Ashley (formerly known as Alex) is a mage and the protagonist of Defender and Ash, a self-taught mage who has tasked herself with the goal of liberating all the souls trapped within a marsh in penance for getting her sister killed doing the same several years ago.
Ashley was once a red-haired young girl, but years of experimenting with magic without a mentor has resulted in her body undergoing a number of different injuries. Her red hair has become white despite her youth, her face has a burn scar that runs from her eye to her ear and has left the flesh looking red and leathery, while her eyes a deep and recessed brown color. She also mentions having crystals forming on parts of her body she kept hidden as a result of her failures.
She frequently traveled with a rucksack that looked like it came from a distant time, with an ancient incense lamp, and a smaller gunny bag over her shoulder. She wore a coat with the hood over her face to hide her appearance in the process.
Years later she carries her sister's Ash wand, tipped with a red gemstone.
As a child, Ashley (then Alex) often defended her sister and shared the same passion for magic that she did, as such they both loved to learn however they could. But when her sister was chosen instead she felt hurt and betrayed, a feeling that would lead to an inferiority complex even after she ran away from home and set out to learn magic on her own. This feeling blossomed into hate when she originally attempted to face the haunted marsh and fled, leading to her wanting to let her sister experience what it was like to fail despite being the chosen one.
Eventually, she would send the letter that resulted in her sister being killed. Riddled with a self-loathing guilt for years afterwards, at both the act and feeling relieved that her sister hadn't succeeded where she had. She later decided to make amends by sacrificing her life in an effort to free her sister's soul.
She avoided contact with other people as best she could due to hating the pitying or disgusted looks they would give her due to the nature of her body, but as her familiar notes, she craved warmth after all the isolation. Despite wanting to die to make amends, she was afraid to die alone and longed for someone to share her fate. She also feared being rejected again and so she didn't bother seeking out another mentor.
Ashley (then Alex) and her sister were born to Sophie, a woman who was born from a mage but didn't have the talent. As a result she kept her children unaware of magic and forbid them from anything related to magic, even fictional.
However, one day she and her sister were visited by their grandmother and became aware of magic. And despite their mother forbidding them from seeing her, they studied under her in secret whenever she visited. Eventually their mother and extended family gave up on them and began to treat both daughters like they didn't exist, and Doris stopped appearing entirely, leaving the sisters alone.Years later they were visited by the Black Widow, who decided to take her sister as her apprentice and left her alone.
Feeling betrayed and completely alone, Ashley abandoned her home and took to learning magic through her own means and experimentation, resulting in the failures leaving her body marred in different ways that made it hard to get along in regular society. She drifted from place to place, lacking the courage to ask any of the mages she happened to meet to take her in as an apprentice, until she found where her sister was and learned of the Black Widow being famous among their circles. She never strayed far but never spoke or let her sister spot her out of fear.
Eventually she learned about the cursed marshed and decided to try and cleanse it to prove herself, but she ran away out of fear and felt frustrated at her lack of power due to the lack of a mentor. She eventually thought of her sister and wanted her to experience fear and failure, resulting in her sending a letter asking her sister to free the soul of another. She would later receive a letter back from the Black Widow, informing her of her sister's death and how it was her fault. Every year since then she would receive another from the Black Widow, asking her how long she intended to leave her sister's soul trapped within the cold swamp.
The Golden Yarn
The short story, Defender and Ash, follows Ashley (then Alex) as she attempts to release her sister's soul from the cursed marsh. As she enters the meadow that surrounds it, she is approached by a certain Gancanagh, who mistakes her for a woman that he can prey on. He warns her against entering the swamp because of the danger but she enters despite the warning and runs into a serial killer who had often victimized women who also entered in the past and her wand is destroyed in the process.
Though she manages to stab the killer with a silver ceremonial knife and drove him off, she collapsed from her injuries and would have died if the Gancanagh didn't come to her aid. Afterwards he watches over her as she recovers and, upon being asked, explained why she intended to return to the marsh despite it being beyond her ability. She intended to save her sister's soul in penitence for sending her off to die in the swap out of jealousy.
The gancanagh decides to follow her when she returned and she was pulled down into the marsh by the corpse of the killer, thought to be possessed by the evil of the swamp, whereupon she sees the final memories of her sister due to her wand. She also hears the souls of women who had also died in the marsh and had their souls stuck within it as the gancanagh manages to pull her up from the dark waters.
Realizing what she had to do, she attempted to cast a spell in order to liberate them using the ceremonial knife and her sister's wand with the gancanagh's support, allowing her to liberate several of the souls within before the fae carried her out of the swamp. However, she was unable to save her sister's soul and vowed to continue to try to do so until she could, after gaining more power and knowledge.
The gancanagh decided to become her familiar and share her fate as a result, resulting in a contract between them, in which she gives him her old name (Alex) and she took her sister's name (Ashley), so that she would never forget her purpose.
Years later, she continues to visit the swamp and attempt to liberate the souls that were trapped anew and purge the evil stuck within.
- The Sight: Much like her sister and grandmother, Ashley possesses the Sight. This allows her to perceive the supernatural to a greater degree than others. However, her Sight was weak enough that she couldn't see any fae that wished to remain hidden, though she could hear them to a great degree.
- Magic : Unlike her sister, Ashley (Alex) never learned magic under an actual mentor after her grandmother stopped showing up. Instead she traveled and learned through experimentation, as well as picking up bits and pieces from the mages who she did encounter. In order to try and purge the cursed marsh, she has dedicated her life to focusing on purification magic.
- Familiar: After her initial attempt to purify the swamp failed to free her sister, the gancanagh who was drawn to her decided to become her familiar. She named him Alex, giving him her old name.
- Sophie: Her relationship with her mother became strained over time, eventually leading to a falling out. When her sister departed and her mother asked why she hadn't gone with her, Ashley decided to abandon her home after the winter and never saw her again.
- Ashley (Original) : While she originally loved her sister and protected her growing up, even taking on the experiments that would potentially harm her, she eventually grew jealous of her being chosen. In an act of jealousy she sent her sister off to die and since then has taken it upon herself to bear that guilt until she died.
- Alex: Despite the gancanagh being a fae that preyed on women, she felt a natural connection with him and found strength when he was around. While she originally didn't intend to be bound to him, she decided to at his insistence that destiny brought them together.
- (To Her Sister ): Ashley, I promise I'll come back to save you. I'll work for it until I've used the last drop of my strength. So... is it all right if I accept this offer?