This was written mostly as a bit of an exercise for my creative muscles. It's been a while since I wrote anything, and I wanted to make sure I still could. So it's not perfect, barely edited, etc. But I thought it was worth posting anyway.

Disclaimer: Circle of Magic is the property of Scholastic inc. and Tamora Pierce. I do not earn any money or any other form of compensation from this fan fiction of mine.

The Broken

It is no secret amongst the Dedicates and Novices of Winding Circle that Dedicate Rosethorn does not like children. While she isn't exactly hospitable towards anybody except Dedicate Lark, with whom she shares a cottage near the temple's outer wall, she reserves a special bit of hatred for children. Boy or girl, noble or street rat, Rosethorn does not care. She hates them all equally.

So it is no surprise that thoughts of children would be what drove her to hide in her garden for a whole day, deep in thought, trying to avoid the very children that occupied her thoughts. With the arrival of two more girls a few days prior, the cottage's four spare bedrooms had been filled. The children were troubled, according to Dedicate Superior Moonstream, who had dropped them off at the cottage, one after the other, with almost no warning whatsoever. Rosethorn had wanted to argue, given that she and Lark had only ever taken in adult mages before, but Moonstream was in charge of all of Winding Circle. Her word was law, and she said that the children had trouble socializing with their peers and would do better in a somewhat isolated environment.

The fact that all four children seemed to be ambient mages just like Lark and herself did not go unnoticed. While they supposedly had trouble "fitting in" with the other Novices in the regular temple dormitories, Rosethorn wouldn't have been surprised if Moonstream admitted to orchestrating the whole thing so that the four children would all end up in the care of two of the very few people at Winding Circle with talents similar to theirs.

That was what the cottage, nicknamed 'Discipline,' was for. Rosethorn was surprised Moonstream didn't just come out and say it to the children, but apparently she agreed with Niko's idea that the four should be allowed to discover their talent for themselves. Niklaren Goldeye—"Niko" to his friends—was the very mage who had first discovered the four children and brought them to Winding Circle, so his opinion obviously counted more than her own, despite the fact that Rosethorn was one of the first who would have to deal with the inevitable fallout after the children eventually discovered their latent power. She already expected it to be sudden and explosive and possibly costly. Letting ten-year-old mages run around with no training or knowledge that they have magic at all sounded ridiculously dangerous to her.

A small voice in the back of her mind told her that it was a bit funny though, watching the four of them fumble around in the dark.

The dark…

She had discovered some things about the children today, while speaking with Niko. She had learned a bit about their pasts, and that was ultimately why she was spending the afternoon alone in her garden, letting her various plants anchor her to the ground as her mind wandered through the clouds.

Sandrilene fa Toren, who much preferred the shortened "Sandry" to her full name, was more than just a flighty noble with an overinflated sense of justice. She spent her first ten years of her life traveling with parents who refused to sit still. She had no friends her own age, and no permanent home to speak of. Her nomadic yet lavish lifestyle ended in Zakdin, Hatar, which was hit by a smallpox epidemic that claimed the lives of her parents. Her nursemaid had been murdered by an angry mob within earshot of the little ten-year-old girl, who had spent the next two weeks hiding from the mob in a dark cellar with nothing but a chamberpot, a lamp that soon ran out of oil, and some thread for company. Her trial had left her with a paralyzing fear of darkness and a sense of righteous anger that overtook her senses whenever she saw another being suffering.

Trisana Chandler, who also preferred a shortened nickname and called herself "Tris," was more than just a merchant family's child who was prejudiced against those below her. Her magic was wild, untamable. She caused storms when she was upset, but showed none of the usual signs of a mage-to-be. Her family thought her possessed, or simply inhuman. She was passed from relative to relative until she ran out of family members, then was sent to live at an orphanage when her family could no longer stand her. She didn't stay there for long either, as the children were cruel enough to cause her to unconsciously manifest her powers once more. After that, she was moved from home to home, never staying in one place for very long, until Niko stumbled across her in Capchen entirely by accident and brought her to Winding Circle. But now she was incapable of trusting another human being, knowing it was only a matter of time before she was abandoned again. So she pushed away everyone who tried to get close, even those with the best of intentions.

Daja Kisubo was more than just a former Trader. She had once sailed as a crewmember of the Third Ship Kisubo, along with her closest family. Her parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins had all been part of the same crew. But the ship had run into a storm and been torn apart, sinking and taking the whole crew down to the depths with it, leaving her as the only survivor. But no, that wasn't enough suffering, apparently. So soon after losing her entire family, the Trader girl lost everything else that mattered to her. As a sole survivor of a shipwreck, she was declared Trangshi, the worst kind of bad luck, and exiled from the Traders for the rest of her life. She would never again be able to even speak to those she had once considered her kindred. She came to Winding Circle with nothing but an empty box and a wooden, unmarked staff. As a Trader, even a former one, she dealt with unfair prejudices that escalated into actual violence, and was unable to make a single friend.

And then there was the boy, Briar Moss. He was far more than just a former thief. He'd been fatherless since birth, and his mother's death when he was four took away the last family he had. He'd been on the streets for six years when Niko had found him, and was on his way to work at the Docks as punishment for being caught stealing for the third and final time. He'd had a hard life, and the hardships started when he was so young that it was all he knew. He had made friends and watched those friends die. He had suffered at the mercy of bad luck, and only narrowly avoided a lifetime spent toiling on the Docks, thanks to Niko's intervention. He wouldn't have lasted five years, working in those conditions. He came to Winding Circle with the same trust issues as Tris, brought on not by being abandoned, but by the simple fact that trust was a luxury for thieves.

"They are not children anymore," Rosethorn mused. "Some of them never had the chance to be."

That was true. She constantly had to remind herself that they were still just ten years old, because they did not act like they were. They didn't play with toys. They didn't play outside or get along with others. They didn't have the wide-eyed innocence of children. Instead, they had the narrow, downturned eyes of those who had seen the darkest shadows of the world, and lost their innocence along the way.

They were broken.

She couldn't hate them, as she hated all other children, not after hearing their cries at night, after listening to their screams when they woke from nightmares born of their worst memories. But it wasn't pity that she felt, either. Instead, she just felt a need to do what she could to make sure her children could put that pain behind them.

"Hah, my children," Rosethorn murmured. "I must be going soft."

Her musing concluded, the Rose stood up and donned her Thorns once more. It wouldn't do for anyone to see that she really had a soft side under the sharp exterior, after all. Lark would never let her hear the end of it.

"Boy," she shouted up towards the cottage's roof, where she knew Briar would be resting, "we've got work to do!"