A bit of background on this post. This short story by R.K. MacPherson is the lore behind Hands of Velika in TERA. It was originally published on GamerRiot.com, but the website is not available anymore. A community member (PoppyTheStout) has asked for the story to be available again and here it is. Thanks for the request, Poppy! :)
Blood covered my hands. I wanted to wipe the sleep out of my eyes, but the day started with me covered in gore, as I listened to the thief choke to death on his own blood. I checked his shoulder—he had the same brand as the others. Apparently, I’d made enemies. I wiped my hands on his tattered garb and pulled my hair back into a ponytail. No sense spoiling my own raggedy dress. I should have bashed him with my scepter rather than turned his knife on him. There’d be much less blood. I doubted I could fence the rusted blade for so much as a seed potato. Couldn’t sell this fool’s clothing either. Another bleak day in the City of Wheels.
I’m Kestrel. I used to be a soldier. I’m a mystic by trade, which means I can put you back together again or summon a creature to tear you apart, depending on my mood. I worked with one squad of soldiers for a long time. Served up and down Arun. Remember when farms dotted the Celestial Hills? Not many of those left. Remember when you could walk the trail through Oblivion Woods without wondering when the devas were going to ambush you? Yeah, I don’t either, but the stories sound nice.
We were on patrol in Poporia when a bunch of Stalker Company mercs ambushed us. We fought back, did all right at first, but the nimble little wretches overwhelmed us. I still remember Teline’s shrieks when they cut her down. The sound pierced my soul. I ran.
Turned out the military frowned on that sort of behavior. Drummed me out of the service, charged me with a whole scroll of crimes. They even shipped me out to some prison, but the airship crashed. I got out and never looked back. It’s not like I wore my name over my head or anything. I thought I could start over. I figured I’d be able to earn my bread. I’m a fair hand at healing, darned good at killing things, and can pull off a resurrection more often than not. It didn’t work out that way. Word traveled fast in mercenary and military circles, and I was as welcome as a castanic gigolo at a wedding.
I hoped today would be my last day of eating air and drinking wishes. I’ve watched this group of footpads for a tenday now. They called themselves the Claws. They’re organized, I give them that. Two stood watch for guards, two others ran interference, and the rest did the actual work. Two cutpurses plied their trade in the plazas, the enforcer and two brutes squeezed the merchants of Commerce Alley, and the boss watched it all take place. I don’t know how the Valkyon military missed this group, but I was going to take them down.
I resented people who tried to kill me in my sleep.
The plazas teemed with people, and the alleys were crammed with shoppers, merchants, and miscreants big and small. Crowds are best for this kind of work. It’s not like I could just become invisible, so I had to blend with the masses. It wasn’t hard. I was shabbily dressed, but so were most of them. It’s a mental trick as much as a physical act. I closed myself off to everyone, and drew my thoughts inward. Thinking very dark thoughts also helped. I’ve learned that if I seethed and glare, people melt away when I need it, and no one pesters me to buy quasi-fresh goat. It only goes so far, however. I still needed help to get past the lookouts.
“You want me to make the berserker mad? I can do that. What do I get out of it?” The ferret popori’s eyes gleamed mischievously as I laid out my proposal.
“The warm glow of helping someone in need?”
“Nooran’s friend in jail. Total misunderstanding. Didn’t realize amani are so sensitive about being called giants. Mystic summons friend from jail, Nooran helps mystic. That’s the deal. Done talking now. Yes or no?”
I leaned in close, nose to nose, with Nooran. “If you disappear without helping me, I’ll find you and summon a demon to slowly devour you, then I’ll resurrect you and start all over again. This will continue until it stops being funny…to me.”
Nooran swallowed hard and bobbed his head rapidly. “No problem. Nooran will keep his word just as human will keep hers.”
“What’s your friend’s name? Describe him for me. I need a mental image to summon him.”
Nooran spewed a barrage of adjectives and metaphors, most of which meant nothing to me. I finally got him to narrow it down to hyperactive rabbit popori named Girip. I opened my mind and focused the power—and with no fuss whatsoever, Girip appeared. Apparently, Girip was arguing loudly with someone back in the stockade, as he started cataloguing amani faults in brutal and blunt detail.
I glared at Nooran, who grinned at me, then shoved Girip toward one of the lookouts. “Tell him all about why you hate amani!” He winked at me and took off toward the second. “Good luck, mystic!”
Within moments yelps, laughter, and bestial giggles erupted throughout the plaza as I made my way past the lookouts. Their backups would try to find the source of the commotion, but poporis are fairly short and accomplished at causing confusion, so it would take time. The cutpurses would no doubt take advantage of the commotion to lift more bags of coin. This was the time to strike. I slid up behind the first pickpocket, a human with the ugliest handlebar mustache I’ve ever seen. His fingerblade flicked out and cut a purse-string as I struck him just behind the ear with my scepter. He grunted and dropped like a sack of tubers.
An amani loomed over me, blocking out the light above. I glanced up. His eyes narrowed, and he bared his fangs.
“This man’s a thief. See? I’m not taking the purses. Sit on him until the watch arrives.” I flashed him a smile.
The amani growled out a chuckle and did exactly as I asked. The cutpurse groaned as the amani’s bulk settled on him.
The second pickpocket saw me coming. I caught a glimpse of the dagger just before he lunged at me. I yelped and slid to the side. The crowd made it difficult to fight with spells—most of my good ones strike multiple victims—but I still had a few tricks up my sleeve.
I teleported past him and spun around before he figured out where I went. I cursed him thrice, smirking as his skin turned a sickly green, then hammered him with two magical bolts. The thief dropped to the ground, twitching, and the crowd panicked. I dashed over to the corpse, bound his hands to his opposite feet, and resurrected the miscreant. He’d survive until the soldiers arrived, but he wouldn’t be going anywhere.
I had to move fast or I’d be the one arrested. Citizens poured from the Plaza of Triumph and I hurried to keep up with them. If I could vanish back into the crowd, I could break off and sneak into the alley to catch the enforcer.
As I rounded the corner, my stomach plummeted. The enforcer—a sneering castanic—and his two muscular minions were waiting for me with their weapons drawn. Several poporis and a pair of amani crowded into a corner—presumably the merchants. The enforcer wasn’t interested in small talk. His twin swords flashed as he spun them for flair, then arced toward my throat as he attacked. The minions unslung their own weapons, a greatsword and greataxe.
“Only a fool crosses the Claws,” the castanic snarled.
The warrior was on top of me first, but I teleported past him and cursed them all. The berserker pivoted and slammed his axe between my feet, but missed, praise Velik. I summoned my avenger and let it deal with the berserker while I slowed the slayer and warrior. One on one, this was going to be a tough fight. Three on one was not going to be a fight, it was going to be murder—mine.
I blasted the warrior and slayer with a titanic smite, and felt a surge of hope when the warrior was knocked off his feet. The slayer swung his heavy blade in a wide circle that I leaped away from. My eyes flashed as I drained the Claws’ vitality. Blood-red batwings appeared in midair, pulsing as each heartbeat stole more of their life force and transmuted it into mana for me.
The berserker ignored my avenger for a moment and caught me off guard. I dodged most of his strike, but my thigh spurted blood and I found myself several meters from where I started. The pain was incredible, and my vision blurred for a moment.
I heard the roars and yelling, but it took me a moment to focus on it. My avenger continued to pummel the berserker while the merchants overpowered the slayer and warrior. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The berserker got my attention, however, with a blood-curdling scream as he swung his axe at my head. I rolled aside, felt a sharp tug on my head, and hopped to my feet to see most of my long hair lying on the cobblestones like so much straw.
He didn’t get the chance to reply. An arcane pulse struck him from behind and he died screaming. Behind him, striding calmly toward me, was the boss.
“You made quite a mess.”
I blanched and raised my scepter to attack but he held up a single hand and halted his advance. He cocked his head to the side to see the final retribution inflicted on the castanic and his heavy hitters, nodded approvingly.
“I’ve been trying to get the Claws to take their act out of the city for the past fortnight. I tried bribery, coercion—I even asked nicely.” He smiled.
I blinked twice. My leg ached terribly, so I dropped an orb to heal it. The surge of magic coursed through my limb and I let out a sigh of relief. “You’re not with them?” I finally asked.
“I’ve been shadowing them constantly, and meeting them occasionally. I can see how you’d get confused.” He held up a small pin—a blue hand on a black field. “I’m Lyall.”
“I’m Kestrel.” I walked closer, nervous but willing to hear him out. “What’s the pin?”
“A symbol. The law doesn’t always help the people it should. Velika’s garrison is severely understrength. Poverty drives people to the city where thugs like the Claws wait to prey on them.” Lyall slid the pin into a pocket. “We do something about it.”
“‘We?’” I parroted.
“The Hands of Velika.” Lyall jerked his head backward. “Let’s discuss this somewhere else. The amani and poporis will deal with the guards. You’ll never be connected to it.”
I followed him, intensely curious. I’d seen Lyall several times with the Claws. Not once did I think they were anything other than compatriots. Still, I could always resummon my avenger to beat him to a pulp if he had skullduggery on his mind.
“We work outside the law,” Lyall explained, “but in support of it. The goddess Velik laid down a commandment of peace among the residents of this city, but that hasn’t stopped gangs like the Claws from exploiting the innocent. It hasn’t stopped the intimidation and theft.”
I nodded. “Or the occasional murder.”
“The Falconcrest Guards are off on Shara. The remaining soldiers are few and far between. We fill that gap.” Lyall paused and looked me over. “You’d make a great asset.”
Heat bloomed on my cheeks. I hated myself for the hopeful thrill and the cold grip of shame I felt. I wondered how much of that Lyall could read. “You don’t know me.”
Lyall shrugged. “I’ve seen what you can do. You can fight, you can think, and you can act. Seems like a perfect fit for the Hands.”
I wanted to say yes. I wanted to accept his offer, to feel a sense of belonging once more! At the same time, I was afraid. Would my courage hold? Would Lyall be able to count on me? “I was drummed out of the military in disgrace. I’m an outcast. I’m not who you think I am.” Tears stung my eyes and I looked up into the clouds in an attempt to hold them in.
Lyall’s outstretched hand touched mine. I glanced down and saw the pin again, waiting for me to take it.
“Who do you want to be?”
Edited by: Minea
11 months ago