Bastards from No Where
The life of the boy orphan Valentine remained rather unremarkable. A strong, bright boy, certainly, he seemed listless without any other ambitions than to do his chores, keep out of trouble, look out for his brothers, and heed the sisters. The only truly bright points of his life at the orphanage were the lessons by the holy Clerics of the Creator. He became awed & enticed by the sweet balm of their words and constantly peppered them with questions afterwards, especially questions about the clerical order. Valentine was resolved from very early to lay his services before these clerics. Thus, upon his discharge from the orphanage amidst barely choked back tears, he went straight-away to enter the clerical order, leaving behind only goodbyes for the kindly sisters and his brothers along with a short prayer, ‘May the Creator guide my path towards you again.’
In the postulancy at the Marbless Cathedral, his zeal for safeguarding the goodness and harmony the clerics taught him only grew. All the postulants were required to pick up a trade of sorts to help earn their keep during their postulancy and contribute to the life of the clerical community. Insightful and bright, Valentine excelled in the arts of a healer. In fact, his drive to action, to defending rather than contemplating, made him a natural at the most practical arts of a cleric while his mastery of the more speculative disciplines was lacking in comparison. His martial training was met with the same zeal bestowing on him a body nigh as strong and resilient as his mind.
However, his youthful enthusiasm/naiveté was given a cold dip by this strange curmudgeon of a master in the old priest known only as ‘Master Ominant’ by the postulants. While none would doubt that he was a good, sagacious man, he had an eerie, unearthly feel about him that chilled even the most dauntless of the postulants, from his dark, ashen garb and robe, to his gait resembling a whisper or scarcely felt breeze, to those eyes which seemed to sift the depths of the soul of the postulant unlucky enough to catch his gaze. Most of the postulants did all they could to steer clear of him. A bold few soon learned that the cleric was a firm believer in the principle of ‘good means good, not nice.’ To questions posed about himself he offered no reply; the other masters, although clearly bearing the highest respect for him, would add nothing to his lack of answers, except to quash the more nonsensical rumors. And rumors there were, in all shapes, sizes, and configurations.
Valentine was drawn to befriend this mysterious master as he had his other masters. His greetings were rebuffed as coldly as his were warm, his interest with impatient indifference. But, on one occasion, the usual dismissal to Valentine’s obstinacy seemed to die on his lips as if the old master had heard something. The old master’s distraction lasted but a moment before he turned his piercing gaze upon Valentine’s puzzled eyes, seeming to delve their depths as if assaying his quality. Valentine, rather unsettled beneath his gaze, as had been so many postulants before, was then given a curt command, which no novice had heard before: ‘Walk with me, young Valentine.’
As a baffled Valentine followed the eerie Master Ominant, what can only be called a friendship was born, cool and civil to be sure, but lacking nothing in devotion. The old master took it upon himself to be Valentine’s mentor and, by that, meaning a hard taskmaster among a throng of hard taskmasters. In all the old master’s lessons to the postulants, he was never more cruelly exacting than with Valentine. No postulant was ever more aware of his mistakes than Valentine, none more icily reproached. Master Ominant’s influence seemed to pervade the school as the other masters were all just a little more demanding of Valentine. The old master kept Valentine’s nose so close to the grindstone as to nearly shear it off. Yet, as intense and unrelenting as were the old master’s studies, equally peaceful and relaxing were the strolls with the old master in the garden or the cemetery as they conversed about all the subjects under the sun. However, the subject of the old master’s order was deftly avoided.
The other postulants waited on pins and needles for the ‘inevitable’ collapse of the old master’s pupil. Yet, such was either the resilience of Valentine or the sagacity of Master Ominant (or both) that the ‘inevitable’ never came. Valentine’s zeal only kindled more and his mastery of the clerical arts only grew, although the gruff, almost cynical manner of the old master certainly rubbed off on him. His own intense training did little to make him more sympathetic to his fellow postulants’ trials.
As the time of the postulants’ general instruction came to a close and their dispersal for their special instruction as novices in one of the branches of the clerical order was imminent, the old master announced to his beloved pupil that the superior of his order was calling him back to one of their houses with another to take his place at the Cathedral. The cry of a distraught Valentine died in his throat with a stern glare and a curt ‘Stifle such nonsense!’
‘And I will brook no objection to your accompanying me.’
Valentine managed only a confused expression for some moments before ‘Master! But my novitiate?’
With stern reproach came ‘Have I drilled nothing of sense into that thick head of yours? You are to accompany me as a novice in my order, the Reapers of the Angel of Death, as I always knew you would.’
As name of his master’s order was finally spoken aloud (outside of hushed rumors in the recesses of postulant cells), the widely known yet little known order serving the escort of souls and the guardian of cemeteries, the same power that brought him thus far amid his master’s relentless discipline bid him again follow his master’s path. With a determined nod he replied, ‘Aye, Master.’
‘We leave promptly at dawn, Brother Valentine.’
The journey took them to a small abbey nestled in the wilderness at the edge of Marbless near the border forts along the Unknown Lands (a lot of business there for funerary rites). There began Valentine’s instruction in the great sojourn of life to death, its great harmony, the appointed desserts for the sojourners, and the Reapers’ duties in safeguarding this order. While the Reapers are certainly healers of bodies and souls lest they depart before their appointed time, their chief arts lie in easing the passing of souls to their destiny, securing the rest of souls in the ether, and preserving the rest of bodies in the earth. While the Reapers are certainly as unsettling to most as death itself, none is a more welcome sight when the grave looms nigh. They keep vigil over the tomb and the grave against both pillager and necromancer. The most militant of the order wreak terrible vengeance against those who pervert the natural order of life and death, chief of which are the murderer and the undead. The worst of these pledge allegiance to the cult of the demon Mephisto, the lord of hatred, who first disturbed the rest of the dead with the taint of undeath.
Master Ominant remained as hard a taskmaster (if not worse) in Valentine’s novitiate. From the subtleties of the order’s rites to the intricacies of the scythe, Valentine was drilled through it all. Of course, the almost obligatory eeriness of the Reapers in general (and Master Ominant in particular) could not but rub off onto Valentine. Nonetheless, they persisted in their customary strolls through the peace of garden and graveyard.
At long last came the day whereon Valentine was fully inducted as one of the Reapers. After the joyous occasion (a cool joy, of course), the old master summoned the new cleric. Valentine was greeted with ‘You must leave us. Your sojourn will be taking you back to the Marbless Cathedral.’
With great yet scarcely visible sorrow, ‘Why am I to leave so soon, Master? Is something wrong?’
Handing him an unopened letter, ‘A cleric from the Cathedral has sent you this letter; you will be leaving to meet with him. Your sojourn lies thither back in the city of your youth and in the company of your brothers from the orphanage. I know that you must go as I knew you were to be my novice; there is your destiny now. I shall inform the Marbless Cathedral that you will be assigned to them.’
Valentine read the letter with a mix of sorrow, bewilderment, and joy. The otherwise cool composure the next day belied a heavy heart in both bosoms. They exchanged a brief but rare embrace, their blessings, and their farewells before Valentine left for the path leading back to Marbless, back to his brothers, and back to his destiny.