The front doors to the Feich house burst open, and Morrigan ni Feich stumbled out, down the brick steps, and paused, her breaths coming in quick, deep succession. Her blue eyes darted about beneath hooded sockets, searching for cover. The pre-adolescent girl settled on the thick hedge near the front porch and disappeared inside. She steadied her breathing, remembering her training, but her eyes betrayed the slight panic within.
A young man appeared in the still-open doorway. He stepped out onto the flagstone porch and paused between the Doric columns and scanned the front yard.
“So it’s hide-and-seek now, is it, Morrigan?”
Chewing on her bottom lip, Morrigan watched as the blond-haired boy slowly descended the steps.
“Clever to run and hide when you’re overpowered,” he said. “But how long can you hold out?” He stepped past Morrigan’s hiding spot. “Or are you waiting for the perfect time to ambush me?”
Morrigan lost sight of the boy. She knew that maneuvering for a better view would give away her position, but losing sight of her enemy put her at a different kind of disadvantage. She needed a new plan of attack and quickly. As she processed the situation, eliminating bad ideas and formulating a plan, the young boy’s face filled her view, a sinister grin plastered across his face.
“Found you,” he sang and grabbed a handful of black braids.
The boy yanked Morrigan from the precisely trimmed hedges and threw her to the ground. Morrigan rolled across her shoulders and sprang back to her feet. She settled into a fighting stance, her panic now replaced with cool determination. The young boy sneered.
“So now you want to fight back, huh? Fine. I’ll play that game.”
He raised his fists in a similar fighting stance and attacked. He stepped in and threw a punch, which Morrigan blocked with an outward motion and threw a punch of her own. The boy stepped out of the way and struck her with a back kick to the abdomen. Morrigan grunted as her breath left her. She retreated a few steps and regained her breath and composure.
She stepped in with a roundhouse kick, which the boy ducked under, and followed with a back spin kick that grazed his nose. She spun further and threw a knee up, launching her into the air. She let loose a powerful spin kick in the air that caused the boy’s wavy hair to dance as he barely managed to duck underneath.
Morrigan threw another punch when she landed, which the boy blocked with an inside forearm block. He wrapped his arm around her extended arm and stepped in close. With a quick pop of his hips, he threw Morrigan over him and onto the ground. With his arm still wrapped around hers, he struck her on the shoulder with the heel of his free hand and locked his other hand onto his wrist, barring her arm. He placed one knee on her ribs and the other on her cheek bone before applying pressure on her arm with his hips.
Morrigan grunted loudly as her face ground into grass and soil.
“You’re weak, Morrigan,” the boy said through strained teeth.
“It’s… not… over,” Morrigan grunted.
She threw her legs up, trying to wrap around the boy’s neck, but she couldn’t catch his head with her feet. She continued to struggle with several more attempts, but the boy applied more pressure to her arm. She felt as though her shoulder and elbow would pop out of place at any moment, and her vision darkened around the edges. With her free hand, Morrigan pounded the ground with an open palm and finally gave in.
The young boy released his hold of her and rolled over onto his back.
“You’re still not strong enough,” he said through heavy breaths.
“I’m only twelve, Harrison,” Morrigan argued, massaging her shoulder.
“True, but you don’t listen to everything teacher says. Like your hair for one,” he said tugging on one of her braids.
“I happen to like my braids,” she snatched her braid from Harrison’s grip. “It makes me feel like less of a boy when I have to do all of this fighting.”
“But it makes you an easier target.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” she groaned, rolling her eyes. “You sound just like my parents.”
“They’re just trying to look out for their only child. You can’t be too careful around here.”
Morrigan sighed. “I know.”
She stared up at the steel girders and feet-thick glass barely discernible so high up in the sky. Dark clouds churned outside the dome. It had always been like that, at least as far back as Morrigan remembered.
“One day,” Morrigan thought aloud. “Maybe one day we won’t have to live like this. Maybe one day we’ll be treated better.”
Harrison laughed. “And we don’t even have it that bad. We live on the good side of Southampton. We only have to live with dirty looks and the occasional slur. Across town, though, I’ve heard the Nobles can get pretty rough.”
“Nobles,” Morrigan scoffed. “They’re no more than a bunch of mechanical—“
Screeching tires interrupted Morrigan. She and Harrison looked up as two car doors slammed. Her parents both walked with purpose toward them.
“Hi Mr. and Mrs. Feich,” Harrison said, smiling at them. “How are you today?”
“Hello, Harrison,” Morrigan’s father, Blayne, said tersely. “Listen, uh, Harrison. We have some things to take care of. You should probably head on home.”
“Is everything okay?” Morrigan asked.
A quick glance from Blayne to his wife answered her question.
“We have to take care of a few things, sweetheart,” Blayne said, helping Morrigan to her feet. Her led her to the house, leaving Harrison and Mavis behind.
“Harrison,” Mavis began. “You know we really appreciate you looking after Morrigan.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Harrison rose to his feet.
Mavis glanced around nervously. “Well, Harrison…” She gave him a quick hug. “Thank you.”
“What’s going on, Mrs. Feich?”
“Nothing, dear,” she replied quickly with a quick smile. “Just run on home. We have some family business.”
“Okay.” Harrison looked on curiously as Mavis hurried into the house.