Meta-reptite Skald of Freedland
Short and lithe, Zari moves smoothly, yet in a faintly inhuman way. However, her face appears human, with pale skin, a button nose, and amber eyes that could charitably be called hazel. Where a human’s hair would begin, fine red scales cover her head and trail down her neck, across her shoulders and down her arms. Instead of ears, she has a tympanic membrane more like a reptile (or indeed a reptite). Her throat and chest are skin, the overall patterning reminiscent of the soft underbelly of a lizard. At a casual glance, especially as she wears a headband to ‘hold back her hair’, the red scales can pass as hair pulled off her face and tumbling down her back and shoulders. Still, Zari usually wears a red hooded cloak, and can pass off her scaled hands as ‘snakeskin gloves’. Her breast plate is ornate, with flourishing copper insets; this allows her to easily break into a performance or a battle, or better yet, both.
As an undercover agent for the Revolutionary Vanguard, Zari Fri’aria has worked hard to maintain her anonymity. However, within the Vanguard, rumors of her exploits abound.
Following the failed peace talks in Gideon City, Zari embedded in a party that investigated the disappearance of Nursetrail. Of particular note is the presence of one of the notorious Bravo Team, feared far and wide for their brutal efficiency in executing the dragons’ whims. The Vanguard had hoped to get a lead on the artifacts stored in the Hoard’s hoard at Nursetrail, but the situation became further complicated by the involvement of the Rabbit Prince. Zari joined the group that trailed the Rabbit Prince (who had stolen a dangerous artifact from the hoard), gaining their trust, and reporting on the progression of their chase. Maintaining her cover, she was able to reveal the perfidy and brassy-corruption of one Mr. Greenlyn, who had ingratiated himself to the inestimable leader, Ralcon Brisk of Castrum.
When her party reached Clemburg, the Bravo agent took them to the local Hoard base of operations. After defeating the evil dragon Ganterobisth, Zari’s information lead to the ‘final’ rest of said dragon, and the closure of that particular hoard out-post. To further her success here, “Bravo Two” trusted her sufficiently to vouch for “Class C” registration with a Hoard outpost in Rushtide. Even with a Hoard turn-coat in Clemburg (vile traitor, wooed by the dragons) following the final death of the evil dragon, Zari retained her cover.
In Rushtide, another brass dragon revealed his true colors through the perversion of the local bank. Zari was able to aid in the ‘de-fanging’ of Srothtiss and still convince the survivors of his evil tyranny to testify and spread the word of the dragon’s oppression and misdeeds. More importantly, Zari made contact with the former king, Rehemut, a dragon who repudiated the political power of brass dragons in Gard. This young dragon wished to convince his elder’s of their perfidy; pointing out the un-natural rule of dragons in Gard as leading to corruption, fanned by the evil Cacoglos. Zari helped to save Rehemut’s life several times, providing him the opportunity and support to spread his message.
The party in which Zari was embedded also uncovered the infamous, top-secret Namera Base, prison and torture chamber of the Hidden Hoard and Archmages. Eva Wayshop herself took note of Zari’s final report before descending into the shadow’s of Namera Base, and marshaled a small force to take advantage the situation. Zari managed to free the Vanguard agents being held prisoner, and after cleansing the prison, she convinced Eva Wayshop to heed her advice and call a cease fire with the Empire. Zari maintained her cover in the party, despite the fact that this conversation occurred in front of more than two dozen people. Furthermore, there are rumors that the Hoard agent in her party has defected; it is unclear how much of a role Zari played in affecting his decision.
The consensus is that Zari Fri’aria bears watching within the ranks of the Revolutionary Vanguard; she is expected to do great things for the freedom of people in Gard.
One night shortly after Zari arrived in North Almond from Dragonfall, she was performing at a small tavern. On her first night in town, she had convinced the barkeep to give her a chance to earn her dinner using her voice to entertain his customers. He had reluctantly agreed, persuaded by her charming manner, and had been pleasantly surprised by her skill and her way with the dinner crowd. That first night he let her sleep in the hayloft, but when more people came to the tavern the next night to hear and see the exotic bard, he sensed the possibility of profit. Rumors spread about the foreigner, as did tales of the songs she sung, including one that detailed the rescue of the human and meta-reptite slaves in Freedland. That night, after Zari finished singing, a rather crusty old man plunked a tankard down next to her trencher before sitting across from her with his own tankard. He grinned a gap-toothed smile at her.
“You’ve got a right pretty voice. Where’d you learn to sing? I haven’t heard mosta them songs a’fore.”
“Thank you, kind sir.” Zari looked slightly taken aback, but covered it graciously. “Many of them are old songs passed down from the ancient Gideon empire, though I have been collecting more from Dragonfall and now here.”
“Yer from Dragonfall, eh? Are you by chance one o’ them freed reptite slaves?”
Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Zari nodded. “A meta-reptite, yes. I count myself very lucky to have found freedom. Though, I suppose it found me.”
“Yer lucky, indeed. We might not have human-owned slaves here, but freedom is relative.” He broke off in to a growly grumble.
Perplexed, Zari gave him her full attention. Her lifetime of slavery was still a raw wound on her spirit, and even the implication of such oppression was something that raised her hackles. Her voice was rather sharp with intensity. “What do you mean?”
The old man started talking to her, his voice low, but just as intense as hers had been. Zari’s response to his words spurred him on, and he continued on, spinning a compelling picture that resonated with her pain and anger.
“The brass dragons may put forth a friendly image, but don’t listen to the propaganda. The only thing they really care about is keeping us controlled. That’s why they took over in the first place, 471 years ago – to control humanity, to control us all. All the ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ they grant us – and for most people, that’s the freedom to be a serf or manual laborer – all the ‘freedoms’ are to keep us comfortable, quiet, complacent. And what’s more, we’re supposed to thank them for being so generous to us. The dragons prefer that we forget that we’d have all these ‘rights’ without them anyway. In fact, they’d prefer we forget that they existed at all, forget every part of the world is under their rule in one way or another. Why do you think they disguised themselves for 451 years?
“The truth is, dragons think that rights only belong to other dragons. As far as they’re concerned, humans have no rights. Did you know that the dragons’ own laws give them the ‘right’ to do anything they want to ‘lesser beings,’ meaning us normal people? That includes lying to us, taking our property and land, forcing us into servitude, or killing us. And if any humanoids start asking questions or getting too uppity, they have their Hidden Hoard, the secret police. Most people don’t realize we live in a country with a secret police, but we do. Most of them are humanoids who the dragons have brainwashed to serve them unquestioningly. If you ever see a Hidden Hoard agent and survive the experience, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
“But really, they don’t even need the Hidden Hoard, because the vast majority of people live their whole lives never realizing that dragons control every aspect of their existence. The dragons are experts at misinformation and deception. Why do you think they have constant wars between nations, even though that’s supposed to be banned by their own Pact? And when the international wars aren’t enough, that’s okay – they make up new conflicts between the realms to keep us confused and distracted. And this is what the good dragons do. Because, you see, all that really matters to the dragons is control. The fact that we’re intelligent beings who have the gods-given right not to be controlled by anyone… that’s something they’ll never understand. We’re not even people to the dragons, just… pets.”
Although Zari was, and is, quite intelligent, her wisdom had been stunted by her life as a slave, and she remained rather naive when it came to people. The man’s words resonated within her, and she began to see a purpose for herself. Little did she realize she was being groomed for the Revolutionary Vanguard. Gummy Adams, the only name she ever knew him by, was to be her recruiter and handler. He fed her rumors and rhetoric, sent her out on little errands, and eventually inducted her into the Vanguard. In the early days, Zari remained mostly innocent, but as she traveled Gard and met more of the Vanguard, Zari became inured and more involved. She never really thought about the politics of the situation, instead reacting to the dragon overlords which reminded her too much of her former, hated reptite masters.
Zari’s passrune is a small coil of copper wire that she keeps in her spell pouch. As the pouch is always on her belt, she can easily feel the warmth of a signal on her hip. Her command word is “opportunity”. She recently upgraded her passrune to be able to message with Gummy Adam’s passrune, thereby speeding and simplifying her ability to report while undercover.
Zari was born to slave parents in the Reptite Empire. Her mother was a meta-reptite who cleaned their master’s house; her tail and keen climbing skills made her ideally suited for dusting chandeliers and washing hard to reach spots. Long days and harsh cleaning chemicals left her perpetually exhausted, with dull and cracking scales. Her father was a strapping human who worked the stables; given the unruly mounts favored by reptites, he had to be both strong and agile to avoid harm. Zari had few memories of him, for he died when she was very young. The ‘Master’ liked to gamble and used his slaves in pit fights against the slaves of other reptite lords. Her father apparently was a prized fighter. One night, he didn’t return, and her mother’s tears filled the tiny alcove they shared in the slave quarters. Her baby brother was born a few months later, and when Zari wasn’t helping her mother clean, she was caring for the babe, Reeb. Zari could tell something had been broken in her mother, as the older meta-reptite drudged through her days.
Zari and Reeb grew quickly, as was expected of meta-reptite kits, working hard and learning quickly to avoid the attention of the ‘masters’. However, their father’s reputation and strong genes served to draw them to the Master’s attention. Zari was barely 9 summers old when the Master and his personal guard came through the slave quarters, looking for new meat for the pits. She would never forget the cold and toothy smile on his face when he spied their small family. Her mother stared with empty, hopeless eyes as Zari and a crying Reeb were dragged away with a few other adult slaves to fight that night.
The night remains a terror-filled blur in her memory. Little Reeb was only four summers old. Her memory is mostly flashes of a dirty holding cell, then a pit filled with dark smudges and darker wet spots on the sand. Two other meta-reptite children, faces feral with bloodlust and fear, flicker in the scene. Circling, lunging, trying to protect Reeb, then a flash of a rusty knife, and a gurgling cry from Reeb. Hoots and leers from above the pit, gleaming reptite eyes, the clink of coins passing hands. Then, Zari fell to her first rage. She came back to herself, rocking and crying in a cage with another slave watching her. Her tears were warm on her face, but her body was sticky and cold with a dark fluid she didn’t want to identify. The other slave said gruffly, “Keep up what you did tonight girl, and you just might survive.” That night marked the end of whatever innocence she might have had. Zari vowed to live.
She never blamed the other children, or the other fighters she faced after that night. She blamed the masters. None but the most deranged slave wanted to be in the pits, and the deranged rarely lasted long. To survive, Zari worked hard during the day to train her body, even if it was only against that days laundry, and at night, she used her growing charm to convince the other slaves to tell her tales and show her any tricks they knew. At some point, another slave taught her a song, quietly hummed in the darkness. She was enchanted, and sought out music as a balm for herself and the other slaves, finding that she had quite a talent for it.
Her knowledge grew as did her body and fighting prowess, until she was one of the Master’s prized fighting slaves, quartered and trained with the reptite guards, albeit in chains. Eventually, the Master even took her to other cities, to pit her against the best of other lords ‘stables’ as she heard them jokingly called. All the while, Zari talked to every new slave and guard she met, gaining lore and legend, story and skill, and stoking an ever growing hatred for the masters who took everything from their slaves, everything but what was in her own mind. The reality and continuing existence of slavery and oppression broke Zari’s faith in any deity. Although she acknowledges their existence, she prefers to look out only for herself. She is the only one who ever has.
Zari got her chance to escape when the Master had taken her to fight in another city. She had heard rumors of the underground resistance, slaves who plotted to escape, and helped at-risk slaves run away. In this city, at this time, the underground made contact with a band of five strange people. These foreigners helped to stage a revolt and mass exodus of slaves, and she was more than happy to leave behind the vile reptite masters for whatever future she might find elsewhere.
Most of the freed slaves went to Dragonfall, from where the strange band of adventurers had come, and Zari went with them. Although she had learned much from whispered conversations in the slave quarters, Zari was still quite naive. She didn’t quite know what to do with freedom, and at first, she continued on as she had, talking to other slaves and gaining more knowledge. But Dragonfall was much bigger than a slave hall, and the stories and tales she heard began to peak her interest to see more of the world. If having a whole city to explore, without chains, was so rewarding, what might exploring a new country bring? And, truth be told, Zari found herself itching to test her strength against that of another. Twenty years of fighting had shaped her and ingrained habits she couldn’t easily shake. Seeing the haunted faces of the other refugees in Dragonfall continued to grate against her scales, a constant reminder of the rage (and buried pain) of being a slave. It was then that she choose her second name, for slaves had not been allowed such liberties. She chose Fri’aria, to represent her new life, the new song in her heart, a free aria.
One evening in a tavern, trawling for new stories, Zari recognized one of the party from the slave revolt. Approaching the large woman, a half-orc barbarian, Zari struck up a conversation and learned her name was Ulga. Although Ulga was a woman of few words, Zari instantly liked her, and the two soon were having a merry conversation. The next morning, after a few too many grogs and having shared stories of their early years, Zari found herself on city guards’ practice grounds, readying to spar with Ulga. After a brutal, if amicable, practice, Ulga declared Zari good at smashing and invited her back. Over the next week, the two sparred together, and Ulga taught Zari a good deal about controlling and channelling her rage. Over one of their evening meals, interspersed with plenty of wolf-whistles from Ulga at passing men, Ulga suggested, “Why not you go to Gard? You good with sword, good with voice too. You could hire as guard, as mercenary, be adventurer. Then you see more of world. Learn more songs. Get to smash things. Is good.” Zari couldn’t get Ulga’s words out of her head, and soon she found herself bidding her new friend goodbye, and traveling through the portal to Gard.
So, for the last year, Zari has been traveling Gard, drifting from village to town to city and across the nation, looking for inns to play her music (and learn new songs and tales) and mercenary work to hone her blade. She has gathered many epic songs, and will happily sing them at a moment’s notice, just ask her. She also has many scars, most old and not all of which show. More importantly, she has gained a reputation as a competent and dogged fighter and adventurer, willing do to whatever is necessary to get the job done (some habits are hard to break). And for those who have heard her sing, well, they have nothing but good things to say. She seems to have a knack for picking songs that will tug the heart strings of the most hardened warrior and the most jaded soul, and then following it with a tune that gets everyone’s foot stomping and hands clapping.
Recently, one of her former patrons asked her to return to Gideon City to help the Grand Marshals with a particularly tricky project. While guarding a valuable shipment in a warehouse, a band of what she could only assume were ninjas attacked, and were barely turned aside. Zari wound up fighting the last one standing in a vicious combat, and something in the way he fought reminded her of the desperation and drive of her pit-fighting days. She fought him to a stand-still and called out, “Hail, fellow warrior, I respect your skill, can we not break off this desperate contest and live to see another day?” His only response was to vanish, which she supposed was answer enough. Zari rather wonders what happened to the remaining member of that band. The job was considered a success, and her patron in the city asked her if she would like another job. A nearby village had disappeared, and a small party was on its way to discover what happened and the fate of a rumored hoard. And so Zari found herself going to Nursetrail with a rather interesting group.