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by Gavin Mitchell

Aria's mother burning at the stake
Artwork © Aztarieth
Every move you make, every step you take, they're watching you. You watch, warily, out of the corner of your eye, for the inevitable blow - the inevitable curse.

Throughout your life it's been the same. In your earliest memories of other children, they have gone out of their way to attack and hurt you. You are bullied unmercifully throughout your schooldays, beaten almost beyond endurance. Why?

Your mother was a witch. She was burned alive.

Late one night in the peaceful Old World village of Ratzielburg, the townspeople came upon your mother's house with torches. Though she had told fortunes for the goodwives of the town, perhaps she had said something that sat ill in someone's stomach. Though she had sold information, plucked from men's minds, perhaps she had plucked something that should've stayed unplucked. Though she had defended the town from humanoid incursion with her movement of the mind, perhaps she'd let one too many Orcish arrows through...

And then again, she was no angel. Hadn't Mrs Regardie broken her spine after she'd spat at the witch? Hadn't some very odd men been seen entering and leaving her house at all hours?

And hadn't she spanked Mrs Mathers' little son just a little too hard for punching her own boy in play?

And so they burned your mother. They tied her to the stake and piled around it pitched kindling. It went up like a torch, and so did her blonde hair. You cried your eyes out as her sharp but beautiful features melted like wax in the flames. She shrieked out curses on the townsfolk with her last breath as the superheated air scorched her lungs...

...but the Burgomaster held you back firmly.

A stern and very pious man, he took you into his own home, preaching to the townsfolk that any sin could be cleansed by faith. However, it was clear that he considered you irredeemably tainted by sin. He would do nothing as his own children beat you senseless every single night. At school, it was the same, as the schoolmasters would grudgingly teach you, but not defend you.

And yet, you learned to fight.

As the number of your assailants ever redoubled itself - for you were never left alone - so did your prowess with fists and feet, teeth and nails. Time and again were you beaten to a pulp, but time and again did you have your revenge upon your captors. Until one day there were none who could stand against you, and you stood victorious at the centre of the schoolyard, while your assailants could only sneer and murmur from the edge, afraid to face you.

Yet you were alone.

You grew up with your eyes possessed by a hardness and coldness unimaginable. As a man, there was only one profession for one with your anger and hate - assassin. You became one of the deadliest in your field, fighting with sword and dagger. An extra edge was provided by the powers you've inherited from your mother, which appeared at puberty, long since no other child even dared approach you. And yet, you remain alone. Nothing ever touches the cold black void of your heart. You leave a corpse in every city, mountains in the badlands. You become fabulously wealthy. But nothing fills the hole.

Artwork © Nikki Callero
Until one day, you meet someone named Eddora.

She's an assassin too - though of the Dark Elf species -- and you meet up by chance as you approach the same contact in a bar one night. You find yourself talking to her as you have talked to no-one for years. Despite yourselves, you exchange life stories. She's been exiled for years, and her heart holds the same rage and hatred as yours at her treatment.

But in each other, you find respite.

You become lovers, the first companionship either of you has ever known, and every day for you is a holiday from the cold. Together, you leave the assassination business for a while, and journey far away. You spend your time in an impromptu honeymoon living in the lap of luxury, spending your considerable resources. Happiness is an emotion you find almost strange in its novelty.

But one day, you wake up alone, finding only a hastily scribbled note. Eddora says she's sorry, but she needs to find herself again. Alone.

Initially, you feel rage that you should have been treated this way. Secondly, you feel desolation, and abandonment. Then, you miss her desperately.

Then... nothing.

But you feel something more, something within yourself. With some surprise, you find that your old anger and rage at humanity has finally faded. No longer do you feel such hatred of mankind as to kill them for pleasure. You're likely to still do it for profit, but to you, the difference is subtle.

Sitting there in your luxurious hotel room, something else finally occurs to you. All your life, you felt there was something missing. You've never realised what it was before now, but suddenly, you know; you never knew the identity of your father. You've never before wondered, but it comes to you now.

Though you've never made the connection, you have virtually memorised your mother's diaries, from reading them over and over; they're your last link to her. It seems, from people mentioned in those diaries, that there are three it could have been. A necromancer, a count, and a crusader. Perhaps your mother foresaw her fate, and wanted to spare them (at least, the more noble ones) the stigma of associating with a witch. For none of them are named.

It comes to your mind that you will try to seek out your father, if for no other reason than to ascertain his identity. For now, though, you will have to return to the business of murder, as the money is running dry. But you will keep your purpose to mind...

Additional Information
In addition to SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK, you also have a PSYCHIC score. There is no separate INITIAL score.

Your mother was a witch, and as such you have inherited a range of abilities which the other inhabitants of Fighting Fantasy books cannot usually lay claim to:

Telepathy - reading the thoughts of others
Telekinesis - moving and manipulating objects using only the power of your mind
Precognition - seeing into the future
Psychometry - handling objects and determining something of their history

It is possible to acquire other powers during the course of play and you will be advised as to these. Your PSYCHIC score may well be almost as dynamic as your STAMINA score, as many things will change it, including mental training, psychic attack and magic use.

You start with the bare minimum of equipment, as you have been out of the limelight of your profession for a while. You are dressed well in black clothes, boots and cloak, and could pass for a wealthy merchant or aristocrat; however, unlike most warriors you wear no armour, for speed and stealth and because your skill with the sword does not warrant it. You have belt pouches in which items can be carried. A creature of the cities where food can easily be bought, you do not usually carry Provisions. You have, of course, your longsword and dagger. While potions and poisons often form part of your standard equipment as an assassin, your absence of leave from that profession has taken its toll; as of now, you have none. You have been spending your time in honeymooning with your ex-lover, and as such your funds have decreased to a mere 70 Gold Pieces. (This may seem a lot in comparison with other Fighting Fantasy books, but consider the point of view of someone who commands several thousand GP a hit...)

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