That night, I slept without having any dreams. It was the first time for as long as I could remember that I didn't wake up in the middle of the night sweating.
My parents had welcomed me and allowed me to stay without any questions being asked. It was as though they understood, which I knew was probably the case. They were my parents, after all, and parents always seemed to know and understand everything. I was glad that my room was much like it had been and, besides the obvious things, I felt as though nothing had changed.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up, stretching. I paused, though, when something on the bedside table caught my eye. Someone had brought up the stack of books I'd hidden beneath the couch. It had probably been Natysa's doing. Turning away, I changed into one of the few sets of clothes I'd brought and went downstairs.
Natysa sat alone in the kitchen and I couldn't hear Renato within the house. She turned and smiled softly at me before turning back towards the window she'd been staring out. There was a plate of untouched food in front of her and I didn't dare ask where it came from.
"I'm going to go see a friend," I told her as I took an apple from the bowl, figuring it was less suspicious. "I'll be back later and then you can help me figure out whatever it is I'm supposed to be figuring out."
"It is going to take longer than a day, Maude, you do realize that, right?" she asked without looking at me. I paused in the doorway.
"I was hoping that I was wrong," I replied. She laughed softly, but didn't say anything else and I took this as my cue to leave. After grabbing my satchel from the hallway, I slipped out the door and down the steps.
I walked slowly through the back streets of Linton. I wasn't ready yet to face the wrath of my brother nor did I feel like ruining my good mood by seeing everyone else in the town. The apple I chewed on was juicy and wasn't like any of the apples I'd ever eaten. Natysa and Renato must have brought it with them. That was the only theory I could come up with because I knew that the apples grown in Linton were always going to be dry and half rotted.
After slipping past the guards, I jogged along the border of Linton and slipped into the woods. Fane wasn't there yet and I realized that it was the first time I'd ever gotten there first. He was going to be suspicious whenever he showed up, but it would be my turn to tease him about being late.
I leaned against a tree and gripped my knife in my hand, trying not to let myself get too comfortable, which was something that had been happening too much in the past days. All around me I could hear the sounds of critters scampering through the underbrush. Birds called overhead as the breeze lightly ruffled my hair. I almost didn't notice Fane until he was standing two feet away from me, watching me with a mischievous grin on his face.
"Hey," I said, smiling.
"Hey," he replied as he walked over closer to me. "Why are you here on time?"
"Why are you late?" I asked as I arched an eyebrow. He chuckled.
"Fair enough," he said and leaned against the tree next to me.
"How's the engaged life going for you?" I questioned. He shrugged and bent down to pick a weed and then started tearing it apart before he answered.
"Not exactly how I expected it to be," he replied. I frowned and waited for him to go on. "Halona's great, but I really didn't expect so much work to go into it."
"Weddings are a big deal, even now," I told him. He snorted.
"Big is an understatement," he said and then sighed. "It's worth it, though, I suppose."
"You look like you need to get your mind off things," I stated and pushed off the tree. "Come on, let's go find something to kill."
"And what are we going to do with it?" he asked. I turned and looked at him.
"I don't know yet," I replied with a shrug. "Eat it?"
"Fine, only if we split it half and half," he said as he followed me. I laughed.
"Agree to disagree?" I asked.
"I don't think so," he replied.
I crouched down in the brush, watching the deer as it nibbled on the grass of the meadow. It had been like that for over an hour and my legs were beginning to cramp from being in the same position that long. Fane was across the meadow and I was waiting for him to make the first move, but for all I knew, he was waiting for me to move first.
It had been several months since I had tried to kill anything, but the information was still stored in my mind. That wasn't something that was easily forgotten. Slowly, I moved so I was half standing and half crouching, my knife gripped in my hand. As the deer lifted its head, I sent the knife flying through the air and into the rib cage of the deer. I didn't move and just moments later, Fane's life landed in the tender spot of the deer's heart before it was able to get away.
I stood there and watched as the life in the deer's eyes faded away and it dropped to the ground. It kicked and shuddered a couple of times before it went still. The forest was silent now due to the ruckus we had just made, but that didn't matter. Fane and I had been successfully. Now all that was left was to divide it up and get it back home without anyone else knowing that we had it. People would go ballistic if they knew we had such a delicacy.
I started towards the deer, but part of the way there a searing pain coursed through my head. My hands went to my head immediately and I fell to my knees with a groan. I could hear Fane speaking to me, but I wasn't able to make out what he was saying. The pain made my head throb and my vision was starting to have spots appear in it.
Then, everything went dark.
When my eyes opened, I wasn't in the woods. I wasn't anywhere familiar. I stood in a white room with only two chairs. One was already occupied by a woman, but I didn't know who she was. The door to the room opened and a dark haired boy who couldn't be older than sixteen walked in. He could have been Travon if it weren't for the green eyes. The boy wore the nicest clothes I had ever seen. His pants were a wrinkle free, tear free black that didn't have a sign of dirt on it. His button down shirt matched his pants and his shoes shined beneath the fluorescent lights.
I watched as he sat down across from the woman and she looked at him curiously, tilting her head to the side as she folded her hands upon a notebook she held on her lap. He stared back at her with an emotionless expression on his face.
"Mr. Acerbi, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you," the woman said after a few moments. "I want to ask you before we begin if it is alright for me to call you Tray?"
"My name does not have a y in it," the boy replied coldly, "so the answer is no, Miss. Volkov."
"Fair enough, Travon, but I will go ahead and say that you may call me Ana since Anaxarete is a real mouthful," she stated. When I moved so I could look at the two of them, since they obviously didn't know I was there, I saw a smile on her face. Travon remained expressionless. He looked different, but I reminded myself that it was all merely a dream. "Shall we move on?"
"I think that is best," Travon replied, his eyes never leaving her. She opened up the notebook and flipped through it.
"Your tests came back with excellent results and the other officials, and myself, believe that you will do well. You are the best out of the fifty that we have deployed and it took you the least amount of time to figure out the truth," she said and looked up at him. "Soon you will be ready for phase two, but that will not be for a couple of years. There is still much we have to prepare you for first."
"Such as?" Travon asked, his jaw clenching. His attitude at that moment was nothing like I had ever seen.
"Oh, many things. The transformation phase will take place as you learn more information, you will be schooled on the knowledge of the town that we deploy you to. You will have to learn everything and anything that has to do with the Debacle and the Reform. By the end of all of this, Travon, you will be skilled enough to have my job."
"Or head," Travon muttered under his breath. Her smile faltered just a little before she took a deep breath.
"Alright, then," she said. "Rebelling was one thing we were warned of, so I shall ignore that comment. We have already selected the person you shall train. She . . . she is a bit stubborn, so I think the two of you shall get along just fine, or we at least hope you will. It will all be a long and intense process, but we have faith in you."
"'We?" Travon questioned. "Do I not get a say in any of this?" She looked at him for a moment before replying.
"No, you do not," she told him. "You are special, Travon. You were specifically chosen to do this and if you do not agree to, then there are extreme measures we can take to make you cooperate, understand?" He didn't reply. "It is all for the best interest of everyone who is either directly involved or indirectly involved. You do not want the world to fall to pieces just because you refuse to cooperate with the Reform, now do you?"
"No, I suppose I do not," Travon reluctantly said. She nodded.
"That was what I thought," she replied and stood. "I do not want you to panic whenever your eyes begin to change to blue, okay? It is one of the few marks the Reform will make on you and it is just so we are able to tell who is one of us and who is not."
"Anything to make the process easier, right?" Travon asked coldly.
"Right," she said in an overly cheery voice. "Now, you are free to go, but you will be asked to retell of your experience back at your old home, alright?"
"Fine," Travon replied and stood. She held out her hand for him to shake, but he brushed past her and left without another word.
The dream faded away and when I opened my eyes, I found myself looking into Fane's eyes. He had a worried look on his face that didn't go away even after he realized that I wasn't majorly injured. I was lying on the cold, hard ground and after a few arguments, he agreed to let me sit up.
"What happened?" he demanded after a few minutes. I rubbed my temples. There was still a trace of the headache remaining.
"I don't know," I told him. "I felt like I'd been hit in the head with a brick or something."
"Maybe we should go see one of the healers. They may have some herb or something that'll help you," he said, the worried look still on his face. I shook my head.
"I'm fine, Fane. It's nearly gone now," I told him and pushed myself up onto my feet. "We should divvy up that deer and then head home. How long was I out anyways?" He stood and brushed off his pants.
"Just a few minutes," he replied. "Any longer and I would have taken you to the healer without even asking." I looked at him.
"Thanks for waiting. I wouldn't have been able to explain to Reese what happened even if he listened to me," I said with a sigh. He walked over to the deer and started to clean it.
"You guys fighting again?" he asked with his back to me. I shrugged even though he couldn't see me.
"I don't know what's going on right now. We made up and then . . .," I trailed off. I wasn't sure how to continue that train of thought.
"And then you had another argument?" he asked.
"Yeah, exactly," I replied, biting my lip. I hated lying to him, but there wasn't any other way to keep him from figuring out the truth.
After he finished cleaning the deer and cutting it up, I put it into my satchel and we walked back to Linton in silence. I acted like I was going to Reese's until Fane turned down another street to go to his own home and that was when I started towards my new-old home.
Whenever I got home, Natysa took the deer from me and washed it with a bucket of water that Travon had left after the rain. She took it out back and started a small fire and cooked it as quickly as she could so she wouldn't attract attention. I remained inside as she did this and watched Renato in the living room. He had a book in his lap, but it wasn't one that Travon had left. They must have had books galore where they were from.
He looked up when he noticed me looking at him and I quickly adverted my gaze. A low chuckle escaped his lips before he closed the book and tossed it towards me without a word. I didn't look up until he had left the room and I heard the back door shut. Then, I picked up the book and fingered the lettering on the cover. Elements of Society. I opened it to the first page and looked at the handwritten words on the page.
People of all societies seem to believe that there needs to be someone in charge, that they need a leader. It is to the best of our knowledge that this is not true. It is order that the people want, not a leader. That is why the world is in such chaos now that all governments are gone. This was an outcome that we predicted and therefore does not surprise us.
It is up to a group of select individuals to figure out on their own, with guidance from yours truly, that the world can keep going on as it had before the Debacle without the need of governments. Any government reforms that are initiated by the people will be disposed of as soon as they are discovered. Our plan cannot work properly if they try to rebuild what we worked hard to destroy.
This book must not fall into the wrong hands for it outlines our plan for—
"How did you get that?" a voice asked harshly. My head snapped up to find Natysa standing there with the cooked deer in hand. "You are not allowed to read that. Did Renato give it to you?" She walked over and snatched the book out of my hands. "This book is strictly off limits, do you understand?" I managed to nod, staring at her. "Good, now come and eat." She turned and left the room, leaving me confused.
We sat and ate in silence, all the more noise there was were the sounds of forks scratching against plates. My mind kept going back to the book as I tried to figure out what was in it that I wasn't allowed to read. Was it something important? Or, worse, was it something terrible? Did it have to do with why my parents were there?
I wasn't sure, but I knew that I wanted to get a hold of that book again and read it cover to cover. Only, I knew my mother wouldn't allow it. Renato seemed to believe that it wouldn't hurt for me to read it. Either that or he knew that Natysa would catch me. But why? Why would he deliberately set me up if he was supposed to be my father? It was true that we hadn't gotten along all that well whenever we'd been a family, but I hadn't thought much of it. My father had always been a rather private man, but he still showed that he loved Reese and me. He wasn't as reserved and, sometimes, rude like he was now that he had returned. What had changed?
I chewed my food, mulling over all of these things. None of it was making any sense. Why had my parents been sent back to guide me, so to speak? What did the dreams that I kept having mean? Obviously something had been wrong in the woods, but I didn't know what. Did it all have something to do with whatever my parents and Travon had been sent to do?
And, what had pulled Travon away so suddenly? Did I do something or did he do something? I had no idea where they had come from and they weren't going to tell me, either, and that was something else that I wasn't able to figure out. There were too many thoughts running through my head and I didn't have the answers for most of them. It was all too confusing and too hard for me to figure out with the little amount of information I had.
All I knew was that something was going on, something larger than Linton and maybe even the world, but I knew it all had to do with the Debacle. Someone had caused the governments to shut down, but who would do that? Someone had obviously been watching us if they knew that people wanted order and not necessarily a government. I didn't know who that was, either, and I wasn't certain that I wanted to find out.