The morning sun began to break, casting a gray pall over the jagged shoreline of the Dramidj Ocean. Its rays finally cut through, dissolving the veil over a pale monastery jutting like bone from the bulwark of craggy peaks lining the shore.
Within the pearlescent walls, members of clergy knelt in prayer to Pelor, the Sun Father, before stained glass windows stretching from floor to ceiling. A man in thick black robes shuffled silently past the row of supplicants, admiring the kaleidoscopic art. Illuminated by the rising sun, the East Wall chronicled the Order’s various patrons and rituals, passed down over countless generations. The West Wall depicted many historic battles and duels that shaped Flanaess; the Baklunish Basin in particular. East and West. Sunrise and sunset. Life and death.
Cleric Quintus stopped before the East Wall and knelt painfully. Before him, the image of Pelor glowed a fiery gold, his divine hand outstretched to a ragged child. For centuries, the Order of Tel’Laurei Pelor have studied the Shining One’s divine teachings in utter seclusion. The way to the monastery was kept secret, disguised in magic. The terrain was certain death to any unfeathered creature, ensuring absolute isolation from the outside world. However, every generation of clergy had the duty of leaving the confines of Tel’Laurei and bringing back a single child of their choosing, grooming them for a lifetime of Pelor’s divine service in the outside world. All but Quintus, for he had suffered a vicious poisoning years ago and the effects never completely relinquished. He was now consigned to maintaining the archives, wondering why Pelor had chosen his line to end so ingloriously. Eyes downcast beneath auburn locks, he rested his hand gently upon the window over the gap between god and child, and he prayed.
The ex-assassin had so much to teach, skills far beyond the abilities of his brothers. Most were priests, taught the arts of healing and consecration. Others were taught to draw from the energy of life itself and turn it to blessing or affliction, becoming druids. The paladins were the Knights of Pelor, combining the role of a priest with a warrior, but only in defense. Though Quintus felt accepted at the monastery, there seemed to be no place for a man of his devices. He felt the gods needed a range of tools in order to right the wrongs of this vile world. In these dark times a swift hand was required, one that wouldn’t wait for provocation. One who would act against evil without restraint. What Pelor needed was an avenger.
But there was no point in defying the gods with such thoughts. Things were as they were and all of it had a divine purpose. If there was anything he should have learned from his time at Tel’Laurei it was that his way is not Pelor’s way. These thoughts had troubled him more and more as of late so he resolved to speak with the man who had taken him as a ward, Father Allwinius. Raised among the barbaric tribes of Baklunish, Allwinius had to overcome much scrutiny and opposition before being named First Knight of Pelor. But he did overcome, and so would Quintus. He let his hand fall from the stained glass and took slowly to his feet.
On his way back, he noticed something peculiar at the monastery entrance. A hairline seam of light had broken through the large double doors. He took a closer look. It seemed that something was outside pushing the doors inward, stopped by the heavy iron crossbar. Impossible. Quintus alerted nearby clergy to turn the lock-wheel, slowly raising the crossbar. As it cleared the hooks, the doors fell open and a body spilled in wrapped in thick layers of clothing. A woman, hollow and bloodied, lay lifeless among this company of life givers, far too late to help. How she was able to navigate the deadly terrain was beyond anybody’s comprehension. It showed a determination never before seen. A miracle. If only someone had noticed sooner she may have been saved.
Quintus unhooded her, revealing leaf-shaped ears. This caused some grumblings in the congregation. For as long as the Order of Tel’Laurei Pelor has endured, the monastery walls had never hosted a woman — and of Fey origin at that. Technically, the statistic still held true since she passed through the threshold already deceased, but the fact was bewildering nonetheless. She had come so far. But for what?
They began to hoist the body when something moved beneath the heavy cloak, startling the lot of them. When they reconvened around the corpse an even more unlikely sight took shape. Calm as grass, caged behind the rigid, mortified arms of his mother, an infant child looked up at Quintus and reached out, making not a sound. Feeling the sunlight warm him through the window, he knew this child was the will of Pelor incarnate.
It was a trial of patience and tenacity to finally convince the Council to allow Quintus to train the boy. Ultimately it was Father Allwinius who made the final decision on the matter, overruling the High Priest and the Arch Druid who upheld tradition to be more valiant than mercy. That being said, Quintus had his way so long as he tended to all of the boy’s needs himself.
As is customary, no child may be enlightened before he is ready. At four years of age, the foundling child Tir Sadi had been gifted his first sword. Though no more than a dulled steel plank, it was heavy and developed his strength early. As his body and mind grew, so did his weapon, gradually becoming sharper and weightier. For training purposes, the days were divided. As the sun was reborn each morning Quintus taught him the art of life, of renewal, of the perfection of the mind’s greatest weapon: focus. In meditation, Tir’s technique became so intense he could block all else from his mind: sight, sound, even pain. The pair would spend the hottest hours studying The Light of Pelor in the archives, and as the sun died beneath the horizon Tir was tutored in the art of death, or focus in combat.
Pure elven blood gave Tir the proper demeanor for this path. Teaching human children such mental discipline took years, but with Tir it was inborn. Deep within the catacombs, the advanced magic of their order provided any climate or combat situation Quintus could dream up. True, the apparitions Tir fought would give resistance when struck and inflict minor damage when on the attack, but it was far from the bloody reality of mortal combat. It was merely preparation for what was to come, and it was a long path still.
When Tir was fifteen years of age, his sword was now larger than him and almost as heavy, yet he wielded it with ease as if it were an extension of his body. Quintus decided it was time to begin teaching him the craft of his past life, kept secret for so long, nearly forgotten. Tir studied the living dead with fascination, including their weaknesses, and the techniques to Abjugate these foul creatures in bulk. The Bond of Pursuit and Relentless Stride came to the boy naturally, dealing an inescapable flurry of vicious blows. He made the Oath of Enmity his own, utilizing a standing meditation to induce focus so intense he would seldom miss his mark. Most impressive of all, Tir’s Aspect of Might combined the divine conjurings of meditation with brute strength. A full on strike of this nature from his immense greatsword could easily rend a steel saber like gold foil.
As the years continued to pass, Tir’s muscles became like chords of steel cable and his mind as fine as a razored edge. His comprehension off the charts, he rarely asked questions or even spoke much at all for that matter. He simply executed his tasks. Quintus saw him as a prodigy of Pelor’s choosing, yet he worried that Tir’s introversion would have an ill effect on his life outside the walls of the monastery. Well into his thirties and fully grown, Tir was still emotionally an adolescent as is normal for the elwin. When he began to ask about his mother, Quintus grew concerned. There was nothing more to tell, but still Tir pressed him. It vexed the boy to the brink of obsession. Encounters with others became ill-received and Tir gradually shut himself off, becoming borderline xenophobic. The Council took note of it, too. Year after year, Quintus watched as Tir was passed by for induction via the Ceremony of Investiture. So upon Tir’s forty-seventh birthday, Quintus had enough.
At an enfeebled seventy-two years of age, Quintus limped into the Council Hall and lowered his thin frame upon a cushioned kneeler. Well into his nineties, Allwinius appeared frail and small in his oversized seat. Beside him sat the High Priest, a surprisingly young man for a Councilor, and the Arch Druid, another trembling relic of the Order.
Allwinius’ eyes fell upon Quintus with with care, voice trembling. “My most beloved friend, how do you fair?”
“Blessed more each day, Brother Allwinius.”
“A gracious response,” Allwinius raised an eyebrow. “However, our priests say your condition has gotten significantly worse since the winter months.”
“You’ve always read my intentions so effortlessly,” Quintus replied. “Yes, my health is what I have come to discuss… partly.”
“Then speak freely, Brother.”
“Well, as you know,” Quintus started, “Tir Sadi has mastered body and mind beyond what any of your wards have accomplished, past and present, and even many of your recent inductees… yet he is overlooked time and again. This is most unfair. You know he deserves to undergo the Ceremony.”
At this, High Priest Mellah spoke up, leaning forward in his alabaster seat. “His Fey blood gives him strength, true, but at the same time it makes him weak. While the other wards have developed the more common skills of the outside world — speechcraft, diplomacy, interrogation
- the Fey has none. No friends, no enemies. Only you.”-”
Quintus shrugged. “And who is to blame for this? Surely being the only one of his kind has had an effect on his fellow wards… among others. I see how they look at him. I’ve heard how they speak of him behind closed doors and they aren’t discouraged from their bigoted inclinations in the slightest. So, again I ask, who is to blame?”
“He is an exceptional study, granted,” Mellah replied, “but remember that, though his kind do outlive our own, in turn they mature much more slowly. He is still a teenager according to the elven calendars, and we do not induct children into Pelor’s service.”
“Yes,” Wychu the Arch Druid, an ancient man in animal skins, spoke in a weak, raspy voice. “How are we to know the Fey’s intentions wont shift to the malevolent when he leaves this place? It would bode ill for the Order if he were to misrepresent our proper and good work with
“Forgive me,” Quintus interrupted, “but you two speak sheer ignorance, the very same breed that has built and fortified these walls around him; walls you claim are his only obstacle. Maturity is evidence of experience, and he has just as much of it as any of your human wards.”
Quintus now glared into Mellah. “And may I remind you I keep the books beneath Tel’Laurei. I know what type of ‘work’ we have undertaken as of late, Councillors. Since when did the Order think it ‘proper and good’ to deal in black market relics?”
“Enough!” Mellah stamped the butt of his staff on the granite floor. “We allowed you to take this Fey with the hope you could integrate him. We took a chance, risking the integrity of our Order, and now you selfishly rush to induct him prematurely because you fear you wont outlive it.”
“The Fey?” Quintus rose, indignant. “Can’t you even call him by his name, or does your conscience deny you?” He scowled at Allwinius, “Well, I wont suffer these insinuations a moment longer. Have you anything to say of this injustice or is everyone in agreement with High Priest Mellah?”
There came no reply. Quintus gave his old friend one last look and left the chamber.
Late that night, Quintus visited Tir Sadi in his chambers where he was deep in trance.
“Child,” Quintus’s voice creaked.
Tir’s steely eyes shot open. “What troubles you, Father?” Tir moved to stand, but Quintus stopped him with a hand.
“You must leave Tel’Laurei,” Quintus’ head sank, unable to look the lad in the eyes. “Tomorrow.”
Tir nodded into his lap, a sad understanding taking the breath out of him, “Tell me what I have done. Tell me how I have dishonored the Order and I will find a way to make amends. I swear by the Light I will.”
“No, it’s not as you think,” he lied, knowing there was no true answer that wouldn’t destroy the child. “Did I ever tell you what your name meant?”
“Many times,” Tir answered. “It means orphan in the old tongue.”
“Good lad,” the old man smiled. “Never forget who you are. Take no shame in it, for we are all orphans of the gods, who sit in their domains out of our sight. Let there be no doubt, your path will be difficult and at times it may seem Pelor has abandoned you, but you must remember… remember that you are a child of Pelor, and everyone at Tel’Laurei is family to you, and forever will be.”
“I don’t understand,” said Tir.
“Your mother gave her life to bring you here to us. It was a miracle — I’d bet my life on it — and no miracle can be cast off so easily. You are duty-bound to become something special, just as I am give my life for yours.”
“No,” Tir barked, “I wont allow it!”
“I’m dying, son.” Quintus rested his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It’s a miracle I’ve lived this long, but there is no helping it any longer. My time approaches and there is one task left undone. A task that will no doubt be the end of me.”
Tir shot to his feet in protest but Quitus was already out the door, walking casually down the spiral stair.
“Do you remember the Rites?”
“I…Yes, I do.”
“Then come with me, we must go over the details of your first mission.”
Quintus lead Tir into the domed, mirror plated chamber. Thousands of unlit candles protruded from cracks webbing across its burnished walls. It was a room Tir had never seen before, but it apparent from his studies that this was the Vault of Mirrors. He saw his reflection distorted reality into a splintered, nauseating nightmare. His eyes adhered to the floor as he approached his teacher already in meditative posture. A tall, black curtain hung before them.
“So you understand?” Quintus finished.
“Yes,” Tir took a seat beside him, his finger running down a scroll of vellum. “But this seems like quite an undertaking. A black market operation trafficking such invaluable items… it could run much deeper than we know. An investigation could put the Order at a deathly risk. You’re positive the Council is okay with my assignment to this task?”
Quintus nodded, “They have absolute confidence in your abilities. As do I.”
A smile invaded Tir’s face, “That is… good to hear, Father.”
On the verge of tears, Quintus regained his composure and began to chant. A wave of energy beaming radially outward from them ignited every candle in the room, invading the chamber with a million points of light dancing about like the beating heart of a nexus.
Quintus recited, “Would you know mercy?”
“You can’t perform the Ceremony on your own,” Tir pleaded. This was everything he had ever wanted at the loss of all he ever had. “Not like this… Please, Father. There must be another way!”
But Quintus didn’t budge. He repeated the words more sternly now, “Would you know mercy?”
Tir shut his eyes and replied, as he had rehearsed so many times before, “I am merciful, just as the Sun of Mercy shines on me.”
With a flick of Quintus’ finger, the thick curtain fell to the floor. A oval-shaped window of crystal towered before him, overlooking the sea and the red sun crawling its way up the orange sky. The thick glass focused the sun’s energy onto the form of Tir Sadi as Quintus recited the final rite, “Then let shine the souls of the righteous and forever be in enmity to the darkness.”
As they chanted in one voice, Tir Sadi’s body began to glow with the Light of Pelor, filling the room with blinding radiance.
After Quintus’ ashes were buried, Tir left the monastery that night with little to no time to prepare or make his goodbyes. There weren’t many to be made, but Quintus was insistent. The mission was highly classified and could not wait. Tir unscrolled the list he had been given the previous night, scanned it briefly and set off.
A year later, the hunt eventually put him on the trail of a vile cult of necromancers who led him to the city Tyr. An odd coincidence, him sharing the name of the city this long search had led him to. Perhaps too odd. It had to be the will of Pelor. With the sun god Himself at his side, Tir felt bolstered. He learned that the cult had been spotted frequenting the face of stone on multiple occasions, and was rumored to have certain vile dealings with the inhabitants of the Underdark.
Tir made his inquiries in the marketplace, hearing naught but ambiguities and lies. Clearly, the people of this city feared the cult more than the edge of his greatsword. But at last his persistence earned him a meeting with someone claiming to possess exclusive knowledge of the item. When he arrived at the meeting place, a thin, cloaked man was there to greet him. Beneath his low brimmed hood, he introduced himself as Brim, a warlock of the southern dunes. To Tir’s astonishment, the strange man displayed the sought after relic straight away: the severed horn of a Tiefling, skillfully crafted into a ceremonial dagger. Tir gave as little information as possible about his own mission but he was an apt listener, learning much from the warlock who claimed both horns as his rightful property. Apparently, the horn Brim currently possessed had been recovered years ago and he was now investigating the whereabouts of the second. Doubtful of this, Tir pressed him for evidence of this claim. Brim grinned, displaying two rows of fangs. He pulled back his hood revealing silver hair, cloudy eyes and two stumps atop his head where his horns should be. He was Tiefling.
After hearing Brim out, Tir had learned that the young warlock was an outcast, too. He knew the type all too well, the Ceremony in the Vault of Mirrors had shown him that much. Like Tir, the lad was young and headstrong, willing to reclaim his lost treasure at any cost. Tir already had a solid lead of his own and an idea where the horn would wind up, so Brim proposed they work together. The elf knew that he would need help if he were going to retrieve any of these other items, but had been warned against the treachery of Tieflings. However, in his years spent in the archives beneath Tel’Laurei he had learned much, that a Tiefling must oblige their contract, so long as it is signed in living blood. So with that in mind, Tir drew up the contract and sealed it in his blood, binding the demon to his protection for as long as he needed. Brim didn’t blink twice at it.
The unlikely companions had a plan, making their way to the Face of Stone. They camped out of sight of the main road waiting for sunup to complete their trek to the cave entrance, but when they woke up they found themselves stripped of all but their loincloths, crammed into kennel cages. Tir knew they had been drugged, as he still felt lightheaded. When the world came into full focus, he saw a squad of drow mercenaries scattered about. They had collected quite a haul, but instinct told Tir they were after something else. Brim was taken first for “questioning,” speaking an unfamiliar elven dialect. The warlock could not understand, only howl in pain. Tir, however, caught few words, but one in particular stood out: Tel’Laurei. An impossible thought flashed in Tir’s mind, but he had to learn more before resigning himself to such dark theories. One thing was certain, this lot were pro’s all the way. Whoever hired them had plenty of gold.
A Tir tried his best to try and kick the iron cage to pieces as the torturers did their work on Brim. He couldn’t help but feel responsible for getting them into this, but now was not the time for blame. They both knew what was at stake. Tir calmed himself and assumed his meditative posture, communing with Pelor himself. As if on cue, in rushed a second group of mercenaries, taking the drow sentinels off guard. The fight was a haze of blurred flashes and curses, but in the end Tir’s cage was opened and Brim was released and swaddled in new robes. The leader of the rescue party, a dwarf named Roggi Knight-Beard, welcomed them into their care and fed them without question.
So Quintus was right after all; Pelor was still watching over him. Tir would never doubt again.