An autobiographical fiction
being a combination of lies and truth in equal measure
Calllynn watched the ship disappear over the horizon. The hot air blowing off the Desert of Ro made his nose ache and quiver; his people weren't used to the heat, which is why he had booked passage out of Freetown. A short sail and he would have been back home under the trees of Kelethin. He could have walked with the druids once again, and run barefoot through the glades, splashing like he had as child almost a decade ago. He had learned much, traveling the world. Learned that his bronzed skin and pointed ears would earn him enemies as fast as friends.
But by Tunare's grace, he had known glory. Felled beasts with magic and bow, run them up and down the coast like kites on a string. He wore fine leather armors, and had a blade he called Frost Finger. But he had felt the pull of the trees, and hungered once again to take up the cause of his people; he had seen the world, but it was to the Feir'Dal that he was pledged, and he would never leave the shores of Faydwer again.
He had been halfway through his journey across the Ocean of Tears when he saw it. A jut of rock on the horizon. Black like a smudge. Hell, maybe it was a smug. An eldritch tear that only he had ever seen. The ocean's waves crashed against the tall ship's prow, at least 30 feet below; he knew he could survive the jump and make the swim. Upon his return, he would be greeted by friends and family; but to return with a treasure, never before seen by mortal eyes? He would be greeted as a hero.
So now he stands here, his worn leather shoes gripping the gnarled, black rock. The sun has set on him eight times, and his food is gone. After his first swim, he had dragged himself up the rocky crag, and been immediately beset upon by some sort of oceanic goblin, pale blue and tiresome. Each carried little more than their own loincloths. Searching the island took approximately ten minutes.
It was barren.
Calllynn took once more to the sea, his long strokes returning him to the ship's path... but his cries from the frothing surf fell on deaf ears, and the massive vessel sailed past, returning to Freeport. His arms aching, he drifted back to the island, slaying a second pack of goblins. After resting, he made an attempt to swim for Kelethin itself... only to black out in the sea, awaking to find his body washed up against the black rock, once again.
He is going mad. He cannot reboard the ship. He cannot swim to safety. In all his travels, he has made no friends; when he is never found, his family will mourn, but he will not be the first wood elf to die far from the trees of home. Better he had never left, they'd say.
The goblins will come again. Their flesh will be his only sustenance. He has never tasted meat.
So died Calllynn the First, driven mad upon a forgotten rock.
I was 15, and had no friends. That's not entirely true – I had friends, but I had left them behind. My parents, long divorced, had decided that for my sake, they would both move to the same town, albeit on opposite sides. While my mother thrilled to keep me busy, plying me with books and hiking, my father... wasn't sure what to do with a surly son, puffed up with his own self-importance. Years of living in a place that valued brawn over brains had left me – an intellectual but frail youth – rather defensive. In the last three years of living with him, the people I called “friends” were merely those most likely to apologize after their sucker punch left me sprawled.
My father however knew the value of a computer. He knew the time wasting power of games. And more importantly, he knew that the only way I was going to crack out of my shell, was by being given time to be left alone.
Everquest was a birthday present, and it stole a year of my life.
School offered little challenge, and my parents both marveled at their “genius son” who was so hungry to learn that he would do his schoolwork on the bus ride home. I was merely clearly the table for my true passion.
I would play for hours, my addiction running unchecked.
A fervent Lord of the Rings fan, it was obvious to me that I'd be an elf. But I wasn't cruel, and had no delight in evil – that would come later; I could never be a Dark Elf. And the High Elves, for all their grandeur, seemed too close to the preening elite who had looked down on the awkward boy with bad skin and too much blond hair. But the Wood Elf... this was an entire race that I understood, almost instinctually. A love of nature, but more importantly a love of isolation, their frail bodies meant nothing in the scope of the game. Though I had already reached my maximum height of five foot six, I had no interest in being a rugged Barbarian – if a Wood Elf ranger couldn't make a name for himself, despite his diminutive size, what hope did I have?
And then, that fated moment: “Input Character Name.”
I could have written anything. But I didn't want to be some stranger. This character was going to be my new face to the world; he was going to be brave, and deadly, and righteous in all things.
My father had wanted to name me “Peter Kelly”, technically making me Peter Kelly the Third. My mother, fearing that such a name would tie me to a patriarchal legacy riddled with expectation, wanted to name me “Calllynn”, the eccentric spelling a nod to her own Welsh/Fairy past.
The name on my birth certificate is Collin Peter Kelly.
But with a sword in hand, I knew exactly who I wanted to be.
He had been a boy when when the monsters came. Shambling, fetid creatures who wore the skin of friends and neighbors. His own Grandna, lurching across the threshold of their white stoned home, dead and gone for almost a half decade past. Her face had rotted, replaced by a slough of wet meat, but the creature's tattered dress bore the burial crest of his family.
His father and mother bade him hide, and he did. Crouched under the family shrine, young Calllynn listened as the undead horde flooded through his city, a living wave of the damned. He heard his father scream his mother's name; he heard the wet smack of gnawing teeth. He watched the silvered stature of Corellon Larethian hanging over his head, and heard the crunch of bones.
It had been a Lich. A foul necromancer who had profaned his mystic art to stop the hands of time, and cheat Nerull himself. He'd learn that almost a decade later, as a craven ghoul tried to trade information for its own head; that was a deal Calllynn wasn't willing to take. He had devoted himself to the eradication of the undead in every form, and though he had trained as a ranger with the royal garrison, his mission was personal, and his arrows were righteous.
His quest had seen him wander far from his people. Where he walked, he kept his curved ears covered; no one trusted a wood elf, not in these troubled times. In his travels, he had befriended a wizard, a gaunt man named Apollus, and the two had adventured across the land. Upon the death of a Vampire Lord who had been plaguing the eastern coast, Calllynn laid eyes on that which would prove his downfall.
A blade so black it drank up the shadows, like a super bitchin' piece of night itself.
Calllynn started dual wielding the hellish blade with his trusted Elven-crafted vorpal short sword, and the man who had once been the most deadly bowmen in the land became a master of hack and slash. Wading into combat, he would sever limb from body with a devil's grin; the savagery that he'd unleash upon an undead foe was a special kind of nightmare – the kind that keeps children awake.
He didn't know that it was the blade itself feeding him these dark thoughts. That the ebony blade – the glorious blade, more revealing than any lover, crueler than any master, the chosen weapon of murder and mayhem – was also drinking his life.
He killed Apollus upon the highlands of the Azure Sea. Severed the neck of his only friend.
So died Calllynn the Second, corrupted by a tainted blade; the beast he became has no name.
“Come again?” I asked, sure that I had misheard.
My friend M was a good Mormon boy, six feet tall with the grace of a camel. His voice was little more than a conspiracy laden whisper: “Do you want to play... Dungeons and Dragons?”
There were five of us, sometimes six, and we met every Wednesday at the local library for almost two years. There was a room in back where they kept the microfiche, which luckily no one ever used. In that back room, the brave companions traveled up and down a world birthed purely from M's mental landscape, his teenage brain riddled with hormones and impulses that his Faith told him were wrong. One of our players shaved off his eyebrows so that he could look more like his female rogue. We all thought that was weird, but accepted his strangeness. A girl might have tried to play with us once: she didn't last.
We weren't troglodytes, or completely cursed. By the end of it, M and I actually had girlfriends, shock of shocks. But like the best stories, that chapter was all too short.
M had a Brother in the faith, a man who delighted in winning fights. He didn't lose, not because he was skilled, but because he wasn't' fighting for the victory; he was fighting for the pain. Now, we'd know him as a masochist, but at the time we didn't know the word. Around the end of our second year of adventuring, this Brother started dating our best friend, a girl we'll call "A". A was my first real crush, but one I quickly grew out of; she was M's true love, long kept hidden, even from me. Though Calllynn and Appolus, M's cantankerous wizard, shared many secrets, none of them involved the heart. As her relationship with Brother blossomed, A claimed she was happy; we could tell she was far from it. Eventually however, the time came for Brother to take his Mission. And lo, Meroni did send him off into the world, to spread the story of a Real Good Book.
Which is when M struck. A was lost and alone, her primary teenage identity having been defined by a man who consumed her every moment. I had never seen A and M happier than when they were together, and I had known the two longer than anyone else. They had been the weirdos loitering in the school library before class; when I had finally crawled from my Everquest addiction, long enough to make actual friends, they were the friends I made.
When Brother came back however, it was as if A was little more than his thrall; at the sight of him, she dropped the kindhearted M and returned to the side of her arcane master.
M was devastated. Brother turned his back. The Church condemned his actions, his Elders shook their heads, and no words from his heathen friend could assuage the guilt that was racking his chest. The world he had created for our game became a dark, dangerous place. Famine swept the land, and the causality rate began to rise. One by one, the players were killed, and elected to step away rather than craft someone new.
My friend had become consumed by darkness, and there was nothing I could do for him.
I was the last player standing. In the end, there wasn't even a villain to strike down; it came down to the roll of a single d20, and a sticky note, furtively passed:
“The Sword controls you now.
You are damned.”
Calllynn the Third barely knew his own name when he woke up in chains. He was shackled and half-starved, yet another refugee from Morrowind caught up in the business of the Imperium. Even this far North, Cyrodiil's shadow was long and dark. Moments before he lost his head, the citadel found itself under attack; a dragon had come to roost. In the chaos, the scarred wood elf managed to not only escape with his life, but lay hands on enough weaponry to survive.
Those first weeks were hard. Chased from wooded glen to darkened thicket, the battered elf relied on blade and shield, little remembering the calling of his ancestors. In reaching out with his instincts, he remembered the power of the mystic realm.
In reaching out with his instincts, he found the towers of Winterhold.
He rose through the ranks of that school quickly, mastering the ancient arts of flame and fear. There was something in his blood that made him gifted at the raising of the dead; a kind of fascination with the way the meat sloughed from their bones perhaps, or perhaps with death itself.
There are certainly those who would say the man had little respect for his own life. Which is perhaps why the Wood Elf wizard found himself facing not one, but two giants. Stringing them along like a child's kite, he was able to pound them with spellcraft, while the fetid corpses of the dead lifted from the soil to grasp at the monster's massive feet. When the female fell, his perfectly timed fireball splitting her skull, the male charged with a fury. His iron club rent the ground to either side of the mage; a third sweep of the club shattered his glass armor, sending the spellcaster tumbling. Hemorrhaging from inside, his crippled fingers unable to grasp a potion, Calllynn faced death...
… when a White Dragon fell upon the giant, rending thick flesh with deadly talons. The two goliaths locked in battle while the elf popped the cork from every serum he had, desperate to slow the blood that was pooling in his boots. When the dragon ripped the giant's throat open, hot ichor splattering the snow dusted pines, Calllynn knew he would be next. He dropped his wizard's staff, and unsheathed both blades; one caught flame, while the other merely gleamed with a dull threat. Charging the wounded beast, it's said the two fought for hours. An evening or a few minutes, in the end it was the drake whose body was left cooling in the snow, and the hero who screamed at the unforgiving moon.
A moon that became a single, hateful, Red Ring. A baleful eye, looking down upon the exploits of the brave hero, in a moment shattering his mind, his consciousness, all of his reality, with a dull tck tck tck and the smell of burning plastic.
So died Calllynn the Third, struck down in his moment of glory by the death of his world.
Legacy is a burden, and it's a gift. Mothers have daughters, who become mothers themselves; sons reject their fathers, who then grow up to be rejected by sons of their own.
My own father was the eldest son of a strict house; he was practically destined to be a trouble making rebel, something he took delight in until the end of his days. I can only imagine what he was thinking as I hunched over my computer, or played make-believe with my pale-faced friends.
That's not actually true: I know exactly what he was thinking:
“I hope my son is happy.”
Not every parent loves their child; fewer still are capable of expressing it in any real way. We disappoint them, and we frustrate them, but we are merely links in the chain of legacy; we are, every one of us, twisted reflections of the people our parents may have been.
When my father passed, I was about 40 hours into Skyrim. By the time my Xbox decided to commit suicide, I had played almost 100 hours. I had sliced and hacked my way from one side of the world to the other, steadfastly avoiding anything resembling the main plot, so that I could prolong the experience for as long as possible. As long as I was in Tamriel, I wouldn't have to be here; as long as I was killing, I wouldn't have to face the dead.
We can run from our parents; we can run from expectation. But we can't run from Legacy.
We can't run from our names.