Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Mercan's Betrayal

         I am an old man now; my children are grown, and my grandchildren are plentiful. People come to me for guidance, and I am considered wise and my judgements true. I was not always this way. I was young once, and selfish. The greatest gift we can ever have is a true friend, and the greatest curse, a false one.

         I had my reasons to do what I did. At the time, they seemed right, and just. I will tell you my story, and you can judge the folly of Wise Mercan.

         The boys of Cercetor used to run almost as a pack, until we were big enough to learn our father’s trades. We’d run the hills, and get up to mischief. Grego was one of the eldest of the boys. He was simple, but harmless, unless he was scared. He would do anything we told him, and his height was very useful in the acquisition of all things that appeal to little boys, but especially apples.

         Playfights were a staple of this innocent life, but, as is like to happen, there was an accident. We were mighty heroes that day, our simple sticks transformed to great swords in our game. Whether Grego didn’t understand it was make-believe, or the noise and action startled him, I’ll never know. At the time, I saw him as a monster, but pain can alter any memory. I remember screaming, and blood and fluids running down my face. I remember my mother carrying me home.  And I remember the look on my father’s face when he saw my destroyed eye. The next week, Grego and his parents left Cercetor. My father was both wealthy, and powerful.

         So one-eyed and vindictive, I rejoined the other boys. I delighted in the ridicule of the others, and allowed no-one to tease my own disability. Almost above reproach, I became the childhood fiend, The Bully. One boy alone could limit my malice, and hold off my spiteful revenge. Letijak, who could stand by me, rebuke me, and never be drawn into my wickedness. Jak, as he was known, was too good to be, really. Handsome, winsome, golden-haired in a land of fawn. Who ever heard of such a child? My father even wished to marry my younger sister to Jak, when they were grown, despite Jak’s family connections. It was his family that made our friendship the most unlikely. Jak’s father’s brother was the father of Grego. Jak was cousin to my disfigurer.

          In this way, we grew up and started to become men. No longer running with the small boys, we remained fast friends. We were the first to notice in each other the changes that signal this time of life. And I saw before any other the marks that Jak was to be unlike other men.  Subtle at first, his eyes changed hue; one lighter and greener, one darker and browner. His beautiful hair was less gold, more grey; not the grey of age, such as mine is now, but a soft, gentle shade, more suited to a kitten than a man. He took to wearing a hood at all times as his ears became slightly pointed and set higher on his head than before.

          Now nineteen, and still no-one else had noticed these little things about Jak. Our fathers were looking to find us good wives. My father still favoured Jak for my sister Caran, but Jak liked Samila; as did I. Everyone preferred Jak over me. He was beautiful, and I was hideous, with my sewn-closed, empty eye, no-one would ever choose me. I saw them, Jak and Samila, talking together and in an instant, I hated him. The beast rose up inside of me. He was the cause of my sorrows. He should have been driven out with his cousin.  His family caused my disfigurement, and here he was, more a freak that I’d ever be, talking to her, my love. He had no right. I let my foolish jealousy rule my mind.

          Caran, encouraged by my father, had been in love with Jak since she was fifteen. My revenge was so easily completed. I whispered to her that Jak loved another and scorned her. She was heartbroken. I caused her so much pain that day, and she never once blamed me. Her fury was doubled when I told her of his gods gifts. She did as I knew she would and went straight to our father. He made sure everyone in town knew within days. My one friend was outcast, but yet again no blame was placed on me. Jak came to see me one night, terrified like I’d never seen him. The law said he must join the Kerowan Guild. He’d decided to run, and keep running instead. I never saw him again, nor heard what became of him.

          Samila and I were married the next week, her father eager to avoid embarrassment. My heart sang with joy, I had got what I wanted, hadn’t I? What is joy without a friend to share it with? The shame of my guilt still burns me. Years later, my son never played with his namesake. My joy at my first granddaughter was never shared with Jak, and the grief of Samila’s death never comforted by him.

          What think you now, of this wise old fool? The greatest gift we can ever have is a true friend, and the greatest curse, a false one.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Jak's Choice

I followed the lad. Not my favourite part of the job, but with the new ones it was necessary. Sometimes they would do silly things that might cause problems for my associates and me. Not that many would believe them. That’s the beauty of using runaways with gifts. Even when they are caught, the law’s so quick to execute them that it never gets traced back. Every now and then though, some smart alec tries to warn the mark. Not good. They have to be eliminated, of course, but the mark is spooked, which makes more work for me. Now that I can’t be doing with.

Anyway, I had concerns about this one. Little cat boy. Too quiet, hard to make out. He didn’t even owe us that much, probably could’ve got away with a mugging, or a beating or two.  He didn’t even argue, just nodded, in that silent way of his. 

We had decided to call him Jakumi, after the big cats, for obvious reasons. It’s something that he managed to stay out of the guild so long. It’s not like he can hide the fur or anything. He must have some skill at not being caught. It’ll do him well in this game, so long as he doesn’t bottle this one.

We are in the right place, that’s always a promising start. The lad’s a bit of an archer, or so he says. Strung the bow up right, anyhow. Let’s hope he’s as careful with the arrows. We didn’t tell him about the toxicon poison on the tips. It’ll take him out as just the same as it would its intended target. Wouldn’t usually bother for a job like this, but the client wants it, so as they’re paying for it.

Now for the decision. You can see it in their faces, the first time. Weighing it up. They quickly learn not to think about it, it makes the job much harder. Poor little cat, having to pick whose skin he values most. Most people think they wouldn’t do it, no matter what. When it comes down to it though, few choose their own death. That’s what breaks them, the ones that don’t make it. The realisation that they are just as selfish as the rest of us. Little cat looks like he’s made his choice.

Good boy.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Meeting Mera

You glance over and almost miss her entirely. A slight, barely-teenage girl sitting alone at a corner table. A child so young shouldn’t be near a dive like this. You’ve almost looked away when she turns her head and you are caught in her eyes. One green, one yellow: these are the eyes of a lizard. Her pale, gaunt features add to the reptillianess of her appearance. A snake wearing a human suit. She looks down and is again just a little girl, lost in a place she doesn’t belong. 

Studying her closer, you can see other signs that she is not what she seems. Signs of her afflictions - her gods gifts.

Her light brown curls could be pretty, on another face, if washed and given some attention. The finger-combing and ragged cut does better though, to hide the tiny, grey-brown horns that nestled on top her small head.

A long, elegant hand escapes from her cloak towards the dirty glass in front of her. A delicate, lacy pattern adorns the unnatural webbing between each of her fingers. She inspects the raised glass, turning it to find the least filthy side. For a moment, you see her forked tongue whip out and taste the liquid. She grimaces, and downs it. 

Unaware of your scrutiny, she turns her attention to a group of older men at the bar. She seems riveted by one in particular. Standing, and drawing her threadbare cloak around her, she moves towards him. As she begins to speak, she stumbles and falls into him. His friends laugh, the girl turns an embarrassed red, and mumbles an apology. She thought he was someone else. She flees past you, out of the inn, as he laughs at her. His eyes must be slower than yours; he hasn’t yet noticed his purse is missing.

You leave, and follow her. It’s difficult. She melts into background; just another part of a busy street. Within seconds she’s gone, even your skills can’t track her. You have people that can find her for you, if it comes to it. You take a narrow lane, a shortcut to get back. Most people wouldn’t head down here. Most people aren’t you. 

A movement behind you makes you turn. And there she is, her tiny face staring at yours, smiling and cocky. Her smile reveals a set of fangs any carnivore would be proud of.

“Miss me? I can’t believe you gave up so easily.”

Her accent was foreign. Maybe Mochene?

“You were sloppy kid. He saw your face.”
“He’ll have forgotten me already. And I’m not a child, I’m fourteen!”

 “Maybe you didn’t notice kid, but you’re pretty distinctive, what with the eyes. It’s a dead giveaway.”

Even as you say it, you know it’s a lie. Despite her gifts, she was utterly forgettable. Just another face, another pitiful life you couldn’t notice, less you risk noticing them all. The city was full of people, children, like her, unloved, unwanted, waiting to die, desperate to live.

She glowers at you, her cold eyes narrowing to a slit. Her acne almost glowed against the deadly white of her skin. Odd. You can’t remember her having acne in the inn. You’d have thought something that severe would have made an impression.

“I’m not a kid. Anyway, you couldn’t find me.”

“All I need to find is my beer. Why would I need to find you? Be a good girl and run home to mama. It’s getting late.”

You’ve seen a lot of odd gifts, but this one caught you by surprise. The spots, now covering all her skin, seemed to squirm, moving as if alive. One pustule, under her left eye, broke first, exposing its content, then a wave, her skin erupting into hundreds of miniature, flying, biting, scratching insects, swarming towards you, over you, covering you in their tiny bulk. 

Then it stopped. The darkness lifts. The street is quiet, not buzzing with the sounds of thousands of wings. You are aware you are on the ground. There are no marks on your arms, or anywhere, as far as you can tell. A sound breaks your concentration. Her skin is flawless.

“I guess that makes me more memorable.”
“You’ve got my attention. Do you have a name kid?”

“Mera. And you are Noron. You run this town.”

She announced the thief’s name, your name, like a prize.

You smile.  “Some call me that.”

Mera tosses you a familiar green purse. Your coins are inside, apparently untouched. She's still holding the purse you saw her take.
“I picked this up in the inn as well. I hear you need an apprentice?”