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When I was young, my brothers and I would go looking for danger. In the woods, near the roaring springs, near the witch graveyard.
But then Shadow turned thirteen and had to go serve his country. We all stopped looking for danger. All of us. Burn, Twister, Illusion, and me, Rain.
Then one December day, Mother got a red letter. It was about Shadow. He had died in battle. I watched as Burn’s face changed. He had told Shadow not to go.
“I told him not to go!” he roared. He stormed upstairs, knocking over the table. I remember it clattered to the ground as Mother cried.
Burn was twelve at the time. Now he’s about to turn thirteen, the time we are all forced to go to war, or if we are girls we are forced to marry and have children when we graduate Prep at the age of seventeen so they can do the same thing as their sorry parents. I watched as Burn packed his suitcase. Twister was ten, Illusion was seven, and I was five. I watched as he hugged Mother and Father, Twister, Illusion, and he ruffled my hair. Then he left.
We never expected that he had a devious plan forming in his mind.
Five years later
I was almost all alone. Illusion was leaving the next morning. He crouched with me as I cleaned up a game. He sighed.
“In three years you’ll go to Prep and find some handsome jerk who will help you have, like, ten kids,” he said.
I laughed. “Sleep in my room tonight. Please.”
He nodded. “I will.”
And so that night as I lay down on the floor next to him, someone tapped on my window. I jerked upright. Illusion sat up, too.
“Shh,” he said. He crossed the room and cautiously opened the window. Someone jumped inside. I almost screamed.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
“Oh, Rain. Don’t you recognize me?” the person said. I lit a small candle and held it up. Even in the eerie light of the candle, I could tell who it was. Even five years later I could tell.
We sat in a circle, all around the candle.
“How are you here?” Illusion demanded.
“It’s easy. I never showed up for duty,” Burn said. “I bribed a man into telling the guard at the gate that I had died on the road.”
“Can I come with you?” begged Illusion.
“That’s why I’m here. Duh,” Burn smirked.
Illusion stood up and grabbed his suitcase.
“Me too!” I whisper-yelled.
“No, I’m sorry,” Burn said. “Girls ain’t allowed.”
“What happened to your perfect grammar?” I demanded. “The Burn I knew always had good grammar!”
Burn smiled. “I’m not the Burn you knew. I’m changed.”
Tears fell down my face. “I’m your sister. Take me with you!”
Burn helped Illusion through the window and they both left, leaving me there, alone.
“Where is your brother?” demanded Father the next day.
I groaned as I remembered the night’s events. Burn.
“I don’t know,” I lied.
Father’s breathing turned heavy. “He escaped?”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
Father frowned. “We must find him. Shadow and Burn are already dead! We don’t need another one!”
I faked surprise, “Burn is dead?”
“I’m sorry, honey. We didn’t want you to freak,” Father said.
“I’m freaking now!” I yelled. I ran out of the house, crying. I wasn’t crying ‘cause I believed Father, duh, I was sad about Burn not wanting me.
Mother and Father came out, arguing.
“We can’t do that to her! Three extra years?” yelled Mother. “No!”
“It’s how Serpent said we could repay the loss of Illusion!” Father argued.
“Illusion isn’t an object you lose!” screamed Mother. “He’s a real, living, breathing, person!”
“Rain, pack your bags! You’re going to Prep!” Father yelled.
“I’m ten!” I yelled. “I can’t go!”
“Go!” Father yelled.
I stomped up the stairs, making sure to slam my door. I stuffed almost everything into my suitcase.
If only there was a way to escape!
I sat in the train. I was on my way to Prep. I was only one of many girls.
“Good bye life,” I muttered. The girl next to me looked at me sympathetically.
“You look a little young to be on the Prep train,” she said. “I’m Storm, by the way.”
“Rain. I’m ten,” I said.
“My parents had to pay a tribute to Serpent,” I said bitterly.
“Why?” Storm asked.
“My brother ran off the night before he was supposed to leave,” I said.
She frowned. “Why?”
“Cause only him and Twister are still alive,” I said.
“Name all your brothers,” Storm said.
“Shadow, Twister, Burn, and Illusion,” I said.
“They sound like nice people,” she said.
I grimaced. “I thought so.”
“It’s not their fault they had to leave,” Storm said.
I nodded, not wanting her to know about Burn.
So we rode on in silence.
“Welcome to The Preparatory School for Girls!” said a woman as we got off the train. “You must be Rain.” She said as I got off the train. Was it that obvious?
“Yeah, that’s me,” I said.
“I’ll have Dark show you around,” she said. The girl dubbed Dark glared at me.
I joined her. “I’m Rain.”
“Dark,” she led me up a sweeping staircase, into a grand hall.
“This is the Lobby,” she said.
“What’s a ‘lobby,’” I asked.
“Beats me,” she said. “I guess it’s just a name.”
She leads me to another room. This one is filled with desks.
“This is Beauty Class,” Dark sighs. She leads me to another class. This one has a full kitchen in it “This is Cooking Class.”
“This is Sewing Class, this is Detention, this is the lunchroom, that’s the Dorm,” Dark said. We entered the Dorm. Storm and another girl sat on big fluffy chairs.
“There you are!” the girl said, walking toward us. She hooked arms with Dark and they walked off laughing. I stared at Storm. She stood up and came over to me.
“We have Dorm 25,” she said.
I nodded. “Why aren’t you with Dark and that other girl?”
“Dark and Perfect?” Storm asked. “Because you are way more fun.”
My heart lifted. She wanted me as a friend?
I smiled. “You’re more fun than them too.”
She smiled too. We entered Dorm 25 and flopped on chairs fluffier than the ones in the Dorm waiting place.
I woke up to water running. I looked around then reality hit. I was at Prep. Storm came out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, all wet.
“Your turn!” she said.
“Nope. Not going to do it,” I said. “Why do we have to shower anyway? I showered yesterday!”
“Just do it.”
I got into the bathroom and took off all my clothes. I got in the shower and nearly burned my skin off.
I got into my first class, Beauty. Storm’s first class was Sewing, but we had Cooking and Lunch together. Then it was back to Sewing, Cooking, and then Beauty all of those with Storm.
I sat right behind Perfect and right next to Dark.
“Why are you even here shorty?” sneered Dark.
“It’s none of your business,” I said calmly.
“Welcome to Beauty Class!” interrupted the teacher. “I’m Raised.”
“Good morning!” everyone but me said.
“Today we’ll apply makeup to each other,” Raised said. “Rain, you’ll work on me.”
Of course. The unwanted girl there doesn’t get a partner. How typical.
I shakily held dark red lipstick in my hand. I was sitting right in front of Raised. I applied the lipstick hoping I didn’t smear it.
“It’s okay. You’re only ten,” Raised said gently when I got lipstick on her nose. I sighed. I was so going to fail this class.
“One way to tell if you are going to be a good wife is if you can cook. My name is Possible,” our teacher said.
“Good morning,” Dark and Perfect said. Of course. They always had to be so perfect.
“I hate them,” Storm muttered. “Dark is the Head’s daughter, and Perfect is Raised’s daughter.”
“That’s so crappy,” I said back.
“I wonder who the seventeen-year-old boys that survived the war will be!” Storm said excitedly.
I grinned. Storm was just like me, excited about boys too.
“Same,” I said.
“Girls!” Possible yelled. “Pay attention!”
“Sorry Possible,” Storm said. “I know, we’ll make those cupcakes more perfect than Perfect.”
Half the class laughed at Storm’s joke, me included. Perfect’s face turned red.
“Storm go to the Head’s office, now! Rain, you too!” Possible shouted.
Storm and I stood up and left that class, never looking back.
“You purposely interrupted class!” the Head yelled. “Possible said you were inexcusably rude to Perfect and my own daughter, Dark!”
“Only to Perfect!” I yelled.
“No reason! You both have twelve Detentions in a row! That’s more than two months!” the Head said.
I glared at her. “It’s because I’m new.”
“No, it’s because you are a mistake.” the Head sneered.
I stood up, grabbed Storms hand and ran out of there, ignoring the Head’s screams behind us.
“What do we do now?” Storm asked.
“I have an idea, but it probably won’t work,” I said.
“Rain!” Storm moaned.
“What’s your idea?”
“I could find my brother,” I said.
“You mean…the one that got you here?” Storm asked.
“Yes…and my other brother,” I said.
“He’s dead. You told me!” Storm wailed.
“No, he also ran away. He bribed a man into telling the guards that he died!” I said.
“Impossible! Both of my older brothers are dead! Are you telling me that there was another way?!” Storm said angrily.
“I think that Storm, my brother, started the group and now he’s recruiting rebels!” I said. “He said girls aren’t allowed but maybe he can make an exception for us! He’s my brother after all!”
I felt a pain in my chest as I remembered his harsh words when I asked him last time.
“Recruiting rebels? That’s not fair! My brothers are dead! There can't be another way! There can’t be!” Storm looked angry enough to rip through metal.
I just shrugged.
We ran down the path towards the town.
“Where...is...your...brother?” Storm panted.
“I...have...a few...theories,” I gasped out. I didn’t remember it being this hard to talk while running.
Storm stopped me. “You’re kidding, right?”
“What?” I asked.
“You’re dragging me away on a few theories?” she snapped.
“Well, they aren’t…” I stopped.
Because a young boy was pointing a gun at us.
“Halt,” he snapped. He didn’t have to tell us twice. We were already stopped.
He stepped forward. “Who are you?”
“Who are we?” I demanded. “How about you!? Who are you?!”
His eyes narrowed. “You’re asking for Trouble, kid.”
“Is that your name? Trouble?” I asked.
He sighed. “Yes,”
His eyes narrowed. “But so what if it is? What does it matter to you?”
“Do you know two boys named Burn and Illusion?” I asked.
He looked at me suspiciously. “Why?”
“They’re my brothers. Besides, You shouldn’t be outside, should you? You look too old to be away from the war…”
He grabbed my wrist. He leaned down so his face was inches from mine. “Listen, kid. Burn and Illusion talk about you all the time. A troublemaker. But see, they don't allow girls. Girls don't belong in a place like that. They might, and that’s a big might, make an exception for you, but not for her.”
He spat out the word “her” like it was a bad carrot.
“I don't care,” I said.
He studied me.
“I’m trying to decide if I like the fact that you’re a rebel, or if I hate it.”
I glared at him. “Just take us to my brothers.”
He nodded. “Your wish is my command, Mistress Rain.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Like I said before, kid. Burn and Illusion talk about you all the time. Not around us, but yes, all the time.”
“How do you know they do?”
“I eavesdropped. I know I shouldn’t have but I did.”
I narrowed my eyes. “So…”
“We’re going to take down Serpent."