The boy ran, fear and shock writ large on his young face. Panting, he reached the relative safety of a small stand of trees. He crouched in the snow behind the thickest tree as he looked, wide-eyed, back at his village. Flames licked the sky, almost seeming to dance in time with the horrible symphony of screams and laughter that filled the twilight air. Silhouettes limned in red and yellow played across his vision, like shadow puppets in some hell. Here a running figure, there a man in mismatched armor throwing a spear or torch. Everywhere the sounds and smells of death.
One figure resolved from the background, seeming to look intently at something on the ground. The boy’s breath caught in his throat as he looked too, and saw his own tracks in the snow, leading from his thicket back to the man. Without thought, he turned and plunged further into the wilds beyond the border of his village, seeking only distance and safety.
The boy knew cold. Stumbling on numb feet through snow and slush, he staggered through the underbrush. Thorns opened fresh welts on his legs; branches pushed carelessly aside snapped back to sting his face. When he could, he kept his hands pinned under his arms for warmth. He had no direction, no destination in mind. His entire world had been his family, his house, his friends, his village. Exhausted, he kept walking, sheer force of will keeping him upright.
The boy knew hunger. At first the sensation had been a pinprick of discomfort in his belly, but had quickly grown into a ravening beast. His head ached with the thought of food; his heart ached with the thought that he would never again be able to ask his mother for another helping. As the image of her smiling face crossed his mind’e eye, he collapsed to his knees, then crumpled against a tree. The boy wept.
The boy was dying. His only thought now was of food; the gnawing pain in his gut allowed no distractions. He wasn’t cold any longer, everything was numb. Every ounce of effort he could summon was used to put one foot in front of the other. So dim was his vision that he very nearly walked by the green berries without noticing them. When he did see them, he gave a throaty, hoarse cry as he dove for the bush. His hands were so useless that he was forced to grip an entire branch with both hands, to bring the unripened berries close to his face so he could pull them using his teeth.
The boy slept. He knew he shouldn’t, but he simply couldn’t walk any further. How long had he been walking? He had no idea any more. The events of the raid on his village had faded into obscurity compared to the essentials of hunger and sleep. The boy no longer cared.
The boy did not awaken when rough hands picked him up. He groaned feebly as he was slung over an armored shoulder and carried away.
The boy awoke to warmth. He had been placed close to a fire, although he quickly discovered his hands were bound in front of his body. He struggled to a sitting position, feeling light-headed and dizzy from the exertion. He looked around the small encampment. He saw rough men in the clothing of half a dozen nations, with arms equally as varied. Some laughed as he gazed back at them dazedly, while others ignored him completely. One walked over to where he sat, grabbing him roughly by the arm. “The deal is simple. You work, you live. Otherwise we leave you here, and you die.” The man drew a long, wicked-looking dagger and cut the bonds on the boy’s wrists, then gestured with it to a pile of battered metal plates and bowls. “Eat whatever you can find left in them, then make sure they’re clean.” The boy practically attacked the bowls, using his fingers until only his tongue could get the remainder. Some of the men laughed, but the boy didn’t care.
As the years went by, the boy grew into a young man. Tall for his age, his ordeal seemed permanently written on his gaunt features and ghoulishly-thin frame. He did odd jobs for the mercenary band, as his age and size permitted. He particularly enjoyed tending to the horses. He felt a certain kinship with his fellow beasts of burden.
In time, as he became trusted, some of the band attempted to show him the basics of how to use a weapon. When they discovered his apparent ineptitude with sword and axe, they offered him a spear instead, saying they thought he just might be able to figure out which end to hold.
The young man didn’t much care where they went or what their current mission might be. Sometimes he heard snippets of objectives and opponents, but it wasn’t anything that concerned him. When the band was fighting, he was left behind to mind the camp and tend to any too wounded to contribute to the violence.
He wasn’t sure what the mercenary’s mission was when their camp was attacked. They had stopped early, having found a glade in the forest they were currently traveling through. The men were setting up camp while he tended to the horses. With unnatural swiftness the entire area was covered in thick fog. Wide-eyed, he grabbed his spear as he heard shouts of surprise from the mercenaries. He assumed a defensive position near the horses as he tried to see what was happening.
He was startled by a titanic roar from across the camp, a sound followed swiftly by screams. The roiling fog showed snatches of scenes, swallowed up as quickly as they appeared. One of the men running, with a low dark shape fast behind; the man fell as his hamstring was ripped out. Another man advancing cautiously, sword held before him, straining to see, only to be impaled on the antlers of a huge buck as it charged from the side. An enormous brown-furred flank rushing by, gone almost instantly in the white gloom. A mercenary, screaming as he tried in vain to dislodge a furry, snarling, curiously flat shape, apparently made of teeth and claws, that had attached itself to his thigh.
He nearly fainted as another of the mercenaries rushed up to him. The man clapped him on the shoulder as if to reassure him, then reached for the reins of one of the horses. He heard a word spoken in some foreign tongue as a small shape appeared in the fog, and the horse reared up, hooves flailing at the mercenary. The man fell as if hit with an axe, his skull broken. The young man trembled as he faced this demon from the mists.
Another word was spoken, and the short figure gestured from the horse to the young man. Eyes rolling until only the whites showed, the horse trembled but held his ground. Another barked exhortation, yet still the horse kept his place. The short figure advanced until he could be seen clearly; ancient, wizened, but clearly a man. The young man started to advance, spear at the ready. The old man grimaced in disgust and gestured at the spear; the wooden shaft groaned and twisted in the young man’s hands, until it resembled nothing so much as a gnarled branch of some primordial tree.
Fear in his heart, the young man faced the old. The old man glanced from the horse, breathing heavily, to the young man. He waved his hand, and the fog dissipated almost as if it had never been. Well, not quite; before the fog, the clearing had held living men, not broken and bleeding bodies. Of the various creatures he had seen, there was no sign.
The old man gestured again, and the horse retreated, looking for all the world as if it was thankful. He spoke, with a voice like a rusty gate. “I would know the name of the man who the epos refused to kill at my command.” Stammering, the young man told him. “No,” the old man said. “That word means ‘offal’ in the tongue of Cheliax. I would have your real name.”
“I don’t know,” said the young man quietly. “That was the name they gave me, and I no longer remember what I was called before.”
The old man narrowed his features for a moment before nodding and saying, “I see. Well, I will call you Doughal, then, as you are a stranger, both to me and to yourself, and your past seems dark enough for the name. I am called Arlan. Come.” With that, Arlan turned and began to walk from the clearing.
Doughal started to follow, then looked about and stopped. “What of them?” he asked, gesturing to the remains of the mercenaries littering the field.
“Leave them,” came the reply from Arlan. “They will be… attended to.”
Udalrich's Pathfinder Character Sheet
|Willpower||=||+||+||+||+||Spell Resistance||Base Attack Bonus|
|Known Spells||Spell Save||Arcane Spell Failure||%|
|Domain/School 1:||Domain/School 2:||Spells
|Caster Level||Concentration||Spell Resistence Check||Conditional Modifiers|