Happy Tuesday everybody!
Did you know that the Issus coleoptratus is the only known insect on the planet that has gear-like joints? They synchronize its joints for even jumps. Neat.
…yup. Don’t have much more of a cheeky intro than that, so let’s dive on in.
Today’s is another installment of the Amwren Origins series, introducing Aldis, this time. Perhaps the group’s most somber character – though certainly well within his reasons – I always liked him for the way he kept his compass straight, if that makes sense.
Oh! And bonus points if you can spot the homage to Kurt Vonnegut running through all these.
Anyway, may I present:
Aldis, Hunter of the Scarlet Pact
Aldis spent his younger years in the small, unremarkable town of Zylast. His childhood days were passed avoiding chores brought to him by his mother and father. Instead he chased the caravans that would come through on their way to Faraday or the bands of fighting hopefuls off to the desolate lands beyond Neven. As he watched, his mind would fill with dreams of his own adventures: the monsters he would slay, the duties he might perform, the women his tales would woo. Years of these thoughts aged him restlessly, and he grew eager to make them real. A few moons after his seventeenth birthday, he stole away into the night with naught but his clothes, the spear his grandfather had gifted him, and a farewell whispered to his sleeping sister, Talia.
The road to Stettin was straight and relatively safe, but stretched far. After weeks spent connecting with caravans headed in the same direction and foraging for what food he could not barter for, he crested a small hill to see the capital city’s walls on the horizon. Making camp, he new that defining days lay upon his near future.
Through the outer villages and eventually the towering city gates, he parted from the caravan with whom he’d arrived and sought out to earn his stay within the walls. The size of the walls, crowds, and deafening noise overwhelmed him at first, but he soon grew to quite like the buzz that the city offered. Knowing his goal, he searched for the city’s recruitment office and barracks of the capital guard. When he approached, he was laughed away by what soldiers were present and waved away by the attending officer. Sullen and dejected, but no less determined, Aldis found himself in the dark, unlit streets of the Stettin Warrens.
From his left, he heard a small clatter, and as he tensed, a figure leaped out at him from his right. A club struck him in the shoulder from the right and he felt the piercing pain of a dagger to his left thigh from his flanked side. Surprised and frantic, he thrashed with his arm and caught the knife-wielding figure on the chin with his elbow as the other man made for his head once more with the club. Aldis barely deflected the strike with the butt of his spear and spun around as he had practiced back home. Now facing his assailants, he was slowly backing away down the alley. They poised to attack again. Aldis turned and ran down a side alleyway.
Dodging under beams and leaping over refuse, he ran with his pursuers hotly behind him. His foot caught the edge of a hole in the cobbled road and he was sent into a tumble. On the ground, he turned around as the knife-wielding man leaped at him. Aldis closed his eyes and screamed, expecting to feel a sharp sting to the chest. What he felt instead was a warm spatter of viscous fluid across his cheeks. He opened his eyes to see the man with the knife, mouth agape, shocked, and slowly dying on the end of his upraised spear. As the man fell to the side, Aldis saw the other man standing in the street, looking on as his friend lay there dead. Slowly, he peddled back then turned to run away, apparently determined not to meet the same fate. Aldis breathed a sigh of relief that was cut short when he heard a voice not ten paces behind him.
“Well done,” it said, the speaker behind a veil of shadow.
“What do you want?” shouted Aldis, expecting more trouble.
“Me? Nothing. The question might be, though, what is it you’re looking for?”
“Listen, I don’t want anymore trouble here.” Aldis stood up and braced his spear. The man speaking to him was dressed in scale mail that shimmered against the moonlight, but his face remained hidden.
“That kind of attitude might mean you’re in the wrong part of town.” The man stepped forward so Aldis could now see him. He was tall and may have at one time been handsome, but had clearly seen years of conflict and weathered many adventures as his visage was now marred and rough. “But, you show promise. How’d you like to learn to use that thing?”
Aldis breathed slowly and, after several long moments’ silence, gave a soft nod.
Aldis’s first days at the Fighters’ Guild in Stettin were difficult, but justly rewarding. There, he worked hard under the tutelage of the man who’d found him, whose name, Aldis learned, was Hommin. He worked for his keep, scrubbing the dishes the fighters used, assisting the guild hall servants, working to maintain the guild members’ practice gear, and polishing the warriors’ weapons and armor. In return, he was taught the rudimentary lessons in movement, placement of one’s self in a fight, sizing up one’s opponent and analyzing them for weaknesses to exploit as well as strengths to be wary of. He learned to use his spear and weapons of its like, how to fit and dress one’s self in armor, and how to attend to wounds to some degree.
After some months spent in this manner, Hommin approached Aldis and told him to gather his things, saying that his days at the Guild were over. Hommin quieted his Aldis’s protests and as the young man was stepping out the door, his mentor caught him by the shoulder with a powerful hand.
“Where am I even supposed to go?” Aldis objected, fervently still.
“Go back to the recruitment office.”
“They wouldn’t take
“They will now.” Hommin handed Aldis a rolled up piece of paper with the seal of twin swords across a rook tower, of the Stettin Fighters’ Guild.
Aldis walked the streets of Stettin, now on patrol for the city’s Honor Guard as an apprentice. He accompanied two pledged members and he felt a little out of sorts as his armor was brigandine under the light robes and the badge on his chest that marked a trainee, while the armor of pledged guards was a shimmering plate mail. They walked the streets, keeping order where it was needed, and as these days wore on, Aldis became quite accustomed to the unexpected as the matters of the job presented him with all manner of strange goings on – fights, brawls, drunks, occasional small riots, missing persons reports, even reported sightings of monsters and illegal wizards.
This experience could not steel him for the arrival of his sister, however, late one evening. He sat at a table in one of the Market District’s taverns that catered to the guard, The Bronze Toad, when she came through the door.
“Talia?” Aldis exclaimed, nearly covering himself in ale he coughed out his nose.
“Hello, brother.” Her voice was soft as heather and her smile was wide upon seeing her estranged sibling.
The two sat and spoke to the late hours over what he’d done since coming to the city, what their family had done in his absence, and, of course, what she was doing there.
“I’m pregnant,” she explained, “and soon to be married to Patryck. You remember him, from the Feishod farm? Ah, no matter at all. Anyway, I’m here with father to meet with an associate of mother’s to see about a wedding dress. Can you imagine? From a tailor!”
“Let me go with you! I’ll ask to make it a part of my patrol tomorrow. Not every day you come around, after all.”
“It might be. Patryck’s pursuing an apprenticeship under a master cobbler near here in Market Square. We’ll be close again.”
With that, each smiled and agreed to meet the next day at high sun in front of the shoemaker’s building.
“What do you mean, ‘nothing to be done’?” Aldis screamed. “We have to catch the fucking whoreson that did this! We have to find him and catch him! Kill him! We can’t let him get away with this!”
Aldis knelt beside the limp, mutilated body of his sister. It was the early morn, and her body was reportedly discovered not an hour ago. Dark dried blood ran from her still eyes and the corners of her mouth. There was a deep depression in her chest, a sign of a ritualistically removed heart, as well as dark tracks along her arms and neck which indicated she’d been subjected to chemical or magical paralytics. Most horrifically grotesque of all, though, was the viscera that ran from between her legs into the street. It was apparent to the examining officer present, as he would explain to Aldis and the other guards at the scene, that the goal of her attackers was the attainment of the unborn child she had carried; towards what purpose, he couldn’t say, but the work was indicative of skilled Blood Mages.
“So we do nothing?” Aldis exclaimed, standing. “This man or group of men are a menace and they have to be dealt with!”
“That’s not your call to make, boy,” reprimanded his accompanying guard.
“He’s right,” continued the officer. “Blood Mages are a dangerous ordeal, true, but from this it seems they’re targeting pregnant women, which is a far cry from a wide set crisis. Their target group is a small, temporary minority, and a harvest like this will keep them and their work busy for some months. It’s better that we not address this immediately while we have the time to do so.”
“We do nothing,” repeated Aldis solemnly.
“I’m afraid so.”
Aldis looked down once more at Talia and knelt beside her again. He looked to her neck and saw the opal necklace he’d given her when they were children. He’d found the stone at the bottom of a small river and thought of no better purpose for it. He’d almost drowned getting her that damned stone. He took it from her now and closed her eyes. With it, he turned his back and walked away.
“Where do you think you’re going?” called one of the guards.
“Let him go,” calmed the officer. “He’ll come back when he’s ready.”
Aldis would not return to Stettin’s walls. If those blind, pig-headed fools in the guard won’t do anything about an atrocity like that, he thought, then he would.
For months, Aldis traveled the countryside. He hunted names and chased rumors that had anything, even remotely, in line with the arcane nature of what had befallen his sister. One night, while in a tavern in the town of White Tower, he drank away his frustration as his most recent trail had gone cold. The doors to the establishment opened and a man walked in, dressed in robes of light lavender. The man approached Aldis and, without so much as a word, extended a hand offering a rolled piece of parchment with a seal that held an emblazoned ‘B’. While confused, Aldis cautiously accepted the parchment and the man, giving a warm smile, turned and left the building. The parchment sat on the table for a long moment before it was opened.
The note was addressed to Aldis personally by a man named Alistair, of the Order of Bokonon in Tallin. The parchment offered him details of his own recent life, from his training in Stettin to the murder of his sister, as well as his investigations since then. It warned of a matter of great importance coming to the world and his role to play in it. As a measure of good faith, the letter bore a name and promised it meaning in his search: Morvanna.
Without hesitation, the next morning, Aldis rose with the sun and traveled due west to the city of Tallin, the City of Temples.
The Take: Looking back on this one was cool, if strange. Since it was meant as a backstory for a D&D character, it was already pretty detail-rich for what it was. Given what he has happen, though, it would have been pretty well served in a longer form; especially the confrontation with the officer towards the end. The guard has a pretty calloused reasoning for handling the situation the way they are, and while they rationalize it, Aldis doesn’t accept it. Call it naive, call it moral or emotional, it’s a revenge story at its most classic.
See ya Thursday!
Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!):