It was a cold, rainy day and Xiang had wanted some time to herself so she had hid away in the study room in the Firstborns’ private quarters. She had the fire in the hearth going and had dozed off, curled up on the floor in front of it.
She woke with a scowl, “What’d you want?” she slurred, still trying to rouse herself.
“I need your help,” Lis declared, moving her over so she had space on the cushion as well.
“Wha?” Xiang said, still bleary eyed, “Aren’t you guys supposed to be in class?”
“It’s self study right now,” Hua explained.
“Then what the heck do you want, Lis?” Xiang asked getting comfortable again on the large cushion.
“I need to find out about the basic history behind each of your subclasses!”
“You can just read the material,” Tulio told her, putting his books down.
“And you can just stick your head up your-“
“Lis has difficulty reading,” Xiang explained with a sigh, rolling onto her stomach instead.
“You never learnt?” Tara asked in surprise.
Lis turned bright red again and hastened to explain so that she didn’t think she was some kind of idiot, “I’ve learnt. But the letters keep moving and they’re always jumbled up. It gives me a headache trying read it.”
“She’s dyslexic,” Xiang explained, “Why didn’t you tell the teachers?”
“I- never mind. What did you want again?”
“Because Lis is new, she has to write a paper on the origin of each of your subclass,” Tara explained.
“And you just had to have five!”
“Ugh- fine. Where do you want me to start- can I help you?” she asked when Hua had drawn a chair closer to listen as well.
“I just find it fascinating when Reincarnates go into their history.”
“Okay- just – explain to me again how you come up with these subclasses?” Lis asked.
Luckily for Lis, she had an incredible memory, which made things easier for her as she couldn’t properly write things out.
“I get born into the role for the first time, and if it seems like its of use, I’ll keep it and it turns into the next subclass when I’m reborn. But sometimes, it’s abilities develops during that lifetime itself and must finish developing before my next Reincarnation.”
“What happens if you don’t finish the subclass before you reincarnate?”
“Well it’s never happened before,” Hua said.
Xiang closed her eyes, “What she said.”
“Okay- so which was the first subclass?”
“Thief. That was during my very first life.”
She opened her eyes to find all eyes on her, waiting expectantly for the story.
She sighed quietly.
“I was born to a prostitute in the slums of the city. That city doesn’t exist anymore. Not even the ruins can be found any longer. Anyway, my mother’s name was Anna. Back then there weren’t any last names so she was just Anna. And I was a mistake she made at work. But she did love me.
“She took care of me when she could and when she got good pay, she used to buy me a little sweet roll from Mistress Cecily’s stall in the market. But a lot of the time, I wasn’t allowed in the house when she had her clients over so I’d run wild in the streets. It was around that time when I started picking up the useful skills I would need when I was older.
“I wasn’t too strong, so I learnt to play games instead. I’d make people do the things I needed done without them realising it. Even if they did, they’d think they was doing me a favour,” she said, slowly losing herself in the memories, “And I learnt to be quick as well. We’d used to pick pocket them rich folk. It was easy- just have one of the cute ones cause a ruckus and we’d deal with their purses.
“But there was once… I think I was eight. There was a huge party in one of the noble’s townhouses. So me and my friends broke into the dining hall when they were in the ballroom and filled our pockets with the leftovers,” she said, her eyes watching the fire, “And I was nearest to the door to raise the alarm if anyone came by. But then there was a boy my age… He was dressed all nice and I thought he was going to call for the guards. But instead… he just stood there and offered me a piece of sweet. It was caramel with strawberry cream inside it,” she said, still remembering how it was the very first sweet she ever had.
“Anyway- when I was twelve, ma died. It was an STD but we didn’t know it then. And without her, I was thrown out of our home. It suddenly became absolutely vital that I used those skills I played around with to survive. I started breaking into homes with some of my friends and started gathering a little gang for myself.
“But I always made sure to make enough to get by and not enough to catch the attention of the guards or the King of Rogues in the city,” she said.
“Why not?” Lis asked curiously.
“Because, I wasn’t ready to deal with the backlash,” Xiang said, “If the King found out how competent I was at playing the game, he’d kill me before I was ready. But when I was seventeen, I had spent a year dancing in the Court of Rats when I could. I knew the King was watching. And when I was ready, I finally made my move.
“It was so easy to lure him away to his room. And it was much easier for me to kill him. My trusted agents killed his pack leaders in the same night and the whole Lower City was in complete chaos while people fought my control.
“So I did what any self respecting Rogue would do and I was kind to those who would accept my kindness and tortured those who needed to be scared into submission. It took just over a year before I was fully acknowledged as the Rogue,” she finished.
Lis blinked, “That explains so much.”
“What do you mean?” Tulio asked.
“That’s exactly how I was operating on the Surface Tier when I arrived,” Xiang said, stretching again before rolling over.
“So what happened after?” Hua asked, “We don’t really get access to details of the Reincarnates.”
“That’s because we’re still people and a lot of us don’t appreciate others prying into the personal details of our lives,” Xiang said with a scowl.
She stretched again before curling up sleepily.
“I kept the post for ten years- much longer than most before I was assassinated. I was stabbed when I let my guard down and my body was dumped in the city river with all the other sad sods,” she said calmly.
“That’s horrible!” Tara declared.
“I’ve done that to plenty of people. I suppose its karma,” she said.
“Okay, feelings aside- next life! Which was it?” Lis demanded.
“Lis!” Tara said reproachfully.
“There’s a time and place for pity and I’m not interested in either of them,” Xiang pointed out.
Lis was aware how much Xiang hated being pitied.
“The next I was born on a fishing village on some island in the Southern Seas. At that point, certain memories started surfacing but since it was my first Reincarnation- I didn’t really know what was going on. But I was feeling… itchy,” she said.
“Yeah, I was itching to return to my old ways but it was impossible. But then there was a pirate raid and I was sixteen at the time so I was at the perfect age to be sold as a sex slave. But at that point, the memories started kicking in like a survival instinct. I broke free from the cell and subdued every pirate on my path before going straight to the Captain’s private study.”
“Why didn’t you just leave?” Indah asked.
Xiang opened her eyes and looked at her like she was mad, “We were in the middle of the ocean,” she pointed out, “Besides- while waiting for him in his study, I found a piece of information I could use as leverage.”
“He was gay.”
Pierce frowned, “So?” he asked.
“Back then, it wasn’t acceptable to be homosexual. His crew would have probably killed him or something. So I struck a deal with him. He married me to keep up the image of the frightening sea captain. And I got control of half his fleet,” she explained, “But he was sweet in his own way. Quite caring when he wanted to be. But then he went and died.
“He was killed by a rival captain and I strapped that man’s body to the mast of his ship and set it on fire as revenge,” she said.
“Nice,” Lis said, high fiving her.
“Anyway, it was a few years after that when the Priests realise what was going on and we were brought together and you know this story from your history books,” she said, sounding bored at that point.
Lis poked her, “Next.”
“Next was the Spy class,” she said, “This time I think I was born as a nobleman,” she said with a frown.
“Nobility? Why?” Lis asked, wrinkling her nose.
Hua however filled in the blanks, “The Rogue is known for erratic births. They’re born to whoever as whoever. People say it’s so they can properly understand how the world works. They’re even born to either genders and live comfortably with both which is why neutral nouns are necessary.”
Lis looked at Xiang, “Really?”
“Don’t know. I just thought it was fun to take the piss.”
“I thought so,” she said, “Now go on.”
“Anyway, that particular kingdom was currently at war with another- neither of them exist anymore. Which just goes to show you what time does to anything humans could possibly create.”
“Enough with the existential bullshit. Keep going,” Lis said.
Xiang rolled onto her back again, listening to the steady rainfall on the roof. It had been raining that evening as well- the night the head footman burst into the sitting room to pass that message to mother.
“At the time, my mother feared for my life. She refused to let me partake in the war and so instead of training as a knight as I should have, my mother insisted I stay home and help care for the estate whilst my father spent his time in the capital. It wasn’t till I was thirteen when I found out my father had been assassinated.
“I remember my mother being hysterical when the messenger came. I didn’t know it then. I always heard her crying about the things my father did but it was never clear. I finally found out through eavesdropping on some of the servants that my father was the kingdom’s spymaster. He had been killed because of his duty.
“I decided to take on his place but whilst my mother was in her unstable condition there was no way I could do that. So I played her, unfortunately. I started using old memories to work with anyone I could. Thieves, crooks, servants, even the scullery maid.
“When it was time for us to come together as a team again, I volunteered to sit out of it because of my mother’s mental state but continued to work as a Support. I started to properly study poisons and gas with Merlin to protect myself and use against my enemies,” she explained, “In then end, I think that was one of my longest lifetimes. I at least outlived my mother, which was a relief. I don’t think her fragile mind could handle another loss.”
There was silence.
Rogue was trying to keep everything as brief as possible but it was her tone of voice.
They sounded sad when speaking of one of their mothers.
One of many.
Their poor mother who had been reeling from the loss of her husband and had obsessively tried to protect them.
“Do you miss her?” Indah asked.
Rogue didn’t say anything for a moment.
“I always do,” they replied simply.
Lis dropped, lying over Xiang’s middle.
“Keep going,” she said.
Xiang was thankful for this.
She wasn’t fond of lingering over memories of those she had lost.
“The next time I had a new subclass was a few lives later. I don’t really remember much of my childhood. But I was young when I joined a gang of bandits. But we were young and we just ran wild. But I started leading the gang and it kept growing.
“But then we tried attacking a group of nobles. We kidnapped the women as we always did to hold them ransom but Godfrey was amongst them-“
“Wait what?” Tulio asked, sitting up.
“Godfrey was… amongst the ladies?”
“Godfrey is sometimes born as a women but lately not anymore,” Tara explained softly.
“Yeah, anyway, the memories came back when I spoke to him and it explained everything since I was a little slow to properly recall any memories,” Xiang said, “So I just upped and left my gang to join the Reincarnates again.”
“Wait- what did it explain?” Indah asked.
Xiang stretched her legs, unable to move since Lis was still on her.
She was silent again for a moment before saying, “The usual Reincarnate thing. De ja vu and all that,” she said.
She could tell Xiang was keeping quiet about something.
“So what’s the last Reincarnate subclass?”
Xiang sighed quietly.
“Imposter class. It’s the latest of the subclasses,” she said, “I was born into a poor family living in the city. My father used to act on stage but after an accident, was crippled. But he taught me how to act. That was the one thing he felt he could do to spend time with me and bond.
“But with the bills started piling up and you know how things like this can be,” she said to Lis.
“Yeah, it’s shit.”
“But there are funds in place to help those in need for financial assistance, isn’t there?” Hua asked.
Lis laughed bitterly, “Yeah- there are. But it never goes to those who actually need it- especially when you’re in a large city.”
“When you’re a nobody in the city, you can easily stay that way and slip through the cracks. No one needs you, no one wants you,” Xiang said, “As much as you need the world, the world doesn’t need you.”
“But you’re a Reincarnate! Of course the world needs you,” Hua said.
“And what if I weren’t? If I was born into a life like that again, my father would have died and so would I. And no one would have noticed. The most that would happen is a tiny print in the news. The one that you’d read about over breakfast and shake your head over before going to read the comics,” she said, “Or if I had survived- there are messed up people in the world.
“But anyway, in that life- I became a swindler. I acted out whatever roles that would get me money in those streets. I faked illnesses, pretended to be scorned girlfriends in front of married men, that with the help of my spy skills, I managed to learn intimate details of their lives- things like that. The largest one I pulled was pretending I worked in a bank and even got into the vaults,” she said.
“You stole from a bank?!”
“Not much. You take enough to ensure that people question any man made error when the mistake is discovered,” she said, “And it was more to test my skill than anything else,” she explained, sitting up, “Anyway, I’m going to my room to nap. You got all you need, Lis?”
“Well, I kinda need the dates for all of these as well.”
“Dates?” Xiang repeated, “I don’t remember the dates. If I don’t care about the dates, no one else should.”
“It’s still what the teacher is asking for,” Tara prompted gently, “I can help you. The Rogue and Godfrey have had similar timelines- I think I have the notes still,” she offered.
Lis turned red again, “Y-Yeah- thanks.”
Xiang smiled, “You kids do you,” she said, “I’m going to bed.”
“Xiang. Xiang. Hey. Xiang.”
Xiang scowled and opened her eyes, “What? Shit Lis,” she said, kicking her off the bed.
Lis climbed back onto the large bed, “Hey- can I ask you something?”
“Earlier- when you were talking about your past and all,” she said, “You were keeping some stuff out of it, weren’t you?”
“Of course I was,” Xiang said, sitting up and wincing.
“Look, Lis- when you’ve lived for as long as I have, you have a lot of regrets,” she said.
Lis frowned, “Regrets?”
Xiang fell back on the bed, “For one thing- my first Master was killed in a manner I could have prevented.”
She sighed quietly, staring up at the ceiling, “It was my first rebirth. I lived my lives on my own terms, I hated having a Master. And when we were trying to destroy a Chaos Gate, I was stubborn. There was a fire in the building because of the Chaos Creatures and I was knocked out. We were running out of time and the only one who was there to help was Godfrey. He ordered Godfrey to get me out first and of course Godfrey- that idiot- obeyed.
“But before he could go back in for my Master, the entire thing broke down and was sucked into the closing Chaos Gate, effectively killing him.”
She was silent for a moment.
“It was all my fault,” she said, softly.
“Well… yeah it kinda sounds like it was but that was so long ago,” Lis said.
“And yet, I won’t see them again,” she said, “When you die- you go to the Realm of the Dead. When I die, I get shoved up some other woman’s vagina,” she said, “I’ll never be able to tell my mother from the life where I was a Spy how sorry I am that I lied to her face day after day. I’d never be able to admit to my actor father how I was abusing the art form he loved and was trying to share with me,” she said, “All of those are just drops in the ocean.”
Lis looked at her.
“You want to go get drinks?”
Xiang sat there for a moment before nodding.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
“I thought we’re going for drinks,” Lis said, sounding disappointed as she went after Xiang through an unfamiliar part of the Surface Tier.
The area was even more cramped than where she lived and the alleys were winding and confusing. But Lis was used to that aspect of the Surface Tier and their ‘loose’ building code.
“I just need to visit someone.”
They suddenly came through a set of buildings that had been taped off with the words “unsafe” papered over all the entrances.
“An old friend.”
Squeezing pass the narrow passage between two of the dilapidated buildings, they found themselves at an abandoned road that ended with a chain fence.
But it wasn’t empty or filled with rubbish or a rotten dumpster.
Instead, there was a structure there with little statues made of stone and wood leading up to what appeared to be a shrine.
But unlike the shrines and temples Lis had seen, this one looked like it was simply put together out of odds and ends.
But despite how run down it looked, there were many offerings.
“Where is this place? I didn’t think there’d be a place like this on the Surface,” she said.
It was quiet, sounds of the busy Surface Tier, muffled as they walked down the path.
She stopped to look at one of the statues.
There were six of them, all of different people dressed in different manners. She couldn’t tell if the statues were of men or women and there were no faces on any of them.
She should have felt a little creeped out by it but instead, she felt a sense of serenity.
“This is my temple,” Xiang said, stopping in front of the largest and oldest statue, “The Temple of the Lost.”
“What?” Lis said, looking at her as she wondered into the shelter where the main shrine was.
There was a beautiful glowing crystal floating above the incense.
It glowed and threw off multi-coloured light, mostly of violet, shimmering so brightly, Lis couldn’t even imagine what it was for.
“Why so surprised? All the Firstborns have their own temple,” Xiang pointed out.
“I know, but I never heard of the Rogue’s. I thought all of them were in the upper tiers,” Lis said.
“All the shrines are in places where they are needed. Normally, you wouldn’t be able to find mine,” she said, “I think there are researchers who are bent on finding it but they won’t.”
“Because, the only ones who will ever find this are the people who need it the most,” she explained.
“People who need it?”
“Yeah- those who are lost and afraid and alone. The ones who need to call to someone but have no one to call to,” Xiang said, picking up a little weed flower from the offerings, “Those are the people that come to the Rogue.”
Lis straightened up, looking at her friend.
“Do you hear them then? When they pray to you, I mean.”
Xiang put the flower down carefully on the shrine, “Whether or not they actively call out to me doesn’t change anything. I hear every voice in need of help,” she said, “But I can’t do anything but bear their sorrows. There’s just too many for one person.”
She looked over her shoulder at Lis.
“I heard you as well,” she said, “The night we met. I heard you calling and I thought that- this one, at least I could save.”
Lis stood there in silence before hugging her, “And you did, you cow.”
Xiang smiled a little.
“Bill! You old arse!”
An old man dressed in rags came hobbling out of some kind of hovel.
“Spirit above,” Xiang said, “What happened to your face? You look like you’re a hundred years old!”
“Who’s fault is that? You disappear for two lifetimes and I started aging without you,” the man said with a boyish grin, “And this is your new Master, eh? How are ya? I’m Bill. The caretaker of this sorry temple.”
“Hi,” Lis said, confused, “I’m Lis.”
“Good to meet you, good to meet you.”
Xiang smiled, “Bill has been in charge of my temple since it was started,” she said.
“Wait- what? How old is this place?”
Bill shrugged, “You lose count after the first couple of centuries, miss,” he told her.
Xiang laughed at Lis’ confused expression.
“Bill here was my second in command during my life as a Pirate Captain.”
“And I made the stupid decision to serve her for life. Damn woman didn’t tell me she had more one,” he said with a grin.
“Anyway, when it was time to create our shrines and temples, I didn’t want priests and all that who didn’t really understand. So I asked if Bill here could be my caretaker. And he agreed.”
“Because I was a fool.”
“The contract has been signed, man- you can’t back out of it.”
Despite Bill’s complaints, he didn’t seem to mind his fate.
“Anyway, your majesty,” he said, “It’s good too see you’re back. You returned to duties then I presume?”
“Yeah, I thought I’d drop by and let you know.”
“Well, that’s a relief at least. After what happened-“
“Bill,” she said, stopping him as he spoke before glancing at Lis.
Lis took the hint and wandered away to look at the statues again.
“After what happened to you in your last life, the others were in a right state. Found Godfrey here more times than I could count, mad with grief,” Bill said softly, “Merlin comes by whenever as well to ask if I’ve seen ya.”
“I’m not interested in their guilt,” she said, with a scowl.
“I’m just saying, your majesty- there’s probably no need to punish them more than they’ve punished themselves,” Bill said, giving her hand a light squeeze.
“I’m not punishing anyone,” she said, “I just don’t want them to keep trying to ‘make it up to me’ or whatever. I know what they’re like and things like that will only make me even more pissed off.”
Bill shook his head, “Well, I’m not in the position not tell you what to do, your majesty. Just be careful out there. There’s something foul in the air.”
“I’ll be fine. I’m always fine.”
“Talk to me again when you hit thirty,” he told her.
“Oh shut up, Bill,” Xiang said, “I’ll see you later.”
“Of course, your Majesty. Oh- and here.”
“What is it?”
He gave her a worn metal ring.
Xiang recognised it at once.
“Where did you get this?” she asked softly.
“I found it that night,” he said, “I felt what happened and I left my post and forgive me for that, your majesty. But he… I mean… he was a good man.”
“He was,” Xiang said softly, kissing the ring, “But he fell to the Chaos.”
She slipped the ring onto her finger.
“Surely the Great Spirit will understand.”
Xiang smiled wryly but didn’t answer.
“Thank you, Bill,” she said, “I’ll see you when I see you.”
“Of course your Majesty.”
Lis looked round, “You ready to go?” she asked.
“Yeah, let’s go get that drink.”
“Okay- I guess I’ll see you later, Bill,” she said.
Bill grinned, “I hope not, miss,” he said, “Take care of her majesty.”
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