A Deadly Shadow

I sat in mediation for some time that morning in a small garden of our dojo’s small pond, a few clicks from the dormitory, far enough into the meadow that I couldn’t hear the chatter of others.

I had been training my listening skills, hearing nothing but flies and bees buzzing for hours before I detected the particular footsteps of my abbot, the nearly-silent foot falls growing louder. Humans. They practically plod like giants when they walk, even my master.

“Greetings, master Syncletica,” I said, not turning about or bothering to open my eyes. The foot falls stopped.

“You have completed the stealth tests satisfactorily,” she said.

High praise from my master, especially considering the test she gave to me.

Syncletica’s final test was for me to enter the Firebrand Gnoll mines and retrieve several gemstones with as few kills as possible. But I was to go alone. She left a mercenary cleric nearby in case of grave danger but she was ordered not to accompany me through the mines itself, and would stay put at the quest entrance.

Most of the master’s acolytes have chosen the Path of Harmonious Balance, where ki is used to heal yourself and others, but can also be used to damage attackers. I am one of a few that chose the Path of Inevitable Dominion, where I use my ki for extra damage and to aid in cloaking my approach.

Many people seem to think this “dark” path is evil, or questionable. It is not. There is no evil in the training of mind and body, especially to use such skill against the true evils that trouble Stormreach and its neighbors.

My brethren think I am somehow weaker. Because of this, I accepted my final test with determination.

I accepted additional training in the art of the ninja. It gives me stronger stealth skills. Not only are my hiding and move silently training is enhanced, but I can use my ki to make myself invisible and a bit incorporeal for a brief time. I would need that inside the narrow corridors of the mines. I handle shortswords very well as ki weaponry for when my fists cannot overcome an enemy–a rarer event, thankfully.

But the most dangerous training I know is for when I must fight. I often strike and stun enemies while cloaked to quickly remove them without drawing attention from others. For when I must fight a group, I measure their strength. Spell casters and healers are felled first, if possible. I have crafted a pair of handwraps that aid in stunning and, with a fortunate strike, will encase an enemy in stone. These wraps are also vampiric, fortifying my healing ability. Otherwise, other than drinking healing potions, healing while in battle is not possible.

But my best skill involves the management of ki. Like any other monk, I need the ki force to empower my training. Others will fight to generate it, leaving them at risk of having to use more to heal themselves or others. My training allows me to regenerate ki while in stealth, up to my stable level of concentration. That’s not much ki energy, but it is enough to heal myself every few minutes without having to encounter one attacker, or mediate to generate energy.

Were I to be discovered and an outright fight was inevitable, I use my most punishing technique. I draw my ki into a ball of intense energy that punishes the lifeforce of any living being, often destroying them with that single attack. A few in the dojo were…concerned…with such a brutal attack. “We are not assassins,” they say. They believe there is something wrong in the sudden death of an enemy. Yet they, as I, will eventually learn a new sudden-death strike. Maybe my brothers and sisters confuse my training and attacks with my attitude. I’m not as social as others. Maybe they just see me as angry or mean. I do not know.

But I do what I must. And I completed my test. No cleric. Barely detected by most of the mine’s denizens. I left the required gems by the master’s doorstep late last night.

I could hear the master take a few steps towards me as I still faced the pond. A heard a slight rustle as some kind of package was placed beside me. “You have earned this,” the master said, as her footsteps receded from me.

A few minutes later, I opened my eyes. Next to me in a neat package was clothing that gave me stronger concentration and protection, two special shortswords of metalline, and headgear that no other in the dojo had been allowed to wear, until now.

As the sun began to set, I dressed in the new outfit and pulled the obsidian-black mask over my dull red hair. With a moment of concentration, I ran to the pond, running quickly over the water to the other side, hardly disturbing the liquid’s surface tension, then cloaked myself to disappear into the outlying forest and to my next mission.

I am the first ninja of my dojo. I will defend its honor, its members, and the citizens and friends of Stormreach.


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