With targets fastened to hay-bails and lines of men and women armed with mismatched bows and arrows, Wiliken spent most of his days just outside the time-displaced Shining City training the people of Felshore in archery. He’d pace behind an older peasant and correct his stance or offer tips to the son of an aristocrat looking to gain prestige in his social group.
“All must offer themselves up in defense of the city snatched from time,” the wizard Jenkins had said. “And all must earn their meals.”
Wiliken had originally hoped that he might be employed to fix up some of the dilapidated buildings, those uninhabitable and unsightly structures that couldn’t withstand the forces associated with jumping forty years into the future. It was Douglas who asked Wiliken to train the men and women to shoot and shoot well.
“I’ll need longbows just as I’ll need swords and scythes,” Douglas had said.
But to what end? Wiliken often wondered if it was Douglas’s army that had soured the relationship between the bard and Jean-Baptiste. The old man had disappeared into the wilderness a fortnight ago.
“It will do you good,” Douglas suggested, but Wiliken knew one thing for certain: as long as his services were needed in the field teaching archery, Douglas would have no problem keeping tabs on the githzerai.
On a particularly humid afternoon, a young boy reported to Wiliken. The githzerai recognized the boy immediately as one of the orphans his son had intended to sacrifice in order to give a repeat performance of the destruction Wiliken himself had caused four decades earlier.
“My next fletching class won’t be until tomorrow morning,” Wiliken said, dismissing the boy.
“I will learn to shoot,” said the boy, defiantly. The sacrifices had come from various parts of the world and from all walks of life. This boy had the entitlement of a noble’s child. The githzerai mused that Douglas must have been like this as a child if one were to judge only by the way he’d turned out.
“I don’t have any extra bows.”
The boy reached for Wiliken’s own bow, and the githzerai was surprised to find that he was willing to let the boy shoot with True Shot. “I will use your bow.”
If the boy can even draw back the string, I might have to just give it to him, Wiliken thought. Not only could the child pull back the string, but he quickly nocked and fired an arrow at the nearest target with the finesse of an athlete. The arrow found its home, a bullseye.
“You certainly have a knack for it,” Wiliken admitted. “But shouldn’t you choose a skill where your god might give you some advantage?”
The boy had been staying at an orphanage built by a Solaran acolyte named Morgan since they had arrived in the Shining City. Those with a magical inclination – a great many in number, which is unsurprising considering it was probably this particular aptitude for which they were chosen to be sacrificed – would be trained in the way of Solaris if they chose.
“Perhaps Solaris would have you become a paladin, a wizard, or even a monk,” Wiliken suggested.
“A god so weak he cannot guide an arrow?” said the boy. “I have no use for such things.”
Wiliken chuckled. It was like looking upon himself as a child. “What is your name, boy?”
“Alexander,” said the boy.
As Wiliken watched Alexander move on to targets further and further away, to moving targets at varying distances, and even a couple of tests the githzerai had devised himself. The boy had the same self-reliance that Wiliken had always benefited from but there was something else there as well. Everyone is at their best when they are young and their muscles work well, but this boy was simply better than the githzerai. There was no mistaking it.
One generation makes the previous obsolete, Wiliken reflected.
After the citizens had finished their archery practice for the day, Wiliken lagged behind, walking among the scattered stones at the city limits. There had once been an expertly crafted stone road that lead out from the Shining City, and when the area had been transported through time the perfectly hewn stone had broken and scattered about the perimeter of the town. This was the edge of the Shining City, the intersection of the new and the old, and the stones that should have been ruins were just as keen as the day they were laid. This whole city could have been reduced to ruins, had been reduced to ruins, or so Wiliken had once thought.
There was a rustling sound from behind the githzerai. Wiliken spun around and was frightened to see a half-orc towering over him. In his reflections he’d allowed a wall of a being sneak up behind him, and surely this would be his last mistake.
Wiliken shuddered, and the half-orc laughed.
“It’s been a good long time since someone’s been properly scared of me,” he said, chuckling. “It’s refreshing. Surely, you know the feeling, githzerai.”
“Not since the orphans took to the teachings of Solaris,” Wiliken responded.
The half-orc introduced himself as Ugarth. “I used to be an orc,” he said, and smiled. “But now I’m a citizen of the world.”
“Your sarcasm is refreshing,” Wiliken said, feeling his muscles un-tense. “It reminds me of a friend.”
Wiliken hoped to meet up with the deva named Jurgen once again, but as long as the people of the Felshore were suspicious of his ally’s motives the githzerai expected he would not see his friend. Perhaps he’d never see Jurgen again.
“What are you doing out here?” Ugarth asked.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to stop my son,” Wiliken said. “I think it is the only reason that they are keeping me alive.”
Wiliken knew this was a bit of an exaggeration. The wizard Jenkins had pardoned him with such fantastic exuberance that he’d thought all sins were forgiven. Douglas on the other hand…
“That explains why Douglas has his eye on you so often.”
“Oh, you noticed?”
“Some people are not so good with mixed morality,” Ugarth said. “Me, I have no problem with messy matters. When you grow up looking like me or you, you don’t really have a choice.”
Wiliken and Ugarth talked for a little longer before Ugarth returned to town to deal with some personal matters. Wiliken remained in the field until it grew dark. As the sun sunk below the horizon, a light rain began to fell. Clouds covered the bright shining stars, signaling that the githzerai ought to return to the barracks.
Wiliken was troubled at how few ideas he’d had in order to track his son down. When he’d served in the blackguard he was the one you went to in order to get something done. But he’d had no scruples back then, back when he was young. He’d had no family to temper him, no guilt to slow him down. The one called Iiuza was too powerful, too well-connected. He could stay hidden from Wiliken for as long as he wanted, and when he emerged he could put to shame any plan they might have of capturing or killing him. Wiliken supposed he should cancel the fletching workshop the next day and spend some time meditating. It was not enough to merely find his son in order to prove his loyalty to the people of the Felshore. Wiliken wanted to live long enough to see his son pay for his crimes.
Wiliken wanted to live.
The storm began to worsen. Thunder clapped and lightning illuminated the sky with no interval in-between. As he entered the city and walked between the buildings, he could have sworn that there was somebody behind him. It could have just been Ugarth, or someone who had just awoken to bring some laundry in from the rain. Wiliken’s mind was caught up in dark matters. It would not be surprising if he’d transformed ordinary occurrences into something quite disturbing just because of where his mind was dwelling at the moment.
Having calmed himself, Wiliken walked through the door to his barracks and closed himself into the small but comfortable shelter from the elements. He sat down on his bed in order to remove his muddy boots. He hadn’t even untied his second shoe when his door swung wide open. Wiliken stood upright and assumed a fighting position. Lightning sizzled from ground to cloud, making night seem like day and revealing a man standing in his doorway.
Wiliken dashed for his bow True Shot, but the man simply walked toward him and put a hand on his arm. The githzerai spun to see that the stranger in his room was Jean-Baptiste. He’d returned from his meditation in the wilderness.
Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 20.