The tiny woman ran through the dusk-dimmed streets, panting hard, trying to support her heavy pregnant belly with her thin, white arms. Her husband, where was her husband? Footsteps, leaden with doom, were not far enough behind her. The jeers from her pursuers were drowned out by the voice of premonition in her head, words and visions and dread pounding between her temples. The soles of her feet felt sore, pounding against the dry, scalding-hot pavement. She wasn't sure exactly when she'd lost her sandals. Dust made her throat raspy, she could hardly breathe. Much less scream for help.

Camael help me, let me run into a crowd, let me find Sssraerl, grant me strength, grant me speed, think of my babies!

She couldn't even pray properly.

One of the twins kicked, hard, and she staggered, just for a moment, before forcing herself to continue. It was the mad dash of an antelope that had seen death in the eye. The creature that, deep down, knew that its flight was useless, because its strength would run out and the wolves catch up. She knew they'd catch up with her.

She'd seen it. She'd heard the sound of the blows landing on her fragile body. She'd seen them spit on her, heard their laughter and her own terrified screams. It was bound to come true, her visions always did.

If she had not been quite so heavy with the twins, she would have been more than able to outrun that crazed lot of rough young men. She would have been able to keep going longer than they could, she would have been able to get up on a roof, she would have been quick, nimble, untouchable. But now the only reason she'd gotten as far as running was the sudden premonition when they'd started to cross the plaza towards the bamboo bench where she had been sitting, resting and waiting for her husband. They'd come towards her, she'd thought nothing of it, and then she'd had the sudden realization that they were out to hurt her, hurt her unborn sons.

That's when she'd started to run.

Her eyes, the blue-green color of turquoises, stung from the hot, dry, dusty air, desperately scanning the sides of the street for an escape route. Her long, blue-black braid bounced on her back, whipping her like a carriage-driver whips his horses, she had to go faster. Somehow, she had to find a way to circle back to the plaza, where she'd told her husband she'd be waiting. She was fairly sure they wouldn't dare try anything once her husband was present - the half-draconian's sharp frills and tail spade demanded respect in a way that a heavily pregnant, fragile-looking faerie could not.

She spotted a chocolate-skinned woman, dressed in loose-fitting off-white linen, opening a door a couple houses further down a side alley and somehow managed to change directions, zipping down the alley and all but throwing herself at the woman, breath rasping in her throat, quivering.


"Please..." the pregnant woman whispered, pleadingly looking up at the stranger. "They... they'll kill..."

The human woman's eyes widened in fright for a moment, and she took a step back towards the door, dragging the faerie along with her. That was all there was time for before the mob reached them, and when they grabbed hold of their prey the stranger retreated back inside her house.

She'd seen it. Blows landed heavy on her head, her face, her shoulders, her back, her legs, her stomach. She tried to curl up, protect the unborn lives that stirred in her womb. They just laughed, pulled at her hair to uncurl her, punched her harder. They spit her in the face, jeered at her, mocked her and called her names. She'd already seen it happen. Why had that woman not helped her? Weakly, she struggled to break loose, knowing inside and out that she was fighting a losing battle, cursing the weakness of her mage-gift. Punches landed, she feared for her children more than for herself.

She screamed in fear and she screamed for help until her throat was raw, not for her own sake but for them.

Her ears twitched, turned towards a sound. The wailing of emergency vehicle sirens grew louder, closer, and her heart raced them. They might save her, they might condemn her, maybe these men wanted her dead before help could arrive? Her premonition hadn't said. But they seemed not to notice, punching and kicking her. She would have bruises everywhere, be blue like a dragonbird, and she was fairly sure one arm was broken.

Then pain flashed through her midsection, and she really screamed, clutching at her stomach. Something was wrong. Something was really wrong.

Blood starting to soak into her clothes, Nitash'sceea Quall lost her precarious grip on reality.