A copper haired Ishari woman in her second century, Aura often seems far away... in a terrible place.
Aura is a very tall, lean elven woman with short, unruly copper hair. She has golden yellow eyes and rarely smiles. She carries no weapons, save the utilitarian dagger at her belt, but has a large leather-bound tome in a sling on her back. She dresses in leather armor and robes that are simple by the standard of her people. She often seems to be listening to something no one else can hear.
The tower that held the largest of the Academy’s libraries was stunningly beautiful. On the rare occasion that outsiders visited the home of the reclusive Ishari, it surely made them catch their breath. To those who spent their days in its labyrinthine stacks, the ancient tomes were where the real beauty lay. The smell of those books was what had intrigued her first, but Aura was quickly seduced by their contents as well. She was only a child when she decided to study the occult and become an archivist, but when she became Aurenalia, apprentice scribe, it felt like she had been crowned with the mantle of adulthood. She dreamed of the things she would learn, the secrets she would discover, the power she would yield, and it made her all the hungrier for knowledge.
Like all Ishari children, Aura didn’t have parents or a surname. Family units were a distraction from the pursuit of knowledge, so young were given over to the various Academies once they were weaned. The children all grew together, as siblings and rivals. Though Aura was an awkward child whose copper hair was unruly and golden eyes guarded, she was never lonely. She was befriended early by one of the most charming students the Academy had ever seen, which wasn’t particularly a compliment since the Ishari have no use for charming people. Ajilliannia was an enchanting child with deep violet eyes and a soft laugh. Aura and Jillian were inseparable friends, and in their shadow was Calderon. The boy they called ‘Alder’ was cold and distant, except when with the two of them.
As the three grew older, Jillian grew stunningly lovely and excelled in playing any instrument she laid a hand to. Alder became a master swordsman and it was rumored that he could one day be the greatest physician to ever come out of the Academy. It was also rumored that he could be cruel. He was always quick to defend Aura and Jillian, whether from bullies as children or from rumors as adults, which there were plenty of as Aura and Jillian grew older and closer. Though the Ishari don’t formally disapprove of the type of relationship they developed, it was viewed as a distraction from academic study and useless in terms of furthering the Ishari people. Aura felt it was anything but a distraction. Now, instead of simply dreaming of finding knowledge and power in books, she dreamed of going out into the world with Jillian to seek them together. They would have grand adventures and fall into each other’s arms every night. They would seek adventure, knowledge and power, sharing all the glories that they deserved to have. Aura felt her dreams gave her focus, but they also made her impatient. Jillian, ever the calm one, was in no hurry to leave the safe confines of the towers. She felt that the two of them weren’t ready to take on the world.
One day, while searching for something to convince Jillian that they were ready to leave the city, Aura came across an ancient tome that she had never seen. She had been in every nook and cranny of the library and had spent most of her twenty years in its stacks, running her fingers over the spines and pages of every book, but this one was different. The cover was a supple black leather, so well worn that there were permanent indentations from someone’s fingers. Aura stretched out her hand and realized that whoever had possessed this book had been quite large. There was very little embossing or decoration, save some crimson stitching on the spine. She knew that the overtly decorated tomes were usually the ones with less interesting contents, so finding something that was so plain was intriguing.
When Aura finally lifted her head from the book, her candle had almost burned out and her eyes stung, but she felt an intoxicating kind of power flowing through her body and she knew that if she could just show Jillian what she was capable of, she would agree to anything. Rushing back to the room they shared, Aura’s heavy robes rustled noisily and her footsteps echoed on the stone floor in the tower halls. It was late, but she didn’t care who she woke. Once she reached the room, she shook Jillian awake, feeling exhilarated about what she was about to share. . .
. . . someone was shaking her awake. Was it Jillian? She called out her name. The room was unfamiliar. There were Ishari around her dressed in the robes of physicians. The lights were so bright and they all looked gravely concerned. Where was Jillian? Why were they making those faces when she said her name? Jillian? Jillian? Something was wrong!
Aura tried to sit up, but she had been strapped to the bed. She struggled against the restraints, feeling confused and angry. One of the physicians laid a hand on her shoulder and finally said the words that had been pouring from all their eyes. “Ajilliannia is dead. There was a terrible accident and you killed her.”
Aura’s world ended.
The room spun away into a void of grey light and dull sounds. There was a thrumming in her head like the noise Jillian’s lute would make while she tuned it. Aura’s body floated away from her and she could see herself thrashing and yelling at the physicians. She could see them recoil in fear as a darkness came over her eyes. She felt utterly detached as they sedated her body and the silence pulled her back down, behind her closing eyes.
Aura had awoken four times, to a similar scene, when she was finally able to stay calm enough to ask for details. All the physicians could tell her was that she unleashed something terrifying and Jillian was utterly destroyed.
The tome had tricked her. It had made her believe she could control it, and she killed the only person she had ever loved. The pain of that realization felt like someone had carved her heart out of her chest and filled the emptiness with burning coals. She howled in anguish until they sedated her again.
Aura spent two years under partial sedation, being watched by physicians. Once she was able to calmly discuss what had happened, she was interrogated by the heads of the Academy of the Occult and the Academy of Medica. She tried to explain what had happened, but she herself was unsure. She had no memory of what she had done and the black fog that seemed to occupy that space in her mind could not be lifted, despite attempts by multiple wizards. More than what had happened to Jillian, they wanted to know about the book, but she could remember precious little and it had evidently been destroyed in the blast. In the end, they found that she had not intentionally caused harm and clucked their tongues about magic being dangerous. They scolded her for dabbling in things past her depth and suggested that she leave the city.
For decades, Aura wandered. She would periodically settle in a city with a large library and she would eke out the life of a scholar/hermit for a few years, searching every page of every ancient tome for any clue to Jillian’s fate. Any attempt to summon her spirit or communicate with her from beyond the grave was met with failure. Over time, Aura became convinced that only Jillian’s body had been destroyed, trapping her soul somewhere that the usual rituals were unable to reach. The guilt of Jillian’s fate weighed so heavily on Aura that she became obsessively driven to reverse what she had done through any means necessary. She longed to bring Jillian back, but came to accept that perhaps freeing her soul from entrapment would be the only way to right the devastating wrong she had done to the woman she loved.
Aura’s travels finally took her to the Nogrim city of Dorodaugh, under the Satarak Mire. It was a dank and brooding place that smelled like rotting plants and unadulterated power. The halls of its library contained the darkest of secrets, but Aura had become desperate. She had been searching for the key to her terrible riddle for decades and had finally realized that it was the only place that would be able to give her the power she needed to pull Jillian’s soul back from its prison. It was in one of the black tomes of the Nogrim that she found what she was seeking. The ritual allowed her to sacrifice a piece of her soul to gain the power to commune with death and those things that are of death. She ventured deep into the catacombs before attempting the ritual. She had studied it for weeks, but was wary, having been tricked before. Finally, she was ready to make her trade. A piece of her soul in exchange for the power to reclaim Jillian’s. It seemed fitting and she was willing to sacrifice almost anything to assuage her guilt. This time, things went as planned and when it was over, it was as though Aura was opening new eyes. The spirit world was tangible to her, and the faces of those who had died rose to meet her as she walked. Aura left Dorodaugh feeling powerful and, for the first time, hopeful. The further she traveled from the Mire, the more faint the images became, but the voices remained.
Death whispered to Aura, giving her knowledge and directing her path. It led her to a crypt in New Vallimore, where the voice of a long dead knight told her she would find the powerful magic helm that he had possessed in life. It would allow her to locate Jillian’s true essence, just as it had allowed him to track foes across Ratheus. He whispered the secrets of his crypt to her… where to step… which items to avoid. He led her right to his body, where the helm lay gleaming upon his head, just as when he had been buried ages ago. She removed it and placed it in her bag for further study, thanking him as she left.
No more than a minute passed after she stepped out the entrance before she heard the dogs. The crypt was on his ancestral land, so she had been careful about entering in the dark of night, but unsealing a crypt isn’t always quiet business and the air had a distinct smell of molder and decay. The dogs gave her away and before she could make it off the property she was arrested. She tried to explain that the knight had given her permission and told her where to find the helm, but the authorities were very unreasonable and accused her of necromancy and defiling a tomb. They confiscated the helm and her tomes and threw her into a dirty cell with a drunk who was snoring loudly in a puddle of his own sweat. She folded her hands and patiently waited for the misunderstanding to be resolved. She had lived over a century, most of it in desperate misery, so the discomfort of her situation was like the irritation of a broken horse at the presence of a fly. The whispers of death told her that she could kill the jailer and leave, but she was loathe to murder in cold blood. Although she had delved into the darkest of places, she still held on to the hope that Jillian would be proud of her once her soul had been rescued, so she pulled that though around herself like a blanket and waited.