Way of the Open Hand
Prelude - Lia, Sophia

Damn all cultists.

Merrick had warned the whole party before they had interrupted the demonic summoning that it would be at least three months before the stars realigned again should someone tumble through one of the random portals being generated during the battle. Krohn certainly wasn't going to let her hear the end of this when she got back, unfortunately.

Lia Amastacia honestly didn't know why she'd taken the lost little human girl in. Then again, after two months, she had been slowly going mad - even an elven monk needed some social interaction - and she still had at least another month to wait. And to be fair, she supposed she didn't really have it in her to let the little girl wander around the woods alone. Apparently, she was at something called "summer camp" and had gotten separated and lost.

As she watched the girl go through the forms again with a curious intensity, she reconsidered the direction her life had taken since she'd left the monastery.

Perhaps I should retire, she mused. Teaching certainly has its appeal.

This would be a good trial run. And she should probably touch up one of her old training manuals for the girl anyway. Incomplete training could be more dangerous than no training at all.

Sophia couldn't figure Hebert out.

It had seemed pretty simple when she'd laid things out for Emma in that alley. There were two kinds of people: winners and losers, strong and weak, predator and prey, wolves and sheep. It wasn't just about power, though. That kind of strength was different. No, what she had been talking about was attitude. How you approached ad-... adversity? Yeah, that was the word.

The strong fought back. Even if it was hopeless, they'd at least face their end with defiance and dignity. The weak? They'd crumble. They'd give in. They'd let it break them.

She knew she'd overreacted when she first met Hebert, but damn it, she'd finally found someone who really seemed to understand, someone she could relate to. A friend, maybe. Then this happy-go-lucky little shit, who couldn't possibly understand real suffering, came waltzing back to town, expecting to take her new friend away? How else was she supposed to react?

But Emma had run with it. Sophia wasn't sure how she felt about how easily Emma had turned on someone who, allegedly, had been her best friend for years. But that was okay. Emma was reinventing herself, she'd reasoned, cutting away her weakness, and Hebert was part of that.

Except not.

She could see the steel in Hebert's eyes, even as she took whatever abuse Emma dished out. But only what Emma did. A trip here, a shove there, and the girl always regained her balance, didn't even acknowledge it. They'd tried sabotaging her schoolwork, but she always somehow managed to avoid any damage to it. It wasn't anything Sophia could put her finger on, either. Just too many times, she'd gotten lucky. It was obvious the words hurt more than anything else: the insults, the betrayal of secrets...

But she never fought back. In a year and a half, not once did she fire back a return barb or raise so much as a finger in retaliation. But she never broke, either.

Not like they had.

Emma didn't see it. She only saw the results of her own handiwork.

All those thoughts came rushing back to her as she crouched on the rooftop. She wasn't supposed to be out patrolling right now - stupid Wards probation - but Emma was out of town, visiting some family down south, and if she stayed cooped up at PHQ or, worse, at home, she was going to go stir crazy.

She saw three of them. E88 skinheads, converging on a brunette - on Taylor fucking Hebert - the leader gesticulating suggestively with a knife in some twisted parody of how Sophia had first met Emma.

I wonder how she'll react, she thought. I'll step in before they actually hurt her, she promised.

The gangbangers got within arm's reach, and Hebert exploded into motion. Sophia blinked, and the gangbangers went down. All of them, one right after the other, like dominos.

"Daaaamn, girl."

Hebert looked up, eyes pinning her in place, and Sophia gave a mental wince before hopping down, shifting to her shadow form to slow her fall.

"Shadow Stalker, right?" Heb- Taylor asked.


"Thought you were supposed to be a hero. When were you planning on helping? Or is that not your thing?"

"When you needed it," Sophia said, giving her a shrug. "You obviously didn't."

Taylor snorted, rolling her eyes... which then widened. "Look out!"

What the fu-?

A gunshot rang out. Sophia's head whipped around to the sound. There was another one at the mouth of the alley, gun in han- no, he was dropping it, stumbling against the wall, clutching at his side. She turned back to Hebert, who was... shaking her hand like it stung?

No. Fucking. Way.

"You're a cape?!"

"No." Taylor shook her head. "Learned that at summer camp."

That was the moment Sophia's brain broke.


A/N: By the way, Lia's name is not a reference to any other 'fic. I just picked an elven female first name and an elven last name from the example lists in the PHB5E.