Story by Tacoma and Lunati with Art by Tacoma.
Cassandra is a lithe white ermine with lavender markings and long twin ponytails. She's narcissistic and spiteful, entirely lacking in empathy. Cassandra is very good at manipulating people to get her way and uses this fully to her advantage. In time, the hatred that built inside her from years of betrayal was used as fuel for her twisted engineering projects.
Cassandra sees hatred as the driving force of success in her life; it is the only way she has ever gotten ahead of those who've wronged her. She owns a workshop in the Mossy Mire where she constructs vicious mechanicals called Zengre. Aggressive Zengre are assembled en masse and delivered to areas to terrorize civilians. Cassandra uses this method to acquire resources and compliance from those who have previously turned down her requests. Her current target is the Isles of Nimbaterra.Jump to 'Another Day at the Workshop': Cassandra's Story
Cassandra wasn't always so sinister. A lifetime of tragic events warped her mind and she gradually grew mistrustful of others. As a child, she was smart, bubbly and gentle. She would take apart small mechanical objects and rearrange their parts into something new. Much of her time was spent tinkering and building with best friend Lunati.
In school, Cassandra was way ahead of her class in her studies with exceptionally high intellect and the ability to pick up new skills quickly. She was helpful and patient with others, eager to help classmates learn. This soon backfired as some peers mistook her for being a condescending smart-ass. This initiated a long chain of bullying which grew increasingly more violent as the years passed.
Cassandra's attackers always seemed to find something new to latch onto to justify hurting her. When being a smart-ass wasn't enough, they went after her for looking or acting too much like a boy. Lunati would walk her home from school as often as she could, since nobody would dare to hurt Cassandra while she had a friend by her side. But Cassandra's attackers would lie in wait for any opportunity to strike her and, when she did have to walk back alone, was more often than not ganged up on.
As she grew into adolescence, Cassandra began isolating herself. Her fear mounted as she spent more and more time alone. One day, she could no longer accept the possibility of being attacked again and swore vengeance against anyone who dared to threaten her. Sadism became an outlet for Cassandra's pain.
After a falling out with Lunati, Cassandra took matters into her own hands. Once helpful machines she had built were altered to become devices of torture and dismemberment. One by one, she trapped everyone who ever abused her and brought them back to her workshop to test her horrific new machinery on. Every last one of them was made to suffer, and, for a time, Cassandra felt she had some closure.
This lasted until Cassandra's father grew ill. She helplessly watched him wither away from an incurable illness that would eventually take him. Hoping to at least alleviate his pain, she made a trip to the Isles of Nimbaterra for their painkilling poppies. Here, she made a plea to Lunati's partner, Tacoma, begging her to bring a small amount of opium back to her dying father. Unfortunately, this plea came just weeks after an export ban was placed to halt drug trafficking by the Cirrus Cartel. Tacoma felt terrible denying Cassandra's request, but the damage was done.
Cassandra blamed Tacoma for taking away her best friend and love interest. Even though she and Lunati hadn't spoken in years, she'd hoped to mend things with her old friend but wasn't sure how. Cassandra had to be truly desperate to come to someone she resented so deeply, and to be turned away by them was the final knife through her heart. From this point on, the beautiful, brilliant Cassandra shifted into a sadistic monster who derives pleasure from destroying anything she deems prettier than herself. Tacoma quickly became the prime target of her hatred.
Cassandra lives on the Eastern Isle of Zephyr in the lower lands below Nimbaterra. Her workshop was built deep within the Mossy Mire, a rainy marsh with an abundance of poisonous insects and plants. The lakes within the Mire are relatively small and sparsely scattered throughout the zone. Cassandra's home is situated a couple miles away from her workshop, surrounded by tall sand pines. From this isolated location, Cassandra sends routine shipments of Zengre up to the Isles of Nimbaterra to attack Tacoma and members of the Cirrus Cartel.
The low import security on Nimbaterra gave Cassandra the perfect window to drop shipments of Zengre at the local port town. Officials caught on eventually and tightened security regulations but this hasn't stopped the ever-crafty Cassandra, who has now taken to hiding Zengre in with crates of foodstuff and other seemingly "safe" goods.
When confronted face-to-face, Cassandra typically threatens foes with a tool off her belt, usually a screwdriver. Blacktalon, Mob Boss of the Cirrus Cartel, is the only individual who wants Cassandra dead. His lackeys frequently go "missing" after pursuing Cassandra, her cunning and ruthless nature ultimately spelling their demise. The Zengre Queen has no qualms about taking out mobsters or any others who intend to harm her, but she absolutely hates having her fur and hair soiled by blood. Clean kills are preferred, usually by strangling her victim with steel wire or a well-placed strike with her screwdriver. On special occasions, Cassandra's machines are used to 'disassemble' her foes, piece by piece.
Cassandra blames Tacoma for taking Lunati away from her and driving a wedge between them. She loves to watch Tacoma struggle and will stop at nothing to make her miserable. Communication between Cassandra and Tacoma is limited to the threatening weekly blackmail Cassandra sends to the isles. While this seems to prevent local residents from fighting back, Tacoma rarely satisfies Cassandra's demands.
Tacoma isn't fearful of Cassandra herself, but of her creations. In an attempt to stop the onslaught, Tacoma hopes to work out an arrangement with her that will benefit both parties. She plans to put an end to the invasions and protect her sky island home from a complete takeover, but Cassandra is always a few steps ahead. The Zengre Queen has prepared for a potential raid on her headquarters by planting traps, sentries and turrets all around her workshop.
Despite Cassandra's violent and erratic behavior, Tacoma realizes, much to her own confusion, that she's developed a crush on the Zengre Queen. In the midst of the ongoing conflict, she has grown to admire her determination, beauty and ingenuity. Cassandra has her suspicions, but refuses to address it. After all, the taste of revenge is far sweeter to her than indulging in her lust. Cassandra still obsesses over Lunati and wishes their friendship could have blossomed into something more. This odd triangle ultimately keeps everyone from killing each other, but further fuels the tension between parties.
Lunati still believes that Cassandra can be redeemed somehow. Stubborn and devoted, she has sworn to pull her friend out of the darkness she's shrouded herself in for so long. Tacoma sometimes gets frustrated with Lunati's attempts to make peace as she often does so when the Isles are under seige. Tacoma can be a little overprotective at times, refusing to let Cassandra get too close to her partner.
While disturbed by Cassandra's behavior, Lunati and Tacoma won't let any serious harm come to her. Any physical altercations result in the ermine being tied up or otherwise immobilized by rope, strong vines, magic, or whatever else is on hand at the time.
Cassandra's sister, Cenia, picked up some basic engineering skills over the years, but didn't actively participate in the construction of Zengre until after her own "accident". In life, she was a short white ferret with black eyespots and turquoise hair. When she lost her body, Cassandra bound her sister's soul to a Soul Ruby to implant in one of her mechanical Zengre. Cenia now uses this tiny form to control a larger mechanical or skin to serve as a puppet. Any time Cenia's puppet breaks down, she can simply crawl out and find a new body, if the old one is too much trouble to repair. As long as her Soul Ruby remains intact, she cannot die.
Cenia is a cheerfully morbid character who delights in bringing back the dead and helping her friends, but even she admits that her sister has gone off the deep end on her vindictive quest for control. In the beginning, she was sent by Cassandra to spy on Lunati. She didn't trust that Tacoma and Lunati had good intentions until learning how much grief the Zengre Queen has caused. She cautiously joins forces with the group, offering to help them put a stop to the madness, but Cassandra sees this as yet another betrayal and eventually turns against her own sister as well. Cenia is hurt by this outcome, but Lunati remains confident that she can get Cassandra to snap out of her madness. She assures Cenia that her sister will come back around someday.
During a discussion with Lunati, Cenia recalled a time when Cassandra had hurt her, too. Her dearest friend Kyren, another Zengre, was discarded in spite of Cenia's plea to give her a better body. Cassandra thought Kyren was too simple and of no use to her in combat, so she was tossed away like a piece of junk. Cenia saved Kyren and kept her hidden from her sister while she worked tirelessly to build her a better form. Cassandra sees most Zengre as simple tools, a means to an end, but to Cenia, they are family.
Zengre conceal a glowing red gem in their bodies called a 'Soul Ruby,' each containing the soul of someone departed from the living realm. Alchemist Emerey first discovered the formula for Soul Rubies in a desperate bid to bring her mentor back after an explosion took her life. Cassandra, upon learning of the existence of this gem, broke into Emerey's lab and stole the formula. This transformed her mechanical Zengre into extremely powerful, lifelike killing machines. Emerey is able to return the spirits within Soul Rubies to the afterworld, but Cenia isn't too comfortable with the idea. Without the Soul Ruby magic, both her and Kyren would be not be around today.
"It's early morning, the sky overhead glows a dark pink as the sun begins its ascent over the horizon. Only the ambient hum of chirping insects and the soft pat of lightly falling rain can be heard through the land. A white shadow cuts through the fog and walks silently through the puddles with heavy boots. Beads of rain splatter against them as she passes over the road. She pauses before two large metal doors leading to a factory. She lifts a remote from her belt and pulls a small mechanical lever. Suddenly, the doors shudder and grind open, granting access to the interior. It's musky inside, thick with the scent of various metals and tanned hides. Lips part with a sigh, the day has just begun and her work is seemingly never finished. But she looks forward to it, every day. All of her ambitions, all of her dreams and desires come to life in this cold, metallic fortress. Gold glitters on her armlet, belt and ring. She has worked hard for this life and she works harder still each day, to prove all of them wrong. The ones who hurt her. The ones who told her she was nothing. The girl who betrayed her trust and broke her heart. None of it mattered now. She would prevail in her endeavors, even if it destroyed her.
She sat down on a heavy chair, her short dress lifting up over her thigh. She crossed a leg over her knee and opened a small trinket box containing several metal screws and gears. With long, razor sharp claws she delicately plucked out tiny bits that she would be needing for today's project and placed them gently on an oil-stained rag. Once all the required parts were collected, she closed the box and set it down on a shelf full of anatomical figures. Most of the shelves in her factory held creations of her's; slender musteline mechanicals with jointed limbs and mouths. Skulls and bones took up almost as much space on an adjacent shelf; these were trophies of her past victims. If they were of no use in her engineering projects, they could at least make fine decor. They served as reminders, that none would cross her without paying dearly.
As she worked diligently to assemble an assortment of metal parts, screams echoed in her mind. Screams of the ones held beneath her, flayed and shattered as they cried out for mercy. Screams of fear, of others who had caught her in the act and were then swiftly silenced by vice-like mitts, or wire, or a tool off her belt. Screams in her own bed, awakening from nightmares, searing hot pain across her flesh. Screams coming from her very mouth, held down by her hair and beaten into submission by peers larger than her. "Oh c'mon, you can take it," the voice echoed. "You're not fooling anyone, pretty thing." The screams all melded together like toxic waste stirring in her brain. She finished winding a small screw into the back of a mechanical creature that closely resembled a mink. When she was finished, she placed it upright on her workbench.
"You're here," she whispered, "As an extension of myself, my child..." her thoughts trailed off as her pale purple eyes traced the contours of her creation as though she was studying a painting. A horrid thought blew in and out of her mind in a flash, and as she composed herself again to speak, she lifted a red crystal out from the pouch on her belt. She raised it up to the mechanical, red light reflecting across the metallic surface. "You will serve me as your sisters have served me." Her voice was as soft and wispy as her figure, deceivingly slight. An overhead light flickered as she opened a small hatch on the mechanical's shoulder. She lowered the crystal into a precisely measured socket, closed it up and took a few steps back. "You are born into this foul world, an agent of entropy and a reminder to all that I... WILL NOT be betrayed EVER. AGAIN." With the flick of a switch, electricity surges through her construct. A ruby glow emanates from the eyes. Well-oiled joints flex, the mouth gapes. It rears up onto its sturdy spring-loaded tail and, with a pop it lurches upward, gnashing its serrated teeth at the air. Cassandra's eyes shimmer with delight as she studies her creation's movements. Steam seeps out of the nose as it flips and dances wildly, with an eerily fluid movement that is not often seen in mechanicals. She closes her hands together and observes, pleased with the day's work.
As the sun dips back down below the horizon, Cassandra leaves the factory and walks home, alone. Her room is quiet, and oddly absent of any trace of her professional life. She slips out of her dress, hangs up her tool belt and crawls into a neatly made bed. As she lays down, weary and worn, the screams are silenced. The hateful voices quiet down as she drifts off into sleep. Instead, somewhere deep inside of her mind, a child cries in the dark, clutching tightly to a small stuffed animal. "I wish you were real," she chokes. "You wouldn't let them hurt me."