My Little Warhammer 40,000: Penitence

Chapter 4: A Tale Behind a Tail

Miles away, where the province of Ponyville bordered the Everfree Forest, Fluttershy was snuggled deep under the covers in peaceful slumber. Recent events had left her exhausted. After helping to defeat Discord and attending the victory celebration at Canterlot Castle, all she had wanted to do was go home, check on her animals, and rest. The pale gold-colored pegasus made no sound as she slept, her pinkish hair somehow able to maintain its flowing shape. How she managed to do that, Angel would probably never know.

The small white rabbit was seated comfortably (well, as comfortably as was physically possible for his perfectionist standards) in a wooden chair in the upstairs portion of Fluttershy's cottage. While she had gone to bed a while ago, he had stayed up reading Buns of the South by candlelight. As he beheld his caretaker/cook/hopelessly submissive doormat, Angel's ears detected a strange noise originating from outside. He would have called it crying if it wasn't for the deep, snarling undertones.

Putting aside his book, the bunny looked out the window and was surprised to see a manticore approaching from the forest. His initial moment of panic passed as he saw that the beast moved along slowly, favoring one of its forelimbs. It was making a beeline straight for the cottage. Briefly Angel considered just pretending that no one was home and letting the carnivore go bother someone else, but he knew that the creature might stick around and make more noise. What was worse, soon even the other animals with less keen ears would hear it and turn the evening quiet into an uproar. It seemed that if he wanted some peace and quiet, he would have to wake up his in-house case of unassertiveness to do something about it.

Hopping over to the bed, Angel poked Fluttershy in the shoulder. When that failed to get a reaction, he poked her again, slightly harder this time. After giving her a generous two seconds, he seized one of her pillows and gave her a fierce whack upside the head with it. She frantically rose up, squeaking in fright. Once she was fully awake and aware of the fact that nothing was trying to hurt her, the pegasus turned her attention to Angel. He stood to the side of the bed now, his arms crossed and tapping his foot impatiently.

"What is it, Angel," Fluttershy asked in her quiet, soft voice. "Do you have a tummy ache?" Silently he pointed at the window, indicating that she should look. She removed herself from the covers and walked over to peer outside. Her reaction was instantaneous.

"Oh my goodness!" Using her wings to speed her, she raced down the stairs and through the front door. The manticore looked at her as she came forward and hugged him gently. "Oh, you're hurt, aren't you?" Her visitor whimpered and nodded, raising his leg for her inspection. It was swollen and purple. Fluttershy gasped, "You're really, really hurt!" She lifted off the ground and patted the side of his head. "Don't you worry, because I'm going to take good care of you."

She rushed back inside, gathering up bandages, several splints (due to her patient's larger-than-average size), and pain-relieving rubs. All the while Angel watched her, his expression one of severe disapproval. "I know he's a manticore, Angel, but he still needs my help," she explained as she scrounged for supplies. "That poor thing probably has no place else to go to and I would feel just awful if he got sick."

Having gathered the necessary items, she brought them outside and ordered the manticore to lie down. He did so gingerly, wincing as his broken limb brushed the ground. "Now keep it straight and still," the pegasus instructed. While Fluttershy was… well, shy around ponies and didn't like to give orders, she was very confident around animals and allowed nothing to interfere with her self-appointed duty of caring for the creatures who made their home near and in the Everfree Forest. That being said, however, she couldn't help but wonder what a deep forest predator was doing coming to her for help. How did he even know about her?

As painlessly as she could, the pegasus arranged the arm so that the bone was angled straight. Her patient mewled pathetically as she worked. "You're being very brave, big guy. Just keep still and I promise I'll be done soon." Holding the limb up with one hoof, she applied her ointments to the injury. Next she wrapped the leg up in bandages, and finally added a splint to the bottom, which she fastened with more of the bandages.

Fluttershy examined her work until she was sure that nothing would slip and that the bone was perfectly straight. Satisfied, she looked up and stated, "There, that's much better. Now, I want you to stay off that leg for a while, okay? Oh, and make sure you get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids." With a purr most unbecoming from such a fierce beast, the manticore leaned forward and gave her a good lick. She giggled, then stopped as she realized, "Wait, I know you, don't I? You're the manticore who came across me and my friends when we were going to stop Nightmare Moon, aren't you?"

The forest-dweller nodded eagerly, holding her close with his undamaged limb and treating her to another lick. A benevolent smile formed on her snout. "Well, it's nice to see you again. But… what happened to you?" She was lowered to the ground as the manticore stepped back and made a series of growls at her.

"A monster? In the forest," she interpreted. He nodded an affirmative. Fluttershy's expression turned to one of fearful concern. "How tall was it?" The manticore raised his paw and held it level above his head, indicating half again his height. "And… and how big?" He carefully stretched out both arms, stopping at half again his width. Fluttershy was growing more worried by the second. "Did… Did it have big, sharp teeth?" Her patient opened his mouth, baring his own fangs, and held his hands squared off to the side, highlighting nearly his entire body length.

"Oh… my." Gazing at the tree line, she didn't feel safe at all at the thought of being there at night with such a creature running around. I had better tell Twilight about this. Maybe she'll know something about what could beat up a manticore. The forest seemed to crawl closer at the thought. Tomorrow, that is.

Turning her attention back to the predator, Fluttershy said, "I think you should stay here tonight. I'm sorry that you can't fit into my house, but I'll get you some blankets so you can keep warm." Thank goodness the rain stopped earlier, she thought as she went back inside to fetch the blankets. It would have been just awful for him if it was still raining. Armed with tools of warmth, the pegasus flew out and began enveloping her guest in an overlapping blanket arrangement, working with the speed and efficiency that only an experienced caregiver could accomplish.

Once her work was completed, she was rewarded with a look of peaceful bliss and gratitude. "Well, if you're going to stay here, I'll just have to give you a name." She thought about it for a moment, idly twirling a hoof through her mane. "How about Monty?" A short bark of approval was given in reply. Still aloft, she patted her charge on the head and said, "Pleased to see again, Monty. I'll be upstairs if you need anything. I will see you in the morning."

Despite his injury, this was the most comfortable the manticore had ever been. He had known that this winged pony would help him, as she had so long ago when he had had a massive thorn stuck in his paw. "Monty" laid his head down to get some sleep, trying to forget glaring red eyes, a booming, unnatural voice, and a massive metal fang.

True to her word, Zecora was up early the next morning. Mykel declined joining her in partaking in a breakfast of dandelion-and-cinnamon porridge, but accepted a piece of honeycomb with curiosity. It was sweeter and more wholesome than anything he could remember eating, but he reminded himself not to grow too attached to the substance. After packing a lunch and garbing herself in her brown traveling cloak, Zecora led the two of them off into the forest.

At first they moved in relative silence, the clacking of Zecora's hooves a counterpoint to the tramp of Mykel's metal boots. Above and around them the forest spread, blocking out much of the sunlight and darkening the space below the branches. Somewhat unnerved by his silence, the zebra took this time as an opportunity to study her companion. His movements were far from graceful, she noticed, as he plodded one foot in front of the other. What was lacking in smoothness and poise, however, was made up for in the sheer power she sensed every time his foot met the earth. Each stride ate up distance and she was forced into a light trot in order to keep him from accidentally running her over.

Finally she could no longer hold back her curiosity.

"Tell me, friend, where are you from?

Describe for me from where you come."

At first he said nothing and the little zebra was worried that the entire journey would be conducted in silence. After a few moments, he spoke with reluctance, as if weighing his words carefully. "I come from the world of Caliban, the home of the First Legion, the Dark Angels. It is… was a world of forests, ancient and all-encompassing. Much like this one, to be honest," he added, gazing around at the surrounding trees. "But this place is considerably less hostile."

Zecora's earrings jingled as she curiously tilted her head.

"Less friendly, you say? How is that so?

Of a place like that, I do not know."

"The forests were home to all manner of beasts. They came in all shapes and sizes. Teeth like swords, spikes that launched like arrows, beaks strong enough to crush armor, spittle that made flesh melt like candle wax… All of these I have seen or heard of amongst their kind. No two were ever exactly the same, but they all had one thing in common: they had an unnatural penchant for cruelty and would slay anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.

"That is why the Order was founded. We were a group of fighters from every walk of life, dedicating ourselves to protecting the people and slaying the foul beasts. In one last, mighty crusade, we purged our world of the dreadful vermin." Here he paused.

"All but one of them, that is."

Zecora eyed the enormous weapon on his back.

"That explains your mighty sword.

You had to fight a beastly horde.

I have never seen a blade so large.

How did it come into your charge?"

"Well…" he began. It will not hurt to tell her, I suppose. And it would only be fair that I share my memories as I have seen hers. "I suppose that is a fair question. To be honest, even the swords my brothers use aren't usually this large. It all started long ago, before I became an Angel…"

They were on patrol through a section of the forest where there had been sightings of a giant serpentine beast.

Mykel was only thirteen years old, but he was already a veteran of combat with the tainted creatures that called the darker portions of the forest home. His family, after a history of suffering more than a normal amount of predation, had dedicated themselves to becoming professional beast hunters. Villages would hire him, his father, and his four brothers to dispatch any beasts that reared their ugly heads. More than once he and his brothers had asked to join the knighthood of the Order and wage their campaign of retribution that way, but Father had insisted on all of them sticking together. He argued that, "Only when your brothers are counting on you will you fight at your best."

Over the years, this business took its toll. Two of his brothers were dead, buried beneath a rocky cairn to prevent scavengers from digging them up. His father had been crippled by a particularly savage mauling, forcing him to retire and rely on his remaining sons. Mykel's surviving brothers, sensing the change in their family's fortunes, hired themselves out as guards to protect traders and caravans from bandits and the beasts. Mykel was not ready to give up the battle yet, however, and one cold night he told his father that he was going to join the Order.

A mixture of frustration, sadness, and pride met his statement. They both knew they would probably never see each other again. As a parting gift, the boy was allowed to take his father's two-handed sword, the family's ancestral heirloom. "Many beasts have choked and bled on its length," his father had bragged with pride. After a close embrace, Mykel had set off, never to return.

Now a knight of the Order, he rode upon a black horse, scanning the forest around him for movement. Mykel sat straight in his saddle, brimming with the confidence and self-assured arrogance that can only come from youth. The knighthood had seen fit to equip him with a suit of black armor, powered by technologies from a forgotten age. His father's blade, however, still hung on his back. Some of the other young knights wondered why he did not arm himself with a chainblade. He had had to explain to them that the sword felt as comfortable to him as his own skin, as responsive to his thoughts as his right hand. If he was ever caught by surprise, he assured them, this blade would be the one to save him.

Around him other armored members of the patrol rode on their own steeds, vigilant for any sign of their quarry. Since the defeat of the Knights of Lupus, who had captured and tried to breed almost all the surviving beasts, reports of any kind of attack or sighting had become almost nonexistent. Many of the Order were spread out throughout the forest, seeking to eliminate the last of the Great Beasts.

Soon. Soon all of Caliban will be free, he thought to himself. No longer will mothers fear for their slumbering babes, or fathers for their beloved sons… His internal monologue was halted when Kenath held up a hand to halt the group. Dismounting from his horse, the young warrior knelt by a particular patch of ground that was covered by pine needles. Although Kenath was not the finest fighter in their band, his skills as a tracker were unmatched. Carefully he brushed aside some of the needles, exposing a long footprint. A track through the dirt ran alongside it.

"The beast was here," he reported. "You can see where its belly dragged alongside its foot." Kenath's gaze went upward as he studied the branches of a tree close by. "Look at that branch right there. See how some of the needles are missing?" Mykel and the others studied the plant. Some of the branches were indeed stripped of their foliage.

"It seems that the monster hit these branches to dislodge their greenery and used it to try and cover its tracks." The young knight looked up at the others. "This is a clever one, brothers. We should be careful, least we find ourselves the hunted. "

Mykel nodded in solemn agreement. As Kenath remounted, Mykel took a moment to consider their next move. "Brother Kenath, which way was the beast heading?" Kenath pointed west in reply, towards the base of a low, rocky mountain. As the group's most experienced beast hunter, Mykel had been given command of this mission. He had accepted reluctantly, aware that the lives of five other knights were his responsibility. It would have been easier to let someone else take the reins and simply serve as a sword arm, but his superiors had been firm. They claimed that this task would "cool the fire" in his blood.

Despite Kenath's warning, Mykel had confidence in his own skills and in the cohesiveness of his patrol group. Every one of them had faced a beast at some point or another and was eager to add the glory of another kill to his list of deeds.

"We will track it to its lair. The sooner that this evil is put to rest, the better." The rest of the patrol nodded their agreement, turning their mounts to head west.

An hour later, the band found itself approaching the rugged mountain face. Here the trees were scarce and withered, their roots clutching the soil like the fingers of a dying man. All the atmospheric noise they were used to died as they approached. Not even a puff of wind disturbed the quiet. Every one of them felt a great unease as they finally halted their mounts. The knights stood at the base of a rocky scree that had been formed from boulders and cobblestone that had fallen down the mountainside. Its jagged slope led up to a cave that sank into the mountain like a wound, its entrance ringed by stalactites formed over millennia by the action of water on limestone.

"Dismount," Mykel ordered. As one the hunters lowered themselves and crept carefully forward. They all crouched there for a moment, tensely watching and listening. Other than the cawing of a far distant bird, no sign of their quarry met their senses.

"Move up. Keep it quiet." Slowly they climbed the pile of rocks as they advanced toward the cave. Mykel swore under his breath as one of his squad, Gwain, misstepped and sent a rock clacking down. The glares of Kenath and the others were apparent even with their helmets on. For a moment they waited, scarcely daring to breathe. When a minute had passed, and none of them had been torn to pieces, they continued and reached the cave mouth at last.

"Something just occurred to me," whispered Kenath.

Mykel turned to him and quietly replied, "What?"

"It is possible that the beast slumbers now. If we go in slowly and take our time, we might be able to catch it napping."

The slumping of shoulders all around showed the mixed feelings that met this news. While it would be an easy kill with little risk, there would be no real glory gained from the beast's demise.

"Then let me go in first," Mykel suggested. "I'll scout it out and see if it is home. Even if it isn't, we can still set a trap for it."

"Are you sure you don't want me to do it," asked Kenath. "I can move quieter than any of you."

"Sorry, Kenath. I'm the one in charge, so I take the risk. You just wait here and be ready for whatever happens."

"If I hear screaming, we'll come running," Kenath promised.

"Oh, we'll be running, all right," Gwain piped in. "Straight in the opposite direction."

Mykel could not help but chuckle at their grim humor. Casting his gaze back to the dark hole, he steeled himself and crept forward. The cave floor under his feet sloped upwards gently, its surface crisscrossed by grooves carved into the rock by erosion. Fifty feet up, the passage curved right. Mykel continued onward and his squad was lost from sight.

As he ascended, the sunlight behind him seemed to fade, as if he were underwater. When he rounded a corner that led to the left, it grew darker still. Every twist in the passageway saw the darkness deepen around him. Mykel was debating with himself about whether or not to light a torch when his eyes began to register a pale glow emanating from deeper in the cave. He pressed on slowly and cautiously, reminded all too well of an account that one of the elder knights had told him of a monster that had used its own bioluminescence to attract unwary villagers.

The glow became brighter with each step, with new colors becoming apparent as he got closer. He finally reached a point where the cave expanded upwards and outwards, revealing a circular chamber with a floor that was dotted with bubbling, boiling hot springs. Algae within each spring gave off different colors, varying from red to green to yellow and many others. Mykel noticed, however, that the predominant color that was given off was a soft blue.

He nearly took a step into the room before stopping himself. It would have been an embarrassing death if he had simply wandered in there and the monster had dropped on him from the ceiling. Mykel crouched down and crept forward, his helmed head scanning the walls and ceiling.

What he saw there was even more amazing than the algae and the springs. Strange growths poked out from the wall: fronds, shrubs, polyps, and other, stranger shapes. All of them glowed with a brightness that put the algae to shame. Heart's blood red, golden yellow, rich lavender and the green of new spring growth were all present, all serving as undertones for a neon blue that reminded Mykel of the edges of lightning bolts.

On the other side of the chamber a large stone platform rose about four feet from the floor. Stalactites and stalagmites that had fused together to form natural pillars prevented him from seeing if it was occupied. The knight stepped lightly onto one of the paths that ran between the various springs. He made use of the cover the limestone columns offered him as he advanced, until at last he found himself at the weathered edge of the platform. Mykel pressed himself against its lip and peered over it. There was no sign of the beast.

With some minor difficulty due to his armor Mykel was able to clamber up onto the platform. His eyes widened behind his helm's mask as he saw that which he could not have seen from the floor.

Bones. Bones were scattered all over platform. A quick glance over assured him, however, that none of them had belonged to humans. At least, as far as he could tell. Curious, he dropped to one knee and examined a skull. It was about two feet wide and three feet long, and filled with needle-like teeth. The weathered, brown surface showed that these bones had been there for quite a while.

"There used to be so many of us," a susurrant voice explained.

Mykel whirled as he heard the voice behind him, jumping backwards and grasping the hilt of his sword. Rising over the edge was a long, light pale blue body topped by a flat, snaky head. Feathers crested the back of its head, its colors as varied as a rainbow. Short, skinny arms placed long fingers onto the stone. Its fingers were chubby and slimy like those of a frog or a newt, but they were topped by raptor's talons. Feathery wings seemed to sprout from its length at random, literally branching out from the trunk.

The rest of its body was hidden below the raised section of ground, but Mykel was willing to bet that the creature was at least a good fifteen feet in length and three feet in diameter. How could I have possibly not seen it, he wondered as his heart hammered. From their lofty perch an additional two feet above the knight, golden orbs regarded him sagely. The beast made no further move.

"You… you speak?" It was the only response that Mykel in his shocked state could think of. His mind raced as he tried to come to terms with the fact that he was not being attacked and was instead having a conversation with a beast.

"Yes. It is a gift. Most of my brothers were not blessed enough to have it," it indicated with a sweep of its arm. Its gesture took in the bones that Mykel was standing amongst. "All they knew was how to howl, to roar, to scream, to kill, to eat…" The serpent leaned forward, caressing the skull that Mykel was examining earlier. It gazed upon the relic sadly. "And how much good did it do you, my brother?"

Having regained some semblance of calm, Mykel demanded, "You have been terrorizing the village folk. Why?" His grip remained tight on his father's sword.

"To draw attention," it replied smoothly. As he listened, Mykel was put in mind of a snake's hissing mixed here and there with snippets of birdsong. "I knew that if I frightened some of the peasants, the villages would call for the knights. I was hoping that they would send me a worthy champion…" More of the creature's body appeared as it slithered closer to Mykel. It stopped well out of sword range. "And perhaps… maybe… you are the one that I need."

"Do you truly seek a challenge, beast?" Mykel was confused by its manner.

"No, not a challenge… a wielder."

As Mykel stood there, cocking his head in confusion, the beast turned to face the rest of the chamber. It shook its head mournfully, the movement accentuated by its long neck. "The Time of Beasts is nearly done. Man owns the forests now. Even as we speak, the last of my kind are being hunted down. Soon, we will be nothing but bones and memory, reviled in stories and used as fodder for heroes in tales."

Its neck swung around and the beast stared at him, its eyes filled with fierce conviction. "I do not wish for that to be my fate. I wish for my memory to live on as more than just a mindless animal. And that, Mykel, is why you are here."

The knight was struck dumb by that last statement as the beast slithered off the platform and amongst the pools. He soon regained his wits and jumped down, speeding after the creature.

"How do you know my name?"

"I know it because it was prophesied. Fate has brought you here, and we will both be better for it."

The feathered serpent made its way to one side of the cavern, Mykel following in its wake. His curiosity made him forget about the hunt. No tale he had ever heard had made mention of talking beasts or prophecies. Somehow Mykel knew that this was a moment that would affect his destiny, and possibly those of others as well.

It stopped before a small pool and Mykel, in his haste and preoccupied state, had to stop himself from bumping into the creature. This pool was different, as gas leaked up around the water ignited with the air, causing blue flames to surround the pool. In the center of the pool, a large, flat stone stuck out of the still water. The serpent gazed into its reflection before closing its eyes.

"Watch and see, young knight."

At first nothing happened, but then a low rumbling began. Mykel began to feel the stone under his feet shake. The vibrations grew until the whole cavern shook and the warrior found it difficult to keep himself from stumbling. During the whole interval, the beast neither moved nor opened its eyes.

Just when the tremors grew most violent, a mass of metal cracked through the surface of the stone in the center of the pool, dragging up blobs of magma with it. The volcanic material sloughed off of the metal, leaving a steaming dark grey length sticking out of the stone. Mykel could not believe his eyes.

"It's… a sword," he breathed reverently. While he was by no means short, standing five feet tall at thirteen years old, Mykel saw that the blade of the weapon alone was nearly as tall as he was.

"Aye. It is composed of iron from the very core of our world," the beast affirmed. "It is called the Heart of Caliban.But it is not yet complete. One thing remains…"

Mykel looked at it questioningly.

"And what is that?"

The serpent turned to regard him.

"I would ask a boon of you, in exchange for the sword."

He tensed, suddenly wary.

"Fear not, human. I wish you no harm. Quite the opposite, in fact," it assured him. "I only ask that you allow me to place my last fang inside of the sword."

"Why," asked Mykel, not understanding.

"I am old and tired, young one," answered the beast in a weary voice. "Living has become an exercise for me rather than a pleasure. My days are numbered, no matter how I count them. I shall either starve and waste away, or be the trophy of some aspiring knight's Beast Quest." A hissing sigh escaped its lips.

Upon closer inspection, Mykel saw that time had indeed taken its toll on the creature. Its scales had lost their sheen and many had fallen off without being replaced, leaving only bare pale white skin. The feathers on its head crest and wings were faded in color, and he could point out spots where some of them had fallen out. As if to emphasize its point, the serpent opened its mouth wide, revealing a curved fang the size of a short sword. The tooth's twin, however, had been snapped off near the base.

"Now do you understand? My time is coming soon, and I have made my choice. I want my existence to have counted for something. In exchange for bringing you and the sword together, all I ask is for a piece of me to be entombed within the sword itself. That way even after I am long dead, and my bones have turned to dust, my tooth will still bite into worthy foes."

The young man found himself strangely moved by the beast's plea. He was reminded of his father, a warrior past his prime and simply waiting for the end. Mykel solemnly removed his helmet, revealing a young and strong face topped by close-cropped hair. Forest green eyes met golden ones in that moment.

"I, Brother Mykel, knight of the Order, grant you this boon. Together we will seek out the most dangerous of prey and show that even in death a warrior may strike down his foes."

Closing its eyes and bowing its head in thanks, the serpent replied, "Then I shall now complete the sword." It raised its arms and opened its mouth, the one fang gleaming. Both hands grasped the fang and gave it a hard yank. Another yank off to the side and the tooth came free in a spurt of blood. Smacking its gums, the beast pressed the liberated fang against the sword. The metal, still molten hot from the heat of rising to the surface, shifted and absorbed the tooth. Slimy fingers kept pressing until the relic was completely inside of the blade, returning to their owner smelling of scorched flesh.

"Step forward, Mykel, and claim your destiny."

He was skeptical at first, not wanting to suffer severe burns to his fingers. When the serpent beckoned him on, he grasped the hilt and was surprised to note that it was now perfectly cool. Grabbing it with both hands, Mykel yanked on the sword. It came easier than he had expected, and the mammoth blade smashed down on top of him. Even through the armor the force was enough to knock the wind out of him. Damn, this thing is heavy.

After regaining his breath, the young knight stood up, trying not to think about how uninspiring he had seemed in the last minute or so. He held the sword point down, leaning it on the floor like a polearm.

"At last, it is done." The beast's eyes were alive with glee. "I can finally rest." It craned its neck forward, speaking face-to-face with Mykel. "One last favor I ask of you. Please… end me."

"What?"

"As I said, human, I have grown weary of life. I am ready to be done. You will carry my legacy forth, for all to know that not every one of us was without thought or reason. My strength, added to yours, so that you may fulfill your destiny."

It laid its head upon the floor, inhaling deeply. "Use the Heart of Caliban. It is only fitting that I be the blade's first kill."

Reluctant to kill the only beast-that-was-not-a-beast he had ever seen or heard of, Mykel hesitated. Eventually, however, pity won out. It took all of Mykel's strength to lift the massive weapon.

"Before I do this, I must know… do you have a name, beast?"

"Sadly, no, not in the sense of your kind," admitted the beast. Its golden eyes looked up at him, hopeful and regretful at the same time. "I think you understand now why I do this. My destiny is bound to yours. You will be great, and by extension I will have done something great. Thank you, Mykel of the Order."

The Heart of Caliban came swinging down, decapitating the snake's head. With its last breath, the head gasped, "You shall… bring… great change…"

Shortly after the coup de grace, Mykel left the cavern with the sword and returned to his squad. They were overjoyed to see him alive, thinking he had buried inside the mountain by an earthquake they had all felt. They had waited for several tense minutes, it was said. This was confusing to their returning comrade, who felt that the better part of an hour had passed while he was inside.

At any rate, they were happy at the news that the beast was dead, proven by the blood that still clung to Mykel's new sword. The artifact was greeted with great curiosity, but Mykel declined to tell how he had gotten it. No doubt the other knights would never believe him.

And so they the merry band began the ride back to the fortress of Aldurukh, unaware of the pair of small, hooded figures that watched them leave.

Upon their return, Master Ramiel had accosted Mykel, wondering where he had come across such a ridiculously huge sword. Mykel explained that he found it in a cave during their mission, which was the truth.

"So…" he began as he strained to hold the weapon in one of the sword drill forms that they were taught. The blade's weight had him hunched over and on his toes to try to maintain his balance, and even that would not last long. "Would you let me train with it?"

Ramiel grinned and quipped, "When you can hold that sword properly, lad, yes you may."

Two days later, the Emperor's Angels descended on Caliban.