Chapter 1

"City or country-side," The man asked for the umpteenth time, getting annoyed with my unwillingness to play along.

"Not until I know why I'm here, where my parents are, and where I am."

"Listen, little girl, you aren't going back. If you want to know if you're dead, you aren't. Now, if you answer my questions, you might just get some answers. So I will ask one more time: City or country-side?"

I sighed. He was in a bad mood. I was in a bad mood. So things really weren't going anywhere. But all I remembered was my parents acting oddly and letting me drink a glass of wine and then waking up in a medical tent and being rushed past the giant metal gates that the small camp was next to. And after waiting and waiting I was pushed into this room where this many simply asked, "City or country-side," and I asked my questions.

"Don't I get any information about either," I asked, hoping that this would at least merit an answer.

But even better than an answer, the man gained a look of realization, and pulled a handful of pamphlets out of his desk and tossed them at me, "Make it quick, girl."

I filtered through them until I found the only one that made sense. Housing. Inside it presented two options. A city home that was in an apartment, something that only happened in the capital, Trithis, and was good for one person who liked the bustle of the city. The other option was the country-side home which was a small home and had a little land to farm on.

I was used to farming, and it reminded me of home, but it could be fun to live in the city. But the city looked too crowded, and I really didn't want to farm again.

And I looked at both, and beneath each it had a list of probably occupations.

The city said things like shop keep, lawyer, maid, messenger, nanny, and teacher. The country offered things such as farmer, gardener, hedge cutter, inn worker, teacher and farm hand. I assumed that this meant I would have to choose one of these professions and so I decided.

"Are you ready yet, girl? City or country-side? And choose wisely, as your decision will affect your assignment."

I took a deep breath, glancing back down at the pamphlet before speaking, "City."

He wrote it down and looked at me again, "Name?"

"Shouldn't you have started with this?"

"Shut up, little girl, and answer the question. What is your name?"

"Aurelia Vallien."

"Date of birth?"

"May 15, 1002."

"Age?"

"Can't you do math?"

He shot me a rude glare and I sighed, "16."

"Alright, we're done. Go out the door and wait."

So I did as he said. Everyone here was rude. And I was sick of it. I had no clue where I was or why I was here. And I was beginning to want to run away. Instead I sat down in the same chair I had sat in before and tucked my knees up, thankful that I always wore a pair of boys britches under my skirts. Just like the first time waiting in here, the silence was really the only thing to bother me. No one around, just me sitting in a chair completely alone with no noise other than my heart pounding in my ears and my attempts to control my breath.

Finally a door opened and I looked up to see a beautiful girl not much older than I with long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes.

"Follow me," she demanded.

I let my feet go to the floor, but I remained sitting and staring.

"Get off your ass and follow me, insolent little girl."

She made me angry, calling me insolent out of no where like that.

"Not until somebody tells me where the bloody hell I am. Last thing I knew, I was home, safe and warm and happy. And now I'm here with no explanation as to where I am or why, and everyone is just being damn rude."

Instead of an answer, she ran over and grabbed my arm, dragging me along behind her. She pushed me through a set of double doors and scolded, "Just find a seat and pay attention."

And with that I was alone again. Well, there were others in the room. And I supposed they looked just as confused as me. The room was largely empty, mostly and the wooden seats were spread out and nailed to the floor as if to discourage talking. I sat down in the last one. Everyone else was looking down nervous or scared. So I looked down to my feet.

A man dressed in a simple black suit walked onto the stage. His hair was slicked back. Almost like a proper gentleman, until he spoke and the same rude tone I'd been hearing followed, "Hello, and welcome to Hell Mountain."

Hell Mountain? Oh no, anywhere but here. Hell Mountain was a place of legend. Parents used to tell tales about how the demons would come and drag away misbehaving children. But that didn't make any sense. I always behaved.

"You might be wondering why you're here, you might already know. But just for everyone's sake I will tell you. At some point in your familial line, someone needed help or they wanted something. It was something they couldn't have. So they made a deal. One that becomes a family curse. They give up every child of the gender they chose. Most families choose daughters. Some choose sons. And some choose to give up every child in order to end the debt. What your family wanted or needed, is irrelevant. Here you are and here you will stay until you earn your freedom."

So my family basically sold me into slavery. I remembered the conversation from my birthday that I had overheard at the bakery, I had no clue how long ago that was, about how this had been going on since my father's great grandparents. How could Adelia figure it out though. No one really talked about Hell Moutain. Or maybe that was just my family.

"Now, you all made selections of where to live, and there is no going back. From here on out you are a citizen of Hell Mountain. There are a few rules to follow.

The first being that you will live here for a year under the government. No job, only adjusting to life. And to many of you, it will be a tough adjustment. You will have a monthly allowance allotted by where you live and food will be paid for.

The second rule being, shortly after this year you will be assigned a job. You will start the day of your assignment with training. That will be your only day to train, so you better pay attention. Half of your earnings will go to the government for the next 3-5 years to make up for your food and allowance. You may choose to pay it off in larger amounts, but make sure you can still afford to eat.

And finally, forget everything you knew before. Forget your manners, forget the people you loved. Some of you might see someone you knew, someone you loved, but that is in the past. Life here is harsh. You better get used to it."

And with that we were dragged out the room and taken to our homes.