A/N: After not much deliberation but plenty of procrastination, I've decided to rewrite The Namethief. Reading through the original was a disaster from all the plot holes and the disjointed plot thread and the etc. etc. So here's to a second draft!
I've realized that the first chapter didn't reflect what the rest of the story is like and as a result have decided to merge it with the 2nd chapter.
Most people found it peculiar that he hardly ever expressed curiosity about the circumstances about his birth. He didn't know where he was born. He didn't know whom his parents were, what they did, or why they left him in some bush in the town park, his life hinged on the chance that someone might find him. He had once fleetingly wondered if they had left him in Hassar, a town known for its orphanage, on purpose or if they had forsaken him without considering his survival. It had been that fleeting because he realized he didn't really care. There was no point pursuing useless questions like that - he was alive, after all. He didn't need to know any of it. The only thing he cared about was that they had not given him a name.
He was called "boy" or "child" at Kesterling Home for Young Boys and Girls. Not "Boy" or "Child" like stray dogs may eventually be called "Dog" or "Mutt," but so vague that at times it was difficult to address him at all. Like all the abandoned children, if he failed to be adopted by the time he reached his sixteenth year, he would take on the name "Hassar," after the town Kesterling Home was part of. It was a prospect he loathed. Somehow everyone had a strange and uncomfortable notion that that name wouldn't stick, either, and he was glad of it. He would rather not be called anything than be nameless like that.
The other children found it difficult to play with him, and though a few pitied him with awkward bids at friendship, most chose to avoid his company. After all, it was strange to try to make friends with someone who wasn't called anything. As it was, he was relegated to the sidelines with little to do but watch the others bicker and laugh while he drew shapes in the dust.
When he turned ten, the orphanage received a modest sum of money that made it possible for a group of the children to visit Garowe, a town an hour away by train. He was one of the lucky dozen to be chosen to go, on account of it being his birthday and how he did not get in trouble for lack of association with other children. He could not hide his excitement throughout the entire train ride despite his solitude, but he quickly became disillusioned. Once they arrived, they toured the shoddy workhouses - something that dampened everyone's spirits, including the matrons' - and the shoddy streets before being let loose to play.
Being excluded once again, he wandered throughout Garowe until he reached the town park. There was nothing but a cluster of scrappy trees and what appeared to be an attempt at a fountain. He was about to leave when his eye caught the movement of a small boy, perhaps five or six, stooped over, playing in the dirt. His curiosity piqued, he sauntered over to the boy and was disgusted to find that he was poking a dead squirrel, maggots and all, with a stick.
"That's wrong, what you're doing," he said, his voice dripping with distaste.
"I found it yesterday," the boy grinned. "You want to try?"
He was about to turn back when the boy stood up and asked,
"What's your name?"
He froze, unsure of what to say. He looked down at the squirrel, suddenly embarrassed.
"I don't have one." he replied curtly.
"Mine's Jathan," the boy said with another grin, but it quickly turned into a frown. "You don't have a name?"
"No," he snapped. "No one ever bothered to give me one."
"Well, that's not fair," the boy said staunchly. "I'd give you mine if I could."
He was about to dismiss the immature offer when he looked at the boy, at his greasy, unkempt hair and mud-smudged face, the dirt all over his hands and stuck under his nails, and was struck with the thought that he was more deserving of a name than this grimy little urchin. Something clicked in him then, and suddenly the idea of being given this boy's name wasn't so silly anymore.
"Your name's Jathan," he said slowly.
"Jathan Terrey," the boy affirmed.
"And you'd give it to me?"
The little boy nodded.
On the rickety trip back to Hassar, the matrons noticed there was something strangely different about the boy who had been found in Sadderly Green as a bawling infant. A few days afterward, he had playmates, and in the few years that followed even had companions that in some lights could be called friends. When he left Kesterling Home for Young Boys and Girls at sixteen, he left not with the name Hassar. No, the name written for him in the orphanage books was not that of the city's. For he had a name that was so undeniably his that there was nothing else he could be called, and that name was Jathan Terrey.
Not being able to stand staying in Hassar any longer, he traveled to Livenholt, a city far enough from Hassar to satisfy him but close enough for the trip to be bearable. He found work at a slaughterhouse, and though it was distasteful to him, he knew it paid better than any job Hassar had to offer.
He lived in a tiny but serviceable room five blocks away from the slaughterhouse. The shortest route - the one he always took - required him to take Warnor Boulevard, where many of the more wealthy venues and the main city bank were located. He did his best to ignore his resentment whenever he passed by the opulent buildings. Had any of those who frequented this district actually earned their right to be there? Or had most of them been born into power and money, their titles preceding them regardless of if they would ever deserve them? Surely he was worthier of it, but no man ever became wealthy or powerful by working at a slaughterhouse.
One day, a few years after Jathan's exodus from Hassar, the city of Livenholt buzzed with the news of a famous duke-to-be who would be visiting Livenholt. His name was Damean Laslock, aged seventeen and wildly popular within the Peerage and rich merchant houses. There was much excited preparation for his arrival in every street, and it was the choice topic of conversation for weeks preceding the occasion. It was during this period of time that Jathan was even more bitter and snappish than usual. He was not sure he could restrain himself from spitting on Laslock's shoes if they met, an action that would result in his unemployment and being whipped in public. He had worked far too hard to give anything up, even a grimy insignificant life in a city where nobody knew him but the butchers. He stayed as far away from Warnor Boulevard as possible, careful not to chance even seeing the Peer.
However, the choice was taken out of his hands. He was ordered to run an errand that required him to go to a stockyard on the other side of Livenholt as quickly as possible, which meant he would have to take the route he had been so vehemently set on avoiding. Fortunately, he did not see so much as a glimpse of the young Peer on either trip, from the stockyard and back to the usual slaughterhouse. The workday, though it had ended earlier than usual, left him utterly worn out. It was in this exhaustion that he did not realize he was taking the shortest route home, a repetition of the day's earlier work.
"Out of the way!" Someone gave him a hard shove to the side, jolting him out of his blank reverie and onto the street.
"Give it a rest, Harbison, will you?"
The first speaker, brown-haired and mean-spirited, was well-dressed but obviously a servant.
The second was Damean Laslock himself.
The young man was blond, pale, and handsome despite his cold blue eyes and cold thin mouth. His clothes were expensive and new and clean; his fine shoes were in good condition, shiny and black. The contempt in the Peer's expression, the detached condescension, was so thick in how he looked at Jathan that he wanted to lash out. But it was the disdainful pity that railed against him the most, sealing his mouth with resentful animosity and bunching his hands into enraged fists.
"I told you we should've gotten a hackney, m'lord - I told you. A decent street like Warnor Boulevard and the likes of him is getting his filth on it! He's bloody all over his front - probably some mucking tavern brawler."
"It's just some dirty boor come wandering into Livenholt, no different from the rest of the wretches in this city." The Peer reached into a pocket and tossed a coin at Jathan's feet. "Here. Go to a taphouse tonight instead of home and save your wife some trouble."
The servant snickered as they passed him, leaving him standing with mud spattered on his clothes and a farthing for an insult. He glared at Laslock with so much loathing he could hardly breathe.
"I'm not married!" he shouted at them, his voice shaking with fury.
"Couldn't find a brothel doxy low enough to take you?" the Peer taunted. "Or do they profit too much from you being a bachelor? Look at you - a miserable brute insolent enough to cross a Peer."
The hatred he felt for Laslock was excruciating. He knew if he said anything that reflected how he felt, there could be grave consequences. He had no name, no standing, no right to say anything back. This arrogant young noble would never know his name was the only thing that made him who he was, that it was the only thing that entitled him to his luxuries and superiority, unless it was taken from him.
An old memory clicked in his head and reminded him of a secret he had kept so well he had hidden it even from himself. He gritted his teeth into a sadistic grin.
So correction: until it was taken from him.
Jathan's head and chest somehow echoed with the name Damean Laslock. Though it was heavy with wealth and power, it came to him easily for it had been abused and neglected. The Peer had called upon his birthright to make whores of women and dogs of men. And now Jathan would take it.
Jathan watched as the young man's face drained of color and its confidence; the haughtiness of his title and wealth slipped away from him. He looked lost, like a child who had let go of his mother's hand in a crowd and had found himself in a broad, empty street. He stilled, all animation in his face and body gone.
Harbison noticed. He jostled his master to get his attention, but the force of his grip and shake only made the newly nameless man fall to his knees. The lackey's eyes darted from the young man to Jathan several times, not taking long before making a connection. He blanched, unable to understand what had happened but somehow knowing that Jathan had done it. He stepped away from his master, backing up, before bolting.
Jathan smothered his satisfied smirk before turning away to stroll casually down the street. He felt powerful and superior in a way he had never before. He rolled the name "Damean Laslock" back and forth in his mind's hands like a toy. It was his now.
Someone grabbed his shoulder and violently yanked him out of his bed. Jathan, his brain still addled with sleep even as panicked confusion - why and how had someone broken in to his flat? - pulsed through his head, managed to stagger to his feet.
"You buckshat dunbob!" the stranger hissed. "Do you realize what you've done?"
Comprehension shot through him like a bullet. They had somehow found out what he had done and come to arrest him. Would they hang him? Torture him? Leave him to starve and rot in some lightless underground dungeon?
"Did you want to get caught?"
This baffled him. What did it matter to this person if he got caught or not?
"You're so idiotic!" the stranger went on. "There are so many people out there with their trails hot on the blood of a namethief, and you do something as stupid as this. Outrageous."
As Jathan's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he was able to make out the appearance of the trespasser. The man was shorter than him and had scruffy dark hair. Though the lutescent lamplight made colors difficult to discern, he could tell that the stranger's heavily pockmarked skin was jaundiced and that his eyes were bloodshot with heavy bags underneath. Had any other person looked like him they would have appeared sickly, but this man radiated a sort of restrained energy that was not far from feverish.
"I cannot believe that you would take the name of someone so conspicuous. The least you could've done was kill the man afterward!"
"Who are you?" Jathan asked, bemused.
"And the fool thinks I'm going to tell him." The man threw up his hands exasperatedly. "Are you so thick to think that anyone would trust a namethief?"
"Namethief?" he echoed.
"New to your power or not, you should've known that you're not even allowed to exist in fifty-three Dementions!"
"I'm sure you've heard of them by other names," More erratic hand and arm gestures, this time more out of frustration. "Floors, Stories, Levels, Tiers, Grounds and Clouds, even Circles or Rings. No?" The man's wild eyes scanned Jathan's bewildered face; in the realization that Jathan had no idea what he was talking about, the stranger's face quickly adopted an expression of pure surprise. "You really don't know."
The man stepped back, seemingly dazed by his astonishment. He began pacing the room.
"Dear Lord who resideth in Heaven..." he muttered in a voice that made his words sound more like a curse than a supplication. He suddenly stopped and turned to face Jathan. "No one knows where Heaven is," he said in a matter-of-fact voice. "People think it might be Cloud Zero or hidden or not a Floor at all...or that maybe it doesn't exist." A reckless grin streaked across his pitted features and uneven teeth, as if daring Jathan to accept that apparently ludicrous last notion as truth. "Do you believe in God, namethief?"
"I - "
"Won't have a choice."
The man procured from a coat pocket a metal quill with a dangerously sharp point. He began writing with it on his left palm; blood dribbled down his fingers and wrist, dripping onto the wood floor. He glanced up at Jathan, who was so shocked he could do nothing but gawk, and added a few more scribbles on what little unwounded flesh was left on his hand. He then put away the quill, pulled out a strange metal card - Jathan could make out symbols engraved on the card he thought might be letters - from the same pocket, and pressed it against his injured palm. The air around the card glowed, and a door made of a dark something that somehow reminded him of firelight materialized in front of them.
Jathan gazed at it, mouth agape, for several moments before shaking his head and arriving at the conclusion that this was a dream.
"Well?" the man said impatiently. "What are you waiting for?"
"What do you mean?"
"Aren't you going to go through?"
"But it doesn't have a - " Jathan began, but noticed that the door was open despite not having a knob. Come to think of it, he had no idea how it had opened at all. "How'd it...but you didn't..."
"I made it that way. Now are you going to ask stupid questions until daybreak or are we going to get out of this miserable Floor?"
"I'm not..." Jathan shook his head again before smiling knowingly. "This is a dream. I don't have to do anything. As a matter of fact, I'm going to wake up soon and I probably won't even remember any of this."
He crossed his arms and looked at the stranger, self-assured with his conclusion. His smugness faltered when he saw with how much incredulity the man was staring at him.
"You," he said slowly, his voice dripping with contempt and disbelief, "are so unbelievably stupid that I don't even know where to begin. If this is a dream, then you didn't steal your name or that noble's. I don't care if you don't know what's going on because it doesn't matter; you are going to go through that Door because I just shed blood for it and I'm going to have to get you some Numbers and I will have to buy you a Card and Pen - and Satanaiel help me I will make you suffer if you don't do as I say. Now budge!"
Indeed Jathan had no idea what any of that meant but the prospect of suffering at this person's hands was unappealing enough for him to walk over to the portal. It was pitch black inside. He could feel the foreignness of its energy and balked at entering, but before he could step back the man pushed him forward. He frantically turned around to exit, regretting having obeyed the stranger - it's a dream, it's a dream, and you've just turned it into a nightmare, Jathan you blazing dunbob - and anguished to see it was too late;
It silently closed shut.
"Get a move on!" the stranger snapped, jabbing his back. Jathan stumbled forward and yelped when his foot did not find somewhere to land. He careened into the darkness, his arms wheeling wildly in the air, before crashing face-first onto a metal surface. He quickly figured out that he was tumbling down a set of stairs. Fortunately it was a tight spiral staircase, so before he could fall much further, his head bashed into a stone wall.
"Sorry I didn't tell you to watch your step," the man chortled as Jathan got up with a groan.
"Damn you," Jathan said through gritted teeth. However, his animosity was cut short by paralyzing fear: he couldn't see a single thing. "Oh God oh God oh God - "
"That's the spirit!" he said. "Here we go."
Dim yellow lights slowly illuminated the staircase. His panic subsided for only a few seconds before being ignited again, this time by claustrophobia.
"There's no way out," he gasped, terrified. "There's no way out and no air and - "
"Shut up and start walking if you want to get out of here alive!" the man snapped. "Blazing milksop."
Shaking, he began the descent.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"Where did we come from?"
"Your home Demention is Floor Thirty-Five."
"And we're going down?" He stopped and twisted around to look at the stranger.
"The bigger the number, the closer to Hell." He gave Jathan a hard poke. "Keep going. Time moves differently here from Erdh."
Hours seemed to pass before he grabbed Jathan's shoulder. Jathan shrugged it off irritably.
"You passed the Door out of here by about eight steps," he answered.
Indeed he had passed it, though it wasn't difficult to overlook; its wood was a faded gray color that blended in well with the surrounding stone, and the knob the dull blue of tarnished copper. The man heaved it open and climbed through. Jathan was not far behind him, eager to leave the suffocating darkness behind.