The Perfection of Destruction

“Thank you for this honor, Teacher,” Lynncletica said, bowing briefly before looking at the small green pin I gave her. It marked her not only as a teacher, but as my second-in-command in the dojo.

“Don’t thank me. Your training is complete, and you are ready to teach others as I taught you,” I said. “Just remember that the process of learning new things never stops. Your best skill to students may be in instructing skillfully of things you have not yet mastered.”

I could see my old student study me, from my expressions to my silence, before asking, “Syncletica, there have been…rumors…that you will leave us in a short time.”

I stayed silent before I nodded.

“It is true? You are considering the discipline called the Circle of the Phoenix?” Lynncletica seemed less shaken by the idea of the loss of her teacher and more fascinated by the concept of True Reincarnation. I knew that expression on her face; I’ve seen it in the mirror a few times myself.

“Why does reincarnation attract you?” she asked, following my lead in taking a seat.

“Growth. Despite the many techniques I have learned, there is more than this life. Through the powers of reincarnation, I can channel all my ki into becoming somewhat taller and stronger. As a result, I may be able to withstand more damage but also create more damage than ever before.”

“But where does that leave you in terms of ability? Or skills or equipment?”

I realized I was chewing my bottom lip in absent-minded contemplation and expectation of that question. “Here is where the master becomes the student. I must rediscover my experiences again, my adventures. Completing my experiences will teach a little less in a new life than when I first attempted them. As far as ability, many of my abilities will increase naturally, perhaps even carry over to a point.”

Lynncletica tried to parse this information before I changed the subject. “There is a lesson I have for you today, one that I have almost solved.” My former student’s expression returned from its sorrow over my imminent departure to her usual puppy-like enthusiasm.

“As you reach your training pinnacle, the most difficult part of preparing for battle involves what little gear you require for maximum effect.

“Here is the riddle. How do you achieve the highest amount of health while still keeping your fundamental damage ability maximized, while ensuring that you have blindness protection, death spell protection, the heaviest critical hit fortification, high resistances, higher armor protection and critical strike seeking of factor 4 or better simultaneously?”

Lynncletica thought a bit about this for nearly 20 seconds (a testament to her greatly improved skill in concentration that has allowed her to return less bloodied for adventures than not lately) before answering, “The Green Steel may be useful here, to start.”

“Yes,” I said, although you know that we cannot obtain handwraps made of this material.”

“Yes, I am aware. So we use Green Steel to stack multiple defensive effects on an item, or better, two items. I’m betting that health, blindness protection, death blocking, poison inmmunity and more could be handled by two Green Steel items.”

“Wearing two Green Steel items, I should warn you, will drain the life out of you without a special cleansing agent of the Shavarath tainting, Student, but I have this covered.” I poured us some tea. “Go on,” I said.

“And…while you could wear an outfit with fortification, like the Garments of Equilibrium, perhaps stronger saves against damage and better armor could be better handled by another garment. I know you have found the Icy Raiment…I think that would do here.”

“True,” I said after a sip.

“For fortification, I know of a crafter that may have a helmet that adds more personal durability as well as the best fortification. So that leaves only the Seeker ability…something I’m always carrying in my adventures for best damage.”

Lynncletica seemed lost in thought as she began to sip her tea. “I know that the Blood Stone is easy to use here but I suspect you have something else in mind, Teacher.”

“Yes, I do. I’ve worn two items to help with the Seeker effect. One was a headdress with the sixth level of Seeker, combined with a special trinket that increased the effect by an additional two levels, as well as adding a powerful electrical burst on critical strikes.”

Lynncletica nodded. “So the helmet I suggested would change your Seeker. If you wore a Blood Stone, you would have the sixth level but could not increase it further because you cannot wear that Bold Trinket, yes?”

“Correct. And, as you have taught me, the Seeker effect increases the opportunity for damage.”

My student finished her tea. “I will need to study this more, Teacher. I’m sure I can determine a solution.”

But Lynncletica’s eyes began to smile. In challenging training sessions, I’ve seen her face do this while her mouth remained grim and impassive. I knew she had a fresh idea, for when her eyes smiled, understanding, and thus, victory was near. It was not an expression that her opponents often survived long enough to understand.

“It seems like you have an idea already.”

Lynncletica seemed momentarily taken aback by my reading of her before she answered, “I do. I unearthed high Seeker handwraps but they lack additional innate damage. But if I were to add bursting effects to them, they would allow you to use the Bold trinket at the expense of less elemental damage, but keep all other benefits of your accessories.”

I pondered this a moment. She was right except that, at my power level, my ability to use the most powerful ki attacks, particularly Force and Electrical damage, would easily negate any deficits to such a simple set of handwraps with only Seeker level applied.

I stood up and bowed. “You have answered that question very well. I trust that your disciplines will steer toward this problem for yourself in the course of time?”

Lynncletica stood and bowed again.”It will, indeed. Good day to you, Teacher.”

I bowed again as she left. After I removed my china, I began to search our dojo’s equipment logs for any of these Seeker handwraps.

The Power of the Ring

“He’s stunning me!” I hear behind me, over the clangs and shouts of others in the party, deep in the heart of the halls of command inside the Tower of Despair.

The tanking fighter, immobile from a glancing blow, was saved from death by the hands of the pit demon Horoth only because another fighter began striking the monster, drawing the thing’s attention away.

I leapt over to the fighter, now revived from his stun, while beginning the rhythmic motions that attuned my ki to energize the party briefly in Grasping the Earth Dragon to ward briefly against future stunning attempts.

The pit fiend’s eternal orthon guard reappeared again. You could kill them again and again yet they reappeared. I wiped a bead of sweat and blood from the corner of my mouth and ran toward the closest one.

By now the party had been taxed in luring a second pit fiend, Suulomades, away from the main fight against Horoth, quickly consuming time, elixirs and health. More than once has a cleric nearly exhausted their divine resources in keeping the fighters alive and restoring life to two others in the party. In a few minutes, if we did not send Horoth into the abyss, none of us would live to discuss our failure.

I positioned my hand in the correct orientation for the Tomb of Jade and struck the orthon solidly in his chest. The creature froze as a wave of jade stone encased him solidly in place, hopefully for a minute or so.

With my Vampiric Stonedust Wraps in place, I positioned myself in the Greater Mountain Stance as another orthon threatened a spell caster, his attempts to slow or stop the stampeding beast failing each time. I chased the orthon, throwing strike after strike until it finally petrified, encased in unyielding stone. I looked about; two other enterprising spell casters had stoned the two remaining orthons. We bought a little more time for the fighters before these unkillable guards would revive and charge us again.

Just as I was assuring that the bulk of the party would not get stunned again, the unearthly scream of the dying pit fiend filled the hall–the party had vanquished him. Suulomades saw Horoth fall and chose not to meet the same fate, disappearing into the ether. It was over.

After the party cared for the injured, we sorted through the bounty left by the pit fiends. Much of it was treasure they had gathered from other failed adventurers. In one ordinary pile, I found what I sought. It was a knife-like relic, probably as old as the halls from where it rested. I helped get the party to safety, back to the floating fortress of Amrath, and then asked the planescaller to send me back to the plane of Ebberon.

In my dojo, I studied the act of crafting a special ring left to me by a monk of long ago that once fought in the fields of Shavarath. It gave Shintao Monks extra strength and wisdom. From my treasure I removed a necklace from my recent victory in the Tower. The ornate dark metals and single green stone showed a kindred with my ring. The necklace offered greater mental clarity for ki and better health.

I equipped both ring and necklace and felt a surge of energy. I’ve felt it before but only when wearing Pure Good handwraps. Together the ring and necklace allowed me to channel Good-aligned energies without additional equipment. Combined with my training in bypassing Silver and other metals by fist alone, I should have felt satisfied in my prowess against the forces of Shavarath.

But I knew better. I have seen warriors, with three times the might and strength I have, fall to the power of Shavarath. My skills may have made me dangerous, but I greatly doubted I was worthy of bringing ultimate victory for Ebberon.

I gazed at Kyosho’s ring, found something I had never seen before–an inscription that told me to “Unleash” a hidden power inside it. This would take more study than my dojo could offer, so I took to the roads to visit the training halls in Stormreach. Many new students were training there, stumbling and fumbling as they tried to master the simplest finishing moves. I found the one I searched for.

“Master Ryone.”

“Abbotess Syncletica,” he said, as we bowed to another. “It pleases me to see you still in one piece.”

“Glad to see you as well, Master. I wanted to ask you about this,” I said, showing him the ring.

The master nodded. “Ah, yes. You own one of Kyosho’s rings, too.”

“‘As well?’ I thought these were unique.”

“They are, in as much as very few of them were forged by the old master. Have you something to ask about it?” the master asked, stepping away from the training floor and walking into a hallway, motioning me gently to follow.

“Is there more to these rings than wearing them with the Cord of the Shintao? An inspection of the ring suggests there is more than meets the eye.”

The master frowned. “It’s not like you at all to seem power-seeking at all, Abbotess.”

His comment took me off-balance before I recalled, “The foes of Ebberon are not concerned with my lawful adherence to peace while they attempt to remove my head with a vorpal blade and turn the world into cinder,” I said in as neutral a tone as my frustration would muster.

“True, true,” the master nodded, stopping in a small room filled with scrolls. From a hidden alcove, he pulled out one scroll and unrolled it.

“I can recite the procedure for unleashing the Incredible to you, Syncletica, but I cannot give you this scroll.”

Many of the great monasteries in Ebberon were lost to the Quori wars, and scribes to make copies were harder to find. “I understand,” I said, taking a seat to prepare my mind, channeling my ki for eidetic memorization of the master’s words.

– – – – –

Two hours later, I was alone on the fields of battle in Shavarath. I declined a guide or a mercenary healer. If I were to fail, I did not want others to die with me over what might have been folly.

The crafting ingredients rested in my pack. All that was needed was to make my way to the altar.

As expected, the altar of subjugation was well guarded. As hoped, the small regiment of tieflings guarding it put up an insufficient fight.

I knew I was of little skill with crafting most things, and artificers would not be of use here. After a moment of recitation, I placed the ingredients on the altar, followed by the ring of Kyosho.

A flare of light erupted from the ring for a moment as the ingredients ignited and turned to ash. The ring looked unchanged.

I took it from the altar and put it on my right hand. The sensation of light weighed on every finger, as if I was holding a Holy Kama. The master’s instruction successfully added Holy Burst to my ring, stacking with my natural abilities as well as any other handwraps or weapon I could wield.

“This is among the most ancient of fighting knowledge, Syncletica. There is little left for you to learn in this life,” the master had told me.

I had never considered, until now, what the master meant, days after receiving the crafted ring. My charges in the dojo were maturing well, Lynncletica most of all. It would not be long before I would be able to grant her the status of Grandmaster.

But even as a Grandmaster myself, my resources still seemed inadequate against the forces of darkness. There had to be more than this. More than my training. More than this ring.

Before I left Stormreach, I read through another scroll in the library. Before she left this world, it was said that the great monk Kyosho had found the secret of reincarnation, enabling her to return stronger and larger, at the price of relearning her training. The scrolls say that this, combined with her ring, was what enabled her to defeat the evil pit fiend Arryitrekos in a pitched battle, ages ago. Her fight gave the world quite some time to catch its breath, for the pit fiend had taken many years to return from his imprisonment in the abyss.

I stood up to look at the nighttime sky. Soon, if I were to fulfill my destiny to save Ebberon, I must return to the beginning as well. But there was much to be done, particularly in keeping Lynncletica from killing herself before she masters her stances and becomes ready to teach others in my stead. Dead monks make poor abbots.

A Death in the Family

I’ve seen much of death. But when it comes to a close friend, death seems all the most closer to you.

A few weeks ago, the cleric that called herself Arcangela was found alone and lifeless in her quarters we gave her, here in my dojo. She never overcome the distress in what she believed was a futility of saving the ungrateful, the hostile, even those who were evil. Despite our talks, it appeared that the cleric simply appealed to her god to cease fighting. My physicians found no marks, no poisons, no traces of magic foul play. She simply surrendered her will to live.

The cleric was buried in a solemn service. Many of my acolytes and a few from the city come to bid their respects. I picked a quiet location under a large, sturdy oak, near a small stream with a pleasant trickling sound.

After the burial, one of my acolytes, a young halfling named Krena, remained standing  by Arcangela’s grave.

“I don’t understand. Why was it so hard for her?” the halfling asked.

I took a moment to consider before I spoke. “Clerics have much to manage. Few other adventures consider the innate stress of gathering and channeling divine magic.”

“Is it…painful…to heal people?”

I nodded. “In a sense. You sacrifice your ability to fight, sometimes, in order to ensure that your mission is a success. But some adventurers, ill-tempered, ill-trained and ill-equipped, often take advantage and abuse a cleric’s power. They see them as little more than a walking healing potion vendor.”

“I see,” the halfing said. I could see my answers had only generated more questions. I stood in the quiet and waited.

“You said that clerics sacrifice their ability to fight in order to heal. But could they improve on their fighting skills?”

“Yes,” I said. “An adventurer could train in multiple schools, one in fighting, and one in the divine arts. The downside to this is that the adventurer can ultimately not attain mastery in either school and thus be unable to perform the highest abilities that either class could attain.”

Krena’s face began to blush, her mouth opening slightly to show her clenched teeth.

“It wasn’t fair what those…pick-up groups did to her,” she said, her voice shaking.

“No. No, it wasn’t.”

“Master…I feel that…I feel I could learn the fighting essentials and begin study of the clerical arts.”

I knew this was coming. “What could you offer that Arcangela could not?” I asked bluntly.

Krena’s posture straightened in response to my challenge. “I know that even the basic unarmed attacks and evasive training will make me faster and more durable than some clerics I have read about. I won’t need heavy armor. I can heal myself through ki and perform more damage through ki. At the same time, the clerical arts will improve my skills in fighting as well as serving others in their healing.”

“But aren’t you worried that others will take advantage?”

She shook her head. “I think that Arcangela let herself become consumed.”

“How so?”

“As you have taught us, there is a difference between aiding during battle and contributing to an adventurer’s weakened state. It would be better, for both healer and adventurer, if mistakes in training or preparation are not disguised through temporary treatments.”

I smiled. “How would you say this in a less formal tone?”

Uh…stop healing the stupid?

“Better,” I said. “So what can the dojo do for you?”

“I need to complete my unarmed training. I need two more things: The name of a healer trainer in House Jorasco and permission to choose a name based on my new profession.”

I began walking back towards the compound. “I can help you in both. What name do you choose?”

“Gwencletica,” she said, after a beat.

The young halfling just became our first Cleric Monk. I plan to watch her progress with great interest.

A Test of Faith

We found the cleric, half-dead, in a recessed hallway inside the tomb of Delera Omaren I.  She told us (after some rehabilitation) that she had survived alone after her party abandoned her only through her ability to periodically turn the hordes of undead that would amass by the door she had locked.

The strain of so defending herself  had greatly and steadily weakened her. By the time I and Lynncletica had arrived (and by accident–I was reviewing Lynn’s skills in eliminating undead), she said she had perhaps one turn ability left before she would have succumbed or became one of the undead.

The cleric called herself Arcangela.

That was about as much explanation as we were able to get from the woman before she collapsed into unconsciousness for three days. We returned her to the dojo to recuperate.

On day four, I found myself out in the meadow. Seated along our pond was the cleric. I approached and sat, but Arcangela seemed to barely notice me.

After several minutes, she asked, “If I cannot defend myself, how can I do as my faith asks?”

I thought a moment and said, “What do you wish to know?”

Arcangela sighed. “I want…I need to know something beyond armor. Yet I need to be the best destroyer of the undead hordes. You’ve heard of the terrors in the old necropolis. And yet, I cannot manage the filth that has corrupted Delera’s tomb.”

“You could join the Path of Harmonious Balance,” I said.

“I know of it,” she replied. “It isn’t as effective in controlling many mobs of undead.”

“It isn’t,” I admitted. “But you become extremely good at destroying them one at a time.”

The cleric shook her head. “There must be a better way.”

I stood up. “Perhaps for you the path must fork. Perhaps a…fusion 0f the skills of martial art with the divine art.”

Arcangela didn’t answer for several heartbeats. “But I may never live up to my full potential in a single vocation.”

“And yet, you may be the stronger cleric for it. What you cannot outgun, you may outrun,” I said.

The cleric stood up, shakily. “What would I have to learn?”

“It’s what you would have to unlearn that may be more important,” I answered. “For one, the heavy armor slows you greatly. Your protection would come from agility. While the martial arts would be very helpful in direct defense, your powers of destroying undead would not be greatly diminished.”

“And what might be the disadvantages?”

I shook my head. “Highest level spells may be forbidden to you. Healing spells may not be as robust as you would like. Your martial arts skill may be too weak in some places. I know of a few in Stormreach that have learned the fundamentals of the martial art–perhaps only two levels of training–and then continue in their primary vocation.”

I sat back down. “I challenge you to consider the third level, to accept two paths, that of Harmonious Balance as well as your clerical path. Many of my skills are similar to yours but not as potent. And yet, I will survive longer, for the monk renews herself through ki, which doesn’t require rest or potions to renew.”

The cleric nodded but said little else except, “I will consider what you said.”

I left for my quarters to think a bit more about Arcangela’s plight. She seemed–angry that other adventurers sometimes saw her only as a tap to survive themselves but cared little else for her skills. For my part, I wish I knew more on how to fuse the realm of cleric and monk. How much training in one may weaken the other training?

Perhaps Arcangela and I will learn together, once she decides.

Licking our wounds too often

It was late afternoon when a few of my acolytes carried in Lynncletica from the field. She was pretty ravaged, with bruises and sores and more than a few punctures. And yet, the only thing I saw on her that was really off-putting was Lynn’s smile.

“It was…stimulating,” she said to me, several bandages and a cup of tea later. “I could attack very powerfully in the stance of the Mountain. There is much potential there, teacher.”

“I can hear that ‘But’ in your voice, student,” I said.

“Yes. But my defenses seem lower than I wish.”

We talked a little more before I sent her away, limping to bed.

I know of what Lynn speaks through understanding her school of training. As a monk that chooses to fight with strength rather than finesse (as I do), she loses on the protections that the extra dexterity provides to her apparent armor. If she is to be more successful, not just to self-protection but to gain more off-hand attacks as she grows, she must increase her dexterity skill for both armor and more ability to fight two-handed.

Meanwhile, I contemplate a change of my own after several battles where I could not heal myself fast enough. I have long studied the mysteries of amplifying healing power. I’ve normally worn a devotional item, and use the Bracers of Jidz-Tek’ra while in Fire stance. Yet, is this enough?

I no longer believe so. A fellow monk noted to me that Human and Monk healing improvements do stack as they are separate sources. I have generally not trained my human enhancements. I may take a day to realign myself to this, dismiss the teachings of transport if required so that my primary abilities are geared more to healing energy results than the speed of generating healing bursts.

Keeping potions of ardor may be handy as well. There are whispers of other tokens that may yet expand ki’s healing potential.

I do not question my ability to teach new acolytes, but perhaps I should always consider that a master has never truly mastered everything.

The Party Wipe: Hindsight is a Bane

My colleague, Pynthetica, told me of a sad tale on visiting my monastery for some solace and an ale. Along with others in our guild, Tyrs Paladium, she ventured into the Thirteenth Eclipse, into the Shroud, to vanquish the pit fiend there. All generally had gone well, although Pyn complained to herself of her lower damage rate, despite some fresher equipment that raised her critical strikes.

By the time her party reached the fourth phase, the Challenge of the New Moon, was where things had gone pear-shaped quickly, very shortly after the pit fiend’s first temporary disappearance. More mobs of devils and orthons appeared, apparently catching some of their clerics off-guard and vulnerable. The healers were dispatched before aid arrived, leaving the rest of the party in a terrible position. The Challenge of the New Moon sends your spirit into a prison inside the last phase, where you cannot be easily resurrected–certainly not in battle.

Very soon,  many other brave fighters, Pyn included, had fallen. Only a valiant paladin and superior monk (much like myself) survived, if only for a few moments longer. The party released their spirits back to their spirit binders, humbled and disappointed.

After ensuring Pyn had a comfortable bed for the night (and unlimited access to the monastery food and drink should she desired), I questioned myself on Pyn’s predicament: How can you survive the unsurvivable?

I placed myself in Pyn’s position and their plight. The clerics were dead. The remaining party soon would follow. What if I were there, along with the paladin and other Monk in the Harmonious Order? Healing would not be a problem as long as each of us generated ki and burst our energies sequentially. Damage from the fiends? A harder matter: While I am confident that I and the other adherent could be able to easily evade most of the pit fiend’s attacks, it would be up to the paladin to do the tougher role of keeping the fiend’s attention, especially if one or both adherents would have to destroy any supporting attackers that prevented us from damaging the fiend.

After a bit of meditation, I concluded that, yes, properly centered, two monks and one paladin might have survived long enough to destroy the pit fiend once. It assumed many things: The proper wrappings. weapons and protections on all, strong critical strikes, constant healing bursts, switching focus from one party member to another to allow each to heal…

Then I had forgotten about Pyn’s description of the flying blades. Could I evade both the fiend’s attacks and the blades simultaneously? I didn’t know the answer.

The dangers of the Shroud remain a clouded mystery, one that even the highest powers of enlightenment cannot discern. I pray I never fall into Pyn’s situation–but should I encounter it, I will that I have the power to…to endure, at least.

A promising young acolyte who has taken the name of Lynncletica has shown me a fascinating strength-based attack style that may be resourceful…if only she didn’t let her guard down while using it. I still prefer a finesse-based style, for now.

Enlightenment Continues

As an acolyte to the monastery, like many others, the depth and breadth of basic skills required to conquer my foes was challenging alone, never mind the method to slay while minimizing damage.

But now I have gained much experience and skill. I can go, completely alone, where many of other classes with similar skill would never dare. The path of Harmonious Balance allows me a path of healing and self-sufficiency that few others attain in Ebberon.

Yet, there is still more to do.

As an officer in the guild Tyrs Paladium, my goal as their abbot for other acolytes is to ensure they grow in strength and wisdom as well, through proper gear (donated as they level) and in chats. While my own situational experience cannot grow, my tools to augment my gained knowledge continue to be developed.

That means I must return to the darkness, some familiar, others newer. All far deadlier as an epic battle must be waged to gather and craft gear that will fortify me in these battles.

Our guild now works on epic battles, inviting its members on weekly runs into the dark. I aid whenever I can here, but also want to focus on adventures in the plane of Amrath, to defeat the leaders of that endless battle and gain the Rings there. A monk can craft these rings for holy burst damage, allowing additional Good-aligned damage that can stack with other handwraps, allowing an additional modifier in the fight.

I am not yet ready to return to the Beginning to further my enlightenment and to aid other monks. There is still more to do.

If you are interested in a guild that explores rather than powers through quests, that schedules regular raids and adventures and is always willing to help any, young or old, acolyte or grandmaster, do look for me or others in Stormreach. Tyrs Paladium is nearing level 50 and looks for more adventurers to conquer the whole of Ebberon, throughly and with great rewards to all.

If you are a student of the unarmed arts, I, Syncletica, would be particularly pleased to meet and aid you. Blessings.