Origin: Abnormal Trespasser
Boundary: Meandering river
Nature Feature: Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
◆ Growth points ◆
Rhodes is a wayward ghost, who runs the contiguous North American tundra in search of the lost and missing. She guides the living to safety, and commits to memory the stories of those who cannot be restored-- acting as an oral historian among ghosts.
In her previous life, she was a search-and-rescue operative based out of occupied Koyukon and Iñupiat land (what is currently northern Alaska.)
◆ Personality ◆
Rhodes is a storied esk.
To most, she's a staunch loner with a strange, restless energy. She's often found tracking the lost and missing across the North American tundra. Compulsed and duty-driven, Rhodes seeks out missing individuals much as she did in her previous life, as a search-and-rescue operative.
But guiding them home is only half of her story.
While her heart lies with the arctic North, Rhodes is driven by a restless spirit, and is sometimes called to the far reaches of the Earth by inexplicable instinct. She is drawn to those who have so thoroughly lost themselves that they cannot be restored-- lonely ghosts, forgotten spirits, and sometimes other esk. She offers these beings quiet companionship, and collects stories from them out of a solemn sense of duty.
Those that she is permitted to retell, she spreads widely and with intense purpose. In this capacity, Rhodes acts as an oral historian among ghosts. She is particularly sensitive to the forgotten, the silenced, and the dispossessed-- she chronicles their triumphs and losses, and relays their message to anyone who will listen.
And listening to Rhodes is very easy. She’s become something of a rising star for her spectacular “performances” and artful narration. Rhodes has a powerful presence as a storyteller, and speaks with an unparalleled rhythm and grace that brings the world around her to life. Dancing images and flickering memories accompany her recollections, viewed seemingly from her own eyes.
Lasting is the memory of Rhodes' performances, but fleeting is the ghost behind them. She never lingers after the story is told. For this, much is known about her work and precious little about Rhodes herself. She actively avoids such inquiry, and does not seek lasting companionship in her travels. Some consider her past too full of wounds to retell. Others speculate that she is searching for something that she's lost. And others yet see Rhodes run with such urgency that they can't help but think there's something she's trying to leave behind…
◆ Past Life ◆
My whole world capsized overnight.
Rhodes was a search-and-rescue operative based in the arctic North, who nurtured an amateur music hobby on the side. Moved deeply by her experiences in the field, she began to use music as an outlet to express the grief inherent to her line of work. At first, nobody knew about the hobby; she performed quietly in her bedroom to an audience of one. But as friends and family began to recognize her talent, Rhodes realized she might be able to use her music as a tool to spread awareness, and to lift others on her SAR team up-- many of them unpaid volunteers and underpaid staff.
Rhodes began performing at bars and community functions to local acclaim. Her music was embraced for its rawness and honesty, equal parts morbid and cathartic. Its simple production meant that Rhodes rarely wrote a song that couldn't be performed with an acoustic guitar, a throaty voice, and a heavy heart.
Folks in town knew she had something very, very special. But they never imagined her becoming what she did.
Rhodes performed to a waning crowd at a local bar, one quiet Thursday night. It was like all those that came before, and-- in her mind-- all those that would come after. All the same, but for a stranger ambling at the edge of the audience. Like Rhodes, they were an entertainer. But unlike Rhodes, they performed to wild acclaim online... And her work touched them in a way that very few things had. Moved by her music, but too shy to approach the woman herself, this stranger recorded a snippet of Rhodes' performance and promoted her without her knowledge.
Rhodes became a household name overnight.
It's difficult to say for sure what the musician felt at this time. She was a notoriously elusive artist, and rarely commented publicly on her work. To some, it came as no surprise when Rhodes went missing. To many, the anguish of losing her voice was too cruel to bear. Others yet consider her an activist and provocateur-- stolen from the world before she could even speak.
But all the world knows this: She never wanted her music to become commercially successful.
◆ Enchantment ◆
Memory of Water
Unbeknownst to most, the magic of Rhodes' stories is not her own.
At least, not all of it. Her talent as a storyteller is very real, but she could only aspire to such control over the ghostly memories that animate her stories. Instead, Rhodes inherits a power so volatile that she actively suppresses it.
She is haunted by visions of her previous life, a history she has made every effort to forget. These memories manifest in bodies of water as dancing images of her past-- portraits of the hollow-eyed musician who lost herself to the tundra. Ethereal wake-lines sometimes trail off her body when the enchantment is active, serving as a frame for her memories. Particularly strong episodes may even cause them to follow her onto land.
Rhodes is terrified of these episodes, and never speaks of them to anyone. She is content for others to assume she has control over such a power. Not because it gives her a good appearance, but because there are some things better left buried in the past.
◆ Relationships ◆
Hey... Hey! This thing's on, right? Can you hear me?
Affectionately dubbed “the ghost that lives in my walkie-talkie,” ES is the nickname Rhodes has given to the entity that talks to her through her handheld transceiver. They act as a guide and confidante for Rhodes, helping her make sense of this ghostly world, and serving as her source of 100% fresh, wild-caught salmon jokes.
ES themself is a kindred spirit and a fellow musician. Sensitive and soft-spoken, but scathingly funny, they bring out a gentle humor in Rhodes that would otherwise never appear. The two have become incredibly close in their travels, and with good reason-- as far as Rhodes knows, ES is physically bound to the transceiver she found them in. She's their whole world, and she takes this responsibility very seriously.
ES isn't entirely helpless, though. They have some control over electronics that the two encounter out in the tundra, and often manipulate them to help Rhodes out. ES is blessed with a keen eye and photographic memory, which allows them to play back ghostly recordings of everything they've ever seen and heard.
(Incidentally, they're the one responsible for Rhodes' more bombastic stage magic.)
ES is particularly drawn to television screens and tablets, where they can manifest visually for Rhodes (if only in a distorted facsimile of a body.) This power is unstable, however, and proves destructive over time. Their only reliable locus is Rhodes' transceiver.
Rhodes is well aware that there is more to ES than meets the eye. There's an intense familiarity to their bond, a sense that this friendship has spanned not one life but many. But Rhodes is torn between chasing this curiosity and perishing the thought. ES is the sole witness to her disastrous encounters with the ghosts of her past, and knows very well the intense pain she holds over her previous life. She is not yet ready to know how that story ended, or how they became like this.
ES respects this. For now, they have all the time in the world to run.
Sometimes, the ghosts of the past are defanged. Hidden in pretty metaphors, songs, hymnals, and the bright white spaces between the fine print. Here they can be controlled. Here, from the ivory tower of hindsight, sense and reason can be exercised over the narrative. Continuity declared. History written in red ink, as if to say “There Was No Other Way.”
Most are not.
Nobody knows what ghost haunts Rhodes, but there is nothing abstract about the urgency with which she runs from it.
Aevre and the Arctic Circle
Rhodes has a complicated relationship with Aevre, her creator and the woman who unmade her.
Meetings between the two are short, professional, and incredibly awkward. Aevre is not in contact with Rhodes nearly as often as she is with other members of the Arctic Circle. Instead, the Wanderer trusts her to look after her haunt, with very little oversight. This comes as a surprise to her polar associates, many of which know Rhodes-- Not as the famed storyteller, but as Aevre's mistake.
Nothing can be said for sure about the circumstances of Rhodes' transformation. She refuses to talk about it, and shirks all contact with the Circle. But the mark Aevre left on her is unmistakable; Rhodes holds deep wounds from this event, which she cannot hide.
The Circle can only speculate on what transpired between the two. What they do know is this: Aevre could not fix it.
Despite the storyteller's intrigue and renown, Rhodes is frustratingly obtuse to most esk-- if she can be found at all. She does not seek companionship, and usually slips away when it finds her.
A few individuals pique her interest, though. Storied spirits with something to say, but no mouth with which to speak it. Rhodes is drawn to the lost... And if she can be considered a good storyteller, well, she makes an even better audience.
Rhodes can often be found investigating the Earth-bones left behind by fallen esk. She feels an especially strong sense of duty to them; she will tell the story of such a place to any who will listen.
Spirits and Other Beings
Rhodes is a kindred spirit with the forgotten and dispossessed. She seeks out lost souls with the same tenacity she reserves for missing hikers. She cannot restore them, but she feels a strong responsibility to lend an ear to the unheard, and to safeguard their stories from a forgetful world. Many of her tales are inherited from these ghosts, spread with their blessings in hopes of calling attention to their triumphs and plights.
Despite her best efforts, Rhodes often finds herself tangled up in their affairs. She's not entirely against getting involved, though. If she can lend a helping hand or six, she doesn't mind being sent away to chase the four winds-- Not if it helps a fellow spirit feel remembered. Rhodes might not make true friends, but her bonds with the world's ghosts may very well be the next best thing.
Rhodes is a one-woman search-and-rescue patrol. Most of her days are spent running the contiguous North American tundra, keeping a close eye on hikers, field workers, hunters, and anyone else who looks a bit turned around.
Rhodes does not perform transformations, so she guides the lost home whenever possible. She often hums to lead missing individuals back to safety, and may leave behind the bodies of her two salmon companions to sate the hungry.
She is especially relentless about finding those who become so lost that they have no hope of being found. Rhodes can spend whole months tracking a single person, patiently walking the miles back home; She feels that her peers are too quick to disengage, too quick to transform the missing. Unfortunately, this makes her no stranger to failure. She is rarely the warm and loving woman she wants to be for those who will never come back, but she carries each loss with her from beyond the grave.
Rhodes' relationship with the natural world is more opaque. She has not developed any supernatural ability to interface with animals, plants, bodies of water, or other beings.
But there are times when she can be found alone among the trees. With the Earth's eyes as her sole witness, Rhodes can be caught doing some incredibly silly things. She seems to take simple joy in rolling around in the snow, and swimming through white rapids with the seasonal salmon runs. She has a powerful sense of natural wonder and a strong curiosity for her surroundings, and finds her esk shape uniquely suited to exploring it-- even if it means scratching at the permafrost like a little fox to dig up something interesting.
She dislikes acting this way around others, but tends towards nonreaction when she's caught.
Note: This list is incomplete! If you have used Rhodes as a character in your stories, just let me know and I can add a little blurb.
◆ Notes ◆
- Rhodes' two morphs are highly situational, and she almost never manifests with all of her familiars, enchantments, and accessories. The circumstances of each are outlined below:
- Rhodes' salmon familiars will only manifest as live fish in bodies of water where salmon are normally found. When she's traveling on land, they may hang from her search-and-rescue vest as if freshly caught. More commonly, they won't manifest at all.
- She sometimes leaves her salmon behind for lost and missing people to eat, and may offer them to other ghosts as a token of good will. When eaten, they taste remarkably sweet, and sate living beings for a very long time.
- The forms that Rhodes and her salmon take always match the seasons. They never manifest “spawning” coloration outside of the appropriate times and places where salmon are known to spawn. This means that Rhodes is almost always in her “default” coloration when traveling abroad.
- Rhodes generally manifests with her transceiver and search-and-rescue vest. Her transceiver is particularly significant to her, as it's the only reliable way to communicate with ES. How they're depicted is open to interpretation.
- Rhodes' fur is sleek like a seal or otter, interspersed with the smooth scales of a salmon. She may smell faintly of a fast-flowing creek on the cusp of autumn, or the sea.
- Her “speaking” voice is often curt and dispassionate, but she has a beautiful and deeply emotive singing voice.
- Rhodes has an especially subtle presence as an esk; it is difficult to find her unless she makes herself known. However, she may be given away by the distant sound of song. She has a habit of singing under her breath when she thinks she's alone.
◆ Use ◆
Rhodes can be freely used as a character in your own stories. She is likely to be a fleeting presence, a stranger bearing only a song and a story-- although she can be many other things, too.
Rhodes cannot be used as a creator esk at this time.
I won't save you.
Meander near Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska. Photo by Sean Tevebaugh, NPS