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Find more The Glass Arrow
SPONSORED CONTENT FROM TOR TEEN
My breath is sharp as a dagger, stabbing through my throat. It’s all I hear. Whoosh. Whoosh. In and out.
They’re here. The Trackers. They’ve followed Bian from the lowland village where he lives. The fool led them right to us.
The forest I know as well as the lines on my palms is dense and shrouded from the midmorning light. I keep to the shadows, skirting around the bright open patches where the sunlight streams to
the forest floor. My calloused feet fly over the damp leaves and gray pebbles, keeping me stealthy as a fox.
I run a practiced pattern, just like my ma taught me as a child. A zigzag through the brush and trees. I never run in a line; their horses will catch up too quickly on the straightaway, and
they’re not all I have to worry about. I know the Tracker hounds have picked up my scent too, but they’re scroungers, weakened by hunger, and not as nimble as me in these woods. I’m banking on
their starving stomachs leading them directly to the bait meat in my hunting snares.
My thoughts jolt to the traps. There are six placed strategically around our camp. I know they’re good because I set them myself, and checked them only this morning.
In my mind I see a Tracker’s heavy black boots clamber over the loose branches, see him fall ten feet down into a muddy hole. Another might trip the spring of the rabbit cage so its razor-sharp
teeth bite down through his leather shoe.
Trackers are cunning. But not as cunning as me.
I swing around a stout pine, locking my body in place behind it so that I’m absolutely still. The coarse bark imprints onto the naked skin of my shoulders but I hold my position. That’s when I
hear it. The thunder of hoofbeats.
A shot pierces the air. Gunfire. Someone yells—a man’s voice, strained, hurting. It’s either one of them or Bian. He’s the only man old enough to make a noise so deep. Tam’s not yet seven, and
if he were caught, his cry would be shrill. Childlike.
Tam. I must find Tam and Nina, the twins. They count on me when they’re scared. Though when I conjure them in my mind—Tam’s black hair and button nose, Nina’s ever-watchful eyes—I am the
one who’s scared.
I’ve prepared them, I tell myself. I’ve prepared them like my ma prepared me. They know the hiding place—the abandoned wolf’s den in the south woods. An image of it breaks through from my
memory: the narrow, shale entrance and damp inner chamber, smelling of mold. The rocky floor lined with the brittle bones of squirrels whose souls have long since passed to Mother Hawk. At first it
looks to be a trap in itself, but if you squeeze past the tapering stone walls, the rock gives way to soil, and the twisting roots of an old pine create a ladder to climb upward into sunlit
This has been our hiding place for my entire life. The twins know this. I’ve drilled them on this plan since my ma died four years ago, when I was eleven. Since they were toddling, crying in
that cave for fear of the dark, and I had to carry them the entire way, singing their favorite lullabies, saying, you’re so brave, you’re so brave. Lifting them out myself, because they
weren’t yet strong enough to climb.
I made them practice hiding even when Salma told me not to—that I shouldn’t “frighten them.” Stupid—readiness was how we’d survived two raids from the Trackers in youth. But though Salma is two
years older, she acts like a baby. She hates the mountains, and hates my ma, even in death, for stealing her away here, for giving her freedom. And why she hates that, I’ll never know.
Salma. I’ve lost sight of my cousin, and Metea, Bian, Tam and Nina’s mother. They’re my only family, the only ones who live with me in hiding.
Another shot. My hearing sharpens, hones in on the sound, and I alter my course. I have to see if it’s Bian that’s in trouble. In his panic I’m sure he’s run for the wolf’s den. If the twins are
there, if Salma and Metea are there, he’ll give them all away.
I’m running westward now, aware of the heat and the moisture coating my skin. The trees spread, and I enter the clearing where the moss beneath my feet grows plush and soft as fur. Most days I
love it here, but today this area is treacherous. There are few places to hide, and at any given moment I am exposed on all sides.
The hoofbeats have faded behind me, and the stillness makes me leery. Only a fool would think I’d lost them. No, they’re stalling, waiting to box me in.
I am less than a mile from our camp. For a flash, I debate running back to get a weapon. Any weapon—a bow, a knife, a steel pan. Anything that can be useful to defend myself, but I don’t have
time. My usual obsidian blade is now in Tam’s tiny hands. I pray he won’t have to use it.
The sound of labored breathing, of something wounded, cuts through the trees. I skid to a halt, swinging myself onto a low branch so that I can get a better view of the surrounding area. Just
north, thirty paces or so, I make out a figure crumpled over the ground.
His long, dark hair is matted with mud and leaves. His tunic—the one he trades his T-shirt for when he comes to visit us in the mountains—is twisted around his body and stained with an ink
darker than berry juice. From the corner of his chest a spear nearly as tall as me juts out at an angle like a sapling after a windstorm. Weakly, he reaches for it with his opposite hand. Then his
arm drops and he grows still. Too still.
I will not approach him. I cannot. My heart twists for the boy I have called brother all my life.
Silence. Even the birds are voiceless. Even the stream has stopped.
I must get closer. If he’s alive, I can help him.
I climb down, one painstaking step at a time, crouching low to sneak towards him. As I close in, I feel my blood grow slow and thick.
Bian is dead.
The spear is planted straight through to the earth. There is a wound in his leg where a bullet has pierced his jeans, and another in his chest. Dark blossoms of red are still seeping out across
the sweat-dampened fabric. His mouth and his eyes are wide open in shock.
Still ten paces away and sheltered on one side by the thick, tri-split leaves of a wormwood bush, I fall to my knees. I don’t understand why they’ve done this—why he’s been shot and speared.
Trackers carry guns, and for their grand prize, use nets. They don’t use the antique weapons of the upper class.
The answer pops into my mind as soon as I ask the question. These Trackers are not bounty hunters out on a slave-catching mission. These Trackers are hired thugs, paid for their services by some
rich Magnate businessman looking for hunting fun. A bit of adventure.
It sickens me but I can picture it: The first shot, to Bian’s leg, was meant to slow him down, to fix the game. He’d stumbled, made an easy target for the men pursuing him. The Magnate managed
to spear him in the chest, but the wound had not been fatal. So the Tracker had shot him again.
Poor Bian. Poor stupid Bian. Who never heeded his mother’s desperate pleas that he cover his tracks when paying us a visit. I hate him for bringing this upon us. I hate him more for dying.
Enough time has been wasted. There is nothing I can do here.
Find the twins. Find Salma and Metea, I order myself. But though the grief has dried, my feet are clumsier than before.
The woods are unnaturally silent. I doubt the Trackers have taken the Magnate home. They would have returned to collect his spear, and besides that, they haven’t gotten what they’ve come for.
The real trophy.
They’ll want Salma, and Nina too, though she’s still too young for auction. Metea is in real danger. She’s too old to bear children—she was already forty when she had the twins. If she’s caught,
they’ll kill her, just like they killed her son, Bian.
But they’ll bring the girls—Salma, Nina, and me—to the city. My ma’s stories flash through my mind, blending with Bian’s, brought back from the civilized world. The Trackers will sell us to a
farm, where we’ll be groomed and fattened, and sold at auction to any Magnate who can pay the price.
To be free means to be hunted, and there aren’t many of us left.
I begin to follow one of my hidden hunting trails up a steep embankment towards the cave. I don’t know how long we’ve been under attack; the sun is high now, it must be almost midday. Surely the
Magnate will be tiring, slowing atop the show pony that has replaced his electric car as a sign of status. I’m tiring too. My muscles have grown tight, my tongue thick, and there’s less sweat
pouring down my face and between my breasts than before.
“Aya!” Metea’s faint cry steals my focus.
I cut sharply left, scaling a large boulder that leaves me momentarily exposed to the sunlight and any roaming eyes. Without delay, I hop down into a small clearing where I see Metea lying on
Now I don’t think about consequences. I don’t care if they see me. Metea has been a mother to me since my ma died. It scares me to the core that she is down; she’s fit and able to run. She
should be heading for the cave.
“Go, Aya!” she cries, twisting her face up to meet my gaze. “Salma has taken the twins!”
I look at Metea and see Tam’s small nose and Nina’s dark eyes. Bian’s broad shoulders. Her hair has become more salt than pepper these days, and her eyes and mouth bear the marks of too much
smiling. But now her face is all twisted up with a pain that makes my whole body hurt.
“Come on, get up!” I say, scanning the trees for movement.
“I can’t. Go, child! The Trackers, they . . .” She cries out, and the sound is like a pestle grinding my heart into the mortar. I lock my jaw.
Metea had gone into hiding when she learned she was pregnant with the twins. My ma helped her through the birthing. She didn’t cry out once.
“I’m not leaving you!” I say.
I try to force her over onto her back. A groan comes from deep in her throat, and draws a whimper to my lips. Now I’m certain the Trackers have heard us.
I succeed in turning her but can’t hide the gasp, or stop the sick that fills my mouth. There are deep lines scratched into her shins and thighs, and a serpentine gash across her belly, sliced
straight through the yellow dress Bian brought her for her birthday. The red blood seems darker next to that bright fabric. When I look closer, I can see the white and purple flesh within the
wounds that I recognize from cleaning a kill.
My throat is knotting up. I can heal most cuts, but nothing so deep. Metea will need a hospital. She will need to go into Bian’s village for treatment. I press down on her stomach to stanch the
bleeding and to my revulsion, my hands slide away from the slippery surface of her skin.
Metea grasps both of my arms.
“The Trackers have wires!” she sputters, and her eyes are now so wide I can see the perfect white rings around her brown irises.
“Wires,” I repeat. Long, metal, snakelike whips that stun and slice their prey. This can’t be right. Only Watchers, the city police, carry wires. Trackers belong to the Virulent caste, the
bottom-feeders of the city. They are thieves and murderers. Thugs. They have guns, not the complex weaponry of the Watchers.
Then I remember the spear protruding from Bian’s chest, and I remember my conclusion that the rich Magnate has hired these thugs for sport and entertainment. Maybe he’s outfitted them with
wires. If that’s true, who knows what else they got.
“Is Bian with Salma?” Metea asks me. There is a slur in her words, as though she’s drunk on shine, and my fear catapults to a new level. I don’t have to answer her. She sees the truth flicker
across my face. Her eyes slip shut momentarily, and I shake her.
“You know what to do,” she tells me.
I must sing his soul to Mother Hawk, who will carry him to the afterlife.
“Yes,” I promise. Though now my voice sounds very far away. Then, as if struck by a bolt of lightning, she rouses, and sits straight up.
“Run, Aya! I feel them! They’re coming!”
I know a moment later what she means. The horses’ hooves are striking the ground, vibrating the gravel beneath my knees. I look to the brush beside us and quickly consider dragging Metea into
it, but the horses are too close. If I’m going to save myself I don’t have time.
“Get up!” I am crying now. The salty tears blend with my sweat and burn my eyes.
“No!” Even as I say it I’m rising, hooking my arms beneath hers, pulling her back against my chest. But she’s dead weight and I collapse. She rolls limply to one side. I kiss her cheek, and hope
she knows that I love her. I will sing Bian’s soul to the next life. I will sing her soul there too, because she surely is doomed to his same fate.
“Run,” she says one last time, and I release her.
I sprint due north, the opposite direction from the cave where I hope Salma has hidden the twins. I run as hard and as fast as I can, fueled by fear and hatred. My feet barely graze the ground
for long enough to propel me forward, but still I can feel the earth tremble beneath them. The Trackers are coming closer. The Magnate is right on my heels.
I dodge in my zigzag pattern. I spin around the pine trees and barely feel the gray bark as it nicks my arms and legs. My hide pants rip near the knee when I cut too close to a sharp rock, and I
know that it’s taken a hunk of my skin, too. No time to check the damage, no time for pain. I hurdle over a streambed and continue to run.
A break in the noise behind me, and I make the mistake that will cost me my freedom.
I look back.
They are close. So much closer than I thought. Two horses have jumped the creek. They are back on the bank now, twenty paces behind me. I catch a glimpse of the tattered clothes of the Trackers,
and their lanky, rented geldings, frothing at the bit. The faces of the Virulent are ashy, scarred, and starved. Not just for food, but for income. They see me as a paycheck. I’ve got a credit sign
tattooed across my back.
I run again, forcing my cramping muscles to push harder. Suddenly, a crack pierces the air, and something metal—first cold, then shockingly hot—winds around my right calf. I cannot hold back the
scream this time as I crash to the ground.
The wire contracts, cutting through the skin and into the flesh and muscle of my leg. The heat turns electric, and soon it is shocking me, sending volts of lightning up through my hips,
vibrating my insides. My whole body begins to thrash wildly, and I’m powerless to hold still. The pressure squeezes my lungs and I can’t swallow. I start to pant; it is all I can do to get enough
A net shoots out over me. I can see it even through my quaking vision. My seizing arms become instantly tangled.
“Release the wire! Release it!” orders a strident male voice.
A second later, the wire retracts its hold, and I gasp. The blood from my leg pools over the skin and soaks the dirt below. But I know I have no time to rest. I must push forward. To avoid the
meat market, to keep my family safe, I must get away.
I begin to crawl, one elbow digging into the dirt, then the next. Fingers clawing into the mossy ground, dragging my useless leg. But my body is a corpse, and I cannot revive it.
Mother Hawk, I pray, please give me wings.
But my prayers are too late.
My voice is only a trembling whisper, but I sing. For Bian and for Metea. I sing as I push onward, the tears streaming from my eyes. I must try to set their souls free while I can.
Out of the corner of my eye I see the boney fetlocks of a chestnut horse. The smooth cartilage of his hooves is cracked. This must be a rental—the animal hasn’t even been shod. An instant later,
black boots land on the ground beside my face. Tracker boots. I can hear the bay of the hounds now. The stupid mutts have found me last, even after the horses and the humans.
I keep trying to crawl away. My shirt is soaked by sweat and blood, some mine, some Metea’s. It drips on the ground. I bare my teeth, and swallow back the harsh copper liquid that is oozing into
my mouth from a bite on the inside of my cheek. I am yelling, struggling against my failing body, summoning the strength to escape.
“Exciting, isn’t it boys?” I hear a man say. The same one who ordered the release of the wire.
He kneels on the ground and I notice he’s wearing fine linen pants and a collared shirt with a tie. If only I had the power to choke him with it. At least that would be vengeance for one death
today. His face is smooth and creaseless, but there’s no fancy surgery to de-age his eyes. He’s at least fifty.
He’s wearing a symbol on his breast pocket. A red bird in flight. A cardinal. Bian has told me this is the symbol for the city of Glasscaster, the capitol. This must be where he plans on taking
He’s ripping the net away, and for a moment I think he’s freeing me, he’s letting me go. But this is ridiculous. I’m who he wants.
Then, as though I’m an animal, he weaves his uncalloused, unblistered fingers into my black, spiraled hair, and jerks my head back so hard that I arch halfway off the ground. I hiss at the burn
jolting across my scalp. He points to one of the Trackers, who’s holding a small black box. For a moment I think this is a gun and I close my eyes, bracing for the shot that will end my life. But
no shot comes.
“Open your eyes, and smile,” the Magnate says. With his other hand he is fixing his wave of stylishly silver hair, which has become ruffled in the chase.
I do open my eyes, and I focus through my quaking vision on the black box. I’ve heard Bian talk about these things. Picture boxes. They freeze your image, so that it can be preserved forever.
Like a trophy.
I’m going to remember this moment forever, too. And I don’t even need his stupid picture box.
I’ve been locked up one hundred and seven days.
That’s one hundred and seven days of meal supplement pills crammed down my throat, skin scrubbings, and whippings.
That’s eighteen fights I’ve won, six escape attempts I’ve failed, and nine runs in solitary.
That’s four auctions, three I’ve managed to avoid.
Tomorrow is number five, and I’m not going, even if it means taking down the Governess herself. I’m not getting sold. Not now. Not ever.
I walk to the far corner of the recreation yard, the side nearest to the rising sun. Not that I can see it—you can’t see anything through the gray-green haze that blankets this poisoned city—but
I still remember what it looks like, and how it feels on my face. For now, that’s all I have.
I glance behind me at the facility they call the Garden. The black glass walls reflect the light from the electric lamps that hang from the red sloping roof. Most of the girls are huddling under
a wooden gazebo near the doors. We get let out each morning before breakfast, and they’re all waiting, tired and hungry, for the first chance to get back inside where it’s warm. The iron benches
and neat bricked walkways all stand empty until our afternoon break, leaving the lower part of the yard clear.
But I’m not alone. I look up at the black camera box staring down from the high chain-link fence that surrounds the property. It adjusts its position as I approach, tracking me as I move closer
to the boundary. I give my nastiest look and gesture rudely, but the lens continues to stare, unblinking.
The buzzing of the fence grows louder as I near. It’s electric; every once in a while a stray cat or bird will get fried when they venture too close. Most of the girls keep their distance, and
most of the men who come to gawk from the street outside do too.
The grass is a little longer here; the workers that cut it short never venture this far away from the main viewing areas. No sense in making it nice if no one that matters has a chance to see
it. I pull off my pointy, knee-high boots, flexing my feet, and kneel on the ground, feeling the dew soak through the skintight uniform dress.
As my eyes drift closed, I wind my fingers in the grass and pretend I’m back in the mountains. The birds are chirping and the branches are clicking together as the breeze rustles the pine
needles. I’m bringing home fish from the stream, and Salma’s there waiting to cook it, while Tam and Nina chase each other around the fire. Bian and Metea are there too, but the vision fades when I
see them, and my stomach feels sour and hollow.
I’m not in the mountains. I’m stuck inside this electric fence, listening to the distant beat of the music from the all-night clubs in the Black Lanes and smelling garbage in the air.
And Tam and Nina are with Salma, and that scares me straight through. Salma can take care of them, but she’s never had to before. She never wanted to. I can only hope that they’re all taking
care of each other, and hiding from Trackers like I taught them.
My hands have turned so that my palms face the sky, and I sing, softly so the others don’t hear me. I sing to Her—Mother Hawk, guardian of the afterlife—and try to find comfort knowing
she will keep the souls of my family safe. Without any way to receive word from home, prayer is all I have.
“Told you she’s cracked.”
I jolt to my feet, turning sharply at the same time. Four girls are standing before me, all in the same black, low-cut dress. None of them are wearing shoes—probably how they managed to sneak up
on me. One of them has bright red hair, cut at an angle to her chin—Daphne, my half-friend, who can only barely stand to be near me when I’m not embarrassing her, and refuses to acknowledge me at
all when I am.
I don’t blame her. We have nothing in common besides the fact that we’re both stuck here. She’s the daughter of a computer-programming Merchant, and has prepared her whole life for auction.
She’s looking away now, arms crossed in a tight shield over her chest.
My shoulders rise and I steel myself for a confrontation. I learned early on not to look for help within these walls. Everyone here is out for themselves.
It’s a curvy girl with a turned-up nose who’s called me a witch. Her white hair is braided in two ropes that reach down to her waist, and she’s painting circles on her cheek with the end of one.
I think her name is Lotus—she’s only been here since the last auction. I bare my teeth at her and she takes a quick step back.
“Did you hear that screeching? How dreadful,” says another. She’s a singer; I’ve heard her practicing all week for tomorrow. Her hands are planted on her bony hips. They call her Lily.
“She probably doesn’t even know what she’s doing,” says Lotus. “I’ve seen people like her before. Not right in the head. She’s probably a witch.” She whispers the last part.
They talk about me like I’m not right in front of them. Like I’m deaf or something. Daphne’s examining her nails now, as if they’re the most interesting things she’s ever seen.
“Well she is from the outside,” says Lily.
I wonder how well she’d sing if I punched her in her skinny little throat.
Lily’s delicate fingers lift to one of her long beaded earrings, the sign of the Unpromised. They don’t let me wear mine anymore. The last time I ripped one out right before they tried to put me
“Yes,” says Daphne in a small voice. “And it’s because of that she’s going to fetch twice your bidding price.” She peels a hangnail off her thumb; a nervous habit I knew from our time here
together. She always gets nervous on auction days. I don’t suppose this situation is making her feel any calmer; even I can feel the tension in this murky air.
Lotus scoffs. “I don’t see why. It’s not as if she’s prettier than me . . . than any of us, I mean.”
“I don’t know about that,” I tell her. She sneers.
“It’s her insides that are different.” Daphne says this as though she’s bored, but her words have a bite to them. “She’s fertile, like the girls brought in from the outliers. She doesn’t have to
have the treatments to activate her babymaker.”
Daphne was the first to tell me why the hunters were so eager to sell me to the Garden. The city scientists think it’s the fresh air or the real food—as opposed to the meal supplement pills
pumped down their throats in the early, formative years—that make wild girls like me, and those born in the outlying towns, like my mother, different. Whatever the reason, I’m worth quite a
lot. I’m twice as likely to produce a living, healthy boy child than any other woman born in the city.
Daphne cringes slightly, and I wonder if she’s thinking about the fertility injections. A lot of the girls here complain about them. The medicine gives them the shakes, and makes them throw up,
and cry for no reason. The whole process seems a huge waste if they don’t even conceive a boy, but the docs do it because treating the girls they have is more reliable than pulling stock from the
outliers. The census works for women, just as it works against us. There must be a steady pool of childbearing females to populate the city.
“Rumor,” says Lily. “It can’t be true. If it was, they’d move all of us outside the gates.”
Now it’s my turn to laugh.
“Right,” I say. “You wouldn’t last a day.” I try to imagine her setting a trap or cleaning a kill, but I can’t. “Besides, if the men set us all free, it’d be just a matter of time before they’d
have an uprising on their hands.”
“Stop it.” Daphne glances up as the camera above focuses with a buzzing noise. She’s warned me before that talking this way could get me in trouble. I’d do it a lot more if I thought it might
actually get me out of here.
“Deny it if you want,” I say with a shrug, “but it’s the truth.” These girls don’t know freedom. Men own women in the city, right down to the Virulent—those whose crimes have been recorded with
a permanent X on their cheek—pimps and their whores. Not even the women in the surrounding towns are safe. Maybe they can still choose a husband, but the moment the female census gets too high,
they’ll be collected, along with their girl children, to be sold in the city. Sometimes their families even offer them up early for credits.
“It’s an honor to be chosen,” snaps Daphne. “I’d rather be pampered than end up a poor housewife in the outliers, or a prostitute in the Black Lanes, or living in a tent.”
Her voice hitches on that last part. I shouldn’t have told her how we lived. She never understood how much warmer it was there than within these cold glass walls.
“The wild girl might think she’s better than everyone else, but she never gets bids.” The fourth girl finally speaks. She’s tall, with a round face, and has been shoved in the Garden’s weight
shifter so many times her waist is half the size of her hips and breasts. She looks like her back might break if she bends over too far. “She’s not worth the credits.”
It shouldn’t bother me—a buyer is the last thing I want—but my cheeks get hot all the same. I size her up.
She’s big, but not too smart. She likes to pick on the smaller ones around here and no one tries to stop her. Sweetpea is her name, sent over from one of the packed dorms on the south side of
Glasscaster, where Keepers collect girl children and raise them for auction. She’s been on a registry since birth, groomed to be obedient and mild mannered. I don’t think any of their training
stuck. She’s a brute.
“Exactly,” says Lotus. “Look at her hair—it’s like sheep’s wool. I bet her mother laid down with a sheep and that’s how she came to be.”
Daphne snorts. I glare at her for only a moment. My blood’s turning hot, and my fists clench at my sides.
“I bet she laid down with a sheep,” says Sweetpea. “I bet the wild girl broke the purity rule with a sheep.” She laughs, and even her laugh sounds stupid. Huh huh huh. They all
join her. They’re all laughing at me.
I crack my knuckles.
Before any sale is final, every girl is forced to have a medical test to determine if she’s pure or not. Magnates—the wealthiest men in the city—pay a lot of money for First Rounders; they want
to be the first to own their brand-new toy. Then, when they tire of her, or when she gives them what they really want—a boy child—she’s returned to the Garden and resold as a Second or Third
rounder for childbearing, or pleasure, or anything else, to a man with less money. Her baby, if she has one, is handed over to the Keepers to be raised.
The First Rounders will call her a Sloppy Second. Sloppy Seconds don’t call the Third Rounders anything. Sloppy Seconds don’t talk much.
My ma used to tell Salma these stories to convince her to stay clear of the city. When she got to the bit about the medical exam, she always reached for my hand, as if to assure me she’d never
let something like that happen to me.
I take a step towards Sweetpea and her full lips tilt up in a smirk.
“Clover,” warns Daphne.
I cringe at the name. Larkspur, Thistle, Lily, Daphne…There are fifty or so of us here at any given time, all named after flowers, myself included. Clover. Most of these plants are at least
somewhat poisonous, which I’m sure the Governess doesn’t know because she’s never been outside the city walls.
And of course, Clover is a weed. Which she probably does know.
Lotus and Lily stand on either side of Sweetpea, glancing to her for their next move. Behind me, I hear the camera swivel, and know that I don’t have much time.
“You think you’re so much better than me, don’t you fat face?” I say to the biggest of the four. It’s a low cut, but I need to get her riled up, even if calling her names makes my insides feel
Sweetpea tilts her head to the side, her dull eyes narrowing. I take another step up. In order for this to work, she’s got to come at me. I was planning on doing this closer to breakfast, but
now works too.
“I don’t have to think it,” she says. “I know it.”
There are more girls gathering now. Ten or so more have made the trip down and have formed a half circle behind Sweetpea.
“With a face like that it’s no wonder no one wants to take you home,” I say, trying to sound as cold as she does. “Sour-faced Sweetpea. Has a nice ring to it.”
She twitches. “At least I get bids,” she says. The girls around her agree.
I scoff. “You’ve been here a lot longer than me, that’s all I know.”
“Clover,” says Daphne again. She’s not crossing over to my side. I don’t expect her to anyway. She is only a half friend, after all.
A girl with straight black hair and slanted eyes comes up beside her. She’s been named Buttercup, of all things. Daphne immediately blushes.
“The Keepers are coming,” says Buttercup.
I glance over Sweetpea’s broad shoulder and see she’s right. Three Keepers—or Pips as I call them—are rushing out of the building, black caftans floating behind them. The Pips are assigned to
take care of the youth in this city, whether at the Garden, in one of the children’s dormitories, or even in some wealthy Magnate’s house. They’re male—but you couldn’t tell by looking at them.
Their faces are smooth and hairless. Too smooth, like their skulls are made of clay, and their features have all been softened. The rumor is that when they were children, their parents signed them
over to the city in payment of their taxes or debts. In a Keeper facility in the medical district, their boy parts were removed, and they were given strange medical treatments to alter their
hormones and stunt their growth. I guess they’re still sore about it, because they have nasty tempers and are snide even on their best days. I can’t blame them, but that doesn’t mean I like
I don’t have much time.
“Ooh,” I say. “Keepers. Scared, fat face?” Sweetpea twitches.
“The Governess says I’ll be chosen by the end of the week,” she says.
“That’s what she tells you,” I say. “I heard her talking to a buyer the last time I was sent to her office. She tried to throw you in two for one with Rose, but he wouldn’t even take you for
“Shut up,” she says, lunging forward, but stopping just before we collide.
Not good enough.
“I promise I’m out of here before you,” I say, closing the distance between us so that I have to look up at her. Quick as I can, I grab a fistful of her hair. I yank and a chunk rips away in my
hand. Her upper half wobbles on her skinny waist. Her eyes go glassy with tears.
“Oops,” I say, looking at the long strands hanging limply from my grasp, and then back to her face. “That won’t look good on stage.”
I cough and choke on the fountain of blood that gurgles down my throat. It’s thick and vile, and if I wasn’t so busy concentrating on standing upright, I would puke it up.
I’ve got to hand it to her. Sweetpea’s knuckles are like iron. My nose is definitely broken.
I blink and the girl before me wavers in my vision. Her hands stretch out to her sides as though she might want to embrace me. The Pips are closing in now—I can hear that strange noise they all
make when they’re flustered. It must be a side effect of the treatments that make them into Keepers, because every Pip I’ve ever met does it.
“Pip, pip, pip!”
I blink again and wait for the world to stop swaying. When it does, I smile.
A whip smacks down on my arm and I jerk back. Another comes down on my shoulder.
Stupid Pips and their stupid little beaters.
They use their whips to herd me away from the crowd. As I pass, the round, shocked mouths of the girls melt into snide little gossip holes.
As for Sweetpea, she’s now looking just as surprised as they are. Poor thing. She’s about as sharp as a brick.
I’ve really put the Pips in a buzz. Two of them stand on either side, slapping at the backs of my arms with their beaters to usher me forward. Sour looks scrunch both of their pretty faces, and
even their flowing dress shirts seem to have deflated. I can tell from their greenish tint that the blood has made them sickly. “Pip, pip, pip, pip, pip!” one sputters before he can even
speak. He’s picked up my boots and is holding them away from his body as if they’re a dead animal.
I’m impressed. Five Pips is a new personal best.
“The Governess won’t be pleased, no she won’t! Pip!” he finishes. I wipe some of the blood on my dress sleeve and he can’t hide his “eww.”
The Governess runs the Garden, the facility where I’ve been held since my capture. She has the final word on our conditioning, how we’re readied for the suitors.
She’s a wretched peacock of a woman.
She calls herself an artist, claiming that her decorations up our auction price on market day. But she’s no artist. An artist creates because she has to, because if she doesn’t, she’ll explode.
Bian was an artist. He was handy with sculptures, which is why he left our camp in the mountains to make a living in town. I can still see his skilled hands forming figures of horses and wolves and
birds from shapeless blocks of wood. The Governess is his opposite. A false artist; she creates so others will pat her on the back, and that makes her more a slave than me.
I hear the cheering now. The small early crowd has come to gawk at us from the street and I’ve put on quite a show. I don’t worry about their attention; they’re mostly work staff, too poor to
place a bid on the auction block. They just come to drool.
The Pips direct me down the stone walkway out of the recreation yard and its flat, mosquito-infested lily pond, and towards the automatic doors of the East Wing. I hesitate, as I always do
before these sliding doors, and only proceed when they’re fully open and I’m sure they won’t change their minds and crush me.
A year ago I’d never seen such stuff. I’d heard about it secondhand from my ma’s and Bian’s stories, but that’s all they were: stories. I’d stayed my distance from the city because of the
danger. Though I’ve since learned they’re not magic, things like automatic doors and messageboxes and weight shifters still make me nervous. I don’t trust machines. I trust what I know. That
thunderheads bring rain. That cool stream water will quench my thirst. That a punch to the face will sting like a dog’s bite, but ultimately accomplish a greater purpose.
The hallway we pass through is painted bruise purple, and the windows are draped with pink velvet and white lace. No matter how much they dress them up, the windows still reveal the electrical
fence surrounding the building. They can’t hide the fact that the Garden is nothing but a prison.
My nose continues to bleed, though now I make no attempt to stop it and instead lean forward, so that my blood rains down on the Governess’s perfectly clean floor.
“Pip, pip!” coughs one of the Pips disgustedly. If my face wasn’t frozen by swelling, I’d smirk.
One of the Pips knocks on a broad oak door, and it pleases me to see his soft hand trembling.
“Enter,” calls a singsong voice from within. I hope my swollen face isn’t hiding my disgust. I want the Governess to see how much she revolts me.
The Pip opens the door and reveals the bright room with the white, lavish couches that I know so well. I’ve been in to see the Governess at least once a week since I arrived here.
Her office is one of the nicest rooms in the facility. She does a lot of business here with buyers, and she can’t have them thinking that she leaves their potential purchases living in any
less-than-desirable conditions. If they knew we slept on moldy mattresses in a packed hall that reeks of nail paint and girl stink, they might not be so quick to pay. They only see what she lets
them see, which is what they want to see anyway. A girl who’s been groomed, shaved, slicked-up by the Pips for auction.
In my least delicate manner, I stomp across the bone white carpet, and take my usual place on the couch. I still can’t get used to the feel of sitting on something so plush. I sink into the
cushions, and it feels as if I’m being swallowed whole.
“Oh!” cries the Governess, launching out from behind her large, glass-topped desk. Today her hair is done up in a long golden braid that twists around her forehead like a crown, and she’s
wearing a dark blue suit with a neckline low enough that you can practically see her belly button. On her right breast pocket is the cardinal, the symbol of Glasscaster. Her face is covered with
makeup that’s so dark over her cheekbones and so black around her eyes, it looks like she’s the one that’s taken a beating.
“She’s bleeding everywhere!” shrieks the Governess. “Do something, Keeper!”
One of the Pips scurries from the room, his black linen uniform wafting behind him. He’s only too happy to have been dismissed. The other one is gnawing on his lower lip now, and refusing to
look me squarely in the face.
On the coffee table in front of me is the leather-bound body-book. I glare at it, knowing what will be within, but can’t help myself. I snatch it off the table as the Governess listens to the
Pip recount what he knows of my fight.
I turn through the first few pages. There are color photos of each of the girls here, beginning with the First Rounders. Most of them have sparkling smiles, their faces glowing with glittery
makeup and white powder. Beside some of their pictures are full body shots from market day, showcasing every inch of their costumed forms.
The Governess always themes our monthly appearances at market. Once the theme was “A Day in the Sun,” and we all had to wear skimpy swimsuits and bronze paint to make ourselves look like we’d
spent the last week baking in an oven. Then we were waxed and plucked in the most disgusting places; just thinking about it is enough to make me shudder. They’d taken my body—my strong, healthy
body—and turned me into a monster.
I turn to another page and see a girl I know as Violet dressed like a gardener to go along with the Garden theme. She’s wearing tight-fitting, see-through overalls, a floppy hat, and is holding
a plastic spade. I’m feeling the urge to gag again, though not because of the blood.
I turn to the page I’m looking for. My page. There is only one picture here since I refuse to pose for the camera, and the sight of it burns me up. Still, I can’t help but stare, because it is
the only photograph I know that exists of me.
It’s the picture of my capture, with the spear-wielding Magnate jerking my head back. Though my face is screwed up in pain in the picture, I look over my long-muscled form, my curly, long,
raven-black hair, my deep brown eyes and thin lips drawn back in fury. I look menacing, even in that position, and this pleases me.
My finger traces absently over the penned scratches beneath my photograph that must say something about me. My previous scores on past market days. My stupid weed name. I wish I could read what
has been written about me.
“CLOSE THAT!” wails the Governess, who seems to have only now noticed what I’m doing. “You’re bleeding all over it! I need that for the customers!” She makes a move to grab the book from me, but
doesn’t want to get too close for fear that I’ll bleed on her. I snap the book shut, and toss it on the table, as though I was done anyway.
There is a scuffle outside, and I see that they’ve brought Sweetpea to the office too. My jaw tightens as I prepare for the next stage of my plan.
If the Governess knows I don’t want to go to market, she’ll do everything she can to get me there. I need to show her how upset I’d be to be left behind.
Only one Pip has ushered Sweetpea from the corner of the red yard. This doesn’t surprise me. At over a head above me and three times as thick, Sweetpea is easily the biggest girl here. But no
one worries about her like they do about me.
“Is it true that you called Sweetpea hefty, Clover?” the Governess asks in her squeaky voice. My other Pip has returned, and he hastily shoves me a wad of tissue and a damp rag.
It also doesn’t surprise me that the Governess has immediately blamed me for the fight, even though I’m the one bleeding. She blames me for most of the trouble around here. She’s probably right
“I tink I called der thour-fathed Thweetpea.” I can barely get the words out because the blood is now jelly in my nostrils.
“Sweetpea is not sour-faced, she is…beautiful. In her own way. She will fetch a lofty price to any of our customers who are looking for a…a…” the Governess stammers, hands on her hips.
“A thour fathe?” I offer.
The Governess narrows her eyes at me. “We can fix Sweetpea’s hair with a wig, but there’s nothing we can do for your fat nose before market. You’ve done this on purpose, haven’t you?” She’s
wagging her finger at me. “You’re just trying to avoid the auction tomorrow, and the theme is Body Paint, and it was going to be my best show ever!” She is on the brink of tears.
Body Paint? The Governess has reached a new all-time low. I try to look hurt. “I can still do id!” I whine.
“No, you can’t!” she snaps. “Don’t play your games with me, Clover! This is just like that time when you mutilated your ear so I couldn’t put you on the stage!”
I touch the thin scar left from where I ripped my dangling beaded earring straight out of my flesh two auctions ago. I’d told her it got caught on my collar. It was painful, but I was able to
avoid the meat market.
I feel my face flush against my will. It’s okay, I tell myself, let her see that I’m upset. I know it’s time to push a little harder.
“I didn’d do dat on burbose!” I object. “And dis eeder! Sweedpea starded id!”
“I did not!” counters Sweetpea.
“She did! She dold me thad I was neber going to ged chosen, and thad I’d be Unpromised foreber!” I open my eyes wide, trying to make them water.
I know that the Governess’s desire to punish me will prevent her from giving me what I want. So I pretend that what I want, more than anything, is to still go to market. Which we both know is
impossible now that I look like I’ve just been kicked in the face by a horse.
“She’s the one that said that!” Sweetpea has begun to cry.
“Please!” I beg. “I hade it here! You know thad, Governess! Getting chosen is my only way oud!”
“Oh, shut up, you!” The Governess paces back and forth, twisting her high heel into the rug before she changes direction. “I’m never going to transfer your papers unless you go to auction!” She
sighs, exasperated, because she’s tired of me and wants me gone just as much as I want me gone. I hide the cringe at her self-righteousness. As though she’s really the one who signs my paperwork.
She’s illiterate, just like the rest of us. Her Pip assistant has to sign for her.
“Then led me go!” I beg.
“No. That’s it. Tomorrow is a big day for me, and I can’t have you ruin it like you try to ruin everything else. Sweetpea will go to auction. I almost had her sold last market day anyhow. And I
don’t want to see your skinny, bruised face for a month! Do you hear that, Keepers? Put her in solitary! I’m calling a Watcher to come supervise. Someone smarter than the last one,” she rambles
My heart swells in my chest. In solitary, I’ll get to see Brax, and it’s been weeks since the last time we were together. I wonder if he’s changed at all. If he’ll still let me sleep on his
shoulder. It’s not as good as getting out of the city, but at least I won’t be sold.
I fix my face to hide my relief.
“No!” I bellow. “Please led me go! Nod solidary!”
“You’ve left me no choice. You’re going just as soon as I get a Watcher. Which will have to wait a few minutes. We’ve got a new shipment today and I’ve got to make a presentation.”
I roll my eyes. Another stupid presentation. I wonder what it’ll be this time, ten ways to please a Magnate? The thought brings a flush to my cheeks.
“Should Clover wait here?” asks one of the Pips in a clear, pristine voice. His color is returning now that my nose is cleaned up.
“No, bring her. Clover needs a reminder of what deceit can cost her.” The Governess smiles, and her painted face looks as deadly as a rattler.
Whatever joy I have felt at my success crashes. Someone’s about to be punished. And her punishment is far, far worse than a month in solitary.
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