Irene the Sly: Chapter 1
The city of Ahnair, what was once the proud capitol of the Kantor kingdom has degraded into a run-down habitat for the citizens too poor to afford a move into the great new capitol city. As Kantor had for a long time been a poor kingdom; many of the homes and buildings of Ahnair were made with cheap and convenient materials; only a few noble houses or temples were made of good material like solid stone. Most the decent homes were made from a nimble wood grown from local trees, while others were made from a simple ground clay; also local.
The clay, though cheap to acquire and easy to use, didn't last very long and needed repairs to the homes or buildings it was made of every fourteen or so years; or after a bad storm. A majority of the works in Ahnair at the time were repair builders for such buildings. They had a good influence of jobs until the kingdom came into a new fortune and wealth and abandoned the city and most of its people to build a new capitol.
The repair builders having only one job were now left with nothing and so were their families; mostly the rich, noble, or military families were able to migrate to the new city. Ahnair was left to rot, but with the hard work and dedication of a few great minds that stayed behind, and the repair builders, they managed to combine materials from all over the city into building it anew with two main districts. The district with all the builders and their families had become the 'Structure' district; while the others lived in the new slums which had been the other district.
The old slums were made out of the same ground clay as many other buildings before in the other districts but builders seldom went there for repairs as no one commissioned work but once a year. The buildings there were made to shelter a great number of people at once but were not comfortable at all. Somehow the city sewage system managed to be built through the old slums making life there all the worse.
As it were the new slums had been migrated away from the old one and away from the rancid sewers, both by design and sympathy of the builders. The new life breathed into Ahnair felt like a blessing to the people who had to stay behind and now the city was livable again and a good place once more.
The king took notice of the new remolded city and decided to add more to it, to help it flourish. He sanctioned a third district to be built into the city as an extension of it. The third district was called the 'Sorcery' district with strong high walls erected around it as well as Canals put between it and the Structure district. It was built well for defense as the only way into that district (which was made for the kingdom magisters to have their own place entirely) was through the Structure district, and across the single wide bridge crossing the Canals. At the end of the bridge was a great iron gate with several guards, only magisters or special people with passes were allowed inside the district.
Irene had been born in the time after the city had already been conjoined as three districts and new only of its history from old tales her parents used to tell her before bed. She had been born a 'slum rat' as those in the other districts often referred to those living in the slums. Though the city now flourished more than ever, the people had been for the worse of it all; and no longer looked after one another as they had done in the past.
Irene had lived with her parents in their small worn down home until she was six where they died due to illness. She would have starved to death if not for the young boy she met named Eliah. Eliah was on the streets for just a little longer than she was but he adapted and learned fast. His mother died giving birth to him and his father joined the army some time ago; but was reported dead.
Eliah was a kind boy, light brown skin, and dark eyes, he smiled a lot and was always optimistic; despite all the despair in his life. Irene however had pale skin with freckles all over her face and orange hair. She was short for her age and her clothes didn't always fit right. The two had been living on the same pair of clothes for some time now; despite them being tattered, dirty and smelly.
Despite all the odds the two survived six hard years in the slums with each other's help. They would steal food whenever they couldn't find any pockets to pick for a few coppers in the structure district. Irene had been a better thief but Eliah was taller and could run faster, which most days now is what it had come down to when they stole food or even picked pockets. People were finally onto them so they had to either run with their spoils or take a harsh beating for them.
Today Eliah payed the price of only a black eye and some bruises for a stale loaf of bread; he got lucky today. As the two shared the bread inside an abandoned house Eliah looked out the cracked window and thought out loud, "I wonder what all the snow must look like from up above."
Irene shivered and hugged Eliah tighter as he wrapped the large wool jacket over the two of them best he could. "If it's warmer up there than down here who cares?" Irene said.
While Irene had finished her half of the loaf already, Eliah still had yet to take more than a few bites. He would often disappear into his own world when staring at the sky. Sometimes Irene wondered if he was really a magister who was leaving his body to enjoy a better world. For it seemed no matter how cold the winters, or hot the summers, Eliah was un-phased by it all. So long as he could gaze into the sky he was content.
His dream, he shared and spoke of often, was that one day he would fly up and away from all of this and never touch the ground again. He would look down upon the world as it had looked down upon him for most his life.
Sometimes Eliah's day dreams were contagious, and Irene often thought to herself what it would be like to just sprout wings and fly away to a new and better world. One where she would no longer have to struggle or suffer just to survive. Soon enough Eliah snapped out of his day dream and ate his food. When he finished he said, "I heard news that the magisters claim that spring is coming upon us faster than normal and we won't have but a few more days of this snow." Eliah said.
"It will be nice to step outside again in the warm air and not shiver myself to sleep now and again." Irene said. Then she let out a big yawn and drifted off into sleep.
She awoke sometime later with the sun beaming on her face. Outside the winter she could see the clouds had long departed and the snow looked thinner than before. Eliah was nowhere to be found; perhaps he was off getting them breakfast.
"Irene you have to come outside and see this it's amazing," Eliah said coming suddenly into the abandoned house.
Outside it was cold and snow everywhere but there was now winds blowing so Irene was grateful for that. Eliah had led her up to the roofs to see something. It was a dangerous trip up to the roofs and one winter Eliah had slipped and sprained his ankle so bad that he had to wait inside for weeks while Irene stole their meals for the winter.
Normally she would handle the warm or hot days while Eliah went through the rain, or snow, or storm, since he was stronger and could handle it better. Although she was a far better thief than he was, so she made it up to him by getting his favorite fruit on each trip: bananas. She meanwhile was more of an apple person and loved the green ones most.
Irene struggled to get onto the roof and Eliah grabbed her hand and pulled her up; he was very excited. He pointed out far off to the North-West and said, "Look, look there it is!"
Unbelieving to her eyes, there out in the distance, stood a dark tower rising high into the sky, higher than she could see. "What is that thing?" She asked.
"I don't know but it suddenly appeared overnight I guess. It's the talk of the whole town. And what's better is I made quite a haul this morning while everyone was out and about talking of the mysterious tower." Eliah pulled out a small sack that was tied around his waist tightly. He opened it up and dumped out a small handful of silver coins onto his open palm. Irene's eyes went wide as she stared at them, sparkling in the sun, are these... silver?" She asked feeling this was all some sort of a dream.
A large smiled came across Eliah's face as he said, "Yes, real silver coins! I snuck into many rich houses and found the silver just lying about in some of them. Now we can finally afford some real clothes, and good fresh food!" Eliah was more than thrilled, he was ecstatic.
Irene and Eliah moved quickly to get to the clothes store. If any of the houses were to notice the silver missing and suddenly the two of them stroll into the structure district with money than they would be in serious trouble; probably have a hand cut off for the crime. Picking pockets of someone on the street was one thing but stealing from the rich, who can afford to seek better punishment, always seems to have more dire consequences: if caught.
And so Irene knew that to get away with it all; that she would have to use everyone's amazement of the tower appearance to go on undetected.
She knew if Eliah was exaggerating then it could be very dangerous for them, because two decently known thieves coming into such an amount of money so suddenly would be highly suspicious. But this was her first chance at good clothes in a while and she was tired of nearly freezing to death every winter.
They took the backroad and ally's best they could on their way to the clothes shop. Inside the shop keeper gave them some foul words for their smell but didn't cause any great commotion or trouble for them. They found the cheapest and best clothes they could that fit their size. They were nothing fancy but they were much more practical, and made Irene and Eliah look like normal kids instead of the slum rats they really were.
The stolen silver coins got them enough for two entire outfits each; one was a heavy winter garb and boots the other was for spring and summer. After buying the clothes they went to a darker alleyway and quickly tossed aside their old rags of clothing and put on the new stuff; feeling warm for the first time in winter.
With the new outfits purchased they had one silver coin left which was more than enough to fill their bellies with a hot meal for the first time in a long time.
What few coppers they had left after the warm meal only lasted them a day, but it was another solid day without having to steal to survive. When they returned to their old routine it was easier for them to go unnoticed, since now they dressed like other kids around them. Irene even joined in on their duo routines, which normally they only pulled during spring. One would distract the target the other would make the grab.
And for a time things continued on normally for them and everyone else. That is until the night where everyone had that strange dream about the "Devil Tower". Eliah was not same since then, he would be gone longer and come back later sometimes with food, sometimes without.
Whenever Irene asked him what he was doing when he was gone, and not stealing food, he would answer in with something obscure or very vague. It was like he didn't want Irene to know what he was up too. Finally she couldn't take the secrets anymore and one day demanded to know what he was up too.
He told her like it was not a big deal, "Do you remember that dream about the Devil Tower?" he asked her.
"Yes," Irene said wondering where he was leading her.
"Well ever since then I been thinking, if I could climb to that tower I could make my wish come true; or more even. I could wish for the whole world and never again would I have to live as a slum rat... I could even wish for my parents to be alive and be the king and queen of Kantor if I wanted."
Irene went to say he was insane but she hesitated in thought. Maybe he was onto something, if you could wish for anything you could do more than any normal person, with that kind of power you could have the world if you wanted. But none of that mattered if you didn't make it to the top of the tower, which surely a lot of strong people would be climbing and would kill any weakling who tried sneaking around them.
"Alright let's say you do make it to the tower base, which is a very long and enduring trip, how will you climb it once inside? There will be many strong people gathered there who would probably kill you just to remove competition." Irene said.
"You are right a normal person like me would have no chance of climbing that tower; unless of course I had enchanted tools and weapons to help me climb it."
"What are you getting at?" Irene inquired.
"The very thing I have been spending my time doing," Eliah said excitingly. "I have been gathering information and know of a way to get these magical tools and weapons."
"Well what is it?" Irene asked more curious than concerned about the idea.
"Inside the sorcery district are two temples, and one of them, the center temple, is where the mystic vault lies beneath. Kantor's treasury of magical items. If I can just get into the vault and steal even a few of those great items I would have all I need to climb the tower."
"How are you supposed to even get into the sorcery district? The only way in is over the bridge which has a well-guarded gate that only allows access to magisters."
"That is the most common and well known way into the sorcery district, but not the only one," Eliah corrected her. "The old slums have many access areas into the sewers, and those sewers connect and come out into each district at some point; even the sorcery one. The sewers are not too complex either; I found my way down there easily and even got a torch to navigate them through the dark.
"Right now I only need one more crucial piece of information before I can get inside that vault. And I will be getting that tonight!"
Irene was silent for a long while until she finally worked up the nerve to ask the question she had been holding back since near the start of the conversation, "So let's say you do get into the vault and make it out in once piece too with all you need. Are you just going to leave me here by myself?"
Eliah took her hands and looked her in the eyes and said, "My dearest friend this is a very dangerous thing I'm doing I wouldn't dare risk your life in it all. But don't worry I will see you before I go and when I return, having my wish granted, I will take you out of the slums and we can live the life we were meant to have." Eliah then hugged her tightly.
He left shortly after saying he needed to get into position just before nightfall, otherwise he wouldn't get the information he needed. Irene tried to talk him out of it but he was too stubborn and was gone before she knew it.
Irene couldn't sleep so she stayed up all night waiting for Eliah, but he never came back. Sun began to rise and she grew too worried to sit around any longer and went out to search for him. She had a strange feeling she would find him in the sewers, if after all he got what he needed then that's where he would go next to sneak into the sorcery district.
Outside the wind was howling and the cold breeze cut through her like sharp razors, but she continued on regardless. The old slums had long since been abandoned and no one seemed to ever go there anymore, so when Irene found three sets of large foot prints in the snow it worried her. She followed the foot prints as they soon began to lead her to the sewers, not much further ahead she saw what looked like something being dragged; some spots of the snow had light trails of red on it; almost like blood.
She tread her path more carefully looking around her every ten seconds to make sure she was alone. Irene was never the paranoid type of person, but for some reason right now she felt something deeply troubling would reveal itself to her any moment. As she got closer to the sewers she could hear loud voices coming from the underground entrance. She kept back, hidden safe behind a pile of rubble, that might have once served as a small house, as she peered over to the sewer entrance to see three haggard men standing around a brown skinned young man who was lying motionless in the street.
Irene gasped loudly as she recognized the young man, it was Eliah. Was he dead or just knocked out? Her mind raced for answers and as the men grabbed his feet and started dragging him some more she couldn't stand back and wonder anymore. She leapt out of her hiding spot and rushed at them, "Eliah!" She screamed with no sensible thought. "What have you done to him?"
As soon as she got to the men she tried pulling their hands off Eliah's ankles but they only shoved her down as if she was made of paper. She got back up and went to see if Eliah was alright. She shook him as hard as she could, the men just stood around; probably enjoying her misery. Eventually one of the men picked her up by the back of her coat and brought her to eye level, his breath was hot and reeked of odor as foul as the sewers.
"Your little friend is dead," the man said callously. "He was caught spying on us while we were discussing some very important stuff. Can't let a rat run around with that sort of info, he might go squeak to someone for a bit of cheese." He laughed a little in his throat.
Irene was in tears now she couldn't believe it. "We gonna dump his body in the sewers, perhaps we shall throw you in there too, eh? Or maybe we can use you for something else." He put a firm hand around her thigh and began rubbing up it slowly. Soon as he got too high Irene reeled her fist back and punched him in his crooked jaw hard as she could.
He dropped her and was forced to step back. He wiped his face with his hand; there was a little blood from a cut lip. Irene stood up now, and soon as she did the man raised his right hand up and hit her hard across the face with the back of it. Even in the cold weather the blow was so hard that part of her face lost its numbness and now stung worse than before.
She was knocked hard to the ground and the man turned to his two partners and said, "You get rid of that one, I'll deal with this one here."
As the other two men took Eliah's corpse down into the sewers Irene knew there was nothing she could do, nothing except run away. So she rose to her feet turned and fled, the man chasing swiftly after her. Though he was bigger and could outrun her, she was nimble and lighter. And in the un-packed snow so, while he struggled to plow through it, she ran on top of it soon escaping him in the snow storm.
The days that followed after Eliah's death were extremely hard for Irene. Not only had she lost her best, and only, friend in the world she was now being hunted by those three men from the sewer entrance. Avoiding them wasn't too hard on its own but combined with stealing food or money for a day's meal it was near impossible.
Before long she finally slipped up in the market and the men spotted her, making her go without food and almost catching her this time. She ran back to the old slums and lost them in the maze of ally's that combined it with the new slums. She wouldn't be able to keep up like this but how long would the men continue to search for her?
As she sat her in small hobble, that was now completely empty of any feelings of a home with Eliah gone, she began to contemplate her life and what it could become. Perhaps she could spend the rest of her life living as a rat, stealing to get by, but then what? The loneliness seemed too much for her to bear and she began to think about that promised wish at the top of the tower.
Was it powerful enough to bring someone back from the dead, perhaps even more than just one person? Maybe Eliah was onto something, maybe with that wish she could bring him back to life; bring their parents back to life too. And the more she thought of it the more she wanted it.
At the passage to the underground sewers stood Irene, staring into the path she would need to infiltrate the sorcery district. Eliah had said the sewers were simple to navigate and he had a torch planted somewhere just inside the underground entrance. She memorized his words carefully and could hear them even now, almost whispering in her ear, 'The center temple of the sorcery district, beneath it, the mystic vault'.
She didn't fully know what missing crucial piece of information Eliah needed to infiltrate the vault, nor did she know where to find that information. But she knew that she could no longer stand to be alone, she had to move forward if she ever wanted to see her friend again, and perhaps even her parents.
Taking in a deep breath and letting it out Irene moved forward into the underground sewers. Stealing from the common people was easy for her, but stealing from the very kingdom and magisters was unlike anything she ever thought about before. If it were even possible she would find a way; risking everything to do so.