Full-time profession: Rogue
Side Job: Military Battle Strategist
Ja’Elle’s hometown, along with nearly all of its inhabitants, found itself in the path of Adaelanter in 993. Why the halflings? They never hurt anybody. All they wanted to do was farm their land and enjoy telling each other stories of long ago times. They weren’t interested in or involved in the goings on of the larger world around them. So, there was no way they could have been prepared for the day Adaelanter visited Meriado, in the foothills east of the Crystal River. On that day, like so many other days, the entire village had turned out for a festival. Music was playing, people were dancing and laughing, and there was much eating and drinking. The wine was running low, so Ja’Elle had gone to his cellar to fetch a few bottles of a vintage he had been saving for a special occasion. Since he had at least three hundred bottles, it took him some time to find the ones he wanted. At one point while he was searching, Ja’Elle thought he had heard a loud – albeit muffled – shriek. He assumed his ears – and the wine – were playing tricks on him, and assumed what he was really hearing was the festivities. He found the bottles he wanted and hustled up from the cellar so he could share them with everybody.
As he was making his way out of the cellar of his house (he was one of the New Age halflings who preferred to live above ground), he began shouting to let everyone know he was on his way with reinforcements. The door was jammed, but that had happened many times before and he knew it would be no trouble to get it open. Ja’Elle placed his precious cargo gently on the floor at the base of the steps and returned to the cellar door. Since it opened upward, he positioned himself under it and gave a great heave with all of his might. Much to his surprise, the door didn’t budge even as much as a knuckle’s width. He thought maybe something had fallen and gotten lodged on the other side, so he readied himself again and pushed with every ounce of strength he had. Progress! The door moved this time, but not much. Ja’Elle was able to see faint light through the opening he had made. He thought to himself that it was strange since it had been dark outside for many hours and none of his windows faced the bonfire on the edge of town. He was able to locate the broken handle of a broom and force it into the space between the door and the frame. Once this was in place, he was able to use leverage to pry open the door further and dislodge whatever it was that was on top of it. What greeted Ja’Elle as he walked from his cellar on that night was a horror of such magnitude that he fell to his knees in utter disbelief.
The bottles of wine fell from Ja’Elle’s arms one by one, each making a dull thud as they hit the ground. He neither noticed nor cared that none of them suffered even the slightest damage. He was transfixed on the scene surrounding him. Even though it was well after sunset and the night sky was dark, there was enough light for him to see clearly that everything he had ever known had been utterly destroyed. There were dozens of small fires burning all around what was once his village. Buildings – or rather the small bits of timber that used to be buildings – were a heavy black with smoke pouring upward into the night sky. Ja’Elle could see that even the doors to the house holes were burned completely and the insides of some of the homes were still burning brightly. As he began to regain his senses, he realized he was gasping for air. The heat and smoke burned his lungs every time took a breath. He pulled a cloth from his pocket and covered his mouth, but this only helped a little. He knew he would have to get clear of the ruined village, but what about the others? Did any of them escape? Could he help them?
As Ja’Elle was contemplating these questions, he felt a presence lurking just out of reach of the light from the fires. He didn’t know if it was good or evil, but his feet carried him toward what appeared to be a set of glowing, red eyes. “Ja, old boy, your eyes are playing tricks on you,” he tried to convince himself. As he continued to walk, his breathing became easier and the ground under his feet felt more like grass than the middle of a fire pit. “What am I doing?” he muttered under his breath. Much to his surprise – and horror – he received an answer! The voice from the darkness stopped Ja’Elle in his tracks as terror regained its grasp on him. The voice was but a whisper, but he knew the speaker was straining mightily to speak in soft tones with a voice that is accustomed to shrieking loud enough to be heard for dozens of miles.
“That’s far enough!” the voice from the darkness said.
Ja’Elle’s mouth was now completely parched and he felt around in his pockets for something to drink. He found nothing, but tried to form words just the same. All that came from his throat was a raspy whisper that was barely audible even to Ja’Elle.
A bottle of what appeared to be his own wine landed at his feet and the voice said. “Drink.”
After Ja’Elle pried out the cork and drank nearly half the contents of the bottle in one swallow, he turned his attention to the pair of red eyes again. He knew what – or who – these red eyes were, but he had always thought it was the stuff of legends and tall tales to make the children behave. Now he knew for himself that the old stories were true. But, who could he tell? Everyone he knew or cared about was gone! So, he mustered what courage he could, and used the strongest voice he had to demand, “Who are you?”
“That doesn’t matter. What matters is I have a task for you.”
“A task for me? But, I’m just a poor, simple farmer. Or, at least I was…” Ja’Elle was becoming confused. He heard himself speaking, but it was like he was listening to somebody else. He was standing in the midst of what was once his whole world, yet he was having what would likely appear to be a pleasant conversation with the one he knew was responsible. He should be furious! He should want revenge! But, his body and his voice were not in his control. All he could be was a spectator. He just wanted the show to be over so he could see if there was anybody he could help.
“There is nobody for you to help. They are all dead.” The voice sounded neither menacing nor boastful. It was a matter-of-fact tone, as if he was reporting his day’s work.
“I understand,” Ja’Elle heard himself say. “What must I do now?”
“It is a simple task, really. If you complete it, I shall release you. From this day forward, you will be known to me as a Chosen One. There have been others before, and I have no doubt there will be many more to come. You see, men and their ilk are foolish creatures. They think that because everything is quiet they can break their word. Well, as I have demonstrated again today, that is entirely unacceptable and I have no more patience for King Goodwell II. He promises to pay what he is supposed to pay, according to the agreement that has been in place for more than three centuries now. But, all he seems to ever find in abundance is excuses for late or partial payments. Tell him my patience is at an end! If he wishes to try me again, the consequences will be far greater! Do you understand your task?”
Ja’Elle, still only hearing the words coming from his mouth, responds, “I do, but I have one question.”
“Yes? What is it?”
“How can I, just a simple halfling farmer, gain an audience with the king?”
“Tell his guards a Chosen One has come with a message. They will understand.”
Ja’Elle felt his senses returning to him, and he thought this all sounded too easy. “Why should they believe me?”
There was a low chuckle heard from the darkness. As it faded, the voice explained, “They won’t! That is, they won’t until they look for the mark.”
“Every Chosen One bears a mark on their head. It is this mark that I use to let the king know it was I who have sent the messenger standing before him.”
Ja’Elle was beginning to understand and was becoming terrified of what has happened and what still lies ahead. He thought to himself, “Why me? Why couldn’t somebody brave or strong have been spared to complete this mission? I cannot do this!”
Despite Ja’Elle not having spoken out loud, the voice replied, “You can do this, and you WILL do this! The reason you were chosen was precisely because you are weak and a coward. You will be the perfect one for this task. Enough talking! You know what you must do; now get to it!”
Ja’Elle, becoming angry, demanded, “What of this mark? I don’t have…” His words were interrupted by a sudden blow to the back of his head. It felt as if he has been hit by a club with a small point to it. The pain was overwhelming and his hand darted to where the point had made contact. He pulled it away and felt what must have been his blood trickling down his fingers. This was the last thing he remembered before everything went black.
“hey, you there…” “Hey, you there…" “HEY! YOU THERE!” “Are you okay?”
The words Ja’Elle heard, as if spoken from many miles away, were from a familiar-sounding voice. He slowly opened his eyes, and saw the blackened face of Hum Lensh pressed up close to his. Hum and Ja’Elle knew each through shared friends, but have never really been friends themselves. Hum asked, “Are you okay, Ja?”
Ja, suddenly feeling a sharp pain in his head, winced and said, “I don’t know.” The night’s events flooded back into his mind and he sat up with a start. He was hoping that it had all been a bad dream, but his eyes confirmed that it had not. In the daylight, things looked even worse than they did in the darkness. The fires had all subsided, but smoke was still rising from some of the remains of buildings. Everything was black, as if a great ball of fire had rolled through the entire village. Nothing was recognizable, not even the holes of the halflings who still chose to live underground. The devastation was complete. Ja’Elle, already knowing the answer, asked Hum, “The others?” Hum just shook his head and continued to sit quietly on the ground next to Ja’Elle. The two of them sat in stunned silence for the better part of the morning, when Lum finally said, “I’m hungry. I have some kin folk in Sirry, which is only a half-day’s walk. If we get started now, we can be there in time for supper. ’Tis a shame to miss tea time, but hopefully there will be some leftovers.”
The pair made for Sirry, but Ja’Elle paused when they reached the tallest hill in the area. He wanted to take one last look at what had always been home to him. He knew he would never return, and this thought weighed heavily on his mind. Lum placed a hand on Ja’Elle’s shoulder after a few minutes. “I know,” said a somber Ja’Elle, as he choked back the tears he knew would eventually find their way out. He slowly turned and said, “Okay, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” The walk was quiet since both of them were lost in thought and grief. As a result, they made very good time, knowing a hot meal and a warm bed were waiting for them in Sirry. They were welcomed by Lum’s family and spent a few days recovering from the events of what came to be known in the area as The Night of Fire. Ja’Elle could feel his strength slowly returning, and his thoughts turned to what he should do next. He had no idea what had happened, but he did know everybody he knew and cared about was gone. He was utterly alone in the world.
On the seventh night after the Night of Fire, Ja’Elle received a message that made clear to him what his next step would be. His head began hurting earlier in the day, and the pain had steadily grown as night fell. Ja’Elle had assumed this pain was a result of the stress he was feeling, but it seemed strange that it was localized on a small area on the back of his head. He could not feel anything unusual except the spot where he had taken the blow on The Night of Fire. Could that be the source of his new pain? After several fitful hours, Ja’Elle was finally able to nod off to sleep. The night, however, did not prove to be restful for him. His dreams were filled with scenes of his village burning and the faces of people he knew and even of people he did not know. So much destruction… So much pain…
The next day, Ja’Elle asked the village’s healer to take a look at his head to find out if there was something he could do to reduce the pain. The healer took a close look, then stepped back, unable to speak for a few moments. After regaining his composure, the healer told Ja’Elle he had seen this mark many years before when he was just a boy. The man with the mark was already dead when he and his friends came upon him, but their curiosity got the better of them. As they approached, they noticed dark smoke was rising from the body. The awful odor was overwhelming, and they covered their noses and mouths as they moved closer to get a better look. This was obviously the body of a human, but nothing else was recognizable. The body had been completely burned, with every bit of hair and clothing gone, and much of the flesh melted away as well. They noticed a dull red light emanating from the back of the head, so one of them reached out to turn the body on its front. As the body rolled, an unearthly moan could be heard. The boys all jumped back, fearing the corpse was actually still alive, or worse! When they realized the body was very much dead, they moved forward again. It seemed the red light was just a little dimmer now, but they could plainly see its source. On the back of the head, there was a red circle, no larger than a small button. As they stood and stared at it, the light did indeed become dimmer until it finally stopped glowing altogether.
The boys told nobody about what they had found, for fear that they had stumbled upon something evil. Over time, they had all forgotten about the details of that day; until, that is, when Ja’Elle walked into the healer’s chambers. The healer was looking at Ja’Elle as if he wasn’t sure if should be afraid OF him or FOR him. The only words he could manage to get out were, “Get out, now! Leave this place!” Ja’Elle was confused and wanted to know what it was the healer saw. He tried to ask for an explanation, but he was shoved out the door and into the street before he could say anything. He stumbled and fell to the ground. As he turned to get back to his feet, the healer was standing a few feet away and pointing at him with a look of great fear on his face. The healer said quietly to him, almost under breath, “I’m sorry, son,” then began shouting as loudly as he could, “He has the mark! He has the mark! Save yourselves!” Ja’Elle, still stunned from the healer’s actions, watched the villagers scramble into the nearest buildings and lock all the windows and doors. The healer repeated himself, “Get out of this place!” He quickly disappeared behind a locked door as well.
Ja’Elle was not alone for long. Just as quickly as all the townsfolk had disappeared, several guards had appeared all around him. They had their swords drawn, but were keeping their distance from him. The one who was obviously the captain of the guard stepped forward and, in a soft but powerful voice, said to Ja’Elle, “It is my job to protect this village, and I intend to do whatever it takes to fulfill my duties. If you do not leave peacefully, we shall have no choice but to remove you by force. We realize you likely possess power far greater than all of us combined, but we do not want your kind here. I shall ask you but once: will you go peacefully?”
“What have I done?” asked an obviously confused Ja’Elle.
“What you have done does not matter. What matters now is what you will do. Whatever that will be, you will not do here. Men! Ready!” The men had fear in their eyes, but they raised their swords as they were ordered to do.
Ja’Elle did not know what was happening, but he knew he didn’t want to die. He slowly raised his hand, and the guards all took a step back as if they were expecting an attack. Ja’Elle smiled a sad smile and said, “I wish you no harm. I wish no harm to anyone. I shall go.” With that, he gathered up the few belongings he had dropped when he fell to the ground. No sound could be heard except that of Ja’Elle’s trudging feet as he slowly made his way out of the village. Night was falling, so he knew he needed to find a place to camp for the night. He walked until the sliver of a moon was high overhead, then he decided to curl up under the cover of a copse of trees. As he was drifting off to sleep, he heard a voice that may or may not have been in his head. It was a voice he knew he had heard before, but it was not entirely familiar to him. The words were clear: “You have three days to talk to the king. If you do not, I shall find you.”
When Ja’Elle had awoken the morning after getting run out of Sirry, the pain in his head was subdued but still present. He spent a few moments wondering to himself why the last several days’ events had been visited upon him, but he soon found himself making his way toward Lambassa. He did not know how he would get inside or what he would say to the king, but he knew he no longer had any choice in the matter. The journey would last two days if he hurried, which would give him a day to figure out what do once he arrived. He slept very little between two days of walking at a pace that even the most nimble elves would be hard-pressed to maintain. His thoughts wandered to days long since gone, and times when his greatest concerns included what cheese would taste best with the latest brew.
Before long, Ja’Elle found himself standing face to face with the guards at the main gate of Lambassa. One asked, “What business do you have in our fair city?”
Ja’Elle replied curtly, “I must see the king immediately.”
Both guards laughed heartily and one finally said, “What business could you possibly have with our great king, little one?”
Ja’Elle had not considered what questions he would be asked, and he found himself desperately trying to find an answer for the guard. Before he had thought of something to say, he heard his own voice saying in an almost-commanding tone, “I am a Chosen One! Do you REALLY wish to delay me?” All three of them stood motionless for several seconds, surprised by the voice that had come from Ja’Elle. One of the guards was able to regain his composure and he quickly wheeled around on his heel, saying over his shoulder, “Follow me!” The guard was trotting at a fairly quick pace, and Ja’Elle couldn’t tell if he was running away or leading him somewhere. No matter; he followed with surprising ease. As they made their way through the city, the guard was shoving people out of the way and shouting at others to clear a path. They were at the front gate of the palace before Ja’Elle knew it, and the doors were thrown open at the orders of his guard escort. They made their way down a long hallway that approached the throne, but the guard led him to one side where a door stood open. Inside, there were several chairs and a small desk. After Ja’Elle entered the room, the guard said quietly, “Wait here,” then closed the door as he left the room. The sound of footsteps quickly faded and Ja’Elle wondered what he was going to say.
He did not have to wait long. A door he had not previously seen in the back of the room slowly opened and a tall man in flowing robes strode into the room. Ja’Elle knew immediately this was King Goodwell II, and he found himself standing a little taller and stiffer in the king’s presence, almost as if he was attention. The king paused beside the desk, examining every detail of the small messenger before him. He walked slowly around Ja’Elle as a tailor would do when determining how to make the wearer’s clothes fit better than they do. When he had come full circle, the king sat at the desk and motioned to Ja’Elle to sit in one of the chairs. A smile crossed the king’s face and he said, “It is such a pleasure to meet you. I have always heard of small folk in my lands and I have seen one or two in passing, but I have never been fortunate enough to actually make the acquaintance of any of you.” King Goodwell II leaned forward with a gleam in his eye like that of a school boy who has just discovered the rarest of treasures in all the world. He asked, “Is it true what they say? You know… The part about small folk growing from the ground like potatoes? My mother told me this when I was child, but I’ve never had the chance to find out for myself if it is true or if she was just telling me a tall tale. So, please clear up this mystery for me, good sir.”
Ja’Elle was not sure what to make of this human. Yes, he was the king, but it seemed a little odd to be asking such questions when there were matters of great importance to be discussed. Ja’Elle concluded that the king must be testing him, so he decided to play along. With an almost imperceptible grin, Ja’Elle replied, “Yes, your majesty. We are all in fact grown from the ground, but we rather prefer to be like pumpkins, not potatoes.” Ja’Elle could not hold back and a broad smile crossed his face, betraying his furthering the tall tale. The king, seeing Ja’Elle’s smile began laughing loudly and he stood up while slapping his leg. He bellowed loudly, “I knew it wasn’t true!” After more laughter, the king approached, bent down on one knee, and placed his hand on Ja’Elle’s shoulder. His face had become serious and his voice, likewise, had a tone almost of despair when he spoke, “I understand you come bearing a message of grave importance. Tell me; what is it?”
Ja’Elle tried to tell him about what happened during The Night of Fire and the message he was supposed to deliver, but everything came pouring out of him all at once. He was trembling at the thought of re-living the fear of that night that seemed so long ago. After making several attempts to speak, tears began streaming down his face and he stood silently in front of the king. A voice from the doorway where the king had entered broke the prolonged silence, “You called for me, sire?”
King Goodwell II, not averting his eyes from Ja’Elle, replied, “Yes, I did, Althen. Our guest here has a message he would like to deliver to me, but his fear of some great evil is preventing him from doing so. Do you have something to sooth his nerves so that he and I can continue our conversation?”
“I do, your majesty.” Althen approached a table hidden in the darkness in the corner of the room, and returned to the light with a bottle and a small glass. He approached, and said, “This should do the trick. One or two doses will set your tongue at ease, Master Halfling.” Althen poured a yellow liquid from the bottle, handed the small glass to Ja’Elle, and said, “Drink this. It’s actually quite good.” Ja’Elle sniffed at the contents of the glass and quickly recognized the aroma. He smiled at Althen and said, “We may be small, but our tolerance for this is nearly that of dwarves.” Althen smiled and handed the bottle to Ja’Elle, who nearly drained it in one swallow. King Goodwell II and Althen exchanged a quick glance and a smile, then Althen quietly left the room.
The king asked Ja’Elle, “Better?”
Ja’Elle wiped foam away from his upper lip, belched loud enough to be heard outside the palace, and said, “Much. Thank you. Now, where was I?”
“You were trying to tell me something about fire and destruction.”
“Ah yes,” said Ja’Elle as his mood became rather somber again. He found the “elixir” he had taken had calmed his nerves to the point that he could recount the events of The Night of Fire for the king. He explained that he did not know who or what was responsible for all the destruction, then he told him about the voice in the darkness. King Goodwell II had been paying close attention to every word Ja’Elle was speaking, but the mention of a voice in the darkness was obviously of great interest to him. He asked, “What did this voice sound like?”
Ja’Elle thought for a few moments, then said slowly, “I don’t know. It was as if the voice was coming from inside my own head. And, yet, I know it wasn’t.”
“What did the voice instruct you to do?”
Ja’Elle remembered every word of the message and delivered it precisely as it was given to him. He found this strange because so many things from that night and since that night had escaped his memory. Ja’Elle’s voice trailed off as he spoke the final words of the message, and he saw fear on the king’s face. King Goodwell II’s eyes were transfixed on Ja’Elle as he rose to his feet. He slowly turned and began mumbling something under his breath. Ja’Elle was able to hear only a few words, but he clearly made out “Are the legends of old true?”
Ja’Elle asked, “What legends, your majesty?” The king was deep in thought and no longer even noticed Ja’Elle in the room. After nearly an hour of the king pacing about the room and mumbling to himself, Ja’Elle heard him say, “That has to be it!” The king quickly walked back to Ja’Elle and asked in a tone that sounded very much like someone trying to conceal rage… or great fear, “Why should I believe you?”
“I was told to tell you I am a Chosen One,” Ja’Elle replied. “I was also told I had a mark, but I have never been able to find it anywhere.”
Upon hearing of The Mark of the Chosen One, the king’s demeanor turned to that of pity for Ja’Elle. In a soft tone, he said, “Come bow before me and I’ll see if you have this mark.” Ja’Elle did as instructed, lowering his head before the king. He felt fingers on the back of his head as the king tried to find what was there. It did not take long before a finger stumbled across a small bump at the base of Ja’Elle’s skull. The king moved hair aside to have a closer look and saw the last thing he ever wanted to see. It would be but a blemish to the untrained eye, but he knew immediately what it was. The shape was undeniable. It was a small red reptilian wing! King Goodwell II fell onto his chair and said quietly, “It’s true. The old tales are true.”
Ja’Elle opened his mouth to ask what the old tales were, but the king had already turned and left the room nearly running. The sound of footsteps quickly faded and Ja’Elle was alone again. Moments later, the sound of shouting and loud commotion could be heard through the door he had used to enter the room. Curiosity got the better of him, and he slowly opened the door to find out what was happening. He saw palace staff and soldiers running around while some of them were shouting orders at others. “To arms! To arms!” “The dragon has returned, and he’s coming to kill us all!” The answer that eluded Ja’Elle since The Night of Fire was now ringing in his ears: the dragon! Of course, it all made sense. The fires… The voice… The mark…
Ja’Elle stumbled from the room, his head reeling with thoughts of his family, his friends, and his village. Tears were streaming down his face as he made his way to the palace doors. Nobody noticed the halfling in all the confusion, so Ja’Elle was able to make his way out of the palace and into the open courtyard quickly. Night had begun to fall and few people were still within the palace walls. Ja’Elle, just looking for a place to be alone, ran toward a small gathering of trees that was fully engulfed in shadows. He threw himself at the feet of one of the trees, and began weeping violently. Ja’Elle felt as though a spear had been plunged into his chest and there was no reason to go on living. As he cried, a reason came to him: revenge! He did not know how someone so small could do it, but he vowed at that moment to make the dragon pay for what he had done. Ja’Elle composed himself and made his way out of the palace, slipping past the guards with relative ease. It seemed Ja’Elle had a knack for moving without being seen or heard. He thought to himself, “This could prove quite useful for me.”
The next few weeks were something of a blur for Ja’Elle. He lived on the streets, surviving on what he could beg or steal. After a while, Ja’Elle had become rather adept at his “craft” and was able to avoid being discovered or captured except on rare occasions when he was careless. During one of his stays at the jail, Ja’Elle met and befriended a half-gnome/half-dwarf (he considered himself a dwome because he thought gnarf sounded silly…) who he thought was another street thief. They crossed paths on the streets and during their shared time in jail, all the time becoming closer. Ja’Elle believed he had finally found a friend, but he later found this is only part of the story.
His new-found friend was Knyx, a skilled illusionist and high-ranking member of the thieves guild. Knyx had been sent to find out everything he could about the halfling who had recently moved into Lambassa. Ja’Elle’s skills were readily apparent, but the guild needed to find out if they could trust him enough to invite him to join them. Knyx believed Ja’Elle could be trusted and was instructed to bring him for an interview. All the tests were passed with ease and the questions answered to the satisfaction of the assembled members. After a brief discussion, Ja’Elle was formally invited to join them. Much to their surprise, he politely refused. Knyx took Ja’Elle aside and explained that refusing an invitation was NOT an option but Ja’Elle explained to Knyx that he does not plan to stay in Lambassa much longer. He had important business awaiting him elsewhere. Knyx knew of the The Night of Fire and Ja’Elle being a Chosen One, and he understood what Ja’Elle intended to do, even thought he thought the halfling was a fool for even considering it. Knyx proposed an alternative, albeit unusual, arrangement. He suggested that Ja’Elle should be free to operate as he wished on the condition that he provided useful information about the comings and goings of the Scarlet Guard. All parties agreed to this arrangement, and Ja’Elle returned to his solitary life on the streets. He and Knyx continued to cross paths and spent long hours together.
During one of their many conversations, Knyx asked Ja’Elle if he had heard about what was happening in the Eastern Foothills. Ja’Elle said he had heard bits and pieces of stories of evil growing in the east, but he paid no attention because it didn’t concern him. There was only one evil that concerned him. Knyx explained to Ja’Elle that it could be precisely the opportunity he needed. There would be many worthy fighters making their way to help the cause. If Ja’Elle was able to hook up with a party, they may one day join him on his quest to return the favor of losing his entire village. Ja’Elle took a few days to consider his friend’s suggestion. During this time, either a lot more people were talking about the trouble in the east or he just started to pay more attention to the conversations around him. He heard stories about monsters of all shapes and sizes, ranging anywhere from kobolds to hill giants. He didn’t know how many of the stories were true, but he did know something was stirring and many would feel compelled to take up the call. Then the signs began to appear. “Fame and fortune await you!” “Your king needs your help!” “Clean up the borderlands!” Taking one of these signs in hand, he tracked down Knyx to let him know he had decided to go. Knyx was both relieved and saddened, knowing his friend must go but not wishing to see any harm come to him. “Get back here when you can,” he said to Ja’Elle.
Ja’Elle left Lambassa to make his way to Wellby, where the signs said to meet with the local authorities. His journey was uneventful and he made good time. He reached the center of town at mid-morning to find the entire town square teaming with people of all races. They were mostly humans, but Ja’Elle saw groups of dwarves, tieflings, gnomes, and even elves. As he made his way to where a table had been set up, Ja’Elle noticed he was the only halfling. He was disappointed, since he was hoping to meet others of his kind. His disappointment was short-lived, however, as he began to size up the fighters, mages, clerics, and others he did not recognize. “Some of these could prove most helpful to me,” Ja’Elle muttered to himself. He approached the table where two human men were seated. They looked at him, then looked at each other, sat back, and laughed loudly.
“We have us a boy who wants to play,” said one to the other.
The second one followed up with, “Run along now and play. This is serious business, and we have no time for play.”
Ja’Elle stood as tall as he could, then said in a clear, calm voice, “I am no child. I am a halfling of 35 years. I have answered the call to the Eastern Foothills.”
The men, still not convinced of Ja’Elle’s earnestness, continued to snicker as they spoke. One said, “Even if you are truly what you say you are, what can you possibly do to help?”
Ja’Elle replied, “Although I may appear small to your eyes, there is much I can do that others cannot.”
“Like what?” said one of the men, who was now starting to realize Ja’Elle was no child and he meant what he said.
“If you would like a demonstration of my skills, I shall provide one,” said Ja’Elle, who had every intention of proving his worth AND teaching these two a lesson. His grandfather had taught him many tricks, but the one he enjoyed most was Keep Your Eye on the Ball. It was quite simple, really, but untrained eyes would not know what was REALLY happening as they watched the ball.
Ja’Elle took one step back and reached into his pocket. He said, “I have a ball in my pocket,” and pulled his hand out as if he was holding something in his hand. In truth, there was nothing in his hand, but the onlookers did not know that. “All I ask is that you watch this ball very carefully. I am going to throw it in the air and let it fall to the ground. Simple enough?”
Both men were now starting to enjoy the show and grinned in anticipation. Ja’Elle wound up and heaved the “ball” as high into the air as he could.
The first man said, “Where is it? I can’t see it.”
The second responded, “You’re blind! It’s straight up there,” he said, pointing at nothing.
Before they could argue any further, their attention was drawn by a dull thud on the ground in front of the table. They both leaned over the table to see what appeared to be two small leather pouches lying on the ground. As they looked at Ja’Elle, they saw he was standing with arms crossed and was smiling the smile of someone who knows more than he is telling. One of the men opened his mouth to ask why he’s smiling, but he was interrupted when Ja’Elle directed his gaze to the sky and lunged forward. Ja’Elle reached out his hand and yelled, “I’ve got it!” He stretched as far as he could, barely catching the “ball” before it hit the ground. He slipped it back it into his pocket, stepped back to where he was standing, and said, “There you have it. What do you think?”
“Think about what? You threw a ball in the air and caught it. So what! Anybody can do that.”
“Perhaps,” Ja’Elle said smugly, “but have you looked at your belts lately? I imagine they are a bit lighter than they were a few moments ago.”
Both men reached quickly, and discovered that their purses were indeed missing. One was clearly angry and began to stand with his hand on the hilt of his sword. His partner, finally realizing what had happened, grabbed the first one’s arm, and said with a smile, “Sit down, Glorg. This little one is indeed more skilled than we thought.” He looked to Ja’Elle, smiled, and began to clap slowly. Several of the others in the square had stopped conversing to watch the show, and they too clapped in appreciation. Reluctantly, even the first man clapped politely as his anger subsided.
All those assembled in the square were divided into groups of six each and were given instructions. They were to make their way east to Station 1 in the Eastern Foothills. Once there, they would be given their assignments. The rest of the day was spent gathering necessary equipment and getting to know the other party members. That night, everyone got to bed early so they would be well-rested for the long marches ahead. Ja’Elle was visited in his dreams by an all-too-familiar voice who told him, “Chosen One, you have served me well. Soon, I shall release you permanently.” Ja’Elle woke to hear himself screaming, “I shall make you pay!” He returned to sleep, and the rest of the night passed without incident.
Before dawn the next morning, everyone gathered in the town square again. To make traveling easier, the groups set out in order of speed. The day was spent mostly walking at a brisk pace. Everyone in the group was excited by the prospect of glory and treasure. They spoke of slaying hordes of orcs and finding vast hidden treasures. Ja’Elle, however, was mostly silent. His motivation was different than the others’. He took no joy in the work ahead but he knew it was the only way to exact the revenge he desired. As the day was drawing to end and the light was fading, they came upon the village of Rhondora and decided to rent a room at one of the inns.
They discovered that a few other parties were also at the same inn, so several of the adventurers gathered for dinner and talked of the road ahead. Again, Ja’Elle kept mostly to himself, longing for his home and his people. When it came time to turn in for the night, Ja’Elle explained that he was not tired and would go for a walk. About a mile outside of town, and just over a ridge, Ja’Elle discovered a small pond. He suddenly realized how sore his feet were from walking all day, so he sat down and rolled up his pant legs. As he lowered his feet into the cool water, Ja’Elle heaved a sigh of contentment and stared at the moon reflecting off the surface of the pond. Ja’Elle felt the weight of the world being lifted from his shoulders as he sat with his feet in the water. He did not realize he had stumbled upon a magic pool of healing, but it likely would not have mattered to him even if he had known. All he knew was that the water felt soothing on his feet and he was able to truly relax for the first time in what seemed like years. After a while, Ja’Elle was on his back gazing up at the stars. He spent the better part of an hour finding as many constellations as he could. His mother had always said, “If you’re ever in a strange land and you’re missing home, look to the stars. They will follow you no matter where your travels take you.” Ja’Elle smiled, thinking that at the time he thought it was a silly thing to say. He knew he would never leave Meriado. Why should he? Everybody he knew lived there and he never wanted anything more than the simple life of a farmer. These pleasant thoughts accompanied Ja’Elle as he drifted off to sleep. For the first night since The Night of Fire, Ja’Elle’s dreams were those of happy times and he slept the deep, satisfying sleep of those who do not have a care in the world.
When Ja’Elle woke, the sky was still dark, but hints of daylight were starting to make their way over the horizon. He felt thoroughly refreshed and ready to take on anything that might come his way. He stood, and began to make his way back to Rhondora with a smile on his face. He chuckled to himself, thinking that people might not recognize him. Sadly, the smile did not linger long for Ja’Elle. As he was making his way to the top of the ridge, he could see a faint, red glow in the sky. He had seen that color before. It was the color of fire! Ja’Elle ran to the top of the ridge and beheld a sight he had wished never to see again. The town below was in ruins. Some of the buildings were smashed to pieces, as if struck by a great force. The buildings that weren’t destroyed were burning or smoldering. There were no signs of people anywhere, except for some charred corpses strewn about the center of town. Everything was utterly destroyed. It was as though whoever did this wanted to be sure there was nothing left alive or even slightly intact.
Had Ja’Elle not been sleeping by the pond, that would have been his fate as well. He dropped to his knees and his chin fell to his chest, feeling utterly defeated. As he was holding his head, his fingers inadvertently brushed the mark at the base of his skull. Ja’Elle’s eyes were filled with rage, and yelled as loudly as he could to the sky, “You will pay for this! I don’t know how, but one day I shall make you pay!” He took a few steps toward the village, then stopped abruptly. He thought the mark felt different somehow and had a sudden urge to check it again. Sure enough! It was no longer raised or warm to the touch. He could barely feel it now. Ja’Elle thought it was curious, but quickly re-focused on making his way to the destroyed village before him. In the growing daylight, he picked through the rubble and found that everything was utterly destroyed. The few people who were able to flee the buildings were the charred corpses in the streets. Otherwise, everyone else was crushed or burned inside the buildings. There weren’t even any supplies or equipment Ja’Elle could scrounge.
As Ja’Elle surveyed the ruins of Rhondora, a lone traveler approached from the west. Ja’Elle did not know him, but felt immediately that he could be trusted. The man was riding a large horse and leading a smaller one. He stopped near Ja’Elle and dismounted. Without saying a word, he reached out a hand and Ja’Elle took it. They walked to the smaller horse, and the traveler helped Ja’Elle get into the saddle. They made their way to Standhall in near silence; Ja’Elle was lost in thought and the traveler was humming quietly under his breath. At times, Ja’Elle’s thoughts were interrupted when he thought he recognized a song the traveler was humming. When he listened closely, he couldn’t make out what it was and resumed his contemplations. Before long, they were entering Standhall. The traveler had stopped and dismounted again. He walked to Ja’Elle and motioned for him to dismount as well. Without using a word, the traveler indicated to Ja’Elle that the horse and all of the equipment were for him. Ja’Elle began to say, “But, I cannot pay…” The traveler raised his hand, and smiled. Ja’Elle could only see his eyes in the hood over his head, but in those eyes was a smile that said all Ja’Elle needed to hear.
Ja’Elle reached out his hand and said, “Thank you very much. Who are you?”
The traveler took Ja’Elle’s hand warmly and held it for several seconds, finally saying just one word: “Friend.” With that, he placed his hand on the halfling’s shoulder. As Ja’Elle looked up at him, he knew this would not be the last time the two of them would cross paths. Ja’Elle said, “Farewell,” and the traveler was on his horse, riding west. He was out of sight quickly and Ja’Elle was alone again. Despite recent events, his spirits were somewhat lifted. It was time to get back to the task at hand, so he made contact with the authorities in Standhall and reported everything he knew. They asked if he wanted to wait until they could form another party, but Ja’Elle said he would rather just continue on and hook up with a group later. He was sent to Station 1 in the Eastern Foothills and was told to find Captain Quohann there.
As Ja’Elle made his way to Station 1, he could not help thinking about where he was just two months ago. Remembering his home brought a smile to his face. It was a sad smile to be sure, but for some reason smiling wasn’t as hard as it had been for quite some time. Ja’Elle felt ready to face whatever was along the road that stretched out before him.