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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8. Chapter Seven - Nara

I woke up and saw the sun gleaming in through the window and a smile spread across my face as the birds flew up from the trees and soar across the sky. Today was the most important day in my life. Today would be the start of a new beginning, I would be born again, and this time, I would be in the right place: home. I belonged there. Nothing could stop me now, not even Blaze.

After a quick shower, I prepared breakfast on the kitchen cabinet and scoffed it down. I noticed that on the table sat a small white box. Curiously, I scooped the thing up and looked at the little label attached to it. I read the small print.

Nara, this is not much, but please accept this gift, and we wish you good luck in your future life in Faction Three. You will truly be missed. T&J.

My heart melted. Tallulah and Jonathon had gotten me a farewell present? Well, perhaps all the chores I had done for them would cover it.

I gently opened the box, my fingers tugging lightly at the lid. Inside, a small golden pocket watch lay on top of a soft white cushion. The frame had light scratch marks across it, and the hands jumped back and forth slightly, as they ticked away the seconds. Where did they get this from? How could I repay them? Surely they would not have been able to afford such a luxury. Perhaps it was an heirloom or something that had been sat in the attic for years on end, without an owner. I had a feeling that I would never know.

“Tallulah? Jonathon?” I called, placing the pocket watch inside my jeans pocket. My hopes were shattered when nobody answered. Had they left for the day without saying goodbye? For some reason, although they had treated me like dirt for the past sixteen years, it upset me that I would not see them or even hear from them before the Rite.

Slowly, reluctantly, I headed for the front door and as I stood in the doorway, I looked back at the inside of the house. Strangely, I would miss this place. It had been the place of my upbringing, my childhood. And even though it was a complete dump, it would always have an importance to me.

I stared at the stairwell, the ripped and stained carpet, the dusty corners of the hallway, the old cabinet with the candles on top, hoping I would remember this place for ever. I did not want to forget this place, perhaps because it would keep me connected to Blaze, in a way. I closed the door.

                                                               *

“Breathe slowly, in through your nose,” Mrs Bevan soothed, not long after I had arrived at school. “And out through your mouth.”

We were all sat in a circle, legs crossed, heads tilted forward. I focused as hard as I could, clearing my mind, picturing it as a blank canvas. When I moved to Faction Three, buying a canvas would be one of the first things I’d do. I’d always wanted to take up art as a hobby, but our Faction didn’t have the resources.

                                                               *

“Okay, we’re done,” Mrs Bevan cooed, opening her eyes and flashing us a wide smile. “Good luck everyone. And let this be a reminder to you all, you won’t be able to come back. You’ll be transported immediately to Faction Three. Say all your goodbyes while you can.”

My eyes opened abruptly. Suddenly, I began to tremble. I had to find Blaze, I had to see him one last time, beg for his forgiveness.

I shot up off the floor, flung the door open, slamming it into the wall, and raced down the hall. I didn’t know where he’d be but I ran nonetheless. My heart hammered inside my chest as I sprinted across the field and past the bench I used to sit on as I waited for Blaze to arrive. My legs ached but forced them to carry me further. A thousand different thoughts whizzed around inside my head. I prayed I had enough time.

Blaze bought comic books from the shop whenever he had some spare change, didn’t he? Maybe he was there? Maybe the owner of the shop had seen him or at least knew where he would be? Racing across the road, trying not to get hit by death trap cars, I headed for the shop across town. Winter had come to an end, yet I still felt the harsh wind across my face, making my eyes water and forcing me to blink every few seconds. I needed to see him. What if I couldn’t reach him in time? Where would he be?

Tears threatened to leak as they stung my eyes. Nerves knotted my stomach as if someone was ringing it out. My hair whipped across my face as I zipped through the wind.

Approaching the shop, I sped up and flung myself through the wooden door which hung loosely from its hinges.

“Lee!” I called, panic in my voice. “Lee!”

“What is it?” he asked, concerned as he appeared from around a corner of an aisle. “Why so distressed?”

“Do you know where Blaze is?” I snapped, not in the mood to explain the entire situation.

“Oh,” he pondered, stroking his chin. “I don’t think I have.”

“Great!” I cried and flung myself into another run. Where else could he be?

Think, Nara, think!

He never spent any time at home, but what if...

Launching myself back in the direction I came, I headed for Blazes’ house. Once I reached it, I felt the extent of the burning in my lungs and tried to catch my breath. I banged my fist against the door.

“Blaze!” I yelled, the tears falling from my eyes. “Blaze!”

The bedroom window, covered in splotches of dirt, was shoved open and Blaze stuck his head out.

“What?” he hissed.

I stepped back and looked up. His eyes were red, as if he had been crying. His face immediately softened as he spotted the tear streaks on my cheeks.

“Please,” I said. “Let me talk to you.”

I noticed his jaw lock, the muscles tensing. He shook his head and slammed the window shut.

“Blaze!” I screamed, choking on the knot in my throat. Moments after, the door opened, a timid looking Blaze looked at me, with such despair in his eyes.

He swallowed back his own tears.

“Nara,” he whispered, grabbing me and pulling me into a tight hug. He squeezed me gently. “Don’t do this. Please. I’m begging you.”

I buried my face against his chest, squeezing my eyes shut. Why did this have to be so hard? Why did I have to choose between my best friend who I’d known my entire life and the parents I’d never met?

“Come with me, Blaze,” I pleaded although I knew he never would. “Then we don’t have to say goodbye again. I am sorry I hurt you the other night but that’s because I thought it was the only thing I could do.”

He held me at arm’s length, staring into my eyes.

“Don’t you see it, Nara?” he whispered, the tears stinging his eyes. “I’m in love with you and have been for as long as I can remember. I have been trying to convince you to stay, these past couple of days, and when you said you would, well, I became the happiest man alive. You can’t break my heart.”

His revelation had me frozen to the spot. Unable to think or talk, I stared back at him. The feelings I had once felt for him, rose to the service, confusion, love, longing, and resentment.

“What?” I whispered.

And then he did it. He crushed his lips to mine. At first, I could feel the urgency and I tried to pull away. It wasn’t right. None of this could ever be right! But then I melted in his arms and the kiss softened into a passionate, heart-wrenching moment, his lips moving in time with mine. Tears fell from my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. His kiss had caught me off guard, but I didn’t want to pull away. I couldn’t. I had to cherish this moment. Make it last forever, carve it into my memories.

Blaze pulled me close to him, slithering his arms around me but I pulled away and rested my forehead against his chest. What the hell had I just done? I should have stopped. This kind of shit wasn’t supposed to happen.

When I finally mustered the courage to look up, I gasped. The tears poured down his cheeks. I’d never seen him cry before. Whenever he was upset, he got angry. He had always refused to cry. The strong, never-scared-of-anything facade had melted away, taking my breath away with it.

“Nara, you can’t go,” he spoke softly.

“Blaze,” I interjected, pulling free from his grip. And then it hit me. “You did that on purpose.”

“What?” he asked, shocked. “Of course I didn’t! I just told you how I have felt for years and you say that?”

“Did you think that you could get me to stay if you gave me my first kiss?” I spat. “You’re sick.”

“Whoa!” he exclaimed, raising his hands up in front of him. “You’ve got the wrong end of the stick! I would never hurt you like that.”

“Or were you simply trying to get even with me?” I interrogated anyhow. “Because I left you alone in your room, because I turned my back on you? I broke your heart that night, didn’t I? You are damaged, Blaze.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” he enraged, bunching his hands into fists.

“Oh sorry, my bad,” I corrected, lifting my index finger. “You have always been broken, haven’t you?”

I did not know why I continued to spew venom at him, but it didn’t stop me nonetheless. Blaze stood, frozen to the spot, eyes wide, filling with new tears as the old ones fell from his cheeks.

“How could you say such a thing?” he whispered, choking on the tears.

“You turned your back on me when you made the decision to stay,” I stated firmly, looking straight into his eyes.

He stared at me, completely motionless as long, tense moments dragged by. I waited for him to reply.

“I could say the same to you,” he spat eventually. “Have a good life, Nara, now get out.”

With one hand, he shoved me out the door and slammed it shut after me. Shocked and reeling from what had just happened, I stood rooted to the spot, on the path outside his house. After a few long moments of staring at his house, hoping he would open the door and apologize, I finally turned my back and walked towards the Town Hall. As I walked, I tried to soak everything up, hoping I would always remember the brightly coloured graffiti on the walls, the broken streetlights and the crumbling buildings. Like I had said so many times before, this place was a dump, but it deserved a place in my memories for eternity.

When I finally reached the Town Hall, I opened the large wooden, windowless door, and before I entered, I stood and gazed out across the horizon, glancing at Faction Two for the very last time. I would always remember this place, and although it had not offered me much, it meant a great deal to me.

I had never stepped foot inside the Town Hall before, it was a building strictly forbidden to citizens unless they were to undergo the Rite. You only ever got to see it once. And it truly took my breath away. It had not been what I had expected it to be. Considering the rest of the Faction looked like a dump, you could not exactly blame me. The inside of the building was beautifully decorated, the floor carpeted in some fancy, complicated pattern, and as I gazed up, I became awestruck by the beautiful paintings directly above me, somewhat resembling Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel’s ceiling that had been painted in the early 1500s. It had been rumoured that the King had wanted it replicated as a tribute to one of the finest artists in ancient history. Back then, the map had been the way it had always been. America, Europe, Asia. After the Great Destruction in 2050, the majority of those continents had been destroyed, leaving three medium sized islands that had originally been Europe, the Other Kingdoms originally being Russia, and the wilderness was everything else that had been left behind.

Some say that the Great Destruction was a punishment sent from God for destroying our Mother. Three years of intense reconstruction of the planet past and Aldwyn, one of few survivors, rose up out of the ashes and remaining debris, led the others out of starvation and took the place as King and took charge of Faction Two and Three. He, being the obnoxious King that he became, decided to invent the Rite, to ensure his title would not be lost, and to stop the threat of being overthrown or potential of rebellion. He soon had everyone under his thumb. Those who inhabited Faction One had never been too keen on the King, or his ideas. King Aldwyn did not like this of course, and banned them from ever stepping foot on his land. I learned all this from the man who preached it in the centre of the room, about a hundred or so teens my age, circled him, enticed by his story. He was an old looking man, with greying hair and a thick white beard. His eyes were friendly, in fact, pretty much everything about him was pleasant. A smile sprouted across his rosy face as he welcomed me into the group.

“Welcome,” he greeted, and the group of teens turned to face me. They looked nervous, of course. I, on the other hand, felt completely calm.

I smiled and entered the crowd. People began chattering amongst themselves as the preacher disappeared. Moments later, a formal looking man, dressed in a black and white suit, approached. His dark hair had been neatly trimmed, and not a single strand of it sprouted from his jaw.

“Good morning, children,” he said nonchalantly. “We are delighted to have you here, we wish you luck in the Rite of 2098. Now that you have been educated about the history of the Factions, please make your way through the double doors in front of you and wait for further instruction.”

Silently, we did as we were told. The man disappeared from sight.

The room beyond the double doors was brightly lit by florescent bulbs that hung in crystal chandeliers. Rows upon rows of chairs filled the rooms, at the back of the room, eight doors led to rooms that branched off. Each door was numbered. We began filling the rows and waited tentatively for instruction. About half an hour past before a middle-aged lady entered from one of the eight doors.

“Welcome, young ones, to the forty-fifth Rite. The King sends his best wishes to each and every one of you. Your name will be called and you will be allocated a number. If you are given the number one, you enter through the door marked number one, and so on. Is that understood?”

We all murmured and nodded our heads.

“Good,” she said, and wadded back where she came from, the door slamming shut behind her. Speakers nestled in the top corners of the ceiling began to call out names and numbers and teenagers began to exit through their allocated doors. Soon, I guessed that the doors led to rooms where the Rite would be performed. Only one person entered each room at a time, making it a long and tedious process. I felt alone of course, what with Blaze not being here to keep me company. I felt incredibly isolated.

Two hours had past, the room now half empty, and by the time my name boomed through the speakers, I jumped out of my seat. Suddenly, nerves coursed through my body, my hands began to shake and my knees locked me in place.

“Don’t be scared,” Beth said shyly. The only time I had seen her was during Mrs Bevan’s classes and somehow I was surprised to see her. “I’ll see you on the other side.”

It had sounded like a promise and that had comforted me.

I smiled and headed for the door marked ‘Four’. Hesitantly, I pushed open the door and walked in. I entered the room, walls painted a soothing green and the floor covered in a plush white carpet and the middle of the room, sat a desk, a chair and a computer with several wires spiralling out of it. Next to it was a large armchair that looked incredibly inviting. A smiling lady, dressed in white overalls, stepped in front of me.

“You must be Nara Lewis,” she said, glancing at the clipboard she held. “Nice to meet you.”

She seemed sincere enough.

“Please take a seat.”

I did as I was told and leaned all the way back in the armchair. She began attaching the wires to my forehead with the little suckers on the end, using strips of tape to keep them in place. At least she wasn’t injecting them into me. That would definitely freak me out. Swiftly, she lifted up my shirt and strapped a band around my waist with a heart monitor attached to it. She began connecting more wires and suckers to the monitor and taped them down to different areas of my torso, and several on my chest. Through this procedure, she had said nothing. I guessed that my heart had to be monitored just in case something went wrong. I did not even understand how this device worked. I wondered what they did with people who died during the Rite procedure. In fact, I don’t think I had ever heard of someone who died from the Rite, but maybe the King had covered it up. I would truly never know.

Silently, she sat on her little chair, switched the monitor on and began tapping furiously on the keyboard. The keyboard did not have regular keys but symbols and codes instead. The screen was black but as she typed, the codes and symbols appeared in an aluminous green. I had no idea what any of it meant, she had not explained anything. I sat tentatively waiting for instruction, but she continued to type silently. I occupied myself by observing the room; there was no other furniture around, scented candles rested on candlesticks of all heights, producing the only source of light in the room. The aroma of cinnamon filled my nose and soothed me. As if compelled to do so by the comfort of the chair and the delightful smell of the candles, I began to relax. The computer beeped loudly.

“There seems to be a complication,” she muttered and turned to face me. She frowned as she saw me gazing around the room. “Nara, you need to shut your eyes and focus on nothing.”

I shut my eyes instantly and waited and waited and waited. She said nothing. Surrounded by daunting silence, I forced myself to stay calm. The lady continued to punch in the code at an extreme pace. Finally, she stopped and I heard her turn around in her chair.

“The code is complete. Now we must wait.”

Wait? What did she mean wait? Wait for what, exactly? Didn’t she have to do some sort of voodoo or hypnotism or something? Surely there must be some sort of magic involved. How else would we become so perfect-minded? How else would we obtain the Third Eye and higher level of consciousness? Was it even possible? The very thought of it all now seemed so farfetched. I began to feel a slight tingling in my head from the wires, I suppose, and the sensation began to spread through my body. The tingling inside my head felt soothing and gentle.

Goodbye Faction Two...Blaze...

Blaze.

My perfect friend, he never needed the Rite to become perfect, because he already was.

Blaze...him...I loved...

I began to find it difficult to concentrate, I couldn’t think straight, and every thought seemed broken and fragmented.

Nara...go...let go...

In that very moment, I could feel my heart shattering. What had I done? Why had I turned my back on the boy I loved?

And then almost instantly, I fell into the depths of oblivion.

When I awoke, I noticed I was inside a van, belted onto a bench, next to six other teens my age, who I assumed had just made it through the Rite. All the other teens were wide awake, and fidgety, full of anticipation and excitement. A voice rang through the speakers.

“Congratulations, children,” the female voice sung. There were no windows in the section we all sat in, a single bulb dangled from the ceiling, shining its florescent light down on us. “Today, at 11.00AM, you arrived at the Town Hall and sat the forty-fifth Rite two hours later. You have now been registered as legal citizens of Faction Three. Welcome home.”

The girls and boys grinned and cheered, although I decided to sit in silence. It had not been what I had expected. And I could not rid myself of the guilt I felt deep within my stomach. How would I ever be able to forgive myself? I had said goodbye to the one person who meant the world to me, forever. That was something I could never undo, or ever forget. And you know what the worst part of it was? I could never go back.

I sat up straight, took a deep breath, and shoved all the negativity to the dark corners of my mind. Shortly, I would meet my birth parents for the first time in sixteen years. I could not go there in a state. They’d know instantly that I felt uncomfortable. They would see it all over my face and in my body language. I had always been an open book.

“The transporter boat will be stopping at Faction Three in approximately five minutes. Make sure you are well presented. Your luggage will be waiting for you at your individual destinations,” the female voice informed us. We sat in silence as the boat approached the pier of Faction Three. I heard the driver of the van bid his thanks as he drove us off the boat. All was silent for a while, until I heard cars zooming past us. We must have reached the motorway. We stayed silent for the rest of the journey, listening closely, to what happened outside. As we could not see, we had to rely on our hearing to give us clues as to where we were.

Eventually we arrived at the Town Hall of Faction Three; the driver opened the doors of the van and helped us all out. Had he been the one to sling us in the back of the van? He looked surprisingly handsome in his checked shirt and jeans. After he beamed us all a smile, he led us inside the Town Hall. By the looks of things, we had been the last lot to arrive.

The Town Hall was an exact replica of the one in Faction Two, although in this one, gold leaf ornaments filled the shelves on the walls. Clusters of teens were dotted across the large foyer, chattering to each other. An old man with wrinkled skin, emerged and whistled loudly.

“I would like to have your attention!” he called, whistling several more times. “Firstly, I would like to congratulate each and every one of you for making it through the Rite without complication, and welcome! Through the double doors in front, your birth parents wait for you. If you could enter in an orderly manner, it would be deeply appreciated.”

The man smiled, and without word, he disappeared from sight. Murmurs filled the room. I tensed.

“Nara!” someone called. And then I felt a soft tugging on my arm. “Congratulations!”

Beth pulled me into a quick hug and her lips curled into a smile.

“You too,” I said genuinely, once we released each other.

“I’ll see you around,” she promised and scurried through the double doors to meet her parents, along with many other teenagers. I saw some teens already leaving with their parents; they all looked so...happy. I didn’t understand why I was so surprised by this.

Nervously, I chewed my lip. After a few long and tense moments of twiddling my thumbs and picking at my nails, I forced myself to walk through the double doors, bracing myself, attempting not to get my hopes up. Although I tried really hard not to paint the picture of perfection inside my mind, I couldn’t help but imagine them to be extraordinary.

            I pushed myself through the crowd, not really sure who I was looking for. I had only seen one photo of my parents, and that had not clarified what they looked like very well.

“Nara, is that you?” a soft female voice, asked as she grabbed my arm gently. “Oh, my.”

And without any time to react, or answer, she pulled me into a tight hug and squeezed me. A man, who I assumed was my father, joined in and squeezed me tighter. I didn't know what to feel, how to act around these two strangers who I knew nothing about. When they finally let go of me, I managed to get a proper look at them. My mother was petite and slim, glimmering sapphire eyes, like in the picture and long brown hair that tumbled over her shoulders, her smile genuine and friendly. My father, on the other hand, stood tall and broad, with slight stubble along his jaw line and black, short hair sprouted from his scalp. His eyes, also a deep blue that sparkled under the florescent lighting.

“My baby,” my mother cooed, tears brimming in her eyes. She patted my face repeatedly, and stroked my hair, making sure I was really in front of her. My heart hammered against my ribs.

“My beautiful daughter,” my father choked and lifted his shaky hand to touch my cheek. “Oh, how I have waited for this moment...”

I swallowed hard. I had not expected it to have been so overwhelming. And they were exactly the way I had imagined them all this time. There were perfect. Nothing about them emanated their true age.

“You are exactly how I pictured you,” I mumbled, as I gazed at them. Their beauty took my breath away. The Rite had made them perfect. Or had they always looked like this and the Rite simply heightened it? It bewildered me.

“Let’s go home,” my mother suggested, showing me a loving smile as her and my father walked hand in hand as we walked back through the double doors, through the foyer and out of the front entrance.

My father held the door of the black BMW open for me and as I climbed in, he patted my shoulder.

“It’s so good to finally meet you, Nara. My name is Elijah and your mother is Amelia,” he said lovingly. “Tell us all about your life in Faction Two when we get home.”

I did not honestly want to share that part of my life with them. I had finished that chapter of my life, and I most certainly did not want to relive it. But they had missed out on my childhood. They did not have the chance to watch me grow up. And now that I was here, they wanted every detail and would probably spend every minute with me, knowing that they could never make up for the sixteen years that they had lost.

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