At least I’m at peace with my soul, the young man thought to himself as he looked out to the crowd. Many came in attendance for the absurd number of hangings that were scheduled that day. Most of the accused were most likely innocent, not that it mattered to his bloodthirsty kin, who cared more for entertainment than justice. He looked to his left where he saw an Elf and a pale woman, and to his right he saw one of the local innkeepers, Flynn by name, and a massive man with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. There were five nooses on this stand of gallows, and five across the town square, with the bodies of the dead being piled in the center for the next day as a reminder to those who would commit crimes.
As the self proclaimed judge and jury that was Marcel Dornan, the Grand Inquisitor for the region, read them all their list of crimes, and wished them acceptance in death, Rune said a little prayer to himself.
“By the Ancestors, and the Legacy, and all of the Council in Its Divinity, I accept my fate, and I cast all doubts of my worth to the wind, for I know what I have done, and I know that I am worthy of the Ancestors. May the wretches that wield false control falter, and may the Legacy see the truth through.”
As he finished his prayer, he saw that Marcel had finished his speech, and that the executioners were moving toward the levers that would drop the floor out from under the condemned. His last moments were blurred together, the lever being pulled and the floor dropping from under him, a sharp pain in his neck, then nothing. There was no thought, no feeling, no realization, no sound, no smell, just nothing.
He suddenly found himself on a plain, it was raining, and there was a thick fog. He felt the urge to walk forward and so he did, feeling the wet grass and soft earth beneath his feet, reveling in the feel of the warm easterly wind. He looked up and saw a clear, dark sky, with countless stars, and the twin moons hanging in the middle of the sky, the blood moon, in its massive crimson glory hanging to the north while the soul moon, a dark, small, gray sphere, hung to the south. The former was said to be the home of the Ancestors, the latter the home of the Legacy, while the Council lighted and warmed the days. Looking back in front of him, he saw a small fire, with a hooded figure sitting on a large rock facing away from him. As he approached, he called out to the figure, but it did not seem to hear him, so he walked to the front of it, standing near to the fire and enjoying the warmth.
“I see you’ve found me,” the hooded figure said to him, without looking up from his hands, which Rune suddenly noticed were steadily carving a small block of wood. “You should get out of those rags and into something a bit more comfortable. I’m sure you’ll find something suitable in that tent behind you, the left one.”
Rune looked and suddenly saw two fair sized tents, and entered the one on the left cautiously, closing the flap behind him to afford a measure of privacy. He found a neatly folded pile of clothes on a cot. He removed his rags and realized that they were soaked in blood, not just the rain that was outside. Confused, he decided to ask after he was dressed. He first thought that the clothes were leather, but found that they were of a material he was unfamiliar with. He could see that the shirt was black with crimson trimming, long sleeved, though these could be removed if desired. The boots had red toes and heel, but the rest were as black as night. The pants and hood were black, and the gloves had red palms with a strange red stone on each of the knuckles. He also found a mask that could be tied both to his hood and his shirt, which was crimson with black runes upon it, which he realized were a prayer to Asuun, who was the embodiment of Life and Death, and who decided when a mortal’s Fate would begin and end. He donned the mask, which covered the lower part of his face, leaving his head and eyes exposed. He looked into a mirror and saw that his hair was now stark white and his eyes the brightest green they had ever been, almost seeming luminescent. He suddenly realized too that there was no light in the tent. He grabbed up his bloody rags and walked out to the fire to speak with the hooded figure.
“Doesn’t that feel much better?” the man asked as Rune walked out of the tent, actually looking up to meet Rune’s gaze. Rune saw that this man’s eyes were gold, with a narrow, elongated pupil. “I’m, sure you have many questions,” he continued, now no longer looking at his carving, which he had started a whole new block, but continued to deftly cut the edges away. “I will answer all that I can, and direct you to those that I can’t.”
“My first question is what in the hells is going on.”
“A very understandable question, young Rune, I assure you!” the man replied. “First I would like to introduce myself. I am Tanlenorii’skaar Sta’nadal or simply Tanlen for short, though many know me as Talon, you may call me either. As for what is going on, I want you to tell me what you observe so far.”
Rune looked at the man, utterly confused, but began to tell his observation, starting with the last couple of days.
“A couple days ago I learned that the governor of Drake’s Vale had been bedding my mother against her will, and my father had kept his mouth shut and done nothing because of the man’s station. I learned this because I was home during one of his visits, and my father had refused to be treated this way any longer, especially in front of his son. The governor’s guard struck him across the head with his mailed fist, knocking him to the ground, unmoving and bleeding. The two guards dragged him back to the keep while the governor ravaged my mother. I sat in the sitting room, angry tremendously, and holding the sharpest hunting knife my father owned.
“The governor came out of my father’s chamber and laughed when he saw my angry face. But nineteen years old, and just an untrained peasant, what could I do to him? I shadowed him as he left my house, making sure to keep back far enough and to keep the blade hidden up my sleeve, where it cut my arm, but I didn’t care nor did I really notice until later. I managed to get into the keep and down to the cells where my father was held, and I found him already dead, beaten to a pulp by a mailed fist and boot. I made my way back up to the main hall, where I found the governor conversing with someone, possibly a taxman. I shoved the man out of the way and punched the governor square in the face. As he fell to the floor, I leapt atop him and began punching him repeatedly across the face. I then drew my knife and slashed at his waist and belly, then his arms, and then I stabbed several times into his groin. After what seemed like an eternity of beating, stabbing, and slashing, I plunged the blade deep into his eye, hard enough that the tip broke through the back of his skull and pinned his head to the wood floor. I stood up and began to walk out, but was detained by a guard. I didn’t care, I had gotten my revenge.”
Tanlen nodded his head and continued to carve away at his block, finishing the figure of a man and pulling another, larger block seemingly from his glove.
“I was sentenced to death at noon the next day, and I was hanged promptly at that time. I remember it clearly. I should be dead. Now I am here. Is this what the afterlife is like? And why are my rags from prison covered in blood? And why are my eyes bright and almost glowing and my hair white?”
“You should be dead, you are right, and so you are,” Tanlen answered. “But you are not to stay that way. This is not the afterlife, and I’m not sure what that is like, though from what I understand, it is a form of reincarnation. Have you never wondered of your name, Rune? Kind of odd, don’t you think? You are human, and you are not from a nomad clan, so why the simple name?”
“My name was given to me by my father, when he found me. My birth parents were killed when I was but a babe, and I was left for dead. I was named for the rune upon my chest. It’s a birthmark, but it looks like a mystic rune, over my heart.”
“Ah, so you do know that it is more than a simple birthmark?” His yes seemed to bore into Rune and the mark on his chest began to burn. Tanlen lifted the sleeve of his shirt, which Rune saw was similar to his, but green and white, and he wore a leather vest over it. He had a similar rune mark on his forearm, and it was glowing, as Rune knew his own must be.
“We are a special group, a brotherhood chosen by the Ancestors, the Legacy, and the Council. We are the lost sons of Asuun, we are Fate Seekers, and we are all Revenant. We have all been denied our Legacy for some reason, and have lost our lives before we could regain it. The gods have designed a new fate for us; we fix those things that would change the Legacy. I do not know yours, but I do know that your father did not find you; you were given to him, and that he and your mother were not the simple laborers they appeared to be.”
“If they weren’t laborers then what were they? And why did I grow up like I did?”
“I don’t know. You must find this out on your own. You must commune with The Council and The Ancestors to find this information, or you must seek it on your own, here, upon this material plane.”
“What do you mean ‘material plane’?”
“This is not the only plane of existence, there are many more, as you will discover. I bid you goodnight, however, we shall continue this discussion more tomorrow. As for the blood on your rags, you will discover that upon awakening, things are different.”
As Rune turned to head toward the tent he had assumed was his, Tanlen called to him once more, suddenly grave. “Do not let anyone see the mark upon your breast. And if you should feel it burn as you did earlier, hide the feeling. Act as if nothing is different.” Rune looked back to the rock where the man had been sitting but saw nothing there, and upon entering his tent, saw a miniature, intricately carved castle, dragon, and a fierce battle being waged. He lied upon the cot and immediately fell fast asleep.
Awaken my child, new life has been breathed into you and you have duties to fulfill. Head north to an inn on a lake, there you will find my Talon.
Rune woke with a start, on a pile of corpses. He realized immediately that these weren’t bodies from the gallows, they were covered in blood and he heard screams in the distance. He looked around and saw the bodies of several soldiers near the foot of the pile, and he slid down toward them, searching them to find coin purses and anything for defense. He quickly realized that he was wearing the clothes from his dream, and that his neck was incredibly stiff. He quickly found that the guards had a total of four gold, three silvers, and several coppers between the three of them, and only one had a weapon, a small dirk that he most likely used to cut food, but seemed sharp enough. He made his way through the streets, keeping to the shadows. The further he got from the square, the more he realized that something was very wrong. Half of the city was ablaze, and there was no one in the streets. He rounded a corner and saw a large group of soldiers, wearing a uniform he didn’t recognize, moving through the buildings on this street, setting them ablaze. He knew he wouldn’t be able to get past them this way. He saw one man, a very large one at that, standing in the middle of the street. He wore armor that reflected the flames and seemed to have spikes protruding from every joint, with two curving horns protruding from the brow and going back over his head, ending in metal tips.
“What ‘ave we ‘ere?” said a gruff voice behind him, and he whirled around to see a man in the uniform of these other soldiers staring at him, sword out and ready. “A boy lost? Maybe I should show ye what ‘appens when ye snoop an’ sneak!” He took a step and slashed the blade forward.
Acting purely on instinct, Rune swung his free arm out to the side, knocking the man’s swing wide, and shoving the blade of his dirk up under his chin, through his jaw, and into his brain, killing the man instantly. He pulled his blade from the man’s jaw with a sickening sound as the metal grinded across bone, blood pouring over his hand. He stood and considered what happened, his first kill. He had killed the governor, but that had been in blind fury. He had killed this man out of necessity, but he felt that this was a far more intimate kill, and that he could have simply knocked him unconscious, but he had killed this man, and had seen his eyes as he realized what was about to happen. Rune retched, and emptied the meager contents of his stomach onto the ground.
“May the Ancestors accept you, may the Council forgive you your wrongdoings, and may your Legacy persist.” He said over the dead man before searching him for things he would no longer need, like the ten gold pieces and eight silvers he found in his purse, or the odd curved blades at the man’s hips. He examined them briefly and remembered from his lessons with his father in the arts of war, that they were called Kukri, a weapon used often in the deserts to the east. The blades were about a foot long with a six-inch grip, and a round guard with barbs to catch a weapon as it slid down the blade. About halfway up the blade, they cut upward, or down as it may be, at a forty-five degree angle and widened on one side. The outside of the curve was flat the whole way, and sharp only after the curve, but the inside was razor sharp the full length.
He picked up the man’s sword and belted the other weapons, then made his way through the winding back streets toward his house. He found it soon enough, and saw that the whole thing was engulfed in flames. Even though he wanted to rush in and save his mother if he could, he knew by the heat on his face from this far that she was gone. He kept going, sticking to the shadowy alleys and slipping through the north gate.
He headed north for a few hours to Honey Lake, the only lake he could think of with an inn nearby and to the north. The lake got its name for the honey and mead that leaked in from the local mead distillery, which was just enough to make the water appear golden around noon.
Rune pulled his mask down, dropped his hood back, and slung the longsword across his back before he rounded the corner of the building, and took in the sight of the lake, which looked more like flowing honey than water. Seeing this was a rare sight for him, and had only happened one other time, ten years before, when his father had taken him out on the lake to fish, and they had supped and slept in the inn before they had returned home with their catch the next morning.
Rune turned away from the lake and entered the inn, glancing around and seeing that it was empty save for the barkeep, a man drinking alone in a corner, and a slender man in white with a hood up. He strode up to the bar, sat at the stool next to the hooded man, and saw that he was carving the beginnings of a claw out of a block of wood. The barkeep came over to him and set down a mug of water then walked into the back room.
As he lifted the mug, he saw that there was writing on the napkin under it so he read it discreetly; assuming this form of communication had reason.
The man in the corner is watching us.
Follow me down the hall to the last room on the right.
The man sitting next to him stood and walked down the only hall in the tavern and entered the last room on the right, opposite the stairway. As Rune began to stand and follow, he noticed that the man in the corner had gotten up and was now walking down the hall. He watched the man for a moment, and when he saw him go up the stairs, Rune walked down the hall to the last room on the right, which was now empty.
Suddenly the door burst in behind him and the man that had gone up the stairs was standing there, with a wicked looking knife drawn. Rune barely got his Kukri out before the man’s first slash came down at his head. His left blade went up and hooked the knife out wide, and as his right blade went in pommel first, a second blade came out from Rune’s right directly toward his throat. He pulled his arm back and slid his kukri along the blades of the knives and caught them in the spikes on his guards, then twisted hard outward and kicked the man in the stomach, causing his blades to fly out of his hands.
Rune sheathed his left-hand weapon and grabbed the man by the throat, pushing him against the wall, and putting the curved blade of his right-hand weapon to the man’s throat. He suddenly heard clapping behind him.