Ten years ago this month (3 weeks from now, to be precise), one of my best friends, Stephen O, first took people into a world he calls “Caeln”. It was ten years ago this month that I first began to play what remains perhaps one of my favorite characters of all time: Aric Seles, paladin of Ilmater from Toril. Transported through time and space to a squalid town called Stahl, which overlooked a vast desert, Aric faced many challenges, and rose above them, even choosing to worship a forgotten god named Delá and all but single-handedly reviving the religion of this benevolent deity. The campaign ended far too soon, but those 18-20 sessions are some of my favorite ever spent around a table rolling dice.
What follows is the background I wrote from the first discussions of my character and the game world with Stephen.
The Journal of Aric Seles
When I was younger, I regularly visited my aunt and uncle at their home in
Valls. I usually spent part of my summers there, and had gotten to know a small circle of kids my own age. My summers there were usually fun, if uneventful.
The summer of my thirteenth year, I arrived with the caravan as usual, and ran all the way to my uncle’s house. I walked to the door, and I could hear a heated exchange. “This isn’t the best time for the boy to be visiting,” my aunt said in her authoritative tone.
“We shouldn’t overreact. It’s probably no big deal. After all, we see quite a few travelers.” I could tell that my uncle was worried, though. He never used the phrase “it’s probably no big deal” unless it was a big deal. I knocked on the door, and they greeted me warmly. I asked if anything was going on, but both of them said that a strange man was in town, and to leave it be.
For the first couple of days, I did. I helped my uncle each day with his shop until around noon. That’s when I would be allowed to go play on the edge of the village with the other kids. Bor Bloodfeathers, Sergor Danforth, the twins Kara and Mara Vaasa, and I would all go swimming in the pond nearby, or go walking through the woods. One time, we discovered an orc patrol headed toward town, and were able to get back in time to warn everyone.
During my thirteenth year, though, we did nothing special. Contrary to what my aunt and uncle said, all the talk in town was about this mysterious stranger, and his magical sword. We all agreed that a magical sword was something we had to see. Despite our best efforts, the Mysterious One – as we came to call him – was not to be disturbed by us. The innkeeper at the Sword’s Fall told us in a shaky voice to stay away from him.
As is the way with small villages, everyone’s parents found out what we were trying to do. One by one, each of us found our freedom restricted. I was the instigator, so they weren’t allowed around me. That’s how I found myself on my third day in town. I was alone.
My aunt gave me a few coppers, and told me to get dinner at the Iron Throne. It appears that she and my uncle were going to a secret council meeting.
Unhappily, I realized that it was across town from this stranger. Since I knew disobeying, even for a look at the magical sword, was out.
Upon arriving at the Iron Throne, I saw Bor and Sergor at a table in the corner, talking animatedly. I ordered dinner, and they explained that the “secret” council meeting was all about this stranger. I knew it had to be about him, since that’s the only thing we had heard for the last two days.
Bor was gesturing with a chicken leg like it was a sword when I heard the inn’s door open and shut. Bor’s eyes grew as round as saucers, and an unsettling hush fell over the room. Sergor glanced up, but immediately went back to his dinner. I noticed other people turning around and quickly turning back. This was probably my best chance.
Turning around, I glanced at the figure. Standing over six feet tall, the stranger was nearly covered from head to toe in black. At his side he wore a bastard sword that looked expensive from the minor look I received. The most disconcerting thing about him, though, was his eyes.
Turning back to my meal, I saw that my friends’ chairs were empty. They were leaving. “Where are you going? I just got here,” I said in dismay.
“I was told to, uh, come home right after eating,” Bor said. “My ma would skin me alive if I waited any longer.”
“Me too,” echoed Sergor, and followed Bor. I, however, had not yet really even begun my dinner, so I sat there and ate. I noticed that what townsfolk who were there were withdrawing.
After finishing my meal, I stood up, and paid the server. As I turned to leave, I looked in the Mysterious One’s direction. He was staring back, right at me. I got a little light-headed. He scowled briefly, as if he thought of something he didn’t like.
I finished dinner, and decided that I had better go before I was the only one left in the room with him. For some reason, I didn’t feel safe. I started walking toward the door, and realized he wasn’t looking at me. I took a closer look at his sword.
I could only see the hilt from the angle I was at, but that was enough. The guard flared out from the sword, forming a stylized “V” that arced toward the blade. Something was etched on it, in a script I couldn’t understand. The grip was leather-wrapped, and well-worn. Despite its wear, it showed signs of extreme care.
It was the pommel that drew my attention, though. The pommel stone was some kind of dark red gem. I immediately thought of a ruby, and nearly cringed when I realized that the stone had a flaw in its center. By this time, I was standing there, staring openly. The flaw had some kind of design to it that I could not quite decipher. I found myself leaning for a closer look, heedless of the danger this man posed.
That’s when reality came slamming home. He was staring right at me. I would almost say he was trying to burn holes in me with those cold eyes. He looked me up and down, and said, “Mind your own business, kid.” With that, he turned around to his dinner.
Just like that, I found myself outside, running home. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he turned away. He switched his frown to a half-smile, and chuckled darkly. I have done many things that scared me. That is without a doubt, though, the single scariest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life. It was like trying to face down Bane or Cyric, when either of them knew they had the upper hand.
I arrived back at my Uncle’s house in record time, and went straight to bed. Somehow, my Uncle always knew when I was lying, hiding something, or when something was wrong. I wasn’t in bed more than five minutes when he was there, asking what the matter was. I kept trying to tell him that nothing was wrong, but he just looked at me the way adults do, and I found myself explaining the dinner, the sword, and the eyes.
“What did I tell you? I said for you to stay away from him. There’s something that isn’t right with him,” my uncle nearly shouted. “You’re not to leave this house unless I or your aunt is with you. You should have better sense than to go nosing around someone that dangerous.” I accepted the tirade silently, since I knew I had brought it on myself. He left only once I nodded and said that I would do as he said. Strange, but it almost seemed to me that he was afraid.
Once, during the night, I was awakened by loud voices downstairs. My aunt and uncle were having an argument. When I strained to hear what it was about, though, I heard my aunt say, “Shh, quiet. Do you want to wake the boy?” After that, I heard nothing, and quickly fell asleep.
That night, I had the first of my nightmares. I dreamed I was running from the dark man, and then I was running from the pommel stone. It was rolling, rolling relentlessly, and I was losing ground against it. I knew I was going to get crushed by it. Finally, I ducked down, and it rolled over me. I looked around, and didn’t see it. I felt better, until I bumped into the flaw. I had been drawn into the pommel! It was then I noticed that everything seemed to be dripping blood. A ringed hand thrust out of the blood, grasping for me. The hand clasped my shirt, and I only had time to notice a silver ring with a purple stone in it, before I awoke in a cold sweat. I couldn’t fall back asleep until nearly dawn.
It was three hours past dawn when I finally awoke. I asked my aunt why I was allowed to sleep in, and she explained that they both heard me thrashing about in my sleep last night. “In fact,” she said, “that’s why your uncle isn’t here. The town council has called a special meeting, about the stranger. They’re going to ask him to leave town. Your uncle has been gone since just before dawn. However, I’m sure he’ll be home for lunch.”
She was so convinced, so certain, that things would return to normal that I almost believed her. However, that’s when I remembered the red crystal stone with its flaw. I tried to puzzle out my dream, but could not make anything out of it. I was certain that the dark stranger was the cause of it, though.
Lunch time came and went, and we still never heard from, or saw, my uncle. The sun was well on its way toward the western horizon when we finally heard something. People were shouting, and running toward the center of town – where the council hall was located.
I had a feeling something was wrong, and took off running. I felt my aunt’s hand attempt to catch me by the collar. Soon, I arrived at the hall. My gaze found the door, and blood was seeping out from under the door. I started forward, but was grabbed by a constable.
By now, my aunt had arrived, and we watched as another constable related a tale of how he came to check on the meeting, and found the door sealed shut. He tried to force it, but couldn’t get in. It was then that he began to hear the tortured screaming, accompanied by a loud, dark laugh. Not even a window would break. “Going in there now would be suicide. We can only hope that he leaves us alone,” the one who had my arm commented, eyes wide with fear.
The remaining wizards in town attempted to get inside the building. Something happened, though, because one of them fell lifelessly to the ground. The others ran directly away from the building, screaming a variety of gibberish as they disappeared. The constable let go of my arm, and began to sob, muttering about his father, who was trapped inside. I don’t really completely remember what happened next, but pieces of it still appear in my dreams.
I walked to the door, and pulled on it. It opened effortlessly. “Why,” I wondered, “did everyone think that the door was jammed?” A scream caught my attention, and I saw my aunt racing toward the doorway as the door slammed back into place. Trying the door, I learned that it was as solidly locked as it had been outside. Why was I allowed in? I didn’t care for this turn of events.
Having no way to go but further in, and bolstered by some inner strength, I looked around. There was blood pooling on the floor. The blood was running from under a door, which I assumed lead to the meeting area. As I approached it, the door swung inward on its own! My courage almost failed me at that point; however, I pressed on.
The scene to which my eyes were treated then was not fit for a battle-hardened warrior, let alone a boy of 13 years old. The walls were covered in blood. There were corpses everywhere. It wasn’t that they were dead. Someone had played with these bodies. There were few enough with slit throats. Most of them were in far worse shape. Entrails were hung around like some kind of demonic decoration. The smell could gag even the hardiest stomach.
Making my way around the room, trying not to vomit, I heard a humming. I looked up, and, sitting in the mayor’s seat, was the stranger. He was looking directly at me as he twirled a green stone across the back of his knuckles. Resting on his knees was the sword that I was so interested in before.
Stretching his left arm out, he beckoned me to approach. I tried to refuse him. I felt that defiance was necessary, no matter how I could show it. My body failed me, though. I walked toward him like an obedient dog.
It was at that point that I nearly screamed. There, on his hand, was a silver ring with an amethyst set in its center. It was identical to the one in my dreams! I saw that the stone was cut into the shape of a crescent moon. My attention was dominated, though, by the sickly green gem that he was rolling across his right knuckles.
He was a sharp contrast to the room he was in. His armor, exquisitely crafted, with silver worked into flowing scripts across the surface, was still shiny. Not even his boots had any blood on him. His sword was so clean that it reflected his nearly flawless features perfectly.
As I finished my marionette-like walk across the gory room to stand in front of him, he looked at me very intently. The moments stretched out indeterminably, each moment causing me increasing dread as to my final fate. Suddenly, his hand reached out, and reached into the top of my shirt. I tried to pull back, but could only manage a meager mewling in the back of my throat as his cold, clammy hand withdrew the amulet that I always wore around my neck.
I had received the amulet from my father when he had journeyed to the coast several years ago. It was a fairly plain sort of amulet. More of a pendant than amulet, it was a small eagle worked in pewter strung on a simple black rope. The eagle looked as if it had been captured in the moment it took off. The wings were uplifted, but in a “V” shape. It offered a profile of the eagle’s head, in whose eye was set a small gem. It was blue, so I liked to think that it was a sapphire, although I know my father wouldn’t buy something like that.
Holding it in his palm, he returned his gaze to my eyes. Looking directly at me, he said, quite clearly, “Dulanewaeth fae-scoarchein?” Since I didn’t know what he was saying, I just looked at him blankly. For some reason, this upset him, because he sighed, and released the amulet. Then, in perfect Common, he said, “Do you know why I killed all of these people?”
“All who attempt to impose their will on me die. My name is Dimitru. I am fae-spawn, and I bring death to life and darkness to dawn.” Not waiting for my reply, he began to recount his tale.
According to him, he was a traveller looking for someone who would be able to help him find his way home. His search finally led him to Valls. He approached some of the wizards in town, but had been summarily rejected. Tired from the road, he decided to stay in town a few days to rest. His features twisted slightly at this point, meaning either that he was some sort of demon, or his was a deep abiding hatred. “However, the townspeople decided to rid themselves of me. They were going to kick me out of town, like some common rabble. I knew why they had a meeting. Oh, yes. I came to the council to give them my side of the story. You’re standing in my side of the story now.” He gestured to the gruesome mess around the room.
My jaw was slack from the sheer horror laid before me. This… monster… murdered the town council, and a considerable number of wizards in town. I couldn’t think of why he did it, but only the fact that he did it so effortlessly.
Seeing my horror for what it was, he laughed a dark, yet melodic chuckle. Then, his smile faded, and the hand that was twiddling the green gem shot out, and caught my head in an iron grip. He stared directly into my eyes, and said, “You will help me, young one. You may despise me, yet you will take me home.”
The next thing I remember was my aunt standing over me, sobbing uncontrollably. I braced myself to stand up, and realized that I was as weak as a newborn babe. Covered in a sticky substance that was crusting as it dried, I realized that it was blood. Whether it was mine or another’s, I didn’t find out, since that was the moment I passed back out.
The next time that I woke fully, I realized that I was in a wagon. Sitting up, I saw that I was headed more or less east, which meant that I was going home. This effort, though, caused me to fall back to the bed of the wagon, and fall back asleep.
The nightmares were there, waiting. They happened differently, but they always came back to Dimitru catching me. Once, he said that he was watching me. However, when I started to moan, something liquid was forced down my throat, and I fell into a deeper sleep, rather than waking. I realized I was stuck, and couldn’t get out.
Finally, in one nightmare, he had me cornered, and I was begging for my life, but he casually said, “No, no, no. You see, I need your entrails to go home. I don’t need you, so you can leave…..if you can live without the rest.” I stumbled back as far as I could go, and unconsciously grabbed my amulet.
Suddenly, I realized that I had no real reason to fear him. In fact, I pitied him somewhat. The overriding sensation, though, was that he had to be stopped, along with anyone else who would commit such atrocities with complete disregard for human life. I knew what I must do. I prepared to face him down, and that’s when I noticed a skinny, old man step between us. I was certain that the old man was going to die, but instead he slipped into a defensive martial arts pose.
The old man glanced back at me. “Go, young Aric. Your destiny lies in another direction. Wake up. Wake up. Wake-“
“-up, Aric, please. You’ve been unconscious for too long.” My mother’s soft crying was the first sound I heard upon awakening. I opened my eyes, and weakly acknowledged that I was awake. I had never seen her so happy, then or since.
It wasn’t but about another two days before I was out and about. During that time, I received a letter from my aunt, admonishing me to tell no one what occurred. Strangely, the letter vanished that night. I didn’t care what she said, I told my friends in my home town, who laughed at me, and thought I was trying to get one over on them. The only one I got to believe me was told by my mother that I had had a terrible fever, and was delusional most of the time I was gone.
On my fourteenth birthday, I noticed the old man who had protected me from Dimitru. He was in a carving on the local church. It’s at that moment that I realized that Ilmater himself had intervened on my behalf. That night, I told my mother that I wanted to go to apprentice at the temple. She initially said no, but I kept at her, and finally, after two months, I became the newest acolyte working at the temple of Ilmater.
It wasn’t long before I was made a squire for Sir Evenwood. Rumor had it that, in years past, he had aided a group of individuals in stopping a plot against the Confederation of the Silver Marches. No one knows for sure, though. It was certain, though, that Sir Evenwood had unusual skills for a paladin of Ilmater. He never talked much about his past, but he took great care of me.
My time serving the Church of Ilmater was anything but uneventful. One night, I had taken longer than I meant to in running some of Sir Evenwood’s errands. It was late, and I felt that I shouldn’t take the direct route back to the temple. Instead, I cut down a side street, and doubled back a couple of times. I should have been worried about the path I took, since I went down some dark alleys, but I didn’t. The next morning, I learned that there was a murder right outside of the temple. The youth who was murdered was found still wearing an eagle pendant around his neck. The boy’s lower half though, was no where to be found.
This wasn’t the last time I saw signs of Dimitru. From time to time, I’ve caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye, only to turn and see no one. I wouldn’t think anything of it, if not for the red pommel stone standing out. I’ve seen images of places far away, both in time and geography. I know things about random strangers that I would have no way of knowing.
On my twentieth birthday, I was made into a full Paladin of Ilmater. Fasting, I spent the night in seclusion. I was again visited by Dimitru. Rather, Dimitru tried to visit. He was right outside the window of the room, but I didn’t pay any attention to him, so deep were my meditations. It was almost like he wasn’t able to enter. That night, I was told that I must take a new name, for Seles was not safe for me. I decided, based on what may have saved my life then, to take the name Eagleheart. I didn’t use the name Seles until only recently.
After my appointment, I went back to Valls, to see what I could learn. I arrived at my aunt’s house, and found that it was falling in on itself. I stopped a constable, whom I recognized as the junior constable who pulled me back that fateful day years ago. “Excuse me, what happened to Maria Seles? She lived here with my uncle, though he died about six years ago.”
I will never forget the momentary look of stark terror that flashed across his eyes. In a tone that indicated he didn’t want to talk, he said, “She moved away years ago. I’m not sure why, but since your uncle died in that fire in town hall, she probably wanted to get away from the memories.”
“My uncle was killed by a madman wielding a sword with a red gemstone pommel,” I said in confusion. “You were there, your father died as well.”
He looked at me, and said in a barely restrained tone of voice, “You do not remember what happened. You were delirious the entire time you were here that week. What kind of man could kill your uncle? Well? My father died in that fire, the same as your uncle. Don’t you ever dare to speak such a lie in my town again, or – paladin or not – you’ll sit in our jail.” Not wanting to cause trouble, I left.
Over the next two years, I’ve tried to track down what information I could about a “dark stranger” or a “man with a wicked sword”. From time to time, I dream glimpses of the events after I passed out. Dimitru gathered the townsfolk together, and told them that the council died in a horrible accident. They burned the hall to the ground. Later, they commented on how sad it was that the place burned down, as if it was an accident.
I’m not sure why, but time started to erase some of the pain. The nightmares stopped. I began to wonder if I was really that interested in finding him. I helped people where I could, knowing that I wasn’t finding him. The odd thing, though, was that the “sixth sense” that I originally got that night so long ago never went away. It aided me, from not riding into an orc ambush, to knowing which route to take to get medicine to a sick child faster. I began to settle down into my life.
Then, about two months ago, I had my first nightmare since leaving Valls for the last time. They are becoming worse than before. I manage to get rest, but there are times that I wake to discover myself screaming, reaching for my sword. As they worsen, I have begun to wonder if these are signs that Dimitru is up to something.
I don’t know. These nightmares bother me. I don’t know what I can do against Dimitru, but I know that I must stop him. I swear on my parents’ graves, and the knowledge of the truth of that day, almost ten years ago, that I will do what is necessary to stop him from achieving his goals.