by Spencer, with contribution by Thomas
The old man walked nimbly yet cautiously through the market of Cillandar. Cloaked and hunched forward, he blended in with the other shoppers and patrons on their way home. He was used to disguise, used to the art of illusion. One might say he was a master of it. But the context of this imprisonment, of his self imposed exile from humanity never seemed to quite fit him, so he wore it that eve like his cloak. It covered him fully and yet never felt right against his skin. He moved down dark passageways, even though it was a warm day with the sun high in the sky. His eyes peered side to side, looking for what he had sought for many years. Around was him the refuse of the denizens of this part of the city. It was not a welcome place, nor a place most in Cillandar had been to. Located behind the vast markets, it was a place where people went who didn’t want to remain in the light of day. In any light for that matter. He knew what he had sought would be there though. He had waited, long had he waited. That night he had found it.
From out of an alleyway, he heard the yelling. A group of mostly adolescent children, crowding around by a corner of the city wall, pelting the ground area with stones, kicking something. Something that sounded wounded and hurt. The old man approached, wary and watchful, mostly for the benefit of the wounded.
“C’mon rift! Do another trick!” Called the crowd. Some voice, a child’s yet mean and vicious led the chorus. “You can’t take on all of us!” There was much laughter punctuated by a single wailing voice, barely audible among the other voices.
A howl came from under the crowd before him. It was as savage as it was painfully human. It was agony and pain, and fury too. Just after it, the crowd pulled back, as something small lept up. The small creature had been pinned to the ground by their kicks and attacks, but now it was loose, and it frightened them. The crowd moved back, spreading out in a circle around the thing. A hysterical voice yelled, “That’s right! I’m a rift! And if you don’t run you cowards, I’ll drag you to Ket with me!”
The creature had a child’s voice, filled with the sobs that only a child makes. A child scared, and alone.
“WHAT is going on here?!?” the old man yelled with an unnatural voice that shuddered the street. “Be gone, ALL OF YOU!!” He stepped out, pulling his cloak down around his shoulders. His golden hair, mixed with grey, fell. His voice rose. “Be gone, the lot of you and let this child’s judgment pass to me!”
“To you?” remarked one of the elder children. He was a simple street rat, but he spoke with the sarcasm and cruelty of an adult, and withdrew a small blade as proof of his maturity. “And who in the blasted darkness are you to be the the only judge on these streets, old man? He’s going to the Inquisitioner! So says me ma or me pa as well!”
“Son,” replied the elderly man, exhaustion written upon his face, “You’ve never known your mother or father. Your name is Tradian, and you’ve lived within 100 steps of the market trash heap every night of your life.”
The boys brow furrowed, and his eyes went wide. He lunged for the old man, and his knife found it’s mark. He smiled and stared into the old man’s eyes, but there was no pain to laugh at there. In fact, there was no pain at all. The old man’s eyes showed only sympathy. Looking down, Tradian saw his knife had indeed found the mark above the skin, just where the heart should beat. But it hadn’t sunk into flesh. Instead, it had struck a single tear drop shaped scale. Under the man’s cloak, like a single scale piece of an armor he didn’t wear. It was golden, bright and as the knife cut the fabric, it shone in the morning sun.
The crowd of children reacted quickly, not understanding, nor being able to do so. They ran in fear, a look of terror and disbelief in their eyes. Those lucky few with some parent would soon know of this, the rest, would crawl into their hiding places there on the tough streets of the Cillandrial docks. “Run, it must be a Ketian! Call the guard! Call the Order!!”
The children dispersed. The old man watched them go. Dirty rags, dirty un-shoed feet and hair riddled no doubt with lice. And yet, inside each, the light of Kasille. It is there, Talos, it is still there. With effort, he grunted and walked towards the figure, now huddled in the corner.
The creature before him was lucky to be alive, he knew. It’s reddish-brown skin was visibly bruised, and covered in dirt and bits of rotten stone fruit. It was curled into a ball, and was hard to identify. Boy or girl? Monster of some kind? Somewhere through the grime and filth and torn scraps of clothing hanging off it’s thin frame, there was a tail, he thought. He had seen that before. A child’s foot stuck out, not an animals. He had seen other forms of rifting worse than this, although it was rare to find one. The order made quick end to those who they believed turned themselves to the darkness. “You there,” the old man said in an undertone, carefully he bent towards the child, resting on a wooden staff, “What is your name, child?”
The figure in the corner looked up at the old man, revealing his eyes of red, a brow-line that extended into curling and twisting horns. The image might have struck another, but to the man, he simply stared, waiting for an answer to his query. Corrupted by some evil dream, it still spoke with the voice as sweet as any child’s. If it was a demon, it had the voice belied something much more innocent. “What do you care? I have no name! I’ve never known my true name! Nor do I need one, old man!”
The elderly man never broke his smile. It was patient, and warm despite the insult. “Well they call you ‘Rift’, is that what I should call you young one?”
“I don’t care what you call me! I don’t care what you think, what any of you think,” sobbed the creature. He curled himself back into a ball, wincing at the motion. With a whimper and a sigh, he rocked back and forth, clearly in considerable pain, too much to escape this time. And then, exhausted, he passed out overtaken by the wounds he had recieved. His breathing labored, his sleep, if one could call it that, full of a nightmare only he seemed to know.
The man brought the staff to the young man’s skin, and instantly the breathing became stilled. The child’s face began to change as though a calmness began to spread through him. His body relaxed. The man stood as tall as he dared and looked down at the sleeping child. “Your name is Frank, young one, whether you know it or not. And it is good to see you again.”
“Over THERE!!” came an authoritarian voice. The old man, still bent over the sleeping creature, looked over his shoulder. Moving through the crowd, several figures wearing robes of crimson hustled towards him.
“He’s over there!” shouted the voice of the youngster known as Tradian. He was leading them through the people in the market, an important look upon his face, his little chest puffed out proudly. “There is an old man there too, the man with the golden scale!”
The crowd was tossed and tussled, as men, well armed men made their way to the corner where Tradian brought them. It was empty. “Boy,” said a serious man, sweating from the run, “You better not have been fibbing.”
“No, m”lord, I am not! Please, they were right here!”
“Wh….. where am I?” said the young creature. “Who? How?” But there was no immediate answer.
He found himself in a bed of fine linens, softer than any he had ever felt. There was more, mostly in the way he felt. He felt calm, safe. Feelings that he hadn’t known for a very long time. They felt foreign to him, and his instincts began to kick in, not trusting them. But something inside told him it was alright. And so, unbelievably, he relaxed.
He tried to hop off and discovered his hands and ankles were tied down. He looked around and saw that he was in a large home of some kind. A beautiful home, or perhaps it used to be. There were great pillars of stone, a tall ceiling, and yet all around him, it looked like things were disheveled, dusty, and perhaps thrown about, like someone was looking for something. He scanned around and then he saw sitting at a table the same old man from the marketplace, just looking back at him, smoking a long pipe.
His instincts kicked in. Of course, this was too good to be true. “Untie me”, he struggled, “Untie me now!”
The old man simply sat and watched, smoking, as if waiting to see what he knew he would see. The creature, the child, rocked himself side to side, and out from underneath him where none should be, snaked a little tail. The old man watched with no expression, but then with some amusement. It’s tailed wrapped around the bindings expertly, untying his wrists then his ankles. It was seemless, quick.
“I see you’ve found some use for the rifting,” said the man. His face still like a stone.
The child sat up on his haunches, and he eyed around, obviously looking for an exit.
“You can leave if you’d like, Frank. I won’t stop you.”
“Old man, who are you, and where am I?!?”
The man didn’t answer. Instead, with his hands upon his knees and a bit of a gerumphf, he rose to his feet, and turned his back to the boy. He reached toward his kettle, and poured a floral smelling drink into a cup. Walking back, he held it out to the child, “Drink this. It will help you heal…Tiefling.”
“How do you know what I am, but you are not afraid of me?!” spat the boy, truly stunned. “If you think you can use me like the others you will not old man! I have powers you know! Dark powers!”
The man chuckled heartily this time, the stone facade cracking entirely. “Yes, I am sure you are quite formidable, my friend. And I have no intention of using you. I offer help. That is all.”
“Nobody offers help and nothing more. Nobody you could trust even if you would, so don’t patronize me! I’m a tear into the very fabric of Cellinor. A shadow upon the Light!” The boy’s sarcasm was mocking but filled with pain.
“Well, I thought you were Frank, but if you insist on being something more mysterious, we can debate a little I suppose!”
“Why do you keep calling me that?!”
“That is what you were called, the day you were born. I know, for I was there.”
He looked around, still wanting answers. His eyes fell upon an old suit of armor, with a tree, limbs spread towards the sun, in the front. “You’re with the The Order! What do you want from me??”
“Ha!” the old man laughed. “Try again, please.”
The boy was confused. So many questions swirling in his mind and yet he trusted to ask none of them. He had never known kindness like this, and yet he felt like this old man wanted something, knew something important. He was there the day I was born? I was born? He didn’t like it. He didn’t trust it. He had given into hope before, there was always a cost for such thinking. One thing no one could take from him, even in the darkest hole, was his freedom. This man had tried. “Then who ARE you?”
The man smiled once more, and looked in his direction, but it was the look that didn’t work. That is when the boy knew the old man could not see. At least not well. “My name is Tiresias. I am…a sage. You might call me a one time member of The Order of the Flame, but no longer. I have many things to tell you, and many things for you to learn! You need not be afraid, for I am not afraid of you.”
His head swimming, the boy felt himself collapsing. It was too much, and too soon. His pain had gone, the agony of living. How was he to handle such comfort after a short lifetime of knowing none?
“Sleep,” said Tiresias. “I will be here when you wake, Frank. We will figure out what to do with you, then.”
Some two years later, Frank woke with a start. He heard the sounds of banging, men shouting. Instincts he hadn’t needed in some time, kicked in. Automatically. He was up quickly, and alert. His head was clear. Before him strode Tiresias, and he was no longer smiling.
“You must go!” said the old man. “I made a mistake in the market the day I found you, as you know, I gave a part of who I am away. It has finally caught up with me. I am sorry, my boy. I truly am. It is not safe any longer for both of us to be under one roof. We must separate. At least within the Order, I can follow you, and keep you safe.”
“They view me as something wicked! A curse of darkness! A Ketian! Something twisted and unholy. You’re a lunatic! They will never accept me. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done, but I am leaving.”
“Yes, Frank. Of course you are right, nut I have a friend there, someone who can help you, hide you, teach you to shed the darkness that has consumed your body, but not your soul, my child. Not your soul.”
“But how will I…I don’t even know who I am?!!! All these talks and these lessons and you’ve never explained! Never once! Now you want me to trust you!” He was cut short by a disturbance outside. Tiresias pointed to a hallway and gave directions to the boy. He listened intently. “Tiefling! Rift! We will find you!”
“Hurry Frank, you must go!” said Tiersias. He packed food into a knapsack and gave it to him. Then, in his hands he placed a small golden figurine. It was a small golden dragon, with emerald eyes. He smiled and it was so hard for the boy not to think this old man was genuine. All the kindness. All the pain. Which to choose to listen to? “I will save you time, but do not look for me again here. I will come to you, when I can. Cillandar can no longer be my home. I will seek refuge elsewhere.”
“Show this to my friend at the temple mount. Ask for Proximo. Tell only him of our talk. Now hurry, go Frank!” The old man pointed to a pillar and mouthed a magical phrase. A small door in the rock appeared. The boy was stunned once more as Tiresias had stunned him so many times before. Even as the sounds of the shouts from outside Tiresias’ quarters echoed around his ears, he couldn’t quite take his leave. Why had this man saved him? To what end? He still didn’t know.
Convinced his good fortune was being better off than he was when the old man found him, he crept to the door and stepped in. A dark stairwell went downwards. “Go!” ordered the old man, pointing.
The boy moved into the stairwell, but not before catching a glimpse of himself in a mirror opposite him. What he saw there was a boy, not a creature. A boy with blond hair, with tanned skin, not red. A boy with a face, not evil eyes under sprouting horns. His transformation had taken years, but it had happened. He could walk among men once more, if he dared do what Tiresias trained him to do.
“Frank, go!” yelled Tiresias, “Proximo! Remember, find Proximo!”
The boy ran down the stairwell, never knowing the fate of his captor, nor of his savior.
He had been given a name, a face, and a purpose.
To The Order he went with all three.