IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE
CHARACTER BACKGROUND: ELESTRA
Elestra was born in the vast slums in the northern reaches of Seyrun, the imperial capital of the Seyrunian Empire. Her mother and father owned an inn that was very poor and very shabby, but which was also well-loved and well cared for. They had little custom, but somehow they managed to eke out a living.
Elestra, out of necessity, grew up helping her parents in the running of the inn – she worked the kitchen, did cleaning like a common maid, and even mucked out the stables. Then, when Elestra was still rather young (only ten or eleven years old), a man came to the inn. His face was horribly scarred, with one deep gash running through the black hole where his right eye had once gazed out at the world. He wore black leather turned dusty gray with age and a breastplate of gleaming, burnished copper.
Whenever Elestra got a chance, she listened to the tall tales the man would tell of his adventures “beyond the wall” (by which he meant Attik’s Wall, which divided the civilized lands of the Empire from the barbarian wastes of the frozen north). Eventually the man left, but apparently he told others of his ilk about the Inn of the Black Hoof. Other wanderers came and spent their coin liberally. Elestra’s parents had some measure of prosperity, and Elestra herself feasted upon the tales they told. From these tales, Elestra wove her own dreams of wanderlust and adventure.
As she got a little older, Elestra made a habit of slipping away from her duties at the inn to explore the city – the alien luxuries of the rich, the depravities of the darkest slums, and everything inbetween. She found the secret ways and observed the public ones. She watched the way in which people moved and learned the patterns of their lives. She learned to see the currents of trade and the eddies of passion which lay beneath that traffic. And eventually she began to understand that – beneath the people and the trade and the passion – there was something else; a deeper flow of information; a structure of thought itself which pulsed with conjoined life. She came to think of it as the Breath of the Streets.
When Elestra was thirteen, she watched a man die.
She had been hiding in an alley, having been guided there while watching the scurrying dance of a rat-king. Two large, burly men entered the alley, dragging with them a third man who struggled and protested. Before Elestra had a chance to slip away, the two larger men slammed the third man up against the wall and slit his throat.
After they had dropped the corpse of the third man to the alley floor and left, Elestra left her hiding place. She went over to the corpse, from which a large pool of blood was spreading, and stared down at it. It seemed filled with a terrible importance.
As she looked down, a small viper slithered out from beneath the man’s body. She knew it to be poisonous, and yet she had no fear of it. Coated in the blood of the dead man, the viper slipped beneath the hem of Elestra’s breeches and wrapped itself about her lower leg.
That was when she heard the Voice of the Wall for the first time: It seemed as if the alley itself whispered to her, and warned her that she was not safe. At the voice’s urging, she turned and saw that the two large men had returned: They had apparently intended to dispose of the corpse, and were not happy to discover a witness to their crime.
Elestra ran, and the Voice guided her: It led her through nooks and crannies; down alleys and through abandoned buildings. In the end, the two men had no hope of catching her. Elestra returned home.
When Elestra woke the next morning, the entire incident seemed like a strange dream to her. But her viper (she thought of it as hers now) did, in fact, return. And over the weeks and months that followed, she often heard the Voice of the Wall. Its whispers grew louder and clearer for her. It counseled her and guided her and instructed her.
During this time Elestra lived a seemingly double life: In one life, she was the dutiful daughter. She tended to her chores at the Inn of the Black Hoof, listened to the tales of the wanderers, and lived the life of a hundred other girls.
But in the other life she was opening herself to the Spirit of the City. She came to understand that the Spirit spoke to her through the Voice in the Wall, but even when the Spirit was silent it could be understood if one listened with care to the Breath of the Streets.
Other children throughout the slums came to think of her as a leader, and through them the lifeblood of information flowed to her.
Where all of this might have taken her in the due course of time – what she might have accomplished in the imperial capital of Seyrun – will never be known. In the waning months of 788 YD, during her sixteenth year, the Voice of the Wall gave a sudden, piercing scream that lasted for more than a quarter of hour. It seemed as if the entire city echoed with pain.
Then, as abruptly as it had begun, the scream ended. And the Voice in the Wall disappeared. The entire city had suddenly become silent to Elestra for the first time in many years.
For many long months, it seemed to Elestra as if she had become deaf. And nothing she did restored the Voice to her. In time she came to despair that she would ever hear it again.
But then, in the month of Ulanseyl – during the Hours of Dream – the Voice returned and it spoke to her more clearly than it ever had before. It told her that she should go to the distant city of Sabehl. There she would wait for a priest named Dominic. She was to accompany Dominic until “their journey’s end”, and there her purpose would become clear to her.
Elestra was afraid. It was more than the Voice had ever asked of her. But she paid it heed, packed a bag, and left that very night. She journeyed to Sabehl, the city which stood at the eastern end of the Northern Pass, and waited there for three weeks before, seemingly by chance, she encountered a bedraggled priest by the name of Dominic.
Dominic told you a strange and wondrous tale: A few weeks before, it seemed, Dominic had left his home in the village of Tarrin’s Reach and journeyed to a nearby town. But when he reached this town no one knew of him or Tarrin’s Reach. Nor did they know of Tarrin’s Reach in the next town he went to. Dominic, confused and desperate, raced home…
… and found nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was as if his village had never existed. The valley where it had once lain was choked with the growth of an ancient forest.
In that forest, near where he thought his town should be, Dominic had found a small disc of purplish stone with a rune he did not recognize. (He showed it to Elestra, and the rune seemed alien to her, as well.) Cold, desperate, and hungry he had clutched that one seeming sign of civilization and fallen asleep.
In the morning, it seemed to him as if the purplish stone shone with a beacon. Having nothing else to guide him, Dominic was following that beacon. It had taken him to Sabehl, and the next day he intended to follow it into the Northern Pass.
When you volunteered to go with him, Dominic was grateful for the company. And for someone who seemed to believe his tale.
The next morning the two of you left and headed due west into the Northern Pass. After several hours of travel, the you came upon a strange sight: A gate seemingly crafted all of shadow worked into the wall of the pass.
Dominic said that the beacon was guiding him straight toward it. You were not so certain about entering it – it seemed to pulse with an evil glow – but suddenly Dominic grabbed your wrist and pulled you through it after him.
Beyond the shadowy surface of the gate you emerged suddenly into a magnificent chamber made all of gold. Its walls and floor and ceiling are all embossed and etched in bas relief. Directly opposite you stood a door of giant proportions – literally large enough for a giant to traverse it – made entirely of ebony and covered in similar bas reliefs…
… and that’s the last thing you remember.