Friday, July 13, 2012

Change Yourself, Change the World: Crippled

One, two, three, four. Canna proudly counted her earnings while wiping the sweat from her brow and stuffing the handful of coins into her pocket. The day’s work was over, and for the violent vixen it was time to piss part of her salary away at her daily sanctuary. She pulled her hand out from her pocket and caught sight of her palms for what felt like the first time in ages. Her skin was rough and defined alongside the slender contours of her fingers, and calluses armored her palm against the strains of her daily chores. She clenched her hand into a fist and smiled delightfully as she felt each muscle tense with power at her command. Her hands were still small and delicate as was Jude’s, but there would be no doubt that these were not the hands of a satisfied individual.

Canna started on her daily walk paying mind to every landmark she passed on her regular route. The City of Dragons had become a familiar sight to Canna after spending the past eleven months making a home in its alleys. The failing infrastructure and uninspired architecture poorly represented the proud cultural beauty that foreigners would experience inside of Arkhosia’s inner districts, but even along the slums Canna could call this place home. She casually stepped over a shallow gash on the street beneath her feet as unconsciously as she would breathe, and she had started to learn tolerance against the eternal Arkhosian humidity. She was surrounded be darkened alleyways housing criminals of all sorts, but Canna never felt more comfortable in her life. From her time in the warehouse and the occasional job for Grash Company she was starting to amass a decent sized bank, but she had yet to even briefly consider moving away from this sordid holyland.

The rookie mercenary’s aspirations began and ended with the expectation of another joyous night spent inside the Dragon’s Den with the company of vagabonds, ruffians, and scoundrels, but her expectations became concerns once she felt the atmosphere around her usual hideout. The Den was quiet—an impossibility considering the thin tavern walls struggled to muffle any noise on a usual night of festivities. The air was distinctly cooler, and the roof was no longer rimmed with a winding trail of smoke billowing out through the various cracks in the Den’s rustically charming structure. Canna never felt hesitation or fear grip her as she walked by dozens of drifters preying on easy victims, but she felt a slow terror flow through her arm as she reached out to open the warm oak door. It opened without conflict; ensuring Canna that the tavern wasn’t closed for an unknown Arkhosian holiday as she hoped. Instead, it slowly swung open to reveal her refuge only to see it eerily empty sans one massive figure who sat at the back of the bar; his face darkened by the faint glow of a single lantern above his head. Though shrouded in shadows Canna could still recognize her mentor by his goliath frame and distinct cobalt hue, ye Canna felt she was staring at a stranger.

The mammoth dragonborn remained silent. His powerful golden gaze was all that pierced the hush, but they said nothing. They merely watched as Canna tentatively shuffled over towards his table. She studied the scene a dozen times over trying to pinpoint the cause of this bizarre meeting, but all she could notice was the missing drink normally seen clutched tightly in her mentor’s claws by this point. “Let me guess: Garmin ran out of whiskey, so you ran him out of town?” Canna’s attempt to diffuse the situation with humor failed as Cormag took a deep breath before addressing his student.

“Some issues are so important they bear you to address them sober.” Cormag’s voice was devoid of its typical charm. His face was stern and cold—it reminded Canna of her mother’s face right before one of their near-daily arguments. The reminder sent a chill up the teen’s spine. Canna had never seen a similarity between Jude and Cormag up to this point, but the cold, distant stare was unmistakable. “I want you to return home. Back to Southgate, and back to your family.”

Even in a room so empty it felt as though the world came to a stop with that statement. Canna scoffed at the request. “Nah, I’m doing really good here in Arkhosia. I’m learning a lot, I’m getting stronger… There’s not really anything back in Southgate I’m missing right now.” Canna hoped that would be the end of it, and the two drinking buddies could go back to indulging on booze and sharing stories. She knew that wasn’t going to be the case, but she kept a smile on just in case.

“You can go back to your family. Lend your help to your father in the forge, or find a job in some industrial part of Southgate. You have experience now.” Cormag suggested this change so casually, as if mocking the true emotions he knew Canna held for such a notion. The teen’s smirk started fading away as she bluntly put an end to the idea of returning home.

“No. I’m not fucking going back.”

“I wasn’t asking you to go. I’m telling you.” Canna’s smile disappeared completely. She had heard those words her entire life and almost exclusively from her mother. Jude often spoke them after demanding Canna’s assistance with housework or chores that the temperamental teen would adamantly refuse. Drunken voyeurs haven’t started as many fights as those words had, and now Canna had to hear them coming from the mouth of the only person she respected anymore.

During her time in Arkhosia Canna had gotten aggressive with nearly every denizen of the Dragon’s Den. She had started fights with every member of Grash Company at one point or another with the sole exception of the leader. She always treated Cormag with reverence. If he said something that got on her nerves she brushed it to the side. If he mocked her, she would laugh with him. Even when he directly insulted her, intentional or not, she never acted upon her natural inclination to be hostile due to a respect she held for a man she had started to see as a second father. That respect, however, had left with her grin.

“Fuck you, Cormag. I don’t answer to you.” Canna’s eyes burned with a powerful intensity that seemingly took Cormag by surprise. The dragonborn’s head jerked to the right as though responding to a vicious haymaker, and he let out a loud guttural sigh that sounded as the low rumbling of a slighted monster. Cormag clinched his massive fangs closed to keep himself from uttering a myriad of phrases towards the arrogant teen. He restrained himself from an outburst only to find he could do nothing to break the silence. The tension sat on the duo until the stress became stagnant and Canna could return to a more moderately polite mien. “Why the fuck would you suggest something like that? You know why I don’t want to go back.”

Cormag had survived for years into the dangerous world of mercenary work by approaching all situations as a realist. He cursed himself for being na├»ve enough to hope he could end this conversation without revealing the truth. “I received a letter from up north. Seems some of the allied armies are looking to send a scouting party over the wall, and Grash Company was recommended.” Canna’s face glowed as her mind fluttered to process this news.

“This is great,” she replied, an expectant grin returning to her face. “We can finally go over the wall! Finally take our lands back and get revenge for all we’ve lost—Why the hell would you think I wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!” Canna’s anger had been replaced by a dumbfounded confusion; a friendly bewilderment as though teasing a chum for their forgetfulness. Cormag flexed his enormous arms as he forced back a surge of self-hatred. He knew what he was about to say had to be said, but he despised himself all the more for having to be the one to say those words.

“Because you aren’t coming. This is a job requested to Grash Company, and you aren’t good enough to be a member of Grash Company.”

“W-what?” Canna’s lip quivered as she spoke. Her face expressed more devastation than her response. Her eyes were widened in shock, her jaw slightly dropped, and her breath was plucked right from her mouth. Months of camaraderie urged Canna to treat this as an overtly severe example of one of Cormag’s usual teases, but the teen could sense the reluctantly sincerity in the dragonborn’s voice. “What do you mean? I’ve proven myself a member of Grash Company for months!” Canna’s voice cracked more than her confidence. She kept waiting for Cormag to smile and reveal the whole thing was a joke, but his forlorn, yet stern scowl never shifted in the slightest.

Cormag dug a talon into the table as he tried to filter his anger through any means possible, but it failed to clear his mind. “You’re short. Your arms are too small. Your swordwork is fundamentally flawed. Your endurance is subpar. You know nothing of alchemical compounds or advanced mercenary supplies. You can’t ride a horse. You’re too easily emotionally manipulated, and you’re a weak link in the team dynamic.” Instead of calmly explaining her shortcomings, Cormag rattled off a list of various concerns he’d thought of ever since taking the teen under his tutelage. He immediately regretted his lack of tact as he watched his pupil’s thin knotted muscles tense.

“Fuck you!” Canna screamed without restraint. “Don’t treat me like I’m some fucking rookie that’s off the street! I’ve fought your men week after week at your request! I’ve fought by your side—I’ve fucking killed for you! Don’t pin this on me just because you’re running away from me just like you did to your father!”

Cormag screamed in response as he tossed the table between them to the side as he stood up. He towered over Canna, his nostrils exhaling thin wisps of smoke as embers gathered in his throat. He bore his fangs as he glared down at the unflinching teen who returned his stare with one of her own. Neither entity would yield in this standoff, but Cormag would not ignore such a personal insult. “No, it’s because you’re weak,” he responded, voice dripping in a guilty contempt. “You’re the daughter of a housewife and you will never be a mercenary with a frail body like that. It’s not your destiny to do this, so accept the impossible and go home. I’ll carry your will over that wall along with my father’s.”

In the span of a single conversation Canna’s respect for Cormag had turned entirely into a vicious loathing. She couldn’t comprehend hating someone more than she hated her hero right now, and the anger took control of her body. Instinctively she stood up from her chair and straddled her legs while raising her arms up in defense. Cormag looked upon Canna with pity for the first time since meeting her. Though his veins still burned with anger, he knew the forgone conclusion was going to leave this relationship bitter and irreparable. For a moment, the pity took control of him, and he pleaded for the violent vixen to come to her senses. “Canna, you can’t win against me. Just go home before thi—“

“Fuck. You.” Canna’s words were blunt, but the message was clear: she held no more respect for the leader of Grash Company. She would not yield to his requests, and she no longer cared to hear them.

Comrag shook his head. How did it come to this, he thought. This girl was his student. She was his drinking buddy, his confidant, and ultimately a daughter. It made him sick to think of what he was about to do. Still, another solution never popped into his head. It would have forever killed him to leave without telling her, and worse yet she could have followed after him and this situation would ensue once more. He could write to the Corbett family, but he held too much respect for Canna to meddle in her family business against her will. The only other choice was to bring her along to fight against an enemy the world’s greatest army couldn’t conquer, and that solution was the most unthinkable of all.

Tired and defeated, Cormag threw his arms up to welcome an attack. Canna reacted quickly to take advantage of the opening, but Cormag was going to mercifully end the slaughter quickly. Canna had aimed a kick right at her foe’s ribs, but Cormag easily caught the attack. He held Canna’s leg between his claws as she dangled helplessly in his grasp. He waited for some sign of forfeiture or submission in the teen’s eyes, but even in this most vulnerable state she was defiant. “I’m sorry,” Cormag uttered in a hush before slightly exerting his immense strength and breaking the teen’s leg like a twig. Canna screeched as pain shot through her body. Cormag attempted to gently drop her shattered leg, but Canna thrashed wildly in response. She rolled across the filthy tavern floors clutching her leg as she belted out profanities in between intermittent screams. Cormag had to turn away, but his daughter’s cries pierced his meager defenses. “Canna, go home to your family, and live a long, healthy life. Please.”

Cormag wasn’t sure if Canna could hear him, but he uttered the sentiment regardless. It was a poor return for all of the grief he’d just created, and he knew it. He wandered towards the backroom where he met Canna the first night she stayed in Arkhosia. He opened the door and turned his attention to Garmin who gave the dragonborn mercenary a disgusted glare. Cormag accepted it without resistance; his own self-hatred already far more potent than anything the bartender could offer in a single stare. “Take care of her Garmin. Please.” Garmin shook his head as he tragically came to grips with what had just transpired. “She’s going to need medical help. Get her to Father Donato so that he can heal the leg.” His words were drained empty with barely a hint of humanity in them. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a large bag of gold before placing it in his friend’s palm. “Use this money to get her set up in a nice inn for a few nights, and… well I have to get going.”

Garmin had listened to the stories of his customers for years. He knew the tragedy of every sod who opened the doors, but he never meddled in their affairs. He was not a psychologist, and he had no right to assume he knew more about other people’s problems than they did. Still, he found himself obligated to speak in the wake of this disaster. “Do you really want to end it like this?”

The two fell silent as Canna’s wails echoed through the room. The two dragonborn could hear her sobs muffled by thick wads of mucus building up in her throat. Both men knew these weren’t tears in response to a physical pain, and Garmin turned to his friend expecting an explanation. Instead, the leader of Grash Company patted his old pal on the shoulder and walked off. Canna’s cries carried with him even for miles outside of Arkhosia. That night he spent hours trying to get to bed without hearing the sickening snap of her leg anymore. The sin he bore was great indeed, but he was lucky in comparison. For Canna, the pain was only just beginning.

--

This was a part I’ve been looking forward to writing for a while now because of how important it is to Canna’s character. A lot about Canna can be explained in this part, and much of it is most relevant now considering what has happened in the past two sessions. The biggest reason why Canna has been so resistant of accepting her own feelings towards Zelas is because of how burned she was after Cormag. She didn’t have romantic feelings for Cormag like she does Zelas, but she did think of the dragonborn as a father. In addition this piece also serves as the first instance of Canna coming face to face with her own weakness—a theme that will be very prevalent throughout the Avandra arc.

To explain it briefly though, Canna is very much like the kid in a shonen sports series who has all of the heart and one of the talent. A bit like Yukimitsu from Eyeshield 21, though I wouldn’t say he’s an inspiration. More so Canna is a bit more like Komusubi who was unfortunately cursed with his mother’s frame. Canna looks almost identical to her mother in a physical sense, and her body’s limitations are shallow compared to most others. I’ll explain this more later, but ultimately Canna is just unlucky that she was born with the body she was. She has the spirit and passion to conquer Drow armies, but genetics is the one foe who defeated her before she even had a chance.

I also want to talk a bit about Cormag since this is the final piece he’s present in. Ultimately I ended up really happy with the way he turned out, and since he’s confirmed as alive in Shadowlands there’s very likely going to be a meeting between the two which will be… you know I still don’t know how Canna is going to react yet. I’m actually very eager for that moment, and very thankful Peter established his presence but still kept him far enough away that Canna won’t have to meet him until she’s ready. Anyway, Cormag for this part sort of crumbles in his integrity as he basically abuses Canna emotionally and physically for the desperate sake of protecting her. The truth is that Cormag’s feelings for her caused this to happen as Canna likely could have survived over the wall (albeit briefly), but Cormag’s desire to keep her safe made him forget that fact.

Instead Cormag ends up as a bit of an anti-hero, and he’s definitely not the same inspiration that Leon was. Showing the differences between the two was something I was adamant about doing as Cormag is not Leon. Leon understood Canna because he basically was her as a child, and like Canna he had no special talents. To him, going over the wall was always a risk, so that’s why he never encouraged Canna to run away from her dreams. Cormag on the other hand is physically blessed. Stands at over seven feet tall, strong, well-respected, and clearly sharp in terms of strategy. He’s the definition of what you would expect as a hero, so he can’t help but notice the inferiorities of those around him. He’ll never understand Canna completely because he was blessed whereas she was cursed. The two could still be amazing friends, but ultimately that lack of understand is what doomed them. Once again, it will be very interesting to see what happens when Canna meets Cormag again.

Now one little piece of trivia is that originally the fight at the end was going to be even more brutal as Canna was going to shout so many things at Cormag that he would get so irritated that he would break her jaw. I decided against it because I thought too much brutality would take away from the moment, and I’m glad I did because it makes the one act he does make very tragic.

Finally, a few people have commented on my grammar. Trust me guys, I know my grammar sucks. Hell I still maintain my writing sucks for the most part, but I am aware I make mistakes. I don’t have editors for these pieces, and I’m five years removed from my high school days. If you catch a mistake I make, just leave a comment about it and I’ll try to fix it. I’m currently reading more books to remind myself of writing rules, but obviously there will be mistakes.

Anyway, that’s going to be all for this week. Have a good one everybody, and don’t forget to catch Shadowlands this Sunday at 6:30 eastern at Twitch.tv/MechaGM!

4 comments:

  1. A good read like the rest Rollo T. In fact your writing out Canna's backstory in segments detailing important events has become sort of an inspiration for me to do the same with my own D&D characters, putting a lot more thought into them. Keep up the good work, and looking forward to the next part.

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  2. Sorry about the unhelpful comments on the grammar. I did find some things that you could do to improve the piece. You really can't have a "?" and a "!" together at the end of a sentence. Also don't put an "..." anywhere other than the end of a sentence. There are just some basic grammar tips and the things I found with a very cursory glance.

    Finally, the beginning exposition about Canna's growth doesn't flow well. It might just be me, but parts in a story where a character is describing themselves, especially in a mirror feel very forced and clunky. It probably would have been better without her perspective. That's just my opinion though and you shouldn't take it as a final verdict on what you should do.

    Other than that it was a good read. You have a good voice with drama and subtlety when it comes to characters. The characters actions felt very natural. I look forward to reading what happens next.

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  3. Well I just finished reading all of these CYCW over the last couple of days and I'm loving them man. It took a while to get started because of the wall o'text appearance but I'm glad I finally did. Can't wait for the next entry and of course the next session.

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  4. Just caught up on the last two (missed last weeks with all the drawing, sorry about that ^_^). Both were very enjoyable to read and the final note you leave Cormag on is very interesting. Considering how Canna is actively searching for Cormag in the campaign, I'm very curios to see how she will react when he does return.
    I remember that you said you wanted to create mentor figures that were very 3 dimensional (not just a reason for a character to grow but a character themselves) and I believe you achieved what you set out to do (especially since you created very distinct differences between Cormag and her uncle, it would have been very easy to have them play out similarly consideing the circumstances that they both leave in).
    Loved the Cormag arc and looking forward to more of your writing RolloT. Onward Avandra arc.

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