The years passed, and still I stayed in the School of the Elders as they did everything they could to diffuse my spirit. I did not again suffer a beating at the hands of the Bishop, instead I was beat on by my peers. Our lessons in all things hateful and spiritual were complimented with lessons in combat. Priests were mixed in with mages, warriors with rogues, there were no separations. After all, in battle with the Yrtis'En, we would not know who our opponents would be beforehand.
Often I dueled with Drace, a young warrior with skin as dark as mine, and hair like ebony, save for one shocking streak of white. A sign of the chosen, our people often said. There was always a twinkle in rose-colored eyes, a smile begging to come to surface. Next to him I almost seemed timid. I noted once that his legs hadn't been scarred and surmised that might be the sole reason. Perhaps he'd always have such a spirit.
After our sparring sessions we would retire to the barracks and talk at length. He was curious about my past in Erys Clo, a land he probably thought he'd never see. Always he'd ask me about the light elves. Always he'd ask me about Ayenna.
He wondered why they hadn't tried to murder me when I was asleep. Were they really weak? He often asked about the food ("Was it really made with cave beetles and blood?") and what they wore ("Spiked black leather and chains?"), and of course, how beautiful the girls were ("Did they have big
you know whats!"). Of that I didn't quite recall. I was too young to appreciate the curves of a woman, though I had grown out of that phase rather quickly. Drace also asked me to teach him a few things in the language of the Aeris'En as well. I didn't know how much use he'd get from it, but it was amusing just the same hearing him struggle with the melodic syllables.
I smiled at him. I often did when we talked about my time with the Aeris'En. He once saw the multi-colored hair of a light elf when he was a boy, during the battle just before mine in fact, and he always wondered what they'd think of his own hair. He wondered if the girls would think he was handsome. We often shared a laugh about that.
One day I got the courage to ask him why he was so curious about the outside world all the time.
Drace looked around us both, even above us to the cavern ceiling, as enemy elves could be anywhere after all, then he fixed me with his own smile, bright white teeth among smoke-gray skin and black hair.
"Someday, I wish to leave here and see the world only hinted at in our books. The real world, not the Yrtis'En version. I want to see the people who the headmasters call monsters, and I'm not meaning kobolds or gnolls
I want to see humans as they are when they are not slaves, with their ambitions and short lives. The other elves
the Sora'En, the Foros'En," he referred to the wood elves of the west and reclusive frost elves of the northlands, "Halflings, the gnomes and the dwarves. The rat-men and dog-men and pig-men and fish-men and whatever other animal men there are. Fairies, sprites
All of it!" and then he chuckled with the boyish whims that weren't completely beaten out of the both of us just yet. He looked up at the ceiling, the torchlight animating his face.
I stared at him, mouth agape.
Suddenly his face went stern, "Do you plan to tell the headmasters about that? I can tell them you tried to teach me Aeris'En if you do! That you're a race traitor!"
Quickly I assured him I had no intent to do so, palms out wide, eyes just as wide. He smiled again after a moment to make sure I wasn't lying.
"It'd be stupid to think that I'll be attached to this place for the rest of my life. I'm a fourth son, not really an heir so much as I'm a burden, so there's nothing keeping me here. You should come with me, Thanny. We will find that girl of yours. You can kiss her and make her your bride." Drace grinned mischievously.
And there it was, laid out for me. It was what I had always wanted to do since I had come back to the wretched city of Katossk. I wanted, so desperately, to see Ayenna's smile again. I blushed though. Bride? I was sixteen then, an infant still among my people. Still, the idea of going back to the surface ignited all sorts of ideas into my mind.
"We cannot go just yet, Drace. We've much left to learn before we do. But
one day, I would like that very much." I told him, my smile genuine.
Drace reached out with his hand and tousled my long white hair, tied back at the neck with a thin black ribbon, a grin on his face and a laugh in his throat. Half of my hair had come loose of it by the time he was done but I found I was laughing as well.
"All right then. Let's make a pact. When we're fifty? Let's go together. We'll leave this all behind and take on the open road, you and me."
I stared at him, and then looked down at the dirt of the cave floor.
"We're friends, right? Like you and that girl." Drace asked as much as stated.
"Aye, we're friends, Drace." I replied, looking at him once more.
"Then it's settled!" And he held out his hand for me to grab it.
The two of us rose and returned to the barracks smirking at one another, laughing, elbowing each other.
The next nine years were filled with fighting and training in the clerical arts. Our instructors liked to bring in slaves to practice on, ones with terrible injuries. It always disgusted me to see how these poor people had ended up, but I at least took solace in the fact that they would be healed, however ineptly, by myself and the rest of the lads.
Despite my seething hatred for the Bishop, he never touched me again. His voice remained kind, though really, he was only this way because we were doing the work of the Yrtis'En gods. I focused on the goddess of loathing, Gelga. For any of my powers to manifest, I had to focus on the tenet that I followed, finding an anchor in it so that my will would be strong. Bishop Irdal was my anchor. Oh, how I wanted him dead.
These days I'm not much surprised how easily my hatred manifested itself. I know how my people are. I know what we become with the proper guidance. But back then I still harbored a small fraction of innocence within, and it shocked me how easy it was to hate.
I graduated second in my class of sixty. I would have graduated first had Gardis Huslexin not bribed the headmaster with his family's coffers. I didn't much care, however. Drace finished sixth or seventh, I recall. He was proud of it, laughing and elbowing people as he usually did.
We met after the ceremony, before we were all to return to our respective Houses.
"Congratulations, Thanchir. I knew you would be at the top. I'd never had much of a fondness for books." Drace smiled at me.
"You played no small part in your ascension to your ranking, my friend," I replied with an equal grin, "But numbers are just that."
"I suppose so. Yes."
"Where do we go from here?"
"Well," Drace started, idly smoothing out his long ponytail and looking at the milling crowd, "Father has apprenticed me out with a drill instructor from the surface brigades. I won't be leaving Katossk for a while. I'll be training others in a few years. And you?"
I looked unsure because, truly, I was. "My grandfather most likely has a goal in store for me from here. I am to be an arbiter, as he is. I'm not sure what else I must do, most likely more schooling."
Drace put on quite the expression, "I pity you then
But we've something more important to discuss."
I smiled, "I was hoping you'd bring it up."
The fighter laughed, "Aye. I was wondering where we should meet in twenty-five years."
"I was thinking the waterfall." I offered.
"That little nook behind it?" Drace clarified.
"Aye. And if there is something holding either of us up, we're to carve a mark to let the other know he's to wait."
Drace chuckled, "Very well then."
We both turned at a shout and a pang of dread filled my heart.
"Thanchir!" called a young man in mage robes. It was my cousin Irreneir. Drace gave me a look and stepped back a bit, to allow him to approach.
I wasn't surprised that Irreneir was in the same school as I, though he was learning magic. He was taller than I, his white hair cropped short, and his eyes a deep purple. Aside from minor differences it was clear to tell we were cousins. He and I never said much during our rare meetings, and when we did, Irreneir was possessed of a near-constant sneer, as though he were rubbing it in that he was the heir and I was not. In truth, I could care less.
"Grandfather is here. He has summoned you." He smirked, then looked at Drace who nodded in greeting. Irreneir didn't return the courtesy, instead glancing to me once more.
I adjusted my plated armor, a ceremonial set, made sure my mace was secured on my belt, then nodded.
"I will be right there. I've something to discuss with the fighter here."
Irreneir shrugged, sneer still present, "If you're not there when I return, expect quite the beating. You know how Grandfather is."
I nodded and then looked helplessly to Drace, then headed off with my cousin. It would be a long time before I saw the young fighter again, and I hoped that he would not forget. I decided silently to myself that if he did not go, I would. Alone.
"Remember!" he called after me. I looked back and nodded, then headed off to see Grandfather Sarpek. The first time I'd seen him in nearly fifteen years wasn't very momentous. He looked the same, but elves do not change much with time. When I approached him I bowed at the waist very militarily. I did not lift my gaze until he instructed me to do so.
"Young Thanchir. I have heard of your accomplishments." His voice resonated deep from his chest, "Had it not been for the Huslexin whelp you would have been first in your class. Impressive."
Of course, I couldn't see the scowl on Irreneir's face, but I knew it was there.
"Thank you, Grandfather. I did it for the sake of the House."
"Of course you did, my boy. You may look up."
I did as instructed and grandfather looked me over. I had fleshed out from the gangly little boy I was. No longer was I thin and small. Years of swinging my mace in practice had given me a bit of thickness about my arms and legs. I felt powerful back then. As though I could take on any monster put before me. Grandfather Sarpek nodded as though he were pleased.
"We will see to your further training from here."
"As you wish, Grandfather."
"Come," he bade me and Irreneir, "Derkek is waiting by the carriage. We will head back to the manse and enjoy supper. You can tell me all about your years in school."
"Yes Grandfather," we both replied in near unison. It was clear even my cousin knew his place.
Our dinner was extravagant, though we only spoke when we were bidden to. Irreneir went into his grand accomplishments with fire sorcery, even using some cantrips on the torches that lined the dining room. As much as I didn't much care for Irreneir, his control was impressive. Grandfather told him that he would be apprenticed to a local mage's guild that he might continue to grow in his power.
As for me
the last thing I expected was for my grandfather to apprentice me to a psionicist.