This is an early Character Study of Nysta. One of the first things I wrote about her, actually. It might have made it into the first draft of the books, but I ended up leaving it as it was and not looking back. At this stage, Nysta had a sword. She no longer has the sword as I felt she was getting a bit TOO good with weapons and wanted her to have her weaknesses, too.
Also, she had a knife called A Gate to Hell. This was an homage to Lucio Fulci, of course. I have renamed the knife to Queen of Hearts in the series, but paid homage to Lucio with the dagger called Fulci's Last Joke. Which always hits an eye...
I'm putting this up more for your amusement than anything, as you can see how far Nysta progressed as a character from this simple snapshot of life in the imperial city of Doom's Reach...
Nysta Character Study #1: The Bladesmaster
"Tell me, Nysta," the Mage leaned back in his armchair and tugged on his beard thoughtfully. "Tell me. Have you ever faced a Bladesmaster?"
"Do you think you'd have any problems with one?"
"On whether or not his major organs are where they should be."
Nysta lay on the roof, glaring down at the guard standing at his post across the courtyard.
He knew she was next to invisible, shaded as she was by both the moonless night and the tree which cast its shadow across this corner of the roof. She remained still, and had done so for about an hour already. She would wait until she felt totally certain it was the right time.
She was dressed in enchanted leather, the breeches and shirt made of patches of dark green and black leather held together with leather straps. She wore a thin chainmail vest under the leather, and this night wore a hood to keep her skin from shining - a hazard she often faced with her too-pale complexion.
Across her body a myriad of sheaths, pouches, and pockets concealed more weapons, and though some were empty, most were not. Her favourite daggers, A Flaw in the Glass and The Gate to Hell were snug against her inner forearms and she also carried a shortsword called Kingfisher strapped to her back.
Nysta was slim, even for an elf, and seemed far too delicate to be taken seriously in combat situations. Many, however, had underestimated her enhancements and fewer had lived to regret it.
Her face was either beautiful or unattractive depending on how one who saw her viewed those of a genetically engineered race. Her face was narrow, with sharp cheeks which gave her a near-devillish face in certain situations. This, combined with a wicked scar which jagged out from just under her eye to almost kiss the slender ear which jutted out from her face like a slender dagger, made hers a face many remembered. Her violet eyes stared at everything around her, and the way she scanned the world around her at all times often caused those around her to feel even more nervous.
The black hair framing her face, hidden beneath the hood, was tied with a black leather thong. At the ends of the thong hung a small metal bell with the clapper removed. Some thought this an odd feminine touch to the elf's more functional clothing, but those who had witnessed its use might argue otherwise.
She shifted, slowly, allowing the blood to flood areas which might have gone numb had she stayed perfectly still on the cold roof.
The guard opposite still had not moved.
He, too, shifted. From one leg to another.
He looked sideways, coughed.
Rolled his shoulders and resumed his vigil.
Had she not the patience of one who had done this many times before, she would have sighed.
Despite the patience, however, she did grunt softly to herself.
The elf waited.
A light in the house went dark and the guard craned his neck to make certain everything was as it should be. Satisfied, he looked around once more at the deserted courtyard and scratched his nose.
Nysta waited until he angled his head slightly away from her, and pulled herself up to a half-crouch. The high roof behind her hid her silhouette from his view. She slipped Go With My Blessing from a sheath on her thigh and drew back.
His head turned toward her just as the dagger left her fingertips.
It was an insect of light, shooting through the starry night and burying itself deep into the guard's throat.
He dropped with only a minimum of clatter - something she was thankful for.
It was a stupid thing to have done. By rights she should have either waited, or tried moving around the outside of the roof. Dropped down on him and taken him out more quietly.
But, quite frankly, she'd just had enough of all the waiting shit.
She rolled off the roof and landed without sound on the edge of the walkway beneath, inwardly thanking the old man who'd made the custom-designed soft-sole boots she now wore.
Her head flicked back and forth, taking in the courtyard and all major routes in and out.
Satisfied that the shadows were merely shadows, she crept along the walkway toward the eastern door.
That's about when the yelling started.
The western and northern doors burst open and swordsmen burst into the courtyard with a loud roar.
Startled, Nysta bounded back into the shadows, heading for the only escape route instantly available - the eastern wall.
She found it already blocked by five burly guardsmen with swords and large grins but otherwise not much else where it counted.
She leapt at them, drawing Eat This and Entrance Exam. With her left hand she slashed at the closest guard, cutting his upper arm open with Entrance Exam's broad short blade, and with her right she stabbed in under the second guard's standard attack, pushing the blade deep into his belly before ripping it out as she spun into the third guard's defensive pose. Both blades took him in the eyes, digging deep into his brain.
She jerked them out and turned to the remaining two, paying no attention yet to the booted approach of more guards behind.
The fourth roared, brought his sword up high and slashed down with determination and force. The blade slid past her shoulder uselessly and she flicked her wrist, sending Eat This into his chest. The first guard had recovered, though he clutched his upper arm desperately. He lunged with his wounded arm clutching the sword, eager to catch her from behind. But her enhancements kicked her body out of the way, the blade leaving only a shallow scratch across her side. The wound would heal, she thought, leaving another scar. It would have plenty of company.
She curled her lip into a crooked grin and bounded out of the fifth guard's well-trained attack. The back-strike of his blade caught her on the forearm, but the enchanted leather ribs which ran the length of her forearms deflected it easily. She dodged another attack by the first guard, already feeling the approach of more guards.
Irritated, she threw Entrance Exam into the face of the fifth guard, and drew Kingfisher from across her back. The thin blade was shorter than most swords and almost as deceptively fragile as the assassin wielding it. She held it upside down in a backhand style which allowed for slashing and cutting more than the thursting style of the guards who approached with cautious glances at the four bodies and the fifth guard lurching almost drunkenly from blood loss, his sword hanging limp in his hands.
She crouched low, like a cat, both hands gripping the sword's hilt.
She looked down at their feet, refusing to meet their eyes.
They noticed. It made them more cautious.
She watched them, not with her eyes, but with her entire being, allowing her enhancements to feel the world unlimited by her usual stubborn desire to keep control over them.
One stepped forward, his front foot taking a tentative sword-fighter's step forward. He was a second from rushing in, his sword making a standard attacking strike for there are no other strikes for someone trained in this manner.
She looked up at him, her eyes glittering. "Come on, then," she said. "Help me meet my quota."
She dodged easily, rolled and swept the sword across his thigh, cutting his balance from beneath. He cried out and dropped his sword as pain arced through his body. Already she had turned away and darted at the remaining swordsmen.
The bulk of them fled backward a few steps, the rest died as she swept through them, her sword flashing like a kingfisher over a pond. She didn't cut them more than once. She went for their thighs, their guts, or their arms. Easy targets, but they bled a lot. And fast.
She took another cut across her back, her opponent's blade shearing through the chainmail and cutting a respectable gash across her ribs. It hurt like hell.
The elf knelt in the courtyard, her sword pointing toward the earth. Blood trickled down her fingers, down the hilt. She frowned. She hadn't noticed the cut across her forearm.
Her enhancements slowly knitted the flesh together, but they couldn't repair too much damage at a time. She brought one hand off the sword, aware the waiting swordsmen were muttering to themselves, surrounding her. She pushed the hood from her face and heard one of them gasp.
She smiled her crooked smile and the swordsman in front of her lifted his sword, angled it into attack position and lunged with a cry. She took the blade against her own and felt the presence of another too close. The other's sword slashed close to her leg and she swept Kingfisher free, swiping the swordsman across his exposed throat with a speed he would have had nightmares about had he lived through the experience.
She dodged another attack and savagely struck out with her foot to catch another swordsman in the chest as his blade glanced off the hardened armour on her shoulder. The blade missed her throat by only a lover's breath. With no time to consider her luck, she lunged forward, taking the swordsman in the chest. With no time to consider her luck, she lunged forward, taking the swordsman in the chest. Kingfisher slid through his body and erupted out through his back with a fountain of blood. He cried out, a name of a lover perhaps, and dropped, taking Kingfisher with him.
Without thought, she drew A Flaw in the Glass and rounded to meet the next swordsman who held his sword high and prepared to chop down and cleave her in tow - provided she remained where she was.
The swordsman lowered his sword, slowly, never taking his eyes from the elf.
She smirked at him and reversed her grip on A Flaw in the Glass, and turned toward the speaker.
He wore simple clothing and carried a shortsword in one hand and a dagger in the other. The dagger was a wicked looking thing, slightly curved and possibly enchanted by the purple glow it spun out into the night. She eyed it with a mix of wariness and excitement.
"Love the knife," she said.
He raised his eyebrow and held it up to her. "What? This?"
She nodded. "What's it enchanted for?"
"You'll find out."
Nysta licked her lips and smiled. "I hope so. I have a spare sheath for it on my hip."
The Bladesmaster cocked his head to one side and stepped down into the courtyard.
He glanced at the bodies around him and tried not to show too much surprise. "A bit crude, perhaps, but not a bad effort."
She shrugged. "Whatever works."
"He has trained for fifteen years with the monks of Teijin-Po," the Mage said. "He spent time with the tribes in Alkardy, learning their martial arts. Unarmed, he fights like a demon. He has never lost a fencing match, and is reputed to be enhanced with some of the most sophisticated enhancements ever seen. Possibly they're better than yours. We can't know for sure. We do know he's killed somewhere close to thirty challengers to his home."
"You want me to kill him?"
The Mage shrugged. "You don't have to. Who we're really after is the one he's protecting - the merchant, Cados Bey. Cados has been dodging his taxes, Nysta. Very naughty. That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but he's been chatting about it to his friends and we just can't have any old merchant thinking he can swindle the Imperial Treasury, can we?"
"In any case, I would advise not fighting him at all, Nysta. However, should it come to that, I can only wish you luck and promise to have you buried somewhere nice. That's if he's prepared to leave any bits of you to bury."
"You know when I'm through with you, there won't really be anything left to bury?" he stepped across one of the bodies and stated this with the confidence of one who had faced the best fighters in the world and beat them all.
She shrugged, keeping A Flaw in the Glass aimed low, still held backwards in her hand - a defensive posture.
"Not one for talking, are you?"
She curled her lips, the side closest to the scar curling even more than the other.
He turned, only slightly, bending his knees and crouching in the classic knife-fighter's pose.
She imitated his crouch, keeping her body low to the ground and A Flaw in the Glass tight in her grip.
They circled like sharks, testing the water with subtle muscle twitches and feints.
The Bladesmaster's eyes relaxed the more they circled, taking in her every response to his movements.
He was, she surmised by the way his muscles flowed, enhanced for smoothness. For a fluidity of movement she found vaguely disturbing. He seemed to glide more than move.
It was awful to watch. His body was alien, disconnected from reality.
She touched her upper lip with the tip of her tongue, wondering where he'd gotten those and how she could get a set.
The Bladesmaster watched the elf as she responded to his enhancements.
She was absorbed by his motion, and he kept gliding to lull her even further. He felt his speed enhancements kick in and prepared for his lunge. He would take out her stomach with his shortsword, before sliding right past her and burying the dagger in the back of her neck.
It was a favourite move, finished with a flourish.
Her eyes gazed at him.
He knew she was falling for it.
Caught in the spell.
Her tongue flicked out and touched her top lip.
Nysta rolled with the strike, feeling the blade scrape across the armour protecting her side. The chainmail pressed against her skin as the shortsword floated past. She twisted with the strike, bringing A Flaw in the Glass up fast to block the dagger thrust which would have taken out her neck if she'd fallen for the pitiful trick in the first place.
In allowing the first strike to go unblocked, she was able to use her free hand to pull Cat's Claw which scratched the back of his sword arm.
The Bladesmaster yelped and dropped the sword, jerking away from her second swipe.
Blood dripped as he bounded away from her, his dagger slashing defensively at the air between them.
She smirked, remaining where she was in the classic knife-fighter's crouch.
He scowled at her.
"Nasty," he said. "That's cheating, you know."
"How is it cheating?"
"You drew another dagger!"
"Did I? Well, you had two. I merely evened up the fight."
He chewed his bottom lip and crouched again, ignoring the blood flowing freely down his arm. "Well. Now it seems I don't have time to play with you."
He lunged again, this time using every ounce of speed his enhancements would give him.
His first cut bit into her shoulder.
The second swiped across her belly.
Only the chainmail stopped him from opening her up. He grunted at this, and his third strike was point forward, determined to stab deep into her guts. He was already thinking of ripping upward. His rage at being cut by someone who didn't even possess a black sash in Teijin-Ga-Do fuelling him to pull harder at the enhancements which kicked through his body.
A Flaw in the Glass took the thrust and deflected it. She dodged to the side avoiding the next lightning-fast strike and kicked at his shins as she leapt sideways, dropping Cat's Claw and unsheathing The Gate to Hell.
The Bladesmaster noticed this switching of weapons with a curse. "Fucking honorless dog!" he spat, driving forward with a frenzy of sharp attacks that kept her stepping backward.
There was a rhythm to his work. A chop, a slash, a swipe. Hard wrists and technical moves.
She curled her lips as she worked hard at her defensive strikes, retreating further and further across the courtyard. Her eyes flicked this way and that. She noticed the guards, gathered behind him, swords still drawn.
He swept up under her guard and the dagger slid past her face. She could smell its enchantment. If it struck, she knew she would be dead immediately. Its poison wasn't as aggressive as A Flaw in the Glass, but given a decent strike it would kill just as quickly.
She twisted her body, feinted with The Gate to Hell, and aimed another kick - this time striking his shin.
He dropped with a startled cry, his dagger thudding into the ground.
"Careful," she hissed. "Don't break my knife."
His head jerked up and for the first time Nysta saw something in his eyes she had no doubt he was absolutely not used to having there.
She glanced swiftly over her shoulder, saw the door was close.
Grinned at him.
And threw A Flaw in the Glass at his head. It took him in the cheek. She kicked him again, this time catching his wrist as he attempted a defensive gesture. He dropped the dagger and she plunged The Gate to Hell deep into his sternum where it chewed through his heart with such delight that the blade actually howled in pleasure.
The Bladesmaster's eyes widened in agony as the icy cold vacuum of The Gate to Hell filled his body and numbed his mind. "It can't be," he whimpered. "I'm the best. I can't lose!"
She crouched in front of him, tore the dagger from his chest, and curled her lips upward into her phantom grin. "Lose? Who said this was a game?"
And then she dashed through the eastern door before the guards could move.
The merchant was in his room, gibbering something as she bounded in.
She threw Dance at Midnight through his left eye, and kept running.
Jumped. Shoulder first.
Outside the grounds of the Bey Residence, a lone street guard fingered his pike.
Rockam Bint hated night shifts.
Anything could happen. Madmen, haunted by terrors, stalked the streets with their wild eyed lunacy and street thugs sometimes thought they could do as they wished.
Stray dogs sometimes got a little too territorial.
Rats eyed him from the alleys and he shuddered, knowing they were thinking he was little more than a walking meal.
He heard the explosion of wood and glass and saw the shadowed figure burst onto the street and begin running toward him, pursued by two of the merchant's guards.
He was about to push his pike forward, stop her, when he noticed the pale skin, the curling grin. The pink scar on the cheek. The violet eyes.
The dagger in her fist, prepared to punch through his face and into his brain.
In brains, Rockam Bint wasn't the quickest guard on the force, but he wasn't exactly the slowest, either.
He jumped to one side, jerking his pike as far from her direction as he could.
"Stop her!" cried the two merchant's guards.
Rockam watched her flash past, before nonchalantly bringing the pike down to bar their way. "Where you think you two are going in such a hurry at this time of night, huh?"
"What the fuck?" one of them sputtered. "Catch her! She just killed Cados Bey!"
Rockam glanced over his shoulder at the fleeing elf. "Who? Ain't nobody there but shadows. I think you two had better come with me, yes? Show me what all the fuss is about."
"You fucking asshole! She's getting away!" one of the guards made to push past his pike, but Rockam simply swung it hard at the man's throat.
"Are you resisting arrest, mate?" hissed the street guard. "Please tell me you are. I haven't killed anyone all week."
They went quietly after that.
Nysta sat, breathing heavily.
Blood was still dripping down her arms and the wound on her back hadn't healed properly yet. It hurt. She had bruises in places she didn't think should have bruises, and her legs felt they were on fire.
She felt exhausted.
The Bladesmaster had been quick. Damn quick.
His only problem had been his training. Each move was designed with a countermove in mind, and when she didn't know the countermove, he couldn't really move. Nysta had always avoided learning any single style for just that reason. She didn't want anyone being able to predict her strikes.
"Martial arts?" she'd said to the Mage. "What's that?"
He stared at her, amused and incredulous. "You mean, you don't know any?"
She shrugged. "I fight to kill, Mage. I don't fight for fun."
"But martial arts is about all that! Or so I'm told. I've seen the Bladesmasters fence, and this one's good, Nysta. Really good."
She shrugged. "That game you play. With all the pieces. Black and white ones."
"Yes. Chess. If I played chess with you, you'd win, right?"
"Well, probably," he said, lightly, avoiding the chance to toss another insult in her direction.
She nodded. "You would. Let's face it. You know the rules. You know the moves. Now, if we played your chess, and I picked up the all the white pieces and rammed them down your throat before cutting off your head with the board, would you say that was a win to me?"
The Mage smiled, slightly, nodding to himself as though aware of something he hadn't seen before. "I would say, Nysta, that I don't think I'll challenge you to a game of chess, if you don't mind."
She thought about the fight.
The way the Bladesmaster had moved. All flashy and with flourishes.
The way he struck with style more than intent.
She smirked, remembering the way his eyes had bulged when she buried The Gate to Hell into his heart.
Clenching her fist, she felt his blood squeezed out between her fingers.
She thought some more.
A Flaw in the Glass.
She loved that knife.
It was a good knife.
And that Bladesmaster's dagger? The purple one.
That was a good knife, too.
She chewed her bottom lip.
Nysta began walking slowly back in the direction of the Bey residence, gripping The Gate to Hell in her pale white fist.