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Northern Flock

Maggie's Story

July 23, 2082


My name is Magatha Altroud Vondercuff, but my brother calls me Maggie in secret. He says that's the only part of my name that matters now, so I try to wish the other letters away. It doesn't really work. The only thing that does is him.


He's tall, lean, and his black hair gleams, even in the darkest shadows of the Pits. That's where the fights take place. The underground sewer-shelter was abandoned years ago, and it's now used to house the fights, the bets, and other hellish things. (That's what my brother Jeb calls them anyway. He's smart. Ten years older than me. A legal man.) Nevertheless, he makes money by betting on them—and even fighting when things get tough—but it's something I detest, even though it's how Jeb feeds me. It's my brother's job. Mine is to stay quiet and go unnoticed.

Jeb kisses me once on the forehead and then Adam takes his place by my side. No matter how much I look at him, he hardly looks at me. Instead, he searches the crowd, his forehead creased in concentration. Somehow, he manages to look closer to Jeb's age, even though he's one year older than me. We were kids, really, but adults made by our realities.

My parents kicked Jeb out around the time I was born because he misbehaved a lot. They called him a bad kid, and he stole me when he left to prove it. I'd hate him except he probably did me a favor. I turned out to be a bad blood, something only he knows. Bad bloods aren't welcome in the gangs unless they're fighting. Tonight, one is fighting my brother, and those are the only nights that Adam comes—when bad bloods fight.

Jeb told me—a secret, of course—that Adam is one of them. Someone like me, I guess. But Adam's never told me himself, and I suppose that's where my obsession began. Another secret bad blood. A boy like me.

At first I thought he came to fight in the Pits, but he hasn't got close to the cages once. He mainly sits by me. That's how I realized what he was really doing. He's searching.

"Who are you looking for?"

My question startles him. The bell signaling the fights don't. But his eyes lock on mine. Finally. They're black, like coal waiting to be crushed into diamonds. I feel as if I already see the potential jewel he could become, but he looks at me like I'm a fool for thinking of jewels. My brother is fighting in the Pits to feed us, after all.

"Why do yah think I'm looking for someone?" For once, he sounds his age, and I wonder if he purposely deepens his voice around Jeb and the others. For once, I can believe he's nine, maybe ten. I seem to recall he had a birthday recently, but I'm not sure.

My answer to his question is simple. "Because you keep looking."

Unlike him, I don't look around at all. I don't like watching Jeb fight. I don't like seeing the bruises later. I don't like thinking about the loser—the sometimes-dead one—that leaves in a bag to who knows where.

Adam's eyes flicker over to the cages, and I'm glad I don't see anything reflecting in them. "I'm not." He stops. "I am," he admits, "but I'd rather not talk about it." He even leans over and tugs one of my long red curls. "And stop getting into people's business, kid."

I swat his hand away. "You're not much older than me."

He pauses at that, like he is, like he has to remind himself that he factually isn't. But there's something in his face that scares me—like he is older, like something has happened to him to make it that way—and the worst of it is, he looks at me like it'll happen to me, too.

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