Helena was the seventh of nine children born to Igaro Tsúkaru, one of the innumerable feudal lords in Jigoh, a wealthy suburb of Hao’Fen. It was common for the region’s custom of total succession by appointment to be a source of great contention in large families, and Helena’s was no exception. For as long as she could remember, her siblings had self-segregated into two rivaling factions, each insisting its leader stood the best chance to inherit the entirety of their parent’s wealth. Helena was claimed by neither.
She never begrudged her siblings for excluding her, as she couldn’t have been more disinterested in the familial politics that dominated their lives, and in fact preferred to pass her time in solitude. She often lost herself in the histories & legends contained within the scrolls of her father’s library, or simply soaked in the sun atop one of the many tall rocks that jutted out into Lake Hao’Fen. From an early age, her strange behavior made her the target of her siblings’ constant ridicule, in equal parts on account of their scorn and their curiosity at her contentedness. Her eldest brother often jeeringly remarked that someday she should throw herself headlong into the lake and swim off to the women’s monastery, where she could devote her life to such “useless” contemplations. She considered the proposal more seriously than he might have guessed.
The sun had long since set when at last Helena arrived, wet and shivering, on the shores of the Tranquil Isle, on which stood Wusheng Monastery. A young monk soon discovered her and brought her inside. In a matter of moments, she was wrapped in a blanket and warming herself beside a blazing fire, a hot cup of soup in her hands. It was the most comfort she would ever experience in her time on the island.
Helena became immediately aware of the total silence to which the community committed itself, and dared not break it with any of the many questions that spun in her head. The following dawn, the monks’ wordless offer was clear enough. She was led back to the water, where a small canoe had been run ashore, and presented with two objects: an oar in one hand, and a small wooden wheel on the end of a string of beads in the other. She chose the wheel. That same night, in an initiation ritual that she watched with wide-eyed curiosity, the first of several gold rings was fastened around her neck, and her journey of contemplation had begun.
The monk who discovered her was called Nyra, but it was many moons before she discovered that. In complete silence, the two of them did most everything together. They shared living quarters, walked, sparred, performed chores, and prayed side-by-side. It seemed to Helena that the woman was assigned as a sort of mentor to her, and Helena was a determined student. Devoting herself to the monastery’s texts and keenly observing the monks’ behavior, she picked up on many of their beliefs and practices in a matter of days:
The monks were allowed one word at the end of every season, which was spoken aloud to the group. Those that were literate were encouraged to record their reflections in shared scrolls, but any forms of explicit communication were strictly forbidden. The wooden wheels were prayed with morning and night, its eight outer spokes designed to facilitate reflection on the subjugation of the eight passions to the will, while its three central prongs stood for the times in which this might be done: the past, present, and future. In time, too, she came to understand the significance of the neck rings, which were added for every year a monk passed at the monastery. Some of the older women wore many, while others had relatively few, and she noted that her own mentor, or Spirit Walker (as the texts defined it) wore seven.
The most enigmatic of all the teachings concerned the purpose of these strange practices. Devotees followed the laws in the hope of discerning the Call of the Gods, at which point a monk was expected to depart from the Monastery forever, never to return. However, there seemed to be little clarification on what such a call would look like, or how one would know if she heard it. Helena often wondered if she would spend as many years waiting for this call as some of her sisters’ neck rings suggested they had.
The night Helena received her fourth ring, she struggled to sleep for many hours. For reasons unknown to her, she could not shake the memory of a legend she once read in her father’s library - one of a great champion of the Aramor, exiled, perhaps unjustly, from his land. The tale rumored that he took challengers still in Aramor’s outskirts, and the prospect of challenging him began to gnaw at the young monk. At first unwilling to contend with her weak understanding of the Call of the Gods, she committed herself doubly to her tasks, and prayed that these thoughts might leave her. But no matter how the time passed, they would not. Eventually, her call crystalized unmistakably before her. In her heart of hearts, she knew she was to take all that she had learned in the martial arts at the monastery, and apply it to challenge the exiled champion. Beyond that, her path was unclear, but she was reassured by the skills she acquired at the monastery in determining her next course of action.
As she had seen so many do before her, Helena fastened shoes for herself, a sign that she was prepared to answer her call, and presented them to the Patient Mother. After several days of consideration, the elderly woman blessed them with the lake’s clear water and returned them to Helena. Then, with eyes that might have once been filled with grief, Nyra led her pupil down to the island’s Eastern shore, where another small boat awaited them.
Nyra stood there long on the hot sand, knowing that Helena departed in pursuit of the call she so desperately wanted to hear for herself. She reflected upon the patience she had shown, and the patience that would yet be required of her, until the small boat at last disappeared from her sight.
Personal Skill - Deafening Silence: Fortitude +25%