STARS *Catching Paper*

In the future city of Circino, there are no stars, no specks of light in the full place. Publics and Peasants are forced into work as the Privates live their lives of luxury. They say no one can escape, no one can see the stars. No one can see the stars. Aro wants to prove them wrong. Aro wants to escape. And together with a Private, Alene, and a Peasant, Jarmina, he sets out to do just that. But at what cost does the real truth come? Cover Artist: Crown of Shadownight




  The harsh mountain wind is cold and piercing. It stabs me in a thousand different place, and I am slightly concerned about my wounds, or lack thereof. All I can feel is pain. I have been feeling slightly lightheaded as of late, and for a brief moment, I consider going back to the City for medication. Then the idea is gone, the lightbulb turned off, as nostalgia returns, a hunger for my home. And by home, I don't mean the City, but my true home. But I can never return. If I am to do so, I will be a Peasant. No doubt they will not give me medication to heal, but rather a painful poison.


  I most certainly do not want that. Nobody wants that.


  What is happening in the city? Is my family concerned about my disappearance? Do they know bout my disappearance? I wonder what Alene is thinking. No, I can't keep thinking of my old households like this. It hurts.


  My thoughts - that I have either already been forgotten, or have my name and portrait on a 'Wanted' poster Jarmina once told me is used to track down criminals or escapees - are halted, alongside my aching, tired feet, as I come to face grey.


  It is an irregular sphere,  boulder, higher than the ceiling of the Harvall Manor Glass Garden, an most definitely wider. I try to see around and above it, but cannot, whether the cause is the size of the boulder or the rapidly approaching night I can't be sure. Dusk is descending, falling upon me like a dark cloak, and the little light left will be gone soon.


  I begin to light a fire, collecting small sticks and clumps of dry moss from around me as deep purple plumes of smoke rise into the air. Eventually, the fire is raging, and I allow myself some time to gather more supplies from the nearby peaks.


  The walk is longer than I anticipated when I set my mind on the task at hand, and I can barely see the slowly ascending moon, let alone the sun. The faint sound of a crackling fire is my only guide after a few short minutes walking back, and the smell of smoke is oddly welcoming.


  Finally, just as my eyelids begin to close, dancing sparks of orange and gold hiss at me, as I sigh with contented relief. But when I turn around the corner, my heart stops.


  Faces hidden in shadows leer at me, cruelly laughing as I debate my chances of escaping. I decide against it: They may be friendly. Unlikely, given the fear they strike into my heart, but still remotely possible.


  I made the wrong decision.


  The man on the right leaps towards me as I turn to run, all too slowly. He binds my hands together with a scratchy rope which burns my skin, and I fight angrily for my release. Another man stuffs a piece of silk into my mouth, gagging me as I splutter and choke out pleas of help.


  The third man, slightly balding, picks up a flaming piece of firewood from the stone circle failing to contain the rapidly growing inferno. I realise what is bout to happen a split second before it does, and though nausea is sweeping over me, and my legs are shaking, I duck. I am too late.


  Fire races towards me and away, singing the top of my hair slightly as it spins and swirls. Pin strikes me between the eyes, a late reaction to an almost fatal act of violence. I am convinced my head is on fire, a strangely comical image, though there is nothing funny about my situation. I suppose my forehead will be black to tomorrow morning.


  If I live that long.


  The second wave of pain rushes through me, replacing fear with adrenaline as my heart pounds encouragingly in my chest.  I fall to my knees as countless strikes of rough bark and crisp moss reach me with an unnerving accuracy.  "Stop!" I plead. "Stop!"


  The fire that was once an inferno has now been reduced to a slightly smouldering pile of ash, and I am pleased to find no immediate weapons coming my way. The man's arm drops to his side, as I stumble clumsily to my feet.


  "You're coming with us."

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