Chapter 24 Part 1

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Sam’s mouth formed an O, and she sucked in air. None of the Uriel, including their leader, it seemed, behaved like they were supposed to.  Whoever heard of inviting an enemy faction over for dinner? The Uriel and all they represented bordered on traitorous, and yet they unbarred their gates and welcomed with open arms those who would censure them? It was plain weird, and she said as much to Tristan. “Let me see the letter,” she demanded. He handed it over wordlessly.

Sam stared at the words, written in a neat, flowing script. She read aloud, for Braeden’s benefit.

        Paladin Lyons –

        I have been informed that you are traveling through the West. Welcome back.

“Welcome back?” she exclaimed. “What does that mean?”

“I was born out West,” Tristan said. “Though how he knows that I haven’t the faintest idea. Keep reading.”

        If your travels take you through Luca, or if it is not too much out of your way, it would be my pleasure to host you for dinner at our base. Your trainees are invited as well, should you wish to bring them. It is high time we meet, don’t you think?

        I know of you, Paladin Lyons, but you likely know little of me. Know this -- though perhaps you think us at odds, I am a man of my word, and a man of honor. No harm by my hand or my men’s will befall you in Luca. Of that I give you my personal guarantee.

        I look forward to making your acquaintance.

        Awaiting your response,

        Sander Branimir

Braeden gave a low whistle, followed by a racking cough. “Sorry,” he said between gasps of air. When his coughing eased, he asked, “Will you accept the invitation?”

“Accept?” Sam sputtered. “You can’t be serious.”

Tristan leaned against the wall by the door. “I might. There’s an ancient battle axiom, ‘Know thy self, know thy enemy.’ It’s a hard opportunity to pass up.”

“But we could be walking straight into a trap,” she said.

“I don’t think so,” said Tristan, scratching his chin. “I don’t know this Sander’s motives, nor do I know the Uriel’s. Perhaps they intend to supplant the Paladins, or perhaps they are simply misguided. Without having seen their base in Luca, it’s hard to assess how much of a threat they really are. Regardless, if Sander and his Uriel attack us, they might as well be declaring war on the Paladins. No sane man would do that lightly.”

“That’s assuming the Uriel are sane,” Sam grumbled. “So you’ll accept, then?”

“I didn’t say that. I’ll have to think about it. We need to cut through Luca anyway.” Tristan kneaded his temples, his face troubled. “Yet another thing to include in my note to the High Commander. Apologies, Sam, Braeden, but there goes your mention.”

“I’m devastated,” said Braeden flippantly. He shivered, and his eyes flashed from clear to red and back to clear again. Sam could tell that he was struggling to maintain his upright position.

“What of Braeden?” she asked. “How can we go to Luca with him in his current condition?”

Braeden glared at her. “I’m not an invalid.”

Tristan groaned. “I beg of you, let’s not start this up again. Braeden, you will do as the surgeon ordered and rest. That means you will stay in this bed for the next few days. If, by some miracle, your wound heals sufficiently by my judgment, you can come with Sam and me to Luca.”

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