The Warrens were a dangerous place; everyone knew that, especially those living in the Warrens. They knew they didn’t so much live there as survive another day, and – possibly – another night.
The Warrens were not for the faint of heart, the nervous or even the credulous. Those that survived there survived on cunning, on caution and sometimes on daring. Those that prospered there, and there is always money to be made from misery, knew far more than those in the rest of the Sunshine Empire who thought themselves wise, clever and cunning. The price for failure in the Sunshine Empire was disgrace, exile and shame. The price for failure in the Warrens was never having your mutilated body found and your name never mentioned again by those who wanted to survive another day or another night in the Warrens.
Of course, many escaped the Warrens and moved to the city itself. Many of those dressed in the finest robes, and riding in expensive carriages had escaped the Warrens, sometimes with wealth as well as their life. Others merely escaped with their life, often only just. So many of those newly rich in the City knew only too well what the phrase by the skin of your teeth meant. They never lost the habit of glancing back over their shoulders and keeping one hand resting on the hilt of their dagger. No matter how richly worked and jewel encrusted became the hilt of that dagger as they rose up the city ranks.
In Noval, the capital city of the Sunshine Empire, moving up was a literal as well as figurative method of social advancement. The Emperor’s Palace lay on the top of Sunshine Hill like the nipple on a full breast. The wide streets and tree-lined avenues nearest the palace where home to the next lower rank in society, and below them were the almost as ornate palaces of the Priests and the government functionaries. Below that were the grand houses of the richest merchants, then the more modest houses of the lesser merchants above the rooms and apartments of those who worked for the wealthiest in the streets curling up the hill above them.
Below that and outside the city walls, lay the Warrens. Many said that one reason why the Sunshine Empire had lasted so long was that no army that tried to attack the city would ever survive trying to pass through the Warrens. Even the Emperor’s own elite bodyguard would not dare walk the streets of the Warrens, at least not if they ever wanted to survive the experience.
Occasionally, the emperor peering out through the rain over what he could see of his Empire from his palace window would insist to his nearest flunkies that something be done about the Warrens. The flunkies would nod and agree, make the necessary gestures of obsequience and pass the problem on to someone else lower down the pecking order.
The emperor’s off the cuff comment would become a hope, a wish, a comment, and finally a command. Then a detachment of the common soldiery, themselves often products of the Warrens with no desire to return, were dispatched. They preferred death or severe maiming on some far-flung battlefield to ever returning to the place they’d once called home. They would reluctantly gather what street fighting weapons they could and venture out onto one of the many twisting alleyways that led into the heart of the Warrens.
Occasionally, one or two would survive and return, but not many of them. None of them would ever go back there again, preferring to be court-martialled for desertion and executed than risk a return to the Warrens.
Meanwhile life – and often – death carried on as normal in the Warrens, while everyone else high on the Sunshine Hill pretended not to notice and kept their hands on the hilts of their daggers – just in case.