Indistinct sounds came to Astraea first, shuffling and voices swimming together as they poured tonelessly into her ears. Slowly she opened her eyes, blinking them in discomfort when they were filled with a bright yellow light, her head lolling to the side to avoid the harsh glare. With squinted eyes that slowly adjusted she looked about herself, belatedly becoming aware of her other senses that were slowly coming to life. The feeling of wood pressed against her back and gravely dirt beneath her legs and feet, and of a cool wind that blew passingly over her body and smelled distinctly of salt.
She tried to move her hands and legs, but found that her body ached strangely all over, as though she had actually slept propped up against the wooden wall through the night. She blinked her eyes and slowly raised a hand to her forehead, letting the brief feeling of nausea pass over her as she struggled to orient herself. Slowly she pushed herself up the wall, using its support to keep her unsteady legs from giving out beneath her, and for the first time looked around herself.
Her back was against a wide, two-story building, a bustling street full of people and goods to her right, and a large dock with boats bobbing soundlessly in the water to her left. The air was heavy with the salty smell of the sea and Astraea drew in a long breath, her tongue running unconsciously along the roof of the mouth as though seeking to remember the smell and taste of the air. She pushed away from the wall a bit unsteadily after a moment and turned to face the heart of the town she had mysteriously found herself in.
People were everywhere along the street, some running and others walking leisurely, many more standing in small groups and conversing happily, though some heatedly, as the noon day sun poured down upon them all, sending the brown road awash in yellow and orange. Storefronts faced the bustling avenue as shopkeepers sought to sell their wares, and the number of conversations taking place rivaled the amount of trading and selling that was going on.
Astraea paused at the edge of the building she had found herself laying beside and gazed a bit apprehensively at the lively going's on of the town. After a strained moment she turned, startled to see that her knuckles had gone white with the grip she'd placed upon the corner of the building.
'Am I afraid?' She wondered distantly, her own thoughts sounding a bit strange and dreamlike in her mind. But she was afraid, she could tell by the way her hands still refused to let go of the wall, and how her breathing came in short, labored gasps. Quickly she tore her eyes away from the scene before her and set her back against the wall, her eyes closed and head lifted towards the sky.
'Why am I here?' She asked herself silently. But try as she might no memories would surface of where she had been before this moment and how she had arrived at the town in the first place. 'Who am I... where am I?' The questions seemed to rise within her without prompting, and a bit fearfully Astraea sifted through her mind, seeking the answers to the questions that seemed to come faster and with more distress with each passing moment, but none would come to her. Her mind was blank, empty, a hazy darkness that seemed to permeate every corner and prevented her from seeking any farther. She bit down hard on her lower lip and stifled the urge to cry with frustration and helplessness.
"Miss, are you alright?" a deep, bass like voice asked.
Astraea's eyes snapped open, then widened greatly at the sight before her. A good head taller then she stood a dark skinned man, a large ax resting on one of his broad, muscled shoulders, one large calloused hand holding the ends to a sack that was slung over the other. He was dressed in thick and heavy looking armor, his body nearly covered from head to foot in the skins of some unknown animal. His face was dark and weathered, with a strong square jaw offsetting two curiously intelligent looking eyes that gazed down upon her with concern.
Astraea could only stare a bit slackjawed at the man before her, her eyes noting the thickness of his arms and legs, and hands that looked as though they could easily break her slim body in two. After a silent moment though that man had still not made a move upon her, and instead still looked down on her with an expression of genuine concern.
"Miss..?" he began again, but Astraea nodded her head quickly, cutting him off.
"I'm... ok," she answered a bit awkwardly, once again gazing about herself with a look of loss.
The man chuckled deep and low as he readjusted the sack on his shoulder. "You're new to the town, I see," he observed without question, his eyes twinkling with a hint of amusement under the dark brows.
Astraea could only stare back at him warily as she nodded slowly. "Who are you?" she asked with a guarded tone to her voice.
"My name is Bruin," he announced, bowing slightly at the waist towards her. "And may I have the honor of knowing who you might be, miss?"
Astraea flushed slightly at the formality being displayed towards her, and by such an unexpected source at that. Hurriedly she searched her mind for an answer to his question, but again nothing came forth. She opened her mouth a bit sadly, when suddenly a word spilled forth she hadn't intended to say.
Bruin smiled, revealing white, large teeth. "Well its been nice meeting you, Astraea, but I must be going now. My only word of advice, do not venture out of the city until you've gained a decent weapon and had some training. There are many monsters afoot once you step beyond the safety of the city gates." He chuckled softly, as though he had just touched upon a personal joke, then turned and walked heavily towards the dock.
Astraea watched him go wordlessly, her mouth reshaping the name she had told him belonged to her. "Astraea.." she repeated softly after a moment, testing the sound of it to her ears and mind. It felt familiar, if not a little exotic, but most importantly it felt comfortable, a welcomed feeling after after having nothing seem familiar to her.
She pushed away from the wall and rounded the corner towards the bustling street, keeping to the shade of the building. A spark of confidence had ignited within her, however small it may be, but it was enough to spurn her on to explore this place she had come into, and with a name to call her own already perhaps more would be discovered in time.
She glanced to her right and saw a dark opening in the front of the building she was pressed against, a large sign with the word, "TAVERN" inscribed upon it over the entrance. With a deep breath and feeling of resolve she entered through the double doors, slipping inconspicuously along the left wall in an attempt to stay hidden from the multitude of strangers who filled the bar and tavern. And a great many there were. People and creatures of all origins, shapes, and sizes filled the large, dimly lit room, their voices loud as they swarmed together into an almost incomprehensible drone.
Slipping into an unoccupied alcove among the farthest shadows, Astraea found herself wishing that she could just disappear and observe these people unnoticed without the fear of being seen every time someone chanced to walk near her or turn in her direction. A light tingling went through her body accompanying the thought and she looked down at her hands, or rather at the spot where they should have been, in surprise. Only a faint outline remained of her hands as the flesh had become completely transparent. The same thing had happened up her arms and through the rest of her body, leaving her form entirely invisible to the people in the tavern.
Astraea found herself smiling for the first time as she breathed a bit easier with this new ability of invisibility to hide her. However after a moment a feeling of intense exhaustion washed over her, along with another light tingling that left her form completely visible once more. She slinked back into the corner in surprise, finding that she was too worn out to make herself become invisible again. After an extremely long moment, or rather it felt to be that way, she felt the exhaustion leave and almost unconsciously she vanished into the shadows once more.
With the newfound feeling of security around herself Astraea began concentrating on the conversations that were going on around her. After a few minutes, and shifting between visibility and invisibility twice more, she had learned that the name of the tavern and town were one in the same - Terra. Beyond this small town seemed to lie at least two others, their names slipping from her memory at the moment though. One she was sure of, lay in the mountains that could be seen to the far east of the town, while the other, a great city to the southeast, seemed worlds away and Astraea knew it would be a long time before she would see that city with her own eyes.
Feeling more confident and better versed in the ways of the world she was in Astraea slipped stealthily out of the tavern, entering upon a road that was now awash in the orange colors of a nearly setting sun. Across from the crowded tavern stood and old, weathered looking building, its great stone front giving off the impression of knowledge and age. Astraea stepped up to the large wooden doors of the building and read the word, "Academia," with curiosity. Slowly she pushed open one of the doors as it sung soundlessly on its iron hinges, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw that the Academia was unoccupied.
With wide eyes she walked down one of the rows of books, her fingers trailing across their blank, leather spines as though trying to gain a sense of their contents by touch. At the end of the row she settled down against an empty wall, drawing her knees up to her chest as she absorbed the new information she'd learned at the tavern. Frankly she was still scared and unsure about what she was doing here, and despite the things she had learned none of it had sparked any memories. Instead the names just fitted the places or people they described, as though she were a child learning everything from the beginning.
Astraea lowered her head wearily onto her knees, dropping the cloak of invisibility around her that she had learned could be held in place while she moved from room to room as well. It was all so tiring - the people, the names, sounds, smells, everything was new and almost overwhelming to her. With a sigh Astraea closed her eyes, slipping easily into sleep as the welcomed darkness enveloped her.
She sat at the feet of a man, looking up at him with pain filled eyes as he laughed cruelly. A soft voice whispered comfortingly to her thoughts, keeping her mind sane as the shattered pieces of her trust threatened to fill her with sorrow...
An endless jungle was spread before her, trees and shrubs scratching at her legs and arms as she ran on, the strong feeling of being helplessly lost filling her with fear. But shame at her selfishness weighed heavily against her heart and with an angry swipe at her tearing eyes she ignored the pleading voice that called out to her, begging her to come back, to him...
The soothing sound of waves lapping quietly against the shore filled her with peace as she took in a long breath, feeling all her worries and troubles melt away. A warm hand hesitantly circled around her shoulders and she leaned gratefully against the warmth, feeling safer and happier than she had felt in a long time...
The woman let out an enraged snarl, darting out of the shadows where she had hidden herself and swiping viciously with her powerful dagger as it gleamed in the moonlight. She dodged the attack and turned to strike back, but the woman was no where to be seen. Suddenly she cried out in pain, feeling the cold dagger slide into her back as she fell to the ground...
Astraea awoke with a loud cry, sweat trickling down the side of her face as her breathing came out in short, scared gasps. She clutched at her throat shakily, still feeling the cold of the dagger that had stabbed her lingering against the skin at the base of her neck. After a moment she sat back tiredly against the wall, remembering now where she had set down to nap.
A loud rumble from her stomach startled Astraea and with a soft chuckle she rose to her feet, grateful for the distraction. Quietly she exited the Academia and found herself standing in the pitch darkness of night, orange lanterns flickering in the wind outside the tavern and up and down the street as well. She turned to her right, letting her instincts and a hungry belly guide her to wherever food might be found. She glanced upon a sign posted at the four-way, the tavern behind her and the docks to her left, and read that Market Street led off to her right. She found the supply store easily, along with a small stash of coinage tucked securely under her belt that she had failed to notice before. Sparingly she purchased a canteen of water and a small container of food, tasteless but filling, she noted, as she walked slowly away from the supply shop, keeping to the shadows as she nibbled on her rations.
The last morsel of food almost fell from her hand though as a cloaked figure suddenly appeared before her, a light *poof* accompanying its arrival out of the seemingly empty air. Astraea stepped back warily, preparing to run. However the figure stood still and instead pulled away its hood to reveal the purple skinned face of a gnome, short tendrils of purple and blue hair swirling about her slim face. Her eyes were bright and intelligent as she smiled disarmingly at Astraea, placing a finger to her ruby lips as she beckoned her down a dark alley between the buildings.
Astraea followed hesitantly, wishing she had a weapon of sorts to defend herself with. But since she had none, she chose instead to fade away into the shadows once they were a good distance down the alley.
The purple skinned woman looked about herself in mild surprise, then crossed her arms under the folds of her cloak as a light scowl crossed her face. "Please don't hide from me," she said softly, her voice unexpectedly deep yet still feminine. "I can find you easily," and from her tone Astraea guessed it to be true, "but I won't because I want you to trust me and not to fear me."
Reluctantly Astraea let the invisibility slide off of her, shoving the last piece of food into her mouth as she watched the woman before her.
The cloaked woman smiled at the sight of Astraea, then bowed deeply at the waist towards her. "My name is Libra, the sorcerer, and I am at your service."
A bit awkwardly Astraea bowed back, trying to show the same courtesy. "My name is... Astraea," she replied with a hint of uncertainty, the word still unfamiliar to her lips.
Libra seemed satisfied though and smiled again, stepping forward to take Astraea's hands into her slim, purple skinned ones. "It's good to see you well," she said softly, if not a bit emotionally, and Astraea blinked back at her in surprise.
She seemed to fluster for a moment as she released Astraea's hands, then composed herself and tossed back the ends of her cloak, revealing a petite body beneath its great folds. She reached to her side and drew forth a large shield from the empty space and handed it to Astraea.
Astraea took the shield hesitantly, looking back at Libra in confusion when she reached into the folds of her cloak again, looking for some other item. "It's called a Heaven shield," Libra responded, drawing out a heavy set of body armor from, again, empty space. She handed the armor to Astraea, showing her how to wear it and keep the shield comfortably resting against her left arm.
"For most of your training," Libra began, her voice taking on the tone of lecturer as Astraea outfitted herself with the armor she had been given. "These pieces of armor will serve you adequately. Though on your own you would undoubtedly be able to damage and dodge your enemies at this early stage, having the equipment now will enable you to pass quickly through your training. However, learn from everything that you experience and see, even if you are working quickly through your levels of expertise. You have no memories, do you not?"
At these last words Astraea started, her gaze intently fixed on the gnome before her. "How... Do you know who I am!?" she demanded. "Tell me please!" she pleaded when Libra's bright eyes only looked away.
"I cannot," she replied softly, glancing about then cautiously, hoping that Astraea's cries had not drawn any outsiders to their alley.
Astraea leaned back against the opposite wall and let her pleading gaze linger on Libra. "Why," she asked sadly.
Libra raised her eyes to meet Astraea's and there was pain among their golden depths. "I have sworn that I would reveal nothing to you. My word is my bond and I cannot break it. However," Libra continued, when she saw Astraea's mouth opening to speak. "I can assist you with words of advice, and a promise that if you are ever in danger you only need to call my name and I shall come to help. And, this..." From the folds of her cloak Libra drew forth a long dagger, its blade translucent and shimmering in the moonlight. She turned the handle towards Astraea and beckoned her to take it.
Astraea's fingers clasped gingerly around the hilt of the dagger, feeling its full weight as Libra released it. The handle of the dagger itself was plain and unornamented, however it was sturdy and balanced the weight of the blade well. But it was the blade itself that drew Astraea's eye. It looked to be an exquisitely carved crystal, sharpened to a fine point and double-edged on each side of the blade, along with an ever-present glow which emanated from the blade that both puzzled and awed Astraea.
Libra smiled in amusement. "It is called a diamond dagger, named for the material the blade is forged from. The glow you see is caused by the enchantment place upon the dagger. It glows brilliantly, making it a powerful and highly sought after weapon. Guard it well and never allow it to touch the hand of another."
Astraea nodded in understanding. The blade seemed to resonate in her hand, almost as though it were singing. "Please tell me," Astraea implored, looking up at Libra. "Who was it that told you not to tell me?"
Libra shook her head. "Again, I am sorry but I cannot tell you, for that is part of the information I have promised not to disclose." She raised the hood on her cloak, obscuring her face with its shadow. "Do you hear it? The blade accepts you, my lady, for it is happy that it has found its master. Care for it well and it shall protect you always." The cloaked figure bowed low before Astraea, then uttered a few soft words and with a sudden poof Libra's form disappeared, leaving Astraea alone in the alley.