Enduring Light Cathedral

A glorious building of gold and warm, sun-coloured stone, the Cathedral is the heart and purpose of the Sun's Keep. Destroyed once along with the first Light Maiden, Aurae Mikin, it was re-sited atop the Sun's Point plateau and encased in walls of stone and steel-bearing flesh by her sucessor that it may never fall again. It never has, and the glory of sunlight through jewelled glass windows and over the aged, polished statuary in the Nave and the Choir are well worth preserving.
Sheltered within the walls of the Sun's Keep, the Cathedral technically consists of a maze of winding courtyards, cloisters, archives, and hallways rather than one building. Still, many go only so far as the frontal Nave and the Choir, and it is here the most lavish display of Light's glory is seen. The ceiling is enormously high and gilded, arched to capture light reflected from windows and the blaze of candles that lines the walks. Doors open out between the arches, some simple polished wood that catches light's gleams and others ornate and intricate with gold and jewels. Church eunuchs, monks of the Stanchion, raise their voices to echo opposite ranks of church warriors on either side of the choir.
Far opposite the archway this long walk branches into two more, with a circular room full of more gilt layered onto the pews allows for supreme comdemnations of Shadow and praise for glorious Light central. Those other two branchways are more arcane, and few venture there without reason.

Velvela stands in the choir quietly, her hands clasped behind her back, looking forward into the center of the cathedral. She is travel-worn and stained.

Celeste enters reverently and strides purposefully toward the Choir, her armor interupting the quiet of the holy cathedral. When she reaches it, she gracefully drops to her knees and bows her head in prayer, her hands clasped in front of her.

Quiet though the entrance is Velvela is hard-pressed to hear Celeste's armour in the choir proper where singers line the aisleway. She does not turn aside from her contemplation of the play of coloured light and gold although something creases the flesh between her brows just a little. She nods towards that central space, as if in answer, once.

Brynhrist enters the nave quietly from one of the more arcane reaches of the Cathredral; here, where she is one of many wearing the order's panoply of armour, and even her scar is but one seen in the face of the veterans of the endless wars against the vile darkness, she is truly among her own. She pauses as she steps out into the nave proper, and touches the floor with one knee in a silent gesture of belief.

The still figure of the dark-haired Scourge in the choir bestirs. With her hands still behind her back, clasped together, and her face uplifted, Velvela begins to pace slowly towards the pews ahead. One step and then another carry her forward in slow motion.

Celeste rises after a few minutes and is about to turn to leave when she notices Brynhrist. Barely suppressing a flinch, she moves toward the front of the cathedral, near the entrance and waits, hoping that maybe the Hand will not notice her and vanish back into the secret bowels of the cathedral. As she goes, she spares a nod and a weak smile for her sisters in the choir.

Brynhrist rises again with the always-present jingle of armour, casting a slow glance around before settling her eye on the moving figure of Velvela in the aisle. Being not too far from the woman, she inclines her head once to her fellow Scourge when she thinks the other may see it, and with a similarly slow pace, walks to meet her. Celeste she didn't see; yet, maybe.

Velvela turns amidst the soaring voices to Brynhrist and nods deeply to the other woman once recognition dawns in her eyes. Her smile is faint and definite; she continues to walk forward until her fingers unclasp and reach forward, settling on the hindmost pew past the verge of the choir.

Celeste sighs in relief as it seems another sister has drawn her fearsome superior's attention, but does not leave her post, her emotions torn between reluctance to face whatever flaws Brynhrist might have found in her this time, and her desire to give her report.

The Hand meets Velvela there, again parting with a slight nod for the other. "Light bless, Sister Velvela," the comparatively small woman says as she does so. "How fare you? And your disciples in their training?"

"Sister Hand," Velvela answers, smiling again slightly, "Brightness take." And then her smile falls into obscurity and leaves her a weary-looking woman standing beneath heavy metal armour for a brief moment only. "I fare well in myself. Have you been abroad? Sister Yahri was embraced by the Light, and my Ray is shattered." And then she forces a smile that lines her face and adds, "I find solace in the training I give to full Scourges now, Sister, if nothing else." Her hands on the back of the pew tighten and then deliberately fall to clasp behind her.

Brynhrist's face betrays honest surprise first, her eyes widening under lifting brows, before these draw down into an expression of sincerity. "I had not heard," she admits, her voice soft. "I only arrived now, to find such saddening news. Truly, Sister Yahri will be missed by all -- but by no one more than her Ray." She studies the other with her calm eye, and lifts her hand to grasp the other woman's arm firmly. "Come to me, when you feel as though your grief allows you to talk about the events," she says, and though her tone is as always that of one used to obedience, there is no pressure in these words. "If you wish to pray now," she adds then, "allow me to join you in remembrance. I knew her well, though always when one leaves us thus I wish I had known them better."

Velvela turns her head then. Unashamed, unhurried, she searches the smaller woman's eyes with her own. "Her passing is not a thing on which to dwell," she states in a grave, quiet voice. Her eyes return to the front, to the light that streams in through the coloured glass on high. "As for rememberance, we are moulded by our own beyond simple memory. A prayer does her no justice, Hand of the Maiden, and by that I mean no offense."

The Hand replies to that simply with an earnest nod, looking at the other woman still. "Then come to me when your time allows it, instead," she says, insisting firmly on that point. "I wish to hear about what happened." After a moment's thoughtful silence, Brynhrist lets her gaze slide away from Velvela, finding and noting Celeste's presence. The glance of her good eye is as unreadable as that of her dead eye, but she gives the woman a nod of acknowledgement. No more, though, before she turns back to the one besides her. "When your Ray's decision is made as to who will complete you again, report it promptly."

Celeste straightens as the Hand's eye catches her. With hesitating footsteps she approaches cautiously, and stops a good distance away, waiting for Brynhrist to finish whatever business she is conducting with the other sister.

Velvela smiles again then, faintly and with a slight hint of a wince. "Yes, Sister Brynhrist," she says. Traced with a wry note, she adds, "it will be some little time. I don't believe Yella and I will remain together. There is a time when it's best to be the strong warrior of three diversely skilled but the risk of loss then is greater."

"Whatever your decision will be," Brynhrist says, "it will be seen to. Keep in the Light, Sister Velvela, and your embraced Sister in your prayers." She nods at the other woman, and turns from her quietly to walk for the entrance; though not for the doorway proper, but rather towards Celeste.

Celeste pauses to make sure she is not intruding, but when Brynhrist starts to walk toward her, she hurries to meet her and leans in close to whisper, "Sister Hand, I am ready to give my report on the Seamel situation," she begins wringing her hands uncertainly, "but I am not sure this is the place to speak of such things, yes? Perhaps we should go elsewhere. Um... but its up to you."

"In the Light," Velvela echoes Brynhrist. Her hands unclasp again and slide forward to settle both together on the back of the pew, warrior's scars against that carefully carved and gilded polished wood. She looks after the Hand, watching who she approaches with, not attention, but rather a detached air of casual interest. She doesn't strain to hear the two, nor does she appear to be listening more than watching.

"This is a hall of worship, Sister Celeste," Brynhrist says neutrally, locking her gaze on the taller younger woman. "You are among sisters and brothers in the Light here, where the Shadow has never set foot. Where else would you go?"

Celeste fidgets and replies uncomfortably, "Um... well, I do not know. I just did not feel that it was appropriate to discuss such things in such a serene place, but..." she trails off and takes a deep breath, when she begins again, her voice is much more confident, though her tone still low and reverent, "If you do not want to go else where, I will give my report here, Sister Hand. I stayed in Silkfield for a good amount of time, under the pretense of simply patrolling the region, to learn what I could from the common folk of the area. By sifting through the rumors, I was able to varify that Lord Jafron does indeed have a lover named Arkadia, and they were to be married. However, to further my investigation, I befriended Lord Jafron personally. After a few days of his company, I was able to learn that he has broken off his engagement to this Arkadia, stating that he had a duty to his House that he had forgotten momentarily. My final opinion on the matter is that there was no plot by the Shadow to slither its way into House Seamel, but rather, it was a case of a misguided and love struck nobleman seizing at a fantasy. Furthermore, while I am thankful to the Light for the opportunity to practice my investigative skills, I do not think that Brother Dean Lorinis summoned us appropriately. This matter would have been easily resolved had he simply spoken to Lord Seamel himself."

As the two continue to speak Velvela looks away. Her hands slide off the pew in front of her and she sidesteps around it; the chain of her skirt makes a loud jingling noise even through its silk as it claps against the wood when she sits. Folding her hands in her lap she sighs faintly, looks forward, and contemplates the altar.

Brynhrist listens to the Scourge's report patiently, making no attempt at stopping or interrupting the other woman. When Celeste has finished, the Hand again looks at her calmly to inquire, "And have you investigated this 'Arkadia' further, to painstakingly make sure that no taint is in her that would slip through our grasp? The young Lord Seamel's realisation was a Light-given epiphany that came at the right time, but that is not to say the Brother Dean was mistaken in calling for us."

Celeste's face pinks, and she stares at her feet, "Well... I was never able to /meet/ her. It is difficult to see her without calling undue suspicion to my investigation, since Lord Jafron keeps her locked away in his keep most of the day. He has requested that I attend a dinner with him some evening, but no date has been set. But with all due respect to you, Sister Hand, I do not believe his realization was an epiphany of any sort, but the inevitable conclusion given the circumstances."

Velvela's lashes flutter down to rest on her cheeks. Her hands seperate and flatten, palm down, one on each knee. She breathes in a slow regular rhythm and slowly the traces of weariness and strain, and the smile that lingers forcedly on her lips, begin to dissipate. Slowly the Shadowscourge's expression inches towards serenity.

"Underestimate not the mind-clouding powers of the Shadow, Sister Celeste," Brynhrist tells the other woman plainly, but lets the point drop then. "Very well, Sister. You did well. While I believe that the young Lord Seamel should be kept under a close eye, that is his family's business, not the Church's; I will confer with the Light Maiden if preventive steps must be taken on our part." Looking at Celeste, the Hand adds, "You may consider your investigation ended, Sister, though you will remain in Silkfield should unforeseen events transpire. Enduring presence of the Light in Seamel land may alone be a good thing."

Celeste dips into a slight curtsey of acknowledgement, but it is not enough to hide a proud smile. Straightening to a rigid posture, she says in a triumphant tone, perhaps a bit louder than absolutely necessary, "Thank you, Sister Hand, your praise means a great deal to me. I will continue to patrol the Silkfield lands, and, should I find anything contrary to what I have already told you about Arkadia when I have dinner with them, I will send word immediately!"

Velvela's eyes flicker open with that raised voice but she does not turn, only closes her eyes again after a brief frown and smoothes her skirt over her legs. "I will await your reports," the Hand says briefly, and after a speculative glance at Celeste, adds with a shake of her head to clear away whatever thought came to her mind just then, "Keep in the Light, Sister." And with that, she does then make for the exit in firm but quiet strides.

The head shake was not lost on Celeste. In a long, deep sigh, she almost seems to deflate as her shoulders slump and she casts her gaze to the ground again. In a dispairing, nearly inaudible whisper she tells the floor, "I tried. Light as my witness I did." Then, after pausing long enough to give Brynhrist time to get well ahead of her and shake off her moment of self pity, she too makes her way toward the exit.

Velvela remains seated quietly with a serene expression seeping back onto her face.

Only little later...

Practice Yard

This wide U-shaped courtyard occupied the space between barracks and three of the four inner walls of the Sun's Keep. Four turrets loom over it, one set into each corner of the wall, and a small cluster of buildings houses the smithy and the armory here. All in the orders militant have spent hour after painful long hour here under the tutelage of older Shadowbanes and Shadowscourges, schooling in the art of the fight. The rough cobblestones and sanded squares bear the blood of many, and variously shaped practice dummies of straw-stuffed leather show the brunt of ensuing wrath.
On most days the practice yard is alive with people of all ages and stages of training working singly or in groups; it's a clatter of weapons and shouts looked over both by suprvisors and by the silent, brooding stone of the turrets which open off it, and whose doors are limited to Shadowbanes alone.</i>

Noisy and full of motion, that is how best to describe the practice yard today. Children are everywhere, from the six-year fledglings up through a group of women with grey-speckled hair in one corner. Among a group of younglings about seventeen summers of age one white-haired woman stands out, her quarterstaff held crosswise before her as she instructs them, each with their own polished shaft of wood.

Celeste stomps out into the field with a detirmined look on her face and begins to work out. Scanning the crowd, she notices the pale haired woman and her eyes go wide for a moment. But then she stiffens her jaw and goes about her routine. She speeds up to a jog and begins making the first of a series of laps around the outside of the yard.

Brynhrist steps out of the barracks with the same swift strides that carried her there, planting her boots firmly on the sand and cobblestones. Her course is straight, though she gives the ongoing training sessions a berth on her way to the selfsame white-haired woman that is the absolute head of the Orders, the Light Maiden.

"...artifice can oft avoid a fight unneeded. Not all who withstand the Church can, nor should, be brought low with violence. Have you learnt yet of the story of Sister Stralia and the reed cane?" the older woman asks her youngling group. A little flick of her wrist sets the quarterstaff spinning in one hand in a pinwheel spiral that draws the students' eyes.

Celeste finishes her jog, then begins a series of stretches. No need to strain a muscle in practice after all. Once finished, she searches through the various groups of women scattered about the field and selects one consisting mostly of youths her own age and trots over to join them in sparring.

Brynhrist respectfully halts by the group the Light Maiden is currently instructing, in the back of the students that are currently watching the Maiden intently. She glances over their heads to the aged woman, waiting to catch her attention and be granted a moment of her time.

Three eager students call out their yeas amidst the chorus of six other nays. Iestyn waits her time until all have answered, neatly transferring the spinning deadly length of wood from one hand to another and back, and then scrutinises each student with care. They squirm under her glance, some of them, but in the end none look away. "Soranil, impart the story to your brethren. The lesson of staves must wait on the wisdom to use them and I am called away for a short time. You will recite, together, when I return." The thin, gangly looking boy nods sharply and glances at his packmates, buoyed by a smile from the Light Maiden before she turns to Brynhrist. Her expression, then, is subtly inquiring: the slightest arch of a brow, a tiny creasework of smile around her eyes that deepens. She still spins her quarterstaff.

After a few minutes of sparring and watching others doing the same, Celeste forgets about her frustrations and worries and joins the others in mocking laughter when one fighter or another takes a less than graceful dive, cheering favorites, and gleeful booing when someone does a cheap trick.

As the group of youths gathers around the 'chosen one', Brynhrist walks up to the Light Maiden and bows her head. "Light bless, Sister," she says quietly so as to not disturb the boy's eager tale-telling. "The Scourge detached to the Seamel reach of Silkfield returned with a report. It seems the young Lord has come to his senses and called the marriage off; yet if the vassal is tainted is not yet known."

Iestyn Nillu has no qualms about disturbing the story. Her wooden shaft whistles through the air from spiral directly towards Brynhrist's bowed head where it stops two inches short of connection. The students, looking surreptitiously after her, stare with wide eyes, and Soranil breaks off to stare as well.

With a cry and a loud, metallic *CLANG*, Celeste is driven to the ground by a swift, and apparently unexpected maneuver by her opponent. Yet even as cheers erupt from the young women gathered in a circle watching, Celeste leaps back to her feet and the show goes on, fists and feet lashing out in a potentially deadly dance as both combatants demonstrate their skill in the art of the Shining Hand.

The strike comes unexpected, but long years of battling the Shadows hone one's skill; as the staff comes whistling from the side, she ducks and leans to the other, and with ease the Scourge slips into her grip, to be snapped in a harsh flick of the wrist towards the staff in the attempt to capture and yank the weapon free, or failing that, to guide the wood at least momentarily.

Grinning, the silver-haired woman sweeps her staff of wood towards the tangling cord of the scourge and jerks in an efficient, brisk motion of her entire body. "Although it may seem only a poor man's weapon to the uninitiated," she instructs, "the staff is readily available, dangerous, and above all less obtrusive than a sword. Less deadly in skilled hands, further, and ideal in disarming." Iestyn smiles past the staff at Brynhrist and while the upper end of the wooden shaft jerks away with the scourge's tangling whips around it the lower end comes up and in towards the riding slit in the other woman's skirt.

The bout goes on for a couple of minutes more, both sisters taking spills and bruises wherever the other can find exposed flesh, each receiving their share of cheers and laughter, but neither willing to give in, despite the heat of the day. In the end, the match ends abruptly, with Celeste on her back and her foe face down nearby, having been felled by a snaking foot even as Celeste herself was caught off balance and brought to the earth, both gasping for air, and lacking the energy to stand and continue for the moment. With a laugh, a fiery young woman cries out, "Get off, you lazy girls! Let some real women show you how to do it right!" With a groan, the two winded fighters crawl through gaps in the circle to take a rest and congradulate each other.

Brynhrist's hand is firm on her Shadowscourge's grip, two fingers slipped through the small loop at its butt-end. Still, the arm holding the whip thus is locked in the struggle to hold against the Light Maiden's pull. "Add to its benefits the range," adds loud enough for the novices and disciples to hear, "and you will know why it is a weapon not to be underestimated." As the free end of Iestyn's staff comes up, Brynhrist's armoured arm goes in between, to stop the weapon with the vambrace.

As quickly as Brynhrist readies for the pull above and the strike below they are reversed. White hair swirling the Light Maiden steps forward with her whole body behind the force of her suddenly reversed quarterstaff with the still-entangled top end driving quick and sure towards the Hand's face. Iestyn is still smiling as she adds, "and the oft-overlooked unpredictability that comes with two ends is a bonus further." Jaws drop amongst some of the students, while others grin.

Still panting from exertion, Celeste manages to walk to some water barrels near the barracks and ladels out a mouthful of fresh water. As she enjoys her break, her idle eyes settle upon the battle between her superiors. As with most of the more youthful onlookers, a chance to see her commanders beat each other up is too good to pass up.

Brynhrist only shows her teeth in a half-grim, half-grinning expression. Here it pays off now that the staff is so entangled in the manifold strings of the scourge; though not able to hold the staff's momentum, it suffices to give the Hand leeway enough to remove herself from harm's way; and after the duck-and-step, she lets go of her weapon, letting it be tossed away. "Indeed so," she says aloud. "But the staff is not the end-all, and while unsurpassed as a weapon in the defensive, must yield eventually to others. Here, too, you need to not place your trust in one skill, and one skill alone: the Shadow has many faces, and knows as many weapons."

Iestyn Nillu's chuckle comes low and accompanied by a shake of the head. "With practice, Sister, any weapon is unsurpassed by anything save the mind that wields." She lowers the staff to flick the scourge up in an arc towards Brynhrist. "That is why the Ray, and why too the two orders. Soranil, resume." She reaches for Brynhrist's arm, then, and begins to walk towards the privacy of the barracks.

With a small sigh of disappointment that both escaped without even a small bruise, she finishes off her drink and scurries back to her comrades to supply her own volley of oft' ignored advice and jeers.

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