Chapter 8, Part 5

In theory, getting money to pay for food and water was easy. All she needed to do was steal it. She was a thief, and a very good one, and the amounts of money she needed to keep herself fed and hydrated was paltry compared to the amounts of money she was used to stealing for her clan. The problem was that being part of a clan meant that she had resources to draw on, and now that she was clanless, those resources were no longer available to her. She couldn’t disguise herself, for example, which meant that she needed to be extra careful about where she did her thieving. She couldn’t allow herself to be seen, or else the mercenary clans would track her down for sure. Nor did she have a heavily guarded clanhouse to hide in anymore. All she had was an abandoned shanty on the very outskirts of the city.

The precariousness of her situation was driven home to her one evening about a week after she was exiled. She was sitting in the doorway of the dirty, broken-down hovel that was her new home, munching some izumal and staring at the barrier. Her shelter was on the very edge of the slums, so there was nothing but brown wasteland stretching for about two miles between her and the barrier. She still felt drawn to the barrier, but she knew it was a waste of time and energy to actually make the trek over to it. So far, she’d been able to scrounge up enough money to pay for her daily allowance of food and water, and in fact she had enough extra money to last her a few days at the moment. It was buried in one of the corners of her little shack.

She sighed as she finished her izumal. Her food gone, there was nothing for her to do now until tomorrow, when she’d head back to the nearest black market food seller and get enough for another day. She held up a hand in front of her face and stared at it. Filthy. She hadn’t showered for over a week. It made her very happy to know that she didn’t have a mirror, and thus couldn’t look at it and see just how dirty she was. She’d never spent an overly large amount of time caring about her appearance, but she had always made sure that she looked presentable, at least. Now she was just another filthy ragamuffin, lurking on the edges of the city.

Once again, she sighed, and she began to think about laying down and going to sleep. Just as that thought crossed her mind, however, she heard something. Voices. She tensed up immediately, getting up on her feet in an alert crouch and drawing her knives. She listened very carefully. It sounded like there were three or four men, and they seemed to be getting closer.

“Yeah, I’m telling you, this is the right way!” one of the men said angrily.

“And I’m telling you that we’re wasting our time out here,” another man shot back, just as angry. “There’s nobody out here worth the effort.”

“Any time we catch a thief it’s worth the effort,” said a third voice, calmer than the first two, “but what would make you think that one would be hiding out here?”

“I saw her head this way,” said the first voice. “A tall, red-headed girl. She swiped some coins from someone’s pocket, and I followed her out here.” In horror, Alessandra realized that the men were talking about her. Someone must have seen her, despite all of her efforts to remain hidden.

“A ruse, to throw you off her track,” said a fourth voice. “She’s shed her disguise and gone back to her clanhouse by now.”

“Not if she’s an exile,” said the first voice.

“If she’s an exile, we’ll be having some fun with her,” the third voice said in a nasty tone. “No worries about retribution with them.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” the first voice said excitedly. “No one would go out this way unless they were an exile!”

“I suppose it doesn’t hurt to look around,” said the fourth voice.

The voices continued to speak and get louder, but Alessandra had stopped listening to them. At least four, and maybe more. Perhaps she could have taken them if she was at her prime, but even after just a week of being on her own, she knew she was far from her prime. Her only chance at survival was to escape. She thought for a moment about the money she had buried in a corner of the shack, but with a small pang in her heart, she dismissed it. There was no time for her to retrieve that money and escape before the mercenaries arrived. Maybe she’d be able to come back for it later, but for now she needed to abandon it.

She slipped off into the night as quickly and silently as she could. Behind her she could hear the voices of the men recede into silence. Finally there was nothing but the faint noises of the city way off in the distance, but Alessandra didn’t relax. That shanty had been the closest thing she had to a home since being exiled, and now it was gone too. A new wave of hopelessness and despair washed over her. All she had left to live for was exacting revenge on Bezzum, but that seemed a fainter glimmer with each passing day. It was all she could do to get enough food and water to stay alive. How was she supposed to do anything beyond that?

It hit her all over again that this was all she had to look forward to for the rest of her life. Steal a few coins, buy a mouthful of izumal and water, sleep, repeat. How could she live like that? How could anyone? The mercenaries were long behind her now, but she just kept running. Maybe if she ran far enough, eventually she would find some answers.

Finally, she ran so far that she couldn’t run anymore, and she collapsed on the ground with exhaustion. The next morning, she stole some money, bought some food and water, found a new empty shack to sleep, and continued that cycle for two more weeks.

And then something happened that would change her life forever.

To be continued…

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