I've begun writing the sequel to this story, in case any one is interested, it's titled, "The Grey Paladin's Revolution."
It seems like a waste of a chapter to just post an author's note, so I'll post this small excerpt from the sequel. I won't tell you when it appears, but it is in the following story, enjoy!
A sword spun in the air.
A tall man fell to the floor with a grunt of surprise.
A nineteen-year old boy, shielded in plain and black armor, held a razor sharp katana above his mentor's throat. The boy's feet were planted firmly on the slippery surface of the frozen lake. The boy carefully flexed his chilled fingers over the handle of his blade.
In the distance, the sword fell and rattled on the ice.
"Yield," breathed Bruce Wayne, grinning foolishly as he stared at his disarmed mentor, lying helpless on the frozen lake's surface.
Henri Ducard laughed, "You haven't beaten me, Bruce. You've sacrificed sure-footing for a killing stroke." And with a swift movement of his arm, Henri struck the ice beneath Bruce's feet, and Bruce Wayne plunged into the frigid Lake.
They were training in the high mountains of the Himalayas, far from urban civilization, where greenery is all but nonexistent, and where the elements choose only the strongest and fiercest people to populate their lands. But, despite the merciless cold, there was a mystic beauty to place; heavenly white snow layered leisurely on mountaintops, and lakes and rivers alike were frozen in place, preserving their majestic roaring rapids as the winter season wrapped its frosty fingers over the lands.
Henri chuckled at the gash in the frozen lake for a moment, where his apprentice unceremoniously vanished underneath. Five seconds went by before he finally sighed and groggily picked himself off the frozen floor. He frowned as he flexed his right hand dubiously,
"I'm getting too old for this..."
And he plunged his hand into the water, grunting as the cold washed over his flesh, the sensation similar to knives stabbing at his skin. As his hand found the helm of Bruce's robes, Henri planted his feet over the gash, and, with a roar that would rival a lion's, he pulled his icicled apprentice out of the water, lumping him onto the surface of the lake. Henri quickly rummaged beneath his own black armor and withdrew a small black vial from his pocket.
"Drink this," Henri said, unstoppering the vial with his teeth and crouching down to Bruce's sputtering form, "You'll catch hypothermia if you don't."
"W—WWhat iss it-t-t?" stuttered Bruce, whose eyelids and lips were white with frost.
Henri pushed the vial to Bruce's lips, "It's what will keep you alive, boy. Drink it."
Bruce eyed his mentor for a moment before tilting his forward and sipping the vial, his trembling lips spilled some of the liquid inside onto his cheeks and clothes. It was bright emerald, instantly absorbing into Bruce's skin the moment it made contact.
Bruce drained the vial whole. He blinked clearly a few times, as if he was a blind man granted new vision.
"How do you feel?" Henri asked carefully, pocketing the empty vial in his robes.
Bruce blinked a few more times, "I feel fine," he said slowly, lifting his head to see his drenched clothing and body, "I don't feel a thing."
Henri nodded contently and cradled Bruce's head firmly, he reached with his other arm under Bruce's legs and lifted his apprentice swiftly, "Good."
"What're you doing?" asked Bruce, fidgeting in Henri's arms as they began to make toward their camp, "I said I felt fine, I can walk."
"Right," Henri said, gripping Bruce a bit firmer in his arms.
Bruce rolled his eyes, "Henri, I feel fine—"But Bruce stopped abruptly, because his body began to tingle, and then it began to feel numb.
"What is going on?" Bruce said quickly, grasping his legs because he could no longer feel them, and then he realized it was because he couldn't feel his arms either. "I can't feel a thing..." and then his body went limp, almost as if his bones themselves had been removed from his body.
The icy world began to spin dramatically.
"I feel...I feel..." muttered Bruce, closing his eyes as his eyelids became anvils.
He heard Henri whisper something or two.
"I didn't hear you, Henri...I...feel...tired..."
And then Bruce knew no more.
Night had fallen, casting the glades into a darkness. The moon offered no light.
In the silence, a fire crackled peacefully.
"Did you know that was going to happen?" Bruce said, his face rosy and waxy from the ice burns, rubbing his arms feverishly despite sitting so close to the fire that his eyelashes could catch aflame.
"I did," said Henri, smiling as he tossed a few more logs into fire. "The drug works like a young and ambitious boy that I know: it surges you with great frenzy at first, overcoming the opponent with roaring energy. But then, when you are standing precariously at victory, when you think you have won the battle, at that pivotal moment, the drug weakens, and your body falls and—"
"And you fall into an icy bath?" Bruce offered.
Henri snorted and Bruce grinned, and the two men broke into laughter, their joyous faces cast in an orange glow as the fire danced between them. After their meal, Bruce drew a cloak and wrapped it around himself, he tossed another to Henri, who caught it with a small smile, turning it over in his hands fondly.
"My wife would knit blankets when she was pregnant," he said, stroking the cloak gently while the fire reflected calmly in his eyes. "She would hum too...she had a beautiful voice."
"My mother did as well," said Bruce, his eyes on the fire, and he refused to blink. "She would sing to me when she put me to sleep..." Bruce cleared his throat and his eyes burned red, "...To be honest, until now, I had forgotten how much I had missed it..."
"You remind me of myself, Bruce, do you know that?" Henri said quietly, gazing into the fire while he stroked the blanket. "I too, suffered at the hands of unjust men...or rather...my wife...suffered."
Bruce stayed quiet, he gazed at the fire.
The fire crackled in the silence.
"Like you, I fear sleep," said Henri, and the fire danced in Henri's eyes, "I fear it because it means seeing her face again, we fear sleep because it means seeing our loved ones again. It means we replay what happened, over and over...and over...and yet, despite our screams in the dead of the night, despite how hard we pull at the sheets...we can never change what happened..."
Henri's words were as wispy as the smoke rising from the fire.
Bruce pretended to wipe his nose with his sleeve.
"Mourning our dead is not a sign of weakness, Bruce." Henri said, wrapping cloak around himself, "I have lived with this burden for several lifetimes, and I will tell you a terrible truth...The pain will never lessen, my boy...but you will numb yourself to it, you will armor yourself with it, and when you stumble across another poor soul who has recently suffered at the hands of the world, you will see yourself."
"I see myself when I see you, Bruce." Henri said, "When I see you fight, when I see you eat, when I see you sleep...I see a young man who bears the scars of an elderly warrior who battled hard his entire life."
"I don't have many scars, Henri," Bruce said quietly.
"You have the scars that matter," Henri said, "These scars don't leave marks on the skin, but rather, on the soul...and they will never fade, my boy, they never will..."
The wind howled in the distance. Henri tossed more logs into the fire.
"I have trained many young men, like yourself, Bruce" Henri said, shifting the logs with a pair of tongs, "I have seen them march into battle, I have seen them die at the sword, and I have even seen some die a natural death..."
"But...?" Bruce said hoarsely.
Henri looked up to Bruce, and set the tongs on the floor. The two men watched each other without blinking.
"But...despite the fact that we have only known each other for a year, you have proven more of a son to me than the men that I have known for fifty years."
Bruce blinked rapidly and he quickly bowed his head, "That is a great honor to hear, sir."
Henri frowned, "Since when have you called me sir?"
Bruce raised his head from his bow, a grin on his face. "Since you started calling me son."
Henri smiled, "I am serious, Bruce, you will be my greatest student... I can see it."
"Thank you, sir."
Henri nodded silently and stared out into the darkness, he sighed heavily and rubbed his hands together saying, "Now, time for rest. Tomorrow we will test your grappling—and make no mistake, my boy, I expect you at the top of the list."
Bruce didn't miss a beat, "I wouldn't expect anything else, sir."
"There he is," said Henri, a fierce grin on his face. He wrapped the cloak tighter around himself and settled down on a makeshift cot. "One day, when you are ready, we will set out together, Bruce. As maimed souls of this world, we will bring peace..."
Henri closed his eyes and rested his head on a cushion, "As Master and Heir of The League of Shadows, we will bring peace..." he murmured softly, "...as Father and Son, we will bring peace..." and then Henri's soft and gentle breathing filled the air.
The fire crackled. And the wind blew gently.
Bruce didn't sleep that night, tears slid down his cheeks as he stared quietly at Henri's body, the fire cast his silhouette in charcoal and grey shadows.
He had a father again.
Hope you guys enjoyed that! Head over to the sequel!