Pharast 5, 4713 (late night, Spirit Road)
I feel naked without my hair.
Dasi and I are making the trip to Muliwan tomorrow, and that means I spent hours tonight working on my disguise with Ameiko, Radella and Dasi. The easy part is looking like a monk of Irori: we almost always visited the temple when we traveled to Magnimar, and of course the time we spent in Jalmeray would qualify as “immersive”. The hard part is acting like one.
My clumsy attempts at being someone I wasn’t back in Kalsgard weighed heavily on me as I practiced, over and over, under the rising Rebirth Moon. I could hear Sandru’s voice in my head: it isn’t enough to know Irori’s faith. I’m not going to be quizzed on his tenets. I need to be someone that meets peoples’ expectations. This includes everything from attitude to speech patterns to gods-be-damned posture.
“Normally, when creating a disguise, you don’t want to stand out. You want to be forgettable,” Ameiko explained as I dressed in the outfit I’d fabricated. “In your case, however, you can’t not stand out, so you have to become someone that stands out for a completely different reason. It’s … a lot harder to pull off.” And that was the problem. Absolutely nothing about me had to be like me.
Dasi and I constructed a simple story for why we were traveling together. This is harder than it sounds because we had to be able to talk about where we were from, how we met, what we were doing together, and on and on. It took a half an hour to develop our “history” to the point where we could answer any questions the others in our group threw at us.
We are as ready as we’ll ever be.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. But, good news, thanks to the ring I can fret about it virtually all night long.
Pharast 6, 4713 (evening, Spirit Road)
Amazingly, we made it down to Muliwan and back without incident.
Miyaro came up to me in the morning and asked me why I had cut off all of my hair. I know she hasn’t exactly spent a lot of time around humanoid settlements, but … I thought what we were doing was pretty obvious. It’s the sort of question that makes me just a little worried about having her as our guide through the Forest. What else is she oblivious to?
“I need to not be recognizable in Muliwan, just in case agents of the Five Storms or Prince Batsaikhar are watching for us. My long hair would give me away.”
This seemed to excite her. “Subterfuge. Trickery!” she said with this huge grin.
She also pointed out her hair, which now had streaks of white and orange in it. Streaks that weren’t there the night before. “What do you think?” she asked.
“It’s lovely!” I said. Though I am a little confused about how she did it.
I didn’t have time to get into a discussion, though, as Dasi and I were getting ready to leave. We wanted to be back by dinner time.
Dasi and I talked a lot on the way down. Or rather, he asked me a lot of questions, and I answered them. I learned that Dasi doesn’t like to talk about himself, though he’ll happily talk your ear off about what he does, which is write music, write poems and research the nobility of Tian Xa in general and Minkai specifically. The most I got about his background was that his mother is an elven performer of some sort, and his father is a warrior or samurai or something. He was raised by his father, which was clearly the only personal information he was willing to share.
Honestly, I don’t really mind the secrecy. He’s still not quite sure what he’s gotten into. You don’t just open up to strangers.
Most of his questions at first were around Varisia and Varisian culture. He wanted to know how Shelyn is worshipped along the Inner Sea, and how it differs from worship in Tian Xia (the answer to which can be summed up as “not much”). He also asked what I knew of the Minkai nobility (the answer to which can be summed up as “not much”). Eventually, though, he got around to what I knew about Ameiko.
“I grew up with her,” I said. “We were close friends, maybe even best friends, for several years.”
His entire demeanor seemed to change right then. “What was that like? What was she like?” he asked, clearly excited.
So I told him.
My family moved to Sandpoint when I was six. It’s a small town in Varisia, the kind where everyone knows everyone, you know? Except of course I didn’t know anyone when we first got there.
Ameiko and I … we just sort of gravitated towards one another. I was obviously a foreigner, and she was a foreigner, too, and we were both girls, and about the same age. It seemed natural that we’d hang out together. Over time we became pretty close friends. And she was a good friend. Much better than I was to her.
Let me explain. Have you ever been bullied, Dasi? I mean, really bullied, not just picked on, or provoked into a fight because you made someone mad. The kind that is relentless, day after day, as punishment for the crime of being seen.
I didn’t think so. I was. You see, I was a small child. Much smaller than other girls my age. I fell seriously ill when I was a toddler, and that illness, as a physicker would say, stunted my growth. Magic can heal injuries, cure diseases, even raise the dead, but there are things it can’t undo. So I was small, a foreigner, a girl, not particularly sociable, and not at all intimidating. Just the opposite, really. And that made me an easy target. And on top of that I had a temper, which made their job that much easier.
Ameiko stood beside me through those years. She was there to listen, to help, to offer solace, and when things turned violent, to teach me how to protect myself. And the thing is … I didn’t really deserve any of it.
No, of course I didn’t deserve to be harassed and beaten, either. No one does. But my friends didn’t deserve how I treated them. Especially Ameiko. Yet, as awful as I could be, she stood beside me. But it’s not only that she helped: it’s how she helped. I wanted to fight back, to hurt the people that were hurting me. But Ameiko wouldn’t have that. She taught me to avoid fights, not to win them.
Yes, I know. I wasn’t big enough or strong enough to do the latter. It’s easy to blow off the significance of it like that. But that’s not why she did what she did. She wasn’t afraid I couldn’t fight back, she just wanted me to be a better person than they were. That’s just who Ameiko is. She encourages the best in people.
Her family? No, Dasi, she didn’t learn compassion and human decency from her family. Well, perhaps from her mom, though even that was … complicated.
No. No one knows for sure how she died. The official story, the one told by Lonjiku, which makes it suspect, is that she fell from the cliffs behind their home. A tragic accident, they say. No one disputes that it was the fall that killed her, but how and why she went over that edge? That was a source of endless speculation for years.
How much has she told you about her family?
Of course not. Ameiko doesn’t talk about her family or her personal life. Don’t worry, though. What I’m sharing with you was widely known in Sandpoint, or at the very least an open secret.
Her father, Lonjiku, was a bitter, angry and controlling man. We have since learned some of why that was, but I firmly believe that personal tragedy only brings out more of what you are. Rarely does it cause a transformation in character. Lonjiku was a victim of the Five Storms as much as his grandparents, only he lived long enough to spread his pain around, particularly to those that were closest to him.
When he opened the Warding Box protecting the Amatatsu Seal many years ago, he was unaware of his heritage, his family’s true name, and his role as heir to Minkai. Fearing for their safety in Brinewall, his father sent him south to the family’s holdings in Magnimar. But the small fleet of ships was caught in a ferocious squall near Sandpoint. They never reached Magnimar.
This was the same storm that the oni used as cover to attack the outpost at Brinewall and kill Rokuro.
Lonjiku’s mother, who had been living in Magnimar at this time, learned that the ships had been lost and feared that her entirely family had perished at sea. The grief overwhelmed her, and she committed suicide. His wife, Atsuii (and Ameiko’s mother, though this was before Ameiko was born), also believed her husband had died, but instead of suicide she sought comfort in an old, elven lover. But Lonjiku survived the shipwrecks, washed ashore and limped to Sandpoint, starving and dehydrated. He was reunited with his wife in Magnimar weeks later.
Atsuii gave birth to their first child eight months later, only to everyone’s surprise (except perhaps Atsuii) the boy was a half-elf. A half-breed child—if you’ll pardon the expression—was humiliating proof of Atsuii’s affair, one that was illicit in Lonjiku’s eyes. Of course, she thought him dead at the time along with everyone else, but that did not matter to Lonjiku. Tsuto was a constant reminder of his wife’s unfaithfulness and dishonor, so he was driven out of his home and forced to be raised as an orphan and a bastard in Sandpoint. Where of course everyone knew the truth of who he was. Tsuto harbored rage and hostility towards his step-father for years, and eventually came to blame him for his mother’s death.
Ameiko was born a year after Tsuto. Of course, in time Lonjiku would drive her away, too, because driving people away is what Lonjiku was good at.
It’s rumored that Lonjiku had an affair or two during his many travels for his business as a sort of retribution. There was even talk that he had fathered a child in Cheliax, though if Ameiko knows anything about that she won’t say.
Do I believe them? I was ten or eleven the first time I was invited to their home for dinner. That was actually a rare event, Ameiko being allowed to have friends over. Lonjiku … I don’t think I’d go so far as to say he liked me, but he certainly didn’t dislike me. Anyway, He spent much of the evening sniping at Ameiko and Atsuii. I was really uncomfortable and just wanted to leave. Ameiko was mortified. So, yes, I believe them. He all but hated his family. Sometimes I think I was invited just so he’d have an audience.
Anyway, Ameiko, of course, knew her half-brother. She tried on several occasions to reconcile the bad blood between Tsuto and her father. Her heart was always in the right place, of course, but Lonjiku didn’t have one and Tsuto would rather be hated than loved so it never worked out. When she was thirteen, one of those attempts to clear the air ended disastrously. Tsuto actually struck her. She ran away to Magnimar the next day.
Oh, yes, she ran away from home. Twice, in fact. This first time when she was thirteen, and the second came a couple of years later.
She was only gone for a few months that first time … but it was long enough to not be home when her mother died. She returned for the funeral, of course, but everything came to a head right then and there. Lonjiku couldn’t even keep a burial peaceful. There was this enormous fight between the three of them. I think that’s when Tsuto accused Lonjiku of murdering Atsuii.
Ameiko lived at home with her father for the next couple of years out of a sense of honor and duty. But it didn’t last. Ameiko left again when life at home was just unbearable, this time to start an adventuring career.
No. Well, yes and no. It didn’t last long: she and Sandru were gone barely more than a year. Something happened out there. Something she doesn’t talk about. It made her … distant, even to me. So, no, I wouldn’t exactly call it a success, but she did earn enough money to buy an inn in Sandpoint, renovate it, and start her own business. So, that is something, right?
No, Lonjiku did not take this well. He saw it as a deliberate humiliation, and he did not try to hide his feelings. He literally walked into her bar one night and—right in front of a room full of patrons—very loudly issued an ultimatum to her: come home with him or be cut out of the family. Guess which one she chose?
How did he die? Horribly. It was Tsuto that did it, that murdered him. He had gotten mixed up in a plot against the town and saw his chance to kill Lonjiku as part of it. So he did. He tried to kill Ameiko, too.
What happened to Tsuto?
Ameiko executed him.
We rode in silence for a half hour or so as he absorbed what he’d learned about Ameiko’s history. I don’t know what he was expecting, but it clearly wasn’t tragedy and betrayal.
Kali Nassim: conversation killer. Thank you. I’ll be here all day.
I finally broke the silence. “She’s a good person, Dasi. Better than most.”
Muliwan was, as I said, uneventful. We sold the items that needed selling, bought what needed buying, and teleported back courtesy of yours truly. The only unexpected stop was to pick up a slab of pork belly.
“Ivan sent to me,” he said when I looked at him quizzically. “He wants bacon.”
I did my best to put on my “disgusted” face. I was playing a part, after all.
That was harder than it sounds. I really like bacon.