I'll try to keep my author's notes to a minimum, so there may be one at the beginning of a chapter or there may not.

Chapter 1

"Alanna! A-lanna! Alannaaaa! Get your lazy butt out of bed! You're gonna be late!"

"Five more minnuss," I slurred, rolling over in bed while waving my arm in the air, trying to find where my alarm clock was so I could turn it off. Its incessant noise was grating against my ears.

"C'mon, Anna! I'm coming up there in a minute if you don't reply!"

My sleep-fogged brain finally registered that it wasn't my alarm clock yelling at me and I dropped my arm back to the bed, already feeling the strain from holding it in the air. Blinking, I slowly brought my surroundings into focus.

The familiar sight of my room stared back at me, reminding me that it desperately needed cleaning. Clothes were sporadically strewn across the blue carpet, and only the path that I remembered kicking clear to my bed the night before remained open. Even my walk-in closet had clothes on the ground from where I had tried on outfits and been too lazy to put them back on the hangars.

With a grunt, I sat up and rubbed my eyes, leaning against the headboard for support. My hair fell into my face and with an annoyed noise I brushed it away, ignoring how the tangles in it almost snagged my fingers.

Sudden footsteps outside my door abruptly reminded me of my older sister's earlier threat.

"Ali, I'm awake!" I called, but not before my door had already been thrown open with more force than entirely necessary. It banged against the doorstop as my sister's voice set my ears ringing.

"WAKE UP AND SMELL THE BIRDS—NO, THE WORMS—wait, crap. That wasn't it either."

My sister began muttering to herself, giving me ample time to grow jealous of her appearance. Somehow, my sister always managed to get her makeup on and brush her hair and just do everything so quickly. I hardly ever saw her when she'd just woken up. She had to look like crap in the morning; everyone did. Right?

Sometimes I suspected that she woke up extra early just to rub it in my face.

Ali shook her head, her wavy blonde hair tumbling around her face while her lips formed phrase after phrase in an attempt to stumble across the right word.

Suddenly, she straightened, throwing her arm out and pointing it at me accusingly. "ROSES!"

I blinked. "What?"

Ali grinned, her blindingly white teeth flashing in the early morning light that trickled through the window I had been too tired and nervous to close the night before. "WAKE UP AND SMELL THE ROSES! That was it."

I sighed, throwing my soft covers off—and giving them a longing glance—before slowly swinging my legs over the side of the bed. My bare feet rested against the floor. "Ali, you say that to me every morning. How do you keep messing it—ack!"

My face met floor as Ali yanked me off the bed, and only the last-second intervention of a pillow I had knocked off while asleep saved my delicate facial features from serious injury. Spluttering with indignation, I shot to my feet, aforementioned pillow already flying towards Ali's face.

She caught it with one hand and a mischievous grin and then tossed it back onto my bed. "That woke you up, right?"

I let out a deep, frustrated breath before crossing my arms. "Yes, it did. Happy? I'm up."

"Uh-oh. You've got a problem, Anna."

I closed my eyes, ignoring the way one of my eyebrows was already twitching. Ali always knew exactly how to get me up in the mornings. "And what would that b—hey!"

My eyes shot open while I ducked and tried to evade the arm that Ali had been trying to place on my head. "What are you doing?"

"Well, your spine seems to have compressed," Ali said seriously. "Because my armrest used to be taller!" Ali couldn't contain her smile anymore and I stuck my tongue out at her, ignoring how childish it no doubt made me seem.

"Ah, be quiet. Stop rubbing in your height already. I know I got the short end of the stick, okay?"

"Oh, it's pretty obvious."


"Man, I hope that one didn't go over your head."


"I'm sorry, I guess I'm just not used to talking down to people."

"If I hear one more joke about my height come out of your mouth," I warned, but Ali had already tossed me a playful smile and turned to leave.

"You took downright murderous in the mornings when you're angry," she said, waving her hand in the air (probably to try to brush away the glare I was sending into her back). "Anyway, breakfast's ready, so don't wait up or it'll get cold. Or I'll eat it."

My pillow thudded into the doorframe right next to her head and it was easy to hear her laughter even after I got up, removed the pillow, and shut my door with more force than was entirely necessary.

After spending a few seconds bemoaning my return to consciousness, I rooted through my closet in search of the easiest outfit available. I was in no condition to actually try to find something fashionable among the scattered heaps of forgotten shirts and shorts. There were piles of other clothing buried beneath those but I couldn't be bothered to dig them out. At least I didn't need to put on too much makeup today; a little concealer did the trick nicely.

The smell of eggs and bacon from downstairs motivated me to throw on the first thing that passed my ten-second inspection in the mirror: a blue tank top, black shorts, and comfortable brown sandals. It was the same thing I had worn yesterday, but hopefully—

"Isn't that what you wore yesterday?" Asked Ali, one forkful of eggs halfway crammed into her mouth. I froze, one foot on the stairs and one on the floor, feeling like a criminal who'd been caught in the middle of doing the crime.

"Ah, well, I didn't have anything else."

"I did your laundry yesterday." Ali didn't look quite so amused anymore, especially after she finished chewing and swallowed her food.

"Right. That."

"You didn't put it away, did you?"

I frowned at the resignation in her tone. "Maybe."

"I thought those pants on your floor looked familiar. Did you put anything away?"

"Well, those cute shoes I got last week—"

"You got another pair of shoes? Good god, Anna, you can just borrow mine! We're the same size!"

"Maybe I like having my own shoes," I shot back defensively, mentally adding that the shoes I had gotten were actually very cool. Cooler than any of Ali's shoes. Any of her many, many, many shoes. She had at least twenty pairs; I had five. Including the shoes I had recently bought and the sandals on my feet.

Ali sighed and then stood up, serving me a plate of eggs, bacon, and fruit without complaint. "Look. I think you've forgotten in your rush to do whatever it is you do in the morning, but today is the day of your Operation."

I choked on my food, fighting to breathe for a few seconds until the egg lodged in my throat finally got dislodged.

"So you did forget," Ali drawled, a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. "Well, that's fine. But you've got ten minutes to eat and then we're heading out."

Had I not still been recovering from the egg, Ali's time limit would have made me choke again. Even so, I shot her the stink-eye and all but devoured my food once I was sure I wouldn't spring into another coughing fit.

Ten minutes later I was practically dancing in front of the door, hopping from foot to foot while I waited for Ali to come down the stairs.

"Hurry up!" I yelled. "We're going to be late!"

"I was yelling the same thing to you twenty minutes ago!" Ali called back.

"It was at least thirty minutes ago!"

"Same difference!"

"Not really!"

I took some comfort in the fact that Ali's voice was getting louder, meaning that she was getting closer. Sure enough, she emerged at the top of the stairs a few moments later, her hair momentarily backlit by the hall light and floating around her head like a halo.

My jealousy of my oldest and only sister spiked to new and previously unknown heights.

She promptly almost fell down the stairs, angelic aura ruined, only to recover her balance, sway dangerously, and then nearly run into me when she shot down the stairs and out the door.

"C'mon, Anna!" She shouted over her shoulder, already almost to the car. "You're gonna be late!"

Reigning in my irritation, I chased after my sister, pausing for a second to close and lock the front door.

Then my feet were flying down the stone pathway, over the paved driveway, and up to the old green minivan that squatted in front of my house. It was older than I was, prone to breaking down, and showed its age like some kind of medal, but it was the only car Ali was willing to have. She said that any other car just wouldn't have the same atmosphere, and since she was the one that still controlled the money, I had no choice but to agree even though there were far cooler cars out there.

"You're going to love it," Ali said as I got in the car and shut the door, blocking out the mild summer breeze. "I mean, I know you've been taking classes on it and stuff but there's just no way to describe it, you know? Well, I guess you don't know, but you will soon."

"Ali, you're babbling."

"And I have good reason to!" The green truck roared to life, spitting smoke that probably went against the emissions regulations. Luckily, our neighbors had never really cared. "My little sister—"

"You're only two years older than me!"

"—is getting her Operation!" Ali finished as though I had never interrupted, that signature, carefree smile still on her face. I flushed in response, finding her enthusiasm infectious.

"Stop making such a big deal out of it. It's not that big of a thing."

"Of course it is! I never got mine so you have to tell me all about it. Promise?"

"I'm going to be sedated for most of it."

"So tell me what you dream about."

I could barely hear her over the rattling of the engine as we cruised through the midmorning traffic. I really had slept late. Yet, despite how I had undoubtedly made Ali worry (though she would never tell me as much), I couldn't bring myself to feel bad. My bed had needed me for those extra few minutes and I had been in no position to refuse its calls.

"How would I remember what I dreamed about? I don't even remember what I dreamed about last night!"

Ali snorted. "Maybe because you were up until midnight doing last-second research about the procedure."

I stuck a lip out mulishly. "Maybe I like to be informed about what size the needles are going to be."

"Like they would make that information public." Ali slammed on the brakes as a car swerved in front of us. "Asshole," she growled before brightening again. "Relax, would you? I keep telling you that everything's gonna be fine. I'll even take you out for ice cream after."

"Bribing me with ice cream is a dirty tactic!"

"But I don't see you refusing it."

I glared straight ahead, doing my best to ignore Ali's smug expression. When I turned eighteen, I hoped that I would suddenly get the confidence that Ali practically radiated. If she wanted something to happen, it would happen; there was nothing that could stop such a cheerful force of nature.

Ten minutes of Ali driving like a maniac and cursing like a sailor later, she pulled into the parking lot of the local Operation hospital. The building was dedicated solely to performing the Operation since it required a lot of equipment and even more power. The bright blue exterior matched the color of the sky and the entire building still looked new despite being older than I was. There were few cars in the parking lot thanks to the city's efficient subway and bus systems.

Ali hit the brakes so hard my forehead nearly hit the dashboard, reminding me that my sister refused to take advantage of public transit.

The receptionist greeted my sister and I with a bright smile, one that I returned with a touch of nervousness.

"There's no reason to be worried, honey," the receptionist said, her brown eyes warm. "We've done this hundreds of times and it always goes flawlessly."

"See, Anna? Just trust her." Ali placed a hand on my shoulder and guided me down the hall, following the receptionist's directions until we came to room F. The door opened smoothly and I stepped inside to see a small waiting room equipped with three chairs and a desk with a far more comfortable chair placed behind it. Ali didn't let go of my shoulder until I sat down, and even then she scooted her hard plastic seat a little closer to mine. I shot her a questioning glance—she really wasn't helping my rising nervousness that was already compounded by the fact that I hadn't had enough time to mentally prepare myself—but she merely smiled.

For some reason, that was enough to still the butterflies that had been fluttering in my stomach.

I looked around the room again to distract myself, noting the curtain on one wall and the massive number of posters that decorated the others. They were all of the inspiration type, similar to the ones I had seen plastered around the local high school as a failed incentive to get kids motivated about learning. On one, a dog in a doctor's coat said, "Be studious, but don't work yourself to the bone!" Another had a smiling doctor—rather, a man in a doctor's coat—helping an old woman who had fallen out of her wheelchair with the caption, "you don't need to be a doctor to be a hero. Sign up for first-aid classes today." There were many others, so many that I could barely see the sunny color of the actual walls.

Before my nerves could return, the door opened to reveal a middle-aged man with already graying hair and a crooked nose dressed like a doctor.

"Hello," he said by way of greeting, sitting down in the chair behind the desk and setting his tablet down in front of him. Information scrolled down the screen so fast that it gave me a headache, but the doctor seemed unbothered. "My name is Dr. Trinik. You're Alanna Witten, correct? I couldn't be operating on the wrong patient, you know."

He said it with good cheer and a smile, but even so the one I returned was a bit shaky and accompanied by a shiver down my spine. "Y—yeah. I'm Alanna—Anna is my preferred name."

"All right, Anna," Dr. Trinik said, making a few notes on a clipboard and then tapping away on his tablet. "Now that that's out of the way, I'm going to ask you the usual medical questions. Are you ready?"


"Again, these are just formal questions. I already have most of the information, but I need to be sure." He gave me an apologetic glance and I shrugged.

"It's fine."

"Just respond with yes or no." Dr. Trinik cleared his throat. "Your name is Alanna Witten."


"You are sixteen years old."


"Your birthday is January 11."


"You have one sibling, an older sister named Alison, and no other living relatives."


"Your parents died when you were five."

"Yes," Ali said, answering for me. I gave her an appreciative look; I probably would have stuttered even more than I did on the previous question.

"You have no history of medical issues or problems."


"You play no sports or participate in no formal athletic activities."


"You have no allergies or history of allergies."


Dr. Trinik muttered to himself for a minute while tapping away on his tablet. Finally, he stopped, looking up at me with a pleased expression. "It seems that everything is ready for your Operation. If you'd follow me into the next room, we can get started. You should be out within the next two hours, okay?"

"O-okay," I stuttered, the nervousness coming back in full force despite my best efforts to quell it. Even Ali's supportive shoulder squeeze did nothing to ease the tension. Something prickled on my skin, making my hair stand on end, but I couldn't identify it. Either way, it set me on edge. Dr. Trinik seemed to notice it too because he paused to reassure me.

"No need to worry. The supernatural presence around the operating room is always very strong and it freaks out new people every time. Not to worry; you'll grow used to it in a minute."

Ali's grip on my shoulder tightened but I slowly pushed her hand away, drawing on a well of courage I usually reserved for trying on new hairstyles. "It's fine. I'm fine."

"You sure?" Ali murmured, the very image of a protective older sister.

"Yeah. Positive."

With one last searching look, Ali released me and stepped back. "I'll be waiting in the lobby," she said. I nodded and then turned to follow the doctor through the curtain.

We passed through numerous disinfectant chambers, the first of which made me change into a hospital gown. The second was a sort of quick physical, and so on. By the end of it I was regretting wasting some of my perfume earlier that morning in a last-ditch bid to make it seem as though I hadn't forgotten to set and alarm and not had enough time to shower. After a final checkpoint, I stepped into the actual surgery room, ready to punch Dr. Trinik for not warning me. The details of the room stopped me.

There was a chair in the middle that looked quite comfortable. The entire room smelled of something I couldn't identify; I had caught a whiff of it while waiting for the doctor but hadn't been able to identify it. Everything gleamed, cleaned thoroughly. Black marks lurked on the walls, floor, and ceiling that made my head throb just by looking at them. It was a different kind of pain than what I got from Dr. Trinik's tablet; there was something dangerous here. I took a step back, only for a steadying hand to stop me.

"Relax," Dr. Trinik said, calmly directing me to the seat. I wanted to resist more and more with each step, but he was a surprisingly strong man and for some reason he kept the dark aura away. He sat me down and smiled. "Remember, I warned you about the supernatural presence. It's worse in here, I know, but you don't have to worry."

I nodded, jaw too stiff to allow speech. At least the chair was as soft as it looked.

"Nurse Willow is going to inject you with a sedative," Dr. Trinik told me. A man with hard eyes and harder muscles walked up to me with a needle in hand. I stiffened out of sheer reflex.

"You may feel a bit of a pinch," Nurse Willow said, and I didn't know whether it was my rising hysteria or the actual hilarity that made me find his abnormally high voice so funny. It didn't fit his appearance at all.

Then the needle slipped under my skin and blessed darkness swallowed me whole.

A/N There will probably be a bit of a wait between chapters while I catch up on schoolwork and my other writing. It'll be interesting to get back into the swing of things on this site; it's been a while since I've been on it.


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