Rise of the Runelords
Female Human Ninja
Situated on the western coast of Minkai, Reiko’s home town of White Wave was a quiet fishing village, little more than a collection of shacks and cabins clinging to a steep cliff face overlooking the harbor. Crushed under oppressive humidity in the summer, the air thick with clouds of stinging flies and gnats, and subject to dangerous storms in the winter, White Wave had little to offer any lord, and thus little was demanded of it.
All that changed when Reiko was twelve. Due to bureaucratic disputes and shifting borders between noble fiefdoms, White Wave fell under the control of a new lord—Entobe Hisashi—and this one had grand plans for the holding. The sea cliffs would be the perfect place for a new shrine, a series of shining towers that would please the gods and bring favor upon the Entobe family for generations. An ambitious project, it would take many hands to complete. And Lord Entobe knew precisely where to find them.
When Reiko thinks of her childhood, she no longer remembers searching through tide pools, or climbing high up the dangerous cliff walls to the sounds of her mother’s laughter and her father’s anxious scolding. Instead, she remembers the smell and taste of rock dust in her mouth, her fingernails smashed and bleeding from hauling rocks. She remembers the long hours of toil in the cruelly hot sun, carrying water for the townsfolk forced to cut stone in the quarry, their fishing dories left to rot in the harbor. Yet most of all, she remembers the faces of her parents growing steadily leaner as they made her take their rations of rice and soup.
For many months, the people toiled. Lord Entobe’s enforcers brooked no laziness—as they deemed it when the old or young keeled over from exhaustion—and punishments were severe. The village’s tiny graveyard filled quickly, and soon bodies began to wash up on the shore as townsfolk too exhausted to dig graves cast their deceased loved ones into the sea.
And then, seemingly overnight, the gods turned against the project. Shortly after dusk one night, three of the five tower foundations collapsed, killing one of the crueler taskmasters. Though it meant months more work, the people secretly took joy in the irony, and that joy sustained them as they began to clear away rubble and rebuild. Yet strange things kept happening to the necessary supplies. Tools were broken. Timbers rotted. Stone turned brittle, and rope frayed and snapped. Guards died in mysterious ways, always seemingly accidental. The fury and fear of the overseers and the architects was a wonder to behold, and the common folk secretly toasted whatever kami were responsible.
Only one house did not share in the amusement. Though they said nothing to her, Reiko could tell that her parents were tense, and the arguments that came through her walls after they thought she was asleep ran late into the night. And then one painfully hot summer evening, unable to sleep despite her exhaustion, Reiko left her room and found a black-clad figure crawling through a second-story window.
Before Reiko could scream, the figure was at her side, hand covering her mouth. And then the tight-fitting black cowl was removed, and Reiko was looking into the solemn eyes of her mother.
After that night, many things changed. Reiko learned that her mother was no shepherd girl from the inland fields, as she had always been told, but had instead grown up in the mountains as part of a clan of ninja, a deadly but honorable band of assassins and spies with a history going back hundreds of years. On the run after an ill-fated ambush, she hid out in the tiny village and fell in love with a simple fisherman—Reiko’s father. Despite her husband’s concern and disapproval, Reiko’s mother began to teach their daughter some of the secrets of the clan. Though she flatly refused to take Reiko on any of the solitary raids with which she plagued Entobe’s people, the two spent many hours together in the darkness, climbing the cliffs of White Wave, practicing with the swords her mother kept hidden in their rafters, and moving silently across rooftops and ship rigging. Reiko proved a capable student, and at last there was something to look forward to after days of backbreaking labor.
And then Reiko’s mother went too far. Caught in the act of sabotaging a stone-hauling cart, she killed several of the overseers before escaping back to their home. Immediately she hid her gear in the midden and put an end to her and Reiko’s midnight activities. But it was too late.
Furious, Lord Entobe himself came to the site, arriving in a grand procession of warriors, spellcasters—and investigators. The afternoon after his arrival, he halted construction and ordered the townsfolk to assemble. Reiko and her mother—both assigned to the task of serving tea to the guards for the day—stood at the back of the crowd, watching Entobe take the makeshift stage that had been erected in his honor.
Addressing the crowd, Entobe announced that the person behind the attacks had been discovered, and that the treachery in their midst would be ending. Then he held up a familiar object—the black mask belonging to Reiko’s mother, still damp and stained from the trash heap.
That was when the guards parted ranks to reveal Reiko’s father, bound at wrists and ankles. There was no mistaking the gash across his throat, nor the red stain trailing down his shirt.
Reiko shrieked and rushed forward, but her mother caught her shoulder and spun her around. Their eyes met.
“Run, little spider,” her mother said. Then a hidden blade dropped from her sleeve into her hand, and she leapt for the mob of guards on the stage.
Reiko ran. Using all the skills her mother had taught her, she slipped out of the village and away down the cliffs, evading Entobe’s guards and dogs. For days she ran along the sea’s edge, keeping to the stones at low tide to leave no prints or scent trails, until she was sure that she was far from Entobe’s holdings. Then she turned east, into the mountains, in search of her mother’s clan.
In the end, she found them—yet not in the way she expected. For Entobe had also uncovered her mother’s clan allegiance, and in a fit of pique had hired them to hunt down any remaining members of her family. One again, Reiko found herself on the run. And this time she didn’t stop until she was far, far to the west, on the shores of a strange land called Avistan.
Today, Reiko is a grown woman. Cool and aloof, quick with a cutting remark or withering glare, she’s nevertheless managed to get along for nearly ten years in a land where Minkai itself is a legend, and ninja are little more than exotic fairy tales. Though she’s studied with the most capable thieves and assassins in the region, Reiko has yet to find the carefully codified engagements of honor and subtlety that her mother spoke of, and grows tired of Avistan’s seemingly endless collection of brute highwaymen and lowbrow killers. Still, the lack of corrupt lords like Entobe in places like Andoran—her new nation of choice—is a small comfort, and she’s heard whispers that a secret branch of the Eagle Knights may be exactly what she’s looking for. Regardless of whether such rumors pan out, and despite a decade on foreign soil, Reiko still views her time around the Inner Sea as a training exercise. Someday soon, she’ll retrace her steps back to Minkai. And when she does, both the Entobe family and her mother’s traitorous clan will finally learn the magnitude of their mistake.