Prologue (3/7): Shadowstrider


Through the narrow tunnel, the door to which shut behind them, the cave was that from Aeris’ dreams. Half of Corwick could fit comfortably within these walls! Spread before her in rows were bunks and occasionally cots or mats where some were stirring into wakefulness and others were turning in for the night. How anyone could sleep over the merry voices or the clanks of practicing swordplay or the thump! of arrows hitting targets, Aeris hoped she would come to know.

“I’m Eydan, by the way, Eydan Frye.” She glanced at the man leading her to the mats. He seemed to be expecting something from her.

“Nice to meet you, Master Frye.”

He continued to stare; she stared back. Finally, he sighed and asked, “And you are?”

She hesitated another few steps before replying, “Aeris Faulkner.”

“Aeris. . . Nice to meet you, Aeris.” He grinned widely, and she responded with a small smirk. “Here’s your mat, don’t go anywhere, and we’ll talk in the morning.” And then he was gone, so suddenly she jumped a little, eliciting chuckles from the few around her.

She shifted and blushed slightly before asking, “Does he do that a lot?”

“We all do,” laughed a bare chested man a few cots down in the adjacent row. “We’re thieves, after all. It’s our business to disappear.”

“Right. . .” She slowly sat on her borrowed mat and took in her surroundings some more before lying down.

After failing for what felt like several hours to convince herself to fall asleep, Aeris quietly sat back up and surveyed the scene once more. The activities were much the same, only the participants changing, but all those in her near vicinity somehow slept. Incredulous but restless, she cautiously stood up, checking for any deviation that might indicate awareness of her movements. No change. Taking in a deep breath and affixing on her face a determined, confident expression, she stepped lightly further back into the cave.

No one challenged her as she made her way to the back nor as she began to walk through a narrow corridor. She checked behind her as she entered, feeling as if she got away with something. Satisfied that either no one had noticed or they didn’t care, she continued through the tunnel.

The corridor seemed deceptively long, twisting this way and that like a snake. At its end was another cave, much smaller than the first yet still the size of a mansion. This space was empty save a metal door at its back and a large, metal circle embedded in the floor. Engraved on this circle was what looked like a symbol of some sort, depicting a dark cloaked figure running through a dark mask with naught but a star as its left eye. Carved into the cloak were two small, rough Ss like lightning bolts.

“Our emblem. The Ss stand for Shadowstriders.”

Aeris jumped and whirled around. Eydan chuckled as he walked beside her, smirking at her fight-or-flight posture. “The mask is that of Norgorber, the Reaper of Reputation, Blackfingers, The Gray Master. . . I wondered there for a bit if you’d make it. I almost thought you were going to be boring.”

“What do you mean?” she asked and let down her guard, feeling foolish.

He squatted next to the emblem, gazing at it as he spoke, “Oh, nothing important now. Just a simple test. You had me nearly concerned when you just sat there for so long. . .” He stopped talking, glancing over his shoulder at the tunnel before continuing to contemplate the circle.

A couple of minutes passed, and finally Aeris broke the silence to ask, “What happens now?”

“Now,” the commander’s voice came from right behind her, “we determine what to do with you.”

Eydan grinned widely as he stood and said, “See? She’s learning. She hardly even jumped that time.” She gave him a small glare, which only made him give a short bark of laughter.

The commander glided between them to stand in the middle of the circle and turned to face them, looking first at Eydan then meeting her eyes. Two others, the figures from the cave’s entrance, similarly walked to stand on the commander’s left and right. The first was slim and tall and the second short. . . a child, perhaps?

Eydan’s smile dropped to a serious, solemn expression, though he remained in place.

“Who will advocate the Visitor?” the commander asked the air. Aeris glanced at all four and noticed they all seemed to be staring straight ahead.

“I will,” Eydan replied.

“She cannot follow basic orders, as evidenced by her presence in this sacred chamber.”

What? She had received no orders. . .

“A Shadowstrider obeys no man; a Shadowstrider only answers to him –or her –self ultimately.”

“A Shadowstrider must respect her fellow members,” the figure to the commander’s left replied. Aeris then focused on these two. The one who spoke was female with slightly pointed ear tips. . . an elf? And the other much shorter one she had thought a child, but now that she looked at him, she noticed mature sharpness in his cheeks, eyes, and chin. That would make him. . . a halfling. She could not be sure as she had only heard rumors.

“By what qualities do you think her viable?” the Halfling asked, and Aeris realized she had missed something in the exchange.

“The Visitor is quick and dexterous in her current state with much room for improvement, yet she can learn our ways, I’m sure of it. She embraces the darkness as a Shadowstrider must. Most of all, she sought us out and extracted our location from hearsay.”

“Do you, the Visitor, have anything to add? Do you desire to join our guild?” the commander asked, now looking at her, through her eyes and into her soul.

Aeris swallowed and wet her lips. “Yes. I cannot advocate myself for I have much to learn, but I very much desire to join you.” Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Eydan smile and look down; the commander’s eyes seemed to soften.

“Very well, let it be so.”

“Let it be so.”

“Let it be so.”

And so it was that Aeris Faulkner joined the Shadowstriders. She would live with them for several years, experiencing her first sensation of happiness. Aeris, so accustomed to prejudice and exclusion, did not know how to respond to acceptance let alone fondness. But her time there would prove to be short-lived.



Character Idea: Fetchling Bard

Denna, the Fetchling Bard

Exiled from the Shadow Plane (being a fetchling) and her throat mutilated so she couldn’t use her beautiful voice at the age of 13, Denna’s family was killed as a punishment for something they did, about which she doesn’t know the details. After the assailants cut out her voice box and dumped her in the material plane, she made her way to a nearby temple where clerics were able to heal her but were not talented enough to restore her voice.

Being a penniless orphan, she didn’t have the coin to spend to go outside of the city for a long time, playing music in taverns when she had to in order to buy food, even though she hates getting all the attention. She wandered around sleeping under the stars on rooftops or in the woods outside of town. Eventually, she made her way outside of the city, but by the time she arrived at anywhere where they’d have talented enough clerics, the wound was too old.

Desna Starsong, goddess of travelers, gamblers, and musicians, had pity for Denna and so sent one of her followers to guide Denna to a long lost artifact that allows her to speak through it for twelve hours so long as she spends an hour charging it with her own life force. Once the two recovered the artifact, the clergyman left Denna to her own devices at the closest city.

And thus we have a semi-mute bard! The way I would role-play her is that she would still try to mime out what she’s trying to say most of the time to conserve the charge in the artifact. As an introduction, for example, she would first write her name. If the person was illiterate, she would then try to doodle a cave with a bear outside of it, point at the cave, and then play the “A” note on her lute. If the person had no idea what she was trying to convey, she’d slump her shoulders in defeat and say her name through the artifact.

Prologue (2/7): The Cave


Upon reaching the cave, Aeris found it to be quite empty, small, and uninteresting. Forlorn, she sat on a big rock at the cave’s entrance and tried to think past her disappointment to what she should do next. It took all day to reach this cave, and the nearest city was back the way she came. She couldn’t go back, wouldn’t, but the closest city besides Corwick was a couple of days away. She had little food left.

Blast it all! Why did the rumors, so convincing, have to prove untrue!

As she sat there thinking thusly, the dusk turned to night. She remained sitting, unconcerned, for she had discovered early on that darkness did not disturb her in the slightest. In fact, her eyes only irritated her less, her vision changing to tones of gray that easily picked up details even 20 yards away.

“Lovely night, hmm?”

Aeris jumped and scrambled off the rock to face the voice. A hooded figure leaned next to the rock, dressed in leather armor with daggers strapped to every limb. He looked completely at ease as he regarded her. She suddenly realized how foolish she was, leaving on her own with naught but a walking stick to defend herself.

The man laughed and held his hand out in peace. “Jumpy little thing, aren’t you. I mean you no harm. I would like to know, however, what you are doing outside our door.”

Aeris looked behind him uncertainly and noticed a gap in the cave’s wall exposing a before hidden tunnel. Out of this entry way walked three more figures, similarly equipped. She quietly gasped and felt excitement and cautious hope begin to bloom.

“Are you them?” she blurted.

“Them?” the man asked with an arched eyebrow and a quirked half smile.

“The band of miscreants, rogues, thieves, mercenaries?”

“Miscreants?” He sounded amused.

“Please! I heard rumors that there lived some band here that lives by their own law, one that questions not people’s lives, a group that I might join.”

“Hmph, well, you heard incorrectly,” a new deep voice joined in. One of the other figures approached them. “We certainly question people’s lives, and I’m not so sure you’re up to the task of joining.”

“Commander, you should have seen the way she sprang when startled, and the darkness does not trouble her.”

“We have no time for this right now. . . Hm, well, in any case, we can’t have her running around exposing us. We will also need to know where she heard those rumors. . . Very well, take her inside and give her a mat. And don’t let her. . . wander.”


Prologue (1/7): Child of Corwick

Her story began as many others: with a mother’s screams. She came into the world with more grace than others, however, and her mother lived through the ordeal. She was not even dropped in shock when the midwives saw the strange markings, like tattoos, that covered her frail little body, and her mother’s love saw not these differences where others may not have been so blind. This love filled her mother’s voice as she looked into her blue eyes and sighed, “Aeris.”

In short, Aeris Faulkner was born lucky, for had she not been, she would not have made it past her first waking moment.

Neither her hunter and leatherworker father nor her shopkeeper mother knew what to make of her strange appearances, but Corwick’s people did. She was different, and that singled her out. For the most part, that difference meant only distance placed between herself and anyone else, and only occasionally did it come to violence. But through their mocking, she learned what she was: a sylph, born of human origins yet with elemental ancestry, able to utilize the winds to her advantage. The people made their point with their cold stares and hushed voices: she did not belong and she never would. And so, Aeris stuck to the back corners and side streets, learning how to remain unnoticed, how to use the winds to aid her stealth, for they could not deny her if they did not see her; their staring eyes would find no purchase.

Finally, it became too much for her, and she left her hometown Corwick when humans would come of age. She sought a band of ne’er-do-wells about whom she heard whispered rumors, who lived in a giant cave and lived by their own law, that of thieves and mercenaries. She discovered on her trek a clay that could hide her swirling marks, the hints of abnormality. She practiced remaining stoic so as to keep the winds calm as well. And so she approached the cave with confidence, determined to fit in, eager to be known as something other than the freak, and, most of all, afraid of rejection.

She should not have feared so, for outside her isolationist human hometown, there awaited a world full of creatures much more strange and frightening than herself.


About Religion

Since this blog is relatively brand spankin’ new, none of you know about my personal beliefs. In a professional sense, that is perfectly fine, but as I’m writing here in part to rant about certain things and to hopefully provide some insights to those seeking answers, to those who have been where I have been and need to know that they are not alone in their struggles, I feel it is necessary to write about something that was once a big part of my life, and that involves religion. More specifically Christianity.

Now before you run away, know that I’m not here to convert you. Quite the opposite. I grew up in a religious household, but I’m far from that now. My parents are uninformed about my current view of life, and if luck holds out, they always will be in the dark. Or at least, I’ll try to maintain the illusion until they move out of state and I’m ready to be disowned just in case that is their reaction. If you face this same dilemma, I feel for you. I wish I was more courageous and capable of just telling them and then washing my hands clean, but we know what happened to the guy in that story and I’m too sensitive to be villainized just yet.

Growing up, I was deeply embedded in the Christian religion and surrounded by friends and family who were all Christian. I thought it was right and true and everything one could hope for and that I would strive to be the best Christ-like person I could. And then I moved away from most of my friends and family, moving thousands of miles away with my parents and sister. The initial response from being yanked from all my close connections was to “draw closer to God,” so reading the Bible and praying and shit. I tried to maintain those connections through email discussions of passages and such, but they all slowly withered away, as many long-distance relationships do. That was the first sign, one I didn’t even notice, that indicated a fork in the road of life coming up. (Yes, cliched, I know.)

My immediate family found a new church in our new hometown to attend. I was ignored by the other teens there, which I initially didn’t mind because I don’t necessarily like a bunch of attention at once. But it gradually gnawed at me that these twits wouldn’t invite me to their Christian-y events and excluded me in conversations and left me out of their hangout circles during little breaks in church activities. This lack of connectivity to Christian peers in my age group led to me withdrawing slightly. Even then, I was embedded enough I wouldn’t slip out of the Christian ranks, however.

And then college happened. I left the influence of my immediate family, the only thing keeping me tied to the Church. At that point, I was aware of how much I had backed away from Christianity. Granted, I was saddened by the fact and wanted nothing less than to find my way back to the “straight and narrow.” I found a church in the city the college is in and attended regularly for another several months.

Finally, it hit me. The services weren’t doing anything for me, and I had to wake up earlier and drive out to go to them. I no longer firmly believed in what I was being told in church and in fact disagreed with common Christian views on some subjects. I made friends who were non-Christians who shared their perspectives on issues, and I agreed more and more with what they had to say.

So, I stopped going to Church, initially out of laziness and then out of the realization that I didn’t share their beliefs. Why go? It would only be a waste of my time.

I didn’t realize I made a choice at the fork of the road at that point. It took me several months before I realized the surrounding changed. I was actually watching a video of a guy called Mr Repzion when I realized that I could not consider myself a Christian anymore.

So, that’s the setup. Now here’s the dilemma: my parents. They’re concerned about my lack of church attendance and view it as a reason to pray for me. God dammit… I used to feel gratitude when hearing someone say that they were praying for me, but now I cringe inside. I now thoroughly dislike hearing about Jesus and about the Bible and about sin. Unless it’s discussed with an open mind by people who don’t act like they have a stick up their ass and not someone who is trying to “bring me back into the flock” because they “fear for my soul.” I don’t mind an open-minded discussion and in fact can enjoy it since I have that background knowledge of the Bible combined with the dissatisfaction of growing up with ignorance-encouraging, close-minded, preachy Bible-thumpers I call family.

Do I tell them I’m not Christian anymore, or do I wait until I’m in a different state and not dependent on their hospitality? I don’t know how much longer I can fake still being a Christian for the sake of avoiding the chaos that will ensue after I announce I’m now agnostic. A part of me believes I shouldn’t pretend to be something that I’m not, but I really don’t want to deal with the reaction to my announcement just yet. I wish I could believe the best of my parents, but I can’t. I just know they’ll try to bring me “back to the light.” I think only shock therapy or a lobotomy could put me in the condition in which bringing me back would be possible. But that doesn’t stop them from trying.

I still have strained relations with my mother, who is freaking out that I stopped going to church. She’s afraid that I’m turning my back on Christianity. Which I am, in essence, and here’s why:

The Catholic Church decided which accounts of men would be bound together under the title “Holy Bible.” These were accounts written in Hebrew, ancient Greek, Arabic, and possibly other languages originally, then translated into Latin for the priests and clergy. From what the Catholics chose, Martin Luther translated into the vernacular, the common tongue, so that non-clergymen could understand it themselves. And from there, it was translated into other languages, such as English. The English monarchy chose how it was to be translated; King James I took the Bible and gave his translators instructions so that his version would conform to the Church of England’s views. The language itself changed into what it is today, resulting in more and more “modern” translations of the Bible.

Therefore, you (here “you” will refer to Christians, not “you” as in audience, unless you are, in fact, Christian audience members, in which case that is merely coincidence… or not, considering my tags) place your faith in men. It was by Man’s hand that the words were initially recorded, by Man’s knowledge that those words were then translated, and by Man’s volition that those groups of words appear to Christians in their text.

But Christians (at least the ones I know) will argue that the Holy Bible is God’s Word. They will say they place their faith in God that the Bible is His Word, not Man. They won’t see all the places men could have stumbled in the delivery; they’ll claim the package is not damaged without even rattling the box, let alone opening it. God wouldn’t let “His Word” be misrepresented, right?

If you make the assumption that there is a god, even if you assume that the Christian God is the one true God, there are still issues to address about the Bible. Doesn’t God “work in mysterious ways”? If God allows some people to die but others to live, with no reasoning that we can make out, who’s to say He won’t act differently than what people assume? God didn’t strike Hitler down to stop the Holocaust; who knows His every plan? He allowed the Mormons their Book, He didn’t stop the Qur’an from being recorded, and He didn’t strike down the creators of the Tipitaka. Who’s to say this “Holy Bible” isn’t just another?

It’s great that people believe in things that help them get through life with hope in a satisfying future and less stress. But people shouldn’t look down on or “fear” for others just because they don’t hold the same beliefs. Maybe there is a God, and He just doesn’t want to see His “children” squabbling. Maybe He’s waiting until we can all live in peace, and then He’ll reward us. Maybe there is no god and religious bickering and fighting is completely and utterly pointless in the grand scheme of things. Maybe one religion has it right and the rest of the world is screwed, but how do we know which one it is? In any case, we should be tolerant of each other, assuming that one’s religious beliefs and practices are not disruptive or harmful to our fellow living organisms, especially humans.

This is what I would like to see out of everyone: holding to your own beliefs without trying to stuff them in other people’s faces and down their throats. Live your life the way you believe is good and right, question everything you are told and taught, don’t try to “convert” people. If your way of living is so great, people will ask about it and then you can tell them. Otherwise, don’t be pushy and claim your way is right and everyone else is wrong. Don’t be AFRAID for someone you think is going to hell. That means you believe firmly that they are wrong and you are right. This is basically what my mom has said to me, that she is afraid for my soul in the same way that she is afraid for someone’s life if they smoke. That analogy blows (couldn’t help myself). That is saying that since you don’t believe exactly what I believe, you’re going to hell. Unfortunately, that basically sums up all religion.

That’s basically religion’s goal from my perspective, to convert you from your current set of beliefs into another and then maintain its hold on you until you die. If you are a part of any other religion besides whatever THIS religion is, you’re wrong and will pay for your blatant ignorance. But then there’s a different sense to the label “religion,” isn’t there? In my mind, there are the Religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Pagan, Shinto, etc.), the groups of accepted beliefs with a following, and then there are religions, what an individual believes. I know, that isn’t exactly the definition. You’d say that those are just a person’s set of beliefs that perhaps do not have a convenient label on them, but it’s much easier to just slap the term of “personal religion” than that explanation. Everyone has a personal religion, even atheists. Now, I know many Christians believe that atheism is a religion itself, but really it isn’t. It is merely the rejection of a specific religious concept that there is a god in existence based on the lack of evidence for such a claim. It isn’t so much of a belief as a disbelief. Anyway, the point of introducing the idea of a personal religion is this: while Religion’s goal is to convert you to whatever you aren’t, personal religion’s goal should always be to find the truth of things. Religion is arrogant, fundamentally fundamentalist. Personal religion should be humble and eager to question and learn and seek out and ponder, confident in the truths it has found but willing to admit such perceived truths as false if given clear evidence. This is a dangerous thought and is discouraged in almost every church I’ve ever stepped into. They like to degrade it, calling it a convenient “buffet” style of religion. Bah! I have nothing positive to say to that, so I won’t.

And more than just religion, we shouldn’t assume that our views in general are so much better than someone else’s, at the very least until we’ve heard them out on why they see things the way they do. Take, for instance, one’s outlook on life. Here’s a link to an article written by a religious person on fatalism. And here are my problems with what she has to say:

I don’t see why the writer has such a negative view toward fatalism. Sure, fatalism isn’t a great outlook on life since it usually involves self-fulfilling prophecy. But do you trash pessimism? Is optimism the only way anyone can think? Is someone somehow less than you if they think that whatever happens will happen? I myself have been accused of being a fatalist because I’ve said similar things. I don’t really consider myself a fatalist; however, in case that’s what I actually am, I’ll let you in on my views of life.

We each try our hardest. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. Can we do better than our best? We can strive to improve and progress, and our best becomes better, but at any given moment there is a limit for our own efforts. So by saying, “Whatever will be, will be” someone like me is simply stating, “I have done what I can. The situation is out of my hands now, and I’m choosing not to stress about it.” That’s one of the best things about praying is that you don’t have to worry about it, whatever “it” is, anymore. So if someone finds comfort in such an outlook, why do you have to attack that?

And it’s hardly right to say to someone who has suffered, “You have suffered for no reason. God just let it happen. He could have stopped it, but he didn’t, and there was no divine reason for it.” If they can deal with their past because they believe that there was a reason it happened to them and that they are stronger now because of it, why deprive them of that? Why take away someone’s method of coping with the crap they’ve gone through?

Also, pagans are a specific type of people, not necessarily all non-Christians… The Catholic church did much to make the word “pagan” associated with evil, but pagan is just another label for someone who has a certain set of beliefs.

Also, karma doesn’t have to be directly tied to Buddhism or Hinduism, though it has its origins from them. I believe in karma, but I’m not from either religion. Karma can simply be the belief that someone who does wrong will be punished and someone who does right will be rewarded. “What comes around goes around,” “you reap what you sow,” etc. Even if you are Christian and the “blood of Christ covers your sin,” if you do wrong, there will be consequences to your well-being, even if it’s very slight, like feeling guilty. I don’t see how such a belief is bad for someone to have.

And as for Christianity being “tainted” by different beliefs, OF COURSE it is. Srsly? Do you not know your own religion’s history? (to the author) Well, I suppose that is to be expected.

Well, that was really long so I’ll end it here. I’m just sick of all the religious bullshit I have to go through because of my oppressive, religious family. I know I’m not the only one who has to deal with things like this, and so if you’re going through it too and are reading this, good luck, I wish you the best. Courage to you to do what is best for you. I sometimes wonder if I’m only being cowardly by not telling my parents… but I’d like to think it’s more out of laziness and convenience.