When the scales of justice are so horrifically unbalanced, can even the most vicious and vindictive of correctives be considered evil; no matter how bloody their methods?
While fate is seldom fair, sometimes there is an injustice so vast and unbearable that it crystallises righteous outrage into a form that can - even if only partially - begin to avenge those who have suffered almost incomprehensible tortures. Kyauta’s Harrow is one such form, a locus that was created in the hold of a slaver’s ship as a young woman watched friends and family succumb to the terrible conditions of their captivity. Sickness spread in the crushing swell of people crammed in the ripe darkness and, even through the crash of waves and the thunder that marked each strike of lightning that threatened the ship, the hack of choking coughs rang out in an awful chorus. Kyauta’s grief was immense, but turned bitter and angry as the ship’s crew lamented only the lost income of each death.
Eventually the crew even stopped even throwing the bodies overboard, and the ship pressed on amidst a worsening stench of necrotic and gangrenous rot. As everyone she knew died slowly died, rotting all around her, the bitterness Kyauta had felt began to pale in comparison to the venomous hate that she nurtured. Even while it kept her alive it started to change her, taking and taking and taking from her essence in order to fuel the metamorphosis of her heart hardening into a weapon. Weakened as they were, even the sickest slaves in the hold began to drag themselves as far away from her as they could manage. They did not, could not, suspect that a measure of revenge was being born into the world, but they were able to recognise that their deliverance was not to be forthcoming.
The ship had already passed the point of no return on the night Kyauta’s Harrow was fully-formed and empowered, though it seems unlikely that returning the enslaved people home would have been sufficient penance to defer the oncoming vengeance - even if the crew had known it lay in wait. Kyauta, whose watchful stillness throughout the transformation had been noticed even by the inattentive guards who kept the slaves imprisoned, suddenly clasped her hands to her chest and let out a roaring scream that instantly becalmed the seas. Superstitious, even without a hold full of people he had dehumanised and othered to the point that he saw them as alien - something he had begun to fear as much as he despised - the ship’s captain sent a member of the crew to investigate the noise.
While he traded speculation with his men about the too-sudden change in weather, his investigator found terrorised and terrified slaves pressed against the hull so as to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Kyauta as possible. Sitting hunched over, she rocked gently as the ship continued to settle and it took the man a few moments to suspect that she had died. He was only - albeit immediately - certain when the light from his lantern showed that her chest had been ripped open, sternum wrenched in two by her own bloody hands, in which she cradled what had once been her heart. Now it was something far less precious but, at least in the eyes of the slaver, something far more valuable: A perfectly cut, fist-sized diamond which had formed seamlessly around a scattering of deep-crimson rubies.
Eager to take the prize and with no thought to its provenance, the young man snatched the stone but felt compelled to bring Kyauta’s body above-decks with him. Hesitant, but too slow-witted to make an attempt to hide the stone, he handed it off to his captain, sealing both their fates and the damning the rest of the crew along with them. If any trace of Kyauta’s spirit had survived, had tethered the Harrow to the morals and mores to which she subscribed in life, it was severed as her body was tossed carelessly into the ocean. Kyauta’s Harrow latched onto the slavers’ corrupted souls and, whether its power is a cosmological corrective or guided by a bloodthirsty will, we know that such curses will never yield and will never spare those they have laid claim to.
From various accounts taken from the ruined ship, which drifted damaged and abandoned until it was boarded months later, we know that Kyauta’s Harrow appeared in different forms to various members of the crew. All the aspects it assumed had one thing in common: They were chosen so as to charm and ensnare, its various beauties akin to a siren’s voice; a deadly trap which the crew lied, cheated and killed to throw themselves headlong into. It began as petty jealousies, tempers frayed and inflamed as the ship was unable to move on the stillest oceans any of them could recall, then moved to repeated attempts to steal Kyauta’s Harrow. Members of the crew began to have nightmares that left them in cold sweats, hallucinations of dead slaves rising from the ocean to drag them down to hell, and were certain that the Harrow, whatever form of it they saw, was their only hope.
The crew began to fight openly amongst themselves, scrapes and scuffles soon turning bloody, then fatal, as each man jockeyed to get closer to possessing Kyauta’s Harrow. They were certain that, if it would not save them, then it might at least offer some peace from the clamour of madness screaming to be let inside. The captain was executing members of his crew, almost at random, to avoid the inevitable full-blown mutiny, but this only delayed it. He was eventually deposed, tossed down into the hold where only a handful of slaves were still alive, barely hanging on through sickness and starvation and neglect. He ranted and raved about his lost treasure, and they knew him to be mad. They had seen Kyauta’s Harrow: A petrified heart spattered with the blood of a friend who had been consumed, been used up, by boundless anger.
We know that how people see Kyauta’s Harrow is almost entirely informed by their character, their ability and willingness to objectify and commodify human life. That to most it appears as it did to the slaves who died on that ship, imbued only with the echoes of their despair. The Harrow has been recovered and lost repeatedly since it was created. It is often taken but sometimes given, a Trojan horse that might tear one’s enemies down but will never deliberately salve or soothe the injuries of the wronged, nor necessarily even free them from suffering or servitude. For Kyauta’s Harrow, like other artefacts of its ilk, a kindness is only ever incidental; it is an avenging force focused on the all-too-human monsters who profit on the misery of others, not justice. It lacks the tempering of an intent to restore balance.