Kaze pushed the empty tankard of ale to the edge of the table and folded his hands together.

“Just one? Let me guess. Discipline?” chided his companion from across the table.

“In all things.” Kaze shrugged.

“But we’re done! We stole the gold and documents and fought off the enforcers! They ran off with their tails tucked between their legs. They’re not coming back for us.”

“They won’t, it is true. But someone else will, tonight or tomorrow or the day after. And at any rate, I sleep poorly after drinking too much. I prefer to sleep well and fight well.”

“You’re no fun,” Starfish pouted. For added effect, she slumped her shoulders and let her black hair fall across her eyes like curtains.

“I’m sorry to hear you think that. I suppose some would find me a poor drinking partner. But surely you can find fun outside of a bottle, unless…?”

“Don’t scold me, old man! I’m not an alcoholic.”

“And I’m not old,” Kaze chuckled.

“You seem like it sometimes.”

Kaze smiled. “Well. I’ve alreadly lived one full lifetime and left it behind. Maybe I am old.”

Starfish lifted her chin and peered at Kaze through her hair. “Tell me.”

Kaze arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure? It’s not… fun.”

“I figured. Tell me anyway.”

Kaze hesitated for just a moment, unmoving. His gaze fell to his hands, still folded upon the table, then flicked back to Starfish.

“Very well.

“My father, Oaru, was a talented blacksmith, and an even more talented businessman. I grew up learning the trade and learning to love the trade.

“I, too, had a talent for it. I could work a worthless hunk of pig iron into a passable shield, and I could forge fine steel into a fine weapon. Best of all, I was fast. I could make those passable shields by the dozens daily. Not every watchman in Waterdeep needs a masterwork. Sometimes, thirty men simply need thirty shields, and thirty cheap shields serve better than one fine shield. I was proud, and he was proud.

“A few years ago, I was to be wed. My late mother’s brother brokered a match with Hamaya Sila. The day I found out, I thought I was the luckiest man in the world. The true purpose of the marriage was for the family legacy, of course. Our sons and daughters would be nobility, and our family trade would become celebrated. But Hamaya was luminous. She was kind. She was talented. She excelled at everything she applied herslef to. She was magnetic.

“A few months before the wedding, she was murdered.

“I wasted no time despairing. I gathered some friends to help me learn what had happened. A blade in the dark. A trail of blood leading to the window. A few easily-intimidated witnesses. I found my man. A guild hitman.

“I learned his name from a woman in the market. It was early in the afternoon. I was alone. I walked directly to the man’s home, a guildhouse halfway across the city. I threw the door off of its hinges. I marched into the study. I punched him across the face, twice, and he fell, and I strangled him to death.”

Kaze’s brows knitted, and he paused briefly before continuing.

“I was to be hanged for murder, of course. But I was spared. Hamaya’s mother, a woman named Mishima Sila, spoke for me. I did not understand at the time. How could the Black Robes simply decline to sentence a murderer? I asked this much of Mishima when I was brought to her. And she promised to teach me.

“Mishima had spent all of her favors, used all of her resources to avert the course of the law, because she knew I was an ally in her fight. So I was bonded to her, and for three years she instructed me as my master. I learned of history and speechcraft, of penmanship and of court. She taught me swordplay and shieldwork. She taught me how to guile, subvert, and fight. She taught me how to learn. How to refine. How to rise.

“Three years is a long time. Every moment was, and still is, fascinating. But I won’t keep you here for three years telling you all of it.

“What Mishima was truly trying to teach me was the art of precision. It is not enough to do something. You must do the right thing, or you will fail to achieve your desires.

“At the end of three years, she summoned me to her study, and there, over tea, she told me who had ordered the hitman to murder Hamaya. It was my final lesson in precision. In my furious passion three years before, I had acted swiftly and decisively. I had also acted ineffectually. There would always be more guild hitmen for evil men and women to hire. But there was one man who had wished Hamaya dead. My father.

“True to my training, I did not rise there, throw my old home’s door off its hinges, and strangle my father to death. I waited. I watched. I spent two whole weeks concocting and rehearsing my plan before I said my farewells to Mishima.

“Then, I killed Oaru and left. Nobody but you knows.”

Starfish stared at her companion, unblinking.

“Well, Mishima knows too, I suppose.”

Starfish tilterd her head slightly. “That’s… really fucked up. I’m surprised you told me that.”

“You asked.”

She tilted her head ever so slightly further.

“You have a good heart,” Kaze offered by way of explanation. “You wouldn’t betray me.”

“We met for the first time this morning!”

“You and I both accepted a paltry bounty to raid a slaver camp in the undercity. You and I are fighting the same fight. I’ve seen nothing to suggest otherwise.”

“Well. If you’re just going to tell me everything, then why? Why would your father do that?”

Kaze sighed. “A fair question but a long story. Greed. Jealousy. Cruelty. There were what you could call political reasons, of course. The blacksmith’s guild has a complicated relationship with the Waterdhavian nobility. But the true reason is that he desired a domain to rule over, myself included, and she interfered with that.”

“So he was an asshole. But you didn’t end up like him.”


“Well. Cheers for that.” Starfish emptied her tankard.

“Mm. Thank heavens for that.”

“Ahhh. So. Traveling hero now?”

“No hero. Just a fighter. Fighting against the people who do end up like him.”