Chapter One

"Get out! You're a useless disobedient little worm! Get out of my house! I put up with you because I loved your mother, but you are dead to me now!" A door flew open and a small girl was bodily thrown into the wet, muddy street. The door slammed shut as tears traced tracks down her face, mingling with the rain. She whispered a song to herself as she got slowly to her bare feet, her threadbare dress already soaked through. Long, honey colored hair fell in ringlets about her face, turning a dark brown in the heavy rain. Chocolate brown eyes ringed by heavy lashes filled with tears as she stared at the locked door.

Dark storm clouds covered the sky, emptying their bellies onto the city of Synara. Here and there, lightning flashed and thunder rolled. There was not soul to be seen but for this young girl, maybe six years old, standing in the muddy puddles of a back alley. Slowly turning away from the door, she turned her eyes to the clouds, then the dirt street. Thumb in her mouth, a habit broken long ago, she took a step. And another. Soon, she was running, splashing through brown puddles, tears pouring down her face. She reached the main square and collapsed by the flooding fountain. She didn't notice the huddle of three dirty boys in the shadow of a shop awning, watching her.

"D'you think she's an orphan?" James whispered to the other two. He was the older one, with long, dark hair and eyes.

Kyle shook his head. "D'ye see th' tears on 'er face? Looks like she got thrown out t' me." Kyle's accent was more pronounced, just like his red hair and green eyes. He was the youngest of the three at ten years old. James was thirteen; Alex was twelve.

"I wonder why," Alex murmured. He was the average looking one – average in height, average in the color of his brown hair and eyes, average in body shape and height. Kyle was almost as tall as James, and skinny, while James was short for his age and muscular. However, Alex was better educated than the other two. He was actually the illicit son of a high born lord, and was raised as the lord's heir until his lady gave birth to a son. Then he was unceremoniously turned out.

"What should we do?" Kyle asked.

"I vote we just leave her there. Another mouth to feed is gonna take it's toll on us, an' she's a girl, so she ain't gonna streetfight and steal and whatnot with us. Better leave her to some high born lady to adopt," James said with a sniff. He didn't like girls that much; he was once jumped by a teenage gang of them for his food and money, over a week's worth of earnings.

"James! She can't be more than five years old! And look at her dress! She's not some high born, or she wouldn't be wearing rags like that," Alex protested, gesturing to the girl's dress. She was kneeling by the pool, staring into the water. As the boys watched, the surface of the pond became covered in thick, round green leaves, with fat, pale pink and yellow buds which burst into bloom within seconds. "Water lilies."

"She's a magi," James said. He curled his lip, disgusted. "They think they're better'n everybody else."

Alex rolled his eyes before getting up. "Where're you goin', Alex?" James hissed, irritated. "You ain't goin' after her?"

Alex ignored him, striding through the rain to crouch by the girl's side.

Hazel stared at the lilies she'd created with dry eyes. She didn't have any tears left. She screamed shrilly in fright as a boy crouched down beside her, leaping to her feet. She dashed away, head down, running through the streets. The strange boy kept pace with her easily, letting her run herself out. Finally, she couldn't run any farther, and dropped in a heap in a large puddle. "Don't kill me!" she whimpered, covering her eyes.

"Why would I kill you?" Alex asked, taking her hand and hauling her to her feet. She was a tiny little thing, cute and small and delicately built, like a porcelain doll.

"Father said…he said people would kill me if they saw my magic. He doesn't…didn't let me out of the house before."

"He's a liar," Alex said angrily. "Synara is a magi's city."

Hazel just sniffled. "Who are you?" she asked, uncovering her eyes. They were large and round, a warm brown flecked with tiny speckles of gold. "Are you a…magi too?"

"No, I'm not a magi. But you needn't be afraid of me." He picked her up in his arms, and despite her protests and violent wriggling, carried her back to the other two boys. "My name's Alex."

"Hazel," she whispered softly, a curl of hair falling right between her eyes. She puffed out her cheeks and blew it away. Closing her eyes to the rain, she curled against him, exhausted.

James groaned. "You brought her back? Are you mad?" he demanded.

"She's a magi, and her father told her people would kill her because of her magic. I think he threw her out." Alex continued walking in the direction of an old shack on the outskirts of the city where the boys had made their hideout.

"Just because you feel sorry for her doesn't mean we should help her," James said stubbornly, crossing his arms and planting his feet where he was.

Alex turned around. "If you really felt that way, you wouldn't have helped Kyle and I."

"But we're all boys. We can handle ourselves. She's a girl, and if what you said is true, she ain't got no clue what the world is like. Did he keep her locked in a tower or something?"

"Close enough. He didn't let her out of their house." Alex turned back around and continued walking, holding the sleeping girl tight as he stepped over puddles.

Kyle caught up with him. James wasn't that far behind, although he was still grumbling darkly.

Back at their hideout, Alex lit a fire and placed the girl next to it on a moth-eaten but thick blanket they'd found in some high born's garbage, wrapping half around her to keep the warmth in.

"What's her name?" Kyle asked curiously as James grudgingly began filling a battered copper kettle with water to boil. They would add some of the mint that grew around the shack to make some semblance of tea.

"Hazel." Alex sat by the fire, staring into the flames. "She thought I was going to kill her."

"Didja see those flowers she grew? D'ye think she's 'ad any formal trainin'?"

"She's got to be five or six, Kyle," Alex said. "Magi's don't become apprentices till they're twelve or so."

"So if ye and James had magic, ye'd be apprentices by now?"

"That's right." The water was boiling, and Alex took three chipped cups and poured the hot water in them, crushing the mint leaves and sprinkling them in. The three boys each took a cup and drank, warmth spreading through their rain-chilled bodies.

"When she wakes up, I want you to find out her story," James ordered.

"She's staying either way. You didn't see her face when she ran away – she's terrified." Alex didn't look at James, staring into the fire instead.

"Then why'd she fall asleep, smart one?" taunted James. When he held a grudge, he held it well.

"She's exhausted – I ran her out. I don't think she's used to any physical exercise."

"Another reason why we shouldn't keep her."

"Look, James, stop it. At least give her a chance."

"Two days, Alex. Two days." James retreated into his corner and sulkily played with the string and yo-yo he'd taken from some boy that had tried to beat him up.

Alex sighed. Kyle, not wanting to get caught in the middle, retreated into his own corner, leaving Alex alone with Hazel by the fire. Sighing again, Alex threw the minty water onto the ground outside the door, stacking the cups in the patched up cupboard by the back wall. He hesitated, wondering what to do with the sleeping girl. She seemed warm enough, so he moved her to his corner of the shack, placing her on his blanket and jacket for when the weather got cold. It was really no better than the shirt he wore now, thin and worn and more patch than coat, but at least it was another layer. Then he doused the fire and curled up with his back to Hazel, his head on his arm, to sleep.