Neraia (Ekaterine) Lysand
Elder Elementalist Color-caster Hermit Witch
Neraia is a taller woman, standing at a tiptoeing 5’9” at a weight she refuses to reveal. The most curious among the knights can hazard a guess, and a number between 125lbs and 140lbs prevents her from threatening a wallop with a forging hammer. She is sinewy and well-built for a magistrix, due in large part to her choice of profession. Her facial features are slender and well formed, high cheekbones shaping a naturally severe expression. Her large eyes are a slightly preternatural light grey, fluorescing faintly in low light and framed by long lashes.
Her hair is brown-black shot through with sparse strands of silvery-grey and easily waist-length, if not longer; she keeps it woven into pin-thin dreadlocks through the full length of the hair, giving the illusion of a wavy curl pattern. While working, she piles her hair into a large, loose bun tied tightly with a scarf; it is rumored that her scarf contains a pocket dimension to hide the rest of her hair, though she deflects questioning on the matter. In her off hours, she largely wears her hair back in a low, loose, and rather messy ponytail though she can preen for special occasions. Despite working the forge, her nut-brown skin is remarkably supple (she refuses to give up her secrets), though dotted here and there with small, stubborn burn scars from her apprenticeship. She has little in the way of unusual body modification—at least anything easily visible; she sports a row of three piercings in each earlobe, usually threaded with small thin hoops of silver, and a tiny silver nose stud in her left nostril.
In the yellow-green heat of early summer, wheat danced in the fields, spurred by the running footfalls of children. A shrill cry, muffled by wind-beaten wood, joined their irreverent voices as sun slipped beneath the horizon. In the home of a wise woman and surrounded by Mothers, a tawny woman brought forth a mewling child scarred red. A wizened pair of hands scooped her from her mother’s lap and threaded each of her ears with bright silver studs before setting the nut-brown child, hungry, to her mother’s breast. The wise woman grinned, gaps where her teeth should be, patting the new Mother on the shoulder as the joyous ululations of the women alerted the rest of the caravan: the child lived. The men outside clapped her young father on the shoulder, cheering, ribbing him for his timing. Only he would be daft enough to sire a whelp at the beginning of harvest. There would be laughter, drink, and song through the night.
She would live three seasons, surviving the cold and lean of winter, before she got her name. In springtime, against the waves of the southern shore, those same wrinkled arms hefted the plump child to the same exultation of her birth, Mothers crying for joy. Another child had survived, now named after the women who danced the waves, Neraia.
The only child of semi-nomadic metalworkers, Neraia’s early childhood was one of movement, living nearly half the year traveling between homesteads and forever caught in the uneasy tumult of the era. Neraia was often alone, though certainly not from lack of personality; the cheery girl could bring light to cavern with her singsong voice, running errands around the homestead or bartering for materials at market. However, she preferred to be quiet, an oddity against her rough-and-tumble age mates, much preferring a place at her father’s side at the forge or in a lap reading old tales as the Mothers wove and sang. She greedily learned the old songs, serenading as she learned embroidery or by evening firelight. Even alone, she sang her own songs, little nonsense syllables strung against simple notes. She happily took up the arts of her family at a young age, learning weapon and armor forging from her father and housewares and jewelry from her mother. Even though she was not the sought after son, he could do little to hide his pride at the lanky girl taking up the craft; in a few years, he boasted to every merchant he met that she had been born with the forge hammer in her hands. The life was hard and lean in many ways, but she had as good a childhood as any amongst the caravans did.
Magic lived in Neraia’s hearth and home. Every Mother in the homestead could do simple magic: feits to soften hearts or stop a bleeding cut, bindings to strengthen marriages or tie down hindrances, hexes to drive away evil or turn it back to the fiend who sent it, and charms to drive away ghasts and welcome home ancestors. It was from the laps of these women that Neraia first learned the Weave, the folk magic of her caravan. Amongst these Mothers was their Crone, the wise woman who had brought Neraia mewling from her mother’s womb, Adrienne Villeneuve. Long a widow and children long grown, Adrienne welcomed the inquisitive child into her home, teaching her all the weaves she wished: the singing of the words in the right way to heal a wound, the wrapping of eggs in bright red thread, folding butterfly wings into scraps of brown paper rubbed with hogfat, and burying sweets with coffee grounds for friends unseen.
Her family’s nomadic roots brought her into contact with cultures from the corners of Endvale, typified by her adopted uncle Athanasios, a Neut third son of Veritas taken to the bard’s path in his exile. He came to visit whenever he could, bringing Neraia scraps from his journeys, new books, and musical lessons. Neraia, enamored by her uncle’s skill at the lute, learned musical theory at his side by firelight, and as soon as she was large enough to hold a lute, she endeavored to learn the instrument from him, much to her father’s chagrin. She grew skilled in her own time, singing the odd song that followed her through her life, the words liquid and undecipherable. When she showed her skill at the Weave, the books he brought changed from tales to magical theory. Neraia eagerly devoured all she could, blending Weave with more rigorous art.
Smith by morning, musician by evening, and reading by low lamplight at night, Neraia wore herself thin quickly. In her thirteenth year, she collapsed from exhaustion at the forge, earning quite a bit of disdain from her father in the process. The men “talked” as the women rolled their eyes, their “talk” gossip in another name as they worried after Neraia’s father; as a child, the thought was cute enough, but what wet-eared man would let his daughter take the hammer from him? Upset that he had ignored the prospects of her value and eager to prove his pride, he set Neraia to a new task: preparing her dowry.
“It was folly, pure and simple. My father could only see tradition; the idea of his daughter taking his forge must have terrified him, but dishonoring his family’s name was anathema. So he got rid of me in the only ‘honorable’ way possible.”
Neraia’s father, with the help of Athanasios, secured her betrothal to the second son of the Damiani merchant family, a nouveau riche Veritasian household that had bought its nobility from a defunct family. Despite her father’s protests, the Damiani refused to accept Neraia until she reached her menarche, something the lanky child had yet to accomplish. Neraia, unhappy with her station, dug in her heels; her father would not marry her to gadze just to suit his desires, just to rid himself of her. Her father banned her from his forge and placed her on house arrest. That night, the same odd song came to her lips, wet with tears.
“I had never seen such a fury in him before than moment—not when innkeepers refused us, not when gadze children stole our food, not when a town guard struck my mother with a gauntlet. If Athanasios had not been staying with us that night, he would have killed me. The luck of it still terrifies me.”
The girl hid her heart in the work of preparing her dowry, sewing and embroidering housewares and learning the care of a household at her mother’s side. The Mothers came weekly, rubbing sweet oil and tinctures of flowers into her skin, scouring the roughness from her hands and feet, and weaving her hair into a woman’s style, pin-thin dreadlocks feited to keep themselves wound even as her hair grew. Finally, in her fifteenth year, Neraia reached menarche. The Damiani accepted her as daughter-in-law, the wedding scheduled for the summer solstice.
In the weeks before her wedding, the Mothers saw to her bridal preparations. Her mother personally pierced her nose and threaded her ears with bride’s jewels, adorning the hesitant girl with jewelry of her own creation. Neraia learned much at their laps as the Mothers turned their guidance towards hearth and home: the rearing of children and the running of a household. Ever frank, Adrienne herself initiated Neraia to woman’s talk, seeing to the bride’s piercings that would mark her body as one of pleasure for her husband. The Mothers gave her their feits and advice for the pleasing of men and the honeying of the bedchamber. Neraia, though appalled at the sudden looseness of their tongues, took their lessons; she had long resolved to endure for the sake of her father’s honor, unwilling to invoke his ire again.
On the night before the wedding, Neraia spent her last maiden night with her mother and Adrienne, the girl crying into their laps. Neraia’s mother allowed her this childishness, swept tears from the girl’s eyes, teary herself at her daughter’s departure.
“Hush now, madárka. You will soar above this place, so high up that you will forget this road, this little mother. Cry not. Save your birdsong for the sky.”
Thus, barely sixteen, Neraia gained a husband, Andrei Damiani, his title, and her married name: Aikaterine Adriana Eugenia, in honor of the Crone who had given her power and the mother who had given her life.
_“It was a poor match, but my father must have been desperate to be rid of me, to rid himself of the burden of my sex. He painted it in such beautiful colors. ‘You will be gadze, escape this life. You won’t have to work yourself to death.’ He never mentioned that I would have to give up my pride.
“Andrei was all too enamored with his ‘exotic’ bride to care. He was obsessed to claim me as his own, and by my trough, he did just that, ‘insisting’ on a week of wedded bliss.”_
Neraia’s days with the Damiani were largely unhappy. As the wife of an often-ill second son, she held little sway in the decisions of her life, acting as little more than a gloried house servant. She felt idle learning the etiquette of nobility, aching to take up her books and hammer again, and the passions of her all-too-eager husband consumed her nights. It was hardly any surprise at all when she found herself in a delicate condition before year’s end.
Being with child was a new challenge for Neraia, especially with the other duties of maintaining her home. With some relief, she found her husband turning to house servants or to the night to sate his desires, giving her a welcome respite that allowed her to return to her studies. However, her peace was not to last; she miscarried and would miscarry again two years later, whispering her broken song.
“That man burned white hot. There were scant few restful nights in our married bed. But two bad wombs later, for all his exertion, he had nothing to show for it. Maybe he had always known his time would be short.”
Just days after the winter solstice of her nineteenth year, Andrei’s long illness got the better of him, and heirless, he died before year’s end. Now, a childless widow, Neraia faced return to her birth household. However, her father would not have her. In the time since her marriage, her father sired another daughter and turned out mother and new sister both to find a wife to give him a son. With few other options, Neraia petitioned to stay with the Damiani, offering her dowry to earn her keep. They agreed, all too eager to relive Neraia of her handiwork.
Financially stable and socially untethered, Neraia found herself returning to her passions: the forge, music, and her studies. She earned her place in a church forgeworks, donating the majority of her creations to the church to pay for her material costs and the use of their forge. The Damiani family largely overlooked her frequent church visits as a show of piety in her widowhood.
In her twenty-second year, Athanasios re-entered her life more fully, contacting her through a series of letters. Feeling that she was wasting her potential as an educated woman, he arranged for her training as an elementalist initiate. She split her time between the church forge and her initiate’s training, paying for her training with pieces sold through her uncle’s merchant channels. Because of the secrecy of her training, progress went very slowly, but three years later, at the age of twenty-five, she finally became an elementalist adept. Her master gave her glowing recommendations to the High Maestra of Akasha, and with her word, Neraia had the approval to learn from the High Maestros, specialists in their chosen elements, traveling between each in turn. Neraia saw her opportunity and began to assemble her nest egg, a cache of crafted work that would buy her freedom. With the help of her uncle, she began gathering supplies and arranging the caravans for her travel.
However, the Damiani tracked the merchant channels back to the church forgeworks, discovering the money that Neraia had been saving. Her father-in-law threatened suit against her for the money that she could have been using to fill the Damiani coffers, and Neraia felt trapped. She turned to the church for legal sanctuary, and they happily provided it, given how much she had contributed to their prosperity. Thanks to the intercession of the church, an ecclesiastical court saw the case, ruling that Neraia would only have to give her dowry to the Damiani, as it was the only property promised to them.
With her freedom secured, Neraia left the country of her birth and took to the caravans, traveling the world to hone her art. She instructed her uncle to use some of the cache she had left behind to help her mother and sister survive, sending letters to both households along her journey. She trained under six High Maestros in total over the course of nearly three decades, winding her way across the world by land and sea. On the leg of the journey between the High Maestro of Cold and the High Maestro of Air, she booked travel on an airship crewed by a Nethermancer and his skeletons, captained by the Windling Kyra, and owned by Scholme, a good-natured, sword dancing Lizard seed. Their troop kidnapped Neraia into a whirlwind adventure against a hive of unnatural temerity that threatened the weavings of Endvale, their triumph coming at a personal cost; the queen of the hive spoke a curse in her dispatch, and since, Neraia’s time has slowed to a crawl.
As Neraia wove her path between Maestros, she endeared herself with the local smiths wherever she could, sharing her knowledge and her work to learn at their anvils. She learned much from Berengar Rothbarth, the High Maestro of Earth/Metal: a Kirschen forgemaster in his own rite who also taught her metallurgy, the enchantment of metal as it was forged, and the high art of the forge.
In her thirty-eighth year, while finishing her studies under the High Maestro of Earth/Metal, the letters from her mother stopped. Athanasios would the bear the news in another letter; Neraia’s mother was dead and her sister long married. Mourning a world away, she sent back correspondence and continued onward to Andraste, the High Maestra of Wood: a Secondari woman who first regarded at Neraia with surprise. Originally an Illusionist, she lifted the hair from Neraia’s ears and clucked her tongue, undoing the Neraia’s birth rings to reveal glowing red runes in sharp angles on the woman’s skin. Neraia was Lumenari, Primari at that. Athanasios recounted the tale on Neraia’s insistence: his older brother, a second son, gifted but with no prospects, turned his amusement to women and revelry; as he became more libertine, his appetites became all the more rapacious, Neraia’s mother being one of his unfortunate ‘acquaintances.’ The timing of her mother’s marriage was enough to hide the proof of the union, and Athanasios had struck up a friendship to do the penance his older brother would never consider. Adrienne had been a willing accomplice, eager to keep the caravans at peace; the wise woman was a skilled Illusionist in her own right, enchanting Neraia’s birth studs with the means to hide her from the courts of Veritas. Neraia was numb; between her grief and the tasks before her, she did not allow herself time to parse her emotions, instead throwing herself wholeheartedly at learning the Wooden path and of her heretofore unknown heritage.
After leaving Andraste, Neraia made the journey to the High Maestra of Akasha, Dionisia Caelestis. The wild woman with jet-black skin and white hair greeted Neraia with a fanged grin and a wind-torn voice, her grey eyes glowing with power. Dionisia saw Neraia breaking. Unwilling to let her student waste the decades of training in a broken mind, she brutalized the woman over the next five years of training, forcing Neraia to marry all the knowledge that all the years prior had given her. Neraia rose to Dionisia’s challenges with an unhealthy zeal, but the focus held her together, kept her sane.
The final stage of Neraia’s training forced the woman to breaking point as the Akashic Record was thrown open to her for the first time; staring into the well of the All, Neraia saw the arc of her life in full, terrible flower from its violent conception to the poisoned wine that hollowed her womb. Brokenness after brokenness made itself plain, and at the height of her suffering, unable to turn away from the horror of truly Knowing, the initiation began.
At her initiation into the upper echelons of Akashic mastery, Dionisia marked Neraia with an Akashic seal: the sum total of Neraia’s life scarred physically and astrally into Neraia’s being with the impossible heat of the Void. Blind with pain yet unwilling to bend, Neraia felt the odd song of her youth come easily to her lips, Dionisia singing it alongside her word for word in a liquid, ululating language: Voidtongue. With the song finally completed, the two women, staring headlong into the Void of All, sang the whole of Neraia’s life to secure her access to the Akashic Record.
“I have been singing you for decades, child. You are far greater, so much more than your pain. Do not dare disappoint me!”
Finally, after nearly three decades of study and sacrifice, Dionisia named Neraia Maestra in her own right, a wheelwalker par excellence able to read the ken of the All from the Akashic Record. She claimed her mother’s maid name as her own, taking a name for herself: Neraia Lysand. As proof of her accomplishment, Dionisia gifted Neraia two items of power: the obsidian casting dagger Hrodheid and the ring Jocosa, a union of the six elements in stone form. From her initiation into the Akashic Record, Neraia knew where her journey should turn, the path directing her to the ailing land of Lustra, seeing in the record of the hardship they faced and the need to help aid it. Armed with her knowledge, Neraia began the year’s journey, making a stop along the way to reconcile with her family by marriage, her sister, and her true uncle.
Neraia arrived in Lustra at the height of the tumult. Without a king and ruled by coin and the sword, she found many families destitute and struggling to eke out a living in the economic climes, either free agents stubbornly scrabbling for success or businesses noosed by debt and fear. Luckily for Neraia, she had the coin, buying a small plot of land to the northwest of Paramour. Neraia found a contractor willing to work for her, and with their agreement, she set to work designing and building her home and forge. Pulling artisans from amongst Lustra’s working class, she used the savings from her journey to inject circulating currency into the market. Her skill at the forge earned her a network of contacts across Lustra, and her merchant marriage gave her acumen and the connections to start trade routes for raw materials. The economic conditions around her began steadily improving, but though a tenuous stability began to spread around her, Neraia knew that Lustra itself would need a more permanent solution to its problems. As Princess Heart rose to prominence, Neraia saw her answer; a unifying leader would help to centralize and expand the trade markets for all of Lustra, and the diplomatic improvements would cement her borders. Neraia knew that the people she had personally touched would follow Princess Heart if she herself pledged her service, so pledge her service she did.
Now, over fifty, Neraia felt content. For the first time in her life, she had her own name, her own home, and purpose of her own design. With the space to create and work, she began turning to her inner life, truly honing her crafts. It was at this point that she met Dame Nikara Ereatha on a rare night drinking, and the two, with time, became good friends. Inspired by Nikara’s story, she set to work on creating something that would test the bounds of her ability as a forgemistress and Maestra: creating a functioning magical prosthetic.