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.


3. The Young Witness

Avelon watched in awe as a boy was beaten. It wasn't the beating itself, nor the pain it caused. Whatever else she might be, she wasn't that sadistic. No. It was the way this boy accepted the pain in indignant denial of his own status. It seemed to her as if, even lying there bloody and an inch from death, he still felt himself a better man than those around him. He snarled something back at the man above him, and the small group of watchers crowded close as the affronted merchant rained blows upon him. A small sigh ran through them when the boy lost consciousness, and slowly people trickled away, until only Avelon and the merchant remained with the dying boy.

For, she knew, the youth was dying. His skin was an odd color, bloodless and faintly green beneath the blossoming bruises that mottled his flesh. The spreading red pool around him was much too large for any one person to lose safely.

The merchant also seemed to sense this, realizing that his sport was over. He aimed a last, viscious kick at the boy's face, and Avelon watched in horror as it landed, the crunch of breaking bones making her sick. And then, finally finished, the man left, and only she remained, hidden in the shadows of a cross street.

"What did you do, boy, to inspire such anger?" Avelon wondered aloud, watching the slow rise and fall of the young chest. She thought of the boy as young, even if he was older than she. Avelon knew so much more than he did, had experienced so much more. The boy looked like an urchin, like the rabble that crowded the darker alleys and scurried unsceen underfoot, that begged and stole to live. She had already lived so much more. None of these urchins had any hope of ever knowing some of the things she had learned.

Finally the girl summoned enough courage to approach the bloody figure. He was bare from the waste up, his shirt lying dirty and ragged some distance away, practically torn to shreds. Although, when she thought about it, it was probably always that ruined. Not that she really cared, of course.

Avelon stepped cautiously forward, lifting her skirts and bundling her cloak so that neither trailed in the sticky blood. At every step her shoes  came up with a wet slurping sound that sent shivers down her back. The boy was curled with his face away from her, and besides he was unconscious, so Avelon took no care to disguise her approach. Even if the boy had been healthy and fit enough to fight her, she knew that he was no match for her power. Of course, the way he was turned only made the snarled, broken mass of his back that much more apparent. Layers of flesh and muscle hung loose, torn apart and shredded, revealing gaping expanses of raw tissue. In one place the whip had cut to the bone, revealing startling white against the sea of red.

The girl sighed and glanced around, wishing she was braver. If she were, then perhaps Avelon might have done more for this boy, but, as she was at heart a coward, she did the only thing she could manage. Taking a small pin from the sleeve of her dress, Avelon pricked her wrist, watching a single red droplet of her blood splash down into the lake around her feet. Then, closing her eyes, she mumbled a few phrases, drew upon her power, and sent it into the boy. He twitched once, that was all, but the bleeding stopped at least.

Avelon slumped, tired by even this small exertion. This type of bloodmagic was forbidden to women for a reason, she knew. Her kind were seen as only useful for three things: mixing potions, stitching cuts, and breeding with the male magi to produce powerful pureblooded offspring. As such, her skill was much less than any male magus. It was almost worth the price she paid to attend the school. Almost.

Brooding silently and shoving this boy from her thoughts, Avelon stepped away, back into the darkness that welcomed her, sheltered her, protected her. Trotting quickly, she hurried away, already preparing herself for her night's work.

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