One of Solana’s first memories was that of being sold into slavery by her drunken father to pay for a big bet gone wrong. The stink of rum on his breath covered for what may have been shame at the deed, handing her over to Gaedrim Lamm for a handful of silvers. Or at least, it was shame until he managed to stagger into another bar to spend his daughter’s life on another bottle.
Under Lamm’s cruel tutelage, she learned the secrets of the shadows, how to move silent and creep along the rooftops. Every lesson she learned was a piece of fuel to a quietly burning flame inside her, a tiny core of defiance that he was never able to totally beat out of her. Deep-buried, childish fantasies of revenge were her only escape, and she dove into them every night, driven by her fury and her rage. She was taught to run and hide, not to stand and fight, to slip into the shadows and vanish into a crowd. Sometimes, she would see (or think she would see) the barest glimpse of a dark figure, darting and running past her on the rooftops as though she were standing still. Bodies would turn up in streets, dead from wounds too clean to be the work of any of the hired muscle or street thugs that usually ran things. Thieves, assassins, spellslingers and blademasters all in one.
Solana would dream of finding them, joining them, learning their secrets… And then vanishing into the night in just a puff of smoke, as legend held they could do, using an arcane form of magic that was a mystery even to the oh-so-learned wizards in the Academy.
Leaving Lamm was less of an escape as it was a forcible eviction. After one too many late nights out without filling her quota of pilfered purses, he set the other children on her like a pack of wild dogs. Beaten into unconsciousness and to the brink of death, they dumped her in a forgotten alley on the other side of town, trusting nature to take its course. Solana wove in and out of consciousness for hours until the rain began to pour down, and she realized that against all odds, she was still alive… For now.
Slowly, she got to her feet and staggered to the side of the alley as the rain gutters poured down, pooling her feet in piss and shit and mud from the poorly-maintained, overflowing sewers. She stood in a daze until her ears picked up the steps of someone running towards the end of the alleyway. Reflexes that had been beaten into her over years (it’s him, it’s them, they’ve come back to finish the job oh no oh no) took over and she jumped straight up into the air, flipping upside-down and grabbing onto a thick beam of rotting wood. She was able to perch on it, just barely, and locked her muscles into place to keep balance. Tears flooded into her eyes as the sudden, movement twisted open wounds, and ground together broken bones, her mouth opening in a silent scream.
She could only sit there, silent and in pain and terror as she heard the figure. It slowly moved down the alleyway, walking through the rain with careful, measured steps. Up in the shadows, she was mostly hidden from view, except for a single narrow slice of pavement. A hunched old figure came into view, where it paused. It wasn’t Lamm, or anyone else that was with him. He was wearing nothing but black leather, shiny and slick with in the rain. The only color on him was a hint of blue (that blue cerulean blue the society oh no please don’t let them catch me they’ll think i’m still a lamb), a bit of a neckerchief at his throat. She froze in terror, holding her breath until her lungs began to burn.
The figure simply stood there, infuriating. The water splashed down around them, pattering on the cobblestones, spattering off the man’s coat, gushing out of the leaky gutters, roaring in the distance. A silent trickle of blood oozed from her scalp, slowly running down her cheek, and then beaded at the tip of her chin. It hung there for long, painful seconds (whats he doing why isnt he moving he knows im here whats he doing), growing into a single ruby-dark bead that grew and grew until it bulged free (oh no he’ll hear oh no oh no). It’s fall was silent, and when it dropped into the puddle under the gutter, only one of a thousand noises, but it made a single tiny half-sound of ’pa-’.
The figure slowly turned to look up at her. Solana’s heart froze in terror. A pair of brown eyes looked up at her from behind a soft silk mask, and he turned slightly to look directly at her.
“You hide quite well, for one so young. It’s a shame about the smell, though. I knew you were here before I even entered the street. You stink of blood and piss, child.” It was a woman’s voice that spoke softly, but Solana could hear every word perfectly over the rain. “You are hurt.”
Solana didn’t respond. Blood continued to slowly seep out of her scalp, matting her hair and running down along her nose, filling it with the scent of copper and iron and death. She held still, tensed to spring away at any moment.
“Are you one of Lamm’s Lambs?” the woman asked. There was a sadness in the voice, that Solana did not expect. She had to stop herself from nodding at the stranger.
“Was,” she whispered. “I was. Until… Tonight.” Solana was careful to speak slowly as, each sound brought a fresh note of pain as her ribs cracked with every breath, and her fractured jaw desperately tried to keep hold of the last of her teeth.
“What are you now?” the woman asked.
Solana blinked at the ridiculousness of the question, and the spark of defiance flared up. “I don’t know,” she said. “What are you?”
The woman’s mask twitched, as if she was smiling, and then she was gone in a sudden whirl of smoke in the rain. At the same time, the beam that Solana was perched on shifted silently, and the cramped space was somehow even more full as the woman rematerialized, sitting casually on the beam, so close that she could smell the wet leather. She tried to force herself to jump away, to get away from this crazy person, but before she could move, she met the woman’s eye and caught a look of warning.
“Ah…” she said, and Solana felt a slow pressure on the front of her throat. She knew the feeling of a blade on her throat, and this was razor-sharp, less than a hair’s-breadth away from slitting her jugular. Solana simply stared at the woman, who continued to smile at her from under the mask. “What do you think I am?” she whispered.
Solana gulped, and felt the blade bite softly into her skin as she did so. Her voice was barely a whisper.
The woman’s smile broadened, and she withdrew the blade. Solana put her hand to her throat, but there was no blood or wound, just the memory of a cold line. “I’m impressed,” the woman said. The blade had vanished. “Most don’t make the distinction. I am lumped together with thugs, thieves, rogues, robbers, assassins and more. Although, I prefer kunoichi, at least among those who can appreciate the differences.”
“Kunoichi.” the word was odd and foreign, yet still somehow familiar.
“I move in shadows. I vanish in daylight. My trade is speed, stealth, and subtlety delivered at the end of this,” the blade reappeared in her hand suddenly, pressed against Solana’s chest. The woman’s eyes never left Solana’s, and the tip of the sword slowly dug a pinprick hole into the mud-stained linen of the girl’s shirt as she breathed.
The woman stared into Solana’s eyes, and she saw a hunger there, a fire. Many of Lamm’s former ‘students’ were broken-down, frightened things, and the woman had taught herself the necessary callousness needed to not worry about them. Normally she would not have bothered giving even this girl a second glance. But things had changed, had they not?
Not since that damnable woman’s Harrow reading. She had been told that she would find someone unusual, someone special. Someone important to the ways and whims of the gods in a way that was beyond any of their comprehension. Something about that woman’s voice had kept that thought stuck in her head for weeks now, and it was only because of that uncharacteristic preoccupation that she had found her way coming down this street…
And finding, against all odds, this girl.
“Teach me,” Solana whispered, staring intensely at the woman. It was less of a question or a plea… More of a quiet demand. She felt a quiet chill.
“Will you learn?” she asked.
“Everything.” The girl’s response was immediate. The woman nodded.
“All right, then.”
Solana nodded, and blinked slowly. Her eyes lost their focus, and all the brutality that she had been through quickly caught up with her. The world blurred into nothingness, and she keeled over the front of the beam, pitching face-first towards the cobbles. The woman caught her easily, popping back down the street in a puff of smoke, shocked at her weight.
With an uneasy feeling that the fates were watching, she moved off into the rainy night, cradling the unconscious girl in her arms.