Chapter 1, Part 2

After about half an hour in the sewers, she finally made it to the exit she was looking for. She climbed the ladder, emerging in a small, smelly alleyway between two towering buildings. A smirk crossed her face as she replaced the manhole cover. The smell of home, she thought to herself sardonically. This particular alleyway was only about two blocks from her clan house. Once she reached it, she could let her guard down. Slightly. She didn’t really even trust the other members of her clan, but she trusted them more than anyone else. Everyone else, she didn’t trust at all.

She strolled down the street leading to the clan house, managing to look perfectly casual while simultaneously looking in every direction at once. This territory was firmly controlled by her clan, but that didn’t mean there weren’t spies from other clans in the area. A moment of weakness could be too tempting for a member of a rival clan to pass up, even if they were surrounded by her clanmates. For that matter, a moment of weakness might be too tempting for a member of her clan to pass up. Jockeying for rank was a daily occurrence in the clans, and a knife in the dark was a perfect way to eliminate a rival.

Nodding to the lookout, she passed through the checkpoint just outside the clan house and slipped through the door. The clan house was a nondescript five story building that looked like any other apartment building in the slums of Serotopolis. Gray and somewhat disheveled, it was the only place that had ever felt like home to Alessandra. Considering that before she lived there, she’d lived on the streets, and before that she’d lived in the House of Vagrants, that wasn’t saying much, but she felt a sense of pride nonetheless.

“How’d it go?” asked a squeaky voice, coming from a room off the main hallway as she passed through. Alessandra turned to see Halidasa Mekoval emerge from her room. Halidasa looked a little bit like a mouse, which was fitting, because she sounded a little bit like one too. Fifteen years old, she looked like she was barely twelve, with short, brown hair and brown eyes that looked too big for her narrow face.

“It went great, as always,” Alessandra said with a grin, pulling a small leather bag out of her coat pocket and bouncing it on her palm. Alessandra herself was tall, although not as tall as the guards who’d been chasing her tonight thought, slender without being skinny, with short, spiky red hair, bright green eyes, and a mass of freckles.

“Oh man,” Halidasa squealed, her big brown eyes practically shining with delight, “Bezzum’s gonna be so impressed!”

“Yeah, I doubt it,” Alessandra scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Bezzum’s never impressed by anything I do.” Bezzum was the boss of Clan Mekoval, and although he had taken Alessandra in and made her a member of the clan, he really didn’t like her. Alessandra liked to think that it was because he was jealous of her.

“No, he really will be impressed this time,” Halidasa gushed. “I just know it!”

“Hali, how in the world do you maintain such a disgusting level of optimism?” Alessandra asked, somehow managing to sneer affectionately.

“I dunno,” Halidasa replied with a shrug. “I just do!” Alessandra snorted and gave her friend a pat on the back as she walked by. She liked to think of Halidasa as her special friend, but truth be told, everybody in Clan Mekoval loved Halidasa. She wasn’t a great thief, although she was competent. Her greatest asset, though, was her sheer joy. She was the only truly happy person Alessandra had ever met. Happiness was a commodity that was in short supply in Serotopolis, and that meant that Halidasa was a rare treasure. Maybe Alessandra’s cynicism and skepticism about everything should have meant that she found Halidasa obnoxious. After all, Hali’s outlook on life was the polar opposite on just about everything, compared to Alessandra’s. But instead, Alessandra found her…refreshing.

She could remember the day that Hali was taken into the clan like it was yesterday, but in reality it had been over five years. Hali had been just another scrawny little kid freshly kicked out of the House of Vagrants and looking for a place to live. Bezzum had been reluctant to take her in, because the clan house had been pretty full at the time, but his closest advisor at the time, a grizzled old thief named Ardolfon, had seen her potential and convinced Bezzum to make her an initiate. It had been one of Ardolfon’s best decisions, and one of his last, because he’d been caught by the Edgevon mercenary clan a few weeks later, and that was the end of him. Bezzum was ready to kick Halidasa out of the clan after Ardolfon’s death, but the rest of the clan members were already attached to her, and in a rare moment of unity, unanimously told Bezzum in no uncertain terms that they would kick him out if he tried to remove Hali.

In the end, even Bezzum came around, and now Halidasa was one of the only people he liked. He would sooner throw himself out of the clan now than throw her out. Which, as it turned out, was Alessandra’s saving grace. Unlike Halidasa, Alessandra was one of the people Bezzum liked the least, but she was also one of the people whom Halidasa liked the most, and so Bezzum couldn’t kick Alessandra out of the clan without upsetting his favorite person. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean that Bezzum stopped going out of his way to make Alessandra’s life miserable.

Alessandra finally made it up to the third floor, where Bezzum had his rooms. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door, and waited.

“Come in,” said a woman’s voice after a few moments. Alessandra pushed the door open, and saluted, bringing her right arm across her body touching her fist to her chest, as soon as she saw the person waiting in the next room. Torea was a tall, stately woman with short, dark, curly hair, deep brown skin, and piercing brown eyes. She was Bezzum’s second-in-command, and the only person aside from Halidasa that he liked and respected. Torea was Alessandra’s other saving grace, because Torea was the person who had brought Alessandra into the clan, and had been her protector and patron ever since.

To be continued…

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