Hannah rarely slept. She was fueled on caffeine and bad memories, prevented by nightmares of real events. She was only sixteen.
Being the village baker, she was up at dawn taking requests for cakes and pastries, and while the village people didn't like her, they would gladly do business when they needed something.
It made Hannah sick, but she needed all the money she could get, and things could get nasty if she said no.
There was a curfew in Hannah's village, everyone except Protectors must be inside before 11:30 pm, and it lifted at five. But when Hannah decided to make better use of her insomniac nights.
She would sneak out her house, go down to the village library, and devour a book about werewolves and magic.
Hannah knew every street, alley, and inch of her small town, so well, in fact, that she could easily avoid every Guardian and was caught just once.
She always carried the knife she used to cut vegetables with her, just to feel braver in case she ran into a werewolf, but she was cautious.
It wasn't an exactly daring double life, but it was her only rebellion; she loved the feel of the late-night air, the silence, the peace, and the feeling of being the only person in the world.
She stopped after a few months but kept up her sleepless habits indoors. She didn't like to think of it as late, just very early.
Hannah liked staying up, they made her feel like the only person in the world. Nobody was there to whisper behind her back or laugh to her face. The silence was so deafening she wanted to scream just to hear something....
Her dream went from 'I will survive this war and become a famous baker,' to: 'I will survive this war.'
The War of Radix had been going on for five years and while the townspeople had always disliked what they didn't know; they became even crueler to Hannah, – like being different was her choice Like her difference destroyed the chaotic sameness.
Sometimes, it was easier to pretend they weren't alienating her. Sometimes it was easier to just face it, but Hannah never got used to it, she just learned to take it.
This morning, though, it was her sixteenth birthday and the coming age in Uliaria. Every year they had a Coming-of-Age ball for all the villagers aged sixteen and seventeen. It was the middle of August and just the perfect temperature.
Hannah wanted to go for a change, though she was sure nothing good would come of it.
This year it fell on her birthday, and when she was little she had always wanted to go; so, in honor of her innocent wish, she went.
She was in a maroon dress, had her waist-long hair up, and had her only necklace, her mother's locket, on.
Hannah walked down the gravelly road to the town square, where Ryn was hosting it. She had on flats, at five-foot-five, she felt the perfect height.
She could hear music and as she got closer, saw all the girls in their best dresses and boys picking them and handing them a sunflower.
It was a tradition, the boys hand a flower to the girl they fancied. If she wore it in her hair, then she was interested, if not, she would stomp on it in front of him.
It was slightly evil, but straightforward. Hannah knew she wouldn't get any flowers, but it was fun to watch her bullies' hearts get broken. It was too bad Violet wasn't there to laugh along with her as she stomped on every guy's heart.
She walked over to the refreshments and stood, socially-awkward as usual. Lord and Lady Heath had funded the event and from where Hannah was standing, she could overhear their conversations.
The Lord and Lady seemed to be arguing with their daughter. She was Charlotte Heath, the richest girl in Uliaria, and she lived right outside Ryn. Her uncle was the king and she was written about in every periodical, boys were lining up to marry her, and she seemed to be a social little darling.
And a very big brat. She had on a crown made of sunflowers; she used her admirer's hearts for a look.
"Mother, this is the most boring party ever." she groaned, taking a sip of her drink. "I just want Rula to come home."
"Don't say that wretched girl's name in front of us." Lord Heath replied shortly, patting his daughter's back.
"There are many young men here, and you'll be of age next year, why don't you test out your dancing skills?" Lady Heath offered with a soft voice.
"Alright," she stepped away from her parents and was immediately surrounded by the village boys, all the girls looked considerably envious. Charlotte flipped her short mane of red hair and pointed to a boy with dark brown hair and skin. He was wearing the latest fashion and Hannah almost face-palmed herself.
He was Garrett and was from the richest family in Ryn, his father trained Guardians.
"I hope you know how to dance," Charlotte giggled as the other men jeered and clapped Garrett as the two rich inane walked out to the dance floor.
"If I could go anywhere, I'd go somewhere with snow," behind her, a girl said to a guy. Hannah almost spun around. She had a vague memory of her mom saying something similar when Hannah was little.
Things like this happened, little memories would be triggered and resurfaced from the simplest of sentences, making Hannah wonder if people really forgot anything or just buried it with other ones.
Hannah felt stupid, she knew she wasn't going to get asked to dance, so she started walking; nobody would miss her.
She started walking towards the woods, not caring, just wanting away from that narrow-minded town, so she closed her eyes and went back to that memory.
She would go over every detail a thousand times. She walked even when her legs ached, for she couldn't feel it. She kept going as it got dark and kept going, not even thinking about werewolves for a change. She kept hiked until she found herself in Tatum, a city ten miles away.
She blinked back to reality, sure she had lost her mind, for Hannah remembered nothing of walking, but she knew she got there somehow. She always carried coins on her, so she reached into her pockets and let loose a sigh of relief when she pulled out the brown sack.
She ambled into a bar carefully. The war was just starting to break out there, Hannah didn't want to spend more time in here than she had to. Her hair had come out of its bun, the small amount of makeup she had on was smudged, and the hem of her dress was dirt-stained.
She could feel the ache of her body now. Ten miles of blindly trudging in the summer heat, Hannah shuddered and tried not to think about what would've happened if she had encountered a wild beast.
She ordered the strongest drink they had and took a gulp. She started coughing and spewing, her throat burning from the wretched taste of Absinthe. Absolutely horrible and bitter; just what she needed.
She knew she must have looked ridiculous, a girl swigging Absinthe before 8:00 in the morning, in a party dress and wild hair, but she looked crazy, so she decided to act the part.
After finally paying for her drink, she walked out of the bar, more gracefully than she came in, and hailed a cab. She paid the man and his horse and cart to take her home, and after the man's desperate attempt to make small talk, she arrived home.
She said thank you, walked up to her little house, and went inside, hit by the familiar smells. She wanted to run over to her bed and collapse in it, but she took a quick bath, changed, re-did her hair, and made wedding cakes for sixteen-year-olds who had been proposed to the night before. Hannah took her pain out on Charlotte, deciding she hated that girl, and she had no good reason to.
Hannah was starting to like Charlotte.
In the middle of winter, Hannah and Lottie were hidden away in the branches of a tree. They were deep in the Oak forest that surrounded Hannah's busy village and Lottie's secluded mansion.
The smell of wood, pine, and earth was sweetly nostalgic to Hannah's childhood. It had been a few weeks since their accidental encounter, and they had seen each other almost every day. In the tree, they had been talking about everything from dresses to what job Hannah should have if she ever quit baking.
"Ooh, I know! You should be a Guardian," Lottie suggested with a smile on her face. Hannah felt a twinge of annoyance and she could feel her eyes going icy blue. She wished she could control it. She hated when people could read her moods and she was sure Lottie knew what that color meant.
"Oh, Hannah, liven up. I meant it as a joke. " Lottie said, her smile vanishing. Lottie knew Hannah disliked the Guardians
"It's okay," Hannah mumbled as she closed her eyes, trying to hide her sudden mood change from Lottie. The main reason Hannah hated the Guardians because they never helped her when she was bitten, they laughed at her.
"Do you want me to explain the rankings?" Lottie asked, sounding timid.
"I know that much," Hannah said, trying to put a teasing expression on her face to hide the uncomfortable feeling in her stomach.
She loved calling and hinting that Lottie was a know-it-all because Lottie'd had an expensive education of her country when she was younger.
Lottie gave her a playful shove and Hannah almost fell out of the tree. She let out a shriek and grabbed the branches for support. Snow fell off and hit the ground, which looked pretty far below them.
Hannah took a deep breath of fresh air and saw it was dusk. There was a full moon slowly rising on the horizon and the first stars were appearing.
"They don't allow people aren't full-human," Hannah blurted, remembering a Guardian had said that to her as an insult once, as if Hannah wanted to be a part of their cult. Guardians and King Radix were severely against magis, the magic race, were often enslaved.
Old Hank had been before he managed to get away, and Hannah had been lucky enough to have had a better life.
"What would you be if you weren't an artist?" Hannah asked Lottie. She always thought it was weird that Lottie would open up to anyone about anything, but that was Lottie for you.
"A witch. All of them wear these pretty purple rings and have magic wands," Lottie said with a giggle. Hannah couldn't help but smile at Lottie's childish personality, though she doubted being a witch was that fun.
"The people back in my village burn them at the stake whenever they manage to catch one," Hannah said soberly. "They usually make a whole festival out of it if they have time, and sometimes a guardian will eat the finger that has the ring."
"Alright then. That's uh, nice." Lottie said, unaware of the memory Hannah was in. Hannah didn't know how Lottie didn't know, seeing as Lord Heath would go to the burnings, but maybe she was deemed too delicate to know.
Do you want to come back to my house? I'll give you a free painting lesson since you taught me how to bake." Lottie asked. Hannah hadn't noticed she had lost herself to the memory. She had probably been staring at nothing for the past few minutes.
"Sorry, okay!" Hannah said, eager to change the subject. The girls carefully climbed down the naked tree and walked through the dark forest towards Lottie's house. Suddenly, Hannah had an awful feeling. Her instincts told her to go home, but she ignored them.
Hannah always got nervous on a full moon, anyway. She took a deep breath of the crisp air in hopes that it would soothe her but it didn't work. Hannah was pleased when she saw Lottie's stone mansion in the moonlight, she could finally get out of the dark.
The two girls climbed the hill and went to her art studio on the second floor of her mansion.
Hannah looked out the window in the studio as Lottie lit a few candles so they could see. Hannah could just barely make out her village through the window. "Come here and I'll show you the portrait I did of you the other day," Lottie said with a hint of pride in her voice. "The eyes are blue because that's my favorite color."
Hannah walked over and saw a picture so detailed she almost mistook it for her reflection. She inhaled sharply through her mouth and smiled. "Lottie, this is amazing!" Hannah cried. The two sat down on wooden art stools as Lottie started a watercolor of a pig.
She showed Hannah all of the strokes as she watched in amazement. Then Lottie accidentally brushed the painting with her elbow while she was scratching her head. It was smudged. Ruined.
"Aw, dammit," Lottie muttered to herself. Then she looked up at Hannah with a guilty expression on her face. "Sorry, I forgot you were there. I know I'm supposed to be a lady -." Lottie started, but Hannah cut her off.
"Lottie, you are a lot of things, but you aren't a lady." Lottie and Hannah laughed, then Lottie got up to put her paints away, looking slightly upset.
Hannah glanced out the window and screamed in shock. The whole forest was burning, her village was ablaze, she saw people trying to get through Lottie's huge front doors.
"LOTTIE! COME HERE! OH GOD, LOOK!" Hannah screamed, she felt like she was about to throw up. She ran up to the window and put her nose to it, fogging it up with her breath.
Lottie ran over and gasped. Her eyes filled with tears and she bit her lip. "We need to get out of here before they get through. These are obviously the Enemies."
"The whats?" Hannah asked. She couldn't wrap her head around anything. It felt like a terrible dream. One she wanted to wake up from desperately. She hugged herself and realized she had goosebumps up and down her arms. The flames danced, orange and blue killed everything in its path.
Even from Hannah's high viewpoint, she could see ash and embers flying in the wind, and a cloud of thick smoke made her gasp. Though it was dark, the fire lit up the forest like it was sunrise.
"The Enemies are what we call the people against my uncle in the war. But this is our chance, Hannah! We can escape without anyone noticing for a while. We can be free! My parents are going to be okay, they have secret passageways to the basement and hidden bunkers. We can disappear and go on the run." Lottie cried, glee and sadness in her eyes at the same time.
"How can we get out of here? They'll kill us if we leave through the front door. You'll be safe too, your parents will have someone save you," Hannah hissed. She was certain Lottie had lost all sense. Where were the Guardians? Dead?
Hannah didn't like them but she'd feel a bit safer with trained soldiers around, though none were in sight. She wondered why people weren't looking for the heir to the Heath dynasty.
It dawned on Hannah that nobody knew they were in the art room.
"We jump out the window, and who cares about my parents; they're trying to sell me off. I want to go." Lottie said simply. Hannah looked at her, and she could feel her eyes going gray out of fear. "It'll be okay, we're only on the second story. I'll go first and we'll get away on foot."
"This is Violet all over again," Hannah muttered, but Lottie didn't hear.
Lottie grabbed the art stool she had been sitting on just moments before, bashed the glass window open, threw the stool to the corner of the room, and jumped fearlessly. Hannah looked down to see if Lottie had died.
But she was already on her feet and beckoning Hannah to follow. She took a deep breath, eased to the edge of the window, and followed suit.
Before she knew it she was on her hands and knees on the cold, packed snow. Her palms and knees were bloody but other than that she was okay. Thank God.
Suddenly, a man appeared behind them. For he had been sneaking up.
He grabbed Lottie's red hair and pulled her head up, Lottie let out a strangled yelp before the enemy reached into his pocket, pulled out a dagger, and slit her throat from one ear to the other. He pushed Lottie to the ground as she was gasping for breath, blood spilling out her mouth.
Her hand was moving slightly and she was croaking; Hannah was too scared to scream.
Lottie's blood stained the white snow, making it seem more real to Hannah.
A second later, other Enemies looked over and saw a now-dead Lottie and Hannah. The man who had killed Hannah had filthy hair, bloodshot eyes, and yellow teeth. He let out a sickening laugh and reached for her with dirty hands and chipped fingernails.
Lottie's hand had stopped twitching and her eyes were glazed over and half-closed.
Hannah wanted to stay and hold Lottie, to scream, to feel safe. She thought for a second about her house on fire. Everyone in the village had probably been burnt to death or killed by Enemies. Hannah dodged his dirty hand and ran through a part of the forest that was not yet on fire.
Hannah ran even when she heard footsteps behind her, she ran when was starting to feel out of breath, she ran when she stopped hearing footsteps, she ran until she bumped into someone. She fell in shock.
"You look like you've been running from a ghost. What happened?" a familiar voice said with a tease. She looked up and saw that it was that girl, Amethyst, from the Heath's ball. Hannah couldn't talk, she was breathing too hard.
"So, what, - or who happened?" Amethyst asked, noticing the blood on Hannah that was from her jump. She offered her hand to help Hannah up and she noticed something. Amethyst had on a purple ring. Hannah scrambled away from her.
"YOU'RE A WITCH! GET AWAY FROM ME!" she finally yelled at the top of her lungs. She had almost been killed by a werewolf when she was little. Five years ago she was almost murdered by two Guardians and a Legendary. She had almost just been killed by an Enemy. The thought of a witch killing her didn't seem so far-fetched in her mind.
"Shut up or you're gonna get us killed," Amethyst said. "And what do you care if I'm a witch? You're clearly part-werewolf."
"What do you want from me? Are you going to kill me?" Hannah asked, panic in her voice. She made this far just to die.
"No, if I wanted you dead then you would be that by now. Tell me what happened to you."
Hannah had her doubts. What was Amethyst doing here? Why was she so calm? Did she not know about the Enemies? But Amethyst was her only chance of survival so she was going to take it.
"The Enemies have set everything on fire. They killed Lottie and I got away. They slit her throat." Hannah said in one breath, tears stinging her eyes from the smoke. She could see fire not far from where she was and could smell smoke, and he felt like she was in a dream-like quality.
She didn't like her small village, but she didn't want to be without it, she didn't want her only friend sprawled out, dead on the cold snow. She didn't want to be in a forest full of Enemies and sexy, sassy witches.
There was a silence as Hannah sat on her butt, her heavy breathing slowed. She didn't cry for Lottie, just felt oddly empty and strange.
"Hm," Amethyst said calmly. She seemed lost in thought. "Come with me," she said.
"Where?" Hannah asked cautiously.
"My house, unless you want to stay here and die," she replied
"Is it made of mushrooms and toadstools like a real witch's house?" Hannah asked seriously.
"No, you dullard. It's made of bricks," Amethyst replied in a hiss. Hannah, who was still on the ground, got up and brushed herself off. She was shaking with fright and she felt like she was going to throw up and explode at the same time. She looked around her.
"Where is your broomstick?"
"One more word and I will kill you," Amethyst threatened. And that's when the tears came.
Hannah woke up to snoring. She kept her eyes closed, telling herself that last night was a dream. There was no way Lottie could be dead, or that the village she had spent her whole life in had burnt to ashes, or that a beautiful witch named Amethyst saved her. Weren't witches supposed to have warts and stringy black hair?
Not clear skin and blonde locks.
There was a slight movement next to Hannah. She told herself that she was in Lottie's room sleeping over and she would tell her friend all about that dream. She felt Lottie poke her and she opened her eyes, smiling. It wasn't Lottie, it was Amethyst, and it wasn't a dream, it was her reality.
Her smile was replaced by a scowl. Amethyst was dressed in a deep red gown and a ruby necklace; she didn't seem poor.
"Good morning to you, too. You need to get up, you've been lying on my bed like a dying swan for the past twelve hours. Here, drink this," Amethyst said and she handed Hannah a green, thick liquid. Hannah eyed it uncertainly.
"Er, what is it?" she asked, trying to be polite. She scratched her head, the pain of last night returning.
"It's a potion to help calm your nerves," Amethyst said, and she gave Hannah a knowing look. "If I wanted to poison you, I'd put it in your food. But I don't, so consider yourself lucky."
Hannah drank it. It tasted fine but it was very cold. Hannah almost spat it out on Amethyst's black bed-sheets in shock.
"Good, now this morning's newspaper mentions you. Turns out the Heaths have tried to cover up the Enemy attack because it makes them look like the weak and pathetic village leaders they are. They say you set fire to the village and killed Lottie. Congrats, you're a wanted criminal." Amethyst said and she showed Hannah the paper.
Hannah read the whole page on it. There was a drawing that was pretty accurate to her face. Hannah was screwed.
She had never felt so sad. Hannah would never had hurt Lottie, now there was a 200,000 coins price tag on whoever could capture her. 'What am I going to do?" Hannah asked aloud. She felts tears flowing down her cheeks but she didn't care. Hannah deserved to cry.
"I have an idea," Amethyst said. "I know what it's like to be hated just because people don't know you. I'm a witch. I have a group of misfits called the Abnormals. We have a super-smart girl, someone who can control fire and she's part fox, we have a boy and girl who are super stealthy, and we also had a guy who can transform into a dog. He's been captured by the Enemies, though."
"Hm," Hannah replied. She didn't know how else to respond. She was pretty sure she had met the part-fox, though. Unless there were a bunch of them running around.
"You're part-werewolf and a wanted criminal. You'd fit right in." Amethyst said. Hannah guessed that was Amethyst's way of inviting Hannah to join the group. She was silent for a moment as she pondered it.
"Stop thinking about it because you don't have a choice." Amethyst said after waiting a full five seconds.
"Okay, I guess I'm part now," Hannah said in surprise. "but what about the smart girl? That's not a super-power."
"It is with all the idiots in this world. I mean, everywhere you turn there are innocent people being killed by Guardians. I mean, it's sad, but who would let a Guardian hurt them? Even a baby could fight off a wannabe hero." Amethyst said. Hannah felt backed into a corner and she hated feeling like that.
"Watch it, witch. They burn people like you at the stake," Hannah snarled. Amethyst merely let out a chuckle, though her sparkling blue eyes went cold.
"And back in my day they used to burn anyone with a drop of werewolf venom in them. You, my friend, would have been toast." Amethyst replied.
"That was hundreds of years ago, though. People stopped after that Epic, what's-his-name, showed people." Hannah said. She was sure Amethyst was just trying to scare her.
"Witches don't age after a certain point and we just keep living until someone kills us. I could be a thousand for all you know." Amethyst said with a chilling half-smile. "To be in my group, there is a tiny catch, though."
"What is that?" Hannah asked cautiously. She had never met anyone like Amethyst before.
"You have to tell me how you became part-werewolf."
To be continued.