Ratz looked out from the large cowl of his Lighter’s uniform as he passed the shadowed vestibules of Riverton’s Undercity. Overhead, the vaulted stone ceiling which separated the rich and the poor, looked utterly stable and always out of reach. Still, Ratz never liked walking down here amongst the denizens who couldn’t afford to live in daylight.
Instead, an armada of young Pyromancers from the College of Sel Pirt would wander the streets ensuring that the enchanted lamps of the Undercity were still working. There were thousands of lamps, each one fitted with a special candle which ought to last for about a decade without even flickering. However, expectations in the Undercity were always being subverted. Tonight Ratz had had to replace 6 candles, something which shouldn’t be possible because of the protection and longevity spells placed upon them.
“Lighter?” A voice whispered from the darkness on the other side of the cobbled street. Anywhere else, such a narrow space would be an alley, but this was the main walk which ran parallel to the Underground River. The meagrest sense of pride in the Mayor’s office had elevated it to the exhalted title of Street, one of only two down there.
“Yes? Who’s there?” Ratz gulped bringing his own lamp to bear on the source of the voice. He’d heard savage tales of what goes on in the perpetual dark of the Undercity and though he knew the authority of Lighters’ was typically respected; he felt it necessary to be wary.
“Please, not so bright.” The Undercite hissed from in between buildings. With careful concentration, Ratz willed the light to dim until he could make out the woman whom he was speaking to. She was young and slight with large knobbly joints.
“Sorry.” Ratz apologized instinctively despite what senior Lighters had told him. They’d said to treat the Undercity with caution and never let Undercites get too close.
“We’re not all so used to the flames. There now, thank you. I was just wondering, now I’m not going to ask for money or anything. I’m just hungry and wondered if you had something to eat. An apple, or some bread? Please I’m so hungry and…” Ratz regarded the woman. He had been instructed in the past never to give anything to the Undercites no matter their claims. Chances were, they did in fact want your money despite their assertions and would resort to thievery if they knew a person had money on them. At least that’s what Overseer Walst told the Lighters.
“Please sir…” She finished. Ratz, having lived his childhood malnourished, took pity on her and in spite of his training, handed her a small piece of his darkbread ration.
“Here, it’s not much, but darkbread should keep you going for a little while longer…” He trailed off, hoping that their transaction was complete. Kind as it might have been, he still didn’t trust her.
“Thank you sir.” She sighed gratefully as her white hand, marbled by grime and shaking accepted the hard lump of bread. Ratz nodded.
She slunk back into the shadow of the Undercity and Ratz felt a conflicted relief as she did. He remembered years ago when his mother couldn’t afford bread and they would go hungry scraping together enough odd jobs and scraps until they could afford food again. It was never easy, but he had survived long enough to apply to the College of Magic on the mainland. Though, that too had been a bit of a struggle.
From the moment Ratz had sat down at his interview, the interviewer had made it clear that someone of Ratz’s pedigree was wasting everyone’s time by coming there that day. The interviewer contemptuously introduced himself as Chalms, then went through the motions of being conducting the interview.
“Name?” Chalms sighed.
“Ratzer del Heizen.” He responded with uncharacteristic certainty. Not that he would be uncertain by my name, he just didn’t like talking to strangers. It was what kept him from getting day work in the past, but mother had a way of sending me off with some of the labourers she saw.
“11.” This time he was less sure, when he was born, as his mom hadn’t exactly been an upstanding citizen. He had a feeling she had been on spices when she was carrying him. It meant that the circumstances of his birth were hardly clear to any parties involved. Still Ratz knew he had to give a good impression.
“Heizen.” He stated to an unsurprised snort of derision from Chalms. Clearly a surname like del Heizen was more a matter of indentifying where he had been born rather than a cultured reference to lineage.
“And why are you here?” It was barely a question. Chalms had stopped drumming his fingers on the table for this moment, bringing to bear his strongest scowl to discourage Ratz.
“Because I think… I know I can do magic.” Ratz said, his confidence growing defiantly.
“You know? Would you care to show me?” His eyebrows never grew back.