Note: Ree is a character I'm playing in a game at Rpol.net. I hope you enjoy, and please leave feedback!
Some foul language, a bit of violence.
In the Wyld-torn district of Firewander, such a sound was hardly unusual, but the utter depths of despairing agony that one cry contained was enough to make the skinny, dark-skinned girl look up from the midden heap, a half-rotten carrot in her mouth, in curiosity. What she saw changed her life forever.
One-Eyed Garth, the street's resident madman, was scattering some kind of dull ivory dust on a tough that screamed like a half-dinar whore under a double-handful of mercenaries as the air wavered above his form. In the heat of Calibration, the icy draft should have felt cooling - but it scared the crap out of Ree, and she was the youngest runt daughter of said half-dinar whore, so she didn't scare easy. Garth was nearly scrawnier than her yet his cracked voice was commanding, talking some weird language that sorta sounded like High Realm, but more... Ree didn't know how to articulate it, but the language was to High Realm what a noble lady was to a fifty-dinar whore.
The tough stopped screaming and Ree decided to look occupied with her carrot as Garth searched the shadows of the alleyway. She'd seen the thaumaturges do weird stuff with potions and motions but this was the closest she'd ever gotten to really powerful magic. She figured the Dragon-Blooded nobles would step back once or twice on seeing this.
She swiftly amended that to several steps back as the tough's eyes opened and he stood up with a lurching motion. This sorta death would bring about a hungry ghost and Ree knew there wasn't enough salt in Firewander to keep one locked up. And hungry ghosts were like cockroaches - where one popped up, more would follow because there were plenty unhappy dead in this part of Nexus.
When Garth strode away with his new pet behind him, Ree fought a brief, brutal internal battle: to warn the monks at that fancy Immaculate temple or not? They'd as likely throw the likes of her out on her butt as do something about it - or call her heretic and do painful, deadly things. The other option was to grab some salt and see what she could do...
Getting salt was easier. Several inns found themselves short of the precious commodity come morning but when they found Garth's ruined body within his shack on the edges of Firewander with a rotting thug beside him, hedged around with a thin circle of salt, they figured it went to a good cause.
Ree had also found her calling.
Three Years Later...
Crow the Boy was a wiry fifteen-year-old with cropped black hair and wise dark eyes. She was also a highly effective gang leader, made more so by her recent Exaltation as an Eclipse Caste of the Unconquered Sun, who was really beginning to organise the Sweeps into something bigger and possibly better. What she needed, however, was somebody with a knack for street magic who could be trusted. And she knew who to approach.
Ree knew how to bind wounds, cleanse them, and help an injured person get some sleep - and more often than not, her little magics worked. Her triple-knot had barred doors against a wrathful adult more than once, and if it didn't work beyond the first time, the broken shoulders and hands tended to persuade thugs to go elsewhere. She knew good talismans from bad talismans, how to detect Essence... Crow was deeply interested in sorcery, but for an eleven-year-old, Ree was probably the best she could get.
Like all street kids (though Ree wasn't technically one, she just said it was easier to be out of her mum's way) she was skinny but tough with a streak of common sense wide as a Nexus canal. Oh, she charged for her spells - which Crow couldn't fault her for - but she was reasonable. Some of the thaumaturges charged dinars, others bodily favours - but Ree was good with the weird crap scavenged around Firewander or a bit of decent food. She was also neutral in the gang wars, which was a bonus.
The street witch didn't seem surprised to see Crow. "There's been a bunch of scared kids coming to me for protection against demons," she said dryly as she poured the gang leader a dram of moonshine. Ree's booze was gentle on the throat compared to the raw stuff sold by peddlers. "Now, I seen demons glowing green, and you don't look green to me."
Crow raised her chipped shot glass to the little dark-skinned girl and drank. Being offered a drink meant that Ree intended to honour the rules of hospitality, which was a promising sign. "You know why I'm here then?" she asked after a little cough.
"Of course. I heard you're taking in kids from the poor homes," Ree replied, turning to tend a misshapen clay pot containing some foul brew over a tiny fire.
"Couple of my sisters got kids of their own and the brother next-youngest to me's crowding up Mum's apartment," Ree said bluntly. "He in, I'm in."
"Done!" Ree and Crow touched hands in the Sweeps' way, promising to do right by each other while in the gang, and the Eclipse sanctified it. As the glow settled, Ree looked thoughtful.
"Reckon you could shine that light on some stuff I got? Figure might be magic in it."
At that point, Crow understood that Ree was born for the magic, and she hoped that she could help her foster that talent productively instead of becoming another petty witch using it for cheap revenge.
Three Years Later...
Ree felt strange with her dreadlocks tied back and a set of unpatched clothes on a clean body, but Crow said that appearances were everything. She'd gotten as far as she could on her own and the Eclipse said she needed proper training that included reading and writing. Crow was a bit weird, but definitely wise, and so Ree decided to take her advice.
Farwalker was one of the thaumaturges who scraped the bottom level of respectability, going so far as to teach in the informal academic community that called itself the University of Nexus. Born and bred in Firewander, Ree felt a bit uncomfortable in the industrial clamour of Nighthammer, but it was the best place she was going to get training. And Farwalker owed Crow, so she had a foot in the door.
Said door opened, revealing a pale, mousy-blonde man in stained white garments. "Given this is an unholy hour, you must be Ree," he observed dryly. "Well, come in - too many people will wonder why a half-grown girl is here."
"Hey, I'm bleeding," Ree protested, quite insulted at the insinuation that she was a kid.
"Too much information," Farwalker drawled. He had very green eyes. "One thing you need to learn, young Ree, is that secrets are power - you don't give it away frivolously."
"Friv - what?"
"Too easily, carelessly. Like a whore buying pretties, to use a crude definition."
"You sound like a noble," Ree said as she entered his tiny apartment, which was piled high with weirder stuff than even she could imagine - and she wanted to see what went with what and how...
"I used to tutor nobles until I discovered ghost flower," Farwalker replied with a smile. Ree realised his lips were faintly glowing. "Now, I tell petty horoscopes. What should that tell you?"
"Don't get addicted to nothing," Ree said. "Too much trouble happens."
"So wise, so young. So - I shall begin by teaching you to read. Shall we?"
Four Years Later...
"I don't care if you were taught by the Mouth of Peace, dojo doesn't mean a fucking thing here, you little twat!"
Blood Lightning was the son of a thunderbird and a tribal woman turned Nexus slave-whore, a highly successful pit fighter turned master of the First Pulse Style. He was also one of the few masters who ran anything remotely resembling an organised school - only because he had an absolute mania for teaching that might have done him well as a monk. But he wasn't one, he was a vicious street fighter who hated people getting exploited, so he took the toughest and best of Firewander's folk and trained them with a strange mixture of responsibility and timely brutality.
The long, worn face of his next would-be student was neutral as the reject walked by her; she stopped and murmured something about seeing him as a monk in the stars. The reject straightened his shoulders and nodded, shooting out of there quicker than Blood Lightning on a rival thug. Then her intelligent dark eyes looked at the master and he recognised her as the street witch Ree.
"I'm not going to insult you with spiels about my non-existent training," she said in her low, dark, beautifully enunciated voice. The young woman was far from attractive, but she was likeable enough, and tough as nails. "I've eaten and drank and shat the streets, slept in the dirt and dung, and fought for every scrap of knowledge I possess."
"Your reputation precedes you," Blood Lightning admitted as he tensed, but Ree moved first. She threw a sloppy punch at him, only to be manhandled into a hold and slammed against the rough brick wall. Aside from a grunt of pain, she made no noise though the torque on her arm had to be moderately uncomfortable - at least. "But why should I teach you?"
"Because - you - love - to teach - and I - to learn!" the street witch retorted.
Blood Lightning released her by throwing her to the ground. "Awaken your Essence and then haul your ass here," he told her. "You'll be tending me and my students too."
He wasn't surprised to see her back within six weeks - a Wyld zone was next door, after all. She pushed herself to learn at a rate which shocked - and delighted - Blood Lightning until she came to the edges of her Essence. That seemed to frustrate her, and she began to meditate on the edges of the Wyld zone, trying to strengthen her inner being.
If anyone could do it, he figured, she could. And she did. One day, she returned and mastered the rest of First Pulse Style within two months. He didn't ask questions about sometimes why she glowed. Neither of them needed monks in their business, and she somehow knew how to suck the shine back into her. So it wasn't his problem.
Several Months Later...
Three thugs were stalking the Solar Exalted in the city of Nexus, probably (most likely) on behalf of the Wyld Hunt because the idiots went iconic. Ree's status as a Chosen wasn't the most tightly held of secrets, so she knew they were trying to track her down. And though she was a bit nervous, she was also expecting it.
She wasn't a savant nor a sorceress nor a craftswoman nor a healer. Some would even wonder why the Unconquered Sun would choose such street trash as one of His Twilights. There were smarter Copper Spiders out there and certainly more powerful ones (the idiot sorcerer with the ice-blue wings, for instance).
Ree felt the figurative hot breath of the thugs on her back and allowed herself a savage inward smile.
It was time to start putting the Wyld Hunt down... One thug at a time. She'd get her hands dirty so the scholars didn't have to.
Life was pain and hurting was living. All she had to do was dish it out first.