The Horned God is crowded this evening. Your drink in hand you skirt the crowds looking for an empty table. There are none available but some of the tables still have room for people if their occupants are willing to share them. You spot a table where only a lone person is seated and move closer. You see a white haired, middle aged man nursing a cup of tea sat at the table. He appears to be of Asian descent. You address him, motioning in the general direction of the crowd you ask if he would be willing to share his table. He nods. Thanking him you put your drink on the table and seat yourself. The man has already turned his attention back to his tea. Amidst the murmuring of the crowd your table feels like an island of silence, as it stretches on you try to strike a light conversation. You introduce yourself and inquire for the stranger’s name. Instead of answering you he pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and shows it to you. There is a single word on it, Ryjalon. “'Ryjalon'? That's your name” you ask. The man nods while putting his piece of paper back into his pocket. A moment passes in uncomfortable silence, then another. Clearly it's up to you to keep the conversation going. “Do you come here often” you ask. Ryjalon shakes his head. “I hear the last show at the Crusades was quite a success” you offer. Your opposite gives you a quizzical look. “Not a local then?” He shakes his head. “What brings you to this fine city of ours then?” Ryjalon shrugs his shoulders. “You're... not much of a talker are you?” He looks at you with a slightly tilted head, then shrugs his shoulders once more. “Alright what's up with that, are you mute?” He seems to consider how to answer the question, then his expression changes as if he just had an idea. Ryjalon takes out his faction issued cellphone. He begins to type something on it, slowly, searching for every single character on the keyboard. After he finishes he turns the screen over for you to read what he has written. you want to hear my story? Intrigued you confirm that you want to hear this strange character's story. Ryjalon pulls a small velvet bag hanging from a rope around his neck out from under his shirt. From the bag he takes a black polished object. He places the small object in his palm and holds it out for you to inspect. It seems to be an ordinary stone. As you reach out for it Ryjalon withdraws his hand, indicating you may look at the stone but not touch it. Ryjalon turns the stone over in his hand. You can see marks on this side of the stone, they look like they might be eastern characters. He returns the stone to the bag and takes up his phone again. As you watch him hunt for the right characters you think to yourself that he certainly seems to be the kind of person who could make two phone calls in the time he writes a single short message. If he would speak that is. Eventually he is done and turns the phone over for you to read. this form of communication is so clumsy, inefficient. i wish you knew to read the signs they have taught me. as you have already surmised i can not - no, will not - speak. i have done something unforgivable that has cost me my life. not in the sense you may initially assume as i am still very much alive. my life does not belong to me anymore. the stone i have shown you is my mark of servitude. i am beholden to whomever is in rightful possession of it. simply having the mark does not give me my life back as a servant can not be a master under normal circumstances. in my recent past occurred something terrible and wonderful that has made me an exception to the rule, so long as i obey other rules. Ryjalon puts away the phone for the moment and pulls something else from the pouch hanging from his neck. He shows it to you, briefly, before he places it back inside the bag and puts the bag under his shirt. It is another stone, this one white and chipped, slightly stained with something and with a different character on it. He pulls out his phone again and begins typing, then turns the screen over to you. this stone represents an oath. through pain, blood and loss i was given the opportunity to take command of my life in exchange for a pawn. what they have asked of me is my voice, a pledge not to spill their secrets and never to return to my home country under my own power. should i break my oath they will take the stones and command over my life from me. this is why i do not speak. i shall have to find a more efficient means of communication than this. Ryjalon waits for you to finish reading, then scowls at the phone in frustration and puts it away. You agree with his last statement but can offer no assistance. His story however has you interested, hearing the rest of it seems like it's a good way to spend the evening. And it may well take him the whole evening to spell it all out. You offer to get him another cup of tea in exchange for the rest of his story, he requests something with a little more punch but otherwise agrees. It seems like he's relieved to have someone to share his story with. By the time you return from the bar he's almost finished with the next chunk of his story. i hope you're aware that this will take a while you have to realize that this account will not be accurate. there are things you will not understand, details i can not tell you about. i was a soldier, i suppose. carrying out our commands without questions or variance was what was expected of us. it was all we were. the populace knew of us, they feared us for the most part, interfering in our missions could mean death to any of them. we meant them no harm but i have to stress again that carrying out our missions took precedence over everything else. if our mission required no witnesses to be left we left no witnesses. if our mission required haste there was no stopping to help anyone, no matter the circumstances. on the other hand, if our mission was to help them, we would dedicate our all to it. following a disaster we would usually be under orders to help. putting out fires, searching for survivors in collapsed buildings. rebuilding. distributing supplies. tinged with their fear of us was also respect. we *never*, actively, took a life without orders to do so. it was a good life. if it was possible i would go back to it. but this is only wishful thinking, after the sins i’ve committed i can never go back. first, let me tell you of my fall. of the night i lost my life. a spy stole something of our masters' but fumbled his escape. he triggered an alarm. i was ordered to pursue and retrieve the spy and what he had stolen. he gave me a merry chase through town. i was hot on his trail when my path led me across a quarrel. two men had backed a street urchin against a wall, another child lying at their feet. the men noticed me and despite being stupidly drunk they recognized me for what i was, causing them to hesitate. i should have left then, chasing after my mark. but something about the urchin caused me to linger. the way he (or she? i'm not certain, even after replaying the scene in my mind for so many years) looked at me then seemed oddly familiar, stirring a half-remembered memory i didn't have. i think you call it deja vu. that instant was my downfall. one of the assailants must have misinterpreted my hesitation as a decision to intervene. he lunged at me with a knife. i did not think then, letting my body take over. the next thing i remember is his body lying in front of me, broken. the other man was gone. i tried to pick up the spy's trail then but was not able to do so. all that was left to do was return to my masters, defeated, and accept my punishment. not only did i abandon my mission but i killed a man without orders to do so. the sentence, as you know, was the loss of my life. Ryjalon hangs his head in shame, then begins typing again. You decide not to interrupt him with questions and wait for him to finish typing. what is to follow are my years of servitude. having lost command over my life i was brought to... you lack the right word for it. the closest translation would be traders but it fails to convey the full implications of what they do. they trade in lives and promises. they bind servants -the vast majority of which choose this path voluntarily- to their marks of servitude and sell the marks on to the future masters. money is never directly involved with the traders. those who choose servitude willingly are given a promise in return, though never for themselves. those who wish to trade for a mark give the traders a promise. the rightful owner of a mark can do whatever he pleases with his servant, although the responsibility for the servants actions rests with the master. if a servant is ordered to commit a crime it will be the master bearing the sentence. a lot of marks are not kept by the initial master for long. they are sold off or traded in an effort to recoup the cost of whatever the promise to the traders was. i was a great many things to as many masters over the years, some of them knowing what i was, some only having the faintest idea. assassin, bodyguard, debt collector, clerk, valet. a cook, once. i have fond memories of serving as a bodyguard for a business man. i've seen most of the world traveling with him. my mark was sold, traded, lost in gambling and given away in thanks many times over those years. twice my master died without passing the mark on to someone else, forcing me to wait where i stood after carrying out their last order, unable to take action until someone took possession of it You can't contain your surprise at this and have to ask “so you just stood there doing nothing at all until someone happened to pass along and picked up your... stone? And then you'd do whatever they pleased, just like that?” He nods then tilts his head slightly, questioningly. Apparently he sees nothing strange in that behavior. You decide not to press the matter and let him get on with his story. Ryjalon takes a deep breath and steadies himself, then continues typing. eventually, my mark would lead me back to my home. an official dealing with my people was giving my mark away as a birthday present to a priest's son, in an effort to curry favor for an oath i suspect. my new master was barely an adult. i have no exact knowledge of my age but it was obvious he was several years my junior. at first glance he was frail and had the pale complexion of someone spending the majority of his life indoors. my initial orders were simple, keep the boy company. i spent most of the first days conversing with my master, i took over the position of his personal servant and hardly ever left his side. it quickly became evident that with nothing to do except learning the secrets of his father's trade and reading whatever books he could get his hands on he possessed a wealth of theoretical knowledge of the world. yet he had seldom left the premises of the family's estate and never left his hometown at all. i was recounting tales of my travels and he eagerly absorbed all of these secondhand impressions of a world both familiar and strange to him. occasionally he would stop me to explain the workings behind a phenomenon i had mentioned. we both learned much from these exchanges. before long he would sent me to fetch him specimen of nearby flora and the like to examine. once he asked me to smuggle him into town so he could look at a strange animal a wandering exhibition had brought to town. i was, of course, encouraged to keep him safe by his father but those were merely the priest's wishes and not my master's orders. ours was a good master servant relationship. as time passed the distance between us shrank. i may have been the closest thing he had to a friend up until that point. i would not have minded for those three years to stretch on for all eternity. When you finish reading and turn your attention back on him you notice Ryjalon silently staring into the middle distance. You see his jaw muscles moving. With a jolt his thoughts seem to return to the here and now, he retrieves his phone and begins typing anew. at the end of our fourth year i would have gained command over my life and would have lost everything worth living for. my master's training was complete. he was ready to take over his father's position as a priest when the old man's flame expired. this should have been years later. at my master's request i had begun teaching him self-defense. not the techniques taught to me during my old life, mind you, but basic techniques you can pick up in evening courses the world over. as a result he stopped looking like a gust of wind could blow him over. this contributed to a whole new problem for me. something subconscious had begun ...resonating within me at times when my idle thoughts dwelled on my master. i... wasn't sure what to do about this so i put off dealing with it until a more opportune occasion presented itself. i got my wish of not having to deal with the consequences of my feelings, in the way fate likes to corrupt whatever we wish for. to this day i don't know what caused the next events but even if i knew i couldn't change the outcome. someone wanted the old priest dead and they either wanted to make an example of it or it wasn't a matter personal enough for simple assassination. that evening my master was in the old man's study. they were discussing something pertaining to their faith so no outsiders were permitted. apparently their gods don't like sharing their secrets with the uninitiated even if they can be sworn to absolute secrecy. so i was waiting outside the door. then the world had gone completely silent, i found myself a ways away on the floor and the door and much of the study was gone. what remained was burning for the most part. searching what remained of the room i found the old man, barely alive and horribly maimed, and my master who was better off, if not by much. i wanted to get my master into medical care right away but was stopped by him. through his own shock and my slowly returning hearing he ordered me to make sure his father was dead, then fetch him a casket from his room. i did both without being able to form any semblance of coherent thought. i extinguished the old man's life, robbing him of the seconds or minutes it would have taken him to die on his own then hurried to get my master the casket. when i returned my master gave me my next orders. when he was done i was to take the letters he would write to the traders right away, without stopping for anything. he took ink and paper from the casket and began hastily scrawling his letters, placing my mark of servitude with them. then he requested me to sit next to him and took the white stone i have shown you and a small blade out of the casket. he opened his veins with the blade, placed the bloodied white stone on the letters and embraced me, all the while smiling at me. i held him until his eyes grew dim. i watched myself fulfilling his last orders to me as i took the letters along with the stones and made my way to the traders. without stopping for anything. i left his body in the burning room. i don't remember how i got to the traders or much of what happened then. until i found myself sitting face to face with a terribly nervous trader in a dimly lit room. i could see shadows hurrying about in the twilight and voices mumbling but the only figure i could get a clear picture on was the one in front of me. something had them in an uproar. between my counterpart and a disembodied voice from the shadows talking to me i learned a bit of what had happened to shake them so much. my former master had done the unthinkable. one of the letters confirmed his father's death and his own assuming the position of priest. the other letter proposed a trade. a priest could offer up his life to the gods in exchange for a favor. this was almost never done, the only records of it are in legends where a priest sacrificed himself to overcome dire straits through divine intervention. my former master had done it to make the traders an offer they couldn't refuse. they would get a favor from the gods, something impossible to even consider, if i got command over my life, something equally impossible. after much discussion on their part establishing that they could indeed somehow claim that favor from the gods they decided to take the deal and offer me a trade. i would become my own servant, in exchange i would guard their secrets, never return to my home country under my own power and never again speak to anybody. i suspect they added that last condition to spite me and it certainly works. they have taught me signs to communicate but outside my country they aren't terribly useful. i'm still looking for an adequate remedy to that situation. so anyway, with that they set me on my way. i went where everyone leaving their old life behind goes, to the new world. i was contemplating putting an end to my pain by getting myself killed but it felt like that would cheapen the sacrifice of my former master so i decided against it for the moment. without any goals i just tried to get settled in in my new life but it didn't take long for fate to run interference again. a short while ago my spiritual energy just started manifesting itself. it wrought havoc on my accommodations. just when i had managed to suppress that i was shanghaied to korea. some weird organization seems to have decided i have joined their ranks. whatever, they don't seem to care much about whether i do what they want me to or not. my more immediate concern is that apparently death stopped being effective for me. that, and other invitations made years ago when i was not at a liberty to take them. so there you have it. the story of my lives as much as i care to recount using this blasted thing as a means of communication. fate's a bitch and i'm starting to hate text based communication. right now i'm just putting up with all the weird shit going on because it serves as a distraction from my pain until i find some way to alleviate it. something worth living for. in the worst case maybe once i fulfill whatever purpose the powers interfering in my life have in mind for me they'll allow me to end this. You are unsure what to say, bits of his story are still moving around in your head, trying to paint the bigger picture that caused the unlikely account you just read. Ryjalon puts away his phone indicating that this is all he is ready to tell you for now. You seem to notice the slightest hints of conflicting emotions flashing over his face but you're not certain. His story is a lot to process and he doesn't look to be in a mood to carry on with the conversation. You decide to bid him farewell for now and see what you can do with the remainder of the night.