A/N: Well, here it is: the prologue of the rewrite. Just like the original, you can probably expect updates every Wednesday. PROBABLY. Also, if anyone's interested, Over the Hills and Far Away is up. It's a story taking place in the RtW universe, but its placed entirely in Atlantis. It follows the path of Adoni, a teenage girl studying magic, as she and an errant prince try to save their country from impending doom. RtW is a "self discovery" story; OtHaFA is a story of saving the world, and my first attempt at such a thing. That one will most likely have its updates on Mondays, but it probably won't be regular yet.
I'm going to be just as chatty in this as I was in the original. Can you tell?
On the dank, dirty streets of Victorian London, a little girl, no older than eight or nine, huddled out of the rain in a narrow alleyway. She was an orphan, aspiring to do nothing more than survive. She stared at the small fire the alley's usual inhabitants had built, longing to creep closer to its fickle heat, but not daring to. She had nothing to offer to that circle, and so they had nothing to offer her. Instead, she wrapped her arms around her thin frame, trying to stop the cold from stinging her skin through the holes in her dress, and listened to what the group was saying.
The group surrounding the fire was composed mostly of factory workers, too poor for real housing, even in the slums. They clustered around their trash fire, hugging children close against the cold, scavenging for the little food that they could find. It was a rough time on the streets, but the streets were all they had. They rarely had a warm, dry night, and many of them died from their living and working conditions. The little orphan girl knew none of this; she only knew that they were speaking to their children, telling stories to lull them to sleep and make them forget about their troubles, if only for a bit.
The girl sighed and wiggled deeper into the small recess in the brick wall she had found. She wanted a life out of one of those stories, where someone would sweep her off her feet and carry her away to a perfect life. She didn't want to be crouched in an alleyway in the drizzling rain. She was so young; she shouldn't have known all of the troubles that could plague a little girl. Unfortunately, she was all too well acquainted with brutality, anger, and the hunger that gnawed at her gut. For now, the stories murmured yards away were the only comfort she had.
The pale lights of airships, yellow from lamps and blue from Atlantian crystals, drifted across the skies as those lofty inventions floated away through the night, headed to ports that she could never hope to see. Some of them might even be going to Atlantis; she would have loved to see that. It was the wealthiest nation in the world, a place made of crystal and dreams were all of the best goods came from. But she knew she would never leave London. She was destined to be trapped on its musty streets forever. Such was the fate of an orphan.
A wink of gold caught her eye, and she turned to look at it fully, greedy eyes straining the dark. One of the women near the fire was reading out of a book: a real book. The girl's eyes widened. She inched forward almost imperceptibly, wanting to look closer at it. It had a worn leather cover, and the page edges were covered with flaking golden paint. She let out a sigh of longing; if she had known how to read, the stories it contained might have been hers, instead of the woman's. She reached out for it, wanting to feel its creamy pages beneath her fingers, its worn leather spine gently fall open in her hand.
She closed her eyes and let the wind carry the book's words to her, spinning tales of princes and princesses, of lands far away where magic was real and anything could happen. But she knew, in her heart, that the stories in the book weren't true. She wanted them to be, badly. She wanted to live one of those stories more than anything. She wanted someone to give her the world. She wanted the stars from the sky, the glass slipper, the sunset ride on the beach, the fairytale ending, the kiss to end all kisses. She wanted a fairytale, complete with a dashing hero and herself in the starring role of heroine. She wanted the happily ever after.
The words abruptly stopped. "That's enough for tonight," the woman said. There were a few protests from the children, ones that the girl joined in, silently. But the woman simply closed the book and tucked it away.
The girl's eyes followed every action. When the factory workers were bedded down around their small fire, she darted forward, her small figure nearly invisible in the night. She reached among the bricks that had fallen from the nearest building, her fingers grasping, searching. Finally, they felt the smooth leather of the cover, and she silently worked the book free of its hiding place and prison. She brushed the dust from its cover, marveling again at the golden gilding. To her eyes, it was the most marvelous possession she would ever hold.
She had never stolen before; despite years on the streets, she had always managed to scrape by. People took pity on her, often enough. She had never stolen, and she had never been stupid enough to be sent to an orphanage. But now, as she ran her fingers over the book's cover, she felt a longing well within her that wouldn't go away. On a sudden impulse, she slipped the book inside her dress, clutching it to her chest, and ran from the alleyway.
As her bare feet pounded the cold cobblestones, her mind was far away, in a land where she was the heroine of the story and the prince was just around the next corner. Snow turned to flowers, and the gloomy buildings turned to the walls of a castle. That was the life she wanted; the life of luxury and contentment, where the world and all its cruelties would never hurt her again.
But for her, it would never be. As she turned a corner, she literally ran into another person. She sprawled backwards, cracking her head against the pavement. Her head swam, but she didn't risk feeling for a lump; she kept her arms pressed tightly to her chest, shielding her stolen treasure.
"Oh, you poor thing!"
She opened her eyes to see an older girl staring down at her. The older girl, about fourteen, held out a hand. She took it, letting herself be pulled to her feet. She kept her other arm across her chest.
"Are you all right?"
"Good. But just in case, why don't you stay with me for a while? You can come back to my home, and I'll make you a cup of tea or something. How does that sound?"
Slowly, she nodded again. It sounded like an excellent idea. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had some warm food.
"Very good. My name is Lottie, by the way." The older girl swept a mocking curtsey.
"I'm Rebecca," the girl said quietly.
Lottie held out her hand again, and Rebecca tentatively slipped her own into it. "Well, then, Rebecca," said Lottie, her spirits shockingly high, "let us be off! I can already tell that we're going to be great friends."
With the trusting naïveté of youth, Rebecca followed Lottie through the streets of London, ever step taking her closer to sin and salvation, to everything she'd never wanted, and everything she'd ever dreamed of.