It was Eliza's 11th birthday. Well, at least, she thought it was her 11th birthday. Of course she didn't actually know what day she was born. Nor really did she know how old she was. She couldn't ask her parents. She didn't have any parents. All she had was Miss Lillyput.
Really, it was the day that marked the 11th year that Miss Lillyput had owned Eliza. Eliza was a whippet thin slaughterer girl with the recognisable red skin and hair that shot up from the top of her head like flames but her most distinguishing feature was the velvet choker around her throat, inscribed in embroidery that she was the property of Miss Lillyput. Eliza stroked it thoughtfully as she lay in her hammock, not quite ready to get up, just yet. It was her 'birthday' after all.
Eleven years to the day since she was reborn into her new life at the Hoverworm. Miss Lillyput had acquired Eliza at the Undertown Slave Markets. She hadn't been sold. She couldn't have been sold. She'd come free with Wexwood, the hammerhead troll that Miss Lillyput wanted for a bouncer. Eliza's mother had died in the slave carts out of the Deep Woods leaving Eliza, a useless dependant sack of red skin, for the slavers to deal with. They tried to get rid of her as soon as they could.
"Happy Birthday, Eliza" Wexwood growled at her, poking her with one of his heavily tattooed and long fingers. Eliza's eyes snapped open. She'd just been drifting off to sleep which wasn't good.
"Happy Birthday, Wexwood." Eliza replied smiling. Wexwood grimaced in return, stretching his facial tattoos and scars, some acquired in the 11 years he'd been working the Hoverworm's doors, but others so familiar to Eliza that she was sure he must have got them in his previous life, for she had known them all of hers.
"This isn't my birthday, Eliza. You'd better get up. Miss Lillyput has already got the fires going."
Eliza shot up making her hammock rock from side to side precariously. She slid off of it, catching her blanket as it too fell off. Wexwood was already stumping away; he'd had a bad limp since a pub brawl five years previously. On that occasion he'd given Eliza a knife and told her to stab anyone that came too near the huge barrel of wood grog. Eliza had learnt from experience that a brawl could go on for hours longer than normal if the fighters were still supplied with alcohol. She'd learnt lots of other things from experience. She couldn't read or write but living and working in an Undertown tavern taught you other things of equal importance if you wanted to live.
Eliza unstrung her hammock and, bundling it up, threw it behind one of the large barrels of beer that lined the cellar that she used each night as a bedroom. She then sprinted up the wooden stairs and shot throw the trap door Wexwood had left open for her. She was in such a rush she slammed the trap door shut behind her, something she wasn't meant to do. She grabbed the bellows hanging beside the trap door and scuttled to the nearest fire. To her horror she saw that Wexwood had been right. The grate was already emitting the fragrant fumes and hissing song of the Scentwood fire (Miss Lillyput liked these to be lit in the morning to cover the smell of grog, sick and sometimes blood which stank out the tavern after a night of revellers).
Eliza scuttled round to infront of the bar and saw that the largest fire too was already singing merrily.
"Ah you're awake." Eliza spun round. Miss Lillyput was sat on a stool behind the bar, wearing her customary sky pirate leggings with her feet clad in sky pirate boots resting on the bar (a privilege she allowed no one else) her upper half was concealed behind a barkscroll. "Clean the latrines at the back and when you're done – mind that you scrub yourself off afterwards – you can wash down the walls outside." Eliza slumped. Though Miss Lillyput hadn't raised her voice, acting as if she had merely commented on the weather, Eliza was being punished for not getting up early enough to light the fires first.
Eliza replaced the fire bellows and with bowed shoulders, as if shielding herself against the wind, she slouched out the door on the other side of the bar, into the weedy courtyard. She kicked a weavle as she went passed. They only cleaned the latrines about once a month, it got so dirty so quickly there often didn't seem to be any point, but it was the worse job of anything the Hoverworm had to offer. Poo, urine, sick, blood, it all seemed to be there, and if that wasn't bad enough, Eliza often got the impression that there was something lurking down the pits in the floors that led down to Undertown's sewers.
Eliza took a deep breath and pushed open the wood wormed door that led to the latrines.
Eliza kicked open the bar door, trying, and failing, to stop the brown water she had pulled from the courtyard's well, from slopping out of the wooden buckets she held in each hand. Already there were three customers at the bar. All the usuals. An ancient fourthling who had less money than teeth (and that was a small number too), a depressed gylegoblin and a male shryke who came in now and again when he escaped his mate. Miss Lillyput stood behind the bar, pulling a drink for the ancient fourthling who was gabbling at her in his usual over friendly way. She nodded at Eliza as she went passed but she didn't smile. Her face, which was made younger than it actually was by the long blonde locks she wore loose, remained stony. Miss Lillyput was obviously still displeased.
Eliza backed out the bar doors, pulling her buckets out of the way as the doors swung inward again and backed up as she was she saw the tall words covering the Hoverworm's front. Eliza gasped
The words, red, she presumed it was blood, read
"We will come at sun down."