Secret Skills

6 June, 2016

This is what I wrote for Snot a few weeks back as my “introduce a new NPC of you choice” prize. I was thinking Mist needs a disciple, you know?

As always, Andy kinda takes my stuff and tweaks and reinterprets it, so this isn’t necessarily Snot’s real in-game back story. Oh – and I see his actual name was going to be Jimmy.

But, this is kinda sorta the base character idea. As I mention at the end, I intended to make him a little bit lighter than now he turned out in this backstory. But: is what it is.

“Avast there! Walk the plank, ye survy dog! Brace the mainstay!” yelled “basher” Pete, waving his wooden cutlass. He and the rest of his cronies jeered as they pushed Jimmy, ‘Snot’ to his “friends”, off the end of the newport docks with an old broom-handle. Jimmy hit the filthy harbour water with a splash as they cheered and hurled more nautical-themed insults.

Jimmy swam away under the dock. He was a good swimmer – not better than the rest of them, of course, but for the moment protected from further malice by the smell of rotten fish and a thin layer of shit. He swam a bit further, then got out of the water and ran. The bullies didn’t bother following, and Pete didn’t run all that much: appearing around the end of an alley with five of his friends was more the cheerfully cruel little fat fucker’s style.

Jimmy’s bruises faded fast, anyway, and he never got sick – very few of the poor kids did – although sometimes his nose ran a little. Poor kids that get sick tend not to survive it, so by a simple process of elimination, all the poor kids were very hardy indeed. If painfully thin.

He didn’t hang around the other kids much. Their talk was all sailing and smugglers, pieces of eight, booty and (more and more lately) wenches. But Snot had a secret. Snot knew about a whole different world. Something way better.

He found a corner and wrung out his ragged clothes, and wandered the street for a while as afternoon wore on to evening. Found a quarter of a kebab: the dogs hadn’t gotten to it yet. Not a lot of dogs in Newport, really. Kids get hungry.

As evening fell, he began by habit to slip into his practice. Toe-heel, toe-heel, weight on the edge of the foot just like the book said. Jimmy knew every line, every figure and diagram of the book by heart. Land empty, move like the shadow – even in plain view. He was dreadful, but he didn’t know it. People who noticed him, and few did, wrote him off as a cripple. Not long for these rough streets.

He arrived home. No food, and in the next room behind the paper-thin walls, mother was already practising her trade, eking out a rough living at the world’s oldest profession. There had been more than one furtive skulker outside, avoiding each other’s eyes, queuing up. At least two already, and probably a third. Jimmy would be undisturbed for the rest of the evening.

He took the rags off his bed, and dressed himself. Shinobi, tabi, utility belt plaited from strips. Just like the book said. As best he could manage, he clothed himself in an unconvincing semblance of (although he did not know it) a kabuki stagehand, the outfit completed with a head wrapping. He had no mirror, but he knew that he was outfitted as a silent assassin, a bringer of swift, merciless death. He took up his splintery wooden tanto.

Oh yes. Booty and sailing and pieces of eight. Not for Jimmy. For Jimmy, there was something way, way cooler.

By the light of a flickering oil flame Snot practised the forms. Just like the book said. Posing against his shadow, until it looked just right. Earth stance. Water stance. Fire and wind stances. A bit wobbly, of course, but close. Pretty close, anyway. The most powerful of all was the stance of the void, the stance that was no stance. There was no picture of that in the book, but that made sense. How could there be?

He finished his practice, and fell into bed, a familiar hollow in his belly. He prayed once more, to the good gods first, the gods of The Priestess; and then furtively to the gods of death, the Crusader’s gods. But he received no further answer to the answer he had had three days ago.

“Let a thousand flowers bloom. Let a thousand schools contend.”

The book mentioned it: the ancient knowledge, the old, old secrets of the fighting arts. The Grandmaster of Flowers. Somewhere in this city, a master walked. A master! But first would come a trial. Jimmy knew what he must do. He must prove himself. He must find this master, and stalk him. Silent as the shadow, hidden. Only then would this master teach him the secret of the fifth stance.

Today, he had found nothing. But perhaps tomorrow.

Dammit, dammit, dammit – I wanted to make this kid an annoying overenthusiastic little shit, instead I wind up with pathos. Oh well. Not going to rewrite it now.

Maybe tomorrow.