This story is rated T for violence, adult themes, and mild language.

1. Uninvited

Commandant Flynn Scifo was proud of his Guard. Their uniforms, resplendent in the hues of blue and white that he carried over from his own brigade, were bright and crisply folded in all the right places. They kept their weapons sharp and clean. Standing at attention, they hardly blinked as he slowly walked down the line and inspected them individually. The previous commandant, Alexei, was said to have selected the best of the best of the knights to serve in the Royal Guard. On the day of his official appointment, Flynn had sworn that his would be even better. They did not disappoint him.

After running them through some exercises, Flynn climbed several flights of stairs and walked through many long corridors until he reached his private chambers. As a knight, and later a captain, his room had hardly been cramped. Even several months later, though, the contrast of the Commandant's quarters still astounded him. Forget the spacious opulence of the bedroom—before he even entered that, there was a fair-sized sitting room, scattered with finely upholstered couches and chairs. A large, stone-faced fireplace served as a focal point, though the ashes were cold on this evening. Flynn examined himself in one of the gild-framed mirrors spaced around the room. He looked tired. For all his years in the Knights, rising early and pushing his body to the limits by working late into the night had never quite become second nature. Hiding his fatigue from other people had, however. Maybe he could steal a few extra moments of sleep before facing the next duty that demanded his immediate attention.

He deftly removed his gauntlets, setting them in the seat of a nearby armchair. Piece by piece, the rest of the components of his armor went into the pile. He stretched cramped muscles, rolling his shoulders before reaching down to unfasten the heavy boots. The privacy of his rooms allowed him the luxury of yawning unabashedly, and it felt fantastic. One of the downsides to being the leader and face of the Imperial Knights that no one told him about was the expectation to look professional and superhuman all of the time. That meant no yawning, no stretching, no scratching, no slouching. This went for all the knights, really, but for the commandant it expanded ten-fold. At least for the regular knights, they could sometimes relax around their comrades when their captain was away. Flynn was looked up to by them all.

By the time he prepared to enter his bedroom, Flynn wore only the cloth components of his uniform. Stepping through the door and over to his wardrobe, he loosened his sword belt and began to pull his tunic over his head. Somewhere behind him, he heard a cough.

Flynn whirled around, grasping the hilt of his sword and getting tangled in half-removed sleeves. He tugged at the sword ineffectually, then stopped when he recognized the man seated cross-legged on his bed.

"You should really be more vigilant, Commandant." Yuri raised his eyebrows, looking smug.

Flynn tugged his tunic back on, fighting the heat that threatened to rise in his cheeks. He must have looked completely ridiculous. The only consolation was the fact that it had been his childhood friend who had seen him, and not one of the men or women of the knights. Still, Yuri wasn't one to let things like this go. As if to prove this point, he spoke again, sounding amused.

"My plan was to see how long it would take you to notice me here," he said. "But I was starting to wonder just how much of a show I was about to get."

This time Flynn did blush, and was thankful that he was facing the wardrobe. He cleared his throat, forcing himself to regain his composure and feign nonchalance.

"Hilarious, Yuri. How the hell did you even get in here?" There were three knights standing guard by the front door of his rooms at all times, but none of them had mentioned any unexpected visitors. His friend was silent, and Flynn turned and followed his gaze to the window. Before Flynn's promotion, Yuri had often used a rather unconventional method of entrance, even after he had been pardoned for his crimes and thus been more than welcome to enter the castle the normal way. To expect Yuri Lowell to do anything like regular people, though, was to expect disappointment.

"Yuri," Flynn said, somewhat exasperated. "My rooms are an entire floor higher than they used to be. Have you been scaling the walls with your bare hands?"

"Not at all." Yuri scoffed. He held up a length of rope, and Flynn covered his eyes with one hand. The man was impossible.

"I'm glad you did not break your neck, but if you'll excuse me," Flynn said, gesturing to the bed. Yuri blinked up at him, not comprehending.

"Fine. You can stay there if you wish," he went on, yawning into his fist. He crossed to the other side of the bed and pulled the turquoise silk sheets up around his shoulders.

"Hey," said Yuri. "Hold on, don't you even want to know why I'm here?"


Flynn burrowed deeper into his pillow. After about a minute had passed, he cracked one eye open and saw Yuri staring down at him darkly. He also saw the first glitters of mischief in his eyes, and grabbed for the edge of the sheet just as his friend started to tug it away from him.

"Don't you dare, Lowell," he muttered. "I have earned this. You should go see Estellise, though. I heard that she is visiting the capital this week."

"Nah," said Yuri, crossing his arms. "I'd rather bother you."

"Bother me in an hour, then. I'm exhausted."

Truthfully, Flynn was thrilled to see his closest and oldest friend, but he didn't know when his next opportunity to rest would be. Yuri seemed to consider this, examining the blond man with serious eyes.

"Huh. You really are, aren't you? Flynn, you look awful." It was a rather backhanded way of apologizing, but coming from the former knight it still counted, somehow. Satisfied, Flynn closed his eyes. And that was when he heard the screams.

Yuri had already bounded to his feet and stood by the fireplace as Flynn strapped his armor and sword back on, grateful for the endless speed drills that he had endured during his training. Adrenaline and his sense of duty pushed the fatigue to the back of Flynn's mind as they sprinted down the hall toward the source of the commotion.

"Sounds like it's coming from the courtyard," said Yuri. Flynn nodded curtly and they raced down the stair that led to the ground level. Turning the corner, the two men skidded to a stop and surveyed the scene.

There had clearly been an attack of some kind. Two nobles, a pair of brothers that Flynn recognized but whose names escaped him, bore serious-looking wounds. The younger man clutched his stomach, blood dribbling between his fingers. The other's fancy doublet was slashed across the shoulder, the sleeve hanging from it and soaked through. Elsewhere, piles of black cloth marked three bodies—the would-be assassins, no doubt. In the center of the violent mess stood one of Flynn's knights. A reliable officer of the brigade's Sword Bearers division, though the commandant hadn't had a lot of personal dealings with him. What was his name? Ah.

"Tor Altiren," he said, stepping out of the shade of the columns.

"Commandant," the man said, saluting. He was wearing his helm, but had the visor raised, and locks of reddish hair were sticking to the sheen of sweat that coated his forehead. As Flynn approached, he nodded to indicate that the young knight could be at his ease. He did so, his arm returning to his side and stance relaxing. From the other side of the courtyard, some members of the castle's infirmary rushed to the wounded nobles' side. They gave them gels, which contained powerful anesthetics and anti-microbials, in addition to compounds that accelerated the body's healing process. For such grievous wounds as these, though, they needed more extensive medical attention—the one with the stomach wound wouldn't even take his gel, having apparently gone into shock. The medics began to assemble litters so that the brothers could be moved.

"Sir, I tried to apprehend them." Tor gestured helplessly at the slumped figures, dark cloaks obscuring all but their faces. "They were, ah, pretty insistent on fighting to the death. I did manage to corner one, but…"

One of the assailants was propped against the low wall of the courtyard's fountain, but just as lifeless as the other two. There were differences, however, which Flynn noticed immediately as he bent down to examine her. The woman's face was ashen, her cheeks and lips bloated.

"Poison," Yuri said, crouching beside him. He reached over and pried the woman's mouth open, easily done as the body had not yet become stiff, then searched around with two fingers. If Flynn hadn't known him so well, he would be impressed and perhaps slightly frightened by his friend's air of detachment. After a moment, the dark-haired man nodded as if he had satisfied a suspicion and extracted his fingers.

"Yeah, there's a burst capsule behind her teeth." Yuri rose and wiped his hand on the leg of his pants. "Someone doesn't want these people talking."

Flynn turned toward the knight. "Were you here when this happened?"

He shook his head. "I was just down the corridor when I heard the shouts. They had already…I managed to prevent a second strike, sir. Going on the defensive and trying to disarm them wouldn't work. They came at me like—" He stopped as if he were unsure how to continue.

"Like what?" That was Yuri, impatient as always.

"Like people who didn't care if they died." Tor shrugged, seeming at a loss. "They also kept shouting things, like 'the system must fall' and 'death to our oppressors.' I don't have to tell you what that sounds like, sir." His mouth tightened, halfway between a smile and a grimace. The word extremists hung in the air between them, though this attack felt different from their usual style. Flynn was beginning to feel very tired again.

"Good work," he said, reaching out to clasp the other man's gauntleted hand. Their eyes met briefly, a look of concern and unanswerable questions passing between them, and then Flynn broke eye contact and issued some orders to the small crowd of knights and castle staff members that were hanging back on the edges of the courtyard. There were bodies to remove, bloodstains to wash away. Whoever had sent these people was probably going to strike again. Flynn could feel the mounting tension almost tangibly in the air, and knew that something must be done. It would have to begin with him, with a clear mind. He and Yuri did not speak as they walked back to his rooms, where Flynn mechanically removed the most restricting pieces of armor, and collapsed.

A/N: I hope that you have enjoyed the first chapter. If you have time, it'd be great if you could let me know what you thought of it. I plan to submit the next chapter next Thursday. See you then! (Also, you can visit my author profile for a little extra info and a note about pairings.)