Harkov made his way slowly down the southern end of The Hackles. The trails were either covered in snow or too unstable to traverse. He was allowed to return to Starkhaven a month ago, but the heart of winter had been deadly cold making travel difficult, especially in the mountains. He had lost at least ten pounds since he left Starkhaven six months ago for his Eagle Trial. The only reason he had survived was due to the skills he had learned with the Order. His skills as an archer and a healer kept him healthy, and his skills as a laborer kept him slightly more comfortable. The mountains were not empty of predators either; mountain lions and wolves, the occasional bear or Mordok. He had used his sword as much as he used his skills. The last six months had been trying, not only for Harkov as an individual, but also as a member of the Order. There had been numerous other initiates in the mountains at the same time as Harkov. Some were Eagles like Harkov, others were young, soon to be Lions. Each Cleric must do this trial alone. You can help each other for a short while, but each initiate must go his own way. He had seen several of his comrades dead. Some from starvation or sickness, others from being killed. Harkov was happy he didn’t know by what because the scenes were gruesome. The winter was the hardest time for trials to happen, even if you start in the summer. Harkov found a small clearing on a natural ledge and stopped to get his bearing. Beneath him he could see Starkhaven. The mighty fortress looked small, almost dwarfed, next to the massive Yurnai lake. The sight filled him with relief. He remembered this view from six months ago when he first left. The trail was well kept from here on out. Harkov made a signal arrow and started a small fire. Once the fire was stable, He lit the arrow and fired it into the sky. This was the signal to let the settlement know that a cleric had come back, not as a Neophyte, but as a full-fledged Eagle. Harkov waited for a few moments before hearing the long, loud moan of a signal horn. He smiled. They had seen his signal. He turned and ran down the path, mantling fallen trees and slipping and sliding down icy covered pathways. This was it. The day he had dreamed of for so long was finally here. An hour later Harkov came into view of the gate, having fallen a considerable distance of the way down after slipping on a patch of ice. He was sore, and relieved to finally be home. He was excited to see his friends again and to sleep in a real bed. Mostly though, he looked forward to earning his title. They said most cried. Harkov couldnʼt see how, this was too exciting. As he drew near, the rear gate to Starkhaven began to open. Even though it was just one of several secondary gates into the territory of Starkhaven, it was quite impressive. As the gate opened, Harkov slowly saw familiar faces. First were his friends; Ventaris, Basil, SuuNalla, Captain Ree, Oliver, Dom. He smiled as he saw them but was slightly taken aback when he saw his family. His mother was already crying and his brother was getting teary as well. A slight distance behind them, Harkov saw his Father as well, who had a look that gave away only one emotion. Pride. Harkov was swept with emotion, but recollected himself and held his bearing. With a serious demeanor, he walked forward past the gate and to either side of him was a gathering of countless clerics of Arnath. Standing in the center of the half circle formed by the crowd was his mentor and friend, Gryphon Cullen, with his ceremonial sword. The crowd was dead silent as the young warrior before them approached. The ceremony that many of them had witnessed was as old as time itself. To some of those gathered, the importance was not lost on them. He walked confidently, shoulders rolled back, his armor looked well-worn and battle tested. Though his helm cut off a significant amount of his view, he could see his mentor clearly before him, as he stopped about an arm’s reach in front of him. There was a pause for a time, the silence was almost deafening. “Kneel.” The young man’s mentor said in a ceremonial tone. Harkov did as was commanded, drawing his sword and driving it into the ground in front of him. The sound of metal sinking into the earth was beautiful to Harkov. Gryphon Cullen brought his sword down slowly, blade facing his student. First to his right, then twisting the blade so the flat was facing the ground and touching it to each of his pupilʼs shoulders. “For valor in battle. For honor in service. I, James Cullen raise you, stand Warrior of Arnath.” Harkov stood, and for a moment looked at his sword still stuck in the ground. Harkov grasped the hilt and pulled with every ounce of strength he had to brandish his blade high in the air before letting out a scream of victory. The small crowd gave out a cheer and his family rushed to greet him. The next few days were a blur as Harkov and his friends and family celebrated. His lifeʼs ambition had finally come to fruition. He was a warrior, that was everything he wanted. Wasnʼt it?