Demonbane Ltd. presents a work of original fiction
The Prelude to The Chronicle of Steel
The sound of raindrops falling was like the beat of a drum in one of the longships of the barbarian tribes of the Northlands. They struck the windows of the Broken Barrel tavern at an oblique angle, just about horizontally, and with enough force to almost make the thin glass crack from the strain at least that was what it sounded like at the time.
The tavern itself was a dingy place, small and dirtied, understaffed. The clientele was unmentionable very unmentionable. So unmentionable that you either learned that they didn't want to be mentioned to anyone or you ended up with things that were equally unmentionable being done to you not that you'd be around for long enough to care about most of them.
I was six at the time, and my life wasn't exactly what one may call grandiose. The pickings were slim and so where the purses. Later on I would find out that was because things weren't exactly looking up for not only Midden but the whole of Varia at the time. Still, all politicking aside, it meant that the prices were up and the gold was not, which was a bad, bad thing for someone of the profession into which I'd been making my way for the past year.
What was a child doing out on the streets back then? Ask any other urchin, orphan and whatnot. Bottom line is, life didn't really look up for me back then I remember a church, a cleric, growing up there for a dimly described period of time then they threw me out. From that I can almost flawlessly recall faces frozen in shock and expressions of hatred and distaste.
It was the first time I'd met with that sort of treatment, not the last though. It was also the first time I was given to understand I was different.
But those realizations would only bear fruit later, not on that rather murky and sodden night in a run-down tavern, where an urchin pickpocket was making his daily bread.
That night another realization would be made abundantly clear to me, in a way that was fairly straightforward and left little to the imagination.
There's always someone better.
I guess I should have been more careful, but I was hungry, cold, wet and a lot of other things that added up to meaning that my judgment was not up to par that night.
Whatever else I can say about it, it wasn't for lack of skill. I had talent too. We all make mistakes, but I simply made less than the others I couldn't really call them friends.
Each would stab me in the back if it meant an added bit of winnings for them. The only reason they didn't was that I was bringing in a fair bit of coin, and that was appreciated by the 'boss'. Boss meaning the Guild member who ran the district. We hated each other, but I was only a kid, I did good work, and well, right now I think I can say that he was a little afraid of me.
Silly thing, no? Afraid of a little kid. I think it's the eyes. At least that's what people tell me.
As soon as I made my move for the purse it was as if a vice had closed on my hand, clamping down on my admittedly slim wrist and doing its best to turn my bones into powder. That's what it felt like at the time.
He was a small guy, pale and sickly-skinned, with a few missing teeth and a scar going across from the base of his nose to underneath his left ear, passing below the eye. Next thing I knew I was screaming in pain because my hand had been pinned to the table by a slim, long bladed dagger. Now that I think about it, he was probably only trying to give me a scare, since he took care not to ram the thing through any bone or tendon, just thrust it cleanly in-between and I had fairly small hands at the time. Still, it felt as if the blade were a hot poker I'd been cut before. I actually had a nasty little scar from where a small knife had cut me across the forearm. My first real street-fight. Last one too. There are sickos who actually organize something like dog fights between the street kids. Hell, compared to picking pockets it actually pays well if you live through it. My mortality had been made abundantly clear to me that night, and I had no intention putting it on the line again afterwards. I kept the knife though.
That cut hadn't hurt nearly as much as this did, in part because it had been pretty shallow. For a moment, I though my insides were going to boil over and turn to vapor. I was in so much pain. Then the world went black meaning everything I saw did a nearly total about face, and I was seeing lines of vivid color on a background of flowing, satiny ebony. What I managed to recognize as my erstwhile victim's face had recoiled from me, and someone other than myself started screaming
I felt my free hand fumble for the knife inside my tattered shirt, pull it free and another's hand fell lightly onto that hand, while something touched the back of my head gently, and this time there really was darkness the silent, unobtrusive kind you get with unconsciousness.
That was my first meeting with the Hagane, and the first time I ever witnessed the Method.
The sound of raindrops falling was like the beat of a drum in one of the longships of the barbarian tribes of the Northlands. They struck the windows of the large, scarcely decorated and adorned chamber sounding like the continuous pounding of a smith's hammer in a forge. Fifteen children of ages ranging from six to ten sat there, each behind a table with an inkwell and a pen beside it, with a few pages of empty parchment before them. Those who could write did so, using the tools they had been given. Those who couldn't would learn, and then copy the notes.
"The first, and only truly important sin the one not justifiable by any means. Can anyone tell me what it is?"
He was gaunt, emaciated really, his bald head and hooked nose making him look like a vulture but he could move with a spryness that all knew was better than that of men in their prime. And he knew it. Clad in a simple brown robe over canvas pants and a loose black shirt, he sat in front of their desks and lectured them, asked them questions, tried them and found them either worthy or wanting.
A pudgy boy, with sandy hair and bright blue eyes. Naive. At least that was what he looked like. Merchant's son. But those bright blue eyes were keen like the edge of a well tempered blade, and his mind was as sharp as said blade could only hope to ever become all this at age ten. Five years. At not even a broken coppers' price he was getting an education that would bring him to the fore in his chosen profession, thanks to chance. He'd been found in Flow, and his parents were told of an opportunity of a lifetime for their child. Unlike some, who would have balked at it, been suspicious, or tried to keep their child with them to exert better control over it, they asked him if this is what he wanted and he'd asked the man who found him whether he would make his parents proud if he did this. The answer was yes. In both cases. He visited them twice a year, for two days each time.
"Justifiable pride is no sin. Arrogance if you have a right to be arrogant is no sin. Therefore, no. Not pride, Merchant. Not pride."
They called us that way, all of us, no exceptions. Called by what we were, or were going to be, or had been wanting to become.
This one was taller, leaner. His hair was a wave of hazel and his eyes an intense green. He was also a very personable boy, though he did have a little arrogance in his attitude that was not really justified or was it pride? The son of a Knight of Rocca, so I was led to believe, here because of chance again. Found because she who found him had been a dear friend of his mother, and a confidant too. That he would be accepted into the Royal Order after his education here was complete, if only as squire, was enough for his father to allow to send him.
"As admirable as your attitude is Knight, no. Any killing which is not suicide or someone laying themselves down to your blade is murder. A kill in battle in murder, not a glory-filled victory. The killing of a criminal is not justice, but murder as well. Any taking of a sentient life without its consent is murder, and people find ways of hiding and glorifying it better than of making a good thing out of any other misdeed. But no. Death is part of the circle of life, and of any being's existence. It is not something to be shunned merely because it is ugly, but neither is it something to be dealt out casually and without choice."
Unsurprisingly, a girl this time. Seven, slim and boyish in appearance. Only normal for that age. Hair black, eyes brown, face serious as she said it.
"It's a finicky issue, that, Assassin. I'd be willing to give you right, if this were what I had been asking about but tell me, each of you no, you don't really need to tell me. I know. Knight named murder, Merchant named pride. Both were as much questions as they were answers, because both knew that they could or would be forced to confront the issue placed at some point in time, in the latter case, perhaps they already have. Merchant has pride, and so does Knight, but its a pride earned. Far be it from me or any other of the Order to take that from you, because it is yours and yours it shall stay for as long as you find it useful or fancy having it. But no, we know you. We aren't wrong about those with the Talent. Rape was named only because you consider it vile, ugly. Set here is a question, a question of our integrity. Not the answer to the spirit of the question, but to the letter. Not to the spirit, because it is a sin that could concern you, and I think that each of you finds this particular answer as repulsive as the others do. Be mindful of that feeling. Rape, in any way shape or form, mental or physical, is a vile thing. Remember that, know that. And know that none with the Talent ever to leave from under our wing have ever had any inclination towards it. So, no."
"Thank you, sir." Assassin said, with relief in her voice.
"Now, any other ideas? Troubadour? No? Watchman?" His eyes, pale and still keen, fell on me. "Thief? Can you tell us."
I was eight. My skin had acquired a somewhat gold-ish color, two years of regular and fairly healthy meals left me with a growing frame that was slim and wiry. My hair was black as coal, as were my eyes. Two orbs of featureless black, floating in white.
"Ignorance, sir. Ignorance leads to confusion, confusion to despair, which leads to anger. Any of those can lead to death."
He nodded. Just that. Only that. I wasn't sour about it. After all, I'd needed the lesson pointed out to me with a rather sharp point to understand it myself.
The sound of raindrops falling was like the beat of a drum in one of the longships of the barbarian tribes of the Northlands. In a chamber as large and spacious as this one, with the windows tall and regal, the ceiling high and the walls bare, sound carried wonderfully. We sat in a half-circle, front to center.
"Rely on speed to confuse your enemies, to strike before they are able to, to evade their attacks, and you will be bested by one of greater speed. Rely on strength to bear down on them, forcing them back and cleaving through any defense they may put up, and you will be bested by one of greater strength than yours. Rely on endurance and tire your opponent out into making a mistake, and you will be bested by one of endurance greater than yours. If you rely on none of the above, and have of each a measure that allows flexibility, but rely on skill and training, then you will be bested by one of better skill, one of better or simply different training."
This one was Armsmaster, and we only knew him as such. His was the time after the academics were done, his was the responsibility to help each of us develop our bodies. A harsh taskmaster, a demanding one, but at the same time one who really did care for each one of us, knew what each needed, knew what hurdles we were able to cross with what goading and what training each needed to bloom. From the outside he was of average stature, average face. Plain in all, but if you looked closer his body was like a finely tuned instrument, always doing what he wanted it to this was a man who made miracles look as plain as the mask he showed the world.
I was ten.
"But sir, if that's true, aren't we lost from the onset?" Knight had asked. He'd done a lot of growing, both physical and mental, in the two years. Tallest of us, his frame muscled firmly and still graceful.
"The Method. It isn't a way towards enlightment, isn't a way towards revealing a greater truth like some Arts claim to be. The Method is merely a tool. A frighteningly effective tool. One that is a synthesis of the most direct, most effective ways towards one goal and one goal alone. Defeating your enemy, directly or indirectly. Be it with your bare hands, blades, or any other weapons.
"Your first lesson to remember is - the tool is there to serve, not become the focus. It is best used for one thing, and one thing only. A specialized tool is better than one to be used at all times. And as is with tools employed within tools, they need to fit the task. A greatsword is no weapon to kill a rat with, and it is just as destined to fail as attacking a dragon with the empty hand is. The Method teaches usage of various weapons, one of which is the body itself. One thing you must remember, is that you cannot learn and utilize its full extent. It is mutable, by every hand that touches it the Method changes. Only the goal stays the same."
And then I was eleven, and we fought. Mock battles, spars, what you will. And each found a Method of his own within the greater body of knowledge. Knight, Merchant, Assassin, Troubadour, Watchman, Priestess, Mage, Lawman, Dancer and the others. And Thief. Always Thief.
I found that I was fast, very fast Merchant only shook his head at that I hadn't realized it before. While not exceptionally strong, nor blessed with the stamina of a bull, I found myself lacking in neither. And I had finally followed the lessons, both those learned by myself and those taught, and battled my ignorance of the matter that should have been first and foremost on my mind myself.
I did this not by searching the vast library in the upper floors, nor by rooting through various offices or listening in to conversations. I did not sneak out and go back to Midden, did not try to find out more about what had happened on my own.
Instead I found myself standing before the door, an old door made of dark wood. Heavy, carved with images of plant vines climbing upwards and winding in shapes fantastic and unlikely, yet oddly fascinating. A knock, a simple knock.
"Enter." the voice of the Teacher said, a surprisingly kind voice from the throat of someone who's face could be so serious and stern. I did.
My sandals made no noise as I walked, nearly completely silent on the thick carpet within. Walls lined with bookcases greeted me first, a couch of old leather sitting in one corner of the study. The window beyond was just as tall as those in the gymnasium, as was the chamber itself, but it was nowhere near as large and it was very cluttered. Books, maps, all sorts of papers littered the available surfaces a well organized sea of Chaos. He called it that himself on several occasions, and afterwards years afterwards actually, I'd agree with him on the effectiveness of such a method.
The man himself, bald head, hawk nose, piercing pale eyes and a face set in a near perpetual scowl, looked up from a tome bound in some sort of green cloth. In the three years he'd not aged considerably, and kept up as he had back when he first spoke to us.
"Ah, Thief. What brings you here, boy? With such a determination on your face, it must be something of importance to you. Please, sit. And tell me."
I sat, taking up the corner of the couch on which no books had been stacked.
"I I want my ignorance of myself to stop."
"Oh," it wasn't a question. It was as if he'd expected this all along. And he had, I know because I asked him that very question a year later, when it came to me.
"Ever since I was thrown out into the streets I've known I was different. Now I'm certain of it."
"Every person is different from every other person. Even siblings are different from each other. But then again, you are not speaking of that, are you?"
"No, sir. I hear things that the others can't, smell things that the others don't. I can speak in any tongue anyone has ever spoken to me in. I can see in darkness as well as I can in light. And and sometimes the world goes black and I see even more and the others try to hide it but when I'm like that I think they're afraid of me. And lately lately I feel things I feel people nearby, and whispers in the wind."
"It's certainly unusual, but what is it you want of me? To make those things stop?"
"No, I what am I? I want to know what I am. That's it."
And then he smiled at me.
"You made an important step today, young Thief. You overcame fear, anxiety and ignorance. I will tell you, my boy, but the time for that is yet to come. Do you trust me?"
"Teacher, you and yours took me from the streets, from death or worse, and gave me you gave me life, or a chance at it at least. I trust you."
"In a year and a day, you will knock on this door. In a year and a day you will know what you are. But in that year and that day, you will learn about yourself as well as what I and the others have to teach. In a year and a day you will bring with you a journal, and in that journal there will be your thoughts and considerations on the things you've discovered about yourself, both those unusual and those altogether ordinary. And in a year and a day you will know the answer to this: is what you are really to define who you are?"
I nodded, and stood. He simply went back to reading. I let myself out.
Then I noted the day and hour. A year and a day. It will be just that.
Is what I am really to define who I am?
The question wasn't an easy one, by any means. But it was one I would find an answer for.
The sound of raindrops was like the beat of a drum in one of the longships of the barbarian tribes of the Northlands. I awoke to them as they beat on my room's window, but not because they beat on my room's window. Someone was knocking on my door, quietly. Dark as it was, I had no trouble finding my way through the room.
I was twelve.
I had found out some things about my eyes in the year that had passed, among other things I'd made discoveries about. Darkness. Or rather, lack of light. When the world went black, and looked like a satin sheet pulled over everything in sight, taut and tight. When light was given by not only the lines defining things but by strangely placed patches of illumination. I could find my way in darkness with my eyes showing me the world normally and merely a little dimmed, or like this - a painting surreal and fluid. And both seemed natural.
I slipped from underneath the covers, in shorts and nothing else. The air told me what I needed to know. Sound told me of breath, smell made it even clearer who'd come if not why.
With five quick strides, setting my feet as Armsmaster had instructed us to until it had become second nature, I crossed the distance from my bed - or cot, since it wasn't really much of a bed, just a matress set on the wooden floorboards - to the door. I slid the locking bolt aside, and opened the wooden door it didn't make a sound. I kept the hinges of it well oiled.
"Hello, Troubadour." I said quietly. She didn't flinch, didn't shriek, didn't bat an eye about the fact that my eyes were two small white circles in a sea of darkest black, as if my pupils and whites had decided to trade coloration.
Troubadour was two years my senior, and it showed though it showed more on her than it would on someone of my gender and her equivalent age. She was my height, though I would probably exceed that in a few months, with flame-red hair and a pair of large green eyes. I found one could get lost in those quite easily. Clad in a nightgown as she was, I was able to appreciate her other notable attributes rather well too. She didn't mind. And since neither of us was ignorant about the ways of nature, lessons on quite a few relevant matters having been taken in rather well by the entire group, some could get the wrong idea about the way matters stood between us.
Troubadour, for all her beauty and charm, was just a friend. An odd one, which is possibly what she thought of me when I put my head to the matter, but a friend nonetheless. And before you get your minds into the gutter again, where they'll be festered by rot, decay and other nasty things, we talked. A lot. About things that were of about as much consequence as what the kitchens were serving for dinner as well as matters regarding the latest political clashes of Varia and Rocca. And I have, would, and always did have the utmost hatred for politics, so that gives you a good idea just how many things we talked about.
"So, tomorrow's the big day, huh?" she said, plopping down onto my bed and lying down across it. Since it was the only thing to sit on in the entire room - a matter which was the cause of much teasing from Merchant, Watchman and a few others - I came down on the other side and we lay perpendicular to each other, both looking up to the ceiling.
"Frankly, I'm not really as keen on this as I used to be." I admitted.
"Oh, come on! Be serious about it. It'll be learning experience. You need to know or it'll never leave you alone."
"I get the impression that it's more like you need to know, and won't leave me alone until I tell you."
She had the innate curiosity of a litter of kittens. I could almost feel her grin as a physical thing, and her blush was well perceived I could feel the change in body heat. Actually, she was one of the few who weren't weirded out by my nature the thing was that none were ever nasty about it either. We'd been taught better than that.
We spent the night talking to each other, about trivialities mostly, and she slipped away after a while to let me get some sleep. And get some herself, presumably.
The rain fell against my skin like pebbles, hail mixed in here and there I ran.
Feeling the warm stone under my feet, dark clouds curling above in the night sky, the occasional star glinting down on the countryside in the East where the weather had cleared.
I leapt over a rubble strewn hole that had been made in centuries past, when some army or other had decided the keep had been worth invading.
Feet pattered down behind me after a moment, then again, and the footfalls followed as I ran. Flesh on wet stone, just as mine were.
It was hard to see anything through the rain and darkness it wasn't the point of this, I had realized during the first time we'd been tasked with the Run as Armsmaster had called it. Aptly too. I could have made it easier for myself, could have seen the nooks and crannies, could have seen as clearly as I did during the day.
But that wasn't the point.
The Run was there to teach us to rely on senses other than sight. Touch, to feel the wind and rain directed by any distractions, to know the ground underneath and how to move over it swiftly and safely. Sound to tell us of changes in front of us, described by the raindrops and howls of the air all around, the noise of water hitting whatever we were to step onto.
Knight and Merchant, as well as Troubadour and a few others, didn't manage it to this extent. Then again, I never was able to match the former’s prowess with a greatsword and axe, and had honestly never felt inclined to. That wasn't my forte. Neither was this theirs.
Assassin was nearby, right on my heels. She was good in this, very good in fact. It was almost frightening how she could read her surroundings from sound alone. She was the only one of us who could reconstruct a scroll's content just from the sounds the pen made on the paper when it was being written.
Hunter was farther off, his senses scrambled by the rain, but still trailing. He was a wolfen - a race of creatures part man, part wolf, their bodies covered by thick fur and their heads possessing definite wolfish traits. Their society was one where clans were everything, and I couldn't imagine what it meant that he was here instead of with his own unless he was as so many of us, an orphan. No, not likely. But since he liked to keep to himself, nobody ever asked. A very courteous person though, well mannered, and polite. He simply preferred to keep his own counsel. When he did speak, it was worth listening to though.
Still, I think I was cheating a little bit. The talents of my blood were now almost never dormant. The state of my eyes was a conscious choice, as were many other things, but so many remained that were unconscious ones
I was fourteen.
As we padded into the dry interior of the keep, grabbed the towels laid out for us and went to clean up my thoughts were far from things like the above.
Troubadour would be leaving tomorrow.
I didn't really manage to wrap my mind around that one until a week ago, and it was driving me to distraction. Not even she really understood me then again, could one person ever really understand another? I think not. Not even she really understood me, but she came by far the closest. I wasn't afraid to act like the kid that was still somewhere in me, buried since that year when I'd been thrown out into the streets of Midden, when we were talking. We were friends and we were friends enough that we both knew we'd always be friends, no matter what. Even then, we were damn well aware of how much that meant.
In a way, I was actually very happy for her. She'd been deemed ready. And she would finally get to return home, to her family she had a family, and a place to go back to, unlike myself. Often, she'd say that I should look her up when I was done.
Bittersweet, to know that I'd have a place to go but that it wouldn't really be a place I could ever call my own.
The small, selfish part of my little black heart disagreed though. It didn't want her to leave. A purely egoistic reaction. And even though I found, and still find, nothing wrong with giving in to impulses of that nature from time to time I have always been a firm believer in choosing said times wisely. This wasn't one of those times.
So I was silent during my trek back to my rooms, and my mind went back to a conversation I'd had with her a little under two years ago.
I remembered coming back after having been to visit Teacher, after the year and a day had passed. He'd told me and I hadn't really been as surprised as I'd expected to be. It hadn't been all that hard to figure out, once I cleared my mind enough and gave myself enough time to actually consider all the clues consciously. My observations, the journal I'd kept slowly finding that it was more something that I kept for myself than something that Teacher had tasked me with keeping, had helped me a lot in this. It was a challenge to keep clinical about myself, and one I'd never really conquered, but I managed to be impartial in my judgment at least.
She'd been waiting, standing in front of the door with a pensive look on her face.
We just looked at each other.
"We'll miss dinner if we keep standing here like this." she said, smiling suddenly. She hadn't asked, even though I knew she was more than curious about it. And ever since, she never did.
Maybe she saw I was okay with what I'd discovered. Goes to show how well I'd managed to put up an poker face, because it took me a bit to deal with it even though the talk I had with Teacher only confirmed what I'd deduced several months prior.
I'd like to say I hadn't been obsessing, but I'd be lying. We'd been, more often than not, told that the world was a place of change, and that nothing lasts forever. Even those who reach beyond time don't stay the same throughout the course of their existence. It was time to accept the fact at a level beyond the academic.
So when the morning of her intended departure came I stood before the gates of the keep. Four horsemen, in livery I recognized as something from the Estragos Isles, an archipelago far South that had a bit of a rivalry with the Feudal Kingdoms as far as seaborne trade was concerned. It wasn't as much a unity as it was a conglomerate of smaller states, the largest one consisting of three islands? For whatever reason that little fact from the lectures had come to the fore, I shoved it just the same as everything else.
They had brought an extra horse with them, so it was a sure bet why they'd come.
To say that she looked different would have been an understatement. Until then I'd only seen her in plain tunics, the same things everybody else wore around the keep. Simple cut, rough cloth, plain dye. Now she'd cut her braid, leaving the flaming red-hair short - barely shoulder length. She wore emerald and sapphire, the colors of the liveries of the horsemen. Breeches, thigh-high soft-leather boots, finely cut vest and well, I'd never thought I'd actually see her in one of those jaunty little hats with a feather stuck on one side. She wore the clothes like a second skin, looking for all the world like some sort of noble
it suddenly occurred to me that I'd never asked her anything about her background and nobody else had let anything about it slip. She was so charismatic and likable that things like that seemed to lose importance.
I actually let loose a rueful little chuckle when I had to stop myself from looking for a purse on the getup, or trying to guess the fence value of the two rings she was wearing on her right hand.
Ruby and blue diamond. Damn.
"What's wrong? You've been standing there, staring at me for so long I was worried I'd need to poke you in the eyes to see if you'd blink."
"Nothing," I admitted. "Just feeling slightly silly for being surprised like this. Ignorance."
"Happens to the best of us." she grinned. "Like the fossil said, it's something we try as we might to avoid and don't ever really manage."
"Looks like this is it, though."
"Yea. 'M going to miss this place. Miss you, Thief."
"I'm gonna miss you, too. But hey, it's not like one of us is dying, ya know."
"Maybe," Troubadour sighed deeply.
It wasn't like her, really. I'd always been the easily depressed one, and she'd been easygoing and always there with a pick-me-up.
"Pretty heavy ‘maybe’. I've seen people being made to do the gallows walk and they had a lighter step than you do now."
Her eyes widened for a fraction of a second, before she collected herself.
"It's like a part of me is. The one I'm leaving here. For what it's worth, this was home and family for me for a longer time than whatever else I've known."
"This is home and family for me, and it's about the only one I've ever known." I countered, shrugging. Hey, it was.
"I have to go. The family goons are getting impatient." she gestured to the livery-wearing guardsmen. They were looking a little edgy.
"One more thing though. Back then, you never did ask about what Teacher told me. About what I was. Why?" I asked, partly out of curiosity and partly because I was ready to do just about anything to extend the conversation. It's called clutching at straws for a good reason. Troubadour's face turned pensive and serious for a moment, before she grinned.
The next few seconds would always remained burned into my memory like a brand. I only realized what the hell was happening after a moment or two, and when I did I damn well near squawked in surprise and to this day I thank the Gods for giving me more than enough good sense to contain that little outburst. Why ruing a perfectly good lip-lock with an exclamation of surprise?
I think we were both a little flushed and out of breath at the end of it, but she managed to say:
"You'll tell me later."
Then she turned around and walked over to the one unclaimed horse the guardsmen had brought with them, got on with her usual aplomb, and was off.
I whispered that after her, the words she'd said clear in my head. Tell her later indeed. Though hell may bar the way, I would. One day. Someday.
"Have luck, and clear skies."
I could hear the rain outside, little more than a drizzle that fell on the world beyond, softly caressing its form.
“Yes. You didn't imagine that we'd go the rest of your life calling you Thief, did you?"
"Well, the notion had struck my mind once or twice, then I figured I didn't really mind one way or the other and let it drop." I shrugged.
"You, Watchman, all the others who had no name when coming here will choose one for yourselves when you choose to leave. It's the last thing the Hagane give you, ending your education. A going away present."
"You give us ourselves, in a twisted little way. Symbolism. Never did like it much, sir."
"I'll tell you something, boy. Neither did I, but it's tradition. And I really do think you'd be better off with a name other than the one you've been given here and used for the past few years. Just a bit of friendly advice, you see."
I was sixteen.
Knight had gone, and so had Merchant and those who had a home to return to. What was left were the few of us who had no home but the Order, and we were welcome to stay as long as we wished. But it was encouraged to leave and learn by ourselves best to experience things on one's own skin, they say. I'd have faced the problem of leaving anyway, because of my birthright and one of its gifts.
But the name-choosing. It was indeed the last gift, and maybe the most profound one that could be given to us. It was a culmination of efforts that our education by the Order had led to, and ultimately, it was the final act of defining ourselves as individuals.
I don't think I ever had any real choice. There was only one name that truly fit. I'd never had a clear cut sense of purpose, never had a goal or a reason to exist. I merely did it for the sake of the doing itself. As tough as life had been, I still loved it.
I was eighteen when I finally decided to leave the keep of the Hagane, the last to have remained from those with whom I'd been learning. New students from all corners of the world had come, and the instructors were busy again I had taken my sweet time, because I could allow myself to do so. I could lose none of it, in the strictest sense.
After all, even if I had little of the prodigious strength or magical talent prescribed to demons, my half-breed blood retained one trait aside from keen senses and minor regenerative traits. I was eternal, fated to live until killed, by curse of my demon-father's line. And yet I was human in many ways, a gift from my mother, and had little of the instinctive hate towards the world that was so often attributed to hellspawn of all descriptions.
So I packed what little belongings I'd gathered through the time I’d spent in the keep, dressed in my traveling cloths and headed to Teacher's study.
And then, after I'd chosen, he told me to call him Jermsey.
The others all took a little of their time, a few moments were enough, to acknowledge that there was another of them out in the world. Going off to follow what he thought was his calling.
Armsmaster I mean Karth, wished me luck and presented me with a bundle containing several fine daggers and a bandolier for them.
Cloak Amelia. Weird thing, getting used to calling the people I'd looked to as icons through ten years of my life by their real names. Amelia gave me a tunic and breeches of the darkest black silk I'd ever seen.
Stalker well, there was no surprise here. That was his name, actually. He gave me a warm cloak.
The others, those I'd had less contact with, came too.
And finally I was outside, walking down the narrow path that led down from the hillside on which the keep stood. The sky was clear above me, no clouds in sight, and I stopped after an hour or two of walking and simply looked up.
I had no idea where I'd go, or what I'd do. I had no goal before me, no aim in my wanderings
But that was alright. After all I'd chosen my destiny in choosing a name, and it was one that foretold me exactly this.
My name is Stray, and I am a Wanderer of the Hagane.
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