As far as Inizio is concerned, he was born in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the wrong body. As far as the movers and shakers in OIppara are concerned, the wrongness is that he was born at all. A ratfolk in a society that mostly pays lip-service to a person's position in society being based on their accomplishments and merits, his upward-mobility has been repeatedly stymied by nobility unwilling to see him for the valuable citizen he is.
Straddling the world of his station – poverty and hopelessness – and the world he aspires to – affluence and opportunity – he has a somewhat two-faced personality, appearing to his fellow marginalized citizens as a hood rat, dirty, simple, and desperate. When interacting with authorities he automatically appears as clean, confident, and deserving as he can. Trapped between these guises, his heart yearns to earn just enough position to be himself.
Inizio’s name reflects him being born first in a litter of 13. His parents are traveling musicians/magicians/jugglers/acrobats, who were performing in Oppara when his mother pupped. The majority of his ken moved on when their appearance dates expired, but he chose to stay behind. His mother’s name is Nà gè, his father’s name is Hùnzhàng.
With the door being opened by Lady Martella Lotheed, nobility - or at least prosperity - may just be within reach.
Everyone makes mistakes. That wasn’t my first thought, or even my fifth thought as I crossed the room to where my mark slept, unaware that this night was fated to be his last. You’d think the hardwood floor might betray an intruder. Unless you’re me. People say they want to die in their sleep. That was my first thought. But they don’t mean it. They don’t want to die at all. Well, they should think about that before they make the decisions they do, and lead the lives they live. Planning is everything. You can’t just improvise your way through life and expect a positive outcome. Unless you’re me. Take this guy. His choices had led him here, to this end, where I was going to drive a nail up his nostril into his brain and stop his snoring forever. If he hadn’t chosen to… chosen to… if he hadn’t figured it was okay to… huh. You’d think a hired killer would know why their target was marked. Unless you’re me. I stood there silently, spike in one hand, mallet in the other, night breeze blowing through my hair. When had that changed? When had I started taking jobs where I wasn’t confident the target deserved to go. Where I wasn’t assured the world would be better off without them? Why didn’t I notice it happening? That’s when it occurred to me that everyone makes mistakes. I had. And maybe this guy had too. But I didn’t want to die for my mistake any more than he probably did. I suspect you can’t come back from being a heartless killer. Unless you’re me.
Getting out of here wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d originally thought. I’d had a vague notion of throwing my target’s lifeless corpse out his window, watching it plummet three floors to the ground and replace his evident cause-of-death with suicide. Then something, something, hide until he was found, wait for his servants to disable the house’s defenses and sneak out. I couldn’t just fly back the way I’d come because that potion had worn off shortly after I got in. So. I’d have to wing it, and make my way out without distraction, or a mansion that had been made safe. What could go wrong?
I won’t bore you with the details of what didn’t go wrong. There was plenty of that, and it passed unremarkably. But I will share with you some details of a particularly vexing staircase. It was obviously rigged. I could see the difference in the boards where they were set to detect someone stepping off the landing I was on. Since I was – as of yet – undetected, I had time to figure out what the boards would do if weight was placed on them. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Most of the mechanism would be underneath the boards where I couldn’t get at them without triggering them. Annoying. But I’m more limber than most, more flexible than most, and I was able to work my head between the safety rails and get a view from the side. That’s how I learned that the stairs were designed to crush some small glass balls, no doubt filled with some kind of sleeping glass. Ha! I pulled back, and efficiently wedged some shims to keep the boards from depressing. Triumphant, I stood upright and stepped forward to test my work, putting my toes through the hidden tripwire, collapsing the landing I was on, and plummeting to my death.
Well, not right away. First I had to fall twenty or so feet to build up speed. Then I had to impale myself on some extraordinarily sharp spikes. After that I’d have to bleed out, and then I’d finally have taken care of the death part of this death-trap. The first two steps were easy, and I achieved those pretty much without any difficulties. As the metal shafts stabbed through me, I let a small squeak of agony. Hardly macho, but I was in no condition to bellow a roar of pain. I blinked and twitched a couple times, gave thanks my brain hadn’t been penetrated – much like the master-of-the-house upstairs. And bled. I did rather a lot of that, but I couldn’t keep it up for long. I’m just not much of an endurance bleeder.
Everyone makes mistakes. I’d made mine and it was killing me. I didn’t regret making the choice to turn away from the moral line I was crossing this night. I mean, I’d rather it wasn’t turning out this way, but still, no regrets. Maybe that’s why redemption came my way. I say “redemption”, but I mean to say “a shadowy woman lightly glowing blue, it gleaming off her black hair, her black eyes, her black wings, and her black horns came my way.” See? Too wordy. Redemption looked down on me as she hovered in place. I say “down on me” but I mean more “inside of me”, and not just because I had a bonus assortment of holes that night. She floated and considered me for a while. I wished she’d consider faster. Drip. Drip. Drip. My hair was getting really bloody. As was the floor, but I imagine it’d be easier to clean. Eventually she whispered to me, “what did you learn tonight?” Just that. I considered, but I did it a lot faster than her. Pain is a great motivator. Whispering an answer wasn’t easy, what with the lung issues and all, but I told her, “hurting sucks.” I’m not sure if she saw an answer in me beyond the one I’d spoken, but she nodded. She tapped me on the forehead with a slightly taloned hand – but hey, I keep telling people claws are in fashion this year – and some of the blue glow kind of rubbed off on me. I felt a little better, a little stronger, and a little more will to make up for what I’d been doing recently to make ends meet. I closed my eyes to gather myself, and when I opened them, she was gone. I say “gone”, but I mean part of her never left me, really. I really wanted out of that pit, and boy, was I surprised when I flung my arm upward and a blue stream of energy erupted from my palm, snagging on the wall, providing a rope I could climb to salvation. I say “salvation”, but I mean… exactly that.
I remember when I was little boy, we had a bit of a mouse problem. Most people think that would mean the home was dirty, but really it was just my parents’ lifestyle as performers led to lots of parties and entertaining, so there was always food around, and people to drop it places. Mice just don’t pass up a meal. Still, not the sort of thing you want getting spotted by affluent guests.
My folks tried the classic sticky strip of leather with bait in the middle. The idea being a greedy mouse would get his poor paws and belly stuck to the goo and couldn’t get away. I found a couple of those and it got me to wondering what I would do about it if I were a mouse. I had ideas, but I couldn’t know if they were any good, so I set out to testing them. It took a couple days to catch one of the little guys by hand, but I managed in the end. It took a couple tries to defeat the sticky strips, but eventually I found that by coating a mouse’s underside and legs with melted fat or butter, they wouldn’t stick and could get their rewards.
I didn’t know my mother and father were watching me, but they must have been because not long after I mastered the sticky strips, they were replaced with complicated boxes and strings, set so disturbing the bait would make the box fall over, covering a meddling mouse. That one took some thinking, a few more days of chasing mice to try things with, but I figured this one out too. The trick here was to plan ahead, and push or roll some kind of obstacle in the way so the box couldn’t seal to the floor. Munch away and scurry away.
The next escalation moved to spring-loaded plates with iron bars that would snap a mouse’s neck. Let me tell you, I had more than a few hurt fingers testing on those things. More than a few test mice got worse. Still, I learned that if a mouse could trigger the spring by carefully dropping a stone just the right size on it, they could get their reward.
Finally, Mom & Pop devised these weird basins of water with a pivoting platform over top. The idea was that a mouse would walk out onto the platform, which would suddenly spin around from their weight, dumping them into the water where they’d drown. And drown they did. And drow, and drown, and drown. I tried wedging something in the platform, but a mouse couldn’t get enough force. I tried filling the bowl with sand but that took too long. I tried pairs of mice in balance but they couldn’t coordinate. So many attempts, so many failures.
I never solved that problem. Ran out of mice first. There were none left anywhere in the house and they stayed away. My parents were smug. To this day I’m not sure who was experimenting on who.
“Is that meant to be some kind of parable about persistence or a cautionary tale about parental pressure or something?” The girl asked. “Because I don’t think I get it.”
I smiled at her. “No, just making conversation. Bought me time to think about things. I noticed you’re exceptionally filthy. I mean, no offense, but you’ve got more dirty and junk on you than anyone I’ve seen before, but your shoes and clothes aren’t worn out so you’re not poor, so I had to think about why. My theory is you’re trying to avoid… attention.”
It was a risk. Most people don’t like their secrets unveiled. Still, if you can get them to feel unthreatened, sometimes having a confidant makes them feel better.
“Boys,” she admitted. “Sometimes they notice you and it’s… not good.”
I nodded in commiseration and I met her green, human eyes with my pink ones. “I have a wild idea. What if… what if you got so much attention, so many eyes noticing you that nobody would dare bother you?”
She thought about it a while, frowning a bit and I thought I’d lost her.
“What do you have in mind?”
Triumph! A new grand experiment could begin. “Well, my name is Inizio and I’ve got a few ideas for a new clothing line that should turn heads…”
It was my turn at watch but nobody really expected trouble since we were still in territory that would have been claimed by yesterday’s owlbear. What would risk tangling with that beast that wouldn’t end up dealing with it as we had? So it was that I found myself watching over the camp sheltering my sleeping companions, with nothing better to do than contemplate.
Now, it’s without ego – just a statement of fact – that I say I’m a professional-grade contemplator. I practice whenever possible, and don’t shy away from the hard questions. For instance… “why weren’t our horses afraid of the owlbear… at all?” I’d confirmed that they weren’t some other, fiercer species under the aegis of illusions. I’d confirmed they weren’t subject to some passivity compulsion. I’d done some alchemical testing of their droppings to ensure they weren’t simply drugged. Around the middle of my shift, I started to conclude my pondering on the topic, having arrived at the thought that the horses just… forgot… to be afraid.
That’s when I spotted an intruder, stealthily sneaking its way into our camp, slinking and sheltering itself from view, very clearly intent on remaining undetected so it could perform some nefarious task.
“How’re you, now?” it asked.
“Good ‘n’you?” I responded reflexively.
“Oh, not so bad,” the intruder allowed.
I considered my words carefully, aware that any wrong move could set off hostilities could lead to harm for my sleeping friends. When a force of overwhelming potency steps over your threshold, being circumspect is only wise. “Um, not to be rude, but your not-being-seen skills leave a little room for improvement. If you don’t mind my saying.”
“Not being seen?”
“Well, yes. Subterfuge of a visual nature. Camouflage of actions taken. Obfuscation of movements and position. Artifice of the concealment style. Covert and clandestine relocation of one’s self. Furtive goings about. In short, not being seen.”
“Right,” the invader nodded in understanding. “Your point is taken, except I wasn’t trying to not be seen. The evidence is that… well… you can see me.”
This was an argument that I couldn’t easily argue with, without appearing argumentative, arguably.
“Well then, if you’re not looking to sneak in to our camp and murder us all in our sleep,” I asked. “What are you doing here?”
“I was just wandering by, saw you folks and wondered if anyone was hurt. I’m a medic. I heal people’s ills. Make them strong and stout. Distribute vigor and vim. Improve stamina and deter disease. Cure contusions and seal lacerations. Perfect the vascular and purify the vitrium. In short, make bo-bos better. Got any?”
“Well, as far as adventurers go we’re a bit of a gaggle of odd ducks. We’ve taken to an unusual tactic of not getting hurt, inasmuch as we have control over it.”
“No, no, don’t be upset. I’m sure you’ll find someone out there in need of your talents,” I reassured.
“The collective noun for a plurality of ducks is ‘flock’. Gaggle applies to a gathering of geese, which while being members of the waterfowl family are distinct from ducks primarily due to taxonomic distinction, since ducks don’t share a single common ancestor species.”
With that lexical discussion concluded, the intruder wended its way back into the night, its cunning plan to murder the party thwarted by my exceptionally focused perception, air of capability, and diplomatic prowess. I turned to contemplating the question: if a goose honks in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, is it still obnoxiously annoying?