Tess sat quietly in the field outside of her home in the small village of Ravinia, braiding small white flowers into her long flowing brown hair. The day was amazing, feeling the slight breeze against her face and the smell of the outdoors filling her senses.
Her elven mother poked her head out of the door of the house and called to her, but it wasn’t until her human father barked an order that she made her way back home.
“You need to make yourself presentable dear, the Hunter’s Return celebrations begin soon!” her mother ordered. Tess wasn’t one for all the “silly” celebrations her village had. It seemed whenever something slightly less mundane than daily living occurred everyone felt the need to mark it with a festival or bonfire. She thought it was just an excuse to get everyone together. No matter how much she hated the parties she did her best to put her best face forward and do not make her parents look bad in front of the village.
“Tess, you are fourteen now and it is time for us to begin finding you a match, so do try to be on your best behavior.”
Tess rolled her eyes, she was not looking forward to being paraded around the young men of the village who only had one thing in mind, but she did as she was told and got herself dressed and made sure she looked nice.
The Hunter’s Return was a celebration dedicated to the village’s time honored coming of age tradition. During this tradition, all the young men of the village would be led out on a hunting quest to prove that they can be providers for the village and their future families. Successfully completing this hunt will have them marked as full-fledged men of the village. During the celebrations, all the young ladies of the village are presented to the them. While matchmaking is not mandatory this is the first official opportunity for the young men of the village to be introduced to the young ladies.
Tess’ mother helped her clean up and braid and style her hair and helped her into her nicest dress. After she was prepared they all made their way to the center of the village where the large fire pit was already blazing. All the young men had already arrived with their kills and the rest of the villagers were arriving. The village chieftain stood on a small raised platform was congratulating them on their bounties. He was an older human man slightly taller than her father, with graying hair. Tess’ parents shuffled her to the chieftain’s platform.
“Ah! Tess,” he exclaimed jovially. “You look positively beautiful this evening. Are you excited for the Return?” It was everything she could do to not roll her eyes and gag. She smiled,
“Oh very much so.” The chieftain knew better and he shook his head and smiled.
“Tess, I’m sure that you will be fighting them off tonight.”
She was led to the small group of girls that had gathered off to the side of the platform, she was given instructions on how to properly present herself and all the particulars of the ceremony. Tess glazed over and did her best to not let out noticeable signs of annoyance.
The ceremony began with the presentation of the hunter’s take and the village cheered for the successful trip. The chieftain spoke for a couple of minutes about how this rite of passage is a time-honored tradition and that is was imperative for the success of the village. Then came the part where the ladies were paraded out before the young men. Tess couldn’t help roll her eyes when she saw the looks all the “boys” were giving. She recited her parts and went through all the motions, all while silently praying that none of them would take an interest in her. No such luck. Three of the boys were practically tripping over themselves to talk to her, and of course since there were multiple interested parties that naturally meant that there would have to be a competition of strength to see which one would get to talk to her first.
While the boys were busy fighting over her, she walked back to her parents.
“Can I run away while they are distracted?” she moaned. Her mother chuckled.
“Oh dear, there are plenty of girls who would kill to be in your shoes.”
“I would let them.”
It took a few minutes for the boys to “work things out,” a winner finally emerged, and it happened to be her childhood friend, Sam.
“Congratulations Sam, you just beat up your buddies for a chance to talk to me, something you get to do every day.” Sam smiled sheepishly.
“Yeah I suppose so, but I know how much you don’t like this sort of thing, so I figured I would fight for you so you don’t have to deal with any of it.”
Sam was a good guy. The two of the them had grown up living next to each other, she never felt romantically attracted to him, but most people figured they would end up a match. He was the only person besides her family that she spent any time with.
“Thank you Sam, you’re the best.” Tess leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. This was met with a roar of applause from the gathered villagers.
“Let’s get out of here before they have us married!” he whispered to her.
Tess and Sam had left the party in short order trying to get away from the whole thing. No one questioned them, in fact it was encouraged. They were sitting by the small stream that ran near the outskirts of the village.
“So what did you kill?” she asked him, throwing a small pebble into the stream.
“Well me and some other guys managed to kill a bear!”
“A bear? A poor sweet innocent bear?”
“They aint so innocent when they are trying to rip your face off.” They both laughed. Tess felt very comfortable around Sam and the thought of spending her days and beginning a family with him didn’t repulse her, in fact it was a prospect that she was warming up to. They laughed and laughed and then Tess fell into Sam’s arms and closed her eyes and allowed herself to become lost in the moment. The two of them gazed into each other eyes and allowed the moment to overtake them.
Tess woke next to Sam, they were both lying near the stream, her clothes were undone, she quickly gathered them and got herself dressed. She thought about the night before and she smiled a mischievous smile. Sam stirred in his sleep, she watched him for a moment. Tess gently nudged him awake, he woke with a smile as he saw her.
“You look beautiful this morning,” Sam whispered to her, she smiled at him.
“We were certainly irresponsible last night,” Tess said with a sideways smile.
“Are you alright with it?” he asked, Tess replied with a nod.
“You earned… me, I suppose.”
The village had been gathered all standing in an array around Tess, who was standing in a beautiful white dress with a large smile on her face. Small white flowers were braided into her hair. She briefly looked down to her stomach which had a slight bulge to it. She looked back up to see Sam dressed in his best clothes. The two of them smiled at each other as vows were exchanged. Sam placed a necklace around her neck, there was a locket hanging from the chain. She opened it and there was an inscription that read.
To my love, Tessila
Tess held the small baby in her arms, smiling. Sam was standing behind her looking down at his daughter and his wife.
“She is beautiful, just like her mother.” Tess stroked her face gently.
“What should we call her?” Same asked.
Tess and Sam were taking an evening walk on the outskirts of the village. Tess’ parents had agreed to watch baby Kayley so they could have a few minutes to themselves. Tess found her mind drifting, getting lost in the stars and feeling herself feeling light in Sam’s arms.
Suddenly the village burst into chaos as people were running and screaming. Sam instinctively jumped, unsettling Tess and snapping her back into reality.
“What’s going on?” she nearly shrieked.
“I don’t know. Come on,” Sam said frantically, grabbing her the hand.
They quickly made their way toward their homes trying to see what was causing the commotion. What they saw was disturbing. A raiding party had set upon the village and they were killing anyone they came across and setting fire to the buildings.
“Tess, we have you get out of here!” Sam shouted. “Let’s head back to the stream, we can cover our tracks and head into the….” he was cut short by a crossbow bolt bursting through his head. Tess let out a surprised scream. Without thinking she turned and ran toward the stream. She made it too the stream and out of breath she collapsed to her knees with tears filling her eyes. Looking back, she sees her village in flames, not knowing what had become of her parents. Knowing that staying in her current location wouldn’t be wise she gets to her feet and with what strength she had left she started running down the stream’s bank. Filled with grief and exhausted Tess loses her footing and slips on a wet rock and falls and hits her head on a rock and falls unconscious with the flames that are consuming her village being the last thing that she sees as blackness overcomes her.
Tess awoke in an unknown place surrounded by unknown people.
“She’s awake,” a voice called out. Two young men hurried over to her, and began looking at the side of her head. She reached up and touched her head, it hurt. Her head was pounding and her vision was blurry.
“Miss, are you alright?” one of them asked. Tess blinked and nodded.
“What’s yer name?” the other one asked. Tess thought for a moment, she didn’t know. She couldn’t remember her name… or anything about herself.
“I… I… don’t know…” The two men looked at each other concerned. Tess suddenly became rather panicked, upset, and afraid.
“We found you in the stream a couple of miles south of here, you looked pretty rough.”
“We are on our way to Concassen, the capital of the Knighthood of Aiephoria.”
“What’s that?” Tess asked frantically. A third man, this one looking like he was in charge walked over to them. He knelt next to Tess and tried to comfort her by gently placing his hand on her shoulder, Tess recoiled at his touch.
“Do not be afraid child, Aiephoria is our home, and maybe someone there can help you.” He quickly looked her over, checking her for any other injuries. He noticed a locket hanging around her neck. He pointed to it.
“Does that offer any clues as to who you are?”
She looked down at the locket and held it in her hand for a moment. Tess blinked for a moment before opening the locket. She squinted to read the small inscription on the inside.
To my love, Tessila
“My name is Tessila, that is what this says.” she tells him quietly. The man looks at her with a smile and claps her on the shoulder.
“Well Tess, is it alright if I call you that?” Tess nods, she realized that she liked the nickname. “You are welcome to come with us if you want.” Tess thought for a moment.
“I do,” she mumbled. “What of me once we arrive?” The man was quiet for a moment, thinking about the situation.
“We have to report on our mission, afterwards I will see to it that you are taken care of.” Tess nodded still a bit confused.
“Why would you help me?” Tess asked, “You do not know me.” The man smiled at her, for the first time she noticed his soft features. He was tall and strong, but seemed gentle and kind.
“It is the will of Orin, our god, to help those in need. To preserve life and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves,” he said commandingly. “My name is Derrick, by the way. Now we are no longer strangers.” Tess chuckled at that and then smiled.
The group traveled for a few days before arriving at the city on Concassen. While traveling, Tess learned that the Knighthood of Aiephoria was a sort of a mercenary group, though they provided their services in the hopes that conflicts could be ended swiftly and with minimal loss of life. Service in their force is mandatory for citizenship. Derrick had told her that he was a cleric in the service of the god Orin.
Derrick and his men finished reporting their mission completion details and then he returned to Tess.
“I believe that we should go to the Temple of Orin, they will provide you with a place to stay,” Derrick told her.
“I suppose,” Tess replied with a shrug. “I will stick by you until you’ll no longer have me.”
Together they go to the temple and Derrick introduces her to the other clerics there. They offer her a room and some food and clothing. They tell her that she is welcome for as long as she needs.
One night Tess was awakened by a vision. A large bird-like creature was standing before her. She looked at it with curiosity and wondered what she had eaten before bed.
“Tess,” the bird creature called to her. “You have a strength and power that you do not know, one that will allow you to ease the suffering of many people.” Tess blinked a couple of times before preparing to speak.
“You will enter my service; you will learn the skills you need to unlock the secrets buried deep inside of you. You will gain the power to end suffering.”
“Who are you?” Tess asked.
Tess bowed as low as she could in the presence of a god. “Tess, always trust your heart and do what you know to be right and just. That is all I require of you.”
The next morning Tess told Derrick and the other clerics about her dream/vision, what she had seen and heard and asked him what they thought about it. They agreed that the god, Orin, was summoning her to his divine service. They told her to heed the words of Orin and to never forget them. Tess thought about it for a couple of days before deciding that she was curious to see where this would take her.
The graduation ceremony was grand. Tess smiled to herself as she was granted the rank of Primo, officially marking the completion of her training. She turned to march back to the formation of other graduates and her eyes catch Derrick in the crowd cheering her on. She smiled at him and he nodded at her.
After the ceremony Derrick found her and gave her a tight embrace.
“Good work kid,” his voice muffled in her cloak. “You are a fine warrior and healer.”
“Thank you Derrick,” she replied with a large smile. “I hope I can make you proud.”
“You already have child.”
The coming weeks found Tess being sent out on several short and relatively simple missions. One day after her daily temple prayers Derrick approached her with a grim look about him. He handed her a small letter and tells her to read it.
You are hereby assigned to the team led by Quarto Derrick, he will provide you with all the pertinent mission details. For the duration of this mission you will under his command. Upon successful completion of this mission, and upon the recommendation of Quarta Derrick you will be advanced to the rank of Secondo and all the privileges that it entails.
May Orin guide your steps and bring you home safe.
Tess looked up from the letter to Derrick, who is unable to hold back a smile any longer, she raises an eyebrow.
“I’m assuming that you requested this?”
“Of course,” he replied with a half-smile. “However it is not because we are friends, I will actually need your healing skills on this one. I’ll give you the details on the way, but we do need to leave as soon as you are ready.”
“Where should I meet you?” she asked.
A couple of minutes later Tess returned dressed in her armor and the rest of her gear packed. Derrick nodded at her and then they depart. While on the road Derrick tells her the mission details.
“We are heading to a small village that is being afflicted by a strange disease, and they have requested healers to aid them. No details were given about the nature of the sickness or how many people are affected. Our mission is simply to provide treatment, if possible, and aid in any other services that may be required as clerics of Orin.”
They traveled for nearly a week before arriving at the village. Both of them quickly spoke with the leader of the village and started investigating the illness. With the knowledge and training they both possessed they could form an effective treatment rather quickly. The villagers thanked them for their services and they were on their way back to Concassen. One evening they stopped at an inn situated on the outskirts of another small town along the road. Tess and Derrick were eating their evening meal and having an ale or two when a loud commotion erupted outside. Both sprang up and ran outside to see a young girl with silver hair picking herself up off the ground and two large men towering over her. There was scorched earth and a small building was on fire.
“Come with us little one and no further harm will come to you!” one of the men barked. Immediately Tess and Derrick ran up and confronted the men.
“What is the meaning of this?” Derrick called out in a very stern voice. The second man sneered at them.
“This is none of your concern!”
“We are making our concern,” Tess growled angrily. The two men suddenly noticed that Tess and Derrick were Knighthood and they became a little more civil in their expressions.
“You two are from Aiephoria are you not?” They both nodded. “Then I will expect you to
honor your own rules and assist us in the capture of a rogue sorcerer. We are seekers of the Gilded.”
Derrick and Tess looked at each other. The law surround rogue magic users was well known across the land. The Knighthood official recognized the law even though most of the citizens of Aiephoria disagreed with it on a moral basis.
“Take the girl and get out of here,” Derrick barked at Tess. She blinked for a moment, not quite understanding the order at first. “Remember the words of Orin.” With that Derrick turned to once again face the seekers.
Tess turned and grabbed the girl. Her eyes were glowing an eerie shade of silver-gray, slightly darker than her hair. She did not protest as Tess grabbed her arm and began to run for the edge of town. Behind her Tess heard Derrick cry out in pain, tears welled up in her eyes, she couldn’t believe she was leaving him behind. She looked over her shoulder and saw one of the seekers locked in a spell that was inflicting the pain on Derrick and the other seeker was in pursuit. Not know the area and not know where to go Tess ran for the only place she could think of, the forest. With the seeker in hot pursuit the two girls ducked through the low hanging branches and through the brush. They reached a small clearing near a small creek. The girl stopped running and turned to Tess. The seeker burst into the clearing with a spell glowing in his hand.
“Stop!” Tess bellowed. The seeker seemed momentarily stunned by catching up with them. “No one needs to die tonight!”
“I am afraid you and your foolish partner have already broken the law. Unfortunately for you I dislike formalities.” He hurled what appeared to be a ball of fire at Tess, however before it could contact her the energy seemed to dissipate, much to the confusion of the seeker. Without a sound the girl glared at the seeker and with a slight wave of her hand he burst into flames.
After stumbling about the forest for the night Tess and the girl made their way to the other side of the forest to a town. The sun is beginning to rise. Tess looks over to the girl she has been traveling with. Her eyes are no longer glowing silver, and she looks very confused.
“I’m Tess.” The girl looks up at her with a look of confusion.
“Where are we? How did I get here?” Tess blinked a little bit confused.
“Don’t you remember? We were running from seekers; they were after you.”
“Oh,” she mumbles. “I… I sometimes forget things rather easily, I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need, say, what’s your name?”
“Well Gaiel the way I see it, I’m already in too deep so I’m going to stick with you and see to it that none of those seeker bastards catch you.”
Gaiel gave her a small smile. She wanted to say, “I hope you realize what you’re getting yourself into,” but she didn’t.
The two girls walked into the town and toward what appeared to be an inn. Hanging above the door was sign that read, The Chittering Rats