Do you remember that scene from a while back, where Charlie the Thief was caught mid-thievery? Well, I was thinking about that in light of the new setting I've been developing, and it sort of... got away from me? Anyway, I trust you remember who Violet is and what school is like, so here we go.

The bathroom window was a tight squeeze when she was wearing her jacket, but she definitely wasn't willing to leave without it. She already had to sacrifice all the contents of her backpack to fit through. But by sliding her shoulders through one at a time and catching the pipe over the window, she could get through. Briefly, as she heaved her hips and legs through the gap, she wondered if this might not be a workable escape route when she got a bit older. She might get too big for the window. Were the windows on the next level up bigger? Or were they the same size?

Then there was no more time to think. She was dangling from the pipe over the fourth-floor bathroom and only the slope of the wall and her own stubbornness kept her from falling. Violet took a deep breath, then looked down. The first time she'd tried this, it had been an absolute disaster. The fear had been so overpowering that she'd only gotten down because her arms were too tired to keep her up. Now it was different. Now, she was stronger and braver.

Half running, half sliding, catching herself on vents and pipes to slow her progress, Violet's slender body hurtled downward until, with a muffled crash, she fell into a dumpster. It wasn't the most comfortable landing, but it hadn't broken any of her bones yet. Hastily, the girl swung herself out of the dumpster and tugged her jacket straight, smoothing her hair and adjusting the straps of her backpack as she walked casually away from the school. If the others couldn't get out, that was their problem.

The sidewalk was hot under her shoes, the sun was hot on her skin, and as Violet breathed in the musky smell of the city, she felt like this was something she could actually have a hand in. Out here, she had choices. She had control.

Then a voice spoke behind her.

"Clever, getting out through the window. Didn't think anyone would be able to do that."

With a gasp, Violet whirled and tightened her hands into fists, ready for a fight. The man behind her took a hasty step back and lifted his empty hands, the universal sign of peace. She didn't trust it.

"Good reflexes, too. How old are you, girl?" He couldn't have been much older than she was, now that she got a good look at him. He was tall, but had that pinched, hungry look of a guy that was growing too fast.

"I'm 16," she lied spectacularly. He laughed.

"If you're 16, I'll eat my shoes. Grinders are sent off much younger than that."

She scowled at him and opened her mouth to tell him to mind his own business. He didn't let her get that far, though. Instead, he pulled a small white card out of his pocket. "When they ship you off to the Trainers, have them give me a call. I could use a Grinder like you on my team."

"Team?" Violet took the card cautiously, sparing it only a brief glance. She couldn't take her eyes off this guy or he might mug her or something. Not that he looked like he needed to. His clothes were very nice.

"You'll see what I mean when you get in the Game. Meantime, can I get you some lunch? You look like you haven't eaten all day."

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