SOME MONTHS BEFORE
SKOTHAR, THE EASTERN CONTINENT, ELSEWHERE IN THE MOUNTAINS NORTH OF THONIA.
TEMPLE OF THE WAY OF THE FOUR ELEMENTS
Shā Zhī Wǔ Shì
I was always been famous in the monastery for my agility and my capacity to hide but, now, I think I sink so low: crouched in the Cloud-Clipper cargo hold, alone, embarked clandestinely.
It’s not the most respectable situation for a proud rakasta like me.
I try to stay awake but I’m exhausted and, short before falling asleep, I remember how I ended up in this situation.
Skothar, “Sì Yuánlǐ” monastery.
My agitated steps reverberate in the empty corridor.
I enter in the big room in which our leader is meditating: when I go in she opens her eyes and stands up, her orange Tai Fu rustles against the cold floor.
“Shā. You were chosen.” Her voice is harsh, like her gaze: I know she’s bothered by this fact but it wasn’t her choice.
“Why me? I’m only a brown Tai Fu.”
“The mage chose you. He didn’t tell me why, but I’m pretty sure it’s thanks to your affinity with the air. Your new master, his name’s Allstorn Stormbringer, is an air elementalist. You must protect him, it’s your duty and you have to accomplish it.”
“Yes master Aredhel.”
She has a sight and touches lightly my shoulder: “You know what to do: we trained your mind and your body for this. I know your education is incomplete and I tried to convince the mage to choose another sister but he wouldn’t listen to reason.”
Aredhel turns away, showing me her back, her long, black hair curled up in a strict braid, and slowly walks to the wall in the bottom of the room; she reaches a small wooden altar and a finely inlaid shrine. The monk master opens the case and takes a pair of scrolls, then she returns to me, and, with solemn voice says: “These rolls contains all you have to know to continue your training. Study them, internalize them and be the monk we taught you to be.”
I take the objects from her hands, realizing that my life is about to change: I’m going to leave the monastery, the only certainty in my life.
All of a sudden I open my eyes and realize that I fell asleep for an unknown laps of time.
I try to move my legs and my long tail but it isn’t a simple operation, ‘cause I’m fitted in the small cargo hall of the plane.
“Damned gnomes! Why are they so small?” I hiss quietly, however the crew can’t hear me thanks to the uproar they’re making now.
My mind returns to my monastery: I was only a little girl when my parents left me there.
I don’t remember a lot about my biological family: my mother’s fur was black like night and my dad’s eyes were yellow like mine. I don’t even know their names or, rather, if I’ve ever known them I forgot them as time goes on.
I was five years old when my parents took me to the monastery: I don’t know exactly why they left me; master Aredhel, one time, told me that they had a debt with the monks but, sincerely, I don’t want to know anything about it.
An unexpected jolt distracts me: the noises from the cockpit became louder and I hold my breath, trying to understand what they’re saying but the racket is too much unintelligible.
I wonder how Allstorn met these gnomes, especially the pilot Dumbar: they’re so noisy and bumbling, so far from the composed mage.
Allstorn, my master.
I can’t forgive myself for what happened… I cannot forgive myself for what I let happen.
I clearly remember master Aredhel’s words: “Shā Zhī Wǔ Shì, the ki pours in your soul, use it to protect your new master. We took you by hand, now it’s your time to manage with your own strength. Allstorn Stormbringer is waiting you in his personal floating island, near Skyreach, the capital of the Kingdom of Floating Ar, there you must follow and protect him. You know the punishment, don’t you?”
I left the monastery in spring: the sun shined and warmed up my body; the journey was enjoyable and fast, a one in a million experience in Allstorn’s flying yacht: I’ve never seen such a thing until that moment.
From the flying yacht I saw a lot of new places: Jen Steppes, where enormous herds of goats and rams grazed next to cattle flocks on the fields; the Esterhold peninsula; Thorin Bay and the Reign of Verdan.
Also the ramparts of the walled city of Faraway; then, when we flew toward west, I admired the barren lands in the hinterland and we stopped in Skyfyr, capital of Blackrock Reign, a former colony of the Empire of Alphatia.
I was so afraid when we flew above the Esterhold sea! Too much water always stress me out and the transfer upon the sea lasted some days, days I spent in my cabin, distant from the water.
Finally we arrived on the Kingdom of Floating Ar: that place was unique!
Flying ships. Knights riding winged mounts. Buildings sheltered on floating cliffs. Indescribable.
I had my first important conversation with the mage in his luxurious house and the man wasn’t as I expected: in my mind I imagined an old, white haired man, with a lot of prejudices about my race. Instead I met a young, charming man with long black hair, green eyes and a lively intelligence.
“Shā, it’s a pleasure to meet my new bodyguard.” He said with a smile.
“My pleasure, master .”
We started to travel around the empire: I’ve never seen the world out the monastery and every new place we saw was a surprise for me; Allstorn taught me a lot of things about the world, especially about magic.
He always said: “Let the air flow in you, Shā.”
After a couple of weeks he told me about my mission: “There’s a nagpa, Heydrech. He’s-“
“What’s a nagpa?”
“It’s a vulture, a kind of… Usually nagpas are necromancer. They’re nauseating creatures who use dead bodies as servants. All nagpas, in ancient times, were humans from the Varellyan culture. Centuries ago the two Varellya crown princes clashed among themselves, to conquer the throne, after their father’s death, causing a civil war. One of them, his mind obscured by thirst for power and boastfulness, evoked a powerful demon to destroy his foe and reduce to slavery his own people. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to control it, because the demon revealed itself as a true Immortal who cheated on the man to be summoned on Mystara and bring death and destruction. Once unleashed his fury, Valleyan Empire was reduced to ash in the space of a moon and the few survivors transformed in nagpas by the demonic curse, forced to search for the key to expiate their faults and run out of this torture.”
He interrupted himself with a little sight, then proceeded to explain our mission: ”You know I’m specialized in levitation, flight and magical transportation spells. I’m sure this Nagpa is developing a new form of magic that would make the non-magicians able to teleport. I want you to investigate about Heydrech.”
“I’ll do it.”
He smiled: “Hold on, Shā. He isn’t here. You must look for him in Serraine, the flying city.”
“How can I reach that place?”
“I have a contact with a gnome, Dumbar Stormkinder, he’s the Cloud Clipper pilot. Maybe, for you, he will look a bit strange, probably too much energetic and bumbling, but he’s a good gnome and a great pilot.”
“How did you meet a gnome?” I curiously ask.
He smiles uncannily and says: “I’ll tell you soon.”
He never told me. He hadn’t the time to tell me.
Allstorn was killed one week later, I don’t know how, probably poisoned.
Another jolt diverts my attention from my memories: the plane starts to tremble violently and the gnomes voices became worrier than before and I start to feel a bit of fear but I try to calm myself, as I learned in the monastery.
My fur lifts on all my back after a new and stronger sudden movement while the gnomes scream with panic in a language I don’t know. Suddenly the plane starts to fly precariously, losing altitude too quickly.
Other jolts, shouts, a violent crash and then everything became dark.
“Master, I have a question.”
Allstorn turns towards me: “So ask.”
“Why did you choose me?”
He gazes my eyes with a confused look but smiling at the same time.
“I mean… There were a lot of sisters more trained than me. I’m not protesting, it’s just… curiosity.”
Allstorn stands up from his armchair, steering to an majestic bookcase; the mage’s long hair seem to fluctuate around him, standing out against his pure white skin.
“The air.” He says like lost in thought.
“I’m not sure I understood.”
“Your resemblance with the air. I asked to your teacher, Aredhel, for the most gifted pupil in manipulating the four elements, and she recommended a pair of skilled monks. When I arrived to your temple I observed your sisters, especially the two Aredhel suggested: they were very talented, I cannot deny it, but they weren’t what I was looking for. I was on the verge of giving up when I saw you training. It was an epiphany! You were the pupil I was looking for: your flowing movements, your calmness… Every part of your was air.”
He turns to me: “Don’t worry for your inexperience: you’re like a little breath but, under my teaching, you’ll became a powerful wind.”
“Is it dead?” “What? Dead? Let me see!” “You’re covering it! Move yourself!”
A lot of words hit my ears; slowly I open my eyes and I see five little figures looking at me with worried expression.
“Cat? Are you all right?”
“Rakasta…” I say with feeble voice.
“What?” Asks one of them, his voice is agitated and too acute for my sensitive ears.
“I’m not a cat, I’m a rakasta.” I try to stand up but my mind swirls and I have to close my eyes, falling down again.
“Oh no! Don’t faint again, cat.” Two small hands lightly slap my face.
“I’m not fainting! Don’t hit me!” I growl annoyed.
After some minutes I’m able to stand up and observe the Cloud Clipper crew: five pair of eyes are watching me with curiosity.
I look around: we’re in the middle of a forest, the plane is almost destroyed.
“Where are we?” I ask.
“In the Dymrak forest.” Answers one of them.
“Who are you?” Asks the gnome who seems the most eminent.
“Shā Zhī Wǔ Shì, Allstorn Stormbringer‘s pupil.” When I pronounce my master name the gnome became serious and, after some words to the other in a language I don’t know, he takes me away from the crew.
“Why are you here? Where is Allstorn? He said he must talk to me.”
I hesitate: how can I tell him my master is dead?
I don’t have much memories of that night: I returned to Allstorn’s mansion after some research and, when I opened the door, a strange sensation hit me.
“Master Allstorn, I’m here.” My voice resonated in the doorway; I awaited for an answer but I didn’t hear a sound. I walked, with a bit of worry, to the library, room where the mage spent a lot of time. When I opened the door the most terrible thing I’ve ever seen: Allstorn body lying on the ground in his own blood.
I run to the corpse but, after a violent hit on my head, I collapsed on the ground, unconscious: the last thing I saw was the reflection of a sniggering nagpa on the window.
I don’t know what happened, how they overcame a strong mage like Allstorn and, more important, why they didn’t kill me: maybe they thought I was dead… All I know is that I woke up after a long lapse of time and Allstorn was next to my body, dead.
I took the lukewarm corpse, laying it near me and I prayed, I prayed like I had a desperate desire to do it.
The last thing I could have expected from myself was exactly that thing. I didn’t pray any Immortal or any mortal but, in that moment, I was praying Ninfagle to get Allstorn’s soul and took it with him.
I swore to Ninfagle that I would avenge my master and, then, I would return to the monastery and accept my punishment.
“Cat? Are you ok? Maybe the crash injured you more than I tought.” Dumbar voice is doubtful.
“Are you Dumbar Stormkinder?” I ask ignoring his words.
“Yes. Now, answer me.”
I take a breath: “My master is dead.”
Dumbar falls on the ground, seated: his expression is totally twisted by shock.
“Someone attacked him a couple of days ago. I wasn’t able to protect him.” I feel ashamed.
Dumbar opens his mouth to talk but a scream interrupt him.
“No! Come here! We need that thing!”
We turn ourselves and we see a strange creature in front of the shouting gnome: a small monkey with a pair of wings on her back.
The little creature watches us in amusement and, then, runs away in the forest.
“It stole our crystal! Captain, we need it!”
“What? How?” Dumbar voice became louder.
“I- I don’t know! When I saw it the tabi it already had the crystal.”
Dumbar suddenly turns to me and says: “You have to capture that tabi. You’re a stowaway: if you don’t want to stay here forever you have to help us.”
I nod and, one second later, I’m chasing the creature they called tabi through the forest: it moves very fast, taking advantage of the trees’ branches; thanks to my nimbleness I’m able to go after but not to nab it. Suddenly the winged monkey climbs a tree and disappears from my view: I climb the tree too but I’m bigger and less agile than the creature.
I chase the tabi with difficulty as long as it enters in a small village, literally leaping in the back of a man: with him a dwarf, an elf and a tall woman. From the distance I observe them cuddling the little monkey; I decide to circumvent the small group and I lower the hood on my head, approaching them from the front.
I slowly walk to them and they fall silent when I extend my open paw.
“I need that creature. Please, give it to me.”
 The Temple of the Way of the Four Elements
 Tai Fu is the traditional uniform used in Shaolinquan temples.
Three Tai Fu colors indicate the monks level: gray (given after five years
of apprenticeship) for the beginners; brown for advanced monk and orange for teachers.
 Ninfagle is the Immortal patron of the race of Rakasta