Big City Lanterns

Big City Lanterns: New Life – Act One

As Deri’s cart left the gatehouse, which led into the big city. The picturesque image that had built up in his mind shattered into a thousand different pieces. The streets weren’t paved with tuppence. Like he’d always been told. But with a thick layer of dirt and grime. Sacks filled with waste and groups of beggars were all huddled together. Their dirty clothing and faces were simply items amongst the sea of starving de-citizens though. And these vagabonds (the official term) were mainly hanging around the outside and alleys around the first four huge red brick buildings. Which lined the main road from the south-east gatehouse where his cart had entered.

As Deri passed these red buildings though, he realised they’d once been inns. Old worn signposts barely holding on as they hung from rusted chains. Although upon reflection, he realised the buildings looked as if they were being used as homeless shelters. But not officially so. Deri also noted how all the beggars were holding up signs made from cardboard waste. Although Deri avoided all their gazes, and felt no shame about doing so as he rode forwards. And even though it was far from true, he felt as if he was as poor as they were.

Horse stood on the horrid stone floor, wishing to leave this noisy overgrown destination. She’d been forced to pull up at another building. Which was dirty in her opinion. And smelt bad on the outside. But as she stood there, she watched as her master sold her for some dull, dirty, small metal circles. Horse felt nothing as she was sold though. Although as she watched her ex-master wander off without even saying goodbye, Horse began to get upset about this new development in her life plan. After all, she’d thought they’d been having a good time. Even if she came to that conclusion because the two-legged man had brought her carrots a few times and had been stealing honey for her. However, as Horse was led into the spacious stables. The smell in the air told her that she was amongst more of her own species. And as she smelt the air, she decided this new development wasn’t entirely to her displeasure anymore.

Deri walked away from the stables, as he thought about the dimensions of the Capital for the first time. Although it now occurred to him that fourteen miles by sixteen miles was a lot bigger than it had sounded. There were whole districts which existed within the city, which dwarfed all the large towns he’d passed through. And now that he was in the city, with its five floored red brick buildings and its dirt covered streets, Deri thought about how he reckoned he now knew what a dwarf experienced when passing through Ramston. Only because Deri felt like a dwarf at that moment.

-The sound of dice rolling across marble floated through time and space. A deep chuckle followed the roll. But the laughter stopped as a number floated in the air. A card was removed from the rollers pile. A look of fury spread across the roller’s face whilst the game continued.-

Deri followed the directions the stable owner had given him. And as he walked, the city hummed around him. Although this was mainly down to the lingering stench in the air. But as he rambled through the city, time froze. A weird feeling started in his teeth and went to his toenails in one movement. It was at the moment the feeling went to his toenails that all the thoughts in his head jumbled up though. And because of this, Deri missed his turning. The one that the stable owner had told him to take.

There was a brass sign nailed into the brickwork which drew his attention. It modestly read South-Kanta Gatehouse Road in thick black letters on a faded white background. Although as he read the sign, his feet took him back to the main road. As the butcher’s son glanced at the road his cart had travelled down. Deri was stood at the junction, almost unable to move for a split-second. Deri found himself glancing around though almost wide-eyed. His mind was still trying to figure out the stable owner’s directions. As his mind won’t accept, that he was lost.

As the lost lad couldn’t find the words needed from his perspective to describe the capital, his mind filed it all under hellhole. However, as he studied the streets, he began to walk forwards. All his attention as he did so began to wander. His eyes affixed themselves to the roofs of the cities buildings. As they weren’t made of thatch like he was used to, but of a grey flat rock. A type of rock that he’d simply never encountered before. Even this small wonder allowed his mind to forget how terrible the city was when you looked around. Deri’s mind began to look at the red bricks of the city with envy. Even though he didn’t know why. A departmentalised note noted the bricks were dwarven made, but were smaller than those used in the countryside. He then also noticed there was green moss growing on the bricks. In places, it was left to flourish, as it was the only green in the city. Although near the roofs, it had been left to turn yellow. As the forges’ pollution was killing the moss, which ventured upwards for space. Black soot over the course of time had also managed to cling to the mortar of all these large and tall buildings. Whilst it clung to the mortar, it stained the bricks held by the filling. And as his eyes came down to ground level, he noticed certain buildings were missing doorways. Which was when he began to hurry along the streets, trying to look as if he belonged.

-A card was taken from a discard pile. The cardholder announced that four dice needed to be rolled. Everyone around the table held onto the edge of the table as the dice were picked up. The dice bounced once, and with a sigh of relief from the roller, everyone smiled. Everyone else looked at each other as they left go of the table.-

As Deri strolled along the streets, he noticed people had painted images and words on all the walls of the district. Although, as Deri was raised, not to mention these sorts of words, he blushed and tried to look on. Whilst on some of the walls, he noticed there were wanted posters pasted over the top of original artwork. In line with humanity across the multiverse, they too had been vandalised. But on a much smaller scale, which included a lot of eyepatches and blacked out teeth.

The air was thick and began to smell offensive as he turned around another corner. As if there was a toilet backed up somewhere. One that the owner had carried on using after it blocked. Letting a few decades worth of excrement build up over time. Although as he strolled along the road, rushing to get through this part of town, his nostrils attempted to shut down. His eyes filled with tears as Deri realised the big city was merely a well-guarded cesspit. Unfortunately, he also knew that the money in his account wouldn’t get him back home. It also wasn’t going to be much if he didn’t find a job. He also knew that he wouldn’t find enough work on the road to feed himself. Although he also knew he wasn’t going to walk home.

-A card was withdrawn. The dice vanished off the table as the holder of the card smiled and placed it down. Making sure that the card was faced up. An egg timer appeared in thin air. Reluctantly, one of the players picked it up out of the air as the others laughed. The timer was then placed almost violently so on the tables surface. However, no matter how annoyed he was, the sand in the egg timer began to trickle into the bottom half. As the dice reappeared, they bounced on their own twice. Only falling to the surface of the marble table once the sand poured downwards. However, as the dice stopped, the numbers on the dice equalled ten.-

A driver of a cart loaded with vegetables began shouting at Deri. He looked about as he moved out of the way and began to walk on the sidewalk. Doing so as if he was only noticing the enormous flat square slabs being used by the other pedestrians for the first time. Without any target location in mind though, Deri carried on wandering around. However, as he walked, he at least tried to look like he belonged.

Each section of the city was sectioned off into districts. Which had happened long ago under the watchful eye of the third king. This though had restricted the growth of the old towns which had surrounded the King’s castle, and as they formed, the districts formed around what was profitable. As this happened, the cities less fortunate fell even further into poverty. Which they’ve never been able to climb out of since. However, the only signs of this integration other than the disparity in wealth were the old crumbling town walls. Which, if they hadn’t been integrated into the houses by some intelligent building, were still standing. Although the walls that still stood were all that showed the transition between the boundaries of the city. And this is what Deri should have been searching for.

What Deri didn’t know could fill this book. But then again he knew that it was the kings decrees that made everything worse over time. They’d stated that certain areas were only allowed to build certain types of businesses and buildings. And what they weren’t allowed to build. After this, certain districts were either void of investment or were barely holding on.

Deri knew how the towns got assigned though. He knew that Old Loven was the poorest town at that point in time. So, the king had split it into three locations. One became poor housing, whilst the other two became a market district and a dirty industrial zone. Which was on par with most iron age civilizations, but only a lot larger. Kanta, however, had served slightly better in the Capital’s formation. It had been a busy commercial town with shops and its citizens had trades. Along with its own magical college, it had more bargaining power than Loven. That was before it closed at the end of the age of conflict. But still, over the course of a thousand years, the businesses and trades had not been enough to save the districts of Kanta. Some still slowly descended into a predictable poverty, from which they now couldn’t escape.

Someone should have told Deri where he was walking around. Someone nice might have tapped him on the shoulder and say look about mate. But what he should have observed on his own whilst walking around was that he’d entered through the roughest district in the whole city. The part of the city where carts didn’t park up to wait. A location where those moving around did so in numbers. As walking around on their own would find trouble lurking behind every corner for them. Furthermore, the place had become more dangerous after the guards had permanently moved out. Although the South-Kanta guardhouse had been stormed three hundred years ago during the failed uprising and set alight. So they didn’t have a building to work out of anyway.

-The dice were past left. Taken with a smile, both of the dice bounced with a flick of the roller’s wrist. As they stopped rolling across the marble, time and space warped for a split-second. With nothing laid out on the table though, a card was placed down upon the shimmering surface with a smile. As the roomed groaned, the dice vanished.-

None of the candles in the wall-lanterns of the alley were lit. Although they also didn’t get refilled. In South-Kanta, the Royal Lantern-Lighters avoided the alleys like yellow-plague. They however did rush through the main roads, as they refilled every other lantern-post which lit the city’s worst district. And they only did that when they had an armed escort. Which was only done every other third day.

Four cats tried to hide behind a large mound of rubbish as they watched three figures. As they crouched behind four large leaking sacks of trash, they watched carefully. After all, some people caught strays for their pelts. But these three seemed disinterested in everything around them. They’d been following a newcomer to the city. And since a cart had nearly run him over, the cats were also interested in the glowing being who smelt different to all other humans they ran away from. No matter their social stasis, cats knew they were better than humans. So a glowing human confused them. But they were as unsure about him, as the three non-glowing humans were.

Although what the cats found enthralling made the situation. The humans in the alley found perplexing. And perplexing for the criminals wasn’t a good start. Nevertheless, even if they couldn’t see the glow, something about this newcomer glowed for them as well. And drew them closer.

All three of the criminals had names, but none of them knew each other. None of them had even introduced themselves. They’d sort of been pulled together. And now they were in one place whilst they watched what had drawn them. Someone who they knew they just needed to rob. As such, the natural born thieves lurked in the shadows as they waited. They’re unspoken agreement stuck them together like spit, but it held for the second. So they watched their target ignoring each other. They became like the alley cats chasing rats as the country lad walked around. But they held back. Only because they were still weighing up if this newcomer could take them on with ease. Or did he have no idea that he was in the district nicknamed Kill-anta.

As they followed him a little more using the alleys, the lad began to slow down. All of them were slowly sliding towards the fact the lad was simply lost because he did this. Then as one of them whispered something about how he only looked like he was trying to look like he could handle his own. A shimmer drew them closer to the edge of the alley.

After all, all three of them had watched the stable master rip off the country lad. Which was what the tallest of the thieves now mentioned in a quiet voice, as he was the first to speak. Which was only just below the level of actual speech, but way above a whisper. The shortest of them smiled as he mentioned how they’d watched the rube begin walking around the city aimlessly. Whilst the middle height criminal kept his mouth closed. As the three of them moved once more to keep their target in sight, they knew the lad was getting closer to the old burnt-out guard house. They also knew that they needed to strike. Or they would be forced to turn around and find someone else, as their target would soon enough be crossing into West-Kanta. Where they would likely be arrested, as the alleys were cleaner and patrolled. They all nodded. It was the only sign they needed between them at this point.

The lad from the country hadn’t thought about the alleys at all. Deri even guessed that other than being used to dump rubbish, no one walked through them. Because of this, he wasn’t paying attention.

As he strode past the adjoining alley between two rows of large terrace houses, Deri didn’t even turn his head. Unfortunately, this was his first mistake. His second mistake happened only a few seconds after that. As the sound of footsteps rapidly getting louder began to approach him, and he simply carried on trudging along normally.

Two sets of arms grabbed Deri out of nowhere. He tried to free himself as he struggled, but he couldn’t break free both of them. A dirty hand covered his mouth, and as it did so, all rational thinking went out of the wooden shutters. {As windows have yet to be invented.} He heard the voice of a man who sounded as if he was almost out of breath.

‘Ya gold or ya life.’ Another man who was also panting and sounded as if a heart attack began to laugh. Deri attempted to answer the thief though, but he couldn’t. And as he thought about what the man had said, he decided the question seemed kind of redundant. To the point that Deri almost began to laugh himself. This statement, as it had not been posed as a question, caused both of the other men to start laughing at their comrade. A deeper, louder and more aggressive voice spoke to the thief holding Deri.

‘Yose all-right in the noggin?’

‘Wot?’ Asked the original statement-giver. As he stood there, he pushed his knife under Deri’s chin, trying to seem more intimidating as his credibility was slipping away from him.

‘Sounds lick’ yose wants to be in the the-eat-re. All po-sh lik-e tho-se in Upper,’ a third voice said from behind Deri. Deri tried to think about what was said, because at that moment he simply had no clue to what they were on about. Or why the third voice was trying to talk differently. Whilst the speaker had been using a grating common sounding accent, which gave him an uneducated quality, in Deri’s opinion. But the conversation quickly seemed to turn back to Deri, and as it did, so all his thoughts went blank as they looked at him.

‘Just grab it all,’ the largest of them said, ‘we need to move.’ As the butcher’s son thought about what they were grabbing, his tunic began to be pulled about. Hands tried to get inside his trousers, fumbling for secret coin purses. They pulled on his bag, which was ripped off his shoulder as one of them swept his feet from under him. Although it was only as Deri was sent to the floor did his small black leather purse fall out of his sleeve where he’d hid it. And even though it was mainly full of tuppence, the contents began spilling everywhere as it fell. His clothes were also suddenly stretched across the floor. As he lay there, one of them began scooping up all his dirty clothing.

-As one of the players laughed, a hand shot out and played a card. The laughter stopped and three dice appeared on the table. Although as they were picked up and rolled once again, everyone held onto the edge of the table-

The three thieves stopped kicking him and disappeared back down the alley with everything he owned. Everything that was apart from his account booklet. When they’d pushed him to the floor and started grabbing at him, his body had fallen on top of the booklet. Which was the reason he’d not moved an inch and had allowed them to kick him.

As he stood up, a lost, broken, and slightly upset Deri passed through the crumbling wall into West-Kanta. Even though he was still shaking, he began to move faster and kept his head down. He also began to pay more attention to eye level. Although everything around him began to look different. The brickwork of all the buildings was cleaner for one. The people smiled at him, and one woman who was on her doorstep stopped him as she asked him if he was okay. That same pleasant lady even went into her building to fetch Deri a clay cup of water. After explaining to her what had happened, she pointed him in the direction of the district’s guardhouse. And told him to ask her husband not to work late with a small laugh.

Although in the nicest part of the city that Deri had seen so far, he noticed a sign. And as he completely forgot about the guardhouse, Deri knocked the front door. After that, he quickly found a cheap room to rent. The lady of the house, Mrs. Brownstown, allowed him to use his account booklet as evidence to the fact he could pay. And with only a promise that he would get the deposit, as soon as he found out where the bank was located, the key was handed over. Although Mrs. Brownstone insisted she helped him find the bank.

Mrs. Brownstone, the landlady of the boarding house, also wouldn’t allow him to go straight there. She forced him to sit down as she made a pot of nettle tea. Then the overbearing woman made him talk about himself and asked him how he planned to obtain money in the big city. Once the tea was finished, though she took him directly to the bank. And after she helped set him up with a monthly transfer of funds into her depositary, he was a city dweller.

Mrs. Brownstone even insisted he wandered back to her property with her. Although as they reached a cheap clothing store, she brought him a fresh set of clothing, when he asked, her not too. Telling him he could pay her for the flax tunic and trousers once he got his first pay check, she forced him to accept and compelled him to try on three different colours with her watching.