Friday, January 22, 2016

Short Story Saturday (Because I Forgot to Post this on Flash Fiction Friday #8)

Hey guys! Yeah, I know I kind of promised on Twitter that I'd have my Star Wars review finally posted on Sunday, buuuuut so far I've been having some trouble making good on my "learn better time management skills" resolution. Actually, I've been having trouble sticking to all of my new year's resolutions. But hey, we've still got one week and eleven months left in this year, right? I'm sure that'll be plenty of time in which I can get my act together and become the absolute best version of myself!

Haha Haha... no.

I swear I have every intention of making it up to you guys, though, especially since the huge surge in traffic to this blog has been mind-boggling since the last time I posted. I almost feel kinda-sorta halfway (but not really) internet famous now. You guys are awesome, and I don't want to worry that I have abandoned this blog ever again! I've been absolutely swamped with work and grad school applications for the past two weeks, but I promise that I will have my Star Wars review out by this Sunday--so, tomorrow, I guess--and that I will hopefully have my review of Aftermath out next week. I won't make any promises on that one, though, because honestly it's taking me a worryingly long time to trudge through this book. *Sigh*... and I'd had such high hopes for it... serves me right for not reading any reviews for it first, though. Maybe one of my resolutions should've been to be less of a hypocrite.

Anyway, you're probably wondering why I've gathered you all here today. Because I wanted to read you guys a story, buh!
It's not anything special or even particularly good (wow, I bet you all really want to stick around now!), but since it's been so long since I've posted any of my own fiction writing, or hell, any writing for that matter, I guess this is as good of an excuse as any to show off my Dungeons and Dragons character backstory. Yes, I'm a D&D nerd now. Well, kind of; about a year ago I was really interested in starting to play when a friend brought up the possibility of getting a group together, but then that never happened, and then a few months ago I brought it up to The Boyfriend and then he got all excited about it and we both bought cool mini-figures and dice and read the handbook and stuff, but school happened and we never found a group to play with, and just the other day I finally got around to writing my backstory and now maybe there's a chance that we'll get to play with some friends in the next few weeks... which, considering our track record so far, will probably turn out to be a few months.

Needless to say, it's been a little frustrating. But now that things are possibly working out in our favor this time around, I'm actually pretty excited about it, and I'm pretty excited about the characters The BF and I have come up with, too. And when I say "excited," I really mean, "Holy shit, these characters are so cool I wish that this had been a totally original idea so that I could write a novel about it wait maybe I still can wait maybe my boyfriend and I can write it TOGETHER and post it chapter by chapter on my blog as pseudo-fan fiction and it would get super popular and then maybe we'd take the basic idea and turn it into a REAL novel and self-publish it and I'd draw awesome cover art for it and it would be a great boost to both our early writing careers and the whole internet would love us and it would be amaaaaaaazaaaaayyyyyyyng." Or, you know, something like that.

Anyway, I'm not sure if any of you readers are D&D players, but if you could, I'd really appreciate any feedback you could give me on my character. I'm still a newbie who hasn't even played yet, so if my backstory gives the impression that I have no idea what I'm doing, rest assured that I actually don't. Just so you know, I did a good bit of research on the Forgotten Realms wiki to try to fit my character in the setting as best I could, but I took a few liberties to fill in some gaps in the available info and to flesh out her character a bit more.

Mara was the only child of a poor fishing family in the city of Waterdeep. Her parents struggled to make ends meet, but they loved Mara above all else. As a small child, she listened with rapt attention whenever her father would recount stories of his more dangerous fishing excursions, and delighted in the wildly-embellished sailors’ tales he would also often share. Even as a little girl, Mara often yearned for they type of adventure she heard about in her father’s tall tales, despite knowing of the danger that came with it. Each story was like a brief escape from the everyday reality of hunger, and she longed for an adventure which would carry her far away from the slums of the Dock Ward.

When Mara was seven years old, a terrible plague struck the city. Nowhere was hit harder by the disease than the Dock Ward. Even the makeshift infirmary set up in the ward by Ilmatari priests was not enough to contain the spread of the sickness. Cries for the dead could be heard day and night, as could prayers to any god who might listen. Mara prayed in front of her family's tiny, makeshift shrine every morning and night with her mother the way she had been taught, though she had little idea who she was even praying to or how that would even help.

Her father was the first to come down with the plague. Years later, Mara could remember how two other men from the fishing boat had carried her him into the house, explaining how he had collapsed on the dock as they were preparing to cast off. Their voices were muffled by the wet rags held over their mouths and noses, but even still their words held a grim sense of resignation. Before she even knew what was happening, Mara had a wet cloth shoved into hand, and was told by her mother to cover her mouth and hurry to the apothecary for healing herbs.

The herbs she bought cost her half of her family's coin. Sadly, even at such a steep price they were not enough to save her father's life. The man who had been the hero of so many childhood stories was defeated by the sickness in just four days. Weakened by grief and hunger, his wife soon fell ill as well. She managed to stave off the inevitable end for a little longer than her husband, but within a matter of days the remaining food and money were gone. Not knowing what else to do, little Mara was reduced to begging in the market square, although fear of the plague meant that few stopped long enough to toss her a coin. But of the few that did, Mara remembered one in particular very clearly: a tall, bald man dressed in plain gray robes trimmed with red. There was something strange about him that the little girl couldn’t figure out, but she found his presence soothing as well. With a kindly smile, he put his hand on her head in blessing and gave her not just a silver coin, but a whole loaf of bread.

Filled with a sense of hope after her encounter with the man, Mara hurried home, but by then it was already too late. Just a week after her father’s death, her mother lay dying as well. Mara stayed in the house as long as she could, fearing what would happen if she left to find a cleric to bury her mother. Eventually, though, the smell of the body became too much and she had no choice but to open the door for the burial men making the rounds with their cart. Upon realizing that the little girl was home alone, one of them grabbed her arm, dragging her off to probably become one of the dozens of other orphaned children laboring away for hours on end digging mass graves in the City of the Dead.

Mara had heard terrifying stories about Waterdeep’s massive cemetery: how it was crawling with the undead and how the worshipers of evil gods performed secret rituals there. Frightened and bewildered, Mara shrieked and struggled, eventually biting the arm of her captor and running off into the maze-like city streets. She ran and ran, not even knowing where she was running to. As night fell, the dizziness of extreme hunger overtook her, and she was forced to drag herself into a narrow alleyway for shelter.

Mara turned back to begging initially, but even as the fear of the plague subsided, few people still so much as gave her a sideways glance, let alone a single coin. She held out a mere two days before she stole for the first time. It was a miracle that she didn’t get caught swiping that single apple from the vendor’s cart. She very quickly discovered that she had a talent for sneaking around, and her talent did not go unnoticed by fellow thieves. Over the next few years, Mara drifted around between several small-time criminal gangs. Her longest stint was with a gang who called the dangerous ruined harbor of Mistshore home. It was a rough life, to say the least; being bullied by bigger teenage orphans trying to act tough, dealing with the constant threat of the City Watch, and the risk of displeasing a particularly violent gang leader were the only constants in her new life. But, despite the danger, loneliness, and her dreams of leaving the slums of Waterdeep behind forever, Mara couldn’t help but appreciate the sense of freedom and community she often found with a band of fellow thieves.

When she was twelve, Mara was attempting to pickpocket a man while his back was turned, and was shocked when he managed to grab her hand without even looking. She was even further stunned to discover that this same man was the one in the gray robe who had given her money and bread five years before. It turned out that he was an Ilmatari monk of the Disciples of St. Morgan the Taciturn. These monks lived in the Monastery of the White Orchid high in the Sword Mountains, often traveling to nearby cities like Waterdeep and Neverwinter to tend to the poor and needy and to provide service and protection to the temples of Ilmater. This monk, Master Taman, was intrigued by her speed and stealth, and sensed that she was naturally attuned to ki. He offered her a place in the monastery as a disciple and took it upon himself to train her in the ways of the order.

Mara became a dedicated student of martial arts and proved to be a quick learner. She became adept in the use of hand-to-hand combat and various simple weapons, favoring the quarterstaff in particular. Master Taman personally oversaw her martial training, and taught her himself how to read and write. While living on the streets of Waterdeep, Mara had picked up a bit of Dwarvish from fellow thieves who were dwarves, and so began learning that language in earnest, too. She also became adept in medicine, herbalism, and alchemy. As the Monastery of the White Orchid followed the Way of the Four Elements, Sister Mara began training in the disciplines of the elements as well. At age fifteen, Sister Mara--now considered a full disciple of the order--was honored to have the white orchid tattooed on her right arm as a symbol of her devotion. Over the next few years she received tattoos representing the elements of water and fire, symbolizing her continuing training in the Way of the Four Elements.

By the age of nineteen, Sister Mara was as devoted to the ways of monastic life and the Church of Ilmater as any young monk could be, yet she often found herself questioning her place in the world and what her true calling was. Although she had grown to appreciate the spiritually disciplined and contemplative lifestyle, she could not help but find herself troubled by her increasing inner turmoil. In her dreams she saw vague images of darkness, suffering, and grasping claw-like hands, and during her waking hours she was often restless and anxious without cause.

As meditation did little to help, Mara sought guidance from Master Taman, but unfortunately the senior monk was dealing with troubles of his own, and Mara felt a rift growing between her and her old teacher. Rumors had been going around that the Cult of Shared Suffering, a heretical sect of the church long thought to have been put down for good, had returned, and Master Taman was suddenly obsessed with researching the cult. From what Mara could gather, he seemed to believe that there was a conspiracy among several monastic and knightly orders of the church to empower the sinister cult once again. These radical theories were not popular among the other monks, and brought him into conflict with the new Reverend Father of the monastery. Mara didn’t know what to make of her master’s theories, but had the uncomfortable feeling that fate was somehow pulling her into the matter. She did not like the thought that her dreams and conflicting feelings were somehow connected to this supposed conspiracy, and yet she couldn’t deny that the mere mention of the cult set her scalp prickling.

The tensions that had been brewing at the once peaceful monastery came to a head on the fateful day when Mara was forced to leave it behind. She was returning from mediation when she discovered Master Taman laying in a pool of blood on the floor of his cell, his chest marred by countless stab wounds. With his dying breath, he begged Mara to take his research notes and implored her not to trust anyone. Within mere moments of his death other monks were arriving on the scene, and the Reverend Father was quick to accuse Mara of the murder. She tried to explain her innocence, but the leader of the monastery would hear none of it, and promptly ordered her to be put under house arrest. In a panic, Mara fought her way past the monks and fled.

Not knowing where else to go initially, Mara started on her way to Silverymoon, being careful to keep off the main road. As she travelled, she began the arduous task of deciphering her master’s confusing notes, and a plan formed in her mind. Though it was far across Faerun in the mountains of Damara, her best chance of finding answers seemed to lay in the Monastery of the Yellow Rose...

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