The river Roan. What is there to say about her that hasn’t been said already? Did you know she once tried to burn the spines off a prickly pear tuna, and it stuck her full of needles? She could say she’ll lay the Scaiuq mountain range flat so that we might pass over it easier, and I would believe her wholeheartedly.
Content warnings: war, violence.
Roan is a hero of myth to high Asthaom. She authored its river, circumvented its only war, and birthed magic into the world. The Akiat diaspora considers her a fragment, aspect, or even a reincarnation of their late saint Lex, although she is ambivalent at best about this. She has withdrawn from history many times, but inevitably returns when something must be done and she must be the one to do it.
Ask most anyone in the high Asthaom desert and they will tell you that Roan is saint Lex in the flesh.
One of the legendary wayfinders of the Akiat diaspora, saint Lex helped guide her people home through the long desert. Tales of her exploits can be recited by heart—holding back 1,001 exiles with nothing but a broken hilt, learning the entire Sarikote language in a single night, recovering the absent North star, and so on. So beloved was she that the gods Koda and Motu took her as their adoptive daughter, and the diaspora exalted her as champion and saint.
Even in death Lex did the impossible for her community. When she died at sea, she blessed her body to Asthaom’s coast, and it became the only arable land in the desert. The Akiat fell to their knees at her grave. They had finally come home.
So when a woman comes crawling out of the ocean in the body of a god-saint, many years later, high Asthaom riots in celebration. Saint Lex has returned at last.
But the world that Roan wakes up into is full of wounds, and the relief in the diaspora’s eyes is clouded by decades of grief. High Asthaom is gripped with a thousand-year drought, and there is no water in this land to sustain them. Each day the gods bleed themselves dry to protect their people from a wrathful sea. In the gilded halls of the Temple there are even whispers of a war for water.
The diaspora looks to Roan for hope, but they quickly find that she is a poor substitute for Lex. Deadpan, restless, and ill-content to accept the way of things, Roan is anything but a saint... And as Koda and Motu struggle to reconcile the memory of their daughter with the strange woman inhabiting her body, the diaspora is left to reckon with their fate, alone.
Roan may not be the woman they want her to be, but she cannot turn her back on the suffering of the Akiat. She follows the ghost rivers West, carrying the hopes and dreams of uncountable thousands with her in her search for water.
Sadren pulled Roan out of the ocean black and into the strange socio-political fabric of high Asthaom. The two have since become unlikely friends.
Or perhaps they are likely friends. In a way, they are both nobodies. Sadren comes from a modest background as an ink printer, a meek and timid man that history won’t miss. Roan inherits a storied past that she doesn’t fully understand, and hasn’t been given the chance to figure out her place in. The two find common ground in not knowing who they are, yet.
But Sadren also has the sun in his eyes for Roan, and this makes her uneasy. He is a zealous Lexarc, and although he may not have found his stride yet, he hinges all of his worth on Motu’s teachings. To say that he’s desperate for Roan’s approval is an understatement.
Despite this, he is one of the first to recognize Roan as her own person, rather than a shadow of saint Lex. Her dissident nature challenges Sadren’s beliefs, and brings out a gentleness in him that he hides from the world. Roan might not admit it, but sometimes the only thing stopping her from giving up and throwing it all away is this deep well of compassion. Sadren’s company keeps her grounded in the face of a destiny she didn’t ask for—even if the man can’t see past his own fanaticism, yet.
But their relationship hasn’t escaped the notice of those who might find it useful. Motu keeps a close eye on his daughter, even as she pushes back against his Lexarcs and tries to find her own way. If she won’t listen to him, perhaps Sadren can change her mind.
Hei helped Sadren pull Roan out of the ocean black. The two men quickly became Roan’s first friends.
Much like his boyfriend, Sadren, Hei is a Lexarc who holds Motu’s teachings almost as close as he holds his lover. He, too, is an unlikely friend to Roan, but that’s where Hei and Sadren’s similarities end.
Dai Hei is the brash, ostentatious, and charismatic heir of the wealthy Dai family. He has the heart of a warrior-poet, the brain of a partyboy, and more money than he knows what to do with. Perhaps there was a time when he was a useless layabout and a disgrace to the Dai name, but no longer. Some say he’s destined to become a general under Motu’s Lexarcs. He certainly walks around like he will.
Perhaps this is the reason he and Roan fumble around one another. Perhaps not. Make no mistake, Roan loves Hei—he’s smart, kind, and fun as all get out—but for one reason or another, the two are not as close as they could be. Perhaps the moment Dai Hei pulled Roan out of the sea, he realized that she was not the one that everyone said she was. Perhaps he had always doubted her. Perhaps Roan knows this, and struggles to understand why this has caused them to grow apart.
Koda and Motu
Roan’s godparents and god-parents.
The gods Koda and Motu were beside themselves with joy when the sea returned their daughter to them. But Roan doesn’t retain anything from her “past life,” and this is perhaps inconvenient for their relationship.
Not that Roan minds, much—she has trouble making up her mind about Koda and Motu, and the feeling is mutual. The two of them are bereaved parents, and they struggle to understand why their daughter can’t seem to reconcile herself with the history she inherits. She was universally loved, a literal saint. They would shower her with love if she would only let them.
In fact, her hesitation has revealed something Roan cannot ignore. The gods' love for their late daughter belies deep and painful wounds. Koda and Motu sacrifice much for the Akiat people, and for eachother… But there is something about the way they hold their tongue around Roan that she struggles to trust.
A welcome firebrand in the house of god-kings. Len first met Roan when she and Sadren delivered a dire warning to him that he didn’t heed.
In those days, Scaiuq was a godless land of shadow and monsters to the rest of high Asthaom, long isolated by an enormous desert and a whisper network that concealed its true nature from prying eyes. Len had grown complacent, trusting that secrecy would protect them forever. When two foreigners arrived out of the East bearing an urgent message, he blew it off as hyperbole. Little did he know that war was on their heels.
Len owes Roan a debt of gratitude for this, but he isn’t beholden to the cult of personality that has grown up around her among the Akiat diaspora. Unlike most of her peers, Len holds Roan to the same standard that he holds everyone else. And then some. As an outsider, he can see past the layers of myth built up around the Akiat’s hero-gods. Roan is her own person, yes, but for better or worse she is also the product of a people fighting deep societal sickness. Renegades like her represent hope for the desperate… Much in the same way that Roan’s father, the tyrant-god Motu did.
Len and Roan are fast friends, united by a common interest in opposing Motu and healing the high Asthaom desert. But Len does not let her forget:
You are your father’s daughter.
- Roan (the person) is considered to be synonymous with Roan (the river in high Asthaom.)
- Roan is associated with the late saint Lex's tools. In modern times, these are understood to be world-breaking implements of violence that helped author Asthaom's river and birth magic into the world.
- By tradition, Roan's face cannot be depicted in Asthaomic art. No photographs of her face are in public circulation, either. Roan herself generally respects this rule, but there are one or two selfies floating around in private albums, and she has been known to unmask in exceptional times.
- Roan's mask is burnished bronze, with eyestreaks modeled loosely after Koda's tear markings. Before Roan began wearing it, this style of mask would have been considered cheap and nondescript.