Since the day of my birth, humanity has been particularly disgruntled with the fact of my existence. The reason behind their avid distaste likely rests with my lineage as a forbidden Seer-Son; or perhaps it's simply because people find pleasure in disliking others. Such idle things matter little to me now.
Throughout my childhood and youth in the small, yet formidable kingdom of Rimor, the silent, perpetual loathing of society was all that I knew. My own mother, a distinguished member of the Seers, threw me to lowliest of the orphan houses just hours after bringing me into the world, only to have her life brought to an end at the burning stake days later. Kicked to the gutters at a young age, and shunned by most, it was only by the most miraculous of fortunes that I was able to survive into adulthood.
I tell you these things, not to acquire pity, but merely to bring an understanding of my upbringing, or lack thereof. My early days were marked by disownment; a wound that was etched deeply into my soul for countless years. My view of those around me was shaped through years of suffering the ignorance of an entire kingdom.
Now, in the fourth month, on the eve of the full moon, came the moment I had been yearning for, and also dreading. It was the moment where my fate would be decided once and for all. It was Oracle Day.
Although Rimor had a king, Maven, the true rulers were the Seers. Every year on Oracle Day, those who had recently passed their eighteenth year were brought before the entire city. Each youth was granted an Oracle by the High Seer, which would lead them into their lives as an adult.
I had always known, deep inside, what awaited me on Oracle Day, but it wasn't something I liked to bother myself with. It was inevitable, yes, but that didn't mean I had to worry myself to bits about it. After all, knowing that you were doomed to be banished wasn't a particularly pleasant thought to keep yourself company with.
I awakened mid-morning on Oracle Day, however, with that very thought spinning through my head. My skull throbbed from pondering such matters, and my shoulders ached from the unbearable weight that seemed to rest on them. Or perhaps it was merely the result of sleeping on a hard, wooden pallet behind a dilapidated tavern.
As I winced my way to my feet, I wrinkled my nose at the reek of alcohol and stale bread. I gathered my thin, hole-filled blanket that I had stolen from the Markets nearly a year ago, and stuffed it into the pack I had sewn myself from scraps of cloth gathered here and there. I slung the pack over my shoulder, being careful with the strap. The worn cloth was starting to tear towards the bottom, and I hadn't been able to come across a needle or thread to fix it.
"Oi, get ou' o' here!" a sudden shout shattered the silence. I jumped, whirling around to see the tavern keeper, red-faced and quite furious. "I don't want no Seer-Son near my establishment!" the man exclaimed. He waved his frying pan threateningly at me, and hurled several choice insults in my direction as I bolted down a side street that led back onto the main road.
I managed to make it to the street without receiving any blows from the tavern-keeper's cookware, to my relief. I did, however, garner several dirty looks from other passerby as I screeched to a slower pace and began to follow the crowd heading towards the City Square. I ignored them, as I always did. I received such looks no matter what I did. I hardly even noticed as the crowd parted beside me, no one daring to come within a few feet of me.
Sighing heavily as I walked, I relaxed my tense muscles. I breathed in the scent of freshly-baked goods emanating from a nearby booth, and watched as children ran past, squealing and screaming in excitement as they chased one another to and fro. A warm wind from the south rolled through the air, tickling my senses with the salty stench of the Southern Sea. In the distance, the mighty Wall that surrounded our kingdom could be seen, soaring proudly into the air. My ratty boots padded quietly against the cobblestone street, and I kept myself as inconspicuous as possible in the mass of people making their way along the road.
As we neared the City Square, the air seemed to tingle with excitement. I spotted a few boys and girls in the crowd who looked to be past their eighteenth year, bristling with anticipation. I imagined it was nice to be able to anticipate your future rather than dread it.
The City Square was nearly packed when I entered through one of the four wrought-iron gateways. The tallest, most illustrious buildings in the Kingdom resided in this sector of the city. While most of the city's buildings were wooden, or clay, these were composed of brick and marble. The King's Mansion was nestled in the northern corner; it was a simple, square shape with walls of dark brick, and wide windows rimmed in the purest of silver. A monstrous pair of double oaken doors marked the entrance, although a regime of guards planted outside made it apparent that the house was off limits.
The King's Mansion, however, paled in comparison to the real spectacle of the Square. On the southern side, sat the grandest building of them all. The Temple was tall, with regal pillars of marble that shone like pearls and stood erectly on all four sides. The roof was a dome of solid gold, that gleamed like a beacon under the harsh light of the sun. Instead of a door, the entrance was gilded with an elaborate golden curtain that parted down the middle to grant entry to the Seers, and the Seers only. In front of the curtain, a gigantic horn had been mounted. According to legend, it was one of the horns of the famed dragon Karnoth; the first dragon to be killed.
Above the curtain was a string of words etched in simple, golden words. I wasn't certain what it said, considering that I hadn't learned to read quite yet, but I had always assumed it read something along the lines of 'Temple of the Seers'. Anything else seemed like a waste of gold to me.
A yell from nearby dragged my attention away from the architecture. A large booth had been placed just a few feet past the gateway, and there was already quite a long line of youths in front of it. A group of young-looking Seers were gathered behind the tables, registering the young men and women. I hesitated briefly, then took my place in line. The lad in front of me turned around to give me a haughty glare, and I returned the look with equal ferocity. He gave a small harrumph, then swirled around and ignored me for the rest of his duration in line. This was perfectly fine by me, of course.
When my turn finally came, I was greeted by a sullen-faced Seer who beckoned me towards the table with an absent-minded wave of his hand.
"Name?" he asked, not even bothering me with a glance.
"Shayden," I answered, mocking his monotonous tone in an effort to appease my own anxiety.
"Last name?" the man asked, his tone tinged with annoyance.
"Don't have one," I responded simply. This remark caused the Seer to finally look up at me.
"Who was your father?" he queried, an eyebrow quirked upward curiously.
"No idea," I said truthfully, shoving my hands into my pockets in an attempt to hide the fact that they were trembling slightly.
"And your mother?" the Seer asked tiredly.
"Don't know her name, but she was one of you lot," I said frankly. The man's eyes widened, and I noticed a brief splash of horror enter his expression.
"You're a Seer-Son, then?" he said in a tight voice, although it was more of a statement than a question.
"I think that should be rather obvious," I retorted, gesturing broadly to my attire and overall unkempt appearance. The Seer gave me a distasteful look, then sighed before writing down my name on a long sheet of parchment. He dismissed me with a casual tilt of his hand, and I sauntered away feeling both surprised, and a tad bit elated. Perhaps this wouldn't be an utter catastrophe after all.
I wandered aimlessly throughout the square as I awaited the beginning of the ceremony, snagging an apple from the basket of an unsuspecting elderly woman. I munched thoughtfully on the sweet, juicy fruit, then tossed the core onto the cobblestones carelessly. My hands were sticky, and I made for a nearby fountain tucked between two benches.
As I approached the small, stone bowl mounted on a pillar, with a pool of water beckoning from within, I suddenly felt a rough hand on my shoulder. I was shoved to the side, and my feet slipped from under me. I toppled to the ground, wincing as the cloth in my left sleeve ripped, and the stone ruthlessly scraped against my skin.
"After us, Seer-Son," an amused voice said from above me. I squinted through the sun-light above me to see the silhouette of a young man, a sneer painted across his face. The man was surrounded by several other young men and women, all of them wearing the same, sniveling expression. I began to push myself back to my feet when the last girl launched a solid kick into my stomach. I bit down harshly on my lip to keep from crying out as my body slammed back down onto the street. The metallic taste of blood filled my mouth. I spat it onto the stone below me in anger.
"I hope you're ready to be a Grim," the girl taunted, followed by a high-pitched laugh that made me want to hurl all over her expensive, custom shoes.
"Then he'll finally go where he belongs," another boy added with a menacing chuckle. "Outside the Wall, where the dragons can gobble 'im up."
"Well, see ya later, Grimmie," the first boy said with a smirk, waving merrily at me as he led the group towards the fountain.
There was a time in my younger days when I might have glanced around, hoping for a helping hand, or even a sympathetic look. Now, I knew better than to wish after such things. Resigned to the dull pain that spread throughout my abdomen, I scrambled to my feet.
Before I could let their harsh words sink in, a tremendous noise came from the direction of the Temple. It was the Call of the Dragon's Horn; the signal of the start of the ceremony. My heart began to race, but I calmed it quickly.
The crowd began to drift towards the Temple, although there was no conceivable way that everyone would fit in the Square. In the end, the excess masses spilled out onto the streets nearby.
A lengthy line had formed near the Temple; the youths waiting anxiously to receive their Oracles. I joined the line at the rear, knowing that was where I would have ended up regardless. I sighed quietly. Part of me wished I could go first and get this entire ordeal over with.
The horn was blown once more, and a cloud of silence seemed to settle over the square. The air was rife with growing tension. I shuffled my feet beneath me, sliding my hands into my hole-filled pockets to hide their visible shaking.
"Behold!" a thunderous voice bellowed. I peered over the sea of Rimorians to see an elderly woman standing on a great pedestal before the Temple. Her ornate robes were stitched in an elegant golden hue, and her pale, gray hair regally framed her stern face. In her hand, she bore a white staff, intricately carved from top to bottom. It was the High Seer; Brena.
Beside the gray-haired woman, there was a simple table. Atop this table sat two wide, glass bowls. Although it was hard to discern their contents from such a distance, I knew enough about the ceremony to know that one was filled with water, and the other with pebbles gathered from the nearby beach.
"Today," the woman began in a powerful tone that carried itself effortlessly throughout the Square. "In the fourth month, on the eve of the full moon, we gather here before this mighty Temple. Those of our youth who have surpassed their eighteenth year will come before the High Seer, and be granted their Oracle. What the Oracles say will come to pass. This is our history, and this will be our legacy."
"This is our history," the crowd chanted around me. "And this will be our legacy." I muttered the words half-heartedly, tapping my foot impatiently.
Without further ado, the first youth was ushered towards the pedestal. I watched curiously, although I knew what was about to transpire. I had watched this ceremony every year since I could walk.
"Jonar Laderin," another Seer shouted from behind the pedestal, reading from a lengthy scroll that held the names of the youths. The tall, red-headed girl bounded onto the pedestal, a shy, but wide smile plastered over her face.
As had been the long-standing tradition, the girl walked first to the table. She reached into the bowl of pebbles and pulled out a single stone. She moved her hand to the second bowl, then dropped the pebble inside with a soft splash.
"I see honor in your future," Brena exclaimed, eyeing the girl up and down. "A life of duty, and courage. Jonar Laderin, your heart bursts with bravery. For you, I recommend a position with the Wall Guard." I watched with a bit of jealousy as the girl burst into a radiant grin. She practically bounced off the stage, her bright red hair swishing behind her. The audience around the Square applauded and cheered politely.
"Kyro Nediri," was the next name to be called. It was with a tight grimace that I recognized the boy who climbed onto the stage; it was one of the dullards who had kicked me down earlier by the fountain. I pursed my lips tightly as Kyro pitched his stone into the bowl of water.
"I see a future of integrity, and insurmountable wisdom," said Brena, and I resisted the pressing urge to roll my eyes as far back into my head as they would go. "I suspect a life of the highest honors is in store for you, Kyro Nediri. I urge for your acceptance as a Seer Apprentice."
The crowd erupted into wild applause. The obnoxious, boastful expression painted across the boy's face was like a punch to the gut. I could scarcely believe my ears.
Thankfully, the next youth was called onto the pedestal before I could dwell on that matter.
The Oracle-giving continued, as the High Seer droned on and on. I might have fallen asleep if I wasn't so anxious. The harsh words from the boys and girls echoed inside of my head. I hope you're ready to be a Grim. Was the girl right? Were my worst fears about to become reality?
A Grim was a youth whose future was deemed to be filled with darkness and evil. In response, Grims were banished from Rimor, doomed to wander in the lands beyond the Wall. Grims were far from common, but they weren't unheard of either. Sometimes years would pass between them, and then during others, as many as three or four would be selected in the same year.
I couldn't help but wonder how many would be selected this year, if any. Could it be that I would find myself outside of the Wall this very night? It was something I had expected, and yet I still dreaded the thought. Then again, who wouldn't dread the idea of being stuck outside of the only place that would keep you safe from man-eating dragons?
"Lenara Fyne." For some inexplicable reason, I felt my attention wander back to the stage. The line had shortened quite a bit, and I was much closer, granting a better view of the stage.
A small, thin, blonde-headed girl was walking timidly onto the pedestal. I noticed, even from far-off, that her clothes were worn and dirty, and her slim figure was from lack of food rather than being a natural occurrence. The startling look etched across her thin, wide-eyed face, was one of fear.
The girl's pebble plopped quietly into the bowl. There was a long pause as the girl then turned to face the High Seer. Brena's expression was tight, and indiscernible. Then suddenly, the elder woman dawned a look of horror, stepping away from the young woman.
"Behold, I sense great evil in this girl!" Shocked murmurs swept over the crowd. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. "She is a Grim!" Brena continued in a hoarse tone. "As is tradition, she must be banished beyond the Wall!"
Shouts and screams of rage emanated from the audience, and I watched in silent disgust as three Wall Guards marched onto the stage. The girl's face was scrunched into a look of absolute terror. She cried out audibly as the Guards grabbed her by the arm and started to drag her off the pedestal.
"No!" she screamed, wrestling against their iron grips. "No, don't do this! Please!"
"Get her out of here!" someone in the midst of the crowd yelled, and his sentiments were greeted with cheers of approval.
The girl was sobbing profusely, kicking against the Guards at every second as they led her towards the west end of the Square, which went out to the Wall's one and only gate. The girl's cries grew more frantic with each perishing moment. I winced, finally looking away.
My mind raced as the Oracle-giving went on. I could scarcely concentrate on what was going on around me. Everything seemed a blur as I inched my way closer and closer to the stage. Perspiration formed across my brow, then trickled teasingly down the sides of my face. I swallowed the nervous lump in my throat, struggling desperately to ignore the relentless pounding inside of my chest.
Then at last, the boy in front of me strode onto the stage, leaving me alone on the ground. His Oracle was simple; a life of farming and perpetual boredom. It was over in what felt like seconds, and then, at last, the moment had come. I tensed, holding my breath as I waited for my name to be called.
"Shayden…" There was a pause. "Shayden Seer-Son," the voice finally concluded. I flinched at the icy tone of the Seer who had been tasked with reciting the names. I chomped my teeth together in slight irritation as there was several gasps and jeers from the crowd. I ignored them, climbing onto the stage.
It was a bit odd, staring out over the crowd. All my life, they had ignored me, beaten me, treated me like last week's waste. And now, after all this time, they were suddenly forced to pay attention to me. The thought was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking at the same time. I clenched my hands into fists to mask their shaking, and threw my shoulders back in an attempt to look calm. Within me, however, was a tempest of emotions, battling for control. I nearly tripped as I approached the table, temporarily unwinding my fists to balance myself.
My trembling hand darted quickly into the first bowl and picked up a round, smooth pebble the size of a coin. It was pale, nearly white. I hoped that perhaps that was a good sign. Without another thought, I dropped it into the bowl of water. It splashed into the clear liquid, sinking slowly to the bottom, where the other pebbles had come to rest. With hesitant eyes, I turned to the High Seer.
I had never seen such cold, calloused eyes in my entire life. Dark blue irises bored into mine like spears, and I felt a tingle run down the full length of my spine. The High Seer's piercing gaze swept over me, up and down. I could see no confliction or curiosity inside of her eyes; only sharp calculation. I blinked, nearly shoving my hands into my pockets again.
Finally, her eyes narrowed. Her lips parted. After a sharp intake of breath, she bellowed her next words for every soul in Rimor to hear.
"I see nothing in his future except evil!" she screeched, and the mutters started instantaneously. "He is shrouded in darkness! He must be cast out from this kingdom! He is a Grim!" the last few words were said with such ferocity, I had to take a step back. My heart was racing. This couldn't be real. Surely something this awful couldn't be happening. This was a dream. Yes, that was it. A dream. I would wake up any minute now.
I suddenly felt two hands wrap themselves around my arms. I started in surprise, noticing the two tall, burly men that were surrounding me.
"No!" I shouted, attempting to yank myself away from them. "This is a mistake!"
"Shut up, Seer-Son," one of the Guards growled, shoving me towards the stage exit. As we strode by the High Seer, I felt a boiling anger surge inside of me at the complete look of nonchalance that was etched across her face. How could she do this with such ease? In my rage, I hurled a bit of saliva in her direction.
"This is madness!" I screamed furiously. "The only person here who's evil is you!"
At this, the Guards hastened their pace, practically dragging me off of the stage. The crowds were yelling indecipherable things, but I imagined most of them were insults regarding myself for saying such a thing to the High Seer. As we passed by them, I saw the expressions of anger and hatred and loathing that were spread across their snarling faces.
Even as I fought against the Guards, yearning to break free, I realized that this had always been my fate: to be hated. Even if I had received a good Oracle, these people never would have accepted me. They were already filled with such vile contempt for me, and nothing would change that.
Still, a voice inside beckoned me to keep fighting. So I did. With every breath, I lashed out against the bigger, heavier men on both sides of me. They struggled to restrain me as they carried me away from the enraged crowds. As my strength began to wither, my surroundings started to blur. Spots swam before my eyes. My throat was dry, my voice hoarse from the incessant shouting.
Then a blinding, searing pain crashed through my skull, and everything went black.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading! Leave a review if you get a chance and let me know what ya think! :D