Garrek pulled the rope tight, ignoring the muffled sounds from beneath him. The night was pure, the air crisp and cold. The pale moonlight permeated the forest. Harsh shadows threw the landscape into stark relief.
Methodically, he scanned the undergrowth, searching for signs of pursuit. Garrek believed that his quarry was alone -- the ill-fated creature had said it was alone -- but one could never be too cautious. Animals like these often traveled in packs.
Movement below him brought Garrek's attention back to the matter at hand. Apparently, the creature was not through struggling. Easy enough to take care of, thought Garrek, as he backhanded it several times. When the head once again hung limp, he continued tightening the rope. It seemed like a small detail, using the correct knot for the task. But he knew better. Shortcuts, his master had taught him, were for fools who were already dead. Bringing the gag around, he remembered his training.
* * * * *
"Success is in the details!" Master Iron Soul thundered, his sword hacking away at Garrek's defense. "We must be perfect." He feinted to the left and the sword swung around again. "We are not like those foul creatures, inhuman for all that they look like us. Always wanting to deceive, they are. If you give in even the slightest bit, allow pity to sway your hand, you will doom those you love."
Garrek stumbled back, blocking the swing, the words continuing to pound him. "You and you alone protect them from those who would destroy with their crafty ways. Others may be taken in by the beautiful mask that the faerie-kind wear, but you must not be. Never believe their lies. Never trust an offer of friendship." Again sparks flew as the swords struck each other. "Never trust an offer of trade. Always look for the true motive."
Tiring, his child's body still unable to keep up with his fierce determination, Garrek tripped and landed on his back. The words kept coming as his master held a sword to his throat. "This is your mission, why you exist. To keep those you love safe, to protect them, even from themselves. Normal humans are too trusting, too soft. That is why you train; that is why you fight. You are their strength, their weapon, their defense."
* * * * *
Memories, still clear after fifteen years, steadied Garrek's hands as he finished with the ropes. His movements were swift and sure as he set out the blades and prepared a small fire in a covered pot. His mission -- always, his mission. Never again would this fey's tongue deceive. Never again would its eyes cast a spell over a person's soul. His cause was true. He would succeed.
* * * * *
Zellan moaned again. His hair, matted with dirt and blood, flowed over his face, obscuring his vision. Through the blond strands, he could see the human laying out his instruments. Garrek, he recalled. Standing in the corner at the ball, watching all the dancers. Talking with, Katrina, he thought, or Katherine? Zellan had been introduced to her, had talked with her, made her laugh. She had pointed out her betrothed. He wished he knew what he had done during the few hours to anger this warrior.
His journey had been nearly over. Zellan had secured the supply of rare gems his cousin needed for her amulets. He knew that Arisa would be pleased with the quality of the stones he was bringing home. Family fortunes had been rising this past century. His aunt had become a court favorite, relied upon by the queen for her knowledge of the latest gossip as well as her cruel, but quick, wit.
Arisa was being trained by the matriarch to take over the ruling of the family. Once Great-Grandmother was gone, she would be the one in control. Zellan had never had much use for Arisa when they were younger. She had not seemed very promising. Now he needed to make up for his lack of attention, to find a way to make her notice him amongst all the cousins.
Rumors had reached him on this last leg of his journey. Rumors of a new mine that produced purer, clearer fire gems, capable of holding magic without cracking. That was always the trick. So many amulets never made it to market, their fragmented pieces lying in the dust of the workshop floor.
So he had taken a longer route back to his lands: through the Emerald Pass into Sir Usuuke's realm. He had been welcomed with enthusiasm. Filled mostly with farmers and woodsman, the small kingdom had had little to offer the outside world before this. The prospect of setting up trade negotiations with one from the faerie realm had excited the local lord. Zellan had agreed to attend a ball that evening, then view the storehouse of gems the next day.
The dance, as social events go, had been acceptable. Granted, it was nothing like the grand affairs the queen held. For once, Zellan had used his glamour to tone down his appearance so as to not outshine the country gentry. It wouldn't do to give Lord Usuuke ideas about overcharging him on the gems. Instead, he went out of his way to be charming, routinely complimenting the ladies on their appearance, even though the gowns his cousins wore for everyday affairs were more fashionable than most of these.
Just after midnight, he had begged leave of his host, citing his long travels that day as the reason. Wishing to avoid the crowd, he had slipped out through the gardens. A light noise had alerted him to the presence of another, but by the time he turned around, it was too late. His world went black -- then red, as he awoke to pain.
* * * * *
Katherine glanced around the room, her annoyance giving way to anger. The Dance of Promise was coming up in a few minutes, and Garrek was nowhere to be seen. This was their dance. Tonight, for the first time, they would get to dance with all of the other betrothed couples.
She looked around the room. The fey merchant had disappeared as well, she noticed. Irrational fear filled her mind. She remembered little comments Garrek had made whenever the subject of the fey had come up. He made no secret, at least to her, of his dislike of that race. But he wouldn't, he couldn't . . .
Katherine was in the midst of questioning her host when she felt a presence behind her.
"Garrek." She sighed in relief. "I thought you were going to miss our dance."
"Never." Garrek smiled gently down at his love. "I promised you I would be here, just as I promised to protect you. I always keep my promises."
Garrek: Male human fighter 5/cold iron warrior 3; CR 8; Medium humanoid; HD 5d10+10 plus 3d8+6; hp 56; Init -1; Spd 20 ft.; AC 21, touch 9, flat-footed 21; Base Atk +8; Grp +11; Atk +13 melee (1d8+6/19-20, +1 longsword); Full Atk +13/+8 melee (1d8+6/19-20, +1 longsword); SA smite fey 1/day; SQ detect fey, dispel magic, iron mind +2; AL N; SV Fort +7, Ref +1, Will +7; Str 16, Dex 8, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 14.
Skills and Feats: Climb +0, Concentration +6, Handle Animal +7, Jump -9, Knowledge (nature) +7, Listen +7, Ride +9, Search +2, Spot +3; Alertness, Blind-Fight, Cleave[B], Iron Will, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (longsword)[B], Weapon Specialization (longsword)[B].
Smite Fey (Su): Once per day, Garrek can smite a fey with one normal melee attack. He adds 2 to his attack roll and deals 3 extra points of damage. If he accidentally smites a creature that is not a fey, the smite has no effect, but the ability is still used up for that day.
Detect Fey (Sp): Garrek can detect the aura that surrounds fey creatures. This functions like the detect undead spell, except it detects fey.
Dispel Magic (Sp): Garrek can use dispel magic (caster level 3rd) once per day, as the spell.
Iron Mind (Ex): Garrek is immune to magic sleep effects and has a +2 bonus on saving throws against enchantment spells or effects.
Cold Iron Warrior Spells Prepared (3; save DC 11 + spell level): 1st -- bless, doom (DC 12), true strike.
Possessions:+1 full plate, +1 heavy steel shield, +1 longsword, dust of appearance, potion of cure moderate wounds.
About the Authors
Gwendolyn F. M. Kestrel is a managing editor for Wizards of the Coast's Roleplaying Games R&D department. Recent work includes editing and additional development for the revised Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual. Editing credits include Fiend Folio, Faiths and Pantheons, Oriental Adventures, and Magic of Faerūn. Design credits include the Book of Challenges and Dragon Magazine articles. She's a frequent contributor to the Wizards of the Coast website. Also, check out the website she created for her husband, Andy Collins at www.andycollins.net.
Faith M. Price accidentally fell into the adventure game industry ten years ago. Since then she has worked for three game manufacturers and has written for numerous magazines. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.