This is the story of a group of youths caught in the bloody streets of a dying city.
Ross, a fledgling theif and self-proclaimed master of the night, must fight to ascend the twisting social ladder in a dangerous world. Avelon struggles to overcome her unfortunate gender and make a name for herself as the world's youngest maga. Marcus, a new-made orphan, learns to provide for himself and live without the safety-net of his ancient family name.


2. The Beaten Urchin

Ross tried, he really did. For the first few lashes, he had stayed absolutely silent, stonily mocking the men trying to shame him. Still, by the time a dozen strokes had passed, he was screaming like a child being thrashed. Ross was ashamed of his behavior, he really was, but the bloody slashes across his back throbbed and burned, the pain igniting anew every time another mark was added.

Around Ross, the ever growing crowd spit and jeered, clapping and shouting every time the thick leather lash landed upon his young back. Ross tossed the white-blonde, sweat soaked hair from his forhead disdainfully and steeled himself for another blow. Only five more, he thought to himself, relief and fear mingling within him. Twenty lashes total. The most he'd ever heard of given at once, which, of course, only added to the excitement of the spectators.

Gritting his teeth, Ross managed to stifle his shriek as the next blow came whistling through the air, but it was a near thing. As it was, his moan sounded like a cheep dockside whore. Still, you can't have everything.

When it was finally over, Ross barely felt his bonds being cut, barely realized he was falling until after he lay stunned upon the ground. A few droplets of saliva splattered around him, dampening the stone and his face equally, but he hurt too much to mind the shame.

"Filthy urchin," the man who had caught him stealing from his cart growled, flinging another thick globule of phlegm down on the barely conscious Ross. "This will teach you scum to mind your betters. If it doesn't, I've got plenty of time and nothing to fill it with. Mayhap the next time the guard will let me hold the lash."

A dark chuckle spread through the yard as the few remaining watchers gathered closer. All those who had merely craved excitement had left already. Those still here, Ross knew, were the truly viscious bastards who wanted to watch his pain for as long as possible. Of course, Ross wasn't one to let others laugh at him, especially not when it was deserved.

"Yeah, we're all hoping for that," he managed in a raspy, breathy voice, fighting to hold it steady because otherwise it wasn't worth the effort. "All you fat whore's sons' arms don't have enough muscle to break a stone, let alone weild a whip." Ross regained some little strength from the mocking laughter that rippled now, sensing that it was directed toward the merchant. The man's face contorted in angry rage as, in a fit of spite, he landed a solid blow to Ross' side. The boy curled up with a groan, attempting the shield his head with his arms as the heavy boot descended once more.

It did him little good and only managed to get his arms bruised besides everything else. Ross knew, somewhere inside him, that he was dying anyway. Maybe not from the wounds themselves, although the gods knew he had lost enough blood, but the cuts and lascerations would slow him considerably. As a thief, any stiffness or hesitation would cost him his spoils, and without the food he lifted, he would die. It would be slow, and it would be messy, but it was, after everything, inevitable.

Ross sighed as another blow landed, spinning him into unconsciousness.

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