Sea of Arrows
Kai is a 16 year old Tengu Swashbuckler Flying Blade. A master of knives and similar items, he is dexterous and lithe, but equally brash and calculating. Kai enjoys the dance of battle and eagerly awaits any opportunity to embarrass his opponent or wow the crowd. Charismatic and confident, Kai is a weaver of lies and sower of deceit if the truth stands between him and what he wants.
Kai Ebonroost, like most Tengu children, was born into servitude. His mother, Hofstra, worked at the estate of Councilman L’Zenie, an elven politician who, by the time Kai was born, was quite up there in years—and power. When he discovered that Kai’s father, Avery, had been sneaking in from another estate to visit Hofstra, he simply arranged for Avery’s “disappearance.”
That was the first mistake Mr. L’Zenie made: every name-day celebration Kai endured without his father, every festival, every evening meal he ate with that gaping hole in his heart, fueled the young Tengu. He often lashed out impulsively when things didn’t go his way; but deeper than that, Kai persistently worked to overcome his own personal shortcomings to avoid the burning embarrassment and shame that came with failure.
By the time Kai was 10, he’d already began to develop physically: swaths of blue began to swirl in his black plumage, and he became taller and longer and stronger. He would watch with jealousy as the Councilman’s boys trained in swordplay in the courtyard—mesmerized by the dance, the parries and ripostes, the slivers of opportunity to finish your opponent. Kai’s sharp eyes didn’t miss those chances the way L’Zenie’s children did, and he craved the opportunity to prove that.
The Elven councilman was, as you might suspect, a very uncaring man. So when Kai’s mother fell ill, he was only concerned with how it would affect her work. That was the second mistake Mr. L’Zenie made: Kai had no other family but his mother, who had always inspired love in Kai’s heart, had wiped his tears of anger at the injustice of their lives, and implored him to peaceful coexistence with everyone. When she died in his arms, of a fever that was perfectly curable had they had the least bit of money for herbs, Kai lost all reason to coexist with anyone.
Kai’s mother was buried in a quiet, small ceremony, attended and arranged only by the other servants. Hofstra had been a beacon of happiness for everyone who served Councilman L’Zenie, and was in turn loved by many. The sense of loss was palpable across the estate, but life had to trudge on as normal as possible unless they wanted more burials.
Kai usually spent his time chopping, cutting, and slicing fruits and vegetables for the daily meals in the kitchen. For the first time since his mother’s passing, as Kai was chopping cucumbers for the Councilman’s brunch, he gave serious thought to the sharpness of the blade he was using; entertained ideas of using it on more than just vegetables. Dark thoughts formed in Kai’s mind, thoughts that his mother usually headed off before they became set, but without her here to discourage him, Kai’s grief ran rampant. Before he knew it, Kai was surrounded by fileted vegetables that looked more “wounded” than “prepared.” He heard a knock on the door, and a call of “Are the vegetables ready yet?” and in his anger, hurled the knife in his hand at the door; where it stuck.
Kai when about his next days with eerie calm—he woke, went to work in the kitchens, and left after things were cleaned up. But Kai was not returning to his bed: he snuck downstairs into the wine cellar, and practiced with knives he commandeered from the kitchen each day. He sharpened them with rocks he found outside, and watched gleefully as the Councilman’s stores of wine were ruined one by one as he used them for target practice; cutting deeper and deeper into the wood with each practiced throw.
Finally, two weeks after his mother’s death, Kai got the opportunity he was looking for. He was sneaking back to his room after practice one night, when a burly guard hauled him off his feet with one hand.
“What are you doing out here, kid?” He turned Kai to face him. “You servants know better than to be skulking around after dark.” An idea flashed across the guards face, recognition. “Are you going to some other estate to get some tail? Like your whore mother?”
Hiring that guard was mistake number three. Kai reached into his belt, and pulled one of the kitchen knives he’d been practicing with; slicing through living tissue for the first time in his life. The guard dropped him immediately, clutching a deep gash under his right arm and looking at Kai with a look of complete shock. He felt his plumage puff out with pride, his eyes alight with the thrill of completely exceeding expectations of his opponent. He spotted that sliver of opportunity he’d been searching for, and sliced through the guard’s neck as he lunged towards Kai. The dance was over. Kai’s blood pumped more quickly through his veins than ever before, and he found himself bounding with uncontrollable energy back towards the estate, finally ready to deliver the retribution his family deserved. Kai knew the Councilman’s schedule by now, and knew that in a few hours, he’d be being dressed by his two Gnome servants, Maia and Chelsea. He snuck up to the Councilman’s chambers through the servant’s corridor, turned the knob, and entered.
“Maia?” he said, sleepily. “You’re a little early, aren’t you?” Kai could hear the smile in the Councilman’s voice. “Come here, sugar.”
“I’m here to kill you.” Kai was boiling with adrenaline and figured he might as well get to the point. The Councilman sighed.
“I’m disappointed in you, Kai. Your mother wouldn’t want this kind of life for you.”
“No,” Kai admitted. “What she wanted was herbs to cure her fever. Your greed killed her, and now it’s going to kill you.” Kai pulled out the knife he’d used to kill the guard, blood still wet on its tip. It didn’t go unnoticed to the old elf, who’d now pulled himself out of bed. They stood tête-à-tête across from one another, sizing each other up.
“How many, Kai? How many men will have to die to appease your grief?”
Kai smirked. “It depends on whether you think you’re honorable enough to classify as a man at all.”
With that, Kai lunged, and caught the old elf’s sleeping robes. Somewhat surprised, L’Zenie looked down to ensure he hadn’t been sliced himself, and that’s when Kai took yet another opportunity to break his opponent’s defenses. He wound back, sliding the knife as far up as he could, until just the tips of his fingers gripped the hilt, and hurled the knife towards the elf who represented, to Kai, a lifetime of oppression and anger. He was rewarded with a splash of blood that quickly soaked the Councilman’s beige robes. The elf howled in pain, keeling over the wound, knowing better than to pull the knife out. His aged, angry eyes bulged with pain and hate and offense; offended that he was being challenged not just by a race he considered so much below him, but by a child at that. He willed himself to stand up straight, and reached for his quarterstaff that hung on the wall.
L’Zenie weighed the wood in his hands before quickly striking out, slapping the pole into Kai’s knee with the weapon’s superior reach. Kai gripped the knee in pain, but rolled out of the way of the next strike. With the wound slowing him down and the previous attempt at striking the boy over-extending his body, the Councilman was unable to defend himself when Kai unsheathed a second knife and pierced his other side. Kai felt the knife slip between the old elf’s ribs, towards what he suspected was where his heart would be if he had one at all, and opted to twist the blade deeper until the wheezing, begging breaths came to an end.
Covered in blood and reeling from the events of the previous night, Kai bolted from the estate he’d begrudgingly called home his entire life. With no money and little in the way of friends, Kai settled in on the roof of a shop away from prying eyes. Exhaustion overtook him, and as the sun came up, Kai fell asleep.
Kai was jarred awake by a feeling of falling—which he was. The boards of the shop’s roof had given way, and Kai fell straight into the storage room behind the counter of the shop. Myra, the shop’s human storekeeper, saw a young Tengu boy who had apparently fallen through her roof, covered in blood she innocently assumed to be his own and asked incredulously: “Were you trying to fly?” She had scooped him up and began searching for injuries before Kai had been able to gather himself enough to even respond. The woman was quick but sure-handed, strong yet soft, and for a moment Kai allowed himself to enjoy, somewhat guiltily, the woman’s motherly touch. In the end, he told Myra everything, and it was she that nursed him back to health, protected him when the guards came looking for the Councilman’s murderer, and who eventually financed his way out of Hierovicta, for his own safety.
After meeting Kai, Myra herself joined an anti-government resistance group in Hierovicta, her disgust with the people in Kai’s stories too much for her to bear. Her shop was a welcome addition into the fold, as she specialized in armor-crafting and poultices. Kai had never had much luck at making either one, but she did craft him a special set of studded leather armor, with the letter H carved into the studs—not for Hierovicta, but for his mother, Hofstra. Kai would cherish that armor for years after he left home.
By the time Kai arrived in Retalia, his eleventh naming day was coming. The trip had been long and hard, but the traders who had agreed to help him had kept their word. When he arrived, he began asking around for an apprenticeship, and eventually wound up at the doorstep of a half-elf named Vellen who ran a small boxing gym. Kai was drawn, with some excitement, to the sounds of combat coming from the open doors, the calls of “Parry, Parry, Jab!” catching in his ears like something familiar. He ducked nervously through the low entryway and looked up at the place: fighters circling one another, others working on their footwork through obstacle courses or bulking up with heavy-looking weights. Vellen saw the young Tengu enter, and moved to speak with him. The imposing half-elf wasn’t big and bulky, but his sinewy muscles and confident frame showcased his years of training. He offered Kai the opportunity to work cleaning the place for a small fee, and in turn promised to teach Kai the basics of the art. The partnership bloomed quickly, as Kai proved to be both a hard worker and a dedicated learner.
By the time Kai turned 12, he was teaching entry-level classes at the gym—footwork, proper striking technique, and his specialty, the parry. Kai’s slight Tengu form kept him from being a formidable boxer, but the lessons in footwork, defense, and sizing up his opponent are things that never left him.
Kai had been living in a small room on the second floor of the boxing gym for some time when the fire happened. The source of the fire was never found, but five buildings along the strip where the gym was all burned to the ground. Kai got out in time, but Vellen had inhaled too much smoke. He was always a fighter, and he did fight, but he succumbed to his damaged lungs and Kai was left to start life over once again before he turned 13.
Kai celebrated his 13th naming day among friends for the first time in his life. Fighters who’d trained with him at the gym had surprised him with a small cake while they ate and drank mead at a local tavern. Kai was beaming with happiness at all the attention, and giggled as he struggled to blow out the candles through his beak. He eventually bit the tips off and began cutting the cake, handing out pieces around the table when a young half-orc approached the group from across the room.
“Hey that cake looks pretty good.” He smirked evilly, walking intentionally through people’s personal space to get at the cake. “I think I’ll take it!” He dipped his greasy-looking, green finger into the icing of the remaining cake, staring Kai right in the eyes, challenging him. Without hesitation, Kai brought the knife down he’d been using to cut the cake, and sliced the half-orc’s finger off.
“You bastard!” He screamed, clutching his hand. “Do you know who I am?”
“Somebody who’s ruining my name-day party.” Kai retorted, dryly. “Go away.”
And so he did. But that wasn’t the last of things. Putnum Gro’Shok was the leader of a gang that took claim over this part of the city, and this tavern was one such establishment that was under their “protection,” for which the tavern owner paid a hefty fee. Given that, Kai and friends were quite quickly rushed out of the tavern and asked never to return again, from a jittery, fearful goblin named Ma’kee.
After Kai and his friends had gone their separate ways, Gro’Shok and a small group of gang members surrounded Kai on the way back to his one-room flat he was renting. The rag-tag group, mostly consisting of orcs, goblins, and mixed breeds therein, clicked their teeth and whooped with anticipation as they bounced excitedly on the balls of their feet; the smell of a fight already in the air.
Gro’Shok and Kai began circling one another, Kai with his trusty knife balanced evenly in his hand; the gang leader playing with a vicious-looking scimitar in his remaining good hand. Gro’Shok swiped at Kai, who dodged and rolled in an attempt to open up his side, but as he went in for the attack, Gro’Shok blasted Kai with a hilt strike to the back of his head. He reared up, readying a thrust that would end the fight quickly, but Kai dexterously kicked his legs out from under him before rolling back to his feet. Angered at being tripped in such ridiculous fashion, and the complete lack of fear in his opponent’s eyes, Gro’Shok swung his sword in a harsh arc towards Kai, who stepped into the half-orc’s strike, parried it with the knife in his cross-hand, then completed the spin by turning and thrusting the blade into the half-orc’s stomach. Kai leaned towards the gang leader’s ear as he twisted his knife, and whispered something to him.
Furious now, the half-orc shoved Kai to the other end of the circle. He deftly rolled and came up on one knee, head up and ready for round two. Kai’s primary knife was still embedded in the half-orc’s stomach, and even though he’d pulled it out with a grunt to cheers from his gang, Gro’Shok still staggered a bit as he gathered himself to go back at Kai. Gro’Shok feigned a stab, swiped at Kai’s midsection. Kai lost a few feathers, but dodged just in time to spare himself real harm. The close call, however, kept Kai from taking advantage of the window Gro’Shok had opened up, and the battle closed in again quickly. Both fighters went in now at once, weapons clashing repeatedly, matching each other blow for blow before they separated, seething.
Gro’Shok had had enough, and charged towards Kai. With a call of “Olay!” Kai leapt from his feet at the last moment, hoisting himself up over the half-orc’s lowered head, before turning himself in midair to hurl a knife towards his adversary. Gro’Shok turned back just in time to catch the blade with his mouth, and it stuck out the side of his face making him look like a hooked fish. He moved to ply the knife out of his mouth, but as he struggled with it, Kai drove in. He slid one knife across Gro’Shok’s chest as he pulled the other from his stomach, using a slashing motion with both hands to finalize the “H” he was cutting into the gang-leader’s chest. The half-orc wailed in pain as his Tengu opponent rolled backwards out of reach and disappeared through the crowd of shocked allies around him.
From then on, Kai focused inward on improving himself and his craft, spending the money he made in street fights on food and travelling gear he kept stowed away in another tavern on the other side of the city. He rented a small room in the back for his things, but mostly preferred to sleep in the cool night air atop the roof. Sometimes, he’d disappear for days or weeks to train in the wild outside of the city walls, travelling gear on his back, only to return ragged and grinning to the little half-room he called home.