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paradigm

...well, that happened.

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Word spread surprisingly fast in Izral, especially considering the disparity of power between the classes and a lack of any true governmental organization at play. That news could even traverse the expanse of the region was miraculous enough, never mind the veracity of the claims. They, being the talkers that ‘They’ were, claimed the slave market of Izral was in ruins. The life blood of several powerful merchant princes was being spilt and the grossly wealthy addressed the issue as only they could...by throwing money at it. With the slave trade on its last legs many merchant Princes were forced to protect their own interests: a mercenary’s wet dream. The call for bounty hunters had never been so loud as it was now. 

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Velleh Ah’bjyd was far from the wealthiest merchant prince, but he was certainly the most vain. Unfortunately, for Ah’bjyd his obsessive need for the finer things in life left him practically destitute. Aside from his lavish estate, the Merchant Prince was virtually penniless and with the slave trade dwindling, necessity saw him parting with some of his more exotic artifacts just to maintain his luxurious lifestyle. Mercenaries and bounty hunters alike flocked to the various merchant princes to offer their services. Whether to fill the ranks of the Prince's personal guard, or to hunt down any fleeing servants who thought to make off with pricey trinkets amidst the turmoil. 

So it was that  Garland found himself welcomed with open arms (so to speak) at the Ah’bjyd estate. In truth, his reasons for being there had little to do with the acquisition of coin and everything to do with sweet, sweet revenge. It took every ounce of Garland's self control to even look at the Ah'bjyd estate without vomiting. Every step he made felt weighed down by the shackles no longer fastened about his limbs. Peering down at scarred wrists, the youth ran an absent minded hand over the white patches of flesh that marred his otherwise tan complexion. It truly was a miraculous happenstance, this thorn in slavery’s side. No one thought the tall broad youth anything more than another sell sword. The heavyset man stationed at the guard house, waved Garland in and gestured for him to stand out of the doorway. 

"It's protocol..." the large man said, running thick fingers through his patchwork beard. "We get so many of you folks...er...I mean workers...not Izrali...I'm half-Izrali myself, on my mother's side...um...." 

Garland quirked a brow, uncertain exactly how one addressed a harmless faux pas. Truthfully, there were a great many social cues, the broad youth was rather clueless about. "Is Lord Ah'bjyd at the estate?" Garland asked, struggling to keep an even tone. 

The guard nodded. "Doesn't leave...um...er...Oh, I need your name...and uh...oh yeah, are you applying for a guard posting or were you um...here for something else." 

Garland pointed at the man, "The first one...the Guard posting. Yep. I'm a...expert at...keeping people alive," 

The heavyset man nodded his head and flipped through various forms on the table. "Great! Great! We...ah...we've been a little short staffed as of late...um...what with the um...difficulties with the unpaid laborers departing." 

Unpaid laborers? Garland had never heard slaves referred to as such, but he supposed it wasn't technically wrong. The heavyset guard rose from his chair and handed Garland a slip of parchment and a pen. "Fill this out and we'll contact you within 48 hours..." 

Garland did not take the pen. "I was hoping to start immediately." 

The guard paused and shook his head. "Captain Rothschild will want to do a small background check on you, it's not strenuous...just a cursory thing..." 

Garland peered down at the pen. It was going to be difficult to fill that form out when he couldn't even read. Already things seemed to be derailing in a monumental fashion. "Ah...I can't really read." Garland explained. "Just never really picked it up." It wasn't unheard of, some children from the Izrali slums never attended a day of school...so long as they assumed Garland to be an Izrali peasant and not an escaped slave...

"Oh...um...what did you say your name was again?" The guard asked, turning back towards his desk, a large pudgy hand reaching for his radio." 

Garland moved without thinking and slammed his hand into the guard's back, using a rush of air to slam the large man against the desk with enough force to drive the wind out of him and send a stream of spittle against safety glass in front of him. 

"So much for that plan..." Garland muttered to himself, reaching down to snap the guard's neck with practiced ease. The sound and scent of loosening bowels filled the guardhouse, prompting Garland to sigh heavily. "Well...I don't think your pants would have fit me anyway..." 

Edited by paradigm
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The guards scattered about the mess hall grumbled about shortened rations, but Garland thought it a feast. Seasoned spink broth, a thick strip of boar jowl and a boiled black fowl egg; Garland never imagined he’d see this much food on a plate that belonged to him. As a slave in the fighting pits the usual diet consisted of bean paste gruel with the occasional meat chunk, a thin flat bread to scoop it up with, and boiled water. Every year around some Izrali holiday he’d never learned about, the masters allowed them a small cup of broth. Surprisingly, Garland did not ravenously devour the meal before him. Instead, he savored every sip of broth as though it were the nectar of the gods, every bite of the crisp boar jowl was the divine ambrosia and the egg—that was the most treasured of his feast. He’d never tasted anything like it and once dipped in the broth it sent a rush through him that began at his tongue rolled down his neck and shoulders until it dissipated throughout him. 

 

They turned their nose up at this and it infuriated  him. Rising with his empty bowl and plate Garland reigned in his fury and moved to deposit his utensils in a designated bin. 

 

———

 

“Who’s the new guy?” Ambrose asked, a tilt of his head singling out a tall youth in a mismatched uniform clearly surly over the slim meal provided. 

 

“Some dipshit Izrali lookin to get plowed, how the fuck should I know? Captain Rothschild has been hiring just about any wayward fuck willing to get shot at. Boo hoo, kiddies, the grub’s shit. Deal with it.” Connor replied.

 

Ambrose turned his eyes from the young recruit and focused on the disappointing meal. “ Captain was pretty pissed about the last slave shipment going belly up.” Ambrose dropped his egg in the broth and took a bite of the tough jowl. 

 

Connor snorted “He’s pissed because Ah’bjyd crawled his ass...I heard the last shipment of slaves never made it here and the little merchant prince took a bath. To make matters worse, the slaves he’d been grooming  for the fighting pits  all took off as soon as they got to the city. Some type of revolt or something. Ah’bjyd blamed the Captain for not seeing to the transport himself.” Dropping his own boar jowl on his plate, Connor scowled. “You’ll break a tooth chewing on that shit...”

 

Ambrose shrugged and swallowed “Meh, who gives a fuck about a few slaves? They don’t even use em in the Cosa and Ark Prime Regions anymore.”

 

“Tell that to his highness.” Connor rolled his eyes “Twat’s always spent coin faster than he could make it,  but he bought his last batch of slaves on credit (them that run off) and the ones that never arrived were bought on the promise of profit from the last batch. He’s in deep shit and the other Princes ain’t likely to let him off easy.”

 

Taking another bite of jowl, Ambrose spoke around his mouthful “All I know is, when the coin stops, I stop. Too many places to make a living to work for nothing.”

 

“Amen to that. If I wanted to work for nothin, I’d have joined the bloody Masons. But you know how it is with these rich fucks...even when they’re broke they got coin. S’why he’s selling off his trinkets. If Ah’bjyd was desperate enough he could sell half his wardrobe at half price and could afford to pay twice as many guards twice as much for five years. Bloody criminal, but his pockets are deeper than an ocean. I mean, hell I didn’t come to the asshole of Alterion cus I like killing goat fuckers.”

 

“Weird shit, that slave revolt, tho. Not a good sign when the bottom rung punches upwards.”

 

“Meh, bound to happen sooner or later. Slaves will always be a thing in Izral, but the widespread network? Might be over. The Rebellion turned a blind eye to it cus the money was good, the Masons didn’t care so long as they didn’t have to see it. It was always the Merchant Princes’ machine and now it’s busted. Question is whether it’s worth fixing? How many of this rich pricks even rely on the slave market? Take Ah’bjyd’s last batch, the fighting pit slaves, most of em will end up in the fighting pits again, either as convicts fighting for a reduced sentence or gladiators fighting for coin. Now, some smart Princeling owns those pits and win or lose, he gets paid. The only person fucked in this scenario is Ah’bjyd and those like him—the fucks too stupid to get out of the way of history.”

 

Ambrose peered at Connor, wide eyed. “Shit, man...that’s pretty spot on...”

 

Connor shrugged. “Well, I ain’t just a pretty face...hey, looks like Torg’s fuckin with the new blood.”

 

Ambrose turned, half interested and half disgusted with the notion. “Ugggh,” he groaned, “I got detail with that ass tonight, Captain’s orders.”

 

Connor shrugged. “That’s right, You got an invite too. Heh, half forgot that. Captain told me last night to report at 018:00. Think it’ll just be me, you, Torg and the Captain.”

 

“What’s the deal? We goin somewhere?” 

 

“Captain’s been tight lipped about it...but I think Ah’bjyd’s planning to move some hot merchandise and wants as few people as possible to be involved. And I know Torg’s a steady sword...but fuck is he an asshole. Just look at that smug prick,” Connor gestures to Torg, now engaged with the new recruit in some altercation. “I’m all for fucking with the new blood, but I’m not gonna feed some dumb kid his  teeth because he called me on my shit.” 

 

Ambrose’ eyes went wide. “HOLY SHIT!” 

 

———

The plastic receptacle which received Garland’s items was filled with a thin layer of water and splashed a few harmless drops from within its confines to the countertop. Garland moved to wipe the drop away with the cuff of his sleeve but felt the sting of an open palm across the back of his head. The pain did not  alarm him so much as the suddenness of its arrival. Garland accepted pain as a daily part of his life in the pits. His proneness for receiving beatings was largely how he ended up as a pit slave. Filling a cup too low resulted in a broken wrist, too high and sometimes they’d only break a finger. 

 

Such resiliency was better served beneath a lanista’s whip. Darting his hands out to collect his cap, Garland turned towards the source of the strike to see a short man, more squat than stout, a red soldiers cap resting ago his mop of greasy black hair. Quirking a brow at the man, Garland doffed his cap and moved to brush past. A thick fingered hand clasped Garland’s bicep. 

 

“Easy, Boot.” The man sneered. “You got shit water on me.” The man moved to shove Garland, but the large youth’s body retreated from the hand as it attempted contact. It looked as though the man had shoved him, but his stubby fingers never touched the fabric of his jacket. The hand in Garland’s bicep tightened and the stranger stuck the toe of his boot forward. “Lick it clean, you Izrali fuck.

 

“You should remove your hand,” Garland cautioned, his voice lazy and features passive. 

 

“Or?” The dark man grinned digging the tips of his fingers into the meat of Garland’s arm.

 

Garland surprised himself. It has been drilled into him so many times that his body reacted without thought. In a crisp and smooth motion, Garland snaked his own arm around the man’s and as easily as one might lean against the wall, pulled his attacker’s arm out of its socket. 

Somewhere in the mess a cry (“HOLY SHIT!”) rang out.

The man gave a high pitched yelling cry, more akin to a wounded dog than a man and lashed out with his other hand in retort. Garland shifted his feet and seemingly floated towards the approaching hand, grasping it by the wrist and bending it backwards. “Or I can remove it...” 

 

Pressing the fingertips of his free hand against the base of the man’s wrist Garland continued in his last voice. “Ah...um...it’s not as hard to remove a hand as you’d thing. Bone is very dense, but...ah...but the joints just require enough pressure in the right spot.” He applied more pressure and the man whined again. “Shall I show you?” 

 

Edited by paradigm

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Garland felt a shift in the air, it was almost imperceptible but with his guard up it shine like a beacon in the night sky. Releasing the man’s wrist, Garlands boots slid backwards and arms splayed as he pushed his chest towards the floor. Keeping his base beneath him, Garland’s arms splayed our behind him, his face only inches from the floor. His teacher had said this stance was named for some type of elegant water fowl, but Garland thought a more apt name would be ‘stretch  before using.’ While his body instinctually knew the position,  the youth could feel the ligaments in his legs and back straining. He was going to be sore tomorrow morning. 

 

A spout of lavender energy passed over Garland’s prostrate form and slammed into the man in front of him sending the whinging bully into the adjacent wall with a thud. Garland shifted his weight, rotated his feet and fixed his gaze on his new attacker. Looming above him, garbed in crimson and gold was a muscular man in his late forties. Clean shaven and sullen, his features were hard and his eyes were a milky white, blotted out by whatever internalized cauldron of power bubbles within him. Turning his nose up, the man sniffed. “Apologies, Torg. Though you did deserve it, I’d felt you suffered enough.” The broad man straightened his back and brightly polished buttons strained against the muscular man’s barreled chest. 

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“You must be new...” he did not ask, eyeing Garland. “I am Captain Rothschild, your commanding officer.”

 

“You attacked me.” Garland reminded him, not abandoning his stance. 

 

Rothschild’s face split into a wide smile. “That I did and you responded admirably. Shall we see how you fair against a true warrior, rather than a thug with a sword?” Spreading his feet shoulder width apart, Rothschild raised his hands in a defensive stance. “Come closer, recruit. I’d like to know who taught you that stance?”

 

Garland brought his arms forward into a defensive position but did not move his feet, remaining squared off against the Captain. Slamming his arms forward, Garland sent a condensed blade of wind hurtling towards Rothschild. The large man flexed and met the blast, folding his arms over his chest to absorb the blow. More than a little surprised to see Rothschild still on his feet, Garland left into the air and drove both of his feet forward. Another gust battered against the Captain, sending trays and bystanders flying backwards, but Rothschild was unmoved.

 

His strange lavender aura pulsated around his form, sparking deep within his eyes. “You’re an egoist.” Rothschild said, sounding impressed. “But whoever trained you neglected to teach you the true strength in our particular style.” 

 

Without warning Rothschild sent a phantom fist of energy towards Garland. Hopping backwards, Garland encased his hands around the phantom limb, battering it with his own energy. Several sweeps and passes of his hands later saw it dissipate before it could collide with his own broad form. Garland doubled over, straining to catch his breath. Stepping forward, Rothschild grinned wildly. “Yes! Very good! Anyone can infuse their ego into the air, but there are only five people in Alterion who could  have taught you to combat my id. Tell me, boy, are you here to kill me?” 

 

“No.” Garland said between gasping breaths. “I don’t even know you...I’m just here for the money...and...um...ah...whew...the job.”

 

Rothschild studied Garland for a moment before gesturing at the youth. “Since you’ve effectively crippled Torg, you will fill his spot for tonight’s detail. Ambrose! Connor! See to it that Recruit...?” He left the unasked question hanging in the air. 

 

“Ah, uh...Garland.” 

 

“Unfortunate...” Rothschild muttered. “See to it that recruit Garland is ready for his detail within the hour. Lord Ah’bjyd wishes us to re-secure the tombs.” 

 

Two men amidst the crowd gave a salute, their eyes studying Garland with a mix of apprehension and fascination. 

 

“Very good!” Rothschild said, turning on his heel. “We shall finish the conversation of your Master after our business tonight has concluded. I’d very much like to know how my old friend fares.”

 

Straightening his back, Garland watched as Rothschild left the room, dragging  any hope of victory Garland had out of the tall youth. Assassinating Ah’bjyd seemed impossible now...let alone escaping with his life intact.  

 

 

Edited by paradigm

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Following the scuffle with Torg and Captain Rothschild, Garland was led away by the two soldiers Rothschild had referred to as Connor and Ambrose. The pair were cordial enough, considering that only moments ago Garland was squaring off against their commanding officer. The pair led him through a series of lavish hallways before stopping at a balcony overlooking a windowless room. Lit solely by crystal lamps, the room was spartan in comparison to the rest of Ah'bjyd's estate. The vast open space was partitioned off by a series of flowing curtains-- a dense thick fabric of royal blue for the partitions and a light muslin beige fabric over the doorways leading deeper into the tombs. 

The older of the two guards, Connor, gestured out towards the partitions and nodded at Garland. "The partitioned off parts of the room are where the Merchant Prince's items will be stored. You'll carry a vid crystal and point it wherever the Captain tells you to. Ah'bjyd will be in communique with his fellow Princes over his own line. Each of his colleagues is at one of his seasonal estates. Ambrose and I will transport the items through the doorways. The Captain has the rune key necessary to activate the transport sigils and will send the items to the specified locale when Ah'bjyd confirms payment. Simple enough. Do what you're told and don't fuck up." 

Raising a dark brow, Garland nodded his head. "Um...yeah, I can do that." Clearing his throat, the youth shuffled his feet. "The job I mean, not the fucking up part. Ah...I mean that I won't fuck up."  After an awkward moment of silence, Ambrose burst forth and let out a non-committal noise. "Eh...So...Hey...when you fucked Torg up the Captain said something about you being an Egoist. If it ain't prying...the fuck is that?" 


Garland paused and thought for a moment. While he couldn't remember his master's words verbatim, Garland remembered a decent amount of his trainer's ministrations. "There’s an idea that the human psyche...ah...er...soul is composed of three energy constructs, the id, the ego and the super ego. My master explained it that all mortals are connected to these constructs. The id is our basest desires, our instinctual need. The super-ego encompasses our moral limitations and parameters. The super ego seeks to put limiters on our id, usually by applying morality. A good person wouldn’t do this, etc. The ego is the middle ground by which these two conflicting forces compromise. It seeks to bring the id to reality whilst managing expectation and limiting output." Leaning against the edge of the balcony, Garland tilted his cap and scratched his head. "Er...sorry, got it crossed there. Egoists manifest these ideas as internalized sources of power. "

Placing his hand on the railing of the balcony, Garland tapped his finger and the collected dust that settled on the rail floated upward and spiraled around into a mini whirlwind. " Basically an Egoist is someone who takes these basic ideas and applies them to the internal energy that exists within all living beings. They’re just names for these aspects of ourselves that alter the way our energy is expressed in the world. When I create a gust of powerful wind, I’m manipulating what is currently there by expressing my ego. The same principle can be applied when I strike someone. I focus my ego (my id and super ego blended and regulated into a stable energy) and express it in any number of ways. I can feed it into my muscles to strikes harder or move faster, or to my skin to make it more durable. 

"It’s not that different from a mage using mana to cast a spell, or an Alchemist using a synthetic crystal to enhance his alchemy. Energy from within is gathered, expressed and manipulated to desired effect. "


Scratching at his chin, Connor folded his arms across his chest and sniffed. " Is that different from what the Captain does?" 

Letting the whirlwind peter out, Garland shrugged. "Yes and no. The Captain bypasses any filter or limiter. He is dealing with raw id, unstable energy. Pure instinct. Primal rage. "

"Why can’t you do that?" Ambrose piped up, his eyebrows furrowed in consternation. 

"I could" Garland clarified. " But it’s super impractical. When someone gets really angry, and I mean like frothing mad...they tend to be capable of great strength. Adrenaline is pumping, they’re overly aggressive and fight supersedes flight. It’s not a bad tool. Lots of martial artists and athletes use their anger. Now imagine walking around like that every second, all day, every day. The strain on your heart would be insane. You’d die from exhaustion or a heart attack or both. When I draw on my energy I’m filtering out any negative excess energy. I only gather and use what I need and what my body can handle. Honestly, it’s a miracle your...ah...the Captain is even alive."

Connor gave a shrug of confusion. "I don't get it.The Captain has been wrecking shit like that as long as I've known em...and you make it sound like you can't even attempt it without dying. Sounds fishy." Ambrose nodded in agreement. 

 

Garland shook his head. "It's hard to explain if you haven't dealt with the energy before. It's possible Rothschild trained his body for it over a long period of time and built up a sort of tolerance for it...but eventually it's going to catch up to him." 

The pair looked at one another and shrugged. Leaning forward Connor patted Garland on the shoulder and gestured down the nearby stairwell. "We're on in the next half hour or so. Remember..." 

"Yup..." Garland replied, heading down the stairs. "I remember...don't fuck up." 

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Sitting atop the steps overlooking the tombs, Garland let his thoughts overtake him. 

 

~*~

 

“You did well today, Kyu. Ekhar will not underestimate you again.” 

 

“I don’t consider that a good thing, Master.” 

 

“Teacher,” The squat old man corrected. “No man has the right to own another.” 

 

“Someone should inform the Merchant Princes.” Kyu practically spat at their owner’s title.

 

Ignoring the boy’s snark, the old man continued with his critique. “You killed three of Ekhar’s friends in the arena today. He will be ready for you. He is a strong opponent. The fight will test you and if you are fortunate, Sosha, will kiss you.”

 

“The goddess of death isn’t exactly who I hoped to share my first kiss with, Teacher.”

 

As he was prone to do when frustrated with his pupil, Kyu’s teacher darted a hand out and slapped two fingers against the youth’s brow. Kyu sighed and bowed his head in apology. “This is the way of our clan, Kyu. We seek out the strong. We seek only to better ourselves.” 

 

“Yes Teacher.” The young slave replied.

 

~*~

 

If he was destined to die here, so be it. He would show Ah’bjyd and his cronies the strength of the  kyōken.

 

~*~ 

 

"Garland..." His teacher said, cupping a hand to his cheek. "If I'd had a son...that's what I'd have named him...take it....please." The man cradled in his arms felt weightless, his voice a hoarse mockery of the commanding tone that had run him through so many drills over the years. 

 

"Teacher...I'm sorry...I've failed you..." the youth said, wiping tears from his eyes. "I should have known...”

 

His teacher’s fingertips pressed into his brow, drawing Kyu’s words up short. “Ah’bjyd could not afford for Ekhar to lose. This is my failing and my punishment for not seeing that. It was foolish to think we could earn our freedom... in the end I am nothing but an old fool.”

 

~*~

“Rookie!” Ambrose’s voice called out. “Form up! The Merchant Prince is arriving.” 

 

Pulled out of his stupor by the older guardsmen, Garland rose to his feet and moved to stand alongside them. In a few moments, Captain Rothschild entered from the opposite end of the stairs with the Merchant Prince in tow.

 

Velleh Ah'bjyd appeared younger than Garland expected him to be. Since childhood the picture of his Owner in his head was something more akin to a deity...or a devil. Either way, in Garland's perception the man who owned him was always perceived to be otherworldly and always spoken of with such reverence. To see the man now in all his vanity and finery, Ah'bjyd seemed a parody of Garland's fears. Though older than Garland, Ah'bjyd was not someone the youth considered old. His skin was the ruddy dark complexion of an Izrali and his clothing, while of exquisite quality and caliber was by no means flashy. Green piercing eyes looked past Garland the guards, focusing only on Captain Rothschild. All for the best, considering that Garland was fighting and failing to control his rage. 

 

“Let’s get this over with. I have an appointment I need to make this evening.”

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It took every ounce of Garland’s restraint not to launch himself at Ah’bjyd. Rothschild’s presence helped to deter him, if only because the youth realized the experienced egoist would lay him out before he could lay hands on the Merchant Prince. Fortunately, Ah’bjyd was just the right flavor of ‘smug cunt’ to pay no attention to those he deemed beneath him. In the downtime between his tour with the Ambrose and Connor and Ah’bjyd’s arrival, the Merchant Prince’s items were rolled out and placed in the various positions. It all happened faster than Garland realized. A large Vice with handles on either side was shoved in his hands and orders were given by Ambrose to keep the ‘damned shitting thing’ pointed at whatever item Ah’bjyd was referencing. Simple enough. 

 

In less than twenty minutes, Ah’bjyd led them through almost all of the partitioned off sections, speaking in a dialect Garland didn’t recognize into his own personal Crystal datapad. When they reached the last two rooms, Ah’bjyd moved towards the portal entrance and Rothschild accompanied him. Ambrose and Connor moved to either side of a large stone pedestal and lifted a marble casing off to reveal a large leather glove with a concave aperture at the wrist. 

 

Rothschild gestured for Garland to stand between Ambrose and Connor keeping himself and Ah’bjyd on Camera. 

 

 “And now,” Ah’bjyd said in a high nasally voice returning to a language, Garland actually understood. “Our premier items. First, one of the Gloves of King Aramus of Vielset. Those of you who follow foreign politics will recognize this as an artifact of the warlord Roku. A powerful warrior, Roku stormed Vielset and killed Aramus taking this glove for himself. He then found it’s pair and with this power took he city of Palgard almost single handedly. Eventually a man from the terrorist cell, Entropy killed Roku and took the gloves for himself. The psionic crystals that power the gloves were removed and remain with Roku’s killer, but the Gloves still retain a considerable

portion of their former power.” 

 

Garland’s eyes fixated on the glove. He could feel the raw energy radiating from the pedestal. With something like that in his possession, Garland could make short work of Rothschild. 

 

“Though it pains me to part with it, I’ve little

use for such a weapon. I leave the earring and killing to those more brutish than I. Shall we start the bidding at 12 million coin?” 

 

Ah’bjyd’s datapad lit up as bids came in, the Merchant Prince’s eyes shimmeringly brightly. But Garland could not stop peering st the glove. He could grab the glove before Ambrose or Connor could stop him, but they’d lay hands on him before he could slip it on. He could dispatch the two guards, but that risked Rothschild getting to him first. 

 

No danger of Rothschild using the glove. With his raw id power augmented by the glove, Rothschild would be split in half by his own soul. The real question was: could Garland get the glove on before Rothschild reached him. The man had to go a few meters and Garland was less than a meter away. Even with all his power...yes, there was no way he could beat Garland to it. 

 

Connor and Ambrose’s eyes went wide as Garland dropped the camera and their hands moved to grab the glove. However, before a single fingertip touched the enchanted fabric, Garland drove his knuckles into their windpipes. As the two guards fell in crumpled heaps towards the floor, Garland rushed to grab the glove, only to feel Rothschild’s fist bear down on him. Lurching back, Garland tried to reach out with his fingertips in a desperate bid for the glove, only to feel air pass through his fingertips. Waving his arms to stabilize himself, Garland slid backwards and readied himself for Rothschild’s next attack.

 

The former slave felt his blood run cold as Captain Rothschild raised the glove and slipped it on his hand.

Edited by paradigm

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A power, inconceivable as it was boundless, slammed into Garland. Wave after wave of metaphysica collided against the youth and battered his form against the ornate stone wall at his back. It took every fiber of his being to redirect the swirling mass of energy within him into his limbs and launch it outward from extended hands and feet, all stretching towards his back. The shockwave of energy colliding with the wall shattered stone and left crumbling debris around Garland’s form and giving it the appearance of being embedded in the wall. With almost no time to react, Garland grunted and threw himself forward onto the marble floor. He felt the cold marble collide with his face, as he felt Ambrose’s corpse fly over his prostrate form and slam into the wall. He reacted as his id dictated, guided by pure instinct and forced himself upward, using a gust of wind to hurl his sprawled form several feet into the air and watched as Connor’s limp body skidded across the marble floor where he’d been only moments ago.

Time stopped and Garland took in everything he could. He was winded, that strike by Rothschild almost knocked everything he had out of him, if he hadn’t redirected the overpowering id and filtered it through his own ego, it would have torn his body to shreds. Rothschild stood before him, a beacon of energy…a fucking nuclear core of id. Garland banished such thoughts, no matter how much he trained his body, Rothschild could not withstand that much id for too long. He needed to get that glove off as badly as Garland needed to put it on. Garland was vaguely aware of Ah’bjyd’s presence, but remained focus on the literal tornado of murder standing before him. He couldn’t afford another hit from Rothschild, but there was no way he was fast enough to dodge another direct assault. Jutting his arms out, he sent a gust of wind forward, knocking Ah’bjyd backwards and sending Garland upright and back towards the wall. Settling down onto his feet, he grabbed Ambrose’s sword from its scabbard and held it defensively towards Rothschild.

“You’re a spry little fox, aren’t you?” Rothschild said raising his arm for another blow.

“Ah…you kill me and he dies. Take off the glove.” Garland said, gesturing the blade towards Ah’bjyd. He didn’t need to voice how he’d do it, Rothschild’s imagination could run wild and handle that for him. A physical conversation occurred between the men.

Garland tilted his head and arched a brow. You’re fast, but are you fast enough to catch this thing before I drill it through his skull into the wall?

Rothschild inhaled. Maybe. Maybe not, either way I break you.
Garland exhaled. He’ll still be dead and a dead Merchant Prince can’t pay you.
Rothschild grunted. I CAN catch it and then I’ll break you.
Garland raised his head and sniffed.. You just might, but that glove is gonna burn you up soon. You might catch it, and you might kill me, but every second you dick around is a brain aneurism waiting to happen.


“Kill him, Rothschild.” Ah’bjyd spoke, his face pinched in anger.
“Yeah,” Garland chimed. “Kill me. You may rip my spine out of my chest, but…not before I put this sword through Ah’bjyd’s fuck-stupid skull.
Rothschild drew his shoulders back.
“Bone, mush, bone, mush, stone.” Garland hissed. “That’ll be a pretty final sight to see. My former slave master hanging from his skull on a wall. 

Metaphysica surrounded Rothschild, radiating off him in tendrils of steam, Garland heard the sound of rushing water, a veritable waterfall rushing through his head. Ducking his capped head, Rothschild charged. 

Dropping the sword from his left handed defensive grip, Garland slipped his right foot forward shifting his weight, realigning and channeling his id to burst from his extended right palm. Garland’s hand slammed into the sword pommel  jettisoning it towards Ah’bjyd. He didn’t have time to see if his attack struck true before Rothschild closed the gap. He dropped backwards as Rothschild was upon him, the man’s gloved hand passing inches over his form. Reaching upwards, Garland grabbed onto Rothschild’s wrist and lifted both legs to wrap them around the Captain’s extended limb and used his body weight to tip the bigger man forward into a roll. Energy burned through him, he might as well have been dry humping a lightning rod. Funneling. Rothschild energy through his own ego, Garland focused every iota of his power to his hand. His fingers throbbed and for a moment he feared he felt the skin of his knuckles splitting open. A scream of rage filled his ears and for an instant he wasn’t sure if it was Rothschilds screams or his own. He didn’t need to break the bone, he needed to blow through the cartilage in the synovial joint. Feeding energy into that sole location was no different than filling any receptacle with a liquid: if an opening was provided, the overflow would escape; if no opening was present, one would be made by sheer force. The sound of ligaments and flesh being torn apart as the energy combusted in the joint gave Garland a near orgasmic relief. 

Tugging the glove free he scrambled backwards away from the writhing Rothschild and fought to rise to his feet. His haggard breathing was agony on his raw throat and he slammed his shoulder into the wall and he collapsed over Connor’s body. 

From the corner of his eye, Garland saw movement and turned to see Rothschild rising to his feet. A bloody stump protruded from the end of his left arm, ragged skin, meat and bone visible. Trying to hold control his breathing, Garland doubles over and vomited. The meal was not as pleasant on the way out. Blood poured from Rothschild’s arm, it streamed out of his ears and eked out of his eyelids. He’d lost control while wearing the glove and his raw id wrecked his body from sheer output. The fact that the man was even standing scared Garland to no end. 

Clutching the glove tightly to his chest, Garland stared violently at Rothschild. Daring the man to try him. The blood vessels in Rothschilds eyes had popped leaving the man with a crimson gaze that made him seem all the more monstrous. The military cap rested at his feet and for the first time, Garland realized Rothschild’s hairline was receding. Without the hat, and exhausted, he looked older than before. Clutching the bloody stump of his left hand, he peered over his shoulder at Ah’bjyd’s dead body and spat.

“You had an excellent teacher...” he muttered. After exhaling a ragged breath, the large man turned on his heel and stride towards the door. “Next time we meet, I’m gonna beat his name out of you.” Pausing at the door frame, Rothschild lowered his head, evidently contemplating something. “I’ll give you five minutes to get out of the compound, then I’m sounding the alarm.” 

Garland stared in disbelief at the Captain’s retreating form and forced his wobbly legs to hold firm. “Ah...ok? Thanks?”

Resting his hands atop his head, Garland took a few moments to breathe deeply before moving to claim Rothschild’s hat. Spoils of war.

Speaking of which...

Garland moves hurriedly over to Ah’bjyd’s dangling corpse and plucked it free of jewelry. The wrist and neckwear came free easily enough, but the rings were stuck upon swollen fingers. Giving up on the rings, Garland bolted through the tombs, grabbing anything he thought of value. There was an ironwood biz inlaid with gold filigree, a jewel the size of his fist and a large fur lined cloak. There were larger items on display, but none that he could fit on his person or carry at a decent pace. Making for the door, Garland ignored the sweat running into his eyes and bolted out into the compound. With any luck, he’d be clearing the gates before the alarm sounded. 

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Rumors lingered in these parts, like stale air and the stench of carrion — some were nested in lies to trick and deceive, while others were born of enchantment and legend. Rumors of treasures, long forgotten, legendary weapons and mythological creatures seemed to be a part of the very communities within Alterion. Some good, some horrific, but the truth of the tale lay in the teller. Elders told it the best; the truest, most times and their stories were told to grandchildren, around burn-pits; like that of the Lightning Wolf, who guarded the treasures around the ruins in the north.

Some say it was the wolf who caused the ruins out of fury, others that it was the defense of his homeworld, but the elders — it was the elder's tales that spoke of events as whispers and hushed tones, as to not wake the beast they believed in. They whispered because now and again their stories brought and old figure through the town, hunched with a staff, but wisps of lightning arced beneath the depthless hood masking any sort of face. The elders always bowed to pay respects, which began a tradition of sorts — a testament to the kindness of all elders, for fear that one may truly be the hidden wolf god.

The tales woven like tapestries, told a story through vivid charisma with vaguely detailed points — as if some things could not be accounted for. They would say that when his world was crafted into Alterion, a war had occurred and tore asunder the ruins that he protected, which ancient symbols referred to only as the Sigma, marked by an Σ throughout many ruined areas within these parts. The war left his family dead and gone, and he the only left — an immortal without cause. 

Some say he went insane. 

Some say he haunts the region.

But all say—within the ruins are treasures untold ... and none have come back alive.

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His ‘haul’ was rather unimpressive as far as burglaries went (or was it a robbery?). Regardless of his crime’s classification, the simple fact remained that Izral’s poorest merchant prince had little in the way of swag. The single glove of Aramus could not be discounted, but that wasn’t something he could sell. He needed that to finish his work...or start his work. The fur lined cloak was interesting and durable, but he had no idea exactly what it was, or did. The ironwood box with intricate golden filigree looked expensive, but all he found in it were several rolls of some type of reptilian hide and large bars of a strange alloy. It did appear to be enchanted, however, as the box held far more than its size should have allowed. 

 

“Bigger on the...ah...inside. That’s a thing, I guess.” 

 

The large jewel remained the biggest expendable prize, but without knowing exactly what it did, he could only assume the large shiny rock was worth whatever other large shiny rocks were worth. His most prized possession out of all of this was Captain Rothschild’s cap. It possessed no power and was worth...well whatever these hats sold for at a bazaar. Its value to Garland, however, was another matter. This trophy proved, if only to himself, his worth as Eckart’s disciple. The goods he’d made off with were wrapped in the cloak and slung over his shoulder in a makeshift pack while the cherished possession rested upon his head, shielding his eyes from the bright midday sun. The Izrali desert was troublesome in that regard; daytime brought a scorching sun, its overpowering light reflecting off the white sands in a blinding glow—while night brought darkness and frigid temperatures. Despite the sun’s best efforts, Garland felt quite comfortable—refreshingly cool even. Ever since he placed the Glove of Aramus on his hand, Garland felt better than ever. His body felt rejuvenated and no matter where he stood, shade or blazing heat, it always felt as though he were in the perfect temperature. Though traveling on foot for half a day, Garland found himself no closer to any other civilization. One of the pitfalls to life as a slave was the reality that you didn’t have much control over where you were going. There was never a need for him to study a map or learn how to follow the stars at night. Hell, his journey to Ah’bjyd’s estate was predicated on a call to arms with specific instruction on how to reach the compound. He could retrace his steps if he had any inclination of which direction he took upon leaving  Ah’bjyd’s residence. 

 

He needed to find some place...he wasn’t picky, any place would do. He needed to sell what he could sell, take the money and continue his work. Ah’bjyd was the first step, a big step and no doubt a personal vendetta, but only the first step in a very long game. After a while, Garland took note of several building shaped dunes in the distance, or were they actually buildings? 

 

Best not to get my hopes up, Garland thought and tugged his cap onto his brow. As he neared, it became evident that what he saw was no illusion and there were indeed the remnants of a civilization in the middle of the desert. The structures were not buildings, but a series of shanties and lean-to’s built into the side of crumbled rubble. Though sad to look upon, Garland knew this was the fate of more than one Izrali settlements. The everlasting war between the Masons and the Rebellion over the region proved to be anything but kind to the wretched souls unfortunate enough to live there. 

 

He spotted several people covering behind the structures, but a few leaned forward to greet the wanderer into their town and made note that their market stall was open for business. Garland didn’t need an in depth look at the settlement to realize that he probably had more coins in his pocket than the entire village combined. After paying an exorbitant price for a battered, but clean, canteen of water he learned that treasures of great value and those who hunt and deal in such things were in close proximity. 

 

“Deep within the ruins,” the old merchant said, his weathered skin dark as oiled leather and creases with lines and wrinkles. “You shall find what you seek.” 

 

Trudging still deeper into the ruins, Garland absentmindedly tugged at his makeshift travel sack and sighed. “Awfully cryptic, I...ah...hate puzzles.”

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A stranger—in a place like this was bravery or stupidity. Bones littered the entrance and surrounding area in a wide berth, leaving little to the imagination of what might have happened here, but also a testament to the scorching temperatures of these lands, as the bones looked more like shards of rock anymore—petrified and jutting out of the ground like wraith talons. No matter the time of day upon stepping foot near these sands, the shock of nightfall would have been immediate and yet a full moon cast upon the ruins. It often left travelers dazed and disoriented to step a single foot onto a ruin stone around high noon to find the skies overhead be forcefully smeared with starlight and the cascading ivory of moonlight.

Always a full moon...

The youth traveled further inwards, giving a perception check to his senses; the world altered time, reversing the dawn to steep midnight or beyond, fast-forwarding the dusk to the same point in time. Some thought it the mask of illusion and spent far too long trying to disspell something that could not be undone—centuries these ruins had been eternal night, and even adept wizards, warlocks, and spell-casters seeking such a power for their own stumbled and fell to this power that lingered. Atop a ruined pillar, twice the height of any normal man, sat an aged figure—or rather the hunched back and white wisps that draped like clouds from a beard and crown to cross the following folds of cobalt robes gave off the perception. Lightning cracked from sockets deep within the faceless hood, and the snaps and arcs of power trilled down the columns, leaping and dancing like newborn fauns. 

The distance—one that could not be pinned or guessed—a curdling lupine howl filled the midnight air.

"What brings you, child? Such is not a wise place to step foot on, as a thief..." The aged man said curiously, a cant of his head spilled ivory from the pitch. The tone of his voice was schooled and trained neutrality, no hint of malice or friend in the calm, yet razor-edged accusation.

As if his very voice commanded and exhausted power into the world, spirals of wind kicked up ferociously and threw sand all about, eddying to clean the pathway between Garland and the enigmatic old man. They peeled off over the dunes before collapsing into snaps of electrical current.

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Startled by the man’s sudden presence, Garland flinched and turned his head up towards the voice. The accusation was hard to miss, but it was understandable. Garland was stumbling around where he didn’t belong. “Ahhhhuuuuhhh....not a thief.” He clarified, whilst hoisting his makeshift pack. “Looking to make a trade or to hire work done.” He only partially realized how absolutely ludicrous that sounded. 

 

“The uh...merchant...person...he sold em a canteen and said I’d find answers here.” Touching the pack protectively he continued rambling. “These things are...ah...mine. I mean they weren’t mine, at first, but they’re mine now. I earned them...kind of.” Gesturing with his free hand to indicate the story was a long one the youth shrugged in sheer awkward confusion. “I worked for...Er...was owned by this Merchant Prince and I freed myself and took...what’s it called? Severance pay!”

 

Setting his pack down in front of him, Garland looked up at the older man. “There are some items here I’m not terribly familiar with, I was hoping to find someone who could tell me what they are.”

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Another howl shattered the fumbling silence between the two—closer, now—much, much closer.

The boy's story didn't all seem to add up at first, leaving the elder atop his crumbling throne to scowl beneath the hood. The stupidity and hubris of humanity was appalling. Every year or two, someone new would step into this realm and spill out some refuse-of-a-story about how they'd magically acquired them. It wasn't until the young man mentioned being owned, that the electricity beneath the hood dulled and simmered thoughtfully. Taken to another place. Another time. Eons ago, a slave himself ...

"You must have considerable skill to have taken that glove from the wearer then, boy." A motion of the staff in hand, pointed toward the massive gauntlet on his thin arm with some notion. "Or the fool wearing it was not truly compatible with its actual potential..." 

The elder led on for a long moment, spying the youth and listening to his words fumble with some sort of curiosity. What had happened to him within captivity, that his confidence to speak were this broken.

Thunder rumbled and groaned across the heavens, yet not a cloud to be seen in the blackest of skies. Torches of pale blue popped up slowly from nothingness, snapping awake and lining the way to the temple. The elder wondered how long it had been since he'd seem them arise—believe a story that had been told. The raw mana of this area was but a fractal of the quiessence. Yet ... it believed the boy.

Lightning cracked like a jagged root across the sky, striking the pillar where they elder sat. The blinding flash crumbled and toppled the tower and left nothing but smoldering stone, laced with intricate burns to roll and rest off the beaten path that lay to the temple before the young man.

The elder cleared his throat behind Garland.

"Exodyus calls you Garland, is this accurate?" The man's voice rasped, as he invaded the boy's personal space, looming over a shoulder close enough for a firm body to push against the young man's shoulder as he looked over it into the bag Garland had began to open. The elder was by no means a short individual anymore, but a man standing nearly a head taller than the lad -- the space within his hood only glowing with two electrical orbs and remaining faceless...

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Garland was not unsettled by the hooded figure’s ability to close the distance between them with such alacrity, the silence with which he did it, however,  was another matter. Unease seeped out of the youth’s every pore—he’d been raised by dangerous men, exposed to them his entire life...but this was different. He felt something ancient and predatory in this figure and he did not doubt for an instant that his survival was no longer in his own hands.

At the elder’s mention of the glove, Garland raised the relic peered at it. “I think it was...ah...the...ah...second one. I’m an egoist and the...ah...Er...ah...Rothschild was too, but he didn’t filter his power...too raw...unchecked...burnt out.”

Thunder rumbled and groaned across the heavens, yet not a cloud to be seen in the blackest of skies. Torches of pale blue popped up slowly from nothingness, snapping awake and lining the way to the temple. The elder wondered how long it had been since he'd seem them arise—believe a story that had been told. The raw mana of this area was but a fractal of the quiessence. Yet ... it believed the boy.

Lightning cracked like a jagged root across the sky, striking the pillar where they elder sat. The blinding flash crumbled and toppled the tower and left nothing but smoldering stone, laced with intricate burns to roll and rest off the beaten path that lay to the temple before the young man.

Hearing his name emanate from the hood, Garland paused and nodded. “Yes and...ah...no. The man who...Er...owned me named me Kyu. The...ah...man who raised me...and Er...trained me gave me the name Garland before he died. I kept that one out of...uh...respect for him.”

Peering up into the hood, Garland broke the awkward silence with an awkward question. “So...uh...ah...I take it you’re not a Merchant...”

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Into the bag, the orbs of electricity peered with a curious delight and an interested mind. If Exodyus believed this boy to be truthful and to allow his presence, then who was the elder to judge at all? Merely the Charon into the gates beyond -- into the Forge itself. The figure sniffed lightly. The thrum of energy pulsed in the air and the waves of static pressed brutally against the fabric of reality around them. Had the man not been present -- Garland's life would have been forfeit here and now, and he never would have been able to ascertain why...

"Ugh ... Not now..." the old man grumbled. Toward them, a shining ball of the purest white snapped and jolted toward them. The living lightning seemed to arc and jolt from point to point at an incredible speed aimed directly at them, pouncing from place to place before leaping toward Garland. With an outstretched hand, the elder waved a shield that deflected the energy with a dazzling ripple of energy that showered the young man with a sparkler's dance.

Embers rained upon him as the object became tangible and performed something of a multi-somersault before poising itself on a rockface unnaturally and against how gravity truly operated. A head tilted toward the two and a lean, elongated wolfish being stared silently with the same eyes of cerulean electricity as the elder. 

A maw cracked into a wicked, fatal smile and its head cocked to the side, much like a dog filled with curiosity -- eyes locked upon the old man. In response to a silent question, the elder shrugged, "It is not our decision. Exodyus allows the boy. Perhaps it is time for a new bloodline to emerge."

A snarl rippled across the world, and the field bolted toward Garland once again with both taloned hands outstretched to bear hug and shred the boy with all its fury and tenacity. The elder snapped and was roughly ten feet away now, watching with some sort of amusement, as he called out, "Apparently -- you are to be tested..."

The scent of static was thick in the air, charging the world around them as this spar brewed hungrily. It had been too long since someone had been here, been able to be challenged -- a challenge at all. And the elder dare not get too close to the wolfish being -- seemed almost scared to get too close... as it lunged, he avoided the direct line of contact with the beast.

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Had Garland based his response solely on visual or auditory cues, there would be no doubt that his death was eminent. Something else, however, something from the glove perhaps, gnawed at him.  It warned him of impending danger, like a living thought clawing it’s way across the surface of his brain.  Garlands elbows locked in at his side, lips pursed and the youth inhaled his teeth clamping down on the breath just as his arms met his rib cage. The strange stance served to jettison Garland backwards without disrupting his footing. The youth lifted his front foot only to set it down again, a large stone surging upwards in response.

 

Pivoting his hips, Garland drove his fist into the stone and let out a grunt of effort. Upon impact his fist altered the stone and sent a massive stone spike rocketing towards the charging creature. 

 

Garland doubted the makeshift weapon would buy him more than an instant, but he’d learned first hand in the fighting pits that in some fights victory was about surviving a series of moments in hopes of finding or forcing an opening. Power swirled around him, coating  the youth in a dense layer of energy as a form of protection. 

 

Nothing left to do but search for his moment.

 

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