The chill mountain air whipped around the young man's head, biting and stinging at his features. He'd taken care to pull the hood of his cheap cloth cape tightly about his head, held there by an equally poor-quality scarf, but even so the raging gusts that billowed through the peaks of the Alterac mountains were sharp enough to cut right down to the soul.
Ahead of him - as it had been for days - the backside of the grey gelding swayed in his face, the armoured man sitting astride the beast comfortable in his saddle. Resentment had been close to the surface of the young man's thoughts for the whole journey. "Trust me," the old Paladin had said, "All this walking will prepare your body for the rigours of fighting in full field-plate. It takes a lot of stamina you know."
Right. And riding a horse takes what? Class?
The duo crested a rise and Doorknocker pulled up on the reins of his steed. Resting his horse momentarily, he drew back the mail coif from his head and scratched through the light leather under-cap.
"We're stopping?" enquired the young recruit, slowing to a halt by his mentor's side. "Time for a break?"
"Not as such." Replied the older man. He raised an arm and pointed his new squire's attention across a valley of jagged rock. "You see? We're almost home."
The former warrior turned his head, and was struck by a curious suite of emotions. Beyond the crags and cracks of the Alterac mountains, tucked into a huge crevace between rocky spires, was a building the likes of which he had never seen. Half fortress, half cathedral, the building was of dark granite, only barely discernable from the mountain itself. Banners flew from the topmost gantries and crennelated battlements punctuating the bland exterior with dark blue and vibrant gold. Smaller out-buildings nestled by its side like offspring sheltering by a parent.
"It's... I don't know how to describe it."
"I have called this place home for some time, Revi. I still cannot adequately describe it. But if you think that's the whole of it, you should wait until you meet your new brothers. The Templars are a many and varied bunch."
Doorknocker heeled his mount into a slow walk down the side of the valley. With each passing step, the fortress monastery loomed larger. Great sconses burned on the turrets along the main wall, casting shadows up the sides of the valley in ominous forms. As they neared, Reviresco made out the form of a man standing proudly in front of the raised portcullis.
Not a man, but a statue, the form grasped Revi's attention whole and refused to let go. Much like the great statues in Stormwind's Valley of Heroes, this Knight's proud stance left him imagining a fearless warrior. Shield on one arm and a torch raised high in his other, the flaming brand actually burned with real fire. The statue was crafted lovingly of many types of rock, fused somehow to give the effigy a life of its own through myriad colour and texture - from the almost pink-white marble of the face to the silvered armour and the delicately rendered detail of the etchings on his chestplate.
"Who is he?"
"Our patron, Revi. The founder of our order - Kurel Ironfist. The light guides us, the shield protects. The basic tennets of the Faith of Light. But look closer. Tell me what you see."
The young man inspected the statue as they drew nearer. All looked natural, almost as if he were alive. But with each step more became clear. The shield was imperfect - dents and scratches marred its surface. The base of the statue was decorated not with fine artistry as expected, but by tiny demonic figures clawing at the statue as if impatient to destroy the towering figure. At the waist he saw a scabbarded blade, a small axe, an assortment of other weapons.
The face even bore the scars of battle.
"I see an armed man, scarred and still in danger."
"He's real. A real warrior. Statues are ideals - how we wish to remember those of the past, who were gone before their time. Ironfist understood that he would be remembered in this way, and made sure that the likeness was absolute. You see, the light and the shield are not enough. That is the entire premise of the Templars - for us to attain the peace we seek, we must be prepared to fight and die for it, otherwise the prize - if ever attained - would be empty. He bears arms to slay evil, he bears scars to show his humanity - frailty like any other man - and the scourge at his feet reminds us of what we face."
"Aye, and those in the hearts of other men. We all have our demons, Revi - some more than others. And it is here that you will learn how to face and defeat your own."
Reviresco looked down at his hands, clenching his fists. Like some knightmare, the image of running blood came unbidden to his eyes, dripping from his hands. His epiphany in the valley near Ironforge had shown him the path - but walking that path and escaping the past was proving difficult.
"You are to teach me?"
"Yes, and others. Tonight we will dine with the Brothers. Tomorrow at morningsong you will have your first sight of what it truly means to be a Templar. Then... well, I will tell you tomorrow."
* * *
Gar awoke with a start, drenched in sweat. Moments before he had been standing atop a mound of bodies - Troggs, Murlocs, beasts and men - basking in the glory of battle, beating his shield with his sword like some deranged barbarian, face painted with blood. Even now he could hear the pounding.
"Revi, get up!" The call came from beyond the door of his spartan cell. Realisation dawned and the former warrior rose on shaky sleep-dulled feet, crossing the freezing stone floor to the doorway. He opened the door to find a monk standing there. "You don't want to be late for morningsong on your first day, boy."
It took the young man a moment to recognise Doorknocker under the hooded cowl. "We wear robes?" The Paladin looked Revi in the eye for two heartbeats, smirked in a mock-scowl, turned and left.
Revi quickly realised he had no idea what he was doing. Standing in the cold doorway with naught but his undergarments, he was struck by how little he knew of what he was getting into. Quickly, he dressed in what clothes he had available to him that did not consist of armour - which wasn't much - woolen leggings and a simple cloth shirt with boots of soft leather. Shutting the door, he hurried after his mentor.
The huge hall where they had dined the night previous had been re-made in the image of a chapel. That, or the tables at which they had sat to eat had disguised the place's true purpose. All around, white-robed figures knelt on the floor, heads dipped.
As he entered, all too quickly to be quiet, a number of heads turned. Some he recognised from brief greetings at the meal, some he didn't. All races were represented, colours, genders. He stopped immediately and stood quietly at the rear of the room.
A huge man stepped up to the podium opposite. He'd been pointed out before as Athmet, the Arch Bishop.
"Brothers! We meet again!" He called. The assembled Templars replied in unison.
"We meet in times of Peace, we wait for times of War."
"A new morning greets us with the Light!" And again they replied.
"The Light warms and protects us."
"The morning brings fresh trials!"
"We shall face them and conquer."
"We must prepare for what comes!"
"Our Shields endure, our Arms are keen, our souls pure."
The last words rang out and echoed around the room. As one, the occupants rose to their feet and bowed before the Arch Bishop. They removed their cowls and stood attentively. "This day, Brothers, we have a new recruit. Brother Doorknocker has found himself a waif by the wayside, and it is time for him to be inducted into the Order, should he so wish." Every head turned to look at Revi, still shivering by the door.
He spoke hesitantly. "Er... Yes, I so wish."
"Then come," bellowed Athmet, "meet your destiny with courage!"
The assembled Templars moved away from the centre of the room, many leaving altogether, but a small number forming an impromtu circle. Revi noticed Doorknocker take a place by the podium, his hands clasped firmly in front of him, his face impassive and impossible to read.
A number of white-clad Templars stepped forward, bearing an assortment of weapons, offering them to the new recruit. One lashed a shield to his forearm. All the while, Athmet spoke on.
"Gar Fisher, a Brother of the Azeroth Templars is bound by Duty to protect the Light. All the lands of Azeroth are worthy of our concern. This world is plagued by evil, and there is more to come. Each meets this evil in his or her own manner. The courage of your convictions is tested to the limit, your heart taxed and your strength tested daily. If you do not have the will to give your all to the Light, then you are not of any use to the order. So now, you fight."
A wasp-waisted, saturnine man stepped forward from the other side of the body-formed arena, axe and shield in hand.
"This is Y'jnik, the most recent addition to our order. You will face him in single combat." Revi looked to his mentor, but the Paladin's face showed no support. He merely stared back. Revi turned to the weapon-bearers, selecting a sturdy looking copper shortsword and testing its weight and balance with a few test swings. Across the room, his opponent-to-be was moving through an alien-looking series of motions, working his muscles into readiness.
Swordsman looked at axeman, then back at the Arch Bishop. He heaved in a breath which was released as a half-sigh and readied himself. "I am ready."
At the Bishop's command, the warrion Y'jnik charged forward, faster than Gar's eye could follow. He was still looking where the man had been, rather than where he was, when the first blow was struck. Luckily the flinch the move had prompted had raised the shield high enough to deflect the blow. He backed off as quickly as possible.
This was the first time Revi had raised a weapon in weeks, and he was concerned at the very prospect of fighting. Y'jnik continued his advance, raining blows down on Revi's shield which he only barely managed to parry. Every blow thundered through his heart as his pulse quickened. Fear perhaps?
Revi took his first swing. Parrying a forceful blow to the side, he swept his blade around in a tight arc at the warrior's waist height, catching the cloth of his robe with the tip. Y'jnik backed off a pace and grinned almost savagely. He belowed out a deafening shout and charged once more, axe raised high. The man was taunting Revi, and it was dragging shards of his former self from their resting place in his subconscious.
Revi's blood began to boil with anger and he met the charge head on. Sword and Axe locked toghether, the relative strengths of each man holding them aloft. Slowly, Y'jnik began to bear Revi down, so the new recruit played a cheap shot, kicking the wily man's leading foot out as he ducked aside.
As Y'jnik compensated for his forward momentum, Revi turned and was on the offensive from his shielded side. Hate was beginning to gnaw at him and he let his anger fuel multiple blows down on his lithe opponent's shield. Whilst the Templar was fast, Revi had the size and strength advantage, and used it to his best ability.
Constant blocking and parrying was beginning to wear on Y'jnik. With each parry and riposte his shield-arm got lower, unable to bear the weight of the copper-bound hardwood under the furious assault. His opponent weakening, Revi's bloodlust intensified to a near berserk rage. The continued assault forced the Templar to his knees and he dropped the axe, raising an arm in surrender.
Everything went quiet. The spectators were watching intently, the alien faces of elves and dwarved looking almost spectral in the low light. Revi had stopped mid-swing, panting heavily. Sweat dripped from his brow with all the haste of a glacier. The utter quiet was broken.
"Gar Fisher," Athmet spoke - the softest words Revi had yet heard him utter, "Your trial of Brotherhood is almost complete. One thing remains - this man has failed to meet the standards of the Brotherhood by being defeated in this way. You must dispatch him and all will be complete. You may then take your place in the Templars of Azeroth."
Revi looked at the man on the floor, picturing again his taunting, his grinning face. Not grinning now though, oh no. The man looked terrified. And so he should, for his life was now in the hands of another. Revi's imagination brought to him the image of the mound of bodies, this time the topmost corpse was Y'jnik, face contorted in pain. Revi stood on the mound, beating a rhythm that matched his racing heart. Blood clouded his vision.
Through the all-encompassing ichor shone a light. A torch had been lit in Revi's soul those few weeks previous, and it refused to be extinguished. It burned at the bloody field, tempering his spirit. He lowered his weapon, letting it drop to the floor - though it did not clatter as it should, but instead sounded as if it had been dropped once more on the snows of Dun Morogh. He held out a hand to Y'jnik, helping him up.
"If killing men who wish only to do good is what you require, then I want no part of your cult."
Gar turned to walk toward the exit, but was stopped by a forceful hand on his shoulder. He turned, sad eyed - now may be the hour of his death.
There, placid and no longer panting like a dog, Y'jnik looked at him, speculatively. His form became hazy and soft-edged as he seemed to swell before the former warrior. Shoulders broadened to twice their size, and the thin, bearded face became that of an austere patrician. Where once was the sweat-matted hair, a bald head remained.
"That was... the correct choice. Any other and you would have perished where you stood."