‘Bookah.’

She hates that godsdamned word.

Bookah! Bookah! Bookah!

As if it was the only word those little brats knew to regurgitate between their nonsensical equations and their miles-long scientific terms.

It’s not like she didn’t try. Gods above, she did. She truly did.

She remembers still the long days and nights spent in front of her screen, watching the lessons and exercises scroll by, unable to grasp any of it. She read fast, she read slow. She read while listening to supposedly stimulating music. She read while isolated in complete, deafening silence. She forwent reading entirely and tried listening to recording of her lessons, to no avail.

It shouldn’t have been that way. She was the daughter of Kiepp, a renowned chemist expert in combustibles, and Porra, an aerodynamics engineer of equal fame. Together, they produced and assisted in the creation and improvement of many flying machines. Her parents were both really smart.

So why wasn’t she.

Her failings came to their attention pretty fast during her development. She barely knew how to talk that already they were trying to fix her.

They kept her at home and employed tutors, each with their own methods, each of them giving up on her one by one. Her oldest memory was that of an exasperated teacher, storming out of her house after what must have been the umpteenth wrong answer to an apparently simple equation.

And she wanted to improve. She wanted to make her parents proud so bad… But it never clicked. Her mind seemed determined not to absorb. Or comprehend.

Once she tried to remember her lessons by heart, even if she didn’t get any of it. It worked for five whole seconds. She remembers how the look of hope on their faces melted into anger and frustration when her mother began to ask her questions that were not featured in her lessons. She mindlessly blurted out what she knew, like a parrot, and the ruse was discovered.

Her parents gave her tonics to “unlock the potential of her mind”; they made her sick, one of them even turning her skin verdant green for a week. They tried various methods of “motivations” to entice her, one day promising her toys and sweets, the other threatening her with punishments.

Medical examinations of her brain did not reveal any deformity. Analysis of her blood revealed no disease.

One time her mother even had her go through hypnosis; something went wrong, and she clucked like a moa for an hour.

They tried electroshocks. She remembers them hurting really bad, and her doing her best not to cry during each session.

Little by little, her parents’ actions, originally motivated by genuine concern for their progeny’s success and happiness in their society of highly competitive minds, slowly degenerated into a dogged effort to erase the ridicule that their progeny brought upon both of their names.

“Maybe we’ve been coddling her too much”, they said. “Maybe she’s doing that only to get our attention.”

And so she was sent back to school, with other progeny of her “intellectual level”. She was 3 to 5 years older than all of them then, and a rather genetically tall asura to boot. The was towering above them with both her size, and the magnitude of her ignorance.

She would watch them all talk and participate and answer and understand, and inevitably pass to the next level while she remained behind.

A ‘bookah’.

They would snicker that word in her back whenever she tried to answer during class, yell it to her from across the courtyard during recess. Even her teachers would mutter it sometimes, when they thought she couldn’t hear them.

With time her motivation dwindled. She stopped trying. What was the point? Nothing worked.

She was a bookah. A defective cog in the Eternal Alchemy.

“It’s your fault!” her parents would scream at each other when they were at home. “Maybe it’s all those chemicals you work with, maybe it corrupted your genes!” or “maybe it’s all those magnetic radiations from your experiments that affected the embryo during pregnancy!” or “maybe the defect comes from your family! Wasn’t your grandfather only a second-rate golem cleaner?” or “my family? What about yours?! Isn’t your mother’s life work just a study of a swamp slug’s life cycle? What moron spends her life studying slug slime?!

They would go on and on, casting blame on the other, throwing insults at each other. They ended up spending most of their time alone, absorbed in their own work, never talking to each other.

Did they notice when she left, she wonders? Probably not. And they most likely were not too broken up about it either. Part of her hoped that their silence meant they supported her choice to leave and try to make a life far away from the torture and the insults, but deep down she knew: they were relieved.

Good riddance, right?

She could no longer be called a child, but was not yet an adult then. A teenage asura, wandering alone in the jungle.

If she pulled out anything useful from her childhood in Rata Sum, it was her ability to run and hide. It saved her from the mockery of the other kids then, and now it saved her from the jaws of hungry raptors and jaguars. Countless times, it helped her sneak into Lionguard and Warden camps at night to steal food and supplies.

For several weeks, she remained in the trees near one of the human bandit camps in the Brisban Wildlands, creeping in and out daily, slowly robbing the robbers blind. She got caught, eventually. But instead of killing her, they told her: “you’re pretty good. How about you stay with us and become our scout?”

It was the first time she received praises. Genuine praises. Of course she was going to say yes.

She lived with them for eight years, learning how to shoot, how to set traps, how to kill. They thought at first that she would be like all the others of her kind –smart, haughty, bossy– and it freaked her out. What would they do when they realized that she was not…. smart? But they didn’t mind. In fact, they liked her all better for it. With her big ears and big eyes, she was their best scout, their sharpest sharpshooter, their unseen little demon of death hidden in the canopies. She took on their beliefs, their manner of speech, and during those years, she was happy.

His name was Kay, the leader’s right hand man. He didn’t seem to mind that he was human, and she, an asura. It didn’t bother him, and it didn’t bother her. When she was on lookout duties they would meet in her hideouts in the trees, during moonless nights. It was their little secret. She was so, so happy. She felt accepted, and loved, and desired.

She didn’t think much of it when he asked her to let one of her bullet “stray” off course and hit the leader in the back during an ambush for the Seraph. That new boss was an asshole anyway, and she didn’t like him much. When Kay took his place, she was so happy for him.

She didn’t think much of it when he came to her less often. Being the boss was pretty serious stuff, after all. Lots of late-night planning, things like that.

Her heart shattered when he saw them, in the leader’s cabin, in the leader’s bed. Kay and one of the powder-monkey girls. She could see them in her viewfinder of her rifle, kissing, embracing, making love.

She could have shot them right then and there. Killed them both with one bullet.

But she couldn’t.

Once again, she had been made a fool of. Oh, how they must have laughed, those two, about how they tricked an asura into being their patsy.

No more.

She left that night. She disappeared and never came back.

During the following years she put her skills to use as a bounty hunter. She didn’t care who it was for, as long as they paid. Lionguard, Warden, Seraphs, bandits, even centaurs. She was paid to climb up a tree, climb up a mountain, wait, and make a head or two pop like a crimson cherry. It didn’t matter who paid, so long that she was shooting for herself.

Eventually, jobs began to dwindle. After the second fall of the White Mantle, there weren’t that many dangerous bandits left to hunt. Centaurs became more aggressive, more likely to spear her than employ her. Everybody seemed off to distant lands to fight dragons, her body and skills weren’t made for gladiatorial pits, and she didn’t want to return to a life of banditry. No matter how bloody the task, she wanted to earn her coin. Not steal it.

She clutched the flyer in her hand.

It said “Vanguard of the Silver Dawn.”

Author BluJ
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