I stand at the door of the white building between regions, Calmere side. Kaitlin holds my hand tightly and I squeeze back, careful not to hurt her.
'You'll be alright. I know you will.' My father's words. My father's words that made me feel such emotion, such loss, such love. My father's words that will stay with me forever.
I hug her. She's the same age I was – eight. Nobody should have to hear those words, feel that way, at eight. Not ever.
But I have and I can't forget it. I can't forget the last time I ever saw my parents. I can't forget that someday, someday, we could all be together again. Safe and happy and carefree. The hope that has been with me half my life and will never go away until it becomes reality. That's what keeps me driven. That's what keeps me from giving in. And it keeps me fighting.
It keeps me fighting for it every waking moment.
And I'm not giving in.
It all started when I was just five. It was predicted that it was the end of the world. Nobody belived the ancient myths. It was just a load of rubbish. Everything was fine back then. My mum, my dad and I were happy living in Warlyn. And then everything we ever knew disappeared. Forever. And now our world is divided and the fight for survivol is on. It seemed there was no turning back. I thought that fate couldn't be changed. And so did most people.
Then Aidstone decided to start the war. They thought it wasn't their fault that the nuclear explosion happened then and blew up the region of Windark to the broken remains they are now. They obviously wanted to prove that they were superior, and targeted the rest of us, saying they want to improve the world and make it like it was before the rest of us destroyed everything for them.
And at the moment they're winning. Their soldiers patrol the streets here in our territory, and people are taken prisoner every day. Out here now in the street next to the Portal there are three troops on patrol. Someone is getting arrested for violating one of the Aidstone rules. I've probably broken every single one myself. Just I know how to stay off their radar. But they have no right to be governing our land, our country. People like me are never safe, sometimes I wonder if they're tracking my every move.
I slip the pistol inside my jacket. I got it from one of the military thugs out here patrolling on the streets.
I slip the five shimmering silver knives in my belt. Coat over jacket. Long coat, buttoned. Twist the belt, hiding the knives as much as I can.
Bow at my side. Quiver crossed on my back. Under the coat too.
I'm armed. Heavily armed. My last few years have been spent fighting. I've picked things up from watching the fights with the street security. I've taken weapons from them before they knew what hit them.
Kaitlin doesn't have anything. She was living in ignorance as I was living in hell. She doesn't know anything. It's better for her. I just hope Lexi finds her quickly.
I hope Aidstone doesn't find out.
But we step into the gates of the Portal anyway.
Kaitlin is crying. I take my finger and wipe under her eyes. 'It'll be ok. Lexi'll find you and take care of you. And then I'll come back, and we'll be safe. Then maybe Mum and Dad will come back too.' I talk into her cheek.
Bad memories. Bad memories of the night come flooding back. And now is the worst time.
I heaved the small backpack of my special belongings onto my weak back. A crumpled photo of my mum, dad, baby Kaitlin and I, torn . A small toy my dad made me two years before – when I was six – a paper bag with a face drawn on with a scrap newspaper fedora hat. A can of basic food, a bottle of water and one precious vial of medicine – barely the size of my fingertip now. I started to cry, looked at my mother holding Kaitlin in her arms – wrapped in our only, slightly singed, blanket. My father hugging me tightly in the twilight. They were crying too. I squeezed harder and the tears streamed down my young face, now etched with lines of pain and sorrow.
'We're only doing this because we love you, Bree,' said my dad, 'We'll miss you both so much. All we want is for you to be safe and happy. That would never happen here.'
'I won't ever be happy again.'
'You'll be alright. I know you will.'
'What if I'm not?' my voice quivered with fear.
'I'll miss you so much.'
'So will I. And your mother. But who knows? If we survive long enough, we'll come back for you.'
My mother handed me Kaitlin. I hugged her tightly too. Cried into her shoulder. I kissed Kaitlin's forehead.
'Someday, Kaitlin, we'll be a family again. A happy, safe, sheltered this is all over, we'll be okay.'
I tried to talk myself into would we all knew would never be possible. But forever, I've been hoping.
The twilight was fading. The blank darkness of night was filling the streets of Warlyn and the glowing moon cast ominous shadows on the few boats in the port.
The gangplank began to lift upwards.
'You'd better go, Bree.'
I hugged them both.
I couldn't stop the tears.
'I love you so much.'
'We love you too.'
I stepped on awkwardly, struggling under the small weight of the backpack. I squeezed Kaitlin, looked at her face, sleeping, smiling.
It rised fully. The boat started to move.
I jumped repeatedly to see over the hard metal walls of the boat. And I looked back at their faces.
But now the boat was picking up speed.
I couldn't stop looking back.
Nor could I stop looking at the red and black sleek ship in the distance, heading into the port.
'We'll come back for you someday!' My family shouted, crying.
Silently, a hot tear rolls down my cheek.
As I turn to the queue to enter Aidstone, a peppy clerk notices us and gives us tour pamphlets. I smile fake-gratefully. Then she rushes off somewhere towards the Aidstone-to-Calmere queue.
I step up to the desk – the queue moves fast as at least sevently clerks are there. Kaitlin stays where she is.
'Come ON Kate!' I say, grabbing her and dragging her to the desk.
The young lady behind has the Aidstone crest on the arm of her black top. Red circle, eagle and one five-pointed star. She is actually quite pretty. Sharp dark features and close cropped dark hair. Her cold, hard expression and angry red lips don't make her look any less intimidating. Kaitlin looks petrified. But I can't leave her here in Calmere. It's too dangerous. Even taking her to enemy territory of Aidstone is better, I can't leave her here so far away from me.
I'm going to get revenge on those people who destroyed mine and so many other people's lives. That's why I'm going. I can't spend my whole life smuggling weapons into the streets. And I'm good at revenge.
The lady unwraps two sterile razor sharp needles and carefully places one in a small metal machine. She gestures to Kaitlin.
'You first,' she says, retracting the needle into the machine. She takes Kaitlin's thumb and places it on the white circle, pushing Kaitlin's pale flesh onto the metal. I can see she's nervous. The lady releases the trigger and the needle shoots into Kaitlin's finger. She winces. The lady pulls down the trigger again and pushes away Kaitlin's finger.
The machine reads – Kaitlin A Hart. Granted.
The barrier opens and she hesitates.
A drop of blood falls on the floor. I subtly step on it and smear it over the sole of my boot.
'Go find Lexi. And if you can't, she'll find you.' I hiss.
'I don't want to go without you!'
'Go, Kaitlin. You'll be safer with Lexi.'
'Flat 22674. North Silver Street.' I say to her under my breath.
She steps through just as the barrier closes. The lady gestures to me now. I place on my thumb.
Brianna N Hart. Denied.
Suddenly, security closes in.
I didn't know there was so much security.
I was frantically trying to get Kaitlin safe I wasn't so observational.
And one of the guys abruptly hits me across the face with a barrel of a shotgun.
'So you're the troublemaker,' says the lady, 'We've been waiting for you for quite a while.'
And I'm surrounded.
The same guy who hit me now points the gun at my neck.
Kaitlin looks over the chrome railings, scrabbling like a wild animal, clawing at the metal. She starts screaming.
Revenge. I'm here for revenge.
'Give in or die.'
I look back at Kaitlin.
She looks at me.
'You have three seconds.'
I don't say a word.
Can't let Kaitlin…
As he squeezes the trigger everyone pauses.
A moment of horror. Then the gun guy turns around to see the lady, who had walked behind me at the wrong moment, with the silver bullet in her neck and crimson blood pooling onto the spotless white floor. She starts spluttering something, spitting out blood onto a security guy.
He starts shouting into something I expect to be an earpiece. 'Commander, you didn't say she could do that! Slate is down! Code twelve! CODE TWELVE! We need backup!'
A dangerous smile infects my face. I can't help it. It's there. It's instict. And before I can think the pistol is out.
Security shoots at me, but they know it's hopeless.
I shoot. And each time a twinge of emotion runs through my blood. But it's over so quickly I can't work out what it means.
Slate's coughing up last hacks of blood.
She gets a machine pistol from her belt and points it shakily at me. Slate fires scrappily, randomly, hitting some of her own people but apparantly not caring. Then she collapses on the floor.
Within five minutes the hall of security is dead. Effort from me, and Slate. Apart from the guy who hit me. I push him against one of the back walls.
'You need backup?' I say, my finger on the trigger.
Now I don't think he's even considering hitting me.
'You'd better believe it.' BANG.
That emotion again. That quick, strong, almost meaningless emotion.
I don't know what it means.
I blow the tip of the gun and slip it back inside my jacket.
But I can't help but see Kaitlin's face, staring, mouth open in shock and eyes tearful.