Chapter 3, Part 1

Alessandra strolled into Vayer Square just as the sun dipped below the Serotopolis skyline in the distance. She was wearing a jean jacket over a t-shirt and leggings that were tight enough that they wouldn’t easily get caught on anything, but loose enough that they didn’t restrict her mobility at all. She was wearing a long, blond wig, and her skin was dyed so that she actually looked paler than usual. Her hands were in the pockets of her jacket, and she looked as if she was just another young woman out for a stroll. Or rather, she would, if young women ever just went out for strolls in the slums at sunset in Serotopolis. Alessandra was well aware that anyone who looked at her would know what she was about. Let them see her, and let them know that Alessandra Mekoval’s time to shine had finally arrived.

She was the first member of her team to set foot in Vayer Square, but she wasn’t surprised about that. They would be here soon. It was natural that they wouldn’t be quite as excited about this job as she was. After all, none of them would be made a Clan Leader if this job was a success. But even so, they would still get plenty of reward. They had every bit as much incentive for this job to go well as she did. Especially since the price for failure would almost certainly be death at the end of a Veldisa mercenary’s sword.

Alessandra walked across Vayer Square and sat down on a stone bench at the far side. Vayer Square was poorly named, not least because it was actually in the shape of a triangle. The square consisted of three sidewalks that crisscrossed the area, ending at each corner of the triangle. Between the sidewalks was some scraggly brown grass that just barely survived amidst the many-storied buildings that surrounded every side of the square. In the very center was a worn statue of a heroic-looking man wearing magnificent robes, holding one fist in the air triumphantly. A plaque at the statue’s base said “In Honor of Serasu Vayer, for his heroic service to the Empire”. Not for the first time, Alessandra idly wondered who Serasu Vayer had been, what he had done to deserve a statue, and what Empire he had served. Presumably the statue was a relic from the days before the barrier went up. Had Serotopolis been part of the Empire? It must have been if this statue was here. So much history was lost from those days. Now, the world consisted of two parts: the demon-infested wasteland outside the barrier, and the city of Serotopolis inside the barrier.

Alessandra hadn’t been sitting long when Mikaelo walked up and sat down next to her. He was wearing a similar outfit to hers, except instead of a jean jacket, he was wearing a long brown trench coat. His short brown hair was covered up by a long black wig tied in a ponytail, his skin was dyed a deep brown, and his brown eyes were disguised by bright blue contacts.

“Not much longer now,” he said with a small smile as he sat down. Alessandra nodded, but her expression didn’t change, and she didn’t look at him. There was no point in engaging in idle chit chat right before a job. She needed to focus her mind and her emotions on what she was about to do, not waste that energy on pointless conversation. Fortunately, Mikaelo understood that, and he didn’t say anything more.

A few minutes later, the rest of her team approached the square, coming from different directions. Alessandra stood up as soon as she saw them, nodded to them, and started walking toward the Viunay District, where their target was located.

It took them awhile to reach Viunay. Serotopolis was a huge city that covered a vast span of territory. Alessandra had spent her whole life crisscrossing the city, searching for fortunes to be liberated from their possessors, and she had only seen a small fraction of the whole city. Fortunately they didn’t have that far to go. The slums were the largest district in the city, but Clan Mekoval’s territory was right on the edge of the slums, right next to where they ran up against Viunay District. Unlike every other division of the city, the slums had no official name. They were just the slums, largely ignored by the more prosperous denizens of the city.

Alessandra sometimes wondered what the slums had been like before the barrier went up. Most of the buildings in the slums were little more than shanties, rickety things slapped together with whatever materials the builders could scavenge, but there were a few that were in much better shape. These were buildings that had almost certainly been built before the barrier went up, because they were extremely old, but despite their age, they were actually in better shape structurally than the newer buildings in the slums. Clan Mekoval’s headquarters was one of those buildings. In fact, most clans had their headquarters in a pre-barrier structure. They were the only buildings solid enough to have a chance at being defended in the event of an attack by a rival clan. The fact that such buildings were not only usable but actually desirable over a thousand years after their construction almost certainly meant that the slums hadn’t always been slums.

There was no physical boundary between the slums and Viunay District, but it was obvious the moment Alessandra and her crew passed from one to the other. On one side of Lasamar Street, the buildings were ramshackle hovels that looked as if they’d fall over at any minute, while on the other side of the street, the buildings were made of dressed stone and were well-painted and immaculately maintained. Unfortunately for thieves like Alessandra, entering Viunay District wasn’t as simple as just crossing the street. Residents from the slums were rarely allowed into the city proper, and only if they had a very good reason. There may not have been a wall around Viunay District, but there were guards posted at every street leading into it. Those guards were pulled from the mercenary clans, and they took a great deal of pleasure out of beating the snot out of any slum dweller who drew too close to their domain.

To be continued…

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