The Drow migrant party was about 35 strong, and marched under the cover of night. They had left their home in the Underdark to relocate to a better location, but found their way through the Underdark blocked by monsters and Mindflayer territory. And so the decision was made. They would surface, and travel above ground during the nights, spending the days in caves. They were the members of the Drazirnden clan, and their chief’s daughter was pregnant. She gave birth in a cave about 2 weeks into their journey, and she named her little girl Pera, which means “hope” in Sylvan. The clan waited for three days before continuing again.
Not quite two months after the birth of Pera, the clan was spotted by a small contingent human rangers from the nearby citystate of Diener. Some of the rangers remained on the tail of the Drow, watching from a safe distance, while a group of them returned to their camp to give the news. Within two days, a warband had been formed, nearly 100 men strong, which, guided by the group of rangers, caught up to the rest of the contingent. That night, they fell upon the Drow clan, slaughtering each and every one. The chief’s daughter, without being seen, hid Pera inside a hollow log before being caught and killed. The babe, to her credit, slept through it all, and the warband returned to their territory, leaving the bodies for the wolves.
There was a High Elf village about 30 miles northwest of the ambush site, and earlier that week, a young elf woman by the name of Sariel Siannodel had wandered off into the woods purely for the thrill of exploration. She heard the battle from a few miles away, and ran towards it. She arrived just in time to see the human warband heading back east. Sariel surveyed the battlefield after the humans had gotten far enough away for her to feel safe. What she saw disgusted her. Pure, animalistic devastation was laid out upon the leaves and moss of the undergrowth of this great forest. Bodies were mangled and shredded. Besides a few daggers, there was not a single weapon to be found. It had not been a battle. It had been a massacre. Sariel retreated a few yards deeper into the wood and sat beside an ancient fallen oak. She wept.
As her tears dried, she heard the cooing of a babe behind her. She went to the other side of the log and found a Drow infant in a hollow. She took the child in her arms and set out at great speed back to her village. Three days later, she made it. When the village guard saw the babe, he took Sariel and the babe, which she had taken to calling “Mya,” to the Council of Elders.
“What have you done, Sari?” asked her father, who sat on the Council.
She tried to explain, “I only did what’s ri--”
“No! You have brought an accursed creature into our walls!” shouted the Chief Elder. The four other members of the council, including Sariel’s father, murmured in agreement.
“She’s naught but a babe! Mya has done nothing to hur--”
Again the Chief cut Sariel off. “Mya! You have named it? This is a disgrace to the House of Siannodel!” Sari’s father winced.
Sari, however, stood her ground. “If compassion is an affront to honor, then I want not to be honorable!”
The room fell silent. Mya stirred in Sariel’s arms. She smiled at the babe. After a pause, the Chief spoke once more. “Leave us. Wait outside. We will deliberate, and will send for you when we have made our decision.” With a wave of his hand, Sariel was escorted out of the Council chambers into the antechamber used as a waiting room. As she waited, Mya awoke. Sari set the child on the ground and watched her pinwheel and giggle. Sari’s heart swelled.
After about 30 minutes of waiting, she was escorted back into the Council chambers. “We have reached a decision,” the Chief Elder said. Sari’s father wouldn’t meet her gaze. “The creature may not stay.” Sariel began to protest, but the Chief continued talking. “It may stay until nightfall. We will grant it that courtesy, as the sun hurts it. But it is of an accursed breed, and will not be welcome in this village thereafter. You may raise it, Sariel, should you wish, but you will not be welcome here. Go. Live among the trees. Live off the land. But do not seek us for help. This is our bargain to you."
Sariel stood, stunned. She saw tears on her father’s cheeks, but he made no move toward her. She looked at Mya--her Mya--who smiled back up at her, and she steeled her resolve. “I accept these terms. I don’t want to live with such savages that would condemn a baby, anyway.” She turned and left, walking to her family’s home. Inside was her mother, Naivara Siannodel, and her younger brother, Erdan, who had just taken his adult name not two weeks ago. Her older brother had his own house and his own family now. The two had never gotten along anyway, so it didn’t pain her to not see him. “Hello, Mother. Hi, Cael.” She called her brother by his childhood name to annoy him.
Naivara, to her credit, stopped herself short of shrieking at the creature in her daughter’s arms. She froze in place, in point of fact. Erdan, however, immediately ran over to his big sister. “Ara!” he shouted, returning the favor by calling her by her own childhood name. They embraced around the babe. “And who is this?” he asked, tickling the child’s cheek.
“Her name is Mya,” Sari replied, beaming at her daughter. And suddenly, she felt it was true that Mya was her daughter.
The siblings made conversation as their mother worked herself out of her stupor. “Hello, Sari, darling,” she finally managed. Her gaze never dropped to the creature in her daughter’s arms. If she couldn’t see it, then she didn’t have to accept it. “Where did it come from?”
“Hm? Oh, Mya. I found her. Her clan had been ambushed and massacred by a human militia. This poor child was the only survivor.” Sariel looked down at her daughter again. “I have elected to raise it, Mama. I have to leave tonight. I suppose I’ll set up in the old hunter’s cabin north of here.” The cabin was almost at the foot of the mountains about 30 miles north of the village, and had been abandoned for some years. “I named her Mya after you! That was your childhood name, right?”
Naivara nodded and brought herself to look at the creature--the babe--in her daughter’s arms. It’s skin was dark purple, mistakable for pitch black in the right light. It had a head of thin and messy white hair and--Naivara had to admit--beautiful lilac eyes. She would never come to love the child, but she accepted its--her--existence there in the family house. “Yes my dear. Mya was my name.”
With the help of her mother and brother, Sariel packed up her belongings. She loaded them on a cart to be drawn by her mother’s horse. Erdan helped Sariel settle in, then return with the horse and cart after a few days. Before returning, he helped Sariel make repairs on the cabin. He visited often, and Naivara visited too, though not as frequently. Sariel was never visited by any other members of her family for the rest of her life. After leaving the Council chambers, she didn’t see her father again for 30 years. Mya grew up, with Sariel as her mother, and her Uncle Erdan as her favorite person in the world. She learnt the sword and the bow; she learnt hunting and fishing and gathering and even a bit of farming; she learnt house repair (though was never good at it); and she learnt to never venture far from the cabin, as the world was filled with those who would see her dead. This was Mya’s childhood. 90 years later, she would burn down the cottage as she took the name Aderyn Siannodel. This is a story of what happened in between.
Gabrielle of theHouse Xavalien broke into a run, blonde braid bouncing along her back, tonedmuscles straining n the thrill of the hunt suddenly awakened in her glisteninggreen eyes.
She was a member ofthe noble class of the city of Diener. To most, that meant nothing. To others, it was a mark of shame to be scoffed and spit at. To her, it was a duty touphold.
While most of herclass were more concerned with how close to the head of the table they wereseated, or whether or not everything was included in their lengthy title, toGabrielle she had a responsibility to the people of the city, defending themfrom enemies within and without.
And right now, thatmeant that bread thief.
Her feet pounded heavily through the utilitarian streets, leaping over carts and flying down narrow alleys. Diener was not a superfluous city; built over years of struggle into a lean, efficient machine of a community. It gave her opponent little place to hide.
He was quicker, for sure, but she had endurance like a horse. At length, she caught up to him and with a great leap tackled him to the ground.
He was breathing heavily from the exertion, and…if she could rightly detect it, fear. A tinge of compassion crossed her face as she saw she swung him around and saw a young man, barely into adolescence and in his hand a measly loaf of bread.
Upon taking stock ofhis assailant, the boy's face grew hard, "Git 'of me, ya Bastard."
"Why did you doit?" Gabrielle responded, not complying.
"I'm 'ungry, at's why. Sher you dunno that feel'n, noble prick."
His knee came upsuddenly, passing close between her legs. His suddenly look of confusionindicated he was expecting to find something a little more…dangly. Gabriellefelt her temper flare at that. She had been making up for the lack of…that byhaving the balls to do what had to be done. Time, and time, and time again,even when no one else cared.
She swiveled herweight, holding him down with one hand as she brought around her other. Liftingit to his face, she flicked him hard in the forehead, and then stood up.
"The law is thelaw, child. We all go without when there is not enough to go around. Rememberthat the next time you try and steal someone's livelihood. She looked at theloaf of bread, now crushed and misshapen from the force of her pursuit. It waspointless to take it.
"Easy for you to say…" the boy stood up quickly, eyeing Gabrielle in a way that said he was still surprised, "…noble--" he stammered, finally landing on anew curse, "WHORE." He turned and bolted.
Gabrielle walkedback slowly to the origin of the crime, flopping between guilt andrighteousness. This was her responsibility,she kept saying. Order was necessary in the city, and even at her"higher" birth, they all lived Spartanly for their birthright, thelast bastion of royalty on the continent.
At length, shearrived at the market's stall, "Good Sir," she said to the older man,"I apprehended the thei--" she started to say. To her unjustifiedshock, she was cut off, "Ye didn't have to go chas'n after the poor child,you brute." the stall keeper responded barely looking her in the eyes,"It was just a boy. He comes around her often, just look'n to eat."
There it was again.Duty for a city that didn't want it, perhaps a world that didn't want it.
Anger flashed. Against him? Against herself? Who knew. "For your loss." she concluded, slamming down a few copper coins and spinning on her heel.
She needed a break from this, with the only creature she felt comfortable with. The only one that didn't judge her for being too masculine, too feminine, too dreamy-headed or too hard-headed . Her Chocobo, Tournesol, the only bright yellow light in her life where she never fit neatly into any category. Maybe,for once, she would fulfill her duty to her own needs.
The caravan had settled in for the night, and the only sound that could be heard was the crackling of the small campfire and the sizzling of bacon. Sitting around the campfire were four figures, three of them wearing heavy armor and carrying weapons. They were the night-shift, the mercenaries that the caravan had hired to watch the camp during the night and wake up the day-shift mercenaries if there was trouble.
The fourth figure was only in light armor and had a drum hanging from a strap around his shoulder. He was currently cooking bacon and eggs in a pan over the campfire. He was also covered in silver-gray fur, and had cat-like features. The tabaxi had been highly recommended by another caravan leader, and in the right circles he was well regarded as one of the better (as well as one of the only) wilderness guides able to safely get caravans from one city to another.
He was also pretty well known for his hobby of cooking, to the point where most people simply called him Cook. If he had any other names, no one knew what they were. Then again, neither had anybody bothered to ask. The guide exhaled a large puff of smoke from the catnip burning in his pipe, and flipped the bacon and eggs with a dexterous flick of the wrist.
With the whole night still ahead of them, hours to burn, the mercenaries took to telling stories of their exploits over dinner. After each of the mercenaries had exchanged a few yarns and shown off more than their fair share of battle scars, one of them turned to the cat, who had been peacefully smoking in silence the whole while. The mercenary, a young human man grizzled and worn as a man twice his age from the stresses of his profession, decided to ask the wilderness guide a question of his own storied past.
"Cat-man. Your kind come from across the sea, yes? What are you doing so far from home?"
Cook purred loudly, smoke curling up from his whiskered nostrils. "Mmm, yes. I am far from my homeland. All right, for you, I will tell you the tale of how that came to be."
My family lived during hard times. A drought and a famine had stuck the land, and many villages were desperately scarce on food. One of the few things that kept the villagers from giving up or going insane was entertainment—specifically, the circus. As it moved from village to village, town to town, it brought with it more than just a distraction from the awful lives the people lived. It brought the opportunity for trade and commerce.
And so it came to be that, at the young age of five, I was sold to the circus in exchange for an old pack mule who could no longer perform its job. My family likely slaughtered and ate the animal, living off the sustenance it provided them. I never saw them again, nor would I be able to remember their faces.
In the circus, I was trained in the blade. First it was darts and knives. I was trained to juggle them, to throw them, to hit targets with great precision, to perform risky stunts such as throwing the knives at a spinning target without hitting the living person tied to it. As I grew older, I was taught how to use swords. Juggling them, swallowing them, and of course, combat. First against wild animals, and then against other performers.
Quickly I rose to the top. I was a natural, defeating every opponent they brought before me, to the roar and cheer of the crowd. It was exciting. It sparked a fire in me, a need for ever more risky stunts and daring challenges. The circus had many connections to the darker underbelly of the land, and I used those connections to take up jobs outside of the circus as we travelled from place to place.
At first the jobs were small—steal this thing, smuggle that thing, protect one client or another as they made illicit deals in the night. But those weren't enough! I needed to feel the thrill of the chase, the adrenaline of having a blade against the throat, the euphoria that a knife brought with it when it struck the wall just next to your head. So I took bigger jobs—extortion and blackmail, riskier burglaries, and yes, even assassinations. Those were what really got my blood pumping, yes.
However, my risky behaviors began to draw the wrong kind of attention. Because I always moved with the circus, certain groups began to put two and two together and started linking the crimes with the circus. Petty crimes, of course, were to be expected. But murder...murder brought the wrong kind of attention.
Luckily for me, the leadership of the circus figured out that I was the assassin before the other groups did. If law enforcement—or worse—had found me first, I certainly would have been killed. Instead, I was kicked out of the circus and given a head start to get away.
And so I ran. I ran for many years and eventually that led me here, to this continent of strangers, as far away from my homeland as I could possibly be.
The mercenaries looked at Cook in bewilderment, wondering if he truly was as good with the blade as his story would suggest. Could this unassuming furry man have been a notorious assassin in a past life? Was he really sold into the circus as a child, for nothing more than an aged mule?
Eventually one of the mercenaries spoke up, this one a red-haired dwarven woman with dark skin and a greatsword designed for a person twice her size. "Certainly you left things behind. Isn't there anything you miss about your home?"
"Ah yes, let me think..." Cook said, pondering over the question while he continued to smoke.
For a time I was living in a cozy port town on the salty shores of the continent. I was living with a man, my husband, a famous chef who owned a restaurant in the town. It was he who taught me the art and love of cooking. While he ran the restaurant, I protected it and the rest of the town with the local militia, fighting off monsters. I loved that man more than I had ever loved anything before. But, like all good things, it could not last.
One day the town was attacked by a great beast, the likes of which I had never seen before. Its hide was so tough, my sword shattered on impact, forcing me to retreat. The militia crumbled under its might, and in the rampage my husband was struck down. I held him as he died in my arms, unable to protect the man I'd sworn my life to keep safe from harm. So I swore my life to something else.
From that point on, I could think of nothing else but avenging my husband.
After destroying the town, the great beast retreated back inland, leaving enormous tracks in its wake. I dug through the rubble of our house, retrieving my grandfather's ancestral sword to replace my broken militia-issue weapon, and then went after it.
The beast had taken long strides and it took me the better part of a week to catch up to it. From there, I kept my distance, making sure I stayed out of its notice. It was the beginning of the wet season and it rained for the next three weeks. I lived in the mud, stalking the creature from afar. My fur was matted to my skin and I knew it would take forever to clean it out, but it was the least of my concerns. I ate insects and whatever edible plants I could gather from nearby. I drank from the puddles that formed in its goliath footprints.
Finally, the monster led me to its lair, an enormous cave in a cliffside. I waited for what felt like days until I was sure the colossus was asleep, and then crept into the cave after it. Meticulously I examined its body inch by inch, looking for any soft spot. After hours, I realized in frustration that its entire body was protected with the thick hide and then I knew what I had to do.
I positioned myself for the attack and then found myself in a quandary wondering how I would wake the creature. First I tried shouting, but that did not work. Kicking its thick hide only bruised my toes. Finding myself lacking in dry materials, I could not start a fire. Ah, but wait—there was one thing still dry. Saddened to waste such high quality grass, I poured the dry catnip out of my smoking kit into a small pile under the creature's nose, lighting it and hoping the smoke would irritate it enough to wake it up.
Getting back into position I waited, and sure enough, the smoke caused the creature to wake itself with a mighty sneeze. Almost thrown off my feet by the burst of air that erupted from its face, my blade stayed true to its course as I plunged it deep into the monster's now-open eye and through into its brain.
It let out a baleful cry, lifting its head up with my sword still sticking to it, and eventually falling limp to the floor. I had done it. I had avenged my fallen loved one.
"Hold on," the red-haired mercenary said, as the other two sat in stunned wonderment at the tabaxi's fantastic descriptions of his past. "Your grandfather's ancestral sword? Weren't you sold into the circus as a child?"
"Was I? I mean, I was, but they sold the sword too. That's why I was trained in the blade. I kept that sword with me ever since," Cook said, casually.
"Well where is it now then?"
"Where is what? Oh, the sword? Oh worm, that was years ago, I suppose I lost it somewhere along the way..."
The red-haired woman sighed, giving up. The third mercenary, however, was still interested. An elven man, more experienced than the other two mercenaries combined, with a very handsome face. He said, "You have told us where you learned to fight, and where you learned to cook. Tell me, where did you learn the ways of surviving in the wild?"
In my travels, I gathered information telling of an isolated cloister of monks, where younglings are brought up from birth to be trained to uphold the worship of their deity. A god in the lowly form of a mere worm, the balance and survival of the entire world resting on its slimy back—
"Okay," the red-haired mercenary interrupted. "Now you're definitely shitting us. There's no way they worship a fucking worm."
"No, I swear, it's true! Let me continue...
You see, I knew of the cult because my younger brother had been one of the few chosen to train as a monk, to continue to care for the worm and keep the world from dying with it.
"Hush, child! I am telling a story.
As I was saying, my younger brother. I wished to reunite with him, but I did not know where the monastery was located. All I knew is that it was high up in the mountains, a hundred miles from any civilized land. So taking my cooking gear and kissing my husband goodbye, with a promise to return, I set out into the wilderness.
I learned to survive out of necessity. I watched the animals to learn what plants were safe to eat and which were not, and where to gather water, and where to sleep at night. The deeper up into the mountains I went, the more difficult it became. Food and water were harder to find. More dangerous creatures challenged me. Treacherous falls threatened to cut short my pilgrimage. Several times I nearly gave up and turned back, and many more times I nearly died. I spent three days with my leg pinned under a heavy stone that had fallen from a slope, chipping away at it bit by bit with a rusty fork.
But eventually, beaten and worn, tired and drained, I found the cloister. They threatened to turn me away, until my brother revealed himself and recognized me. He convinced them to take me in, give me food and water and a firm woven mat to sleep on. I told my brother of my adventures, and he told me of his duties and the teachings of his monastery.
I spent many years learning from the worm monks, but I could not become one of them and eventually I found myself climbing back down the mountains a changed man. More experienced now at survival, the return trip was easier and I continued to hone my survival skills.
Sadly, I found that the world was not the same as I had left it. My parents passed. My old village was now just a ghost town. My husband, assuming I had died, moved on to another man. It simply wasn't my home anymore, so I turned my eyes to the sea...
"Your husband...what? I thought he died?" The red-haired woman glared at the tabaxi bard.
"Oh, well, I've had more than one husband my dear. I'm 53, you know. Practically an old man!" Cook chuckled.
"Your stories are full of contradictions, my friend," the elven man said. "Perhaps there is still some sort of truth to them, however. Do you truly still follow the religion of the worm cult?"
"Oh, I never could get into it. I still swear by the worm, however. Whatever deity truly did create this miserable world we live in is a sad, cruel individual. If I can frustrate this god in any way, aggravate him, or just bother him by holding some lowly worm above him—I think that is my real religion. No god that made our world this way deserves worship."
Cook yawned, then froze mid-yawn. The others looked at him curiously as his ears perked up and his nose twitched once, twice, three times. "Something is coming. Wake the others."
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