Below is the result of that exercise, which I'm thinking of expanding for other members of Chapter 11's cast. It's been a great way to check in with the character and get a different view on how she works. I will say that some material might be a little spoiler-y, as it deals with a lot of Una's rather hazy and unrevealed past. Not to mention a little bit about Pwama culture. Still, those of you who have been hungry for her backstory will no doubt enjoy this peek into her past. In her own words, no less!
CENTRAL TOPIC QUESTION: What do you think of your current and past relationships?
He's uptight. And convinced that he can do no wrong. As an employer, that means he always delivers on time, and exactly according to the letter of the agreement. Since I can always get my half of the job done, it's a nice change to always get paid for it. Not everybody is like that. Keeps things from getting messy.
Still, I can't really help but see a bird that tightly wound and not want to ruffle his feathers. Part of me knows I can't push too hard -- he's a brittle guy -- but another part of me would like to. Just to see what would happen. So far, the money has been too good.
Lu is fine. He's just…old, sometimes. Set. I don't know, sometimes I just can't figure him out. One minute he's a big softy, naive to the point that it's embarrassing, and then the next he's just cold. Tell you the truth, a part of me is scared of him. I want to stay on the soft side of the old totka, because I'm not sure what would happen if he ever turned on me.
We've known each other a while. I've worked a few jobs with him here and there over the years, but I've always tried to limit the time we spend on the same job. He has a way of…assuming familiarity, you know? Like, he's a self-styled father to anybody who gets too close. I already had one father. I don't need another one.
Not sure what it is about me that makes people want to "look after me." I've never needed anybody to take care of me. But if somebody wants to appoint themselves my big brother or dad or whatever, I guess that's their business. Just don't get mad when things go south and I take care of myself instead of you. I never needed you in the first place. The only thing you're really losing is the image of who you thought I was.
I'm just tired of people trying to save me.
YOUR MOTHER AND FATHER:
They were good people. And they loved each other a lot. At least, that's what I like to believe. I think they would have loved me…yeah. They would have. I think they would have been the only ones. It just didn't turn out that way.
I don't know. Maybe it's better they didn't live long enough for me to remember them. Then I would have found out that they were just like all the others. Like everybody.
Next question. This is just making me…I don't know. Just, next question.
I'm not talking about that walking corpse.
THE ORPHANAGE DEN FATHER:
Zhona, what a piece of work! He was a widow. Old enough that no woman of any status would look at him anymore, but pretty enough that he still felt due a new mate. Most of the donations went towards that goal, I'm sure. It sure didn't end up being spent on any of us.
I'm not sure how he ended up in charge of that Ulai pit, considering how distasteful he seemed to find children. Too loud, too active, too noisy. He did make sure we could read and write, add and subtract. So I guess in the school setting he didn't mind us so much, provided we didn't speak or move.
If I sound bitter about it, I am. Kizak, these people were supposed to be taking care of us. We were kids! Shouldn't a kid have somebody there to at least act like a mother or a father? What else are adults there for, if not for that?
Guess they're all just as messed up as the rest of us. Not sure what I'm mad about. Most people can't even take care of themselves. Let alone anybody else. It's all such a joke.
How'd you even talk me into this? Zhak. Next question. Let's get this over with.
BLUE (aka APPA VA LOZHI aka KAI aka ?):
Blue. I haven't thought about him in years and now…well, you had to bring him back, right? That's what a writer does, I'm told. That old favorite of never leaving the past completely behind.
What to say about Blue? He's…well, he reminds me of Lu a lot, actually. Just noticed, that rhymes in your language, doesn't it? In mine, "Blue" would be said Ozhva. Not much of a rhyme there.
Anyway…Blue. Well, he didn't style himself as a father type, but he certainly saw himself as a big brother. I met him after I escaped from the orphanage. Not sure why he elected himself my guardian. He's impulsive, so maybe that's it. And once he commits to something, he doesn't let it go. Gets an idea in his head, and that's it! He'll follow that down into the pit, and take you with him in the process.
Still…he's a decent sort of fellow. For a crook.
At least he was always honest about it. That's more than I can say for most people.
Blue was a con man when I met him, and he went by a different name then. It was "Kai" at that time. To be fair, my name was different then too. Once we teamed up, the possible marks we could land became nearly endless. Or they would have been, if he'd quit going after Guild targets. There weren't many of them in Pwama in those days -- the war was only recently ended -- but he made certain to take advantage of any enterprising soul that dared cross the border. Never did learn why.
Blue wasn't a Pwama native, for one. Maybe that had something to do with it.
I never did see a man hate with quite the intensity that Blue could. Once he set his mind about a person, he committed to that too.
Odd to think of Blue as a zealot, but in a lot of ways, he was. Just…real particular about what he'd turn himself to.
I guess I was lucky he decided that he liked me then. Not so sure where that puts me now.
Kizak, was I really so afraid all of the time then? Just so terrified of everything. Maybe I knew, then, about who I was supposed to be. I just buried it so deep, not even I could find it.
I'd like to think I'm beyond that now. I know exactly who I am, and the rest of the world can choke on it.
But, we were talking about Blue. Time came that the local Guildies got wise to us. I had to hone my disguise skills to a point of mastery then, because Blue just kept picking the same targets. Wearing a different face was the only way to get in the door. That's when we started trying out female disguises too, even though that was much riskier in Pwama. People took you a lot more seriously as a woman, in those parts. Although, if you could play the part with enough confidence, they wouldn't question you as much either.
Still, Pwama folks are very particular about people playing the parts they're given by Koz. That'd be destiny, or Fate, to you. The Star Goddess' Will.
I never did find out what She had in mind for me. We left Pwama before I turned sixteen. Probably wouldn't have been able to afford the temple fees anyway. What, exactly, is a year's income for a thief?
A ship came in to port in early spring, by name of Nizhumai, and word was that they were looking for a Leg Man. Blue wasn't interested in becoming a pirate. He considered himself above that, I think. But good marks were getting harder and harder to find, given his specifications. No doubt he told himself he was doing it for me. I remember that the morning he made the deal, he kept going on about how I should eat more. How I was getting too thin. No doubt he convinced himself I would starve if he didn't act. Or maybe the Captain had just done her research, and knew Blue better than he suspected. Regardless, we ended up as part of the crew, specialists in getting the lay of the land for any town we landed in. We'd learn about the local business, shipping routes, and any particularly profitable deals going down. Sometimes we'd even sign on to other ships to sabotage them from the inside, setting up fat and easy prey for the Nizhumai. I enjoyed the work. Never knowing exactly how it would go, if we'd get caught. There's a certain giddy glee in fooling someone. In letting them think they know you, and seeing how thoroughly they can be wrong.
It's a little pathetic, sometimes, how easy it is. You just show people what they expect, and let them make assumptions from there. People are just so stupid. They're not blind because they can't see. They're blind because, at the end of the day, they just don't want to see.
Blue seemed to enjoy the work as well. The Captain was happy to let us pick our targets, and as we moved farther into Itsuri territory, the only game in town were Guild sanctioned merchants. And Blue was coming home. Coming back to Itsuri where, as he put it, "a man could be a man."
It didn't make much difference to me where we were, except that it was a place no one knew me.
Well, perhaps that isn't entirely true.
It was a place where nobody scorned what I'd been born as…but it didn't fix how I felt. Not the way I thought it would. Or the way Blue thought it would.
I kept using female disguises, adapted to the Itsuri cultural expectations and fashions. Blue questioned it at first. I told him it was easier, here. Women were widely over-looked in Itsuri. Short of becoming a Timu, there was hardly a better way to be ignored. We were going to a variety of ports and towns, no longer needing to push for riskier facades. He grudgingly accepted my excuse, but I'm not sure he was ever fully convinced. Sometimes, he'd talk to me about how Pwama tried to break its men. Turn them into women. How in Itsuri, it was different. Better.
To me, it all seemed very much the same.
Everybody keeps the person less well off than them down in the mud by standing on them. Pwama has untouchables and men, Itsuri has Timu and women. No matter where you go, there's always somebody willing to make another person's life worse. That's just survival. The trick is to let them take their licks, and rob them blind while they do it. After all, having superiority, having control, it's all just an illusion.
The truth is, we're all down in the mud.
I did more and more work on my own, after a while. I didn't need Blue's help any more, and when it came to infiltration, I was just better at the job. Less obvious. Less personal. The Captain didn't care about what means I used, as long as the work got done. She was harsh, severe, a snob. Typical Pwamani woman. Considered herself above everyone else. We silently agreed to stay out of each other's way, unless we were discussing a job.
That big boat started to feel real small after a while, but no place in Itsuri seemed particularly palatable either as we traveled north up the western coast. Not until we reached Kuzopa, that is. That place…it felt like coming home. Wore its ugliness on its sleeve, and did it without shame. There's a freedom in that. Admitting to what you are, and hanging it in everyone's face like a flag of defiance. Some people will make that an excuse for a fight, but you'd be surprised how, just as often, folks will just keep their mouth shut and move on. Not sure if that's cowardice or just good business sense.
Kuzopa was an exciting place. A lively place. Where the strong survived and prospered, and the weak either learned or left. It didn't matter who you were, what you were, just what you could do. A meritocracy of crime and enterprise, hand-in-hand.
It will always be my favorite city. Even if it is a filthy place to be.
We were talking about Blue, though, weren't we. Although Kuzopa is as good a place to end that conversation as any. That's where our time together ended too, after all.
Pakku is…well, clearly, he's a bit of a genius. He's also just a kid. I mean, come on, he's like -- what? -- nineteen? Must have been one of those super smart kids that go to university when they're twelve or something. To be not just an auditor, but a master auditor at that age is just…well, he's something. And strangely naive about it too, but maybe it's not that strange, given how young he is. It's easy to forget, sometimes, since he acts like such an old man in many ways. Very set in his ways, in his view of the world. It's almost endearing, when it isn't completely annoying.
Mostly, it's annoying.
But…well, it can be kind of sweet, too. In a childlike way. And an adult way.
He's a very strange boy, that Master Auditor.
But I'm a rather strange woman myself.
Although probably not for the reasons you're assuming.
Everyone does. It's okay.
(It's not okay.)
What else can I say about him? At this point in my life…well, when I think about him, I think there's some sadness in there too. Such a fresh face. Hasn't quite realized the reality of the world yet. Or maybe refuses to believe it. It hasn't really pushed him, yet. Hasn't really forced him into falling from grace.
Everybody's got something. Something they'd get in the dirt for.
It's only a matter of time, is the thing. And he's a sweet kid. Almost all kids have a sweet side, even the cruel ones, at first. Then they grow up, and they realize what a hard world they grew up into, and then that sweetness dies. They get mean, and they get ugly.
It's not anyone's fault. It's just the way of the world.
I'm not sure I want to be around when this brilliant, sweet, silly kid grows up.