When Butterfly was less than a year old, her parents died in an accident. She doesn’t know exactly how. Her family at home couldn’t take care of her, so they sent her to live with her auntie and uncle and Adach Molo in the Pearl. Her auntie likes to say that they named her Butterfly because she came to them on the wind.
Her auntie and uncle lost their only child before Butterfly arrived, so she doesn’t have any real brothers or sisters. She spends the mornings with her tutors, and the afternoons with Adach Molo, who’s like her… well, she already has an uncle, but he’s more like her father, except… you know what she means. He takes good care of her and talks to her about gods and stars and things. In the evenings, if her parents are busy, which is a lot, Klatang ‘Emashi who lives down the street comes to take care of her. Sometimes she even brings V’neef Detla with her, who lives in Sandpiper and is Very Important. They’re the best big sisters a little girl could want. They go to market, and play in the street, and splash in the lake in the moonlight.
None of that is wrong, exactly, but it’s not the full truth. Vatli Butterfly has a special fate: one day, about eight years from now, one of the Sidereal Exalted is going to die. Butterfly, whatever her name will be then, will inherit the power of the Maidens of the Planets. Her “aunt” and “uncle” are really much more distant relatives who were chosen by the Fivescore Fellowship to watch over this special little girl until her destiny comes to her. Adach Molo is a guardian and teacher set to watch over her until this day comes.
She doesn’t know any of this. She’s just six (and a half), and her exaltation is almost a decade in the future. She’s grown up here with loving caretakers, the best of tutors, and a very busy life.
Unfortunately, there’s a wrinkle in her life, unknown to her and others. It puts her at the center of a very dangerous event. Butterfly’s aunt and uncle are in a cult, one organized by the deathknight known as Peacebringer. They tell her that they are out with friends, playing Gateway, and leave her with ‘Emashi. In reality, they’re talking with these families about the importance of giving in to death when it comes, and of ending the cycle of pain that is reincarnation.
Butterfly has light brown skin, black eyes, and black hair. She wears a bindi and has just gotten her first ear piercings, with tiny earrings. She wears mostly heavily-patterned skirts and vests that she’s growing out of, with the occasional gauzy cloak. Her favorite color is green. She is often barefoot.
Butterfly is the very model of a polite little girl who hasn’t had to wear her first veil yet. She bows to everyone who looks like an adult before speaking to them. She says “please” and “thank-you,” listens with rapt attention when people talk to her, plays with dolls who have extraordinarily complex fictional lives, and thinks that boys are kind of gross.
Overall, Butterfly is a very happy little girl. There are times when she’s tired and stressed and angry, of course. Even girls who don’t have a half-dozen tutors to please get that way. On the whole, though, her family and friends find her a joy.
If there’s one thing everyone prefers that Butterfly would grow out of, it’s that she has a real talent for ferreting out the truth, and no compunctions about saying it. Her aunt and uncle tell her that the truth is very important, and she believes them 100%. Adach Molo says that sometimes life is “nuanced,” but “nuanced” turned out to mean you lie to people, so “nuanced” wasn’t very nice.
Intimacies: “Always tell the truth” (Defining), “Klatang ‘Emashi” (Major, Positive), “V’neef Detla” (Major, Positive), “Aunt and Uncle” (Major, Positive), “Adach Molo” (Major, Positive),
Some day she’ll grow up big and strong, and Adach Molo says she needs to be ready for that. He’s her teacher. He’s not like the tutors who help her learn maths and languages and calligraphy, or like her sensei who teaches meditation and martial arts. Adach Molo teaches her how to be a grown-up: how to be polite when she should, and strong when she’s hurt, and clever in Gateway. He teaches her the secret history of the world and swears her to oaths. (None of them are binding – yet.)
Strenuous training only goes so far when someone is six years old, though. She’s not going to beat anyone up, or even do more than scream if someone grabs her hair. Butterfly is strictly a non-combatant. She does use her training to “play spy”, though, and she’s surprisingly good at sneaking around and watching people. Her aunt and uncle know about it and think it’s adorable. Her neighbors have no idea how much she actually knows about them. For instance, she knows that Klatang ‘Emashi turns into a fish! It must be a big secret because some of her friends talk about it too.
Butterfly has an extensive secret life unseen by her caretakers. It’s woven into all the moments of her days, a narrative like a fairy tale that crosses through her days and weeks. She watches the merchants of the marketplace and sees who they talk to. She sees Bakdan-O when he appears on the shore, and he sees her watching him. They even talk sometimes. She sees the little worms climbing up the plants to become butterflies, and thinks about her name. She sees V’neef Kharavi going to the dragon temple, and Ten Thousand Verdant Shoots going to the ballet. She makes up many stories about them, and a surprising number are right. Butterfly probably knows more about the social situation in her part of the Pearl than anyone else.
- Vatli Axta, her aunt. Composed, intrepid, wistful.
- Vatli Xotep, her uncle. Insightful, curious, sad.
- Xupa Crawfish, a slightly older friend of hers whose parents live next door. Jealous, sisterly, kind-hearted.
- V’neef Olan, her sensei, who is starting to suspect that Butterfly is something special. Creative, stingy, cultured.
- How did Butterfly’s parents die?
- Butterfly is quite the eavesdropper. Has she heard anyone talking about the missing tribute or the diverted prayer from the dragon lines? If so, who was talking? What about ‘Emashi? Does Butterfly know about her recent adventures?