The crowd looked on, curious with Commander Joshun as he carried his sister Anya in his arms through the town streets. No one could see her face, as it was buried in his shoulder and the Commander’s grim expression prevented anyone from looking straight at them. Terra and Slynn followed closely behind, their own faces tense. As soon as they passed, though, the murmurs flew. 

In the Commander’s house, Joshun laid his sleeping sister in her room. She had cried herself to sleep as they were hauled up from the cliff and transferred onto solid ground by the rest of his men. Daron had long disappeared by that time, and it was a good thing too. If Joshun saw him still waiting there, a sword would have stuck through him by now, politician’s son or not. 

Outside, Terra and Slynn lounged by the door. There were also a handful of his other trusted men along: Kep, Drugar, Aishinn and Tolt. They all made sure that their Commander had utmost privacy to take care of his sister. No one was to be granted entry, not even the Emperor himself. 

Galloping could be heard in the distance, and the knights looked up to see Daron rushing across the hills to the house. Even as the horse still cantered, Daron leapt down a few yards away and ran towards them. “Anya!” he cried. “Is she alright? Is she–” He stopped as two very sharp swords met just a hair’s breadth from his throat.

“You don’t need to see her,” Terra said, her voice low and soft. Her face was calm, but there was steel in her eyes. Slynn’s expression was the same. “In fact, it’s better that you don’t ever see her again.”

“What?” Daron hissed. He looked at the two soldiers. “Release your blades. You’re threatening a High Noble!”

“You’re just a man like anyone else,” Slynn grated. “And like any man, easy to kill.”

“Anya’s my friend, you idiot!” Daron cried. “I want to see her!”

“Really? Didn’t look like you were a friend to her a few hours ago,” Terra growled. “And I doubt that even if you get past us, you’ll get past the Commander as well. You’re now branded, Daron of the Pleoz clan. I suggest you heed our warnings if you want to remain alive.”

Daron was about to say something else, but he noticed that the others were circling around him. He may have had military training, but these were the BEST. And six against one was not fair game. He frowned. “This isn’t over,” he said. “I do care for Anya.” With a final defiant look at the group, he turned for his horse. The group watched stoically as he rode away.

Tolt looked up to see a shadow disappear from a window and he pointed. “Yes, we know,” Terra replied. “The Commander is aware as well. At least Anya’s safe now.”

“We’re really going to keep that noble from seeing Anwu* Anya?” Aishinn piped up, her eyes huge with curiosity. Drugar nodded. “We keep her safe from that womanizer,” his soft voice rumbled from his huge frame. “It’s our duty.”

“Yay!” Aishinn hopped. “She won’t see that bad man any more! She won’t cry again!” 

“Doesn’t mean—” Kep began.

“That Daron will stop trying,” his twin Drugar finished. 

“Then we’ll block him at each chance,” Terra said. She smiled. “We’re the Imperial Paladins, after all.”

*Anwu = older sister, like “ate” in Filipino

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