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A note from SP Chocobo

After a bit of responses, I've decided to reconfigure what content is in which chapters. Doing so has reduced the chapter numbers, but the content is all present still. The review I received from the_Enn_Gee was from before this change, so take that in mind. Hopefully this is for the better. 

As always, I appreciate feedback on what's working and what isn't, whether in dm or comments. Thanks for reading!

Journal Entry 1

At long last, through all the work, and pain, and struggle, I finally did it. I made it through the trials. I’m going to the Rift! This is it, my key to an easy life. Just gotta fight some Shrykes, a few Shirrah grunts? Should be a piece of cake. 

Maybe I’ll even get some of that ore, become a mage or something. Wouldn’t that be novel, getting paid and pampered to just be a badass. Not sure I want the politics that’d go with it, but still, seems like a nice way to go through life. 

Get to the rift, find some ore, get some magic, don’t get corrupted, don’t get eaten by Shrykes. Easy. 

 

-Kevra Sharsi

Day 56, 3223 AFR 

 

Chapter 1

The first sensation that felt obliged to make itself known to Garn Kelmar was pain. Not to be out-done, frustration and a minor disorientation followed suit quickly. Garn didn’t dare open his eyes, knowing that any light in his current condition would aggravate the distinctly present headache that rested firmly behind his left eye. In the distance, Garn could make out the crisp tones of training swords, the resounding clack of hardened wood on wood very familiar to him by now, given his residence for the past three years. Not dead, then, he thought to himself.

Unable to hide his discomfort, a groan slipped past Garn’s lips, making his consciousness known to the staff charged with ensuring that no one in the training yard perished unduly. Not that they were trying very hard at it, most walking away from him once they had confirmation that he wasn’t dead. As his wits gathered themselves about him, Garn dared to crack an eye open, only for his headache to redouble its effort. Gritting his teeth, he glanced around through the thin slits of an eye he let open and took in his surroundings. 

The training yard was a simple thing, devoid of many pleasantries commonly found in the sparring arenas of other houses, such as benches or fountains. Here, it was just four gray stone walls, worn smooth by time, rain, and wind. Atop the far wall, Garn could just make out the form of a patrolling guard, making his rounds. Glancing up, his thought was confirmed when he spotted another guard peering straight down at him, the twenty feet not nearly enough to hide the irritating grin that was marring his currently insufferable face. Based on the satisfied look, Garn guessed that he must have just won a notable amount of money. Probably on his being the one on the ground, instead of his two opponents. 

The training yard was usually broken up into three sections, for instruction in techniques, physical conditioning, and sparring matches, both in solo and team formats. The dry, packed ground was in much need of rain, the lack having made the landing on it all the more jarring. Garn would have preferred a softer terrain ahead of time for his bout, but the rain wasn’t predicted to arrive for another two days yet.

House Dinsala was well known for its fighters in the Syn Doa trials. The past 6 trials each had produced one of Dinsala’s disciples as one of the final four contestants. These men knew already that fights were dirty, vicious struggles. Feeling no qualms to use underhanded tactics, many of the other house’s combatants just couldn’t keep up. All the better, for the cold viciousness that you needed to survive in Syn Doa’s Rift was not something that was easily taught. 

Garn always found the term “disciple” to be a bit pretentious, seeing as the word “thug” was probably closer to the mark for most of them. Brought together either out of indentured service or as a calling to the wretched and low, the newly minted swords of House Dinsala would normally be hard at work here in the yard, in some form or another. Failure to continue to grow in the martial skills was not tolerated, according to the tenants of the house. Similarly to those training, a dark past served as motivation for Garn’s service to House Dinsala. Eventually, he would leave. 

It was a novel thought for Garn. No one just walked out on House Dinsala.

Today was far from the usual turn of events, however. Today was the culmination of weeks of badgering that Garn had endured. Two of the best students he had ever taught, Andras Kito and Zaak Hichada, had gotten it in their heads to try and test his mettle. They wanted to see if he was worth all the dancing on eggshells that most of those he worked with felt was necessary. He never asked for the others to be so deferential, but regardless, most felt that ruffling his feathers was a bad idea. Who was he to correct them? 

Andras Kito was the sort of man that people liked to underestimate often. Not a large man, his size often resulted in many would-be assailants, or victims, to lead into an encounter with a misplaced sense of ease. What they didn’t know was that growing up in the streets of Lesser Habara, the suburbs just outside the massive walls of Greater Habara, forced on him an education which came with a very steep learning curve. Garn liked the man. 

When Andras first came to the Dinsala estate, he was desperate after an estrangement with one of the other 4 houses of Greater Habara, Geldan Sha, who viewed themselves as the judiciary enforcers of Greater Habara. In that capacity, they would run around with street patrols and investigate crimes that came under their notice. Sometimes someone needed to be stabbed, filled with arrows, or burgled. They wanted to know why. Andras had mentioned something about some noblewoman’s favorite gem-encrusted something-or-other, and then there was blood everywhere. He didn’t really get into it too much.

His companion in Garn’s challenge bout was as much his opposite as one could be and still count as the same species. Zaak Hichada grew up knowing he wanted to be a massive colossus of a man, starting his physical conditioning at the ripe age of six, to the pride and incessant boasting from his father Merik, long-standing sword-master extraordinaire and guard captain for House Kimnar. His long-planned future took an unexpected turn, however, when Zaak’s father felt it was a good idea to get caught bedding the wife of Halen Kimnar, current standing head of the house. At fifteen, Zaak had two options: get killed as part of Halen Kimnar’s justified tantrum, or find himself much less available. Choosing the latter, Zaak eventually found a home in Dinsala’s loving embrace. 

Zaak and Andras met as the final contestants in one of the sparring singles match ladders, both of them trouncing their respective opponents up to that point. After a fight that left many bruises on both, and a healthy share of cringes from many in the audience as their training swords hit home, the two quickly became close. The two respected each other’s abilities, and eventually tried their hands in the doubles matches, solely so they didn’t have to fight each other again with that level of fervor. Why try so hard to earn house points, when there were easier prey? 

Garn didn’t realize how much he had grown accustomed to, and even liked, the lofty status that the disciples of Dinsala viewed him with. He realized how much he took that for granted once these two asshats got full of their success against all the other duo-bout challengers and decided to set their sights on him. One thing led to another, and they somehow managed to talk each other up enough to challenge Garn to a bout. Meriting such praises as he had earned, surely the “mighty” Master Kelmar would be able to squash them, even not having a partner. The dripping sarcasm in the asking was enough to goad his honor. 

The match went poorly for Garn. Seeing as it was a direct challenge and not a ladder-driven bout, no house standing points were wagered. House Dinsala loved to make its members push to help the house. Depending on how one did in missions, training, or bouts determined whether an individual would earn or lose points. These points, in turn, could be redeemed for all sorts of boons, be it drink, meals, call girls, or anything else you could want, except for an actual wage. Now that Garn put a bit of thought into it, the house points were probably just devised as a means for the house to get things done without actually needing to actually pay them, in general.

“Finally decided to grace us with your presence, did you?” chirped the familiar melodic voice of Maia Sharsi, his personal med-kit, catching notice of his unintended groan. The callous dismissal of Garn’s condition coaxed a chuckle from Andras and Zaak, both clearly exhausted and sporting their own share of bruises hidden by shirts. At a glance, Garn could also see that Zaak was heavily favoring his left leg due to a particularly vicious kick that had found its mark during the evening’s fun. Andras fared little better, sporting a bruise across the right side of his face, his lip split open and dripping blood to the sand below. The wounds didn’t seem to bother Andras too much, Garn mused, considering the grin Andras couldn’t seem to quite contain, his bleeding mouth staining his nearly perfect teeth with a slight red tint. Zaak looked to be enjoying his own lumps less, given the grimace that flashed across his face whenever he tried to move.

After a pause longer, Maia finally decided to take pity on Garn’s condition. She had seen him in much worse condition in the past between mishaps in training sessions, infrequent but not unheard-of house raids, and the odd tavern brawl. She knew he would be fine. She also knew if she didn’t do her assigned job to watch over him, she’d find herself on the streets again, magical prowess or no.

As he let his eyes fall closed again for just a moment, Garn could hear Maia mutter an incantation under her breath, the seals to her spell briefly flashing in quick succession before her hands in a pale green light, and he fell into another fitful unconsciousness as he felt her spell begin to take hold on the pain running rampant through his systems. 

Garn had carefully crafted his reputation in the past five years. He was someone to be awed, feared, not messed with, and most important to Garn, left to his own devices. He was untouchable. Except, there he was laying on the ground, presenting irrefutable evidence to the fact that he could, in fact, be touched. One may even be so bold as to imply from his condition, that he could be wounded, if they had such audacity. Somehow, he knew that he was not going to ever be able to live this down. 

 


 

Garn hated mornings. Following the fight with Zaak and Andras, Garn knew he needed to resharpen his skills to where they once were when he was younger. The problem with this was that it required him waking up early enough to get at the training yard before it became inundated with unskilled hopefuls desiring to bother him for technique critiques. Critiques that any of the staff could grant. Blessed few actually did bother him, thankfully.  Seeing as he was required to help them if approached, it wasn’t unheard of for him to get his hands dirty. It was just rare, a fact for which Garn felt deep appreciation. He knew he needed to make a few stops before he could settle into his new training regiment. 

Like many of the other noble houses, House Dinsala was a veritable maze to those unfamiliar with it. Hallways crossed often ending with stairways, and wings for guests, event halls, training rooms, and any number of other useful rooms littered those hallways at seemingly unplanned intervals or layout. It was with a sure footing that Garn snaked his way through the hallways this morning, however, his shoulders set in just a way as to invite no interruption on his mission. Twice, a servant flattened themselves to a wall to avoid a confrontation with arguably the best fighter in House Dinsala. Their desperation doubled when they saw the cold look of determination set upon his face. 

The clack of his boots upon the stone floor echoed slightly up the hallway before him, but Garn didn’t pay it any mind. His mind was mulling over its options for the day’s plans, and without consciously realizing it, Garn found himself at his destination: the kitchens. 

Petitioning one of the servants to fix him up a plate, Garn made his way over to one of the small stools beside a counter set near the side of the room for just such an occurrence. Glancing around, he realized that the kitchen seemed busier than it should have been while still before dawn. Stopping one of the help in her tracks, he asked the tiny woman about the added activity, fear of him evident in both her posture and the way her eyes spread when being addressed. Garn didn’t mind the fear; fear had a magical way of getting things done and questions answered.

Stammering over her words, she responded without delay. “M-m-m-m’lord, there is a b-b-banquet to be held this evening.” 

The girl seemed to be fighting to get the words out as quickly as possible, so as to end the conversation without any incident.

“Master Dinsala arranged for it himself,” she managed to squeak out, before letting her gaze shift to something past Garn’s shoulder. 

Her eyes widened in fear anew, as Garn heard someone approach from behind him. Turning, Garn found himself staring into the eyes of the lord of the house himself. 

Shock must have been evident on Garn’s face, for Gravos Dinsala began to chuckle as he took the seat across from Garn. “You know, if you look so surprised to see me every time I arrive, I’d begin to worry that you don’t want to see me around.” Gravos followed this up with yet another chuckle as Garn began to sputter, becoming torn with several sensations and desires all at once. The two winners of that particular dilemma were the desire to stab him and the desire to just walk away before he lost the restraint to stop himself. While contemplating the decision, Garn’s breakfast arrived, made up of bacon, sausage, toast, and three scrambled eggs. Glancing down at the plate, he then re-met the eyes of his lord, and as soon as he did, Gravos continued. 

“Now, I’m not going to interrupt you in the middle of stuffing your face. But I didn’t come here on a whim. I know you hate me. With that said, however, I have an offer that I’m not going to let you refuse.” He paused, a smirk trying to fight its way to his face at his own audacity. 

Garn did hate the man. For the last five years, Garn had served as Gravos’ head martial instructor, being the final whetstone to sharpen his students before they were permitted to take on contract jobs for the house. Garn had been on his share of those missions, from assassinations and burglary to guard duty and escorting those whose fear was so crippling that they nearly wet themselves without someone to hold their hands when out in public. After completing fifty such missions inside two years, the housemaster decided for him that his services would be better served in helping the masses to get up to speed as well. Garn didn’t hate the change of pace. He no longer had to wake up in some field. He had bacon within ten minutes of his room at any given hour he could possibly want it. 

Garn hadn’t always lived this life, though. The past five years had been a long time, but he didn’t forget the life he had. He had worked hard as a young man, saving his money, putting it away for his daughter. Kyari was two when it all went so wrong. Woken in the middle of the night, Garn reached for the short sword he kept next to his bed. But the intruders knew what to look for, and how to react. They had his daughter. Helpless to protect her, he gave in, slowly falling to his knees as they bound him and swiftly knocked him unconscious. 

Gravos had her. He didn’t know where. Didn’t know in what state she was in, but he was always assured that she was alive and “well cared for.” He wanted to kill them all, but without a means to find his daughter again, he was helpless. 

“I want you to enter the next trial,” Gravos continued, snapping Garn out of his reverie. “You’re the best we have, and I want us to actually have some standing in the Grand Arena. It’d be nice to finally make a name for ourselves. Nocht and Rimnus have run that stupid dirt-pit for way too long, and I want to shove it in their noses for once. And you’re my means to do that. I’ve grown tired of feeling satisfied with just being a contender.”

Garn looked at the man he hated with a blank expression on his face for longer than he would have liked, his sleep-deprived brain refusing to comprehend the task that was just demanded of him. A flurry of questions and objections rattled across his mind, none staying long enough to allow him to voice them. Instead, his mouth opened and closed a few times. Unperturbed and expecting people to merely accept his word as law, the barrel-chested lord continued without waiting for a response.

“Well, now that that’s settled, I’ll leave you to your much-deserved breakfast. You put on a good showing yesterday, despite losing me twelve-hundred points to my inner council. But don’t worry. I made another wager that you wouldn’t give us any trouble by refusing this little venture. The next round of entries begins in two days in Phirra. Hopefully, you’ll have recovered from your lumps by then.”

Continuing to deny any opening for a retort, Gravos Dinsala swiftly spun, took to his feet again, and stole a piece of sausage off Garn’s yet-untouched plate before walking away. Closing his eyes to fight the headache that threatened to resurface from the day previous, Garn could only shake his head at the words that were just thrown at him.

As if struck by a thought, Gravos spun and addressed him again. 

“If you somehow make it all the way to the rift, I’ll bring your girl home to you. The wealth that rift access would give me would be well worth the price of losing you.” A brief pause filled the space between them. “Do your best.” He then turned and resumed his walk down the hall.

He suddenly had a busy two days ahead of him. His thoughts ran away from him as he idly picked up a piece of toast and started to chew distractedly. 

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