Islands of Fire and Crystal
A young female Zenith caste Solar from the Marukan Plains, she is accompanied by Gathering Storm, a towering male Full Moon caste Lunar.
Mia was the only child of Arland Manaki, a cattle rancher and retired military officer. Mia’s mother died of plague when she was very little. She and her father lived in the range town of Harrant with approximately 50 others of the Arland and Sunyari clans, raising fine horses and cattle as proper Marukani should. Harrant was a typical range town, with a dozen stables comprising the center of town, surrounded by an outer ring of long houses, with the whole of the town protected by a wrought iron gate and stone watch towers. Small defenses for a small community, the Harrant Marukani were peaceful folk who minded their own business.
Manaki was the unofficial leader of the community, having been a commanding officer of some renown as a younger man, and corresponded regularly with his contacts in Lookshy. For instance, after The Mask of Winters destroyed Thorns several years ago, Manaki joined in negotiations with Lookshy to provide assistance should the threat push north.
One of Manaki’s contacts, General Kurth Minnas of the Seventh Legion, often visited to purchase some of the horses for which the Marukani are famous for. “Uncle Kurth” was as close to family as a Lookshyan could hope to become, though Mia was young and loved him as much as real family.
While Manaki hoped Mia would one day take over the family business rearing horses, which is a highly respected profession in Marukani culture, the girl showed little interest in the affair. She did not like the smell of horses or their manure, detested the taste of cow’s milk, and avoided manual labor in general. Mia’s passion was her people’s history: the inspiring artwork, the lasting architecture, pretty much anything older than what she could see and touch held her interest.
Mia’s favorite place was the clan mausoleum, a two-story granite structure with stained glass windows and a golden chandelier, where the dead were laid out on stone biers until after the Spring Festival when they would be shipped to their final resting place in Sijan. She often shirked her chores and spent hours lazing about in one of the alcoves reading old books or admiring the images in the colored glass. She just as often received a scolding from Manaki, but he would always follow through with a crushing hug to let her how that he wasn’t really angry. He called her his “Little Star” and indulged her wayward tendencies more than he should have.
Mia loved her father, but she knew that she would never have his life. Her life would be filled with art and beauty and song, not with cattle and grain and manure. Whenever travelers passed by Harrant, she would pepper them with questions about the wider world, anything in general but she always kept an eye out for books and other works of art.
Early one spring, Uncle Kurth came for another of his visits. Publicly, he was in town to purchase more of Harrant’s fine horses for the military, but shortly after arriving he spent several hours in private discussion with Mia’s father. Every so often, she overheard parts of their conversation as they raised their voices in heated discussion. Mia pieced together enough to understand this visit had more to do with Thorns than with horses. Manaki was clearly worried about the safety of his community, but Uncle Kurth kept saying the Seventh Legion had everything under control.
Later that night, Mia had nightmares and woke up screaming. Her father held her in his arms, with her face pressed into his long curly hair, and rocked her to sleep like when she was a baby. Mia slept, but her dreams were still filled with frightening images of skeletons and dead things.
Two months later, the armies of The Mask of Winters attacked Harrant. There was no negotiating, no chance to surrender, no warning at all save the call from the town’s watchtower. It was late afternoon, almost evening, and most of the men were just finishing up a long day of hard work. Mia was in the mausoleum, flipping through the pages of her favorite book of poems when she heard the alarm. Everyone in town knew what it meant; all the adults of fighting age were to meet in the center of town, and everyone else was to hide in their homes.
Mia ran home and hid in the attic with her books and pictures. She looked out through a tiny window and watched the army approach her town. Despite her age, she could tell the wrought iron gate was hopelessly inadequate defense against the corpse soldiers then surrounding her home. Skeletons and dead things, with cruel-looking weapons and frightening armor, they were being commanded by a knight in bone-white armor riding a pale white horse. Though she did not know why, she found that man the most frightening of them all.
“Destroy this … colony of flesh and blood and beating hearts!” the knight shouted to his army, “Savor their deaths, and serve your well Master!”
With a combination of grunts and moans, the corpse soldiers surged forward, knocking down the pitiful iron gate and charging into the streets. The defenders of Harrant were few and there was no sign of the Seventh Legion, but they were Arland and Sunyari and faced their fate with dignity. Mia could not bear to watch her friends and family get slaughtered; she curled up in one corner of the attic and waited for it to be over.
After what seemed like an eternity passed, the shouting outside ceased and Mia heard only the occasional scream as what could only be one more villager was found and killed. She realized they would probably find her, too, and she did not want to die alone in the attic. So, gather what courage she could muster, she crept downstairs and out the back door.
It was dark outside, well past sunset, and the torchlight from the mausoleum shined as a beacon of hope to young Mia. Without hesitation, she bolted down the street and into the crypt. She could hear shouting and the sound of many heavy footsteps coming her way. Once inside, she closed and barred the heavy wooden door. A moment later, the door shook as the soldiers outside started pounding on it with something heavy.
Turning to look around the crypt, she saw her father lying on the floor near her family’s stone bier. She started to call for him, but stopped short as she saw blood on the floor around him. Mia ran to her father then, an inarticulate denial issuing from her lips. Her father wasn’t moving, he wasn’t breathing, and the long crimson gash along his back told her that he was dead.
She felt a flush of heat behind her eyes, and buried her face in her father’s hair, those thick curls that always accompanied the warm embrace of her father. But his touch was no longer warm, and he would never again offer her words of comfort. She cried loud and long, begging her departed father, “Daddy, don’t leave..”
The door finally smashed open, and a dozen corpse soldiers filed into the mausoleum and surrounded her. The invaders growled and whispered among the ranks but did not yet attack. Mia ignored them all; Manaki was dead, her clan was dead, even her stupid horse was probably dead. Sobbing, her tears fell upon her father’s brow and ran down his lifeless cheeks.
In the eerie stillness that followed, the sound of crunching glass caught her attention. She looked up to see a knight wearing bone-white armor enter the room, carrying in his hand a sword drenched in blood; maybe her cousins’ blood, maybe her father’s blood. She looked up at him, her voice hoarse from crying, and whimpered, “You took… my shining star…” The flickering torchlight seemed to grow brighter, reflecting off the faces of the corpse soldiers.
The knight spared her the briefest glance and said, offhandedly, “Kill her.”
The nearest corpse soldier reached out for her, only to fall back in apparent surprise as his hand turned to ash and fell away. Mia heard a faint hissing sound, and looked down to see her tear drops on her father’s face turning to steam. The room grew uncomfortably warmer, and she felt a strange energy coursing through her veins, as if some sluggish power was finally stirring. Still crying, the tears on her own cheeks immediately evaporated as she stood up. The soldiers weren’t whispering any longer; now there was panic in their foreign words.
“Kill her!” this time the knight shouted.
All at once the dead things lunged forward with their weapons, hungry to take her life. Mia felt her power build and surge, and waves of fire poured forth to surround her, immolating each and every one of the corpse soldiers. The flames continued to build, the pressure blowing the roof off the mausoleum, with tongues of fire reaching 30 feet high. An iconic symbol of the fire bird reared back and spread its wings in the night sky, visible for miles around.
Above the ruined mausoleum, Mia floated in the core of her anima, her singed clothes whipping around and her hair tossing in the wind. The knight stumbled free of the wreckage and ordered his remaining warriors outside to attack the newborn Solar Exalt. Corpse soldiers blindly followed his order and charged at her by the hundreds, only to burst into flames when her gaze fell upon them. The knight looked upon this evidence of Solar might and knew that he was not prepared for this fight. Instead, he abandoned his corpse fodder and fled the battle.