A not-so-invincible Ninja
After a string of unbelievably lucky victories after first joining the group venture, Karina (a budding ninja) decided to try to take down the Iron Lord single-handedly. It did not end well for her.
Backstory going in:
Karina’s story is simple, and certainly not unheard of. Being only sixteen years of age, she hasn’t been around quite long enough to have a long list of life adventures, and throughout said sixteen years, she focused more on “living another day” than “making something of life.” That and, frankly, much of her past is a mystery even to her. She doesn’t remember her parents, nor really know anything about them. Presumably one of them was from the Orient, the other Western, because Karina has the fair skin, dark hair, and mixed features that such relationships so typically produce.
The closest thing to family Karina has ever known was the girl she called “Sissy” and revered as an older sister, though in retrospect she doubts they were even related given Sissy’s straight Eastern appearance. Whatever happened to Karina’s family, Sissy is the one who took her in and raised her, despite being no more than a decade older. The two lived a desperate life on the streets, often struggling just to live another day, thriving on what fell through the cracks of society. Some weeks were better than others, and they made do with what they had. The two were closer than the best of friends, and as the years passed they came to know the city as only one with no permanent address can. Though certainly there were many others without homes or real lives in the city, Karina and Sissy mostly kept to themselves. Sissy insisted that others shouldn’t be trusted; that most people living on the streets were unruly and dishonorable, and Karina always followed what her older sister taught her.
Everything changed on Karina’s 10th birthday. The two had just set up their shelter on the rooftop of a small business (they tried not to sleep in the same place for longer than a week) when Sissy announced that she had made some special plans to celebrate. They spent the day running through the streets, playing in alleys and relaxing in plazas, before retiring to their rooftop to watch the sunset. As the sky faded to a dim purple, Sissy informed her that in addition to the day’s activities, she had one more surprise. With a reassuring smile she climbed down from the rooftop, promising to return shortly with her gift.
She never came back.
Karina never found out what happened to Sissy, though she suspects the worst. The streets were a dangerous place, day or night, and a couple of scavengers and street thieves could find a lot of trouble quickly. She tried to find out if her older sister had been killed or imprisoned, but the city was too large and Sissy too insignificant for her to find any clue to even hint as to what had happened to her. What Karina does know is that Sissy was honorable and noble, the kind of person who despite having nothing would never resort to begging due to her sense personal honor, and who only stole when no other option to survive was available (and even then she only stole what she was sure wouldn’t be missed). Karina is sure she would never have just left or run away. Whatever happened to Sissy, Karina doubts she will ever see her older sister again.
The coming years were hard for Karina, but she managed. Whenever she felt like she couldn’t do it, she had only to remind herself that years ago Sissy was in a similar situation, and she had managed to survive while raising Karina. Karina didn’t have to help anyone else along, but she also didn’t have anyone to watch her back the way she had covered for Sissy. She quickly found that she couldn’t do everything the way Sissy had. Either she would have trust others, which Sissy had always warned against, or lower herself from the standards of respect and honor that Sissy had always held. In time, she wound up doing both.
Making friends isn’t easy for a young orphan who has lived her life alone in a crowd, but her survival was dependant on it, so she found a way. She already had an idea of where many of the other street rats and urchins stayed and roamed, and picking them out of a crowd was easy enough. While certainly her first several encounters were rather awkward, she made friends pretty quickly. The youth who rule the streets aren’t exactly picky about who they hang out with, after all. And Karina was able to pick up the social skills she needed in time. She actually found that she was one of the more capable of the people her age, being rather athletic for a girl. With her new friends she learned to survive in new ways, and while she wasn’t particularly vocal in her new group of friends, she felt accepted.
And then she became a teenager, full of emotions and hormones, and things got complicated. It’s a story that has played out many times: girl likes boy, boy likes girl, things go well until boy horribly uses girl, girl gets in a nasty situation as a result and winds up hurt and heartbroken. Karina, in her dejected state and with her limited knowledge of social interactions, fell back on the things that Sissy had taught her, and ran away from all of her experiences with her friends over the years, again becoming a loner. It was a rash decision, but to a heartbroken teenage girl seemed the only choice. She took to avoiding any contact with any of her old friends.
Now truly alone, albeit it from intentionally isolating herself from others, she again found herself in a more desperate situation than the one she was coming from. She was fifteen now, and found herself more physically capable than she had been five years earlier. Far more notably, however, was that many of Sissy’s teachings about respect and honor, once ingrained in her character, had faded during her time with the others. She was an athletic, heartbroken teenage girl in a desperate situation and with little in the way of moral compass. She started willing to do anything, save trust another person, to survive. And she found it was easy, when you’re willing to do anything. Stealing wares from the market became picking pockets in crowds. Picking pockets became waiting in alleys to beat lone women (she quickly learned women were easy targets) and take all they had. Things escalated quickly, and surviving seemed to come easier the lower she sunk.
She spent a year living like that before things came down around her. It was a series of three events, and it all seemed to happen at once. The first was her thoughts. Living truly on her own for a year, she had started to wonder what would become of her. The future she saw for herself was unchanging, the same life day to day, week to week. She relied on the survival of the fittest, and couldn’t help but think someday she may not be the fittest anymore. She had many close calls in her life by this point, after all. A part of her dreamed of something more to life, though what more there could be or how she could get it was a riddle she couldn’t solve.
The second was an encounter with the boy she had once loved. He didn’t notice her, but she saw him in the crowd quite by chance. Saw him, and the beautiful girl by his side, dressed in finer clothes than any of the waifs and strays she knew ever wore. Something about that burned her to her core, made her grind her teeth and run the other direction. It bothered her all day, and it bothered her that it bothered her. Karina’s emotions gathered within her, and came out in the form of a piece of wood smashing a woman in the back of the head that evening. The poor soul who had wandered into the alley in which Karina had waited bore a resemblance to the girl she had seen earlier, and soon Karina found herself striking the woman, even though she was already unconscious, over and over until blood spattered the cobbled street.
The third event was a moment later, when a young man turned the corner and saw the gruesome scene. He drew the short blade at his side and called out a warning to Karina. She turned and froze. Maybe it was something about the way he stood with the blade in hand, or how his long hair was tightly pulled back, but for a long moment Karina saw an echo of her older sister facing her in the dimly lit alley. Seeing her mentor, sister, and closest friend holding a weapon towards her was unsettling. A moment later she saw the man as he was, and clearly recognized the look of horror and disgust on his face. She ran from the scene and escaped without further incident, but the events haunted her and made her think. She couldn’t continue like this, not forever. Sooner or later something was going to have to change.
Her head was full of thoughts and contradictions. For the first time in her life, being alone bothered her, but she didn’t dare trust others. She was willing to do anything to survive, but now worried about what Sissy would have thought. Her head was a mess, and she had no hopes of getting any of her crossed thoughts sorted out. There was only one thing she could really decide on for certain: it was time for something new. Each street had memories that she’d rather leave in the past, and all the horizons always looked the same. She’d never thought about leaving her city before, but in a moment of decision she decided that was precisely what must happen. She didn’t know where she’d go, what she’d do, how she’d survive, but her mind was set. A new determination surfacing from the seas of her confusion, she resolved that the next sunrise she watched would be her last in town, for on the morrow she would find a way out into the rest of the world. The idea terrified her, but was also strangely liberating. She slept well that night, not knowing what adventure lay just around the corner.