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Tales by Torchlight: "Conviction."

"Best three of five? Double or nothing?"

Karog didn't even raise an eyebrow. The Shortbeard whose name he never caught was sitting across the table from him gripping his forearm, tensing and releasing his fist.

"Why? Do you think now that you're two rounds down, tired and nursing a fresh injury that your odds have improved?"

The Shortbeard glared at him.

"Worth a try.", he muttered.

Karog collected his winnings from the table and without looking, handed them straight to the waiting barkeep, who exchanged them with the tankard he had already filled. They had done this dance before.

"Listen to me, stripling. All the conviction in the world won't make you stronger, or faster. Or smarter, for that matter."

Karog lifted his drink and took a deep swig. He'd told this spiel before, to an endless parade of Shortbeards just like this one. So many that over the years, their faces just blurred together. He knew that at this point, he could drink about half the tankard without losing the youngling's attention. Eventually though, youthful impatience would kick in and...

"How would you know? You looking for yours at the bottom of that?"

This one found his tongue early. Karog was only a third down. He lowered the mug and fixed an iron stare at the Shortbeard. The otherwise noisy bar went silent.

"Learn to swallow your pride, stripling.... or learn any number of other lessons the hard way."

Without breaking eye contact, Karog raised his left arm up so that his left hand was level with his face. He spread his fingers out, revealing that two of them were missing, severed at the first knuckle.

"These..." he growled, wiggling the stumps "...were a hard earned lesson. When a dweller comes at you with one of their wicked little knives, don't assume that their craftsmanship is so poor that the dull thing in his hand is useless."

The Shortbeard's eyes narrowed.

"So you learned that knives are sharp, then?"

Karog's face twisted up in to half a smile. He removed his cap, revealing a jagged scar that stretched from his right eyebrow up and over his crown, parting his hair as it went. He returned the cap, then unbuttoned the top button of his tunic and pulled his collar down, revealing another scar just above his collarbone, nearly four inches wide. He drew his right sleeve back, showing a series of barely healed claw marks across his forearm. With each injury, the Shortbeard's visible contempt fell away more and more until he finally slumped down in his chair.

Karog finished his drink. He knew it would take the youngling a moment to find his words, if he did at all. Karog took the moment to finish what was at this point a well rehearsed speech.

"Conviction, stripling, will take you to the lowest pits and square you against the fiercest foes our kind will ever know. But it won't get you out again. Knowing when to quit will."

The Shortbeard almost bought it. Then he collected himself, stood up and found his voice again.

"If we all believed what you do, we'll never get to go home again. Just because you couldn't do it, doesn't mean it won't get done."

With that, the Shortbeard gathered his things and stalked out of the bar.

The barkeep watched him go. "Think he'll be back, Karog?"

Karog looked down in to his empty mug, then stared at the stumps on his hand. A deep sadness fell over his face.

He already knew the answer but he couldn't bring himself to say it.

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