Child of Children

Her name was Ashen, likely because being born in black ashes will make you so. Between dirt, tattered clothes, and inaccessibility of clean water, grimy layers cloaked her true appearance. But, as her father would say, “A good disguise buries lies.” Her father had neglected to inform her the disguise didn’t hide guilt, too.

One time, they’d been happy. Ashen, her father Slade, and her mother Omari. They’d lived in a little nook between the city’s walls and the back of a smithy.

She didn’t have a ton of memories of either parent, truth be told. Omari died when Ashen was four years old—assaulted and killed by a group of off duty city guards. Slade died when Ashen was nine—murdered by an urchin over a heel of bread. Guess I’m an urchin now. Now she’d reached twelve, the same age her mother had been when Ashen arrived. Three years she’d survived the streets of Anepolis as a child, without assistance. A miracle, according to her best friend and living companion, Spider, who she’d known for a few months. Life on the streets bonded you quicker, she figured. Ashen could only speculate, as she hadn’t lived in a house before.

She was crouching, looking over a roof, examining the cobblestone streets below. “Too crowded, still,” she muttered, pushing herself away from the wall and sitting. She leaned against a pillar, watching Spider twist a small silver fork in his greasy hands. He never let go of it. “Well, ain’t this a puppet show for dimwits?”

Spider ignored her insult. “Need ta git off this roof if we’re ta eat t’night, Ash.”

“Yeah. Anyone sees us and we can’t return here.”

Spider grunted. She wondered what his real name was. Probably he wondered what it was—he didn’t remember it. Ashen had called him “Spider” because of his ability to scale buildings. He had long, lanky limbs and stringy black hair, so the name fit, she figured.

“Could always go back ta-”

“We ain’t going back to my parent’s place!” And they wouldn’t. Some other poor fool could live behind the smithy. It’s too crammed, anyway. Least, that’s what she told herself. Truth was, it reminded her of what she was missing out on. Family. “Could always sell the-”

“I ain’t sellin’ the fork!” It was a common argument which never ended. Ashen’s old home was the only other safe place they knew about. They needed more money, but the only thing of worth they owned was a piece of some poor noblemen’s cutlery. A memento from Spider’s past, allegedly. He claimed he’d been tossed out by a well-known family after giving them one day’s lip too many, and the only thing he possessed to remember them was a silver fork. Ashen didn’t believe it—if he couldn’t remember his own name, she doubted he’d be capable of remembering his family’s origin.

“Then I guess we’re picking,” Ashen said. “Picking” was what she called “stealing”, it just had a nicer ring to it.

“Aye, guess so.” Spider pocketed the fork, pulled out a slimy cloth that was more snot than material, blew his nose, then put that back, too. She wondered how the inside of his ragged pocket fared, then thought better of exploring it.

“Where at?”

“Wherever we can git more than crumbs and scraps. I’m half a Starve, Ash.” She didn’t like the sound of that. According to Spider, Starves were people who finished off the hungry, consuming them—easy prey. Spider had recounted an attack he suffered by a tall, skinny man who kept shouting about being a Starve. She was sure she’d seen a Starve or two around herself, but she’d never gotten close to them. One thing for certain was she couldn’t start eating other people. Gross. “Can’t keep livin’ like this.” Spider grabbed his stomach and feigned fainting, though it wasn’t far from where they were heading. They needed proper food soon—it’d been four days since they’d last eaten a full stomach’s worth.

“Lemme check again,” Ashen said. She crawled across the platform they sometimes slept on, a small square spot in-between two pillars and a sloping roof atop a church. A statue of a woman—their goddess, Mother Avani—took up a sizeable chunk of the square, but several corners allowed Ashen, Spider, and their meager belongings to fit.

She peeked around the leg of the goddess—not a place Ashen thought she’d ever be—and peered down at the street, again. Dozens of citizens strolled by all of them well-fed and well-clothed. She growled her disgust, and her stomach rumbled back in agreement. Or, perhaps, hunger. Ashen returned to Spider’s corner. “We have to go now. Ain’t no way around it,” she said. “Unless you want to wait until dark.”

“No.” He didn’t have to elaborate. They’d both had little luck after dark. And, though neither of them voiced it, found the night scary. The gangs and murderers emerged in darkness.

Her father, Slade, had left her an important piece of advice a few days before the urchin murdered him over a bit of bread: “Never let them know you’re a girl after dark.” Slade referred to both Anepolis’s guards and people who appeared when the sun set. “Both are dangerous and both will ruin you. Your mother knows better than anyone.” She wished she could remember her mother. Ashen knew she had blue eyes, cute cheeks, and short fingers. All qualities Ashen possessed. All qualities her father said reminded him of her. Ashen wondered what qualities she had of her father’s. Once, he’d said, “There isn’t a bit of me in you, and yet, I love you more than anyone I’ve ever met.” She hadn’t known what he’d meant by that. Still didn’t. And now he was gone. Choosing to honor his request, she sheared most of her hair off, and kept it short.

“All right, let’s go,” Spider said.

She considered gathering the few things she kept on the church’s roof—a frayed blanket, a pair of bloody wool gloves, and a skin filled with smelly water—but hoped they’d be returning. Ashen’s negligence at following her father’s rules, one of which was, “Never assume you’re returning to the last place you felt safe”, might not’ve been the best decision upon reflection.

They waited a few moments for a break in the crowded streets, then dropped from the rooftop onto a strip of grass, separating the building from passing carriages and people.

A woman’s shrill voice shrieked in surprise when they landed. “Vagrants! Summon the guard!”

“Time ta go, Ash!” Spider took off, running away from the woman, who continued shouting and pointed at them.

Heads turned in their direction, and Ashen saw a nobleman attempting to unbutton his coat so he could free the hilt of a decorative saber he wore. Useless fool. Only somebody of incredible wealth would button their coat over their weapon. Ashen ran.

The shrill woman’s cries of “Guards, guards!” followed them down the alley they turned into.

Spider hopped atop a stack of crates, pulled himself onto a low roof, and jumped to a wall. He dropped a rope, which had been planted by some gang long ago, to Ashen, and she grabbed hold. With his aid, she hauled herself up and over.

“Thanks.” She took a breath and examined their surroundings. They were one street over from the food stalls.

“No problem, Ash.” He coiled the rope and threw it back on the wall. There were plenty of escape routes just like the one they’d used scattered around the city if you found them.

They skulked to the next street, prepared to run from any pursuing citizens or guards. When the market came into view, they stood straight, backs rigid, and walked as if they belonged, like any other citizen. Though dirty, they’d found that most citizens didn’t question dirty people—there were plenty of normal citizens who had filthy occupations. As long as they didn’t behave like thieves, people would, hopefully, ignore them.

This didn’t mean vendors and guards weren’t on the lookout. The market attracted dozens of gang members, thieves, and cutpurses. Beggars lined the outer perimeter, hoping to squeeze an extra coin from passersby—often with no luck. Ashen had attempted begging before. She found it rather despicable, because Anepolis’s citizens weren’t generous, preferring to insult and laugh at her. Ashen abandoned begging two days after first attempting.

A decrepit-looking thin man in tattered rags, sitting among the beggars, stood and started ambling their way.

Ashen gasped, tugging at Spider, who noticed the man and hissed. “A Starve! Quick, inta the crowd!”

They melded with folk who, incredulously, didn’t appear bothered by the Starve walking among them.

“Let’s just git some food and git outta here,” Spider said.

Ashen, afraid to even speak, just nodded.

They found themselves in front of Wenlick Banehorn’s stall, which sold loaves of baked bread, hardtack, fresh and dried meats, wheels of cheeses, and apple tarts.

“Thank you, Mr. Banehorn,” a customer said.

“Yepper, yepper. Anytime!”

“What can I do for you?” Wenlick asked her.

Ashen, caught up in the transaction, forgot herself for a moment. “Ain’t sure, just… looking.”

“Yepper, take your time,” he said through closed teeth. His eyes narrowed, and he watched her, suspicious. Trying to figure out how he recognizes me. Ashen had picked from him before, albeit many months ago. He’d caught a decent look of her face, too.

“My wife makes a good apple tart,” Wenlick motioned towards the dessert. “And we bake our bread fresh, every day.”

Spider, now in position behind the stall, gave her the signal—a single finger wiggling twice from around the corner.

“I would like-”

A shrill voice yelled through the crowd. “Vagrant!”

Ashen turned, saw the noblewoman who’d spotted her and Spider earlier. “Well, ain’t that a shit dropped from a rat’s ass?” Ashen said.

“Hey, you stole from me before!” Wenlick growled, retrieving a hatchet.

Wasting no time, Ashen bolted into crowded streets. She heard the clatter of pursuing boot soles clopping on the cobblestones. She wished she had decent boots. Hers had holes, were a size too large, and stunk of rot inside. Ashen found the boots on a decomposing corpse a few weeks back—a homeless man who hadn’t gotten enough to eat. Or a Starve killed him. Though, she realized while sprinting; he hadn’t been eaten.

Ashen glanced over her shoulder, saw Spider lashing at a guardsman’s calf with his knife, then ducking beneath an outstretched hand and disappearing into people. She turned the corner and slammed into something solid. Felt as if her ribs all shattered at once.

“My, my, are you all right?” A man wearing a golden-lined green cloak, with a decorated rapier on his belt, and a mustache hanging below his chin, bent over, a leather-enclosed hand reaching down to help her.

Another of her father’s rules, “Never accept a helping hand,” entered her mind. She pushed herself up, groaning at the throb in her side. “Ain’t dead, so I think I’m okay.”

“Splendid. Say, you look as if you could use-”

“No, I can’t,” she said.

“I’m Jaspard Couliac. Please, allow me to offer-”

“Thanks, but I need to go.”

Jaspard frowned, placing hands on hips, his gaze turning to the pursuing guards.

Ashen had learned other things from her father, Slade, aside from his Five Rules of Survival. He’d taught her to watch for opportunities. To be impulsive when it mattered. Covering her mouth with one hand, she used the other to pull out a small, tightly wrapped bundle, and smash it into Jaspard’s face—right beneath his nose. Black Dust sprayed the air and Jaspard started sneezing and yelling, his eyes reddening.

She drew the elegant rapier from its scabbard and ran. The sound of Jaspard’s sneezes followed her and the confused Anepolis soldiers stopped to aid Jaspard, forgetting their pursuit.




It was out of the question to return to the church roof. The Anepolis city guards would station themselves out there for days. She’d lose everything she’d left behind. Ashen soured over this but brightened upon examining the beautiful engravings on Jaspard Couliac’s rapier. The hilt, coated in gold, carved into a fierce-looking lion head. The steel blade, straighter than anything Ashen had ever seen, pointed to a skewer, shined so she could see a strip of herself on the sword. “Well, ain’t this rapier a piece of Mother Avani herself?” she said. It saddened her to think she was the reason it had parted from the scabbard. A sword this entrancing must have an impressive sheathe, she assumed.

Ashen sighed, looking back around the stack of crates she sat behind, which created a small corner between two small houses that kept her hidden. It was her and Spider’s prearranged rendezvous, if they ever split from one another.

She realized she was alone, and how odd it felt. Ashen hadn’t been alone for several months, ever since Spider appeared, begging for a place to escape the chilly rain. Back then, she’d holed up under a carriage which had lost a wheel. A temporary shelter, but one she’d claimed, nonetheless. She allowed Spider in, and they’d been together since. And now he was missing.

Not knowing what else to do, she recited her nightly prayer. “Never forgo food because it appears dissatisfying. Starving to death isn’t worth it. Never accept a helping hand. You never know who you’ll owe, and you have nothing to leverage. Never display your belongings, however meager they may seem. Somebody always has less than you. Never assume you’re returning to the last place you felt safe. Unforeseen circumstances could mean you won’t be able to. Never trust anyone, even those you trust. In matters of life and death, your life is meaningless even from your friend’s point of view. Never let them know you’re a girl after dark. Girls find themselves at the violent hands of angry men, and never leave them unscathed.” All words reiterated by her father. All words she said, in her best impression of him.

A tear formed in her eye. Ashen blinked it out. She missed him. She loved him. Then he’d died. Another tear formed in the opposite eye. She sniffled, and then it was over. Ashen cried. And cried more.




Ashen spent the night cold and sad. She sniffled and cried, waiting for dawn, and didn’t sleep. She was about to check other places when he showed.

“Aye, Ash,” and Spider dropped from the crates.

“You’re alive.”

“Lookin’ like you are, too.” Spider handed her half a heel of wet bread. “I tripped. Dropped it into a puddle.”

She took the soggy bread. “Well, ain’t this a spread fit for a duck?”

“Careful o’ the hunters, then, cause you’re gonna be a duck.”

“Never forgo food because it appears dissatisfying,” she rehearsed.


Ashen bit into wet mush. Didn’t even need to chew, just swallowed. “Gross.”

“Aye,” Spider said, again.

“You all right?”

He shrugged. “Close call.”


“Ain’t your fault, I reckon.”

“Still sorry.”


“Thanks for the bread.” Ashen ate in silence, and, when finished, they left. She wasn’t sure where they were heading, and she knew he didn’t, either. They just started walking.

“Could go ta the sewers.”

“Could kill me now,” Ashen said. The sewer people were the strangest people she knew. And it was a dumping ground for bodies. “Starves probably live there.”

Spider shivered. “Yeah.”

“We’ll find a spot.”

Spider’s eyes traveled to the roofs of the houses they passed. “Hope so.”

“Preferably somewhere warm.”

“Could go ta the home for children.”

“Ain’t going there. There are bedbugs. And dirty people with lice.”

“We’re dirty people, Ash.”

“We don’t have lice.” She’d lied. Made her feel better.

Spider snorted. “Uh huh."

“What about the barracks?”

“On top o’ the soldiers’ barracks? Are you stupid?”

“Might not expect it,” Ashen said.

Spider shook his head. “No. Absolutely not.”

“Then where?”

He stopped. Pointed. “There.”

She followed his finger to an enormous warehouse. Men traipsed back and forth, lugging huge sacks from building-to-carriage, or vice versa. “How are we getting inside?”


She saw the window. Didn’t see a way up to it. “You’re crazy.”

“I’m Spider.”

Fair enough. She’d seen him climb wild things.

“We’ll wait ‘til evenin’.”

After the men on shift went home, the warehouse quieted. A single man stationed outside, sitting in a chair, and bouncing a loaded crossbow on his knee, was all who remained. He was easy to slip by once he nodded off.

It took Spider a few minutes, and he’d scaled the warehouse’s side, hoisting himself through the window. Ashen inspected the wall, couldn’t find a handhold. A few loose boards, a crack or two, nothing she’d ever consider climbing. Spider had a talent.

The rope dropped, and she grabbed ahold, bracing her feet against the wall. She climbed, and Spider helped pull her along. At the top, she collapsed, exhausted. “That took forever.”

“Need ta get in shape.”

“Not enough food to do that,” she said.

“One day.”

The warehouse’s second story was crammed with sacks she’d seen the workers hauling earlier. She peeked inside one—flour. Checked another—flour. It was all flour.

Spider shifted bags around, making a small lean-to. He sat inside it, grinning. “Not bad.”

She mimicked his make-shift building and collapsed under it. “I need to sleep.”


Ashen leaned the rapier against the sacks, then closed her eyes. She was asleep before she finished her prayer.




It was still dark when she opened her eyes, the only sound Spider’s snores. Her thoughts drifted to her father. She wept every night since his death, but one detail stuck out. His murderer had severed a tendon below his knee. Even if he’d survived, he would’ve had an impossible time walking.

Nine-year-old Ashen waited that night for Slade to return home. He didn’t. When she heard about the attack after venturing out of their home, she’d known in her heart it was her father. Crying, she went to the barracks and asked what happened. Witnesses reported a young boy had seen Slade walking with fresh bread. The boy drew a small knife, ambushed Slade, and slashed his knee. After Slade fell, the boy flicked his knife across her father’s throat. Her father choked to death on his own blood, while the boy escaped with the bread. It didn’t seem worth it then; it didn’t seem worth it now.

Ashen’s mind wandered to the day before. Wenlick Banehorn’s stall. Freshly baked bread. Spider giving her the signal—a wiggled finger. A woman screeching. Guards approaching. She fled, caught a flash of Spider ducking and slashing at the same tendon.

She blinked. Darkness was still there. Spider’s snoring the only sound. It can’t be.

The circumstances around meeting Spider were strange. She’d left her home days after her father’s death because she couldn’t stomach living there anymore. She’d stayed in various places—a stint at the home for children went badly, she’d spent a few days near the sewers and became creeped out by its inhabitants, and everywhere else she found tended to be near gangs or have poor cover from the weather. And throughout it all, she recalled seeing a strange figure maneuvering around the roofs, as if… they were a spider.

And then, when Spider found her that day, when he found her under that carriage, she’d seen a flash of sadness. Or was it fear? She’d let him in, grateful for the company. They’d been together ever since. But something… something didn’t seem right. Ashen couldn’t place it. She thought she could now. Spider killed her father.

Ashen grit her teeth. Should’ve known. “Never trust anyone, even those you trust,” her father said. Boy, had he been right. She climbed out of the flour sack house, gripped around in the dark for the rapier, took a step towards Spider’s den, kicked a sack. The lean-to collapsed.

“What the-”

Ashen pressed the tip of the rapier down into Spider’s body. She couldn’t see where it was.

“You’re killin’ me!”

“Like you killed my father?”

Silence. Then, “Ash, lemme-”

She pushed harder. The tip bit into his flesh. He screamed.

“You killed my father over bread!”

“I was hungry! My ribs were pokin’ out!”

“Well, ain’t this an excuse of a politician?” She made of her heart an ashen coal. Then she drove her point home.

Spider gurgled, then ceased to move.

She twisted the rapier, just to make sure. He groaned, then loosed a last gasp. Spiders were stubborn that way, had to make sure they’d actually died.

“You fucking Starve,” Ashen said. She let go of the rapier, heard it snapping back and forth, returned to bed. It wasn’t yet light, and her exhaustion returned. This time, she said her complete prayer. “You’re welcome, Daddy.”




Ashen lacked the desire to return to thievery and scavenging. She wanted something different. An opportunity for a better life. And, after packing her stuff and leaving the warehouse at dawn, Ashen decided her next move.

Judging by the looks people she passed offered her, they didn’t see many dirty children with fancy unsheathed swords marching through the city. She worried they might call upon the guard, but where she was going, there’d probably be guards, anyway, so she didn’t worry about it.

It made her nervous, even though she was optimistic about the plan. “Never forgo food because it appears dissatisfying. Never accept a helping hand.” She chanted through the rules, clearing her mind. “Never display your belongings, however meager they may seem. Never assume you’re returning to the last place you felt safe.” She knew she was breaking several. “Never trust anyone, even those you trust. Never let them know you’re a girl after dark.” Slade’s Five Rules of Survival, rules she’d lived by, with a sixth added after his death. Rules she believed kept her safe, and now she was breaking them.

“Where are you going, boy?” the barking voice of a guard asked. She’d turned onto a road leading toward rich manors.

“I have a meeting.”

“Who with?” The man approached, a sneer on his lips.

“Jaspard Couliac.”

He shook his head and laughed. “No, you don’t.”

Ashen bit her lip. She wasn’t sure what to do. Most of her life she’d been passive, reacting to situations rather than causing them, trying to prevent commotion and engagement. She didn’t know if it was the comfort of the rapier in her hand, or maybe avenging her father by killing Spider, or perhaps she’d matured, but it didn’t frighten her anymore to take matters into her own hands. Or, in this case, knee. She drove her leg into his cock.

The guard gasped, dropping.

Ashen grinned. “Well, ain’t this a fortune turned upside its head? About time you bowed to someone like me.” She slapped him across the cheek, then turned on her heel and strode away. After a moment, she picked up her pace. Ashen was braver, but not stupider. Foolisher? Stupider didn’t sound right.

An iron gate surrounded Jaspard Couliac’s manor. Normal people probably didn’t know every rich person’s house. Living on the street, you learned these things quick. She unlatched the gate, marched to the door, and tapped hard with the rapier’s hilt.

A woman in plain clothes answered the door. “I believe you have the wrong home,” she said, after a quick appraisal.

“I think not,” Ashen said, holding up the rapier. “This belongs to your master.”

“No one is my master, urchin.” She started closing the door.

“Regardless, he’ll want to have this back.”

“You stole Lord Couliac’s sword? The guard shall see you hanged.”

Ashen’s lip trembled. “I hope not.” She hadn’t thought her plan would fail.

Another woman arrived at the door. Her hair wrapped around itself, styled unnecessarily—a sign of her wealth. She wore silk clothes, complete with frills and folds. Jewelry seemed to flash on every part of her body.

“What’s going on here?” the fancy lady asked.

“Lady Couliac, this urchin stole My Lord’s sword.”

“Well, invite her in. It would be unseemly if we allowed somebody to collapse from hunger in front of the house. She looks half-starved. He’ll decide what to do with her.”

Ashen blanched. “I-I-I’m not a Starve.”

The plain woman looked confused. “A what?”

“I don’t want to eat you,” Ashen said.

Lady Couliac frowned. “I would hope not. Bethinda, please prepare something for this simple… girl?”

Ashen nodded.

The lady smiled. “Come inside.”

Bethinda separated from them—Ashen assumed she went to the kitchens. Lady Couliac led her to a room with several chairs and not much else. Windows stretched the height of the room, looking out at the streets of Anepolis. A few people walked by, but this part of the city remained less trafficked than most.

“Please, sit. Lord Couliac will be here shortly.”

Ashen sat, cradling the rapier in her lap.

“Explain your concern about… eating me.”

Ashen cleared her throat. She’d never talked to anyone about this, other than Spider. They’d shared the fear together, felt it unnecessary to mention whenever it could be avoided. “Spider, my friend—no, enemy—well, it doesn’t matter. He’s dead now. He told me about Starves. Monsters who feed off weak, hungry people, like me.”

“I’m not sure what happened here, but there’s no such thing as a Starve. To starve just means you’re hungry.”

Ashen didn’t know whether to believe Lady Couliac, so she bit her tongue. She turned her head at approaching footsteps.

Jaspard Couliac entered the room, mustache gleaming with wax. His golden-lined green cloak trailed behind him, and he wore the rapier’s scabbard at his belt, empty.

“Well, what a pleasant surprise,” Jaspard said. “You brought back my sword.” He reached into a pocket, drew out a small bag, and popped something yellow in his mouth. “Sugared honey chew?” he asked, extending one out to her.

Ashen didn’t know what that was, but, in the words of her father, “Never forgo food because it looks dissatisfying.” She took the yellow blob and put it in her mouth. It was, by her memory, the sweetest thing she’d ever tasted.

“Let it melt for a bit, then chew it. Sticky, gets stuck to your teeth, but it tastes a dream,” Jaspard said. “Allow me to introduce myself—I’m Lord Jaspard Couliac—and it seems you’ve met my cousin, Lady Alora Couliac, who’s been vacationing here, in our lovely city. What, may I ask, is your name?”


“Before we get further into this conversation… what was it you smashed in my face?” Jaspard asked. He didn’t seem angry, just curious.

“Black Dust,” Ashen said. It’d been the first and only time she’d used it. “Somebody must’ve dropped it in the night a few months ago. Been saving it for the right moment.” She swirled the chew in her mouth, bit into it. Sweetness popped in her mouth, and she swallowed. If this was any indicator of a rich lifestyle, it was better than she thought.

Alora leaned forward in her chair. “What’s Black Dust?”

“Black pepper, red pepper, and sawdust. Supposed to make you sneeze. Hurt your eyes.”

“It worked!” Jaspard pointed to his eyes, as if it still irritated them. “I felt like my face was about to fall off, but the effects didn’t linger for long. Lady Ashen, I see you have my sword. I can only surmise you’re here to return it?”

“It’s yours.” Ashen held it out to him. He took the rapier, eager and pleased, sheathing it.

“Well, that was simple. Thank you.”

“I was hoping you could help me,” Ashen said.

Alora stood. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for that. Bethinda will bring you something to eat, then you must go.”

Jaspard spread his hands out. “There’s really nothing we can do for you.”

“That sword’s worth a lot of money. I brought it back. I’m just looking for… something. Anything. A job or something. Ain’t nothing I won’t do.” She wasn’t lying. If it would get Ashen off the streets, out of her urchin lifestyle, she’d do it. Anything.

“Neither of us is looking to adopt,” Alora said. “We have nothing for you.”

“Well, ain’t this the will of the selfish? Come here in good faith, get shit on. It’s no wonder everybody hates you. My father always said, ‘never trust anyone, even those you trust’. Guess he was right.”

The Lord and Lady glanced at one another.

“Perhaps he was right. We have prior engagements approaching,” Alora said. “Farewell, Lady Ashen… what’s your family name?”

Ashen had to think about it. Been so long since she’d used it, she’d almost forgotten. “Ashen Hyrel.”

Jaspard Couliac beamed. Seemed she’d done something right, finally. “Hyrel? There’s only one Hyrel family in Anepolis. One’s part of the King’s Council.”

Ashen shrugged.

“You know, we might just be able to make this work. Come, come.” And he wrapped his arm around her shoulder, drawing her close. It felt nice to be accepted like that. “We have a lot to do, Ashen. Much work to do, indeed. You, my new friend, are going to be the ace in my pocket. We’ll get you clean, sneak you on the inside. Show the true nobility what we think of them. Yes, yes… they’ll never see it coming. And then you’ll kill them.” He laughed, eager. “You’ll kill them all.”

She’d do whatever he wanted if it meant a better life. Murder would be just fine. Well, ain’t this a way to end an urchin’s story?, she thought. Of course, it didn’t turn out the way she hoped. But did it ever?