Chapter 8
A Fallen Eagle

Eagle, Gladius; Gladian Year 592

"This is my warning to those that seek to follow in my footsteps. Because I am a woman, they refuse to recognize me as my father's heir. I had nothing to lose, but I pray that none of my descendant do as I have done out of pride. The creation of a False Gem is the greatest expression of one's bond with the ancestral gear, but it carries a great price. You could lose everything and throw our family into turmoil."
- Excerpt from the journal of Eolande, daughter of Aleron

Tiberius sat alone in his private chamber with the sword of the Guardians in one hand and a glass bead in the other. The bead matched the proportions of an Elemental Gem precisely. The times were uncertain and Tiberius needed a symbol to encourage his men and demoralize the enemy at the same time.
Though the end result looked insignificant, creating a False Gem was the pinnacle of an Elemental Knight's ability. It would be a clear warning to House Leon that Tiberius the Guardian was no one to trifle with. Only two Elemental Knights were known to have successfully created False Gems: his ancestor Eolande and Leander the Defender, one of the heroes of the Unification.
Though she was never acknowledged as the Guardian, Eolande created three False Gems while Leander only dared to create one. Her power was unprecedented in the entire history of the Elemental Knights. That same power flowed in Tiberius' veins and the time had come to use it.
Focusing all his energy into his sword, the Gems glowed brightly. He then channeled the energy into a single Gem. The image of the Gem was clear in his mind. He allowed the energy from the Gem to flow up the length of his arm. The whole time, he concentrated entirely on the image in his mind. The energy went into the other arm, to the hand, reaching the glass bead through his fingertips. Once the bead had been infused with all the energy he had drawn, Tiberius felt an enormous release.
Breathing heavily, he opened his hand to reveal the glass bead's new sky-blue color. He had done it. He had created a False Gem. The euphoria at his success was suddenly overcome by a new sensation. He was not content to stand at Leander's level. He needed to go beyond Leander, even beyond Eolande.
He picked up another bead and started the process again. He chose a different Gem to copy this time. The image took shape and he began to transfer the energy. Though the bulk of his mental faculties were focused on the creation of the False Gem, a small place in the back of his mind repeated over and over that he was doing this for the good of the family and that House Leon was the enemy.
Abruptly, the message changed into Luther's pleas to end the feud. The voice of his younger brother became louder and louder, threatening his concentration. The image of the Gem dissolved, leaving behind the angry face of Luther, frustrated at his failed efforts to persuade Tiberius.
Then he felt it. It was like being disemboweled, but without the pain. He felt hollow inside, as if he were nothing more than a mere shell. Tiberius' eyes snapped open and darted to the sword. The Gems were no longer glowing, their luster faded away into lifeless darkness.
He knew what had happened even though he did not want to accept it. He had failed and for his failure, the Gems had disowned him. A bitter numbness overcame his entire body. How could this happen to him? He howled in despair, a howl that echoed throughout the entire manor. Tiberius was the Guardian no longer.

* * *

Luther could not shake the bad feeling. Tiberius had locked himself in his chamber for over a week. Something was wrong and his brother refused to talk to anyone, not even his own flesh and blood. As the days passed, that bad feeling grew into a premonition. Tiberius was leaving. Luther did not know how he knew it, but he did. If he did not hurry, he would be too late.
He ran through the corridors of the manor until he reached the vestibule. A cloaked figure was opening the door by the time he arrived.
"Brother!" Luther called out.
The figure turned to face him. It was indeed Tiberius. He had the haggard look of a prisoner. Something had been gnawing away at him all this time, something that was now driving him to leave.
"Where are you going?" Luther asked. "What happened to you?"
Tiberius hung his head and sighed deeply.
"They rejected me... The Gems..."
Though Luther was not his father's heir, he had nevertheless been trained in the way of the Elemental Knights. He knew the import of his brother's words.
"How!? Why!?"
Tiberius held his forehead for a moment.
"I tried to create a False Gem... and I succeeded. However, my zeal turned to greed... When I tried to make a second one, a lapse in my concentration ruined everything. I've lost my birthright, shamed our ancestors. I can't stay here. I have no right..."
"Where will you go?"
"There is no place for me in Gladius. I will go eastward... to Byrn perhaps."
"Why do you have to leave?"
Tiberius was silent. Whether he simply felt too ashamed to stay, or if there something more, he would not tell Luther. Tiberius opened the door and his cloak flapped in the gust of wind that rushed in, revealing a sword strapped to his belt with a pale blue gem embedded in its crossguard.
"That sword..."
Tiberius rested his hand on the pommel, an intricately carved eagle head.
"This is a reminder," he said, "so that I may never again let pride or any other distractions get in my way. Maybe now you and that Leon boy can manage to end the feud. I will pray for you to succeed where I could not. Farewell, my brother."
Without another word, Tiberius walked out. Luther knew better than to try stopping him. There was nothing he could do. His brother was gone, just like their mother before him. Luther had no choice but to let him go and accept the burden he left behind.

* * *

As the informant walked out of Percival's chamber, the old patriarch of House Leon congratulated himself on the well-placed bribe. He signaled to the servant outside the door. After all his waiting, the perfect opportunity had presented itself.
Within moments, nearly a score of his best fighters filed into his chamber. He drained a nearby goblet of its contents and rose out of his chair. He paced back and forth, his cane clacking loudly on the hardwood floor.
"The time has finally come," he said. "After all these years, we will finally deal the deathblow to the Arans. The heir has lost his birthright and the gear has not yet accepted the other son. Kill him and anyone in the household that gets in your way." He slammed his free hand on the table near his chair, looking at his men with ruthless malice in his eyes. "I want his head on this table before the sun rises. Now go!"
The fighters roared oaths to victory and left the chamber. Little did they or Percival realize, an eavesdropper heard the whole thing, shielding himself with the door to avoid detection. He was one of the few servants in the household whose true loyalty was with the new lord of House Leon. He wasted no time giving his master the unpleasant news.
When Julian heard the servant's report, he could hardly believe it, that his grandfather would go so far. Perhaps he should have known better, but now was not the time for second-guessing. He had to hurry if he was going to save Luther. Having performed the Rite of Succession a couple months ago, the gear of the Defender was bonded to him now, but he could only utilize a small portion of its power. Even so, it was better than nothing.
He ran as hard as he could, thankful for the armor's supernatural lightness. He knew the fighters were moving faster than he was and they had a headstart to boot. He only hoped he would not be too late.
All of the sudden, his chest tightened and the breath was squeezed out of his lungs. He went down on one knee, thankful he had not fallen headlong into the road. He was only eighteen, and in good health, too young for his heart to be failing him. At least he hoped that was not the case. He took a few shallow breaths to recover and, remembering what was at stake, picked himself up and started running again. As the manor of House Aran came into view, he pushed his body even harder. His lungs burned and his stomach churned, but he kept on running.
The sky was completely overcast with dark clouds. Thunder rumbled in the distance. When Julian reached the door of the manor, the clouds burst into a heavy rain. Julian banged loudly on the door.
"Open up!" he shouted. "Open the door! It's an emergency!"
Getting no reply, he pulled on the door handle to no avail. The front door was barred. He ran around the manor to the back door leading in from the garden. It was open, obviously the fighters' point of entry.
Upon entering the manor, he was aghast at what he saw. Scattered members of the household littered the corridor with their bodies, defenseless men and women hacked to death by his grandfather's men. Upon reaching the atrium, he saw several of the fighters lying dead throughout the room.
A flash of lightning revealed Luther. He was covered in blood, a fair amount his own, and carried the sword of the Guardians in one hand and a severed head in the other. Julian had to catch his breath for a moment before he could speak.
"Luther, are you all right?"
Luther made no reply. Instead, he slowly walked to the vestibule. Planting his sword in the floor, and cracking the polished marble tile in the process, he removed the bar on the front door single-handedly. As the bar crashed to the floor, he picked up his sword and kicked the doors open.
Julian tried to run up to Luther, but his stamina had been spent running to the manor. Nevertheless, it was not too hard to catch up to Luther with his slow, deliberate pace.
"Where are you going?" Julian asked breathlessly. "You need to get those wounds treated. There could be more of them out here."
Luther remained silent, steadily walking in some predetermined course. The rain washed some of the blood off his body, leaving a murky river in his wake.
Julian kept pace with Luther, but any efforts to get a reply failed. When he saw his manor come into view, Luther's destination was all too clear. Julian could feel the fear set in.
"You mustn't retaliate against my house!" he shouted, more pleading than insisting. "I haven't been able to shake my grandfather's influence on the servants yet! If you attack them, we'll never end this feud!"
Luther still said nothing. When he reached the doors, he gave them a kick that knocked one off its hinges. As he entered the atrium, one of the family bodyguards rushed forward, ready to draw his sword.
"Halt!" he shouted.
Luther struck the man in the temple with the pommel of his sword, knocking him senseless. Julian ran in front of Luther to bar his way. He drew his rapier.
"Please stop," the young Defender begged. "I don't want to fight you."
Luther glared at him. His eyes showed the deepest rage, keenly focused on a single objective. Julian doubted he would be able to defeat his friend in that state.
Instead of fighting him, Luther simply walked past. Whatever he intended to do, indiscriminate killing was not it. As more of the bodyguards came into the atrium, Julian raised his hand to ward them off.
"Stay back!" he shouted. "Leave him to me!"
The bodyguards kept their distance, although they made no effort to hide their reservations. Julian continued to follow Luther, hoping to keep everyone out of the way. When Luther turned to face a particular door, he realized it led to his grandfather's chambers. Luther kicked the door in and entered.
Julian was not far behind. Percival was obviously startled to see the Aran youth in his chamber, armed and bleeding from several wounds. Luther dropped the severed head on the table along with a few blood-stained silver coins.
"That's the man you bought to betray me," Luther said coldly. "The problem with traitors is that they're quick to change colors. He told me exactly where I could find you before I killed him." He spat on the coins. "You're too gutless to come after us yourself, so you've used these men to bleed us all these years. But things are different now. I'm the Guardian and I don't use proxies to fight my battles."
Percival was mute, completely overcome by terror. Julian did not know what to do. He feared any effort to stop Luther would trigger a mad, murderous rampage. He steadied his rapier. Whatever would happen, it would end in that room. Luther raised his sword.
"You'll never forget this night," he growled.
Luther swiped with his sword. Percival tried to dodge, but was too slow, leaving him with a cut that ran the length of his cheekbone. He screamed, clutching his face and cursing. Luther turned to walk away, stopping a moment in front of Julian.
"Get your people under control," he said, "your control. We will end this feud."
Julian stepped aside to let Luther pass. The hatred in the new Guardian's eyes had faded. He had done what he came to do.
"Damn you, boy!" Percival howled. "Why didn't you stop him!?"
Julian looked at his grandfather only briefly.
"Because if I were him," he replied icily, "I would have killed you and anyone who stood in my way. You're lucky Luther is a better man than I."
He left his grandfather to ensure that the servants would not interfere with Luther. What he told his grandfather was true, and it was why he admired Luther all the more.