The small castle of a house sat on the corner where two long quiet streets met, each house that lined them equally as grand as the next. The quiet, not the darkness, of the street is was what bothered Emiliya the most. Down along the Lower Deep, the ground floor of Terra-Deep, there was usually a small hum of people at all times of the night and day, but that was just one of the numerous ways that the Upper and Lower Walls differed. Another was that in the Upper Walls there was always a guarantee someone would be home at any and all hours. Even on Sunday mornings when they would attend ‘Mass’, then the houses would be filled with wives and daughters of the Lower Deep who were hired to clean and tidy and then go back home to their own squaller which was never ending. The more the Lower Levels tried to be revived the the towns folk, the more the city resisted. Like the time some had had the bright idea to use gallons of old white paint they had found in one of the numerous storage rooms hidden around Terra-Deep. But because of the cold wet conditions the paint took four days to dry. So the paint had sat wet and mixed with the dirt and dust kicked up from the roughly cobbled streets making everything a rusty brown smear. But none of that mattered now, the house in front of her was not in the Lower Deep and it differed from every house in the Upper Wall tonight, not even the guard posted out front discouraged her from this prize. This one was abandoned, Richard Stocks had yet again found some innocent man to pin a horrible evil on. Such as treason, his favorite offense, when moral was getting low in the ranks or their was more talk of surfacing he would pick someone from his Battalion to make an example of. Scaring the rest of the residents into submission. Whether guilty or not they would stand trial which was nothing more then a show. How could they not be when no trial had ever lasted longer then two days. But his methods work, and work well, so this family had been another casualty of Richards own selfish mission.Though none in Terra-Deep knew how dark and short sighted his mission really was. Tonight as Emiliya sat across the street partially hidden by shadows and a large bird bath in the neighbors side yard she watched the guard. Her legs had started to cramp and she cursed herself for not dressing in another layer as the constant wet cold of Terra-Deep seeped through to her bone. Clenching her teeth together to keep them from chattering together she waited, and waited, and waited what felt like another eternity for the guard to nod off. As he had done the night before when she had came to preview the possible gold mine. There had been chatter among two more seedy individuals at the Rat Tooth earlier that she had overheard while cleaning tables. One perk of being a barmaid is that while you're also well known you are also usually ignored, as if she were a stool or their mug of beer or her special RubyShine. This meant men usually spoke freely never taking mind that the petite girl was nearby, which was perfect when she was trying to be a fly on the wall. Two nights ago her normal eavesdropping had paid off and even though she had watched the other two raid the house, just as she was planning on doing, she wasn’t discouraged. They had drunkenly babbled on and on over steins about what could be in the house and subsequently what they were going to steal, and none of it had interested her. Emiliya may be a thief but she didn't steal things such as money or jewels, tonight her mission was to seek out more frivolous endeavors such as silk sheets a new hair brush, and maybe a new book or two. Things that weren’t necessary but made living life bellow ground, living the same routine everyday, a little bit easier. Especially when the sheets in Lower Deep were better compared to gain sacks with their 200 thread count. Emiliya gave a small exhale like laugh at herself being such a girl while she waited patiently to pick through a house. An offense, that if caught, could earn her a very stay in Iron Fort deep below their feet. But it was a risk she was always willing to take, stealing was a way of life for many residents that weren't lucky enough to be Uppers, weren’t willing to brave the terrors of the surface, but were smart and quick enough to never get caught. At least that's how Emiliya justified it to herself. How she had always vindicated her actions, especially when she had started working for Blood and her Cartel. Being the human equivalent of a mouse and her skill at lock picking, which Blood herself had personally once been victim of. Though this act is what had alerted Blood to Emiliya’s potential value, and looking back she cursed herself for her stupid childish actions of long ago. Once Blood had gotten her claws into the girl she was quickly given the task of stealing supplies and necessities from the Uppers, being the only thief quiet enough to rob a bedroom with a couple sleeping in it. The skill had earned her the loving nickname of ‘Little Red Robing Hood’ from Blood herself, as if she were always to be her pet. But Emiliya had other plans then becoming Bloods new pet in her herd of rotating favorites depending on her moods and needs, and tonight was Emiliya’s plan and she quickly pushed thoughts of her past away mentally cursing at the guard and herself. Go to sleep gosh dang it! I knew I should have slipped a little sedative in your coffee … It was another hour before the guard finally nodded off and after waiting a little longer to make sure he was really asleep she made her move, quickly scaling the house and wiggling open the window and slipping in without so much as a creak. She made quick work of prowling the home, silently stalking down halls and into empty rooms, taking count of what was in each. She started with the bathroom procuring not one but two brushes and double checking for any books that bay have been left. She had quickly learned it was not uncommon to find books in bathrooms since she found a first edition copy of Alice and Wonderland shoved underneath a hand towel. It had instantly become one of her favorite possessions. After not finding any books she moved to a smaller bedroom across the hall, a teenage daughter perhaps, and proceeded to strip off the beautiful cream sheets, folding them carefully before placing them in a small sack and them into her well worn leather bag. She picked up a few more little tickets and nicknacks, acting more like a kleptomaniac then a professional cat burglar … if one can be a professional cat burglar that is. Though its not as if the Battalion was going to cherish the small music box like she would, or the small fox charm she found tucked inside, in her eyes she was saving their memories in a way. Realizing her precious time was slipping away she made haste to her final destination, the one that made her heart beat just a little faster, the study. The possibility of finding that one hidden gem of a book gave her the same heart pattering feeling she assumed Jim and Captain Silver of Treasure Island would have felt when they finally find the Treasure. Pushing open the doors with bated breath she was both surprised and disappointed. Her heart sunk slightly when she realized that this home, like many of the rest, had a small collection of literature, just enough to take up one self. Many of which were the designated manuals all Terra-Deep residents received, though there was always a set theme of the remaining books found in each house. The surprise was to see that half the study was scattered with art supplies, one of the rarer findings in Terra-Deep even for someone in the Uppers. She made he way first to the book case, even though her fingers itched for the colored pencils perched on the drawing desk. As she drew nearer to the bookcase her heart picked up its pace once again and a childish smile that lit up her face slowly appeared. “Science Fiction!…” She whispered to herself with breathless excitement and quickly but methodically began storing the few paperbacks into her bag, tucking the larger hardcover under her arm so that she still had enough room for a few art supplies. Making her way toward the prized pencils she froze in her tracks and held her breath, the hair on the back on her neck standing on end when she heard two deep voices traveling up the stairs. She was trapped, her eyes quickly scouring the room again, though this time for a hiding place. Behind the couch, chairs, or curtains were out of the question. The first two were centered in the middle of the room and wouldn't offer her any shelter if the two came into the room. The last being too short unless she could learn to hover six inches in the next six seconds. This left only the writing desk at the south side of the room along the wall that had just held the precious cargo in her bag. Within seconds she was back across the room and tightly tucked underneath the desk. If one of the men chose to sit down in the chair she was done, they would roll right into her trapping her between themselves and the back of the desk. As the two men entered the room she silently prayed to anything listening to keep them away from the desk. The two men stopped in the center of the room by what she could guess and fell silent. Her thighs began to tremble not only from the stress of being tucked up to her chin but also in anticipation of making a run for it. Even though she knew they would over take her in seconds she was at least going to go down fighting. For what felt like an eternity the room was deathly quiet and she had started wondering if she had imagined the voices. She had almost convinced herself that the lack of sleep over the last two days was making her paranoid when the sound of heavy booted foot falls started again. Though this time it was only one set instead of two, she cringed with each weighty thud preparing to see the shiny black toes of the battalions boots round the corner of the desk, but as she listened she realized they were pacing back and forth in front of the desk. “That guard is useless, might as well have opened the front door for those two Lowlander Slugs.” One of the guards growled with a deep gravel filled voice, the image of an older gentleman with salt and pepper beard and a long scar on his right cheek though she couldn't remember his name. “Sacked the place pretty good, can’t believe they didn't make a ton of noise. Must be deaf as well sir.” Her skin crawled slightly at the honey tinted voice of Sargent Drake Forester, who was the voice pacing she suspected by the rise and fall of his voice. “And who was it that placed the soldier on duty?” The older man asked a hint of amusement in his voice. “I believe it was Barton sir.” Drake replied stopping his pacing at the sound of small creak, like the lid of a chest that hasn’t be opened for a time. A hush fell over the room, apparently whatever was inside what the older man had just open surprised the both of them. Emiliya held her breath during the silence, even digging deep to keep her legs still, though when one of the men yelled out in frustration it broke her concentration and caused her to gasp sharply in surprise. Though thankfully the sharp bang of the man forcefully shutting door to whatever they had opened in frustration. “God dam it. Fucking dam it all to hell. Drake you may be looking at a promotion.” The older man growled with malice. “Sir?” “Those Bandit Slugs found the safe and seem to have pried it open. Stocks is not going to be pleased one bit.” “It couldn’t have been that much money Sir…” “-It wasn't about the money Forester! This man actually had intel we needed, and it was in this cheap piece of shit safe. How safe can it be if to brainless idiots can pry it open.” “Intel Sir?” “Oh .. never mind Forester all you need to care about is that this is going to put you back in Stocks good graces. He’s going to forget all about that slip up with Jet last month after he hears about this. Lets go, nothing else to do hear and we could both use the rest.” Without another word the two soldiers stomped out of the room and down the stairs. The slamming of the front door the only sign Emiliya needed to finally allow herself to take a deep breath, her head slightly spinning from lack of oxygen, it felt as though she had been trapped under the desk for an eternity. Despite the near miss Emiliya still finished picking through the art supplies, this would be the last time she would be able to get into the house. Tomorrow it would be cleared out by the Battalion. Wishing she would have brought a bigger bag she opened a few more of the drawers in the drawing desk. The last one she opened was by far the best and she had to resist jumping for joy, hidden back in a small wooden box were five large glass apothecary jars filled with raw color pigment. Which was used in anything from paint, makeup, and dying fabric. Though in Lower Deep its most valuable use was to make ink for tattoos, and she already knew just the guy to trade these with. With a heavy heart she traded the thick volume of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea under her arm for the box with the jars. A final run of her finger along the spine in yearning and she walked out of the study to the bedroom with the open window. *** Walking back through the scummy doors of the Rat Tooth was a saddening shock of reality. Its stark comparison to the clean and manicured Uppers making her slightly homesick for the abandoned home she had only spent moments in. Brushing off the feeling she made her way up the narrow stair case that lead up to an equally narrow hallway that had three doors set into it. They were the staffs quarters and the only three rooms which didn't have a second key making her room one of the safest places to store her finds. Especially since she had the added protection of a robust strong box with a puzzle lock that had once been her parents. It had been the only luggage they had brought on their escape from Sunset Springs and had carried their only belongings. Now she used it to store her goods like the colored pencils and added the sheets to her slowly growing stack of extras that had taken many months to procure. Securely shutting the chest she made her way to the old roll top desk that held mainly medicine and medical supplies. That what how she made her money and got her trades down here. That and her Ruby Shine, though that was to a very different crowd, though she preferred them to the trail of Battalion and Bloods coming to her door to be patched and drugged after she dug out a bullet … or five. She hadn’t always been the makeshift nurse of Terra-Deep but there wasn’t anyone else since the old doc died. Funny thing was that blood use to make her pass out which made her first few tries as a medic very interesting. After procuring five glass test tubes and filling them each with a separate pigment stopping them with a small cork, she put the original bottles away. In one of her last hiding spots, under a loose floorboard beneath her bed. Quickly changing out of her damp jacket and into a warm sweater, tucking the tubes up her sleeve she made her way down the stairs, eyes roaming the dense crowd that was lingering even though it was nearly 2 in the morning. Finally she noticed Greyson sitting in a shadowed booth tucked into the far back of the bar. He sat with his back to the corner and even through the crowed she could see his heavily tattooed arms and in front of him. His lettered fingers interlaced and acting as a makeshift stand for his bowed forehead to rest on. She walked past his table not stopping longer then a moment to reach her hand carrying the vile between his arms gracefully depositing them so they were hidden beneath his head and continued on to the bar. She poured them each a glass of water and a small glass of her shine, making sure to plop and extra strawberry half into his. Making her way back to he table she skirted the edge of the crowed keeping her eyes down, trying to avoid attention of some of the chattier patrons who were there tonight. She was exhausted and all she wanted to do was enjoy a drink with her friend. Finally looking up when she reached the table her hazel eyes met his and she blushed slightly realizing he had been watching her the whole time, the soft smile on his face causing an excited chill to run down her spine. Tucking herself in across from him she slid him his drinks, leaning back against the side of the booth and stretching her legs across the seat. “Happy birthday Jake, hope you like your present. There’s more where that care from if you promise me a private session” She said raising her glass with a wink before taking a small sip, already knowing he was ecstatic and trying to not give it away too much. Greyson was the best tattooist in Terra-Deep, his family had once had a shop in the center of town. That had been a long time ago though, back when both of them had still had a loving family to come home to instead of a glass in a booth at a bar. Though neither one were totally alone, somehow they ended up finding each other.