November 11. 2000
It often amazes me how I managed to survive through two crushing tragedies in the span of one month. The murder of my father, soon followed by the death of my mother at the fangs of a banelar, left me in a state of despair and anger. Anger that left me with the burning desire to kill something, everything, and everyone. Despair that kept me to myself, speaking only with those I knew well, spurning the company of others.
My father was a guardsman in the city of Trellor. He worked every day, keeping the peace. Even so, he always had time for his children. Being the eldest son he taught me the arts of combat when he could spare the time, which was not often. My informal training was cut short one day when my family received word that my father had been murdered at the hands of a powerful adventurer. The case was not prosecuted, for this adventurer was considered a hero by many, one who saw himself above the law.
Bereft of income, my mother had to find a way to provide for the family. Every day, she traveled to the trade shop just out the gates of Trellor, selling goods to merchants and traders who came to the shop. In addition to the meager income provided by this, one of my father's friends, an adventurer himself by the name of Turlon, often visited our family. On his visits, he brought some extra money for us, as well as little gifts for the children. I often went with my mother on her trips out to the trading post. Being the eldest, I felt somewhat responsible for my mother's well being, although I knew I would be of little help should real trouble arise. One time it did. After a long day at the trade shop, we turned and headed for the gate, which was but a short walk away. We were within 30 feet of the massive gates when we heard an ominous hissing sound to the side of the road. We turned, and then froze in fear. An enormous snake with fangs dripping with poison lay at the side of the road, obviously lying in wait for some hapless meal to cross its path. I only know now that these beasts are called banelars, but then I only saw a beast that belonged in my nightmares.
The massive creature lumbered forward, hissing madly and baring its fangs. My mother screamed and began to back away, but I stood stock still, wishing this thing did not exist. But it did, so I slowly drew my woefully puny dagger and confronted the beast. I was suddenly jerked backwards and I lost my grip on my dagger. My mother took up my dropped weapon and rushed at the banelar. She screamed at me to run, but I could not comprehend. I was supposed to be charging the fearful monster, not her. I attempted to give chase, but the banelar was far quicker than I was. It hissed in an unintelligible language and a bright stream of colors shot at my mother, blinding her. She stumbled.
At that moment, a chainmail clad arm reached out and roughly hauled me to the gates. All I saw was a group of twenty Stormwatch mercenaries approaching the monster, but the bright flash of flame and an anguished scream told me all I needed to know. Before I sank into the depths of black unconsciousness, one thought crossed my mind. I would never again watch helplessly as a loved one was slain.
Soon after I awoke, I decided that continuing down the path of a warrior would serve me best. To accomplish my goal, I felt that joining the famed Warriors' Guild in the City of Medievia would be the best choice. However, making my way there was another matter. I'd been brought up not to trust arcane magics. The divine power of clerics is different, for their power comes directly from the gods above. The power of mages is drawn from around and shaped by the wizard, thus making it subject to human failings. One particular example is the portals. Every so often, my father would tell how today, some poor adventurer had stumbled from the swirling vapors, dazed and confused. "Who knows," my father questioned. "where the really unfortunate ones end up?" Adhering to this philosophy, I sought another method of travel to the City of Medievia. The solution came from my father's friend, Turlon.
When I told him of my dilemma, he offered to fly me to Medievia City via dragonback. I immediately agreed, having seen people perched atop the majestic creatures and wishing I could fly on one. To say the least, the flight was exhilirating. The rush of the wind past my face, as well as the dizzying height at which we flew, served to bring a surge of adrenalin which left me breathless. When we finally landed, Turlon turned to me and smiled. "Ye'll be flying on your own soon enough, Homncruse. I can see it in your future." I simply nodded, took another look at the aloof dragon, and turned and walked confidently into the city. I'd never been so excited in my life.
I had asked directions to the Warrior's Guild and jogged to the entrance. I looked up at the majestic archway, as well as the impassive guards standing before it. They appeared to take no notice of me as I entered. I soon found the Guildmaster training a pair of students. I studied them for a moment. They seemed so clumsy with their weapons, so I knew I'd be accepted. I turned to the Guildmaster and squared my shoulders.
"Sir," I began. "I'd like to join this guild."
"Sir," I said again, carefully enunciating each word. "I would like to join this guild."
Finally, the muscular warrior turned and looked at me. "I heard you the first time, boy," he growled. "Can ye not see that I am busy?"
I blinked in disbelief. I didn't understand what he meant. He pointed at the corner.
"Go wait with the rest of the hopefuls." I turned and saw another group of adolescents loitering in the corner, anxious expressions on their face.
"I'm not some-" I began.
"SILENCE!!" he roared. "Do as ye're told, whelp!!"
The people in the corner began sniggering. Red-faced, I turned and stomped into the corner. I stood slightly away from the rest and slumped against the wall. I heard someone sniggering again and turned to glower in that direction. Then there was simply silence, other than the sounds of the Guildmaster training the other two. I noted that I stood at least a head higher than any of the rest, so I felt there was no chance I'd be rejected. With this knowledge, I became even more angry at being insulted and humiliated before these people even if I was obviously the best candidate.
And so, I merely leaned there and stewed, throwing dark glances at the others, who did their best not to catch my attention. Finally, after the Guildmaster had screened through the rest of the candidates, accepting only a few and rejecting most, he came to me. He looked me over and frowned. I squared my shoulders and stared him in the eyes.
"No, you won't do," he finally said. Then he turned and started to walk away. I clapped my hand on his shoulder.
"What do you mean, 'I won't do!?' I shouted. "I'm bigger than the re-"
He spun about, grabbed my arm and threw me to the floor. His face burned bright red, and I thought he would kill me right then and there. Through clenched teeth, he hissed, "It does NOT matter how BIG or STRONG you are! A good warrior must have HUMILITY! YOU do NOT! Now LEAVE!"
Shocked, I did not argue. I stood up and stomped my way out, ready to kill someone. With edges of red creeping into my vision, I stomped my way into 'Ye Daemon's Forge,' a bar in the southeast of the Warriors' Quarter. I found an empty booth and dropped into the seat. I darkly muttered my order to the waitress who came by. As I waited there, I boiled over the injustice done to me. How had I been rejected for something so trivial as humility? What has that to do with combat? The waitress dropped my mug on the table and scurried away. I picked it up and took a mouthful of the bitter draught. Something was going to snap.
Then a hand dropped on my shoulder.
"You're in my seat, vermin," intoned a deep bass voice.
I turned and glowered at the man standing next to me. He had a long dirty beard and smelled like he hadn't bathed in weeks. He was perhaps an inch taller than I and maybe 10 or 20 pounds more. I also noted a layer of fat over his stomach. I could take him.
"Let me help you in it," I growled angrily. With the strength born of my anger, I grabbed the man's arm and heaved him into the air, over my shoulder, and onto the table, which immediately shattered into splinters. He roared and leaped to his feet. He grabbed at the dagger on his belt and lunged at me. I snapped a side kick into his solar plexus, as my father had taught me, and he folded like a wet towel. He doubled over, gasping for breath, and I lifted my knee into his nose. I heard something crack and he flopped back against the wall.
He blinked at me in disbelief and said, "You're dead."
He looked over at the door and snapped his hand brusquely, then leaped at me. I rolled onto my back and threw him over my head, then looked at the direction of the door. A number of guardsmen were pouring in, intent on stopping us. I had to finish this fight quickly. I grabbed the man's dropped dagger and placed it at his throat.
"Do you yield!?" I shouted at him. "Never!" he screamed. "Kill me, you scum! Kill me!"
Stunned, I didn't resist as mailed gloves pulled me away and wrenched the dagger away. I couldn't believe his stupidity, his pride. One day, someone would take him up on his offer and kill him. Then I realized this is the humility that the Guildmaster spoke of. Were I defeated so easily, I may have allowed my pride to cause my own death, as well. Unfortunately, this revelation had come too late. No doubt, I would be spending some time behind bars. This infraction would likely have scuttled my chances at joining the guild. I hung my head and allowed myself to be hauled away.
However, just as I passed through the doors, someone called out to the guards, stopping them. I turned to see who it was, and was startled to see one of the guards from the Warrior's Guild emerge. I'd not noticed him enter Ye Daemon's Forge.
"We may need this one," he stated to the guards. The guard holding my left arm blinked in confusion.
"Him? He's a trouble-maker! He's going to be spending time in the gaol!"
The warrior shook his head. "By order of the Guildmaster," he said.
The guard grumbled mightily and let me go.
"Well, good luck with this one, then. I'm betting he's going to be more trouble than he's worth."
With a wry smile, the warrior chuckled. "We'll see," he said. "I would say this boy here has learned his lesson, right?"
I mutely nodded. And after many trials and hardships, I eventually gained a good measure of skill as a warrior. However, I still kept to myself. I ventured into the darkest, most dangerous areas alone without friends or allies to watch my back. But that was soon to change.
One particularly depressingly rainy day, I met with one of my few friends, a cleric by the name of Kilannon. We'd often ventured into dangerous places together, and I trusted him without a thought. That particular day, we decided to test our luck in the maze known as the Labyrinth. We summoned dragons, one of those powers that I'd gotten used to, and directed our mounts to the entrance. Our dragons set down a bit north of the entryway. The two of us dismounted and quickly made our way into the hallways, alert for trouble. As always, I moved in front of Kilannon, to better block attacks heading his way.
We hadn't even turned two corners before we came face to snout with a trio of surly-looking goblins. The four-foot-tall creatures snarled angrily at us and rushed forward. I ducked behind my shield as one of them smashed a club into it, then retaliated with my sword. My blade glanced off its combat plate, but my second swing cut beneath the plate, severely wounding it.
Another goblin rushed at my right side, but I deftly parried its attacks and bashed it over the head with the pommel of my weapon. The third goblin tried to squirm by me, but I simply gave it a good bash in the side of the head with my shield and it stumbled back. The injured goblin attempted to flee, but Kilannon murmured a short prayer and called down a column of divine flames, engulfing the beast in burning fire and reducing it to ashes.
The remaining two goblins made a concerted rush, pushing me backwards. Their frenzy of blows slipped by my defense and I suffered a nasty bruise on my rib. I adjusted my balance and kicked a goblin in the groin. It doubled over and squealed while I easily sliced his partner to ribbons. Before I could return to finish it off, it straightened slightly and gave me a hard bash over the head, staggering me. It then rushed by me and laid a fury of blows on Kilannon. He grimaced as the blows landed and shouted out a short burst of words. The ground rippled and the goblin staggered aside. I lunged forward and impaled the foul creature on my sword.
After a brief rest in which Kilannon healed our wounds and regained his magical energy, we picked up our weapons and proceeded deeper. It was not long before he suddenly whispered for me to stop. I looked at him curiously, but he seemed to be staring into the shadows. He uttered some words and the ground shook. A bandit in worn leather armor stumbled out, then growled and leaped at us, brandishing a sword menacingly. I raised my shield against his frenzied blows and returned with a few measured strokes of my own. Kilannon called down flames and burned the man, but he kept throwing himself at me.
Finally, I slammed my sword's pommel into the bandit's forehead and I heard a loud cracking sound. He slumped to the floor, dead. I shrugged and prepared to move, but the sounds of combat had drawn more monsters to our position. A number of mangy, brown-colored kobolds scampered around the corner. I counted at least five. Ignoring the harsh odds, I pulled my helmet tight, lowered my shoulder, and charged.
Three of them were surprised by my bold charge and I plowed into them, throwing them to the floor. The last two nimbly dodged aside and stabbed me with their little short swords. I grunted at this annoyance and turned to impale one. I froze solid as the massive minotaur rushed down the hallway at me, axe raised high. Kilannon was unaware of this approaching danger and again caused the ground to rattle and shake, and this likely saved my life, as the Minotaur stumbled slightly and I was able to move out of its way. I ran backwards towards Kilannon, shouting at him to flee. He saw the Minotaur and his eyes widened. He cast his spell once more and turned to flee while the kobolds recovered from the violent shaking. We both turned and fled down the corridor and around a corner.
Unfortunately, a pair of giant shrews had decided they would sleep in the middle of the corridor and we tripped over them and sprawled to the floor. As we tried to pick ourselves up, the Minotaur caught up. He roared in anger. Kilannon shouted in panic and began expending his magical energy as fast as his lips would move, immolating the Minotaur in column after column of roaring flame. Ignoring the inconvenience, the Minotaur rushed forward and bashed me across the face with the haft of his axe, then slashed across my leg.
I screamed out and attempted to retaliate, managing to nick the Minotaur on his left bicep. The Minotaur kicked me in the gut and then slashed me across the arms and chest. Reeling in pain, I staggered and fell against the wall, leaving a bloody streak. The Minotaur bellowed once again and rushed straight at Kilannon. He let out a tense cry for assistance, but I could only see a hazy vision through my pain.
Someone else shouted something, but I couldn't understand it. Kilannon shut his eyes and concentrated. Moments before the Minotaur was within melee range, Kilannon opened up a shimmering portal and stepped through to safety. Enraged by the sudden escape of its prey, the bull-headed beast turned towards me again. I felt a tug at my body and was yanked elsewhere by a summoning spell. I moaned in pain and forced myself to sit up.
My head hurt. The world swirled around me, but I managed to focus my eyes. Kilannon stood before me, as well as a young woman whom I'd never seen before.
Kilannon beamed at me and said, "It's not bedtime, Homncruse. Get up." I groaned slowly and sat up, glaring daggers at him. He merely smiled wider and said, "This young lady is Luella. She shouted before and I phased to her."
"Of course," I muttered. "Leaving me back there to rot."
Kilannon laughed heartily. "No no no, I summoned you once I could pull together enough energy," he replied.
Luella smirked. "You two boys done bickering?"
Kilannon turned to her and bowed ever so slightly, eyes twinkling. "And if we're not?" He challenged.
She smiled widely. "Well," she replied. "then I duel you to the death."
My friend scratched his head and looked at me confused. But Luella didn't give him a chance to answer. She held her hands forward and a stream of ice shards slammed into Kilannon's body. He staggered backwards and tried to reply with his own spell, but a column of fire hit him from above. He looked at her astonished, and she threw a fireball at him that exploded and threw him against the wall.
"Hey!" I shouted. But when I attempted to intercede, the walls spun in circles and I fell over. Kilannon finally managed to get off a spell of his own, and his own flamestrike spell engulfed Luella, but she merely shrugged it off. She held her hands in front of her and a stream of color flashed at him, blinding him. Kilannon stumbled backwards and screamed, covering his eyes. Luella raised her arms up and another storm of ice shards impaled Kilannon. He let out an anguished scream before collapsing to the floor in a heap.
I looked at Luella in utter shock. She turned to me and regarded me for a second. "Don't look so shocked," she said. "He's not actually dead. He'll be coming around in a minute, you'll see."
True enough, Kilannon stirred a minute later. "Ugghh..." he murmured. "My head..." And then he slumped again, snoring peacefully.
Luella snorted and said, "Interesting friends you have, Homncruse."
I frowned. "He's one of few."
She raised her eyebrows quizzically. "Few? Why? Are you a lone wolf?"
I shook my head. "No. It's simply that I've just recently been removed from the New Adventurers' Guild. I was no longer "new" enough, according to them."
Luella nodded her head sagely. "Ahh...I see. Have you considered joining a clan?"
"Of course I have," I replied somberly. "None seem to be interested in me just yet."
She looked at me a few moments. "Well," she started. "Would you consider our clan? We are the Followers of One Dark Path."
I was intrigued. "I hardly know you. Why are you inviting me?"
She shrugged and replied, "Well, let's just say I have a certain feeling about you. There's something about you that says to me that you're the loyal sort, one who trusts few, but trusts them much. You see, we're more a family than a clan."
Her words struck close to home. A family. Something I hadn't had in a long time. I smiled at her and said,
"Count me in."
She closed her eyes a moment and said, "Done."
I felt her voice in my mind. "Everyone welcome Homncruse to the clan!"
There came a torrent of voices, all of them proclaiming welcomes.
"Welcome to the clan, Homncruse!"
"Welcome to our family, Homncruse."
Family...at last...something I had been long without. I had a good feeling about these people, little did I know that we would be together for a long time...
Grateful thanks for revision and advice from Thenlar.