A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 1: Ice

Ada doubled over as cold claws shredded her from the inside. The visceral manifestation of abandonment, self-loathing and insecurity.

The sensation was all too familiar. Her flings and affairs often left her with a broken heart or a broken arm. She lingered overlong in foul relationships, allowing her partners to gnaw at her self-respect until there was nothing left. She would accept any treatment as long as she did not have to face the world alone.

Zac let her move in soon after they met. Or, rather, she never moved out after she spent the first night with him. Zac was a player in the prosperous herb industry. He could have been wealthy if he put more effort into marketing and selling the various herbs he cultured and imported, rather than smoking them. Ada spent some time selling his produce in the streets and taverns of Sandcastle, avoiding the watchful eyes of Sheriff Blackmane’s guards.

Having spent most of her teens in the streets, Ada knew how to keep her partners satisfied. She would build them up with lavish praise and expertly care for their physical needs and desires.

A few days ago, she had done exactly that and left Zac dozing happily in bed as she went out to sell his wares.

This morning, her bedmate wept. Wet, poisonous tears of betrayal.

’I need to clear my conscience,’ he said. And he did, at her expense. Much like he would have wiped up a puddle of vomit with her hair. Or her soul.

Why would anyone do that? Ada had been cheated on many times. And she pursued her own indiscretions. She understood. The admiration and expressions of love and desire from others might temporarily fill the void in those who were unable to love themselves. But she could never fathom why anyone would be so cruel as to confess their misdeeds to their partners, forcing upon them the unforgiving and irrevocable images of their beloved in steamy embraces with someone else.

The icy claws tore into her heart once again, forcing her to her knees. In the muddy street, images of Zac and his harlot flashed in her mind. She could have hated them both. But she was too overwhelmed with pain and fear to draw power from the dark energy of hatred.

Alone in the streets again, she had nobody to turn to for shelter, food or comfort. Her cold hands covered her face in a futile attempt to hold back the tears and stem the flood of thoughts and emotions. Covering her wild magic.

Slowly, a comforting sensation of warmth spread throughout her body. A weak tingling at first. Then gradually stronger, as if she was clutching a warm stone from the fireplace to her chest.

A barely audible crack made her look down between her fingers. Ice, thin as parchment, was forming on the mud around her legs. As her body sustained itself by channelling heat from her surroundings, the water on the ground froze. The patch of thin ice on this wet, autumn evening was plain for anyone to see. Revealing the presence of magic. Illegal magic.

Ada rose quickly, looking nervously around while stomping the ice back into the mud. Destroying the evidence of her abomination before anyone could notice and alert the sheriff’s brutes.

The familiar feeling of shame enveloped Ada as she ran through the streets and alleys to get away from the crime scene. Shame, always shame. That’s what they taught at the academy. She had spent three years in the custody of the wardens there, learning nothing but shame.

She understood now that every baby was born with talent. A vast potential for skills and abilities, minor or major. As the child grew, her environment, experiences, teaching and choices allowed some of those talents to develop. Skills not practised, abilities not used, potential not fulfilled, were peeled off. Pruned, much like a skilled gardener cut unwanted branches from a bush, directing it to grow into the desired size and form.

In another time, in a different place, this would be a natural process in any developing child. Not so here, not for Ada. For half a century, the aristocracy of Sandcastle had forced their savage methods upon any child showing the slightest affinity for magic. The children were taken from their families as soon as the affliction was apparent, some as young as four or five, and spent years of coercive pruning at the academy. Parents grieved as if their children had contracted a lethal disease or curse.

Magic was a weed, to be uprooted and cast away. Anyone caught using magic would be similarly disposed of.

In the eyes of the citizens of Sandcastle, Ada was a weed. Fortunately, she was not the only weed in this grand city.

Her flight brought her to the steps of the apothecary. Relieved, she brushed away white patches of ice from her wet clothes. Once again, she would seek sanctuary with her eccentric roommate from the academy. Rayn was always there when everyone else deserted her.

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