**Winner of Replica writing Comp** In the city of Eto, the life of a noble is worth the live of ten commoners. In order to keep the world balanced, each time a noble comes of age at the age of 16, they select 10 commoners to kill.


2. Lin- 1

I ducked the drunken blow from a nearby noble, and skipped towards the door, a letter clutched tightly in my hand. My heart raced, as I heard his fist whistle towards me again.

“Get back here you little street rat!” he roared.

Not likely, you drunkard! I thought, darting through the crowded tavern with the agility of a bird. He wasn’t going to catch me. He wasn’t.

That’s when one of the nearby nobles stuck out their foot, and sent me sprawling to the ground, the letter spilling from my hand onto the floor. I reached for it, but suddenly there was a hand on my back, hauling me to my feet.

My eyes met the bloodshot ones of the noble that had been yelling at me earlier. He shook me, holding me up so that my feet barely touched the ground.

“Got you!” he said triumphantly. “Thought you could get away, did you?”

I forced myself to drop my eyes. “Please sir… I have messages to deliver.”

Let me go. Just let me go. Spirits, please, make him let me go!

“You can deliver them after you explain yourself!” he growled. “What did you try and steal from me?!”

“I didn’t!” I panicked, and tried to keep my hand from going to my pocket, where I’d hidden the coins he’d kept in his. There was something else there too- something hard and smooth. A gemstone, maybe. That was what had alerted him to my presence. Normally I can steal without problems, but he must have felt the gemstone moving, and spotted me in turn.

“Oh really? How about we just search you then and see if you’ve got any coins on your possession,” he growled, giving me another shake.

“Please, sir,” I whispered. “I wouldn’t lie to you. I have messages I need to deliver. Please, let me go.”

“Not so fast, you little street rat,” he replied. He tossed me aside, into the grip of one of his guards. “Search the little brat.” He glared at me, and I forced myself not to glare back at him. I was a commoner. I had to appear submissive. Maybe he would let me go. “And if you have a single coin on you, I’ll make you wish you’d never been born.”

“I am a messenger, sir,” I whispered. “I am paid for my services. Any coins you find in my pockets will be my own.”

The gem. I have to get rid of it. He’ll know it’s his, and he’ll beat me.

He laughed coldly. “We’ll see, messenger.” He nodded to the guard. “Search her.”

The guard pulled my jacket off of my shoulders, leaving me shivering in my sleeveless blue dress. I hated the dress- but the nobles insisted I wear it. That had been the first rule. If I was going to work for the nobles, I could not appear before them wearing street clothes. I had barely managed to convince them to let me wear a jacket- my dress had no pockets for coins, earned or otherwise. When I couldn’t earn enough from working, I stole. Normally my fingers were as light as a breeze. But not this time. It had to have been the gemstone. There was no way he would have known otherwise.

The guard rifled through the pockets of my jacket, spilling the contents onto the floor. A few shards of glass. A small locket. A few odd stones I’d picked up. Some copper coins.

At first, I thought he wasn’t going to find the hidden pocket. It was well placed, after all. You could only open it from the side, and it was disguised as a seam. My oldest sister had made it for me, telling me that if I was going to get in trouble, I’d better have something to keep me from getting caught. She condones my stealing, in a way. It was the only way I could provide enough for our family.

Luck wasn’t on my side today, though. He happened to feel the opening to the pocket, and he tugged on it. There was a soft click, and then gold coins spilled out onto the floor, along with a single black gemstone.

“Ah ha!” the noble crowed triumphantly. “Just what I thought! You’ve been stealing from me.”

“Please sir…” I whispered weakly. “You have your coins back. You have your gem back. Please let me go.”

“Not so fast, little thief,” he snarled. “You think you can just steal my things and get away with it?! I’ll teach you to respect your betters.” He nodded to the soldier. “Beat some respect into this little rat!”

The guard grabbed my arm in a tight grip, preventing me from running. Not that I could run- even if I wanted to. The other nobles in the tavern were turning now, eager to see a commoner get beaten. I squirmed in his grip, desperate to escape. At this point, I didn’t care about anything other than getting away. The soldier would break bones before the noble was satisfied. Why had I been stupid enough to get caught?!

“Slippery as a snake, this one!” the guard commented.

“Then beat her before she gets away!” the noble ordered.

The guard drove a fist into my gut, dropping me with one hit. The air went out of my lungs, and I let out a soft groan at the burst of pain.

If I had thought that falling quickly would mean a shorter, more merciful beating, I was wrong. The soldier only seemed entertained by my quick surrender.

“Don’t have any guts in you, do you street rat?!” This statement was accompanied by a kick to my back. I let out a soft hiss of pain. That would bruise tomorrow. Assuming I’d live until tomorrow. I’d seen other commoners killed for lesser crimes.

“Coward,” the guard mocked. He was enjoying this way too much. He grabbed my arm, and pulled me back to my feet, hitting me hard across the face. I saw white as my head snapped to one side. Deep in my mind and heart, in a place I’d tried to lock away, anger burned. They mocked me. They called me a coward. I would show them. I had to show them. No one could say that I, Lin, was a whimpering fool- a child that submitted easily to the whims of nobles. Each blow only increased my anger. The nobles around me were laughing, egging the soldier on. Bursts of pain and color flashed across my vision. If this kept going, I would black out.

My hand curled into a fist. The pain continued- a constant, massive throbbing, accompanied by sharp flashes as the soldier rained blows on my back and occasionally my face. I felt a cut open on my cheek, blood trickling down the side. That- the spilling of blood, no matter how small- settled it for me. I brought my free arm whipping around, straight into the guard’s nose, as hard as I could. The instant my hand made contact with his face, I yanked my other arm free, dropping into a fighting position.

The tavern went silent. No commoner ever would even dare to attack a guard, even in self defense. What I’d done was dangerous. I could get killed for it. But… just in that moment… hitting that guard had felt amazing. I had shown them. I had shown them I could fight back! I at least still had my pride.

“You little-” the guard’s hand shot out, closing around my throat in a tight grip. With the other hand, he drew his sword. “I’ll teach you to respect those that are better than you!”

I closed my eyes, waiting for the sword to bite into me. But that moment never came.

After a few seconds of silence, I dared to open my eyes.

The door to the tavern had swung open. Someone was standing in the doorway, framed by the sunlight. All eyes had gone to him, and the room had fallen silent.

“I think she’s had enough,” he said quietly, stepping into the room. His voice was higher than I had expected it to be. I felt the guard release my arm, but I was too busy studying my savior.

He was young. That was the first thing I noticed. He was around my age, but had obviously never seen a hard day’s work in his life. He was small built, with scrawny limbs, like he hadn’t grown into his own body yet. However, his eyes were bright and intense, taking in the room.

“The commoner’s faced her punishment,” he continued, walking forwards. The surrounding nobles parted for him without a word. “So I believe we’re done here.”

He walked to where I had dropped my letters. He picked them up, and placed them in my hand without another word.

I was silent for a moment. “Thank you,” I whispered.

“Go,” he replied.

I nodded hurriedly and fled the tavern, knowing I was lucky to escape with my life.

But I had shown them. They couldn’t rule every part of my life. I wouldn’t let them.

I heard footsteps, and turned to see the boy hurry past me.

“Wait!” I called. I know- he was a noble. But… he’d also saved me. “Who are you?”

“No one of any importance,” he said quietly. Then he turned away onto a separate street, and was gone.

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