Guiding Fire Jun 11, 2015 13:07:30 GMT
Post by conumbra on Jun 11, 2015 13:07:30 GMT
Age: 16, 16 years after the Slavery War
He blinked once, twice, his body shaking off the seductive embrace of sleep. The world slowly came into focus; he hadn’t been hungover yet but from the rumours he’d heard this sounded a lot like that. No pain though, just a feeling that his body really wanted to keep on standing still for the moment, thank you very much. It took the greatest effort to get his eyes moving so he could see where he was,
It was a boat, he figured that much. At first he thought his head was swaying, the way the room seemed to move back and forth. He felt the nausea rising in his gut and would have stopped himself from retching if his hands hadn’t been chained to a beam in the roof. Spittle dribbled from his mouth. Was this what sailors experienced? He’d never visit a boat again, this was awful!
His nose wrinkled at the scent of his own throw-up and spit. Cheeks flushed with embarrassment, which made no sense; there was no one in the cell with him. He looked undamaged on the outside. His initiate robes had been stripped from him, replaced with a set of rags that smelled worse than his throw-up. On the inside his upper body was becoming a mess of pain. Constant cramps kept dragging his perceptions back to reality when he wanted to focus on anything else.
There were no windows, no way for him to orient himself or tell the passage of time. The only light was a small flickering oil lamp in one corner of the room. At first he tried to reach it with his feet but it proved frustratingly out-of-reach. Maybe minutes, maybe hours passed in that constant aching existence, before the door’s lock clicked open, letting in a man with some shadowed creature on his shoulder. When he closed the door the man and his small familiar came into view.
Hechin was left disappointed. He’d been expecting some terrible caricature of an evil slaver, a man with scars, maybe an eyepatch and a grizzled beard. But no, this was entirely the opposite. A bald, brown-skinned man, with a pair of iron-rimmed spectacles and a hairless chin. A dark red vest over a black shirt and some black trousers. No inch of fabric looked out of place, like he’d just come out of some tailor’s daydream. The figure on his shoulder was instantly recognizable from Hechin’s education. An imp, straight from Hell itself. A tiny humanoid form with a leering face and red skin, scaled feet and a reptilian tail, curved down the man’s arm. Two horns pointed back from the imp’s leering face. Wings curved back, hiding the imp’s form from the sun in a feeble attempt to avoid Her gaze.
“Good to see you awake boy,” the man said. “It was quite a risk, snatching you up. But lucky for me, you’ll be worth mountains of gold in Turnia. Now, let me make things clear. You’re on my ship; for the extent of your stay I own you, body and mind. You do what I say, you’ll get fed, clothed, tended. You don’t…well there’s quite a lot I can do to you that won’t decrease your value, not in the long run. So play nice.” His voice was calm, reasonable. He sounded more like one of the priests back at the temple than a horrible monster.
Hechin tried to glare at the other man, though the effect was largely ruined by his being chained up. “You don’t know what you’ve done. They’ll find me, and then you’re dead!”
The slaver lifted a hand up to gently pet the imp on the head. “’’Fraid not; room’s lined with lead behind the wood, so by the time they realize you’re gone they’ll have no way of getting to you. Now sit back and relax. Dinner will be in a few hours and there’ll be a check-up every so often so you can relieve yourself. Better service than many other slaves can hope for. Now to prevent you performing any magical nonsense, here’s a present.” The man reached into a pocket and pulled out a ball of fabric with two straps, stuffing the ball into his mouth and wrapping it behind his head. “Enjoy your trip!”
The man continued petting the imp as he left the room, closing the door and locking it behind him. That final click had a sense of finality to it. If he never got out of these restraints, today would be the last day he’d see his homeland for years, possibly for the rest of his life. His mind conjured up images of Jelan, of the temple, of Illidar itself. He’d never get to stand at the tip of the lighthouse and see the coral fields sparkle under the twilight sky, never marvel at the mosaics in the Plaza of the Sun.
He shook his head. Those thoughts were a poison on the mind, keeping him focused on what he could lose, rather than a solution. He looked up at the beam, tried to wrench the manacles free from the wood. But he didn’t have enough leverage; no matter how hard he pulled, they stayed firmly in the wood. Frustrated, he scanned the rest of the featureless room, before his eyes focused back on the oil lamp. A memory triggered, of something Jelan had said to him.
He still felt nervous whenever he looked at his new teacher. The other priests said it had something to do with her being a Tiefling, but that knowledge didn’t do much to help the feeling in his gut. He couldn’t help but lean back in his wooden chair, instinctively trying to put some distance between the two of them.
She sat on her own chair, wearing the red and gold cleric’s robes that were standard fair amongst the temple’s priests. Solarin’s symbol, an image of a winged woman with hands stretched to the sky, was sewn with gold thread over her stomach and on her shoulders. It glimmered in the warn noon light streaming in from a window. This room was a small room off to the side of the main entrance hall, meant to meet with visitors or other tasks, like privately training initiates.
A brazier was set on the table between them, its kindling unlit for the moment. Jelan smiled, trying to comfort him, but the pointed teeth she showed didn’t do much good for his mood.
“So,” she said, “after our last lesson, what’s your answer to the question I gave you?”
He took a deep breath and tried to steady his shaking hands. “The theme of The Birth of Light and Truth is that nothing’s absolute. Rules are followed unless doing so would harm people. Whether that’s the rule of law, or Solarin’s rules. Helping people, protecting them, is what matters.”
“Very good. But remember that the worse the rule-breaking, the more extreme the circumstances have to be to justify it. And before you break that rule you have to make sure other options aren’t possible. Solarin understands that the world is not as simple as we may wish. She does not understand extreme actions without necessity.”
She pointed to the brazier. “But enough such talk. Back to your lessons.” A bolt of fire streamed from her fingers and struck the wood in the brazier, setting it alight “Now why do we revere the flame as Her tool?”
“Uh…” This was new. For the last several weeks she’d been quizzing him about passages in The Birth of Light and Truth or about the teachings contained within. This wasn’t covered in the book and he hadn’t heard this during the services downstairs. His mind raced for something to say. “Because…the flame can hurt and help, just like She can?”
“That’s part of it but you’re just scratching the surface. Dig a little a deeper. What does fire do for us?”
“Well…it gives off light and heat. Cooks food, seals wounds, keeps the darkness at bay…oh! It can guide others to safety!”
The smile on her face turned into a happy grin. “Exactly. Just as a fire can guide a lost soul to safety, so does She guide us towards the light that exists within ourselves. Just as She shows us the path, so she instructs us to go and do the same for others. All around the word there are people succumbing to evil, with no light to show them the way. We are to be the torches of the world, burning when we must, but helping the rest. In the end, Her hope is that one day She will no longer need to guide mortals down the path with us.”
Hechin looked down at the table. “That seems like a lot of responsibility to take on.”
“It is, I won’t lie. But remember this. She sees through every flame and every ray of sunshine that strikes our world. As long as you’re on the right path…” she reached into the brazier, the fire coating her skin but causing no damage, “She will never let you burn.”
He returned back to the present, bolstered by the remembrance. Solarin was with him now and she would be with him wherever he went, so long as there was fire and sun. He let his head rest as a comforting warmth filled his chest. Sooner or later someone would slip, or some twist of fate would give him the chance he was waiting for. All he had to do was keep paying attention, watch for the signs, and be ready to take advantage of them. That certainty of release was the only thing that dulled the constant aches in his arms and he seized on it, never intending to let it go.
An unknown length of time passed with him in the cell, the flickering flame of the lamp his only companion. He could almost have found this place boring so far, if it hadn’t been for the restraints and impending slavery. He chuckled and that seemed to push the pain back farther too. He found himself comforted by the oil lamp, safe in the knowledge that She saw him. He would have been content to wait for his meal but he heard more footsteps coming from the hall outside. Too frequent for only one person. Maybe the entire crew was coming to take a peek at the new slave they’d gotten.
They stopped outside his door and he heard the familiar turning of a key in a latch. The door was quickly pushed open, and in stumbled through a man and a boy. The man was thickly muscled, wearing nothing more than a pair of short trousers and a mariner’s vest. His hair was matted together and it was apparent that the man hadn’t had a bath in weeks just from the stench alone. There was a ring a keys in his hand; a guard then or a trusted servant. The boy could hardly have been ten, his clothing a miniature replica of the older man’s. He was bald, but Hechin couldn’t get a much better look at him. The boy was struggling against the man, who kept trying to close the door while managing the screaming and punches directed at him.
Hechin struggled at the chains, pulling on them with what little might his tired muscles could manage. The chains rattling distracted the man long enough for him to turn his eyes away from the door and towards Hechin. He sneered as he dragged the still struggling boy up to the chained up prisoner, and tore out the gag, throwing it to the floor.
“Stay still, strugglin’ ain’t gonna help you. Be quiet, you might even enjoy this. Make too much noise, I punch your fuckin’ teeth in, got it?” He didn’t wait for Hechin to respond. He threw the boy against the wooden wall of the cell, and descended upon him.
Hechin’s view was blocked by the man’s body, but underneath the child’s screaming and yelling he heard the rip of fabric being torn. A ball of ice filled his gut as he realized what was going to happen in front of him. He tried to block out the child’s struggling but the noise reached his ears anyway. He at least could divert his eyes.
He stared into the flickering flame of the oil lantern and whispered a quiet prayer to Solarin, asking Her to guide the boy’s soul to its proper resting place. Men like this wouldn’t finish after the initial act; the body would likely be tossed overboard. Hechin couldn’t do anything chained up like this, ‘least he could do was make sure the boy’s afterlife was taken care of. His hands balled themselves into fists, arms shaking with barely constrained rage. He pulled against the chains with all his might but they wouldn’t budge.
Then the oil lantern’s fire leaped across the cell, over the man’s back, and vanished down Hechin’s throat.
It felt like an inferno roared through him. There was no pain, only a comforting warmth and the feeling of the unnecessary being cleansed from him. His eyes and mouth blazed with orange light, casting new shadows on the room. His body jerked in the chains as he was embraced by Her heavenly fire. Instantly, he could feel his gifts within him, and the knowledge of how to use them was burned into his brain. The light dimmed and the aches in his arms were gone, replaced with the energy he’d need for what was to come.
Hechin quickly willed his halo into existence, the glowing circle of fire brightening the rest of the room much better than the lantern had. The man turned around and fixed him with a snarling grimace. Thankfully he hadn’t had the time to do much; the boy’s vest was ripped open but otherwise he looked unharmed.
He acted quickly. In his mind the new words of power blazed in his memory for the gifts She had provided. With one special word he slickened the bonds around his wrists, allowing him to slip free of them with one big pull, though the manacles still tore off a flap of skin. The pain seemed too small to worry about.
“Take your hands off him and let us leave in peace” Hechin said.
The man glowered at Hechin and shoved the boy down to the floor. “Guess you don't wanna have teeth no more.” He stepped up to Hechin, ready to use those big fists of his to fulfill his earlier promise.
Hechin turned toward the boy. “Duck, now!”
Thankfully the boy reacted quickly while the man did not. Hechin shot out his arms and whispered another word of divine power. Flame shot out in a great stream from his palms, burning the man’s skin and setting his hair on fire. He screamed as his flesh cooked, the noise making Hechin shudder. It would be unkind to let this man suffer like this; better put him out of his misery quickly. With a simple act of will, a bolt of fire shot from his fingers and impacted the center of his forehead. It singed through the skin and cooked the brain inside, killing the man instantly.
The smell inside the room was sickening; before he could stop himself he bent over and retched some more throw-up onto the floor. He didn’t care about being seen, he had to get out of there. Hurriedly, he unlocked the door and dragged the boy out before he could focus too heavily on the scene inside. Hechin didn’t relish the boy’s further life; if it disturbed him he couldn’t imagine what was going through the boy’s mind.
He let go of the boy’s arm and got down on his knees in the hallway. “I-I’ll try and get you off this boat, ok? What’s your name?” He tried to act as soothing as possible despite the fact that on the inside his heart was thundering like a war drum.
The boy finally seemed to come out of the shock that had gripped him back in the room. Tears started flowing uncontrollably, though he didn’t whine loudly, perhaps realizing he didn’t want other people to hear right now. Out in the light of his halo, Hechin could see the boy’s lighter skin and blue eyes. He definitely wasn’t a local. “M-Matthew. Matthew Jaurine.” He looked at Hechin with fear in his eyes. “Y-you really want to get us off the boat? B-but I live here! It’s my home!”
He locked eyes with Matthew “Matthew, I’ve never known my parents, always lived with the church. I know how tempting it can be to grab onto any form of safety you can get. But trust me, you don’t want to live in a home where people try to hurt you. Leaving that, I think is worth the risk. Now, where are most of the at right now?”
“Well, we’re getting ready to cast-off. B-boss said we got what we needed. Ship’s gonna go soon.”
“Wait…” Hechin said, “are we still near Illidar? At the docks?”
“Y-yeah, but not for long.”
Hechin smiled. “I’ve got an idea. Matthew, be still, this might feel a bit strange at first. Can I take your hand please?”
The boy shirked away from Hechin’s initial advance, but he kept his arm up and just smiled, trying to look warm while his eyes were darting down the corridor. Eventually the boy relented and let Hechin take his hand. Another brief word of power and a quick pattern traced over Matthew’s palm, and the magic took effect.
“When we get to the upper deck, I want you to scream for help. Don’t hold back now, just scream it as loud as you can until your throat gets too sore to talk. Now, you’re right, when we get up there there’s going to be a ton of guys. But they won’t be expecting us, so when we head on deck, we run for the gangplank if it’s up. If it’s not, we’re going to jump overboard.”
“B-but I can’t swim!”
“Then I’ll help you if that happens. But we’ve got to move fast now, before someone comes down here to check up on me. What’s the quickest way up top?”
“I…I think it’s this way.” Matthew pointed down the torch-lit hallway.
“Alright. Remember, soon as we get there, we’ve got to run like crazy. Have faith Matthew, we’ll make it.” He held onto Matthew’s hand as tight as he could as they navigated the ship’s corridors and made their way to the deck.
There weren’t as many people as he’d expected, which confirmed Matthew’s story. He quickly doused the halo to help them sneak by. They did narrowly escape from the gazes of a few crew members, either through careful timing or waiting until it was safe to move past where they’d been. Whether through divine providence or just blind luck they managed to get through the final door and greet the sun on the main deck.
Feeling Her rays hit him, Hechin took the briefest moment to bask in her light before the two were running off to their potential freedom. The other sailors had paused in their duties all around the ship, including the fastidious man Hechin had met down below. He leered down at them from the crow’s nest, then pointed at them. “Stop them!” the man said, “Kill the boy, but no lasting damage to the older one, we need him unharmed!”
The other sailors started moving, jumping down from the riggings and dropping the supplies they’d been holding. Hechin could feel Her light pushing against him, urging him forward. The men and women on the ship closed around him, slowly encircling them as they ran across the deck.
Hechin looked at Matthew and squeezed the boy’s hand as they ran. “Now would be the time Matthew!” he said as they were reaching the gangplank. Together they pushed a gnome women into the water as she was walking on deck. Then Matthew started screaming.
A normal ten-year-old yelling at the top of their lungs could have alerted the nearby docks and maybe a block or two past them.
A ten-year-old with a magically empowered voice alerted half a city’s worth of guardsmen to come running to the rescue.
10 years later
He gave a contented sigh. He hadn’t been back to Keshan in years. Today was a new start for him, fresh off the boat. He’d managed to tell Slithar to keep hidden so as not to alert folks, but otherwise all it took was some minor costume changes. He was sure this business would work out; sure the last one hadn’t but this one was a sure thing! It had to be, his “financiers” were getting angry with him.
He set up his market stall right outside the docks in an attempt to catch the people newly visiting Keshan. His shop was touted as selling “Ancient curios from far-off lands” but it was really more of a scam to get gullible people to give him their money. He was desperate; this basic idea was the last straw for him. In case it didn’t work, Slithar would be standing invisible just around the corner to pick their pockets.
A local Keshani approached the shop. His back stiffened at his garments. A member of Solarin’s church, he wore the priestly robes underneath a gleaming breastplate. The simple scimitar hung from his belt. His white hair positively glowed in the noonday sun.
He took a deep breath. All he had to do was play calm and hopefully the priest would go away. “Hello there sir. Praise be to Solarin. Would you like to purchase one of my fine historical treasures?” he gestured to the row of “ancient” pottery, weapons and jewelry that glittered on the stall. Most if not all were complete fakes of course, but he was betting most visiting Keshan would have no idea.
“Yes, how about that lovely emerald necklace over there.” The man pointed to the one on the far right. Surprising, to see a priest interested in such items, but he reached over to grab it. Faster than he could react, the priest’s scimitar was out of its sheath and pressed right up close to his neck. “I wouldn’t think about moving. Or casting spells. Or doing anything other than staying very still. I just sharpened this blade, and I’d hate to dull it again.”
He did indeed stay very still. He liked his head staying precisely where it was. “W-what seems to be the problem sir?” he asked.
“Well, see about ten years back, the Illidar guards found out that a slaver ship had been secretly docked in the city harbour. They scoured it, rescuing the captured slaves and either killing or imprisoning all the crew. All except one fastidious man who managed to get away. You did well with your disguise actually. Lost the glasses, gained a few pounds. Went bald, that’s a nice touch. Without Her guidance I likely wouldn’t have found you.”
The priest leaned in, grinning. “Remember me? Small kid, running across the deck of your ship?” he said.
The man’s entire body turned to ice. ”I...see. So, are you going to kill me now?”
His head tilted “Well, not unless you decide to do something stupid, like attack me. Otherwise, I’ve got some friends waiting just back there who’d love to put you in some special cuffs and drag you off to jail. I hear they still give the death sentence for trafficking in slaves. Oh, and don’t worry about your pet, we found a nice bag to stuff him in.”
The man sighed, shaking his head. He had no home to go back to, no family to live with. Prison seemed to be a safer bet than Turnia at this point, what with how angry his “financiers” would be with him. “Very well, take me away. Got nothing to live for at this point anyway.”
The priest smiled. “Well, maybe I can change that.” He turned to the priests leaning against a nearby inn and waved them over. “Now, have you thought about accepting Solarin into your heart?”