The Penumbra Extinction
Be with Grace, Flow with the World
A blind raconteur and dancer, often traveling alone, Hajime Hanako travels light by necessity. A layered robe for all kinds of weather, a wide brimmed hat to protect from sun and rain, traveling sandals that are often in need of repairs. She carries a backpack with the bare minimum implements needed for her performances and other basic necessities, a battered shamisen hanging on one side. And she helps herself along with a staff, taller than her, that can easily be made to ring announcing both her presence and her lack of sight.
Slender and lithe, with raven hair, fair skin and clouded eyes, she would be considered a beauty if she ever made herself over. Modest, practical outfits and no make up makes her look plain to the rich and noble. On occasion she has been given the full treatment when performing for those with the means and the foresight to arrange for it and they have had to reconsider their evaluation of her looks on the spot. Not caring much for fame and uncomfortable with all the make up and the intrigue that comes with working for important people, she prefers to spend most of the time she just performs for more common folk in exchange for food and lodging, and those are appreciative enough for having a skilled entertainer alone.
The observant may notice that she always move as if dancing to music that only she can hear. The more observant may notice that it’s more likely a sign of enlightenment than madness. Unseeing, she may cross a bustling market without so much as bumping into anyone, and has been in the middle of barroom brawls without so much as getting a stain on her robes.
She’s always the perfect image of manners, polite and graceful when interacting with anyone, and will always add levity and a bit of mild self-deprecating humor to any situation no matter its gravity. In truth she acts that way to keep people at a certain distance as she finds it exceedingly difficult to trust anyone, let alone establish ties with other people.
Born blind to the Sakaguchi family of struggling merchants, Hanako was given away to a local gambling impresario on payment for some minor debts little after she could walk on her own. She spent her childhood being given away every so often to a new family or business who then wouldn’t bother putting in the effort to make her an effective servant despite her disability. Despite the constant changes and occasional abuse she would aim to make herself useful and earn her food and keep.
As she started growing into a good-looking woman everyone pretty much assumed she’d end up as a prostitute. No one expected the Courtesan Owari to swipe her up, paying over thrice what anyone would have expected for a pleasant looking girl with her disability. When Hanako found the courage to ask why she had bought her, her answer was just “I needed someone to help but didn’t want that person to see what I am”.
The Courtesan was, in fact, an executioner of sorts. She would be paid, highly, to perform for those who were to be disposed of. Afterwards, she would most efficiently kill them. Were they to resist their fate, they would get killed first, with the performance later. She was exceedingly brilliant at both tasks and everyone knew what her deal was but no one said it out loud anywhere where she might hear. Hanako didn’t know about the matter but figured it out quickly enough. As terrified as she was initially by the sounds and smells of death she stuck around out of a sense of duty and the fact that Owari was probably the first one to treat her with a modicum of kindness.
Owari came to trust Hanako implicitly. At first the girl would just help where she could for setup and would have the unclean job of cleaning after her master. Soon Owari was also training her in the performance arts, thinking that there was much untapped talent in the blind girl and that she may bring something unique to the performances with her perspective. And after a couple of close calls against those who wouldn’t accept their fate, she also took onto training Hanako so she could defend herself, ordering a custom blind staff with a hidden blade for the purpose. Owari was of frail health and Hanako was an eager pupil who had, in Owari’s words, the ability to “flow with the world”. It wasn’t long until often Hanako’s performance was the better one, and her swiftness what kept them both alive and with a job well done. Of course since there were never any witnesses left, no one other than the Courtesan at the End knew what Hanako was capable of.
The winter after Hanako officially became an adult was harsh, and Owari fell gravely ill. Despite Hanako and others’ best cares, it was doubtful that she would make it to the spring. The courtesan’s worries were elsewhere, protesting that she had a contract to fulfill and attempting, failing, again and again to stand up to do so. Hanako out of respect for her master had never asked why they did what they did or for whom. The courtesan had never shared the information unprompted. Aiming to fulfill her last wishes, Hanako requested to fulfill the duty in her master’s stead. Of course the Sakaguchi family was the target. It was left unasked but the older woman told anyway: they were now the richest family in town, but on their way to riches they had committed crimes that couldn’t be forgiven, and the time had come to have them pay for them.
A few hours later, Hanako came back to find herself masterless. She took her things and said to the other servants “I start again now” then left.