Winters were the hardest. Summers in Gotham could be just as miserable, sweat dripping on the concrete; but it is the most miserable during the winter. The sleet ridden and carnivorous winter, where criminals are made and heroes are born. As snow fell and ice formed, the city's surface teemed with feral energy. The children of Gotham were aimless as they scrawled about the city like wild monkeys, scrambled over the rooftops and slunk in the underground heart of the city. To the heart, the warm and thriving heart where they went in the winter; to the sewers, to the festering paradise where the only ones rejected were the ones that could not survive.
Ariadne and her siblings could not remember a time when they were not in the sewers. Even in the olden by gone days they clambered about its structure, seeking hidden treasure and chasing local alligator legends. Ariadne knew the labyrinth well enough as a young child. But now she could not remember a time when she did not know every exit or every drain in the city. She forgot the feel of an individual bed, and could not remember the absence of four little bodies that gathered around her for warmth. Food was now a privilege and kindness was a luxury, no pity to be seen here. No, the sewers of Gotham, the heart, was where childhood crawled to die. Adults were made in the sewers, the weak were left to rot.
Ariadne wasn't sure of her age anymore, she could have been anything, sometimes she was fourteen, other times she was seventeen and sometimes she was twelve. All she was sure of was this: She had four siblings: Lara, Sara, James and Ethan and that out of them all, she was the oldest. They lived together in a huddle below the bank of Gotham, near enough to a grate so that both the sun and lamplight trickled into the grate-opening.
In the mornings, Ariadne would make the climb out and scavenge the streets for jobs. Legal, illegal, it didn't really matter, with four younger children any money was good money. She made a decent amount here and there, she made both good and bad connections; some cops, some pimps. The people always lauded over her ability to control what she could control, to never bite off what she could not chew. Though at times, her connections and jobs clashed, she always managed to skim by without any real consequences.
"Careful though." some advised, "With Dent, the whole city is being watched." Jobs in that part of the world were slimmer and slimmer. As a last resort Ariadne would always go to the street corner of the Market District. There she would go to her connection, an ex-grifter named Cal, and he had the same response every single time.
"Wanna make the money you want to? Go to school, or become a prostitute, either way you'll be sellin' that pussy." he would spit and rock back and forth on his plastic crate with five newspapers strewn underneath and his cigar smoke would plume up and over his swollen face. "Why're ya askin' me, girl? The Gotham I knew is gone, lost to the new...now we gots new folk, bold folk...reckon you don't fall in wit' dat kinda crowd, eh Ari?" she smirked, thanked the old man, and took off down the street.
Ariadne wasn't much for hope, or change, every time either would come around she would always manage to screw herself. She knew that even as she walked past the crowds pouring out of stores and homes. She would become increasingly self conscious, aware of the stares regarding her dress and smell. She knew she was out of place, since the Dent Act vandals had all but disappeared to what she called Top Gotham. But in the world she established as True Gotham they were anything but, the halls of True were filled to the brim with its degenerates, good and bad. Top Gotham was the same way, one just had to know what they were looking for. Ariadne looked around a lot in the city section established as Old Gotham, if there were any dangerous or illegal work being done, it would be in that sector. Sometimes, Ariadne would find something, often times she found nothing. Today she found Jebb, who owned a rotting food stand that he called "organic" if she talked to him long enough, distracted him, she was often able to steal seven or so items of fruit up her long sleeves. The approach, to her, was considered to be an art form, it had its rules and techniques, and the strategy changed every time.
"Hey'ya Jebb," she purred, rustling her shaggy hair, "How's business a'goin?"
"It ain't," he spat. "haven't had a cust'mer all day, didn't have any yesterday neither, what's with these assholes?"
"Maybe no one wants fruit this week?" she coyly cough as she handled a juicy orange up her sleeve.
"Who the fuck wouldn't want fruit? This is delicious shit I'm sellin' here."
"It's December Jebb." Ariadne laughed, three now were up the tightening sleeve. She was careful to angle her body so that Jebb would notice only her peaking collarbone that snuck its way out of her heavy coat and sweater. It was dirty, she knew this, but it was still skin she figured.
"So the fuck what? Anyways..." he paused and sniffed the air, "Christ girl, when was the last time you had a bath?"
"When was the last time you had one?" she snarked as she pushed a fifth up her jacket.
"Hey, I bathe everyday okay? Unlike you gutter rats, I tell ya, I'm gettin' real sick of this shit. I have to freeze my ass off while rich assholes sit in their mansions peeing into mason jars. It just isn't fair."
Ariadne giggled. "Well, in the summer you'll make what ya deserve, then you can pee into all the mason jars ya want." With that she would usually turn to leave and casually, but briskly walk away. But today was different, today was unfortunate. As she flung her arm to meet her hip a single orange slipped between the fabric and her arm. With horror she watched it fly through the air and hit the ground with a singular PLOMP. Both her and Jebb stared at each other, and Jebb's face contorted into a mask that was anything but humor.
"Goddamn it Ari, again!? How many this time!?" he seethed, picking up the ruined orange. "I need the money you tramp!"
"You need money, and my family needs food." she nervously coughed. "What can a person do?"
"Put it back you nubile slut." he breathed. She would have done it to, if not for the latter comment. She smiled darkly and tensed. Her hands flexed and her arms poised themselves in preparation for a steeple chase.
"Or what Jebb, you gonna call the cops? Or worse, the Batman?" she laughed as Jebb half lunged for her. It was all she needed as she took off into the street, with Jebb closely following. "Officer!" he cried "Officer!" Usually it meant a cry of surrender, that ol' Jebb was simply too out of wind and smoked too many cigarettes. But this time was different, out from the crowd stepped a young man, and as he sprinted off towards her, Ariadne knew it was time to kick it into fifth gear.
Fleeing the scene was a difficult task, even in Old Gotham there were still a lot of people, and weaving between them proved to be a challenge.
"HEY!" shouted the cop. "STOP!" Ariadne rolled her eyes at the ridiculous plea, she dove out into the area of the road where the cars were parked and pushed herself to speed up. A grate, she needed to find a grate, only then would she be safe. No cop ever went into True Gotham, legend had it that they would burn on the spot from sheer hypocrisy. As her eyes scanned, the cop's breathing became louder his footsteps faster, he was upon her when she saw it. Taking action she dropped like a dead weight and slid between the large gap of the grate's mouth. With a heavy crash she entered the sewer, looking up she saw the cop kneeling beside the grate, his dark outline contrasting the bright gray light. She stood there at the mouth, then cop's eyes met hers.
"You stay there, you here me? That's not a place for you, I'm gonna lift this up, and I'll get you out of there!" His face was thin and he had an honest look about him. But that's not what drew Ariadne to stay, she saw something else, something darker. Anger, she saw anger; maybe not at her, but the eyes reflected a deep and understandable anger, something that she had not seen in anyone besides herself.
"Hey, do you hear me?" he asked. "Say something, I can't see if you're there or not."
"I'm here." she replied, "for now."
"No, no don't move!" he snapped. "Please, you don't know where you are. That place is dangerous."
"It's only dangerous to you." she smirked. "You think you know this place, trust me pig, I'm a lot safer here than up there."
"Well," grunted the officer. "It doesn't matter now, you're there and I'm here, so...uh,here I come." She stood there until the last possible moment, until she saw the light pouring in. Until she was sure that the man saw her face. She wanted him to see her face, because she saw his, it's only fair she would think to herself. She wanted him to see her look of smug assurance. She stood there until the last possible second, she even saw the grate come up, then and only then, did she turn heel. By the time the grate had fully shifted, she was gone. Vanished, like a shadow.
He stood in the sewer for a while. He did not venture beyond the latter, he wouldn't dare. This was not a place for him, and the darkness was overbearing. He looked back and forth, wondering if the young girl would come back but she never did. She looked young, but she also looked older, it was hard for him to pin the age. Her face, he had seen her face, it looked dirty and yet, young and fresh. He saw something though on her face, before she fled from the grate; a look, flash. He saw on the child's face a look of indignation, of cleverness, but all were suppressed by the hint in her eye. A deep seeded anger, teaming at the surface, brought to light just like her crime. As he stood there he pondered this, his dispatch crackled in, breaking his line of thought. He glanced up and down the sewer hall again, a creeping fear gripped him. The air buzzed with dark danger. Swallowing, he slowly turned and climbed the latter. Above he peered one last time into the mouth of the maze before replacing the seal over it. There's something wrong with that place, he thought, something ancient and dark sleep in those tunnels. Some dark energy roaming since the founding of Gotham, something deep; something dangerous.