Prologue
The Feud Begins

Eagle, Gladius; Gladian Year 554

"It's all his fault... Damn him... Damn him!! That whoreson dog took what was rightfully mine and left me with scraps. I'm a better man than him. I come from a better line. I'm so much more superior to him, but he still wins! WHY!?"
- Excerpt from the journal of Percival the Defender

It was night in the city of Eagle and the streets were quiet. Or rather, the streets would be quiet on any other night but this one.
Percival the Defender stumbled down the main road in a drunken stupor. The ornate armor of his house seemed ill-suited for such a slovenly man. His hair was unkempt and his clothes torn in several places. He bore a black eye and busted lip, marks of a tavern brawl. Still carrying a half-empty bottle in his hand, he clearly had not learned his lesson about the poor mix strong drink and bad tempers make.
Some drunkards keep to themselves at the heights of their inebriety, but not Percival, at least not on this night. He bellowed into the darkness in a voice that could be heard throughout the city.
"Hiram! Hiram! Come out here, you coward! Show yourself!"
He continued to yell, shouting the man's name over and over again. Had he been anyone else, angry city dwellers would have shouted him down for disturbing their sleep, but no one dared to put themselves at odds with one of the Twelve Stewards, particularly one of such intemperate disposition. With no one to interfere, Percival's efforts were finally rewarded with the appearance of the man he sought.
Hiram the Guardian looked little better than his counterpart, but his appearance was born of grief rather than drunkenness. His eyes were red from tears with dark circles under them from many sleepless nights. Just by looking at the two men, few outsiders would believe that they led two of the most influential families in all the land, heirs to two of the most celebrated heroes of the Great War.
Percival tilted his head as he looked at his enemy. His wits dulled by liquor, it took him a moment to recognize the Guardian. When the realization finally dawned on him, he scowled and dashed the bottle in his hand against the cobblestones of the street.
"Hiram, you mange-ridden dog, it ends here!" Percival howled.
"What are you babbling about now, you drunken idiot?" Hiram asked in a weary voice.
"House Aran is band of brigands!" Percival screamed. "You think you can steal everything from me and my house!? The better fief!? The better woman!?"
These grievances were nothing new, but the mention of his wife stirred Hiram to anger.
"Hold your tongue, you miserable wretch!" he snapped. "Bronwen chose me, not you. Are you so unhappy with your own wife after all these years?" His tone grew even more bitter. "At least I don't have to worry about you getting your filthy hands on her anymore. She's dead... by her own hand..."
Percival contemptuously stomped the ground, crushing one of the larger fragments of the bottle under his boot.
"Dammit! I know that wench is dead! It's your fault, damn you! She would've been happy with me! I'm stuck with a good-for-nothing whore who can only play the mimic after her better. Now we've got two dead women on our hands and it's all your fault!"
Hiram then realized from his rival's words that Percival's wife had also taken her own life, but there was no sympathy in his heart for the man before him. His anger burned stronger than ever.
"You've harassed my poor Bronwen for eight years! Eight years!! What devil possessed you!? Has House Leon fallen so far?"
"How dare you!" Percival growled, drawing his rapier.
Hiram instinctively took up a defensive stance. Though he was not wearing the armor of his house at the time, he at least had the presence of mind to have the ancestral sword on his hip before venturing out. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he expected something like this would happen, but perhaps it was not too late to rein in Percival's madness before it came to blows.
"You can't fight me, Percival! The Convention forbids it!"
"Damn the Convention!"
The gems on the Defender's rapier glowed and the blade was wrapped in red-orange flames. Percival charged forward with a shout, howling at the top of his lungs like a mad berserker.
The toll of grief and insomnia had not slowed the Guardian's reflexes as much as one would expect, for he deftly parried the Defender's charge on the draw of his blade. The drunken Percival fell flat on his face. He did not lie there long before rolling over to loose a jet of flame at his target. Hiram dove out of the way and countered with a lightning bolt that streaked from the tip of his sword. The lightning crackled harmlessly against a magical barrier of superheated air while Percival got back on his feet.
The Defender launched a flurry of strikes, but drunk as he was, his moves were clumsy and easy to block. Seeing an opening, Hiram swung forcefully to disarm his opponent. Percival's rapier flew from his hand and clattered on the street. Hiram followed up with a swift backhand to the Defender's face, and the drunken fencer fell to the ground.
With his boot on Percival's chest, Hiram stood over his fallen adversary, full of rage and the warrior's fire. Although he could have easily dispatched his disgraceful counterpart, the Guardian sheathed his sword.
"You're not worth killing," he said. "I'm going to make you live with your loss... just as I must live with mine..."
The Guardian stepped off the fallen Defender, turned and walked away. Holding his injured faced, Percival continued to bellow curses.
"Damn you, coward! This isn't the end! I will see you dead! You'll be joining that wench soon!"
Hiram ignored Percival, but it did not end that night. It was the beginning of the feud that could have torn the kingdom of Gladius apart. The two noble houses would be at odds for decades and misfortune awaited anyone caught betwixt them.