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Let it be known in the chill of Resplendant Air of RY 765, I began this memoir a scant time after settling into the freshly built shack that would become the first guild hall of the Pristine Guild, the guild I built from the shattered hopes and dreams I had left in me. It would rise from stick and mud beginnings just as I have from the dusts of the South to a grand path that lies before me.
Already, those who would tear this place down and reclaim this city and its people have been beaten back. The strings of destiny knot here in this place full of the undeniable passion of the free and the awe-inspiring golden warriors that I somehow find myself numbered among.
May this document be proof that I, Kalara Vadras, daughter of Ahrun the Seeker, lived in this moment in Creation for a cause larger than myself. For any who may discover these words after my death, let them serve as a lens through the myopia of time and memory. This is my story and my cause. Let it be yours, if you have courage and understanding.
Entry I - A Cautionary Tale.
It was told to me by the other slaves when I was old enough to understand that my parents had been lost to a great plague that had passed through the South, taking the rich and poor alike. I knew no more of them but smiling faces and distant lullabies.
And so it was that I grew up a child of random handlers, slaves who took the moments out of their full days to teach me how to avoid a beating or showed me the rare surrogate affection. I was also a child of labor, working long hours running to and from the market retrieving whatever needed retrieving, cleaning, sweeping, and crawling into dangerous spaces only a child could fit for machine repairs and mining operations. My lullabies became the murmured tales of Dream-Eaten, slaves who returned from the Fey lands soulless and hollow. Tales of their misfortune lulled me to required darkness with their moral. Be a good little slave, for that is how one survived.
There were worse duties for slaves, like the dead-eyed ‘dolls’ I saw sometimes in the pleasure quarters or the wretched soot-covered chain gangs who worked the mines. I kept my head down and continued cleaning, sweeping, and crawling. I did whatever was asked of me in fear of the hazy definition of what ‘worse than this’ could mean.
It was on an unremarkable run to the marketplace for the usual errands that my love affair with flame pieces began. I was trying to reach the grocer’s booth when I found the way blocked by an unusual congestion in the market traffic. I managed to squeeze my way through the cheering crowd lined along the main street to catch my first glimpse of them - The Ashen Guard.
They marched in formation down the street, their grey cloaks flowing in the warm wind, the hot sun glinting on their bayonets and pale, colorless armor. They had just returned from their latest victory against a raider’s camp.
For those not of the South, it is said the Ashen Guard defended the city of Gem from a terrible siege undertaken in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Their elite regimen was tasked to ambush the raiders while the town rallied a defense. Inspired by the tactics of desert outlaws, they buried themselves in the ash, using breathing tubes and periscopes to stay hidden until their enemies were just within arm’s reach. Then, they sprang, decimating their surprised enemies!
Oh, how my boundless child’s imagination created stories about their adventures! I imagined myself riding full tilt atop a white horse in pale armor, ashen cloak flowing behind me, firing off that single impossible shot through the eye of a needle to fell my enemies. I was a ghost in the sands, a hero of the city!
Even then, those who owned me could not contain my imagination. Fate has come full circle. My guns defend Dinas Rhydd, this city of freed slaves. Despite my own reservations, I’ve found myself numbered among its heroes. How I would have smiled then if I knew what was to come to me as a grown woman. Instead, I only had my daydreams and cautionary tales to get me through those bitter nights.
Throughout my adolescence, I would be passed along from one master or another, some kind, some cruel. All owned me as they would a dog or a horse, no matter their intentions for good or ill. I daydreamed too much to be diligent and gambling problems in the city of Gem meant I was always being sold to cover debts or won in games of chance. However, it was one such master who acquired my contract when I was 16 in a game of cards that would, despite it all, do me a most unexpected favor.
I was bought and sold without even a chance to bid farewell to my home town or my friends there. Attachments were always a dangerous thing to nurture in this life, for they could be stripped away, along with the rest of your identity, at the merest whim.
I became the property of Cynis Varia, a churlish man with a small amount of weight to his name (and his girth), but a terrible gambling habit coupled with failed business ventures had resulted in his unofficial banishment to the city of Chariascuro.
For an Imperial from the Blessed Isle, I would learn that this was quite a disgraceful place for any noble, a fact Veria’s wife, Sana, would remind me of constantly with her tantrums that often ended up unleashing upon myself or the other household slaves with the broadside of a light, but sharp, carved bone swatter she used to keep away the flies. We ‘lovingly’ called it ‘her sharp tongue’.
Veria did not improve his gambling habit upon becoming an unlikely citizen of Gem. It was a day like any other day avoiding Sana and finding housework to do as far away from her as possible that I found myself pulled aside and ordered to begin learning numbers and letters from a tutor. My tutor was a thin, bespectacled man who seemed allergic to my presence with his constant sniffling and upturned nose at my person. His great intellect was wasted on a slave such as me, which he never ceased to remind me of when I answered incorrectly.
I was terrified at first. Why was I being forced to take on these extra duties? Was it a strange sort of punishment? Had I done something wrong? Learning how to read certainly seemed like a punishment, at first, but I couldn’t deny the fact that a whole new world began to appear around me.
What once were cryptic symbols I had no time to ponder on became points of fascination as the cipher of literacy began to fall in place, piece by piece. Fate would have it that I was a quick study, so much so that I could swear having seen a small glimmer of approval of my progress in my tutor’s face one day.
Soon my terror would peak, however, when master Veria came and fetched me himself, gathering us quickly into a palanquin to go I knew not where. Understanding began to creep in as he brusquely explained that we were going to a meeting. I was to be his hand servant while he played a game of chance. If the cards of his opponents were favorable numbers in a certain range, I would ask if he would like me to fetch is drink. If they weren’t, I would scratch my nose.
His request was so surreal, I could do nothing but float through the night as if in a dream, daring not to mess up his instructions for fear of terrible punishment. Surprisingly, the numbers made sense and I quickly picked up on the rules of the game.
My performance was so flawless, Veria’s schemes with me as his gambling tool became more complicated as time went in. In a relatively short while, I was counting cards and creating elaborate signals to notify him by. I became his ‘lucky charm’, as he called it. I foolishly enjoyed the reprieve from my regular duties then, relishing the glimpse of uptown and its high class lifestyle and my usual prize of a good meal that didn’t consist of table scraps. Veria even gifted me with a nicer set of clothes to attend the games at one point.
I should have known such joy was tenuous, for when Sana found out, she got the idea in her head that his outings with me went deeper than gambling, that I had somehow become a target of her husband’s illicit affection.
To prove her claim false and that I was nothing more than a tool for his games of chance, he gave me 11 lashes with her ‘sharp tongue’, enough so that I passed out before the end. I still carry the scars like a lightning strike across my back to remind me to this day.
Shortly after, wounds barely healed, I was hastily hauled off to the slave market where yet another person would become the master of my destiny. That was the end of my tenure as Cynis Veria’s ‘Lucky Charm’.
Despite all of this, I still feel a strange form of gratitude to Veria. No matter the reasons, he opened up a world of knowledge to me I might never have known.
The next person to buy a part of my life would be like any other master, at first, but he would change me forever. We would change one another.