Ascension

**Winner of Replica writing Comp** In the city of Eto, the life of a noble is worth the live of ten commoners. In order to keep the world balanced, each time a noble comes of age at the age of 16, they select 10 commoners to kill.

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5. Lin- 2

 

The palace halls were winding and confusing. It was far too easy to get lost. Fortunately there was no one around to see me stumbling. I was still in pain from the beating- but there was nothing I could do about it. It hurt, and that was basically it. I was a commoner- a daughter of the streets. I fought and stole for a living. I was tougher than a few bruises.

I kept my head down as I walked. Palaces were dangerous- especially this one. There was a ball going on right now- some noble had gone and been ‘chosen’ as an aspect. Probably the same one that had stood in front of me- the one that had told me not to be jealous as she led my sister away to her death.

My fists clenched in anger- and that was when I ran into the person.

I fell to the ground, landing hard. My numerous bruises flared with pain, and my letters spilling from my hand once again.

“Watch it!” I growled, not bothering to look up. I scooped up my letters, and looked up to see who had run into me.

My eyes instantly saw the crest. A gold shield, outlined in red with depictions of four mythical beasts, one in each corner. My eyes widened with shock and horror. I had just spoken to one of the crown princes.

“Your majesty…” the letters fell from my numb hands. I ignored them, dropping into a rushed curtsy. “I’m so so sorry. I didn’t know it was you- I mean, I wasn’t looking where I was going…” Spirits help me… he’s going to kill me. I’ve offended a noble- he’s going to kill me!

“Don’t be sorry.”

Well that was unexpected.

I looked up, eyes widening as a I recognized him.

You!” It was the noble that had rescued me back at the tavern.

“Me,” he agreed. He dropped to one knee, picking up my letters. He stood, placing them in my hand with a bit of a smile. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault. Honestly I think it’s ridiculous that commoners have to look down in case they meet the eyes of a noble.”

What kind of noble was he?! I had expected at worst, an execution, and at best, a beating. And here he was apologizing to me?!

“Please, don’t apologize to me your majesty,” I said hurriedly. “The fault was completely mine.” Why did I always have to do this? I hated being the noble’s dog. But it was that or die, so I did what I could to keep myself alive.

“What would you have said to me if I was another commoner?”

“I… nothing I would have said to a noble, your majesty.”

“Tell me. That’s an order,” he added. “And don’t call me your majesty. No one else does.”

“Then… what will I call you?”

“Raphael works just fine. So what were you going to say?”

“I couldn’t-”

“Tell me.” A smile played at the corner of his lips. “That’s an order."

I took a deep breath, bracing myself for the worst. “You should have looked where you were going, you expect me to just step out of your way like a little slave? Well listen, you stupid arrogant little castle boy, you might get a nice living here, but I come from the streets, where we have to fight every single day to survive. You think you can just push me out of your way and be done with it?”

I waited for him to get angry. Which is why I was shocked when he started to laugh.

“What?”

“It’s honestly so refreshing, talking to you commoners. You’re so free in your words- so open when you speak to each other. Not like us. Not poised, like hawks waiting to strike. You have no idea how lucky you are… being able to say whatever you want to each other. Living without the fear of knowing that each word you say will be used against you.”

“I’m sorry, did you just call me lucky?” Obviously he wasn’t going to hurt me. My guard began to drop- almost against my will. “We live like dogs- kicked around by you nobles. We scrabble in the dirt for a living, trying to keep our heads down, trying not to be noticed. We fight, we kill, we steal, and meanwhile you nobles kick back in a life of luxury and let us wait on you. How is that lucky?!”

“You have nothing- so you don’t always look to see what you can take from each other. You have nowhere to climb, so you don’t waste your time grabbing for power. You’re honest. Open. Free in thought and word. The nobles don’t understand this.”

“How do you?”

“I’ve gone into the town sometimes…” he sighed. “I thought… if I ever were to rule, then I would need to know who I was ruling. So I… I guess I broke one of our rules. I was never perfect anyways.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. This noble boy was trying to bridge the gap between nobles and commoners. He envied us! Did he know how hard our lives were? He had to. But… I couldn’t help but appreciate his sentiments.

“You never gave me your name,” he said quietly after a second of silence.

“Nobles never ask for commoner’s names.”

“Then don’t think of me as a noble.”

I met his eyes. At first I was alarmed- they were bright red. But slowly, I realized that it was a gentle, kind sort of warmth, like a fire that keeps a family warm through the night. I smiled slightly.

“Call me Lin.”

“Alright. Lin.”

We met eyes, and I felt a soft ping of realization. This might be the first time in history that a noble and a commoner meet eyes as equals. It was strangely… anticlimactic. No bright bursts of light. No weird magical effects. No dramatic sound effects. Just me and Raphael. It was odd.

“I should go.” I broke his gaze as quickly as I could. “Messages to deliver.”

He said nothing as I hurried away.

 

As I ran, I cursed him under my breath. Stupid noble. Meddling in my affairs- making life difficult… who did he think he was?! I was working as hard as I could to even survive- I didn’t need a boy like him meddling and making things worse.

I was so frustrated that I forgot to look where I was going, and ended up storming through the castle. When I finally looked up, I was completely lost.

My heart started racing. I had heard stories about what happened to commoners that wandered into the wrong part of a noble’s castle. I needed to get out of here, and fast.

I stood for a moment, taking stock of my situation. Then, suddenly, I heard footsteps.

My heart leapt into overdrive. That probably wasn’t Raphael. And if another noble found me here…

I could run, but there was nowhere to run. They’d see me.

I began to back away, pulse racing. There had to be somewhere I could go. I couldn’t let them find me. They’d kill me. I had to hide. Now!

There was a door to my right. I reached for it, and found it unlocked. I slipped inside, and pulled it close as the footsteps grew closer.

Two voices passed me in the hallway, idly talking about the choosing of some noble girl. I waited until they were out of earshot, and then turned to see where I’d been hiding.

I had expected a small room, but instead I was standing in a grand chamber, lit by torches on either side. Arranged at the front were nine statues- four on each side, and one larger one on the front. A basin sat at the foot of the largest statue, and an evil looking curved knife sat beside it.

I shuddered. I didn’t belong in this room. I needed to get out of here. Now. I was about to go, when something next to the basin caught my eye.

Confused, I started forwards. A few feet away from the basin I stopped and bend down, picking up a small pin, set with a little sapphire. I caught my breath. I recognized that pin. It was the most valuable thing we had ever owned. My mother had given it to my oldest sister, who had passed it down eventually to me. And I had given it to her… the day before she was taken away from me.

I let out a ragged sob, dropping to my knees. I knew what this room was now. This was where they executed the commoners for a noble’s choosing. The basin… that must be where they caught the blood. That knife… had it tasted my sister’s blood? Had it drained the life from those bright eyes of hers?

Anger filled me, and I snatched the knife up, intending to break it. But then I hesitated. Slowly, I placed the knife against my palm, and slid it. Then I dripped the blood into the basin. Not much- just a few drops. I imagined my blood joining with my sister’s- joining her spirit and mine together. I slipped one hand inside my dress, and drew an x over my heart to symbolize our connection. Then, still kneeling, I murmured a soft prayer to my sister’s spirit. I asked her to forgive me for not being able to protect her. Finally I stood, turning to go.

Another flash of anger caused me to turn back. I looked straight at the largest statue, and let out a little hiss of defiance.

“I spit on you,” I growled. “I spit on you, and the devils that killed my sister!” I threw the knife at the statue. It hit the stone and broke. I smirked, turning and walking towards the door. I had to get out of here. Now. This room was a cold tomb for all the commoners that had been killed. I wanted no part of it.

I had almost reached the door when I was distracted by a soft whistling behind me. I turned back, to see the metal shards of the knife rising into the air, along with the blood. They swirled together, and then abruptly vanished.

I watched in confusion. What was that all about?

Abruptly, I was overwhelmed by a wave of sound so intense that I thought my ears might explode. I yelped, turning to run for the door, only to find it blocked by a wall of steam. My eyes widened, and I backed away, only to find myself surrounded by rolling, churning ground. Fire blazed in the cracks, and water hissed at the edges, bursting into steam where it touched the fire. Wind whistled through the room, blowing my hair in my face. I panicked, turning back and forth, desperately searching for a way out.

And then, suddenly, everything went silent. I felt a new presence enter the room- a presence much greater and more powerful than anything I could have described.

The room was brimming with silent expectation. I could practically feel the tension in the air.

After a minute of waiting, I spoke, my voice hesitant.

“Hello?”

Hello… hello… ello… ello… The word echoed around the room. There was no response. I narrowed my eyes. “I know you’re watching me! Who are you? And what are you?”

Who… you…

I jumped. The voice that responded was definitely not mine. Slowly, I forced myself to answer. “I’m Lin.”

What… you…

“I’m a human.”

No… the voice sounded confused. Others come… your blood is different. Sweeter.

I tried not to be too alarmed that it had started speaking in full sentences. I didn’t really like this talk about sweeter blood either.

“Nobles?” I guessed. The voice ignored me, and kept musing.

I have tasted blood like yours before…

“My sister,” I said softly, my voice cold.

The voice fell silent. A low murmur began to spread around the room. I backed towards the door, intending to escape while I could.

Then, I felt a strange pulling sensation in my chest. My eyes widened, and then the world exploded with light as I collapsed.

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