Pride Goes Before
Ashlen the Stonelash
Broad, handsome, could pass for mortal without her White Jade Heavy Plate
Ashlen the Stonelash is not what you would call beautiful. Her features are striking, however, and memorable. Her dead-eye stares can stiffen soldier’s back from across an encampment.
As an Earth Dragon stylist, her movements at all times are slow and deliberate. She wastes no movement, and expresses volumes with a simple raise of her eyebrow.
This measured slowness also manifests in her speech. Those who serve under her are accustomed to her lapsing into quiet thought for minutes at a time during briefings. She will then inevitably illuminate some perfect stratagem, or ask a question nobody thought to ask. This quality sometimes unnerves those who don’t know her well. This, coupled with her utter lack of tolerance for politics and networking, means she will likely be General of the First until she dies, conventional wisdom goes.
Unlike most Chosen officers, Ashlen chooses at all times to dress in her white Jade articulated full plate. It was a gift from the Empress herself, as evidenced by the dual mons of the First Legion and the Scarlet Throne. She only removes this armor at home, around those she trusts, which is a short list.
Ashlen began life in the Threshold. At this point, there are several conflicting stories about this early life. Ashlen herself refuses to confirm or deny any of the stories, after all, she paid much in Jade and favors to spread them.
When she was fiften, she lived in a small village on an island in the West. Her village had a harbor, and was trading with a Realm vessel when it was attacked by the dreaded Lintha pirates. The sailors fought bravely in defense of the village, but their ship was tied at dock, and they were not armed or prepared for a boarding and assault. A river of blood fed the sea that day. Most of the villagers died, and the Lintha closed in on the few remaining Dragon-Bloods, seeking to take them alive for some dark purpose.
Ashlen’s Exaltation threw them off balance, and they fled, but not before losing more than half of their number.
With nothing to keep her in the West, and the ship’s captain making fine offers and promises, she returned with them to the Realm.
Ashlen was raised in a reform school for young Outcastes, where she performed quite well. Too well, in fact. There were rumors that she was a plant by a House to gain advantage among the Outcastes. She did graduate, despite a few subtle attempts to derail her career.
After graduation, she surprised many by travelling to an Immaculate Monastery near the Imperial Mountain. There, she trained in the Earth Dragon style. Her talent was such she was offered training as a shikari, or her choice of posts, if she would but pledge herself to the cloister. she refused.
Instead, she attended the House of Bells, where she used the discipline and technique of her time in the Order to great effect. She graduated Magna Cum Laud, the first Outcaste to do so in over a century.
After the graduation, the commandant asked Ashlen to dinner in private. There he confronted her. “Frankly, Dragonlord, it seems as if you were planning to attend the House before you even went to the Order.”
Ashlen smiled. “No, Commandant. I planned to attend the House before I ever stepped foot on the Blessed Isle. The Dynasts on the ship told me many, many stories of the Realm. I listened, and I found my advantage. How many Dynasts would spend years under Immaculate discipline and already know a full style?”
Ashlen served as Dragonlord in several different Legions. Refusing to be adopted into a House irritated the Dynasts. Refusing to marry upset the social order, and rankled many. This led to her being reassigned several times, as many powerful people didn’t like her attitudes, though she showed fierce loyalty to the Realm.
The Dynasts could find no secrets or personal weaknesses, other than perhaps a tendency to spend a lot of her money on courtesans during leave. This was hardy a sing. Among the Cynis Legions or in some parts of the Threshold, it was even a listed benefit.
Ashlen was eventually assigned to the 13th Legion. To say it was corrupt would be an understatement. In fact, Ashlen found it so heinous she felt compelled to do something. However, she could not get any hard evidence, and no soldiers or staff would go on the record, fearing for their lives.
Finally, in desperation, she wrote a letter to the Commandant. Inside the letter was a brief message explaining that she needed help. She enclosed another letter, addressed to the Imperial Palace. She asked only that it be delivered unread and intact.
Her service continued to be perfect. Her soldiers were always the most in shape. Her missions went flawlessly.
In a month, Ashlen’s Legion was visited by a mysterious official from the Imperial Palace itself. Referred to only as an Auditor, a title nobody had ever heard, the man spent two weeks going over every document, he could find. He interviewed soldiers, servants, even slaves and camp followers.
At the end, a full parade assembly was called. Flanked by Immaculate monks and several Magistrates, the Auditor announced a list of crimes a mile long. The General had skimmed Imperial tribute. Many of the Dragonlords had undertaken missions for their Houses or patrons, using Imperial property for personal gain. The list touched on every unit, except Ashlen’s.
Most of the Dragon-Blooded officers stood stock still, facing their fate as Dynasts should. One Winglord tried to run. He was beaten to death by the monks while everyone stood at attention.
The Auditor nailed a writ of dissolution to the post, and thus ended the 13th Legion. He invited Ashlen to ride in his carriage back to the Imperial City. She agreed. Once in the carriage and on the road, the Auditor asked Ashlen if she had a preferred assignment. She always wanted to be in the First Legion, and said as much.
The Auditor clearly had god blood in addition to the Blessing of the Dragons, so strange were his eyes. He looked her straight in the face. “Do you deserve the First, Dragonlord?” he asked. “I want to serve in the First, Auditor. I deserve only what the Empress gives me,” she said.
He nodded, and removed a black wood box from his robes. He handed it to her. She opened it, and saw an officer’s insignia, and the mon of the First Legion. It was made of all five colors of Jade. Her jaw dropped “Your service is appreciated, General.” The Auditor smiled.
Ashlen then sat in silence for hours. Finally, as the night drew short and the sun peaked over the horizon, she said to him, "My career has been a mess. I’ve served in so many positions and garrisons I can’t count them all. I’ve been shuffled about by the Houses, each one eager to be rid of me, or push me back. I thought I was simply going to die a Dragonlord.
I see now that I was wrong. I was…groomed. Every backwater posting was actually experience in a new environment. I saw the differences, the merits and flaws, of each garrison. My assignment to the 13th was a test to see how I would tolerate such corruption. Tell me, Auditor, when did this test start?"
“Your testing for the post began when you graduated from reform school, after you headed to the cloister,” he said. It then struck her how ageless he looked.
“Should I assume this is another test?” she asked.
“You will be tested until you fail, General.”
She has not failed in the fifty years that have passed since that day.