A certain name has been replaced by ______ for one reason only: this is a semi-prologue to the story Lathrin, and if I put the name in, it would spoil a part of it later on (though, by mentioning it, I've probably already made you who are reading Lathrin). When I'm done with that, I'll redo this with the names. Meanwhile...
Incidentally, if you are reading Lathrin, you might note he really never has said her name either, so it's kind of appropriate in its own way...

A Hand Forced

He had discovered his talent a year or two back, completely without meaning to. He had been alone at the time of discovery, and no one had found out about its existence since he had, and certainly no one before. It had never been particularly useful, this ability to move from one plane of existance to another in a single step, but it could be amusing on occasion. Particularly if he wanted to hide.
He'd gotten to know the planes well over the short time he'd used this strange brand of magic: the plane of death, where spirits went to sleep after their former bodies had failed them; several elemental planes, ranging from the burning lands of the fire plane to the almost insubstantial plane of air; and countless others, most which he had visited only once or twice. And, in his explorations of the other planes, he'd become rather a master of his talent, learning to direct exactly which plane he went to and even where he came back out in the plane of life. But still, his magic had never served much purpose.

'They're not right for you, Lathrin.'
Lathrin and his sister _______ strolled leisurely along the path at the top of the cliff overlooking the sea that stood just behind their house. _______ had one arm around her older brother's waist, leaning her head against him as they walked. Two years his junior, she came up to about his shoulder, but it was really she, out of the two, who was in charge. Lathrin had always been somewhat of a dreamy boy, not inclined towards managing any aspect of daily life; with their parents gone much of the year (their parents were merchants), it had fallen to _______ to take care of both herself and her brother. They were both content with this; Lathrin didn't like having to think about taking care of anyone and _______ enjoyed power of any sort, even if it was just looking after her older brother.
At least, that was how it had been in the past; things had changed of late. Lathrin had been befriended by some boys from the nearby village, and they had... well, in _______'s mind, corrupted him. He was no longer quite the innocent youth he'd been before; something had changed about him. He spent most of his time with the eight other boys, no longer at home, and had begun to pick up some of their undesireable habits (not least among which was that (_______ suspected) he had begun to chew leaves of inaphir, an intoxicating plant; she smelled it on his breath sometimes). Though Lathrin seemed to half-worship his companions, she did not trust them one whit.
Lathrin shrugged. 'They're fine. You just don't know them very well, that's all.'
'I know them better than I want to.'
At this, Lathrin laughed. 'You hardly know them at all! You're being unfair, _______.'
'You're being a downright idiot,' _______ muttered under her breath. Then, aloud, 'I just don't want them getting you in trouble for something stupid that they've done.'
Her brother chuckled again. 'Don't worry about it, little sister.'
_______ stopped walking and pulled him around to face her. 'You can call me that when you've decided to act your age. Because you're not.'
In reply, Lathrin just shook his head. 'You're taking this much too seriously, you know?' He smiled, then put one hand on each of _______'s cheeks and bent down to kiss her lightly on the top of her curly red hair, so different from his long, stick-straight brown. 'I love you, and I appreciate your concern, but it's fine. Really, it is.' He released her and turned away to continue walking.
_______ shook her head, dissatisfied. 'You had better know what you're doing, Lathrin Abrysi,' she murmured, before stalking off after him.

That very evening, Lathrin went on the half-hour walk from their large manor house to the village. He hummed contentedly as he walked, even though the sea wind was chilly and his linen shirt was not enough to keep out the cold. It would be fine once he got to his destination- the sign of Red Staff, a small tavern in town where he and his friends would meet. He was sure that only five of the eight would be there- Luithran had a nasty cold and hadn't been out for a few days, while Methrey was on a trip with his brother, Damon. This was the only thing that dampened his spirits slightly; Methrey and Damon, the ringleaders of the group, were also his two closest friends and the ones who had invited him to join them in the first place. Before that, he'd had no one but _______ around, and so he had appreciated the offer greatly.
The small tavern was only partially full, the greater bulk of the customers coming later in the night. He located his friends by a table near the back of the room, close to the fire burning in the hearth. One of them- Jarthe- saw him and waved a hand in greeting, giving him a large smile of welcome as he did. Lathrin grinned in returned and headed over. To his surprise, the table was full; everyone, it seemed was present. 'So, you're better?' he asked Luithran as he took the place at the circular table that had been cleared for him.
Luithran shrugged. 'You could say so.' He grinned and threw a wink towards one of the other members of the group, which Lathrin didn't catch. 'I wouldn't want to miss being here with all of you. Not tonight.'
'Here, Lathrin.' Damon leaned across the table and passed Lathrin a small pouch. Lathrin took it and pulled out a small leaf from what was inside. He put the inaphir into his mouth and began to chew as he shoved the sack back across the table to its owner.
'Thanks.' The bitter juice of the leaf had shocked him at first, but he was long used to the taste now. In fact, he'd come to love it.
Damon nodded and handed the pouch to the others, who all pulled out their own leaves and began to chew. They sat in silence for some while, only broken by whispers occasionally passing from Damon to his brother. Lathrin couldn't hear what they were saying, but he didn't really care; if they said it, it was perfectly fine and wonderful. He himself looked around the table with a growing sense of pleasure; these were his friends. They were all about two years older than he, each of them about eighteen, but they always made him feel like he belonged. He liked that.
Finally, Methrey nodded ever so slightly to Jarthe, seated on the side of the table closest to the bar. 'Why don't you get us some wine?' Jarthe nodded once and rose as Damon reached across the table with the inaphir sack again.
'More, Lathrin? Help yourself.'
Lathrin accepted, taking two leaves and popping them both into his mouth. Then Jarthe returned, carefully balancing two stacks of mugs and two pitchers hooked with the tips of his fingers. 'Here you are.'
Mugs were passed around and wine poured. Lathrin, however, did not take a sip from his; he'd always taken drink extraordinarily badly, with less than two cups needed to get him drunk (he figured it might have something to do with his plane-hopping talent). Damon noticed this hesitancy. 'What's the matter, Lathrin?'
'I... I don't like wine.'
His friend laughed. 'What? Oh, come on. This is good!'
'I think I'll pass.' Lathrin gave him a self-conscious smile and tried to push the mug away.
But Damon shoved it back at him. 'Just try it- I promise you you'll like it.'
'You're not scared, are you, Lathrin?' Liuthran added mockingly.
'No, I-'
'Then try it!' Smiling, Jarthe put a hand on Lathrin's shoulder and raised the cup to Lathrin's lips. Lathrin craned his head away, protesting, but Jarthe followed it with the clay mug. When he could retreat backwards no more due to the hand on his shoulder, Lathrin raised his own hand and warded the cup away with it.
'Really, I don't want to.'
'Ah, maybe when you're older, then,' Damon said airily, tilting up his mug and taking a long drink.
Lathrin took a deep breath. If there was anything he didn't want them to think, it was that he was a child or something like that. 'Oh, all right.' Tentatively, he took the rough handle of the mug with his hand and brought it up to drink. It wasn't that bad, actually; it had a nice fruity taste. As the group watched, he took another sip, then another. When he finished the mug, they broke into cheers.
'Well done!' Methrey said jokingly, patting him on the back. At the same time, he grabbed the pitcher and slopped more drink into the mug. 'That's how you do it!'
The feeling came over him slowly, some time before he even took another sip of his newly-filled cup. The room seemed warmer now, and the light brighter, though slightly more blurred. He understood less of what his friends were saying around him, except for the occasional comment to 'have some more', either of inaphir or wine. He obeyed for both, finishing off a second and beginning a third mug of wine and chewing probably five more leaves before Damon nudged his brother in the ribs and gave a meaningful glance towards Lathrin. Methrey looked too, shrugged, and nodded. Damon rose. 'Let's go, then.' He dug into another pouch and pulled out a few coins, then tossed these on the table. He picked up the fuller of the two pitchers and motioned to the group. 'Come on.'
They walked for a while, out of the town and to the nearby forest. It was night out now, and had gotten colder. Lathrin, pleasantly intoxicated, did not notice the temperature, however, and happily let Jarthe guide his steps. Had he been slightly less drunk, he might have noticed that the others' steps were not hesitant at all, and that the whole group moved with a grim air of determination. Perhaps he might even have noticed the dagger handle visible above the top of Liuthran's boot.
They must have walked for over an hour, Damon dropping back from the head of the group occasionally to give Lathrin another sip or two from the pitcher he carried. Finally, they reached the forest and stepped in among the trees. There, the group halted. Damon turned to face them. 'All right, before we go any further. Me and Methrey found while we were gone, that his Lordship's got a small hunting house not far from here, and he's there now. He also likes to go riding on a night, usually towards the early hours...'
The rest of his words faded out into gibberish to Lathrin, who hadn't really fully comprehended what had just been said, either. After a short moment, Damon gestured for them to continue, and they went deeper into the woods.
Another fifteen minutes later, they stopped again, and they all took up various positions, sitting behind bushes or lounging behind trees. And then they waited. Lathrin was placed on the ground between two shrubs. Aside from this, he was mostly ignored, save for someone passing him the wine pitcher from time to time, and Jarthe approaching him to speak to him in a low voice. 'Lathrin, in a little while, there's going to be a man who'll ride by. When he comes, you're going to take this,' he passed Lathrin a knife, 'and go for the horse. Try to hit his neck, all right?'
Lathrin nodded, clumsily taking the dagger. 'I will.' Normally, he would have refused, but he was so drunk by this point that the thought never entered his head. Whatever his friends wanted him to do was right.
Jarthe gave a satisfied jerk of his head. 'Good.'
Again, they waited for a lengthy while. Lathrin fiddled aimlessly with the knife, running his finger down the blade until he almost split open his finger.
Suddenly, Damon held up his hand. 'Listen.'
Faintly, the sound of slow hoofbeats could be heard, steadily growing louder. Damon and the others withdrew into the shadows of their hiding places, leaving Lathrin where he was; he was low enough to the ground not to be seen until it was too late for the horse and rider.
Who then came into sight. The horse was white, though the color came out to silver in the moonlight. The man sitting on top of it was tall and lanky, but the width of his chest suggested no mean strength. He appeared to be in his late twenties, with dark eyes, brownish hair, and a high forehead that suggested nobility (which, in truth, he was). This was the Lord of Gryzina, the most influential and powerful person in the area. Lathrin did not recognize him, having never seen him before and having no real idea why they were out here, but the others did- and noted with pleasure that the lord carried no weapon on him.
'Now!' shouted Damon as the horse reached them. He leaped out from his hiding spot, dagger unsheathed in his hand. The lord pulled fiercely back on his reins as his attackers surrounded him, causing the horse to rear up. It lashed out with one hoof towards the nearest of the group. Jarthe caught it in the shoulder and went down with a grunt, then nearly got trampled as the lord wheeled the horse around, preparing to flee. Damon reached out and seized one of the reins before he could take off, shouting, 'Now, Lathrin!'
Lathrin staggered to his feet, having taken about that long to even realize what was happening. He lurched towards the panicked horse and reached out with the dagger towards the area of the animal's neck. But the lord saw him and had the horse rear again, wrenching the reins from Damon's grasp.
But no horse can hold such a position forever, and it came down- right onto Lathrin's knife. It screamed as the knife tore into its chest, then again as Lathrin yanked his dagger out and Jarthe, now on his feet again, put his into another spot on the unfortunate beast's neck. It collapsed on the ground with a great deal of thrashing; the lord leaped off before it hit the ground and tried to shove his way past the attackers. Lathrin was pushed aside as Methrey lunged forwards and seized the edge of the lord's cloak, dragging him backwards and onto the now-still carcass of his horse. The rest was butchery.
Lathrin sat heavily down on the ground and waited for them to finish. A loud hoot from Damon signaled the end. 'Well done! Hey, Jarthe. Go get the guards, will you?'
'Pity we killed the horse,' Jarthe muttered, but he took off through the trees anyhow.
Lathrin took this all in from the edge of his senses, not really paying attention to it until Liuthran knelt beside him and passed him the now nearly-empty pitcher. 'Here, Lathrin. You did well; finish this up.' Lathrin complied, slopping most of the drink down his throat and the rest onto his shirt.
'Thang you,' he said slurredly. 'Now whad?'
'Now we wait.'
And again, they did. Finally, there was shouting from behind, as if there were many men headed their way. Damon seemed unconcerned, as did the others. Then the men reached them- they were armed, and one of them was dragging Jarthe with him, the youth's hands securely bound behind him. Then someone dragged Liuthran away from Lathrin while another of the men seized Lathrin's wrists. In doing so, his elbow knocked roughly against Lathrin's head; this, combined with the wine, made all roll into darkness before the rope even touched his wrists...

His head pounded unmercifully, as if a wild drummer had moved in overnight and was now playing at full force. He groaned, almost whimpering, then slowly opened his eyes. He found himself staring at a stone wall that seemed to be slightly moist; his cheek was resting on a cold, straw-covered floor. He rolled over onto his back, and it was then that he realized that his hands were bound behind him. And with it came the memories of the night.
He let out a moan as he recalled, albeit rather fuzzily, what he had taken part in. Then a foot caught him in the leg and Damon's voice said, 'Oh, shut up.'
Lathrin shoved himself into a sitting position. He and the other eight were in a bare cell; Damon, Liuthran, Methrey, and Jarthe were on their feet, leaning against the wall, while the other four lounged around the room in various sitting or lying positions. Lathrin stared around at those whom he had called friends. 'You... you're... you're murderers!'
Damon shrugged. 'You helped.'
Lathrin's breath was coming in short gasps as he tried to comprehend the reality of it all. He'd helped kill someone- and not just anyone, but the Lord of Gryzina! Damon let out a harsh laugh. 'Don't worry; it was a good cause. The man wasn't worth let living.'
Lathrin stared fixedly at him, hardly believing that this was all happening. 'You... you made me... do that!'
'We thought we might need an extra.' Damon was acting nonchalant, even for him. 'Just consider yourself lucky- we wouldn't have asked just anyone to help us with this. You've made history, Lathrin. Oh, and don't worry, it'll all be over soon. You missed the 'trial'- we're going to be killed in about an hour.'
'Killed...' He let out another whimper, then turned to Jarthe. 'Why'd you tell them? You want to die?'
'Eh.' Jarthe shrugged. 'We wanted to make sure they knew it was us who killed that overbearing lordling. What's the point in doing something great, but not getting recognized for it? Now they'll be talking about us for a long time.'
'You're all insane!' Lathrin struggled to his feet, using the wall to help him. He backed into the farthest coner from the group, still staring wildly at them. 'Mad!'
At that moment, the door burst open and a guard came in, looking over the group with a cold eye. 'Which one's Lathrin Abrysi?'
'Him.' Damon jerked his head towards Lathrin, who immediately looked for a place to bolt to, but naturally, there was none.
The guard advanced and took him by the arm. 'There's someone to see you.' He pulled him out of the corner and towards the door.
He led Lathrin to an empty room- well, empty save for the familiar person who stood in the center. _______. The guard thrust him inside and slammed the door shut, leaving brother and sister alone.
_______ immediately advanced towards Lathrin, a look of pure fury on her face. 'You...'
'I didn't mean to!' were the first words out of Lathrin's mouth. He backed away until he hit the wall. '_______, let me explain. They got me drunk, and I-'
'I warned you to stay away from them, but you wouldn't listen! You thought they were the gods themselves, didn't you? Whatever they did was right, wasn't that it? You...' She couldn't think of the word. To make up for it, she reached out and slapped him with all her force. Lathrin whimpered; it made his already aching head ring, not to mention his stinging cheek. _______ seized his shirt. 'You're a disgrace to the house of Abrysi!'
'_______! I swear I can make it up, just make them let me go!' Lathrin pleaded.
'Oh, no,' _______ said softly. Her voice was menacing in its own way, but Lathrin thought that he saw the smallest hint of a tear in her eyes. 'No, I'm not. You deserve this, Lathrin. You've murdered, and you're going to pay the price. I'm not helping you.' She shoved him to the side and stalked over to the door. She knocked on it, and it opened, revealing the guard. 'I'm finished.'
The guard nodded. 'All right.' He stepped aside to let her out, then entered the room to get Lathrin and bring him back to the cell.
'_______, please!' Lathrin shouted to his sister's back as they followed her down the corridor. 'Just-'
She paid him no mind, and he was cut off abruptly as the guard reached the cell door. He opened it, thrust Lathrin inside, and slammed it shut again. The lock clicked and the footsteps receded down the hall, leaving Lathrin alone with the others again.
'Your sister?' smirked Damon.
'Yes...' Lathrin replied distractedly, a new idea forming in his panicked mind. Slowly, in a tremulous voice, he announced, 'I'm leaving.'
'What?' Jarthe asked skeptically from across the room. 'The door's locked, you idiot- do you have a key?'
'No. I'm leaving.' He looked them all in the eyes, one by one, not in horror this time, but more with suppressed anger. 'You tricked me into this- all of you- and I'm not paying just because of your crimes!'
'They're as much yours as ours,' Damon reminded him, but Lathrin was beyond listening to him.
'And I'm getting out of here!'
Damon just shook his head- then Lathrin took a step forwards and disappeared.

He collapsed to the ground in another plane, a boring and lifeless one that he'd found would always be safe to go to. The grey mist that the place held swirled around him in little eddies, displaced by the sudden arival of the youth. Then he let himself go.
No one was there to hear him; he screamed and sobbed and beat the ground for several minutes straight, trying to forget what had just happened. He was a murderer, his hand had aided in taking someone's life, his sister had disowned him, he was probably- no, certainly- running for his life now... It was too much.
A while later, he started to calm, forcing himself to be silent. He needed to think. What was he going to do now? He couldn't go home, that much was obvious; nor could he stay in the town. But he'd never been anywhere else, didn't know where else to go. He could go into hiding in the forest and live as an outlaw, running whenever they tried to find him. But they'd catch him sooner or later. He could escape again, of course. Whenever anyone caught him...
This put an idea into his mind- he'd need some way to live, and he didn't really have the skills to survive alone in the forest. Obviously, he couldn't hold any normal job; word would get out, and he probably wouldn't be able to find a place who hadn't heard of this. But there was one profession that his talent would play well into, and it would let him get what money he might need to live... That was a thief.
He groaned at the prospect, cursing Damon under his breath as he did. He had no desire to be a thief; he'd wanted a decent life, not this... hellhole the actions of his 'friends' had trapped him into. But what choice did he have? It was that or starve to death, and it was probably the one chance he had.
Slowly, he got to his feet and prepared to return to the plane of life.