The boy was conceived, amidst scaled wings and flashing blades, in the Seattle metroplex. His mother carried him through a Tir military prison, briefly. By the time she gave birth, a hair over two years since the madness of Seattle, he was born into a top-tier apartment at the Telestrian Habitat, the son of a Count. His father had led an interesting life, and the boy was one of the few living beings to hear any of those stories, enjoying the view from his parents’ executive suite in the TIC and watching other children play in Buckman Field.
He had his father’s hair, eyes, and confidence, matched by his mother’s will and Talent. He was – to put it mildly – home schooled. The Count taught the boy iaijutsu and kenjutsu for proper swordplay, Escrima and Kali for smaller blades, Krav Maga, pistolcraft, carbines, and tactical rifle shooting. His mother taught him Hermetic Theory long before his Xavier Exam lit up her eyes, then delved into Practical Applications, Conjuring, and Astral Manipulations while beaming with pride. They shied away from cutting-edge technological skills; competent as the Count had been with the gadgets, the times were changing too quickly and it felt more right to teach him the old ways. From both of them, he was tutored in chess, gifted with proper stances of Carromeleg, taught to instinctively trust in the zarien balance of the world, shown how it was Elven minds and wills that made them superior to the muscle and bluster of the other races. He learned the history of the Tir in preparation for Rites, military theory, small unit tactics, and three languages. The Count paid for scholars from the University of Tir Tairngire to augment his mother's teachings, and darker tutors from Corvallis’ Information Secretariat handled an assortment of other mundane skills to refine his father’s lessons.
Sparring with rattan and shinai instead of live blades was the closest the boy came to playing with toys; he was raised with no illusions. Occasionally he visited the park to play hurling with children a few years older than him, since it served the same purpose nearly as well as fighting with the Count. His parents showed concern the only way they could, by training him. The Tir in the 2060s wasn’t the peaceful world it had been when they had grown up there, and every Elf with any sense – and these two had a nack for this sort of thing – knew that trouble was brewing. The Count and his wife loved that the boy was the best of both of them, and so they hammered and forged him to make sure he would survive what was coming and outlast them both.
Less than a month after his birth, the bitch-wyrm Hestaby slaughtered Elves and halted the Tir’s military. He was just five years old when the Rebels of the Spire first announced their presence and shook the nation with their bombs and threats. At nine, he was mystified and terrified when the Count’s patron Prince abandoned power, and in the aftermath the creature from his fearsome bed-time stories, the dragon of Shasta Dam, was made a Prince of the Tir. He was twelve and disgusted when an Ork – an Ork – became High Prince of their once-great nation.
His parents had long ago chosen their side, and political concerns ran high and blood red. His training intensified.
At sixteen, he’d taken to sneaking out. He blamed his parents; if they hadn’t wanted him to use the tricks they'd taught him, they shouldn’t have taught him in the first place. His father’s hard fists welcomed him back the first time, agreeing that the boy was man enough to sneak out, but following the logic that he was, then, man enough to be punished for his disobedience. It was the only time he was truly caught and punished. After that, instead, his mother’s Watchers occasionally trailed after him, and the Count and his wife accepted their son’s wild streak as the price of training him as they had.
Put simply, he slummed.
The son of a Count, and comfortable inheritor of that rank even before a Rite of Majority or Progression, he was a novelty in the sort of establishments he chose to frequent. Breaking Tir laws with his drinking, smoking, whoring, dabbling with social drugs, he showed that he had more money than sense but, then, so did everyone else at that age. He earned something like friendship, at the very least respect, from the Portland Ancients after a knife-fight and a magical healing with one of their lieutenants. He drank and raced with them, lent them magic and his cold, cruel, eyes but never sought nor was offered to be patched in.
Spilling blood with the wild young Elves, he took on something of their wildness. Landless, free, without responsibility, young and knowing he’d stay young for centuries, he was easily seduced. In a flash of black feathers and swaying hips, amidst the rush of magic and violence and Ancients groupies, he cast his lot in with the dark trinity; Babd for war, Macha for speed, the Morrigan as eldest sister to name them both. Death and sex and magic and power all swirled in his angry young head, and his parents loosened the reins when his Talented mother sensed the difference in his posture. He still appreciated their lessons, she knew, but he had a new Mentor.
That was all history. That had all led him to this point, to these three days. The best of nations had risen and fallen so that the Sinsearach would splinter off from the NAN and form Tir Tairngire. The best of metahumanity had gathered there, learning and living and training and forming a nation. The best of those Elves had been the Count and his wife, blessed with Talent and will and prowess. The best of each of them, their cunning and confidence and power, had passed on to him. All of it – from Ehran’s lectures of past ages, the sum of history, the rising and falling of mana levels that let him wield this Talent, the waning nations that had let the Tir form for him to be born in, the Tir traditions of Rites and Majority – all of it had led him to this day, this moment. He'd been born for this.
He was eighteen. The boy had taken to calling himself Rook, but it wasn’t until his Rite of Passage was over that he’d actually be able to Name himself. He was Bridging, right now. Driving past tourists in the back of the Nightsky, his father’s gloved hands had taken his commlink, confiscated his Morrissey handgun. His mother took back the ring and earring she’d given him, laced with orichalcum and rich with power, trinkets he had to show he didn’t rely on.
In exchange he’d been handed only a knife. It was a Telestrian-made amalgamation of a Fineblade’s edge and the practicality of a woodsman’s tool, the whole blade coated in some light-swallowing paint. Hollow handled, with a gps device and other outdoorsman's tools tucked inside, it was made for wilderness survival and he’d been horrified – for a moment – they genuinely planned on driving him outside the city to make him scrounge in the woods like some sort of monkey.
The Count smirked at his almost-concealed look of panic, his mother rolled her eyes at the cruel joke he’d played. The limousine stopped while they were still in Portland.
“Seventy-two hours. Don’t leave Swan Island.” The Count said, dark eyes flicking past the mirrored windows to take in their filthy surroundings. Portland wasn’t the walled-off hellhole it had once been, but no matter how hard the Ork tried, Zincan couldn’t simply wish success upon the Tir’s cast offs. “You’ve heard about your mother and I surviving in Seattle and California among these types. Show us that you can do the same.”
Rook stepped out into a ghetto full of grunges, round-ears, trogs, and halfers. That had been a two and a half days ago.
The days and nights had been a blur of bloodshed and survival. He’d killed, wrapped himself in mystic armors and sped himself with Morrigan’s own quickness, slashed and stabbed with his father’s black dagger to stay alive, snuffed out auras with his mother’s Talent, patched himself up with power and will. It was the last night of his Bridging. He needed shelter.
There were a half dozen of them just sitting in misery, lost in their drugs and their BTLs and their wretched little lives. He whispered to a spirit and called up some aid, willed it into being and threw it at the humans he found squatting in a building he wanted. A Mari-Morgan frolicked amidst them suddenly, tripping them, addling them, and drowning merrily. Rook himself darted in, finding throats and livers with the dark-bladed knife the Count had given him. It didn’t take long for the warehouse to be empty and his. He thanked the water spirit as he sent her back to nowhere, finding an unopened MRE on one corpse to fuel his body, and wondered if his father was soft enough to have seeded the area prior to his arrival. He doubted it.
He spoke in the language of his parents and flew to the rafters, finding himself a perch and settling the meal in his lap. He whispered again, ignored exhaustion as he dreamed a Sylph was real. She swirled around the rafters near him, wrapped him in a cool breeze and reassuring darkness, guarding him and keeping him from prying eyes. He ate. He slept away his weariness. She left when the sun rose.
He awoke well after the dawn, hearing the roar of engines from somewhere outside. Rook clung to the rafters as he heard the trucks pull up, a souped-up hotrod howl and sputter as the last vehicle stopped. He heard their hoots and catcalls after that, sat and listened as he heard windows break and doors kicked in from the building next to his, then again from the warehouse across the street.
He whispered preparations, muttering in the language his mother had taught him. His eyes were as dark as his father’s, and he heard the rustle of a crow’s wings as Morrigan swelled within him, proud of the death-to-come.
The Spans swept into his warehouse, all Ork-broad shoulders and yellow tusks. A few round-ears huddled amidst them, no doubt the most violent of the lot in an effort to maintain position in a gang that dwarfed them, physically. They work black and grey – not unlike Rook himself – but cackled and howled as they scampered around the room, sing-songing at him to come out and play, muttering wishes to drink his blood and chew his entrails. They were here for fun. Sick, bloody, fun, but still only pleasure. His purpose was more clear. More pure. He was here to prove himself a worthy heir to the Count and his wife, their talent and their Talent.
These, at last, would prove to be trophies worth showing them. Not squatters and bums, not the ridiculous half-dozen thugs that claimed to ‘protect’ this block of warehouses, no. A proper gang, or at least a big knot of them. It would do. Here, finally, with only hours to go in his Bridging, Rook had found something worth his trouble.
There were thirteen of them, he counted. Ten grunges, three round-ears, one trog. An inauspicious number, for them.
He muttered again in that ancient tongue, and an ugly Gnome rumbled at him from the Astral. Squat, broad, ugly as a dwarf but hewn from rock and earth magic, it nodded in understanding of his command. As spirits went, it was no more impressive or potent than the Sylph or the Mari-Morgan had been, but – like them – it would be enough for this task. Rook was playing it safe with his summoning, hoarding his power, saving it. Dark wings rustled in his mind, shining eyes and a wicked beak longed to peck at corpses. Against these gangers, he would do most of his own killing. The earth spirit was back up. A safety net. Castling.
He swooped down from the rafters, gently lowered by black wings. He crouched in the shadows of a ruined crate, close to a pair of Orks that looked for him in the wrong direction. He breathed words of Power and called on Morrigan’s aid directly. Queen of birth and death, she flooded his spell with her consent and the entire world slowed to a crawl all around him.
Rook darted around the corner moving as quickly as a thought, and drove the Count’s black dagger into the side of one grunge’s neck, twisting the blade to open up their throat entirely even as the body began to fall. The other Ork opened startled eyes slow enough that Rook could have counted eyelashes if he’d wished, but instead he reached out with one hand and tapped the grunge in the center of its chest; the ten-ring on the targets his father had taught him to shoot against. Magic poured from his body into the casual gesture, and simply snuffed out an aura like a pinched candle. Ribs caved and organs jellied at that brush with Power, and the ganger fell backwards in a twitching heap.
The Morrigan shrieked her approval him with a young woman’s voice, and Rook’s ears rang with her urges. He bent to retrieve his knife from the torn-wide throat at his feet, snatching up a Remington from the ruined corpse next to it. Sperethiel flowed past his lips and he levitated skyward, losing himself in the darkness of the rafters again. In seconds the other Spans had gathered in an ugly circle near the fresh corpses, shouting threats to hide their fear.
He waited, bloody knife secure in its polymer sheath, shotgun balanced on one shoulder, free hand holding him steady in the dusty rafters.
They milled around below him, roaring, threatening, promising hideous death all while their fun got more and more ruined by a lack of a target. Two of them – humans, both, smaller and more afraid than the grunges that led them – moved towards the door, and the rest rushed after them like a dam had broken.
The Gnome manifested when they were scant meters away. It hit the first one like an avalanche, fulfilling its vow to let none pass through the doorway. The second stopped and started shooting an Ares Predator, bullets bouncing off of the Gnome’s granite-and-mountain hide like pebbles.
Rook gave the Spans five or six heartbeats to let the Spirit hold their attention and focus their fear. He dropped from the rafters behind them just as the rest of the gang fanned out to open fire, their metal rounds hardly phasing the creature bred from the very earth that metal had been mined from.
Morrigan flapped black wings dipped in blood, and Rook poured mana into the lot of them. He didn’t completely obey her cawing, shrieking, wish for their deaths just yet, and instead paced himself; the spell was to knock them out, stun them, bruise them. Not kill. A wave of exhaustion staggered him, but he knew the Spans had all felt worse. They stumbled, two fell to their knees. Bruises blossomed under their every eye, blood vessel bursting almost at random across their ugly skins, muscles cramping, three got nosebleeds. Pain washed over each of them, and in the wake of that crushing spell, Rook struck.
The shotgun was raised as smoothly and certainly as if the Count was at his side, their mother magically flinging clay pigeons into the air for her boys to practice with. The Remington barked and their trog staggered, the back of its head spurting blood. Rook worked the pump action, fired again, and the second load of buckshot penetrated even the Troll-thick skull. Pellets rattled and tore and turned what had once passed for a brain into nothing at all. As the rest of them turned to this new threat even as the largest among them fell like a puppet with cut strings.
Still maintaining Morrigan’s spell of terrible swiftness, Rook killed each of them that got his attention and went unscathed in return. The Count had taught him how to use cover, shoulder your weapon, align a sight picture, fire, handle recoil, fire again; he had been teaching him almost since Rook could walk. He fell into a meditative state as he fired and aimed, trusting in his skills and speed and instincts rather than conscious thought. The Remington held eight rounds, but the gangers were heavily armored and the sights were off. It was a good gun, but inelegant, not his favorite. Counting the trog it put down three Spans for him. He snatched up a Browning from a still-twitching grunge, then, and killed two more with it before the ill-maintained pistol jammed.
The Morrigan begged him not to bother to get the firearm working again, and he listened.
The Gnome crushed a second Span as it tried for the door, distracted the shooters long enough for Rook to dive among them. Blue-white Power leapt from him, danced around his fists, and two of them died as he sang along with one of his mother’s Sperethiel songs. Two were left, both grunges, as he went for the Count’s loaned knife again.
They were strong and tough, but he was swift and terrible. Wicked spurs leapt from the arm of one, a bundle of razors that lied to the world and pretended to be a hand. The second swung a rust-red cleaver, both wild-eyed and high on something. The Morrigan cawed and swept bloody wings through the air, and the fight was over in a frenzied rush.
Rook blinked the red haze away, standing over a pair of corpses while hot blood ran down the ruin of his right arm. One Orkish head rolled freely away from the body it had once belonged to, and the young Elf wanted to be alone with his pain. He gestured negligently and the Gnome eroded into nothing.
The Morrigan soothed him as he gritted his teeth past shock and summoned up one of his mother’s healing spells, hearing warm whispers and sultry promises from his three-in-one Goddess as she knit his flesh back together.
He thought of the Count, his father, and stopped just short. The wound closed, the bleeding stopped, but instead of trying to force his Talent and Mentor to heal him completely, Rook did just enough – endured enough exhaustion from the casting – to simply keep it from killing him, but left the shattered limb hanging worthless at his side. The pain brought him clarity, the spellcasting had seared away distraction and left him with a plan, an epiphany.
He had needed both parents to survive his Rite of Passage. He had an idea, now that the Bridging was done and his Naming was left. During that pronouncement, before his parents and his tutors, he would announce his intention; as a gift to his mother’s teachings he would continue to honor The Morrigan and walk her path of magic and power, but as a gift to the Count he would get a new arm. It would be worth the sacrifice, the gift of flesh and soul. Both his parents had traded some bit of themselves away, even his Talented mother, in their youth. Rook would do the same.
He would step into his Majority, Name himself, and be accepted into Tir society as an adult. He knew his parents would spare no expense as he replaced his savaged arm with one crafted to honor his father – one his father could help him outfit, in fact! – but then he would lean on their resources and their generosity only long enough to be healed from this Rite and the surgeries that would follow.
Then he would leave. As they had, in their own intemperent youths, he would leave Tir Tairngire behind and make his own way in the shadows elsewhere. The Rite alone would not earn him their genuine respect, and slumming for grunges to fight with the Ancients would not sate his wanderlust and The Morrigan’s calls for adventure.
Perhaps he would start in Seattle as so many others had…and he would find danger, and combat, and wild excitement, but he knew he would be fine.
He was born for this.