Chapter 1 — Rainy Night (Part 1)
The pitter-patter of rain could be heard inside the house.
Vivian carefully placed a short stool in front of the stove, then bent over and grabbed two handfuls of coarse rice from the rice sack nearby. There was not much rice left inside the sack. Last month, Vivian’s big brother exchanged a silver ornament he had stolen at the pier for the sack of rice. Even though she had been carefully conserving the precious food, the ever-decreasing amount of rice was still very worrying.
There was no more food.
The siblings would only last several days at most before they starved.
Vivian glanced at the small bed in the shabby house—an unconscious teenager laid on the moldy and smelly sheets. Her big brother had yet to wake up from his coma, and even the priestess who had once helped them had given up on him as she lacked the ability to heal him. Bishop Phil should be able to do so, but he would not waste time helping a thief, after all.
Vivian steeled herself, wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes, and climbed down from the stool.
Although she was eight years old, due to malnutrition, she was especially short and petite. It was rather difficult for her to do things like lighting a fire and preparing meals, but she had to do them nonetheless. Vivian held several pieces of split firewood in her hands, then snapped the branches she had collected during the day into smaller pieces and tossed them into the stove. The firewood was moist from the continuous rain and ignited slowly. Ignoring the pain in her eyes caused by the choking smoke, she blew at the fire with all her might. Only when the fire was blazing did she finally stop and rub her eyes.
“You must wake up! Vivian misses you a lot…
“Please… Please don’t leave me!”
Drops of crystal-clear tears glided down from her eyes as she sobbed beside the stove. After a while, Vivian wiped her cheeks with her small hands, and two streaks of white could be seen on her sooty face.
There was originally some salt in the house, but it had been used up last week. She had tried to steal from shops like her brother, but she was caught red-handed and hit by the shop owner’s wife on the back with a broom. The bruise on her back was still dark purple, and she felt scorching pain from even the slightest bumps.
A dark-yellowish dog came over. Even if it looked old and sluggish, one could vaguely tell that it had been an outstanding hunting hound back in its prime. Vivian held out her tiny hands as the old dog walked over to her side. It peeked at the stove and began whimpering in a low voice.
Understanding its desire, Vivian embraced the old dog in her bosom and gently stroked its back as she sobbed once again.
“There’s not much food left,” Vivian murmured.
“Vivian is also very hungry, but this must be reserved for brother. When the rain stops, try and find some food outside. I’m sorry!
“Don’t you think I’m useless? I can neither steal nor save big brother, and I cry a lot…”
The old dog turned its gaze away from the stove as if understanding Vivian’s words. It licked her palms and laid down beside her legs, closed its eyes, and took a nap.
Footsteps came from outside the house, and a conversation could be vaguely heard as people seemed to have stopped at the door.
The elderly Heath immediately opened his eyes. Like a ferocious wolf, he barked viciously at the door and howled loudly.
“I’ll kill that old dog someday and cook soup with it!”
The irritated voice of a man could be heard, and the sound of footsteps gradually faded into the distance.
Vivian’s frightened look eased a bit after hearing the man leave. She patted the old dog’s head with her small palm and murmured, “Heath.
“If he dares to come in, bite him!
“Big brother’s unconscious, and you’re the only one who can protect me now.”
The old dog snuggled against her chest as she patted it. Even though it was now old, its eyes still gave off a sharp and fierce look.
Heath was a glaz hound. In the Agate River region’s folklore, it was said that glaz hounds were the hybrid descendants of the three-headed hellhound. Back in the day, Heath could even kill a leopard.
But he was now old.
Sniffing in the sweet fragrance of congee coming from the stove, Heath stood up as he twitched his nose but soon laid back down.
Even though Vivian’s stomach was grumbling, she still carefully climbed up the stool and scooped out a small bowl of congee with a chipped porcelain bowl. She gently blew at the bowl to cool it down and fed the congee, bit by bit, to the unconscious teenager on the bed with a wooden spoon. She was simply too young and lacked the strength to lift her brother up; thus, she could only slowly feed him like this.
“Eat this, and you’ll get better!
“I’m sure everything will be fine!”
Tears flowed from her eyes as the little girl muttered. She wiped her tears, placed the bowl on the table, and climbed down off the bed to shut the door.
This was the slums of Amber City, a place filled with thieves, robbers, and slave dealers.
It was very difficult for a young girl like Vivian to survive in the slums without anyone to rely on. If not for her cautiousness and old Heath, who was always beside her, she would have been kidnapped by others already. All that was needed was a towel soaked in chloroform; anyone would be strong enough to strangle her and cover her mouth and nose with the towel, and it would only be a matter of seconds before she would lose consciousness. Obviously, kidnapped people would be tossed into a rough sack and sold to slave dealers. As a matter of fact, a lot of young girls disappeared from the slums this way; even considerably beautiful women would be kidnapped in the same manner.
Vivian returned to the bed and continued feeding the unconscious teen bit by bit. She only stopped after he had eaten half of the bowl of congee. She hurriedly ate the rest and washed her hands and face with fresh water before snuggling into the stinking blanket. As she bumped into her bruise during the process, the little girl could not stand the pain and wept. She then held onto her brother’s arm and spoke to the old dog. “If anyone comes, bark at them!
“I know what they are thinking.
“Knowing that big brother is unconscious, they’re trying to sell me to Sofia so they can earn some money for themselves!”
Vivian naturally knew more things than others of her age as she grew up in the slums. Sofia was the largest slave dealer in the slums. She would often pick out beautiful little girls and train them to do ‘certain things,’ then sell them to the brothels in Amber City.
A girl who had just reached the age of eight stood no chance of surviving in the slums.
Vivian’s eyes showed a trace of resolution and determination. She lowered her head, kissed the young man on the forehead, and whispered, “If I’m going to be sold, I will do so myself!
“With the money, I could seek help from a genuine priest, and perhaps they could finally wake you up, big brother.”
She clearly knew what sort of life awaited her if she were to sell herself.
Sofia would first raise her for several years before teaching her how to serve men. If Vivian grew up to become a beauty, she would be sold to the nobles in the city. If not, she would only end up in the dirty and poor brothels.
But for her big brother, she was willing to do anything. He was her only living family member.
Outside, the sound of fighting and killing could be heard.
Vivian could not help but hide herself under the blankets, while the old dog near the door glared at it with a menacing gaze.
Two of the slum’s self-proclaimed leaders, Sawey and Cologne, were fighting over territory. A lot of the slum’s thief gangs had died since her brother was badly hurt by a powerful wizard. All the original heads had died on the streets, and the rest of them began fighting over control of the slums. The guards never came—this was a forgotten corner of the city.
They were not only fighting for territory, but also the kids in the slums.
It didn’t matter which gang or faction one thought about; they all needed children so they could train them into thieves and let them steal things for the faction. This was also how Vivian’s big brother became a thief in the first place.
Vivian’s memory of her parents was rather hazy.
She only remembered that her mother once had a husband who was a godly thief. Unfortunately, on one of his missions, he died at the hands of a wizard inside a wizard’s tower. That man was her brother’s father; she had yet to be born at that time, so she only heard about it from her brother.
From that day onward, wizards became the most feared entity in Vivian’s immature and weak mind.
After her husband died, Vivian’s mother led a wandering and drifting lifestyle while taking care of the young Soran. In order to survive, her mother even served as a ‘waitress’ in a tavern that provided ‘additional services.’ Vivian understood; she knew a lot more than other eight-year-old kids. The broken family led such a life until they came across a mysterious adventurer.
Soon, the mother was pregnant once again.
The adventurer did not marry her and only treated her as a mistress. That was Vivian’s father, a mysterious adventurer who was said to have had a fearsome occupation.
For strange reasons, he vanished all of a sudden and only left Heath, his pet dog, behind. Her mother began experiencing mental problems after losing two men consecutively. She suffered from panic disorder and depression before she finally passed away.
At that time, Vivian was only three years old, while her big brother was twelve.
Two kids who had lost their parents had no choice but to roam the streets. Her brother often got into fights just for a tiny amount of food.
Afterwards, her brother joined a gang and became a ‘qualified’ thief. Only then did they finally settle down in the slums, finding a shelter in the chaotic area.
A miserable shriek resounded through the streets.
Vivian shuddered in fear and cuddled against her big brother. Heath, who was lying on the ground near the door, also stood up vigilantly and glared toward a distant alley.
Someone had just been killed!
It was something natural; even the priests of the Dawnlight Shrine did not care about the people in the slums.
Everyone in the neighborhood slammed their doors and windows shut immediately. Some even locked their doors with a simple yet sturdy bolt, and Vivian was one of them. With her petite body, she lifted the heavy bolt with great effort.
According to the common sense she had acquired after living in the slums for years, the situation would only become worse once someone died. The following fight would only be on a larger scale and would sometimes even affect the innocents in the surroundings.
The scared young lady hugged the old dog tightly and brought it to the side of the bed.
Glancing out in fright, Vivian could see the shadows of armed people engaging in an intense fight under the rain. Blood splattered everywhere in the alley, only to be washed away by the rain as if nothing ever happened.
She could smell the stench of blood even from within the house.
Vivian patted the old dog’s head as she subconsciously shivered out of fear.
“You will protect me, right?”
Heath barked all of a sudden.
The little girl jumped back as she was startled, but she soon realised that Heath was barking at the young man on the bed rather than toward the outside.
Surprised, Vivian saw that the once-unconscious teen had opened his eyes, and his lips were twitching.
Vivian could no longer hold in the pressure and fear she had accumulated during the past month!
The young girl threw herself into the arms of her dear brother, with big drops of crystal-clear tears rolling down her childish cheeks.