Hey all! Wow, has it really been a few months since I posted anything? What can I say other than indie life is at times a struggle. I don’t really have any news on upcoming releases or film adaptations coming up, but I thought I’d share a history I’ve been working on here and there for a table top role playing game in which I’m active. Can I just also say here that TTRPG is a life saver for me when my need to be creative is a constant thing. I highly recommend finding a group to any writers out there feeling the lag. Anyway, so this post is just for fun and very unofficial. There are probably plenty of mistakes and whatnot, so forgive any errors. Lastly, please enjoy.
I have no memories of being a child. I just woke up one day in a city wearing the most basic of clothing. I had nothing save for a small black jar, the top of which was shaped like the head of a jackal. I couldn’t open it no matter what I tried.
For days I wandered with some inherent sense of how cities were, unsure how I knew or what that one was called. I watched the people passing by from the shadows, listening to snippets of their conversations with a feeling that it was all familiar. I noticed, too, other children watching me from a distance, their dirty faces turned toward me before I met their curious attention, then they’d run away. I knew them, too. Knew them as homeless, orphans or runaways, products of life on the street, even if I didn’t really know those streets.
Something else I figured out in those first days, I could see ghosts. At first, I didn’t know that’s what they were. After weeks of seeing wagons pass through them in the street or listening to them wail at night, I put the pieces together. Nobody else ever seemed to notice them. So I just pretended I didn’t either.
I quickly learned by watching the other kids that there was a kitchen deep in a back alley that fed the destitute at least once a day. I took meals there, always distancing myself from anyone who might try to talk to me. Eventually, though, one of the women who ran the kitchen took notice of me. She waited until I was quietly eating to sit across from me at a table that was otherwise empty.
She must have seen the fear in my wide eyes because she immediately made a soothing sound and assured me that she wouldn’t be tryin’ to hurt me any time soon. Running meant I would miss out on the rest of my meal, so I sat there staring, terrified. She was an old woman, grey hair pulled up in a neat bun, deep lines etched into her face, soft blue eyes studying me.
“What’s your name, boy?” she had asked. She didn’t say boy in the derisive way the men in the traveling carts did.
“Don’t have no name, misses,” I told her. It was the first time I’d said anything in probably a week. I wasn’t even sure how I knew the language.
I remember her looking so surprised and trying to cover it, trying not to frighten me any more. She gave me a smile that soothed the fear. Even so, I didn’t trust her. I didn’t trust anyone.
“You ought to have a proper name,” she said.
When I didn’t answer, she gave me a slow once-over, absently pressing her finger to her lips. I didn’t know then that my shock of red hair wasn’t common in the area or that my long and tapered ears marked me as strange, a most rare orphan. I didn’t know of the elves until years later, when I encountered them and their scorn for myself. I definitely didn’t know why I looked like one.
“How about Kiven?” said the old woman.
I shrugged at her. It was as good a name as any, I guessed. She smiled again and said, “It suits you.”
I didn’t learn until later that to the Kelmeti it meant an unlikely blessing. I still look back on that moment with a certainty that the woman recognized something special in me, something unlikely, as the name said. I was old for my age without having any idea what age I was or why I had woken one day into this world.
It wasn’t long after that I started getting…premonitions of sorts. Flashes of visions, rising certainties that if I stood in a certain place at a certain time, someone would drop their change purse without noticing or a bundle of clothes would fall off a wagon and go unnoticed. It wasn’t until one of those led me to save a young child, a fellow street urchin, from getting trampled by a horse that some of the children started following me. They gravitated to me like I was some kind of beacon. I didn’t know why but it felt right in a way. So I protected them as best I could. I took them to the kitchen to eat, made sure they had clothes and shoes, took the sick to the churches for care. There were always two or three trailing me, sometimes more.
Of course, my relative fortune gained some attention that I didn’t want. Older homeless, hardened on the street life, headed into doomed futures as thugs and already organizing gangs. They started following me, threatening me. After more than a few times getting jumped, I started trying to fight back.
I began to feel a certain presence during those fights, flashes of genius that let me block kicks and dodge punches. It was like there was someone else sharing my body and that someone actually knew something about fighting. It wasn’t the same as the premonitions. Like I said, it was a presence that pressed close when the bigger boys cut me off in an alley or came at me with makeshift clubs.
Then, roughly two years after I woke in that city, the biggest and meanest of the gang leaders cornered me. He had a few other guys, all at least a couple years older, to make sure I couldn’t run if I did manage to get past him. After the first few hits, my head spinning and my blood running onto the cobblestones, I felt the pressure. It was a push on my very soul. That time there was also a voice saying I should have learned more by now. That time, when the presence rose again, it consumed me. I became someone else.
He took complete control of my limbs, forcing me to stand. I fought like a demon, unlike anything I had ever known. I knew moves I didn’t understand. I anticipated each attack, countered them, turned them against my attacker. I destroyed that gang head, only barely stopped myself from killing him under the guidance of a militaristic spirit who wouldn’t leave me.
Kiloran. I would learn his name some time after that fight. And from then on I could hear him and feel when he got close. He wasn’t like the other spirits. Most ghosts stayed mostly where they were, and they didn’t take much notice of the living. Not Kiloran. He was wherever I was. When I asked him where he came from he said he had always been there.
I remember heaving for breath against the alley wall, looking up at the others with bloody knuckles. I saw fear in their awe. It was the first time I felt real power and it had damn near caused me to become a murderer. Those other goons ran from me. As the presence of the spirit faded, I realized the kids I had been protecting were cowering. When at first they had been worried for me, now they were just as scared as the guys who had tried to jump me. I was sixteen years old best as anyone could figure.
After that I decided to leave town.
I went west. I left the city on foot with little else than a few sets of clothes and some coins I had managed to stash, and the jar, of course. It never had opened for me but something had compelled me to keep it close. I hardly even thought of it anymore at that point other than making sure it was secured in my pocket or bag.
I traveled with only a vague knowledge of the world outside Kelmet. I knew there were other cities out there. I had heard about them from travelers and locals. I didn’t know much about them, though, so I set out to learn more.
I kept off the paths as much as possible, traveling just close enough to keep them in my sight but far enough away to avoid other travelers. I made small camps at night in the cover of underbrush or copses. Occasionally I passed through villages, picking up odd jobs when I could to make enough coin to eat. Mostly manual labor jobs that were physically trying but could be done without small talk or prying questions from strangers.
The premonitions didn’t stop. If anything they got stronger, like strange whispers tugging on the lines of my fate, pulling me away from misfortune. Kiloran, too, was ever-present. Sometimes he rambled about military formations and sword forms I knew nothing about. Sometimes he pressed me adamantly to begin some actual training. Other times he told me stories of his war endeavors like an old soldier constantly living in the past. Though I spent the majority of my time alone, it never quite felt like it.
While living in the city I had learned that the church and the military were pretty much everything there. I did not, however, know that a war had been brewing with the city to the west. I didn’t learn that until I came upon the remnants of some Kelmeti brigade in the woods. There were five of them. One was already dead, two were wounded, and the other two were terrified. They must have fled a bigger battle.
That was the first time in my life I got the feeling that a higher power had some sway in my short years, seeing the spirits aside. Looking down at that dead soldier, not much older than I was, I knew that the dead should be honored. I watched his ghost wailing over his body and I knew I had to help him. It was like some muscle memory took over and compelled me forward.
The soldiers spooked and I found some deep well of courage, enough to sooth them with just a few words. One of them had a deep sword wound to the gut. I knew, somehow, that it would kill him pretty quickly. That was when I learned I could do magic.
I laid hands on him and a strange feeling rolled through me. I didn’t know it at the time but it was divine magic, the ability to heal. I realized I was whispering words I had never heard before. I had no idea where they came from, but they passed through my lips and I watched the hole in that soldier close itself, leaving nothing but a scar.
The others were staring at me in awe.
“Please, sir, me next,” said the other injured soldier. No one had ever called me sir before. I nodded.
I laid hands on him and the same thing happened. The slash in his thigh closed, leaving torn pants and a lot of blood but no wound. They asked me what god I served but I had no answer. I had never thought twice about any god. They kept asking me questions but all I could hear was the ghost of the newly dead, jabbering and moaning over the realization that he was dead.
I pushed out of the ring of amazed soldiers to the body on the ground. The ghost was unconsolable. I knew with an inherent sense that he would not rest until he was properly honored. I had a moment that felt like a memory that wasn’t mine.
“You must bury him here or take him home. Otherwise he won’t rest.”
The soldiers were staring at me again. I didn’t meet their gazes. I didn’t like all the attention.
Then one of them said, “Pardon me saying so, but you have the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. As far as I knew my eyes were plain brown, not so remarkable. Just eyes.
When I didn’t answer one of the other ones said, “We’ll take him home to the church.”
“Please, how can we repay you? You’ve saved our lives.”
“Keep your word and honor your fallen,” I told them.
Then I walked away. They called after me but I didn’t stop. They asked my name but I didn’t give it. I just walked for a while, wondering what had just happened. How had I actually healed someone, not just one but two? Occasionally I would look down at my hands, expecting to see something spectacular. But there were still just my hands, calloused and pale like the rest of me.
Eventually I came to a small creek that wasn’t moving particularly quickly. When I leaned over it to get a drink, I caught my reflection staring back and froze. The soldier was right. My eyes weren’t the same flat brown they used to be. They were a deep amber color and my pupils had changed, too. They looked like they belonged to an animal, one I’m sure I had heard of but couldn’t place. I don’t even know when it happened.
I tried asking Kiloran but all he said was those are the eyes I had always had. Sometimes he was helpful, sometimes it was quite the opposite. More often than not he just tried to convince me to fight.
I stayed on the move for a while. When I came to villages I started to offer my hand at healing their sick and injured. I visited their graveyards and there I found a peace I hadn’t known before. There was something right in my soul about the honored dead. The best thing about those graveyards, there were no ghosts. The spirits seemed to avoid those places. Maybe it was that they couldn’t enter. I wasn’t sure, I just knew it was peaceful.
It didn’t take long for me to gain a reputation. Villagers started greeting me with gifts, food, coins, anything they had to spare to save their husbands, wives, children. The soldiers greeted me with respectful titles. It was unlike anything I had ever known. I hated the spotlight but it afforded me to live better than I ever had before.
I still kept to myself as much as possible. I also managed to avoid some recruitment efforts by several churches. Whatever divine power that blessed me had yet to reveal itself and I had no interest in willingly subjecting myself to any other gods. Along the way, I started picking up other spells. A few I learned from other mages. Some of them just came to me like the healing had.
That’s how it was for months. It was the closest to at home I’d ever felt, though I didn’t really have an actual home. Then I encountered my very first undead.
*** I became something of a local hero, the traveling cleric, though when I figured out what a cleric was I assured everyone who called me that it wasn’t true. I still didn’t invoke the name of any god, nor would I. Villagers started offering me more, trying to get me to stay in one place, preferably in their villages. I did start accepting lodging as payment. That was the first time I slept in a real bed. I was always gone in the mornings, on to somewhere else.
Occasionally the clergy from the churches would also make a bid for my presence. I would visit long enough to tend to their sick wards, but I always left. A couple times I had men from the villages offer me their daughters’ hands. I declined that, too.
In those days, I decided to pick up a basic short sword and indulge Kiloran in his insistence that I actually learn how to fight. Most of the time I was met by others with peace, but there had been a few rare times when I had to run to avoid violent and malicious men. If I had to run I also had to listen to admonishment for days after. So I started spending a little time on my own in the woods, heeding Kiloran’s guidance on my stance and my poster, on the difference in swinging from the shoulder versus having control in the wrist.
I was thin and fairly toned from walking everywhere and eating lean. Under Kiloran’s supervision, I started to gain a little bulk and muscle definition. Appearances meant little to me but I did enjoy feeling not so defenseless.
Then one evening I came upon a small settlement that was in quite a disarray. Women were screaming. Men were shouting. People were running. The first man who noticed me also recognized me. He was an older gentlemen who owned the biggest farm in the area.
“What’s happening?” I asked him, studying the panic around me that didn’t quite set in for me.
“Some sort of demon monster causing havoc in the fields. It’s going to kill my sheep!” was his answer.
I didn’t have any experience with demon monsters but my conscience wouldn’t let me stand by without at least trying to help. So I walked toward the thing that had everyone else running away. As I got closer I started to feel sick to my stomach.
By the time the thing came into view I was sure I was about to vomit everywhere. I felt actual fear for the first time in a long time, but I also felt a pervading wrongness about it. It was shaped like a man but parts of its flesh were rotten, part of it gone completely. It moved in a stilted, lurching way and it smelled terrible.
It noticed me right away. It made a wordless roar and jerked toward me. I did something then that I rarely ever did. I panicked. I struggled with the sword on my belt as the monster came at me, the whole time Kiloran urging me to draw even though I couldn’t seem to free my blade.
I stumbled backward and landed on my ass. The thing dove for me. I cast my most familiar spell by reflex, throwing my hand forward and uttering the words to heal.
The magic that came out of me was not healing. It was something else, something with the same sort of energy but was new to me. The spell hit the shambler and it crumpled to the ground with a moan. Another burst of the same magic put it down.
I sat there staring at it for a while as the sick feeling eased away, my shoulders heaving and my head spinning. That was when I realized there was a presence close the same way Kiloran was always close. This one was different. Then I heard her.
“You don’t even recognize the undead, you stupid boy?”
That was the first thing Mien ever said to me. I didn’t know then but that was the beginning of long days spent with the spirit of an old mage telling me all the ways I was a failure and a disappointment. The only good thing that came with Mien was when her presence won dominance over Kiloran, my magic came stronger and more naturally. In every other way, she was a nightmare.
The villagers fed me a veritable feast that night. They were so grateful that I had saved them from the demon monster. I didn’t bother to correct them on what it actually was. I was still trying to fully understand it myself. I didn’t know before that moment that the dead could be raised. Everything about it was wrong to me. The dead should be left alone, honored, peaceful.
That night, under the roof of that old farmer, I dreamed. I faced down droves of undead in all manner of deterioration and disfigurement. I cut them down with a weapon I couldn’t see in one hand and spells firing from my other. The whole time I was surrounded by an aura of white light. I heard a voice saying, “Seek me to find yourself,” in a language I had never heard but fully understood.
When I woke the next morning, the black jackal-headed jar was in my hand. I knew for sure that it had been in my bag when I went to sleep. I stared at it as early light danced through a nearby window and made the shadows long around me. The dream didn’t fade. I remembered everything.
I knew it was time to leave the little life I had made behind. When I said my farewells that day I told them that they may not ever see me again. There was something I had to find, though when they pressed I couldn’t tell them exactly what that was. Part of it was to seek knowledge on the undead and how it could be stopped. I knew deep in my soul that I couldn’t abide that sort of treachery though I didn’t yet know what I could do about it. That wasn’t all I was looking for, though.
“Seek me to find yourself.”
Hadn’t I wondered countless times who I was? How I had come to be in Kelmet? Did I have a life I couldn’t remember? Parents? Siblings maybe? Why did my life just start one day and why was there no one else like me? I wanted the answers more than anything.
I went south on a whim, toward a great river I had heard about that would eventually lead me to the coast.