"There, t'is done." Lydia gave me an almost coldly appraising looking as she pulled her equipment away. The stinging had left me in a fairly irritable mood. I hadn't properly rested or eaten I came out of the 'knight's test' and the thought that Iolo was still stuck within the brig kept nagging at me uncomfortably.

Picking up the hand mirror, I gave my face a once over, eyes finally resting on the spot that Lydia had applied the four-point diamond tattoo. I gave an irritable hmph before nodding my appreciation to Lydia for her time. She shrugged before turning away to other things. Standing from the chair, I made my way to the front door and pushed past it, shutting it behind me and taking a deep breath. Shamino and Dupre stood waiting outside and immediately seemed edgy as they noticed my ill-temper.

"Thou art beautiful, Arhena." Shamino spoke up first, removing his leather cap and bowing. Dupre snickered to my left side.

"As thou art not." Shamino gave an idle glare, though his eyes spoke of a hidden amusement.

"Thou art dung, Dupre." He said calmly, replacing the cap over his head.

"Let us press on, Avatar." Dupre spoke, looking toward me and ignoring Shamino.

"Yes. Thou dost not want her to show precisely how ugly thou art." The ranger grinned cheekily.

"Thou impudent snot!" Dupre feigned a look of offense and it then occured to me that they were putting on a show in an attempt to lift my spirits a bit. Allowing a small grin and a shake of my head, I walked down the street, pulling the new wolf-pelt cloak tighter around my shoulders. Dupre and Shamino had been given other cloaks out of courtesy and just as well, for as we walked down the street toward the banquet hall, little flurries of snow began descending on our heads. Standing at the door of the banquet hall now, I took a deep breath in preparation before laying my hand on the doorhandle.

"We shall wait for thee, Avatar." I frowned a bit and turned my head to look at Dupre.

"What?" He smiled.

"This is banquet is for thee, thou passed the Knight's Test and we didst not." Sighing once, I rifled through a pouch at my belt and pulled out a handful of monetary. Handing them to Dupre, I spoke.

"Find something to eat and see about taking a bit of food or drink to Iolo as well. I'll find you when this foolishness is over with." Dupre and Shamino nodded and started off back up the street. I watched as they grew a bit distant before turning back to the double doors of the hall and pushing them both out of the way in as grand a show as I could. My face was the epitome of impassiveness as heads turned to get a glance of me, the Stranger.

Nearly everyone I had met so far was seated at the long table, watching me as I stepped forward. Marsten was seated in the centermost spot, standing and giving a bow. I returned the bow and sat at the chair he had gestured for me to sit at. Other knights were speaking amongst themselves about different things, whether querying about absent friends or commenting on the inadequacies of the cutlery. As I sat, Lord Marsten cleared his throat and spoke.

"Congradulations to Arhena, for completeing the Knight's Test. Thus, thou hast proven thyself worthy of joining an elite band of warriors. In honor of thy success, all the commands of Monitor have sent their representatives to thy Knighthood Banquet."

Marsten gave a sweeping gesture with one hand from his right, to his left, at those knights that were present before nodding to Caladin. "The Bears..."

Caladin stood with a broad grin, raising a glass.

"On behalf of the Bears -- which, by the way, are the mightiest warriors of the land -- I welcome and congradulate thee." Giving me a well-mannered smile, he took a deep drink from his glass and was seated, grinning a bit wider at the hollars of agreement he recieved from his fellow Bears.

Marsten nodded to the opposite side of the table, where sat Brendann

"As the leader of the Wolves -- who, unlike the Bears, preferr to use their wits, rather than brute strength -- I too, welcome thee to the rank of Knight." After the cheers from the Wolves' side of the table died down, smirked widely at me in perhaps what he hoped was a seductive way.

"And might I say, you are the most beautiful knight in this city. Since thou art under my command, I expect to come to know thee better in the days to come..." He winked and took a drink from his own glass.

Finally Lord Marsten stood as well.

"And I am here both as the Lord of Monitor and as the leader of the Leopards to give my welcome to you, Knight Arhena. Lucilla hath prepared this banquet, the main dish being made from the meat of the wolf thou didst slay in the Knight's Test. And now, let us eat and extend our fellowship to our new knight."

Marsten was seated again and the talk continued amongst the knights as Lucilla began presenting the different dishes and placing them upon the table for the knights to help themselves to. Without much care or show of true manners, I immediately helped myself to whatever was in reach before digging into the food, relishing every bite just long enough to appreciate Lucilla's cooking talent before swallowing it down. So busy was I in sating my hunger that I almost didn't hear Flicken address me.

"What trials didst thou face in the Knight's Test? Didst thou have an harrowing experiences?"

Nearly choking in my attempt to swallow quickly and respond, I spoke up after clearing my throat.

"I'd have to confess at having some difficulty in facing the two different cyclops I encountered." I spoke almost jokingly. The food was doing wonders to improve my mood and the trials of the test seemed almost a joke now, rather than infuriatingly difficult dangers. Even as I spoke jovially, Flicken looked surprised.

"Cyclops?" Flicken looked to Marsten.

"Didst thou hear what she didst say? There are magical creatures in the Knight's Test now?"

The lord of Monitor frowned heavily, looking at me without really looking at me.

"We shall have to speak to Shmed about this. The Knight's Test is a test of fighting ability only, no magical creatures or magic of any kind allowed."

Flicken looked back at me with a small grin. "Well, see how cheerfully she doth speak. Arhena, we are all knights here, there is no need for thou to make up tales to impress us." I shrugged a bit, swallowing another mouthful of food as he asked me again.

"But tell us of something else thou didst encounter?" Going for a bit more of a serious look, I thought for a moment.

"The gremlins were particularly nasty." I said, nodding to myself. Flicken again looked shocked.

"Gremlins? But there are no gremlins in the Knight's Test! Again, thou needest not exaggerate, Knight Arhena."

Luther gave a barking laugh from where he sat, narrowed little eyes looking me over.

"Didst thou fight a dragon as well? Thou canst see she is full of jests!"

Flicken frowned a bit at Luther and waved a hand dismissively.

"Do not be so light hearted, Luther. Our friend appears to have undergone a very large trial. But tell us more of what you found, Arhena."

I was getting a little frustrated now. Would they think everything I encountered was false?

"I would almost rather not speak for fear of your disbelief, good knight." I said with a small smirk. Flicken gave a good-natured smile.

"Please, speak on. If thou sayest thou speaks the truth, then I shall believe thee."

"The invisible man was ... an interesting touch." I said, almost casually as I shoved a forkful of wolf-meat into my open mouth. Again, no suprises here, Flicken looked shocked.

"Surely thou art mistaken!"

Another from the Wolf Command spoke up, eyebrows furrowed. "Perhaps in the darkness of the halls, thou didst become disoriented and imagine such an enemy?" His voice suggested a quiet sincerity, rather than a mocking tone and so I shook my head patiently at him. Flicken rapped the handle of his cutting knife on the table to get everyone's attention.

"Knights! Have thou not been listening? Our newest knight hath had a terrible experience!"

Spektor gave me a cold, calculating look before speaking up.

"I am sure there is an explanation for everything. We shall speak to Shmed about it." Flicken shook his head and looked genuinely concerned.

"This time I think thou art wrong, Spektor. Was there anything else thou didst experience?"

I was getting tired of the questions and the worries and the heavy sense of betrayal that was nearly thick enough to be easily cut with my knife.

"The explosions." I said quite simply.

"But those are easy to avoid! There must be something wrong." Said Flicken.

"Perhaps thou didst not hurry thyself fast enough. If thou dost lag, they will catch up with thee..." Said Caladin, shrugging.

Marsten spoke up in a commanding tone.

"I shall speak with Shmed tomorrow and we will have it sorted out. If half of what our new knight says is true, then our dungeon master hath been deliquent in his duties."

Marsten fell silent and returned to the muttering conversation he was holding with Spektor. Flicken turned to me again.

"I do apologize for what hath happened to thee in the knight's test, Arhena. T'is an outrage!"

Marsten nodded his agreement. "I believe thou hath been a victim of some evil scheme, Arhena. I shall speak with Shmed and we will find out."

Before Marsten had even finished speaking, the double doors of the banquet hall had burst open with a loud bang and Harnna stood in their doorway, looking harried and distraught.

"My daughter is missing! Cantra is missing, I cannot find her!" Her appearance was almost wild as she scanned the room, as though waiting to for Cantra to jump out from behind a chair and announce her presence. I set my cutlery down and turned my head to watch Harnna move from the doorway to stand near Marsten's chair.

"My lord, we must send out a patrol!" She pleaded. Immediately Brendann spoke, his voice laced with anger.

"The goblins have struck again! I am sorry, Harnna, but if the goblins have her, then there is no hope for her. There is not an ounce of mercy within them."

Harnna looked desperate. "But the goblins did not take her!"

Shaking his head, Brendann stood, looking at Harnna. "How canst thou know? Remember, the goblins killed thy husband just outside the city gates, without even leaving a body!"

Harnna looked ready to cleave his head off. Instead, she fell to her knees in broken weeping.

"My daughter..."

Cellia stood and moved to her side, wrapping her arms comfortingly around Harnna. "Poor dear, don't cry..."

As I watched in silence, I couldn't help but shudder at the strange feeling of dread that overcame me.