Asharae – Part I
From the pen of Eylee Zephyrswell —
You can never know what destiny will demand of you. If you had told me only a year ago that I would be called upon to travel with a dark elf, fighting along side one rather than against one, I would never have believed you, but fate has no room for niceties.
Of the party, only Kruzz was more friendless than Asharae, and though she might have been charming enough, I think in the end if you were to put a dagger in the hands of anyone in the party and go to sleep before them, most would choose Kruzz over Asharae. But it is this bard’s duty to tell a story as true as I can tell it no matter what I may think of the subject, and so I will bring to you as best I can the story of Asharae.
Asharae – Part I
Once in the city of Neriak there lived a noble dark elf, Baron V’Nol, and his wife, the Madam V’Nol, and their four daughters. Within this house lived a fifth daughter, though she was not a true born child and had no knowledge of her parentage. You see, her mother had been a dancer and a woman of low birth, and though she left the child at her lordly paramour’s front step, wanting nothing more to do with her, the Baron and his Madam raised the child as a slave and told her none of the truths of her origins. Asharae was her name, and not only did she sweat upon their floors for eighty years, but her tasks were ever the lowliest of the low. The Madam, you see, looked upon her and saw the Baron’s infidelity and her own imperfect beauty, and nothing she could say or do to the child from then on out could come forth without the most vicious of venom. Where another girl might receive a swift rebuff for leaving a grease smudge on the reflective black obsidian walls of the manor, Asharae was beaten until her back was reduced to a sea of welts. For his part, the Baron never acknowledged her. He had no reason, after all, to acknowledge any of the slaves, save those comely enough for him to catch around a dark corner when the Madam wasn’t looking. Asharae was a pretty enough girl, having inherited her mother’s looks. Those who looked at her thought it difficult to shake her image, as she possessed a single lock of white hair that started at the peak of her widow’s crown and bled back into her otherwise raven mane. However, she was not so stunning that one would find it curious the Master ignored her.
Though day in and day out the young elf went about her duties without a sign of emotion, enduring the beatings and the slander and the Madam dunking her face daily in her washbucket, holding her there until just before drowning, at night the young woman would weep as she slept. No one heard her tears, or if they did, they didn’t care. And Asharae grew up alone within a house that hated her, though she did not know why.
When Asharae was an adolescent, she found within her Madam’s wastebasket a book of wizardry. The Baron and Baroness were both accomplished mages, and their wealth afforded them the luxury of throwing away tomes they had happened to run a little thin. Though the book was frayed and battered, when she touched the cool black leather of its cover, she felt as if something electric were passing through her, and she clutched it to her breast, stealing a look about to see if she had been spotted. There was no sound to be heard in the high obsidian walls of the V’Nol manner. The whole of the household had left to attend, or attend to, the wedding of the oldest of the V’Nol daughters. Only Asharae had been left behind to see to the daily tasks of the household. The rest of her day’s tasks were done in a blur, as the girl could not wait to steal back to the small closet she kept as her own space in the cellar.
As the day came to a close, and the distant sounds of a celebration were heard, the girl opened the book for the first time. Her eyes passed over the arcane symbols on its thin pages, and though they were foreign to her, she devoured the text explaining them. The book was nothing but a student’s guide to the most basic of magics, but that was a perfect place for Asharae to begin. She practiced her magics on the rats and the bats that were unlucky enough to travel into her radius. The sight of the rodents turning to crispy black ash as they were struck by the lightning bolts that leapt from her fingers filled her with joy and lightened her spirit. Sometimes she would laugh to herself thinking about it later on, and when the Madam scolded her for it, she would picture her in the place of the rats and it cheered her even more. From then on forth, she divided the scant hours she was afforded for sleep between rest and study, and with time, her power grew.
All went as usual until the day that the V’Nol household produced such an important magical artifact that they were compelled to throw a grand party to which only the highest ranks of Neriak’s society would be attending. They called it the Scryona and with it, they would be able to predict tears in the fabric of reality and use them to tap into the power of planar entities. Whispers of its power spread through the city like a fast acting poison and then to the King and Queen themselves. It was rumored they might appear at the party briefly, only to view the Scryona and move on, but all preparations were made as if the monarchs would be enjoying each inch of the manor and every dish served and every song performed by the quartet of musicians. The servants worked hard preparing for it, Asharae most of all, and the manor was turned upside down and inside out with their efforts. Asharae was given the job of polishing every piece of jade and pearl and turquoise inlay in the house’s many walls, of which there were many. So many that she continued to work even as the guests began to arrive in the downstairs foyer. They were drawn into the ballroom where they broke open casks of bloodwine and feasted as Asharae continued to work.
And so it happened that Asharae passed the room in which the Scryona was being kept. She heard a soft humming noise before she ever saw it, but as she gently pushed open the room to the Madam’s study, torch flooded in from the hallways to illuminate the small metal ball on the pedestal in the dark room. She walked over to it and picked it up gingerly, turning it over. It was curiously light, no larger than an orange, and from its north and south poles, two crystals cut into diamonds protruded. At some angles it looked gold, but when she turned it over, it shifted so that it seemed silver at others. Along a central band, foreign symbols were etched. Some of them seemed to be Druzaic, the language of magic she had seen in her spellbook, but others were completely unidentifiable. As she ran her thumb across a central rune, the orb began to glow an orange light. The ball warmed quickly and then split into two even parts. With its insides exposed, she was able to discern two pools of energy cupped in either half of the object. They shifted and turned, forming images and runes of different sizes and colors. “Why wasn’t such a thing better protected?” she wondered to herself.
Asharae was so entranced that she almost didn’t near the sound of approaching footsteps. Placing the Scryona quickly back on the pedestal, she dove for cover behind a desk. The Madam V’Nol materialized in the room from the hallway. Behind her, a manservant held up a torch and waited dutifully. Through a slit between the two halves of the desk, she watched the Baroness pick up the Scryona and turn it over, stroking it as one might a lover. A contented sigh escaped her lips, and she replaced it carefully before turning to depart with a swish of opal-chased, black silk.
As she began to exit, her manservant asked, “Aren’t you going to secure it, mistress?”
“Of course not,” said Baroness V’Nol, dismissively, “the curses and bindings on it are such that any who would dare touch it that wasn’t of V’Nol blood would die instantly. No, Thiran, you needn’t worry. This Scryona is going to carry the V’Nol name into the annals of history, and no one will take that from me. In fact, I would like to see one or two of my enemies try. That would quickly and effectively rid us of more than one annoyance.” The sound of her laughter faded as the door shut behind them.
When all was once again quiet, Asharae emerged from her hiding spot. “Your protections have failed, my lady,” she thought to herself, looking at the Scryona hungrily. As she once again clasped the Scryona, triumph surged through her. The Madam’s devastation would be great, and it would be all Asharae’s doing. She slipped the ball beneath her blouse and stole her way down through the house and to her room in the cellar, where in just a few minutes she had packed up everything she dared. Taking one final look around her, a smile crept across her face. If she succeeded in stealing away, the V’Nol house would fall into disgrace, and she would be free.
Lifted high by that knowledge, Asharae took flight.
Asharae – Part II
The tale of the V’Nol family would end here as your narrator could tell it if Asharae did not come into the company of the most ragtag band of adventurers on Norrath and, by her continued presence, make it all the more unlikely. In her flight from the city of Neriak, she encountered our crew and became our reluctant mage, despite the protests of many a member, myself included. Unfortunately, it was hard to deny with the nature of our mission that the Scryona would not come in handy. More than that… it would be essential in predicting rifts from which the Void would enter our world. Unfortunately, Asharae’s ability to use it was mediocre at best and, at worst, a matter of pure luck. So it came upon us to take a detour to the city of Neriak, and forcibly detain Baron and Baroness V’Nol. And with this, the tale of Asharae and the V’Nol’s comes to its true closing point.
The Madam V’Nol was left bound in the back of the cart, her own sash serving to gag her, and Asharae led the Baron, blindfolded, into a cave.
“Do you need any help there, lassie?” asked Kaltuk the aged dwarf, eyeing her as she went.
Asharae turned to look back at him and then, one by one, her eyes passed over the party. It was agreed within the group that never had they seen her so calm, and yet so obviously excited, as they did that day, and never would they again. Her dark blue skin gleamed in the light that filtered down through the tops of the trees and her eyes locked on each of them intently.
“No,” she said finally. ” There shouldn’t be a problem. He is unarmed, and will be defenseless within the anti-magic field. No, you needn’t worry about me.”
As they disappeared into the dark mouth of the cave, Kaltuk leaned over and whispered to his companion, the ogre Nurgg, “It wasn’t her I was worried about.”
Within the cave, Asharae bound Baron V’Nol to a post and removed his blindfold. His eyes went wide as he looked at her and he screamed dully against his gag. “Now,” said Asharae, letting her fingers trail across his chest as she passed from one side of him to the other, “I need you to tell me all that I need to operate the Scryona, or…” with a flick, a dagger had appeared in her hand, and she toyed with its end against a hollow in his neck, “I begin cutting you down to size.” The dagger flashed as she quickly cut the gag. As it fell away, the scream he had let loose at the sight of the knife in motion came out, echoing in the cavern. He breathed deeply and gazed at her like a wild thing caught in a net. She stared down at him between the part of her hair, calmly assessing whether she believed he would speak, or whether he would need more convincing.
Quickly, she decided on convincing. Like lightning, a gash appeared across his arm, missing the delicate veins of his wrist by only fractions of an inch. He screamed again and this time, the words rolled freely off his tongue. “Asharae,” he said, “Asharae, I do not believe you wish to do this.”
Asharae gazed at him for a moment before laughing. The laughter was soft at first, and then it seemed to take her over completely. “I don’t, do I?” she asked, arms sweeping out to either side of her. “Are you forgetting that until very recently, I spent the whole of my life a slave in your household? When I could do naught but crawl, I scrubbed the floors. And when I could walk, I scrubbed the walls. And when I missed a spot, I was beaten by your wife within inches of death.” She drew up closely to him. “So many times I wanted her to go one step further. So many times I wished she would just do me in as she so obviously wished to.” Asharae was quiet for a moment, and then she drew away again. Balancing the knife point on one of her fingertips, she said, “So tell me then, Baron V’Nol, what reason would I have for not wanting to do this? I will tell you what reason: no reason at all. Much like the reason that your wife targeted me for this abuse. No one was treated as horribly as I was, and I never gave her cause.” She walked up briskly and cut across the Baron’s opposite arm, once again coming dangerously close to the artery. For good measure, she shifted the stroke to move upward as she was through, gashing his cheek. “Now, tell me what I need to know.”
Baron V’Nol panted and between his teeth said to her, “There was a reason, a reason for it all. You are the daughter of a doxy who I paid for my pleasure, a dancer from the Maiden’s Fancy. And that I would choose to seek consolation in the arms of such a commoner rather than go to her bed has driven my wife crazy for all these years. So you see, you are my daughter, Asharae, left to your fate by your mother on my doorstep. So that’s why you don’t want to do this. Because you may think your life has been terrible, but I did you a good deed in letting you live. Your mother most likely expected I would kill you to hide my shame, but I didn’t. I am your father, Asharae. Let me go, return the Scryona, and because of our shared blood, I will let you live.” The Baron held his head high as he finished, lips twitching into a smile.
Asharae stared at him, completely quiet. Only the Baron V’Nol knew the look that passed over her face at that moment, and all that this narrator knows is that it caused him to erupt into shrill, chilling screams. By the time the party made for the cave, headed by Kaltuk, who had already been posed to charge, Asharae stepped out, and her gaze stopped them in their tracks. Her robe was streaked with blood and the dagger in her hand seemed it would slip out of her hands, as it was so slick with it.
Kaltuk set his jaw and stepped forward, demanding, “By Brell’s beard, what have you –?”
Bayle stepped forward and put a hand out to the dwarf’s chest. The human man towered above the small dark elf woman, but the look she gave him acknowledged none of that. “What happened, Asharae?” he asked. “You were supposed to be questioning him, nothing more.”
Asharae let her head fall to the side before pursing her lips and saying, “The Baron, unfortunately, did not survive the questioning.”
“We are down to one person on the whole of Norrath who knows how to use it,” said Bayle, his leather armor creaking as he drew a step closer to her. “Will you be more careful in questioning her?”
Asharae’s cheek twitched visibly as she seemed to consider the request. “I will try as best I can,” she said, waving a hand dismissively.
“You will torture no one else under my protection today,” said Bayle, and his hand fell to his sword. “And you will especially not kill them. Even a dark elf deserves more than that.” The whole party watched the exchange intently.
Asharae’s glare burned into him as her eyes flicked from his sword to his face. “Then you will have none of the Scryona,” said Asharae. “And the Void will take us all. If you think you can, do it yourself, but you’ll get answers out of the Baroness V’Nol by no kinder means.” Her head dropped, and her gaze locked on the ground. Around her, the party murmured. Twiddy Bobick, who had coaxed the girl to join them by the fire after a month of sleeping separate from the rest of the crew, turned his back on her and left the clearing in the direction of the Cloudskipper. Professor A.M. Fiddlewiz followed behind him shortly.
Bayle looked at her for a long time before finally saying, “We need the Scryona to work as more than a fluke. Kaltuk, you go with her. I know you’ll tolerate nothing that goes too far.” He turned and began to walk away. Stopping, he cast a glance back at her over his shoulder. “Nothing you do will change what has already been done, only the road you go forward on from this day. Consider that, Asharae.” With that, Bayle left the clearing, and all but Kaltuk and Nurgg followed suit.
Kaltuk came to a stop beside her with a grumble and said, “Come on then. Behave if you can.” Together, they disappeared into the cave, and Nurgg settled against the cliff side a step out of the tunnel.
Asharae learned all she needed to know about how to use the Scryona, and the Baroness V’Nol survived her questioning. But in the night, the Madam was set upon by wolves and gored to death before anyone could stop them. None could help but glance at Asharae when it was through, though she had moved her tent once again so that it was separate from the rest of the group, but the dark elf would give no comment regarding the death. She would also not sleep beside them again, but in the distance, they could hear her weeping as she dreamed.
It is only by my ability to see the truth of things that I know the whole of this story. Many could guess at the identity of Baron V’Nol. She had told us all of her curious ability to bypass the curse, and after that bloody day, it made all too much sense.
I pity her, even though I know I shouldn’t.