Okay, I have here the first entry of Banlaoch de an Oiche, or Hero of the Night. It's a bit dark, and takes inspiration from Rob's suggestions regarding a Leathe Batman analogue. This bit's mainly focussed on why she is the way she is. Hope you guys like it.
The birth of the city of Ghotaiche is one shrouded in both mystery and mysticism. According to legend, centuries ago, an evil warlock was buried alive beneath what would one day become Ghotaiche's central square. The bards claim that the warlock, who had descended into a state of torpor, seeped his evil essence into the soil, poisoning the ground with his dark, corrupting touch.
That's what they say anyway.
It is easy to believe it however, as Dorcha Ridaire thought to herself, staring out across the city from her vantage point on one of the spires. Even now, centuries after the supposed warlock's burial, Ghotaiche was still a dark, corrupted hell of a city. Some days it's criminal underground seemed more populous than the body of law-abiding citizens. The law enforcement was next to none-existent, the city ruled by a council of merchant lords who could buy silence from anyone they needed it from. Most of them were prominent figures in the criminal world anyway.
And the criminal underground was something Dorcha was well-acquainted with. These days, she lived to ruin the plans of the crime lords of Ghotaiche. But she had not always been so driven to do so.
Sitting atop the tallest building in Ghotaiche city, light rain drifting down onto her cloak-clad shoulders, Dorcha thought back to her youth and why she had become what she was. She had been brought up with a fairly liberal idea of how wealth should be distributed, her father and elder brother teaching her all she needed to know about the fine arts of pick-pocketing, lockpicking and flat out burglary. All these things required skill and subtlety, and she had an abundance of both, as did her father and brother.
Together, the three of them amassed enough wealth to have a large house built on the outskirts of Ghotaiche, a mansion of sorts. And they lived there happily for a time, long enough for Dorcha to grow into maturity, having been taught a great many skills by her father in particular.
And then one day, tragedy struck. She had been out early that morning, before several hours before dawn, lifting valuables from a variety of victims and was returning home when she noticed a red glow on the outskirts of the city. She hurried to her home to find the morbidly obese merchant lord Tradator surrounded by at least fifteen men in his pay. Several men were holding flaming brands in their hands. And her house, her place of shelter and sanctuary for the last sixteen years, was burning along with those she loved.
If it were not for the fact that several of the men carried weapons with them in addition to the torches, Dorcha would have set upon them then and there, armed with naught but a pilfered silver candlestick holder. But she did not, and instead she hid in the bushes, sobbing as quietly as she could manage as her world burned down around her. And so, when the flames had died down, she was present for what happened next.
Her father was brought forward, bloodied and bent, hands tied before him. Where his tail should have been was just a bloodied stump. He appeared defeated and cried out in grief as they showed him what remained of his house. The merchant lord approached the broken Leathe, squatting before him like a corpulent toad.
"And to think this unpleasant business could have all been avoided if you had simply declared your earnings to us. Just thinking of your poor family, boarded up in that magnificent mansion, trapped and screaming for help as it burnt down. How awful, I believe I am tearing up just thinking about it," he laughed, brushing away false tears in a theatrical fashion. "You brought this upon yourself Déantoir. You really did. All you needed to do was," he shrugged and then spread his arms wide, encompassing all around him, "spread the wealth. But now, now you will die, alone and unmourned by any." With that, the merchant lord of Ghotaiche thrust his curved dagger into Dorcha's father's heart and her tears fell in earnest.
"We are done here, let us leave this depressing place," Tradantor snapped, standing straight and straightening out the collar of his garments. "Kenold, take the corpse to the river and dispose of it. If you are seen, throw yourself in too."
Looking back at that dark night, Dorcha could not remember what she did after following the man named Kenold to the river's edge. The last thing she could ever recall was watching her father's corpse tumble into the murky water, Kenold wiping his brow of sweat and drinking from a wineskin.
The following weeks turned into a blur for the dispossessed young Leathe who takes up residence in an abandoned warehouse. She would break into the houses of the city's most wealthy at night, taking only what she needed to purchase food, living off the only things she knew how to do. Days ran into each other and eventually the months passed in a haze of nothing but continued survival, no joy nor pain in her life as all that was dear to her had been taken and she could not find it in herself to stand for anything more than herself. After all, her family had died because her father had taken too much and had made himself a target. She would do neither.
The lords of the city had made a ghost of her.
Dorcha smiled grimly at the thought, not that she derived any amusement from reliving those dark times. But they had given her a base, a starting point as it were, for what she had become. The catalyst for that change however, was something she had discovered in the house of some inconsequential burgher just over eight years ago.
She was just about to leave the house, a small sack slung over her shoulder containing an assortment of valuables, when she noticed a faded book lying upon the floor. Despite her misgivings, she picked it up and read the cover by the light of her candle. The Pursuit of Justice.
A creak from the room above her and she threw the book in her sack and silently left the house, vowing to read it later.
And she did.
The book, a philosophical piece which espoused the view that sometimes justice was not a right but something to be won, resonated deeply within Dorcha's consciousness. For weeks after finishing the book, the words tumbled about in her mind, and in a way, plagued her. Until, one evening she awoke from a dream in which Ghotaiche was different city to what it really was. A dream in which a child could grow up with a family around her and live a full and happy life in the light. And she resolved then and there to dedicate her life to making that dream become reality, to allow the people of Ghotaiche to have what was taken from her.
She travelled south first, taking up an apprenticeship with famed hunter Enrik Khartes, learning how to use a bow and blades. He told her of the skill of the hunters of the Ilaena, the Children of Carrion. Having completed her apprenticeship, she then travelled further south again, over the ocean to the plains of Sothbayne, where she pitted herself out in the wilderness against packs of Ilaena hunters, disabling the finest hunters sent to find her one at a time. A year and a half living off the land on the plains of Sothbayne left her used to a hard life and she had grown as tough and lean as whipcord. She returned to the north and spent time in the Syndicate of Turador, honing the arts of stealth and intimidation in equal measure. Her scrawny frame and lack of height did not do her any favours in this regard, but in her travels in the south, she had discovered a rare flower, which if ingested caused horrifying hallucinations.
Dorcha remembered the first time she had encountered the plant, held captive by a band of Roanfaille scouts. There had been five of them and they had come across her wholly by accident. She had let her guard down and was sleeping in one of the tall thorn-trees which were scattered across the southern grasslands. Five men and one hunting hound, if one could call it such, she remembered. The beast had nothing of the clean lines of the cu of her homelands, built in form like a bear and moving with an odd, loping gait. It was the hound which had been the instrument of her downfall as it had alerted the men of her presence up in the tree, who had thrown spears and then rocks at her until she fell out. Men of the Ten-Eyed Spectre clan she assumed, judging by the tattoos they shared, inked across their chests, a collection of amorphous black lines filled with ten red eyes. Fanciful designs if seen with a clear mind, but they would take on a wholly different perception for Dorcha.
One of the men was a shaman, a crooked and bent man who staggered around, supported by a wooden staff of deadwood. He was dressed haphazardly, as were they all, and he carried with himself a burlap sack at all times. He was treated with the utmost respect by the other four, a respect which bordered on worship and was likely the result of fear.
For within that burlap sack, he carried the flowers of the plant sen-smierk, or something like that. The shaman did in fact tell her what they were called before subjecting her to it, but she never knew how it was spelt or what it meant. All she knew was that once the shaman had forced a petal into the mouth of the bound and restrained Leathe, her senses swam and the tattooed chest of the shaman came to life, grasping at her with ephemeral claws, eyes blazing with an infernal flame. The shaman's laughter and her own screams of terror rang in her ears over and over, distorted and terrifying in themselves. Even the burlap sack took on a visage of terror, appearing to grow a face and sprout nonsensical ramblings in a language she didn't know.
She was held prisoner by the Ten-Eyed Spectres for a total of three days. Three long, sweltering sleepless days of crippling hunger and thirst interspersed with three nights of fire-lit terror. After the third such session, the shaman having had enough of his fun as the Leathe slipped into semi-unconsciousness, Dorcha found that despite her situation, she still had not given up. And that no matter what she would be subjected to, she would not give up her quest. Ghotaiche had not yet been saved, but she was not prepared to undertake the task if she could not overcome three nomadic clansmen.
She waited, barely moving for hours until the party had fallen asleep and then began to work her way free. Eventually, after almost an hour of painstaking effort, she had managed to slip her hands free of her bonds without awakening any of the men, nor their foul hound. The ropes which bound her ankles were next and she quickly untied them.
Silently she retrieved her belongings from where the clan had bundled them, likely hoping to sell them at their next opportunity. She also lifted the shaman's sack of flowers, seeing that they could potentially be useful to her.
Lastly, she crept over to the sleeping hound and cut its throat, clamping one hand around its muzzle and the other arm around its neck with her hand holding its forelegs to prevent it from both yelping and lashing out. In her weakened state, she could not prevent either, but the clansmen were thoroughly inebriated and they did not stir.
Despite everything, she could not find it in herself to kill them. It would not be just of her to kill unarmed men as they slept because they were trying to sustain themselves. And then she came to the shaman. He was one who did not do what he did because he needed to hunt game or sell to the slavers to survive. Here was a man who took pleasure from instilling terror in others. Here was a man who deserved justice and was actually evil. This man was one her moral code told her she could kill.
Except she couldn't. Her knife hovered above his sleeping chest for a minute before Dorcha turned away. No, not even he deserved such a death, especially when these other men, who knew no other way than to do what they did, followed him and needed him to survive.
She set off alone into the darkness, haunted by her decision, a decision which would continue to haunt her for years, even after she returned to Ghotaiche.
In her time in the Syndicate of Turador, Dorcha was quite successful, rising swiftly from just an initiate to one of the Master of Turador's finest assets in the space of just a year. And yet, in all that time, working for what was perhaps the largest and most successful criminal organisation in the known world, she did not lose track of her principles.
For she had arrived there following a rumour that the Master wished to spread the tentacles of his criminal empire into Ghotaiche itself. If he did so, the city would be ripe pickings. The packs of scum which roamed it's streets at night were bad enough as just that, disorganised individual packs, but the Syndicate was a successful organisation which co-ordinated the targets of its cells. And so Dorcha came to be in Turador, under the name Roisin Nathair, or Viper Rose to those she dealt with on the Syndicate's behalf, fitting name considering her dual nature.
The year she spent in Turador was one spent in a kind of self-imposed exile, learning the methods and habits of effective criminals, surrounding herself with the kind of person she despised, the kind of person she was herself. To begin with, she was only trying to prevent the Syndicate from spreading into Ghotaiche, but eventually she set after the goal of proving the superior of each and every one of the Master's assets. And so she did, completing contracts at such a rate and with such precision that her cell leader brought her to the attention of the Syndicate's League of Councillors, the Master's advisors. Just as she had planned, for what better way to strike a blow at the Syndicate than by striking the head from the serpent.
The League brought her into their headquarters, in the mountains to the city's west and asked of her what it was she sought after in the Syndicate. She thought over her answer very carefully, and came to the conclusion that honesty was the best policy in this situation. That did not mean however that she needed to tell the whole truth.
"I seek the path which leads to vengeance for those I have lost and the means to turn fear against those who prey on the fearful," she replied, keeping her voice measured and her gaze focussed on the Councillor who had asked for her response.
A man was then brought out into the audience chamber, a Midlander, heavily chained and stripped to the waist. His body showed the signs of torturous beatings and severe malnourishment. One of the Councillors handed Dorcha a sword, two and a half feet from pommel to tip and told the Leathe to execute the prisoner.
"What are his crimes?" Dorcha asked, the blade heavy in her hands.
"This man stole from the wrong people. If he had paid his dues to the Syndicate, he would not be in this situation. He brought this upon himself," replied the Councillor, his face grim. Dorcha thought back to her father and the fate which had befallen him. He was not so different from this man, and likely less innocent in a way.
"If you kill him, you will be rewarded greatly. The Master has decreed that you will lead the assault on Ghotaiche city, that wretched nest where you grew up," sneered the Councillor. Dorcha started involuntarily.
"Oh yes, we know all about your past, Ridaire. Born 817 CE on the outskirts of Ghotaiche to Deantoir and Binn Ridaire. Only child. At the age of sixteen your house was burned down and your family killed by the merchant Tradator and his hired blades. You watched your father's torture and murder and followed one of the men to the riverbank where you made your first kill, hiding the corpse in the same way the man had just hidden your father's corpse. Dropped out of existence for several years until here you are, in Turador, supremely skilled but still reluctant to mingle with your kind. And that's what these people are!"
Dorcha fell to her knees, head bowed and the sword clattered to the stone floor.
"But you need to realise what you are girl. And that is a hired blade, nothing more. You're just one more knife in the Master's hand." With that, the Councillor made to strike Dorcha, but she caught his fist in her hand. Swiftly she drew the man's dagger from his belt and held it to his throat. Applying pressure to the joints of his hands, she squeezed until the man went to his knees. The other men in the chamber drew their weapons and made to apprehend her.
"Anyone moves and I slit his throat right here. But I have a message for you all, and your master. You think I am but a hired blade, but I am many things. A thief in the night, a beggar on the streets, a warrior on the field of battle, an orphaned child amongst the ashes. I am all of those things and more. But there is one thing I will always be, and that is Ghotaiche's protector. And I will stand there between the people of my city and those who would harm them. Tell your Master that Ghotaiche will never be his and that if he wants her, I will be waiting."
The headquarters of the Syndicate in the Turador mountains burned down that night and Dorcha left many of the Master's assets for dead in the ashes. It is whispered in amongst the cells of Turador that he has never forgotten the offence she gave him, and that the time will come when she would face reckoning for it.
From her vantage point atop one of Ghotaiche's spires, Dorcha had an excellent view of her city. The years had honed her abilities to an exceptional degree and her determination had not wavered once. Her sources in the Ghotaiche underground suggested that the Syndicate was finally prepared to make their move on the city and Dorcha was determined to be ready for it.
The city's eastern gate was admitting a steady stream of wandering pilgrims and refugees, most of whom were innocent travellers, trying to stay out of the war-torn lands to the south. Some of them however, would be members of Syndicate cells. Dorcha was hell-bent on eradicating and uprooting them before they could taint her city.
A few of the so-called pilgrims split off from the main stream and congregated in a dark alleyway between warehouses. One started to cast off his ragged disguise, revealing an expensive longsword at his hip. One other started to unwrap the canvas around his walking staff, revealing a bow-stave, wound with the string and a small flexible leather quiver with a handful of arrows. That was all Dorcha needed to know of their intentions.
She dropped from the spire and sprinted across the rooftops, practically dancing in the late evening air. Within seconds she had reached a warehouse above the alleyway the cell was meeting in. Five of them, armed and likely well-trained combatants.
She dropped a small metal canister, filled with a concentrated gas derived from the petals of the sen-smierk into their midst and watched silently as they started to hallucinate. The man with the sword, a tall, rangy Invarrian dropped to his knees, head on the ground, whimpering in pain and fear. Dorcha took note that the Invarrian's sense of smell, more developed than that of most other races must increase the effects of the flowers.
She dropped to the ground behind them, silent as a shadow, crept up behind them and slaughtered them all.
The next morning, the bodies were found, stripped of valuables and strung up by ropes to the top of one of the warehouses. A message was written in blood on the wall beside the corpses.
Tell your Master that this is still my city.