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Iste: a village situated in the middle of the swath of land between Caelin and the river that clove the Lycian countryside in twain. It was mostly a typical picture that could be seen across the land: a friendly circle of thatch-roofed houses on a hillside with yellow crop fields stretching out from it in all directions. The only anomaly was the cathedral in the middle of it all, the spires on its roof stretching upward to make a bridge between heaven and earth. Logically, a bustling city of devouts and religious scholars should have sprung up around the cathedral. But against all expectations, Iste remained a humble town of farmers and merchants. The church was magnetic: it was attended almost every week by almost all the residents of Iste, whether for worship or simple social gathering, and travelers who were staying at the inn often attended as well, curious to see what a cathedral mass looked like. However, nobody ever strove to contribute to the cathedral beyond the coin offerings taken each mass, which were becoming more and more scarce as the economy of the area was struck by recession.

The cathedral bell rang, its cacophony impossible for anyone in the town not to hear. Those who were sleeping in on the weekend morning were jolted awake, those still eating breakfast were now rushing out their doors to make it to church on time, and those already in the pews of the great main room of the cathedral gradually hushed their morning pleasantries. The sun climbed a little higher in the sky, and the room which had previously been lit by dim candles was instantly illuminated by the sun's rays shining through the single great stained-glass window above the pulpit.
Renata squinted and shielded her eyes for a moment— she had known that a magnificent bath of light was set to flood through the window, but she hadn't known exactly when it would be. The past week had been a whirlwind tour of Lycia for her: after she had naïvely sworn her services to the lady Cecily from Laus, she soon left a hastily-penned letter telling the liege-lady that she was actually a fugitive, and then rode away in the night on the valkyrie horse that she had stolen just weeks ago, now hitched behind some trees near the Iste inn. To Renata's horror, the news that a young female heretic had murdered a holy bishop and stolen a valkyrie's vestments had spread across the land faster than she could flee.

But she had decided that she was not going to flee any longer. The inquisitors of the Church of Sanctity, previously Renata's cohorts, were likely hot on her heels even now, but she didn't care. Anger, not fear, still ran through her veins. She was going to let them find her here, and then fight until her sword broke and her tome of light's pages burned away. With its position on a hill making it defensible enough, Iste looked to be as good of a stronghold as any. Renata had heard of underground resistance movements (against the new church, the Lycian emperor, or sometimes both) across Lycia, but she had no luck in contacting any of their spokesmen. The groups were hard to find, something that allowed them to operate without immediately being caught and executed but also prevented potential new recruits such as Renata from finding them. If her potential comrades were all underground, then Renata would have to try and see if she could dig any of them up.

"People of Iste!" Renata had made her way up the small stairway to the pulpit to address the crowd, and it was clear to see who she was: she no longer wore the ugly brown cloak that was the only disguise she had ever worn. Her scarf remained proudly wrapped around her head, her armor glinting in the light, dress tattered at the edges and boots dirtied: despite the various states of repair that her outfit was in, it was all the clothing of a servant of the church. Her sword sheathed at her hip and tome held in the pouch by the opposite shoulder, it was no pacifistic nun presenting herself before the crowd.
It was a girl who had grown up too quickly.

"My name is Renata," she introduced herself. "And I— I'm a servant of Elimine." Her meek voice echoed throughout the cathedral's girth, distorted into an innocent echo, and the crowd began to murmur. What was this woman doing here in place of the usual pastor? Why was she introducing herself? And why did her name sound so much like one that was plastered across "Wanted" posters from Thria to Caelin?
"The true Saint Elimine!" Renata cleared her throat and continued. "Not the Church of Sanctity's Elimine!" She blushed self-consciously and braced herself against the pulpit's railing, almost in disbelief that she was actually going through with the dramatic announcement that she had pondered. "Not the lies they tell to try and control you!"

An unwelcome hand rested itself on Renata's shoulder. "My child," began the voice of the priest who usually preached at the pulpit—
"I am no child," Renata spat as she pushed the man away, forcing him to grab the hand-rail as he stumbled backwards down the stairs. "The things that I've seen would drive a child insane!" She turned back to the pulpit, yelling by now. "The Church of Sanctity is no friend of innocence! They break into homes in the night and steal away the peoples' way of life! For every witch they hunt, a hundred innocent men die!"
The results of Renata's speech were, so far, mixed. Her words had eliticed calls of "Heretic!" from the crowd, but a surprising amount of "Amen"s could be hearing echoing forth as well. It seemed she had been lucky in choosing this town to make her stand in. But, as Renata was keenly aware of, several town guards were now marching down each lane between the pews to come remove her from the pulpit. She had mere seconds to finish making her case and win over enough people to prevent her from being taken away, imprisoned, and eventually passed over to Thria to be executed. "The same fate awaits you if you sit idly by!" she continued after hastily draining her eyes of the tears that had built up in them. "All of you! Regardless of your creed and walk of life! As followers of the blessèd lady Elimine, whose spirit dwells in heaven—"
The guards had arrived. She was out of time. "We must stand up for what is right!" She turned from the podium, her right hand unbuttoning her satchel and withdrawing her tome while her left hand gripped her sword to wrest it from its sheath as she faced the guards blocking off the stairway from the rest of the room.

Renata instantly knew that it was a mistake to draw her sword— the sound of steel leaving a sheath echoed across the room just as her voice had, and any members of the crowd who hadn't been panicking before were surely panicking now. Most of the crowd began tumbling their way towards the exit, but a select several stayed who had also decided that now was the time to act: whether the ones who agreed with Renata were underground resistance members or simply folk who longed for the old Church of Elimine had yet to be seen. Neighbor turned against neighbor, some moving to wrestle the town guards to try and slow them down while others continued their screams of "heretic" and tried to clear the guards' path to Renata, who already found herself facing several of the armored figures as the foot of the stairs, all of them pausing for the moment as if they were unsure who should swing their weapon first. It was all the same to the guards, who were confident in the fact that they had trapped Renata in the dead-end pulpit area that she had so readily placed herself in.

Thus ended the last time for a while that Iste would know anything but chaos and conflict. For Renata and everyone in the town who had revealed their true loyalties, there was no turning back.
After fleeing that accursed inn with Roland in tow and finding themselves in a quiet hamlet, Ambrose decided, strangely for him, that he would attend the mass that was to happen that day. He hadn't really expected much of anything important when he walked into the cathedral today. He had expected a pack of lies to be fed to a bunch of sheep, and none of them to stand up and do anything. He expected the mockery that the Church of the Preservation of Sanctity had made of Elimine to be praised as it was expected of them. He was surprised when the young girl stood in the pulpit and began railing against the church. That the guardsmen came after her for it was to be expected, as was the most craven of the villagers fleeing. Those that remained, a surprising number, in fact, either cried, "Heretic!" or they looked expectantly at the girl, as if they were waiting for a sign of victory.

Ambrose noticed that while most of the guardsmen were close range fighters, there was an archer aiming his bow in front of the pulpit. If no one acted, and quickly, the girl would be dead. The mercenary stood, stepping out of the end of his pew, silently drawing the steel blade he carried around, and running up behind the archer. Before the man could react, Ambrose kicked him in the back of his weight-bearing knee. It hit the floor. He was going to turn, he thought, before Ambrose decapitated him. Blood spattered on the floor.

Gasps of horror came from those watching, likely those same few who still called 'Heretic!' before. The swordsman grabbed up the bow that the dead archer had dropped and nocked an arrow he pulled from the corpse's quiver. Aiming, he fired at the cluster of guards at the base of the stairs. One of them dropped his weapon, screaming at the missile that had shattered his elbow.

The mercenary, staunchly an enemy of the Empire from the day of its formation, called out to the young woman, "Don't be afraid. The Empire's enemies never stand alone!" Where her voice echoed but lightly in the large building, his own echoed with strength. One of the guards broke away from the others as Ambrose took another arrow and began to aim. He charged down the center aisle, and died with an arrow in his throat, his attempt to duck at a chest-level arrow failing.

Ambrose dropped the bow and picked up his sword again, grasping it with his left hand near the quillions, his right hand on the pommel, in a low guard. He strode toward the pulpit area, eying the remaining guards.
Cosette Leroux had always attended church regularly. This was not out of any interest in the priest's sermons--indeed, she had always found them rather dull. Ever since the Church of Sanctity had emerged, they had become even worse: galling theology, a mockery of the Elimine religion. That, she could tolerate, even offering up a weekly prayer for her mother's health. This, on the other hand...

However, today was different. Instead of the usual tepid preaching about how the Church of Sanctity stood for the innocent, to protect the world against the evils of something that Cosette had never paid enough attention to to notice, there was a young woman making a dramatic statement. And what's more, people were listening. Sure, some of them were listening in a clearly hostile manner, attempting to shout her down, but others were equally outspoken in her defense.

Then the young woman--Renata--drew her sword, and all hell broke loose.

Cosette made up her mind in an instant. If there was a blow to be struck against the Empire here, then she would gladly do so. Bowing and scraping and bending the knee to the Empire would accomplish nothing for her family. If she wanted to better their lot in life, to free her father and help her mother, to support her younger siblings' future, then something had to be done. Someone has to be the hero. It's like that in all the stories. Maybe I've read too many books, but at least I don't seem to be alone in that.

As a town guardsman passed her, she leapt to her feet and landed a swift elbow to the side of his head. He swayed groggily for a moment before falling to the ground. Cosette caught his spear before it fell and brought the weapon around in an arc, sweeping with the blunt end rather than the point to discourage the villagers from getting any closer. "Come now, surely you have better things to do than hang around here? Sermon's over, everyone. Go home! May the St. Elimine of your choice bless you... though one is certainly fake, just as the nice girl said."

The "fake" comment seemed to have touched a few nerves, and a burly villager rushed forward, red-faced, with his fists raised. Cosette thwacked him sharply on the head with the spearbutt, and his eyes rolled back in his head as he fell to the floor, unconscious. Cosette gave her best smile, one practiced in a dozen towns and villages whenever she was trying hard to sell something. "Perhaps you didn't hear me the first time?"
It wasn't so much that Roland hadn't wanted to be in mass, but he had thought his suggestion to attend had fallen on Ambrose's deaf ears. It seemed like they had almost guilted each other into going, as Roland, as a knight, could not waver in his commitment to the faith. Still, for the first real mass in eight months, he was absorbing the smells and bells of the cathedral as best as he could while trying not to fall asleep standing up.

It was a welcome interruption when a woman took the stand and spoke up. Even through the cries of heretic, she made good points... Roland snapped out of his dreamlike state as the crowd became more and more violent. Wait. He knew that woman. He had only just recently escorted Lady Cecily of Laus with her, and she had killed an incredibly aggressive priest who had threatened her life. Obviously she had some very large problems with the church. Roland was not particularly disposed to help her, given the fact that heresy was something that she should have to deal with on her own. St. Elimine was the same regardless of a new church or not. And if the most enlightened people in the land, the priesthood, had decided to convert to this new church, there should not be any question. Analyzing holy texts wasn't his job. His only function was to uphold the saintly values and godly conduct expected of him.

Still, when the city guards bursted in, he was stuck in a mental quandary. Was his duty to his companions or to the church? Luckily, Fred had already made that decision for him. His newfound brother in arms had drawn his weapon and already pounced and killed an archer. Obviously not a holy man if he could do such a thing in a church. Roland, nervous, sword sheathed, but still unwavering in his impeccable conduct, pushed his way forward into the crowd towards the pulpit to help Renata.

He ran, shoving aside a few smelling members of the crowd, and burst through between the guard and Renata as they stared each other down.

"Wait!" he yelled, holding up his hands to both sides. "Have you no grace? It appalls me to think that St. Elimine, heretical or not, would agree to a battle here next to her holy place." He scowled at both parties, waiting for either to make a move. There was still enough time to grab his sword and join the battle if they could not listen to reason.
Renata's expression went from scared to confident at the reässurance from the distant Ambrose, and then from confident to utterly confused as a familiar knight threw himself in front of her. "... Sir Roland?" she murmured idly: if the knight was somehow here, then it must have meant that he'd finished his task escorting Cecily to safer places, given that there was no way the lady of Laus would be dallying in a town like this. Or at least, that was what she preferred to think.

"Please, my children, listen to reason." The priest behind Renata was back on his feet again. "Nothing good can come of violence."
It probably spoke volumes about Renata's lack of faith that she was willing to provoke a fight inside a holy cathedral. But that didn't matter. The guards had approached her aggressively, hadn't they? "Bring me to the mayor," she demanded of one of them.
"After you surrender your weapons," the guard replied callously.
Renata shook her head nervously: she would not concede to the obvious trap. As she stood her ground at the base of the stairs, the guards continued approaching with swords and spears bared— but with one of them confounded by the arrow of the approaching Ambrose and another headed toward Cosette, the situation had gone from Renata being trapped to the group of guards being surrounded. Iste wasn't a large town, so its militia was equally small, whatever guards remaining outside the cathedral likely camped in strategic places. The ones already here would be little trouble... provided that the intervening Roland was on her side and not theirs.

"Please move, Sir Roland," she said somewhat awkwardly before opening her tome to whisper an incantation and doing her best to aim at the guards before her. One dodged backward in alarm, but the other charged furiously, grunting in pain as an orb of light flashed into existence to sear him, barely any brighter than the sea of colored light that already flooded into the cathedral. Renata held up her own sword to parry the guard's, instinctively stepping back but tripping on the stairs that she had forgotten were just behind her.
Roland was stunned by Renata's response. He would not move. Didn't she once claim to be part of the church? And the priest's sense was quite quickly ignored. He was shocked and appalled that the guards would continue on as such. Could both parties be at fault? If that was the case, he hardly had another choice but to help those who were in danger. And even though she had stood up and voiced her opinion, Renata had been oppressed. And that should count for something.

He had hardly made up his mind before Renata cast her spell, hurting one of the guards. Roland used that moment to strike. He ran in close quarters, butting the guard with his shoulder. He made hard contact, Roland's heavier armor sent the guard toppling backwards. Another quick knee to the guard's legs, and Roland was able to wrench the guard's spear out of his hands. He leapt back, brandishing it to the other advancing guards. He may not have been able to draw his own weapon in a church, but as far as he knew, there were no rules against brandishing other peoples' weapons in a holy place. There had to be some exception to these rules. Still, as far as he knew, a bolt of lightning from the heavens could strike him down for this.

Roland held out his hand to Renata as she had tripped over, defending her from the guards that had crowded around her. "Miss Renata, grab my hand and get up! We cannot draw blood here!"
Quickly dropping her tome back into its pouch for now, Renata took the hand she was offered and yanked herself up. "We're to fight outside, then?" she replied callously. The position of the guards had shifted a little, allowing her to sidle behind Roland against the wall so she was no longer backed up against the stairs.
"My child, you are quite lacking in decency for what you claim to be," the priest pointed out rather obviously, still meekly perched by the stairs. "I know not what made your heart so turbulent, but I pray—"
"Shut up!" Renata snapped at him. "I don't want your damned prayers!" What would a prayer do? It was a poor excuse to do nothing, she decided; the spurning of actual action in favor of divine freeloading.
"Leave this holy place, all of you," the priest said, anger entering his own voice now. "Please, guards, if you are to arrest them then allow them an arrest outside."
"There's no escape for them anyway," one of the guards observed as he made a small bow and waved the other guards off, the ones who were remaining starting on a comical route that snaked around the pews so as to give Ambrose and Cosette a wide berth. There was only one exit to the cathedral, after all, and that was the same as the entrance. "Come. You'll have your audience with the mayor," he said toward Renata at Roland's shoulder rather snidely before turning to Ambrose. "And who do you think you—"

"Watch out!" Renata cried, pointing toward the exit. Another town guard, rising up from behind a pew, loosed an arrow from a bow.
As the projectile flew precariously between Ambrose and the other guard, now dumbfounded, all hell broke loose inside the cathedral for a second time as the line of guards collapsed into a rioting mass. As it turned out, Iste's guards were just as conflicted as its citizenry. Another soldier revealed himself from the pew behind Cosette to throw an armored fist at her only to be caught around the neck by the guard behind him. One of the several unruly townsfolk who remained launched himself at that guard, making an echoing thump as the pew was knocked over.
The priest slunk up the stairs, muttering a prayer as Renata took in the sight of the brawl unfolding: a proverbial castle of cards that her shouting just a minute ago had blown into utter disarray. The guards with their reddish shoulder pads all blending in with one another, it wasn't even clear who was on whose side anymore. Placing herself between Roland and Ambrose, Renata scanned the crowd frantically for an opening that they might escape through, or another figure who would present their self as a clear enemy or ally.
"Well, that happened fast," Ambrose observed, bemusedly looking on at the brawl in the cathedral. He brought himself back to awareness and scowled. The bowman that had shot at him was grappling with another guard, their poorly-dyed leather pauldrons telling him nothing of their actual thoughts. The archer was a poor shot, or at least that one had been, and the arrow could have gone either to him or the other guard that had asked who he thought he was. That man had had his throat collapsed by his sword's pommel.

He saw an opening. The brawlers, busily beating each other, were focused upon themselves. Half of the church was full, the center aisle was clear, and the other half was empty. "Come on. We can draw them away from each other," Ambrose said to the other two. As the trio began to move, the Bernese mercenary examined his companions. Roland had thrown his lot in with him in rebellion against the Lycian Empire to try and win the heart of a cousin of the Emperor's. Ambrose was thankful for that, and hoped he would no be turned from his purpose. This girl in armor and bearing a sword and a tome would be useful, too, assuming that they could all leave this little place alive.
Roland frantically looked around the cathedral at the chaos that had erupted. He could hardly take the utter defilement anymore. This hall of worship was not commissioned and prayed over and built, brick by brick by the hands of the faithful so it could be used as a place for a barroom brawl over theology. He quickly threw down the lance he had picked up to defend Renata in disgust.

Heeding Fred's call, Roland began a mad dash down the center aisle, joining up with the group. He crashed through two men who had each other around the neck, his heavy armor sending both of them crashing to the ground.

"Let's get moving a bit faster before we all suffer a divine purging," he shouted to the others, raring to get out of the desecrated cathedral.
Renata nodded: although she was mainly responsible for the brawl in the cathedral, maybe it would follow her outside once the bickering individuals within realised that they were only fighting each other. Making her decision, she ran out the entrance—
— and was immediately grabbed on both sides by multiple sets of arms.

"What's got my guards worked into such a frenzy?"
Renata stopped struggling when she realised that the man before her speaking was probably the mayor of Iste, given the tiny entourage of guards following him. Along with the ones still in the church, who were either starting to lose their enthusiasm for fighting in a holy place or scrambling away fearing for the safety of the townspeople or themselves, this was probably the entirety of the town's militia save one or two men keeping the gates. "Well?" It was mostly the stereotypical picture of a mayor: middle-aged, slightly plump, mustachioed, yellow-jacketed; though this one had on a powdered wig which looked quite out of place in Iste's rural setting. "Say, aren't you that valkyrie girl who arrived this week...?" He chuckled after seeing Renata's eyes widen. "Come, now; you can't hide a horse of that caliber between a few trees."
"I won't hide anymore," Renata mumbled nervously.
"And what does a young holy maiden have to h—"
"Mayor Albert," a guard approaching the mayor, apparently named Albert, nervously interrupted to hand him a piece of parchment. "One Renata from Laus, suspected of murder and animal theft."

Renata felt her heart sink. She had been hoping that the authorities of the rural towns in this central area of Lycia, relatively the middle of nowhere compared to the boisterous east and west, would not have received the alert as quickly as the duchies had. "I— Iste isn't safe from the Church, Mayor Albert," she stammered. A vague doom-saying was her best comeback after being outed as a criminal? "We have much to discuss..."
"Indeed we do," the mayor replied. "We're going to the mayoral residence," he told the guards who still had a vice-grip on Renata's arms, who jostled her along in response. Though she was perfectly willing to walk on her own, Renata found herself lifted up with her legs skimming the ground thanks to the height difference between her and the guards.
Her hope re-ignited itself once she realised that Albert was sending them to his residence and not a town penitentiary of some sort. She looked back at Roland and Ambrose: the men had no obligation to follow her. But if not accusations of murder or animal theft, they almost certainly all had at least a few counts of high treason in common already. At least the other young woman from earlier, nowhere to be seen, had evidently evaded capture and escaped.

"Strangers," Albert greeted Roland and Ambrose, paying little mind to the stream of weary guardsmen and townsfolk gushing out of the cathedral behind them. "Imposing strangers. The worst kind. Either you join us and see what our naughty little valkyrie has to say..." He produced a jingling coin-purse from his jacket, holding it before them. "Or you leave Iste now and nobody's the wiser." He shook it impatiently in front of them as if he was offering food to animals and waited for an answer.
The bald, pudgy mayor bearing an enormous caterpillar-style mustache was waving a bag of money in front of them like he owned them, as if he could buy them off. He seemed quite unconcerned with the fact that one of the 'imposing strangers' still had a fairly large sword naked to the air. Eying the surrounding guards, he glowered at the man, Albert of Iste, before answering with a counter-offer. "Or, you could hand her over to us, and we'll... take care of her," he said, subtly emphasizing the lie he was trying to sell that he would kill her out of sight. He hoped Roland would catch on to his deception and not give him away. "You'll never see us again, and things get to go back to the way they were before. Fair enough?"
Roland didn't like the mayor's tone, but he couldn't help but think it was justified. It was a spear to his heart that one of his former traveling partners should have held such a dark past. However, he couldn't stay oblivious of his own treason. It was within reason, especially when dealing with such machinations as the Lycian state had planned and set into action.

Still, he had no way to get out of the sticky situation. That was exactly what Ambrose was good at. He nodded along with the lie. "All three of us," he agreed hastily. "Gone like leaves on the wind. Surely it would spare you a spectacle. Larger than the one that has already occurred, that is. You have much mending to do."
After a moment of furious thinking, the mayor turned to the guards carrying Renata and barked "Bring her back!" He then turned to Ambrose. "While I have the money to pay off a few vagabond mercenaries, I don't have enough to remain a mayor much longer," he said matter-of-factually. "But if there's any attention attracted to Iste? I'm as good as dead."

Renata barely caught herself from falling face-down as the guards holding her suddenly let go of her arms to shove her betwixt Albert and Ambrose. Getting an idea, the mayor pointed at the scarf coiled around Renata's head and neck and commanded one of the guards to take it.
"Wait!" she gasped in protest as she realised what was going on, but by the time she was grabbing at the scarf it had already been wrested from her neck and torn from her hair.
"I'll be needing it, miss," Albert said in response as the guard handed it to him. "'What a travesty, that such a wide-eyed lass could become a dangerous criminal'," he said theatrically, waving the scarf about. "'Alack, she is no more, slain by a shadowy pair of assassins. The stolen horse and tattered scarf, found in one of our simple farming fields, tell the unmistakable story that she died just outside of Iste.'" He nodded to himself and smirked, optimistic that he could buy favor with this arrangement. He would be able to give the Church's inquisitors the news of Renata's death but avoid the gruesome scene having to take place in his own town. "... Do it quickly, won't you?" he asked Ambrose in a hushed tone.

"Now, wait a tick!" someone else yelled before revealing himself to be one of the civilians from the cathedral. "Isn't this the little lady who just told e'eryone to 'stand up for what's right'?"
"This is a criminal marked for death," Albert answered before anyone else could. "Now, the three of you will begone before I change my mind!" He made a shooing motion before turning to the guard holding the wanted notice, handing the guard Renata's scarf and making a point of moving away from the three people he had just effectively banished, not feeling too comfortable around them for obvious reasons. "Dispatch a messenger to Caelin and inform the clergy there of this Renata's death," he commanded. "Bring the notice, this garment, and that horse hidden in the woods as evidence."

Although the guards who had previously been fighting amongst themselves were now commanding everyone to move along and return to their homes, a tiny swath of people instead began following after Ambrose, Roland, and Renata. One of them broke away from the group boldly to address them. "It's time, isn't it? To, you know... rise up," he muttered to Ambrose so the guards in the distance wouldn't hear, though the congregation was difficult to see thanks to the morning's haze making it look like the people were just walking to their houses. "We've been waitin' a mighty long time for this."
"Let's cover a little distance first," Renata suggested meekly, brushing aside the hair that had fallen in her face as soon as her scarf had been yanked off of her. She felt exposed without it and could barely bring herself to look at either of her comrades, who were the only reason why she wasn't doomed. Ultimately, it was up to them what happened next.
"The Empire's enemies never stand alone." Though it was doubtful that a bunch of villagers with pitchforks would be useful to whatever Ambrose's cause was, Renata recalled his words from the scene in the cathedral hopefully. As much as Mayor Albert had demanded Renata's scarf as "evidence" of her death, the guards hadn't even bothered to relieve her of her weapons.
"Rise up in the shadows, maybe," Ambrose muttered in reply. He looked at the small group of villagers. "If you truly want to follow us, there's an abandoned mill some five miles northeast of here. Go to your homes, gather what weapons and armor you have, and meet us there by sundown. And don't be in too much of a rush, lest the others catch on," he instructed. He and Roland got their horses from the small inn they'd been staying at, and Ambrose finally sheathed his sword. He climbed up on the horse, holding a hand out for Renata. "Come on, let's leave this place behind. There is much to do."
Roland was beaming at the suggestion of rebellion. Some day they'd sing songs of how he single-handedly led a group of ragtag villagers against a tyrannical authority. He was sure they'd include the fierce image of his dashing face splattered with the blood of the oppressor. He was daydreaming the images as they began their ride out of town, waiting in heated anticipation for the villagers to arrive.

"Lady Renata," he said, once she was mounted and outside of earshot of any townfolk. "What do you know about Iste? We may be able to strike quickly and take the defenses before the messenger reaches Caelin. If not, we face a certain death. That would be a waste of a very handsome group of revolutionaries."
Renata took the hand and mounted behind Ambrose— a cursory search revealed that her horse had been taken rather swiftly from the grove by the town inn it had been hidden in. Though it was a loss, it wasn't like she could've kept it for the long haul anyway since she barely had a clue about equestrian-keeping. The inn itself was more like someone's large house that happened to rent out a few of its rooms to travelers— its inhabitants had made a point of casting their glances away from the trio as they left.

"Not much," she replied to Roland honestly, noting that she had seemingly been promoted from Miss to Lady in the knight's eyes. Far from deserving the title though she was, and unsure of whether or not it was intentional, she appreciated it. "The mayoral residence is just across from the cathedral, with a red roof. That's likely to be their base if there's no dedicated barracks in town. Although the messenger will probably take the whole day to ride to Caelin..." She thought for a moment: the town guards had seemed eager to turn against one another based on faith until Albert had come and barked commands at them. The head-of-the-snake metaphor practically begged to be made. "We'll need to do something about that mayor before we're able to coerce any of the guards. And—" Renata flushed in self-conscience as it dawned on her that she had never actually learned the name of the man she was currently holding on to so not to fall off of his horse. "... Pardon me. I've already met Sir Roland, but may I ask your name, sir?"
"Oh, ha ha ha, where are my manners?" Ambrose chided himself once they were out of the town on the road northeast. "I am Ambrose Locke, though it would be better if you were to call me 'Fred.' My middle name is easier to remember, and I like it better, besides." He turned to his compatriot, the ex-knight Roland. "And what are you talking about, Roland? I don't mean to incite rebellion. Not yet, at any rate. The emperor himself is doing that just fine on his own.

"But the problem is that he's the Emperor. He lives in Castle Ostia, heart of the most fortified city this side of the continent.

"I need assassins. I mean to cut the head off the snake and let the Empire fall to shambles in its wake. And for that, I need men. And women. Hands willing to do the dirty work to improve the lives of the oppressed and the downtrodden," he continued, though he refrained from waxing eloquent. He fell silent, looking to the road and the barely visible mill tower. "Miss Renata, how old are you?" Ambrose asked suddenly, still looking to the road.
"Fred," Renata echoed the name as Ambrose introduced himself.

"Almost twenty," she stammered in response to the question... But why did it have to come out /that/ way? She regretted not lying and adding on a few years for a moment, but then mentally resolved that lying about her age would just betray her later... But the fact that she said "almost twenty" and not just "nineteen" made her want to cringe in embarrassment. It was the sort of thing that would be said by a blushing schoolchild, not a rogue inquisitor. "And, Sir Fred, I'm willing to aid your cause by any means possible." Renata had meant to step out of the shadows and fight when she had given her little speech a few hours ago, but if Albert's scheme actually went through then she would be officially declared "dead" and the heat would be off of her for the time being... and that was too good an opportunity for covert action to pass up.
Roland couldn't help but wince at the conversation Fred had just struck up with her. Truly an uncomfortable and brutish thing to ask.

"Ease off the girl, Sir Fred," he mocked. "It's terribly impolite to ask a woman such a question. Besides, what will it matter once the day is said and done? If she holds her own, she's able to add another day.

"Why, I was only fourteen when I de-horsed my first man in a joust, my tournament debut. Before I had hair on my chin, I was striking fear into the hearts of men twice my age and three times my size! This continent was practically built atop the blood of youthful heroes. " Roland shook with passion, his armor swishing and clanking against the saddle. He was practically ready to draw his sword and charge back into town to slay the mayor by himself.
"Oh, relax, Roland," Ambrose said in reply to his comrade in arms. "I knew she wasn't near my age. It is better to ask the question of a young woman than an older one, and I wanted to know... After all, I wielded a sword when I was her age in my hometown's defense." The mercenary looked over to Roland, then back at Renata. "Assuming the clergy believes the messenger, the villagers here will benefit from your bounty, Renata. I think striking Albert's head off in the night would only hurt their lives right now. Much as he is irritating, his death now will be proof that you are alive and that Roland and I have gone back on our word. Or at least that something is fishy here.

"Besides, the mayor isn't actively making things worse."

Ambrose shrugged. "I won't harm him just yet, if at all. If you to want to do that, it's your business."
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