“Get out, and take that damn chicken with you!” Magda Jones screeched, waking up the entire street just a second before she threw a bag out of her dilapidated door. One of the little girls who lived across the street from the Joneses glanced away from her dolls long enough to see what was happening, and was surprised to see Dimitri, Ma'am Jones's younger son, actually leaving the house while the sun was out.
“'Tri, where you going?” the little girl called out to him, concerned but not concerned enough to leave her dolls out where anyone could run off with them.
Dimitri looked up from the ground he had been glowering at as he righted the bag his mother had thrown. “Oh, hey, Elisa. Have you seen Igor around?”
She nodded. “He's takin' a nap over there,” she said, pointing at one of the few shadowy spots on their street. “Where you going?”
Knowing Dimitri, he was probably trying to smile. It wasn't his fault, really, that it came out more as a wince than anything else. “I've turned fifteen,” he said.
'Oh,' Elisa mouthed, and got rather sad. “I'll miss you!” she cried out, and forgot her dolls long enough to run over and hug him around the waist.
Dimitri was terribly uncomfortable. “There, there,” he tried, patting the little girl on her head as she sniffled all over his pants. “It's only, what, nine years until you'll be going to the capital too.” This was probably not the right thing to say, as she started to wail loudly. “Look, Elisa, I really do have to go. Mother said that if she saw either me or Igor again, the whole street would have extra meat in their soup for the week.”
“But isn't that good-” Elisa's face made the 'oh' expression again, and she stuck out her tongue in disgust. “Ew. I don't want to eat you, Dimitri!”
Momentarily cursing his hatred of sunlight and love of books that kept his skin as pale as the day he was born, Dimitri blushed. “Er, yes, well, then Igor and I better be off, shouldn't we?”
She nodded unenthusiastically and let go of him, watching with sad eyes and a bit of a pout as Dimitri collected Igor the chicken from his resting spot in the shade. “Bye, 'Tri.”
And with those last words, fifteen year old Dimitri Jones left the only home he had ever known, the town where his mother and uncle lived, where his father died, the town his brother and cousin both defended with their very lives.
Only he wasn't thinking anything nearly that dramatic, because he was raised in a practical, peasant lifestyle. Instead, he was thinking, 'I need to stop somewhere and get grain before Igor starts gnawing on my arm,' and also, 'How do I tell which way is north, again?'
Meanwhile, in a city perhaps a hundred miles away but a full world apart, a young girl was frowning into her soup. Of course, it was a soup made of gizzards and other parts that one could not actually place within an animal, but this was not why she was frowning at it. She was frowning because the government's official Seekers would be visiting her school that day, and Ellory Smith was not particularly looking forward to being assigned the rest of her life at the age of thirteen.
Her friends didn't understand why she cared so much about this. After all, the Seekers would match her with the career best suited to her abilities, and she was still allowed to marry and interact with those of other classes. What was the problem?
Ellory just didn't like the idea that some snotty government official would tell her what to do, and she had to do it or she'd be exiled or executed. Her ideal world-view had no place for totalitarian tactics such as those (not that she thought of it as such; her mental phrasing came closer to 'big mean bullies' than anything).
And, to be honest, she was mostly just afraid she was going to be sentenced to life a street sweeper. After all, they matched you with your abilities, and Ellory did not have any particular abilities. She was decently intelligent, but not especially gifted in any one area; she was fit enough to be able walk to the fair the next town over every year, but not enough to even pretend to practice any of the usual fighting arts; she could not build, or grow, or craft, or cook, or teach; when it came down to it, she couldn't even clean particularly well, so perhaps she wouldn't be a street sweeper after all.
Her father was a merchant, and her mother had been a watcher, before she died, but Ellory had inherited neither the bargaining and diplomacy skills of her father, or the mindfulness and tolerance of small children that her mother had.
So that morning, as she walked down the path to school, she was oddly silent as her friends chattered about what their destiny would be. After all, what career could she have if she couldn't even clean streets?
“Oh Doria, save me,” prayed Fletcher Thomas with the devout belief of person involved in a dire sequence of events. Which, considering he was about to be burned alive, he probably qualified as.
Granted, his prayer was more along the lines of, “Oh,” SNEEZE! “D-doria,” SNEEZE! “Save me!” Hack cough cough SNEEZE! Really, burning a person alive was one thing. Setting the fire using wood that said person was allergic to was just pure cruelty.
Do not think that just because his allergies were a concern that crossed Fletcher Thomas's mind, he was not comprehending the situation fully. He was. But he had known for most of his life that this was how his life would likely end – he hadn't expected it to happen quite so early on, but by no means was he surprised by it. He accepted it as fate, and really only prayed because he didn't particularly feel like being burned only a week before his birthday. And on pine.
Now, in the kingdoms of Malavi and Aaree, gods were an accepted fact of life. You went to a temple, made offerings, and occasionally you had visions if the gods were drunk enough to think it was a good idea. Aareens even prescribed to the belief that you should always, no exceptions, be polite and helpful towards strangers, as they could be gods in human guise. Malavians also believed that gods could take mortal form, but their set of gods would be far more offended by politeness than any other action.
This was all well and good, and the gods looked upon Malavi and Aaree with parental pride. However, the United Territory of Free States – or the Territory, as many simplified the name – was not overly fond of higher powers, so the gods typically marked the whole area off as not worth attention.
So when a lightning bolt pierced through the sky and struck the straps binding Fletcher to the pine stake, he was rather surprised. Sure, Doria was one of the few gods that Territorials paid attention to, she being god of weather, but no one expected her to actually respond, especially not in such a dramatic manner.
Of course, had Fletcher not been distracted by something as trivial as imminent death, he would have realized he was wearing the gold bracelets that were his only heritage from his parents, and that gold attracted lightning like... well, like something that attracted lightning extremely well. But imminent death did indeed distract him, so as he fell off of the stake and started to run, he mentally promised Doria his firstborn. He could always have more children, after all, he was only ever going to have one him.
Which tale do you wish me to continue THE MOST?