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Mara Zhaun Relor

  MARA ZHAUN RELOR's mother, Xighim, was a woman of the Rókt from Miesz's southern province of Brozkul, living as a foreigner north in Hunar. Zjnedua was Mara's mother tongue, the language of home growing up.   The community here fiercely judged her mother on several counts: for being an outsider; for her lack of a spouse and the absence of a paternal figure for Mara (a societal stain the Ascended faith did little to cleanse) ; and above all, for the fact this vanished deadbeat hailed from among the nomadic Bockigsch, a word that in the ears of the local Hunarz rang with a tincture of disdain. Local folk considered these wandering souls more pests than people, though this attitude was milder here than anywhere else in Miesz, so on the bright side, Mara could certainly have found less acceptance in any less civilized clime than here, the picturesque pastoral town of Czecti, which napped soundly on Galori's golden borders.   Of course there was no one else who hated Mara's father so much as her mother, who refused even to speak his name on account of his abandonment. Mara grew up with questions that would never be answered, and the seemingly unfordable distance between she and the man made her all the more determined to know her mysterious sire.   To the extent that she could, she delved into Bockigsch lore, swimming against the currents of cultural contempt, seeking to piece together her fragmented identity. Her slightly darker skin and impassioned spirit became emblems of her self-woven narrative—a tapestry of Bockigsch pride interwoven with threads of youthful defiance. Occasionally she went so far as to claim she'd been adopted, denying any connection at all to her mother's side.   Meanwhile, Xighim's days unfurled in the drudgery of servitude within the grand but unforgiving walls of House Adnu, in whose austere chambers a turning point came. Determined to steer her daughter away from the precipice of self-destruction that Mara's untamed aspirations seemed to court, Xighim brought her to interview for a servant's role. To mother, it was a lifeboat; to Mara, it was a shackle. Yet amidst the tedium of that day, a curious thing happened—Sogel Adnu, estate matriarch, with eyes honed by years of navigating the treacherous undercurrents of high society, recognized the smoldering ember of potential within the young girl.   And so, by some quirk of fate, Mara found herself inadvertently impressing the very woman she thought would consign her to a life of obscurity.  

The Laughing Cup

  Mara always yearned for the freedom of the road, yet her mother's Rókt lineage and the absence of a father kept her tethered to a stationary life she despised.   In her youth she ventured to the edges of Hunarz civilization, seeking the vibrant caravans of her paternal people, but was met with stinging rejection. Ironically. these travelling folk, reliant on settled cultures' tolerance to move freely from one region to another, fiercely repelled outsiders from their own group. To be Bockigsch was to be born Bockigsch, raised Bockigsch, and stay within the family forever: that was that. Not quite one of them in skin, speech, or style, Mara stood on the outside looking in, her dream of belonging as distant as the stars.   Ever since this severely disappointing moment, etched into the deepest recesses of her mind, Mara was determined to prove she was every bit as Bockigsch as the rest.  

by midjourney

  Sogel Adnu found herself curiously drawn to Mara; her interest, darkly enigmatic, remained cloaked in the guise of a benefactor’s kindness. On the day her new potential help arrived she guided Mara through the sprawling manor, and as Xighim slipped away into the rhythm of her duties got to know the young girl. Coming to learn of her troubled relationship with heritage, Sogel slyly suggested she might be able to lend some assistance there and intrigued by this, the girl reluctantly agreed to work at the estate in exchange for the keys to her past.   In the ensuing weeks, Mara became an unexpected fixture in Sogel’s daily life, absorbing the matriarch's wisdom and the history of her own people. Dargörla, Sogel’s daughter, observed this growing intimacy with silent, seething envy, her mother’s attention now captured by the enigmatic presence of the dark-skinned beauty. The tension simmered, unnoticed by Mara, who was lost in the unfolding mystery of her lineage.   Then, one quiet afternoon, Sogel presented Mara with an opulently illustrated manuscript, "The Laughing Cup" —a tale of a Bockigsch girl's quest to find the title artifact. At first, it was a mere curiosity to Mara, a beautifully crafted echo of her people's lore. But as Sogel subtly hinted at the story’s deeper truths, Mara’s fascination deepened. The narrative’s unnamed mountain whispered its true identity to her—Mount Pdurcu, the towering enigma of Miesz, swathed in its own shroud of myths.   The day Mara vanished in pursuit of the Cup, Xighim feared the worst, expecting Sogel’s wrath. But Sogel’s eyes betrayed a different tale—one of calculated release, as if Mara’s departure was the final piece moved in a game only she understood. Mara left, armed with cryptic clues from the book, her path a puzzle only her determination could solve. She stepped into the wilderness, not just in search of the Cup, but also the promise of a place within her people’s fold. Its promise was as lavish as the intricate designs that adorned its surface—a bounty of fame and fortune for the bearer, shadowed by a fatal curse should it ever break.  

by midjourney

  After a series of enigmatic trials, shrouded in the mists of secrecy (in each of her later retellings the details would always shift slightly), Mara emerged victorious, the fabled Cup in her grasp. Its reality was undeniable, igniting a string of fortuitous events that wove the fabric of her destiny.   The Cup's existence alone was an omen, convincing Mara of the grand path unfolding before her. Whether through enchantment or the sheer force of belief, her life began to shift, leading her inexorably towards greater things. Each step, each uncanny coincidence, felt guided by the Cup's unseen magic.   Compelled by this silent counsel, Mara's journey brought her finally to the rugged shores of Brozkul and the quaint village of Nagaraprok, where the sea whispered tales of freedom and adventure. It was there she crossed paths with the enigmatic Voralis ˈGǘshaz, a Captain of The Big Guns whose reputation was as wild as the untamed waves. The Cup, ever her silent oracle, nudged her towards a shared destiny with Voralis aboard his vessel, The Black Fang.   Together, they carved a path through the ocean's heart, their exploits becoming the stuff of seafaring legend. Mara, with an almost supernatural ability to sniff out hidden treasures, attributed her successes to the Cup's guidance. Her fame grew, and with it, the inevitable invitation to captain her own ship, rising to the esteemed rank within the Big Guns.  

    Yet, with the Cup's boon came its bane—a perpetual shadow over her newfound glory. The fear of the Cup's shattering, and the subsequent curse, was a specter that haunted her every triumph. Paranoia became a constant companion, her vigilance unwavering. The Cup's whereabouts became the subject of hushed rumors among the crew of her ship, The Vagabond, though none dared to search for it. The secret of its location remained Mara's alone—perhaps nestled within a hidden nook aboard her ship, or secreted away in a pirate's haven, guarded by the unseen spirits of the sea. The Cup's laughter mingled with the ocean's song, a reminder of the fragile line between fortune and folly that Mara Zhaun Relor dared to tread.  

by midjourney

Above:The Vagabond

"Old Goldbones"