Memoir of Kalara Vadras, The Uncrucified

Chapter 2

“Knowing what I know, I know the reason why the Thousand Thunderous Blazing Cranes was always limned in gold leaf with the curious symbol of the sun etched into her forehead.”


As a young slave, Kalara learned the price of comfort and trust. Now, a whole new part of her life begins under the ownership of the eccentric Ahrun Vadras, a Merchant Prince of Nexus. What secrets is he hiding in his library that a young, rebellious mind can’t resist?

Author Notes:

PREVIOUSLY: Born into slavery in Gem, Kalara grew up in the desert of the South, where she fantasized about joining the gunslinging Ashen Guard and becoming a hero. However, her daydreams could not help her escape the ownership of Cynis Varia and his cruel wife in the city of Chiaroscuro. Varia trained Kalara in basic literacy in order to help him cheat at games of chance. However, this arrangement would be foiled by Varia’s jealous wife, who assumed Kalara was the object of her husband’s illicit affections. The punishment for this imagined crime would leave Kalara physically and mentally scarred with her life in the hands of a new master in Nexus whom she knew nothing about.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Entry II – The Delightful Heretic

I took my exile from Varia’s household harder than I could ever have anticipated. I was like a man lost in the desert who had finally had a taste of water on his lips. The taste of being treated like a human being, even if I was being used by someone for their own gain, had been such a sweet taste. But now? I was chattel once more. Literacy had afforded me a position as a ‘permanent resident employee’ of my new master, Ahrun Vadras’, business and estate, for who was Cynis to resist bartering me away at a good price with his tutelage and training of my person as a selling point? I suppose I should have been thankful that I was not sold cheap to a far worse fate with his wife’s ire to consider.

In this new, strange part of my life, I lived in a small room that doubled as storage for dusty curiosities and helped organize the rooms and offices of his large estate and business which I traveled back and forth to as commanded. The city of Nexus was an intricate nest of roads and markets that led into dark and secret nooks of slums and gambling houses. I missed the dry warmth of the South and hated this loud, hungry city full of dank catacombs and two-faced merchants.

Even more, my mind was consumed by what I had lost and the strangest sense of betrayal that still made my scarred back ache at night. I became so restless and bitter, I began not to care about consequences. So it was I started to sneak into master Vadras’ study at night when the household slept. I would wait until the glow of candles disappeared from the shadow of his door, which was sometimes a challenge unto itself with as much as the man would work late. More often than naught, my willpower won out and I managed to stay awake longer than he could balance his books. The tomes in his study were the most forbidden pleasures to me. They beckoned me from the first day I set foot into the household and spied their gilded leatherette spines from the hall. Sadly, my limited vocabulary only granted me partial understanding of the more complex tomes, their colorful illustrations allowing me to glean just a bit more.

My favorite book that I returned to time and time again had an intricately embossed cover dyed jade green and adorned with dragons trimmed with gold powder. I loved the feel of the textured cover under my fingers and the painstakingly detailed illustrations within. I’d huddle with this precious tome under a chair keeping a single small candle nearby and hoping nobody would spy its light. This well-loved tome, as far as I could translate with my limited skills, told the story of The Thousand Thunderous Burning Cranes, a beautiful concubine turned warrior who raised an army against her unjust lords. Her adventures led her across snow-covered mountains where dragons coiled and cursed waterfalls where demons dwelled. My teenage imagination began to stir with purpose and ambition again. What if such a warrior came this city and wreaked havoc here? I would join her army as quick as that, facing demons with her at the fore!

As a sidenote, one day I will mention these adventures to our Commander Demiato, the Cathak bearing the mark of Dawn that leads the defense of our newborn city. Then perhaps she might understand just how her fearless intervention in preventing the reclamation of the slaves of Dinas Rhydd inspired me so. Just like a hero from a fairy tale, she brought us, and me, hope that we could change our fates. Her fearlessness is infectious, though she seems so unaware of the effect she has on those who would follow her into fire, a fact that makes me respect her even more.

However, one night whilst re-reading the adventures of The Thousand Thunderous Burning Cranes for quite possibly the 24th time, I heard the unexpected sound of boots in the hallway! I blew my candle out as quick as I could and huddled myself into the smallest ball I could under the chair, clutching the book to my chest.

It was master Vadras, muttering to himself with a candle in hand as he shuffled through papers, annoyed that he couldn’t find what he was looking for.

My mind raced! If he saw me, I would be punished. I should hide! But then what if he noticed me anyways? Surely he would smell the smoke from my candle. I was certain he could sense the rebellious thoughts I had been thinking only minutes ago. Better to ask forgiveness! I panicked and did the only thing I could think of…

…I threw myself out from under the chair, diving into a deep bow of apology atop the ‘stolen’ book and shouting “Forgive me, master, I was only looking at it!”

I scared Ahrun so badly, he dropped his candle and jumped back with a high pitched shout of an unintelligible word. I stayed with my head planted into the book, kneeling, as he cleared his throat, recovering his glasses and shining the light over me, assessing the situation with what was no doubt the judgment of someone who would punish me with a thousand tiny cuts, a hundred withheld meals, or worse, for having stolen his property (even if I hadn’t even made it out the door). Surely he would think I was stealing!

To understand my initial fear of Ahrun Vadras, you must know him. Back then, he looked an unassuming middle-aged man, lithe and well-kept with long white hair bound in a ponytail. The shine of his reading glasses always seemed to hide his intent. It was his unassuming nature that I always assumed hid darker things. His meticulousness also scared me, for nothing good had ever come of meticulous masters in my experience up to that point. They were always planning something else I would never expect.

“Child…” I heard his smooth, but annoyed voice intone. “…are you truly trying to steal…a book?”

“No, s-sir, master Vadras. I only meant to read it!” I shouted without thinking too much about my response, my forehead pressed to the book’s cover. I could feel his eyes on my exposed back, no doubt pondering which fingers he should break for stealing.

“Hah…do you even know the one you’re holding?” I could feel his smirk in the darkness.

“The…um…” I actually didn’t know the title. There were words in it I hadn’t learned yet. “The Glorious Adventures of the Thousand Thunderous Burning Cranes!” I tried to answer as best I could with my own embellishments to fill in the gaps of knowledge. In my nervousness, I literally shouted the answer back at him.

There came silence and then a most unexpected sound. A laugh. “That should be The Heretical Tales of The Thousand Thunderous Blazing Cranes.” He corrected with ease. I finally looked up and slowly sat back on my haunches, staring at him, dazed and confused.

Vadras continued. “If you are to read in such a manner, especially from such a priceless tome, you shall do it during my afternoon studies. Do you understand?” I could only continue to stare and blink with my face a pale fearful, blank.

“No professor of the Luminous Academy, even a retired one, would ever deprive a hungry mind of a book. Even a ‘thief’!” Vadras, calm now, joking even, returned to shuffling through his papers and spoke next without even looking at me. “Now, return to your quarters.”

I obeyed without a single word or moment of hesitation, carefully placing the book back on his desk and keeping my body bent in an apologetic bow even after I was out of sight. I would barely be able to sleep, my wide eyes plastered on the ceiling as questions burned through my young overimaginative mind. Would he really not punish me for this? Even more, would he actually really and truly let me read in his study? It was unheard of!

True to his word, Vadras let me read in his study afterwards while he processed his day’s accountings. Soon enough, he couldn’t resist his own urge to help me with my readings, the night’s sessions turning into full on lessons when he had the time, though it never felt like kindness, but Vadras’ own inability to suffer ignorance or resist a retired teacher’s old habits. Back then, I swear he could feel my frustration as a silently struggled over words and, like any good teacher, he just could not abide that.

Thinking back on this first true impression of the man who would become my teacher and father, I can but smile at the ironies. Knowing what I know, I know the reason why the Thousand Thunderous Blazing Cranes was always limned in gold leaf with the curious symbol of the sun etched into her forehead. I know now the extreme peculiarity of the man who would become my father, a man who would deign to let a slave read and let her even dream for a minute through the stories in a book.

Not to mention the fact Ahrun Vadras was such a man who had heretical and very illegal books in his library. He was a rebel long before I ever convinced him to be so with my foolishness.


Featuring another Player Character from our campaign, Cathak Demiato, an accomplished Realm soldier who withdrew into self-exile after her Exaltation, taking a contingent of loyal soldiers with her. She manages the defense of the free city of Dinas Rhydd and works to atone for the atrocities committed in her past.

Published On: February 5, 2024

Entry II – The Delightful Heretic

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