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Southern Flock

Niki's Story

December 31, 2083


Psychics were many things, but above all else, psychics were counselors.

Without health insurance or access to a doctor, many of Vendona's citizens flocked to the underground market for illegal medications or other methods to solve their ailments. One of the more popular black-market physicians was Madame Elva, a psychic and socialite extraordinaire. Some rumors said she had access to the Highlands. Better rumors said she had access because residents hired her from there. But I had the best rumor locked up inside me.

I knew all the rumors were false.

Madame Elva wasn't even her real name.

"Niki!" She barked out my born name like a curse, then followed it with instructions to dump the latest vomit bin into the alleyway. Once more, she'd drank the night away, and now, I'd have to shoo away her customers once the sun fell. No one came to the sunken bay during the day. Not even the cops. Which was why I was safe. It was why—I told myself—my parents left me with someone like Elva.

Cleaning vomit was a small price to pay to live in Vendona.

With red eyes like mine, a bad blood could never hide for long.

Even some bad bloods were born better than others. Looking like one on the outside was almost worse than actually being one. I was the worst combination—imperfections on the inside and out—and my inhuman ears heard it all. I heard everything.

I even heard his breathing before I opened the back door.

The teen was tall but lanky, and his hand rose as if he were about to knock. I ignored him as I ducked under his arm and threw the bucket across the bay.

When he didn't leave, I wanted to shout at him. But then he looked me in the eyes—my deeply red eyes—without flinching. I swallowed my anger.

"Coming during the day is dangerous," I said.

He dropped his hand but not his stare. "Life's dangerous," he said. "Makes no difference to me."

His brown hair was as dark as his stare, but his freckles were sweet. Madame Elva often read only expressions to tell people's fortunes. Dark circles, for instance, singled a lack of sleep, and more often than not, troubles at home. From there, she checked cuticles, bitten lips, uncut hair, and the type of clothes someone wore.

This boy was plain.

As plain as someone who barely lived off the streets. A bad blooded one, too, if I considered how he didn't flinch at my obvious extremities. But I had no idea what a bad blood would want with a psychic. If anything, bad bloods probably knew a real psychic—one with actual powers to see the future. Only humans believed a psychic bad blood would set up shop to share her powers and risk execution for a few bucks. No, even the humans knew Elva wasn't the real deal. But they knew I was when they saw me. It was why Elva kept around. For anesthetic sakes. And for lies.

From miles away, I could hear a customer coming, and I could warn Elva. She could open the door before they knocked. She could guess what they had in their pockets when I told her about the jiggling keys and coins. She could tell them everything if that person had muttered to themselves along the way. I told her whatever I could.

But this boy didn't speak his secrets, not even to himself, and his keys—if he had keys—were securely sewn into a tight pocket for silence. His footsteps were quiet, too. He crossed the sunken bay with eerie precision. He flinched away from the East Ocean. Couldn't blame him either. The entire coast was poisoned by oil spills, and every local knew it.

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