by Kevin Koch
edited by Maureen Basta
Moonlight struggled to break through the thick clouds overhead. The few rays that actually managed to make their way down to earth were sickly and pathetic. More light came from the tops of the smokestacks dotting the horizon, belching fire and adding to the smog that constantly hovered over the city.
Thage looked like a burned out forest. Jagged buildings reached up to the sky at odd intervals, stopping a few stories short of the haze spat out by the factories. The normal browns and grays of the cityscape were darkened to black by the choked out moon and the thin coat of ash that seemed to settle over everything when there was no wind blowing in off the bay.
One of the shadows peeled itself away from a sloped rooftop. Avoiding loose and missing shingles, the shadow moved northwest toward the Hill, the center of the city. The official name was the Arboreal District, but everyone from the Low Quarters used the shorter nickname. Access to the Hill was restricted, probably because it was the only place in the city high enough to avoid the worst of the smog. The gates leading up to it were closed to anyone without official papers, and the money to buy them.
As the shadow leapt from rooftop to rooftop, the Hill loomed ever larger. Rather than heading toward one of the brightly lit gates, the shadow drifted toward the edge of an apartment building hugging one of the steep faces of the hill for which the Hill was named. This part of town might not get direct sunlight after mid afternoon, but at least you were far away from the stench of the harbor and the factories. The shadow sat back and regarded the rough incline not ten feet away.
A shaft of moonlight actually managed to pierce through the clouds of soot. The pale beam struck the shadow, revealing a human figure wrapped in clothing from head to foot, despite the sticky night air. Just as quickly, the apartment was plunged into darkness again.
The figure reached up and unwound a strap of cloth from around their mouth. Next came the hood, pulled back to reveal the face of a young woman, really no more than a girl. She sat regarding the cliff in front of her, trying to decide the best way to proceed. Touching a series of pouches secured to her belt, her mind was pulled back to earlier in the evening.
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