I am Kota, a name that has the meaning among my people of Coyote, or little coyote. I was born beyond the walls of Shelzar. My people are the half-orc people of the deep, lush canyon in the Sweltering Plains north of Shelzar.
Shelzari refer to my home as Scar, but to me a scar is a bumpy, healed over wound that mars an otherwise un-marred surface. My home is no scar, it is a place of flowing waterfalls, tropical orchids, abundant game and clear waters teeming with fish. It is a land removed from the harsh heat of the plains and even farther removed from the ugly face and the even more vile stench of this city. It was a stink I was already familiar with as it clung to the merchants of Shelzar when they came to make trade with my people.
It was one of these merchants (who bid me call him poppa) stole me from my lands and my people during my fourth year of life. He lured me with trinkets, baubles and sweets away from my family unit and to his wagons where my memory fades.
As a child in my home I never understood that I was ugly. I was small and was called a skulker or a sneak, but these words were always spoken with a smile. In shelzar I realized that I was truly ugly. Not simply ugly but hideous. A curiosity that this dirty city’s people paid copper to observe, to prod, to poke and to mock.
For my abductor, poppa, a devout follower of Enkili, I was a source of coin. I was a little creature to dress up and display. I was costumed in ways that would draw attention to my ugliness, I nearly forgot my given name as I was known as the child-monster, the creeping freak from the Sweltering Plains or the Deformed Scar-child.
I over-heard often that I would grow to be a sought after lover. I was to be a Shelzari courtesan known for her ugliness. A disgusting body and face catering to clients who sought sexual pleasure with monstrous partners. This prostituted life was what awaited me after my years as a freak and spectacle came to an end.
I was beginning to develop physically when the grooming for my next stage of life began. It must have been my twelfth year of life. My childhood in my home was all but forgotten. I knew only this nightmare. I knew only the cries and the jeers directed at my ugliness. Already wealthy Shelzari were bartering for the price of my innocence. Among these shady citizens was a respected woman who was called Raja Azad, a woman who poppa seemed to give great deference to. It is likely I would have become the property of Mistress Azad, but poppa’s compound in the under-city was raided before the sale was made.
There were a few Shelzari guard among those who raided the compound. What I remember most is Rouk bashing in the door of my bedroom-cell. I was terrified and hidden behind a wicker basket of clothing and clutching a small knife in my hand, but his eyes landed on me and softened instantly. He calmly said, “Come with me child and know freedom.” And then to his companions he said with more emotion, “By Tanil that man will suffer for this!”
His face was handsome and determined, but softened always when he looked upon me. When he retold this tale over drinks at the Den, he described what a retched state I was in. “Thin as a bamboo sprout. Dirty as a stable stall. Weak as a foundling.”
One of his associates produced a blanket that I was swaddled in and Rouk lifted me to his chest. I was passed along to one of his companions who brought me up from the under-city to the Shelzari streets. It was the first time in over a year that I had seen the sun and felt its warmth on my face. My last view of Rouk on that day was he and others with blades bare, moving down the hall toward poppa’s chambers, where he no doubt sat ready with his lumbering bodyguards. I knew then by the look on Rouk’s face that poppa was soon to be dead. I did not weep.
For several days I was moved from household to household. A blur of kindly faces who fed and cared for me; I slept on clean beds and not dirty rugs. I drank pure water or honeyed ale and not gutter swill. I was cleaned and groomed. I was spoken to with gentleness and kindness that I had not known since I had been stolen from home. Still I found it hard to trust the people of this city. Poppa often showed me kindness before using me for foul tasks. I did not trust humans. I had a hatred for Shelzari.
After some weeks of moving from dwelling to dwelling, I was finally given a more permanent bed. Lady Perchuha took me in after she had heard Rouk’s account of the misery I suffered under poppa’s care. Aysul’s Den seemed a palace to me; decorated with riches and finery like I had only seen during visits to the dwellings of wealthy merchants where I was made to display my ugliness as entertainment for the well off and their distinguished guests.
Lady Perchuha was friendly. The other women who had taken to dwelling at the den were friendly. Many of the children were not so friendly and I was more than content to remain to myself. I still did not trust these Shelzari and as beautiful and kind as Lady Perchuha was to me, I refused to let myself trust a Shelzari. Truly my only companion during those early days was Aysul himself. He never looked upon me with judgmental eyes, he never saw my ugliness. The great bronze tiger saw me with the eyes of Tanil and saw me only as a sad and lonely child. As is his nature, he sought to nurture, befriend and comfort me. To this day he is still my very best and most true friend.
I ran and played with Aysul during the day. I rested and slumbered against his great, warm body at night. We curled up in the courtyard grass or upon my room’s rugs and fell asleep listening to the beautiful music of performers or the enchanting voice of Lady Perchuha.
Months passed and I grew to accept the kindness of Lady Perchuha as being sincere. Still I did not fit in at Aysul’s Den and began venturing out through various windows or gates at night. Often I would spend many nights away from the Den, but there is a sickness in this city and always, in need of food, shelter or cleansing, I returned to my room at the Den. A room that had been saved and held for me just as I had left it.
For nearly two years that has been my life. I live at the Den, but at times feel a need to get away. To make a free life for myself. To earn coin and to prepare for my journey home. I wonder and dream often about the place these Shelzari call Scar. Will my mother recognize me? Will my people accept me?
To my surprise Rouk began training me in various skills shortly after I came to stay at Aysul’s Den. Rouk is a regular patron and a devout follower of the Huntress Tanil. Through the stories of Rouk and Lady Perchuha I have come to adore Tanil as well. Only Tanil would step forth to champion an ugly outcast like myself. I pray to Tanil nightly and work to serve her with my life. Rouk has been giving me work throughout the city. Rouk tells me to keep quiet about this, Lady Perchuha would not approve.
Rouk has recently took me on to spy upon a few street toughs in a neighborhood known as Nadim’s Landing. I am good at following. I am good at watching. I still feel I owe Rouk for my rescue and I am happy to help even if it keeps me away from the Den for a long stretch of time. I have watched one of these cut throats for two days now and will return to follow him in the morning. I have heard him speak a name that has sent chills through my body. Raja Azad.