I tightened my jacket around me and stuffed my hands into the pockets. The gleaming towers of the sixth and seventh tier living structures towered over me. I increased the pace of my walk, but the rain went from a downpour to a torrent in order to maintain the allotted soaking. I shivered as I hunched miserably against the weather. From the opposite direction a figure approached. I stepped aside to allow him to pass and take temporary refuge under the awning of a storefront. The elf took no notice of me as his animated armchair hustled past. He rested easily on the luxuriously plush chair, a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. The feet of the chair a galloping blur that somehow managed to carry the occupant along so smoothly that his hot drink was never upset. A dutiful lamp followed him, providing light to read by. I could feel the warmth of his environmental shroud when he breezed by. The harsh weather was of no concern for him as he enjoyed a lazy jaunt in complete protection. As far as he was concerned it was a fine evening for a stroll.
Behind me the bricks of the storefront shifted.
"Errol's Finery closes at seven p.m." The bricks scolded as they melded into a stern face. "No loitering. If you have business here please return at ten a.m."
"Sorry." I muttered before stepping back into the rain. I had no wish to raise the ire of the store guardian. The brick face returned to a normal wall as I fled down the street. Above me magic carpets and brooms whizzed back and forth. At one point someone riding a compact skywing tossed down a plastic cup that narrowly missed my head before splattering the remains of a milkshake on the concrete.
"Fucking, strider!" The goblin occupant shouted before she soared away. At my feet the cup faded out of existence as a litter spell automatically activated. In a blink the area was pristine with no evidence of the soiling.
I quickened my pace to a jog, trying to make it to the river before the curfew went into effect. All aberrant class must be outside restricted zones by nine o'clock. Something that usually was not a problem since I normally take the glass coach across town. Unfortunately, my mana battery was nearly empty and I couldn't afford access. I had no choice but to walk, an activity that always draws unwanted attention.
"Get out, strider!" Another shout of the slur was thrown. At least that time it was the only thing that was thrown.
I pulled up my sleeve to look at the iron vambrace clasped to my wrist just as I stepped onto the bridge crossing the river. It read 8:58. A quick glance over my shoulder and I spotted an enormous dragon on a high building perch. Smoke bellowed out of its fang lined maw as it glared at me with the permanent expression of fury that all dragons seem to possess. Astride its back was a figure wearing blue armor with bronze highlights. The sky marshal had been shadowing me for quite some time. Luckily for me she was satisfied that I was obeying the curfew. After watching me cross the ancient, rickety bridge the dragon took flight to find something else to occupy its attention.
The island was officially called Grand Isle, but it was better known as Strider Slum. For those of us of the aberrant class, it was home. The uneven, pockmarked cobblestone roads were covered with debris and garbage, no spells protected the island anymore. The buildings were squat, ancient structures that were crumbling down. So unlike the clean streets and fantastic towers on the far side of the river.
I passed through the streets and alleys with my head down, avoiding any eye contact with the people and creatures huddled in doorways and under makeshift canopies. Despite my effort, someone's attention was drawn to me.
"Fain!" A voice called out. I heard the clopping of hooved feet that caught up to me easily.
"Hey, Fain." A centauress greeted as she came alongside. She was a brown and white spotted mare with a long striped mane and tail. Her clothing clung to her body and there was a strong odor of wet horse as steam wafted off from her. Her busty upper half was "dressed" by only the most loose use of the word. Which wasn't the only loose thing about her.
"You looking to party?" She asked as tucked a slender hand under my arm while she trotted with me.
"Sorry, Jubilee." I said to her. I held up my vambrace for her to see the red lights that flashed on it. I could tell by the indicators on her mana battery that it was in a similar state.
"Oh." She noted with disappointment as her hand slipped away. "Maybe another time."
The rest of the walk home was uneventful. I descended into an old dungeon and wound my way through the darkness. Most inhabitants of the slums avoided the underground, both because it was dark and out of fear of the ghosts, but it suited me just fine. As a dusk troll I had darkvision, so the gloom was comforting for me. As for ghosts... well, I found them to be mostly good neighbors if you were a good neighbor back.
I unlocked the door to my apartment chamber and entered. I was pleased to find nothing was amiss. Not that I had much to steal. Even so, I locked myself in before shaking off my coat and hanging it on a nail by the door. I collapsed onto the old sofa and kicked off my boots. My feet were killing me. I leaned back and the couch and studied the readout on my mana battery. It read forty-two mites. That could probably transmute me three bowls of gruel and a few hours of time on the vid-system. After that I was pretty well screwed unless I found another job.
"You're late." A voice said to me.
I sat up and spun around. A lavishly dressed female troll was in my home. She was sitting cross-legged on an invisible chair that hung well above any horribleness that happened to infest the ground. Not that anything could ever penetrate the aura of potent magic that surrounded her anyway. My sister was in the ninth tier. Ruling class and practically a god. She didn't need a vid-system for entertainment, nor a transmutron to create food, never suffered the indignity of walking, and certainly had no use for a pathetic mana battery. She had access to levels of magic lower tiers couldn't possibly comprehend.
I leaned back into the sofa. "Lost my job." I told her. "Of course he waited until the end of the day to fire me and refused to pay for the work." I eyed her accusingly. "Turns out that's legal now."
My sister looked genuinely puzzled and I realized that she had no memory of that particular bill she had voted for. I sighed. Any animosity was going to be a wasted effort.
"Why are you here?" I asked.
Her invisible chair slid her around in front of me. "Have you heard the news?" She asked.
"That the Grand Wizard is dying?"
"Your mother is dying." She corrected.
"I don't have a mother." I told her. "As you recall, the Grand Wizard wiped all those records before her rise to power. Oh wait... no, you don't. Nobody does. At least not officially."
"She was protecting you."
"She was protecting herself!" I insisted.
My sister sat quietly for a moment. "It was good for the nation." She finally told me. "Everything she's done has made things so much better."
I put my hands up to display the bleak, dank and sparse space that I called home. "From here, I really can't see that."
There was another uncomfortable silence.
"Has she picked a successor?" I eventually asked.
"Not yet." My sister answered.
"Probably." She admitted.
"A shame." I said. "I rather enjoyed your little visits, as rare as they are. I suppose the Grand Wizard will be too busy for such things."
My sister leaned forward, and to my surprise, she actually put a hand on my arm. The aura around her was shocking in how warm it was.
"This will get better." She told me with a smile. "I promise you."
Before I could respond I found that I was alone again. She flitted away into the ether as easily as I could blink an eye. I shivered at the loss of her environmental shroud. There was a beep from my mana battery. I checked the vambrace to find a green read out of five-thousand mites. A parting gift.
After a moment I grabbed my coat off the nail. Maybe Jubilee would like some company for the night.
I knew I would.