All that surrounds me is my own deep blue scent of fear. Once this would have roused my hunger, the instinctive urge of the rahksa, the Crescent Reavers, to hunt, to kill. Now, though, the fear is all mine. The hunter has become the hunted.
I am in a blackness unlike any other. The velvety darkness wraps around me, holding me close. Unbidden, the fear rumble starts in my chest, a sound that would say to another of my vicious half-kin ‘Don’t hurt me. I’m no threat.’ It is the sound of submission.
From the darkness come ululating cries more chilling than the trills and snarls of the rahksa themselves. The ghilan come. They have pursued me for years…. how many, I’m no longer sure. They are creatures of Xibalba, land of the Lord of Living Nightmare. They are the demons of my sin made flesh and they hound me, running me ragged.
I have run from them. I have faced them and fought them. And I have died, over and over again, only to once more find myself running through the varied, myriad landscapes of Xibalba, surrounded by the blue of my own fear. I died in truth long ago, shackled to a wall, executed for treason, a monstrous chimeric hybrid that is half human and half rahksa.
I should have died before that, should have died as a full human, not as the foul being I’d become, but my master had other plans for me. I wish the Reaver half had taken completely over, as it had threatened so often. There was just enough guilt, shame, and regret left in my broken body when I died that I’d ended up in Xibalba, forever running from the past.
My name is James, and I was once Praetor to the Emperor of Argoth. It was a prestigious position. I should have felt blessed! But no, even then I felt overshadowed by my twin. We were identical, inseparable. At least…we were until the day my brother Sparked. We expected I would too, soon enough. It was always so with identical twins. I didn’t, though, and that broke me. I became secretly bitter and jealous.
It changed so much for us. My brother was now destined for the Technomancers Academy. I would be attending the Fleet Academy, as had been planned for us both. As the years went on, we grew further and further apart, and I grew more resentful. Though I excelled at the Fleet Academy, and earned a place among the Praetorian Guard, it was my brother whom my family doted upon, because he had magick. It had been a long time since any in our family had Sparked. Our uncle Dimitrius was the last. Before him, it was his great grand-mere.
The ghilan give chase, and I run, ragged, sob-stained breaths puffing out with each step. My blue fear has become a suffocating blanket. It clogs my nose and obscures my view. Finally I can go no further. My tormentors, sensing my weakness, bring me to ground. Sharp teeth sink into flesh, tearing out great chunks, but that is nothing compared to the mental assault. All of my guilt and bitterness is brought forth, and as my body is devoured by the ghilan, my mind is shredded by these destructive emotions and the memories drawn forth.
Moonlight coats a frosted winter ground, and snow crunches underfoot as I wander the slumbering, ice-laden trees of the Altomari Grove, seeking guidance in their whispering branches. It is not the trees that answer, but a serpent-cool voice. It calls to me, a young Praetorian Guard, and speaks of power and prestige; a power to rival that of my Technomancer brother.
The thought of my brother is a bitter one still, like a thorn buried deep in the heart, that festers dully. It brings the inevitable thoughts of wondering what in me was broken, and the feelings of being overshadowed and never good enough.
I try to push the thoughts away, the memories. This cold voice has slithered through my mind before, slipping through unguarded cracks, promising great things in exchange for simple obedience. Many a time have I found solace in the making of music; in the weaving of silken threads of sound into pure contentment. My music drowns out the voice.
That night, however, as I stood among the skeletal trees of winter’s heart, I give in. I head deeper into the grove, submitting to the voice. When I leave, carnelian fire winks from my hand where an oak leaf ring now resides.
Blackness overtakes me as my body gives up. I feel a brief moment, when the spirit, when my essence detaches. Then all is dark.
I wake, as I always do, fully resurrected and restored. I never wake in the same place twice. This new slice of hell is lit by the twin moons of Sikkari, casting cold radiance upon endless sand dunes. I groan inwardly. I hate sand. It gets in the feathers that coat the Reaver half of me, causing me to itch.
I wander among the bone-white dunes under perpetual night for what might have been hours, or might have been days. I become parched and, of course, that is when the hunters come. The cries of the ghilan drag me to my feet on puppet strings and I surge forward, suffocating in blue. Weak as I am, the chase doesn’t last long before I am pulled down and devoured.
There are Dashmari visiting, the Emperor and his Chosen. A Kanloni mage travels with him, and he has managed to rescue my predecessor from the execution due a traitor by claiming him as a magister. I see the dismay and suspicion in Lukas’ eyes, wondering why it is I and not Sir Marcus who serves as Emperor Sykes right hand now.
I don’t trust Lukas, or his mage. I don’t trust these Dashmari either, though my master’s other pawn seems to. They are here to speak of treaties, and of opening more of Dashmar to Argosian mining enclaves. The rulers and their Chosen are taking a break now, strolling through one of the open air courtyards. My men and I are watchful, but nothing seems amiss.
A female Dashmari has stopped to speak with Emperor Sykes. She murmurs something. Sykes takes off a ring similar to the one I wear, and hands it to her. The cold voice trills alarm, and I spring to action as the Emperor crumples to the ground. I fire my rifle at the female, and hit her squarely. Another of the Guard fires also, and then it is the woman collapsing to the ground. A third shot rings out, and my world turns to gasping pain. As my vision dims, I am aware of my master’s other pawn spiriting my dying body away.
Except I don’t die. He is magi also, and binds me to him as one does a magister. It is not enough, and my master sends Igasi, a sorcerer of the rahksa, to tend me. Igasi’s tending is not gentle. Despite the mage’s efforts, I am still dying. Igasi and his trith bear with them the body of one of their fallen. Igasi rips me asunder, fusing my body with that of the dead rahksa.
I rise, healed if not whole or even human any longer. I am a fearsome creation never meant to exist. From the waist up, I look human, save my arms are a bit longer and the fingers tipped claws. My pupils turn to slits in the sunlight, instead of pinpricks. Below the waist I have the long-legged body of a Reaver. The innermost toe of each foot is pulled back, retracted above the ground, keeping the wicked sickle shaped claw from dragging. A light coat of black feathers covers this body.
Days pass. I hunt with Igasi’s trith, and the Reaver part of me gains more precedence. It is only a matter of time before my mage and I are captured. I awake to find myself chained to a wall, awaiting execution. When it comes, at the hands of a firing squad, it is quick. A thunderstrike, brief pain, then pain no more. When I wake, I am in Xibalba, land of Illusions and Living Nightmare. When I wake, it is as the hunted.
This cycle of fleeing memory, death, and devourment goes on and on and on. How many times have I relived my betrayal, my mutation, my death, and all the regrets in-between? I’ve lost count.
These past days have been a blessed break from the old. I met willing travellers in lands of the Lord of Living Nightmare. They had come at the behest of the Lord of Living Nightmare. In desperation I went with them, seeking to beg the Lord for freedom, expecting it to come through true death. Instead, he sent me with his visitors, with clear instructions. I could go free and live, provided the one whom the travellers serve agreed to accept me. To accept holding my…leash so to speak.
My bond, this leash, is a bond of compulsion. Given an order, I may not disobey. In the right hands, it is to make me safe, for I am still half Reaver. In the wrong hands, it could turn me into a deadly weapon. We, none of us, were allowed to reveal the truth of the bond. She had to choose to accept my bond without coercion. The Lord of Illusions imposed a deadline as well. Three days are all I had. If the bond was not accepted, it was to Xibalba I would return.
I was smitten the moment I saw the Lady who would be my mistress. She is Kitriangi, and smells of icy pale blue laced with peach. The peach is unique. She is cub-bound, with triplets on the way.
I saw also, how slim my chances were. She knew what I am, the Reaver part of me, and rightly feared it, but she also seemed to know who I am, though I learn centuries have passed since last I walked Sikkari’s surface.
The Lady and her family live on a skycity. Port Jericho to be exact. She is its ruler, chosen by the Great One who serves as Patron to Port Jericho. This is a skycity like few others. It is home to two dozen or more mercenary and Hunter guilds. An entire Ward is given over to various distilleries and taverns, another to Firefly Alley, where delights of the flesh may be found. Jericho is a city of misfits, thieves, and rogues. It is, apparently, now also one of the safest cities in all of De Sikkari.
My Lady didn’t wish to deal with me. She sent me away, to tend to another, and I resigned myself to the inevitable return to the horrors of Xibalba. I savoured my freedom while it lasted. My time was nearly up when I was recalled. Against the odds, my mistress had decided to take up my bond in full. It’s a blessed second chance for me and I know I will make the best of it. No longer will I be the hunter or the hunted, giving in to my Reaver half’s instincts.
My Lady gave me even greater gifts. She sought out my family’s descendants, and learned that my brother still lived. He is a Old One now, a Technomancer blessed with a body like the Clockwork God. It is a chance to make amends, and I am so very thankful. Together, she and my brother arranged to have my lower body restored, at least cosmetically. They can change my legs back to human, though they can’t remove the vicious Reaver personality. Alchemically fused, it is part of me now. It can never be removed, but maybe, in the right environment, I can learn to work with this new aspect of myself and see it in a positive light.
This is a great gift, for the Lady must negotiate with Argoth’s Technomancers. A bargain is reached. In exchange for the work needed to restore me, a small payment of the rare and valuable tryllym is given. The greater part of payment is the establishment of a Technomancer Lab on Jericho itself.
A final gift my Lady gives me. She has only recently been chosen by Jericho’s Patron, and is still in a process of settling in. In honour of the recently strengthened alliance with Argoth, she creates the Jerachi Praetorian Guard, and names me Praetor. That is an honour I had not expected.
I have a home again, a family again. For now, life is brief. My clock, frozen so long, has begun to tick again, and I intend to enjoy my new life to the fullest.
My name is James- Sir James- once of Argoth, now of Port Jericho.