And so Cheri's first adventure begins!
An Aphuanian Tale
By Cecillia White
Remember to breathe…
Cheri took a deep breath as she walked the cobblestone streets with her head held high. Takir had done good work in helping her clean up. Her cherry-colored hair was tied back neatly, with a tress of pink resting gently beside her cheek, free of her eyes. Her white button-up blouse clung to her form beneath a crimson jacket, and navy trousers fit snugly while still offering plenty of room for her to move freely. She moved with a purpose, unable to help the slight smirk that found her as the townsfolk shuffled out of her way, but lingering eyes caused her smirk to falter as doubts began to swirl. She’d grown used to the looks of worry and fear. They’d been with her and Takir ever since they left Shalgrim, but in Sevis it was worse. Whispers of savagery and of monsters in suits carried on the breeze, and she gritted her teeth as her fist began to clench.
Don’t make it easy for them.
She let out a heavy sigh, shaking her head clear as her hand rested on the hilt of her saber. Her velvet eyes flickered to a sign in a window. ‘Now Hiring’. It was a potion shop, ‘Tarin’s Tinctures’, not the ideal place to get a start, but better than the grunt work that was expected of her elsewhere. She hesitated, and stepped inside.
A small bell chimed as the door shut behind her, taking in the shop’s sights in wary curiosity. Most of the medicines were the usual fare; ointments and salves made from aloe vera and numbroot, potions of eleris with a hefty price tag attached, and elixirs claiming to give speed and strength, often overstating their effects. Cheri’s eyes furrowed on a small cluster of bottles in the corner however, their contents a deep blue with a faint glowing aura. They were tucked away, out of sight of most, but just out in the open enough for the desperate to find. Cheri chased a different kind of desperation.
“Welcome to Tarin’s Tinctures! How may I-…” the shopkeeper paused, eyeing Cheri with suspicion, “Can I help you?”
“No. I don’t think you can.” Cheri frowned, turning away towards the door, “Thanks.”
“That’s what I thought.” the shopkeeper huffed, folding his arms, and Cheri slammed the door on her way out.
“Asshole.” Cheri grumbled, shaking her head before catching sight of a guard, “Oh thank fuck. Hey, guard!” she hurried over, and the guard paused, turning to face her.
“Yes?” the guard pressed, placing his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“You might want to check out that shop back there.” Cheri pointed to the potion shop behind her, “They’ve got bottles of undarian blood just sitting out like it’s nothing.”
“Uh-huh…” the guard frowned, “and how is that my problem?”
“Are you kidding me?” Cheri pressed, “It’s your job to uphold the law, isn’t it?”
“No law against selling undaris.” the guard stated, and Cheri’s face flushed, “Only in extracting it.”
“That- Where the hell do you think it came from then? Thin air?!” Cheri snapped, and the guard scowled.
“Who do you think you’re talking to, sand-woman?” the guard scolded, and Cheri’s eyes widened, “Don’t think that just because you found a nice coat you can tell me how to do my job. Stop wasting my time, or I’ll have you put away for harassment.”
“I-…” Cheri gritted her teeth as she clenched her fist, “Fine. Good day, sir.”
“Good. You can take your attitude with you.” the guard huffed, and he walked off, leaving Cheri shaking in the street.
Don’t make things worse.
Cheri steeled herself, taking a shuddering breath as she gripped her arm. She let out a sigh, and began counting.
Breath in. One, two, three, hold.
She held her breath, counting for seven seconds, and finally released. She repeated the process, caring not for the looks given by strangers who couldn’t understand.
“I should have stayed in fucking Solene.” she grumbled, but she shook her head clear.
She would find a way forward. She had too. Takir was talented, and smart, but too soft for his own good. He’d get taken advantage of, accept less than what he was worth. She wasn’t about to let that happen. She’d seen too many good men and women waste their lives loading cargo and scrubbing floors. She was going to make it.
Her eyes narrowed, and she took a deep breath. Slowly Cheri marched to the docks. If nothing else, Dravensport had a reputation. There would be men of wealth there. Officers came and went. She could prove herself – she had the knowledge. All she needed was a chance to impress. Her feet tread upon the hardwood of the docks, and she tried to ignore the sense of awe as her eyes lingered on the ships before her. Their hardwood siding was trimmed with gold, decorating the ships in swirling patterns as a sign of their wealth. Each was manned by sailors in fancy dress, suited not for travel, but for style as they mingled between docks. These were men of luxury, calloused only in spirit.
Cheri focused forward. A captain and his first mate were standing by one of the ships ahead, sharing stories of travels to a small group of would-be-sailors. This was her golden opportunity, and a fire sparked in her eyes as she clenched her fist, pushing towards them. She would push through the crowd, look the captain dead in the eye, and he would say to her-
Cheri’s eyes widened, but they narrowed as she gritted her teeth.
“You heard me correctly.” Cheri stated, “I want to join your ship.”
“I… did not ask if I misheard you.” the captain cleared his throat, “I said you must be joking. If I need someone to sew a shirt, then perhaps I’ll call on you, but I’m not having a woman on my ship, especially one of…” his gaze lingered on her dark skin, “your demeanor…”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Cheri growled, her heart pounding as her face seared, “You think I can’t handle myself out there? You know what? Fuck you. I don’t want to work with your bigoted ass anyway!” she snapped as she turned to leave.
“I’d heard you shalgras were a savage people.” the captain huffed in amusement as she froze, “I suppose even your women can’t be-”
The captain’s final word was cut from his tongue as Cheri’s fist collided with his face. He went down, and immediately Cheri felt a pair of arms wrap around her waist.
“Captain!” the first mate cried as Cheri struggled with her assailant.
“You’re not going anywhere!” the man holding her shouted as two others approached, “This bitch needs to be taught a less-”
Another last word taken without mercy with a sickening crack as the man yiped, holding his nose. Cheri gripped the back of her head, but she threw herself out of the way as another man lunged at her. Swords were drawn, and Cheri’s saber flew from its sheath, but as the men stared her down, her eyes scanned for an exit. The guards would come running soon, and she’d be damned if she’d let the city take her.
“You’re outmatched, little girl.” the lead sailor grinned as they moved to surround her, and she backed up to the edge of the dock, “Lay down your sword and we’ll let you pay us back for the damage you caused.”
“There’s just one problem, dickhead.” Cheri smirked slightly, “I know how to swim.” she winked, and she jumped back, flipping them off just before she disappeared into the waves below.