The githzerai sat at his desk and stared into the shifting void before him. Back when he fought more wars than he signed scrolls, he might suspect an enchantment. He’d focus his iron mind and clarity would rush in like stream water over a flesh wound. Since he’d taken a desk job nearly forty years ago, however, he’d experienced this very feeling periodically. Its source was neither talisman nor potion; the githzerai had simply been sleeping poorly.
He hadn’t slept well for weeks, not since his father-in-law had given him that oaken bow. The wood was beautiful and strong. He’d taken the bow home and placed it above the mantle in his parlor. Looking upon it, he’d felt that his house, which had always been more of his wife’s creation, had finally made a place for him. The comfort stayed only shortly. By night he saw disturbing visions, looters streaming through his house, picking it clean, fire in the streets. Each night he’d close his eyes and live a different life, this time an official marched to the gallows by a screaming mob, the next a child cowering under his bed as warriors did terrible things to his screaming mother in the next room.
He’d told himself over and over again, “It’s not the bow that haunts me. It is merely the shadows of my past wearing the skins of my daytime acquaintances.” Just the same, he’d moved the bow to a prominent position behind his desk at work. The dreams lessened in intensity, but never abated.
The githzerai had no purpose for the bow – he no longer hunted, the thirst for battle had left him with age, and he had far finer military-grade weapons hidden throughout his house for use in the event of a break-in – but he couldn’t bring himself to dispose of it. On the day that Sazeran presented the bow to him, the githzerai had said, “Thank you for our generous gift, Saz.”
At first Sazeran had frowned. He said, “You misunderstand me, my son. I do not give to you something that belongs to me. I return to you that which has always been yours. I believe when we first met, you called this bow True Shot, no?”
Try though he might, he simply could not recall those early days. This created a strain in their relationship because Sazeran himself was quite fond of those days. Though his memory no longer served him regarding these things, the name of this oaken bow had never left him. “True Shot, yes.”
Though the githzerai had nearly no connection to his early experiences, the outline of his past had been recounted to him so many times that he’d become a good student of his own personal history. He had been the sole survivor of a githzerai war party that had come to this plane in order to assault an Iuzian platoon desecrating a forest with their arcane energies. Though he was only ten years of age at the time, he’d wielded the most powerful bow on the battlefield, a boy wielding a man’s weapon. When he became Sazeran’s ward, all things githzerai left him, his tribal battle gear, his memories of his family, and that great oaken bow; the githzerai had learned to live as a human. He’d enjoyed great success and prestige and taken Sazeran’s daughter Iseley as his wife. He’d become a legend by the age of twenty and retired to a simple life shortly thereafter.
“I must make a confession,” Sazeran had said. “I kept True Shot from you because I did not trust you. It shames me to say it, but it is true. You were a fierce warrior, and I feared that one day you’d find me among your enemies. To return this bow is by no means expiation. No. But I do it no less. You are my son and heir and this is your bow.”
The githzerai could no more rid himself of this bow than strike Sazeran dead with an arrow fired from its string. The old man was dying after all, and such heartbreak as that would be hard enough to endure in good health. Sazeran himself admitted that his end was near. He’d said, “I could commission another arcane ritual to keep me around another ten years or so, but to what end? Even now I’m little more than a walking corpse.”
He looked at the oaken bow, the source of his morning haze, and when the knock came upon his office door, he jumped. The mustachioed face of his workmate Jurgen appeared through the opening door. He felt an all-too-human surprise at the deva’s otherworldly blue tinted flesh. His judgment might have been considered ordinary among his peers, but not to the githzerai, who also claimed an otherworldly origin.
“Good morning, Wiliken,” Jurgen said. “You are still going by that name, yes? Perhaps I should call you the githzerai formerly known as -”
“What’s on your mind, Jurgen?”
Jurgen smiled. “Will I be seeing you at Valgaman’s party?”
“Party? What party?”
“Valgaman the Terrible,” Jurgen said. “He’s throwing some sort of sporting event. You should have received an invitation in your inbox.”
“Inbox?” The githzerai scanned his desk and saw a scroll that had previously escaped his notice. He held the scroll up. “I’ll let you know.”
“I’ve asked around. They say that Valgaman is… connected. Not attending might be hazardous to your well-being, to put it bluntly.”
“Consider me well advised.”
Jurgen must have read the disdain in the githzerai’s voice because he exited without further discussion. This gave the githzerai the opportunity to read Valgaman’s invitation. He’d scanned only the first line – “You are cordially invited to Valgaman the Terrible’s Menagerie of Death” – before he was struck with a stabbing headache which left him crumpled upon his desk in a feverish sweat. It took him no short amount of time to recover, and even afterwards he was left with a strange sense of urgency and the absurd negative of some sort of caged pack animal – a camel – across his field of vision.
The githzerai drafted a quick letter confirming he would be in attendance before going home and spending the remains of the day in bed. Prior to leaving the office he gave the oaken bow an accusatory look. An inscription on the side of the bow stared back at him, a phrase in rellanic that he didn’t have to read so much as his blood sang it:
For you too were once a slave.
Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 2