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Jaded

Renfield

Villager
Syrith smiled, more of a smirk really, a light upturning of the corner of the mouth that was larger than the upturning of the opposite corner. The object of his mirth sat before him at the table. A young lad of about eighteen winters (for winters were the basis of age in the north rather than summers) with sandy blonde hair and angular features that would be considered handsome if the youth ever learned to smile. His dark blue eyes stared up at the older man awaiting some words of wisdom.
The sounds of the tavern were soft and rather pleasant at this time of day, that time a few hours before the evening rush where a small number of people would mingle and relax after a hard days work. The orange glow of fires and torches gave off something of a classic and rustic feel that comforted the Naer Dess Master, the town had been modernizing heavily under their new mayor, and seeing as Syrith would have preferred being stationed in a village this tavern simply felt comfortable to him.
“So,” he said after a long pause, his deep baritone befitting his stocky if not tall stature, his face had a rough quality to it, befitting a hardworking farmer more than a Master Healer “you want to know why I was trained by one of the Jaded?” it was a statement posed as a question, a small test, though he could already tell the young Orpheus had a lot to learn, the boy had potential and the drive to reach it, however his mind needed to be opened to a few things.
The youth nodded and waited until after he took another drink from his mug of ale before speaking, “There are some at the commune who consider ex-Naer Dess a liability if not a downright danger to peoples lives.” The youth had a point, Naer Dess new things about the mortal body that could make them an efficient murderer if not an outright assassin... too efficient. As a rule a Naer Dess who turned away from the teachings of the order was spied upon to see if they would become a threat, those who were deemed too ‘unstable’ were killed. Every rule, however, has an exception to it.
“Very true...” Syrith said as he leaned back tilting his chair so that it reclined and propped against a support beam. “Jaded however are, well, a different matter altogether.” he was about to continue when a figure pulled out the one empty chair at the table and sat down with a laugh.
“Syrith you boring old sod!” the man said scooting his chair back and propping his muddy boots up on the table, it was raining outside and he had apparently just arrived his blue cloak stained to a deep midnight shade from the water. “Don’t listen to him boy, the man could be telling you of life and death escapes and you’d be snoring like a babe inside of ten minutes, that’s how he helped me with my insomnia.”
Syrith rolled his eyes, he was actually a year shy of thirty though his face looked like it could belong to one of twenty five winters as much as thirty five. “Caldos, aren’t you supposed to be making sure your officers aren’t sleeping on the wall?” he asked the leather faced guard captain.
Caldos scoffed and then chuckled “At Five Toll? You must be kidding, I have at least six hours before that becomes an issue, besides captains need their breaks too.”
The youth was smirking, his dark blue eyes reflecting the flickering torchlight. Orpheus found Caldos to be entertaining company, and while the lad found him amusing he also looked up to the man, rightly so considering the one time he had seen the Captain truly plying his trade had been rather impressive. Few Captains in the military had as much strategic prowess as this humble, if loud, Captain of the Guard. Orpheus had wanted to be a soldier before he decided his true passion would lead him down the path of the Naer Dess.
“Well get your feet off the table and listen if you’ll be joining us, I might even be able to teach the lad something in your presence for once.” Syrith replied with a dry chuckle. Caldos shook his head before he finally took his feet off the table. The Master turned his attentions back toward the youth. “Now, Faeren was a Jaded, they’re a little different from most who stray from the path of our-”
“Wait, you’re telling him about Faeren?” Caldos interrupted causing both Naer Dess at the table to sigh and roll their eyes. “Fight the sleep lad, this might actually be interesting, though your Master here ain’t no halfling or gnome gleeman when it comes to storytelling.”
“As I was saying,” Syrith began not giving Caldos a chance to continue after he took a breath “Faeren was an exception. Jaded are called what they are for a reason, they have seen some of the worst sights a Naer Dess can see, gone through more trials than any should, and what they experienced wore on their very soul.”
Orpheus lifted a brow “That would make them weak though wouldn’t it?” he asked, Syrith saw something in the youths eyes that he would have to annihilate, something that could lead to the boys demise someday if he wasn’t too careful.
“Yes, after a fashion, they often feel they lack the strength to deal with certain aspects of our trade, this often occurs after a war or in Faerens case, a plague.” Syrith spoke, and while he did so Orpheus listened, the lad knew he was too young to make any solid judgements on how the world worked let alone the people in it. “He was in Sardos when the Boiling Death struck. Two years before you were born.” he said, Caldos whistled, the Boiling Death was a particularly gruesome disease, even as far as plagues went, it had wiped out nearly a third of the merchant kingdoms population.
“You see Faeren was particularly skilled, the top of his class, he passed the graduation exam with flying colors and was an expert at manipulating the Life Stream.” he said, Caldos was right, as far as story telling went Syrith was poor, his voice was a conversational drone, still, both listened. “Many Naer Dess themselves couldn’t keep the plague from them and plenty of our own in Sardos died with all the others. Faeren never so much as receive a welt.”
“I think at some point he began to wish the plague had taken him, he lost everyone he loved, including his student at the time. He managed to save a few people but it was small compensation for the hundreds upon thousands he witnessed perish. At one point the only thing he could do was help carry the bodies to the fires and he made himself watch them burn.” Syrith continued, even with him telling it the story was very sobering, Caldos was rolling an iron bullet about in his hands, a nervous habit he had developed during his first combat experience he claimed. “Many of the Naer Dess who survived it became hollow husks of their former selves after feeling as helpless as they did. Faeren didn’t fall that far, but he had been drained, he was... tired.” the Master said with a distant look in his eyes.
After a long silence Orpheus spoke up, he had a fair idea where Syriths lecture was going to lead, Faeren had essentially been burned out, he had put his all into something and found it helped not a bit, not even the rare success could comfort such a feeling of helplessness and failure. He imagined going through something like that would lead any man to re-examine his faith. Which certainly doesn’t make them a danger, and though the youth couldn’t see how a Naer Dess could give up seeking enlightenment and honing their healing skills after tragedy he figured some simply couldn’t take it, still another question burned. “Alright, well, why didn’t he just send you to another Naer Dess for training?”
At this Syrith smiled, “Well, few Naer Dess were as proficient as Faeren, and I had a rather passionate desire to learn how to perfect myself in combat.” he smirked at Orpheus’ and Caldos as they both raised an eyebrow at the same time. “I was about your age and a little more foolhardy despite my training. My Master at the time decided it’d be a good idea for me to learn what I wanted as well as a little discipline. He had graduated with Faeren and they had been good friends at one time so he called in a favor...”

*****

The bar was crowded, it was late, Sunday was on the morrow and very few of the men and women had any real work to look forward to the next day. Music was playing and people were having a good time, wine was flowing, spirits were high. Dust stirred from the sawdust and dirt floor with the stomping of feat and laughter reverberated among the rafters and the stone ceiling. This particular bar was one of the more rowdy, things were kept in check by bouncers, however some men were left to their own devices even if that included beating on some poor sod for some random offence.
A young man, tan of skin and dark of hair, sat in a booth against the wall. He watched the crowd, or at least pretended to, the fact was his watched another man, a dark man, who drank from his cup silently at a small table fitting no more than two. If there had been another chair there before it was gone, if it had been there still it would have been as good as gone for all the welcome one occupying it would receive from the man they’d be sitting across, a brooding man.
Unfortunately brooding men had a habit of looking tough, this man was no exception, his hair was stringy and unkempt, long as well which was not the fashion. A sickle hung from his right side and a four-shooter pistol at his other side, the sickle seemed to have seen more use, another sign of being ‘tough’ to the eye seeking trouble. His face could use a shave though no the hair their could not quite be called a beard and anyone looking the man in the eyes would swear they were black as pitch, in some of the more superstitious villages or towns that might be enough to get him strung up, which was probably why he was in the melting pot of Sardos.
A man like this rarely sought trouble, but trouble seemed to actively seek out men like him, this night would not be an exception to the rule, and when the large bald man quite purposefully knocked the mans arm the younger man across the room knew trouble had arrived. Trouble was well over two strides tall, easily towering over the other man, his muscular body glistened in the firelight and bore more than a few scars of battle. He had no weapon, he had probably been banned from weapons by the guard, though he looked like a more than capable brawler. The ale had spilled over Troubles trousers, the only real clothing the man wore was from the waist down.
Brooding bent down slightly to pick up the mug and expected to see if there was anything salvageable left, Trouble promptly slapped the from the mans hand spilling what little had remained in it over the a nearby patron. The patron stood and turned in anger but when he saw Trouble he swiftly sat down, a damp shirt wasn’t worth a broken arm after all. “That was very rude.” he dialect sounded northern, likely a border lander who didn’t feel obliged to risk his life daily fending off Beastmen and the Fell. “I’m thinking you should be thinking of apologizing to me for spilling your ale on me.”
Apparently Brooding wasn’t the type to back down when trouble reared it’s ugly head “I did,” he said in a gravelly voice of one who didn’t speak too often “I’m thinking I don’t need to.” he said quite simply, a mere statement of fact, his tone wasn’t snide nor did it hold any contempt, no insult was intended by it which made the insult even worse.
A fist slammed down on the table, a fist that seemed double Broodings fist, one who the simple sight of would make most men braver than the patron at the next table sit back down. Instead the man stood up. Immediately people cleared the area around the two, the bouncers stood ready to stop an all out brawl from occurring, but a fight between two grown men, especially with Trouble involved, was something they preferred to stray from. The bald man growled, perhaps he wasn’t a border man but one of the few barbarians of the north, it was said some tribes still roamed.
The man smiled, a tight humorless smile, and took a single step back from Trouble. The bald man smirked, he figured Brooding didn’t know what he was getting himself into, he figured he was intimidating the smaller man like he had hoped and hoped that pride would dictate the man would take his beating and make a meager attempt at returning it. Trouble was very, very, very wrong. The smaller man spoke again as he removed both weapons and sat them on the table, a civil custom in any pending fist fight, weapons were very bad form.
“Animals, mammals in particular,” the man said in his gravelly voice “when cornered by or faced with a potentially hostile animal typically bear their teeth in warning and in challenge.” he said as if lecturing a student, the young man felt he was correct in his suspicions that the man was a forester, a Ranger some called them. “This signifies the animal is ready to attack when the offending animal crosses a certain line,” Brooding says as his foot moves out and draws a line halfway between himself and Trouble, the larger, bald man furring his brow in slight puzzlement. “Some men of knowledge who study the people say that is where the smile originated from.” he said finishing by smiling wider revealing his teeth.
Trouble wasn’t the smartest man about, but he was smart enough to connect the dry humorless smile with Broodings words and see it as the challenge he thought it was meant to be, later the younger man would wonder if the hulking bald man would realize the ‘smile’ had actually been a warning. Before that though, the huge man took a single step across the line.
What happened next happened too quickly for most to really catch it, the younger man, however, was trained to see such things in their fullest. The people were quite surprised though some knew Brooding, and among them there were whispers that countered those saying Trouble would have an easy match. All most saw though were a few amazingly swift movements and then a huge bald man falling to his back with his nose crushed and streaming blood and his eyes closed as he rested in a land of unconsciousness.
What the younger man saw was far more detailed.
Trouble had stepped over the line, literally, and Brooding made due on his warning. The young man saw Trouble take a breath and as soon as that breath was expelled Broodings fist shot out hitting the larger man in the solar plexis promptly knocking the wind out of him. Broodings foot then slipped around Troubles leg and straightened then pulled back causing the larger man to fall promptly on his ass and after bring both hands down in a chopping motion on either side of the mans neck Broodings palm slammed into his nose with sickening crunch that sent the large body falling back completely.
The whole attack was so sudden, so vicious and held such a feral grace that the young man didn’t see a human standing there over an unconscious Trouble, he saw an animal who had bested a predator that should have sought easier prey. The man was Feral, funny his name Faeren was surprisingly similar to the word, though he wasn’t feral in the sense most knew the word. He wasn’t a wild and savage beast that lacked control, but a coiled viper preferring to rest itself but ready to strike should some clumsy beast step on it, or a badger content in it home but angry at being disturbed by an overly curious bear and quite capable of sending it away with a nose that wouldn’t be quite whole again. An odd mix of ferocity with the elegance of control and humble confidence.
Brooding left the bar after leaving a small tip for the smaller mess the ale left, the younger man followed, with the older man being quite aware of him. The younger man would find the following weeks out in the wilds to be some of the most challenging of his life, but he would learn, he would grow, and he would come to respect the man for his knowledge and wisdom. People still came to Faeren for healing, often enough he had the younger Syrith handle the cases that the youth was fully capable of. The larger cases would cause the ranger to grumble as he applied his expertise. The few people who knew of him knew also of a whispered unwritten rule: Faeren was only to be consulted as a final resort, he was retired, period, but couldn’t refuse help to those who were truly in need.
After three long but short years of learning the young Syrith returned to his master with enlightenment he had not expected to gain from a former Naer Dess. He would complete his training and after being assigned to own town would be assigned a graduate of his own.

*****

Upon realizing the story was over Caldos made a point of pretending to snore his eyes closed as he leaned back in his chair his boots once again propped up on the table. Truth of the matter was he heard every word, he had heard them all before but listened to the tale just as raptly each time it had been told, which wasn’t too often. Orpheus looked at Syrith for a long moment then nodded slowly “I see.” he said simply, though his eyes spoke a little more as he took a drink from his mug, “I feel the priests were wise in assigning me to you. Still, your bad storytelling require me to ask: what was the moral of the lecture?”
Syrith chuckled “Well, the moral of the story was never bother a Jaded who doesn’t want to be bothered. Those of us who cease to follow our path as healers tend to seek personal solace in honing their combative abilities, typically for those situations when Trouble comes looking for those who don’t want it, there are reasons the Commune consider’s Jaded to be exceptions to the rule.” Syrith spoke with his knowing look and the smirk that was almost a smile “He was wise, I’d say more so than many of the priests in a way, but his wisdom carried weight and his soul has been tired of carrying that weight ever since the end of the plague.”
“Where is he now?” Orpheus asked after another drink.
A shrug of the shoulders “Who knows, he tends to move around now, he left Sardos at one point but could easily have returned.”
The trio drank from their cups saying few words for the rest of the night before leaving and going their separate ways, even Caldos was surprisingly quiet. If any of the three noticed the man sitting on the other end of the tavern smiling ever so slightly as he watched them, occasionally drinking from his cup, they never said a word of it.
 

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