This is the preface and first chapter of Totem, which I chose to start writing for JTCarlton’s Weekly Writing Challenge which consisted in writing the first chapter of that story that you’ve been meaning to write since forever but that you haven’t even started because, true to form, you couldn’t be bothered to write it. 🙂
(Weekly Writing Challenge: The First Chapter)
Beware, for this story will not treat you as a friend. It will not hold your hand as it leads you down the dark and narrow alleyways of this story. It will expect you to stand tall and act as arrogant as the people who make up the elite of this society, but also presume that you are as capable of fighting as the most common characters in this story, whatever mud may glue onto your shoes and whatever rain may drench your hair. For, as perhaps you have already guessed, this is a story of survival. Characters will die and cruelty will be unleashed. Wait. Wait! Where are you going! I swear, there will also be love and friendship and hope; strength that exceeds all expectations and people who will pull you up when you fall and half-carry you if that is what it takes to make you put one foot in front of the other. All I’m saying is that, yes, your favourite character will probably be one of the victims, one of those who fought for so long and so much that they met their limit beyond which they could go no further. In fact, that will most certainly the case. The point of this story is not to provide you with a happy ending; it is most concerned with showing you the story itself, what the people who drive this story forward – who stretch one chapter into the next – have lived through and the life they have led. All I hope is that you will grant them enough respect to let them tell you their story, regardless of the ending.
Centennial Tower rose over the city, dominating it like an arrogant and rich queen. Countless storeys high, a particular shade of blue that only the cleanest skyscrapers in the rich city centre could reach; the eyes of the workers passing by on the streets below were always inadvertently drawn to it, like a moth to a bright flame. Overlooking all the activity happening below me, standing on the roof of this imposing structure, I felt wonder at being so high up above the ground. An unusual calm overtook me too, and I embraced the feeling. My hair was cast behind me by the wind that had risen, and my skin felt tight against my cheekbones, but I ignored this. For on the roof of the highest building in the city, I felt freer than I ever had in my life. My heart sang and my body came alive as I admired my home from an entirely new vantage point. I was never allowed here before (nor was I in this moment) and if anyone discovered me here, they would inform my father and I would never be allowed to set foot in the building again. I understood this, though, as my father had a reputation to uphold, after all. As Governor of Hatoa, and consequently Protector, Adair Arendt was one of the most influential people in Helios, and was most notable and instantly-recognizable for his piercing blue eyes, which I had inherited. I pictured him as he would look like when he surely learned that I had escaped from the room he’d left me in: his narrow face taut, eyes as mercilessly cold as ever, his thin lips pressed together in anger. I would, of course, apologise for my actions, but that would not stop me from leaving again as soon as he had retreated to his study. I did not think myself to be a particularly rebellious – with raging, high levels of hormones in her bloodstream – kind of girl. On the contrary, I always did my best to follow the rules, at least the ones I considered reasonable. I’d observed from a young age that the more innocent one’s reputation was – the more pure and subservient one pretended to be – the less people expected you to do stupid things (such as stand on a hundred-storey-high and potentially-deadly building), and the more freedom and space they granted you. I’d never done anything illegal, my father simply disapproved of the extended independence I had developed lately, of the numerous times he had seen me stealthily cross the thresh-hold of the house and leave the estate without asking permission. But as he’d never inquired as to where I spent my lengthy afternoons, I tended to not let myself become too worried.
As my calm did not fade, I thought it safe to reflect on the feeling more. My skin did not crawl with the hundreds of eyes I constantly felt watching me; I was not chained, in this very moment, by the numerous expectations my father and my status had placed upon me, nor did I feel constrained and my time limited by the social gatherings and events I was so often compelled to attend. I instead concentrated on myself: who I was, what I wanted, where I was headed (though that last one was frighteningly hard to decipher). I felt the wind blow through my long blonde hair and the sun warm my pale cheeks and its brightness tickle my pale blue eyes. This calm felt like dawn, like washing away all problems and worries with the rain and waking up to a new day full of possibilities and nothing to stop me. Sheepishly, I had to admit to myself that at that specific moment, I felt kind of invincible. Morrow would have laughed at me. I couldn’t ignore the irony of the situation, my taking control and accepting who I was on such a high building, where one step too far would take me plummeting to my death; but mostly the irony was that my city seemed so beautiful to me in this moment, even though, from my vantage point, all I could see in front of me, beyond the skyscrapers, were the most unprivileged of the neighbourhoods that made it up. I could distinguish the dingy, crooked and narrow alleyways that divided the dilapidated and slanted buildings of Madden. Directly in front of me, to the South, Prieto looked only mildly better off than its twin, its streets straighter, the apartment complexes and businesses whiter than the polychromatic beige to dark yellow and grey hues of Madden.
My gaze would have strayed to Bement, to my left, but caught the familiar figure of Morrow as he anxiously jogged down the streets, running down dead-ends before pacing back to investigate another one. From this high up, all I could see were his uniform and brown hair; if I’d been closer, I would certainly have seen the fright and concern light up his green eyes. I’d told him I was taking an afternoon to myself, and it was so unlike him to worry over my whereabouts that I rummaged through my head for another potential source to his strange behaviour. Perhaps was it my father’s upcoming speech this afternoon that made Morrow this nervous, that in itself was reason enough. My father would be addressing an issue which I knew (and by that I mean overheard) had been bothering the upper strata of Helios’s hierarchy. Every decade or so, a group of invaders living outside of the city – in the vast forest surrounding Helios which stretches as far as we can see – attacked us. They’d attempt to claim our land, our resources, our children and families. And every decade we’d fight back, mustering our strength and scraping by with a frighteningly–quick decreasing margin of manoeuvre. Last time, it came so close that most of the buildings lay crumpled in the aftermath, smoke rising from Helios and covering it for days; the stench of rotting bodies clung to the streets for weeks, or so I’d heard. In some of the poorest sectors, some remnants of these hard times remained. The reason our leaders were nervous was that nothing had happened in nearly 20 years, and the 20 year mark was rapidly approaching. Would the Assailants trike again? If we followed the logic I just presented you with, we would not survive this time. And we all knew it. That was the issue my father would be discussing today, I hoped it wouldn’t be the public equivalent of surrender.
I said goodbye to the mid-day sun and took one last look at my home before I turned around to head back to solid ground, letting my eyes rove over all 5 sectors of Helios.
Directly below and around me, Cordova stood tall and confident: the rich city centre where skyscrapers stretched to the vast expanse of blue sky above. To my left, on the East side of Helios, Bement sit, inferior in importance and height, but nevertheless impressive in its stark white and Haussmannian architecture. Composed of only three or four storeys-high white apartment buildings, Bement regrouped all rich (but not government-official-rich) people who lived surrounded by all entertainment houses, clubs, restaurants and all the other lovely activities wealthy residents enjoyed. Directly behind me, to the North, Hatoa – an amalgamation of proud and confident red-brick houses and mansions covered in ivy where only the elite reside – provided Bement with competition to the title of ‘Most Desired Sector of Residence in Helios’. Prieto, straight ahead of me, lounged comfortably at the southernmost tip of Helios. There, low, single-storey-high greek-style houses faced the sea of trees that aroused fear in the breast of every Helios citizen. Although the entire city was surrounded by the forest on all sides, the other sectors were at least separated from the looming, intimidating expanse by gardens, greenhouses, food production structures and the like. Prieto, however, was only protected by wheat fields. And last but most definitely not least to me: Madden. The poorest, most desolate sector of all housed Morrow and I several times a week, when we would visit down from Hatoa to bring a ray of hope and, hopefully, some strength to the struggling inhabitants. We always took great care to never come empty-handed, as the people there were always in dire need of help. We usually brought food, covers, clothes, and our company. There, we would hear news of rumours that circulate. As Morrow was much more skilled, discreet and harder to recognise than I am, the inhabitants would provide him with information more willingly, even fondly. Lately, he had been warning me of growing discontent in the poorer neighbourhoods.
I’d spent vast amounts of time dedicated to finding solutions to their precarious situation, but despite helping and talking to our acquaintances in Madden, there is little the 19-year-old-girl that I was could do, not unless I was willing to compromise my situation and put myself at risk, but that would only make helping the citizens more difficult. So I stayed put and pretended to be a good girl, or at least I would tell myself that I was only pretending. As I pushed these concerns out of my head, I hopped of the ledge and back onto the rooftop. I straightened my dress, checked that my hair was, as always, perfectly straight (I must not rouse suspicion, mustn’t indicate I was anywhere other than inside, dedicating my time to learning). I headed down the stairs, closing the door to the rooftop and the lock behind me as I went so as to remain inconspicuous. Down the elevator I went: 80, 90 storeys, examining my reflection in the perfectly clean mirror so as to ascertain that I, just like everything in close proximity to my father, looked perfectly presentable.
I would gladly reflect on the boring nature of perfection with you now, however I’d done that so many times already that the subject matter had, at the time, long lost all the interest it held. Very long dark blonde hair was reflectd back to me, light blue eyes so very similar to my father’s that revealed determination (I quickly tried to rearrange them so as to evoke innocence, not petulance), fair skin slightly pink from the still-chilly-wind of March but that still held tight to the tan Morrow and I had gained from the lengthy afternoons spent in Madden courtyards and squares the previous summer. I just had time to finish my thorough analysis of my appearance before the elevator dinged and I was thrust into the clinically, piercingly clean lobby. I smiled to the receptionist, hoped to the ancient, mythological Helian gods we learned about in school that my smile looked convincing, and dove into the busy, bustling street. For how bitterly cold the wind was at the top of Centennial Tower, the crowded streets were stuffy and chokingly hot. The mass of swarming people threatened to drown and smother me, my pulse raced to beat its way out through my temples, before I caught sight of an oncoming bus and waved it down energetically.
“Good afternoon, Miss.”, the driver said eyes turned towards the window, focused on the park on the other side of the street. Mercifully, thankfully, he showed no interest in me, not the least once of recognition as I payed the fee and settled in a seat at the very back of the bus, practically hogging the window and eating the thin stream of air from outside. I needed to learn how to handle myself better, or one day I’d really be in trouble. I could imagine only too clearly Morrow’s response: “It’s gonna be OK, just breathe and get a hold of yourself”.
Secretly, I was grateful my father had had the spark of mind to keep me as anonymous and incognito as he could as I grew up, that he maintained me in the shadows whereas other Governors’ children were instantly recognised by anyone who was anyone in our world. But instead of dwelling on the matter, I chose to muse about what my father might be announcing at the meeting, and started to worry.
I rock back and forth on my feet as I wait for Ellie, anticipation and impatience growing steadily inside me like the ivy that covers many of the houses in Hatoa. Her father’s speech will be starting any minute now and, as her butler, I have the added responsibility of taking her to and from any place she goes. Being her best friend, neither of us minds that very much; but earlier today she’d looked up at me with those puppy-dog eyes of hers and begged me to let her leave for an hour or two to complete some very, very, very crucial mission, as she’d put it. That was 6 hours ago. Here I am, in front on the government building in Prieto, standing all alone like an idiot as everyone rushes inside to get good seats. I decide that if in ten minutes she hasn’t arrived, I’ll head inside to hear what Mr. Arendt has to say and update her whenever I’ll next see her. If I’ll ever see her. Gulp.
Ah, there she is! I run to meet her and hug her as I always do, pulling apart only long enough to look into her eyes and show my disapproval for her lack of punctuality. She nods and looks down, ashamed. But she can only keep a straight face for so much time and soon enough I can detect that glimmer of mischief in her light blue eyes.
“Oh no, what did you do now?” I ask as a parent would to a child, teasing.
“I blew up The Founders Statue. And everyone around it. You should have been there the colours were so pretty! All that red! Body parts flying everywhere! I think I even saw a nipple, you could have kept it as a souvenir.” She smirks at that last statement. Ellie can shock you like that at times, but only if she feels close to you; if she believes that you will keep her humour a secret as much as she do. However I know her enough to know that she only really jokes when something’s wrong. And the way she jokes right now, I know something’s bothering her. But for now, I decide to let it slide and not remind her of her problems, we have tomorrow for that, and the following day, and the next.
“Oooh” I respond “did it have a boob attached to it or do I have to buy that separately?”
Before we can exchange any more comments, the men holding the doors open holler at us that the speech is starting. We hurry and enter the room just in time to see Mr Arendt cross the stage to stand in front of the podium. A thin, nervous man hands him his notes and adjusts the microphone without looking at him in the eyes and – still keeping his head lowered – walks backstage. Each time I see people’s reactions to Ellie’s father I’m fascinated – sickened, frightened even, but nevertheless fascinated. He always has a way about him, a composure and body language that radiates cold, cruelty, arrogance. People always sink lower in his presence, and perhaps the confidence that emanates from him is the reason he has the profession and position he does, as it is certainly not due to his kindness. His hands reach to rest on the podium and he pauses, skirting the room with his eyes, looking for someone, they stop when they land on a man in the middle of the front row, at that they tighten.
“Citizens of Helios” Adair Arendt begins, “I stand before you today to discuss the measures our city will implement in order to weaken, and ultimately destroy the group of attackers we have named “Assailants”. For centuries they have repeatedly raided Helios, murdering our infants, separating our families, destroying our homes. Blood stains the walls after their passing, bodies lay mangled across streets, your children cry as they beg for mercy. This has to stop.
My highest priority, as Governor of Hatoa and Protector, is to defend you from the threat of invasion. As you may know, such events usually take place every ten years. This not being the case, the population having passed these last two decades waiting in fright for the next raid to be unleashed upon us, we – the Governors of Helios – have taken it upon us to use our resources to vanquish this threat that makes our city cower with fear. Military spending will be increased, we will also require short-term military service from able men for the weeks or perhaps even months to come. Professions will be altered to meet the needs of this stand we are taking.
Fellow Helians, I am not here with you now to capitulate, I am here today to announce that we will not let harm befall you, because we do not give up, we do not surrender. We have lived her longer than anyone can remember and no one will take our home away from us. What I wish to leave you with today is a message of hope and strength for the difficult weeks to come; but also of faith in our leadership which will insure that your life stretches beyond the next few months and further into the future than we can even see. For this, I will quote our very first Governor of Helios, the one and only Mr. Alleyne: ‘Today we will not surrender. Tomorrow we will not surrender. Never will we surrender’”
The crowd stands and claps for him, applauding in the dignified and respectful manner of the people whose calm demeanour and perfect attire I have seldom been in the presence of these past few weeks. I feel that Arendt is showering us in false hope in a failed attempt to hide what he has said about forced military service, but after all, I’m not a politician, am I? I look to Ellie and see her meet my gaze, but her expression is not full of confusion and worry, like mine is. But she’s not slow – if anything she’s quicker and sharper than me – so how could she have missed this? I grab her hand and pull her after me as I exit the amphitheatre, trying to be silent and not be seen.
“Where are we going?” Ellie asks innocently-enough, but her tone betrayed how wary she wis of my reaction, now the both of us are anxious.
“I have a few loose ends to tie, you wouldn’t mind a trip downtown, would you? My sister…” My voice trails off as my thoughts do too, they settle on Prieto, on the tall building in which my younger sister resides with an old couple I do not particularly appreciate.
Our footsteps echo off the stone steps as we race time and run through the twisting, narrow alleyways of Madden, and then into Prieto. The middle-aged couple that has been charged with the job of taking care of my sister lives in Southern-most Prieto, just a couple of streets from the fields that seem like a shield, or even a fortress between the forest and us. They keep my sister safely hidden within the walls of their home, concealing Leini behind the masks and façades of an ordinary couple whose children have long since grown up and left home, leaving them isolated yet relieved at their new-found spare time.
Leini, meanwhile, is confined to the spacious room behind the library – courtesy of my formerly-rich parents and Mr. Arendt’s generosity – a prisoner of four solitary walls. I can fathom only too clearly what each day must represent to her, what thoughts sail through her mind as she counts down the time until evening, at which time she can finally escape her room and risk taking supper with her safe keepers. It’s all for her safety, I’ve told her countless times, and every time she swears she acknowledges what we’ve all sacrificed to keep her alive, even though doing so locks her in as if she were a criminal.
But there is simply too much at stake. Someone murdered my parents, and would’ve done so with me too had I not had the spark of mind to push myself towards the grandfather clock in the living room. There, at the age of nine, I squatted and breathed as silently as I could, terrified to even blink lest the tuxedoed man now lurking in the kitchen – whom I had heard upending my father’s study from the front door – found me. Foolishly, I’d thought he’d been sent by my school to punish me for stealing an orange from the lunch room. Ellie and I had done nothing wrong but throw it innocently-enough back and forth, until it accidentally hit and splattered all over another student, that is; at that I’d howled and cried in a loud fit of laughter. But the man had not necessarily heard of that last part, I’d tried to reassure myself as I hid shamelessly in the clock. No, the man had not known of the accident, however what he had known was that my parents’ lives had a price, and that he was willing to pay it. When my parents came home unexpectedly early, I’d imagined a hundred ways the conversation could unfold: a calm and business-like appraisal of my childish, immature error; or maybe an ashamed and serious acknowledgement of their son’s obviously faulty upbringing or perhaps even, loud and angry retorts. What I got instead was blood-curling, sharp, piercing screaming.
That is the true reason why Leini must remain hidden, no matter the price to our sanities. I haven’t told her all of the details, safe to say she’s heard enough. I’m relatively safe while under Mr. Arendt’s protection, but if the people who massacred my parents ever hear wind of her whereabouts, they will butcher her too. That I am positive about. I will not take any risks where Leini is concerned.
We pass under the eaves and through the dark alleyway right beyond the old church that no one ever enters anymore, and emerge into the under-belly of the city: courtyards and small town squares enclosed by ageing buildings and thick, imposing trees that obscure us from peering eyes. On the other side of the square, a large space where a building must once have stood is left vacant, and edging closer I can observe the entire southern part of Prieto, every single building of it, but also the sea of wheat fields, and beyond that the black forest of pine trees that stretch into blue closer to the horizon. It may be just a trick of my eyes, but it almost appears as if, right at the farthest edge, on the last slice of earth I can see, I can distinguish a light blue haze of sea.
Running my hand through my hair absent-mindedly, I ponder what could possibly happen from here on out: military service? We’ve always defended ourselves against the Assailants, but never has an entire army been created. It is the soldiers’ job to run the borders in case there is any sign of an imminent attack. But we’ve never done anything except keep ourselves as safe as we can, we’ve never attacked back; we simply don’t have the demographic capacity for that.
“I wonder why the Governors are worried about a new raid; what makes them think the Assailants will come in the first place?” Ellie muses. As usual her mind works freakily fast, sorting through detail in order to distinguish the workings of people’s minds.
We make the perfect team: I work on the “how”, and she on the “why” of it all. Two synchronised minds turning at precisely the same time, working on one problem with the same tools but coming up with two solutions.
“Have you ever realised”, I answer, turning back around to face her, “how raids always seem to happen when tension is at its highest? How could we have been so stupid, how did we miss the signs?”
“Solar noon”, mutters Ellie, her thoughts a thousand miles away, “When the sun crosses the meridian and is at its highest elevation in the sky. After that exact instant, the sun starts its low descent, sinks steadily towards the evening. The raids evacuate tension, they distract us. People’s worries are discarded when faced with a larger problem, you and I can testify to that.” She chuckles softly and I try to, too, but the prospect of potentially dying looms over me, too dark and menacing to be able to be cast away so easily.
I’ve gone bitter, now, which hardly ever happens. “To be bluntly honest, I find these Assailants wonderfully discreet compared to how omni-present and fearful they’ve been made up to be over the past generations.”
Ellie knocks me out of my angry daze when she unexpectedly laughs, a loud, honest sound that booms and echoes off the surrounding buildings, the laugh she only lets herself do when she’s with me. “We sound like two regular teens, all angsty, rebelling against our parents and doubting the government. I hate sounding this way, I hate having to turn my back on all I thought was true, on the entire way I was raised –“At that, I raise my right eyebrow and she scoffs in response “Right, the way I raised myself, then”.
“Who thought we would end up sounding so immature?” I agree.
She chuckles, “From the mess we’re in, you’d think we were in a movie, or a fantasy. And I think we’ve been cheated. I want a refund, where are my superpowers?”
She acts like all is good, like we have no more worries in the world than how the 5 Governors rule the city and how their decisions impact us. The truth is, our story is far from two energetic teenagers running around town trying to be superheroes, and despite Ellie’s bravado, she knows that fact just as much as I do. Ours is filled with deceased parents and an insatiable thirst for revenge, although Ellie prefers to take the route of forgiveness and hope that everything will sort itself out. She’s not stupid, or naïve, she knows what’s up. And besides, she’s proved to me that she can take care of herself; now the only one left for me to protect is Leini.
“Leini”, I remind her
Ellie looks at me intensely before nodding understandingly. We set off around the corner and our moment of respite evaporates.
Knock, knock on the dark red wooden door. No one answers. I ring the bell, twice as per usual, and I hear loud footsteps echo from within. Only moments later Rhott pokes his head through the gap in the door and I already feel irritated by his presence. How on earth does he do it? I catch a glimpse of a dark, long hallway and a wooden set of stairs leading to a landing, through the doorway. Rhott’s imposing frame, short, grey, non-nonsense hair and carved lines of his face hold all of the warmth he can muster, which is to say little. He all but violently slams the door in my face but I stick my foot out to stop it, taken aback by the sharp pain caused there. But I don’t let any of it show. I put on my “I-mean-business” face and can see Ellie smirking at me from the corner of my eyes. Be that as it may, I know she’s glad my techniques work.
“I’m here for Leini, not for you. I’m her brother and if I recall correctly, I’m the reason you get paid to sit around all day, looking after a girl who doesn’t need looking after as long as you don’t let her out of your sight.” I know I went far on this, but I can’t muster one ounce of guilt for hurting the selfish old guy.
Rhott crosses his arms and frowns in response, maybe his mind’s too far gone to even comprehend what I’m saying. He lets me in – I’m surprised he actually does after what I’ve just said, but I guess money can get you far– and I follow him into the hallway. His disapproval stinks on his breath, permeates the room.
“I just want to make sure she’s safe” I say before he has the chance to sting my spirit with any more animosity. “I’ve got news about the meeting if you’re up for a trade: I’ll tell you all you need to know, if you’ll let me see my sister without trouble”. Information always trickles down through the strata, reaching the poorer sectors last. He’d get the information eventually, but not without a lot of difficulty, and not for a long time.
“Follow me”, Rhott huffs. It’s a real shame no one was up for the job except this nutter, I see far too many grumpy people on a daily basis without him. Rhott glares at me very obviously the moment I step foot into the living-room. I try to stay focused on the task at hand but my eyes stray to the nearly-undistinguishable sea far out the windows.
“Take a seat, I’ll go get her” Rhott mutters, breaking me out of my reverie. Ellie and I exchange a concerned look, and I instantly know we’re both thinking the same thing: What happens from here on out? She has a determined, focused glint in her eyes, one I’m so accustomed to it throws me right back to the long, wood-panelled hallway leading to her father’s study at the Arendts’ manor. When we were 10, we tried to pick the lock on the door to unveil hidden secrets and finally live the adventure of our lives. She’s always been calm, logical and level-headed in those kinds of situations.
I allow myself, for one moment, to try to see the world as she does: a series of events determined by people, their actions, and their reactions. I try to distinguish people’s motivations, the instincts that push them to act the way they do. But all I see is a mess of confusion and unrelated events, just the long crooked line of humanity’s history, or even less: just a couple of dispersed, isolated dots and no logical line to link them together. I follow her gaze, but from here the sea seems further away, the woods darker and more dangerous. I wonder if she is blown away by the glassy, glistening sea, if that is where her mind is right now. It’s always eyes on the prize for her, maybe that’s what keeps her going. If I had the family she has, and had to bear Mr. Arendt the way she has to, perhaps I would react the same way. But mine are dead and long-buried.
Rhott clears his throat in a half-sneezing, half-choking sound which makes me jump like an electrocuted gerbil. I chastise myself for the nasty mental picture. Rhott steps aside and behind him my sister stands shy, arms wrapped protectively around herself. Her pale skin, black hair and bright blue eyes slap me as if I’ve crossed Momma on the way to town. And in a way, I have. She’s all that’s left of Momma. So much so it’s frightening, and as she grows up, the similitude becomes only more obvious. I, however, look neither like Momma nor Dad. Shame, really. The force of the memory pains my chest, stabs it. A scene unfolds in my head: my parents seated on the couch, holding hands, one of Momma’s on her swollen stomach while I tinker with toy trains on the carpet before them. The moment screams “home”, “happiness” and “safety”. The plush, red carpet, the mahogany walls, the length-floor burgundy curtains and the warmth from the fireplace are so vivid I completely lose my mind. My senses are assaulted by contradictory information: if my family is so detailed, sharp and clear in front of me, how can I not be there with them? I drown in the past that Leini hardly even got to experience. And it angers me like nothing ever before that Leini never knew what genuinely good people our parents were, that she can’t carry the memory of them like a candle behind her eyelids when times get dark.
It takes Ellie speaking my last name – the one she affectionately uses to address me – to snap me back to the present. To the task we have to accomplish. I throw her one last knowing look and understand she knows what must be done, what we must do to protect my sister. It will be incredibly cowardly of us, and perhaps cruel to those who will be left behind. I know I will always put the people I love first, that I will never be capable of sacrificing them, even though I’m all too willing to sacrifice the rest of the earth if that is what it takes to save those I love. Leini and Ellie are the only people I’ve got left.
Don’t judge, dear reader, we both know you would do the same, no matter what you pretend. I’m prepared to save my sister. I’m ready. So I start by pulling out my dagger from the inside lining of my pants and stab dear, old, marvellous Rhotty in the heart.