The wheels of the carriage creaked and groaned against the cobblestones as we approached our final destination.
The seven hour journey had been anything but interesting, and anticipation was churning the acid in my stomach.
At the first sight of the guild hall, I indicated to the coachman that we were close enough, like a child who wants to disassociate with their parents on their first day of school. The last thing I needed was for my future guildmates to see the lavishly ornate carriage and form any preconceived notions about my social status, before I’d had the chance to correct their inevitable presumptions.
The horses chuffed and came to a halt and my heart began to pound. I could feel my palms starting to sweat, like they always did when I got nervous. My eyes drifted up the road to a building that had clearly seen better days and I felt my confidence shaken.
This was the guild hall that had been the stuff of legends. This was the building that had been home to Gyris the Hammer, and Arvid the Holy Shield. Tales of its victories were nearly the only thing that kept me sane at my all boys private school, Vodsurry. I had spent twelve, hellish years of my life there, and as a quiet boy with unusual physical features, I needed an escape from the constant verbal torture. Daydreaming of the Rimmelon Convocation and its glory were that escape.
But staring at it now, the edifice was significantly less regal than the illustrations had shown in my books. Its roof was drooping, and a window in the front bore a large crack.
Nonetheless it held a presence over the street before it, like the tomb of an ancient soldier. It seemed to watch over the streets of La Roix and its people.
La Roix was a port city in the country of Rimmelon, the last bastion of the west coast of Shoterran. It was well known for its diverse citizens and wheat based exports.
Looking out my window at the streets, it was clear that La Roix needed significant repair in most aspects. The streets and massive span of dock were in nearly as poor condition as the guild hall was.
The smell of the air was a sickly mix of fresh sea water breezes and sludgy murk, very unlike the scent of my home country of Thron. Thron nearly always smelled like warm stone, as the breezes over the desert swept south over my family’s land.
And unlike Thron, Rimmelon was known for its bipolar weather, raining one minute, scorching sun the next. This resulted in a very damp setting nearly all the time.
A grin made its way across my face as I took it all in. The sights, the smells, the city folk going about their day, totally unaware that my whole life was about to change and I planned for this city to be the backdrop of my great adventure.
The moment the carriage had stopped completely I lunged from the cabin, eager for my epic tale to finally begin. Eager to meet the members of the guild and to begin adventures that would take me to faraway lands. Eager to escape the humdrum of noble living which had been set upon me since birth.
I found myself ankle deep in mud and god knows what else. I felt my socks completely wet within my boot and my insides squirmed at the possibilities of the liquid’s composition.
Well this was a fine start to the glorious life I had planned before me. Only a single step into my great adventure and I was ankle deep in filth.
Though perhaps it could serve its own purpose, I tried to convince myself. The son of a lord would certainly not be covered in mud if he was pretentious and unrelatable. Indeed looking about I saw most of the people around me had boots caked in the street sludge.
I beckoned for the coachman to help me retrieve my belongings and bristled as I almost slammed one of my brass wings in the cabin door. The damned things were constantly in the way, and not just physically. I never failed to draw the attention in a crowd, despite my natural preference for wanting to avoid people’s gaze.
In my days at Vodsurry I had been quite the easy target for my schoolmates.
“Freak”, They had taunted, “Monster!”
There had been a particularly rough year around the age of twelve, when a history teacher had voiced some concerns to other staff that I might, in fact, be a demon rather than a school boy. This would have been inconsequential if not for the volume at which his radical, and frankly idiotic, ideas had been expressed and the keen ears that overheard them. Ears that belonged to peers of mine who were ever eager for a reason to terrorize the thin, bookish, boy with the wings of a dragon.
Indeed that very night I had been awoken in the early hours of the morning to the feeling of fists plummeting into my gut over and over again. The other boys lit my bedsheets on fire and one boy, a particularly odious son of a bitch called Fredrick Cummings, had found delight in piercing my wings with a few pocket knives.
Though it’s hard to say the extent of the damage emotionally, physically it had been bad enough that my father had spent the rest of the year in negotiations with the headmaster to see that not only was that teacher removed from the staff, but that I was given a personal guard to ensure that it didn’t happen again. Because having a personal guard follow you around as a twelve year old boy certainly didn’t target me for other kinds of humiliation.
But my father had meant well. He always meant well. He and my mother had always wanted the best of the world for me, even being my adoptive parents they never treated me as any less than a beloved son.
I still remember the look in my father’s eyes as we sat in the headmaster’s office that year. It was one of sadness and pity and rage. I knew that look was because he knew I would never be counted as an equal among my peers. That was when I started looking for other options. Anything besides going to court and being their punching bag for the rest of my life. That was when I had discovered the Rimmelon Convocation.
Now I stared down at my mud covered boots and ankles and if my past experiences would always be doomed to repeat themselves. Perhaps it was only my readiness that would change the outcome.
If I could build a reputation for myself, one that demanded respect and regard, the other lord’s sons, and anyone else who had ever believed me to be less, would have no choice but to concede I wasn’t so different after all.
But if I wanted to prove that I was just like the rest of the members of the guild, who were well known for living an altruistic life, I would need to give up some of my creature comforts. And looking at my luggage now sitting here in the dirt covered streets of La Roix, I realized I had brought far too much to fit in.
I began to fling open the trunks and sift through my possessions, attempting to decide which of my things was most vital to my existence in a place where simplicity and selflessness were valued qualities.
The biggest case held my tools, which I needed to modify and repair my gun. An interesting, up and coming weapon, which relied on gunpowder to shoot projectiles called bullets. Tinkering with these mechanical marvels was a hobby of mine. It was quite expensive, but endlessly fascinating.
I was just about to close the case, when a tall, lanky figure stumbled across my path and knocked me off my feet, sending me headlong across the cobblestones. The man must have been less than steady himself, because our impact had sent him tumbling to the ground as well.
A drizzle of mud sprayed across me as he landed, and I wiped it away from my face and hair to see just who had collided with me.
It was a man who looked no older than twenty, with sharp, gray eyes the color of a rain cloud, and disheveled chocolate colored hair. He looked as surprised to see me as I was him, most likely because he’d never seen someone with wings before, and I noted that through his hair peaked two pointed ears.
His face wasn’t quite elongated and refined enough to be a high elf but the ears were always an indicator of fae blood. A rakish smile spread across his lips as he appeared to take in my appearance as well.
“”Well…” he said, a suggestive tone leaking through unabashedly, “I haven’t seen you before”.
Something about him reminded me all too well of the one person who had ever bothered to befriend me at Vodsurry, my best– and only– friend, Tobias Lockhall. Tobias was in a similar situation as me, friend wise, having been caught kissing a boy at the Wynmaer family’s summer solstice ball when we were thirteen. We had banded together in our mutual status as the school’s “most likely to be beaten within an inch of our lives”, and a friendship formed out of that.
Tobias and I had been inseparable after that, doing absolutely everything together. We had planned to run away to Rimmelon to join the guild once we had escaped the clutches of the aristocracy. But only I had made it this far.
Our final year at the Vodsurry Academy for Noble Boys found Tobias tangled up in a scandal, as he was caught figuratively and literally with his pants around his ankles. He had been having an affair with our arithmetics professor.
Typical Tobias played it off as if being caught was hardly worth mentioning, but a week later I came back to our shared room to find all of his belongings gone, and no indication where he had been sent.
I spoke to anyone I could think of to try and get information on his whereabouts, but whoever had pulled him out had clearly made sure that he wouldn’t be found.
Schoolboy gossip revealed that he had been disinherited from his family name and title, and had been sent far away to ensure he didn’t bring further disgrace to the Lockhall family legacy.
It had been nearly two years since I’d last seen him, and I missed him greatly.
Now, staring into this young man’s seafoam gray eyes, hearing his purring tone as he greeted me, I wondered what Tobias was doing, and if he had ever found happiness.
I struggled to get to my feet so I could help the other man up. The need to always remain the gentleman, an unfortunate compulsion of my aristocratic upbringing.
“Are you alright?” I asked him with genuine concern as I noticed a slight trickle of blood evacuating his nose, “It’s just that you’ve got a little…”
I indicated where the ruby streak was descending. The presumed half elf furrowed his brows, and reached up to touch where I had pointed and examined the ruddy liquid.
I was shocked when his reaction was not one of horror, but amusement. He simply used the sleeve of his now muddied, gray, shirt to wipe it away as his eyes grazed over my trunks of possessions. He cast a speculative gaze over me, a smile playing across his lips.
“Well you’re a nobleman’s son off to make his way in the world if I’ve ever seen one” he said knowingly.
I felt my cheeks grow hot and I cast my eyes downward. So much for getting ahead of the assumptions.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I wont tell if you wont.”
He pulled a vial from his pocket and proceeded to shove it up his nose and inhale deeply. He then pocketed the clear glass, which held some kind of bluish powder. I didn’t dare ask about what the blue powder was.
I turned away to try and quickly hide the rest of my things, pulling out a leather backpack and beginning to fill it with only the essentials. My pistol, my tool kit, some clothes. I debated for a few minutes on whether or not to leave behind the shining badge that all VS graduates received. It was an insurance of sorts, guaranteeing your acceptance in situations involving high society and we all carried them.
I gambled that it would come in handy eventually, and pocketed the damned thing.
I then proceeded to stuff my remaining belongings back into the carriage and asked the driver to “please take them back to my parents estate as I wouldn’t be needing them”.
Even I doubted the air of confidence in my voice.
As I watched the coachman urge his horses away, I looked up once more at the legendary guild hall that was collapsing in on itself. In fact, I wasn’t sure that the awning which hung over the front door hadn’t sunk a few inches since I last looked.
“Headed for the guild?” the man said beside me. I’d almost forgotten he was there.
“Yes,” I replied, “At least, I think so.”
This would be the final steps I needed to take to forge my own destiny. To take control of whatever shit lot I had been dealt in life and to make something of myself.
Something beyond the son of a lord or a graduate of VS, or even beyond the awkward and unusual winged creature most people saw me to be.
My heart steeled in resolve just before the man replied,
“How unfortunate for you”.