tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Paladin's Training Ch. 03

A Paladin's Training Ch. 03

byAntidarius©

***ONE YEAR AGO***

Aran sat at the long dining table made of that strange dark wood that seemed to be everywhere in this place, and was idly looking around at the simple furnishings and the several tapestries hanging on the walls between the arched windows that lined the room. The mid-morning sun shone brightly outside, giving the room a warm, homely feel. In fact, the more time he spent in this house, the more he felt like he was indeed at home, as if he belonged. That was something he'd never felt in his village.

The table at which he sat was the largest he'd ever seen, with five chairs on each side and one at each end. Not knowing where to sit, he'd taken a centre chair, which had put him directly in front of a beautifully made tapestry depicting a proud, handsome fellow with a fiery red moustache and piercing blue eyes, features that the weaver had somehow captured with startling detail. The fellow was wielding a blade that seemed made of fire, and he seemed oddly familiar, though Aran couldn't say why. He certainly resembled nobody from Aran's village, that was for certain. A white tabard displaying a golden sunburst caught Aran's eye; it looked like the same symbol that was on the door of this house. Was this man of the Order that Elaina was talking about earlier?

As if thinking about her were a summons, Elaina appeared through a door at one end of the room bearing a tray. She was carrying the tray low, and Aran momentarily forgot his hunger as he watched her spectacular breasts shift back and forth as she walked, her pink nipples denting the fabric of her short, diaphanous robe.

"Don't get used to this, young man," Elaina chided in a not-unfriendly tone as she placed the tray down. The sight of two steaming bowls of stew and thick slices of bread had Aran salivating. "After today, you will be self-sufficient, and I will not be waiting on you. In fact, your days will be largely filled with training and chores, so be prepared."

Elaina took the seat opposite Aran and reached for a bowl of stew. Aran's hands had paused halfway to his own bowl at Elaina's words. "Training? What do you mean, training?"

Elaina already had a mouthful of stew, and took her time to chew and swallow before answering. "Your Gift, Aran. You need training, for your own safety as well as other's. Eventually it will awaken, and when it does, you will have access to abilities you never thought possible."

Abilities? "Like what?" He asked, unable to curb his curiosity.

Elaina grinned as she dipped her spoon into her bowl. "We'll get to that. For now, you need to know what you are, and what you will become. When I left you that note all those months ago, what did it say?"

Aran knew the answer to that; the note had been burned into his mind every day since he'd first read it. "It is time to come home, Aran."

"And do you feel at home?"

Aran nodded without hesitation, for it was true. It made no sense, but here, with Elaina -- even though he'd just met her -- in this strangely decorated house, he did feel at home.

"It's your Gift telling you that you are where you belong," Elaina explained between mouthfuls. "That's what that feeling is inside you right now. You will learn to trust it, in time, and it will guide you and keep you safe."

Aran nodded again, though he didn't really understand. He decided to just listen, and eat some of the stew that had his stomach growling eagerly.

"I think I will start at the beginning," Elaina said, pushing away her empty bowl while Aran busily worked on his. "The Order of Aros first came about several thousand years ago, when the seven great peoples of Ekistair were warring with each other, all of them unwilling to reach truce or treaty. High Elves, Men, Druids, Giants, Dwarves, Dark Elves and Orcs, all with great realms of their own, constantly battled one another for more territory, or resources, or status. So deep was their hatred for each other, that no two of the seven would ally themselves together -- even temporarily -- to take down one of the other kingdoms. It was a stalemate that spanned the entire continent, and it would have eventually destroyed them all, if left unchecked."

Aran listened avidly; he'd never heard this tale before. Looking down, he realised glumly that his bowl was empty, until he remembered the bread, which he eagerly snatched up and used to wipe the bowl clean.

"When things looked at their worst," Elaina continued, tucking her short, fair hair behind her ears. "The god Aros appeared before a simple man, a man who lived in a backwater region far away from the Great Cities and had no interest in wars, or land, or glory. Aros gifted him with some of His own power, and tasked him with uniting the Seven Realms of Ekistair."

Aran swallowed the last of the bread, eager to hear more. "Who was this man?"

"His name was Armas Dorn," Elaina answered. "Though he became known later as Armas the Dawnbringer, perhaps because of his monumental deeds. He was the first of our Order; the First Paladin." Aran's eyes floated to the tapestry behind Elaina, and she turned to briefly glance at it. "No, that's not the Dawnbringer, though this man is almost as highly revered in our histories. That," Elaina said, pointing at the man holding up the sword of fire, "is Darius Sunblade, perhaps the greatest Paladin who ever lived."

"Why was he great?" Aran asked, soaking up Elaina's knowledge like desert sand absorbs water. Any fear of her being mad was now gone; he had seen one or two madmen in his life, and Elaina had not the unsettling light in her eyes, nor the erratic behaviour. Her gaze was calm, relaxed, and her demeanour was steady and confident.

Elaina smiled, and Aran's pulse quickened. Did she have any idea of the effect she was having on him? He doubted it. "I must say, Aran," she said warmly. "It's a real treat to have someone to talk to. I'm enjoying this very much."

Aran returned the smile, and Elaina went on to answer his question. "The Sunblade was the man who led our armies against Morgeth the Corruptor, an ancient Demon who invaded our world several hundred years ago."

A dozen more questions begged to be asked at that, but Elaina interjected as Aran opened his mouth. "I digress, Aran. I will tell you all about the Great War soon enough, but for now, it's important for you know where we Paladins came from.

"During Armas' journeys between the Seven Realms, he met many women, and sired many children. What he discovered as the children grew, was that they also carried the Gift that Aros had bestowed upon him. And so, Armas built a place of worship in Aros' name, and his children came there to learn about the Gift that they shared with their father. Eventually, it became known as the first Temple of Aros, and many more Paladins were raised and trained there before the Order spread across Ekistair."

Aran now felt like he had a thousand more questions, but schooled himself to silence; he felt there would be ample time for questions in the future.

"You, Aran," Elaina said seriously. "Are a descendent of Armas, as am I. That is why you fell unconscious when you arrived on my doorstep; your Gift flared to life because it was responding to mine. You are destined to become a Paladin of Aros, and I will be training you."

Aran met her intent gaze for long moments, unsure how to respond. He could go home, go back to his ordinary life and do what everyone else did; get married, have a horde of children and work sunup till sundown day in and day out. Or, he could stay here, and at least see where all this led. Something Elaina had said upstairs tickled at him. "You said there are only a few Paladins left? Why is that?"

Elaina studied the dark, polished surface of the table before answering. "After the Darkening, Paladins were seen as responsible for all the deaths, even though we were the ones who threw the Demon back. It saddens me to say, but the Paladins were hunted down, and many were killed, even as our temples were being razed to the ground." A tear ran down Elaina's cheek, and Aran truly felt for her. "As I said, a few survived and managed to lay low long enough that the world stopped searching. Eventually, we were forgotten. It's only by a miracle that this Chapel was spared; it's one of the few still standing."

"I'm truly sorry to hear all that," Aran said, his heart heavy. Strangely, hearing this story from Elaina echoed within him, as if he were remembering something long forgotten.

*** PRESENT DAY ***

Maloth awoke with a raw gasp, lying naked on his back, eyes open wide, surrounded by blackness. Vivid flashes ripped through his mind, images of memory all awhirl, impossible to piece together. With great difficulty, he sat up, struggling to engage muscles that felt like water. He felt exhausted, frail, as if all the life had been drawn from him. Gingerly, he checked his body with his hands, unable to see with his eyes, realising with shock how thin and gaunt he had become; dangerously so. His belly was hollow, his ribs clearly protruding from his chest, his arms and legs seemingly all bone and sinew, as if all the muscle had been boiled off of him. Beneath his questing fingertips, his face felt drawn and haggard, like a human man that had lived a hundred or more years.

The flashes intensified, the spinning images merging together into discernable fragments.

Flash. His beautiful mother, Morgeth, banishing Maloth and his twin sister, Shenla, to this place in the bowels of the earth, infusing them with her magic to keep them alive as long as possible.

Flash. Morgeth bellowing in agony as pain unimaginable gripped her, the bond between her and their father ripped away. Maloth found himself screaming hoarsely in the darkness as he felt his mother's anguish as if it were his own.

Flash. The Paladins of Aros confronting Morgeth, easily overpowering her in her weakened state.

Maloth clutched his head in his hands as he relived his mother's last moments. His skull pounded like a drum, his heart feebly hammering inside his hollow rib cage. A thought speared through the pain; Shenla? Where is Shenla?

Clumsily, he began to feel around in the darkness, searching for his sister, whose presence he could sense ever so faintly. After a few moments, his hand bumped into something softer and warmer than the cold stone he was crawling on.

With a shrill scream, Shenla came awake, breath coming in frantic gasps as she tried in vain to sit. Even weakened as he was, Maloth found her bony shoulder and pressed it to the ground, restraining her with ease. From the feel of her, she was in even worse shape than he. Maloth wondered if she were experiencing the same memories of their mother.

He tried to speak confidently, but his voice sounded hollow, hoarse. "Easy, sister. Give yourself time. We've been asleep for many years, I think." He waited patiently for her response, which took long moments.

"Where are we, brother? Why did she send us here?" Maloth remembered Shenla's voice as sultry, seductive, a honeyed melody dripping with promise. Now, it was old and dry, bereft of youth.

"To protect us, I think. The memories are vague, but this much I can interpret. Down here, wherever here is, the Paladins were unlikely to find us."

Shenla feebly tried to grip him with scrawny hands. "I am weak, brother. Are we dying?"

Maloth thought for a moment, fighting his foggy mind. Their mother had placed some sort of magic force around them for their protection, which had probably worn off some time ago, allowing their energy to drain from them as they slept, leaving them in their current state. To begin regaining their strength, they would need to venture back out into the world, an extremely dangerous task, weakened as they were. "Yes," he said finally. "I believe if we do not find sustenance, we will die here."

His sister's hands pulled at him. "Then take me, brother, give me life."

Maloth shook his head firmly. Even were his loins not in their current shriveled and lifeless state, fucking Shenla would surely drain the remainder of his life force, killing him, and merely forestalling her own death. "I cannot, Shenla, I have nothing to give you as I am. I must leave to Bind, but I will return as soon as I am able."

Shenla whimpered softly. "Please do not leave me here, brother."

Her words pained him. After witnessing what had become of their mother, Maloth desired nothing more than to protect Shenla. "We know it is safe here, sister. No one discovered us down here as we slept, making this the safest place we know."

He slowly climbed to his feet, leaving Shenla's weak grasp, wavering slightly as he held himself erect for the first time since waking. Even that simple task left him breathing hard. "I will return for you, sister, I promise."

Leaving Shenla laying where she was, Maloth shuffled away carefully, moving in one direction until his outstretched hand hit a cold stone wall. From there, he was able to find where that wall met another wall, and then the same again. In the fourth wall, there was an opening, and what felt like a set of stone stairs leading up. Setting his teeth, he forced his body into motion, climbing the stairs on all fours, not daring to stand for fear of a tumble that would surely break his frail body.

He climbed for what felt like hours upon hours, the unforgiving stone stairs seeming to stretch upward for eternity, wearing away the dry skin on his palms and knees. Slowly but surely, the air became lighter, fresher, occasional drafts growing stronger as he neared the surface. Finally, he reached the landing, his body threatening to fail him altogether. He dimly realised he could see, in an obscure, blurred fashion. Faint light was filtering through dense undergrowth that covered the entrance of the tunnel he had just emerged from. Slowly, his vision focused, his eyes unused to being exposed to light again. Resolving to continue forward, he moved into the foliage, falling more than once as vines snagged his thin limbs and tree roots tripped him up. Dark blood ran down his arms, chest and legs, glistening in the patchy moonlight, the forest tearing easily at his papery skin. He felt what little life he had left in him draining away with his blood. As his body collapsed and his vision darkened, Maloth wondered if he had made a mistake in leaving the cave, leaving Shenla.

*

Maloth's body was rocking gently back and forth as his eyes came open, taking long moments to focus. A human woman was staring down at him - handsome rather than pretty, yet pleasantly plump - her kindly dark eyes filled with concern, her black hair held back by a simple kerchief. Despite his weak condition, Maloth's eyes dropped to her white blouse, which displayed a generous expanse of pale cleavage as she leaned over him to hold a cool, wet cloth against his forehead.

He was in the back of a canvas-covered wagon, he realised, lying on some blankets, with another blanket covering him. The woman's eyes widened as she saw him awaken, and she looked up to the front of the wagon, where the driver would be sitting on the other side of the white canvas. Her mouth opened, and Maloth knew she was about to alert the driver he was awake. Unsure if this would be to his benefit or not, Maloth acted, reaching deep inside himself to find what little of his power remained. He found a tiny, dark spark that flickered fitfully, like a black-flamed candle in a breeze. It would have to be enough. Bringing the miniscule trickle of energy forward, he lay a hand on the woman's shoulder, the physical contact easing the process.

The words she intended to speak died on her tongue as her eyes glazed over. After a moment, her gaze dropped back to his face, the kindness in her eyes replaced with heat and desire. Biting her bottom lip, she brought the cloth down from his forehead, to his chest, over his hollow belly, drawing the blanket down as she did, finally exposing him completely.

"I like the colour of your skin, sir," she whispered as she gently dabbed the cloth against his lower abdomen with one hand, the other hand casually undoing the laces of her blouse, bringing more of that abundant cleavage into view. "I've never seen red skin before."

Maloth had inherited his mother's complexion, a crimson hue seen only among demons. Shenla -- his sister -- had skin of a similar colour, but a lighter, more feminine shade of rose. Strange that this woman and whoever was driving the cart were unperturbed by his colouring. For many years after the War, during Maloth's childhood, Demons were actively hunted down and killed. The more powerful of his kind could disguise themselves as other races, for a time, at least, but the younger Demons were easily identifiable by their skin tone, along with other traits, making them easy targets for the Paladins. Regretfully, Maloth had not inherited the power to alter his form, apart from a few simple tricks which were useful during sex, which was the very thing that gave him power.

He could feel his body trying to respond to her touch, his shriveled, pathetic manhood struggling to rise. He was eager to be restored to his full capacity, but he knew patience would bear fruit. "Thank you, my dear," he whispered back, too weak to manage anything louder. "Tell me, what is your name, and where are you taking me?" Having succumbed to his power, weak as it was, she would be feeling inflamed with lust, and hopefully infatuated with him, desiring only to please him.

She dropped the cloth and gently cupped him, easily holding both his cock and balls in the palm of one hand, something that would be impossible once he was fully restored. "My name is Renna, and my husband and I are taking you back to our village, Waterfell. It is an opportune time, sir, as the Oracle is visiting. You are sick, and she can make you well again." She squeezed him gently, making him wish he was able to fuck her. She wasn't as pretty as he liked, but her body certainly seemed inviting. Her blouse was all the way open, now, and her alabaster breasts were freely on display, rocking slightly in time with the wagon, brown nipples crinkled and hard, begging to be devoured.

He considered his options. His power had a drawback; spending his seed inside a woman would Bind her to him forever, increasing his power, and at the same time rendering her dependent on him to stay alive. If he allowed himself to fuck this woman, and come inside her, she would be Bound to him. He would become stronger, but if any harm befell her, he would be weakened. If she died, he would be greatly harmed, and would need much time to recover.

Spending his seed in any other way would drain his power, and in his current condition, it would surely kill him. He really had no desire to Bind a lowly peasant woman; once restored, he would command respect and power, and only the finest and most powerful women would be worthy of his harem.

Regardless, the most pressing matter now was gaining strength to get back to Shenla, and if his instincts were serving him correctly, there was a way he could restore Shenla without lowering his standards.

"So, my sweet," Maloth said with a smile. "Tell me about this Oracle."

***

Shield forward, swing, backswing, parry. Aran's mace whizzed through the air, the morning sun glinting off the spiked steel ball. The weapon had been heavy the last time he'd picked it up, but since his Gift had awoken, it felt no heavier than a stick. He used his new strength to his advantage as he moved across the training yard on the Chapel grounds. The warm morning sun coaxed sweat from his pores and rivulets ran down his shirtless chest.

He had given his tussle with the huge, red-eyed wolf - Elaina had said it was a Direwolf - some thought. Had he been a little quicker, the wolf would never have gotten him down; he had almost been killed due to lack of skill.

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