Chapter 19: The Fallen City

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It was a terrible place, the world we made. We encouraged vice, calling it virtue. What did we expect? We proclaimed the family dead, each man his own. We smashed the bricks of civilization and expected it not to crumble.

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Nineteen Years Ago

***

They looked no different from the rest of the poor, yet they stood out.

There was a small girl, eleven at the oldest, curled up in rags. Next to her, an older man slept. He looked older than he really was at first. Most saw his greying hair, but they didn't see his unlined, youthful face. Most didn't see that it was stress and terror, not age, that greyed his hair.

They slept fitfully, tucked away in a hidden crevice, between a tavern and a brothel. They were in Saefel Scelion, the City of Villainy. Scelion was where the dregs and scum of society naturally drifted to. It was nasty, foul, and a terrible place for a child.

Of course, that meant that it would be the last place any of the witches would look for the two of them. They expected Magnus to be responsible and protect Skaria from the corrupting influence this city of sin and decadence exuded.

But under the stains of self-indulgence and depravity, they were safe, at least for now. Skaria was safe from the witches she had fled. Magnus was safe from the same witches who wanted him dead. Scelion was a terrible place. But it was survivable.

Skaria opened her eyes. Magnus was still sleeping. She still lay down, dressed in the cold rags. Scelion, Magnus had told her, was a terrible place. But it was a safer place for them to be than anywhere else.

Magnus opened her eyes. "Bleagh," he said, looking at the sun. "Today is not a good day." He sat up.

"Why is it not a good day?" Skaria asked.

"My old bones are telling me it's not going to be a good day."

"You don't have old bones. You're not old." Skaria stretched.

"Tell my old bones that."

Skaria laughed. It was a loud, joyful sound that seemed to shine a bit more light in the area, making the dismal, filthy alley seem a bit more cheerful.

Laughter was a simple thing. Of course, it was quite powerful as well.

Skaria looked through the mess of tangled hair that hung in front of her face. "So, any idea of what we're going to steal today?"

"An apple. An honest-to-God, fresh and crisp apple." Just saying it made Skaria's belly rumble. "I'd kill for one," Magnus said. "Not really kill someone. Just an expression." One could never be too careful in Scelion.

"That would be nice." Skaria gave Magnus a hug. "Where are they?"

"I saw a person with a few apples on Skivering Street," Magnus said. "See if you can't pull a little tenderness out of his heart. Or a little gold from his pocket." Skaria smiled. That would be easy.

"Alright, Magnus," she said, standing up and wiping a little dirt off her already filthy dress. "I'll get you that apple if it's the last thing I do," she said. Oddly enough, Magnus looked...guilty. "Don't look sad," she said. "You did help me escape the castle."

"I helped you escape the witches," Magnus said. "But I brought you here." He sighed.

"It's alright," she said. "You just hold still. I'll get us some food." And with that, she ran off.

The back alleyways of Saefel Scelion were a maze that, after a few months, Skaria knew like the back of her hand. Skivering Street was a maze of dead end alleys and blind corners. And only the foolish moved through Skivering Street. The foolish or the suicidal.

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