( Part one )
I was born different from the others.
I was born with an inability to lie.
I was born in the main village of my tribe. Everyone is born in the main village. But my thirteenth birthday is approaching, which means I may not be able to live in this village any longer.
Let me explain. My world, K’setra is ruled by one High King. He governs six smaller tribes, including mine, the mountain tribe, Sikhra.
Every year there comes a day which we have come to call, Cira, where all the children who turn thirteen that year are brought to a ceremony where the King’s representatives come and inspect and interview them.
Then they might be sent to a different sector, or even a different tribe. Some are taken away and never seen again.
Only the luckiest, and the richest are allowed to remain in our beloved village.
There are several different sectors to every tribe. Agriculture, fishing, hunting, military, healing, philosophy, factory, and construction. Whatever the Inspectors see in you, they’ll send you to a sector where you’ll be mentored for a few years, and then maybe sent on missions, or deported, and so on.
It is a cruel system, and many curse the High King behind his back. But those who are too outspoken are killed.
My thirteenth birthday arrives, and with it a sense of dread among the villagers, because my birthday happens to be the day before Cira.
My friends visit me. There is determined Chase, who is basically my brother, loyal Storm, who would never leave anyone behind, and sweet Hazel, who can think the best of anyone.
We wish each other luck for the following day, where afterwards we may never see each other again. We reminisce about old adventures. We reassure each other with empty words.
That night we all sleep in my small house. They are the only family I have, and I want to spend every second of my remaining time with them.
The next morning dawns bright and cold, and I wake abruptly. I turn and I see little Hazel cuddled up next to me, her soft brown hair fanning out behind her. I raise myself up a little on my bed to see across the room to where I had set up a few blankets on the couch for Chase and Storm. I only see Storm splayed out across the blankets, her mouth gaping.
I frown, and get up carefully, trying not to disturb Hazel.
I wrap my simple grey cloak around me and step outside, closing the door behind me. I shiver slightly and head to where I know Chase will have gone.
My little house happens to be near the cliff edge of the mountain our village is on. It is a little cabin-like house with wooden rafters, and chipped doorway. A little farther down is a large jumble of boulders at the very edge of the cliff that we call Rockfall. The cliff faces another mountain which is usually capped with snow. It is a beautiful sight, especially early in the morning when we can see the sun rise and sparkle on the fresh frost.
I spot Chase sitting on a large boulder farther down the Rockfall, staring at the sun rising beyond the mountains.
I clamber down, and perch myself beside him, watching our breath billow into a single cloud in the chilled mountain air.
He looks at me, his blue eyes filled with tears. I suddenly realize how young we actually are. How undready we are to face the world on our own.
I hug him very close, each of our sorrows melting into a cloud that flows around us, and obscures the sun.
I pull away from him. He whispers to me “ I don’t think I’ll ever see you again. They’ll tear us apart. I can’t do it. I can’t live without you guys. “
Hot tears burn my eyes and my breath shakes. I take his hand and say quietly “ I’ll find a way, Chase. I’ll find a way to keep us together. I promise. “
Hours later I find myself standing in a long line of thirteen year olds in the old marble pavilion in the center of the village where the Cira takes place every year.
A silent crowd faces us, the families and friends of those who stand pale beside me.
We wait for the King’s inspector to arrive, my long black hair whipping around me in a cold breeze. I nervously catch Hazel's eye, my stomach churning with apprehension.
Suddenly our tribe leader, Neta steps onto the pavilion. She observes us with sad eyes. She takes a deep breath and begins her usual speech. “ Each and every one of you have spent thirteen good years here with us in Sikhra village. You have made us all proud, and though you may move on, your memories will linger here. We will not forget your triumphs, nor will we forget your laughter….”
The speech drones on, and I can feel my nails digging into my palms, and my heart thumps loudly in my ears, drowning out even the others' quiet breathing. I shut my eyes, trying not to believe that this is happening.
I open my eyes, unnerved by the sudden hush of the crowd.
My heart leaps up into my throat as I see the inspector walk onto the stage.
He wears an elaborate red uniform laced with gold thread in intricate designs, and tall leather boots. He has cold eyes, pale skin, and high cheekbones. His hair is streaked with grey and combed back on his head.
He surveys us silently for a moment before he speaks. “ As you know, I am here to inspect you for placement by order of the High King. We shall start with--”
He glanced down at a long list that Neta gave him. “ Abraxhi, Nikola. Step forward, boy. “
I felt a surge of sympathy for Nikola. I was never really friends with him, but I cannot help but feel sorry for him, as he steps forward, shaking from head to foot.
After a careful interview, Nikola is sent to farming. Not bad. I know Nikola comes from a family of good farmers. I silently wish him the best as he walks off of the stage.
The Inspector continues down the list. They all walk up and give the interview, some I know well, and some I do not. I feel terribly sorry for each of them.
Finally: “ Hakahn, Storm “
Storm gives a small whimper, and her hands tremble. She steps forward and suddenly a voice shouts “ Storm! Stop! “
We all turn. It’s Chase. He’s stepped out of line, and is holding tight to Storm’s arm. She shakes her head at him, almost imperceptibly, her amber eyes wide.
Chase looks up into the Inspector’s face and yells “ You are not taking her away! I won’t let you imprison and enslave her like you’ve done to the others! We’ll never serve you and your dictator!”
Chase turns to us and screams “ FOR FREEDOM!!! FIGHT THE OPPRESSION!!! FIGHT THE KING!!! “
Despite the peril of the situation, I find myself awed by Chase’s incredible bravery and loyalty.
The Inspector’s face is impassive. Suddenly he turns to me and says “ Vera. “
My breath catches in my throat. I forget about everything.
“ Do you feel the same as your friend Chase, here? “
My breaths are fast and shallow. I know that I cannot lie. I know that I will not be able to protect my friends.
I take a deep breath and open my mouth.
“ I do. “
The Inspector's face hardens slightly. And he speaks now with a sharp bite in his voice. “ Yes, Vera, I’ve heard all about you of course, darling, the only Truthsik here in a century. The girl who is unable to tell a lie, yes very dramatic, I know. “
My heart flutters like a caged bird, sensing what is about to happen.
“ Too bad “ says the Inspector “ That being truthful cannot save you. “
Suddenly he lunges for the sword hanging at his belt. I scream, a terrible fear blossoming inside me and I leap toward Chase and Storm, knocking them aside a second before the sword slices through the air where our heads had been.
We land hard on the marble floor. I am only dimly aware of Hazel’s distant screams and the chaos that explodes in the rest of the pavilion. All my attention is on the Inspector who walks calmly toward us, dragging the tip of his sword on the floor, leaving a single delicate cut in the marble.
Without warning he swings the sword up and screeches “ IT’S TIME TO DIE, TRAITORS!!!”
I kick up at him, hard, my mind filling with panic. I grab Storm and Chase and we roll sideways, and again we only just miss the sword as it smashes down.
I’m on my feet again, and I pull Storm with me. I scream at Chase “ GET HAZEL!!! “
I drag Storm to the edge of the pavilion and my eyes fly through the terrified crowd, searching for a sign of Chase and Hazel. Suddenly they appear running toward us. I grab Chase’s hand and we sprint out of the crazed pavilion.