This gets very dark and angsty, with gambling addiction, drug use and suicidal themes. So you've been warned.
'Sometimes the most innocent questions can lead to the most unexpected answers.'
"Hey, Scratch, how come you're so good at cards? Did you use to play when you were younger?" Slam Bam asked, pushing his chips over to the purple she-cat.
Startled, he and the other Skylanders playing watched as Scratch visibly withdrew, flattening her ears and wings and drawing back from the table.
She stared intently at the chips before her, emotions battling on her face, uncovered from her mask. "H-hey, you know if you don't want to talk about it, that's cool. I was… just wondering, ya know." Slam Bam said hurriedly, waving his top arms. Chop Chop and Dino Rang looked at Scratch.
She opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again, then sighed. "I remember, when I joined the Skylanders, Master Eon said that nobody would care about who I'd been before. He said every Skylander has their skeleton in the closet-" Slam Bam held up a hand.
"Hey, don't. I didn't mean-" Dino Rang place his hand over the yeti's mouth, and held a finger to his lips.
Scratch continued with a small smile at that, "-and I know that compared to others, like Cynder or Chill, my past isn't so bad. I mean, I didn't lose the most important person to me, or my kingdom, and I wasn't used as a harbinger of death and destruction. But, well…' she trailed off, and placed her cards face down on the table.
She knew it was a royal suite of hearts. If only her heart was plain black and white and red and so simple.
Scratch looked those cards, and nosed some chips into the center. "You guys know I love to play cards, to dice. You know I'm blessed by Lady Luck, that whatever I bet on will win." she stopped, thinking.
"When I was younger, I was a gambler. I gambled on everything, the thrill I got while from doing so was so... so addictive, it was like I was taking a powerful drug. I couldn't have stopped if I wanted to, and I didn't want to.' The Skylander paused, and Chop Chop placed his hand and betted. Dino Rang raised an eyebrow, and motioned for her to go on. Slam Bam stared at the floor, clearly uncomfortable.
"But soon that thrill wasn't enough, and I needed more. I quit the job I had, ran away from home when I was pressured about it, and just gambled... day and night. Between that I caught fitful bits of sleep, and that was my life for a long time," the she-cat shook her head sadly. Slam Bam and Dino Rang gaped. Chop Chop just stared.
"I used drugs to get over sleep deprivation, to increase the thrill and pleasure. You should have seen me back then. I was nothing but a gaunt skeleton, fur and feathers matted and filthy, perfumed with the smell of smoke and alcohol. My teeth and claws were yellow and grimy," she shivered, wrapping herself with her wings, and went on.
"I was a wreck, I knew that, but that didn't stop me from playing, didn't stop me from winning. That's how I came to be called Scratch, did you know? They said I had barely a claw-scratch of life, and that no-one could beat that scratch, even if they were full of life and all worth living for. It was a bad metaphor, but true. And in some ways that made me unstoppable. I was nothing but gambling.'
She stopped, and Dino Rang placed his cards down, and threw in his bet. Slam Bam looked at Scratch in amazement.
"Ho-how did you-? I mean, what happened next?" Slam Bam asked, leaning on the table, staring at his fellow Skylander. Dino Rang and Chop Chop leaned forwards as well. She shrugged, and turned away, pain clear in her eyes. She closed them, and took a deep shuddering breath.
She stayed like that for a long time, and when Chop Chop patted her shoulder she flinched. He kept his hand there as she opened her eyes, and nodded.
She lashed her tail, folded her wings behind her, and plowed on.
"Of course, sooner or later I knew would lose favor with Lady Luck. And I did. When I lost that game, my opponent had cleared me out. I had no money left, nothing. I was so close to death anyway, so close to ruin, I should have died. And at that point in time, I considered doing so. It would have been so much… simpler."
If it was possible, her fellow Skylander's eyes widened even more. Dino Rang nearly fell as his arms gave out.
"A mobster I had played with before saved me from the gutter, as I fell prey to blood lung that drugs created, and slowly starved, as my life seemingly drew to a close. He was a kind soul, no matter what you think of his profession. But it didn't last."
Slam Bam placed a hand on her paw. "The darkest hour is always just before the dawn. But then you must live in the daylight, harsh as it is." he told her gently.
Every Skylander sitting at that table nodded.
The she-cat drew a breath, and smiled at the yeti. Just a bit, but it warmed his heart.
"When the gang I was staying with was taken over… put under new 'management', I was told I either had to leave or earn my keep. So I became a con-man, since all I had was a poker face and gambling experience. Conning was just another kind of betting, to my mind. I kept myself alive this way for quite a while, but one day guards raided the gang's den, and I found myself in jail with the rest of them," the cat paused yet again, and thought back to that time, in which everything had changed;
Scratch huddles in her cell, irons clasped around legs and neck. Screaming and explosions sound constantly, and smoke is all she can see out the pit in which the jail resides. Jail officers fall past her, screaming or already dead, blood spattering her face as she presses it to the bars, not daring to look down.
Jeering from her fellow prisoners sounds as a beautiful red and white Sphinx wearing a ornate golden mask and battle claws plummets past her cell.
Doing the unthinkable, she reaches out and grabs him, legs so thin she can reach through the bars. She gasps with the effort, but she's not letting him die. He hauls himself wearily, hind claws scrabbling, onto the ledge in front of her cell.
Motioning for her to stand back, he blasts the bars in front of her cell to pieces with lasers from his mask.
She tries to help him, pulling him up, but he flops weakly to the floor, and pulls the mask off his face, one eye closed because of a wound.
As she looks at him, horrified to see all those burns that cover his hide, blackened and no longer the pure white it should have been, and the blood that coats his ravaged red wings, the colours almost inseparable, he shakes off the battle claws, and looks into her eyes.
"Save them," he tells her with his last breath, the fire in his eyes snuffed out now.
And she takes those claws, that mask, and with a surge of energy and rage she hadn't possessed before, flies out of her prison.
Pirates appear, and she is on them in a fury of claws and teeth, lasers bringing down those she cannot reach, winds whipping all around her, driving attackers onto her claws and each other's weapons, throwing them off the mountain side.
Once each and every pirate is dead, she collapses, her wiry frame heaving, now drained of that energy that had sustained her.
"And then I ran away from there, and met Jet-Vac, who was coming to meet the famous defender of Cat's Eye Mountain, which was me. And he brought me to Master Eon, and now... I am a Skylander."
Dino Rang looked at her, and said, "You said your past wasn't that bad. You were wrong. It was very bad."
Scratch smiled at him. A breeze swept around the table, flipping each card onto its face, even the cards Slam Bam had abandoned when Scratch had begun her tale.
"I believe I win," the she-cat said, scooping all the chips up and taking the last piece of cake, which had been the reward.
The three stared at her astonished. "That doesn't seem fair," Chop Chop muttered, looking sideways and Dino Rang and Slam Bam. Dino Rang shrugged, a smile on his face.
"Nope. It's called the Luck of the Claw," Slam Bam replied, nodding sagely.
A bit of trivia I thought I'd include. Slam Bam, Chop Chop and Dino Rang were three of the four Skylanders (the other being Boomer) playing cards in the Skylanders Beginning trailer. So I thought it would be appropriate to have them play cards again, this time with Scratch. Boomer isn't an opponent you'd want to play against if you can help it, anyway.