SIARAME STRODE DOWN THE desolate streets of the once great city of Jetspru. Once, it had been the capitol of the world; the main city of the Hehtkuppr people. For thousands of years, under the leadership of the Niagyt family, Jetspru had become the most revered city of the world, and the Hehtkuppr were unquestionably the greatest people in the world.

During those golden ages, illiteracy was practically eliminated. Poverty became a legend, real only in the most outer villages of the country, and in the deepest pits of the large cities. Everyone was guaranteed an education, and everyone could find a job when they were older- whether it was as a teacher, a paige, or if they were lucky, as an advisor to the royal court. Nobody needed to worry about a life of hard labor in the fields, because that was what slaves were for.

The slaves were the greatest problem. Most people agreed that they were less than human- the scum of the earth. Some of the slaves were criminals who had chosen to work rather than rot in jail, but the majority were Pektinti. All social and religions rules showed that Pektinti weren't meant for greatness. All were born with a strange blue crescent moon shape over their left eyebrow- it looked like a tattoo, except it was natural. The reason the Pektinti were shunned, however, was because of their powers.

All of the Pektinti could do things that appeared to almost be magic. They could move an object across the room with a thought, or know great events that would happen in the future, or dream of things that were happening thousands of miles away. The Pektinti treasured these powers, even though the church preached that the powers were evil. Because they were so willing to wallow in their own sin, the position of slavery seemed right for the animals.

Unfortunately, not everyone had felt that way. According to oral tradition, a movement had started to attempt to free the Pektinti from their life of bondage. The movement hadn't gone very far, as most people believed the Pektinti deserved the lives they had. The problem lied in the fact that the Pektinti hear rumors of a chance for freedom, and once the idea occurred to them, they'd staged a rebellion. Although they were small in numbers, they did terrible things with their cursed powers, and ended the rein if the Niagyt of the Hehtkuppr people.

Life under the Pektinti was hard. As rulers, they turned the world upside down, making the Hehtkuppr slaves, and trying to rule the land themselves. Schools closed, people starved, and the once great cities fell into ruin, as Jetspru showed while Siarame walked through it, remembering a time she'd never seen, but had only heard of in the stories her mother had told her before she'd died.

She took another step, and heard the scream of a young girl. Always the first to react in an emergency, Siarame spun around in the direction of the screaming, and began to run. She quickly found herself in a dark alley, where a young girl, no older than twelve or thirteen, was surrounded by three Pektinti guards who were laughing cruelly.

One of them stepped closer to the frightened girl and slapped her behind. "Come on," he said with a sinister grin. "Let's go back to your place, and you can earn yourself a little bit of extra money for your family." The girl began to cry; the other two men laughed harder. The one who had been talking continued, "Think of your Mama and your Dada, and all your siblings. Do you want them to starve just because you were too selfish to do some work and get paid?"

As disgusting as the guards' behavior was, Siarame was not shocked by their actions. She'd seen and heard of too many atrocities to be shocked anymore, but that didn't keep her from feeling enraged. She strode closer and in her most commanding voice, demanded, "What exactly do you all think you're doing back here?"

They jumped when they heard the voice behind them, but when they glanced back and saw that she was only a Hehtkuppr, they relaxed once again. Two guards returned to their game, but the one closest to Siarame snorted and said, "This is none of your business, slave. Why don't you go back home to your husband before we have to do something to you?"

Siarame shocked the guard by slapping him in the face. "I am Siarame of the Niagyt family," she said loudly. All of the guards immediately forgot about the little girl and gaped at her. "I think you will all be reported to the captain of the guard for misconduct. The question is, will it be a report of misconduct, which will result from a small deduction from your pay, or will I report you for attempted rape and insubordination, which will get you whipped?"

The guard who'd done the talking to the girl originally pushed her away. "We don't want any trouble," he said. "Now why don't you just run along now, and let us do our job, all right?" The other guards reluctantly added comments similar to his. Siarame glared at them one last time, then stalked off. She wouldn't report them. As much as she'd like to, she knew it wouldn't make a difference. While their treatment of Hehtkuppr was frowned upon, there were no official rules against it, and it would be pointless to try to have them punished.

The young girl was waiting for Siarame when she arrived from the alley. Most young people would have run away and gone back home after such an incident, and Siarame wondered if the girl had been hurt, or if something else had happened that had prevented her from doing such a thing. "Are you all right?" she asked when she got closer to the girl.

The girl looked down shyly and said, "Yes, I'm all right." She said these words quietly while looking at her feet, and Siarame almost had to lean in to hear the girl's next comment. "Thank you for rescuing me from those men."

"It's all right," Siarame said. "These days, you have to look out for our own people, or else everyone would be alone." The girl flinched at the word alone, and suddenly Siarame realized why the girl hadn't run home. "Do you have someone to take care of you?" she asked. "Do you have a home or anything?" The girl shook her head, and Siarame suddenly felt overwhelmed with pity. She was so young. "You can stay in my home," Siarame offered.

The girl looked up at Siarame in surprise, and for the first time, Siarame saw the girl's beautiful blue eyes. She was really very pretty under all the dirt and grime on her skin, it wasn't surprising that she'd caught the eyes of the guards. It was dangerous for a Hehtkuppr to be pretty in these times. Even a girl like Siarame, who had political connections, had to know how to defend herself. "Won't your husband be angry?" the girl asked.

"I don't have a husband," Siarame said with a comforting smile. "I'm only fifteen." While Siarame looked several years older than her actual age, she hadn't yet reached her sixteenth birthday, on which she would be given to a man chosen by her family. The time was fast approaching, however, and the arrangements were being made to find Siarame a suitable mate.

The girl smiled a little bit, realizing that Siarame was closer to her age than she'd previously believed. Then, she opened her eyes very wide, and said, "How did you make those Pektinti listen to you? Normally, they wouldn't give a second thought to a Hehtkuppr who didn't like the way they were acting."

Siarame shrugged and vaguely answered, "I have some connections with the guard." The truth was that although Siarame's family no longer had any official power, they still had a great influence over the Hehtkuppr people. The Pektinti treated her family well, didn't over tax them, and even let them have minor titles. In return, the Niagyt family didn't attempt to organize any rebellions or assist the many radical groups who attacked prominent Hehtkuppr.

Siarame came to her home. Despite the influence of her family, they didn't live in the royal palace. It was a symbol of Hehtkuppr power, and for that reason, the Pektinti didn't allow anyone to live there or to prevent it from falling into ruin. Instead, Siarame lived in a rundown shack, which she shared with three other families. She preferred to live that way, so she could understand the plight of her own people. "Here we are," she said with a sigh.

Siarame lead the younger girl into her rooms, and made sure she was comfortable before she informed her that she had business to take care of elsewhere. The girl didn't want to be left alone, but Siarame convinced her to lie down, and she was asleep by the time her host had left. As she walked alone down the darkened street, Siarame realized she hadn't asked the younger girl for her name. She'd have to find out in the morning.

Now, as the sun began to set, Siarame was much more careful as she strode down the dusty streets. Not only was it illegal for Hehtkuppr to be outside after dusk, but she was going to a place that was forbidden to both Hehtkuppr and Pektinti. If she was caught, even her family name would not save her from arrest and execution.

As dangerous as her actions were, however, Siarame wasn't concerned. She'd made the same journey every night for the last three years, and hadn't gotten caught yet. Tonight was another successful night, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she slipped through a hole in the wall around the old Niagyt house.