Order of the Rose

Liam had a particular disdain for decorum, pomp, and circumstance. Here though, at The Golden Rose estate, that seemed like all there was. Liam sat at the foot of a large dinner table while the master of the house, Auron, stood at the head. Servant girls dressed in violet robes danced towards the table one after the other, placing plate upon plate of food. Meanwhile servant boys performed somersaults and flips before pouring Liam and Auron’s drinks. Eventually, there was an enormous feast before them, fit for the serving of at least twelve, perhaps as many as twenty heads. This feast, however, was laid out merely for Liam and Auron’s nourishment.

“Such a waste.” Liam thought to himself. That however didn’t stop him from taking a full plate of roasted boar, boiled potatoes, and fresh cheeses. The servants made their way back inside, leaving the two of them alone in the sunlit courtyard. Auron, surprisingly, had not yet taken his seat. He simply stood there, fully armored in his decadent gilded half plate waiting patiently for something. After filling his plate, Liam cast a glance towards Auron. When he’d finally been noticed by the monk, Auron politely began to walk towards Liam. Auron’s own violet drapings billowed in the light wind as he walked, adding to the dramatic presentation that the knight had fabricated for Liam’s visit. Once he reached the center of the table, Auron stopped, standing straight at attention with his hand offered to the empty air before him. Liam sighed and stood from his seat.

“You know, you could have just sat down, really there’s no need for all of this.” Liam announced politely. Auron however remained stalwart, waiting patiently for Liam to return the pleasantries. Liam walked quietly to him and took Auron’s hand in his own, shaking it firmly.

“The only way to teach civility is to live and abide by it at all times.” Auron said. Liam’s stomach churned at the comment, what ridiculousness. Despite his desire for these proceedings to cease, Liam kept a more favorable disposition with Auron.

“I suppose that is indeed true. My apologies for not cooperating sooner.” Liam replied.

“No apologies are necessary.” Auron said with an infectious smile, raising his hand to signal that no harm was done. “If one does not know the rules, how then can they be expected to follow them?” He finished. Liam nodded his understanding of the question. Was this man truly the ruthless mercenary Auron? Leader of the Rose Knights? Liam was beginning to question his decisions but ultimately decided to see things through. After all, he needed Auron’s assistance if he were to accomplish his goals.

The two parted ways and returned to their respective seats. As Auron arrived at his end of the table, a handful of servants were ushered out to assist him in doffing his armor. Beneath the plate and chain, Auron wore a simple but luxurious garb, a shirt of crimson colored silk tucked neatly into a leather belt and black trousers that were tailor-fit to his physique. Regardless of Liam’s feelings on the pleasantries of ‘civility’, he was now second guessing whether he was supposed to speak first or not. Just as he was about to open his mouth, yet another distraction made its way into the courtyard.

A minstrel playing the harp trotted down the stairs into the courtyard, singing a song of battles long ago. There would be no speaking while the minstrel still sang, which Liam had neither the patience nor the time to suffer. He hefted his spear and hurled it at the man, severing the harp strings and pinning him to the stairs by the sleeve of his frilled shirt. All eyes in the courtyard then fell on him, most of them in shock or horror, but Auron looked on in smug fascination. Liam slowed his breathing, and took his seat once more,

“I appreciate the various cordialities that your estate has offered me up to this point, but that is quite enough. I assure you.” Liam said before taking a drink of the red wine that had been poured for him. Auron dismissed his servants and the minstrel with a delicate wave of his hand, indicating that the two of them were to be left alone now. Once the courtyard had been vacated, Auron burst out laughing, unable to control himself. Liam furrowed his brow,

“I nearly killed one of your servants and you think it is funny?” The monk asked.

“No, no, no. That’s not it at all, friend!” Auron replied. “It’s that you are just as predictable as any other human in Knitehood. Despite your best intentions, I could tell from the moment you walked in that you were uncomfortable with my proclivities and cordiality.”

“I was hardly uncomfortable.” Liam asserted.

“Yes, hardly.” He repeated, casting a quick glance towards the spear jutting out of his stairs. “Don’t fret though, I’ve pushed you to the limit and have grown tired of the joke.” Auron said. Liam blinked, was this all just a game to him? Riling him up needlessly as a joke? “But enough about the past, sir, let’s talk about the present. Tell me, why do you want to conscript the Rose Knights?”

Liam thought to protest further, but decided against it. They were finally getting to the point of the meeting.

“I have two requests, as it were. First, I need for you to retrieve a person of interest for me from Ventus.” Liam stated, calmly.

“I presume this individual does not desire to come willingly?” Auron asked, already knowing the answer. Liam nodded. “Of course,” Auron continued, “why else would you need to hire a mercenary to go and fetch him? That task seems paltry in comparison to what you’re going to ask of me next though.” Auron declared. A wicked smile crept its way onto Liam’s face.

“I need for you to assassinate the King of the Skytree.”

Auron’s lips curled into a similarly wicked smile at the task,

“You have officially piqued my interest, monk, please continue.”

Somewhere on the Sandsea

Auron had always loved going to Ventus, if for no other reasons than to experience the technological marvels that spawned from the district. The Skytree Sandship that he rode on now for example was able to traverse the harsh climate of the desert as quickly and effortlessly as a horse galloping across pavement. Though the captain of the ship had encouraged Auron to remain inside the ship whilst they navigated the rolling dunes, he politely declined and instead climbed up the mast of the ruddersail, gazing out over the seemingly endless expanse that surrounded them.

“Captain, you sure it’s wise for ya to be up there?” A voice called out to Auron. He took hold of the rigging and slid back down to the deck, turning to see a tall woman approaching him. The stern face and long raven hair that he was used to were not visible through the wraps she had covered herself in, no doubt to try and avoid the bite of the desert heat. She wore a cloak of brilliant blue that billowed carelessly in the wind behind her, leaving her silver armor pieces on display for all to see.

Auron shook his head, “Iris, you find need to protect your head, but leave the rest of your body exposed to the elements?” He said, remarking on her exposed squishy bits that the armor itself did not cover.

Iris huffed, “Ugh, I’ve hardly done this to protect my head. It’s my hair! The wind and sand have spun it all up in a disgusting mess that I frankly don’t want to be seen with. I’ve never wanted to chop it all off more than now.”

“I thought you said you were never going to do that anyways?” Auron asked.

“I’m not, but I’ve never been closer than I am now!” She replied.

“Ach, just shave it all off and be done with it.” A gruff voice called from behind them. “Might be a fine bit easier on the eyes afterwards.” 

 Iris readied the corseque on her back in a moment between breaths, leveling it at the heavily armored man that had managed to sneak up on them, “You take that back, Phlox, or I’ll shave your head with this!” She jabbed at him with the polearm. Auron delicately pushed the pointy end away from their companion.

“Perhaps we don’t kill each other before we reach Skytree?” Auron offered.

“Easy for you to say captain,” Phlox interjected, “you’re not the bald one in a group gifted with such luxurious hair.”

“Would it make you feel better if I were to shave my head?” Auron offered.

“Actually, captain, that would just about do it yeah.” Phlox replied hopefully.

“Well, too bad because that would be such a waste of perfectly good hair.” Auron smiled, clapping him on the shoulder. “Perhaps the dragon’s fire will catch me next time, eh?”

“Ah, one can only dream.” Iris said, a longing in her voice.

Auron breezed past the comment, “Where are Dahlia and Hellebore?”

“Dunno,” Iris said, “probably below deck snoggin’ or something.”

Auron blinked, “Snogging? We’re well past our teen years, Iris. At least have the dignity to say kissing, or fornicating in extreme circumstances.”

Phlox nodded in agreement, “And that’s what they’re doing, right? We’re all in agreement on that?”

Iris and Auron looked to each other before nodding in the affirmative.

“Most definitely.” They said simultaneously.

Below Deck on the Sandship

Dahlia gathered the last of her clothes that were tossed haphazardly about the cabin and began to don her armor once more. Hellebore looked on from the hammock, taking in the last few glimpses that he could before her sensitive bits were veiled once more.

“We have to stop meeting like this, you know.” Hellebore stated. “Eventually the others will catch on and be jealous.” His voice was as smooth as silk, a far cry from the toned muscular frame he had worked to form into a destructive weapon.

“They already know, you’re well aware of this.” Dahlia snipped, a hint of exasperation in her voice.

“Well yeah, but it’s fun to still pretend it’s a secret. Makes it more thrilling, don’t you agree?” He replied, a broad smile on his face.

Dahlia rolled her eyes, “You’re right, we do have to stop this.” She said. “You’re getting far too full of yourself.”

“I am nothing if not full of me.” Hellebore remarked, sliding his pants back on. He knew that this relationship of theirs wouldn’t last forever. In fact, Dahlia had stated clearly on multiple occasions that she was just using him. He didn’t particularly mind one way or the other at the end of the day. 

Dahlia slid the last piece of her silver and crimson armor into place and took her bow in hand,

“I’m going up to warm up, are you going to come?” Dahlia said.

Hellebore shook his head, “I’m going to see what I can scrounge up as far as food is concerned. I’ll be up on deck in a bit.

“Is your mind ever on the mission at hand?” She asked, coldly.

“Only when it isn’t on you, love.” He winked.

Dahlia groaned before opening the door to the cabin and leaving. Outside the door stood a young dirt covered boy, blushing furiously and holding a bucket of water. Hellebore cocked his head to the side,

“What’s got into you then, kid?” He asked.

“N-no-nothing s-s-sir!” The boy stammered.

Far from convinced, Hellebore continued, “Wait… were you standing there the whole time?” 

The boy nodded nervously at first, then vigorously

Hellebore sighed, pressing his fingers to his forehead, “And, what was it that possessed you to do such a thing?”

“Y-you sir?” The boy asked, confusion in his voice.

Hellebore’s brow furrowed, “Come again?”

“You sir. You possessed me. Told me if I were to move from this spot I were a dead man, sir. I was sent to clean the cabins by the captain, and I knocked on the door right as you were… uh, getting started, sir. That’s when you yelled at me.”

Hellebore couldn’t help but laugh, “Well look at you then! Mr. Survivorman! I’ll get out of your hair so you can get to cleaning. No more death threats, I promise.” He couldn’t say the same for the rest of the unfortunate crew of the Sandship. Hellebore stood to leave the room stopping for a moment to grab his armor and hammer. “Room’s all yours.” 

Sometime Later

Hellebore bit into an apple as he climbed the stairs back to the deck of the ship. With each of his steps the last of the screams died down, drowned out by the wind. The sun was bright still, hanging high in the sky and beating down on the deck with an unforgiving heat. Hellebore detested it, but that may have just been because his armor was black and made him feel like an oven. Auron shined in the light, as per usual, standing above the captain of the ship, his sword dripping with blood. Iris sat on the deck, wiping down her corseque, while Dahlia retrieved arrows from a few scattered bodies.

“Hellebore!” Phlox called. “You missed all the fun!” It would have been difficult to call Phlox the White Rose Knight with how much red was splattered across his armor.

Hellebore grinned, “I found my own fun.” He said, taking another bite of the apple. His own hammer was covered in the blood of the unfortunate crewmen he found in the ship’s galley.

Phlox nodded, “So that’s it then? Ship’s clear?”

“As clear up above as she is down below!” Hellebore affirmed.

Auron wiped the blood off his sword before sheathing it. “White, Black, dump the bodies overboard. Blue, make a pass down below to verify nobody slipped past Black. Red, come with me and let’s get this ship on course.” He announced. Auron carried a friendly and noble disposition normally, but when it came to the mission at hand he was the most cutthroat that a man could be. His knights were no longer comrades in arms, but soldiers under his command. He was their captain, and they would do as they were commanded.

“Aye!” The knights said in unison, standing to attention and saluting their captain.

“Who are we?” Auron yelled.

“Rose Knights, sir!” The knights yelled back.

“Why do we call ourselves the Rose Knights?” He asked.

“Every rose has its thorns. Pick a fight with us, and we’ll make you bleed.”

“You have your orders.” He said, turning to head to the navigation center. The knights dispersed for their various tasks, remaining silent throughout. There were no morals when it came to working for money, and this job was offering an immense sum of money. There would be no mistakes. No witnesses. No mercy.

At the Skytree

“Father, you know that I’m more than capable of going out on my own.” AIRA protested. Rudy was having none of it, however. 

“I fully understand that, AIRA, however we cannot take any chances after what happened at the Argent Tower! We’re in the middle of a war and you never know what will happen.” He said. It would have been a comical sight to the common bystander, to see such a short individual arguing with someone three times their height. The least strange thing about it may have even been that AIRA was an entirely robotic girl, something that wasn’t all that uncommon in Skytree due to the constantly evolving technology. What was peculiar, however, was how strongly stubborn her personality happened to be.

“Come on!” She pleaded. “It’s not like I’m leaving forever and never returning. I just want to go into the market for some parts. I’m trying to construct some armor enhancements.”

Rudy raised an eyebrow, “Armor enhancements? Whatever for?”

“So I can help in the war!” She proclaimed proudly.

Rudy shook his head, “No, absolutely not. Out of the question!”

AIRA was becoming frustrated, but didn’t let it cloud her judgment, her father needed reasoning to understand why she wanted to do this. That’s all.

“Would you rather I go into the war completely unarmored then?” She asked, coyly.

 

Rudy stamped his foot, “No! I’d rather you not go into the war at all!”

“You may be my father, but I can make my own choices! So you can choose now whether you’ll help me survive, or force me to fend for myself.” She said with a sense of finality.

Rudy sighed, furrowing his brow and grumbling to himself. He turned back to his workshop where all manner of experiments, creations, and wonders were on display in a variety of states from just begun to half finished. AIRA was the most important project of his life, and yet she was the one he understood the least of all. Perhaps… perhaps it was time to stop keeping her on such a tight leash. 

“AIRA,” he began, “you must be careful.” He said. AIRA’s demeanor brightened excitedly as she pulled the context from his words. She was going to get to go into the market!

“Oh father, I will, you don’t have to wor-” She began, but the professor interjected.

“I don’t mean just today, or tomorrow even. I mean always and forever!” He said. “You are the example of what the power of Shardlight can accomplish. You are life given to lifelessness. No bastardizations of Necromancy or sacrificial rites, just pure and natural life. I have no idea how to even begin to explain it! But that comes with a price.”

She cocked her head to the side, “What price is that?”

“Your heart.” He stated. AIRA put her hand to her chassis, the power of the shardlight beneath it thrumming with power that even she could feel. Rudy continued, “Your heart is beyond value. Your potential is unknown, but even the most inept criminal knows the value of such shardlight. So you must be careful, at all times.”

“I- I understand.” AIRA said with a confident nod. He was right, of course, as per usual. Perhaps she didn’t need to go into the market today.

Rudy looked out the window at the setting sun, “Now if you are going to the market today, you had best get going. Bring us something useful so I can help you build armor worth your while. Can’t have you run out with nothing but scrap on you!”

AIRA beamed at him, “I’ll get the best that I can find!” She then turned to bolt out the door of the workshop, eager to begin her quest for parts. Rudy smiled as she left, completely unaware that this may have been the last time he’d ever see his daughter.

To Be Continued...?
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