Vanora gazed longingly at the birds soaring across the evening sky. The setting sun transformed the horizon into a red blaze, invoking the illusion of a burning sea. In the distance tiny islands were just barely visible, framed in the light, looking all the world like jewels from King Varian's crown.

The beauty of the moment belied the reality, one which the young human girl did not wish to be a part of. Grim and dark, with little hope in sight. The jostling of the ship amongst the oceans waves startled her out of the trance. Vanora looked around, taking in her surroundings once again. She was aboard a cargo ship, a tiny one at that. With barely enough room for the hoard of legitimate goods and crew of fifteen it carried, toss in an extra 20 slave girls, and you've got yourself a dangerously loaded ship.

It lurched against the waters, creaking disconcertingly. A dark-skinned girl groaned, in fear or sickness it wasn't clear, but it hardly mattered. If she died, it just meant more room for the remainder of the unhappy journey, if she lived, well, nothing changed. Each girl was chained to a steal ring embedded in the wooden hull. The rings would leak occasionally, giving rise to panic over the ship possibly sinking, or not sinking fast enough. Prayers for salvation would rise from their throats, unheeded and unnoticed. Calm would eventually take hold again, and they'd forget what they had panicked about in the first place. Vanora wasn't sure what she prayed for in those times, even doubtful that she prayed at all. It was death, she decided. Death was preferable to what agony lay ahead of them in this unknown land. Looking toward the porthole, watching for the birds, she gave way to buried memories fighting to the surface.

At the age of thirteen she lost her Father, Llane. Her Mother, Mirine, told her that he died valiantly fighting during one of the many wars, the war in question, however, changed every time she retold it. In reality, as her Uncle Darin, later her Step-Father, told her, her Father had died as a result of wounds received from fighting with a Dwarven prostitute whom he owed money. Little did Llane know, he had also contracted a disease from the prostitute, which eventually claimed Mirine three years later. Scarcely before her Mother's death, Darin's abuse of his niece and step-Daughter was well underway. For another three years, she suffered him alone. Vanora had been with child, his child, prior to being sold. Thankfully she was only a few months along when Darin went into a drunken rage weeks before the sale, and beat the child out of her. It was just as well; if she had given birth early during the voyage, the thing might have been used as bait or just thrown over board, if she made the voyage without miscarrying or dying to whatever other misfortune could befall her, it would probably been sold into slavery and prostitution just like its mother.

'Yes,' she thought again, 'Death was certainly better than this...'


Lazing in the golden white sand, Den'ze idly scanned the fiery horizon. His long blue legs stretched out before him, inches from the chilly waters. He thought of going for a quick dip before turning in, but decided against it, not feeling like rinsing the salt out of his red hair tonight. Behind him he could hear the twins, Thabo and Themba, running in the sand towards him, arguing to themselves.

"Den! Den'ze!" Themba sang out as she neared him, her voice was jagged and out of breath, probably from trying to keep up with her much faster brother, Thabo.

"Ya, whatchoo wan'?"

"Mat'a say dat Pad'a tink a storm be comin'-"Themba smirked at Thabo, then dropped to the sand beside her oldest brother, happy with finally beating him in a race, but exhausted.

"An' dat ya should come back an' stay at de home wid us tonight." Thabo finished the message as he sat on the other side of his sister.

"Nah, mon, I be fine where I'm at. Tell Mat'a not ta worry. 'Sides, de old mon is always tinkin' dere be a storm comin'. "

"But dis time he really tink it gonna be a big assed storm!" Themba sounded sincerely worried at the thought of her oldest brother out in a 'big assed' storm.

"And ya knows Mat'a be pissed at us for not bringing ya back-"

"She gonna hex us into next month!"

"Fuck next month! She gonna hex us ta next year!" Thabo's eyes were wide with fear just thinking about returning to face their mother's wrath without their big brother. They were old enough to choose a profession and fight in the armies, even to start trying to court a mate, yet the thought of their mother angry still made them shudder with fear.

'Not dat I blame dem.' Den'ze thought, ' Mat'a pissed is enough ta make de Scourge turn tail and run...'

"Fine, fine, I'll go back wid ya." He said, straightening up, "I'll protect ya from de big, bad Mat'a. Give me a couple minutes. I need ta get some tings from de house. "

"Don't forget ta bring Zolani!" Themba called after him. Zolani was his Purple Raptor, and perhaps one of the only good things to come out of Den's time in the army.

Den'ze walked the few short feet to his house he and his father and brother had built themselves. It wasn't huge, but it wasn't small like the houses back in the village, and it was exactly where he wanted it; as close to the beach as possible and secluded; nestled inside a little cove and as far away from the village as his mother would allow. Sure, he got the reputation for being a bit like a hermit because of it, but he didn't mind. His privacy meant more to him than what the gossip mongers thought.

Grabbing a small rucksack, he tossed a few things in there; his Alchemy notebook, some clothes, things he'd probably need in the morning. Den'ze looked around his home. Again, it wasn't huge, but bigger than most of the village homes. Using curtains to divide the home when necessary, it had two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and something akin to a study. There was no bathroom, per se, but a small room off to the back of the house with a big tub for bathing built into the floor. He had an outhouse outside, behind the main house. He shook his head and laughed, remembering when they built it that his mother insisted on a 'two seater', an out house with two separate holes, one for men, the other for women, in case he ever had any female friends over. His father rolled his eyes and said "As if that will ever happen."

'Pad'a didn't know how right he'd be.' Den'ze thought sourly. The last time he had brought a girl home was a long time ago, and despite being matched by the village Shaman, it ended badly. So badly, in fact, that he still had the scars to prove it. Shaking his head again, Den turned around and left, grabbing his mount's reigns and walking back to the village with his baby brother and sister beside him.