The Path Splits

Arita, Byrn; Anno Regis 1277

"In the days, weeks and months following the defeat of Kyrios, I felt a strange emptiness inside of me. I didn't know it at the time, but it was my warrior's blood calling me to action. Until I realized this, my efforts to find fulfillment would prove fruitless."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

Two years had passed since the defeat of Kyrios and the kingdom was on the slow road to recovery. So much had been lost in such a short time. It would take far longer to fully rid the land of the Omnimancer's corruption. In the face of such difficulty, the spirit of the Byrnan people did not waver in their great task. The bonds of trust were being reforged and everyone's diligent labor was paving the road to a new age of prosperity. Those years would become known for the hope Byrnans held for their future, unaware of the calamity that loomed on the horizon.
The valiant young heroes who toppled Kyrios had gone their separate ways, but partings are often followed by reunions. Catherine and Stefan arrived in Arita after learning that Mark had left his uncle's farmstead to live in town. Little did they expect to find him waiting for them at the abbey clad in the robes of an Aritan novice. Happy to see his friends again, the former swordsman greeted them cordially.
"How have you been?" he asked.
Stefan gaped in disbelief. "What's happened to you?"
Mark closed his eyes and smiled. "I wanted to find peace. Not just with others, but with myself, too. That's why I decided to join the order."
"But you're so good with a sword!" Stefan exclaimed. "You're wasting your talent in a place like this. You should be putting your skills to good use."
Mark shook his head and sighed. "It is written, 'All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.' I don't want that life. I've a hard time living with some of the things I had to do. I choose to walk a different path."
Stefan's eyes betrayed his skepticism. In a gesture of support, Catherine put her hand on Mark's shoulder.
"We all have our own path to follow." Looking directly at Mark, she said, "Do well."
Catherine's voice spoke to his mind.
You are denying your true self, but perhaps this will be good for you. I urge you, do not allow your training to falter, for you will need it again one day. When you are ready to accept your true destiny, I will be by your side.
"Thank you, Catherine," Mark replied. "Or do I call you 'Lady Catherine' now?"
"How'd you know?" Stefan asked.
"My cloister isn't so strict that I hear nothing from the outside," Mark replied. "Word travels fast, especially when the daughter of Lord Fyodor rises to take her father's place. As a matter of fact, there are also plenty of rumors about a little Gypsy boy serving as her faithful bodyguard."
Stefan grinned. "Heh, I'm a gadjo now." He looked down at his clothes and added, "I'll probably even start dressing like one eventually."
"You are as much a Rom now as ever," Mark said. "Be proud of who you are and where you came from. Don't let yourself be defined by others."
Stefan arched his eyebrow. "Not exactly the advice I'd expect from a monk..."
"I'm still just a novice," Mark said with a laugh. "But I don't think my opinion will change any after I've taken my vows."
It was nice to be together again, even if two of their number were absent, but it could not last forever. Catherine knew that this reunion had to be brief.
"We must go now," she said, a hint of reluctance in her voice. "We have responsibilities of our own to attend to. I wish you well, Mark."
"As do I," Mark replied.
Mark went back inside the abbey after Stefan had brought the carriage for Catherine. The young noblewoman and her bodyguard did not stay in Arita any longer, immediately returning to Fiora. All three of them knew they would not be reunited again anytime soon.
Indeed, the Pendant Bearers followed their own paths in the years that would follow: Mark continued with scholarly and spiritual refinement as a brother in the Order of Saint Arita, Catherine took up her father's role as the ruler of Fiora while Stefan stood by her side as an unwavering servant and protector, Olofer lived peacefully in the hills with a new flock, and Ignatiy let his love of fire guide him to the lands beyond the border with mischief a close companion.
Mark proved to be a talented monk and was well regarded among his brethren, but something was missing. A troubling corner deep in his heart remained unsatisfied. It would finally drive him to take up his sword and journey to the land of his birth. To fill the void within him, he would endure any hardship, any pain, any sorrow.

The end draws near. In Knight of Gladius: Volume 3, we go back to where we left off in the previous volume. Mark must face Randwulf for the final confrontation. His success or failure lies not only with himself, but with those who stand by him, allies from both the past and the present.