Chapter 8, Part 4

“So that’s how it is,” Alessandra said quietly. She wasn’t crying anymore. To be barred from her home by her two closest friends was the final insult added to this injury that killed all feeling she had left.

“Go, Alessandra,” Torea said, coming out of the clanhouse with her own knife drawn. “Don’t make this more painful than it needs to be. Go, and never come back, on pain of death.” Alessandra hesitated for a moment, on the point of drawing her own knife. “Alessa,” Torea said in a soft, pained voice, “I’ve given you your life. Please don’t make me take it away from you.” Alessandra hesitated a moment more, and then turned away. What would killing people she cared about accomplish? It wasn’t Mikaelo’s fault, or Halidasa’s, or Torea’s. None of them wanted her to leave. They were just doing what they had to do. She would have done the same thing to all three of them if their roles were reversed. The good of the clan had to come ahead of the good of the individual. If not, then what was the point of having a clan?

Slowly, Alessandra, just Alessandra now, no longer Alessandra Mekoval, slowly she began walking down the street, away from her home, away from the only people who she had ever thought of as family, away from the only place she’d ever felt safe. What would happen now? She couldn’t join another clan. Clan Mekoval would put out the word that she was an exile, and no clan would dare take the risk of bringing her in. What if she turned on them next? What if Clan Mekoval was just faking that she was an exile so she could spy on other clans? No, joining a new clan was not an option. All she could do was scrape together a living as best she could, living as an outcast among outcasts. The only consolation for her was that her new life was likely to be short.

***

The next few weeks were a blur for Alessandra, and when she looked back on them later in her life, it would always amaze her that she managed to survive. The prospects for anyone living in the slums without the protection of a clan were grim. Most clanless either died quickly, or fled to the outskirts, where no one cared whether they lived or died. But Alessandra couldn’t accept that fate. She didn’t know what she wanted, or what she was looking for, but she couldn’t bear the thought of retreating to the outskirts and giving up. She didn’t know what she hoped to accomplish, but she was determined to accomplish something. The one emotion she had left, the one burning ember left in what had once been the raging fire of her soul, was the desire to extract vengeance on Bezzum. She had no idea how she might accomplish such a task, but she couldn’t let go of it.

In the meantime, though, she had to survive, which meant finding a place to sleep and getting enough food and water to eat. Finding a place to sleep was easy. Most of the buildings on the outskirts of the slums were abandoned, so it was no problem at all to find a place to curl up in every night for a few hours. She did have to sleep lightly, in case anyone found her and decided to have their way with her, but that wasn’t too much of a danger. The outskirts of the slums really were almost completely ignored by those who didn’t live there, and the people who did live there mostly kept to themselves.

Food and water were a much more difficult problem. Food was hard to come by in Serotopolis even for the richest people. The ancient stories from before the barrier was set up told of things like “farms” and “orchards” and places like “forests” where animals could be hunted for food. None of these things existed in Serotopolis. Instead, the Circles of Elders maintained vast factories where a sort of protein paste called izumal was manufactured. Alessandra had no idea how izumal was made, nor had she ever really thought of it before. It was ubiquitous in the city. The poor ate it as is, or mashed it up, mixed it with water, and heated it up in order to make a sort of stew. The rich had access to other forms of manufactured food, which could be combined and prepared in various ways to create new dishes, but at heart, even the fanciest dish eaten by the richest person in Serotopolis was just izumal.

Izumal was distributed by the Circle of Elders at cost from distribution centers placed throughout the city, but in this, as in all other things, the slums were left to their own devices. There were, of course, black market networks set up to get izumal from the city proper into the slums, but the lack of any official distribution channels meant that the price of izumal was, ironically, higher in the slums than it was in the city. In fact, the main reason that the thief clans existed was so that money could be found to pay for izumal. The vast majority of the money stolen by thief clans went to buying izumal so that the clanmembers could eat.

Water was also a problem. The ancient stories told of something called “rain”, which was water that fell from the sky, but if such a thing was real it was unable to penetrate the barrier. Centuries ago, deep wells had been dug in order to pump water up from the ground, but those had gone dry long before Alessandra was born. Now, along with the izumal factories, there were huge factories where water was manufactured. How such a thing was possible, Alessandra neither knew nor cared. All she did know was that there were places in the city where bottles of water were sold cheaply, and, just as with izumal, they were much more expensive in the slums.

To be continued…

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