Of Masks and Men
“No. Corthos, this is insanity.” Rexus shook his head vehemently as he poured another drink. Across from him, Corthos spoke with a quiet determination. “Rexus – it’s the only way that we can have the best of both worlds. Think about it. To this day, there are a hundred different stories regarding Jackdaw. And the people still remember them fondly – why? Because Jackdaw was something larger than life.” Rexus laughed, holding up a finger. “Jackdaw was an elf. He was not some sort of mythical creature who single-handedly won the civil war.” Corthos smirked before replying. “But to the people, he was. Jackdaw was supposedly everywhere at once. He gave them something to believe in. People can die, Rexus. People can be corrupted, they are frail, they can falter. That’s simply a part of the role in humanity. But the people of Kintargo – they need something that they can believe in. And beyond that….” He leaned forward, rolling out a large paper covered in etchings of Kintargo’s streets, combined with Corthos’ own shorthand.
“We are facing a foe whose arms and ability we cannot possibly hope to match. I know you thought I was a bit lazy at the academy, but I did study certain topics.” Rexus looked a bit wounded as he interrupted. “For the record, I never said lazy. I thought you just didn’t apply yours-” Corthos waved a hand to shush him. “The best offense we can possibly have is to force out opponents to think we are more than we are. People are superstitious. Our allies gain something to believe in, and the common Dottari gain something to be afraid of. The myths grow on either side. The rumors spread, and rumors only grow. Meanwhile….we reap the benefits. Your political face is not seen skulking about and committing direct treason. Even as it is, I will have a hard time pretending I was not involved in killing the Dottari at the Long Roads – but I can adapt around that as self-defense. With the right political backing, they cannot come at me for that. Attempting to silence other voices through the use of attack squads is just Kintargen politics.” Rexus shook his head again. “This is lunacy. You realize that, right? This is absolutely insane. I can’t understand why I’m even humoring you.” Corthos grinned. “Because a part of you knows that I’m right. Think about it.”
The two men sat there in silence for a long while before Rexus spoke in an exasperated sigh. “Say that you do this. What do we gain?” Corthos chuckled. “A lot. The Thrune and Dottari have to deal with a new presence that they have no intel on and have not seen before. Your political face is no longer seen in the midst of combat and rioting, acting solely as a peacekeeper and diplomat. I get to use everything in my bag of tricks to create a new Jackdaw – appearing unseen, striking, moving, seeming to be all across the city. Nobody else on the team is as accustomed to a double life as I am, or to the theater and stage techniques needed to sustain it long-term. The rumors grow, and the people see something other than the same men and women around them. They need to see that the heroes are like them, yes – I agree before you raise the point – but they also need to see something that seems like it can withstand an evil that is greater than they want to admit. Look, Rexus….Cayden Cailean gained followers as a man, yes, by the virtue of his deeds and his word. But he changed lives when he was seen as a god, as something that transcended the limitations of his reality. The Ravens need to be more than real, we need to be the myth that these people grew up hearing and telling their children. And if we want to live up to that, we need to play a game that our foes have not prepared for.”
Rexus sipped at his tea thoughtfully for a long moment. “Gods damn me, I can see your point. But you can’t be Jackdaw, the people already know Jackdaw was an elf.” Corthos laughed. “I don’t want to be Jackdaw. Times are different now, Rexus. I have another mantle I intend to take up. The elves had a lore telling of a hunter who moved through the Lindenwoad in the North, his face expressionless and pale. Arriving only after the Lindenwoad had been taken from them by the hordes of Garreth Redclaw, the people forced into subjugation – he supposedly represented the indignant wrath of the land itself, something summoned into existence when the people who had claimed the land had ceased to respect it or treat its people with dignity. They claimed that he was the creation of the anger of the oppressed, of the dying rage of everyone who had been shackled and forced into servitude for Gods and masters that they didn’t believe in. They said that he moved through the wind itself, that he could appear out of the trees, and that his face never changed – regardless of the vengeance he delivered.”
Rexus smiled in spite of himself. He really did enjoy a good story. He nodded at Corthos to continue. “He was supposed to be able to walk through walls. He dove from any height, the land itself welcoming him gently. His skill with a blade was undeniable, and the sight of him was enough to rattle those that felt they had done wrong. His very gaze was thought to be a force of reckoning and penitence, and they spoke of him only in whispers. But when the Lindenwoad rebellion finally occurred, the faceless man vanished into the aether. They only knew him as one thing.” Corthos reached into his bag and pulled out a neutral mask in white and soft gold. “La’reth, the Undying. The personification of a nation’s wrath, and the force of vengeance against his people’s suffering.” Rexus smiled. “I suppose you’re right. I’ll allow you your dalliance as La’reth….but only because you tell a good story. Some things never change.” He left the room, chuckling to himself as Corthos turned the mask over. On the inside, he had written three names to always motivate him. His fingers traced the letters and felt a small smile forming.