Sit down, and I'll tell you a story. Our story is about a girl. Her name was Ithila Greaynar, and she wasn't normal. She knew that there was more to the world than the small town she lived in. Her life was the same as many young girls. She would get up at sunrise, even if she wished to sleep in, and she would help make the morning meal for her father and two brothers. After that, as her father helped train her brothers and the city guard, she cooked. Her father was the captain of the guard, and her mother, as the wife to the captain, was in charge of making the midday meal to her entire family. And of course, as the other female in the Greaynar family, she was also expected to spend her entire day making an enormous meal for the men tasked to protect her village.
Ithila was eight years old when she finally discovered what the empty feeling inside her was. She first asked her mother what more there was in life. Her mother simply shrugged and told her that if she 'followed the light of the sun' she would discover who she was. She tried once, and she only made it to the far willow (as far as she would get for years) and her father appeared, and took her home. All she got out of it was a talking to, and going to bed with an empty stomach. That one act of rebellion started her streak of trouble. Ithila was old enough to decide that she didn't want to just sit around and do as she was told when she asked her oldest brother to teach her how to defend herself. By the time she was even that age, she was already an accomplished deceiver, with the uncanny ability to observe her facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Of course, Ithila didn't know what she was doing, she just knew that people would believe what she wanted them to and then make her life easier.
"Why do you want to learn to fight?" said her brother, head tilted to the side. She shrugged and looked at the ground.
"I'm scared. What happens if the bad men come back and mother and I get caught?" Ithila looked into his eyes with her own, slightly widened ones.
"That won't happen. Gaelen and I are here to protect you." She looked to the ground, eyes slightly watery.
"But what if you're not?! What if we're stuck home alone and they sneak past you?! Please, Sared, I'm scared!" Her brother's face went from calming and protective to almost frantic and he replied.
"Okay, just simple defence though! You don't have to cry, I'm right here!"
It was after that that the girl had really begun her life.
When she was thirteen, she was climbing in the willow when the turning point of her life arrived. A large man, taller than all the men in the town and bigger around as well, walked under the tree. She stayed hidden.
As odd as the arrival of someone without a merchant caravan was, it was also unnerving. His arrival had spread quickly through the town. The men didn't like him because of his obvious physical prowess, and the women didn't like him because the men didn't like him. That alone was enough to make Ithila approach this strange man. After asking around, and some thinly veiled manipulation, she found out that he was in the only pub in their small town. She snuck in, her small frame sheathed in shadows all but visible. Before she could greet him, he spoke up.
"Why are you always hiding, child? In trees, in shadows of pubs, in plain sight, behind a mask on your face," she jumped, and stepped to the man. He looked youthful, younger than her father, but older than her brothers. His hair was long, slightly wavy and had a small, well trimmed beard. The clothing he wore was old and patched, however, she saw a quality bow and quiver on his back, as well as the telltale glimmer of a blade's hilt on his belt. His face was youthful, though his eyes glowed with a wisdom beyond his years, and immediately, she trusted him.
"Sorry…" she murmured, and was about to go on, when he interrupted her.
"No you aren't." her eyes snapped up, and even though his face seemed stern, his eyes told a different story. "Don't apologize to me if you don't mean it, it's just greater insult. Don't apologize when you believe you did not do anything wrong, either. Do what you believe is right and be confident and unapologetic about it." Ithila's eyes widened slightly, and she nodded.
"Alright, I'll remember that." He nodded.
"Why don't you sit down and tell me about yourself. You seemed eager to meet me…" He said, a smile showing through his beard, and Ithila nodded, sitting where he had gestured, and started telling him everything (after making him steadfastly swear that he wouldn't tell anyone in the small town she lived in). And so it may be said that Ithila Greaynar found herself a mentor in Malien Ransour. He taught Ithila everything her brother wouldn't, and had taken to calling her 'Moonlight', because one day, while they were talking she had told him what her mother said about following the sun. The large man laughed and shook his head, then looked her right in the eyes and said:
"The sun can shine light on many things, but with light comes shadow. You should find your own path, and if you must follow something, stick to following the shadows around moonlight. That's where you'll find your path."
After that, they worked on training with the aid of shadows, a practice that Malien called Shadow Dancing. He told Ithila to drop her fear of the unknown (because while some terrifying things lurked in the dark, it did her no good to fear them) and not just reach into the shadows, become one.
"You have a natural ability to be able to hide in the shadows. If you're going to learn from me, you need to be able to utilise that fact. However, before we even begin to attempt to have you control the darkness, you need to learn the forms. You need to be able to move silently, and blend in without being noticed." With that, Malien started showing Ithila an incredible mixture of precise yet flowing movements. As he did, the darkness seemed to flow around him, in some places making him seem invisible, in others blurring his form, and in others still, making it seem like he was in one place when really he was in another. Ithila understood the name completely now, and she watched his movements with wide eyes.
"Now that you've seen the form, I'll show you how we learn it." Her teacher proceeded to show her all the different movements, split up into different forms. He showed her the application for all the movements, and what part of her mind to clear or use. He encouraged Ithila when she felt down, laughed when she fell, and in time, she put the form together.
Malien was very firm in his belief that Ithila had to have the form perfected before she ever tried to add the manipulation of the shadows to it. She had been silently working on perfecting the movement for the form when he walked up to her, a bundle in his arms. A few days before, he had left to 'run an errand in the town' and that she should work on the form and do all the practices every day while he was gone. She didn't know why he left, she only knew that if she didn't work some how, some way, Malien would know. Malien always knows. She didn't pause in her movements until Malien stopped her, and dropped the bundle he was carrying on the ground with the sound of metal clinking.
"I see you've been practicing."
"Of course. If I didn't, some how you'd know, and I'd be in trouble." she replied, an eyebrow arched. Malien suppressed a smile.
"Yes, because I know everything that happens and everything you do,"
"I have to give you a pat on the back for saying that with a straight face," Ithila said, a smile on her face. Malien just rolled his eyes, and changed his stance from resting most of his weight on one leg, to it being centered with his feet shoulder length apart. Ithila immediately copied him, because after a few months with training with him, this either meant two things: he was going to attack her as a test, or he was about to get serious and start teaching. She doubted it was the first one, as her short sword was leaning up against the Willow next to her.
"Your fighting style and natural abilities aren't fit to be used with a short sword." Malien said, as if it was a royal proclamation.
"Yes, we've established this before." Ithila's voice was sarcastic and she looked at Malien cautiously.
"But we've never done anything about it. Why is that?" Malien's smile hadn't slipped.
"The blacksmith in town only makes swords for the guardsmen and other simple things like horse tack?" Ithila said, more of a question than an answer. Malien nodded and pointed at her.
"On the nose! However, I can do something without my dearest parents freaking out because I wasn't anywhere to be found!" Ithila raised a brow at his proclamation.
"So, what's in the bag?" Her voice was curious, but there was still the edge of caution. Malien grinned at her, his white teeth glinting.
"What indeed?" he said as he removed two short, sheathed blades from the bundle. They were about as long as her arm from elbow to wrist, and were curved slightly. He held them out to her, and she took them, silver eyes wide. Pulling one out of the scabbard, it felt comfortable in her palm, and she swung it, testing the, what she soon discovered was perfect, balance.
"Try the other one, too," Malien's voice cut through the concentration that taken over her face. Pulling the other out of it's scabbard, she swung both of them in an ark.
"Not like that. They're small, not swords. Use them as if you were doing your forms." She nodded, and started the intricate movements of the form, using the blades as if they were longer arms. Malien nodded, watching her.
"That's it. They're just pointy extensions of yourself," he said as he stepped adjusting her stance.
It took years to master the forms, but soon enough, not only could she turn herself nearly completely invisible at night, she could walk through the town square in broad daylight and not be noticed.
The last thing he taught her was a practice called 'Shadowtraveling'.
"The act of jumping from one shadow to another, with very little or no time lapsed in between." he said, when she met him by the Willow.
"Not quite, wizards that teleport can do it anywhere, anytime, and if they're powerful enough,virtually without a distance constraint. Shadowtraveling is different. You're jumping from one shadow to another using the bent will of said shadow. You must be able to see it, and the bigger the shadow, the easier it is to jump." And so she learned, working day and night (it seemed to be much easier for her at night, and it was easier to sneak out of the house without her parents getting suspicious), and by the time she turned old enough to be a working member of society, she could travel across the large church in the town she lived in, or across the bustling town-square with relative ease.
Ithila's sixteenth birthday was arguably the worst birthday she'd ever had. Since she was thirteen, her parent's had been trying to find her someone to wed, however, everyone knew her. She was a troublemaker, and they, truly, thought she wouldn't ever be a calm and good wife. Until then. She didn't know who it was, she didn't know where he was from, or how old he was. All she knew was she couldn't.
At the time she was supposed to meet Malien, she went to the Willow, already feeling that something was wrong. When she got there, she saw her twin blades, a small one-handed crossbow, a pack, and a book. She bent and picked up the book. It was a journal. Flipping through the pages, she saw familiar penmanship along the pages. Her breath caught in her throat as she realized what it was. Malien's journal. She slid to the ground, her back to the tree.
Some of the entries were as simple as a statement like 'Hunt was bad today', but others were long entries. Flipping through the pages, she discovered that the journal started the moment that he had left his home, his situation much like her own except for the fact that he was to inherit a large sum of money and a title. The rules became too much for him, and he left. The collective entries until the past three years were simple, about someone just trying to get by, doing odd jobs for pay, all too be good and help people. However, in the three years since he had been training her, they turned another way. He wrote about how he found a student with as much potential in the shadow arts as his teacher said he saw in himself. He wrote about he saw himself in her, and how he considered her his daughter. As she read, she felt moisture falling down her cheeks, moistening the page. Turning to the last page, she nearly closed the book-the salute of the page was to her.
He'd left her a note, something simply detailing that one of his dear friends was in trouble and that he had to leave her alone.