Chapter 1, Retracing the Past
Stone upon stone upon stone. No cushion. No give to it. Hard and cold, grey and rough. Pale skies that look masked of their light. Everything about this city is mean, hateful. I’ll escape. I’ll sneak out when the priestesses aren’t watching, and head for the Salma District gate.
That’s how I felt when I first arrived in Divinity’s Reach. I just wanted to go home. I wanted the green fields under my feet and the sound of the temple bells in my ears. I wanted my home. I wanted my parents back.
I know my parents died trying to get us here, but this isn’t where I’m meant to live, shut away from the fresh air, earth and grass that I love. Waves of Risen have to be more bearable than the too ready smiles of the priestesses. Their fake concern, their over-familiarity. My name is Kazue. Not Kaz. Not Kassie. And not sweetie.
Only the Preistess Layla understood that. But she left not long after that man brought me to the orphanage.
That man. Hao Luen. He doesn’t hide the fact he’s Canthan. People respect him, even fear him. I don’t understand but I know he’s hiding something. I can feel it. Papa trusted him but I don’t. I’ve seen his eyes, veiled, masking their light.
As I sat in that barrel, choking on the echoes of Mama’s screams and Papa’s curses, his face appeared over my head. He found me and lifted me out, silently. He just stared at me and pursed his lips. He took my hand and tried to pull me onto the listing deck. But I jerked myself free and stood on tiptoe, reaching back into the barrel for the soft, worn leather bag Mama had placed there before she put me in.
“Watch over the ancestors and they’ll watch over you,” she always said. I couldn’t leave them behind.
I heard the hard sigh behind me before he grabbed me and pushed me aside to look in. He stopped short and blinked twice before reaching in and rescuing the bag. He held it up a moment, squinting at it, puzzled, then held it down so I could take it. My small hands reached out for it, barely grabbing it before he yanked me up on deck, past the scattered remnants of the battle, to stop in front of that … creature. Shud.
“A bookah child. What am I supposed to do with this, Luen?”
I looked up at him, and he sneered at her. “Move her quickly. Isn’t that why I pay you?” And then he walked over a plank and off of the sinking ship.
“Hmph. Come along, bookah child, we haven’t got all day,” she snapped.
I didn’t move. I scanned the deck searching for them. There were limbs with peeling skin everywhere. But it wasn’t them. Their skin didn’t look like old, rotted fruit, mottled and more than ready for the trash.
Then I saw them. They were together, his arm around her shoulders. A piece of his shortbow lying at his feet. Her sword snapped. My feet moved instinctively towards them. They looked like they were sleeping peacefully, just as they did whenever I’d sneak into their room on a Saturday morning. Her right hand resting on his chest; his left arm stretched back over his head. Only the blood soaked under her hand and seeping from her side shattered the illusion.
“Now listen here, bookhah,” I heard. But that was all she said. She stood next to me and took in the silent forms. The ship groaned and started leaning a little more. The motion was just enough to let an unseen scepter and dagger come into view.
“Watch over the ancestors and they’ll watch over you.”
I stepped carefully over to them and squatted down next to Papa. I reached out to their weapons and looked at him for the last time.
I will. I promise.
I placed the dagger in the bag and clung to the scepter.
The next thing I knew, I was led across another plank and into a new ship, bigger than the one we’d taken out of Cantha. More of those creatures – Asura – were in the ship, and none of them looked pleased to see me.
“What’s this, Shud? That’s not even a progeny,” one of them said.
“Stuff it and weigh anchor, Belpp. The bookah child’s coming with me.”
“Sh-shud?” I offered. I hadn’t spoken in hours; my throat was raw and my voice raspy.
“Oho! So you can speak, can you? Save it for now, little one,” she added a little less gruffly. “The less noise we make, the higher the probability those Undead won’t return and attack.”
I blinked. “You’re as tall as me, so how am I the only little one?”
Her shipmate – Belpp – started to chuckle. He stopped when Shud shot him a look.
She led me past crates and barrels and into a cabin. “You should rest, bookah child. We’ll be in Rata Sum in a few hours.” She pointed me to a low hammock and waited until I clambered onto it. As I laid down, she took a rough blanket from behind her and laid it across me.
“I’m Kazue, not bookah.” She chuckled softly and walked out of the room.
Rata Sum. Shud led me off of that ship and into the tipsy city. Hao Luen wasn’t there though, so Shud told me to stay in a room with glowing tables and walls. She called it her lab. She wouldn’t let me out to explore, and I was too afraid to go anywhere without her. The Asura in the tipsy city looked menacing with their sharp, pointy teeth. For all I knew, they might decide to eat me. Shud was all right though. A little shady, but harmless.
She talked a lot about money and the Eternal Alchemy but I was interested more in the magical energy panels dotting her lab. They glowed pink and purple like Mama’s illusions. Seeing that I wouldn’t let the dagger or scepter out of my sight, Shud explained how illusions were created and said I might learn to create them one day. I didn’t tell her I’d been training with Mama for the past year though. Any time I tried, my throat hurt and the tears would come. Shud never pressed me; she’d quietly move to one of her tables and start tinkering.
A week later, Hao Luen arrived, at night, cloaked and hiding from the Peacemakers he said. He handed Shud a smaller cloak and said, “We need to move quickly.”
Shud said nothing, only moved towards me and wrapped the cloak around my shoulders. She pulled the hood up and said quietly, “Take care, little one.”
Hao Luen nudged me out of the lab and towards the Asura Gate. We entered the ship city quickly, and then he pulled me to another Gate, into the stone city.
When the Priestess Layla asked him my name, he only said, “Kazue.”
“And her surname?”
“She’s an orphan, isn’t that enough for you to be getting on with?” he snarled and left.
I still don’t understand why he wouldn’t tell the priestess my surname. Didn’t he know it? He knew Papa, and I never told him my name. His response, though, kept me from telling the priestesses my full name too; should I have? Would Papa have told them our name? I know one thing and that’s that Hao Luen was hiding something and I need to know what … and why.
Shud. I haven’t thought about her in years. If anyone could tell me where to find that man, she could. I can leave Divinity’s Reach now. I think it’s time to return to the tipsy city.
“Fear Not this Night, Piano Only” by Jeremy Soule @ ArenaNet’s SoundCloud