- Markshire PCs:
“Your kneecaps is mine, scumbag!”
The shout did not startle Sun-Ok: she had lost track of the number of times she had heard it while wandering the plains north of Foothold. She sighed mentally, and bowed her head as she listened carefully for the sounds that inevitably followed the kobold taunt: muffled footsteps approaching through the snow and quarrels twanging out of crossbows.
A bolt struck her and glanced off her dire bear armor—another bruise, she thought, but noted the direction from which it had come. The footsteps neared, and, head still bowed, she crouched and drew Eclipse in a single fluid motion, the traditional defensive drawing posture with the ye do. It blocked the club that she knew, from repeated experience and a low whistle it made through the air, was swinging toward where her waist had been a moment before. Sensing the source of the blow, she stabbed a quick counter, and heard the kobold’s death rattle.
She launched herself quickly along the path she deemed the quarrel to have traveled, pausing briefly to listen for the weapon being wound back for another shot. The crossbow twanged again, a few yards away, and her shield flew up, catching this one, a lucky reflex. She stamped forward toward the sound’s source, making fierce diagonal downward strokes with Eclipse at each step. She made contact—hard, shoulder-jarring contact—and heard something fall with a thud a few feet away. That’s strange, she thought, and crouched cautiously down, shield high, to listen.
“Agla barac kafa jush,” came the chant, again familiar to her. But the words of the kobold shaman’s spell had a faint deadness to them, as if they came to her partially funneled. She flexed out her shield-hand and felt for it—there. With a strange joy—for she knew that the shaman’s color-dazzling spell could not harm her—she ran the next few yards, shield-arm extended to the wall she had sensed and Eclipse held across her body, edge out. It did not end as gracefully as she’d hoped—she bowled the creature over backwards, the rapier slicing its throat as she collapsed clumsily on top of it.
The two of them lay still, and there was silence except for her beating heart. The skirmish was over. She pulled up the blindfold she had made from her own bandages, the purple symbol of the Way barely visible through the shaman’s blood. “Another bath tonight,” she thought. She looked curiously back at the kobold crossbowman, whose head lay a few feet from its body, then thanked Durok mentally for the marvelous tool he had given her.
She had been practicing thus for days, emulating as best she could the dark-fighting training her father had once described for her. And it was useful, she had to admit. For the lack of vision definitely heightened her other abilities: notably smell and hearing, though she also felt her reflexes were oddly enhanced as well. Possibly, though, this was just the tension of being in constant danger, a tension that was exhausting in the extreme, and that exhaustion led her to sit quietly for a few moments next to the dead shaman.
The dark-fighting training had not provided her, however, what she had fervently hoped it would—the insight she needed to follow the Serpent Way.
That insight was of course not nearly as forthcoming as she had imagined it would be. She had spent hours gazing at her own shadow, doing this in private after she received a number of odd looks from the local townsfolk. Then she had stared at any shadow for hours a day, trying to come to some understanding of that mystical line between light and dark—this proved more comfortable than twisting around to look at one’s own shadow, but no more fruitful. And she had spent hours, lying flat on her back on the bed of the forest, unseen by the marauding orcs around her, becoming dappled with sunlight and shadow herself—but still no nearer to grasping it.
Dram had been helpful, to a degree. He had helped define for her the roles that silence and camouflage played, and had confirmed that his own shadow was, due to Markshire’s dominant antipathy to the “undead,” a very private secret. He had even encouraged her, in what eventually became a somewhat disheartening way, to keep trying, and to find her own path, as he put it, “into the dark.”
And so she had then spent hours in the darkest places she could find—mines, crypts, and dusty, forgotten rooms—trying to understand how the darkness was akin to the light. And she had visited the tallest, snow-covered peaks she could find, where the snow-glare was so bright she wished she had borrowed Zeb’s goggles, to understand the light. All to no avail, but with the depressing feeling that she was very, very close all the same.
So, sensing that for her the key lay in seeing, differently, she had turned to the visual deprivation of dark-fighting, and she had turned to it nearly in desperation. It was demanding—she had the bruises to show for it—and it was beneficial, but it was not the grand “enlightenment” she had hoped.
And that skirmish was no different, she thought, as she pulled her blindfold back down and stood tiredly. A bit better, a lucky shield-block, and…
Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud bellowing roar from close behind her and downwind. Bear, she thought, as a savage blow raked across the side and back of her neck, knocking her to the snow, where her body started to roll down a gentle slope. Polar, from the smell of it, she added, I’ve certainly tanned enough of their pelts to recognize that greasy scent. So, sit facing downwind next time, was her final thought before she blacked out.