Valeriya was born into sadness. Her real mommy, an elf, died during childbirth and her traveling merchant father married a human woman when she was very little. She was her father’s perfect little angel and just as cute as a bug, but her new mommy was never happy with anything she did. When her daddy wasn’t at home Valeriya was punished and made to cry. She told little Lera that she was bad, that it was her fault that her real mommy had died, and she was lucky her new mommy was so nice, so she better be good or she’d make her daddy send her away and have new babies. She said that she’d be an orphan, but because she was a half-breed no one would want her or be willing to take her in and she’d have to live in the streets and go hungry until winter came and she froze to death and no one would care.
She was happy in school and always tried to please her teachers. Unfortunately she wasn’t very bright and she often had to be punished. She understood that very well. Mostly everyone liked her at first because she was so pretty, but she learned to lie and sneak at home and those habits came with her to the school. She never made good friends because she was scared of people and deep down inside she didn’t believe anyone could really like her or want her as a friend.
Over the years her step mother wore her spirit down. Her father became worried because as his little girl was growing up, she was becoming extremely shy. She didn’t seem to have any friends anymore. He didn’t see how his new wife was poisoning her heart. He was a kind man, but he was away too much.
Often special men came to the school. They were priests from a big and important temple. They talked to all the children and led them through some prayers and hymns. One time they took Valeriya away from the class to talk to her alone.
They wanted to know why she didn’t know her prayers and hymns properly. She tried to answer their questions, but she was just little and they confused her. They blamed her parents and she couldn’t explain how she never could remember all the words no matter how hard she tried.
She never went back to her school again. The priests took her to the temple and locked her in a room. She didn’t understand what happened after that except that she was kept in a small room in the temple and the priests she saw seemed filled with sadness. A boy her age brought her food and water. He was an acolyte and his name was Tarkko. She doesn’t really remember how long she was in the temple, but maybe two weeks.
Tarkko told her all the news he heard about her parents. The priests had gone to her house and talked to her mother. They had found out that he had bad secrets, and the church was forced to “exterminate him for a malefactor and a heretic.” She didn’t know what that meant, so Tarkko explained that he had to be burned on the stake the next day. She begged and cried, but no one listened. She could hear the fire and the hymns that the priests chanted as they lit the pyre and their drum counted out the last minutes of her father’s life.
Her step mother visited her one time in the temple to tell her she was leaving and not taking Lera with her. She told Valeriya that it was her fault her father had been killed. She was nine years old and the guilt lingered.
The priests wouldn’t keep her at the temple. There was no place there for a girl, much less a half-human one. She was sold as an indentured servant to the Lycaeum, a college of sages and philosophers. She would work very hard, but at least she could eat and stay warm.
So that fall, on her tenth birthday, Valeriya moved into the dormatories and began to learn her duties. The scholars were neither kind nor unkind for the most part, but they made her work very hard. Lera carried books, fed the hearth fires, delivered food and water, and carried out any of the other myriad tasks that the sages thought up. In the mornings she had some studies. Again, her favorite was languages for, as her father had told her, to have a second language was to have a second soul.
Over time Valeriya realized that she’d never be able to earn a place among the exalted ranks of the philosophers, but her penmanship was exemplary and she was made a scribe. Her work became easier, but she spent many hours a day copying texts until her arm was so sore that she could hardly sleep. She never made friends because she wasn’t able to open up to people. Since her father’s death she had nightmares where people she cared about died horrible deaths while she did nothing to help. She would simply stand by and watch them suffer and bleed and face utter despair. These nightmares tormented her.
After several years she unfortunately blurted out her second-language-second-soul phrase to a visiting scholar who turned out to also be an important priest. He upbraided her briefly for blasphemy. Although he seemed to forget about it thereafter, no one needed to tell Lera what the scrutiny of the temple was likely to bring.
During this time she also began having a different kind of dream. In her first new dream an angel came to her named Garrick. He had the head of a wolf, but was tall and proud. He told her many things. He told her about her step mother had denounced her father. She had a guilty fear and she had sent her husband to his death to save herself. He also told her strange things about the races and the world. Garrick told her that giving mortals magic that they could use to make themselves great was a mistake. The gods would better have limited magic so that it could only be used to serve others, and not the wielder. If those who wielded great power could only use it to make the lives of others better and not accumulate power unto themselves, then the world would suffered much less evil.
She became obsessed with the philosophy that she should always strive to serve others. She discussed her dreams with Dunger, a sage for whom she had done much work. To her dismay, he considered her dreams girlish fancy. “Sometimes we dream about things we want, child, and they seem real to us.” He told her that her dreams were merely a reflection of the turmoil in her soul, like her feelings of guilt at not being able to save her father. The idea of working together and service were themes in her life. She lacked friends, and in her inmost thoughts desired companionship and as to the theme of service, well, she was a servant, wasn’t she? His calm explanation filled her with doubt.
Garrick came to her again in dream a month later. This time he gave her the blessing of vitality, making her healthy and strong, and told her that she would be needed in service to her fellow men soon. He told her to begin training to defend the weak and the innocent. She began to learn arms from one of the sages who had been a soldier at one time.
She continued to speak with Dunger about her dreams, and he humored her by doing a little research of his own, although he never found any reference to a wolf-headed angel, nor any celestial named Garrick. Yes, she was strong for a girl, but she worked hard and should expect that a certain improvement of the thews and sinews would accompany carrying books and firewood and water and things up and down stairs all day so that was easily dismissed. Secretly he thought that is was good that she felt stronger, for it seemed to bring with it some self-confidence if not courage that she had previously been entirely lacking.
On the night of Garrick’s third dream visit he bestowed upon her the blessings of the healing touch and the sense for the presence of evil. He told her a great many things that she didn’t understand about gold dragons and Bahamut, their lord. He told her to enter the catacombs below the Lycaeum where many scholarly artifacts were kept. She was to take the weapons, armor and vestments that she found in a certain vault, and to seek out a group of strangers. She was given instructions on how to find them. They would be adventurers. If they were able to be trusted she should serve with them together, each helping each. They would become friends and might, in time save the world for there was a rising darkness and it was her duty to stop it.
She left that night with a purse of small money that she had saved. She found the vault, one among many where the scholars stored the artifacts that were subjects of their study. She had no problem departing the Lycaeum for, when she came to the large outer doors they were ajar and the attending servants were nowhere to be seen. No one saw her depart except one wolf-headed figure hidden in the shadows on the balcony.
In the town she bought some gear that she thought she might need on the road, and started off to seek her fate, and maybe more. She would meet those adventurers and help them. If there was a rising darkness, then she might, along with her new friends, be the light that vanquishes it and sends it scurrying back into the deep places of the earth, small and weak. She swore an oath to herself that she would protect the innocent, she would shield the weak and she would stand up against evil and fight with all her might.