About Yanistah "Yani" Stands-Tall
Female Human (Shoanti) Monk 1 (Martial Artist)
Blood roared in Yanistah’s ears as she watched her burly half-orc opponent first stagger, then fall to the ground, unconscious.
I… I did it. I would have never thought I could make it – and now… I won?
Truth be told, she looked very little like a winner. Her whole body ached, her left eye was swollen and blood was flowing freely from a nasty cut on her right cheekbone. Her foe had been stronger, bigger and more experienced than she was, a fact he had been thoroughly proving by dominating throughout most of their battle. But just as the Shoanti woman had accepted her inevitable loss, something sparkled within her. If she was to be defeated, she would honor Falayna by going down with a bang – or at least, that’s what she thought as she unleashed everything she had and more. Only as she looked upon the prone figure of her opponent, though, she began to realize her outburst had just resulted in the most unexpected of outcomes.
The roar in her ears was gradually fading, only to be replaced by the cheers of the crowd gathered on the balconies above. The Serpent’s Run was suddenly filled with hundreds of voices chanting her name, the little-known underdog who had just managed to overcome all odds to defeat the seasoned veteran. She raised a clenched fist into the air, letting the thundering response of the crowd permeate her, invigorate her. But just as the jubilant sensation of triumph was starting to sink in, it suddenly dawned of her that she had just made the gravest mistake of her comparatively short life.
Magnimar, the city of Monuments. A city imbued with the whispers of history and dotted with landmarks celebrating the deeds of heroes long gone, a city whose very stones resonate with power and where shrines are erected to honor the Mysteries of the High Heavens. But besides those dedicated to mighty Ragathiel, passionate Arshea, and mysterious Ashava, other smaller, less-known sanctuaries can be found by those who know where to look, scattered throughout dark alleys and passages seldom threaded by the uninitiated. It is in one of these sanctuaries, little more than a small alcove carved into the very foundations of Magnimar’s arena, the Serpent’s Run, that one single Shoanti woman had made her unofficial home.
The youngest of five siblings born among Magnimar’s Shoanti population, it was made sure Yanistah had to learn fast where she stood: namely, as the runt of the litter within a community of what other city dwellers regarded as second-class citizens at best. As she spent most of her younger years enduring the worst a society can throw at those it considered its pariahs, one of the very first lessons she taught herself was that she could either let such a life break her, or try to become stronger every day. So every time she was punched, she learnt how to punch back; every time she fell, she strove to rise again. Yet for all her determination, few things were more disheartening to her than watching her own people resort to lowly jobs and even petty thievery to eke out a living, proud warrior clans turning into destitute gangs of thugs.
The few times she experienced the rare sting of pride in her heritage were when she sneaked in into Magnimar’s Arena, up in the lofty Alabaster District, to watch powerful Shoanti gladiators fight and win in the Grand Games that were held there, earning fame, glory, and wealth. Consequently, it came as no surprise that, on the day of her thirteenth birthday, she proclaimed in front of her family that she had decided to leave her house to pursue a career as performer in the Serpent’s Run. There were tears and there were farewells, as stories of long lost cousins who supposedly made it big were recounted, but all in all, they didn’t seem too bothered by her decision. One less mouth to feed, she cynically thought. Her heart hardened, she walked away and never looked back.
And thus it happened that a lone Shoanti girl, with no reputation nor noble sponsor to speak of, strode along the Champion’s Walk leading up to the Arena’s main entrance. She never knew exactly what passed through the aged Master of Games’ mind when he saw Yanistah’s lanky figure walk in, demanding the honor of competing in the next events – still, the thunderous laughter that erupted from his throat gave her ample grounds to make an educated guess. And yet, what happened next was equally unexpected.
”Though I guess I can at least let you stay here, young girl” he added, suddenly turning serious “There are maintenance passageways below the Arena, you can spend your nights there. In the meanwhile, train hard, learn what you can about fighting and performing… and in a couple of years, come back and try making that same requests again, will you?”
Whether that gesture stemmed from having seen something in her, or was just a way of getting rid of a nuisance, she could not tell. But never one to look the gift horse in the mouth, Yanistah immediately settled in and started her training. A brawler at heart, she started with observing the other fighters as they were practicing, trying to mimic their techniques. Her recent growth spurts had left her freakishly tall for her age (as well as earning her the mocking honorific of “Yanistah Stands-Tall” from her older brothers), so she tried to incorporate that into her style as well. Perhaps even more importantly, she worked on improving her endurance and agility, every day pushing her body a little further. But even then, without a true mentor or even a sparring partner, she soon found with no little vexation that her improvements were stalling.
That was hardly the only thing occupying her mind, though. One of the first things that had caught her attention upon moving in had been the marbled effigy of a statuary yet beautiful woman, a magnificent long sword held high in her ring-adorned hands, occupying a niche in one of the remotest underground vaults. For reasons she could not yet pinpoint, she felt immediately drawn by the aura of solemn nobility emanating from the statue, an aura seemingly possessing the power to soothe both her body and her soul. She would later discover that it depicted the Empyreal Lady Falayna, patron of martial excellence and feminine beauty alike, and that it was put there as a way to propitiate the goddess’ favor on the newly-erected building – but for the time being, as she laid down a modest pallet right at the statue’s feet, to her it just felt as the sensation of a newfound home.
That was when the dreams began.
Indistinct at first, then more and more vivid (though not any less cryptic), her nights were suddenly populated by visions of heroines displaying dazzling feats of martial might, stern yet beautiful, gentle yet strong. Gradually, with each passing night other women seemed to join them, stately and regal, walking proudly in their jewels of every possible craft and fashion. Eventually, she started to perceive another presence: clad in armor and silk and towering above them all, an angelic paragon of both beauty and might was smiling benevolently, all the while challenging them by virtue of her very presence to even higher standards of excellence and skill. Eventually, one night following a particularly frustrating day of training, the radiant figure suddenly lifted her gaze, as if looking straight into Yanistah’s soul, silently testing her resolve by daring her to follow into that same path. Unflinchingly, she stared back. In that moment, the fearful girl who went to sleep was gone, just as a woman woke up.
Having finally found her holy calling, everything started to swiftly fall into place. By that time, she had already begun doing her own researches. Entering the good graces of the chief librarian, herself a half-Shoanti woman, gained her access to the Founder's Archives, the closest thing Magnimar had to a public library. Slowly but surely, she taught herself the celestial language she had heard in her dreams, and from then on it was just a matter of throwing herself with zealous ardor at the task of unraveling the heavenly mysteries. Every day she would spend at least one hour praying and meditating in front of the shrine, pondering upon the wisdom that was being revealed to her. Indeed, after the fateful night of her initiation, her dreams had been subtly shifting their focus, and she now found herself more often than not engaged in mock fights against a creature of pure light, its voice a jubilant choir as she nonchalantly imparted teachings of both martial and philosophical nature amid their sparring.
Under the guidance of her divine patron, the Shoanti woman blossomed. The end of adolescence, combined with years of rigorous training, had eventually turned a scrawny girl into a fully-fledged woman. Her sustenance she was getting by having apprenticed herself to an old jeweler, who claimed that having a person touched by the Many-Ringed Goddess herself in his shop ”had been a blessing to both craft and business” – a most welcome respite from the menial jobs she once had to scrounge down in the Dock District. Perhaps most importantly, her fighting techniques were getting more and more refined with each passing day, a fact that had not gone unnoticed in certain places. At first, she was allowed to take part in minor athletics competitions. Then, they cast her as an extra during the yearly mock nautical battles. Eventually, she was given the chance to prove herself in a contest against an experienced fighter, a massive half-orc by the name of Urgash known for his strength, his ferocity and for being backed by none other than the local Sczarni gangs.
”No one will remember if a young fighter loses her first match” the flashily dressed man had told her, idly caressing his well-groomed moustache ”On the other hand, I’ve never heard too many questions being asked after a Shoanti body is found floating in the harbor… Alas, how do they call them nowadays? Common occurrences? Oh well, the choice is yours, I suppose.”
I have to flee.
And flee she did. She didn’t even stop by the Master of Games’ office to collect her winnings - that’s the obvious place they’d be waiting for her, she figured. Instead, she ran straight to the Docks.
It was late afternoon already, and she quickly found out there was only a single ship still waiting to depart, a cargo ship headed to Sargava – a name that hardly rang any bells in Yanistah’s head. O well, beggars can’t be choosers, I guess, she thought as she approached the wharf.
”Hold on there, miss. What’s your business aboard the Jenivere?” a rugged sailor guarding the boarding plank asked her.
She didn’t bother to lie. She knew she was terrible at it, anyway. ”My name is Yanistah. I’m looking for a passage out of Magnimar. I’m afraid I currently lack the required gold, but I’m more than willing to pay for the voyage with the sweat of my brow.”
”You look in quite a hurry miss. You Shoanti always have a penchant for picking the wrong fights, huh?” he replied, pointing at her face still bearing the marks of her recent fight.
”You could surely say so.” Still, no lies.
”Well, consider yourself lucky – the old lady here is quite undermanned as of now. Do tell me though, what would your experience as sailor be anyway?”
Here it comes she thought. For a moment she considered to drop the whole sincerity thing, but she eventually decided against it. The truth would come out soon enough anyway. ”About that… I admit I have none. But I work hard, I’m a good climber, and I rarely get tired” she opted to retort, trying her best to conceal the direness of her need ”Most importantly, I never complain about the jobs I’m assigned to or…”.
”So you claim” he cut her short, as he gave her a long look from head to toe. To her relief, she could tell he was liking what he was seeing. ”Though there might still be some truth in it. We’ll see. It turns out life on the high seas isn’t made for you, you get off first time we get to port. In the meantime, welcome aboard, lass.”
Standing at a remarkable 6 foot and 2 inches, an amber-skinned Shoanti woman is smiling politely at you, as if waiting for you to make the first move. Her clothing minimal yet functional, her attire mostly consists of a tightly-wrapped breast band and an ankle-length white gown, her bare feet being allowed full range of movement by a couple of deep slits running all the way up to her waist. The multicolored rings adorning her fingers appear to be the only nod to some kind of vanity.
Despite her stature, you would agree her physique manages to look both feminine and proportionate, all the while being thoroughly fit – if the pattern of slender yet well-defined muscles chiseling her body is any indication to go by. Perhaps even more unexpectedly, her facial features are remarkably gentle for the trained warrior you would imply her to be, with high cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes the color of uncut emeralds and full lips displaying the slightest hint of a pout. Her hair she keeps completely shaven, a common choice for Shoanti men and women alike who have elected to walk the martial path.