Young Bryte lives on her own in the flats at the base of the tiered city of Tirbat but she's determined to better a lot, and when two strange young people arrive in Tirbat they seem to show her the way to begin her ascent.
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Bryte's determination to improve her lot sets her on a path fraught with deadly peril. She lives in a lean-to beneath a bridge in the flats around Tirbat, Arucadi’s seven-tiered capital city, but dreams of life on the fifth tier, home of the father who rejected her mother and refuses to acknowledge her. When Bryte is hired as a guide by Oryon and Lina, two magically gifted young people who’ve come to Tirbat to seek their fortunes, her ascent begins, but many pitfalls lie along the way. Lina and Oryon prove to be dangerous companions. The evil Lord Inver subverts Oryon and later captures Lina, and Bryte must use her own newly discovered gifts to defend herself and save the young half brother she only learns about when Lord Inver sends Oryon to kill him. Instead of the ascent she has desired, Bryte must descend to the Dire Realms and carry the battle with Lord Inver to the very source of the evil power he wields.
The mound was not far from the thick stone wall surrounding the first tier, and its top was almost on a level with the top of that wall. Unlike the walls supporting the higher tiers, invisible behind flowering vines, the first tier's retaining wall was unadorned except for an occasional scrawny weed that had taken root in a chink between stones. Most of the buildings on the first tier had no more than one or two stories, and Bryte could easily see above their roofs to the city's upper tiers.
Her view extended all the way to the crowning tier, the seventh, where a single tall palace of white marble gleamed in the late afternoon sun. In that building the Triumvirate that ruled all of Arucadi held its councils and its three members had their offices. From that tier Bryte's gaze traveled down to the tier directly below it, on which imposing white-colonnaded buildings held the offices and council chambers of the principal governing agencies that served under the Triumvirate. Interspersed with those buildings were massive monuments to outstanding leaders of the past. Those two highest tiers formed the very heart of Arucadi—not the geographical center but the center of government for the vast continent-nation.
Somewhere in that imposing sixth tier her father, Stavros Hallomer, Minister of Commerce, had his office, from which he issued regulations, imposed restrictions, or dispensed advice and assistance that made or destroyed businesses throughout the nation. She had no idea where that office was—in which building or even in what segment of the circle of buildings—so she did not linger on that tier but shifted her gaze to the fifth.
On the edge of the fifth tier was a fine home with a balcony from which the residents could look down over the four lower tiers. The house was her father's, where he lived with the sister she'd never met, the sister who, unlike her, had been granted her father's name and a share in his wealth and social position.
Bryte's mother had been wed to Lord Hallomer shortly after the death of his first wife, but the marriage had not lasted. For reasons Bryte did not understand, Lord Hallomer had sent his young wife away shortly before Bryte's birth. Her father must know of her existence, but he'd never given any indication of caring. Bryte had heard that he'd married a third time, but of that marriage she knew only that it, too, had not lasted long.
Lord Hallomer's only acknowledged heir was the daughter born of his first marriage, the daughter who lived in the house at which Bryte looked and who enjoyed all the privileges that had been denied to Bryte.
Sometimes she spied a small figure on the high balcony. It was too far to make out any distinguishing features, but Bryte liked to believe it was her fortunate half-sister. The balcony was empty this evening, but still Bryte followed her daily routine.
"Today I earned nineteen copper coins: 11 midis, 6 minis, and 2 great coppers. And a single silver trium," she whispered, imagining her sister listening. "That brings my total to 13 triums, 48 mini�coppers, 18 midis, and 11 greats. That may not seem much to you, but there's more every day. I'll soon have enough to start a business. And one day, not too far from now, I'll be as rich as you. Then you'll know who I am, and you'll envy me the way I've envied you."
It was the same promise, the same vow she'd made every evening since her mother died and she'd been forced to make her own way in the world. Her ritual finished, she refolded the paper, placed it carefully in a pocket of the tunic she wore over baggy trousers, and after a last look at the house on the fifth tier, she descended the mound and headed for the shelter she'd fashioned of mud and sticks under the Sarun Bridge so she would not have to spend her precious savings on housing.