“Jerran?” Couralis spoke out loud. “Are you in here?”
Seventeen year old Couralis looks around the house where his friend Jerran lives. Couralis notices an inordinate amount of hair on things; silver-gray, fine soft hairs.
“Jerran, you’re such a slob. You really should clean up after yourself more.” Couralis states softly and matter-of-factly, as if Jerran were in the room, listening.
The evening was approaching and Couralis looks outside to see if he can see Jerran anywhere, but there is no sign of him. Curiously, Couralis notices thick, heavy drapes to the side of his windows. Thinking nothing more of it, Couralis goes to move outside, and is interrupted by Jerran entering.
“Can I help you with something, my friend?” Jerran says coolly. He never has appreciated Couralis’ snoopy penchant. Or was it curiosity? Jerran didn’t care. He just didn’t like friends or strangers prying around in his home without him being there.
“No. I was just checking to see if you were home, and you weren’t, until now.” Couralis smiles. “I thought I’d stop by and see if you’d be interested in going to the inn for an ale tonight with me?”
“Perhaps some other time.” Jerran states.
“What’s wrong with you, Jerran?” Couralis snaps. “You never go out anymore. Your room is a wreck. You never clean it. Hair is everywhere! Look at this place! Talk to me, I thought I was your friend.”
“I do consider you my friend, but you’re also destined for great things. Things far greater than you or I know, so long as you listen to your father and do what he says.” Jerran speaks confidently. “Where you’re going, I cannot follow.”
“It doesn’t mean we still can’t be friends, in spite of what my father says.” Couralis grumbles bitterly. “My father has never allowed me to have any friends that I want to have, and I’m sick of it. He goes on and on about the being an heir to the settlement and how I have to start behaving like a ruler. Well, what if I don’t want to be ruler? Does he ever think of that?” Couralis pauses, almost out of wind from frustration.
“Couralis…” Jerran speaks, and then pauses himself.
“I know. It’s my destiny. Blah blah blah. Sometimes… no, a lot of the time, I just wish you and I could run off and adventure together like we’ve always talked about doing.” Couralis flashes a bright smile.
Jerran returns the smile, an uneasy feeling settling in his stomach as usual when Couralis had his mood swings. “You mean like you’ve always talked about. I know you would, and how many times have I told you that adventuring is not all the glory and fame that people says it can be. Trust me, I know. It’s dangerous and deadly out there, much more so than people say it is too. Now, you better get going. Your father is going to start worrying about you again.”
“Let him. Besides, he knows I’m here anyway. See?” Couralis says, glancing out the door in the direction of three guards trying their best to look like they’re not looking towards Jerran’s house, despite the fact that the sun has set during the conversation and shadows have begun to embrace the settlement fully.
“Enough, Couralis. Off with you now. It’s getting late and I have to change clothes. I’ll see you later.” Jerran remarks, shooing him towards the door.
Couralis pauses in the middle of the doorway, a dark look passing over his face when Jerran issues the dismissal. “Jerran, look.” He was pointing up to the brilliant round moon rising over the Steppes to the east. “Bright light at night!” Couralis shouts as he departs.
Jerran sighs slightly as the boy leaves, a feeling of inevitability rising in him.
Jerran senses change. Since Couralis’ departure, that same nagging feeling remains. It always shows up on nights like this one. Looking into a mirror, Jerran looks and sighs once again, this time much deeper. Looking back is a monster that sighs just as deeply.
“I am what I am.” Jerran mumbles consolingly to himself. Suddenly, his senses pick up noise from outside. A very brief knock at his door, and then his bedroom door suddenly flying open. No, not now…
The door to the bedroom opening, Jerran comes eye to eye with the King. Both men stare at one another for a second.
The King then lets loose a scream, combined with a shout in some weird, startled duet. Guards rush forward to defend their liege. Several of them yell, “Back you monster!!”
The half-human form moves back, alarmed both at the brandished weaponry in full display and the sudden appearance of the King and his guards. Jerran can’t remember the last time he was surprised so completely without at least hearing more, and being able to cover his form.
“What is that!?!” The King utters through nervous teeth, unsure of what he is seeing.
“You really should knock before barging into someone’s abode like that, my liege.” Jerran states calmly.
“Guards! Kill it!” The King shouts.
Jerran, anticipating that reaction as if he had experienced this scenario many times in the past, deftly hops and dives out the slight opening between two guards, as swords slice by behind him. The King, startled by Jerran’s amazingly quick reaction and movement, staggers backwards and to his left, tripping over a side table and falling back onto the floor.Two other guards move to protect the King, but Jerran is already completely out the door and in a full sprint.
The King regains his feet and rushes outside last with the guards ahead of him. A half-human canine form is seen exiting the settlement out the western entrance.
Alarms are sounded and torches lit, as Jerran continues to run in an all-too-familiar stride.
“Couralis, I know how much Jerran means to you. He’s your best friend, I know that, but Jerran is not what he appears to be.” The King explains firmly.
“What do you mean, father?” Couralis shouts out. “Where’s Jerran now?”
“He ran off, son. Jerran is not human.”
“WHAT?” Couralis starts to laugh out loud. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard you say, father! I won’t listen to any more of your lies about him! I’m going after him right now.”
“NO! You most certainly are not, boy!” The King shouts, grabbing Couralis by the arm and holding him back.
“Let go of me!” Couralis yells, growing upset and out of control.
“Guards! Take my son to his room and hold him there until we return.”
“Yes, Sire!” Two guards approach Couralis and reach to grab him by the arms. In one motion, as if Couralis had been practicing combat and sword techniques for years, he moves aside the first guard, reaches out and quickly unsheathes a guard’s sword from its scabbard. He stabs the guard he’s next to, makes a quick side step and makes a second attack, slashing the neck of the guard across from him, and then bears the weapon down upon his father.
“Son, have you gone mad?” The King shouts.
“No, father. I’ve decided to go adventuring.”
Couralis proceeds to stab his father through the heart, killing him instantly. “Your reign and control over me ends now. I’m now King of Sehdegere Steppes.”
For the next twelve years, Couralis rules Sehdegere with an iron fist, crushing anyone that even hints at suppressing or controlling him in any way. Wars are waged, and a tyrant is born. King Couralis thinks he’ll never again find his best friend Jerran. He’s wrong.
Jerran travels for days back to Sehdegere Steppes. Torn with mixed feelings about his duty, he knows what he must do.
“Halt! You enter the kingdom of King Couralis. State your business.” A guard says boldly.
“I am here to see an old friend.” Jerran stares down the guard confidently.
“Yeah, and who would that be?” The guard questions.
“King Couralis, of course.”
“No one sees the King without a prior appointment.”
“Fine. Then could you give the King a message for me? Tell him Jerran is here to see him.”
“Piss off! The King is too busy for the likes of you. Now, beat it before we perform our duty upon your head.” The other guard laughs and both stare with total disdain at Jerran.
“You really don’t want to make me angry.” Jerran shows the guard his cloak emblems. The guard pauses and looks at the other guard that is no longer smiling.
“Very well. Wait here.” The guard utters, slightly irritated at Jerran’s tone.
“My King, a visitor is here to see you.” The guard says sheepishly.
King Couralis tosses guard Garlon a look that could kill, and rises from his throne.
“Who is it now? If it’s not a beautiful woman from Easton Prairie I’ll have your head, Garlon!
“My liege…it is a man named Jerran.” Garlon says even more meekly.
“JERRAN!” King Couralis rushes over to the window of his keep and glances down one level to the ground. As much as he can tell, it’s Jerran. Looking closer, Couralis whistles down to Jerran below. Jerran, waiting patiently and talking to another guard nearby, hears the high-pitched, shrill whistle and looks around, and then up. Spotting the leaning out King, Jerran smiles and waves to his friend. The King returns the wave, and spins back to Garlon.
“Well, don’t just stand there, you imbecile. Go escort the man in!”
“Aye sire.” Garlon double-times it down to the foyer.
“The King will see you now, Jerran.” Garlon mentions matter-of-factly.
“It seems so.” Jerran states sarcastically, glancing at Garlon and grinning. Garlon does not return the grin.
“What has it been, Jerran? Two years? Five? I’ve lost track.” Couralis states loosely.
“It has been twelve long years, give or take a month.” Jerran replies.
“In all that time, not a word from you, Jerran. Then, out of the blue, today, you show up on my doorstep….” Couralis does not finish the sentence. He waits to see Jerran’s reaction.
“I understand your feelings on this, Couralis. You feel you’ve been abandoned, betrayed. Not a single word from me in well over twelve years, and I left without ever saying goodbye. We never got to have any of those adventures you were so looking forward to.” Jerran states coldly. “Instead, you get to have your own self-aggrandizing adventures. First, by murdering your father, and second by sending the Sehdegere region down a path of villainy and war.”
“Shut up.” Couralis retorts viciously. “My only and best friend did abandon me. You don’t expect me to be bitter? My father was weak, pathetic, for not allowing me to have the friends I wanted to have, do the things I wanted to do, and be the person I wanted to be. Both he and that dream died the moment he forced you to leave. Why didn’t you return?”
“You don’t understand, Couralis. I couldn’t return until now. You don’t know the real reason why I had to leave you, do you? Well, allow me to explain…”
Jerran steps closer to Couralis, and takes off his cloak, tossing it on a chair. As he does, Jerran turns slightly to one side. Upon turning back, Couralis’ eyes go wide with fear and shock, looking upon something entirely not Jerran. He has become a monster. As Couralis tries to scream out for his guards, Jerran strikes with vicious speed and deadly accuracy. Couralis is barely able to utter a yelp, as Jerran clamps down with long clawed hands onto his neck. Squeezing down tightly upon the front of Couralis’ neck, Jerran slowly lowers the paralyzed and wide-eyed form of Couralis down onto his bed, blood trickling out and down from minor claw cuts on each side.
“Your twelve-year reign of villainy, murder, war and evil is over. I am not what you thought I was, and your father found that out and tried to have me killed. That’s why I left. I had no choice. You also are not who I thought you are. You’ve turned into something monstrous, like me. So, I offer you the choice I was never given. Turn and come adventure with me forever and leave all this behind, or you can die.”
Jerran releases his death grip on Couralis’ neck enough for him to give his answer. “Speak.”
“I wish to go with you, friend.” Couralis gurgles out.
Jerran’s heart soars with hope for a brief moment, and then is betrayed by a dagger he did not see coming. Sinking the dagger into the side of Jerran’s ribs, Jerran reacts instinctively and rips the throat of Couralis out. Blood gushes down his neck, staining red the bright white linens. Jerran rolls over the corpse of Couralis, bleeding himself onto the bed, takes up the dagger and beheads Couralis with it. He then passes out on the bed.
“Jerran, it is I. Aurios.” a voice softly utters, yet the voice is filled with strength and confidence.
“Where am I?” Jerran stammers out, stunned and completely unsure of anything, yet he’s not afraid of the voice. In fact, quite the opposite. He feels strengthened and reinvigorated.
“It’s not your fault, Jerran.” the voice speaks authoritatively. “The boy’s destiny is decided, as is yours. That is why you’re here with me now. You are to be one of my Watchers. Seek out and speak to a man named Dorian Dunarth. He shall guide you in my ways. Our ways. Your new life begins now. Arise.”
Jerran awakens on the bed of King Couralis, the dagger still wet with blood, the stain of blood expanding in an ever widening circle on the white linens. Looking around nervously, he instinctively reaches for what he knows should be a horrible wound in his ribs, yet at the very moment he thinks to react to the wound, there is no wound. No blood, no pain, no signs whatsoever he was ever stabbed, yet he clearly remembers Couralis stabbing him and the pain. It feels like no time has passed at all.
Confused, Jerran remembers little prior to being stabbed by Couralis; some crass person he was talking to is all he can recollect. Yet now, has very clear and focused objective he instinctively feels needs to be done that he is unable to resist. Is it a compulsion? He has seldom felt compelled by anything this strongly in the past. Curious. Reaching for the dagger on the bed without thinking, Jerran proceeds to carve ‘The Watch’ into Couralis’ forehead as this strange compulsion in his mind demands. Tossing the dagger onto the bed afterwards, Jerran rises off the bed to leave, a feeling of intense sadness and regret welling up in him that he could do nothing to prevent his friend from becoming the monster he knows all too well. Climbing down the rear trellis of ivy along the back of the keep, Jerran silently slinks his way out of Caern, never to return.
With no leadership left, Caern eventually falls into ruin, people move away, and the Caern kingdom decays away into legend.