In the bustling streets of the city of Galbrand, everyone was in chaos that day. Rumours of the Blood moon has been on the mouths of every wealthy noble. The blood moon, being a natural occurence that would happen every 2 years or so, similar to storms but much more seldom. Monsters and demons would get riled up, and attack every human or nonhuman settlements in unbridled rage and bloodlust.
They had nothing to fear though, as the city was covered with tall walls, about 30 feet high, and had rough thick walls made of stone. Tall guard towers surround it, as well as gates made of metal and wood. The archers from the wall will make short work of the beasts, should they attack.
But, as always, the sheltered populace concerned themselves of problems only the guardsmen would ponder, but it didn't stop them anyway.
With few diversions in the city, and passage to neighboring cities being banned except for merchant wagons, as the blood moon was fast approaching, the people would rather think about the monsters that would soon attack their impenetrable city, than the most mundane of problems that surround them.
Poverty, being one of those problems.
"Corvin!", barked a man to a boy that was sleeping in the stables behind a shoddy looking inn. The Rackety Rachet, as it's called.
The boy, no more old than 14, with a skeletal build and raggedy clothes, hurriedly stood up, trying his best to shrug off the grogginess. "Yes sir?", he asked.
"Breakfast.", the man said, as he dropped a loaf of bread unto the ground at Corvin. Straight into the mud and manure. Corvin winced, but grabbed it anyway, doing his best to wipe off the mud but to no avail. The man, then turned around and went inside the inn he was managing.
Corvin sighed, and shook his head. This happened everyday. He's not surprised. He greedily chomped on the bread, and realized it was stale. Almost maggoty in fact. He wanted to cry, but no tears fell down his face. He just accepted his plight.
No one would take him. No one would accept him for a job. And he could not leave the city since he has not even a single copper to his name.
"Well. Time to work.", he said to himself.
He spent the entire morning sweeping and mopping the floors, wiping tables and setting up the chairs. Most of the patrons would just pass by, and occasionally trip him on purpose, then laugh at him. He just shrugged it off, and sighed to himself. This was pretty much his everyday life for the past year.
He even thought he was going to die of starvation eventually. But the owner gives him food if he realizes he was starving, usually he would feed Corvin an entire platter for a day, then continues to give him stale bread the following days. Just barely enough to keep him alive.
This made his body weak and brittle.
Some even refer to him as a skeleton, but none helped him anyway. He tried his best not to get caught eavesdropping on stories, as this would anger the owner/innkeep, and he would get beaten to a pulp again.
Corvin, worked late that afternoon, cleaning the tavern tables, and mopping the floor, as the influx of customers came flooding in bringing news. Some looked like mercenaries that needed a place to drink, or workers that just finished a mundane but tiring job. But some though, looked to be nobles with nowhere else to go, since most of the taverns and places to drink nearby were certainly full. It had been months since he last saw the tavern full like this, and it's not even dark yet.
Although he was not addressed directly, he had learned to eavesdrop on some "Wealthy" patrons. He grabbed his broom, and started sweeping the nonexistent dust that was beside the tables of the nobles.
"I heard that Lord Rathkor hired a Ranger to help with the city's defense on the blood moon.", 1st noble said. There were 4 of them seated on a circular table.
One of the nobles went wide eyed. "Truly? Did you see the man or woman?", he asked.
The first shook his head. "No.. Only rumours, although I did hear there is also another one in the city. Lives here in fact, and owns a business.",
The 3rd chimed in. "Nonsense, I have never heard of any noble house calling on the service of a ranger..",
The first shrugged. "I just said what I heard from the rumors.",
Corvin almost jumped in excitement. If these nobles were telling the truth, he could finally see one in action! The most trained and deadliest fighters in all the kingdom!
As he was thinking however, he lost track and stopped sweeping the floor, staring out at the wall in front of him. What's worse, his stomach growled loudly, he could feel the walls shake. One noble noticed and barked out. "Are you EAVESDROPPING on us? Get away! Filthy trash! Skeleton!",
He winced when he noticed the yelling of the noble, and immediately bowed down to show respect and apologized, but the noble was getting none of it. He hissed and barked at Corvin and berating him to how low and insignificant he was.
The hairs on his body stood up though, as he heard a familiar shout from the back of the inn.
"CORVIN!", the innkeep yelled.
"Yes sir!", Corvin yelled back.
He knew what was about to come.
The moment he step foot to the room behind the inn, the innkeep, glared at him with eyes full of disdain and anger. His huge and towering physique, gave off the impression he can smash him into tiny pieces compared to his small stature.
Corvin kept his head down, only glancing once at the innkeep's face.
"Look at me.", the innkeep huffed.
Corvin glanced up towards him, and immediately took a backhand to the face. The impact was so strong that his head kept ringing as he fell down to the floor, spitting out blood in the process.
"You ingrate. I took you in, gave you food and you dare disgrace our establishment with your spying.", the innkeep barked, as he kicked Corvin in the gut.
Corvin would have regurgitated his lunch, if he had one.
The innkeep kept kicking him while he was down, also spewing out insults at him. "I gave you a place to rest. Gave you food. And YOU DARE DISRESPECT THE NOBLES??", he huffed.
"You may be 14 years of age boy, but I can do whatever I want to a nobody like you!", he continued.
Corvin forced off a grin underneath the pain. He gained courage to say something.
Coughing up blood as he said, "Huh.. Y-you talk about giving me food and a place to sleep like it's a blessing.. Only giving me one meal a day? Letting me sleep with your horses? Fuck you.", he hissed.
"You insufferable-", he hissed as he picked up Corvin from the floor, setting him at his back, and throwing him off the back door to the outside of the tavern. It was raining something fierce, and Corvin landed on the muddy ground. The inkeep then kicked his throat in. He choked and struggle to breathe.
"Then die.", The innkeep said, as he slammed the door behind him.
Corvin lay there for a time, luckily enough, airflow started to get in normally. Feeling each kick, each insult, each droplet that fell on his face. He thought, "Why me?",
He stared off into the gloomy night sky, as if waiting for an answer. He swore the moon laughed at him, but maybe it was just his mind playing tricks.
Later, he stood up, his legs still shaking, and his body shivering, as the rain began to pour down heavily. His clothes were nothing against the cold, he needs to find shelter.
Leaning onto the building walls and stalls for support, he walked towards an alley that had a small wide plank that was supported against the walls. He knew that this was a place full of businesses, and that they wouldn't stay open through the night, so he tried his luck here. Several cats were sleeping underneath the plank, it looked more like an improvised shed, but he figured they would make space for him.
He nestled within, but some droplets seem to bypass the plank anyway. He ignored it, and forced himself to sleep.
To his surprise, the cats took a liking to him instantly, and slept on top, beside and below him, giving him warmth that was surprisingly very comfortable. He noticed one that was on his chest, it was a little one. It had white fur with black spots on both his eyes and ears. It rubbed it's nose onto Corvin's face, as it purred loudly. The cats purrs was enough to make his heart melt, and he petted the felines in response.
"Well. At least you like me.", Corvin muttered, as he began to sob heavily, the sound only drowned by the heavy rain that encapsulated the city.
The next day, Corvin woke up to the sounds of shuffling moving toward him. He only saw black boots, since the plank that served as a roof covered most of his vision. His whole body ached, and even when he moved very slightly, the pain was unbearable. But he somehow felt an eerie presence. Something inhuman. A cool chill ran up his spine, and the cats began to jump off of his body and scamper away. He tried to remain still as possible.
The closer the man got, the more the presence went weirder. He was sure now though, that it wasn't human.
"Hmmm.", the man grunted, with a strange accent. "What's thissss? A boy? I got luckyy... I was hoping to dine on fresh cat but I got the jackpot!",
Corvin wanted to shout, but his voice won't come out. On closer look, he saw some sort of scaly appendage dragging across the floor. He guessed it was his tail.
Slowly, the man crept up to him, and removed the plank of wood that acted as a roof.
Eyes burning like ember stared at him, his face, full of greenish scales that belonged to a snake. He was wearing clothes that was clearly a human's but he was certain he wasn't.
As he spoke, a forked tongue kept coming out of his mouth. "Hmm.. thisss won't do.... You hardly have any meat on you.. Although... Your innardssss might make a good.. ", He paused. "Sssssnack.."
Corvin shivered uncontrollably, gulping down as he tried to make a scream for help. But no voice came out of his mouth. His throat was severely bruised, and it even hurt just to gulp down saliva.
The strange creature reached out to him but stopped.
When Corvin opened his eyes, he saw a little kitten just before him, assuming an aggressive stance and hissing at the creature. It's fur and tail stood up, and he could hear the little feline growl. He remembered it as it was the first kitty cat that jumped onto his chest and purred the night before. Corvin tried to reach out to it, but in vain, as his arm muscles didn't listen to his mind.
The creature laughed, and flicked his tail against the little creature, and it was sent flying to the wall beside. It whimpered and Corvin assumed the worst.
A surge of anger rushed through him as he saw the little kitten. Corvin struggled to get up as well, and the creature looked at him with a raised brow, if it's even called a brow.
With shaking feet and aching muscles, he glared at the creature with determination. But it just laughed. "What? Are you going to stare me to death?",
He gritted his teeth, raised his fists and started to charge at the creature. He bite his teeth as the searing pain shot out through his body, and put his full weight onto his fist.
The creature just shoved him off with a flick of his tail, and he went tumbling back.
"Just my luck.", Corvin thought. Time slowed down for a bit, or was it just his imagination? Images of his memories just flashed before his eyes as he lay down on the muddy alleyway, waiting for the creature to just end his misery.
What was the point in resisting? Should he survive, he'll just die soon enough because of starvation. Corvin sobbed silently in the morning light. He just closed his eyes and waited.
"Oi. oi. oi.", Another voice chimed in, accompanied with something that sounded like a drop, that echoed throughout the alley's walls.
The creature turned back, to see a man clad in a black hood and leather armor, and he also wore leather vambraces on each arm. Each of the arms had throwing knives strapped to the leather vambrace, and on his belt, vials of potions hung. On his back, was a sword with a wire stripped hilt, and on one side of his hip was a long sword that had similar adornments with the other one. He wore black mud-caked boots.
The man's hood, covered most of his facial features, but one thing stood out. Blue eyes that glowed like sapphires under the dark shadows of his cowl.
The creature hissed and asked. "Who are you?",
Without even saying a reply, the stranger drew his short sword and charged toward it. The creature raised his tail in defense, caught off guard with the man's attack. In a heartbeat, a rush of wind surged through the tight space, the stranger was already a few feet behind the scaly monstrosity.
The creature turned to him, and gave off a laugh. But then felt a searing pain on his behind. It turned his head to look at the pained area, but only saw a wriggling tail on the muddy ground.
It stared at it's tail wide eyed. "Wha-",
Then a slight breeze swept in the alley. The sound of sheathing steel was singing against the wall, like a hypnotizing sound.
Unable to finish it's sentence, the stranger had already moved in and separated the creature's head with it's body. It rolled down towards the ground to Corvin. The body, withered down and slumped to the ground, lifeless. Pools of blood oozed from the headless body, creating a puddle of mud and red.
"Jeez.. You look worse than this guy right here.", the stranger said pointing at the headless corpse. His attempt at humor was unwelcomed though.
Corvin stared blankly at the man, then the scaly head. Tears rolled down his eyes. He wanted to say something, but he couldn't even hear anything. Just felt the liquid in his ears. Was it blood? He can't even make sure. His whole body was numb, and he wanted to be free from this life.
"Alright let's get ya patched up.", He then grabbed Corvin and set him on his back.
Corvin just kept breathing heavily onto the stranger's back, thinking wherever he would take him would be better than this.
As they went towards the exit, he spotted the kitten on the corner of his eye, it was curled up in a ball, and it's abdomen kept bobbing up and down in a furious rhythm.
Corvin tugged on the stranger's back.
"What is it?", he asked in a calming voice.
Corvin heard some of it, and understood. He gathered his strength just to point at the cat.
"You want to take it?",
Corvin nodded silently.
"Alright then.", the stranger replied.
The stranger moved towards the little feline, and picked it up. He grabbed a little satchel from his belt, opened it, and settled the little kitty cat there. It curled up into a ball again, and started to drift to sleep. Corvin, followed soon after.
Time has passed since then. The stranger took care of Corvin for almost a week. He was out cold all this time.
He administered ointments and potions to the young man, monitored his heart rate, making sure he was well nourished, and all in the confines of a comfortable feather bed. He even took care of Corvin's... Waste.
He wondered what this boy has went through. He knew from what he saw on Corvin's body, he was abused.
Multiple scars from whips and a few broken bones that were weeks old. He even noticed torn toenails and missing fingernails.
When he wakes up, he'd have a chat with the boy and track down the ones that did it to him. Assuming he'd tell of course.
On the 8th day of his treatment, Corvin began to open his eyes.
Instead of a white cloudy sky, just like what the stories told the afterlife would look like, he stared at a dark wooden ceiling. Partially rotted, but it was decent. A small bit of sunlight sneaked it's way onto the cracks, and he thought it was late afternoon.
A smell of smoke and rat droppings were what he first smelled, and then felt the soft feather bed on his back.
Corvin let out a deep breath.
"Welcome back..", a voice said, in a soothing tone. "How're ya feeling?",
Corvin turned to see a man with long red hair, blue eyes and pale skin. He tied his hair into a ponytail that reached just to his neck. From Corvin's perspective, he looked a bit older, about 6 or 7 years older than him. He wasn't a teen, but he didn't look like a father either. He wore a worn brown tunic and leather pants, and he was carrying some sort of stew, judging from the bowl and a bit of steam rising from it.
Corvin nodded. Then cleared his throat. He decided to test his voice now.
"I'm okay, thanks to you... I'm Corvin.", he said.
A rough, torn voice came out of Corvin's throat. It sounded as coarse as sandpaper.
"I'm Arikin... Seems your throat didn't heal well as I'd expect.. ", he replied, bowing gently.
Corvin sighed. "Seems that way.", he cringed, as he heard his own voice again. He'd have to get used to it now. At least he wasn't dead, he thought.
"Does it hurt?", Arikin asked, concerned filled his eyes.
Corvin shook his head. "No.. Just, feels something got stuck in it.. I don't know what's wrong.",
"Hmm.. Might need a professional's help then.", Arikin replied, rubbing his chin in deep thought.
A little ball of fur jumped to Corvin's bed, and then rubbed it's head against his abdomen.
Corvin sighed in relief.
Arikin laughed. "It wouldn't let off ya, even when I started your treatments with your wounds!",
"Is that so?", Corvin replied, petting the little cat.
"What is it's name?", Arikin asked, as he put down the stew on the bedside table.
It glanced towards Corvin, stared at him for a bit, then blinked. In his mind, he was sure to have heard a little poof sound, as it blinked. He always had a wild mind.
"I think I'll call it Pomph.", Corvin stated, petting the cat even more.
Pomph purred and even licked his hand. The rough tongue made Corvin wince, but then he felt a little tingly and let out a little chuckle.
"Pomph huh? Cute.", Arikin remarked, gently blushing when he glanced at the little cat. "I'd love to stay for a bit, but I have errands to do.. but feel free to explore the building if you want.. The stew I brought has a few healing properties, so it should speed up your recovery.. I'll be back later in the evening.",
Arikin then stood up and headed towards the door.
"Wait!", Corvin almost shouted.
"What is it?", Arikin asked, not turning back.
Corvin didn't see it, but he was sure Arikin smiled. But he just left silently, and gently walked down the stairs. He heard a "click", as the door below was closed.
A few moments later, still petting the cat, he stared blankly at the wooden ceiling, thinking about his predicament.
He wasn't dead. And he was sure the stranger, or Arikin as he introduced, helped him. But he knew this came with a cost. The cold reality is, that whenever someone does a good deed to one in need, it always came with a price. He just wasn't sure how steep is the debt. He had no money, no particular talents. He thought himself as just human waste.
He shook his head and grabbed the kitten and laid it on his chest.
He would ask Arikin if he came back, what's his plan to do with him.
Later that evening, he decided to explore the building a bit, since the cat is already sound asleep near the bedside table. He already emptied the bowl of stew Arikin left him, and it somehow felt revitalizing. He went down the stairs, and it led to a corridor with benches and chairs on each side hugging the wall. It looked like a waiting room or some sort. Only glass lanterns with candlesticks served as light. Plenty of them were dotted in the corridor.
Upon closer look, the chairs had dust all over them, as if no one used them recently. Looking to the ceiling, there were cobwebs everywhere, and on the corners, rat droppings. He shook his head.
"No janitors?", he thought.
He went to a doorway that led to another room. In it, there was a wooden table with a bunch of important looking scrolls and papers piled upon it, as well as a rotatable wooden chair behind it. Potted plants were in each corner of the room, and some weapons were in display on the walls above the glass windows. The walls were not painted, but they were stone walls nonetheless.
"Look good right?", a voice sounded from the door leading outside.
Corvin let out a surprised shriek, but relaxed when a shade of red glittered in the lantern light.
"Arikin! You scared me!", Corvin sighed.
Arikin chuckled. "Well, I am told that I move silently...sorry.. Feel better?",
Corvin nodded, then Arikin gestured to sit in front of the office table.
He obliged, and Arikin followed shortly after. He removed his black cowl, leather armor and vambraces, and each weapon strapped to his person.
Corvin stared with concern eyeing the weapons. 1 longsword, 1 shortsword, 2 daggers, and many , many throwing knives. He also noticed potions hanging from his belt, but none of them showed any signs of use.
After laying them down on the table, Arikin stood up and performed stretches. "Ahhh That's refreshing.. Now.... You might be wondering what I'm about to do with you?",
It wasn't a question though, more like a statement.
"Well. Clearly, you have been abused. I assume you're an orphan,. I've been asking around town , and none of them know you.. Or, just didn't notice another starving kid.. ",
Corvin stared at the man wide eyed. Was that what he was doing? Asking about him?
Arikin cleared his throat and continued. "Well, if you want, you can stay here with me.. I can use the help around here, as you can see I really don't have the time to clean up..",
"wait.. You're just gonna help me?", Corvin asked skeptically. "You don't want payment or anything?",
Arikin let out a boisterous laugh. "You? Pay? Look kid, I picked you up more like on a whim.. I didn't think it through.. I couldn't just leave you to die, so I nursed you to health, and gathered what I could about you.. Turns out, none know you, and no family.. Which leads me to this. Do I just kick you out? Or make use of you? My business could use another hand to take care of home base..",
Corvin flushed. "A-alright.. You are correct though, I have no family to return to.. But it's strange how you said that you didn't find info on me.. I worked at an inn near the south gate.. It was called the Rackety Rachet.. They called me skeleton there..",
Arikin's eyes grew wide in realization. He gripped his fists. "I see.. That answers my questions then.", he said in a dark tone.
A few moments of awkward silence gripped the room. "What questions?", Corvin thought. He glanced at Arikin and saw that he was just staring blankly outside the window. The flickering light of the lanterns seem to make Arikin's visage look like a girl's, according to Corvin's mind. He shook his head. There's no way Arikin could be a girl.
He stopped eyeing the man, then looked towards the weapons that were laid out in front of him.
Arikin was the first to break the silence though. "Well?",
Corvin looked confused. "Well what?", he thought. "Uhh... ",
Arikin sighed. "Well? Do you want to stay? Or no?",
Corvin nodded furiously. "Of course!.. But I was wondering..", he paused. "What exactly is your business?", he gulped, fearing of the stranger's answer.
He had guesses, but most of it was the same. Assassin. Bounty hunter. Bruiser.
Arikin grinned devilishly. "I hunt. Monsters, of course.", he paused. "Be it humans, or beasts. We are all monsters."
Corvin glanced away, and felt a cold surge down his spine. He looked back to see Arikin staring at him with those sapphire eyes.
"So you're... a hunter?", Corvin asked, looking down avoiding Arikin's icy gaze.
"Not quite.. For now, let's just say I take client's requests and tend to their monster problem throughout the city..", Arikin answered.
Corvin gambled a glanced towards the man, and asked. "There are that many monster problems in this city?",
"You tell me.. That lizard man that attacked you in the alleyway for instance..", Arikin said. "You think the guards just let him in? No.. They'd get in this city, one way or another. I'm just the one they send to take care of things.",
Arikin was right though. If not for him, he would've been tossed in the mortuary , or burned in the massive burial pyres outside the city walls. If monsters like that are in this city, he would have to help, one way or another. Who knows how many dangers lurked within.
Also, he owed this man a debt, and would gladly clean his building for the rest of his life if it came to it.
Corvin's eyes grew wide. "If that's the case.. Aren't these walls just cages? If monsters just lurk within-",
Arikin shook his head. "It's more for defense against the Blood moon and neighboring kingdoms, should there be war." he answered.
"And that's why there's people like me in the first place.", Arikin muttered under his breath.