How we came to be
The old woman shuffles the deck of cards and slowly lays it face down on the silk table cloth. She pushes the deck a little ahead of her hand and you draw a card. You place the card down on that same silk table cloth. The card is Major Arcana. It depicts a woman balancing swords. The card reads: The Duelist.
Somehow you survived. What the death of your father could not do to you, the shipwreck will not. Despite the sea foam filling your mouth and the gentle pull of the waves dragging you down, you know that you will not die at sea. It is not your destiny.
The ship that rescues you is a babe-scooner, well worn but sturdy. The fisher is a human of middling human years, his face sun-baked and his eyes tan. The family he takes you with are, of course, taller than you. Even the youngest tops you by a head, but you are warmed by their hospitality. Night falls and you feel that you are safe. Of course, you know, that this will not last, but it sooner rather than later when Evanval comes. Your old instructor is iron. His wide, craggy face is as surly and taciturn as ever. He tells you about the decimation of the Red Scales by the Red Talon faction, informs you of a man called Whitefang in Waterdeep. He tells you that your mother is safe and you cling to that hope dearly.
You can almost appreciate the Red Talon for their entrances. They arrive almost on cue and begin to tear apart the small fishing hovel. You know the family will not live, but you are powerless to stop the slaughter. You blink away the tears of guilty that sting your eyes and disappear into the night.
The old woman nods towards the card and again you draw from the deck, laying it next to the other card. Minor Arcana: A dragonborn surrounded on all sides by a bulwark of shields. The look of his face is either consternation or concentration. You cannot tell whether he is a prince or a prisoner. The card reads FOUR OF SHIELDS
Tymanther is a long way down the opposite way, but you can’t go back home yet. The road pushes you forward, east and south towards the Sea of Fallen Stars. You carry your worldly possession in a bag over your shoulder. It is not much. Your sword and your armor you wear on your hip and they keep you safe, even as your money dwindles and you spend more time sleeping outside. You do not mind it. You feel the eyes of Bahamut on you as you sleep beneath the swirling stars of the Astral Sea.
It was he that led you to this. It was his vision that sent you to that dragon’s gravesite. The same Dragon that took your sister and brother away from you. The cultist laughed at the horror you felt to see your sibling turned into grasping monstrosities. How could they understand that that same horror was what strengthen your result to strike down the abominations they had become? These were sadist without empathy, without compassion. What do they know of love? What do they know of sacrifice? You wonder idly what they would have done in your position. If it was someone they cherish, would they do the same? Would they have the resolve to end their love one’s suffering as you had? Or would they fall beneath the cold, clutching embrace of death’s iron grasp.
It does not matter now. Your path has been laid before you and you must walk it, as far and wide as it takes you. You crest the hill and see the find blue waves of the sea stretch out before you and you are at ease.
You do not understand. All these things don’t make sense to you. They are like stories told to you in a foreign language. You hesitate as you take the next card, but across the table the old woman stares at you with her bright brown eyes and nods her turbaned head towards the card, bidding you to take another. To take a card, laying it down next to the FOUR OF SHIELDS. It is Major Arcana. It depicts a seven pointed star, the color of blood and mercury. From within the heart of the star, a figure holds out it’s outstretch hand above its head. The figure is made out of the same blood and mercury as the star. For all intents and purposes, it and the star are one. The card reads THE STAR
Sounds are new to you. So are lights and noises and colors and in your first moments of corporeality they are all that are. Soon things begin to focus and you have what you know are called eyes for which to see. The first image that appears to you is the terrible visage of the man that summoned you. His gaunt pale face watches you from the shadows of his hood, a shocked sneer drawn upon his humorless face. You are not what he expected and so he has no choice but to destroy you. But you will not be rid of so easily. You fight, you escape and you believe you are safe when his creature, his gargoyle, emerges from the portal behind you.
Still, it is no match for you. Not when you have aid. A caravan serendipitous stops by and though the figure that emerges to render assistance is small, it is no doubt capable in helping you banish the creature to whatever hellplane it no doubts belong.
At night, you sometime wonder what the mark the creature had branded you with will mean for you and your new partner, but as you travel the roads to the City of Splendor, learning the songs that the gnome teaches you, you instead turn your mind to the horizon and what lies just beyond the next city, the next town, the next morning.
Fear grows inside you, but you have no choice now. You do not wait for the old woman to nod. You snatch the card and blindly put it down, ready to be rid of this tent, these cards and these images that now flood your mind, of these lives that now infect your thoughts and dreams. It is the last of the Major Arcana. It depicts a man hanging from a tree, noose around his neck, ravens at either side, his face frightful in his scornful expression. His eyes, angry like fire, burn into you as you gaze at him. The card reads THE HANGED MAN.
You have cried for the last time. It is alright, it was a low, soft weep that the guards could not hear. There will be no more of that, tonight. You will get to back to work.
You had been thinking of the food you will eat when you escape and the thought inevitably lead to the first time that you cooked Saphan for your children. Talkah had just been born and he was a sleepless child, without appitite or vigor. The Ban-Ban thought him sickly, but you know that you do not produce weaklings. You set the Ban-Ban ways correctly with the back of your hand and you began to prepare the morning meal yourself.
It had been a long time since you had made Saphan yourself, not since you were but a boy helping First Mother prepare the soup for Hal’Jaul. It was the first time she trusted you with the cooking spoon and you felt so much older than you were. Father drank that night and you remember nothing save for the sharp thack of his hand across First Mother’s cheek when she stubbed her toe on the table, spilling his drink. It was the first fantasy you had of murdering your father. It was right there, at the kitchen table, and you imagine taking the blade from above the door and running him thorough. He would not even have raised a complaint, in your mind, because he would be too in his cup to realize that steel had pierced his flesh until it was much too late.
Your father was a lout and a simpleton and you are much better than he is. You would not give in to the bottle like he had. You would not give into Sweet Smoke like he had. You are judicious with your anger. You will never beg anyone for quarter and then turn his frustration at such emasculation on who he towered over. You are truly strong. You are not a paper crane. You are not a paper crane.
You pull length wise on your shackles, thinking now of a dream you had. A dream of seeing the sky over home again.
With the last card laid down, you breathe a sigh and start to get up. The old woman looks at you with her bright eyes from out the shadowed canopy of the tent and slowly takes the deck of cards off the table, leaving the four cards. “They are your cards now.” She says. “Take them with you and take care.” Scooping the cards up, you put them in your pocket and you stand by the open flap, looking out at the plinking rain outside. “The night is filled with phantoms.” The old woman says. “Phantoms and legends both.”