This was written back in 2003. It was an idea for a long standing "argument" between Graine and Rankin (perhaps to take place in Nameless) but it was never included in the storyline. Take it as you will.
Suffering of Rankin
When you have the ability to make someone cry due to joy, that’s power.
Rankin was a commoner. He lived most of his early childhood in the Village to the North. During the summer of his 14th year he had moved south to seek out a job. He had known a good life; a happy family, and a loving companion. Jetilu was her name. For seven years they had been together, and for seven years he had pledged his life to her. Day after day he would do everything within his power to let her know how much he loved her. She would often times take the flowers he had given her and would dry them out and cook them to make the house smell sweeter. The house was not big by any means, but it was home. Rankin would spend most of his time in the fields tilling the ground and harvesting the corn when that time of season had come around. She was used to him working late hours and never seemed to mind or protest. She knew it was the best work he could find, but sometimes, just sometimes, she would think to herself at how life would be if she had but just a few more pieces of gold in the bank.
Rankin loved nothing more than to be beside his wife. She wore a bright blue tattoo on her left arm and it always reminded him of the open sea. He would always fall asleep running his fingers over the contours of the design. She found a certain comfort in that. She kept him in his heart always, and knew that regardless of how little money they actually had, she would always have love for him. She could easily see down the road a life full of happiness with him. And that knowledge is what allowed her to sleep peacefully at night. That and to simply feel him caress her arm. His lightest touch filled her mind with pure happiness.
During their eighth year Jetilu sat Rankin down and told him that she had received word that a band of Brigands had swept into the village in which his parents lived and slaughtered every living thing and had burned down every standing building. For 22 years Rankin had known no ill thoughts. But when the news of this reached his ears he felt his heart drop out of existence. Jetilu held his hand as he sat on the edge of his bed and tears fell from his eyes. Many thoughts raced into and out of his mind. He tried to understand the how’s and why’s of this seemingly random act. And it was because of those how’s and why’s that he made the decision to seek help in finding out who these Brigands were. Jetilu made many protests about him going. She knew, as did he, that he was not a fighter. He was a simple man that barely knew of life outside of the corn-field. In the end Rankin convinced her that he would only go as far south as the Keep. He knew there were mercenaries there that he might hire to do the looking for him. She knew he was suffering inside. She also knew that he would be gone for only two weeks. Her heart already longed for him to return.
The day came that Rankin set forth and traveled south to the Keep. He carried with him a sturdy staff, actually it was just the handle from a plow with the plow end removed, as well as enough rations for his journey. The Keep was but three days south. Slowly through the corn-field he walked trying to make sure he was doing the right thing. It pained him to leave Jetilu behind, but he knew that this was something that he had to know about. He also knew that bringing her along with him would be just as dangerous. The road south to the Keep was a perilous one, and the mercenaries that lived there were a rough lot. He carried with him a bag of 3112 gold, concealed on the inside of his tunic. To anyone passing by he looked like a lone, poor, homeless begger. He felt it was doubtful if anyone would try to assault him and steal what little possessions he carried with him.
After making the long journey south he finally saw the gates of the Keep backed up against the wall of a mountain. He had never been this far south but he had heard many stories about this place. Exactly what it was a keep of he never knew. Upon approaching the gate he found himself halted by a guard. The guard looked more mercenary than guard; but Rankin supposed the look fit; this was a place run by mercenaries after all. He introduced himself and explained his purpose. The guard allowed him passage and soon Rankin found himself within the keep itself, lost in a world quite unfamiliar to him. Many people were busily at work, it almost looked like they were preparing for war. He kept to himself, and noted that there were very few women here, and even less children. Many darkened alleys wound through the streets and eventually he found a small bar. It was a seedy looking place and not very crowded. He stepped inside and sat down. No one ever came to get his drink or food order, and that was just as well, he did not feel he could stomach anything from a place as grimy as this. He did notice an individual getting up to leave and Rankin stood, preventing this stranger from exiting.
“Not a good idea to block the way.” The stranger said in a gruff voice.
“You will pardon my actions, but I am in need of help.” Rankin said with a quiver in his voice. He was scared to death.
“I am not in business to provide help.” The stranger gave as a cold reply. He then made his way past Rankin. Rankin grabbed the stranger’s arm and said in a hushed whisper that he had gold and could pay for the time and information. The stranger stopped and turned; “In that case, I might can help. But this is not a good place to talk. Too many ears here, if you catch my drift.”
The stranger led Rankin down another dark alley, past a small hovel of a house, and into a small garden with a working fountain. Rankin thought to himself at how odd this garden was; it was like seeing one perfect ear of corn in a barrel full of rotten ones.
“What is the information that you seek?” The stranger asked.
“I want to know of the band of Brigands that attacked the Village to the North. The left no one alive and burned down the entire village.”
The stranger looked at Rankin with hesitation then slowly he began to speak; “I know nothing of this village having been destroyed. But my question for you is; if they left none alive how is it that you came to know of the story?”
“My Jetilu said she had received the news; but she did not speak of how.”
“Interesting. I know that a small band of Brigands exist, but I can honestly say that they are too small and too ill organize to make such an attack. Besides the Village to the North is too far beyond their grasp.”
“Then what has happened?” Rankin asked, not really directing it towards anyone.
“If it were me, I would go to this Village to the North and have a look for myself.” The stranger than stood up to leave.
“Are we done here?” Rankin asked in a rushed voice.
“Well, there is not much more that I can help with, and I have yet to see any money for the information I have given…” The stranger’s voice trailed off.
“I am sorry, I have had a lot on my mind. Here take this, it is all that I have, but any help or other information you can provide to me would ease my mind.” Rankin pulled out the small brown sack from inside his tunic and held it out for the stranger. The stranger took the sack from Rankin’s trembling hand and opened it. His eyes grew wide; “How much is here?” he asked.
“Just over three-thousand gold.”
“Shhhh!” The stranger noised, holding his finger up to his pursed lips, “while this is a place we can talk in private it too has ears. Sir, for this much you could hire five men for a month!”
“Then provide to me that much in information as to the whereabouts of this band of Brigands. That is all I ask.”
The stranger sat back down, a clear look of what to do washed across his face. “I tell you what… I will take this gold, hire out two horses and together we can go to the Village to the North and do some investigations ourselves.”
Rankin perked up upon hearing this. Regardless of how much money he had with him, never did he expect the results to be this grand! And to ride a horse, that was going to cut down on the travel time greatly! And oh how he longed to feel his Jelitu back in his arms, even for just a moment or two. Both men stood.
“I am Rankin Gronitz.” Rankin said offering his hand out for a shake.
The stranger grasped Rankin’s hand and shook it, a strong grip. “I am known as Graine.”
Just before dawn Graine and Rankin set forth mounted on two horses. North they rode. Thoughts of seeing Jetilu again flooded Rankin’s mind and it brought a smile to his face. They both rode in silence. At about noon they halted to prepare some rations and to allow the horses to drink from a nearby water hole. Rankin told Graine of the importance of finding out about these Brigands, that his parents had lived in the Village to the North, and that he simply wanted revenge.
“Revenge is a place best left unexperienced. Often times the hearts of men desire it; but upon achieving it the heart refuses to rest. There is always something else that will cause pain and suffering.” Graine said this more as a statement rather than offering advice.
“But if I simply leave it unexplored won’t that cause a greater grief?”
“It sometimes can. It just depends on the way you decide to view it.”
Rankin could hardly believe that this was the same person that was so secretive and mysterious the night before. After eating they gathered up the horses and rode forth. On foot it would have taken the better part of three days for them to reach Rankin’s home; on horseback they would arrive in just one day. They figured that they would reach the town just after darkness had fallen. Rankin told Graine of his love for Jetilu and of how kind hearted she was. He told Graine of her blue tattoo and of how it reminded him of the open sea. Graine could tell that the man that rode beside him was not a fighter in any way. He felt a little bad for taking all of the gold, but after all, this was just business.
Regardless of how fast they pushed the horses the sun would not hurry and set. It took it’s own time in going down, and eventually all they could make of it were wisps of ash-orange moving through the swaying branches of the trees. Once darkness had fallen they slowed the pace down. They continued to talk, and in those talks they both discovered that they were quite similar; each held the same views on may topics. About two hours after sunset they approached the corn-field. A gentile light illuminated the town itself; something that Rankin had never seen before.
Graine sat in silence, then urged the horse onwards. Rankin could feel the excitement welling up inside of him as thoughts of Jetilu filled his mind once again. He wondered how surprised she would be to see him back after only being gone for four days. As they grew closer they could make out that the light illuminating the town were embers. It was almost a surreal vision that made it’s way to Rankin’s eyes. Panic began to set in as he quickly drove his horse forward. Graine was close behind.
Most of the buildings were in ruins. They had not seen the smoke to the darkened shroud of night. Rankin swiftly took his horse down the road to his home. The buildings on either side of the street were so badly thrown down that he hardly recognized the road. They approached Rankin’s house, Graine always looking over his shoulder. As they dismounted the horses Rankin spoke;
“This used to be a peaceful town.”
“It is not the town I distrust, it is the people within.” Graine replied.
Rankin gave a silent reply as he looked on where his home used to stand. Everything was gone. Not a single thing in the town moved. Perhaps they had all fled. Rankin finally gave into his own worst case scenario of thoughts and wondered desperately at what had happened to Jetilu. Rankin simply turned and looked away. Graine quietly walked up to where the door had been and look in at the rubble. Darkness still covered everything; but the burning embers were bright enough for him to see a blue tattoo on an arm buried under the fallen burning beams of wood. Graine immediately felt a twinge of hurt in his mind. This poor fellow had just lost everything he had ever had; his family, his home, and his love. Rankin turned back and looked at Graine. Graine gave him a knod. Rankin wanted desperately to break down, but he refused to allow himself.
After giving Jelitu a burial they got on their horses and began to leave. Rankin kept looking back just hoping to see Jetilu running after him. She never came. With a heavy heart Rankin followed Graine out of the town and into the darkness that was to the north. Rankin did not sleep very well, but the next morning, while they rode, he explained to Graine what he had been able to put together…
“We must continue to the Village to the North. I have nothing else now. I would also ask that you have pity upon me and put an end to my suffering so that I may be with my dear Jetilu once again.”
“Rankin, I cannot do as you ask. It is not a good thing to harbor those thoughts. They will only cloud your mind and cause for great suffering.”
“And should I not feel the need to suffer right now? Am I not in pain?”
Graine remained silent, as he knew Rankin was indeed in great pain and suffered deeply.
They traveled to the Village to the North, and found nothing but a dead and empty village. No evidence as to why it was destroyed were ever found. All the while Graine protested that it could not have been the Brigands. They simply lacked the numbers and the organization to pull off something of this magnitude. Much less to do the same thing to Rankin’s village. It would seem to be something that would forever remain a mystery…
For 4 years Rankin and Graine remained friends. Graine talked Rankin into returning to the Keep in the far reaches of the south. He trained Rankin in the ways of fighting and self defense. Rankin’s preferred weapon of choice was a staff; that same staff that he had brought with him all those years ago. He kept it with him always as a reminder, for it was the only possession he had left that reminded him of his dearest Jetilu. He still suffered. Deeply. Regardless of what Graine tried to do for him, that pain would never be released.
Graine oftentimes locked himself away in his study researching some form of “primal forces” that he had heard rumors about. He never talked to Rankin about it; as it was Graine’s suspicion that it may have been someone using these “primal forces” that caused the two towns in the north to be burned down. That could be the only explanation. Rankin would sometimes inquire upon Graine what kept him locked away for so long, but Graine always evaded the inquiries. Others could also tell that something was taking it’s toll on Graine, his eyes were looking heavier and he looked “aged”. Some even questioned his mental health. Often they would hear him talking to himself as he walked down the road.
The two friends were standing at the edge of the massive lake, contemplating a good spot to sit and fish. But the real reason that they had come out here was to practice their attacks and defenses. Rankin took his staff and held it to his side, Graine simply stood there, concentrating on what was going to happen next. They had spared over the years, and Rankin had become quite a good fighter, but his abilities were still no match for those of Graine. Graine had been practiced in many different styles of weapons, from a simple dagger to the delicate art of psionics. Rankin raised his staff with both hands and moved in quickly. He caught Graine off guard and brought the staff down hard upon his left shoulder. Graine let out a feeble grunt of disgust.
“Ugh! I should have seen that one coming!” Graine simply said.
Rankin remained silent. He knew he was getting more skilled with his staff.
Again he came in fast with the staff, but this time Graine was prepared. He sidestepped to the left and brought his right arm around so that it caught Rankin square in the back; Rankin was pushed forward, almost loosing his balance. He turned around fast and swung the staff low, hoping to catch Graine’s shins. Graine tried to jump over the low attack, but his right foot was too slow and the staff made contact. He fell to the ground and felt the dirt under him; hard and rocky. He slowly stood up and closed his eyes. Rankin was getting the better of him; and he could not understand why. For years Graine had practiced with Rankin, and for years Graine held back, never wanting to deflate his friend’s ego. He stood there reviewing the situation and reflected to himself that perhaps Rankin had been holding back as well. In the midst of contemplation Graine failed to notice the staff coming at him once again. Perhaps he had simply been blind to it; but he fell again, just the same as before. He laughed at the skill his friend now possessed; it had been a few months since last they spared like this.
From the edge of the tree line a single man came rushing out with a tribal scream. Graine rushed to his feet in time to see the sun glint off of a long silver blade that this man carried. Within seconds he was upon them, rushing right towards Rankin. Rankin took a defensive posture, but it was too late; the silver blade cut deep into Rankin’s arm, causing both his staff and blood to fall upon the ground. Rankin stumbled and fell to his knees seeing only the silhouette of the man, for the sun was directly behind him. Rankin saw the man lift his sword up as he prepared for the deathblow. Suddenly the man fell backwards and Rankin could see small tendrils of smoke rising up from his body. Graine had let lose with something; it almost sounded like a massive whoosh from a wounded bird. The man lay there dead.
“What was that you did?” Rankin asked in a worn out voice.
“It is called EnergyLance. It can reduce even the mightiest of enemies down to nothing in the matter of seconds, but it is exhausting to form.” Graine began to pant and felt lightheaded, but he continued to speak; “I have not done that in a long time.”
Rankin slowly got to his feet and looked down upon this fallen man. Many thoughts entered into Rankin’s mind. He had never seen a dead body this close up before; save for when he and Graine buried Jetilu all those years ago. He picked up his staff, held his bleeding arm, refusing to let Graine look at it.
“I can take care of it myself.”
“I do not understand, Rankin. I just saved your life!”
“But at the cost of his! You had other options! Killing this man could have been avoided!” Rankin appeared to stammer. Clearly something was going on in his head.
“Rankin, he was moments away from splitting you in half! I had to think quickly. I made a fast decision; it was either him or you.”
Rankin began walking in silence, his sleeve getting darker and darker by the moment with blood from his cut. Graine made attempts to speak but Rankin wanted nothing to do with the conversation. Graine felt a ping in the back of his neck; something was boring its way in. Guilt perhaps. But that was a silly notion. What other choice did he have? As he had said it was either the crazed man’s death or Rankin’s death. He searched his thoughts and tried to think of anything else he could have done to prevent any of this from happening. Graine also had waves of confusion, such as; if Rankin was so sympathetic to this unknown dead man, why simply walk away and leave the corpse to rot? Graine’s thought process allowed for that to happen, to leave the poor soul to rot. That was the way of life; the food chain so to speak. But he knew that Rankin’s thought process was different than that.
After walking for close to an hour Rankin began to use his staff heavily, as a crutch. Graine made a move to try to help him walk; but Rankin simply turned to him and told him to back away.
“I give you this warning, and it is only given because you have been my friend; it is unadvisable to be around me right now. Your actions were done in haste; I understand the choice you had to make; but it was the wrong choice.” Rankin put extra inflection on the word “wrong”. Graine walked behind, his mind now fully clouded in confusion. After another few moments they arrived at the front gate to the Keep. Rankin went his own way, Graine made his way to his own quarters, consumed with wondering what had caused Rankin to react the way he did.
In his dimly lit room Rankin cautiously extinguished the only lit candle, leaving him in pitch black. He moved to the bed, sat down and in a hushed whisper began to speak;
“My dearest Jetilu, in this darkness may it be that once again we can be together. When I close mine eyes I can still see your image, although it is but now a faded memory. Where once was hope and light, now only darkness reaches. I had a chance at finding you today, but my journey was halted by Graine. I know he meant to save me, but in doing so he has only condemned me and has caused my suffering to prolong. I know that I cannot end my own life. That would be a great disrespect to every ounce of love I hold for you. Jetilu, my love, I long to once again be in your arms. I long for this veil of darkness to be lifted.” Slowly Rankin’s voice trailed off into silence, and in that silence tears fell quietly and crashed upon the wooden floor as he sat holding his head, for he realized at that very moment what he must do.
Graine awoke with a start. He saw the silhouette of someone standing over him. A candle on the table next to the door was in such a position that it caused the shadow to jump and move at odd angles on the ceiling. He then felt a sharp, cold, pain enter into his chest. Upon instinct he let lose an unintelligible word and the figure standing over him was thrown back and momentarily stunned. Graine got to his feet, and felt the pain grow more intense. He reached up and pulled the tiny dagger from his chest and with a wave of his hand the wound began to heal, however, the pain still lingered.
“Now let’s put some light on the subject…” With that Graine snapped his fingers and the staff beside his bed began to glow. Beside the door, still stunned from Graine’s discipline. The light from the staff showed the intruder’s face. Rankin.
“What is the meaning of this? What has come over you Rankin?”
Slowly Rankin got to his feet and began to speak, “You had a chance to allow me to return to my Jetilu! You took that chance away from me! And I will not rest until you pay for that!”
Suddenly it all became clear to Graine, “Or until I destroy you?”
“If that is the result of this cause, then yes!” With that Rankin charge Graine, pulling his own staff out and swinging in a rage.
Graine quickly moved his staff up to parry the oncoming attack, and in that same instance he twisted his staff around effectively disarming Rankin. Graine then formed another discipline, this time leaving Rankin blind. As Rankin stumbled around waving his arms madly Graine was easily able to subdue him.
“You cannot stop me Graine! I will hunt you down to the ends of Arcturus! I blame you for my prolonged suffering! You should have put an end to me when I asked you to all those years ago and if this is the only way to accomplish that then I shall continue to hunt you! And if not you then someone else!”
“I cannot allow that Rankin.”
When Rankin’s sight had returned he found himself in a darkened cell. He recognized it as being below the Keep. He had been down here twice before, but never on the inside of it. Graine stood just outside of the bars and looked in.
“I cannot allow you to go free Rankin. You can threaten me all you wish, I will never bring harm to you. But you threatened the lives of others. That I cannot allow.”
“You are bringing harm to me by letting me live! Do you not understand my pain!” That last question was directed more as a statement, however.
“Of course I understand your pain! Your Jetilu mean more to you than your own life! I can understand and appreciate that, but to try to kill me in an attempt to get back to her is not the right way! Do you think that she would want you in her arms knowing that you took a weapon and caused defeat to a friend? Rankin, I do understand your pain, I too lose my love many years ago! I do not go to sleep every night without thinking of Ethiwen! I do not wake each morning without thinking of Ethiwen! I know your pain Rankin! But trying to kill in hopes that you will be reunited with Jetilu is wrong! Think about that! Think about the pain you would cause others by your own selfish actions!”
Graine stood there a moment waiting for Rankin to reply. He never did. Instead he sat down upon the small bed and looked blankly into the darkness of the cell. Graine pulled his wool robe around himself and left. Rankin sat there thinking about what Graine had said. He sat there knowing that the rest of his days would be spent in the confines of this cell. He knew that he would forever remain in the darkness of his pain. He knew that his suffering would never leave him.