“I ask you again,” Malika said. “Who be you, and how be it you come to be here, just at this very moment? Be you a final test, holy man or not, to confirm my resolve, to baptize me in the fire of purification against the forces of Ashmar?” She could feel her tone rising with every word, feel the heat of anger warm her face, feel the wetness of the tears sliding down her cheeks once more. “What be you, holy man? I would know, else I cut you down where you stand.”
Mistress… Morduth cautioned, but he was cut short as the other man spoke.
“I am Orthael, young swordmaiden,” he replied, “Paladin, holy warrior of the All-Church, servant of the All-Consuming Fire, wielder of Judgement versus the demons of Ashmar.”
He was silent then, and Malika took a long a moment to evaluate this man who stood so calmly before her. The rage and despair welled up inside her once more, and when she spoke again, she found herself shouting, her rage and grief now full and complete.
Malika wiped away the tears from her eyes with the palm of one hand and gracefully rose to her feet, turning to face the newcomer.
“Be you friend or foe?” she asked. “Morduth insists you be friend, but I be not so willing to trust in his judgment just yet.”
Mistress, replied the sword, I am hurt. The sword’s tone in her mind was more amused than injured, and so she ignored the jab. She had eyes only for the stranger before her, who remained cloaked in shadow at the edge of the clearing.
“Step forward,” she commanded, “so I may determine for myself. I have no fear of either man or beast.” She gestured to the dozens of dead and torn lycander bodies littered around her. “I have no fear of you, for Mardain blesses me this night.” At this the sword in her hand flared briefly again, as if to confirm her claim.
The man stepped forward, and Malika saw that he was robed in the vestments of the Church — and carried a sword of his own.
“Be at rest, child,” he said, “for I believe we both fight for the Fire.”