyres, Sir.”
Lyres, now that was a last name Balan hadn’t heard in a long time, since the coup. The last they knew, all the Lyres were massacred in their homes, in their beds, throat slit from ear to ear, wives and daughters hung like flags upon masts of houses, warning. The lyres had all but been eradicated.
“You’re a Lyres?” Balan asked, stepping down onto the tourney ground.
“Whose son are you?” Balan asked, mesmerized but before the boy could answer him, the commander drew his sword, “That’s a dangerous name to have, boy.”
The boy as he called it readied his sword in response. “Not in the sanctuary, it’s not, Sir.” Before the commander could strike, Siyon’s sword caught his and though the duel lasted mere seconds with the Commander hovering over the boy with his sword tip at the base of his neck. He sheathed his sword and offered the boy a hand up. “You will go with Keeper Balan to the sanctuary.”
“But Commander Wright, Grand Master said all the Keepers you can spare.” Balan protested.
“This is all I can spare,” the Commander turned and started walking away. “Or have you not heard the news yet, Keeper Balan, the Yorkish have declared war to our left.”
Balan stood at top of the terrace staring up at the sky, the edges of the storm cloud that had been gathering over The Hallow was so wide spread that he could see its edges at the fort. He heard soft crunch of sand and grit behind feet that approached him. It was Syion, his small bag slung over his shoulder in anticipation of their departure.
“You truly are a Lyres, aren’t you?” Balan shook the young man’s hand. “Now, you’re not afraid of flying, are you?”
Syion pulled his bag higher on his shoulders, shaking his head. “I’m not exactly from around here, Mr, Keeper…”
“Mr?” Balan’s interest piqued even more. “You’re from the Human Realm?” He whispered in awe. “How did you make it through the veil?”
Syion looked around the rooftop before reaching for something in his pocket. He brought out a fist closed around something and slowly opened his hand to reveal a thick gold medallion with a Phoenix in flight inscribed on the top and a ring of writing he had no understanding of. “My mother gave me this. Said I’d find all the answers here.”
Balan stared at the gold coin for ages, then closed the young man’s fist and thrust his hand away. “Be careful who you show that to around here, or anywhere. This is not the Human world, and a simple thing like that Phoenix Guards token can get you killed.”
“The Phoenix Guards? Is that what you are?”
Balan scoffed. “I’m many things boy, and that I am not.”
“You’re a guard?”
“Of this realm, yeah.” He eyed the pocket where the boy stashed his coin. “But they are a whole lot more.” Balan reached for the boys hand and pulled him towards the edge. “We better get going if we are to save daylight.”
“Who are the Phoenix Guards?” Syion asked, staring at the ground several feet below them. “My mum used to mention them when she was lucid. Something about being key.”
Balan considered the young man, contemplating whether he should indulge the curiosity or not. Instead, he pushed him over the edge of the building and watched him fall, screaming.