“This is a reminder that tomorrow is the graduation of our 75th class.” The speaker above boomed, forcefully tugging Elle out of her slumber. “Please remember to arrive on time. Graduates are to arrive one hour before the start of the ceremony. If you do not appear at the ceremony, you will not receive your diploma. Thank you, and have a good night.”
“Good morning, sleepyhead.” Alegra smiled, smoothing out Elle’s hair. “Thanks for coming over to help me with the decorations for the afterparty.” She spoke softly, but her tone was laced with sarcasm. Elle glanced at the floor behind her and winced, feeling guilt as she looked at the completed banner on the floor. “Even Silas was a bigger help than you.”
Silas stood up from his spot on the floor across from Alegra. He held his hands up, playfully showing off his marker-covered fingers. “My artistic skills really shined, you know. You missed it.”
“I had to fix almost everything you did.” Alegra rolled her eyes as she moved onto her bed to sit next to Elle.
“I tried my best.” Silas pouted playfully. “So, let’s place the bets. Who’s going to be the number one graduate for Bellum’s 276th graduating class?” He asked.
Elle shifted uncomfortably on the bed. She had been waiting anxiously yet patiently for the announcement of the Top 10 graduates. Shoving aside her worries, she answered. “Morgana. For sure,” She said, knowing that it was no contest. Morgana Faye excelled at every physical test, written examination, and skill evaluation since she first entered the academy.
“Oh, definitely.” Alegra nodded in agreement, sitting back and sighing. A look of worry flashed across her face as she continued, “I really hope that I get into the Top 10.”
“You’ll be fine.” Silas said, shaking his head. “I can’t imagine you being any lower than 9.”
“I have terrible physical evaluations.” She frowned.
“And you’ve also had the best scores for the written examinations for the past 6 years.” Silas argued, determined for Alegra to feel the sense of confidence that he feels she deserves. “You have nothing to worry about, Aly.”
Alegra opened her mouth, probably to make another argument against herself, when her mother interrupted. “Alegra, can you-” She stopped, looking around the room and seeing Elle and Silas. “What are you two still doing here? It’s already past 11. Your parents must be worried sick.” She frowned, opening Alegra’s bedroom door wider. “Shoo, shoo.” She scolded, “If you two are late tomorrow, my husband and I won’t be able to cheer for you.”
Elle smiled and stood up, Silas trailing behind her. “See you tomorrow, Alegra. And thank you, Mrs. DeLane.” She gave her a short hug before heading out the door.
The two of them walked in silence towards their homes. Elle bit her lip, her mind reeling with possibilities when Silas spoke, “I’m more worried about you tomorrow.”
“Why?” Elle scoffed, trying to play off as ignorant. She did pretty well in all of her exams… better than Alegra, actually. She would definitely make it into the Top 10. What she was really reaching for was the Top 3.
The Top 10 was the perfect place to be if one was looking for lifelong safety. If someone were looking for adventure, however, the Top 3 was the place to be. Only the Outer Commanders were able to form teams to go outside, and the only people who qualified to be an Outer Commander were members of the Top 3. Still, after the disappearance of Commander Grayson’s team, hardly anyone ever took that offer anymore, and instead settled for the role of an Inner Commander, where they made decisions concerning the safety of Bellum’s citizens. It had been almost five years since anyone went outside. Morgana Faye was at the top and it was highly likely that the son of Commander Grayson, Kai, was second. Silas and Elle were constantly battling for third.
“Will we be okay after tomorrow?” Silas asked as they approached his house.
“I’ll be okay,” Elle lied. Truthfully, there was nothing that she wanted more than to go outside. If it was Silas and not her, she didn’t know what she would do. “Will you?”
“I will.” Silas nodded, ruffling her hair before turning towards his house. “See you tomorrow, Kennicot.” He said, calling her by her last name.
Elle continued walking, her eyes set on her house, which sat at the end of the street. Silas was really a true friend to her and Alegra. He knew their differences and always knew the right things to say to get them to relax. Alegra, who was gentle and kind, needed comfort and occasional coddling. She wanted a sense of warmth when she was panicking, hence her affectionate name, Aly. Elle, on the other hand, was resilient and strong. When she needed encouragement, she needed someone to help her toughen up. Silas had settled on using her last name, as it reminded Elle of the days that she would easily breeze through training.
Elle opened the door, the familiar sound of the bell alerting her parents that she had finally come home for the night. “Are you ready for tomorrow?” Her father greeted her at the door just as she was taking her shoes off. His eyes were glimmering with pride and excitement. “My daughter is going to be following her parents’ footsteps, landing in the Top 3 of her graduating class.” He bellowed happily, giving her one of his famous bear hugs.
“Thanks, dad.” Elle forced a smile as he pulled away. “I’m pretty tired. I think I’m just going to go to bed, if that’s okay.” She said, feeling the discomfort in her chest tightening once more.
“Of course.” He nodded, his smile unwavering. “Sleep well, okay? You don’t want dark under-eye circles in your graduation pictures.”
Elle kept a fake smile plastered on her face until she shut the door behind her. Taking a deep breath and leaning against the door, she looked around her room. It was filled with nothing but items from the academy. There were books for her to study, diagrams for her to look over, and CDs with fighting demonstrations for her to practice. Everything in her life led up to the results that would come tomorrow.
She picked up a framed photo that sat on her desk and traced the edges, memorizing her late mother’s face. Her mother, like her, was constantly brimming with curiosity about the outside world. She had went on the outside expedition with Commander Grayson.
Elle was always weighing the pros and cons of being in the Top 3. If she made it, then she could become an Outer Commander. She could see the outside and experience life beyond her town. But it was likely that she would hurt her father if she did. If she didn’t make it, she would have failed to meet her father’s expectations, and she would have to stay in Bellum, likely for the rest of her life.
Just then, there came a tapping from her window. Normally anyone would be startled, but Elle had gotten used to these nightly visits. She climbed onto her bed and opened the window, seeing Kai standing in front of it.
He leaned on the window frame. “Hey,” He greeted quietly, as to not alarm her father.
“Still sneaking in here late at night just to have a chat?” Elle feigned irritation, though the look on her face made it clear that she was enjoying his company, “You realize that you live next door and that we can have conversations in the daylight like normal people, right?”
Kai shrugged. “It’s the last late-night visit of our academic career. Plus, where’s the fun in having conversations like normal people?”
She chuckled lightly, “I guess you’re right. Are you ready to claim your rightful spot as 2nd in our class?” She asked.
“And start training as an Inner Commander?” Kai grinned, his smile wider than any smile Elle had ever seen before. “Hell yeah. Once I get there, the first thing I’m going to do is ban any outer expeditions.” His smile wavered as he took in Elle’s disappointed expression. “You can’t be serious, Elle. How can you still want to go outside?”
She sighed and turned away, tired of having this argument with him. “I’ve told you this before.”
“Then tell me again, because I still don’t understand.” He retorted, struggling to stay quiet enough to not wake up Elle’s father. More than anything right now, he wanted to yell at her. Maybe the thousandth time, he’d actually be able to knock some sense into her.
“I want to experience more than what we have here.” Elle turned back to him and looked him straight in the eyes, determined for him to see her point. “I’ve seen everything I can see here. I know everyone here. I’m pretty sure that I’ve stepped on every square foot of this place. I want more. I want to see those animals that we read about in books that were published hundreds of years ago. I need more than this.” She sighed, mentally pleading for him to understand.
Unfortunately, Kai was as stubborn as her. “I’m sorry, Elle. I can’t support you in that decision.” He shook his head, “After your mom disappeared, I’d hope that you had some sense of danger.”
“It’s not like I want to leave,” Elle defended, a bit hurt from Kai’s mention of her mother. “I just want to be able to go. Isn’t it nice to at least have the option?”
Kai had had enough. He took his arms off of her window ledge, not even bothering to respond to her final question before he left. “I hope Silas gets the third spot.”
Fuming, Elle slammed her window shut. She turned off her light and climbed in bed, finding comfort in the warmth of her covers.
It all comes down to tomorrow.
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