Brightvale At Night
Darkness isn't scary.
There is no reason to fear the night, no reason to hide away in your snug little dens when the sun fades away.
Nothing will hurt you. All you need is a dash of common sense and a pinch of grit.
No, nothing will hurt you at all.
I have never been sure why I feel this way. Perhaps my upbringing in the Citadel influenced my view of this world, or maybe, perhaps, it was my sudden exile.
It doesn't really matter, though. Whether or not I'm afraid of Brightvale at night doesn't change the fact that it's the only place I have.
The only place where I really feel like I'm somebody.
The only place where I truly feel safe.
Her name is Aronaya, but her mother calls her Arya. It's shorter, she tells the petite girl, and therefore easier to say.
She is a child of the Citadel, a picture-perfect example of somebody with only good things ahead of them. She is smart yet sweet, a Darigan Zafara who looks about as innocent as any Darigan pet can possibly look. Sure, she may not have a lot, but that's not what's important to her. What's important is coming home to her Mama every night after a long day of games and laughter with the other children. What's important is staying happy, staying alive.
She doesn't care that her wool dresses are oft-compared to rags, with too many irreparable holes to count; nor does she care that the only time she has ever bought something from the Toy Shop has been in her dreams. She has food and she has a home, and she needs nothing else.
She thinks nothing will ever change.
Alas, that is not to be, for change comes suddenly and without mercy and refuses to leave until somebody's life is shattered and they are left to pick up the shards.
The child is eight when it happens.
The day starts normally, with her mother making stew, her Zafara hands deftly throwing in the right ingredients at the right times. Mama's stews are usually perfect to Arya, but this one is odd.
There is no bread in it
How could there be no bread?
There was always bread.
She shakes it off as a coincidence, an odd occurrence that merely existed to put a damper on her day. It's not like she keeps an active eye out for possible foreshadowing of dark events on her horizon.
She leaves to play with her friends. Looking back years later, Arya has long forgotten who her friends were and what games they played. She assumes that she found details like that too inconsequential to remember, even back then. Her future self marvels at what her younger self found significant.
When the child gets home, nighttime is descending. She is a few minutes late, something that is almost unheard of when it comes to the little Zafara's attendance habits. Arya is slightly afraid about what her Mama will say about her being late. She frets as she walks up the stone path to the two-room house and knocks on the door that shows signs of being nibbled by Miamice. Yet, as she opens the door her worries disappear and are replaced with worries anew, for she hears an incredibly jarring sound.
It is the sound of weeping.
Weeping? How can this be? She has never heard her darling Mama cry in her life! As a matter of fact, she has barely heard anybody cry. Only the false tears of a toddler who falls while playing Mallard, Mallard, Crokabek.
She hears a voice that sounds vaguely like her mother's, but it cannot be. This voice is warped, distorted by sobs. Her Mama never sobs.
"Arya?" the voice asks again. "Do you remember the time I told you that everybody makes mistakes?"
The child doesn't answer.
"And, do you remember how I told you that it is fine to make those mistakes because we learn from them?"
"Yes, Mama, I do remember."
"Arya, dear, Mama has made a horrible mistake. A whole series of horrible mistakes, actually. Mistakes so bad that I cannot possibly overcome them. Because I made these mistakes, I will have to pay for them."
"What mistakes could you possibly make that are worth weeping over?"
Those words cause a new torrent of tears to flood from the older Zafara's eyes. The sounds that come out of her mouth are almost unearthly. She wilts against the ancient wooden kitchen table and wails.
It is a good amount of time before she mutters, "Arya, please sit down."
The child does.
"Arya, I feel like you don't deserve to never know who I am. Arya, please don't judge me when I say that I am a traitor."
Almost immediately after the phrase leaves her mouth, there is a knock on the door.
Then another knock.
Arya struggles to process what her Mama has just uttered. Traitors are locked in the dungeon and never come out. Her Mama cannot be a traitor. She would never let herself end up in a dungeon.
The bangs come again.
"Uva Mardian, open up in the name of Darigan and all that he stands for! You are under arrest for betraying secrets of great importance to the enemy, and shall stand trial for your crimes!"
The child's mother jumps up and frantically whispers, "Arya, hurry!" Three more knocks. "Run to the bedroom and go under the bed! Quickly! You can't keep soldiers of the Darigan military waiting for long!"
There is only one bed in the house, and it is the only piece of furniture in the one bedroom. Most nights Arya gets to sleep there while her Mama uses a mattress on the floor in the doorway as a bed. The Zafara flees to the room and hurls herself under the bed frame. She listens to the conversation outside.
"Fine. Miss Mardian, are you aware what you have done?"
"Yes. I obtained Darigan military secrets from a source that you don't know about and you shall never find out about. I then sold those secrets to a good soul who happened to be loyal to the side of the enemy. I am not sure which enemy the soul was loyal too, and I do not care.
"We believe them to be Meridellian, for it was a Meridellian that told us about your traitorous actions."
"That changes nothing. I now confess to having done the crimes of which I am accused, and accept all punishment that may be inflicted upon me in result of these crimes under Darigan and all that he stands for."
The voices get fainter now. Arya has to strain to listen. It terrifies her.
"I... I only have one question, Miss Mardian. Why?"
A long pause.
"Why, you ask?"
"I had a daughter. I needed to provide for her. Everything you see around you, all of the finery and gold, is a result of my sales."
"Miss Mardian, there is no finery and there sure as Fyora isn't any gold."
"Miss Mardian, if you don't mind my asking, where is your daughter?"
"She went missing only days ago. I have no idea as to her whereabouts. It was tearing me apart."
"I'm so sorry."
"No need to be. Now I am hoping she never returns, for if she does, she will find that there is nothing for her to return to."
Those are the last words Arya ever hears her Mama say.
Under the bed is an oddly- shaped wrapped object and a note. The note is fairly short; it simply states that this object is a Halloween Paint Brush, that her mother saved up for years to buy one in case anything should happen, that Arya absolutely must leave the Darigan Citadel at all costs, and that she must flee to Brightvale and not Meridell, as Meridell will be looking for any and all signs of Darigan enemy. Arya knows why she must flee; if anybody were to discover who she is and who her mother is, she shall be sent away and will either starve or spend the rest of her life in a perpetual prison. She also knows to not use the Paint Brush until she reaches Brightvale, for her Darigan wings will allow her to fly above Meridell hopefully unnoticed.
She stands at the edge of the Darigan Citadel and looks down at a future unknown. She cries for her Mama and what she has lost, but not for long. She has to leave. She has to jump.
So, under the cover of night and with the help of her wings, Aronaya, daughter of the famous traitor Uva Mardian, fled the Citadel.
I don't wear the bone coverings that come with being a Halloween Zafara. They are, for the most part, extremely cumbersome. The sound of bone against cobblestone is quite noticeable when you are trying to pick the pockets of a wealthy Brightvalian lord, and large bone gloves are quite impractical when it comes to grabbing a strange fruit from a basket on a cart.
I kept the mask and tail cover, as they are useful when it comes to hiding my identity. I rarely wear them, though; I have found that they do not make very good camouflage and despite their potency at disguising my features, I would rather nobody see me at all.
I do wear the cloak. It is incredibly decent at masking my bright white Halloween Zafara chest fur, and more importantly, it is quite warm.
Just because Brightvale at night isn't scary doesn't mean it is not very cold.
Getting to Brightvale is the easy part.
Flying over Meridell at night is almost too easy, and finding a nice puddle in a corner of the middle of the forest between the two kingdoms where she can paint herself is even easier. She only has to do the smallest amount of navigating to find her way to the Brightvalian limits, and sneaking in through an unmanned gap in the gates is a cakewalk.
Now she is lost.
She is an eight-year-old child with no family and no home in Brightvale at night.
She wanders for what seems like a thousand eternities before the sun rises. She is amazed by how little the Brightvalians care about the sun. Back in the Citadel, the giant's rays rarely dare to peek through the opaque layer of clouds. Whenever they do, it is a very, very, big deal. Arya doesn't think she'll ever get used to the thought of light almost every day for hours and hours at a time.
Brightvale might as well be in another universe compared to the Citadel. People are out and about at all times. Vendors selling meats and fruits are situated on the corners with hoards of people swarming them. Almost all of the houses are completely finished, with elegant brown roofs and stained glass windows. What is perhaps that strangest difference of all is the air of class and intelligence the Brightvalians exude. Arya knows how to read, but to see almost everybody walking around carrying a book and a select few carry a whole pile of them is a completely new experience.
She makes it until noon before wandering starts to get boring and she starts to get hungry.
She has no money, none at all. Part of her wishes that she had just sold the Paint Brush and used the money to buy a feast with enough food to last a million years. Another part of her wishes she had never left the Citadel at all or perhaps had taken a chance with adoption.
Arya decides that she has to find food soon or risk going insane.
None of the vendors have anything out for free; all of the food on the ground is trampled to the point of not being edible.
She knows she has no other choice. The sun is starting to go down. She is starving.
Arya saunters up to a fruit stand, grabs the first one she sees, and runs for her life.
She hears the shouts of the witnesses to her theft and the violent cries of the vendor, but she doesn't dare look behind her. She is convinced that looking back will result in her capture and surely her death. Arya knows she can't stop. She also knows that she can't run forever.
"Hey, you! Quick! In here!"
Arya quickly glances over and sees a small Xweetok frantically pointing to an alleyway's entrance. She doesn't hesitate. She makes a sharp turn to her left and presses herself against a wall.
"Gah, you thieves! Always trying to take my fruit! I'll catch one of you one day!"
Arya doesn't move for a minute. She'd been through so much stress in two days, and she wasn't sure she could handle any more.
"Whoa, who are you? That was so amazing! Nobody's ever stolen fruit from Ol' Man Grumps and gotten away with it!"
Arya looks down to see a Xweetok even smaller than she was. He was the one who'd directed her to safety. She feels like she owes him her life.
"What are ya thankin' me for? Yer fantastic at this stealin' thing! Ya have to come with me and meet my friends!"
Arya doesn't know what else to do. She clutches the fruit close to her heart and mutters an okay.
The alleyway is long and complicated, but Arya stays close to her guide. It isn't long before they reach a dead end.
A dead end that happens to be filled with pets.
"Guys, I want ya to meet this girl! She stole fruit from Ol' Man Grumps! She's so cool! She's... wait, miss, what's yer name?
"Arya," she says and kicks herself for saying it. She is not planning to stay with these pets for long. Them knowing her real name is a problem.
"Arya? Nice! Well, my name's Steely." The Xweetok spends the next few minutes going over everybody's name in a manner far too fast for Arya to follow. All she knows is that all of their names are ridiculous ones like Digger and Master and Runaway. She also notices that they are eying her fruit hungrily.
She reads the tag attached to the stem. "A Jipple Pear." Arya looks up and sighs. Knowing perfectly well what it will mean for her future, she mutters to the band, "Anybody want some?"
Two types of thieves come out at night: the novices and the masters.
The novices assume that the lack of people will make things easy. Instead they are greeted with locks, guards and alarms. Instead, they are greeted with failure.
The masters know how to pick the locks and distract the guards and silence the alarms. They are rewarded handsomely for their efforts.
I am not sure which category I fall in. There are people who will take one look at me and think I am a master, but I am not convinced. I don't think I will ever be fully convinced.
I am also unsure why I stay with the band of thieves for so long, as ten years is quite a long time. I really am the best of the lot, but nobody really minds, especially when I bring home dinner for the third day in a row. I think they would be fine without me, though. Ten years provides you a lot of time to improve.
I often meet people in my situation, homeless, alone, forced to steal to survive. I tell most of them my story and, when it is done, they usually have two questions for me.
Do I feel sorry for myself?
Do I have any regrets?
I cannot say no to the first one. There are many days when I expect to wake up in a bed instead of an alley corner, many times when I look in a puddle and expect to see red eyes instead of bright green.
Yet, when it all comes down to it, I have no regrets.
In an odd kind of way, I enjoy the thief's life of constant danger and freedom. At least, it sure beats rotting in a Darigan dungeon with my mother.
I may not have any money or any security, but I am content.
It isn't up to me to decide.
I cannot choose what happens to me.
I cannot choose how I feel.
Whether I like it or not, Brightvale at night is my home.