Rite to Life

-THIS IS A DYSTOPIAN-
In a future, yet illusive world, society is divided into three factions. No one ever speaks of Faction One since the feud between people and the king. Nara is from Faction Two. She has survived sixteen years under the care of volunteers. Sixteen years of living in Faction Two is like living in eighteenth century London, although that place doesn’t exist any more. Nara has dreamed of life in Faction Three, a safe, prosperous haven, a sanctuary, where her birth parents wait for her. Only the Rite separates them. Every citizen at aged sixteen must undergo the Rite to gain access into Faction Three, the land of the perfect beings. The Rite corrects all imperfections and flaws, gives people the Third Eye. A higher level of consciousness. When she finally gets to Faction Three, cracks begin to show. Secrets are soon revealed to Nara and she must do everything in her power to expose them to the population. Faction Three is not what it seems. It is a dark, cryptic place

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10. Chapter Nine - Nara

Beth had marched home in a strop, like I had expected her to. But I decided to linger in town for a little while longer, drifting down streets, not really having a clue where I was going, or where I would end up. After thirty odd minutes of endless walking, I ended up in a dismal and narrow street with an intimidating ambience. Only few people, in long dark cloaks, wandered the streets, peering into shop windows, fiddling with items on the stalls.

Above my head, a sign hung from a piece of wire attached to both buildings either side of me. The words had been covered in black paint.

Maybe it was due time I left. I shouldn’t get tangled up in a place that made my heart race and my fingers shake. But something, although I was unaware of what, enticed me about this place. Something called me; yearned for me to walk in deeper. And like a fool, I slowly walked into the street of the unknown. I had no clue as to what might happen here. It did not look like a friendly place to be, nor did it flag up any serious danger. Something called me.

I continued to walk, and as I ventured further, I stared at the various items on the stalls. Intricate watches, jewels, clocks, rings. The kind of things you would expect to find in the most expensive shop in town. Yet here, everything was significantly cheaper. I found several hand-held mirrors with various precious stones encrusted them. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds. And a beautiful pearl necklace. Oh, what a splendid place. And how quickly the objects had changed my opinion on the street I had just walked down.

“What are you doing here, kid?” a hoarse voice broke through the silence, startling me. I dropped the pearl necklace instinctively.

“I’m just...I’m just looking,” I stuttered, suddenly alerted by the man that stepped out of the shadows, his features sharp and licentious.

“You should not be here,” he said callously. “This is a dangerous place you have waltzed into.”

I did not know whether to fear this man or to challenge him. But something about him captivated me, stopped me from leaving, although this did not stop me from feeling a tension in the pits of my stomach.

“I had not meant to find this part of the Faction,” I said honestly.

“Well you have, honey, and there are a lot of bad people here.”

His words were cold and icy, sending chills down my spine and causing the hairs on my arms and neck to stand on end.

“I am looking for something,” I said instantly before I could stop to think about it. Confusion carved a frown line between my eyebrows. “Although I am not sure what that thing is.”

The man laughed bitterly, pulling a hand out of his cloak pockets to rub his jaw line.

“If you refuse to leave, then I will have to consider you as a customer,” he said. “Take your time.”

I swept my eyes across the items I had already seen, but this time, I noticed a small piece of parchment tucked behind a small Buddhist statue with jewels encrusted into it. Someone had scribbled a message onto it, and as I clutched the piece in my hands, I read the note.

The Black Market Post.

“What is this?” I asked, waving the piece of parchment in the air. So this place was a Black Market, an illegal network. Oh, hell.

The man, suddenly looking alarmed, snatched the piece of parchment from my hand and shoved it into his pocket.

“That, young lady, is not for your eyes. I think you ought to leave.”

I frowned at him. What on earth was he talking about? Confused, I waited for him to elucidate, but silence continued to fill the air, so I turned and left. What exactly was The Black Market Post? How had it been any different from the Faction Three standard post? There must be something important about it, considering it was an illegal business. Surely the King knew about it, right?

Befuddled, I followed the path back where I had come from and, by memory, slowly, mindlessly walked home. 

Once within the safe, warm walls of my house, I relaxed. What the hell had just happened? There had been something very dodgy about that man. I knew instantly, that I could not tell Amelia and Elijah. They would be so disappointed that I had ventured into the deepest, darkest parts of Faction Three; parts that I had not known existed. Their ignorance would be blissful, so they should thank me. Right?

I quickly marched to my room and locked myself in the en suite. I turned the bath tap on. They would hear the water running and would not think it necessary to bother me. After the bath was filled to the brim with steaming water, I scrambled out of my clothes and eased myself into the heat of bath. Considering it was the first bath I had ever had, it surely had been something. It relaxed my muscles, soothing out all the knots I felt in my back; the tension in my stomach that I had felt earlier vanished. The water that lapped around my limbs caused me to sigh in relief. It felt so good to sink into the warm water, and release all that negative energy, and the bizarre atmosphere I had felt in The Black Market.

I knew for sure that I would have to return there. Something, although unsure what, had attracted me, pulled me in deeper, and I had to find out what it was. Closing my eyes, I sunk even deeper into the water, and held my breath as I went all the way under. The water lapped around the top of my head, I held my breath with my eyes still open. I could hear the movement of the water in my eyes, it swirling and dancing around me, massaging my skin.

Amelia barged into the room, throwing the door open, scared out of my mind, I rose to the surface.

“What on earth are you doing?” she gasped, worry in her eyes. “I came up here as you had not said anything when you came in, and I find you head under water!”

“Whoa!” I said, startled, instinctively trying to cover my body. She may be my mother, but everyone needed their privacy. “Did you think I was trying to drown myself?”

“What else could you have been doing?” she exclaimed, hands on hips, panting. Had she ran up the two flights of stairs? Her long brown hair fell wildly and messily over her shoulders. She was slim and looked young in the face, although her true age marked late thirties.

“I like how the water feels in my ears,” I said in a small voice.

Amelia groaned in frustration and handed me a towel. I took it and climbed out and wrapped it around me. It felt softer than any of the towels I had used in Faction Two. I sighed as the warmth of the towel cocooned me. She looked at my high-tops on the floor and told me she liked them. Her face relaxed slightly, the worry draining from her eyes. Before leaving me to get dressed, she handed me a book and explained that it was her favourite book to read when she had been my age. She had read it over six times during her adolescence and had not had any friends when she had been in Fraction Two.

“Look after it,” she said. “It’s the only item I brought with me when I moved from Faction Two.”

I nodded as I clutched the book to my chest. She had given something to me that had once meant so much to her. A book was not a collector’s item, or a rare jewel or some kind of family heirloom, it had been something she had bought with the little money she had had as a child. Amelia left and closed the door behind her. I pulled the plug out of the bath and watched the water whirl down the drain. Slumping on the floor, with my back pressed against the frame of the bath, I thought of the man at the Market. I had not seen his features very well, he had been cloaked by the shadows of his stall and the street combined. And I was still mystified by what he had said to me. What made me even more confused was the fact that the King had no idea about The Black Market; surely he would have eyes and ears everywhere, patrolling the place. Or maybe, because he thought his perfect island could never do something so unheard of and shameful, that he did not feel it necessary to send his minions down the many streets of my new home.

When I could get away from here for long enough, I would sneak back there, if I could find my way there again. I would confront the man and demand answers, refusing to leave until he did so.

After long moments of pondering, I dragged myself out of the bathroom, the town still pulled tightly around me, and rummaged around in one of my boxes I had brought from Faction Two, until I found a pair of pyjamas. I would have to take Amelia and Elijah shopping so that I could buy myself a proper wardrobe, and possibly get rid of those tatty clothes.

Dressed in my pyjamas, I made my way downstairs. Night was drawing near, and soon it would be the end of another day, my first day in Faction Three. We sat around the dinner table again, eating a slab of steak each, which melted in my mouth and the spicy seasoning set my taste buds alight. I thanked them for making me feel so welcome on my first day here. They thanked me for making it through the Rite, glad to finally have their child back in the safe confines of Faction Three. They both knew from personal experiences that Faction Two had not been a safe place to grow up and certainly no place for any child.

Amelia told me a story of how she was attacked at a young age. She said she had been walking home from the same school I had attended, and a man jumped her with a knife. She said that the man had punctured her side, but had not caused any serious damage. Elijah, who had also been walking home, had heard the shrill screams of a petrified girl. He scared the man away and that was how they had met. They had become close friends and soon fell in love. They had not left each other’s sides since then.

After dinner, I retired to my room and curled up on my bed with the novel Amelia had given to me. It did not particularly capture my attention straight away, but forced myself to give it a chance, anyhow. The story had been a combination of mystery and romance. One of the main characters had died and his two friends, who happened to be dating each other, had to find out who the murderer was. I learned all this just from reading the blurb and the first twenty pages.

An hour or so of reading past me by until my eyelids felt heavy and I could not read any further. I placed the book on the bureau next to me and rummaged around in one of the boxes for the photo of my parents. I placed it next to the book. I thought of Blaze again, and wondered what he would be doing this very moment.

Could either of us ever forgive the other? Too much damage had been done, from both parties, and it’s not like we had the chance to fix any of it. For all I knew, he could be miles away from here. That was a good point actually, I had never asked about the distance between Factions. It had never really crossed my mind.

As I curled up in a ball with the patchwork quilt pulled tightly around me, I stared at the photo of my parents. They looked so beautiful, so breath-taking. I hoped that someday I would look exactly like my mother. She made a perfect role model. And someday, I knew I would call her mum, and Elijah dad, but for now, I had to just get used to spending a lot of my time with them. The foundation of our family had began being built as soon as I had moved in, when they had made me feel so welcome, and I knew it would get stronger as the days past us by.

Drowsiness flooded over me, and sleep concealed me, pulling me into the dark depths of a slumber.

My night had been plagued by my own dreams. Fitfully, I moved around the bed, the fears moving in and out of my mind. I moved my arm to my left, and found the bed empty and cold. I could not come to terms with what had been going on inside my head as I slept. I fell back into a nightmare, in which something or someone was pursuing me. The man looked somewhat similar to the man from The Black Market, with harsh and cruel features.

I awoke, my mouth dry, brain ridden with terror. Ungluing my eyelids, I tried to adjust to the light. Had I been less anxious, I would have been aware that winter had ended and that the vernal light of spring was seeping through the blinds, but the dreams still played with my mind. The truth was apparent; I missed him. Trying to escape from it all, I pulled the covers over my head. But even the concealment of the duvet provided no peace, no respite, the blackness terrified me.

I tried to fight away the urge to stay in bed all day but when I moved, the bones in my body locked as if refusing to let me move from the dark comforts of my bed. Under the covers, I could hide away and drown my sorrows. You would think I would be living the life in Faction Three, and to some extent, I was but my heart had been shattered. And the thought that I had done the same to him made it a whole lot worse. I stayed in bed for as long as I could, and every once in a while I would stick my head out from under the covers and stare at the golden light that shone in through the blinds.

A slight knock on the bedroom door forced me to sit up in my bed.

“Come in?” I croaked as I stretched my arms.

Elijah entered the room with a tray in his hands, breakfast neatly organised on top of it. There was a plate with some sort of pasty on it, with a tea pot, milk, mug and even a glass of orange juice.

“Here you go, sweetie,” he said with a smile and placed the tray on my lap. “Enjoy. The orange juice is homemade, I hope you like it. And they are croissants, I think you might take a liking them, I sure have.”

“Thank you,” I said and smiled back at him.

“No need to thank me,” he said sincerely. “Did you sleep well?”

I shrugged and grabbed a croissant and took a huge bite out of it, sinking my teeth into the soft, light pastry. They were still warm, had he cooked them himself? What a beautiful delicacy. I had not lived until eating this! What a splendid taste!

Elijah grinned as he saw a huge smile spread across my face and my eyes widening.

“I knew you would like it!”

“I most certainly do!” I scoffed down the croissants and drank my orange juice. Half an hour later, the glass was empty alongside the bare plate and the teapot still half full. Elijah had sat at the foot of my bed the entire time, talking to me about his job as a doctor and how much he loved it deeply. I did not think I could ever manage such a hectic job and the thought that other people’s lives would be in my hands scared me to death.

“Right, honey,” he said as he slowly rose to his feet. He took the tray in his hands and headed for the door. “I must be off; I have work in a bit. Have a great day, do try to get out of the house; it isn’t good if you stay locked up in here all day long. You have a lot more to see of Faction Three. In fact, there is far too much to see than you will ever see in your lifetime. So get out whilst you can.”

Elijah smiled before he left the room, closing the door behind him. I thought about what he had said for a while. What exactly was there to see? I would have to go to town again soon and find a map of Faction Three; see what it had to offer me. I decided that I would not go to visit The Black Market again, at least not for a while. I did not want to make a regular occurrence there, just in case something bad happened. It still seemed difficult to comprehend that I had found the darkest parts of Faction Three on my very first day here.

  Scrambling out of bed, I reluctantly dragged myself into the en suite, opened the shower door and turned on the water. I let it run as I stripped out of my night clothes. The hot water warmed my cold body instantly and I let out a deep sigh. I let the water wash away everything that had bothered me, including the nightmares I had seen behind my closed eyelids. Soon, I forced myself to shut off the water and step out of the warm, satisfying confines of the shower.

An hour or so later, there was a knock on the front door. Amelia rushed to answer it and cooed as Beth stepped over the threshold.

“I am so glad you could come!” she sang, rushing to the kitchen with Beth in tow. “Would you like some orange juice?”

Her reply was muffled, but I could hear a chair scraping along the marble flooring, and assumed she had taken a seat to have her drink.

Once I had slapped a bit of makeup on, I went downstairs to join her.

“How did you find me?” I asked, grabbing a glass from the cupboard, pouring some orange juice into it and sitting next to Beth.

“Your mother knows where I live; she popped over last night and asked if I would like to come over today. She said she wanted you to have at least one friend,” Beth replied with a smirk.

“Oh right,” I said mindlessly as I took a mouthful of orange juice and swirled it around my mouth to spread the delicious taste. “What would you like to do today?”

Before Beth could reply, Amelia grabbed a bag and poured the contents onto the table. Several DVDs, bags of popcorn and sweets now covered the kitchen counter.

“Wow, Mrs Lewis, thank you!” Beth gasped as she gazed over our stash of snacks and entertainment.

“It was no problem, really,” she said and smiled. She grabbed her handbag and slung it over her shoulder. Before she headed for the front door, she grabbed her keys. “Have a great day, I am going to work.”

We said our goodbyes and as I watched Amelia close the door behind her, Beth began to ramble on about some boy she had met yesterday evening and how striking he had looked.

“Now he is what I would call perfect,” she stated as she stared into the air, dreamily. “You should have seen him, Nara; he was such a beautiful specimen of life.”

Okay, she sounded like such a freak, but she would probably be my only friend, and I cannot avoid talking to her, she would be over all day. I grabbed the snacks whilst Beth carried the stack of DVDs into the family room. I switched the TV on and Beth handed me the first DVD, some Sci-Fi film I had not ever heard of. I bunged it into the DVD slot and pressed the play button. Beth ripped open a bag of popcorn and nestled onto the couch with me. The TV frame, I had noticed, was sort of transparent. The movie played in perfect high definition quality and the surround sound system created an amazing vibe. We watched films for a long time, whilst continually commentating over the top of them as we munched our snacks.

“So, have you met any guys yet?” Beth asked, with anticipation as she winked at me.

I thought of Blaze, and whether or not I should say I that I had already met the guy who I belonged with. Everything about him I yearned for, his warm hugs and his soft lips against mine. I decided that I would not mention his name to her. I did not know how she would react to it, after all. She and I had barely spoken during school in Faction Two, let alone traded secrets. It just had not been something we’d done. We had not been friends, and I did not want to bring up the past. I could not afford to keep rereading the last chapter of my life; it would not get me anywhere, and would certainly keep me from moving forward and building a life in Faction Three.

“Um, not yet,” I said mindlessly as I popped a sweet into my mouth. I guessed it to be strawberry flavoured. “But you never know, I might do at some point. I have the rest of my life ahead of me, remember?”

“I think you will do, pretty soon, in fact,” she winked and whipped up a piece of folded paper from her pocket. She hastily unfolded it and handed it to me. It was a poster advertising a carnival next week where there would be the launch of new technology and lots of loud music. It was labelled as a ‘Meet and Greet’ for the new citizens of Faction Three. “See, this is a great way for you to meet your perfect guy!”

I already had my perfect guy.

“It is very sweet of you, Beth, but I don’t know...” I hastily searched around in my mind for an excuse to get me out of going. I was not yet ready to find a guy and get into a serious relationship. My heart belonged to Blaze. You know what they say; you can’t stay mad at the person you love for too long. It is the mind that hates, but the heart will always love.  And to a certain extent, there was a matter of truth in that. It made sense. Finally, something made sense.

“Come on!” she insisted. “You have to! It will be much fun!”

“I will think about it, then,” I huffed, crossing my arms. I grabbed the remote and turned the TV off. I could not have this conversation with loud alien wars blasting in the background.

“Oh Nara, I forgot to mention!” she gasped, excitedly.

“What?” I mumbled as I shoved another handful of popcorn into my mouth.

“Did you know about Sanctum City, the capital of Faction Three? I didn’t even know the place existed until I saw a huge poster stuck to a wall in town this morning!” Beth flapped her hands theatrically as she spoke. “We have to go and see it!”

Okay, I was just a little bit confused. How come the man at the Town Hall had not mentioned the capital city? If it was Faction Three’s main attraction, surely he would have mentioned it?

“What did the poster show?” I asked with a mixture of curiousness and concern in my voice.

“Like this very tall tower with this amazing multiple motorway intersection nearby. And you would not believe what was flying around, Nara! It’s those flying cars we had always seen on the TV advertisements! They are really real, Nara, this is amazing! Please come, it would such an incredible experience, and I am literally begging you here!”

Her excitement was on overload. I had no idea what to say or how to calm her down. And if truth be told, she looked extremely innocent when her eyes lit up like they just had.

“Okay sure,” I said as I could not think of a reason not to. It sounded like a cool place to go, and I could not hide in my room all day. I had to get out and feel the spring breeze on my face, the warming sun on my skin. “When would you like to go?”

Beth thought for a moment, hand by her mouth, her fingers now painted a pale green. I sat patiently waiting for her to respond, although she took her time to do so.

“Well we would have to find out how to get there first, obviously, and how far away it is. Do you think we would even be allowed?”

I thought about that for a while, would Amelia and Elijah actually let me venture off into the city? Was it a dangerous place or a friendly, welcoming environment? Maybe they had been there. Surely they had. They would be insane if they had not. This only made me more determined to go.

“I hope so,” I said honestly. “Let’s go look it up on the computer.”

Rapidly and with mounting anticipation, I searched for Sanctum City, Beth's hand on my shoulder; I felt her hot breath on the left side of my face as she moved closer to view the results. She gasped at the results that appeared in the middle of the screen. Urgently, I zoomed in. And there, for both of us, the words became apparent. Sanctum City: situated in the east side of Faction Two, about an hour away.

I was completely unsure of how to use this thing, I had never been shown by Elijah or Amelia, and we had not had time to go over the instructions of different technology. A female hologram appeared on a small, round and metal base to the left of the screen.

“Welcome, Elijah,” she said before she noticed it was me that sat in the office chair. “I beg your pardon. Nara.”

“Hi,” I said, slightly startled by her sudden appearance. She was a tall, slim woman with cascading waves of blonde hair. Her jaw line was sharp and fierce, eyes perfect almond shaped and the colour of chestnuts. Her beauty could not be described. She physically took my breath away. Beth nudged me, looking a tad freaked out.

“I have waited many years to meet you and the pleasure is truly all mine,” she said in her harmonious voice. “I am the family’s loyal adviser; nearly every family in Faction Three has one. You see that little container there?” she asked, pointing to a little metal cylinder on the desk. “That is where I live when I am not in use. If that switch is green, it means I am stable and running smoothly. We would not want to find out what I would be like if it turned red.”

Beth and I stared at her as she bombarded us with information about herself. Such a weird thing she was, and I had never expected to come across such a thing. I had seen on TV many times advertisements of how great Faction Three was, but I had never seen any of their cool technology. Why did they not want to show off their gadgets, their superiority in the technology industry? I guessed that the state controlled what people were allowed to see, perhaps to get them to work harder. If you worked hard, you would get to see the good stuff, right? 

“Whenever you need someone to talk to, Nara,” she said in a calm, soothing voice. She seemed so real, everything about her emanated humanity. She looked and talked just like I did. “I am forever waiting. When you step into this room, I will appear. I cannot leave these walls and travel around the house unless you move the cylinder with you.”

I stared at her in shock alongside Beth. It had all been just too much to take in. I needed some time to process it.

“If you don’t mind, whatever your name is, I am going to go now; I need some time to take this all in. But I will make sure I come and see you soon,” I said awkwardly.

“My name is Elsa,” she said nonchalantly with her fingers intertwined in front of her.

I smiled briefly before switching off the monitor by touching the power sign in the bottom right-hand corner. Turning in my chair, I looked up at Beth with raised eyebrows and rolled my eyes as if the Elsa hologram had been some sort of loon. What the hell had just happened here?

“Okay then...” she said, slightly freaked out.

I sat motionless for a long, silent moment, staring at Beth, wondering what I should think about it all, whether or not I should be freaking out.

Beth bit her lip as she tapped her thigh with her manicured fingers. Her golden hair had been pulled across one shoulder and her other hand played with it mindlessly. She flipped it back and her hair cascaded down her back, reaching her waist. She truly was beautiful, and I think the Rite did that to her, her hair never used to be that long. Nor did the skin on her face used to be that clear.

Mid afternoon sunlight streamed in through the office window, illuminating the walls and the objects that cluttered the desk. I noticed Beth was staring at my baby scan and wondered why. I tried to read her face and her eyes, but she wore a blank expression. She quickly looked away and walked to the window. I watched as she stared out across the horizon, watching the sun pour its light across the Faction. Faction Three was a vast and hilly island, and we so happened to live near The Wall. The Wall was guarded night and day, towers sprang up from the wall and police would watch out for intruders or escapees. I was not sure what the punishment for either would be, and I sure as hell did not want to find out.

“Beth,” I said finally, rising from the chair to join her by the window. “What are you looking at?”

She sucked in a deep breath.

“Everything is so beautiful, Nara,” she sighed in awe. “I am so glad I have the chance to explore this place, with you as my companion.”

She looked at me and smiled. Such compassion shone in her eyes. And in that moment, with our eyes connected, I truly connected with her. I began to see the world through her eyes, and how much everything that had happened, meant to her. I began to feel the same way. Beth opened her mouth to speak, but closed it shortly afterwards. What had she tried to say? She looked torn between two or more different thoughts.

“It is, isn’t it?” I replied, leaning against the corner of the wall, gazing out the window.

Shattering the silence, the front door opened and slammed shut. I heard Amelia’s heeled feet clonk across the floorboards. Leaving the study, I rushed downstairs to find Amelia rummaging through the fridge. She pulled out the glass jug half full of orange juice and poured herself a cup. I watched from the doorway as she slouched in her chair and let out a restless sigh. Beth appeared next to me, giving me a half smile.

Amelia glanced up at me and jumped slightly. She gasped and the orange juice sloshed in the glass and spilled over the edge.

“You gave me a fright!” she exclaimed, hand on chest.

“Oh, I am ever so sorry,” I apologised as I entered the room. I pulled out a chair from under the island counter and sat on it.

“How was your day?” she asked as the fright drained from her eyes. Beth pulled up a chair next to me and rested her chin on the palm of her hand. “Did you have a good time together? I hope you went out to get some sunlight.”

I glanced at Beth, we had not managed to go out; we were so focused on finding out information about Sanctum City and then Elsa appeared.

“It was good, thank you,” I replied, politely. “We watched the DVDs but we did not manage to go out today.”

Amelia looked at me, unimpressed.

“I thought Elijah made it clear,” she said, firmly. “That you were supposed to go out today.”

“He did,” I interjected, hastily. “We will. In fact, we were planning on travelling to Sanctum City, get to know the heart of the Faction, see what this place has to offer us. Sound like a good idea?”

Amelia stared at us, as if not quite sure what to say. Beth slapped her forehead with her hand and shook her head. Oops, had I meant to have kept it a secret? Had she been planning on taking me without letting our parents know? Sure that would not have been a good idea.

“Oh, Nara,” she said, finally. “It is good to hear that you want to explore, but I do not think that is a good idea just yet.”

Beth pointed her hand in the direction of Amelia, theatrically and looked at me with irritation. Okay, so it was now clear that was not meant to have told her. Beth had been planning on sneaking off to Sanctum City with me, without permission. But I had already said it, there would been no way I could change the subject, now that I had Amelia’s full attention.

“Mrs Lewis,” Beth interrupted, irritated. “We have been shown so many advertisement of Sanctum City and we have waiting a very, very long time to visit it. I think you might be able to relate, no? Considering you were in the same position when you first arrived in Faction Three.”

Amelia thought about it for a moment. She scratched the side of her chin as she stared at the ceiling.

“Fine, I will talk it over with your father, Nara, and as for you, Beth, you need to get permission from your parents also.”

My father had been in work since the late hours of the morning. They could call him in any time of the day, whether it had been light or dark out. He had chosen to be a doctor after all. The hospital could call him in even when it was not his shift. Nonetheless, Elijah loved his job. He loved that he had the power to help people, the make them better. To heal. It must feel amazing to make someone well again, or to even save a life.

I rolled my eyes. It was uncertain when Elijah would be around, although his shifts were set in stone, he could still disappear off to work at any given time. Shortly afterwards, Beth went home. Her mother had come to collect her, shared a short pointless conversation with Amelia about how excited they were to have their children home. There clearly was no connection between the two of them. Beth left glumly, I assumed she enjoyed my company, well, we were each other’s only friend, and she kind of had to enjoy my company. She did not have much of a choice, unless she wanted to be alone and friendless.

I sat at the island counter and ate with Amelia. Afterwards, I retired to my bedroom. The bareness of the room depressed me slightly, but soon, I would redecorate it and add a splash of colour to the walls and cover the shelves with ornaments, photo frames that I would fill with pictures I would take in Sanctum City, and other sentimental items. The bed would have a nice bright cover that would match the patterned wallpaper I would have put up. I could see it all in my head, and how amazing it looked.

Nestling onto my bed, I pulled my knees to my chest and began to read some more of my novel. The oh-so familiar cocoon of imagination concealed me, hid me away from everything else. Everything else lost its importance. When I read, nothing else mattered. All I could see was the words on the page and the images that were painted in my mind, everything else blurred away. As if everything else never existed in the first place. It was just me and the book. The words and the world that came with them.

I fell asleep with the book open on my chest. I appeared in the field. I had not been there in a long time and the place felt strangely unfamiliar. As if I had forgotten what it had looked like. A cool wind brushed across the field, swaying the long grass gently, the sky a light grey, with streaks of blue peaking through. It did not rain, although it looked like the heavens might chuck it down. In the middle of the field, I saw him, his slim long legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed. He propped himself up on his elbows. As I walked towards him, he looked up at me and our eyes locked instantly.

And then I remembered. I remembered the damage we had done to each other, the hurt we had both caused. I could see the pain in his eyes. Even so, I yearned for him, to hold him again, although he was not real, but an image of my imagination. My heart began to hammer inside my chest, stomach knotting into irreversible knots. My breathing hitched.

I fell to my knees and kissed him immediately, and without second thought, his lips a delicious poison, filling my body with a drug. His love was a drug and every time I was with him, in dream land or not, I was high.

 He seemed a little surprised, to start with, but then he relaxed and leaned into the kiss. His hand touched my face, cupping my cheek. I kneeled in front of him and looped my arms around his next, pulling him closer, never wanting to let him go, to never break this moment. And the moment last for a very long time, we kissed for what felt like forever and when it finally broke, I felt an urge to do it all again, but fell back against the grass, pulling him with me. I rested my head on his chest. Instantly, the sky turned completely black, and thousands of tiny lights appeared. We watched the stars together as we held each other close. We laughed and shared stories and jokes, talked about the future, what we would like to do together, never once mentioning the Factions or the Rite. As if life was simple. As if nothing else mattered.

“Don’t ever let me go,” I whispered, nuzzling closer to him, loving the warmth of his body.

“You are with me now, Nara,” he whispered in my ear. I could feel him grinning against the side of my face. “In my heart. Forever.”

He was my soul mate. For life.

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