Kessilandrie Anicia Vlastos, better known as simply Kess, is a Taldan brawler originally from Oppara but who now travels the Inner Sea region in search of adventure and opportunities to engage in hand-to-hand combat.
She was raised to be Lady Kessilandrie Anicia Vlastos, but the thousands of cheering fans that fill the arena's seats when she fights shout her preferred name—Kess the Bull.
Kess never squared herself with the life of pomp and nobility. As a kid growing up in an estate in the Westpark District of Oppara, she spent her time in opulent gardens, tipping over rocks to look for bugs, climbing the massive oaks, coordinating mock battles against imaginary monsters with her sisters and brothers in the plum orchard, and generally getting into trouble.
It was during these pretend adventures that she started learning how to fight. Her brothers and sisters were snobbish, bullying brats that never left the awkward young girl alone. Never one to just take abuse, Kess ended many of those make-believe bouts in flat-out fistfights. It was not the wooden swords and staves the kids played with that she mastered in these brawls, but rather a solid left jab, a well-placed kick, or a leg sweep. Her height gave her good reach, letting her even get in a good strike at her oldest brother to silence his bullying.
After too many busted lips and bloody noses, Kess's parents tried to send her to dueling masters in order to teach her the art of swordplay, hoping to channel her energy into a safe and respectable form of combat—something of which nobles could be proud.
As far as Kess was concerned, fencing was for dandies and duels were just tiresome ego dramas. This affluent instruction just did not stick. After losing too many matches by dropping her training rapier and socking her opponent in the jaw, she was nearly expelled. An older student, sympathetic to her fighting style, tipped her off to an underground fighting ring in a seedy part of the city.
Her first night in the pit was exhilarating. The organizers paired her up with a brawny farm boy whose jaw jutted out as far as his forehead sloped back. He hit hard, but he did not know a thing about technique. Using her skill and rangy frame to her advantage, Kess had him mewling on the ground in less than a minute.
Using the ruse of attending fencing class, Kess made her way to the underground rings every chance she could get. It was there that she discovered real honor—not that bogus social contract she grew up under. In those pit fights, she learned focus and found her calling. The roar of the crowd charged her, and she pushed her body, testing herself.
Kess learned a multitude of styles and forms from the various fighters and promoters that flowed through the ring, as well as the worship of Kurgess, god of bravery, competition, and sports. She also began to dream of bouts in the far-off nations from which many of her colleagues hailed. In particular, she focused on the gladiator nation of Tymon in the River Kingdoms, from which her coach had won a medal.
Yet everything came apart the night her older brother—eager to gamble on the fights—stumbled into the secret venue and noticed her in the ring. Her father was furious, and her mother worried. This was no way for a proper, high-born lady to act. What if she were hurt or killed? What would happen if other families were to find out? Which of them already knew?
For her own safety—and to quash a scandal—her parents threatened to send her off to their country estate, or even to a boarding school. In no way eager to have her destiny decided for her by others, Kess beat her parents to the punch and sneaked down to the docks, boarding a Taldan merchant vessel headed up the Sellen River. With her wits, her skill, and a purse bulging with her winnings in the ring, she set off for Tymon. Once there, she fought enough bouts in the arena to get noticed by the masters of the Valknar Gladiatorial College, using the prize money from her Opparan fights to pay for tuition.
Yet Tymon is small, and Kess easily bored. While still one win shy of being considered "blooded," she was lured away from the city by the call of new arenas in distant locations, taking up the life of an adventurer not for treasure, but for the fun of it. Every so often, Kess attempts to alleviate some of her mother's worry by sending letters home telling of her adventures, yet has learned to obscure from where they are sent, lest her father send agents to track her down and try to bring her home.
Kess wears her bruises and scars as proudly as she wears the medals adorning her outfit—prizes from various fights, as well as a short stint with a mercenary company. Even though she tries to be positive and upbeat, she knows that she is often aggressive and sarcastic. Kess is not afraid to say what is on her mind, especially when facing authorities who try to tell others what to do. She does not pay much mind to complicated bureaucracies and outdated social mores, and tends to live her life the way she wants. The only time Kess shows a strong respect for rules is during a competition—she does not tolerate cheaters. Kess is competitive, though she encourages others in their own tasks. She keeps her body fit, and trains every chance she gets—a crucial counterbalance to her love of good food, strong drink, and long nights of celebration after a fight.1