Wednesday, June 15, 2016

City of Curses: Life Is Pain (Maralda) Part 1

#Crux, City of Curses is a dark fantasy setting I've been working on for two years now- inspired by the Jacksonian Era America, Legend of Korra, Pathfinder the Roleplaying Game, Hellboy and more- full of dark intrigues, horror, magic and weirdness.  Here's part 1 of an interview between Maralda and a prominent representative of a foreign nation in Crux.  The Spice Khan is a wealthy giant of a young woman, whom Maralda interviews in the hopes of writing some sort of essay on the nation known as the Immortal Khanates of Maliph.



Maralda didn't want to be there.  She didn't have much choice in the matter.  Maralda Inculti needed the money from her writing.  Well, if she didn't want to rely on her vampyre father and his estate, she needed to do things like this.

The Ariast Times had asked her to delve into recent matters with Maliph.  As Maliph had become more and more prominent in Ithic politics, the magazine wanted her words on it.  How did Crux and Maliph relate?  What do visiting Maliphi think of the City of Curses?  What could we learn from each other?  Things like that.

Interviews didn't bother Maralda that much.  Most of her writing required it.  She relished getting details from those she spoke with.

What put butterflies in her stomach was meeting with the main ambassador and consul for the Immortal Khanates of Maliph in the city of Crux.  The Spice Khan.  She had a huge presence.  Big enough that it scared Maralda.  Not just a charismatic one.  The Spice Khan, as she had been known for decades in Crux, was a Sand Giant at least sixty feet tall.

"Hopefully she looks before she steps,"  Maralda muttered to herself.  She tried to drive the image of being killed in a brief, vicious moment.  Knowing the Ariast Times, Maralda knew they would still find a headline in that.

'Dhampyr Bard Has Fatally Flawed Interview,' it would say.

A gnoll dressed in Maliphi finery grunted at her.  Maralda resisted urge to leap up in surprise.  The gnoll nodded, lifting up the canvas of the massive tent.  The Spice Khan's massive barge opened up to Maralda.  She gritted her teeth and entered the massive tent that covered the surface of the barge.

A big voice, not a deeper one, but one that came from a definite large source.  Maralda moved through the edges of the tent.  Some sort of insectile being flittered in the air above.  Maralda didn't recognize it.  But the human-shaped insect person wore the same finery the gnoll had.

A grunt from behind Maralda interrupted her notetaking.

"Sorry!"  Maralda said, hurrying forward.  She tried to keep one eye up while busily scribing down details as she saw them.

The big voice asked something.  Maralda looked up.  The Spice Khan.  Maralda froze.

The sand giant woman laid in front of her.  Dark curls of hair fell from her brow.  Purple and blue robes covered her head to toe.  She took up so much space.  Skin the same shade of white sand clashed with her dark eyes.  Maralda almost thought the Spice Khan to be a massive statue.  But when the giant moved, Maralda jumped back.

The sand giant chuckled.  Unnerved, Maralda tried to keep her composure.

The Spice Khan propped her head on her hand.

"Uh..."  Maralda bowed.  "I... Your... Khan... Khanness?  I'm Maralda Inculti-"

The Spice Khan let out a question in Malic.  Maralda recognized the tongue.  She didn't speak it per se.  Maralda's eyes glowed as she recited a line from a poem.  It cast the spell, altering Maralda's mind.  Maralda's fluency with Malic shifted from brief familiarity into mastery.

"I can speak in Malic if you need,"  Maralda said after the spell had been cast.  "Your Khanness."

"No need."  The Spice Khan smirked at her.  "You are a bard.  How much shame are you to your father?"

"Uh..."  Maralda tried to think of a response to that.  Only one thing came to mind.  "Stories need to be told."

"Ah.  Baron Inculti has managed to spawn an ariast, then, hasn't he?  In Maliph, you always invite the dancers in for the night.  You give them food, and they dance a tale.  Another tale that keeps death back another night."

"Dancers?"

"Ariasts here worship the Singer of the Song, in the Khanates, we call her the Dancer of the Tale."  The Spice Khan leaned toward Maralda.  She opened her other hand.  Gnolls in finery carried in a table, a pitcher, and a cup.  All of which were of normal size.  "Dancer, drink?"

Maralda's nose wrinkled at the scent of wine.

"Uh...  I don't know if I should..."  Maralda closed her eyes.  She decided against following own inclination.  She poured herself a cup of wine, gulping it down.  She turned to the gnoll.  "Awfully obedient gnolls."

"Janissaries."  The Spice Khan corrected.

"Janissaries."  Maralda nodded.  "Slaves, aren't they?"

"Like your people's androids?"

"You dress them better.  I've heard many stories about slavery in Maliph.  That the Khanates enslave anyone they think are weak or are cowards."

The Spice Khan rolled her eyes.  "Life is pain.  Besides, we treat our slaves better than your northfolk treat the unsorcerous.  Not all slavery is chattel slavery.  My Janissaries all were taken from birth. Then trained and granted great wealth in exchange for their services to me.  They obey.  They are awarded for it."

"Ah."  Maralda paused, realizing she'd started the interview by going off in her own direction.  The miffed reaction on the much bigger Spice Khan's face made her stop.  She considered the enormous possibility that getting into a semantics argument with a giant might not end well.  "I... see..."

The Spice Khan let out a sigh.  "Little Bard, I'm not going to squish you if you disagree with me."

"Uh..."  Maralda's eloquence knew no bounds at that moment.

"I own thousands of plantations that produce sugar and spices.  My ships travel most of Orphos carrying my goods.  Besides you, I have dozens of meetings with accountants and clerks."  The Spice Khan bent her head down, getting close enough Maralda could feel her breath.  "I find the assertion that I would mistreat because of my size offensive.  Yes, I have strength, but my strength is weakened if I fall to barbarity with it."

"Barbarity?"

"The Khanates aren't some land of anarchy.  We believe that Life is Pain in Maliph.  That there is a struggle in it.  Pain.  But all of that is meaningless if you are incapable of the sublime."

Maralda sensed a theme to the Spice Khan's words.  "Ithish have their own peculiar views on outsiders.  I never considered that... Well, I'm the daughter of a vampyre.  I should've recognized the importance of restraint."

The Spice Khan leaned back, away from Maralda.  "I believed this interview could provide a chance to help illuminate some of that.  Perhaps more."

"I..."  Maralda paused, jotting down notes.  "Maliph has some exotic customs, but it and Ith both share a willingness to embrace the more... monstrous among us.  But the Khanates aren't ruled by strength?"

"Each Immortal Khanate has its own... ways of doing things.  I believe restraint and civilization are signs of superior strength.  Brutal physicality is no match for outspending your opponent."

Continued... Part 2...