The Past of Ampere: "Shade"
Posted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 1:21 am
((Hey everyone I've begun writing a story that details the past of this dumb Umbral character that nobody likes. Gawd I hope he dies. Anyways it ended up becoming way more long winded than I originally intended, so I don't blame anyone if they feel like it's too much to trudge through. Tried to include pictures with my crud art to imitate a kind of Japanese light novel style, cause that always seemed fun. Enjoy, and comments and critiques are always appreciated!))
Chapter One: Dreams
The continent of Gold was ever an inhospitable environment. Harsh deserts, lack of rain, brutal sand storms. And yet, despite these conditions, cities and villages dotted the map of that barren land as if to show the resilient defiance of mankind.
One of those cities was the home of two parent-less children. A city of little renown, but only because the denizens there had little want for fame. Being widely known didn't matter. Survival did. Nowhere else was this more true than the day to day lives of those two children. Street urchins, with no means to earn a living, with no guardians to guide them. But they didn't care.
They raced through the crowded streets now, a girl and a boy. One of them had a face of uncontainable smiles and laughter, her vibrant blonde hair whipping wildly around her head as she slipped through passerby's with practiced ease, like a needle threading itself through cloth. The boy fared far worse, his face strained and matted with sweat, appearing to find struggle even with the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, bumping harshly against the very same people the girl had gracefully slipped through.
“You wouldn't be this pooped if you took a head start, Rags! What's the point of playing look-out and sounding the alarm if you were just going to wait for me to catch up, anyways!?” She called to the boy as he tried to breathe out a response through desperate pants.
“You—gasp, know I don't leave people behind! Any—anyways, just give it a rest already! We've been, ngh, running for hours!”
The girl heeded his words and allowed her legs to slow into a calmer gait, before reaching a brusque halt. “Y'think the guards have given up by now?”
“O-Obviously, they don't get paid enough to run a MARATHON everyday.” The boy explained as he caught up, trying to subdue the burning pain that raged through his lungs.
“You're right,” She grinned as she fished a moderately large pouch of Murai from her pocket and bounced it in her palm in order to relish the sound of jingling coins. “WE do, though.”
The boy shook his head and crouched to the side of the dusty streets, resting his back against the wall of a nearby building. “Talk about bad luck. I had that place scoped out for a week, and the guard patrols never deviated once. Then on the one day we decide to pull a heist, our honorable law enforcement just happens to show up,” He muttered as he looked to the sky and allowed the bright sun to warm his face. Though he was sweaty and exhausted, he always appreciated the comforting glow the daylight provided, even amidst sweltering heat. “...You're fortunate that you're as quick as you are, Shade.”
“Fortune's got nothing to do with it, Rags. It's all skill.” The now named girl jeered playfully as she moved to stand beside her friend. “Anyways, can we at least find a spot with a canopy? I hate the damn sun.”
The boy nodded, and as the two of them moved through the city streets it was clear that their differing preference for weather seemed to be well-reflected in their appearance. One with her golden hair and fair skin, the other with his dark locks and tanned face. One that basked in the sun, the other that greatly preferred the relief of the shadows. They were so distinctly different, and yet, as the two of them walked side by side, they seemed to fit each other perfectly.
Pausing next to a nearby shop, the delicious aroma of cooked meats wafted into Shade's nose as she felt her mouth water. “Well, this seems as good a place to spend our new investment as any!” She suggested happily.
Rags only nodded, allowing her to enter the store and pick out what food they would get, as he himself chose to remain standing outside. He never had a particular preference for such things, anyway. However, as Shade was no doubt drooling over the selection of culinary choices available to her, a city guardsman had walked by from the street and locked his eyes squarely on Rags. The boy cursed inwardly as he watched the armored man's approach.
“You there, boy. There's been a report about some young thief running about. A lot of money was apparently stolen. Do you happen to know anything?” The guard's eyes narrowed as he stared longer at Rags. “...Where are your parents, actually?”
The boy's face, which normally remained somewhere between muted and impassive, suddenly contorted itself into what appeared to be the very picture of grief. Sobs escaped his throat as tears slipped endlessly across his cheeks.
“I—I'm not in trouble, sniff, am I?”
“What? I...no, I was only asking a questi--”
“My father told me to be a good boy while I waited for him to buy things! But if he sees me talking to you, h-he'll know I've been bad! And things will hurt when I'm bad! He'll hit! It-it'll hurt so much...!” Rags cried as his face fell into his hands, his tattered sleeves becoming dampened by the falling tears. The stunned guard could only imagine that the boy's dirty clothing was just another sign of the abuse he must have suffered at the hands of his harsh parents.
“I, look, just forget I said anything! And clean up your face before he gets back! I...I have somewhere to be.” The guard said hurriedly as he put as much distance between himself and the crying boy as possible, now shouldering a new-found feeling of embarrassment and guilt.
Shade emerged from the shop carrying two large sticks of grilled meat in each hand, having watched the events unfold from inside. She smiled and shook her head, handing one of the sticks to the boy who's expression had now returned to its usual poker face.
“Another guard none the wiser, eh? As usual, your acting skills are nothing to sneeze at.” Shade murmured as she gave a low whistle.
“Yes, well. You don't grow up with a theater troupe and come away with nothing.” Rags responded casually, taking the meat from the girl and biting into it appreciatively.
“Still, always the innocent little child act. You could stand to mix it up a bit, maybe do a bravado thing. Like, 'Ey, guard, who's ya think yer talkin' to?! My daddy's a high ranking official dat'll bust ya ass! Now SCRAM!' I mean c'mon, I'd be super entertained if I saw something like that.”
The boy rolled his eyes, waving off Shade's suggestion with his hand. “I go with what works. Besides, in all the plays I was either the meek child or one of the female characters. Not exactly a lot of opportunity to practice the 'bravado thing'.”
“...Wait. So that means they put you in a dress a lot?”
Rags' eyes narrowed. “...Yes.” His response was, predictably, met with Shade's uproarious laughter.
“HA-HAAA! SERIOUSLY! Weeell, I guess I shouldn't be that surprised, considering what you're wearing now isn't that big a difference!”
“This.” The boy grunted irritably, as he pulled against the hem of his clothes, “Is a ROBE. And it's very practical. It's protective, easy to move in, and--”
“...And raggedy as hell! But that's fine, couldn't call you by your nickname otherwise.” She grinned as she patted the top of the boy's hooded head playfully, much to his annoyance.
“At least I don't have solarphobia like the girl that ENJOYS being called Shade. Seriously, you can't stay in the sun for more than ten minutes before you start getting all twitchy. What's up with that?”
“Sun sucks. Don't trust it.” She said simply as she finished off the rest of her meal, patting her stomach in satisfaction. “I'm stuffed. Nap time is imminent. You gettin' tired too, Rags?”
The boy shook his head. “No. Get some rest, I'll keep watch. Scope out the crowds and area for new targets.”
“Already? C'mon, this Murai will still last us a while.”
“All the same. Doesn't hurt to be prepared.”
Shade gave a light shrug as she laid her back down against a row of wooden crates. “Meh, suit yourself.”
Rags did as he said he would, scanning the streets and looking for various big spenders. Especially the rude, the harsh, and the combative. He always did this when preparing to pick a new target. If the two of them were going to detract from another person's well-being for their own sakes, he at least wanted that person to deserve it.
However, upon hearing the steady breathing coming from Shade, indicating she was fast asleep, the boy broke away from his watch and began to feel at the bricks of a nearby wall. Finding a loose one, he eased it out if its place and reached into the hole, extracting what appeared to be a compact but nonetheless thick book.
His eyes seemed to light up as he cracked the bindings open and scanned the various pages. It was a book on magic, and also described schools and research that occurred in the Mage Capital of Karaten. Rags had always had magic in him, but it never began to truly grow and flourish until the day he ran away from the acting troupe that had raised him, and found himself partnered with Shade.
Still, even with what he believed to be a considerable natural talent, and the guidance of various books he had managed to pickpocket off the bags of strangers, the boy could only manage simple lightning and curate spells. It wasn't enough to fight off a city guard or properly heal serious injuries, but he had still come a long way from the tiny sparks he used to produce, or the grafting that could barely patch up a paper cut.
The boy was desperate to grow more, to learn more. He thirsted for knowledge, but more than what could be gleaned from words on a page. He wanted proper instructions from a teacher, someone with real experience and power. He wanted a school, an education, a place of belonging! He wanted Karaten. That place so far away from the dust-filled shit-dump of a city he was rotting in. That was his dream.
Suddenly, a human-shaped shadow crawled over the faded pages he was reading. Rags silently cursed, knowing they could belong to no one else but Shade herself, glaring at him silently from above. How did she always manage to stay so quiet?
In a lightning fast movement, before he even had time to react, the book was out of his hands and into hers. “Fun reading material, hm?” She asked, though her voice was practically smoldering.
“...Give it back.” The boy hissed, his anger rising with equal intensity.
“I thought I told you to drop all this magic bullshit. It doesn't help you, it doesn't help me. It just fills your head with crap you can never have.”
“That book is MINE!” Rags yelled as he made a wild swipe at his stolen possession, which Shade dodged with no apparent effort on her part.
“Yours? Hardly.” She snorted as she waved it high in the air. “You and I both know we don't own anything we didn't steal first. And since that's exactly what I just did, I guess that makes this book mine, now.”
Ignoring repeated objections and dodging all his attempts to retrieve the book, Shade then began carelessly tearing pages out at random, reading small lines from them in a mocking voice before throwing them into the scattering winds. “Yadda yadda, Focus this, Focus that...ah, 'Lightning spells belong in the Nature domain, and--' Hey, this is the field you're so interested in, right Rags? 'Their electrical intensity can be assessed by many scientific factors and units, like amperes, which measure electrical conductivity or--' GODS! All this wordy hogwash.”
She stopped reading and closed the book with a huff, her eyes quickly scanned the ground of their surrounding area. Finding what she was looking for, she casually took a few steps to her right and proceeded to drop the book between the metal bars of a nearby sewer grate. “Back where it belongs.”
“NO!” Rags cried as he lunged at the grate, desperately trying to fit his hands through the small openings, but knowing it was no use. Turning to glare at her with a face full of fury, he grabbed her arms and pinned her to a nearby wall. “YOU! What the HELL is your problem?!”
“The problem isn't MINE, Rags.” She spat as she shook off his grip and shoved him away. “You think I don't know what you're always up to when I pretend to sleep after you oh-so-graciously volunteer to keep watch?! Reading your books, practicing your spells! Always trying to train your magic, where do you think that power is going to get you, huh?!”
“I'll tell you where it gets me! It gets me to Karaten! It'll get me noticed! A mage will sense my abilities and see my potential!” The boy argued, desperate to make the girl realize what he had always wanted. What he could in fact HAVE, if only he was allowed to extend an arm far enough to grab it. But Shade's eyes only narrowed and darkened in response.
“Are you an idiot? Karaten and Oniga hate each other, and that animosity covers all the surrounding lands, too. You're never going to find a gods forsaken mage in Gold, and definitely not a backwater city like this! Your precious books should have at least told you that much.”
“Then I'll leave myself! When we steal enough Murai, I'll take my share, find a port, and sail there! But oh, that's exactly what you don't want, isn't it? Getting left behind? That's the reason you're always putting down my magic, because I can actually BE somebody, while you're never getting out of this stupid hole!” Rags' words were met by a harsh slap across the face. He clutched his cheek bitterly as he stared at Shade's raised hand. If his own vision wasn't blurred by the sting of her strike, he may have noticed the tears that were welling up in her eyes.
“...Left behind? Me? Like I NEED you?! Who does all the stealing, all the footwork, all of it without even being seen or heard? All you do is the planning and the look out, like I couldn't already cover that myself! I was doing JUST fine before I met you, crawling up to me as a sniveling nameless runaway, because your meanie actor friends beat you too much! You'd be dead without me, not the other way around!” She screamed, all the while refusing to make eye contact with the boy who remained silent, letting his jaw set in grim determination.
“Fine. I'm just a burden. You clearly don't need me. So I'll just get out of your sight, and you can find some other pet to overbearingly snatch books away from. Good fucking riddance.” Rags muttered as he turned and walked away, refusing to look back at the girl who was still trying to collect herself.
“Yeah, alright, GO! See for yourself how pointless your dreams are! You'll get yourself killed within a week! You hear me?! A WEEK!” Shade yelled, but her words fell on deaf ears as her friend rapidly disappeared into the sea of people in the busy street.