Concept: Acrobatic troupe of “birds” – a group of entertainment slaves known as The Menagerie.
Character: Pax (given name) AKA Peacock (stage name) AKA Precious Pet (to her owner)
Class: Swashbuckler (Pathfinder)
Home City-State: Tyr
“And now… the Peacock takes flight!” After a moment the figure slid down the silks suddenly, blue and green glittering from the revealing bodysuit as she descended rapidly towards the ground, yet halfway to the earth suddenly arresting the near free-fall. The dance had begun, a blur of color and coordination in the air, flexibility and finesse on display for the gathered crowd. Impossibly long and lean, white-blonde hair braided close to the head with strategic wisps allowed to fly free, ribbons woven through to match her costume.
The crowd held their breath, waiting for the fall, the slip, the moment of mistake that never came. Instead grace held over gravity as the Peacock tangled up in the tense silks, released her form to tumble and recover time and time again. By the end she gracefully touched her toes to the earth and they erupted with cheers and elation. A sweeping bow, and then the lights dimmed and she felt the hands on her arms ushering her offstage before the moment was over.
Peregrine and Phoenix stood on either side of her, both humans, waiting on their owner. Eventually the extravagantly dressed human man came strolling in, glass of wine in hand and from his stride clearly not his first. “My flock! The Menagerie flies again, and so close to perfect I want to weep. Alas,” his eyes focused on Peacock, “not everything can be right, can it – my Precious Pet?” Both Phoenix and Peregrine unconsciously leaned away from the elven girl in the center, though she towered over them by nearly two feet. “No, when I hear the call for my Peacock, I expect my Precious Pet to present herself in an instant, not make me wait!”
She waited for the blow, but it never came, replaced with a wicked grin on the man’s face. “But I’m sure you’ll show me how much you care tonight, little Peacock, won’t you Pet?” With that Peregrine and Phoenix took their queue to flee, relieved that the expectation had not fallen on them.
Night after night The Menagerie showed off their acrobatic efforts, gaining fame and fortune for their owner – Garuda Hamassian. To say Garuda was a shallow man would only be to scratch the surface. He loved his wine, women, and wealth – not in that order – and The Menagerie seemed to provide that in spades, even if the women were less than willing. His favorite of his flock was The Peacock, an elven girl called Precious Pet by Garuda alone – a girl who had no memories of the time before training for the show. When she would anger him the punishments were violent, sexual, or both, and he was quick to anger with his Precious Pet.
As their name became their fame, the other birds became restless, looking to fly away from Garuda. Slowly a conspiracy would form, in the whispers late at night through the dark. Buying their way to freedom? But with Garuda taking the profits that seemed large but according to him never kept up with the costs there was never any left for the birds, he would lie gracefully. Fight? With what weapons and armor? They were far too visible to escape into anonymity, at least some of them were. Sparrow and Wren could likely do it with their brown hair and average builds, maybe even Stork and Nightingale with their opposite but common coloring though their height extremes might play a part, but Phoenix’s mane of flame-colored hair was rare and visible from afar, Peregrine was noticeably stronger than your average woman, and Peacock was a pale figure of an elf, not a common commodity.
The opportunity came when it was least expected. Hope had been lost long ago, and still the birds flew more nights than they did not on his command. Peacock was resigned to her fate, no longer taking part in the occasional whisper-plots that could never be, and even those became wistful instead of imperative.
It had been months ago that Wren had been able to acquire the potions of sleep, she would not say where or how but a faint blush and look of shame would creep over her face when asked about that night. Nightingale speculated that she intended to down them all herself, in order to bring the end or at least prolonged bliss and ignorance for a long time. They weren’t sure it would work that way, but they all kept a closer eye on Wren after that.
The performances were to be a week’s partnership with another group, former gladiators that would stage battle-inspired dances on the ground with The Menagerie performing their flights above the chaos. For this light armor was issued to the birds, to keep the theme flowing above and below, but collected away each night. Until the night it was not.
Garuda had drunk more than usual, his speech slurred and his actions slow, as he crowed about the successful performance, no punishments to be seen for the night. The birds waited for the traditional demand that they undress from the armor, but instead his eyes drooped, his glass plunked onto the table, and his breathing deepened, sleep stealing away their owner. It was Stork that saw the opportunity – if he were to remain out, and the other troupe could be distracted, and they could slip away into the night.
Wren volunteered her potions and went to serve an evening wine “Compliments of Garuda” to the other performers laced with the draught. Sparrow’s nimble fingers made quick work of Garuda’s locks, and the company’s coffers were divided up amongst the flock. It was agreed that, heart-breaking as it was, finding them as a group would be all too easy and they would need to split up after they were out. It was possible they would never see each other again, though the glances between Wren and Nightingale seemed to hint that not everyone would fully abide.
The other performers had unconsciously supplied a supply of fanciful, but functional, weapons that Wren returned with once they were out cold. Peacock selected a star-shaped blade that appealed to her, more points meant more damage, right? Flashier than functional, they were better than nothing for those about to adventure out into a cold world.
Armed. Armored. Pouches heavy with coin. This was it – they were on the verge of freedom. The hour grew late, until they couldn’t stand to wait any longer and fight back tearful goodbyes. One by one, separated by fifteen minute windows, they slipped out into the night. Wren and Nightingale whispered to each other, and the others tried to pretend they couldn’t hear the plan on where to meet up, but no one could miss the tender kiss before Nightingale took flight. Peacock looked on wistfully, wondering if she would ever find a love like theirs.
Finally Peacock, always the finale, was left alone. Garuda’s form was slumped over and his head rested on the table. As the minutes crawled by and the dawn grew closer, she noticed he hardly seemed to be breathing. It would be so easy to close her hands around his throat and stop that breath entirely. Wren had left one potion behind, pouring it into his mouth would ensure he didn’t stir before the deed was done…
She tipped his head back and quickly tipped the flask into his slack mouth. The already gradual breathing slowed further still, his chest no longer moving perceptibly. Peacock began to search his person, taking extra coin and keys from his pockets, gems and jewels from around his neck and fingers. Still he didn’t stir, even when she found the secret pocket inside his coat – a rolled piece of paper, of all things, hidden within. She was baffled, she had never seen the man read, and paper was a rare treasure that seemed wasted on him, but she tucked it away and finished her search. Though she could barely feel his pulse in his throat, she wrapped her long fingers around the neck of her owner, a strange feeling of triumph bubbling up within her. He couldn’t stir, and after what seemed an eternity to the elf she decided any damage she could do was done – there was no evidence of breath or blood flow left through his form – he seemed as dead as he could be and no longer able to pursue or punish them – her own awe at her rash act was immeasurable. She wondered if she had used her new weapon if the rush would be greater still.
The time had long since come and gone for her to leave, and with one last look over her shoulder she quietly slunk out of the building, locking doors behind her to make it that much harder to find the body. Locking the doors on the life she wanted to leave behind.
It would be months before she found someone skilled enough to read the document for her, but still more weeks of talking and getting to know this wise figure, before she felt safe to ask to trade coin for their skills. With reluctance she handed over the note to find it was the last will and testament of Garuda Hamassian.
I, Garuda Hamassian, of sound mind and body, do issue this edict upon my demise. The slaves known as Sparrow (Estella), Wren (Warda), Stork (Yasti), Nightingale (Garima), Peregrine (Palak), Phoenix (Farzeen), and of course my precious pet Peacock (Pax) shall be granted their freedom. They were mine, and I will not stand for them to belong to another, so they may now fly free. My coin and possessions are to be divided evenly amongst these ladies, as I have no family outside of them. Wind at your wings, my women of grace. The Menagerie is no more.
It was crudely signed by Garuda, and Peacock, Pax, felt a strange set of tears welling up in her eyes. By her own savage act she had freed them all, though only she knew it. Yet had she not done so to the man that seemed, deep down, to care about them – they would still be pursued to the ends of the world. Of this she was sure. The paradox twisted her soul.
She made a promise to find the others in time, and make sure they knew of their true freedom.