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Chapter 1

The slums, that's my home. If you can call this hell hole anyone's home from a distance, you can't even see the small shacks sitting up just above the mud on wooden stilts that creek and threaten to fall over on a daily basis. From a distance, all you see is the unending smoke from the neighboring factories, but when you get a closer look. You see the small wooden shacks and even the faces of some children in the windows that have no glass, and a few have tattered scraps of cloth that barely count as curtains.
They are not allowed to go outside, and who would want to when it's so hard to breathe that no one dares go out without wearing a scarf or some piece of cloth around their mouth and nose. Each family has a color, and each color has a job, whether that fishing, being a seamstress, or a miner who was the worst. You lived in a cave and never saw the light of day every moment you were awake, you are working.
So, it's safe to say that the slums are not a popular vacation spot. The only part of this bearable hell hole is the river that runs along the west side of town. It's the only place with real trees, and occasionally depending on the season, you can see a few flowers here and there. But nobody has the time to appreciate them. At the end of the village, there's a small bridge that looks as if it would break any second. Once you get across the pathetic bridge, you travel roughly a quarter of a mile at most to arrive at the stadium.
But at this moment in time, I am skimming along the outside of the crowd, working my way to the stadium to watch another mandatory showing. I shuffled along, acting very interested in my shoes, which I might add are nothing more than a few scraps of cloth held together by some stitching my sister had been able to add when I felt a light pressure against my lower left-back as I didn't want to cause a scene with guards posted at every street corner. I took two quick steps to my right and turned slightly to see who it was, ready to take action if it was needed.
To no surprise, it was Daniel, my idiot of a brother now, don't be confused side by side we look nothing alike. Me with my long chocolate-colored hair with streaks of auburn running through it as well as my slight freckles that dotted my nose and fanned out under my eyes Which are as blue as the sky. I'm about five foot one inch, and I get the short jokes quite often, but I'm not weak. Despite my appearance, I'm pretty strong thanks to the constant running for my life and working in the mines. On the other hand, Daniel has dirty blonde hair that rests at just below ear length and is a giant compared to me at six foot two inches. And eyes that are only as brown as my hair, as well as arms that are the size of my head.
"Dan," I whispered low enough so that only he could hear me, "I almost attacked you." He just rolled his eyes and scoffed at me. I swear this is becoming a habit of his that I'm not such a fan of. "Please don't act like you didn't enjoy it at least a little," he said as he blew me a kiss. "Only in your dreams, Dan," he stepped on the back of my so-called shoes, and I hissed at him. Apparently, I was a little too loud as it caught the attention of a few guards talking nearby. "stop it before you get me in trouble again. I just got my green slip back."
First, let me explain what the slip system is, first you have green, which is what everyone is given at birth, and you keep it in a pendant on a chain and wear it as a necklace even though it feels more like a collar. If you're wearing green, then you have full access to the whole village then. If you step out of line, you are given a yellow slip, and you are more restricted. You work, then go home. Then there's red if you act out enough you start to lose food rations and electricity and the worst, in my opinion, is your freedom.
Thanks to Dan, I have gone down to a red on more than one occasion then I'd like to admit. Which he always felt guilty for, and nine times out of ten got an ear full from my younger sister. Sabra, which translates into patient. That definitely fits her for how she deals with all our crap.
"Dan, I'm not in the mood to screw around," I told him, allowing only a small amount of my irritation through. "Come on, Lee'" he said as he gave me his famous puppy dog eyes, which truthfully I hate. "Dan, this isn't a regular showing. I mean, come on, after years, we finally had a decent king, and he goes and dies. Of a heart attack of all things" Of course, all I got in return was a shrug. Figures. But if I'm honest, which doesn't happen that often I had started seeing a possible future for our world. For me. For my family.
Then the supposed "strong and fearless king," at least that is what the weak-minded court tried to sell us as if it would make a living a constant nightmare any easier. He went and died, then the world got ten times worse, which left us with the late king Johnathan's younger brother, who is only two years younger than his brother, who naturally was only his half-brother born out of wedlock. As I was wrapped up in my own thoughts, I had zoned out, "Lee…Lee! Earth to Talayeh" Dan was next to shouting at me as he shook my shoulders. I blinked my eyes a few times. The look in his eyes showed worry, something he does all too often in everything I am, involved in.
"Yes…yes, calm down, Dan, I'm fine. I guess I got distracted," I mentally chastised myself for allowing me to let my guard down in such a large crowd. He just shook his head, "that's not like you. Are you sure there's not more going on up there?" I knew he was talking about the fact we my family had just gotten thee letter with the typical kingdom stamp telling us that my sister had died in the war. She was conscripted four years ago to be a nurse in the field, and of course, Daniel is family, just not by blood. "No, stupid, I wasn't thinking about that till you so kindly brought it up." I could tell I hit a nerve as his eyes fell, and he shuffled his feet, painfully obvious unsure of what he should say. I hugged the poor guy "it's not your fault. I'm sorry for lashing out at you. Love you, Dan," I could feel all his tense muscles relax.
I took a deep breath a look up at the stadium. I hate this place with every bone in my body. With stone, pillars holding it together, and the size is ridiculous, making you feel the size of an ant. In addition, the central archway has no doors. I mean, it's not like any of us townspeople ever want to come here, and there's nothing worth stealing. Trust me, and I would know what I do for a living besides working in the mines. The roof, if you want to call it, was one large, circular piece of glass. Do not ask me how they managed that. As you enter the stadium, you stop hearing the crunch of the well-worn dirt path, and the sound of sand being shuffled fills your nose along with the dust, which clouds your vision just slightly. There are wooden benches about six feet long the squeak anytime someone shifts on one and feel as though they will break under even a small child's weight. Placed in a semi-circle just enough for everyone to squeeze in if some people sit on the laps of others. In addition, there is maybe a fifty by fifty yard clear space for whatever the "showing" will be that time. After everyone finds somewhere to sit as the dust settles, you can see the four by five TVs placed on every fourth column or so just high enough so some way or another, everyone there can see whatever spectacle the court has planned this time.
Daniel takes a seat in the very back. Our usual spot, and I take my place on his lap. This has become normal for us, and the only reason I am comfortable with it is that we have talked about any chance of having anything more than a friendship style relationship. "Out of the question, it's just not going to happen." That was his response when I brought the subject, which for me was a relief; I did not and did not want anything more. From anyone now, nor did I see the possibility in the near future or at all. "I don't have time for one. I've got a busy and complicated enough life as it is." That was what I said when he brought up the topic again a few weeks ago.
I sit on his left knee and lightly bang my head against his left shoulder. I feel his body shake as he chuckles to himself and pats my head. "What?" I snap my head up and glare at him as I move my bangs, which desperately needed trimming out of my eyes. He flashes his signature grin. I scowl and smack the back of his head "it's not gentlemen like to laugh at a lady. Now what where are you chuckling about?" He just looked at me as if it should be obvious "first off, I am the picture of a gentleman, and I will prove it when I see a lady, and second, you always use me as your headrest, but it's not often that you abuse my poor shoulder."
At first, all I could think to do was laugh, then I stood up and twirled around as if I was in one of the most delicate gowns that only a royal member wore. And pretend to lift my dress as I did the best curtsy I could as I bowed my head. "Oh, kind sir, how rude of me" I use my most regal tone, mocking every royal that has and will ever live. "I apologize for my rudeness and my abuse to your "poor shoulder" I am deeply sorry. Could you ever find it in your heart to forgive such a disrespectful
act?" I say as I raise my head from my bow, which I was still holding for even more dramatic effect.
Dan seemed to enjoy my little performance as he stood and took my hands, so I stood straighter than I ever had before. "Oh, my lady, I am so moved by your beautiful and heartfelt apology. Of course, I forgive you and ask that you please join me back on the bench?" he gestures with a wave of his right hand to the spot that we were sitting at and raises his eyebrows so high I wonder if they would jump right off his forehead. He tugs on my hand, so I follow as he takes a seat on the bench, and we both let out a small chuckle when it sounds as if it would break under his weight.


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