Pandora 0.4

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I held the bag of leftovers close to my side as I made my way home. Wraith's young, bright sun was heading for the horizon, spreading darkness along the streets, and I wanted to be safe in my apartment before night fell in earnest.

A lot of the busted up, pitiful shop stalls were closing for the night, but other things were coming alive, filling the space around me with noise and presence. I shrank in on myself as a pair of shutters banged open nearby. Next to me the lights flickered on in a pawn shop, and a short way down the sidewalk, someone let out a growl of frustration. Deep, triumphant laughter followed the sound.

"Sorry, my friend," I heard a voice say as I neared the spot. "Looks like your luck's run out."

I glanced over, peering through the crowd and spotting a shell station. Ugh, shells. I didn't play shells anymore; couldn't make enough money off it. Generally the game runner let you win for a while, let you build up confidence, and I was pretty damn good at following the shells. Problem was, they let your confidence get high enough that you were willing to blow every cent you'd made, and then they started cheating. I'd watched enough games to know when to stop playing, and only got involved in a game if I needed a bit of pocket change.

I might never need to do any of this stuff again... The thought sent a tingle along my nerves, a mixture of uncertainty and excitement. I could finally leave Wraith behind, if I dared. This place would never stop haunting me, I knew that, but getting away from it would help. It had to.

The buildings crowded together all the more as I headed out of the center of town. In the slums, the tenements huddled together, shoved in like sardines in a tin can. Stripped off siding and dark, broken windows made it look halfway to a ghost town, but other windows glowed with faint light, indicating life. I huddled down, pulled my hood over my head, and hurried past the doorway of the busiest brothel in the area. They'd tried to recruit me once already, and there was no chance in hell that I'd ever put myself through that again.

With my hood down low, I couldn't see much around me. I only realized the crowd had closed in on me when I struck a big, sturdy body and bounced off. I stumbled, almost fell, almost dropped my bag, but a hand closed around my upper arm and yanked me upright.

"Let go," I mumbled, trying to break the vise-like grip.

"Shut up, kid," a voice snarled. I glanced up once, catching a glimpse of a huge, hulking silhouette. "And watch where you're fucking going, hear me?"

I dug my heels in and kept trying to pull away. "I'm sorry."

"Hey..." He peered at me, squinting down into my hood, and suddenly I recognized him: the brothel owner. "What you look like under there, kid?"

Despite a decent height of a meter seventy, I tended to look young, and being so thin didn't help that impression. I knew this place had a particular subset of clientele that loved the young ones, whether they only looked it or not.

Fear and adrenaline crashed into my heart like a lightning strike, given me a sudden pulse of strength. I yanked free of the owner's grip and bolted, hell for leather, down the sidewalk, crashing into other people as I ran. Angry yells followed my progress but I didn't stop, not for anything. There were brothels in every city on Wraith that didn't care much whether you signed up willingly or not. I had no desire to find out whether this was one of them.

I didn't slow down until I reached the street of tenements where my own little shithole sat squeezed in among all the others. It was one of the larger buildings on the street, but that didn't mean larger rooms; the landlord had cut the place up into even smaller rooms to stuff more people in and get more rent. It was also the cheapest building on the street, which meant some days I had to deal with not having running water or working power in exchange for having a bit of money around for the occasional luxury item.

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