A hero in despair


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
"O Goddess, hear my prayer..."

Ares was doing something that he does at least three times every day: praying to the goddess that he worshiped ever since he was just a small child. Having been taught the faith by his parents since he was just a mere boy of three years old, he became a devout believer very soon and has been wanting to serve her ever since then. Seven years ago, when Ares was nineteen years old, he moved to the capital. When he first entered the church, the Archbishop, Petrus, accepted him with open arms. He was a kind and accepting man, understanding everyone's beliefs and never forcing his way on others. That was what the goddess wanted, after all. His teachings were just what Ares hoped it to be and he gladly served him as his knight.

Ares was a hero in his country. Not only was he a devout believer, he also was an incredibly talented swordsman. He has practiced the way of the sword before he could even write his own name, at around the same time where his parents taught him about the faith. He had to learn to be strong as well if the village he was born in would ever be under attack. It quickly became apparent that he was quite talented at swinging a sword around, already being at the same level of some adults in the village while he was only ten years old. Once he left the village to join the church in the capital, he also joined the knights that were in service of the church. He quickly established himself there with his talents, becoming a brave swordsman who vanquished evil doers in the country. From mere bandits to foreign country spies trying to provoke war, he fought them all and won them all. Thanks to him, the normal citizens felt safe under his protection.

Lately, however, the church has started to change...

One day, the Archbishop mysteriously disappeared, along with some other bishops and priests. After they went missing for over a month, the church decided to appoint a new Archbishop: Julius. This was a unanimous decision amongst the remaining priests and bishops, who all seemed to agree that Julius was the best fit for the spot. Julius was a bishop in the western church of the country, but he gladly moved to the capital to fulfill his new task. Whereas Archbishop Petrus was a kind, caring man who accepted everyone, even those who didn't believe in the faith, Archbishop Julius was not as accepting and forgiving. He wanted to spread the faith across all the world and wanted everyone to believe in the goddess. It started off innocently. At first, he tasked the knights to spread propaganda of the church, trying to convince non-believers into converting to the faith. However, once the Archbishop realized that the propaganda did not work and did not bring any good results, he started to take more drastic measures...

At first, he wanted the church to have more power than it already had. At first, the church didn't demand anything from the citizens. The Archbishop wanted to bring change into that. He asked the king if the church could demand taxes from the citizens, as the church was "in dire need of money". The king accepted his proposal, as the king was a devout believer himself. And so, the church now was allowed to ask for money from the citizens, with the knights functioning as the tax collectors. Ares did not like it one bit, but he didn't go against the archbishop's wish as he didn't want to oppose the goddess. As the years progressed, the methods used to get money were getting extremer each day... At first there was no real punishment, but eventually the people who didn't pay taxes were imprisoned, or even killed depending on how much they resisted. Even the poor, the people who simply couldn't afford to pay taxes, were shown no mercy.

After having gained more power, the Archbishop went on to his second part of the plan: eliminate anyone who did not want to convert to the faith. He would hold speeches every day outside of the church, speaking about "How great the goddess is", that "Everyone must join them if they want salvation" and that "Anyone who did not join the church would be cursed and punished by the goddess herself", even though the goddess was known as a forgiving deity. It did not make sense to Ares why he would give these speeches.
But that was only part of the plan. There was a much darker side to it. He wanted to eliminate anyone who did not want to convert, after all... quite literally. If he thought that a person was not willing to convert to the church, even if that simply was not true, he would order the knights to capture that person and imprison them in the dungeon of the church. He would then execute them himself. This was done in secret, not even the royal family knew of it. Sometimes, if he did not deem the subject "worthy of his salvation", he would make the knights do it instead.

Ares is now twenty six years old. He just returned from a few of those missions. His first mission today was to look for a man called Emile, who allegedly hadn't paid for his taxes because "he hates the goddess". Ares knew the truth, though... Emile was too poor. He simply could not afford paying the church. He barely had enough money for food and water... But Ares had to capture him anyway. With two other knights, he captured the man and handed him over. Archbishop Julius would take care of the rest. The knights needed to move on to their second mission, which was to execute a shopkeeper who apparently sold "an amulet of the demons" in her shop. Of course, it was just a baseless rumor and it was not true whatsoever, but he had to do it.

Why does Ares abide to the will of the new Archbishop? Why would he, who knew the teachings of the goddess so well, do as told by Julius, an obviously evil man? He had two reasons to do so. One of them is that he would feel like he would betray the church, and thus the goddess, if he openly opposed the Archbishop. It would be a sin that he could not afford to make, because his entire life he was guided by her teachings. He did not want to oppose the goddess.

But there was a far more cruel reason why he was not opposing him.

Truth is, he actually did question the Archbishop about his ways. After having executed so many people for seemingly false and pointless reasons, he approached the archbishop and asked him why he was doing it. The archbishop gave him a smile, and answered him... "You must not question the way of the faith, Ares. Not even you." After trying to actually get a proper answer from him, Julius then revealed that he had captured his little brother, Orion. He said that if he questioned the church one more time, he would execute him. Of course, Ares was left in shock. Not wanting his little brother to die, he continued to obey the evil Archbishop, even though he did not agree with his ways.

After the church had become completely corrupted under Julius's leadership, Ares's reputation started to lower as well. While he was once a beloved hero by everyone, slowly but surely the people started to turn against him for still "blindly following the church like a lapdog". Ares did not blame them, they were right after all... But it did hit him hard that he was hated. His personality started to change. He was once a calm, kind and warm person, someone anyone would want to be around. But now, he was a curt, impatient, and sometimes even mean lone wolf. The only one who he continued to treat the same was the goddess, who he still prayed to every day. He was a broken man.

The knights were divided too. One half of the knights fully supported the Archbishop and his ways, happily fulfilling every task that they were assigned to. The other half, Ares included, were against his ways, but they were unable to do anything about it because the Archbishop would obviously have them executed if they were to oppose him. It caused disarray within the knights. Teamwork was at an all-time low, morale within the group that were against the Archbishop's way was non-existent and the cruel acts had completely changed knights completely as people. It was amazing that there wasn't an internal war among the knights and that they still were standing.

And thus, Ares was praying today, as he was kneeling in the church. "O Goddess, hear my prayer... Forgive my cruel acts, and bless the innocent with a peaceful rest. Continue to protect me from danger and bless the country with your salvation. In your glorious name, blessed be." He lowered his head as he finished his prayer, obviously in grief.



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Stephan looked up at the great cathedral with a sigh of relief. Here at last! And this time he had not gotten lost. Unlike the last three days when he'd found himself on the outer edge of the city when he was supposed to be at the city. All of that was behind him, now. He had arrived on time for once, early, even! It was a new day, and he was going to make the best of it.

He straightened his corded belt resolutely, checked to make certain the knots were correct one last time, then squared his shoulders and marched through the quiet side door hidden in the shadows of the building. He blinked in the suddenly dim light then hurried to cleanse his hands and feet at the basin of water. Three other friars stood before him, their heads bowed in the appropriate reverence due their surroundings. Stephan waited his turn patiently until it was his turn. Gravely, he washed his hands and feet, toweled them dry, then hung his simple sandals near the door. He had no reason to be outside the church today, so he had no reason to keep them near.

Barefoot, he padded to the great wooden statues that showed the three main attributes of the goddess and knelt in the row of friars to ask for her blessing. Only once the proper prayers had been recited did he stand, brush off the knees of his simple robe, and pad out to see how he might help the citizens today. Perhaps he would be polishing the brass and silver of the church, or perhaps hearing the troubles of the people. A monk stood like a food distributor, handing out assignments instead of food. Stephan bowed after hearing his instruction to dust the main chapel then walked away gleefully. He loved working in the main chapel! There he could hear the requests of the people and, more importantly, stand under the sacred eyes of the goddess as she stood with arms outstretched, offering motherly embrace to all who came before her.

Stephan had barely started his work when a hoarse voice whispering in the shadows caught his attention. He turned spotted a man kneeling at the feet of the goddess (well, a few feet back and several feet below as she stood on a pedestal of purest marble) with his head bowed and his shoulders slumped. His dress announced him to be a knight, a knight in great distress. The friar hesitated. He wasn't supposed to be interfering with the congregation today, but...

His feet had carried halfway to the knight before he'd fully decided what to do. Kneeling next to the knight, Stephan put a hand on his arm. "What burden weighs you down so, brother?" he asked sympathetically.


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
The moment that friar Stephan touched him, he quickly jumped backwards and turned around as if he was some sort of cat, putting his hand on the hilt of his sword and taking a combat stance, obviously being shocked by his approach thinking he was some sort of enemy to get him. He gazed at his eyes, before he realized that he was just a friar. He sighed and got out of his stance, obviously not being too pleased. "What, you're just a friar..."

"So? What do you want? Are you just another dogged lackey of the church, too? One who wants to humiliate me and my forsaken pride even further?" His eyes were... Dead. He had beautiful, light brown eyes which almost looked orange, and in his prime days they shone brightly as he was the savior of the city. But now... They were dead. He looked like he hadn't slept in months as he had massive eyebags. His eyes looked devoid of hope, he had given up on both himself and others a long time ago. His posture betrayed that, too... He did not have that prideful stance a knight usually would have. His back wasn't straightened, his head was not raised, in fact he wasn't even looking in his direction... He just looked towards the ground on his side, frowning.

He scowled. In his twisted mind, he thought this all was just an elaborate prank. Of course, he had it all wrong, but he wouldn't be able to recognize a kind soul if they screamed "I love you" right in his face, in his current mental state. He sighed once again. "Just... Go away. I'm not interested in whatever you're trying to pull. I don't care whatever the church thinks of me, I've already been tormented enough. And don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about... You church dogs all are the same... Manipulative, cruel, dishonest and not faithful to the teachings of the goddess." To think a knight would say such things about the church, as if the church followers were just a bunch of blasphemous heretics... Something obviously was off.


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Stephan frowned, as he listened, waiting for the knight to finish his rather rambling and paranoid speech. He realized he still had his hands up while he knelt, making things look very awkward indeed. He slowly rose and lowered his hands to his sides. "Peace, brother," he said quietly, trying to maintain his calm center despite the shock and momentary fear that he was about to lose his head. "I am new to this church as I am from the neighboring village, but surely a great night of the goddess herself should not say such things in her presence."

He paused, turned, and bowed to the statue while making a religious sign. The look he gave her, though she was only a statue, held the same awe as if he was looking at the real goddess. Then he turned back to the knight as though they hadn't paused.

"Brother, I saw that you seem to be carrying a great and terrible burden on your shoulders, and I wished only to extend my offer of comfort, little though it may be," he tried to assure the scowling knight. "I do not pretend to understand what you feel, but I am assuming someone of the church has hurt you and hurt you badly. I am sorry. We are all but mortals, and though we strive to honor the goddess as best we are able, we do fall far more often than any would care to admit. Still, the fact that you are here and on your knees before the goddess tells me that you still cling to what is truly important in life. Hold fast, my brother, for She still hears our prayers. I hope you find the answers you are looking for."

His smile was wide, earnest, and guileless, his brown eyes sparkling. Oh, it hurt to hear such blasphemous things here in this sanctuary, but people in pain said and did all sorts of things they may later regret. Something niggled at the back of his mind, something the knight had said, but he put it away to think about later. Later when a sword-wielding, friar-hating, dead-eyed man wasn't standing in front of him.


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
"...What, you're new here?" The knight now looked a little surprised. But he still obviously was not looking to be friendly with him. "...Heh, I did not think anyone would still be insane enough to join the church in its current state. Well, whatever. Anyone who actually serves the church and not the goddess herself is nothing more than a brainwashed fool anyway." He cynically smiled. This was the former hero... The hero everyone sung their praises to for always protecting them... Now he is just a former shell of that man.

He at least listened to what he had to say, though it did not seem like he was going to treat him any nicer. "No need to assure me... You're just a clueless fool anyway. I will only tell you this: You joined the church at the wrong time. You'd be better to leave if you don't wish to find out the truth. And with that, I'm off. Goodbye." He sheathed his sword, as he had not done that before, and then left the church. He wasn't feeling too good... He's had a non-stopping headache for weeks now, and it seemed to only get worse. He needed to go home, and soon, else he would snap. And so, he left for home.

Unfortunately, on his way home, there was a man that approached him personally, to give him a piece of his mind...

The man was at least one head taller than Ares, and also very muscular. He was either doing physical labor or was a mercenary. "You... How long do you think you can keep up this madness?!" He obviously was unhappy by Ares's presence. Ares decided to ignore it, because he was certain to lose it if he went ahead and answered back. He did not want to do anything stupid right now, so he did his best to contain himself.

The man, however, did not appreciate that. "Giving me the cold shoulder now, huh? I should have expected as much from a lackey of the church!" He punched a wall in anger. The other people who happened to pass by were gasping in fear, not because of the fact that the man punched a wall in anger, but because they were afraid of what Ares would do. Nobody dared to interfere the two, however. Listen up here, scrawny pants! We hard-working citizens are working our asses off to help each other, and you guys ruin that simply just by existing! You cause so much suffering it's as if you guys are hell itself, while that should be the opposite of what a church should be! But we will never give in to your tyranny... We will not submit under your will!"

Ares still did not respond, which only seemed to anger the man even more. "...Say something, you bastard! Don't just stand there like the inhuman creep you are! Didn't your mother teach you any manners?!" Hearing that statement started to anger Ares. However he still kept quiet, he did not want to cause trouble still. But the man continued... "Oh wait, I bet your mother is just another whore who serves that fraud of a goddess too, huh? Yeah, that's right! Your mother is just a whore and your father fell for only her loo-"

Now Ares has lost it. He drew his sword and put it on his throat, shoving him into a wall. He was not scared of this man despite his size and wouldn't hesitate to cut him down if he kept running his mouth like that. "Look, mister... I've had a very long, exhausting day and I've got a headache that has been haunting me for weeks. I really do not want my headache to get worse, you see, so shut up or I'll cut your head off. Understood?" The man was frightened by his gaze, which looked like it could kill by just looking at someone. Despite the fact that the man was a lot taller and more muscular than him, everyone knew that Ares's skill with the sword was second to none, and so nobody should dare fight him. The man ran away in fear, as Ares's scowl remained. He spit on the ground and then continued walking back home.


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Stephan shook his head as the poor, sad, clearly confused man left. What must that man have gone through to blame the Church for the huge amount of pain and anger he carried? Of course, Stephan knew some of what had been happening lately in the church, but that was just a few misguided men! The goddess would sort things out soon enough. She always took care of all her creation, whether through her chosen champions or stepping in herself. She would not allow these foolish men to continue using her church to their own advantage and gain for long. Meanwhile, Stephan would continue to be the kind of man she would want him to be. She would sort things out, and perhaps, in his own small way, he might be able to help.

Guilt at his presumption that the Goddess Herself would ever need the aid of a lowly friar like him, Stephan shuffled off and continued his rounds. He had cleaning to do and people to help. He worked long and hard, often humming happy little hymns of praise under his breath as he dusted, polished, and scrubbed. This was how he aided the goddess: he kept her sanctuary a place where people could worship. That was truly a noble cause!


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
Once he got back home again, he brew a cup of tea to calm down. Tea was easily his favorite beverage out there, and he was quite the skillful brewer. It's helped him calm down many times, and considering that he still was upset over the fight and what the man said, he could definitely use a cup. If he didn't then he'd probably be annoyed throughout the entire night which he didn't want. He took a sip from his tea, slowly but surely calming down from the aroma.

Once he was done with his tea, he went straight to bed. He wanted to forget this day as soon as possible, understandably so as quite frankly, it sucked. At least for him. However, before he went to bed, something strange happened... He heard a voice in his head, speaking to him.

"...Are you really gonna let it be like that? Are you really satisfied with just taking a mere cup of tea and letting it go?"

Thinking that there was someone in the room, he drew his sword as he lived alone and did not expect any guests. "Who's there? Reveal yourself!" When he realized that there was nobody there, he started to panic a little. His headache worsened and he dropped a sweat. The voice continued to speak to him...

"Hehehehe... Fool. Don't you realize yet? You are no hero anymore. You are worthless... You are, just like that lady you decided to insult, a dog serving the church, a mere wannabe-hero that was forgotten by everyone... No, hated by everyone. Nobody wants you around anymore. Not the Archbishop, not the people, not the goddess herself..."

"S-shut up!" He started to hallucinate. There was somebody in front of him, though it was merely a silhouette. He couldn't see their face, just full black. "Go away...! Get out of my head!!!" He swung through the silhouette, hoping that it would accomplish anything. But the sword just phased right through them, doing no damage whatsoever... The voice continued to speak once again.

"Yes... Such is your identity. You are no longer a hero, but a villain. A villain, a lackey, a dog who kills innocent people just because he's too much of a coward to stand up for what he believes in... So why not play into that role? It's not like anyone will want to save you from your despair... The people don't even see it anyway. They hate you... So why not hate them back? Give in to it... Trust me, if you start enjoying this kind of thing, you will suffer a lot less..."

"SHUT UP!!!!!!!!" Ares shouted as loudly as he could, as he slashed through the silhouette once again. He was sweating and panting profusely, his eyes looking even more stressed than usual. The silhouette and the voice finally disappeared this time. He closed his eyes and sheathed his sword, then putting it next to his bed.

He felt like he would not be able to sleep if he couldn't clear his mind, so he grabbed a feather, some ink and parchment to write a letter. He left it unaddressed and then put it in a drawer, then laid down in his bed. Unfortunately, that did not help him. He couldn't even close his eyes anymore and the headache only worsened.

Eight hours later, it was morning. Ares did not sleep that night. He stood up and got ready to leave for the church. He was exhausted, but if he abandoned his work right now it would be game over for him. He pushed through his exhaustion and headed to the church, where he would pray first before heading to the barracks, where he was approached by one of the soldiers.

"Ares, the Captain wants to see you. I don't know the details, but I think it's about your actions in public yesterday."

Ares sighed and walked towards the Captain's room. He knew he wouldn't get away with this that easily, but he did not expect word to spread that quickly... But regardless, he screwed up, so eventually he would be called over. What didn't help was that this was not the first time this happened. If he kept going on like this, it might cost him his spot as a knight... Or worse. He knocked on the door. A voice spoke up. "Come in."

Ares opened the door and met up with the Captain, who was not looking happy. "Ares... You're here. I take it you know why I called you here?" Ares nodded, saying no word. The Captain slammed his hand on his desk. "Such behaviour is unforgivable and unfitting of a knight! Each day and each day it keeps getting worse! Have you forgotten literally everything you've been taught as an apprentice?! A knight must always remain diligent, calm and collected! If you have another emotional outburst you will be demoted and receive no loan for this month. Understood?!" Ares nodded, but the Captain did not take that for an answer. "I can't hear you!!!"

"Yes, sir." Ares looked down. He was visibly saddened and did not have the energy to reply with more words. "Alright, Ares. Now, leave. You won't be on duty today, so just focus on recollecting your thoughts so you can focus on your duty tomorrow." Ares nodded and once again replied with a short "Yes, sir.", before leaving the room. He decided that he should go to the training halls, so that he could be alone for a while. He'd much rather be alone than being around people right now.


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No one liked cleaning the records room, but it had to be done. As the newest addition to this particular chapel, Friar Stephan was quickly drafted into the job. He had agreed without complaint, but even his cheery heart sank when he peered through the darkness lit only by a single sputtering lamp at the underground room lined with rows and rows of cupboards and cubbys. The youngest records were at the front housed in cupboards as they were bound up in book form, but the majority of the records were scrolls bound in ribbon and stacked with great care in open cubbies. Book binding was relitively new in the history of record keeping, so it only made sense that an organization as old as the church's would have a lot of scrolls. Very delicate scrolls that were irreplaceable, and anyone - especially fumble-fingered friars - who damaged one would have a very miserable life thereafter.

Not that cleaning a decade or two of dust wasn't already miserable.

Stephan straightened his shoulders and drew a deep breath only to regret it instantly as the dusty air coated his lungs and he coughed frantically. Once he had himself under control once more, he set to work. Might as well get the dark over with, so he took his lantern all the way to the back corner where he found a couple more lanterns and lit them all. Brother Timothy would likely frown if he knew how much oil was being "wasted" in lighting three lamps, but Stephan figured that if he was going to be cleaning the place, then he'd need to be able to see the dust in order to get rid of it.

Two dusty hours later, he'd barely put a dent in the shelves. He sat on the steps, grey from head to toe, as he drank thirstily from his waterskin. He dared not rest long, but oh how his feet and back ached! Finally, he talked himself into standing and limped back to where he was. He picked up a scroll with great care and started using a soft brush to remove the dirt. He'd long since lost his urge to read every scroll he picked up, but the name of the scroll attached on a tiny tag caught his eye. Records of the serving knights from nearly two hundred years ago when the church was still young and struggling to bring enlightenment to the world! He smiled at the thought. Wow! What it might have been like to serve back then! When you were just as likely to get your head chopped off as you were to be welcomed.

Hmm, thinking of head chopping... that fellow from the other day... he'd been a knight. A very disturbed knight.

Stephan carefully replaced the scroll and left his brush to mark where he'd left off before wandering up to the newer section. There he found the latest selection of knights. The book was thick and heavy, so he laid it on the floor and knelt to open it, still with great care. Most of the knights were barely more than a name and a notation that they existed and were paid, but others had feats of greatness recorded on their page. Some even had a pictured sketched out on the parchment. Those were usually great knights who had distinguished themselves in some way while in service to the church. The friar doubted the knight he'd seen before would have a picture, but perhaps he'd have some feat or accomplishment that Stephan would recognize him by.

He was about two-thirds of the way through the book before a name caught his eye. This name was accompanied by many, many paragraphs reporting on the loyalty and dedication this knight showed as he served his church, and there was even a small sketch of the emblem this knight wore on his tunic. Stephan squinted at the sketch. Was it the right one? He wasn't positive, many of these emblems looked so similar, but he thought so. He turned his eyes back to the beginning and began to read. His eyes grew wider and wider as he read, and he forgot all about cleaning the records room.


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
Considering he was not going to duel with anyone, he didn't have the need to grab a feder, a training sword, because there was no risk of injury by any means. So he just unsheathed his own longsword, and started swinging with it. He would have more use of that because of the weight of the sword. However, he soon felt like something was off...

His swings lacked... Everything. Power, technique, speed... His endurance was lacking too. He's never felt like this before... Honestly, this should have happened a long time ago, it's amazing he still had any form of technique and power before this happened... But now, his fatigue was finally starting to get to him. "...Ugh... This is pointless..." Even he knew that there was no point in trying to continue with this. He wouldn't improve if his swings were like those of a child who cannot carry a sword.

"...I should just go home... Maybe grab something to eat on the way back..." And so, he sheathed his sword and started walking... Though it cost him way too much energy to even take a few steps. This was bad... Really bad. He would definitely not be able to reach home, let alone a bar or the market to get food. However, he still pushed on, hoping that he could still make it.

Only, his fatigue has started to get even worse... Everything was vague, he couldn't see straight anymore. He touched his head, as his headache once again worsened, and he started to see things that weren't there... Such as one particular person...


He saw a mysterious silhouette, which vaguely reminded him of his brother... He approached it, thinking it was actually him in his fatigue. "Brother...? Is that actually... You...?" He nearly cried as he saw the image of his brother in front of him, reaching out his hands to him... And then everything went dark as he collapsed, straight on the ground. His consciousness had nearly left him, and he was just laying there, for the public eye to see, completely vulnerable.
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Stephan was on his way home, dusty and bedraggled after a long, long day of cleaning and getting yelled at when he was caught reading instead of cleaning, but it had all been so fascinating! Not only had there been official records, but he'd also found a strange bit of paper folded and tucked so tightly into the pages that he'd flipped right past it twice before realizing it was there. It was a letter, or perhaps a personal note? He wasn't certain, but it practically read like code. He had been able to understand some of it, and he hadn't really liked what he had been able to understand. Thankfully, no one had spotted him reading that particular page, and it was safely tucked back where he got it. No one would know.

Speaking of knowing, what was he supposed to do with this new knowldege? It wasn't like he could actually do anything at all, could he? He had no idea what to do, where to go, or really who to talk to. The knight - Ares, he thought - had no reason to trust him and would probably think his knowledge came from his involvement or something. Not to mention he didn't know where to find this "Knight Ares." It wasn't like the knight was going to walk up to him or Stephan would-

Stephan stumbled, nearly fell, and caught himself at the last second. He looked down, bewildered, and his eyes widened in shock.

...Or Stephan would trip over him as he lay apparently lifeless in the street. Huh. What were the odds?

"Uh... sir?" the Friar questioned uncertainly as he knelt down. "Sir? Are you... alright?" He reached out to shake Ares' shoulder then hesitated when he remembered what happened the last time he'd touched the man. Well, it couldn't be helped. He carefully shook Ares' shoulder then tried to roll him over. "Sir? Can you hear me?"


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
Everything was... Blank. He had no energy to move anymore, seeing only barely. "..." He had no control over what would happen next, his fate was now in the hands of others.

He... heard something. Some vague words... He barely could make out what the person was saying, and he had no idea who even was talking to him at all. He asked if he was alright... Well, obviously he wasn't. But Ares did not have the energy to say anything at all, let alone to argue with anyone in his current condition. "..." So instead he just stared right into the eyes of the individual helping him. That's strange... Their eyes were... familiar...

He tried to make up whoever it was, but he could not recall. Where did he see those eyes before? Who was this person that was asking him if he was okay? Was it an envoy of the goddess...? Did he see this person in a dream predicting his death and has the evening bell now officially tolled his last hour? No, no way... He only had nightmares lately, he wouldn't have seen them then. There's no way he would see the envoy of a goddess to tell him he died if he recognized those eyes in that case. But then who was this person...?

"..." All he could care about now is his survival, though. He was not sure if this person was to be trusted, but at this point he had nothing to lose. Either he would be killed by him or he would die laying on the ground because nobody else would help him. And so, he mustered all of his remaining energy to say his last words before he would completely pass out... "...Bring me... home... It's... Three streets up... North... At number... seventy... six..." And then his eyes closed, now having fully lost his consciousness. It was obvious the poor man was exhausted.


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"Seventy-Six? Okay." Stephan looked down the street then back down at the much, much larger man. "Right. I can get you home," he said a bit hopelessly. "Somehow." He looked around. Maybe someone had abandoned a wagon or a wheelbarrow nearby. For absolutely no reason. No, he was not so lucky as that. Maybe he could get Ares as far as the church and get an alter boy to help drag him? That could... maybe work. Not likely.

"Cabbages! Fresh cabbages!"

Stephan spun around to see a cabbage merchant hawking his wares off a large hand-drawn cart. Perfect! He dashed up to the man and babbled excitedly about buying the cart and the cabbages. He thrust what meager money into the man's hand and told him to put the rest on the church's account. He grabbed the cart and ran back to Ares, stumbling but never falling.

"My cabbages!" he heard the man yelp behind him, but he had no time to waste! He pulled the cart up close then started slowly and carefully lifting Ares onto it. Until he realized exactly how heavy and bulky the man was, then careful went out the window and he grunted and cursed. At last, Ares was on the cart on top of the cabbages.

Getting to Ares' house turned out to be easy once Stephan had him in the cart. Getting him up the stairs and inside was a bit more difficult, but it wasn't too long until Stephan had him laid out on the bed in nothing but his knickers and laid a blanket over him. Sighing and rubbing his pained back, he went to the kitchen to figure out what he could feed the man. He'd take the cabbages to the church kitchens later.


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
"..." Everything was a blur from that point. He did not realize what was going whatsoever, not even being thrown onto a cart filled with cabbages. As such, he would not remember it the moment he would wake up.

They soon arrived at his home. Now that they were there, one had the opportunity to inspect the room a bit more. Though it was a rather small home, the living room had this strange, warm feeling to it... It made you feel cozy and welcoming, a huge difference in contrast to Ares's personality. The room had a small table with two chairs next to it, a sofa, a fireplace and a small chandelier hanging on the ceiling. The kitchen was right next to the room, which was small but big enough to prepare just about anything.

There was a painting on the wall with four people on them: One of them was Ares, the other people were presumably his family, which included his father, mother and younger brother. It appeared that the painting was painted a very long time ago, as Ares looked at least six years younger and his aura in the painting was much different: Here, he looked like a calm, gentle and kind-hearted. Just by his appearance in the painting one could tell that he was much happier, it was obvious that this was during a time where he was not dealing with whatever he is dealing just now. The painting had a signature under it, in the bottom-right corner, which read "Orion".

In one of the corners of the room, there was an old wooden sword leaning against the wall. It was a rather small sword, much smaller than the sword that he was carrying with him during his knightly duties. It was a toy sword, from back when he still lived in his home village, Dagna. If one looked closely, one could see that something had been carved in the small blade, which was nothing other than his name, Ares. Yes, Ares... There was nobody in the land who did not know of his heroic tales. A name that was once so revered and beloved... Now it was just a name long forgotten, cast out, thrown away. Ares wanted it to end, but was too prideful to do it with help.

A few moments later, Ares finally woke up in his bed. He bolted upwards, panting heavily. He looked around, to realize that he was at his home. "I'm back... Home...? How did I...?" He seemingly did not remember telling the mysterious person where his home was, so he was left very confused. He then quickly realized that he was not wearing anything but his undergarments, so he got up to put on some clothes. He had a pretty big scar on his torso, which he presumably obtained during a battle.

He got up and grabbed the same clothes that he was wearing before he collapsed, and then he went downstairs to go and prepare some tea. When he walked inside the kitchen though, he quickly was encountered with yet another surprise. The Friar from yesterday was standing in his kitchen, preparing food. Nobody ever visited him, so he was not expecting that whatsoever. "Ah!!!" He jumped backwards a little and began unsheathing his sword, but then he quickly realized who it was. "Wait... You again?" He sheathed his sword and sighed, much like the first time that he encountered him. "You sure do have a hobby for surprising me, huh? What are you doing in my home?"


Well-Known Member
Friar Stephan looked up from his frying. "Do you like your eggs scrambled, sunny side up, or over easy? Quickly, now! I need a choice." He waved his wooden spatula over the cast iron pan where three eggs sizzled away in a puddle of bacon grease.


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
"Screw the eggs, just get out if you have no business with me!" He was obviously not too pleased with the unexpected visitor as he started yelling. The Friar did not appear to stop from preparing him some food, though... And so Ares was quick to give up. He wasn't about to attack someone for no reason, especially not someone who joined the church as that would get him into big trouble. "...Just... Ugh, whatever. Make it scrambled. And make me some tea while you're at it." That last part was something that was very risky to him, as he wasn't quick to like tea brewed by someone other than himself. But if he was going to get treated, he might as well.

He sat down on one of the chairs next to the table. He did look slightly better than before, as his eyebags were now not as present as they were yesterday, but it still was visible that he was not in optimal condition. He really needed some proper rest, and soon.


Well-Known Member
Stephan waited patiently for Ares to stop threatening him, not even reacting outside of a vague sort of smile. "Scrambled it is!" he said cheerfully. He tossed in a touch of cheese, a dash of diced only slightly withered onion, and some salt and pepper. In moments, he slid a plate of steaming scrambled eggs in front of Ares. "I am afraid there is not much to work with in your larder. However..." He opened a cupboard filled with tins. "You do have a remarkable stash of teas!"

Once the water was boiling in the kettle over the fire, Stephan turned and waved the spatula at Ares. "Why are you wearing a sword? I know it is your house, but most consider it the height of rudeness to carry their weapon around in the house. Not to mention, is it not incredibly annoying to try to sit with it? Oh, the water's ready." He turned away to take care of the tea.

The steam curled around him as he carried it over to Ares and set it down in front of him. "Here you are!"
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Dragons are just bigger swallows.
"Heh, whatever..." Ares looked away ungratefully as the Friar gave him the plate of scrambled eggs. He quickly took a bite. He hated to admit it, but what he prepared for him was... Really good. Ares definitely could not cook as well as him, that's why he did not have much food at home since he usually just went to a bar to get something to eat.

"I always carry it around. Why wouldn't I? I'm a knight, if my service is required then I'm always ready. Or for if my visitors are complotting against me..." It was obvious he was still distrustful and paranoid amongst him, though he eat the scrambled egg the friar made pretty quickly. He was really hungry.

Soon, the tea was ready, and the friar gave him a cup. He took a sip of it... His eyes widened and he almost spit the tea out. He started coughing and put the cup down. "You... Are you trying to kill me?! This is not tea! This "tea" is nothing more than hot leaf juice! Ugh, let me show you how it's done..." Ares got up and walked towards the kettle, pouring in some more water to boil. A few moments later, he came back with two cups of tea he prepared himself. He did not throw away the cup of tea that Stephan prepared for him, though... "Alright, drink up. Compare your tea with mine and taste the difference. THIS is real tea."


Well-Known Member
Stephan stared at him blankly. "I do not really drink tea," he admitted. "And I'm afraid I do not understand you. What is tea if not leaf juice?"

Even so, he gingerly accepted the teas and took a sip of each. "Yes, there is a marked difference," he said, nodding slowly. "I suppose you could teach me if ever you decide not to slice my head off." He gave Ares a brilliant smile.

He wasn't going to point out Ares' paranoia or the fact that even knights needed to rest. The last thing anyone needed to hear when upset was to "calm down," and the last thing a paranoid person needed was for someone to keep poking at them and asking why they were so paranoid. As the old saying went, just because you were paranoid didn't mean someone was not after you. For all Stephan knew - and the book he'd read hinted at - Ares had well and truly earned his paranoia.


Dragons are just bigger swallows.
"What is tea if not- That is the WORST insult I have ever heard to the masters of the art of brewing tea! I cannot believe you said something so blasphemous as that. Truly despicable." If anyone else had said that many people would say that they were joking. But this was Ares... And it was apparent that he was not joking. He truly saw brewing tea as a form of art of sorts, and only those who truly appreciated tea would be able to tell.

"Hmph. Maybe you should learn to appreciate the fine taste of good tea first, you heretic. Else you can forget any lessons regarding tea." He closed his eyes and crossed his arms, while frowning.

He drank his own cup of tea first, and then drank the cup of tea that Stephan brew for him. "Hmph... Well, I suppose that I had worse. A guy literally served me boiled water once. I was this close to cutting his head off for an insult that big..." He practically almost slammed the cup of tea on the table, to then stare into his eyes once again. "Anyway, no matter... You still did not answer me. What are you doing here in my house?"


Well-Known Member
Stephan waited, still wondering what tea actually was if not the juice of leaves, but he waited patiently while Ares growled at him. Tea lessons might be nice, but he really did not like the taste of tea. He preferred just water for drinking, maybe a touch of wine on the holidays, but that was about it.

When Ares finally asked him a question he could answer, Stephan smiled brightly. "Why, you invited me, of course. And you seemed like you could really use something to eat, so I made you food. I'd like to make you more, if you had more in your larder. Perhaps I'll go shopping for you at the market."