Campaign of the Month: September 2016
Age of Serpents
Kishtari is a descendant, through the matriarchal line, from Vantarish-Antari. Though some Kaleshtar scholars believe them to be three separate ancestors, those in the Tari line most often consider her to be three aspects of the same spirit. She is alternately referred to as Vantarish (a gentle protector, or belly of the snake), Antari (a vengeful destroyer, or back of the snake), and Vantarish-Antari (the winged serpent of balance). This Quori has a reputation of being one of the darker members of the family, but her descendants are best known for being voices of neutrality and equanimity. There are rarely absolutes in Tari wisdom, and her children are frequently found in the political realm. Her main symbol is the winged serpent which, to her children, represents the balance found in a creature that can traverse the earth and the skies equally well.
Age: 13 (Apx Human Age: 5)
The first thing Kortari saw of her new world was the sea. Their crossing had not been easy, there hadn’t been much time. She’d had her doubts about the sorcerer that agreed to open the portal for them, and they were looking more rational all the time. As the sea quickly rushed up to meet them, she clutched her daughter to her chest as tightly as she could. They hit the water without a great deal of force, at least the fall hadn’t been from too high, and she was thankful to find the water warm if not gentle.
She struggled to keep Kishtari’s head above the water. The little girl grabbed madly for any part of her mother she could reach as she coughed up sea water. Kortari did her best to smile widely and laugh in spite of their situation. She could hear her own mother clearly in the back of her mind, Smile now, she’ll only be afraid if you are. “Kick your feet now, dear. There you go. There’s my good swimmer. Are you alright? Wasn’t that fun? This is just like when we went to the beach last year, right?”
“Daddy said I’m not supposed to go far enough that my feet don’t touch.”
How could she still talk about him like that? “Well, just this once since I’m with you.”
“Mamma, are we going to drown?”
This child. Kortari attempted to keep the worry from her face, “No, no dear, of course not.” And as they rode the swell of a wave she saw their salvation not far off. Her luck had always been good, and it looked like that was going to hold true on this planet as well as the last. Not terribly far from them she could see sails rising above the waves. Il-Yannah had not abandoned them after all.
Kortari reached out with her mind and found those of the sailors easily open to her. It took her only a few moments to get one of the crew to “notice” them and begin lowering a rowboat. “See that boat, little fang?” Kortari watched her daughter lose her grip slightly on her brave face when she heard the pet name her father had always used. She made a mental note to never call Kishtari that again. “They’re sending people to help us. Just let me do all the talking, sweetheart. We’re going to be alright.”
The sailors were putty in her hands. How could not be sympathetic to a shipwrecked mother and her young child. A few artfully hysterical questions kept them from prying too deeply. Had they picked up anyone else from the wreck? Had they found her husband? On her planet she had been able to count on human men to be extremely uncomfortable around grief, this seemed to hold true here as well. They were all too happy to provide them with something warm to drink and some privacy. They would of course, they told her, make sure that her and the child got safely to an inn on shore. Perhaps at port there would be news of their ship, news of her husband. It was all too easy to play the grieving widow, to let herself be lulled to sleep by the rocking of the ship and the warmth of her daughter next to her.
* * *
Age: 32 (Apx Human Age: 15)
The Gilded Serpent wasn’t quite the home that Kishtari had envisioned when she was a small child and dreaming of a new life, on a new planet. But now she could hardly imagine a more comforting place. She crept through it now in the pitch black, knowing just where to step to avoid the creakiest floorboards. With a practiced hand, she silently opened the door to her mother’s cramped shop and locked it behind her.
They had lived in Riddleport for most of their time here. For a little while at first they were nomads. Thankfully, this was common in Varisia. Regretfully Half-Elves were not, and as they were usually mistaken for that (something Kortari worked hard to encourage), much of the continent was not friendly to them. But Riddleport was different. As long as you were comfortable overlooking the dubious morals of your neighbors, people here mostly left you to your own devices. Kishtari had watched her fearless mother go from a woman who knew more or less how to patch a garment, to one of the more respected tailors in the city. Regardless of guild or gang, her customers knew they would be taken care of with the barest minimum of questions.
Well, except from Kishtari. She had been a precocious child, and her mother did little to shield her from the harsh realities of her home. But in truth, there wasn’t much for her to fear here. Only once, when the shop had first opened had one of the nearby guilds presumed to mark it for their territory. Kortari’s rage when she saw the rune scratched next to their door was unprecedented. Kishtari had held her mother’s hand and watched as she bent the guildmaster to her will. He had placed his palm over the rune and then drove his own dagger through the back his hand. As his blood soaked into the wood, Kortari had explained to him how things were to be in her shop. “We do not belong to your guild, sir. I will not have any part in your battles. You will receive the same treatment here as anyone else. I will tolerate nothing less than amicability under the roof where my daughter sleeps. Have I made myself clear, sir?”
“As crystal, Madam.”
“You will, of course, make my stance known to your guild.”
“And any other, Madam.” His voice shook, but he made no motion to remove his dagger.
“You will stand like this until the sun hits you in the morning. Then you may go.”
From that night on, The Gilded Serpent was treated as a neutral zone. Kishtari spent her childhood among thieves and con artists of all kinds. They would bring her sweets and patiently answer her questions or let her play with their weapons while her mother worked. Some of them would bring their children to keep her company. Her best friend was a young hafling who was the son of a prosperous pickpocket. Tartran and Kishtari got on like a (mostly metaphorical, except for that one time) house on fire. When Tartran’s nimble fingers got them into trouble, Kishtari’s smile and easy charm got them out unscathed.
“Kish!” Tartran’s harsh whisper jarred her from her memories. “Come on! We’ve gotta move fast! My dad will be home in a few hours.” Kishtari quickly drew her cloak up over her head and followed her friend before her mother heard them. He lead her through a maze of back streets and alleys before stopping behind a building she couldn’t remember being in before. Tartran pointed up to a small window that was probably seven feet of the ground. He smiled, “I’ve been watching this one for a while. The old bat who owns the place is smart, but when she lets her assistant close up he always forgets this window. There ain’t much worth stealin, but they got a new map in and you just have to see it. Gimme a boost.”
Kishtari knelt down so that he could climb onto her shoulders and then worm his way through the open window. A barely audible thud and a few seconds later he opened the back door and ushered her quickly inside. They made their way through the cluttered workroom and into the shop proper. The moonlight coming from the windows was just enough for her to make out the writing on the map that Tartran proudly spread before her. He pointed to one corner of it, “That’s Quori, right? That’s what you showed me?”
And it was. It took her a few moments to understand what she was looking at. The map showed a region unlike anything she’d ever seen before. The terrain looked to be a tangled mess of forest with strange creatures drawn into any empty space the author could find. There were several things marked that may have been villages and others that distinctly looked like temples. One of them was dominated by a large arch on which a single word of Quori had been written.
“What’s it say, Kish?”
“Home. It says home. I don’t understand. What is this? Where is this?”
“I dunno. ‘Mwangi Expanse’,” he ready slowly, “It must be somewhere to the south.”
She frantically tilted the map, trying to catch more of the light, “But what’s this next to it? I don’t know that symbol.” Scrawled next to the arch in what was clearly in a different hand from the rest of the map was an odd looking rune.
“That’s a thief’s mark, oh shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t see that the first time. That mark means ‘broken’ basically.”
Kishtari’s heart sank. She’d never felt homesick before. She could barely remember Castrovel after all this time. But there had never been a hope of going back. She tried to smile at Tartran, he looked so crestfallen. “It’s alright. Maybe… maybe if there was one of whatever this is, there could be more? Do you think-”
Neither of them had heard the dog. It came at them teeth bared and barking loud enough to wake the dead. It leapt at them, but Tartran was too quick and the dog’s jaws closed on the map rather than Kishtari’s wrist. Before she could register what had happened there was a flash and the small shop began to fill with thick smoke. The halfling pushed her towards the front door and she undid the lock as she heard the shop’s owner coming down the stairs screaming. The two of them tore down the empty street and ducked into the nearest alley.
“This way!” Kishtari all but drug her small friend toward the only tavern that was close to them.
“Are you kidding? That’s a Forger’s Guild place! I can’t go in there.”
She brushed him off, “You can if you’re with me. No one is going to say anything to the ‘serpent’s daughter’. Not at least if she’s got coin enough to pay for drinks….Do we have money to pay for drinks?” The noise of the tavern washed over them as she opened the door. Everyone here had clearly been drinking for most of the night and seemed to be in fine spirits.
“Yeah yeah,” she watched him casually scan the crowd. “Gimme a minute.”
Kishtari tried to relax and enjoy their narrow escape. But it would be a long time before that word stopped burning in the back of her mind. Home.
* * *
Age: 39 (Apx Human Age: 19)
Kishtari watched the sun rise from her bed that morning. She wasn’t sure if she had actually slept at all that night, but she was wide awake. Not long after the sun came up she could smell something cooking downstairs, so she finally got out out bed and dressed. Amara was pouring two cups of coffee when Kish walked into the kitchen.
“I thought I heard you moving around up there. I didn’t expect you to be up this early.” Kish nodded and gratefully took the mug that was handed to her. “You know, before I moved to Riddleport I don’t think I slept for a week. And then I found out that I can’t sleep on ships. So I was awake another week straight. When I finally showed up on my aunt and uncle’s door step, they thought I had Ghoul Fever.”
Kish gave a half hearted chuckle that faded quickly, “Is sailing really that bad?”
“For some it is. I never really got my sea legs, as they say, so I was sick most of the trip. That’s why you’ve got about 10 pounds of candied ginger in your bag. That should keep your stomach settled if you’re anything like me. I candied every ginger root I could find at the market, mind you, that old bear that runs the spice stall was none too pleased with me, but I told him…” Amara rambled mostly to herself as she finished cooking their breakfast. She could pretty much carry on a conversation all on her own and Kish found it particularly comforting today. Amara had become such a staple in her home, and she was going to miss her terribly. She had met Amara about 30 years ago, only a couple years after Kish and her mother had come to Riddleport. Kortari had started getting more business that she could handle on her own and was taking on another seamstress at The Gilded Serpent. Amara was a half-elven woman around the same age as Kortari; she has lost her husband and child some years before that to a plague and the two widows quickly became fast friends. After a few years Amara moved into their spare room and their odd little family was complete.
Amara was such a nurturing presence in their lives that Kishtari often wondered if her mother would have lived as long as she did without her around. Kortari had been born in the mountains of Castrovel and the damp sea air had never really agreed with her. She had had a persistent cough for as long as Kish could remember, and the winters were never easy for her. But Amara was always ready with some remedy or another. Kish smiled across the table at her while they picked at their breakfast.
“When you chose the Jenivere, did you know it was leaving today? I mean, did you know then that it was going to be five years ago exactly?”
Five years exactly since Kortari died, though neither of them wanted to say it. Kishtari nodded, “I did. It was the reason I picked that one. It felt… I dunno. It felt like the right day to, well you know.”
“Well you’ve always had good instincts, so I’m sure you picked the right one.” They fumbled awkwardly around each other for another hour or so, until Kishtari had everything packed and was ready to go. Amara hugged her tightly at the doorway, “Now you stay safe. And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. The Quori will look after you, I’m sure. Keep the wind in your sails and such. Mind you don’t say much about them, though. The world is not always kind to outsiders, and not everywhere is as friendly as Riddleport.”
Kish laughed, “I’m sure that’s true in more ways than one.”
“Now, I’ve got you a little something. Just to help keep you safe.” Amara pulled a parcel of fabric from the long sleeves of her robe, “Careful, though I think you know what it is.”
The fabric unrolled in Kishtari’s hands, the weave was some of Amara’s best work, she could tell. The design was similar to the robes that Kortari was wearing when they came to this planet. In the green and gold and indigo threads she could see winged snakes and other creatures from her homeland. At the end of the scarf were a dozen or so cleverly concealed razor blades. Kishtari squealed in delight, “I’ve always wanted one of my own! These are so hard to make, Amara. You’re amazing.”
She waved her off, “Oh, it’s just a scarf, dear. And I know they taught you how to use one ages ago. Always meant to make one for you, but now I suppose there’s more need for it. And you’ll be careful?”
“Me? I’m always careful.” Silence stretched between them again.
“This will always be your home, you know that, right?”
Kishtari looked at the sign hanging above them for a few heartbeats, “You’ll keep the place open, won’t you? I mean, you don’t have to, it’s just that-”
“I wouldn’t dream of closing it. I fully intend for The Gilded Serpent to be around much longer than either of us. I’ll have to take on a couple new girls, mind you. But your room will be just as you left it. I’ll keep the sheets fresh and everything.”
Kishtari kissed the older half-elf on her wrinkled forehead, “Thank, Amara. For everything.”
“I love you too, child. Now run on before I get proper weepy and you miss the tide.”
Tartran was waiting by the Jenivere when Kishtari got to the docks. The sailors backed off of their aggressive stance slightly when she hugged him tightly about his small neck. “Looks like you’ve been making friends.”
“Yeah, real friendly guys. Seem to think I’m here to rob them blind, for some reason.”
“Mhm. And have you robbed them blind, my dear?”
He winked up at her, “Well I had to get you something as a going away present, didn’t I?” There was suddenly a heavy jangling weight in her pocket that hadn’t been there a moment before. “But actually, that’s the second present. I also got you…. This!” He reached behind the crate that he’d been sitting on and revealed a staff that was nearly twice his height. “I had my dad help me with it, I’ve never actually made one before.”
It was a Halfling Sling Staff, though much larger than they normally were. Instead of the traditionally figures from the Haflings’ mythology, she could make out crude representations of Riddleport landmarks and snakes. There were a few rows of Thieve’s Marks as well. “This is magnificent, Tartran. What does it say here?”
He grinned and pointed to each rune as he translated, “‘This lady is a friend and is super cool. Be nice to her and don’t be a little bitch.’ Or ya know, thereabouts. Thieve’s Marks don’t always translate so well. But try it out! Here here!” He picked up a pebble on the street and helped her fit it in the sling at the top of the staff. They had often practiced with his own Sling Staff, but Kishtari had never been very good at it. She took aim at one of the large crates a little further along the dock, whirled the staff above her head, and let the stone fly. It went wildly off course and struck one of the sailors in the back of the head.
When he stopped swearing she smiled and waved at him, “So sorry, dear! It’s new you see. Still trying to get the hang of it.” He stalked back onto the ship, glaring daggers at them.
“Yeah… Kish, I’m afraid you still kinda suck at this. But I planned for that!”
“You planned for me to suck? You’re a great friend, Tartran.”
“I know. You’ll never be able to replace me.” He twisted the stop of the staff and the sling at the top came unscrewed easily. He tucked the part into her bag, “Maybe we should just leave this here for now until you have somewhere safe to practice. You know. Like the middle of the ocean.” She swatted playfully at him, and he dodged her easily. “So… how long do you think you’ll be gone?”
“I’ve been thinking about it, and I think five years. See what else is out there, ya know? But not too long…”
Tartran turned uncharacteristically serious, “You’re going to find one of those gate things, aren’t you?”
“Gate? What gate?”
“Don’t insult me, Kish. I’ve known you too long. You’re going after that gate that I found years ago. You think I didn’t notice those books on the Mwangi Expanse show up on your shelves?”
Kishtari deflated a bit and sat down next to him again. “I don’t know. I never found another map like that one. I even went back to that shop a few times. I’m not sure it was real. But I’ve never, I mean, that’s the only bit of Quori I’ve ever seen. You know, that my mom didn’t write. I don’t expect to find it, but I think I’ll always regret it if I don’t try.”
“The jungle’s awful dangerous though. There’s like cannibals and shit.”
“Give me a little credit,” she hugged him and kissed the top of his head as the sailors started to call for the passengers to board, “I won’t go in by myself. I don’t have much of a plan… but maybe I can find some sort of group from the Pathfinder society that will take me with them. How does that sound?”
“Like you might just make it back with all your digits. And what if you do find a gate?”
“I’ll write for you straight away. C’mon. I’m not going to go adventuring on another planet without you there.”
Another hug, and Kishtari was ushered on board the Jenivere. She found a quiet corner of the deck where she seemed to be out of the crew’s way and watched Riddleport disappear over the horizon.