Running

!

You're not even going to look? Someone might have survived. You never know.

"Shut up."

Fine. Have it your way.

"No, wait! Don't go!"

I'm waiting.

"I need you. I don't... I don't want to be alone."

That's more like it. Where are you running to, anyway?

"The Citadel." I stop running and lean against a rock. I'm not looking back, back to the village where the smoke is hurling itself up at the setting suns. I'm not looking. I'm not.

What do you want to go there for?

"Maybe I can find somewhere to live. I could even get a job. I can read... a bit."

So can lots of Citadel people.

"Do you have a better idea?"

Curl up and die here. You'll never make it to the Citadel. You're an injured, starving, illiterate village girl. You've got no chance.

"Of course I'll make it. It's not that far. Look, I'll show you." With more effort than usual, I scale a nearby tree, using my tail to grip the branches. It's hard, but I climb just high enough to glimpse the Four Towers of the Citadel, glowing like candles in the twilight. The Towers are ringed by two walls, each encasing countless sprawling buildings. The dwellings in the Inner Circle, where the government officials live, are plush and luxurious. Even from here, at the top of my tree on a mountain, I can see that no expense has been spared. I bet they never starve or die of cold.

The Middle Circle is a bit less lavish, but still looks more than comfortable. That's where the 'ordinary' citizens live—at least, they're ordinary by the Citadel's standards. I bet they still have more money than I could ever dream of.

The last part of the Citadel is the Outer Circle. It's not really a circle, more like a shapeless clump of slums and run-down tower blocks dotted with factories. The Outer Circle is where the Citadel puts all the people who aren't rich enough to buy their way into the Middle Circle. With a bit of luck, I'll be able to find somewhere to live. Maybe someone will help me.

They'll kill you.

"Hmm?"

They'll know you're from the Tribes. They want to wipe your kind off the face of the planet—they didn't think twice about burning your village to the ground. You really think someone will take pity on you? They'll kill you on sight.

"No, they won't. I'll hide my tail."

And your ears? Your eyes?

I don't answer. I start climbing down the tree, my muscles trembling from the exertion. How long has it been since I've eaten? I suddenly feel all the adrenaline flooding away. I sit back against my rock.

Hey! Don't even think about going to sleep. They'll be combing the woods for survivors. If they find you, you're in no state to run.

"I'm not sleeping. I'm just resting." Then the tears come. They take me by surprise and once they've started there's no stopping them.

Get up.

"SHUT UP!"

If you keep running then you might make it before morning.

"No, I won't."

You might. Get up and keep running like the coward you are.

I sigh and pull myself to my feet. No point in arguing.

Good girl.

On I go.