There it was. Aura licked her lips as she stared hungrily into the window. The peak perfection of a delicacy. The golden standard of food. A meat pie. And it was about to be Aura's.
Rising slowly from where she was crouched behind a crate, she made her way over to the small bakery. The heavy scent of meat accompanied by the light sweetness of bread was enough to make her drool. It had been days since she'd had a proper meal.
Combing her greasy black hair back into a serviceable bun, Aura crossed the noisy street, making last-minute adjustments to her mud-stained, grey dress. Countless carriages rumbled by, and hooded men stood at every corner, but Aura was skilled at surviving the streets of Oobay.
Oobay. The city known for its high mortality rate and terrible living conditions. Children were taken from parents daily to either slave away in the mines and factories, or worse, forced to serve the king. Aura had managed to stay alive and free--being a sixteen-year-old female was incredibly rare in Oobay--but only because of her powers. A gift she never took for granted. She'd be dead without them.
"Hey, girl!" One of the hooded men, those in the service of the king, stepped forward. "What is your occupation?"
Aura strode confidently over to him, having done this countless times before. "I work at the wand factory just a few streets from here. My siblings don't earn enough for food, so I have to stay at home and take care of them." She hoped her slight frame wouldn't give away her age. Women over the age of twenty were mostly ignored; it was those who were between the ages of thirteen and nineteen that were in danger of being taken.
"Huh, parents are gone?" The man removed a scroll from his cloak and unrolled it. "Just need your name so I can see if your story is true." He grinned slowly. "What a pity it'd be if it isn't."
Aura swore silently; a scroll definitely changed things. The mages had crafted them for the use of the Guardsmen--the hooded ones. The scrolls could read minds, but permission needed to be given first in the form of the person's name. Very few would die rather than give their name, but Aura most definitely would.
"My name?" Aura closed her eyes, allowing herself to feel the pulsing mind of the hooded one in front of her. There was something always off about their minds, a void to them.
Ignoring the ominous thought, she allowed herself to probe his mind, instilling a command of sleep. A thud was all she needed to release herself from his mind. Her eyes opened, and a slow smirk formed on her face. There he was, collapsed on the ground, stuck in a deep sleep. He would wake in a few hours--her touch was more potent--but it was enough time to escape.
Fighting the urge to steal his scroll--it wouldn't work for her--she moved on to her initial target, the bakery. The door swung open, a merry tinkling of a bell following. The aroma of so much fresh food nearly made Aura collapse in hunger. Forcing slumber on the hooded one had drained her, and she was already malnourished. But, she still had the energy for one more command.
"Can I help ye?" An older man—perhaps thirty—stepped out from a wooden doorway, his short brown beard dusted in flour. He was a tall man, much taller than short Aura, but she didn't have to fear him.
"I was wondering how much your meat pies are?" Her deep, raspy voice seemed to surprise the older man, but what else did she expect? She was just over five feet and with the frame of a wooden rail.
"Three ha'silvers per pie. Loaves are but a copper. Ye sure ye have the coin for a pie?" The man's accent was peculiar, similar to the miners of the Bluefrost mountains. Aura had never been outside of Oobay, but she'd always dreamed of traveling Allegora.
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