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“Get out of here, half-breed trash!” The bucket swayed as the rotund innkeeper tossed its contents at them.Dirty water soaked their ankles, but Rory rushed toward the rubbish, grabbing several pieces of lettuce and a tomato that probably wouldn’t make them sick.Edana sobbed, her red hair matted, one pointed ear sticking out between tangled locks, the other hidden behind more dishevelment. It would be a much brighter color if it was clean, but the twins hadn’t been able to wash in some time.He grabbed his sister’s hand without a word and tugged her down the alley, keeping his eyes averted from the innkeeper as well as the other homeless people, adults and children scattered around the place. The alley was thick with the odor of human waste and other rotting things despite the chill in the air. The cold breeze did nothing but spread it around, a warning for others to avoid the area.The mean older man didn’t mind the rest of the scavengers. They were human, or wholly human, as it were. He and his sister were not.Rory dragged Edana after him, but his tiny sister’s sobs didn’t quiet. He needed to get them back to safety before the gang of boys saw them. They’d been chasing them for days, and the twins had only left the safety of their dug out hollow behind an abandoned shop because they hadn’t eaten anything since they’d been in hiding. Others were squatting in the shop itself. Their mixed blood did not invite them to share what little warmth was there. He would have gone out himself but he never left Edana alone.“Shhh. When we get back we can eat.” Big emerald eyes met his gaze, still watery. She sniffled and wiped a dirty hand across her face, making a black smudge on her cheek. At least it was only dirt. There’d been bruises that color on her many times. Rory winced.They rounded the corner with quick steps, headed into the opposite alley. It was empty.“Psssst.” Rory froze, his gaze settling on a girl that looked a few turns older than him and his sister. He met her eyes. She smiled and motioned for them to come to her. Rory shook his head, remaining where he was. He wasn’t falling for that trick. “Come here, elf.” He and his twin were only half-elfin, but he didn’t correct her. She motioned again and stepped toward them. Rory shoved Edana behind him and put his palm up.He had magic, but he’d never used it in public, let alone to hurt someone. The girl cocked her head to the side, staring at him with wide brown eyes. She was well dressed, her tan smock clean, her appearance groomed. What could she possibly want with them?“I won’t hurt you,” she whispered, coming even close. Edana wrapped her arms around his waist and peered under his arm at the girl. She’d stopped crying. The girl smiled at his sister. Rory lowered his arm, but grabbed Edana in case they had to bolt.“Really, I won’t hurt you. I wanted to give this to you and your sister.” She held a bundle out to him but Rory didn’t take it. She shoved it at him and he shook his head. “Go on, my da doesn’t know I have it. The biggest blanket I could find. The pouch wrapped inside has some dried meat and the biggest hunk of bread I could sneak. You need it.”Rory stared at the blanket, wrapped up like a parcel. It did look warm. It was much better than the scrap of cloth they had now. He always let Edana have it on cold nights, anyway. “I couldn’t get you any water this time, but I will try next time. I’ll have to sneak a skin for it,” the girl continued. He wanted to ask what she meant by next time but he couldn’t find his voice. She was trying to help them. It was unheard of.“I’m Gemma, by the way. My da is the dolt that got you all wet.” Her dark brows drew together. “I’m sorry about that.” She brushed Rory’s hand with the edge of the blanket as she took another step toward them. “Please take it. You need it. Do you have a warm place to sleep?”Rory shrugged.“Well, wrap up in this, then,” she whispered. Her eyes looked so sincere. She really was trying to help them. One hand still in a firm grip on his sister and the other tentatively reaching out, Rory snatched the bundle as soon as his fingers made purchase and tucked it under his arm.He turned away, taking Edana with him.“Wait.” Rory paused but didn’t turn back toward Gemma. “It’s all right if you can’t thank me.” He looked down, heat creeping up his neck into his cheeks. He used to have manners. “Come back here every sevenday. I’ll help you when I can.” He looked over his shoulder.Gemma smiled and it was so genuine Rory offered a half-smile back.“Do you have magic?” Gemma whispered. He exchanged a glance with his twin before nodding at the older girl.“I hope it helps you keep warm at night.” He stared. What should he make of this girl? She was the first human to treat him and his sister as anything more than scum. Rory swallowed hard and gave a curt nod. Gemma grinned and his heart skipped a beat.“That makes me feel better.” He looked away from her, his cheeks hot and his gaze catching Edana’s. His twin was smiling, too. When was the last time she did anything but sob? His vision blurred. He blinked and swiped at his face. Good thing he wasn’t looking at Gemma. Boys weren’t supposed to cry, even half-elfin scamps.“Gemma? Where did you get off to?” The shout made Rory wince. Edana jumped closer to him, clinging to his hand again.“That would be my da. I’ll see you next sevenday. Stay safe.” With that, Gemma slipped around the corner. Rory stared after her.“I like her,” Edana announced. When he looked at his sister, she was wearing that rare smile again. His stomach flipped.“I…I like her, too.” His twin nodded and squeezed his hand. Rory smiled.
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