Chapter 1: Aurora

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My hand rested gingerly against the carefully laid stone beside me. The shadow of the overhanging bridge obscured my figure from the moon's revealing light. My breath billowed out in clouds in front of me as flurries fell from the sky above. The frigid air cut through my thin clothing like a knife, my legs stiff and sore.

Vertice. The second largest city in the world. Where the lucky were filthy rich, and the not so lucky were dirt poor. It was home to the most hardened thugs and lowest criminals the world over. And let's not forget little old me.  It wasn't hard to survive here. As long as you kept your mouth shut and tried your best to blend in, you'd be just fine.

My hands were frozen in my pockets as I struggled to keep walking, urged on only by the sight of the building in front of me: a promise of warmth. A dim light shone through the window, while a soft, sweet melody carried its way through the walls.

I gently pushed the door open, the sound of a rusty bell ringing through the frigid air. The place was empty, except for the bartender and a musician huddled up in the far corner of the small room. At the bar sat a lone boy, a large bottle sitting in front of him. He didn't spare me a glance.

I took a seat at the stool furthest from him, watching as he downed what remained of the bottle. The soft melody of the music continued around us.

"You don't have a coat, do you?" He questioned, looking straight ahead.

"Huh? How did you...?" I responded, flustered by his abruptness.

"The doorway is narrow. I would've heard it. You should try to cover up more. It's been a cold winter," he said, gesturing towards the bartender for another bottle.

You're telling me...

"You look a bit young to be drinking that much, no?" I asked, somewhat alarmed.

"You're a bit young to be living on the streets of Vertice alone, no?" He remarked, a wry smirk appearing on his blank facade.

"Oh, you're good. What's next? Gonna tell me how old I am? My favorite color?" I answered, my own lips curling into an awkward smile.

He was silent.

He reached into the pocket of his black coat, pulling out a handful of coins. They fell on the counter with a soft jingle as he turned to face me. His eyes shone a vibrant green, mysterious, yet piercing. Unrelenting. He placed the faded green scarf around his neck on the counter in front of me as he walked towards the door.

Before stepping out, he turned back towards the bartender.

"You and I both know that there's a lot more there than the value of some off-brand liquor. Get this girl something to eat and a room for the night."

With that, he stepped out of the inn, leaving all in the room in a stunned silence.

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