Fall had arrived and with it the stick-fighting championships. Molly had made it to the quarter-finals. The men had already had their tournament, and Paul had placed first in their region. As sixteen-year-old refugees from the North, stick-fighting was the twin’s main source of income. Paul did well, but Molly still struggled to make a name for herself.
Breath gushed from Molly’s mouth and she doubled over. The gathered crowd silenced.
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.
Where is Paul? He promised he would be here. Molly hadn’t seen Paul in days and she couldn’t concentrate on the fight.
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, and her thoughts dizzied her.
I’m losing way too fast.
“Booooo,” yelled a woman from the crowd. “Is this a joke? Who let this northerner into the rink?”
I’m glad I can’t see that woman’s face.
“Pull yourself together and fight,” said Peace.
Molly sensed Peace right behind her, waiting. She was giving Molly the opportunity to pull herself together.
“Get the hell up and fight!” The tone of the voice from the opposite side of the pit sounded familiar.
Is that Paul? Molly’s heart rushed with joy at the possibility that her brother had made it. Molly looked up, but it wasn’t him. Her mind had tricked her.
The guy who had yelled was colossal, with dark skin, and hair tied up in a makeshift bun. Molly knew that he was a stick fighter from another region, and that he would fight her brother in the nationals.
Why does he care what happens? She wanted to yell back at him to leave her the hell alone, but instead she closed her eyes. Molly felt the coolness of a drizzling rain on her hair and back. Focus. She couldn’t.
Molly sighed and opened her eyes. Peace looked clever and pretty, with her narrow face and straw hair, woven through with lots of little braids. Both fighters were the same age.
In another world, we might have been great friends. But we fight against each other. We can’t be friends.
“Snap out of it,” Peace whispered, so only Molly could hear. “If you don’t put up the semblance of a fight you’re going to bring trouble on yourself.”
She feels pity for me. Peace’s lively blue eyes were an easy read for Molly.
Molly pushed herself up off the ground and glanced around, pretending to ready her fighting stick as best as she could. The girls circled each other. This should have been a close fight, but it was anything but that. Molly swung her stick towards Peace’s fighting arm but missed. Peace could have retaliated, but didn’t.
“Damn it, Molly. Focus. I’m trying to help you, but I can only hold off for so long.”
This is ironic. The person that should be here to support me is not, and the person who should be trying to beat the crap out me is encouraging me.
Molly stepped in close to Peace. “Don’t try to help me. I’m done here.”
Peace shook her head. “Are you sure?”
Peace swatted Molly’s stick out of her hand. The fight was over. Molly’s stick lay in the dirt. The undulating pattern in its dark wood and its engravings were in a distinct northern style.
Paul’s absence and her incompetence turned to anger.
I have to get away from here.
Molly walked over, picked up the stick, and strapped it to her back. She had displeased the crowd, and the pit master would likely come and confront to her now.
I have to stay cool just until he’s done talking to me.
Guards dressed in the Southern Correnstrait brown uniform came down and ensured that the crowd parted when Molly and Peace approached. 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.
But why should I care how he’s doing?
They were each other’s only family and he had ditched her. She wanted to know why. Molly decided she would find Paul, not so much because she worried about him, but because she wanted to know what had taken precedence over the most important fight she had ever had.
“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. Molly couldn’t remember a time when someone had stood up for her, besides Colin – Molly and Paul’s friend who had helped them escape.
“Don’t get yourself in bad with the crowd on my account.”
“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. It was time for her to get out of there.
In the next moment, someone reached out and grabbed the pendant that connected Molly to Paul.