(A collaboration between Kya and Sunya)
Sweat beaded on Kya’s forehead, her entire body tense in awareness. Taunting wasn’t as easy as simply yelling a few choice colorful words at one’s enemy. You had to manage your rage effectively, she was learning, and though it filled her through and through at times, she was losing her edge. Frustrated and conscious of allowing that deadly doubt into her mind, Kya thought back to her trainer in Lakeshire. Quietly he had spoken to her, his eyes boring into her soul in a way that made her toes tingle, “Everything you think, Kya, every thought you allow into your mind, it becomes who you are. You think negatively, you will become what you believe. You project failure upon yourself, you never win. You must seek to fill your mind with all things positive and believe that they are true. It is your only hope.”
“Yeah, well…” Kya thought, “…let’s see how far that gets him. His body is not healing simply because he *believes* he will live well past 60.” Kya wondered if he really was just tired and old, and if anyone ever came to the conclusion that a life well lived was enough. She wondered if he allowed himself to believe he was finally going to die one day in the near future.
Correcting to her battlestance, Kya focused on the target she had been sparring with and let her rage build. A few parries, a block, nicely timed jabs and then, “CRAP!” Her footing slipped, she lost her balance and landed firmly on her right hip, hair coming loose from her ponytail. How was it, half sprawled on the ground, she felt more rage than she ever did landing a solid blow these days? Picking herself up in intense frustration, she pulled out her device and radioed, “Sunya! You out there anywhere?” Sunya answered calmly that she was cooling off in the Pig. “Fine, I’m coming to see you right now.” Before she could change her mind or lose her conviction, Kya kicked her heels into the gryphon and laid forward to ensure the most streamlined speed possible.
Arriving at the Pig, not even cleaned up but in full practice armor, Kya looked a mess. The way she looked, however, was further enhanced by the mess within her. Turmoil oozed out of her very pores. Never in her life had she needed to ask for help and the very thought of doing so made her sick to her stomach.
Sunya went through the motions of welcoming her, watchful of the whirling fury within the young girl. Kya barely absorbed the formalities and sat into the chair nearest Sunya with great angst. Wisely, Sunya let the scene before her unfold so as not to interfere with whatever was eating the child up. Offering her some wine, she nodded to Kya stating that it might help whatever was roiling within. Kya took the glass and second nature kicked in. Going through the motions of swirling and sniffing the aroma, then sipping a bit to the tip of her tongue was something she did as easily as getting dressed in the morning. Her old friend, the Bartender in Lakeshire, had proved to give life lessons more valuable than her own absent father ever had. It was largely due to him she had any class at all socially, especially since she rarely left her armor at home. The routine with the wine allowed Kya to collect her thoughts before they burst out of her mouth.
“Sunya, I came to you because I can’t reach Tai, and Kennia is off with her sister. I cannot interrupt her right now. Also, call it stupid pride if you will but as her Apprentice, I want to impress her! I want to be good, DAMNED good. And I am just not!” Kya slammed her flat hand down on the table for emphasis as Sunya watched and listened and did not even flinch. Kya took several swallows from her glass, hoping it might ease some of the turmoil. “I just don’t DO this well!”
“Do what?” Sunya spoke quietly with half a smile on her face. “Ask for help!” she spat out indignantly, yet willing to do whatever it took to progress past this shameful plateau. I know I have skills, I know generally what they are for, but I need my trainer and he’s unable to help me anymore! I long to know the subtleties, the nuances, the timing! I feel like I am flailing, with an ogre’s hand on my head, my little arms too short to even reach him to stab into a thigh!” She looked at Sunya finally, eyes wild with need. Sunya leaned back in her chair, one hand tapping her fingertips on the table before she spoke, “Ah, but I am not a Warrior.”
“Maybe not, but Sunya, you are always in charge, always in control. You have no chinks in your armor! You always know what to do and how to do it! What better person to show me where my weaknesses are!?” Sunya thought about this briefly, and seemed to come to some sort of conclusion. “I might be able to help.” Sunya then reached into her bags and dropped a colorful cube on the table. It looked to Kya like some gnomic device, or perhaps a toy for youth. Kya looked to Sunya thoroughly confused. “It’s a test, so to speak. A puzzle. Start it and it resets after two minutes. Align all the colors to each side.” Kya watched as Sunya picked up the cube, and with a few twists of the wrist, had one side entirely one color. Sunya continued after placing the cube back to the table, tapping it on a certain center to reset the disarray of colors, “Solve the puzzle then tell me what you’ve learned.”
Kya looked from the cube to Sunya uncertainly. “Let me get this right. You want me to play a child’s game, solve the puzzle and then tell you what I learned from it? And this is going to help me be a better Warrior??!” Sunya merely nodded and smiled, and sat back to watch. Kya tentatively picked up the cube, and began twisting it, watching what her wrists did to the colors of each piece. She felt the time ticking away in frustration as she fought with the puzzle, sensing but not yet understanding the patterns of twists needed. The two minutes ended and a small jolt of pain shot through Kya’s hands. She dropped the cube on the table like a hot potato, and cussed loudly in shock. Sunya merely grinned, murmuring as if amused, “Oh yes, forgot to mention… it’s wired to give you a jolt when time is up.” Kya looked at her with anger in her eyes, but bit her tongue, “I just wasn’t expecting that, is all!” Sunya nodded and smiled. Kya thought there was no way in Fel she was going to let a stupid puzzle whip her butt, so she picked up the cube again, examining it. She noticed that the colors were actually little stickers, and without looking at Sunya, but not hiding her actions either, she deftly peeled the appropriate stickers and replaced them so each side was uniform in its own color. Slamming the cube down on the table, Kya jutted her jaw up at Sunya, declaring, “There! Puzzle solved!”
Sunya’s mouth twitched wanting to smile, but instead she gave Kya a pointed look, tossing at her, “And what did you learn there? Cheating is the answer?” The satisfaction fell off Kya’s face as she realized her ingenuity would not cut it here. More quietly now but still with determination, Kya looked to Sunya, “Is it even solvable? Does every puzzle have an answer?” Sunya nodded, “I have solved it myself. Think outside the box, child.” Kya half snorted, missing Sunya’s message entirely. “I mean no disrespect, but I don’t agree!” Sunya patiently tolerated this little outburst, and explained, “In my world, Kya, every puzzle is solvable. Every mission can be achieved, every goal met.” Thinking back to her old trainer’s theories on positive thinking, Kya paused for a moment then asked with wide eyes, nearly afraid of the answer, “Is that because you have no weaknesses, or because you hide them so well?” Stunned for a moment, Sunya turned her head away from Kya and answered softly, “Both.”
A bit taken aback by Sunya’s admission, she did not probe but instead returned her focus to the cube. “If it’s humanly possible to solve this damn thing, then I can do it too,” she thought, drawing upon her earlier training that still held without slipping. She picked up the cube and let her fingers and wrists turn in patterns, observing the outcome. Soon she changed her focus to the wall, and let her hands work, repeating patterns and turning the cube. At 3 seconds before the two minute mark, one corner shy of completion, Kya tossed the cube onto the table, avoiding the shock. “I was so robbed!” she complained. “Look! One corner short! ARGH!”
Sunya chuckled at her tirade, interested to see the child so close to completing the puzzle legitimately. Fire in her eyes now, Kya had the sense she could actually do this, and believed it. As an extra precaution, she slipped on some leather gloves in case she cut the timing too close for comfort. Giving Sunya a small grin, she grabbed at the cube and started the patterns of twists. Partway though, Kya closed her eyes and let her inner focus take over. Just as the timer was near up, Kya slammed the completed cube down on the table in triumph. “There’s your blasted cube!” Sunya did not let her approval yet show upon her calm face. “Fine, but what did you learn?”
Kya’s mind blanked and her thrill fell down to the floor where it landed with a thump. “What did I learn?” she repeated like a deer caught in the headlights. Sunya sipped her own wine, hiding her smile behind the glass. She set the glass down, still swallowing, “Mmmm hmm.”
“Well, I guess I learned,” Kya started out hesitantly, “that perseverance is necessary for success.” Sunya nodded slowly. “And,” reaching now for anything of value, “believing you are capable is also important.” Sunya listened, then added, “I suppose two out of three is not bad.” Kya looked at this hardened woman and wondered what had made her so tough, so controlled. Sunya sensed Kya’s utter loss of words and finally gave her the most important lesson. “Think outside the box, Kya. Always use your mind to look for alternatives.”
Kya heard this and let it sink in fully. “Alright Sunya, I get it. I’m following.” Amazed that a silly puzzle could remind her how important mental acuity was, Kya looked to her Boss with eagerness to learn more. Sunya got up, held up her hand and said, “Not tonight, it’s late and these old bones need to prepare for whooping you tomorrow.” “Then there will be a tomorrow?” Kya asked, fully aware that for Sunya to offer this was proof that she had passed this first test well enough.
“Yes, but one thing,” Sunya placed her hand upon Kya’s shoulder. Her softened voice showed a tenderness Kya was not accustomed to in this Boss. “Asking for help, Kya, is not a sign of weakness.”
Mulling this over for a few moments, Kya looked up at Sunya with shining eyes. “So what you are saying is… if I had not come to you, to show you I needed help, I might not be progressing past my frustrations ever?” Kya innocently had struck a chord deep within Sunya, giving her pause to consider her own veils of proficiency and need to hide weaknesses.
Sunya nodded to the young one, a bit distantly. “Get some rest Kya, see you tomorrow.” Kya ran off for her bed, relieved finally of this huge weight which had bothered her ever since she began losing her edge. Filled with hope for striving to reach her own potential once again, Kya slept like the dead for the first time in weeks.
Sunya stood silently as she looked over the mountains. The snow was deep despite the time of year and the weather freezing cold. She had told Kya to find her; if the girl was clever she would find the dwarf that she had given directions to her camp. The old dwarf was a friend and would do his best to annoy Kya at the small tavern in Kharanos. Chuckling, Sunya looked back on the small camp she had set up. Yes, things were all in order. Her camp in the mountains was a long march in the deep snow and high winds, especially as high up as it was. Kya would definitely require a bit of endurance to make the trip.
Sunya had told her to head towards Ironforge, but no more than that. Kya half thought a message or messenger would welcome her in a scavenger hunt-type tradition. Nothing but the throbbing of hammers pounding and the acidic smell of molten metals greeted her. Kya escaped out the front gates to get some fresh air, wondering what she should do next. Then the lessons from the first “test” entered her mind. She began asking every merchant she encountered for help.
“Have you seen a tall stately elfin woman packed for months of snow camping?” The locals looked at her like she was Pollyanna visiting Alagaesia. Some laughed outright, their stout bellies shaking with merriment. No one had an answer.
Surely Sunya had not sailed through here in the frozen dead of night. To do so in this weather would nearly guarantee hypothermia. Someone had to have seen her heading out in broad daylight!
The dwarf took another long drink from his mug before setting it down with a belch. Looking around he noticed a young human lady walk in, obviously a fighting type by what she wore. Reaching into his vest pocket he read a small note Sunya had given him, a description. Human, female, right hair, eyes - looked right. Then he overheard her asking the barkeep about a lean Elvin lady that may have passed through. Chuckling the dwarf nodded to himself and walked right up to the lady at the bar. "HEY, that’s MY spot," and he set himself stubbornly. Sunya had told him to only tell this woman where to go when she had resolved a situation with him, situations he was good at making.
Kya had entered the Tavern after starting to get chilled. A warm fire would certainly be the last she might have for days at this rate. She began questioning around, and ended up at the bar. Barkeeps were always the most observant types. The Barkeep, however, effectively brushed her off when he saw she wasn’t buying - shaking his head, grabbing three steins in one hand and turning his back on her. Just as she was about to sit in weariness, a burly rough dwarf with hair so knotted it looked like it would break a comb eased himself onto the barstool and barked at her about taking his spot.
Kya stopped, tilted her head at his back and looked at 3 other empty stools nearby. Her nostrils flared in irritation since she was having no luck on any end. Before thinking, she blurted out, “Did you grow up in a barn?! Great manners! Not to mention impeccable hospitality and grooming!” He turned around to face her with narrowed eyes and a look that could only mean she was in deep trouble. Not backing down in the least, Kya reached out and plucked a slightly moldy piece of a twig from his hair as he turned around. “How long have you been toting this around, hmm?” With flashing eyes, she plopped the twig into his drink, and stood her ground. “I believe you’re in MY chair, Mister Epitome O' Rudeness.”
His eyes widened in surprise. She was a lively one - no wonder Sunya was interested in her. "My hair is fine, pugface, and you’re still in my seat," he said as he poked her in the shoulder. Stepping off the stool, he rolled back his sleeves with a broad grin. It had been a long two days since his last brawl and he was hankering for another. "Now either move outa mah seet or I’m going to have to show you how we handle stool thieves in Ironforge.”
Sure, this wasn’t what Sunya had explicitly told him to do, but it worked, he thought to himself, and it was more fun this way. ‘Sides, even if she didn’t fight it would be entertaining for her to back her way out of trouble.
“Pugface??!!” Kya nearly spit out at him in dismay, while her fingers stretched out tight then curled into sparring fists. Looking at him now, she saw a glimmer of amusement in his eyes which made her hold her breath a second and think. He wanted her to pounce, she could tell. Her instinctively quick temper then subsided enough for obstinance to set in. “Always choose the unexpected path,” her Sensei had taught her. Feeling more in control, Kya took a deep breath and thrust her hand out to him with a smile on her face.
“I’m Kya “Pugface” Nali, of Lakeshire. I think we got off on the wrong foot.” Her smile slowly faded when he did not take her offered hand. Instead he handed her his mug with the twig swimming in it. “And I think yer owin’ me a new stout, in addition to my seet.” Kya kept her seat and looked at him like he was simply out of his gourd, slamming the mug down on the bar and making it splash up into his face with a delicate spray. Before she could even signal to the Bartender for another, the dwarf grabbed her hand and twisted her out of the chair, pulling her arms up snug behind her and pressing her face down upon the bar. He had both her wrists in his grip and was clearly much heavier than she, so her struggling had little effect. She could hear the others in the tavern rooting him on, which made her roll her eyes and sigh.
Kya lay still for a second considering her alternatives. His guffaw rang loudest through all the hullabaloo, while Kya squirmed uncomfortably. She mumbled through clenched teeth, “Look, I did not steal a thing, just let me up and you can have your stinking stool!” He transferred both her wrists to his left arm leaning down on her and grabbed her jaw with his right hand, jerking it up and pinching her cheeks. “What’s that, heh? You got something to say, spit it out!” More laughter rang out while Kya maneuvered her jaw around under his stubby grip. Her mouth was on the very edge of biting him, when suddenly she heard Tai’s sweetly chiding voice around the campfire the other night, “You don’t bite? That’s not what your sisters say about you, Kya.” Damn it all to Fel! If she bit this dweeb now, she’d never live it down.
Sure, she could bite him, kick back with her feet, spin around and knee him then take his feet out from under him with a jab behind the knees, but what was the point in winning here really? It was no longer just her against the world trying to survive; it was a reputation of a company she had grown to call family. “Alright, let me up. Take your stool, and I’ll get you a new drink and let’s talk this out, hmm? You won, ok? YOU WON.” Time to try her hand at a little negotiation.
The dwarf grinned ear to ear as he held the girl pinned. She certainly wasn’t easy to hold down, but then, he was almost an expert at this. From what Sunya had told him, she should have been able to get out of the hold and Sunya was rarely wrong about such things. He chuckled as he felt her body strain and he could almost hear her thoughts, how to break out of the grip before she suddenly stopped struggling.
“Alright, let me up. Take your stool, and I’ll get you a new drink and let’s talk this out, hmm? You won, ok? YOU WON,” she said. He chuckled and let her loose. "I’ll take a stout Mountain Whiskey. Then we can talk about a friend of ours that you may or may not be interested in finding.” With another chuckle he took his seat and waited for her to catch her breath and sit... and for his drink, of course.
Stunned at his words, Kya entirely stopped breathing for several seconds. “Get outta here!” she exclaimed, wondering once again at the law that said you find what you are looking for when you finally stop looking. Kya rolled her neck around to crack it and loosen up some. She motioned to the Barkeep and ordered two Stout Mountain Whiskeys. The tension started to drain from her muscles and a sensation of weariness set in. Sunya was going to have to stick it out in her camp a little longer just for this! “So,” Kya asked finally, fingering her tender jaw, “I suppose 'Our Friend' asked you to… help me?”
He nodded to the barkeep as he took his own whiskey and handed the girl hers. "Oh yea, I was told to watch for a young lady looken like you." He drained the whiskey in a single great gulp. "She up on Ironridge Mountain to the west." Nodding to her, he slid over a parchment. "That’s a map, be careful though, it’s an evil climb even in good weather." The dwarf hit the bar top and the barkeep brought over another whiskey.
Kya decided she would never make the trek without a full stomach and a good night’s rest. She ate like a horse and fell hard into bed at the Inn, not looking forward to the chill of the air permeating her armor like it was loose weave cloth. A hearty breakfast and several days of food packed into her bags, she headed off out into the crisp morning air. She saw puffs of her own breath as she leaned into a steady but slow gait. Her heart was strong from training and her steps became rhythmic, lulling her into a near meditative mental state. Having read the map thoroughly the night before allowed her to progress without stopping too often, which kept her blood flowing. She also nibbled at her food occasionally so it would not be necessary to sit and let her energy be wasted. Warm water was in her water flask, tucked next to her body so it would not freeze. A few swigs of that every so often kept her from getting dehydrated.
The excursion to Sunya’s camp took her a little over 7 hours through the icy packed snow. She had stopped once when she’d found a natural shelter of a tree fallen over and covered with branches and debris. There she sat to change her double socks so as not to get blisters.
Kya stepped off the trail just after a rapid ascent shown on the map as marking Sunya’s location. She followed the terrain around to a hidden side of the hill. She was impressed not to find a single track suggesting Sunya’s presence. Not a broken branch or boot print to be seen anywhere. Even her small fire was contained in such a way that the smoke filtered up through several escapes of the deeper cave, disseminating in differing directions. She found Sunya leaning against her packs inside the cave past the fire.
Sunya’s welcome to her was, “Girl, I heard you over a mile away.” Kya stood with her hands on her hips, trying to decide whether to laugh or squirt her with her water flask. She did neither as it turned out because Sunya chortled and then surprised her by saying, “So, you made it a day earlier than I had thought.”
“Piece o’ cake!” Kya declared with a satisfied smile, completely avoiding any trouble she had encountered with the dwarf and dropping her gear.
Sunya stood up and walked over to Kya, a grin on her face. “Well, I can forgive lack of stealth for speed”. She gestured to a small section of the cave. “Place your things there. We have a lot to discuss.” Kya placed her gear at the designated spot and turned around, smiling broadly. Sunya sat hunkered down by the fire and began to speak.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I dragged you all the way up to this cold barren place. You wanted me to teach you some things and it just so happens this is a good place to start”. Sunya gestured towards the blowing snow outside. “This place is cold, harsh, and unforgiving. A single mistake out here can cripple or kill you and hunting in this area can be even more difficult. Hunting takes great skill and command of your senses and body. The first thing you need to work on is honing your senses; you can’t be at your best unless you know your surroundings, know what’s there and what’s not.”
She looked up at Kya as she listened to her, her eyes expressing her eagerness. “Kya, I am going to have you practice hunting, and being the hunted. First well see if you can find me and take something from me.” Sunya lifted a piece of white cloth from her belt and showed Kya, then tied it back to her belt. “You’ll have to take the cloth from me to pass the hunt. Then you will tie the cloth to your own belt and then ill go after you. Only one rule: we don’t go farther than 5 miles from this spot. Everything else is fair game.”
Sunya stopped and waited for Kya’s questions.
Kya sat down on the ground, watching Sunya’s face flicker with firelight. Her Boss was waiting for questions it appeared. Try as she might, she could not fathom a single thing to ask. She traced her finger through the dirt, waiting, wondering what the lesson was supposed to be in this bizarre game of pursuit. She glanced up to Sunya’s confident yet reserved smile. She tried to climb into Sunya’s mind but the fortress was locked tight.
Kya’s head was starting to pound. Argh! What to ask? Sunya was showing signs of impatience.
“So, uhm… Sunya?” Kya began rather quietly, “Other than the 5 mile radius, did you say there were no rules at all?”
Sunya watched Kya carefully as she seemed to struggle for something. It was cold and despite herself, Sunya felt eager to get going. She loved training and even though she was teaching Kya she could always learn something herself as well. Kya stopped playing in the dirt with her finger and asked her question.
With a smile Sunya nodded. “No other rules, Only 5 miles, and grab the cloth”.
(to be continued)