In Search Of Fate
In his quiet and industrious way, Gabriel would build a fire, roast the day’s game, and make sure everyone was fed and content before going about saying his peace. There is an awkward silence while he gather his thought and his self before he begins to speak in his clipped, “short-form” manner.
He glosses over important details from time to time, as though he is used to thinking over these events in his own mind, and seldom has to explain them to someone else. With a sharp reminder he back-tracks, and answers whatever questions arise. There is a lot to tell, so it may take a number of sittings, but it’s clear that his ultimate goal is complete exposure to his new companions.
“You young ones have been kind to me—an old man tasked by P3ter to shadow and protect you, though clearly you can fend for yourselves. Most would probably attempt to be rid of me as soon as possible; get rid of the old man slowing them down, but you allowed me to prove my usefulness. Very grateful for that.
“It is obvious that I owe the Keepers a great debt. You know from the feast in Fur’Lonn that they saved my life, but what you do not know is that they did so a second time, also. I will tell you everything that happened, but there are things you must know before I tell you about the worst of my actions. It is a long story—apologize for that, but I have been around for a long time.”
With that, he tells you everything that has happened up to this point, with the odd tangent and anecdote sprinkled in:
“I was born in a small village, one day’s travel from Fur’Lonn. Parents were poor, but bore an intelligent and able son. Was pledged to a nearby monastery of Erathis, a puer oblatus as it is called. In exchange for labor and religious devotion, received food, shelter, and learning.
“Much work to be done in a monastery: first served food to brothers and sisters in refectory, then was graduated to increasingly advanced tasks as time went on. Tended to animals in the stables, helped with washing and mending of clothes, aided masons in the reparation of the abbey fabric.
“Abbot was named Martin—intelligent man, revered theologian. Was not pleased when I attempted to solve problems without the help of my brothers. Always warned, “Community and order are always stronger than the disjointed efforts of lone individuals”. I refused to listen, though it did not stop Martin from trying to teach me. He approached me one day with a rag in hand.
“Martin tied rag around my eyes, and instructed me not to remove it. I could not see his face, but sensed the gravity of his tone as he explained his actions:
“’Pride and selfishness can blind a man,’ he said. ‘They cause him to deny the aid of his fellows, and struggle needlessly. Keep this on until I tell you to remove it.’ Martin frequently spoke in epithets, often added weight to what he was saying.
“For the first couple of days I remained stubborn; toiled well into evenings to complete my chores, and received many injuries from colliding with static objects. Eventually began to accept the help fellows, and saw the wisdom in it. When Martin saw fit to grant me back my sight, I still remained stubborn. Told him that given time I might have adjusted, though reluctantly concluded that it was deny the help of others when in need. Was not exactly what he wanted to hear, but he seemed pleased with my words. Being blind was not a pleasant experience—I do not possess the tenacity that allows Mark to function without sight.
“While monastic life was enriching, it was also stagnant—routines were seldom altered, and change is slow. Asked Martin repeatedly to allow me to travel, and seek out new understanding. Was met repeatedly with an ultimatum: I was too young. On eighteenth birthday, was told that I was now old enough to choose own path. I expressed gratitude, but informed abbot that I was eager to travel, and seek out new experiences. Was given a knife by Martin, symbol of Erathis inscribed on flat of the blade, and a small map of known settlements. Was offered a small sum of gold to help make my way in the outside world, but promptly denied it. Told the abbot that he and Erathis had granted me too much already, and then departed. Martin made me promise to return one day. Made the promise, but was yet unsure of whether I would keep it.
“Martin told me of the landscape which lay in all four directions from the monastery. Headed east because of the sea – had never seen so much water in one place. Did not care for taking the road, and for the first time was not chaperoned by one of my brothers while traveling. Decided to cut way through forests, and the two week journey turned into three. Only had enough food to reach the coast and Portsmouth, and had rarely eaten outside of refectory in monastery, where food had already been gathered and prepared. Had not handled a knife as a weapon before, but attempted to hunt small game nonetheless. Was two days until I managed to slay small hare. Had never skinned and cleaned an animal before—ruined the pelt entirely, and wasted much of the meat.
“When I drew closer to the coast, encountered ranger named Aeya. Knew I would like Aeya from moment I met her: she greeted me with an arrow knocked to her bow. Once convinced I was no threat, she told me she was heading south along the coast. She lead me to the shore, and was finally able to see the ocean. Had never breathed air that fresh, nor seen white caps or waves that crashed upon the rocks.
“Aeya and I had common destination – Portsmouth for supplies and rest at an inn – and she accepted me as traveling companion. She was some years older than I was; and knew far more than I did about living in the wilds. She taught me how to skin small animals, keep pelt intact, preserve useful internal organs, and so forth. Taught me how to use skins to line my boots, and seal them to keep the water out. Also taught me to forage in the wilds – orange berries poisonous, leafed plants with red centers cause itching and irritation – avoid at all costs. With her help, was able to fashion crude spear out of long stick with Martin’s knife. When coast was reached, learned how to spear fish in shallow waters, and ate them for the first time in my life.
“The night before she reached Portsmouth, Aeya initiated unfamiliar vein of conversation with me – physical intimacy. At first, did not comprehend her intentions, but soon caught on. Will not bore you with details, but as with many things, was quick and able to learn all that Aeya had to teach me. She did not surround the affair with emotional and sentimental details – another reason why I held her in high regard.”
After telling this part of his story, he would inevitably shift awkwardly in his chair, and apologize (especially the lady in his midst) for the … intimate nature of that last part.
“When Portsmouth was reached, we parted ways. Gave me a small token when she left—a small pendant decorated with feathers—and told me it was ‘to remember her by’.
“Did not fully understand then (and still do not understand) the significance of leaving these types of gifts. Martin leaves his knife in the hands of a young man he may never see again; Aeya leaves her pendant. In my experience, the memory of a person sufficed: way of speech, mannerisms, all that made one unique.
“Portsmouth then was much the same as described now. City was founded by explorers, who searched new frontiers, yet not inhabited by those who settled into familiar routine: thievery, violence, corruption. Thought at first that such people should be dismissed, that their behaviors were unfounded, but remembered the folly of dismissive thought.
“Was able to gather a few gold pieces by selling prepared animal skins and organs. The coin was seized from me by common pickpocket minutes. Pursuing him was difficult, though not impossible. Was always good at running and climbing, though had little opportunity to apply this alacrity while living in the monastery. Chased the man down, but realized too late that he had led me into trap: a dark alley, both ends blocked by his fellow criminals. Figured that I would be beaten – or worse – but was surprised by what followed. They were impressed with my ability to chase down their man, and asked me to join their “gang”. Skills acquired from “gang mates” would prove to be particularly useful: blending seamlessly into crowds, staying in the shadows, misdirection and skillful maneuvering.
“Sought greater motivation other than greed or personal gain that might lie behind action of Portsmouth’s criminals, but found none. After questioning gang members found that they cared little about the impact and consequences of their actions on society. After a few months had passed, decided to leave the gang.
“Curiously enough, for a social caste that does not value camaraderie, honesty, or loyalty, criminals are greatly offended when one of their number decides to quit the profession. Took numerous exchanges of threats and bouts of violence before they finally agreed to abandon me. Had earned enough gold during my time amongst thieves to spend another year living out of Portsmouth’s inns. Though I enjoyed spending days by the docks, and watching the ships move through the docks, eventually decided to leave Portsmouth.
“Headed west out of Portsmouth, unsure of my next destination. Grazed the outer ring of Fur’Lonn, mingling with the merchants, but after Portsmouth was in little hurry to enter such a large settlement once again. Headed further north instead.
“Those I met on the road told me I was bound for small community of Firmstead. A few days into the journey, spotted squat humanoid creatures on the road ahead. Had heard tales of Goblins, though remained skeptical about much of what I had heard. Descriptions previously offered to me painted picture of muscle-bound creatures, covered in the blood of young children; decorated with their bones. Attempted to talk with hobgoblin leader of the pack—foolish decision. Goblin language proved impossible to pick up; majority of the communication between the creatures took on form of grunts and shoves. Hobgoblin grew impatient with attempts at parlance, had lackeys hold me still by the shoulders. He withdrew a small blade (kris, asymmetrical blade used commonly as both weapon and spiritual implement). It pierced my flesh, scraping against the upper portion of the left cheek bone; was then pulled down in a continuous line to the top of the mandible before withdrawn. His fist struck my stomach, and I was dropped to the ground. Possessions were extracted from my person, and bandits left.
“Could hardly think through the pain, but knew that Firmstead—and nearest help—was still over a day’s march away. Was difficult to determine exactly how badly I had been hurt, but knew I had three broken ribs, fractures across both legs, and blood flowing steadily from facial wounds. Began to crawl; blood pooled in mouth, made process very unpleasant. Memories insubstantial after the first mile or so: three men came across me, hoisted me up off the ground. Tried to fight, escape their grasp, but all energy had escape my body, and these men were very strong.
“Awoke in unfamiliar surroundings, a bed in a small cottage – furnishings far too small to suit a human, more likely to be inhabited by Kobolds. Faint smell of manure coming through the threshold, could tell that crops were near. Half of my face covered in bandages. Sat up and attempted to peel bandages from my face, but was met with excruciating pain. One of my rescuers was present when I awoke, the non-man. It—or rather, he—piqued my curiosity, had never seen a being who was forged entirely of metal before. Had gutted and examining carcasses of many different animals, but all sentient ones had flesh, organs, blood. Had many questions for the man: did he have muscles? Organs? Flesh? In retrospect, this was likely an impolite way to address someone for the first time, especially one’s rescuer. Long periods of time spent in the wilds did not facilitate the acquisition of many social skills.
“The metallic man called himself P3ter. He and his two comrades formed group known as the Keepers, band of traveling adventurers. Had saved my life, and taken care of Hobgoblin and his lackeys. They had reclaimed my gear, though with addition of some Goblin blood-stains. Group of monsters was apparently attempting to pillage outlying ranches in Firmstead, steal food and livestock and meet little resistance.
“Was introduced to the metallic man’s comrades, Ray and Alan. They had been tracking the group of Goblins for the last two weeks. My injuries were severe, and I had been awake for only a handful of minutes over the last three days. During that time, the Keepers had found the creatures, and eliminated them. They stayed in Firmstead for a few days more; we shared meals, and traded some stories.
“The cottage I was housed in belonged to a family of Kobold farmers. In an effort to repay their generosity in kind, offered my services as a farm hand. Knew very little about crops or livestock, but as with other things was a quick learner. After some time, noticed that the rotation of crops was inefficient—excluded months in the year in which soil remained fertile, and ultimately decreased output of crops.
“One year passed, and then one more. Did not plan to stay for so long, but the ranchers who housed me seemed to enjoy my company. Improvements made to crop rotation had saved them time, and allowed them to live more comfortably. Like to think, as well, that they enjoyed hearing tales of my travels.
“During my third year in Firmstead, began to branch out, and begin to contribute to community through other means. Dangerous animals circled outlying ranches, and ever-present threat of Goblin bandits. Joined the Firmstead militia to help protect its residents. Had been involved in the occasional brawl during time in Portsmouth, but had only previously employed weaponry in the service of hunting game in the past. Recalling Aeya, and her greeting me with an arrow at the ready, decided to take up the bow. Was quite able with a drawn bow, but excelled in the use of the crossbow. The drawn bow to be powerful, of course, but I was better suited to the more consistent operation of the crossbow. Accurate results easier to reproduce.
“Trained consistently over the years, but was met with little opportunity to employ my proficiency with the weapon. The odd wolf might be found amongst the cattle range, or creatures larger and more uncommon, but no serious threats.
“As the years passed, intercepted increasing amount of Goblin patrols in outskirts of Firmstead. Warned leaders of town militia that attack may be imminent, though was dismissed as paranoia. Eventually, word came that savages had been spotted massing in the forests. Militia sent messengers to Fur’Lonn to summon aid, but knew they would not make it in time.
“Managed to get most of the ranchers to safety, will always regret that more could not be done. Those who tried to stay behind were slaughtered, and those that fled lost all that they had built. By the time forces arrived from Fur’Lonn, Goblins were days away. They helped to pick up pieces, but could do little else.
“Could have stayed, helped Firmstead rebuild, but have never been able to shake the urge to move on. Had saved some coin during my time in Firmstead. Took what I needed for supplies and provisions, and gave everything else to the Kobolds. They did not want to take it, but I was insistant. Told them that I needed nothing to make my way in the wilds, and that they could put it to better use than I—build themselves a new life.
“Went south from Firmstead, bought bundles of Journeybread from the merchant circles of Fur’Lonn, and then set out to the west. Drew close to Aristaal, but wanted to avoid the cities—at least for now. Reached the edge of mountains to the west, then turned south. Had heard tales of creatures in the mountains, creatures too dangerous to handle on my own.
“Entire year passed before I reached the edges of the great plains to the south-west. Made camp at its edge, and observed it for several days. Wanted to see just how far it stretched, wanted to walk until I reached the water, or whatever lay beyond the fields. Ultimately, decided against that foolish course of action. In my experience as marksman, learned to avoid open spaces whenever possible. Leaves one far too vulnerable, too easily surrounded.
“Headed east until I reached the banks of the rivers that lead south of Fur’Lonn, Aristaal, and Portsmouth. Followed the bank of the river north. Observed the way the water shifted as I went, and wondered what it would be like to travel over water.
“Was able to barter for a small canoe from the first travelers I encountered. Always a market for well-kept furs and meats. Was very pleased at how quickly one can move over water with the appropriate craft. By the time I reached Fur’Lonn, the small boat was entirely worn out. Abandoned the canoe on the riverbank and headed for Fur’Lonn.
“Encountered the Keepers once again in the merchant circle of Fur’Lonn. Greeted them, and told them that it was good to see them still adventuring in Ori. The group did not recognize me, at first:
“’Who the hell are you?’ asked Ray. Reminded them of Firmstead, the Goblins, and how they had saved my life. Offered to buy them an ale at a tavern—a token of good will I had seen passed between friends in Portsmouth and Firmstead. They did not seem to want to take up my offer, but P3ter spoke for the group and accepted. We traded stories over several tankards of ale (all except P3ter, of course), and the Keepers spoke of their latest work.
“Keepers were on their way to Portsmouth to take down a small-time crime boss back in Portsmouth. Recognized his name immediately: used to be the ringleader of the gang I was involved with ten years previous. Told them this, and that I knew where and how they operated (provided the pattern had not changed too much over the last decade). Knew that they would not need any help taking him down, but offered regardless. Least I could do, given that they had saved my life.
“We traveled to Portsmouth, and carried out the mission. My help was not necessary, but at least helped the job to run smoothly. Was able to track down hideout with information from some old contacts, and saved the Keepers some time at the very least. After all was said and done, Keepers moved on to seek new adventures. Traveled with them as far as Aristaal, and then parted ways.
“Enjoyed traveling with the Keepers—highly skilled individuals, with many good stories to tell. Would have been a formidable group of companions, but like they say, they were ‘out of my league’.
“Aristaal—the White City. Usually do not like the feelings that come with staying in one place for too long, but something was different about Aristaal. Each of its towers housed people so diverse, of different states of mind. Moving from one end of the city to the other felt like one week’s travels in the wilds.
“First few years spent in the city were filled with studies of medicine and alchemy. Was quite suited to the tasks, alchemy especially. Knowledge of flora, fauna, and other reagents was very helpful in picking up the craft. Skills impressed a master alchemist in the city, and he took me on as his assistant. Was able to enhance some of the items I already use: plain bandages and gauss replaced by woundpatches, simple adhesives replaced by sovereign glue, and tension wheels to enhance crossbow function.
“The partnership did not last long—due in large part to a minor misunderstanding. Made minor error one day in the master’s shop, mixed Basilisk liver powder into solution instead of Drake liver powder. Most of the masters tomes and reagents were salvagable in wake of the explosion, but the man himself was understandably upset.
“After relationship with the master alchemist went sour, went to local tavern to, “drown my sorrows” as they say. Memories of that night remain unfocussed—no doubt due to the large quantity of ale tankards consumed—yet remember certain elements quite distinctly. Group of traveling minstrels was there that night, playing music unlike anything I had heard before. Spoke with them at length about their craft, and learned that they were Bards.
”Revisited the tavern on the following night, this time without being inebriated. Watched them sing and play their instruments, and like always wanted to try it for myself—wanted to learn. Asked them to teach me the basics, and they obliged. Was not suited to singing, but was called a natural when I picked up one of their small instruments. Was fascinated with the way it worked: a small wooden reid vibrated against the body of the instrument; small holes lined the length of it, and the pitch changed when they were opened and closed by the fingers. They told me that it was called an oboe.
“Had acquired a moderate amount of money selling alchemical creations both on my own and under supervision of the master. Enough to buy myself an instrument, and to cover enrolment into the basic classes at the Bard’s tower. Took to many of the bardic arts almost immediately, but not to arcana. Instructors told me, “there is a sublime beauty to both art and magic,” and that they were connected. Unfortunately, they were not connected in any way that I could perceive fully. Still, applied myself as best I could to my studies.
“Alan came to me one day, announced that there would be a celebration—he was soon to be married. Planned to settle down with girl of his dreams, start a family. Asked me to attend the ceremony. Many words passed around at the event about certainties: will remain with spouse forever, will love unconditionally, and so forth. Entire event caused me to question my current situation: wondered if I had grown complacent living in Aristaal? Was always more comfortable traveling, but had remained in Aristaal for several years. Wondered when things had changed.
“I cancelled my enrolment in the academy. Instructors disappointed, wanted reasons for my “sudden change of heart”. Lied, told them that I had none. Keepers seemed to understand my reasons without asking. Promised to drop in every once in a while, but like with Martin, did not know if I would do so.
“After leaving Aristaal, spent almost three years wandering alone in the wilds. Occasionally encountered groups of travelers, and traded goods and stories, but spent most of the time on my own. Nothing I could encounter in the wilds truly scared me—beasts could be slain, bandits avoided, and so forth. Though there was more to keep in mind, more to watch for, but left me strangely at ease. Do not like to admit it, but nothing in the wilds could have terrified me as deeply as watching Alan settle into such a static state—remaining only in one place, with one set of companions.
“Eventually ended up quite far south, amidst many of the frontier settlements. Spent a considerable amount of time in one of them, Hampton. Pace of life in Hampton was far different from that of Aristaal or Fur’Lonn. In short, society of Hampton is quite insular, but tightly-knit once successful integration has occurred. Made friends with a man named Maxwell Hearst. Hearst was by no means an honest man, likely the reason why we got along. Admired his cleverness.
“In hindsight, association with Hearst was a bad idea. Convinced me to take part in one of his schemes, and left me behind to take the fall. Would never see him again. Was arrested by the local lawmen. They did have the facilities to hold a man for any considerable amount of time, so was put to work in the mines, instead.
“Was obliged to work in the mines for two years, but stayed for an additional year after time was served. Learned much about the different minerals, tunelling, and explosives. Also kept me in decent physical condition. Had made a few friends (honest ones, however, unlike Hearst) by the time I felt the need to move on.
“After years of traveling, found myself in the north—only a dozen or so miles from the southern-most ranches of Firmstead. Decided to pay the community a visit. Had been over fifteen years since the Goblins attacked the settlement, since I had given what coin I had so that the kobolds could start a new life. Went to check in on them. Was told by the locals that they had tried to start anew after the attack: cleared new land, sewn new crops, and even built themselves a new homestead.”
At this point in his story, Gabriel’s mood turns sour. He doesn’t really want to talk about what happens next, but pushes through it. He tells you the reason why he owes his life to the Keepers two-fold:
“That is, until recent Goblin attack had ruined everything. Again. This time, they were not lucky enough to escape with their lives. Many feelings clouded my mind when I discovered their fate: anger, or perhaps one could say rage; guilt, for not having stayed to ensure their safety, after they had given me so much; and an overwhelming need for closure. Against my better judgment, I took to the wilds, and followed the first Goblin tracks I found. Of course, had no way of knowing that I was tracking the very same ones who had attacked the settlement, but cared little.
“Found a small camp—no more than a few hovels, and a half a dozen camp fires—and went to work. Snuck into the camp at night, and set to turning the creatures against themselves. Did not take much: moved hoards of treasures from one tent to another, left telltale signs of evidence that the savages had been robbed by their fellows. Once they had thinned their own numbers, I struck by surprise. Was not justice by any means, but vengeance. Murder in cold blood, and actions that can never be taken back. After all that I had seen and experienced, should have known better.
“Ray found the remains of the Goblin camp a few weeks later. Did not take him long after that to track me down as well. It was clear that I was the one who had killed them. He greeted me in the usual manner, “Who the hell are you?” Explained to him what I had done, without embellishment or omission. He did not know what should be done, so he brought me to P3ter.
“Alan had passed almost one year before—what was left of the Keepers now judged my fate. Had they have told the Redcloaks what I had done, my life would have been over. Ray and P3ter decided that I would have a second chance—and made it explicitly clear that it was one single chance. For that, I owe them everything.
“Spent time in and out of Fur’Lonn and Portsmouth, wandering about and getting supplies when needed. Saw Aeya again on my way into the city, working as a merchant now in the city’s outer circle. She stopped wandering and adventuring years ago, and now runs a small shop in the outer circles of the central city. Every once in a while we come across each other, and ‘catch up on old times’. Ahem, apologies.
“That is everything up until I came to visit P3ter’s shop, and met you all by consequence.”
And with a brief “thank-you all for listening”, his story is over. With a sigh of relief, he’d set to whatever mindless chore is within reach, and keep his hands busy.