I wake up to white walls. There is no one else here, just me lying on a hospital bed? I begin to observe my surroundings more carefully , though my memory is still a bit cloudy. I do remember this, I was given something, something that caused me so much grief that I threw it away- then I wake up here? No. That simply doesn't make sense. How does one simply forget what they did hours ago? If that was hours ago.
There is nothing on my body that would indicate that I was attacked, nor that I sustained any injuries but why does it feel like something is off about my body- as though a part of it has been either removed or gained.
The doctor arrives with my step-sister (who seems traumatised and in turmoil from the look on her face when she lays eyes on me). The doctor approaches me with his tablet, taking notes before finally introducing himself to me,
"Miss Akuhei, my name is Dr Minola , how are you feeling?"
I take a moment to answer, they both look at me as though I am meant to feel anything but fine (which is what I am) - I contemplate lying just to put them off my case however I reply,
"I feel fine, I guess."
Dr Minola nods slightly before typing on his tablet. Akilah in the mean hand feels compelled to give me the quickest glances every few minutes - which I still don't understand.
"Well Miss Akuhei, your Psychological Efficiency is still in a solid number which is always good, but what I don't get is ... Do you remember what happened before you ended up here Miss Akuhei?"
"I can recall being in my room, then waking up here. That's all doctor." I answer , deliberately omitting the part where I received the package so as to avoid any suspicion.
The doctor feels the need to continue tapping away on his tablet and I have just had enough.
"Will somebody please tell me what on earth is going on?"
Finally, Akilah and Dr Minola look me properly in the eye. Akilah sighs before beginning to speak,
"After I left your room, I wandered around for a bit on your floor... I could hear shouting from your room and decided to go back but hesitantly. It wasn't until I got about a meter from your room that I could smell the smoke... I barged in to see you unconscious inside a perfect ring of fire. That's when I called the guards to call the emergency services. "
I simply take it in, making sure not to display my real thoughts through my mannerisms and facial expressions. Akilah begins to fidget with her silk top in awkwardness as Dr Minola at this point begins to finish off some more check-ups on me.
After he finishes, he places his tablet down and begins to ask me,
"So you have no recollection of the fire what so ever?"
I nod swiftly
"Well there is nothing visibly wrong with you so I guess there is no use in us keeping you in here, Miss Akuhei, you're free to go! Oh and before I forget, "
He reaches into his white coat and retrieves the amber necklace that was sent to me before the apparent fire.
"Thank you Dr Minola" I reply gratefully as he gives me the necklace back. I put it on carefully around my neck, the amber begins to flicker ever so slightly (though I seem to be the only one to notice) I feel the heat radiating from the necklace which freaks me out a bit.
Dr Minola gives me a small smile before exiting the room, leaving me and my step-sister alone... regarding each other silently.
"I know you're hiding something Asami. " Akilah remarks all of the sudden.
I laugh sarcastically before replying,
"And what if I am, then again what if I'm not? I obviously blacked out but you were the last person that I spoke to... and the nearest to my room when you had no purpose to be there so tell me Sherlock, how do you explain that? "
I think I got her there.
Akilah gives me a cold stare, and I can see the subtle tensing of her muscles. Her eyes only display a sort of internal battle that I may have likely caused.
"I have had it."
"What do you mean my dearest step-sister?" I ask taking a sip of the cup of water next to me.
"You are a lot of things Asami, but at the end of the day, you are just a beautiful little fool. I hope you realise that this is the only family you have left now and even so if I feel like you're jeopardising the family name I can easily have you dumped back to Douglas where minds like you belong. I hope you know that your cynical, twisted traits are only going to lead you to be labelled as a Liability to the system and I'm sure you know that it wouldn't be the first time. Goodbye, dear step -sister."
She storms out the room without looking at me no further, leaving me alone in my white walls.
White. My darkest colour.
I completely ignore secretly condescending looks of the servants as I head to my room. No surprise, the room has been locked and there lies a note from the Honours Guard (more or less our policing system) that states this place is for me to pretend not to see.
"Where on earth am I meant to live in then? " I mutter to myself and sigh irritatedly.
"In the basement." A voice states
I turn around to find no other than Akilah walking away without a care in the world - I honestly expected her to apologise for her quite frankly disgraceful words but she hasn't shown any signs of remorse as of yet. Ironically enough, Akilah Ackerman is one of the most guilt-filled people in these walls. She is the type to feel bad for something they did 10 years ago, no matter how harmless the act.
The only reasonable thing about me having to spend my time and presence in the basement it that the household's main library is located there for me to quietly study. So I head over to the other side of the castle, where there stands an old gate (I note the inscription carved next to the gate - it's in Latin which I am currently studying, though I'm not very familiar with what the text says). I attempt to open the gate. It won't budge. All of the sudden, a holographic notice appears and it begins to speak.
"Please state your name and date of birth. "
"Asami Akuhei, my date of birth is 22nd June 2102."
"Vocal and personal identification identified, you may enter Miss. Akuhei." the computerised voice replies
This may be my first time in here however I don't believe that I have ever had to identify myself in order to gain access anywhere in the castle.
Along the dark, narrow corridor (whereby my only light sources are the small and contained fires drilled into one side of the wall) is a very ancient looking tapestry- assuming to be hundreds of years old- of the Ricci Family.
The Ricci family were the most powerful in all of Imperia for the longest time, it was that family who is believed to have birthed Imperia and first placed the vulnerable people in the dome in the first place. The last remaining immediate Ricci (my step-father's mother) died after his birth and so with no living Ricci alive, my step-father's father took over with his family name instead; the rest is history.
After walking through endless corridors, I finally arrive at my new room. One could call it a sanctuary, I call it a closet. There literally is just a made up bed with some of my stuff along the doorway.
I sigh defeatedly as I enter the room
"At least there's a light."
There's a collective sound of mumbling coming from the wall on my right, I head a bit closer as to inspect how that is possible- then I see it.
A tiny hatch, with an indent the same size as my necklace. This is weird yes, however, I am quite curious as to how noise has been able to travel this far down considering how deep into the ground the basement is, so I place the amber stone onto the indent.
I turn around. Why would I believe something as silly as that? As if something would really appear from the wall. I must be that far gone, huh. My eyes catch six narrow, black tubes from the corner of my closet. The mumbled noises are a lot more apparent now and I can now decipher the hubbub.
It's coming from the kitchen, the servants there are talking, no, more like gossiping about stuff.
Well, I am bored and they should be working so...
(A/N: This is what Asami can hear , anything she reacts to will be written in italics. xx )
"K28! Have you finished sorting out the fridge yet?" Servant K23 calls out, as she double-checks the ingredient count on her tablet.
The commotion occurring in the kitchen is being caused by the stress that they are to pre- prepare a banquet for the many hundreds of guests, coming within the next few days for the annual Imperia Ball (celebrating the many prosperous months that the country has had ). Foods have to be imported and checked before being prepped and placed into the fridge, any dietary problems have to be treated with , nothing is to go wrong.
"K28? Where are you?" the servant spits out irritatedly ( her stress levels could rise and she can't possibly deal with that given that she work for the Regis himself)
A man with a metal choker rushes in from the entrance in with extra bags filled with lamb. He places them on the counter for poultry foods and proceeds to wash his hand, after doing so, he approaches a very fatigued servant K23, taking her routine stress-reducing pill. She sees him and waves her hand , which causes him to stop. K28 sighs before saying,
"Look, sorry about that, K25 is ill today and needed me to finish bringing in the necessary meat for the ball."
K23 places her glass down harshly and replies,
"No. No... It's fine, to be quite frank, you need to worry more than me with that thing around your neck." she begins to chuckle, much to K28's displeasure.
Five more servants enter the room some of which with looks on their faces that could suggest internal conflict , as though uncertain to spit out what is really on their mind.
K23 says nothing the group. Two of them lack any sign of discernment as they sit on top of the large marble counter situated at the centre of the kitchen. The other three head to their assigned station and begin to work. This is the tone of the kitchen for a while before servant K29 (the one sat on the kitchen counter) begins to lament,
"I can't wait for this ball to be over. As if I'm not doing enough already and then this?" his fellow man - counting the cutlery next to him nods in agreement.
"You would have a point had you have actually done some work K29." A servant calls out prepping juices behind him.
K29 looks at her for a moment with spite but continues
"That's the system talking. This is exactly what they want! We have the technology to predict a person's mental health, crime rate and intelligence and yet a no one can seem to guess who is responsible for Suki's murder? "
It wasn't murder idiot, it was a...
"...tragic suicide K29 and have you no restraint, patronising the system in the heart of the Constitution! We're the ones brainwashed? If it wasn't for the PET there would have been anarchy, crimes would become an everyday thing, the useless ones would take advantage of all that is hard-working citizens' generosity." the female servant replied, discontinuing with her work and focusing her attention on her opponent.
"You don't get it, do you? We all have to our routine check-ups every six months, now six months is a long time, anything could happen. Your brother could have died, you have too much going on at work, " K29's eyes linger at servant K23 who at this point is listening in on the argument out of sheer lack of will to stop them.
"You can't receive treatment in advance and so you have to go and meet the psychologist and guess what? Your Efficiency Rate has gone down too much. There your life is over. Pack your bags, you're going to Wall Barnett. The system will love you today but God forbid you have a midlife crisis!"
Everyone just looks at him, some in contempt, some with pity, even some with agreeing faces.
"And so what? This is the life that your forefathers signed up for, deal with it. Hell if you can't handle this life, why don't you leave?" K28 calls out, he approaches K29.
They regard each other.
"Same reason you can't take that choker off. We'll end up like her." K29 finally answers.
Another servant chimes in,
"He's got a point,"
Everyone stares at her,
"About her I mean, Suki was broken but even I know she wouldn't go that far. It's too easy of an excuse."
She continues with her task.
"We know that she and him had their issues... " another one adds quietly
"To be fair there was a rumour going around that she was in fact, a Slated Criminal... Guys just think of the state of her before her death. I can't help but feel sorry for her. " the servant behind K29 reluctantly admits
"Hey sorry but I don't feel bad for her, she had the world to her disposal. If she needed help, she could have easily made an appointment with a psychiatrist instead of causing her husband grief- I had to tidy her quarters once... Let's just say that all I saw was a cry for attention as supposed to a cry for help."
At this point, no one is doing any real work, not really. The majority of them are listening in rather than completing their tasks.
They don't even seem as fazed anymore at the prospect of the fact that big brother may actually be watching them right now, noting down names for punishment.
"I just feel sorry for the girls.. especially Asami, poor thing first has to lose her mother and now her side of the will! " K23 laments. Upon realising what she had just said, she gasps in shock.
All eyes turn to her, inviting her to continue, however, she decides against it for fear that big brother might have already heard enough vomit from her mouth.
"OK. That was interesting." I say after finishing listening to the kitchen servants.
I head upstairs to the get some fresh air, to give myself time to process this new information. In regards to my mother's death, I don't care. In regards to my will however, that's problematic. My step-father isn't a man to suddenly break off ties with ones he understands to have a significant impact on his public image, no it's too sloppy. There's only one person who could do such a thing and get away with it....
"... if I feel like you're jeopardising the family name I can easily have you dumped back to Douglas... "
I head to the dining area to find Akilah chatting away with some of the most credible scholars in all of Imperia. She is talking to them very animatedly and a tad more expressively than she'd usually be like. I want to leave but she sees me and ushers me to come over to sit down on the spot next to her, I do so.
"Mr Vaughan, Mr Williams and Mrs Hughes, this is my lovely step-sister Asami, Asami meet some of the top scholars in our land." I shake hands with each of them
So this is how you want to play?
They each express their condolences before Mrs Hughes continues,
"So Miss. Akuhei, your step-sister has told us lots about you and we just wanted to let you know that there are psycho-health services in all three of the schools that we represent should you ever wish to join - and I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we would love to have you there. "
"I'm sorry, my grief isn't that bad that I would need to go to a psych-session Mrs Hughes."
"I understand that but what I am referring to is your psychosis, the same symptom that is caused you to burn down your room, right? "
I can't believe she'd go that low, making it out like I've got a mental illness?
"Thank you very much for your time and consideration, now if I may please be excused, I must go and see how they're getting on with my salvaging my things!"
"You don't have to do that, I've already spoken to one of your quarters servants, he said that all that could be salvaged has been so, you must sit down! " Akilah replies with a cocky smile plastered on her face- she is loving every minute of this I tell you.
"That's fine, in that case, I shall go see what they've salvaged! It has been a pleasure Sirs, ma'am."
And with that, I exit the room as quickly as possible and head back to the gate on the other side of the castle.
When I arrive, I head through about halfway into the corridor before turning to my right to face a black door. Carefully, I open the door to a vast array of books in large oak bookcases. The library.
There is already a small pile of books on top of the mahogany study table. I shut the door behind me and head across to the table to examine them more carefully. There are four books:
✴History of the honourable Ackerman / Ricci family - revised and collected by Professor. T.K Sanders
✴Fire and Ice, a novel - by D. Imogen Underwood
✴Polarised Systems - by L. Kallen
✴Broken minds fixed by God - by D. L. Ibrim
I skim through the first book relatively quickly (though I did learn some very interesting things) It was the second book that got me hooked. The book puts two warring families in a situation where only one will live, there is no real villain (only the one you perceived to be bad) and only a select amount are able to possess the power to manipulate the element associated closest with the values of their house - hence why we have Fire and Ice as the title.
I go to put the books back on the nearest available shelf when my necklace begins to glow...
The glow intensifies the closer I get to the bookshelf in front of me and when I do get there, I note a dent clearly made for the necklace. I put it in.
The bookcase slides to one side, opening up a minimally lit room. As I enter, the lights begin to brighten much more properly and what I see is shocking,
A large picture of Suki Ackerman with a giant mark 'X' across her face ripped half way. Me and Akilah's faces are on opposite sides though still intact. There lies a little black book on the desk in front of me and my curiosity (and slight fear) gets the better of me as I go to retrieve the book.
The book has writing in it, pages filled with the same two lines,
Where is the source?
House of fire, house of ice?
Where is the source?
House of fire, house of ice?
I place the book down and turn around.
There is a masked man in my wake.
A/N- When in doubt, I find that a good list of books can always give me clues...