“Here we are. First date. At a little corner restaurant that is obviously reserved for the exceedingly rich and privileged.” Arkenheart commented as she scanned the exceedingly pompous establishment. “It’s awfully… pompous, don’t you think?”
“I don’t think pompous is a word you can apply to a room.” said Theronidas. Looking around himself, he added, “What’s so posh about this place anyway?”
“You kidding me?” Arkenheart arched an eyebrow. “Deep blue silk curtains draped everywhere, damn near see-through, gold embroidered into everything, even the damn wallpaper? Massive glass chandeliers magically levitating above every table? Come on, there’s no way an average street punk would get in here.”
“Diamond chandeliers.” Theronidas mumbled. “Magically forged in the Sunwell before… well, you know.”
“See?! I bet if I ordered a steak sandwich, they’d execute me with an axe constructed of pure elitism, fired in long-lost forges powered by nothing else than raw ego.”
“Well, I didn’t pick it because I’m trying to play the ‘I’m horribly rich’ card. I just wanted somewhere out of the way, quiet, with a small staff of mages paid fortunes to maintain absolute sound barriers around every booth.” Theronidas looked pained. “Is… is here no good? We can go somewhere else if this place unsettles you.”
“Meh, don’t bother. It just irks me to see all…” she waved her arms about, “This! Look at this! There’s probably tens of thousands of people in this city barely able to keep themselves from starving to death, and here we are, about to order…”
Picking up the menu, she quickly scanned the listed items. “… Various types of meat and cheese sandwiches?”
Theronidas smiled. “Not all of us upper crust types dine on gold covered grapes and dragonhawk basted in the tears of the peasantry. Some of us just want a damn sandwich.”
“Try the ham and cheese. You can get it prepared any way you like. I recommend having it cooked over an open flame, delightful smoky flavour that way.”
Surprise flashed across her face, replaced with a brief look of suspicion, then she merely arched the other eyebrow at him. “Interesting.”
Theronidas sighed and leaned forward. “I’m sorry, I’ve never really dated anyone before. I just… well, with the crazy training they put you through last week, we never really got a chance to talk. I figured we needed a chance to catch up. No one else can hear what we say, we have absolute privacy in here.”
Arkenheart regarded him coldly. “Oh yes, I have at least a few questions for you.”
Theronidas raised a finger. “Hold that thought. Must order first. I’m hungry, and you must be as well, considering today was your first day of real training.”
“No, actually, I’m fine. No need for-” her stomach growled at her, audible enough for Theronidas to hear.
“It seems your body disagrees with that particular assessment.” Theronidas laughed.
Arkenheart glared at her stomach. “Traitor.” she mumbled under her breath.
Theronidas tapped a small, levitating silver bell in the center of the table. It made a strange hissing noise, and a waiter simply appeared at their table.
“Mmmyesss?” the waiter said.
“Yes, I’ll have my usual.” said Theronidas.
The waiter nodded. “Oh yes, absolutely, prepared to perfection as always. And for your lady friend here?”
“I’ll, uh, a turkey club sandwich maybe?”
“Ahh, yes, good pick, and what kind of bread would you like?”
“Uh, er, sourdough?”
“An excellent choice! Two and club?”
“And how would the lovely lady like her bread prepared?”
The waiter threw his head back and laughed. “Such wit and charm! Master Theron, truly you have chosen well in this fine specimen of the female form. I shall toast it for you then, lightly and succinctly. Standard ingredients all around then?”
“I… yes, of course.”
“Any preferences for how the animal was killed?”
“… I… what?”
The waiter pursed his lips. “We serve some rather… eclectic clientele here, my lady. Some refuse to eat any meat that was not killed by decapitation, for instance.”
“No… I… just the sandwich! Nothing special, please.”
“My lady, I am afraid everything we do here is special. Things such as ‘normal’ and ‘mediocre’, we do not tolerate these terms within these walls. Why, just try showing up here in standard clothing! We’d force you to strip and burn your horrid possessions!”
Arkenheart shifted uncomfortably, acutely aware of her brown slacks and brown vest covering a flimsy off-white shirt. “I… didn’t know you had a dress code here.”
“Despair not my lady! We at Chan’darale Che’ta’loa’tu’a’tet’han’u’peratriaioeais are supportive of all fashion trends.” winking at her, the waiter added, “And I must say, your ironic post-modern take on the common peasant is a work of art! Magnificent! I shall return shortly with your delightful luncheons!”
And with that, the waiter left.
“Okay… that…” Arkenheart stared incredulously at Theronidas. “I have no words for that. None whatsoever. That was completely insane. I took some drugs and this whole thing is an extremely weird trip into the land of fucking psychotic people with goatees. What the fel did he call this place? Shandraylee Chetalooabluahagublah?”
Theronidas tried to hide his smile. “I… uh, forgot how weird the people were here. I forget, sometimes, what these upper crust types are like.”
“Aren’t you crusted right alongside them?” The arched eyebrows returned.
“Technically, yes.” Theronidas shifted uncomfortably. “Keep to myself though. I try not to… participate, so to speak.”
“What, no balls, no fancy parties where everyone wears feathered masks?”
Theronidas shook his head. “I do my best not to engage socially in… well, pretty much everything. I don’t even have any friends, you know.”
“Wow. That’s… actually pretty damn sad. None? None at all?”
“Honestly, you and your sister were the only friends I’ve ever had. Everyone in the city is borderline insane.”
‘That’s… huh. Is that why you wanted to date me? No one else you can stand? I can see it now. Finally a normal girl comes along and socks you in the face, and finally you can have a social life!”
“No… well… not entirely.” Theronidas’ voice grew quiet. “I… you… I only ever… I… I never… had the courage to say so before. And then we moved and it was… too late.”
“Crap on a stick I was just teasing you.”
“No, it’s… I need to say this. Just… let me. I’ve been bottling this up for over a decade now.” Theronidas took a deep breath and locked his eyes onto hers.
“Arkenheart Dawnseeker, I… you… I… damn. That… is a lot harder to say than I thought.”
Arkenheart sat, stunned. “That’s a damn heavy thing to try and say on our first date.”
Theronidas put his face in his hands. “I’ve been holding this for a decade, and with you right here I can’t even say it. Sadness.”
“Hormones are a bitch. Let’s leave it at that and, uh, come back to it later. Maybe. Or something. Um.”
“Yeah. Good plan. We’ll just… yeah.”
Nearly half a minute went by in awkward silence.
“So!” Arkenheart coughed. “Uhm, something something, self determination for the south Moldavian peoples?”
“Uhh…” Theronidas stared blankly at her.
“Fuck if I know, just trying to make conversation.”
“Right, uhm, well… yeah.”
More awkward silence ensued.
“Okay, yeah, I know.” Arkenheart stabbed a finger at him. “You owe me an explanation over Triss!”
“Alright. What about her?”
“Wh-… What about her!? She straight up attacked me! And then you know her somehow? You best get explaining and it better be a damn good explanation.”
“Yes, well, first off. Um. I shouldn’t even really be telling you this. You see, dorm assignments are not given out randomly. They specifically pair up people who are going to… come into conflict. It’s part of the training. The whole reason you’re all kept like rats packed into a single cage the first week is so they can psychoanalyze you.”
“That… sounds… completely fucking insane. What the fel kind of practice is that?!”
Theronidas shrugged. “The world of the Blood Knight is not exactly comforting. The sooner you learn to resolve differences, dominate someone else or fall into line, the better.”
“That explains nothing! I didn’t sign up for psychoanalysis!”
“I’m not defending it, Arkenheart, I’m just saying that’s the reasoning behind it. Blood Knights are our first and last line of defense, and as trite as that sounds, it’s true. If you can’t learn to adapt or conquer a jerk… well, what hope do you have?”
“Fine. Whatever. So why did she go out of her way to be a total bitch to me?”
“She has… issues.” Theronidas shrugged helplessly. “She doesn’t come from any sort of family, was born into nothing at all. Everything she has, she had to fight tooth and nail for it. She… holds a very serious grudge against us ruling elite types, or at least what she perceives to be elites.”
“Okay, understandable, so do I.” she said. “But, still, she straight up attacked me!”
Now it was Theronidas’ turn to arch an eyebrow. “Sure she did. You didn’t antagonize her at all, did you.”
“Just a little!”
“Thought so. Triss isn’t exactly… stable, when it comes to violence. She doesn’t really know how to react to anything other than through inflicting violence. Not really surprised she attacked you.”
“Hold up, this is my interrogative, you can’t just flip it on-”
“Whatever. How do you know Triss? She seemed way more upset after you showed up.”
“Yeah bullshit. Did you fuck her?”
“Hwah… I… what! I am not answering that!”
“So yes then. Great. I’m sharing a dorm with your snubbed ex. Abso-fucking-lutely perfect.”
Theronidas looked at his hands. “I… may… be part of the reason she’s… so very testy.”
“Noooo, really? I’d never’ve guessed.”
“We… didn’t exactly part on good terms. She took my leaving the wrong way… and… I guess associated that with her already pre-existing hate of nobility and everything related to it. It… got a lot worse when she… when I told her I was leaving to join the blood knights.”
“I’m still listening.”
“I think… the blood knights represent everything she thinks is wrong with our society. A highly elite, privileged group with near absolute power over everyone else. She sees… saw it that way. She didn’t believe all the good stuff I said. About trying to help people, trying to make a real difference.”
“Yeah, saw it that way. She’s clearly turned around on that little issue. Why?”
“I honestly don’t know. I haven’t spoken to her in years, Arkenheart. Never even saw her until yesterday after I left.”
“SANDWICHES!” the waiter returned, bearing delightful tasty things.
“So… are we… over?” Theronidas asked.
“Like fel.” Arkenheart scoffed. “This is all… a little bit completely fucked up in damn near every way imaginable. But I haven’t had any friends either for quite some time and… I’m not going to throw away my oldest friend due to his past. We all have secrets we want to keep, yeah?”
Theronidas smiled, relieved. “We do indeed. So. How’s your sister doing these days?”
“My these sandwiches are delightful aren’t they!”
“Hint taken. Please stop kicking me.”
“Triss Brightsword. Enter.”
Triss stepped into the small, darkened room. A single candle, weakly sputtering, barely illuminated a muscled figure, sitting cross legged on the ground opposite the candle.
“What would you have of me, my liege?”
Verdan smiled in the near darkness. “Lord Solanar Bloodwrath has a job for you.”