When Sahl Endeberg awoke next, he was again lying on a cot. But this time, the cot was not in the company of a robed hermit, nor on the bank of a river. Insted Sahl Endeberg appeared to be inside a canvas tent.
“How odd,” Sahl Endeberg said, “This appears to be exactly like a tent I once slept in when I was serving in the Great War, where I was most distinguished.”
Sahl Endeberg emerged from the tent.
“How odd,” he said, as he surveyed his surroundings, “This appears to be exactly like the encampment I lived in outside of Tripport while serving with A-Expeditionary Force in the Transbaron Campaign, where I was often compared with Celiose Cole for my bravery.”
Standing upright on a weapons rack near the tent’s entrance was a spear with a shining ebony shaft, a silver-bladed spearhead and a smaller diamond hook on the opposite end.
“And this appears to be my legendary enchanted spear, Furacao, the Tornado Spear, one of the most renowned and famous weapons in the Web of Worlds, nearly as beloved and famous and well-developed as I am,” Sahl Endeberg said.
“But wait,” Sahl Endeberg said, “That cannot be a tent I once slept in while serving in the Great War, for though I was quite distinguished for my Great War service, that was many years ago and I know I did not sleep in a tent last night.”
The beloved hero looked out on the still-sleeping Grand Army camp again. “And this surely cannot be the AEF camp in Tripport during the Transbaron Campaign,” Sahl Endeberg reasoned, “Because that was in the past, and I am in the… not past. I suppose. I am years from then, at any rate, and I know this because in the intervening years between then and now I came to be so very beloved. It is because I know I am so beloved that I know this cannot be that camp, for surely I was only a portion of the beloved person then that I am now, and since I know for a fact that now I am many portions more beloved than the portion of belovedness I was and had then, in the past, I know that I am now, and not then, or here, now.”
The train wreck of logic that was Sahl Endeberg’s soliloquy helped him to make sense of his surroundings for the first time since he died due to his tragic chromate allergy in the Robotics Tournament.
Even so, he was still confused. He pulled Furacao off the weapons rack and held it in his hands.
“And this spear surely cannot be my prized and beloved Furacao, the Spear of Tornadoes,” said Sahl Endeberg, “Because I left it in my flat in Kupopolis when I went off to Tournament my giant Robotics. And this was also well after I had become so beloved for my service with A-Expeditionary Force in Tripport in the Transbaron Campaign, where I slept in that tent, which wasn’t where I slept last night (I’m pretty sure) because I was at the Robotics Tournament, years and years after I used Furacao in the Transbaron Campaign in Tripport with the AEF --”
Just then a soldier approached him. “Burzmale’s armies are approaching again!! They’re coming to re-take Tripport!”
Sahl Endeberg took a moment to note the soldier’s white, feathered wings.
“Nice try, lying bird-person!!” Sahl Endeberg said, as he ran his spear through the length of the Winlanese soldier, spitting him like a shank of meat. The soldier screamed and flailed helplessly, until, with the wet crunch of ripping flesh and tearing bone, Endeberg withdrew Furacao from his victim, and the Krydion slumped to the ground and proceeded to bleed to death.
“Well, that wasn’t very brave!” came a voice from behind Sahl Endeberg.
“Meh?” Endeberg mehed. As he turned, there was a tinkle-tinkle-tinkle sound – like the sound of a dachsund with testicular elephantiasis sliding across the surface of a glockenspiel – and with the sound there were little green sparklies that appeared around the heaped, shredded flesh of the slain Krydion. As the sparklies passed over the dead bird-man, his flesh mended, and he began to relax his flailing and lapse into a torpor.
Standing there, beside the tent that Sahl Endeberg himself had just emerged from, was a man who looked very much like Sahl Endeberg. He wore the same Dragoon-styled armor that Endeberg did, but where Sahl Endeberg’s armor was red in color, this new stranger’s armor was white, with inlaid silver designs etched into the breastplate. His face looked very much like Sahl Endeberg’s – and, Sahl Endeberg noted, his voice was also very Sahl Endeberg-like in its sound and quality.
“Could it be?” Sahl Endeberg asked of no one in particular, as he approached the white-armored stranger, regarding him with no small amount of awe. “Are you… might you be… is it that you are… my long lost twin brother Scenograf Endeberg!?”
“You don’t have a long lost twin brother named Scenograf,” the white armoed man said. “Scenograf was your birth name, remember?”
“Or was it my middle name?..” Sahl Endeberg thought.
“It means ‘beloved’ in Asian,” the white armored man said. Then, quickly: “I mean, Xsian. Ese.”
“Well, if you are not my long lost twin brother Xsian Endeberg, then just who are you, strangely white-armored stranger?”
“I am your Virtue of Bravery,” the man said. “Tell me, Sahl Endeberg… do you know where we are, and why we are here?”
“Well, I am here because a lying bird-person and a smelly, well-themed old hermit told me that I could find my giant robot, PollBot 5000, if I went where they told me to,” Sahl explained. “But clearly they were either misinformed themselves or were lying liars, because when I woke up in my tent from the AEF camp in Tripport I didn’t find my giant robot anywhere. As for where we are, we are in the AEF camp in Tripport, but I’m not sure how I got here because I’m supposed to be in Hill.”
“Look,” Bravery said, “I happen to know that the seraphim and the scribe already explained to you that you’re dead, so stop playing dumb.”
“… Playing!?” Sahl Endeberg said, indignantly. “I’ll have you know that the beloved Sahl Endeberg never plays.”
“… Yes,” Bravery said, sighing. “Look, here’s the thing. This is a Trial. You and me, we have to prove that you possess the Virtue of Bravery by reliving the moment where you displayed, before the Writers and Gods, how courageous you were. And that was here, in Tripport. And sadly, slaughtering helpless Krydion runners is probably not the best way to prove your bravery.”
“Well neither is healing my kills, Sammy McNo-Fun,” Sahl Endeberg said.
Bravery sighed. “Okay… think back, Sahl. You and I were here before, many years ago. Do you remember what happened on this morning?”
Sahl paused. “Well,” he said, “I was on my way… to my hangar. I recall I had a croissant from the service table that the Diamond people had set up. It was the most buttery croissant I’d ever had in my life, and I thanked the caterers profusely and promised to reward them handsomely with some honorary civic office once I was elected Mayor of Kupopolis…”
“No, not this morning,” Bravery said, “In Tripport. The morning we are re-living now. Think back.”
“Hey,” Sahl Endeberg said, “You don’t have a theme song like the old hermit did, you know. Since you look like my long lost twin brother Chinaman Endeberg, you ought to have something suitably heroic playing ambiently while you speak.”
“Focus, Sahl!!” Bravery chided. “This was your moment of triumph and distinguishment, when you proved your worth and established your own legend. Sahl Endeberg, exiled from his home in Baron, joined the Grand Army, and single-handedly defended Tripport from a daring early-morning raid staged by one of Burzmale’s battlesuited infantry detachments. You, alone with your mighty spear, held the line while the A-Expeditionary Forces roused from their tents and gathered their --”
All while Bravery was speaking, Sahl was humming – spontaneously composing a suitably heroic theme song for the Virtue of Bravery. When Bravery stopped mid-speech and levelled his admonishing gaze at Sahl Endeberg, the humming also stopped. Sahl Endeberg looked back at Bravery, innocently.
“Do please go on with whatever it was you were talking about,” Sahl Endeberg said.
Bravery cleared his throat. “… they roused from their tents, gathered their --” Of course, the humming had started up again. “ALL RIGHT GODS DAMMIT WILL YOU PLEASE STOP THAT!!!”
“Just let me re-establish your leitmotif, and then we’ll have gotten somewhere,” Sahl Endeberg said. “Also, don’t use so many exclamation points, dumbass.”
Without another word, Bravery grabbed Sahl Endeberg by the throat and dragged him toward the edge of the camp. Sahl struggled, but found that he was dealing with a figure who was as strong and skilled – if not as particularly beloved or musically inclined – as himself, and so his resistance was to no avail.
When they reached the edge of the camp, Bravery stopped and drew Sahl Endeberg’s attention to the horizon, where the approaching Dark Wrath detachment could be seen.
“Ohhhhh,” Sahl Endeberg said, “You meant that early-morning raid staged by a battlesuited infantry detachment… Well of course I remember. It was my defining moment, where I established my own legend, and all of that.”
Sahl readied his spear, but stopped. He noticed the conspicuous absence of his Virtue of Bravery standing next to him.
“… Well?” Sahl Endeberg said, “Are you any good in a fight, Bravery, or is that tinkle-ball-noise-healing move the only thing you’re good for?”
“I cannot help you, Sahl,” Bravery said, “This is your fight, your trial. I can only guide you on your path.”
“… What’s the matter? Chicken?”
Bravery furrowed his brows. “I’m the personification of courage!! An anthropomorphized virtue – YOUR virtue – representing your bravery!! Of course I am not ‘chicken.’”
“What’d you just say, Bravery?” Sahl Endeberg said, “Sounded an awful lot to me like ‘bwok bwok bwok, bwaaaaaak-bwakkAWK!’ Or something therebouts.”
The Dark Wrath detachment was getting closer. Bravery looked between them and Sahl Endeberg and fumed.
“All right, I’ll protect you then, Miss Bravery,” Sahl Endeberg said. “I suppose the resemblance you bear to my long lost twin brother is only skin-deep.”
With a fierce battle cry, the Virtue of Bravery drew his sword – whose blade appeared to be crafted from pure, holy light – and charged toward the front ranks of the Dark Wrath forces. Sahl Endeberg stood back, far away enough that he was at no risk of being caught in the crossfire, and watched as Bravery fought, destroying whole lines of troops and shrugging off damage in a berserk flurry of shining white light.
The Krydion messenger was awake now. He limped toward the edge of the camp and regarded, with wide-eyes, the fierce melee that was ensuing. His face was filled with wonder, his imagination held completely captive by the image of the one, lone warrior imbued with super-human might battling off an entire detachment single-handedly.
“Praise to the Gods,” the Krydion said, breathlessly. “Who is that!?!?”
Sahl Endeberg paused. “Why,” he said, “That is the mighty Sahl Endeberg – a Dragoon of Baron, fighting to recover his homeland and honor. You should belove him and spread word of his bravery far and wide.”
“Never before have I seen such a hero,” the Krydion said.
“… You might say he is comparable to Celiose Cole,” Sahl Endeberg said.
“Indeed!!” the Krydion said.
“Shouldn’t you be rousing the camp right about now? Sahl Endeberg looks to be getting a bit tired from all the fighting – though he is still quite beloved.”
“Yes, yes at once!!” the Krydion said, as he dashed off toward the camp.