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.


6. The Dark Maga

The darkness enfolded her, shielded her. Avelon only wished it could do more to cool the burning guilt raging through her as her mind confronted her again and again with images of the dying boy. She knew that when he died, it would be her fault, even if there was nothing more she could do.

It was strange, Avelon knew, how the balance of power fell among the mages. The magi, the males, were the better healers and defenders, specializing in all the benign gifts that could be used. Their female counterparts, the magae, were only strong in the forbidden arts. True, it was incredibly useful in times of war and strife, but during peace they found themselves hunted and feared, the dark magae and bloodmages more even than the rest.

And of course, Avelon was both. She didn't even have those excuses of most bloodmages - that they could use their gifts for healing, to bring good to the world. No. Avelon was a weapon, nothing more. That stunt, small as it had been, little as she'd done to help that boy, had exhaused her meager supply of tricks. It was a small thing, to be sure. A binding to seal his blood inside his body. On a battlefield, she would have used it differently, sealing the blood in the body, so that the unlucky bastard's heart would give out, unable to pump the fluid to his brain.

All of this echoed inside her mind, bouncing and jostling against that bloody picture of a dying boy, while Avelon crept through the shadows, drawing themselves around herself like a shroud. For her punishment, she decided, she would visit the richer districts of the city, where, while her special gifts were more dangerous and less sought after, they would pay better. Maybe, if she wasn't caught and killed, she could try to help the boy later.

With this in her mind, she crossed the city, bypassing the busier streets and courts and sticking instead to the darkened alleys and shadows, flitting from shelter to shelter like a fae. Finally crossing that invisible boundary between the world, Avelon was forced to pick her way more carefully as the number of alleys dwindled, replaced by well-maintained stone paths and promanades. The city here was beautiful, lanterns shining like beacons through the soft twilight, windows glistening with painted glass like the dreams of children, stars shining down on the sleeping city. Even the darkness itself seemed different somehow... softer. It was as if a velvet and satin mantel wrapped the world, rather than the ash-and-mud feel that prevailed in the slums.

Avelon crept through this sheltered night like a ghost, sliding silently across the clean stones until she reached a tavern. Unlike the dirty, dangerous, stinking things found on the other side, where fights were expected and you were as likely to be robbed as bedded by the girl you fondled on your lap, this was a gentle place, the only sound coming from it the soothing music of an impressive fluitist and a drummer. Pulling the hood of her black cloak above her scarlet hair and arranging it so that the deep red of her dress barely showed through, just a hint of ruby and a smattering of dark lace, she pushed her way into the drinking establishment.

At first, no one noticed her. She used the momentary anonymity to find a table in the back corner, well away from the other patrons, and awaited one of the staff. When the nervous girl finally approached, Avelon just watched her fidgit from under the hidden shade of her hood. As time passed, the girl began dancing from foot to foot, attracting the attention of nearby patrons, and slowly heads began to turn in Avelon's direction. Then, raising one pale, slim hand, she sent the girl away, still without speaking, and lowered her hood.

Of course, it only took the people a few seconds to realize what she was, either because of the insignia she wore dangling from a chain on her forhead, or from the three black and two red studs piercing her left ear. After that, it was only a matter of time before the bravest - of drunkest - of them approached her.

Tonight, that turned out to be a gem encrusted noble, his young face still showing hints of baby fat. With a resigned sigh, Avelon motioned for him to sit across from her. Pricking her wrist for the second time that evening, she smeared the droplet of blood onto the back of his hand and bound it to the darkness in her corner of the room, reading the shifting shadows as they spread his entire life across that single bead of red liquid.

Closing her eyes against the vision, Avelon sighed again, already knowing that the pompous fool before her would hate the foretelling of his death. Opening her eyes, the girl spun him a series of glittering lies instead. He would meet someone from his past, someone he thought he'd lost. He would marry, have a son, name him Lycensius, and grow old and rich and fat.

Of course, she didn't tell him that he would die that night, nor that it would be by the hand of a desperate, broken boy with short brown hair and green eyes.

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