Updated: Mar 28
(A note to current subscribers. I decided to rewrite the story because it just didn't feel right. some parts my feel similar while others will be notably different. I have kept the integrity of the story as a whole, but I simply couldn't keep writing it in its current incarnation. My goal is to always bring you great stories and I hope with this rewrite I have accomplished just that)
Jan Sha screamed after a sudden jolt tore through her abdomen. The contractions had grown more frequent. It seemed the time had finally come.
You have a strong desire to announce yourself, don’t you, little one, she thought.
She felt the gentle touch of another in her right hand, followed by a tender squeeze and looked to Zukris, her husband and Lifeheart. He beamed with pride, but his eyes showed he was worried. The babe had yet to leave the womb and take its first breath, but he was already thinking about its future and the life it would lead.
They weren’t Libertas and as such, and like most orcs, the child would be born into slavery just as they had. Inwardly, despite the pain of childbirth, Jan Sha shared in his grief. Her heart ached to know that its future seemed predetermined.
“Our child comes,” her Lifeheart whispered reverently.
Jan Sha shifted her gaze to Senkal. “One last push,” he said. “Keep your eyes on me.”
With the tension building, Jan Sha locked her jaw, keeping her breaths steady. The shaman’s gaze was steely and expectant.
“Now, Jan Sha, bring this blessing to us,” he said.
Jan Sha screamed, putting all her strength into setting the child free. On reflex, she tightened her grip, squeezing Zukris’ hand. Something popped, though if he were in pain, her Lifeheart bared it stoically.
Soon after, a great sense of relief overtook her, as if a tremendous weight had lifted. A soft cry followed, and Jan Sha’s eyes watered as she lay back. You’re finally here…
“Lifeheart! We have a son!”
Jan Sha fought to navigate the sea of emotions washing over her, but the waves of joy assailing her were too powerful, tossing her about like a ship caught in a storm. Her eyes flooding as Zukris leaned in and kissed her tenderly.
Jan Sha lifted her head, looking past her husband. Her eyes fell onto Senkal as he cleaned the babe. His expression was shockingly grim. His eyes devoid of any joy.
Jan Sha noted the odd mark on her son’s right forearm and the way Senkal caressed it. The skin around the mark appeared cracked and dry, like a callus. It had a crimson tone, starkly contrasting to the babe’s light ochre skin.
He placed his hand on her son’s forehead and softly whispered something. The shaman then opened his eyes. The sorrow she saw in them had deepened.
“Jan Sha, Zukris, I wish I knew better words,” he said. “Your child is Spiritouched.”
“No!” her Lifeheart shouted. “He can’t be!”
The Senkal nodded. “He is, Zukris, the mark on his right forearm is proof.”
“Senkal, how could this happen?” he asked.
“I cannot say. The ways of the spirits are mysterious.”
“Senkal, you know how the Absonians feel about those they call The Cursed.”
The old orc grimaced, his expression pained. “The humans curse that which they do not understand,” he replied. “It is fortunate your master agreed to let me tend to you and the others whenever I visit.”
“Then take him, as Libertas you can adopt him, and they will grant him the same status under Absonian law,” Zukris said. “It is well known among the others you practice the traditions in secret.”
Jan Sha’s mouth fell open. “Zukris, this is our son… You can’t.”
“Lifeheart, we do not know how or what will manifest in him from this. He would be safer with Senkal.”
Jan Sha shook her head. “No, I forbid it!”
Her Lifeheart lowered his eyes. “I cannot think of anything else. If our master discovers the truth, they will take him from us.”
Jan Sha winced. “Let me hold my baby.”
The shaman nodded, and after bundling the babe up in a clean cloth, handed him to her. Jan Sha smiled as he fidgeted in her arms. He was so beautiful. His yellow eyes shone in the dim light. His ochre toned skin was smooth and without blemish.
“Gmork,” she whispered. “His name will be Gmork.”
“Senkal, what sort of spirit touched our son?” Zukris asked.
The shaman cast his gaze toward the babe. “A spirit of rage. He was born to be a warrior.”
Jan Sha felt her heart stop after he spoke the words. It wasn’t fair! Gmork deserved better.
“Jan Sha, do not fear. I too am Spiritouched and have learned how to use my power in secret,” Senkal said. “I cannot say what the spirit’s intent was, but its effect on your son will stay with him for the rest of his life. The anger within him will need to be honed and directed.”
Jan Sha turned to her husband. “Zukris, please… We can keep this quiet. I know we can.”
“But what of the others, Lifeheart? Will they risk their safety for ours?” he asked. “Elias treats us well. Better than most would.”
“Then we will flee. We will take refuge in the mountains. In the highlands. The Absonians aren’t welcome there. We would be safe.”
“The mountains are far from the capital, Jan Sha, and you’ve just given birth,” he replied. “You need rest, such a journey would be too hard on you.”
“If I die saving my baby, then I don’t care!”
He leaned in, resting his forehead against hers. “Lifeheart, without you I would die. Our boy needs his mother and I need my wife. My heart grieves over this. I hate it with all my being, but if he is to have a chance, we must think of the future.”
“Jan Sha,” Senkal chimed in. “I will do nothing without your permission, but know my time here is short. Your master will send someone to check on you soon.”
She gazed at her son. He had settled, his eyes were drooping as he slowly drifted off to sleep. In her heart, Jan Sha knew allowing Senkal to adopt him was their best hope. But another part of her wanted to rage and fight to keep him.
How can the spirits be so cruel? Jan Sha tensed, reluctantly handing the babe back to Senkal. “Promise me you will keep him safe.”
“I swear by the Creator, Jan Sha,” he replied. “I won’t keep him from you. Whenever I visit and when he is old enough, I will bring Gmork with me. I will tell him often of who you are so he will know you love him.”
Cairn and Vahti
(Twenty Years Later)
Arridus scanned the Gathering Hall, then shifted his focus to the two young boys sitting at one of the tables. “You found them just standing by the monastery gate?” he whispered.
“Yes, Brother Arridus,” Justus replied. “The boys seem just as confused as you.”
It was a sad sight. Arridus felt a sharp twinge in his heart as he looked at them. The older one had hints of red in his dark hair, and the younger’s was bright blonde. They were ruddy in appearance, covered in dirt, their clothes shabby and unkempt.
They had eaten every plate set before them and while appearing healthy, their appetites showed otherwise. “Have them taken to the Alumn Wing of the monastery. Feed them, bathe them, and get them some fresh clothes. We will care for them.”
“Should I inform Anchorite Hadai?”
“Please do. We offer aid to all. These boys have been abandoned at our doorstep; we cannot turn them away.”
“Will we teach them our ways?”
“That choice, Brother Justus, is a decision left for them to decide.”
Justus nodded, making his way to the table where the boys sat. “Vahti, Cairn, please follow me,” he said. “We will get you some new clothes and help you clean up. This will be your home now.”
The blonde boy Justus had addressed as Cairn clung to the older boy timidly. “Anki, are we gonna be okay?”
The older boy, Vahti, threw his arm over Cairn’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, little brother, no matter what I’ll protect you.”
Arridus leaned on his staff, a sense of fatherly pride welling up in his heart as he watched the boys train in the gardens. Vahti was always so serious. Even when meditating, his face was hard as stone. The old monk grinned. Never had there been an Alumn more determined. Vahti had come a long way from the headstrong boy of ten winters to become a young man of eighteen.
He was always pushing his limits, looking to master whatever techniques were offered. Even as a young boy, he had a firm grasp of the various martial disciplines taught by the monastery. In another year, once he mastered all the meditations, he would take his first step to becoming fully recognized as a Brother in the Order.
Eight winters, Arridus thought. Where has the time gone?
“DrikNavon!” Cairn shouted.
The old monk shifted his attention to Cairn. He was practicing a new set of forms. “Cairn,” he chided. “What have I told you about speaking such vulgarities in the dragon tongue.”
Cairn picked himself up, but kept his eyes averted. “I’m sorry, Brother Arridus,” he replied, his tone hinting at his frustration. “I just don’t have the balance Vahti does.”
“Then just be you, little brother,” Vahti commented, cracking open his right eye. “Find your Path and seek a solution.”
Cairn narrowed his eyes. “Anki, don’t be annoying.”
Vahti smirked, his stoic mask cracking in response, and closed his right eye. “If you find truth anno-,”
“Don’t, Anki,” Cairn warned.
Arridus bit his lip to keep from laughing. And that stoic wall comes crashing down. Vahti was always softer with Cairn around. ‘Anki’ was a word Cairn often called Vahti. Justus and the others assumed it meant ‘brother’, but there was no language on record to reference it. It did, however, sound faintly Shaylin.
“Resume your form, Cairn,” Arridus said. “Ten sets of ten per stance.”
Cairn frowned, but complied, lifting his right leg and holding it in position. Each form in the exercise was part of a larger whole. The intent was to teach where one’s center of gravity was and commit it to memory. As movement was applied to each kick and thrust, it gave one a sense of how they flowed together while maintaining balance.
Cairn always struggled with the more martial aspects of The Path. He lacked Vahti’s level of discipline and dedication. Physically he was more than capable, but the boy was a dreamer at heart. His mind was always somewhere else.
Early in his training, a few of the Brothers discovered that Cairn seemed to sense when an Inscription was put to use. It was almost as if he were drawn to the spiritual energies they radiated. In light of this, Justus suggested Cairn seek more academic pursuits.
As Justus began his training, Cairn proved his mind was sharp and his appetite for knowledge voracious. Sometimes he would shirk his responsibilities and sneak off to the Librum. As years passed, Cairn’s heated arguments with Brother Sicarus over what he called ‘historical inaccuracies’ had become legendary. The old monk’s face would turn three shades of red, especially when Cairn proved him wrong.
Arridus chuckled. Cairn was thirteen now. Though he didn’t quite fit in with the order of the monastery, his unpredictable nature still brought smiles to some. While academically brilliant, he still couldn’t focus the spiritual energies gifted to all by the Creator through meditation.
Like Vahti, Cairn was unable to use Inscriptions. Vahti, however, had found his own way of focusing his spirit and manifesting the Gifts within. Perhaps one day, Cairn, you will find your Path.
The smell of ozone stung his nose, pulling Arridus from his thoughts. He turned to Cairn, feeling the hairs on his arms stand on end as lightning arced between Cairn’s fingertips and around the boy’s body. Instinctively Cairn reached out to him, like any frightened child would for their parent, and lightning leapt from Cairn’s fingers, striking the ground a few paces from Arridus feet.
Cairn’s mouth fell open, horror showing on his face. He recoiled in panic and the lighting arced between the boy’s body and the ground. At a distance it was like watching a macabre dance playing itself out. Some bolts had reached far enough to strike and char a few of the garden’s rose bushes, nearby.
“Brother Arridus…” Cairn panted. He looked worn and was covered in sweat. “What’s happening to me?”
Vahti was already on his feet, his face riddled with worry. “Cairn, calm yourself!” he cried out. “Breathe, like we’ve been taught. Clear your mind.”
Arridus narrowed his eyes, noting that the more panicked Cairn seemed, the faster the lighting danced around him. “Listen to your brother, Cairn,” Arridus chimed in. “Fear clouds the mind. It forces the mind to imagine the worst.”
Shakily, Cairn seated himself, crossing his legs and closing his eyes. He began taking short calming breaths and the dance of lighting around him seemed to grow less chaotic. Vahti dared to step closer.
“That’s it, little brother,” he said. “Imagine a clear day. No thunder or lightning.” Moments later, the lightning dissipated.
Cairn opened his eyes. He was pale and seemingly exhausted. Arridus reached for the scroll case hanging from his hip and pulled a slip of parchment from it. He stepped closer to Cairn, placing the Inscription on the boy’s forehead, and whispered softly. It immediately crumbled to ash, and the color returned to Cairn’s cheeks.
“Anki…” Cairn panted.
“Shh, little brother, save your words,” Vahti replied.
“Vahti, tend to your brother,” Arridus said. “While I have relieved some of his fatigue, he still needs rest.”
“Yes, Brother Arridus.”
Vahti helped Cairn up, but as the two of them made their way to the Alumn Wing of the monastery, inwardly Arridus couldn’t help but feel concerned. Hoyim grant me wisdom to understand what this is.
(To continue on to Part Two, click here)