It was raining heavily. The sky was a dark ceiling pouring down water on the ground as if it wanted to drown whoever was living down there. The rain didnít make any difference between good and evil, fine people and corrupted. Its darts fell upon everyone and everything. In the nearby city, lights shone from every window, but the paved streets were empty as if the city had been abandoned. The storm made everyone a coward. As the sound of distant thunder shook the earth, people covered behind their closed doors, basking in the dry light and heat in the safety of their own homes.
The road leading to the city was by now nothing but a straight line of thick mud stretching out towards the wilderness. The rain whipped at the road, and the vegetation beside it seemed to shrink from its unmerciful touch. A short distance away, at the outskirts of the widespread forest, a large pine tree overlooked the road, its heavy branches seeming to mind the rain less than the surrounding trees. Beneath those branches was a small space, just large enough for a single person to take shelter.
A man crouched under the pine, hidden from the rain and from the watching eyes he could never forget about. His clothes were dirty and torn, and he was still soaking wet from the rain outside his small refuge, but he had given up attempts to dry himself up. It was impossible to light a fire under the tree branches, and the air was too moist for his clothes to dry anyway. Besides, he was used to this kind of discomfort. He had been a refugee for longer than he cared to remember. Longer than any one person should have to, he thought bitterly.
Although he still looked like a young man, hardly more than a boy, he was older than any human being had the right to be. He had seen generations come and go, never staying long enough in one place to make people notice how he never grew up, never grew old. He never returned to a place except when the people who had once known him were dead. He was a wanderer, a refugee, a person who should have been dead long ago. He was cursed.
If only he could have taken his own life, he would gladly have done so, but that would have let the evil loose on the world, free for the taking by any ambitions individual who desired its power. Suicide would be practically handing it to her. No matter the cost, by staying alive and hiding from her, he saved the world every day.
But he hadnít spent all his time hiding under trees in the rain. There had been times, many of them, when he had actually tried to settle down, build a life, immortality be damned. As long as no one realized what horrible curse he carried, he would be safe, or so he had told himself countless times. He sighed. He had been wrong every time. She was still looking for him, after all these years. He just couldnít allow himself to let his guard down. To trust anyone.
Closing his eyes, he let his wet brown locks cling to his forehead. It had been only three months ago, the last time he had fled from a place that could have been home. Only three months. A blink of an eye.
"Asmon!" the girl giggled. "I knew youíd be over there!" She ran over the little beach, her bare feet leaving imprints in the sand and her long red hair waving in the wind. She was beautiful, the man who called himself Asmon thought. Too beautiful. Then he turned around without a word and started walking out into the water.
"Hey!" she called. "Come back here! I went through all the trouble of finding you - Iím not going to let you run away now!" Resolutely, she threw the outer part of her dress away and followed him into the water, laughing again. That girl could never stay serious.
"Krillia." Asmon finally said as she came closer to him. He realized he couldnít just ignore her. She would never accept that, and he didnít want to ruin the fact that she had accepted him for almost two years now, along with the rest of her village. "I just wanted to have a swim. I like this beach. What are you doing here?" True to his words, he started to swim outwards, with Krillia tagging along beside him.
"I just wanted to see you," she replied. "You spend so much time alone, I donít think its good for you. Youíre young - you should have some fun with other people!"
Young. Asmon hadnít been young in since before her great great grandmother was born, but there was no way he could tell her that. "Maybe," he said instead. "But maybe I just like being with myself. Maybe itís actually better that way." My presence here endangers you all, he thought, and if any of you find out my secret... "Thanks for your concern, but Iím alright, really."
"I donít believe you," she pouted. Well, she tried to pout while swimming, which looked a bit odd, although it didnít seem to bother her. "I think everyone needs friends. Someone to talk to. Someone to trust." Suddenly she grabbed his ankle and made him stop in his tracks. Staying afloat, she whispered, "I care about you. Youíre not like the other boys in the village, I know that. Youíre different. Youíre special. Why donít you... open up a bit?"
Asmon drew a deep breath as if to say something, but then he held it and dove into the water under her. Slipping free from her grasp, he swam underwater back towards the shore. When he surfaced, she was also swimming back again. It seemed she was laughing again, or at least smiling. He frowned. Krillia was a beautiful girl, and he had suspected for a while that she liked him. But this...? He could never Ďopen upí to her the way she wanted. She was too innocent, too much of a child to be allowed close to him and his burdens. He shook his head. If only he could turn her down in a way that she would understand...
Standing firmly on the bottom, he waited until she came close to him again. "Krillia," he said, "I..."
He never got any further before she jumped up and caught him in a big hug. "Please...?" she said. "Donít you trust me?" To emphasize her point, she kissed him, lightly, on the mouth. She seemed perplexed when he didnít react.
"Letís go up and get dry," he suggested.
While on the way up, Krillia suddenly noticed something odd about Asmon. He had been swimming in his short pants, which was not strange, but he had also been wearing his gloves. "Hey," she started, "why were you swimming with your gloves on?"
Asmon closed his eyes in resignation. Carelessness. He hadnít expected anyone to come and see him while he was swimming. The thin leather gloves were almost part of him by now, and his main protection against watching eyes - both near and far away - that would notice the Rune he had engraved on his right hand. One of the 27 True Runes of Power.
Now that right hand clenched into a fist. "Oh, the gloves," he muttered. "I must have forgot to take them off. What does it matter?"
"Nothing..." Her grimace was somewhat thoughtful. "Itís just that I donít think Iíve ever seen you without those gloves. Is there something wrong with your hands?"
Asmon almost smiled. "Yes," he said. "Actually, Iíve got a scar across my right hand that looks absolutely horrible. Iíd rather no one ever saw it, thatís why I keep the gloves on."
"Ah..." She nodded. "I see. What happened to you to get such a scar?"
"Is this an interrogation?" He turned away. "I was in an accident a few years back. It was when my parents died." True enough.
"How awful." She put a hand on his shoulder as if trying to console him. "Are you sure you donít need to talk about it? Asmon... Youíve never told anyone what actually happened to you before you came to this village. Youíre silent... You must be carrying so much pain on your own." She stroked his back softly. Was this the same giggly Krillia that Asmon thought he knew? "There is more to you than meets the eye," she said.
Asmon turned to face her. "I could say the same about you." If only things had been different. If he had been younger, less hardened. If only he could bring himself to trust her.
She took his right hand in hers and stroked it. "Maybe if you..." she murmured, then looked him in the eyes. "Can I see your scar?" she asked.
"No!" Asmon almost yelled and tried to pull his hand away, but it was too late. With almost impossible ease she had already pulled the glove off his hand. The rune, for the first time in many years exposed to the light, glimmered faintly, but Asmon hardly noticed. He pulled his hand away, instinctively clenched both hands tightly against his chest, and screamed, "What have you done!?"
She swallowed. "Iím sorry," she said in a low voice. "I thought that maybe... but it wasnít a scar, was it?"
"No." The person known as Asmon shut his eyes tight. It had all happened so suddenly, and the rune could sense his emotion. It was free from its confinement and his hand, no his entire right arm was throbbing with its power. He could hardly control it, but if he didnít, Krillia would die. What he carried was a Rune of Death.
"Run," he whispered. "Please run. Donít look around. Iím not who you think I am."
"But..." She hesitated.
"RUN!!" he shouted. "GO! Get out of here! Now!" And she did.
The man sitting under the pine tree in the rain slowly shook his head at the memory. He had done the only thing possible under the circumstances - he had run too. That was another village he could never return to within the span of a lifetime. The girl would never see him again, and it would be better that way.
The rain was still showering down outside the thick branches, and it looked like it would keep up for at least the rest of the night. Maybe it wasnít such a good idea to wait out the rain in here after all. He was still cold and wet, he realized with a shiver. The thought of going back out into the downpour wasnít an appealing one, but he had been following a road towards a city when the rain surprised him, and that city was probably not too far away. Unless he wanted to kill himself by catching pnemonia, which would be worse for the world than for himself, he needed to find an inn and get dry.
The rain hit him like a hammer when he came out of the shelter, but he tried to ignore it the best he could. He found the mud-covered road and chose wisely to walk beside it rather than on it. There was no need to get even dirtier than he was, after all. The city shouldnít be far away.
Fortunately, he was right, and it wasnít long before he could see the towering city walls through the half-darkness and the raindrops. Frowning, he tried to remember the name of the city. It had changed, since the last time he was there. Then, it had been a village out in the wilderness, but now it was the capital of the Scarlet Moon Empire, ruled since four years back by an Emperor named Barbarosa. He was said to be a good and fair ruler. Now he remembered - the cityís name was Gregminister.
Shaking the raindrops from his eyes, he approached the city gates. He was fortunate again, they were wide open. The last few years had probably been peaceful enough for the city to put its guard down. Few would try to raid the capital of the mighty Empire. Even in the heavy rain it looked impressive, house upon house in neat rows, pouring friendly light out onto paved and tidy streets.
It didnít take long to find an inn. He stumbled in, blinked a few times to get adjusted to the light, and took a deep breath of relief. He found himself in a wide, well-lit and warm common room. Despite the size, most of the tables were empty - most people were probably safe in their homes during the storm. But that didnít matter. Compared to outside, any place that was warm and dry was heaven, and this looked like a rather nice inn.
A heavy black haired woman in a white dress was sitting behind a desk in the back, but she rose as soon as she saw the man come inside. "Oh, dear," she said. "Another youngster seeking refugee from his angry caretakers a night like this one?"
"Ehhh..." The wanderer didnít know what to reply to such a strange statement. "Iím sorry, could I have a cup of hot tea, please. Iíd like to warm up a bit."
"Of course, of course, you too," she replied, and left for the kitchen to get the tea.
The man looked around to find the best place to sit down, and found that the inn was not completely empty after all. There was a young boy sitting at one of the tables nearest to the fireplace, sipping at a cup of tea of his own. He wore the fine clothes of a wealthy personís son, and when the wanderer approached, he looked up.
"Hi!" he said. "Some weather we have, donít we?" He motioned at the chair opposite his. "Come on, sit down. Iím sure Marie will be here with your tea any minute."
As he sat down, the strange boy offered to shake his hand. "Iím Ranil McDohl," he said. "I donít think Iíve seen you around before. Whatís your name?"
He took Ranilís hand and shook it. "Pleased to meet you. Iím..." suddenly his mind went blank. Usually, he just made up a new name for every new city he entered. A name was what people remembered him by, and he didnít want to be remembered as himself. Names meant little more than time to one cursed by immortality. But now, holding the hand of this young man, it was as if all of that had changed. He didnít need a new name, he needed an old one. His first name, his real name. He almost smiled. "My name is Ted. Iím really glad to meet you."
The innkeeper, Marie, arrived with his tea, and as the fire dried his clothes and the tea warmed his body, Ted found himself, if not completely at ease, at least more comfortable than he had been in many years.
"I had a little fight with Gremio," Ranil admitted. "Heís my fatherís servant, and I really like him, but sometimes he just worries too much about me. So I ran off to Marieís place - I know I can always count on her." He smiled, a fond smile. "So what about you? What are you doing here in this kind of weather?"
"Iím not from around town," Ted told him. "I was traveling along the road when the rain surprised me - I was lucky the city wasnít very far away."
"So youíre a traveler?" He seemed rather surprised. "But youíre so young - Iíd say youíre not a day older than me. Why are you traveling all by yourself? Where are your parents?"
"Actually..." Ted sipped his tea while trying to figure out a believable lie that he hadnít used too many times before. He met Ranilís eyes over the rim of the teacup, and it struck him the boy had very peculiar eyes. So completely honest, at the same time powerful and kind. He was hardly more than a child, but those were the eyes of a commander, the eyes of a man who would some day change the world...
Ted dropped his gaze before his staring would be too obvious. "Itís a very long story," he said simply. He just couldnít lie to this boy, but the truth was too unlikely to be told even if it had been safe to do it. "But I donít have any parents. They were killed a long time ago."
"Oh... Iím sorry to hear that. Do you have any place to stay?"
"Well, this seems like a nice inn, doesnít it?"
"Of course itís a nice inn, but you canít stay at the inn forever." Ranil cocked his head and frowned. "If youíd want to, Iím sure I can make my father let you stay at our house. Heís General Teo McDohl - no one will object, and we have lots of empty rooms in the mansion. There will be no problem with us, all the servants are really nice..."
"I donít know..." He made friends so fast, this McDohl boy. As soon as he had realized that Ted had no home or family, he wanted to help. Such a... good person.
Ranil noticed his hesitation. "Itís OK. Donít you trust me?"
They had only just met. And Ted had learned never to trust anyone, especially not strangers. But to his own surprise, he smiled. A real smile this time. Maybe, just maybe, Ranil could be his friend. "Yes," he said. "I trust you."
Author's Note: I have no idea if the hero of Suikoden has an "official" name out there. If he has, I'd be happy to know. As it is, I simply used the name I made up when I played the game. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my interpretation of Ted. As always, feedback is very welcome. /Shayera