"Sometimes... the lesson is lost."
- 1 Synopsis
- 2 Currently
- 3 Background
- 3.1 The Sea of Fire
- 3.2 A New Path
- 3.3 Sands of Time
Jaired Delone can often be a hard nut to crack. In his many years he has seen and been many things, and has been exposed to many different extremes that have forged him into who he is today. Unpredictable and oftentimes dangerous, it can be hard to recognize him as either friend or foe. He is just as likely to introduce someone to a vial of acid as he is to offer any form of direct aid, often claiming that his actions are in one way or another some sort of a lesson. At the end of the day, however, he is a stoic defender of his home and all of those within it.
Now that his role as a Spirit Walker has come to an end, and having finally met his father... Jaired has adopted a different view on things. The pieces of his past and his heritage have all fallen into place and the damage left by the Shadowdeath has been mended. In the wake of finishing what his parents couldn't, it would seem that he has a clean slate to work with again. A fine time to relax and just take things in.
The Sea of Fire
Jaired's childhood was in many ways ideal. Given the name "Shufflefoot" by those of his tribe, he grew up under the close eye of his mother, the tribe’s shaman and a gifted Seer. This was an anomaly amongst the Tehir, as it is typical for only the men to trouble themselves with the art of divination, but her natural talent was not something that could be denied nor easily ignored. She was a gentle and nurturing woman, with dark skin and eyes of an uncharacteristic blue that seemed trapped in an unwavering calm.
The matter of his father seemed to be some kind of a taboo secret amongst the people, as none would ever reveal the man’s identity to the young boy despite his persistent attempts to learn it. Even his mother would change the subject with a gentle smile and simply tell him that he would know when he would know. He was smaller than the other children his age, and many thought him sickly and frail. Jaired made up for it, however, with a quick tongue and even quicker hands.
Unfortunately, with no father to guide or discipline him, Shufflefoot was persistently a thorn in the tribe’s side. Consistently getting himself into trouble and sneaking things off in the night, the tribe began to demand that he be reigned in. His mother noticed early on that he did not share her gift of a Seer's Sight, and he never took to her lessons in healing or spiritual rituals. Like most boys his age, he was much more interested in getting into fistfights and taunting the yierka. Seeing this, his mother made the decision to turn him over to another. An elder named Rothel.
The name alone instilled fear in most of the tribe’s children, and it was rumored that every apprentice the man took had disappeared under suspect and unexplained circumstances. Rothel served as the tribe’s guide when they moved over the dunes from oasis to oasis, and he was revered as a brilliant tactician. His voice was as rough as the sands, and his walking stick was as hard as iron. Shufflefoot learned quickly to keep his thoughts to himself unless he wanted to feel the stick’s sting, and learned to follow the old man’s instructions to the letter.
Jaired started by walking the dunes to a particular spring to gather drinking water for the whole tribe. He would work from sun up to sun down, bringing jug after jug, and skin after skin to each and every tent. If Rothel did not like the boy’s progress, he would knock the jug from Jaired’s hands and allow it to empty into the sands, forcing the boy to make the trip over again. This was when Shufflefoot learned the most valuable lesson of the Tehir. When you think you have enough, go back and get twice as much more.
One morning as the sun crept into his tent, Rothel noticed his walking stick was missing. He knew of Jaired’s habits and figured the boy made off with it in order to get back at him for something or other. Fueled by rage, the old man limped from tent to tent while shouting all manner of profanities to try and bring the boy out of hiding. What he saw next shocked him, as he saw Shufflefoot making his way down the side of a dune with the walking stick slung heavily across his shoulders, dangling three to four jugs and skins from each end. This way he could carry many more with each trip, and finish the work faster.
The lesson was finally learned. Work smarter, not harder… and it was finally time for the real lessons to begin. With his mother closely watching, Rothel began instructing the boy in the most valuable techniques and bits of knowledge that a Tehir needs to know in order to survive. He taught him to rope, calm, and ride the yierka. How to find food when there was none, and how to find water when there was naught but sand. It was during this time that he began studying under his mother from time to time as well, where he learned of the stars and of the spirits… only so the old man could tell him how to use this knowledge to navigate and to survive. All ways of the Tehir go hand in hand with the other, and all lessons have purpose.
Each night at the fire, Rothel would tell Shufflefoot a new story to convey a new lesson, but the stories he enjoyed the most were the ones about Rothel himself. Long ago and in his youth, it would seem that Rothel was quite the warrior and quite the adventurer. His journeys led him far from the Sea of Fire, and he regaled the boy with exciting tales of danger and courage. He had made a living off of raiding ancient tombs and delving into the mysteries of the forgotten past. Shufflefoot was certain that some of the stories were made up, but nonetheless they were always entertaining and left him in wonder.
There was even a time or two where Rothel would bring Jaired along through ancient ruins that seemed long lost beneath the sands, and told him of hushed tales of an ancient people that had lived there long before... and how the desert was not always thus. In one such adventure during a rather violent sandstorm, Shufflefoot and Rothel made their way into a cave for shelter. Within they found that the cave went much deeper, and before long they found themselves within an archaic vault and surrounded by treasure.
A lone sword rested upon a wall, and Shufflefoot was immediately drawn to it. When he grabbed it, however, he sprang a trap and the entire cavern began to collapse. Cussing and shouting the whole way, Rothel pushed and shoved at the boy to run faster as they made their way back towards the surface. Just as they were almost clear, several boulders fell upon Rothel and pinned him beneath them. He shouted at Jaired to leave, but he would not. Instead, he took the sword that he had stolen and wedged it beneath the boulders and the floor, giving Rothel just enough time to squeeze free and to safety. This moment only served to bring the two closer, and the old man began teaching Shufflefoot the skills more suited for an adventurer.
The one skill he was not taught, however, was how to use such a weapon and how to fight… and this was the lesson Jaired wanted the most to learn. He was taught to learn to use his wits and his head first, and then he’d be taught to use his fists and the way of the blade. It was a lesson that would come too late, unfortunately.
Walking in the Dark
Now into his teens, it was not unusual for Jaired to accompany the warriors on raids of the Empire’s caravans. In fact, it was his responsibility to make sure they had enough water and food for the journey. On one particular raid, however, they were not after food or supplies as was the norm. It was rumored that a high ranking officer had with him documents entailing all of the Empire’s caravan routes, and such a thing would be of utmost importance to all of the Tehir. As the warriors prepared by blackening their blades with the flames of the fire, Shufflefoot got an idea.
He was getting tired of being told to wait behind, and even more tired of being told that he wasn’t ready. Although he hadn’t been properly trained for battle, and had no skill with a blade… there was one thing he was always good at; and that was sneaking into places that he shouldn't, and making away with things that were not his. It seemed silly to him to stage an ambush when a more clandestine approach was much more fitting. Garbing himself in the black burnoose of a raider, he set out alone under the cover of night.
It didn’t take long for him to find the encampment, as the Empire was known for making fires much too large and using invaluable wood that smoked far too much. There were only a few sentries making rounds, and it seemed most of the camp was already fast asleep. The moons shed little light so making his move was easy. The large tent in the middle was a dead give away, and Shufflefoot was able to quickly and easily make his way through the camp and under the side of the tent.
He could hear the muffled sounds of conversation as he hunkered down to wait them out. There was nothing but time as he waited, and it was easy to distinguish a pile of documents on a table set up between the talking soldiers. One was dressed much better than the others, and was making specific gestures and motions towards one document in particular. There was no doubt in Jaired's mind that they were pouring over a map. It only took a few more hours until the lanterns went dark and the men all parted ways. Shufflefoot made his move, silently striding across the sands of the ground and quickly stuffing the map away into the folds of his clothing. That was when his world went dark.
Not quiet enough, it would seem, as he awoke with a throbbing pain in the back of his head. He’d been struck enough by a certain walking stick to recognize he had been knocked unconscious, and the weight of the chains and shackles around his wrists and his ankles made him quickly aware of the reality of his situation. Jaired's eyes focused on a man before him, flanked on each side by armored guards as a gauntleted fist struck him across the face. The man shouted at him, asking about the raid that had obviously occurred during the night, and shaking the map Jaired had stolen.
Rothel had taught him how to speak common over the years, but, he played ignorant and defiantly spat random Tehir words in the officer’s face. This only resulted in more punishment. Half-breed, they called him, a word Jaired had never heard before as they struck him again and again. They quickly grew bored with the interrogation, and one of the guards left the tent only to return with a red-hot iron poker. The officer took it from the guard and brought it quickly into Jaired’s eye. This was how they dealt with those that had seen their plans, and the pain was such that Shufflefoot was once again dealt unconscious. He didn’t feel them take the other eye.
The heat is what woke him, but it was the silence and the darkness that shook him. Jaired could only hear his own breath and his own painful cries as his hands clawed over the sun-baked sands. He touched at his face and could feel the caked blood at his cheeks. He didn’t need to feel further as the pain and the darkness was enough to know that they had burned out his eyes, stripped him of his clothes, and left him to die beneath the sun. There was no way to gain his bearings. No way to know his way. Still, he walked, occasionally calling out to any that would listen. The winds harshly raked his exposed skin, and every once in a while he would lose his footing on the uneven ground and tumble helplessly into the scorching, unforgiving sands.
Eventually his body gave up as the violent thirst for water gripped him. After one last fall he simply stayed down. If he still had eyes to cry he surely would have as he waited for the inevitable. He let the darkness and the peace of slumber take him. There was no more pain, now, and he was ready. What he did not expect was that he would wake up. His hands felt the rough scales of a yierka as he slowly came to, and with a start he heard the familiar, hoarse voice of his teacher assuring him that he was going to be alright. It was all he needed to hear and he quickly fell unconscious once again. Despite everything, Jaired believed him.
Upon his return, Jaired’s mother was beside herself for obvious reasons. Sight was one of the most important things to a Tehir, and even more important to the son of a Seer. She made it her mission to restore his sight but all of the conventional methods of doing so were ineffective. It was going to take time, so, in the meanwhile Jaired’s eyes were veiled behind a wrap of linen and he was given a stick of his own to feel his way around. Rothel continued to teach him, but the lessons took a new turn as Jaired learned to contend with his disability.
One thing from the night of Shufflefoot's capture haunted him, and eventually he asked his teacher. What did the officer mean when he called him a half-breed? Jaired always knew he was a bit different. The slight point to his ears was hard to ignore and he was always smaller than those around his age. No one ever spoke of it, however, as the subject of his father was always strictly off limits. Many would go so far as to evoke the spirits and draw wards of protection. Suffice to say, this took Rothel a long while to answer. He explained to Jaired that his father was of Elven blood, and that this was going to be a road of some hardship for him. Although Jaired did not understand what his teacher meant by this, all of the other questions about his father were answered with silence. But his resolve to learn was strengthened with each unanswered query.
Jaired began studying more and more under his mother as Rothel’s age began to catch up with him. He began learning the Elven language at his mother's request, and was lectured on the intricacies of the spirits and of fate. This sparked many friendly debates between him and his mother, as he took issue with many of her ideals. It was of his belief that nothing was written, and nothing was confined to a path so narrow as destiny. Even so, he took every lesson to heart. During it all his mother never gave up her attempts to restore his sight, and with one last ritual she believed that she would do so.
It had been nearly a year, and in this time Jaired had grown used to his world of darkness. All of the tribe kept a careful eye on him to make sure he didn’t go walking in the wrong direction or into the claws of a waiting yierka. He tried to keep his mood light and hopeful, but he began to wonder if this was what his life was going to amount to. A blind man depending on the help of others, who’s only value was in the learning and in the telling of tales to others. His mother told him she was going to try something at the next Hujuura, an event known as the Great Gathering of Tribes. It was there that his mother would find the help that she needed to perform the ritual in question… but Jaired did not set his hopes too high.
A Seer's Gift
The Hujuura occurs only once every nine years, and takes place for two months during the winter. It is always an exciting time as families re-unite and tribes trade all manner of wares and tales with one another. Jaired’s mother was nervous as she scrambled to make the necessary arrangements as Rothel had fallen quite ill. A few of Jaired's younger friends guided him around the grounds as he felt his way about. Old habits die hard, and he used his condition to his advantage while discreetly lifting various pieces of merchandise while he felt his way around them. His friends would only snicker and encourage him, as they would all eventually share in the plunder.
On the first night Jaired's mother called him into her tent. He could tell there were several others there even if he couldn’t see them. They all sat in a circle and she had Jaired lay in the middle. He could feel the wrap of linen being removed from his eyes and felt the weight of two stones being placed into the sunken scars. Then the chanting began. Each shaman leaned forward and placed their hands upon a point of his body as his mother’s hands covered his eyes. There was no pain or any other sensation. Still, he felt the spirits stir and move throughout as the darkness suddenly became replaced with a searing white light. The shamans all leaned back, exhaling a unified breath of relief as Jaired’s mother lifted her hands from his eyes.
His new eyes opened slowly, almost hesitantly as the veil of darkness finally lifted. The first thing he saw was his mother’s gentle smile as her hands slowly smoothed across his forehead. What he saw next filled his heart with dread. The very same linen wrap that was used to hide his eyes now veiled those of his mother. He knew immediately what she had done. Their lessons had touched on the laws of sacrifice and exchange more than once before. Still, why had she done it? Why would she have given up her eyes for his? Before he could speak even a word, she pulled him into a nurturing embrace… and that was all the answer he needed. For what mother would not sacrifice for her son?
The shamans looked Jaired over for a long moment, noticing how his eyes looked just as his mother's always had. They took on the same uncharacteristic hue of blue, and seemed trapped in the same unwavering calm. Perhaps, it was thought, that this was because the eyes of a Seer already see what is to be, even if the Seer does not. Time would tell for young Jaired, however, as such gifts cannot simply be given. They must be learned. No matter what the sacrifice or the giver’s intent.
A Vision Misread
The next years passed slowly. Jaired’s heart was heavy with the loss of his teacher, who had made the Last Walk after his illness took a turn for the worst. The “Last Walk”, or more accurately, the "Spirit Walk" is a closely guarded ritual made by those that know their time is at an end. They purify their bodies, say their goodbyes, and get all of their affairs in order. They then walk towards the setting sun to return to the sands from which they came. It is believed by most Tehir that if a body is not properly buried, that their spirit will continue to wander the world. To some, however, it was whispered that not all forms of undeath are cursed, and hidden in death could be a path to rebirth. Oftentimes Jaired could be seen staring off across the same path his teacher took, and many began to wonder if he didn’t plan to follow after him.
The only things that Rothel had left for Jaired was his old walking stick and his old tent. Jaired took residence there, and kept the cherished stick close at all times. One night in particular, however, Jaired sat alone in the tent deep in thought. The next day was an important one, and he reflected on what he was expected to do. It was then that he plunged the gnarled end of the walking stick into the flames of the fire, and then spread it to the walls of the tent. The flames lit up the night and all of the tribe awoke to see Jaired simply watching from outside. It was his way of finally letting go, and his way of finally saying good-bye.
Jaired was to undergo an important rite that all shamans must undertake, and in doing so he would have finished his final lesson and be given the right to wear the veil of his tribe. This also meant that he would finally be considered a man in the eyes of his people. As the sun rose, he set off without any provisions down a very specific route over the dunes. Old ribbons lined the way every quarter mile, and some were barely visible where the sands had shifted drifted higher. The smell was how he knew he was close as the vile fumes assaulted his senses. Before long he saw his destination, and saw the spindly branches of a lone, dead tree standing beside a small spring of water.
Curling vapors rose from the water through the naked branches of the tree and Jaired watched in quiet admiration before walking over to settle down beneath it. He watched the water for a long while as he tried to breathe shallow, controlled breaths. These waters were poison, and it had long been a mystery how this tree had gotten there in the first place, as there were no others like it within the entire Sea of Fire. The ritual was simple. He was to drink of the water, and breathe of the vapors for a whole day while sitting beneath the fickle shade of the tree. During this time the path laid out before him by the spirits would be visible.
Little time was wasted as he cupped some of the water into his hands and drank it down. The way he saw it, it was better to get it over with. It tasted like fire and Jaired felt as though the very skin within his nostrils was flaking off. He didn’t have to wait long as the heat of the sun and the effects of the water took over. Almost immediately he began to pass out, and the world took on a distinct shade of black and white. Confused and disoriented, he stood to get a better look around. Jaired began hearing cries of panic over one of the white dunes. Still feeling the nauseous effects of the vapor, he struggled to keep his balance as he shuffled his way over the sand.
Jaired saw a lone woman garbed in strange white clothing struggling to get a group of panicking children together. They looked like they were from the Empire and one of the children screamed and pointed out across the barren landscape. Raiders garbed in black were charging down on them, their yierkas snarling and hissing as they quickly closed the distance. Acting on instinct, Jaired rushed to the woman’s side and grabbed her by the wrist to lead her away. Her eyes grew wide in terror as she yanked free, and she along with the children began screaming at Jaired as they frantically backed away. This is when he realized that he, too, was garbed in the same black garb of the raiders charging down on them.
He could feel the tremors of the earth as the raiders rode closer. Seeing the fear of the children, and witnessing the tears of the woman struck a cord within Jaired that seemed foreign and powerful. He turned to face the raiders and put himself between them and the children behind him. He reached to his hip and drew a blade of pure black, and as the raiders grew closer he recognized their faces. They were the men of his tribe. Friends and family that he had known all his life, yet, his resolve remained unhinged. Knowing full well that he stood no chance against the charge, he stood his ground and waited with his blade ready. With one mighty swing and to his own surprise, the first of his foes fell. With another vengeful attack he cleaved another, and then another. They all fell like wheat as he struck them down, and he was exhilarated with the ease of which he could do so.
Soon, each and every raider lay dead before him. Jaired turned to face the woman and the children who remained trembling and struck with fear. He dropped his blade and wandered closer, his hands held out as if to calm them. They recoiled, and even though he could not make out her words, the intent of them was painfully clear. He was a monster, and he was to stay away. Realizing this, he turned from them to look upon his fallen tribesmen, only to see their bodies had vanished. It was then that the shades of black and white faded, and the color had once again returned to the world.
The sun was already setting, and all Jaired could think of was that “this” was the path the spirits had set before him. He grew angry, and afraid, as he could not carry the weight and the burden of being one that could so easily betray his people. It was right then and there that he made his decision. He would be damned if he was going to follow this path, and the spirits would be damned with him.
As night fell Jaired made his way back and hastily put together enough provisions to make his way across the desert. He placed a single kiss upon the veiled brow of his mother as she slept. He watched her for some time. So much she had given him, so much she had taught. He’d need those lessons now more than ever as he turned and left her tent. He silently damned the spirits one more time as his eyes settled on the path before him. The one he set for himself. All he had to do now was walk it.
A New Path
Jaired’s journey west across the desert was long an uneventful, which was a bad combination with so much weighing upon his mind. His heart was heavy with the decision he made and doubt riddled every thought. It took everything he had to put the thought of his mother’s reaction to the back of his mind, but there was something that told him that she would understand. Perhaps, he thought, she had known this would happen all along. Surely she had seen it.
The Sea of Fire was no place to travel alone, and Shufflefoot knew this all too well. He traveled only at night and made camp during the day under whatever natural shelter he could find. Rothel had taught him well, and surely this was the ultimate final test. Days gave way to weeks, and weeks to months until finally the sand began giving way to grass.
Jaired had seen the edge of the desert many times before. He took a brief moment to ponder the road ahead, sifting his fingers through the coarse sands for what he believed to be the last time. Without really knowing why, he scooped up a handful and dropped it into his pocket. Seems he was more sentimental than he had thought. As he crossed onto the sprawling plains, Jaired moved forward and the boy known as Shufflefoot remained behind. Perhaps one day they would meet again.
He should have taken a yierka. This thought ran through his mind over and over again as he walked across the stone cobbles of a barren road. He wasn’t even sure where it would lead, but it was the first one he had came across and on top of that it was the first one he had ever seen. All he knew was if he kept heading west he would eventually find the shore, and that there were bound to be settlements to be found.
Many signs pointed this way and that, but the words upon them were a mystery to him. Jaired was taught how to speak Common and Elven, but never how to read either one of them. Tehir find better uses for paper than for books, and all tales and records are passed verbally from one to the next. Every time he came to a fork or a crossroad, he simply chose the one that went in the more westerly direction.
Finally he began to see other people. They all seemed to avoid him and kept to the far side of the road as they passed. Some even sneered as Jaired tried to greet them. All of them were entirely different from anyone he had ever seen before. Their pale skin, their strange clothing, the way they moved, the way they talked, everything. One merchant in particular seemed to take an interest as he approached Jaired from behind in his wagon. He introduced himself in a friendly manner and explained to Jaired that he had traded with the Tehir and the Shakat many times before.
A ride in the wagon was offered, and as leery as Jaired was, he was a long way from home and rather short of friends. He asked what the price would be, and the man simply responded that they were no doubt heading the same way, and that he could use the conversation to pass time. This seemed fair enough. Talk they did, and before long Jaired began to relax. Eventually he got around to asking where they were heading. Curious as to how the Tehir didn’t know, the man answered simply: The Port of Solhaven.
Solhaven! That was one of the places Rothel had told him about. Before nostalgia could set in, however, the merchant began to explain that they were not entirely comfortable with Tehir on their streets, and that he would gain unwanted attention if he did not try to fit in. The merchant assured him that a few of the provisions and Tehir textiles Jaired was carrying would fetch a fair enough trade to the right people. The man even offered to help him do so. This merchant was beginning to seem a bit too helpful, especially considering the stories he had heard about the outsiders. Even so, Jaired was without the luxury of options.
A New Sea
Jaired awoke with a start as the merchant shouted at him. They had finally arrived. The air was unlike any he had ever breathed; it carried upon it a crisp freshness with the tinge of salt. Already knowing the answer, the merchant asked Jaired if he had ever seen the ocean, to which he could only shake his head. His fingers nervously sifted through the sand in his pocket as he kept his eyes affixed upon the bend before them. And there it was. Nothing could have ever prepared him for the sight of the bay. Water had always been revered as this scarce, sacred object. Now it stretched before him as far as the eye could see.
Joking, the merchant suggested that Jaired could get a job working as a deckhand upon one of the ships. Entertaining the idea, it dawned upon him that he had not even given a single thought as to what exactly it was he was going to do once he actually found a settlement. The merchant gave Jaired’s shoulder a sound slap to bring him back to reality as the wagon rolled across the bridge into the city. There were so many people. More than he had ever seen in his whole life.
The merchant carefully urged his mules forward through the townsfolk, trying to get to his destination without trampling those in his way. Just outside of a certain storefront, he gave the reigns one final tug to bring the mules to a halt. The merchant gave Jaired a nod, and thanked him for keeping him company on the road. Jaired was confused, and asked again if there was any way he could repay the kindness for the transportation. The merchant only laughed and shook his head, and with a wink stated that he only asked that the kindness be remembered.
He then told Jaired where to go to find new clothes, and wished him luck in finding his way. Surely, to most of the people in this place, Jaired looked nothing more than a boy. He could use this to his advantage or it could very well have the opposite effect. Time would have to tell. He shook the hand of the merchant, as was their custom, and turned to make his way through the veritable sea of people before him.
Jaired’s first year in this strange city had proved rather interesting. He had shed his burnoose in favor of a black coat, and he wore it too long in the sleeves so that he could hide his hands. This was so he could more easily ply his new trade. Even though he had taken on the look of an everyday citizen, it was hard to hide his Elven blood and even harder to hide the fact that he was Tehir. This made finding any kind of honest work impossible. There were ways to magically augment the color of his skin and his hair, but these services were expensive and hard to come by. Such things would have to wait.
He had come into the company of a small group of thieves, and they worked together to gather all of the things they needed to get through each day. In many ways, life was good. Even with as little as he had, it seemed like he had more than he ever did while living in the desert. He was looked up to for his quick hands and sense of strategy in the art of theft. They were referred to as street rats, and in many ways the name was fitting. They lived off of the discarded scraps of society and lived in the shadowy places that others wouldn’t. Everyone was a mark, and no target was off limits. Even if some of them probably should have been.
One day in the market while the streets were bustling and the horde of people were shoving about, Jaired made off with a particularly heavy pouch of coins. He didn’t get far before he felt the hand on his shoulder and the sharp edge of a dagger against his throat. He dropped the pouch in the hand that reached around in front of him and tried to run just as he always had whenever he got caught, but the hand on his shoulder tugged him back. It wasn’t going to be that easy this time, and he knew this mostly because the voice behind him precisely that.
Jaired was forced into a storefront and the door was closed behind him. The dagger’s edge dropped from his throat and he was shoved forward. He whirled around and backed away, glaring at the imposing figure that stood before him. The man watched the boy closely and slowly sheathed his dagger. Jaired glanced all around, looking for any other exits that he could use to make his escape, but the shop owner quickly moved to stand in front of the only other doorway. The man before him cracked his knuckles, and just as panic would normally strike, Jaired felt an easing calm instead.
Jaired’s eyes closed and he breathed deeply as he went over all of the thoughts going through his head. He felt footsteps moving closer and closer and the ever-present cracking of the man’s knuckles. With a nod only to himself, Jaired’s eyes opened to stare at the man before him. To his surprise, the man stopped. He stared back at Jaired and marveled at the calm he saw in the boy’s eyes. He had never seen such a thing, especially in circumstances such as this.
The man’s hands dropped to his sides and before he could utter a single word, Jaired’s hand thrust into the pocket of his coat and produced a fistful of sand. He lunged forward in a rush of motion, throwing the sand and imbedding it into the face and eyes of his assailant. Stunned, the man clutched at his face to clear his vision, only to see the blurry form of Jaired sprinting around him and then through a window in a resounding shatter of glass.
The man rushed to the window and watched as Jaired disappeared into the crowd of stunned onlookers. A slow grin crept across his lips, and he knew this would not be the last time that their paths would cross. He would make certain of it.
Word quickly began spreading across the streets that a certain someone was looking for Jaired. Unfortunately for him, he was not exactly hard to point out from a crowd. Even the friends that he had lived with for some time were starting to distance themselves from him, and demanding that he move away from their humble enclave. The various merchants and storeowners had also grown wise to Jaired and his tactics, and before much longer he was more or less forced onto his last leg.
Jaired knew of a place called Wehnimer’s Landing to the north. It was a frontier town and surely no one would know him there. He didn’t have much, so packing was easy. As he made his way to the Hangman’s Bridge, he found an entourage waiting for him. Surely one of his supposed friends had sent message ahead and sold him out. Five men stood, arms folded across their chest and garbed from head to toe in black. The one in the middle he knew, though without all of the sand in his face, he was hard to recognize. At least this is what Jaired told him.
Jaired was prepared to run. He knew nothing of fighting and he never pretended to. As he glanced from side to side the man in the middle spoke to him, and assured him that they weren’t going to do to him what he thought. Instead, they offered him an invitation. They were all members of a Thief’s Guild, which was little more than a rumor as far as Jaired was concerned. Still, they promised him a life unlike any that he had imagined, and it was the very man that he had bested that was vouching for him. He was in no position to refuse.
It was then and there that he was sworn in with little fanfare or coronation. There was no blood oath. No signing a dotted line. There was only a pledge. A pledge amongst thieves for whatever it was worth. Jaired was shown back into town and lead to a new location beneath a popular restaurant where they made their home. They wasted no time in explaining what was required of him, and what he was expected to do. Errand boy was the first thought that came to mind, but it failed to do the position justice. His job was to get things that were hard to get, and to get into places that were hard to get into. He knew this job already.
A Certain Ring
The Loner: that was the name they gave him. Over the years working for the Guild he always insisted that he worked alone. It was easier for him to accomplish his goals if he was not concerned for another, and considering what it was that he was supposed to do… it made more sense for one to go in the place of many. As time crept on the title began to stick, and it went from “The Loner” to “The Lone” to “De’Lone”, and to finally, “Delone”, which Jaired eventually began to accept as his surname. He never had one before, but to him, Jaired Delone had a certain ring to it.
The leader of the Guild was known only as the Onarian, and he was quite feared throughout all of Solhaven and in neighboring villages. Even the other members of the Guild kept most of their opinions to themselves in his presence, as he had the tendency to simply end the lives of those that he felt interfered with his. He seemed to take a liking to conversations with Jaired, however, as they shared one certain thing in common. They were both half-elves. Jaired hid this fact in order to make life easier for him, and simply tried to pass himself off as human. Not the Onarian, however. He flaunted it and insisted that anyone that took offense to the fact should come to him directly. It goes without saying what the Onarian did with these individuals. He never missed.
As years went on the Guild began to grow in power. They had their hands in just about everything. Textiles, weapons, food, alcohol, name it. The government of Solhaven and the Empire taxed just about everything being imported from foreign lands, and the added threat of piracy demanded armed escort at sea, which also increased the cost of business. All the Guild did was promise that they could bring the merchandise in more safely, and more cheaply. Many of the local pirates were in the Guild themselves, so instead of raiding the merchant vessels they would let them pass by. Even pirates not in the Guild respected what they could do to a man, and honored the safe passage.
Times were good. Perhaps times were too good. Silver was flowing faster than the booze, and the women were plentiful and ripe for the taking. Members of the Guild all bore a signet ring, and most chose to dress from head to toe in black. Each ring was vastly different than the other; their sigils and runes all adhering to a complex code that only those with the proper codex could decipher. This was to ensure two things. First was to make certain that if one was caught wearing a ring, it couldn’t be linked to everyone wearing a similar ring. The other was to make sure that the various bosses could establish that an individual was a true member of the Guild, and not an imposter.
Jaired’s ring was carved from a single piece of black glaes and bore upon it a single copper sigil. He quickly became respected by other members of the Guild, if not for his skills as a thief, but for his kinship with the Onarian. If Jaired’s mouth got him in trouble as it often did, the Onarian would finish his fights for him. The assassin never thought it a chore and he reveled in the kill. Many wondered if that wasn’t why he kept Jaired around in the first place. Others began to whisper and plot, fearing that the Onarian had picked his heir apparent. How little did they know.
Sands of Time
Years quickly crept to decades, and one of the hardships of Jaired’s Elven blood became apparent. As those he knew aged around him, he did not. Except the Onarian, of course. Their friendship was tenacious at best. Jaired still had an aversion to blades and violence in general from his vision in the desert. The Onarian tried to teach him the way of the Assassin, and explained that his skills as a thief would only serve to help him. To make matters worse, there were murmurings within the Guild of a possible split between the groups within it. The Onarian needed men he could trust with a blade, and Jaired was far too soft.
The Onarian was losing his grip of power and he knew it. He was growing increasingly paranoid and believed that everyone around him was just waiting for the right moment to strike. In many ways he was right. He had killed too many and had offended even more. Revenge has the tendency to come to fruition when enough are seeking it. To make matters worse, most of the men he trusted were becoming old and senile with age. This left him with a whole new group of members and new bosses. The New Crop, he called them. His fear was that he would have to reap them before they would do the same to him.
The Guild was getting too big and the Empire was starting to take notice. The local law didn’t send troops or watchmen to incarcerate members. They took a political approach instead, and they lowered the import taxes and offered armed military escort for large merchant fleets. Suddenly, the city could provide more for the merchants than the Guild ever could. It effectively put them out of business and before too long the Guild began to fracture and disband.
The Onarian began to focus on the trades that were still illegal, and started doubling down on whatever business he could still find. He wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. There were only a few members of the Guild left that the Onarian trusted, and out of all of them Jaired was the one he had known the longest. The Onarian was beside himself with paranoia and every move he made tried to take unknown into account. This made every move a slow one. If only Jaired had known how close the Onarian was to hitting rock bottom.
One night after a long evening of hard drinking, Jaired stumbled his way towards his room. He moved from the Guild’s hideout long ago in favor of more luxurious surroundings, and enjoyed living several floors above the streets below. He was trying to bury his worries with the bottle and for the time it seemed to be working. What he did not expect to see was a package propped up against his door. Whatever it was had been wrapped in linen, and it smelled of the desert. It was something he had not smelled in a long, long time. The object was heavy and the linen was brittle and yellowed with age. Curious, he glanced both ways down the hall and then slipped quietly into his room.
He threw the package upon the table and began to peel away the layers of cloth. Sand seemed to fall from every fold and with one final tug a dusty scabbard fell free and clattered upon the table, the hilt of the blade within glinting in the failing light of the room. Jaired looked at it for a long time, as something about it seemed oddly familiar. He picked up the scabbard and slowly began to un-sheath the sword. He could see his eyes in the reflection of the mirrored metal, his mother’s eyes, and he struggled to make out the faintly inscribed runes. A jolt of power shot through his hand, and in reflex to the pain he quickly pushed the sword back into the scabbard. Some weapons require a certain level of skill and power to be held, and Jaired obviously didn’t have it.
A yellowed piece of parchment, still clutched in one of the brittle folds of linen, caught his eyes. His fingers plucked it up and he struggled to read the writing upon it. He had learned to read long ago, but, the writing was sloppy and the rum still sloshing through his mind wasn’t helping. What he read stunned him. He dropped the weapon to the table and clutched the letter tightly as he quickly stumbled out through his door. He looked back and forth frantically, and even took several urgent steps down the hall in both directions.
Surely the messenger that delivered the package was long gone. With a defeated sigh he stepped back into his room and locked the door behind him. His eyes poured over the letter, taking in every word and every stroke of the ink.
The First Scar
Jaired clutched the letter close, the rock of the wagon easily forgotten as his thoughts wandered. He was with a few other members of the Guild, and they were tasked with making sure this particular caravan made it safely to their destination within the city. As he held the parchment, he reflected upon how this wasn’t exactly how he thought his life was going to pan out. Riding escort with an entourage of killers, thieves, and brigands. This was the path he had made for himself, however, and he was determined to keep walking it.
The wagons made their way easily through the gates and down the streets. These guards were still on the Guild’s payroll, so they weren’t expecting any problems, but the Onarian demanded that they all ride along just to make sure. Something about the shipment being too important to allow any mistakes. As they arrived at the destination they all jumped from the first wagon and began to help unload. The shipment’s contents were not something Jaired was prepared for. The covers were pulled off and the wagons were little more than rolling prison cells. Within them were people bound, gagged, and shackled at their wrists and ankles. They were slaves.
They yelled at Jaired to hurry up since he was the one with the key. As the lock clicked and the cell door opened, a sense of dread crept across him. The children were crying and the women whimpered. Jaired’s hands shook as he clutched the chain of the first and began leading her from the wagon. The other Guild members yelled at him to hurry again, growing frustrated and worried that they would be seen. What Jaired did next, none of them could have expected. To Jaired, something like this had happened once before.
With the key still in his hand, Jaired began quickly unlocking the shackles for as many as he could. Witnessing the betrayal, the other Guild members quickly closed in on him, knocking him to the ground and kicking him repeatedly as he curled defenselessly. All Jaired could do was take it. Then a few of the men Jaired had freed jumped in to save him. They quickly overwhelmed the Guild members and helped Jaired back to his feet. Jaired simply handed the key over and told them to free the others.
He didn’t take time to hear any thanks or to revel in some heroic afterglow, because time was something he had just ran out of. He limped his way down the streets in the opposite direction, pain ripping through his body from the beating he just took. There was every reason not to go back, the first of which being the Onarian. But he needed the package, and he needed just enough silver to get a few things in order. It was late and it was easy sneaking into his home. He gathered up the package and wasted little time stuffing silver and other provisions for his escape into a haversack. That was when the door flew open.
The Onarian stood in the doorway, his curved blade already in hand. Rage burned in his eyes and just as Jaired opened his mouth in an attempt to explain himself, the Onarian lunged at him. Jaired turned and backed up reflexively, and the razor edge of the weapon carved a deep slash through the canvas of his haversack. The Onarian missed. Both of them were sure that he would not do so again. As he lunged for a second strike, Jaired made one last jump and simply allowed himself to fall backwards through the glass of the window.
The Onarian rushed to the window to watch as Jaired fell to the street below, the shards of glass catching moon’s light like a glistening rain. Jaired watched back. Both men knew it would be the last time their eyes would meet, and the Onarian was shocked to see that Jaired’s were still trapped in their unwavering calm. As Jaired landed upon the hard ground of the cobbled street, the Onarian rushed back into the room and down to confirm the kill. By the time he got there, Jaired was already gone. He yelled out in violent rage, swearing revenge. Jaired heard it as he hid nearby, but for the time being, all he could do was stay put. Moving in his current state was out of the question… but he knew that he would have to move soon.
The Path Home
Pain still riddled every step he took, but not all of it was from the fall. Jaired used almost every piece of silver he had to alter his appearance and put together a new identity. He lightened his skin, his hair, and even changed his eyes from blue to green. The illusion was a good one and the mages in the pavilion were definitely miracle workers. His clothing was little more than rags and the only thing he carried with him was the sword still wrapped in its linen package.
He remembered now. It was the same blade that Rothel and Jaired had found in the ancient vault beneath the desert so long ago. The same one that sprung the trap that almost killed, and then ultimately saved the life of his teacher. He also thought back upon his vision beneath the dead tree, and quietly damned the spirits under his breath. Though the setting and the players had changed, the path he chose for himself inevitably lead him to the same fate. Unfortunately, it would be many years before this vision would be properly interpreted, and is a story for another time.
He clutched the linen surrounding the blade as he neared his destination. This would be a good place to finally learn how to use it, he figured. Wehnimer’s Landing. He stood at the North Gate and took in the sight. This was a frontier town and no one would be looking for him here. At least that is what he hoped. Sooner or later the remnants of the Guild would be sent out to track him down and kill him. Perhaps the Onarian himself would come after him.
For the time being, the Landing was the perfect place to hide and start all over again. This time, however, he vowed to do it right. It is said that everyone that ventures to Wehnimer’s Landing is either running from or toward something. Races from all over the world congregate there in search of adventure and glory in the untouched land. Sounded good enough for Jaired. Maybe he’d find himself a good woman, settle down, and get a little house on a plot of land with a vegetable garden.
Then again… probably not.