Interlude - Failures
The Old Master sat in her attic room and heard the novice outside, well before he even entered the building. She shook head silently. The hideout was in the attic of a boarding house, which wasn’t unusual. Except for the fact that the owners of the boarding house didn’t know that they were there. The trapdoor swung open, and the novice quietly crawled up into the tight space. His eyes were downcast and the dread sense of failure hung about him.
It was late, and the Old Master was tired and irritated enough as it was. “Well?” she snapped. “Obviously you’ve failed. What’s your excuse this time?”
“Master, I…” the novice looked up, and there were tears in his eyes. This surprised the Old Master, but only for a moment. “I don’t know. There just… I can’t find any!”
“You understand the test, do you not? It’s not something that’s been lost in that empty space you call a head?” The novice looked down at the wooden floor, shoulders trembling slightly.
“Yes, Master… But there are only so many blacksmiths in the city capable of producing the wakizashi. I’ve visited each at least three times, but none of them have the proper blades!” He wailed at the end, his face full of fear and abject misery.
The novice produced from his pouch the small bag of gold that was the accumulation of his meager savings during his time of training. The test was simple. Sneak into a blacksmith’s shop, find where they hid the special blade, and steal it. Leave behind no trace save the gold, payment for services rendered. The smiths of the city had an understanding with the Old Master who used her position within the Cerulean Society for this. Any of them who wished to make a decent amount of coin for a small investment (plus the cost of a decently hidden safe or chest) would keep a freshly-crafted wakizashi hidden somewhere in their shop. Periodically it would disappear, and in its place would be a small bag of gold. As long as the smiths never caught anyone, all would be well.
Above and beyond the test of stealth and perception (which were all too trivial, really), the exercise’s true lesson lay in introducing up-and-coming ninja to the ways and methods of how the underworld of Korvosa worked. Most importantly, it was the first indicator of a student’s ultimate fate. Once their training was finally complete, the new ninja were faced with a choice. On the Old Master’s recommendation, they could go to work for the Cerulean Society as a whole, working in the shadows as an agent of espionage. If the Master did not think the ninja was up to the task, or if the student declined the invitation, the second choice was permanent exile from the city of Korvosa.
The third choice, naturally, was death.
The Old Master tried not to let her frustration show. That nonsense with the blacksmiths attempting to form a guild had clearly thrown them all into disarray. It was easy enough to reason that the smiths, faced with a lack of raw materials and delayed standing orders from more above-board clients, would snatch the swords out from their hiding places and melt them down to make another dozen arrowheads or bit of plate armor.
As a result, she had three ninja all waiting to be able to complete this test, stalled in their training.
“Fine. You’ll try again tomorrow. You and the others,” she snapped irritably, and pinched the bridge of her nose between her fingertips, trying in vain to stave off a headache. The novice groveled some more and scrambled away towards the back part of the attic hideout.
Hopefully the smiths will remember their role. I’d hate to have to call on them personally, to remind them.
Gods, I hate bureaucracy.