Along with the pumpkin pies and roasted chestnuts, Correnstrait’s stick-fighting championships were part of the season’s delights. The excitement of the people of Port Ofenter and the hopes of the fighters ignited the air with expectation. Molly had struggled to make a name for herself, but now she was in the regional quarter-finals. As a sixteen-year-old refugee from the North, this was a big opportunity for her. The guys had already had their first tournament, and Paul, her twin, had placed first as expected.
Now Molly faced Peace, but her eyes gravitated towards the stands. Where is Paul? He promised he would be here. Paul was nowhere there and Molly hadn’t seen him in several days.
Molly’s absent mindedness lasted a moment too long and breath gushed from her mouth as she doubled over. The gathered crowd silenced. Molly hadn’t even attempted to defend herself.
I think I’m going to throw up, thought Molly.
Peace jammed the length of her stick into the back of Molly’s legs, and Molly sank to her knees, hands landing in the red, moist dirt. Peace gave another jab of the stick, and Molly’s face fell into the dirt, too. Molly closed her dark eyes; the pit spun around her as her thoughts ensnared her.
I’m losing way too fast. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen someone loose this fast.
“Is this a joke?” yelled a woman from the crowd. “Who let this girl into the rink?”
I’m glad I can’t see that woman’s face. Molly took a deep breath.
“Pull yourself together and fight,” said Peace. Molly sensed Peace right behind her, waiting. She was giving Molly the opportunity to fight back.
“Molly! Get the up and fight!” The tone of the voice from the opposite side of the pit had sounded familiar. Was that Paul? Molly’s heart rushed with joy and she looked up. But her mind had tricked her. It wasn’t Paul at all, but a colossal guy with dark skin and hair tied up in a makeshift bun. Molly knew him as a stick fighter from another region, and that he would fight her brother in the up-coming inter-regional contests. She wanted to yell back at him to leave her the alone, but instead she closed her eyes. Why should he care what happens, and how does he even know my name? It must be in the program.
Molly felt the coolness of a drizzling rain on her hair and back.
Focus, she told herself. But she couldn’t.
Molly sighed and opened her eyes. Peace stood in front of her now. She looked clever and pretty, with her narrow face and straw hair, woven through with lots of little braids. Peace must have been about two years older than her.
She feels pity for me. Peace’s lively blue eyes were an easy read for Molly.
“Whatever it is, snap out of it,” Peace whispered, so only Molly could hear. “At least put up the semblance of a fight.”
Molly pushed herself up and readied her fighting stick, as best as she could. The girls circled each other. Molly swung her stick towards Peace’s fighting arm but missed. Peace could have retaliated, but didn’t.
“Damn it, Molly. I can only hold off for so long.”
This is ironic. The person who should be trying to beat the crap out me is not. Why?
Molly stepped in close to Peace. “I’m done here.”
Peace shook her head. “What?”
Peace frowned and then swatted Molly’s stick to the ground. Molly’s stick lay in the dirt. The undulating pattern in its dark wood and its engravings were in a distinct northern style. The fight was over. Molly’s loss was complete, and Paul’s absence and her incompetence simmered into anger within her.
I have to get away from here.
Molly walked over to pick up her stick and strapped it to her back. Guards dressed in the Southern Correnstrait brown uniform came down to escort Molly and Peace through the crowd. As the girls emerged from the dirt hollow, Molly took hold of her pendant and checked it. Wherever he was, Paul was not doing well – but he hadn’t been well in a long time. Molly’s pendant had a bird, a sparrow, that would transform to show the emotions of the other pendant’s bearer, and Paul owned the twinned pendant. So even though Paul and Molly were apart, they could still know how each other was doing.
Molly was annoyed. They were each other’s only family and he had ditched her. She wanted to know why. Molly decided she had to find Paul – not because she worried about him, but because she wanted to know what had taken precedence over the most important fight of her life.
“Go back to the North!” someone shouted into Molly’s ear. “You’re not from here, and we don’t want you here!” Molly tried to ignore the animosity. She had never wanted to be in the South in the first place. The only problem was that the North had almost killed Paul and her. The Manipulator had brutally forced their escape to Port Ofenter two years ago.
“Shut up,” Peace yelled at the person harassing Molly.
Molly looked over at Peace, surprised. “Don’t get yourself in bad with the crowd on my account.” Molly couldn’t remember a time when someone had stood up for her, and she wondered about Peace’s persistence attempts at goodness towards her.
“Don’t listen to them,” said Peace.
“I’m not,” Molly lied.
Molly and Peace kept moving forward, towards their lockers. The wet dirt, sweat, and rain seeped through Molly’s black shirt, and she felt chilly. The guards were not managing the crowd well, and Molly and Peace had to push their own way through the surging throng.
In the next moment, someone reached out and grabbed the pendant that connected Molly to Paul. Molly felt a tug around her neck, and then a snap.