This is the story of my EverQuest character Ishiro Takagi, a monk. Eventually it will lead to his end. But that is not yet written.
Part I: The Dream
The night’s dark veil was lifted as the flames made it bright as day. The animals had been freed of their pens, and the most precious of belongings removed from the house. Now they could only watch it burn.
As the fire dwindled to embers, the darkness returned, and soon the stars again twinkled in the sky. Laying on his back outside the makeshift tent his father and brothers had made, the young boy stared upward. The night shapes of stars that his uncle showed him moved silently across the sky. Just off the horizon line made of the tops of the trees from the western Karana woods, Veeshan rose and filled the sky. Focused on this constellation, the boy drifts into sleep.
His eyes snap open and he leaps to his feet. The pounding sounds of a thunderous army fill the air. Torchlights throw shadows flickering on the grass. The boy steps quickly behind a tree and hides himself from view. The army of orcs, hundreds of them, stream passed him and into the valley below.
The valley is teaming with life. From this direction the orcs move down, and across from them in the north, gnolls. From the west, a river of men flow down from the Qeynos Hills. And from the east, lizard like beings. Scattered throughout are bands of kobolds and giants, dwarfs, gnomes, elfs of all sorts, and monsters of all sorts.
Down in the center of the valley, a circle of figures stand on the dying embers of what used to be his home. The armies gather around these figures and flow into one large mass about them. With no weapons drawn, they begin to look less like armies and more like travellers. Each in turn stopping before one of the figures and kneeling. Curious, the boy leaves his hiding spot and slowly makes his way into the valley.
As he approaches, the gathering of beings, once separated by race, now formed in new groups, one before each figure in the center. The closer he gets, the more details he begins to make out of the forms standing on the ashes of his home. Out of the stories his uncle used to tell him, each figure began to resemble characters. The gods. Tunare, Innuruk, Quellious, Karana, Cazic-Thule, and more. And each group out before them kneeled and pledged their faith. The gods themselves seemed to take no notice of the gathering, instead they bickered amongst themselves.
The boy walked closer still, and the gods stopped their arguing. They turned to face outward and waited in silence. He walked around them. Circling the gods, he examined each one. Several times he reached out to touch them. Each time he would stop and look at his own hand a moment, then return to walking. Three times he circled the gods. Three times three he continued. And stopping lastly in front of the great Veeshan herself. He stared long into the eyes of the great dragon. And the dragon seemed to… smile.
The other gods began to grumble and make complaints, then stopped. Veeshan raised her head and screeched into the night. The gods all stared as the boy walked away.
His eyes opened to the morning sun. His father has already packed up the things they had left on the back of the only mule they had remaining.
His father turned to him and spoke, “Rise, Ishiro, we must make our way to Qeynos today and see what we can do about starting over.”
Ishiro looked down into the valley at the ashes of his home. Then turned his back and followed his family toward Qeynos.
Part II: The Four Winds
There were four Takagi boys: Kwan, then eldest at thirteen years; Ishiro and Orihsi, the twins at eight years each; and Huonen, the youngest only two.
Kwan was already infamous among the other children before they even came to Qeynos. Bullies tend to have a reputation that preceeds them. And it was for this that he was first to be sent away.
Proving to be too much for the family here to control, his father begrudgingly sent Kwan off to Freeport with his uncle Huonen to learn discipline and respect under the watchful eye of military guidence.
Although none of the family wanted to admit to it, life was easier after Kwan was gone. Ishiro often missed his brother but knew it was for the best.
In Qeynos, his father, who had always been a farmer before, got involved with some of the local merchants and began to deal, as they did, in trading goods. Sometimes you would sell things for money outright, but other times you would “trade-up” for an item of more value but harder to get rid of if your though you knew a buyer.
After two years of the merchant life, Ishiro’s mother decided she did not like the change in her husband, and left. She took Orihsi with her, and Ishiro cried for weeks. She had gone home to the glade and promised to return soon for him, but never did.
By the time Ishiro was twelve, his father had become totally lost in the merchant life. Often he was gone for weeks at a time. He would return for a few days, but then leave again. Each time he left the city, he would leave Ishiro and Huonen, called Satchel by Ishiro for how he used to carry him around as an infant after their mother left, in the care of someone new. Most times these would be whoever his father’s latest woman was. Some waitress from some bar, or on occasion, someone he had purchased or won.
That August, after his father had left town yet again, Ishiro took his younger brother to the Antonican Bards and begged that they take him and care for him. They agreed and then opened their house to him as well, but he refused. He took his own path, his family now scattered to the four winds.
Part III: The First Step
Ishiro’s father never returned to Qeynos, whether he simply chose not to come home or had died, the young man no longer cared. He made his living doing odd jobs around the town, sojorns on fishing boats, delivering mail for the bards, or assisting in collecting taxes. He got to be well known enough for reliability on the job, but not for sticking around when it was done.
One day outside the gates of Qeynos on his way to fish in the lake in the Qeynos Hills with Hadden, Ishiro came across a man in funny clothing. The straps were a dead giveaway of the monks of the Silent Fist. There wasn’t a person in town who didn’t laugh at them. Well, at least when they weren’t around. After all, you don’t laugh at a man for wearing silly clothes when he has just broken stone with his bare hands.
“Hail,” Ishiro greeted the monk.
“erm.. hello there.”
Ishiro stopped. Confidence was something that every monk he had met seemed to have an excess of, an air that they could do anything. “Are you alright?”
The monk glanced around nervously, “Well, you see… I’m new to the order. I was out here running an errand and.. well.. I… I can’t seem to find the way back to town.”
With a smile stretched across his face, Ishiro laughed, “Well my silly looking friend, the town is back that way, and you best hurry, night will fall soon and Fippy Darkpaw eats anyone outside the gates after dark.”
“Oh dear.. then.. well… I should go. Except that..”
“Could you… ahh… could you lead me to the gates? I wouldn’t want to get lost again.”
Ishiro smiled and nodded his head, “Come, I’ll take you.”
At the gates, Ishiro turned to head off toward the hills again.
“Umm.. sir?” the monk asked hesitantly.
Ishiro turned back and raised an eyebrow, “What now?”
“I.. umm.. I..”
“You don’t know how to get back to the clan house, eh? Is that it?”
The monk looked down and shuffled his feet. “Yes.”
“Well look.. its just inside, down that way, to the right, a left, around right again, cross the other side of the pond and there you have it.” But he could already see the confusion in the monk’s eyes.
“You are really lost, eh?”
The monk looked down again.
“What’s your name?”
“Your name? What is it?”
“Well, Tomer, when I have to tell Hadden why I didn’t show up for night fishing I want a name to give him for my reason.” He smiled at Tomer. “Now, come on then, have to get you home. Maybe I can convince them to give me some kind of reward for this.”
Ishiro laughed as he headed through the gates with Tomer in tow, his first step toward a life he never knew he wanted.
Part IV: A Father’s Advice
When he wasn’t studying at the school, Tomer would often meet Ishiro out at the lake in the Hills, or join him for errands around the town. After their initial meeting, they had become fast friends.
“Lu`Sun asked me again today.”
Ishiro glanced back over his shoulder down the dock at his friend. “And again I’ll have to tell him no.”
Tomer shifted hit seat, but never took his eyes off the water. “You know, I have know Master Lu`Sun for some time. He’s not one to be wrong. If he sees something in you, he’s probably right. And I think it confuses him when he knows he’s right, but that other people don’t see it.”
Ishiro’s eyes narrowed.
“Lu`Sun isn’t right. I am what I am and no more.”
Tomer looked up from the water at Ishiro.
“I guess so… no one can be more than they want to be.”
Ishiro leaned on the door to Crow’s and paused. He glanced back over the pond to the Silent Fist clan house. And he would have continued inward and drunk his fill had not the shadows flickered on the city wall.
Slowly he made his way to the side of the bar, around the back where the guards don’t patrol. It was an image often seen in this town. Five men surrounding one, those of weaker wills always hunted in packs. Normally though, when they cornered a monk, you’d lay odds on the monk and collect your money, but not when that monk was Tomer.
The bandits had beat into him already, probably not understanding that a monk wouldn’t be carrying any money, or much of anything. Ishiro wouldn’t be much more of a match for them than Tomer. Two easy, three with some difficulty, four with some luck, but not five. Everyone has limits.
He quickly made his way back into Crow’s and found the man himself. Leaning in he whispered to the shady bartender, “A number of fellow are out back working over one of the monks.”
Crow leaned back and stared at Ishiro, looked him in the eyes and saw the truth of his words. In turn, Crow whispered to a barmaid who whispered to a gambler who crossed the room and knocked on the back room door. More whispered words were exchanged and four men came out of the back, and with the gambler they went out into the street.
Crow turned back to Ishiro, “Give it a count of ten, then go collect the monk, but not sooner, if you know what’s good for ya.” He smiled, winked at Ishiro, then went back to tending bar.
Ishiro nodded, sat down on a stool and though to himself, “The world may be broken but if you know where the cracks are, you can make it work for you.” It was something he hadn’t thought about in a long time. The last words of his father.
Crow was a bartender, and the rogue’s guild in Qeynos was linked to his bar somehow. And while some of the guards in the city seemed all too willing to look the other way if persueded, there are others, like Arathur, who might look too closely at the bar once a monk had been found beaten or dead around the back. So you tell the bartender, and see if the rumors are true, and the rogue’s guild cleans up the mess, and on somebody’s scorecard, they probably owe you one. The cracks of a broken world.
After a count of fifteen, Ishiro headed out and around the back. Tomer lay on the ground holding his wrist against his stomach.
“I’m not sure what happened. First they had me, thought I was a goner, but then… they vanished.”
Ishiro grabbed him under his arm and helped him to his feet. In the shadows, for a moment, a face appeared. A smile, and a nod of thanks, and then it disappeared.
“There are some things, Tomer…”, Ishiro glanced back into the darkness, “some things you don’t want to know.”
Part V: A Favor
Tomer finally slept.
Ishiro had watched in awe, not as Lu`Sun ordered Tomer to set his own broken wrist, but as Tomer actually did it. While the young monk was often lost and confused in the world, there seemed to be more in him than anyone would ever guess.
“Come Ishiro,” Lu`Sun beckoned. “Over by the fire.”
Ishiro finally turned from looking at Tomer and crossed the guild hall. “Does he not have his own room?”
“He will. In time.” Lu`Sun sat down on a mat in front of the fireplace and stared at the flames slowly fading. “Tomer is lost. He sleeps on the floor until he finds his own way. When he does, he will make his own bed wherever his place may be. Here. Freeport. Another order perhaps. But it is for him to make.” Lu`Sun sighed, “I fear however, he may always be sleeping on that floor.”
Ishiro’s mind filled with questions. He had never thought much of the monks in Qeynos, good fighters for sure, but watching Tomer tonight try again and again to set a broken done, and yet never a tear or a sound did he make. Thinking now, Ishiro recalled that even with the arm broken in the alley, Tomer had not seemed to be in pain. But before a question could come to his lips, Lu`Sun spoke again.
“The alley. Tomer is a decent fighter, so I suspected there were many? Four, five perhaps?”
Lu`Sun’s eyes relaxed, no longer seeming to stare at the flames, but beyond them. “You beat them?”
“No. Not directly.” Ishiro began to fidget nervously.
Lu`Sun didn’t turn from the fire but seemed to notice all the same. “Then, explain to me. How?”
Ishiro glanced around the clan house, almost expecting the walls to have eyes. “Qeynos has many… opportunities. As someone who is more often in need of work than actually working, I have found it… necessary… to not make waves. To stand on the fence, if you will.”
A smile began to appear on Lu`Sun’s face, “Friend to all, beholden to no one?”
“You could say that.”
“Yes… and, well, I happen to know a thing or two about Crow’s, having helped to build the place a year or so back. A missing door to the cellar. Add that to the fact that Crow’s in the only place in town to never be robbed of anything, and it wasn’t too much of a leap of logic. I’m still not sure how Crow got involved. He seemed like such a nice guy when I worked for him. But I guess people change.” Ishiro relaxed. With it all out, he was either safe, or dead, but no sense worrying about it.
For a long moment, the two men sat, looking into the fire, and beyond it. While Ishiro shifted now and then, Lu`Sun remained motionless, until finally he spoke.
“Ishiro. You have done this house a favor tonight, and in return I would like to do you a favor.”
Ishiro turned to look at Lu`Sun expecting to see him still staring at the flames, but instead found the man’s eyes peering at him.
“I know that you have learned some from Tomer, but his skills are far from mastery, and one can only teach as much as one knows. I would like, if you are amiable to it, to teach you myself.”
Ishiro started to speak, but Lu`Sun continued. “I know you have some desire to not belong, so I will not ask you to join the order formally, because I have faith that in time you will. This is my favor to you. I open my house and ask for nothing in return.”
Ishiro turned back toward the fire, now reduced to dying embers. And in the embers for a moment, he could swear he saw a dragon’s face.
And it smiled.
Part VI: The Warrior’s Path
The days passed, and Ishiro trained with Lu`Sun and the other monks of the order. More than physical training, he read books, and studied maps. Some days it seemed that more time was spent in the Wizard’s Guild Library than the clan house. Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and in time, as Lu`Sun predicted, Ishiro joined the Silent Fist. He gave up his room in the Lion’s Mane and took to a piece of floor across the room from Tomer.
“Ishiro, stop a moment.”
Lu`Sun stood out next to the pond in front of Crow’s.
“Yes Master Lu`Sun?”
“You have been to the burrow again.”
Ishiro looked shocked, then glanced down at his feet. “How did you know?”
“One of the seamstresses in town tells me you bought a leather tunic.” Lu`Sun turned to face Ishiro. “Where is it?”
Ishiro paused and looked again at the ground. “Outside the gates. There is a place that I hide my things.”
Lu`Sun turned back to the water. And the two sat in silence for some time.
“You know, Tomer never goes to the burrow.”
Ishiro recognized the tone of Lu`Sun’s voice. A statement, but there was question about it. He paused, then answered, “Tomer is afraid of fighting.”
“And what do you fear?”
Always it seemed that Lu`Sun knew which questions to ask, and they were always the hardest to answer. “The gnolls of Blackburrow attack travellers. Some have even been found stealing in town. I am not afraid of fighting. My fists are strong, and my skill is growing. I am afraid… I am afraid of not knowing why I fight.”
Lu`Sun made no reply. He waited for the silence to draw more from Ishiro.
“I see the guards, they fight because they are ordered to, paid to. And if war broke out, they would fight because it is their job. I fight the gnolls of Blackburrow to regain the things lost by merchants, things stolen from this town. To help save people lost in the caverns… and sometimes to bring something home for their family to bury.”
Ishiro’s eyes, once filled with the fury of justification, now fell empty to the rippling waters.
Lu`Sun finally spoke. “Tomer does not go to the burrow because he knows that his place in this world, whatever it may be, is not within those caverns. His place will likely be within the walls of this city.” Lu`Sun turned to face the door to Crow’s. “Tomer is not afraid of fighting, he fought losing odds here one night as you well know. Tomer is afraid of closing doors, of narrowing his life, and that fear has him stuck in complete indecision. He doesn’t go to the burrow because he isn’t sure he will take the warrior’s path.”
Lu`Sun turned to face Ishiro, and smiled. “You, Ishiro, you fight because you have found your place. The walls of this town will never hold you, and in the years to come, we probably will not see you often, but we will miss you with glad hearts.”
Lu`Sun began to stroll toward the Silent Fist clan house and Ishiro followed him.
“Ishiro, you have taken the first step onto the warrior’s path. Pack your things, for tomorrow I have a task for you. Tomorrow you leave for Freeport.”
Part VII: At Night, In the Rain
It was all he could to to keep up with the whirl of blond hair and leather. Wild eyes flash back at him over her shoulder.
“Still with me?”
Ishiro silenced a groan. “I can keep pace with you all day and night.”
The wood elf spun, continued running only backwards and stared. “Oh really?” Another spin and she began pulling away. “Stick close to the water, I’ll see you at the bridge then.”
And she was gone.
Didn’t matter to Ishiro, the wood elf had been more annoying than help so far. Then it occured to him.
“Aliweyr? WHAT BRIDGE?!?”
Ishiro stopped at the base of the stone bridge that spanned the river and led to the South Karana Plains. Aliweyr landed on the dirt in front of him.
“Rest quick, its best to travel at night here. So we must hurry.”
Aliweyr seemed nervous and her eyes darted back and forth.
“What’s the matter?” Ishiro asked.
The druid glanced around then back at Ishiro. “Anyone ever tell you about Grim Feather?”
“No. What is..”
“Good. Nothing to worry about.”
A mild uneasiness filled Ishiro, but he ate some bread, drank some water, and tried to put it out of his mind.
The night was dark. And it was raining. And a fog hung low to the earth.
Using some sort of spell, Aliweyr had hidden them from view. Only after that had she noted she was unable to cast the one that would allow them to see each other. And like this they headed off toward the Eastern Karana Plains.
“Its a large wooden bridge,” Aliweyr had said, “can’t miss it unless its dark, raining, and foggy.” Ishiro was sure they had missed it.
Not a beast was seen. No lions, no bears, no anything. It was quiet.
“Giants to the bridge!” a voice cried out.
Out of the fog and the dark, the edge of the bridge became visible, as did three plate mail wearing warriors headed the same direction as Ishiro. Fear can make a man do almost anything. And as the giants from the warning came out of the mist as well, Ishiro could only think one thing as he reached the bridge and crossed it:
“I’m sure Aliweyr will catch up.”
Part VIII: Aprehensively
She had said it was called Misty Thicket, and Ishiro could tell why instantly. Bushes and dark and fog. Aliweyr had led Ishiro to this place and shown him the entrance to Rivervale, home of the halflings, before heading out to complete some mysterious task of her own.
The task was mysterious only because she wouldn’t say what it was, and for all he knew she could be going to pick flowers or something equally silly.
Goblins infested the thicket, and the caves through which they had travelled to get here. Beyond those and the halflings, it was inhabitted by mindless beasts.
Ishiro noticed a tailor sign hanging above one of the huts, if you could call them that, near Rivervale in the thicket. Being that he had learned the basics of tailoring before leaving Qeynos, he ventured within to see what goods he might learn to make here that he might be able to sell them and buy supper and a warm bed.
The woman inside seemed to notice his entrance, then made a point to ignore him and began to sweep the shop floor.
“Excuse me, is this a tailor shop?”
She continued about sweeping the floor.
Ishiro cleared his throat, “Pardon, but I was wondering if perhaps you would be interested in buying some pelts I have collected?”
She put down the broom and began arranging items on the store shelves.
Ishiro figured he’d try again, “Greetings, but I’ve come far and could use a few silver perhaps. I’m sure these pelts are more than worth that…” His voice stopped as the woman turned and smiled. Not at him, of course, but beyond him, to something or someone standing in the door behind Ishiro. He turned to see what there was to smile about.
“I believe what the lady is trying to tell you,” a voice began, “in not so many words at least, is that you aren’t welcome here human.”
Ishiro turned to see a halfling dressed is black pants and a vest, and a peculiar little mask. “But I have seen many humans,” Ishiro started to say but was cut short.
“Those are friends of the Vale, you, outlander, are not.” The man just stared, not piercing, but with soft eyes, and smiled.
“Sir, if I could..”
“Deputy. I’ve worked hard for my title, I expect it used.”
“My apologies, I didn’t know you were called a deputy.”
“Well, you didn’t ask then, did you?”
“I, uh… um. No.”
The deputy smiled, “Alright then, you were about to say?”
Ishiro looked puzzled, then shook his head and continued, “Deputy, I was passing through here on my way to Freeport being led by a druid..”
“A halfling druid?”
“No, a wood elf.”
“Oh, too bad.”
“Anyway, we were going to Freeport when she had to..”
“You travel with a druid? A wood elf female? You humans are all alike.”
“I don’t think I,” Ishiro started, then though better and left it be. “She had to conduct some business of her own and suggested I stay here.”
“Damn elves, leading people here and dumping them on us, like we need MORE people,” the deputy sighed.
“She said I should stay here, and well, I though that food and a place to sleep would be good.”
“Sleep and food are both good, but I’m afraid you won’t find that out here in the thicket.”
“In town then?”
The deputy let out a laugh that seemed too large for his body. Behind Ishiro the shop keeper giggled. The deputy turned three shades of red before he was able to control his laughter and breath normally again.
“Why no, silly human, not here in the thicket, and not in town, in fact if you need anything you’ve got three choices. One, go back to Qeynos, as I know you are from there. Two, go to Highpass. Or three, go to Freeport.”
“Alright then, deputy, is there someone who might be able to lead me to Freeport?”
The deputy lost his composure again and almost fell to the floor laughing this time.
“Well, I am sure that there are halflings about who could lead you to Freeport, but going to Freeport means going through town, and you honestly don’t think I’m going to let you go through town, do you?” Ishiro just stared with a blank look of his face. “Well? Do you?”
“I… well, I guess not.”
“You humans sure do catch on slow.”
The deputy grabbed Ishiro’s arm and with amazing strength pulled him out of the tailor shop and tossed him down into the grass. Ishiro rolled with the throw and continued to an upright position and fell into a comfortable stance. A fighting stance.
“Human, you have given me a good laugh twice today, so I’m going to assume you are just trying to make me laugh a third time and not actually trying to fight me.” Without seeing them drawn, Ishiro marvelled as two small swords appeared in the deputy’s hands. “I’d hate to have to kill you.”
Ishiro gathered his things from where they had spilled from his bag. “Deputy,” he bowed, “I may be slow, but stupid I am not. I bid thee good day and farewell.”
The Deputy smiled and the swords vanished. “Get along then, and don’t dawdle.” He put his hands in his pockets and strolled toward the cave entrance to Rivervale. Just before disappearing in the shadows, he yelled back over his shoulder, “On your way out, end a few of those miserable Runny Eye goblins’ lives and perhaps next time we won’t mind you visiting.”
Part IX: Failure
Ishiro stood for a long time outside the city gates to Qeynos. Every inch of him soaked through with rain as it continued to pour for the second day.
Tomer approached him from the road.
“Here, Ishiro. Another meal from Crow’s.” Tomer said this without looking at Ishiro.
“Am I that much of a disgrace?”
Tomer looked up finally, “Yes. Not because of any failure you may or may not have suffered, but because you have yet to tell Lu`Sun of your journey and have yet to face the consequences of your actions.”
This struck Ishiro deep, down all the way to the bone. Tomer just looked at him, disappointed, and finally turned and followed the road back into town.
The inside of the Silent Fist clan house was warm, and most importantly, dry. Ishiro had waiting until long after nightfall, hoping to get a good night’s rest before speaking with Lu`Sun in the morning.
Tomer lay asleep in his usual spot on the floor in the corner of the room. The fire had died to embers. And Lu`Sun’s chair was empty.
Ishiro set his sack down by the fire, and pulled a blanket from it to sleep on. Then he stopped, stone still in his movements.
“I see you are still improving your skills,” Lu`Sun’s voice seeped out from the darkness. “How was Freeport?”
“B-busy, Master Lu`Sun. A much more lively town than this.”
Lu`Sun stepped out from the shadows, a look in his eyes like none that Ishiro had ever seen. Anger.
“First you fail. Now, you lie. If you had been to Freeport then you would know as I do that the Freeport Militia have a stranglehold on that city and the merchants do all of their trading indoors. Most times of day the streets of Freeport are empty save for the adventurers passing through.”
Ishiro turned and hung his head in shame.
“Look at me when I talk to you.” Lu`Sun didn’t shout, his voice never raised, but the force of it was evident. Ishiro raised his eyes to meet those of his master.
“Tomer doesn’t go to Crow’s,” he continued, “unless you have asked him to. Did you honestly think that I would not know you had returned?”
A rhetorical question, Ishiro knew better than to attempt an answer.
“Now, I assume that even though you did not reach Freeport, you still have the letter I gave you to give to Master Closk, do you not?”
“I have it.”
“Then open it and read it.”
Ishiro knelt down and opened his sack and found the letter. He broke the seal and began to read.
“Aloud,” Lu`Sun commanded.
A lump in his throat, Ishiro began to read:
This is my student Ishiro. He is a quick study and his heart yearns for adventure. And if he has reached you in Freeport then he has exceeded my expectations, please continue his training and disregard the rest of this letter.
I expect that you will easily find the Western Karana Plains as they are not farther than you travel on a daily basis. Should you reach the stone bridge that extends into the southern plains before turning back, then you are ready for the next step in your training. If you turn back when faced with the Gorge of King Xorbb, you are but a few scant steps from embarking on your own. However, should you pass through the gorge and make the longer yet now familar journey back to Qeynos alone instead of forging ahead into the unknown to Freeport, there is little more I can teach you. The world is yours.
Silent Fist Clan
Ishiro looked up at Lu`Sun. “Master, I am,” he paused, “I am without words.”
The fire in Lu`Sun’s eyes extinguished, and his normal soft smile spread across his face. “Ishiro, you returned, on your own, and that is a great achievement. But you still lack confidence in your actions. I saw you the other day when first came back to the gates. You walked up to them with pride in your step at having made the journey, but faltered at the guardhouse. You let your misguided perception of my disapproval overtake your thoughts.”
Lu`Sun sat down in his chair.
“Ishiro. The final lesson I have to teach is just advice, it is up to you to actually teach it to yourself in time.”
Ishiro leaned in close to hear what his master had to say.
Lu`Sun leaned back in his chair and stared at the last dying embers of the fire and said, “To feel and to think, are both good, but never let one completely dominate the other. There is a balance. You must find it within yourself.”
Ishiro lay back on his blanket in front of the fire. He looked long at the ceiling and drifted to sleep thinking of his master’s words.
Part X: Tooth and Eye
Captain Tillin had placed a bounty on the gnolls of Blackburrow. A mildly viscious man, he asked for their teeth as proof. Ishiro and Conec spent many long days tracking and hunting gnolls. Conec, being a druid, did the tracking, while Ishiro was left the task of pulling teeth.
The teeth went to Captain Tillin, who gave some small money and a moonstone for each. The moonstones went to the bartender of the Fish Ale Tavern, who gave a bottle of Blackburrow Stout for each. And the stout sold well to travellers who’d heard the rumors, most of them untrue, about the dark brew. In the end, it was killing gnolls to get outlawed drinks brewed by the gnolls. The cracks of a broken world.
Lu`Sun liked none of it, but tolerated Ishiro’s dealings because he knew there must be some purpose.
“What do you spend it all on?” Lu`Sun asked one day.
Ishiro smiled at his master, “spend it? I don’t spend it.”
“Then why collect it?”
“Because…” Ishiro paused a while as if lost in a moment of thought, a daydream, “Because money gets things done that no man can do on his own. And I get the feeling that some of those things lay in my future.”
Lu`Sun turned away, “So now you profess to see the future, eh?”
“See? No… but I can feel it. Like a pulling. In all directions.”
Master Lu`Sun then asked a question rarely spoken between them, “Do you still dream of her?”
Ishiro looked off in the distance, then down, then back at his master. “Yes.”
Lu`Sun nodded and continued back into the clan house leaving Ishiro alone in the practice field.
The rising sun warmed the morning, and a cool breeze blew. Ishiro’s things had been packed long before dawn.
Tomer woke and left quietly to begin his duties, not acknowledging his brother monk at all. All of the monks of the Silent Fist seemed to have found other things to busy them this morning. All except Lu`Sun.
The master of the Silent Fist walked briskly into the main hall and approached Ishiro, clasped a hand on his shoulder.
“You have thought?”
“Yes,” Ishiro replied.
“And you have felt?”
“I am going to Freeport.”
Lu`Sun smiled and shook Ishiro’s shoulder. “Give Master Closk my best.”
Ishiro turned and faced his mentor. “That’s all you have to say? I am leaving the city, the clan house, possibly for good, and that is all you have to say?”
Lu`Sun stood a moment in thought.
“Yes. That is all.”
Ishiro looked to the floor and sighed.
“What? You expected something more? Perhaps I would wish you well?”
“Well.. I do wish you well. But the path you are taking, the one you feel is true, is neither of the Silent Fist nor the Ashen Order. You walk a path no other monk before you has gone. Closk and I have spoken, and we agreed that you would be welcome in both our houses. Beyond that, and continued training of your body, we have nothing more to offer you.”
Lu`Sun glided across the room to the bookcases. He reached up and hovered his hand over a number of volumes before selecting one. He then tossed it blindly over his shoulder, and Ishiro gently plucked it from the air.
“What’s this?” He said looking at the book.
Lu`Sun spoke without turning, “That is a book.”
“I see it is a book, but I don’t understand.” Ishiro flipped through the pages, “What language is this?”
Master Lu`Sun returned to Ishiro’s side. “I have been told the book is written in the tongue of the elder dragons, but it never interested me enough to learn to read it.” He walked toward the back door of the house. “For all I know or care, it could be a gnoll cook book.” And he vanished into the practice yard.
Ishiro flipped through the pages, old yet remarkably preserved.
“This isn’t gnoll,” he muttered. He’d been in the caves of the burrow enough to know that. His hand traced over the symbol on the cover.
It looked like an eye.
He traced his finger over it again.
The eye of a dragon.
Part XI: Amiably
The thicket seemed brighter this time. It seemed brighter every time he walked through it. Perhaps his eyes were just adjusting.
Ishiro ducked and made his way into the tailors. “Forgive me,” he said. Then trying to speak in halfling words, “These pelts, interest in buying from?”
The tailor woman snickered, “Ishiro, your words are getting better, but you still form the sentences all wrong.” She took the pets that he held out and sorted them. “Hmm, mostly ruined, but a couple of quality here. One platinum and four gold sound good?”
Ishiro shrugged, “I suppose. Perhaps if I ever learn to tailor, I’ll learn how much you’ve been cheating me.” He winked and smiled.
From behind him a voice came, “This human bothering you?”
Ishiro spun round and came face to face with a pair of eyes behind a black mask. “And if I am?”
The halfling grabbed Ishiro’s arm and tossed him in one swift motion out onto the grass. The monk rolled into a stand and began to dust himself off.
“I swear, Deputy, I’ll never figure out how you manage to get me off balance every time.”
The Deputy smiled and laughed out loud. Then extended his hand to Ishiro, “Welcome back.” He pulled Ishiro in close, “Brought us some more beads?”
Ishiro patted his backpack, “Got some right here, was going to add them to the town collection soon as I finished up here.”
The Deputy threw his arms up, “Well, don’t keep the man waiting, ma’am. He’s got important business to attend.”
Ishiro stepped back into the tailor’s shop and she handed him his money. He bowed and thanked her, then shuffled back out into the thicket.
The Deputy had already begun walking back to his post, and with his longer strides Ishiro easily caught up and passed him, making his way into Rivervale.
-29 May 2003