Saira inspects the square from the rooftop of an abandoned building. There are many in this part of the city. Created as it was from the crashing of two different cultures, an event still sung of to this day like some sort of terrible outcome of the whims and quarrels of angry gods, Three Rats sits here like the runt of the litter, bred from the unwanted scraps of two different realities, bound by the will of no god and yet shaped by the reveries of many. Fractured and distorted, many buildings tilt in impossible ways, too dangerous to live in but still overpopulated by people too poor to find a house that won’t fall on their heads if a child happens to lean its weight on a wall.
The sight of it all makes her sigh. This had been her home for a long time, each stone and pebble of these streets etched into her memory, so familiar that sight is hardly needed in finding her way in and out of each street and alley. And even though she’s had to leave it for awhile, in pursuit of illicit wealth and then to search for the hearts of those who murdered her old street gang, the only family she’d known after becoming too old to stay at the orphanage, Three Rats still stands before her as immutable and derelict as ever before.
Three Rats…even the name defines this place. A den for the unwanted, a nest for creatures that many would gladly see exterminated but that no one dares touch. An old caretaker at the orphanage once told her that the name came from the very first thing the people found to eat after this part of the City was created and populated. Three rats, thin and famished, that were cooked in a pot with potatoes and overripe tomatoes to feed twenty people.
Three Rats Stew. That was the old name of this place. Time and a need for a meager amount of pride in one’s provenance, deemed the name no longer acceptable and soon Three Rats was born.
Saira looks at its main square now, her heart hovering somewhere between nostalgia and contempt. Home! If she has ever known one, that place is here.
And her home isn’t well. Beyond its constant decrepit condition, Three Rats screams in pain. Saira’s hawk eyes find the people restless, the water of the fountain in the middle of the square tinged an unhealthy grayish hue. The water lies still, the fountain god that should animate it apparently refusing – or unable – to do his work. And everywhere, the people are looking weak, sick, or just plain scared. Old people collapse in the middle of the street as if suddenly fallen asleep. Children drag their feet instead of running around picking the pockets of random strangers not much wealthier than they. Everywhere, Three Rats looks robbed of the bustling, frantic life of the chronically poor.
“What in the Urbis is going on here?” Saira asks the empty air around her. “Things were fine yesterday.”
Feeling the gentle hum of the pearl in her quiver, she reaches for the sickly, dull-looking thing, exposing it to the sun. Even here, no reflection or shine touches its surface.
“Yesterday, you were still where you belong,” Saira muses. “Could you have something to do with this?”
Looking down at the street, the woman looks at the small crowd of Popula leaving the station. If the rumors are true and there really are gods there now, if they really are intent on raising Three Rats Station from the pit of corruption and apathy it has crawled into, then here is a good time for them to prove themselves. Maybe they will know if and how this pearl can be restored to its proper place and form. Maybe they can keep it safe from the Dukaines.
Another sigh and Saira shakes her head slowly and puts the pearl away again. She really is getting too old to believe in gods.