Numbers and Names
This was going to be harder than he had thought.
They had been told what to expect with Assessments. Each Gifted in their eighteenth year was assigned a particular set of villages. They were to Assess all the children born in the past year, and return to the Council with all those found to be Gifted. 256 had spent the day visiting all the children in his three farming villages. It had been incredibly tiring, and he had gotten lost numerous times, once in the middle of a paddock of goats. However, he found nothing, no children to take back to the Council. Finally, he had made it to his last house, only to find this girl.
I can't sense her as easily as usual, and she's older… I hope the Council has answers, because I certainly don't know what to think of this.
She struggled fiercely as he dragged her from her home. 256 gritted his teeth and pulled. Another thing he hadn't been expecting – babies could hardly struggle. And worse, he also had to deal with her family coming after her.
"Wesley!" the girl cried as he dragged her towards the door.
The blond haired boy struggled to his feet, grabbing her other arm and pulling. The boy was quite strong, and 256 could feel his own grip on her loosening.
He let go of the girl for a moment, much to the surprise of both of them, and grabbed the boy's arm instead. A small fire sprung up beneath his palms, searing his opponent's skin. The boy yelled, letting go of the Gifted girl, his forearms covered with large red welts. 256 took his chance and dashed outside, dragging the girl with him as the boy whimpered in pain.
She continued to struggle, twisting his arm until he had no choice but to let go. The girl grabbed him by the shoulders, but before she could knee him in the groin, 256 swept his foot under her legs and tripped her over.
The girl's family poured out of their small cottage, running towards the two Gifted. 256 concentrated and a large fire wall sprung up between them, illuminating them in an orange light.
"No!" the girl cried, biting the hand that was holding her down. 256 let go of her momentarily, squeezing his eyes shut at the stinging. She slapped him in the face, pushing him onto the ground. The girl ran towards her family, but she stumbled once she reached the fire wall. 256 gritted his teeth and the fire wall grew in intensity, forcing her to step back further and further away from them.
"No…" she said again, but this time it sounded different. She stared at them through the flames, her fists clenched.
256 scrambled to his feet, running towards her and thrusting his hand against her lips. He blocked her airway and filled her mouth with smoke. The girl coughed and spluttered, but her struggling slowed. She fell against him, the weight of her body almost knocking him over.
Her family was still watching through the fierce fire he had created. 256 stared at them momentarily, and they stared back. The younger ones were crying, the older ones staring at him with more hatred than he had ever seen before. The blond haired boy's stare was the worst of all.
I don't want to accidentally kill them…
He shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut and opening the again. The Council will be angry if you think like that… You must be merciless. They have likely hidden this girl from us, so it is your duty.
Even so he could not bring himself to do it as he dragged the girl into the carriage that would take them back to the Council. He placed her gently on the seat, before turning back and extinguishing the flames surrounding the small farm house.
There. Now they won't burn.
"Go quickly," he said to the driver as he closed the door behind them.
The Servant nodded silently, and they were off. 256 watched through the window as the girl's family ran after them, but they soon became specks in the distance as the carriage sped away.
Feeling slightly reassured, 256 turned back towards the girl. She was still unconscious, and he took the opportunity to tie her hands and feet. He felt slightly guilty, as she was one of them now, and it was wrong to treat a fellow Gifted person this way.
256 stared at the girl in front of him. Her long brown hair was messy and tangled, partly, he was sure, from their struggle just a short while ago. Her eyes, though closed, were narrowed in a frown, and she looked very pale despite her tanned skin. She's probably so uncomfortable looking because of the smoke… The smoke I forced her to inhale.
However, despite the sickly look on her face, 256 couldn't help but notice that she was quite pretty. The thought made blood rush to his head as he continued to stare, noting her small nose and slightly pink lips. No, you mustn't think like that. The Council would disapprove.
He swallowed and looked away. She was beginning to stir now, retching and vomiting on the floor of the carriage. 256 crinkled his nose at the smell, reaching under the seat and offering her a towel. To his surprise, she shook her head, glaring at him. He found her reaction confusing. They were the Gifted, the lucky ones. The nonGifted can never understand us and our powers… Isn't she glad to finally be able to be with us?
However, this girl did not appear to share his view – she looked at him like he was the vomit on the floor, disgusting and hard to get rid of. 256 tried to ignore her glares as he took a scrubbing brush and began cleaning it up. The smell was so bad he almost vomited himself just looking at it.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked, her light blue eyes narrowing. 256 looked up, surprised she had spoken.
"I'm taking you to the Council," he answered, attempting a smile. It didn't seem to work, as her scowl only worsened. He tried to ignore her as he finished cleaning, but it was difficult.
"You hurt Wesley," she stated, staring at him with accusing eyes.
"It was only a small burn," 256 said quickly, assuming Wesley was the blond boy. "He'll heal quick enough."
The girl shook her head, glaring at him. "You still hurt him."
I can't deny that. "It was necessary. You would have gotten away if I hadn't."
He paused, staring down at his feet. "I'm sorry for injuring him."
The girl looked at him like he was from the Other Worlds. "Why do you care? Isn't he beneath you or something?"
I don't know why, really. But I can't tell her that.
256 took a deep breath, clearing his throat. "He's just a citizen. I am not supposed to hurt citizens when I take the Assessed away. But he left me with no choice."
The girl opened her mouth to reply, but instead turned green and vomited again. 256 sighed, hoping their journey would be short as the smell reached his nostrils.
The next morning they stopped for half a day to allow the horses to rest. 256 took the girl outside, hoping that the clean air would make her feel better. Despite the ropes binding her hands and feet, she still attempted to escape twice while they were out in the open. After he caught her for the second time, she gave up, returning to the carriage and sitting sulkily across from him while they waited until the evening.
256's stomach growled, reminding him of how hungry he was. The last meal he had eaten was breakfast on Assessment Day. He'd been so busy he did not have time to eat lunch, and since then there had been no opportunity to even think about it. He reached into one of the bags, pulling out a loaf of bread and some butter. He cut himself a small slice, before cutting a large one for the girl too.
"Here," he said gently, offering it to her. She shook her head, glaring at him.
"I'm not hungry," she said coldly, although the noises from her stomach said otherwise.
"Take it," he insisted, more forceful.
The girl held up her roped hands, shaking them and rolling her eyes at him.
256 bit his lip, considering his options. If I untie her, she could escape… But she's weak, and I don't want her to starve. It'll just be for a short time, and her legs will still be bound.
"Here," he said, untying her hands and offering her the bread once more. She accepted it eagerly, gobbling it up as if she hadn't had food in days, which he supposed was probably true. 256 began to relax a little, sitting back and taking another bite of his own bread. She won't do anything now, she's too busy –
The girl dropped her bread suddenly, aiming a punch at his head. 256 blocked it easily without thinking, but she managed to snatch the butter knife while he was distracted. She waved it in his face, her blue eyes flashing angrily.
"Let me go or I'll stab you through with this," she hissed. Although she sounded quite threatening, 256 could not help but be a little amused at her attempts to overcome him.
"That knife isn't sharp enough to hurt me," he said, smiling slightly.
Her cheeks flushed red, but she held her ground. "If I use enough force it will."
"But your legs are tied. It would be difficult to stab me and untie yourself at the same time, yes?"
"I'll stab you first and untie myself while you're writhing on the floor with pain," she insisted.
"And now you've told me your plan. If I'm expecting it, how can you overcome me?" he said, still smiling.
She considered this for a moment, providing the distraction he needed. 256 wrestled the knife from her, pulling her hands together. The girl was bigger than him but his years of training allowed him to overcome her again quite easily.
"Let go of me, stupid!" she yelled as he retied the rope around his hands.
"Don't call me stupid," 256 said as he secured the knot. She tried to threaten me with a butter knife, but I'm the stupid one?
"Well, what do I call you then?" she asked hotly.
"That's not a name. What is your name?"
"I don't have a name. Only a number."
She rolled her eyes. "You must have had a name once. What did your parents call you?"
256 shrugged. "I never met them, so I don't know what they called me."
"So you're nameless, then?" she said, thinking. "Oh, I know! You're Nameless! That can be your name."
"No. If you must call me anything, call me 256," he said weakly, but he knew it was no use. She'll call me that just to annoy me now.
"So Nameless, when will we arrive at the Council?" she asked, smirking.
"A few days, probably," he mumbled. "And don't call me that."
The Servant returned shortly after with the horses, and they resumed their journey into the evening. 256 tried to close his eyes and sleep, but it was difficult. She just won't stop staring at me!
He tried to look away, to ignore her and go to sleep, but it was no use. Her sky blue eyes were always there, like a serial killer planning her next kill – him. Gone was the girl who had tried to threaten him with a butter knife; he now felt like he was unwillingly participating in a stare-off with a cold-blooded murderer. The nervousness that came from this seemed to egg her on. After a few too many times of meeting her eyes for a few seconds before quickly turning away, her threatening gaze was soon accompanied by a sly smirk.
"Can you please stop staring at me?" he said nervously.
"Why? Is it making you uncomfortable, Nameless?" she asked coldly, her eyes unblinking.
"Well, yes," 256 admitted. "And don't call me that."
"Then, no," she said, sitting back in her chair, her eyes never leaving his face. Her satisfied smirk returned as he squirmed under her gaze for the rest of the journey.
Although the girl made sure that the next few days were amongst the most uncomfortable in 256's life, he could not help but be curious about her. Aside from patrolling the villages, he had never really been in contact with the nonGifted before. Of course, this girl was not truly one of the nonGifted, but she was the closest he would probably ever get.
What surprised him the most was her apparent anger. He knew that once a Gifted child was taken away from their nonGifted relatives, they were one of the privileged. We are better than them, so how can we live among them… Our lives are so much more fulfilling, how can she not see that?
Perhaps given time she would. Still, he wondered what the Council would do. I suppose I'm about to find out.
"We're here," he said, shaking her awake. She scowled at him, but allowed him to lead her from the carriage.
But as she caught a glimpse of the building before them, her menacing glare in her eyes turned into wonder. The Council was the largest man-made structure on the island, a strong, bright white fortress with walls so high the buildings inside were hidden from view. 256 always felt intimidated when he saw it from the outside, and as he watched the girl, he knew she was feeling the same way.
"What are you staring at?" she snapped when she noticed him looking at her.
"N – nothing," he stammered, his cheeks flushing. "Um, come this way."
He led her towards the large gate in the centre of the wall facing them.
"Are you a returning Assessor?" The Gifted on gate duty sounded almost bored, not even looking at them. "You are to report to the records room, where they will –"
"I'm a returning Assessor," 256 interrupted. The man looked up, glaring at him. He lifted up his sleeve, the white patterns decorating the material indicating he had the Gift of Air.
"How dare you interrupt your superior," he said coldly. "Know your place, Gift of Fire."
256 bowed low.
"I – I'm sorry for my insolence," he mumbled. "But this is urgent. There's been a problem with my Assessments."
The man finally noticed the girl beside him. "Who is this? Her clothing… Why is she not in uniform?"
She was still wearing the clothes he had found her in, covered in dirt from their scuffle. 256 noticed she was shivering quite violently in the cold winter air. He considered offering her his coat, since he did not need it, but he knew she would refuse it anyway.
Despite her apparent discomfort, the girl stared the Gifted man down as if daring him to say more.
"She's not like us," 256 said quickly, still gripping her arm. "I found her during my Assessments. I don't know how, but she must've evaded us as a baby."
The man's eyes widened, surveying the girl once more. "You must take her to see the Council at once."
He turned to the female Servant beside him. "You, take this boy to the Council's chambers. It doesn't matter what they're doing, this is an urgent matter."
The Servant nodded, opening the gate and ushering them through. Inside the great white walls, the buildings were a stony grey.
"Follow," the Servant mumbled, striding over to the main building. 256 hurried after her, still holding the girl.
"You're hurting me," she complained, shaking her arm.
"Sorry," he muttered, trying to calm himself down. He had never visited the Council's chambers before, as their meetings were conducted in total secrecy. He had seen the members around, of course, at the end of his fourteenth year they evaluated all of the Gifted to make sure they were competent enough to leave the Council. At least it's not the courtrooms… You're not in trouble, they can't –
The Servant knocked loudly on the door, distracting him from his worries.
"What?" A Council member snapped as he opened the door. "How dare you interrupt us in the middle of a meeting! You're merely a Servant, how –"
"Please, this is my fault," 256 said quickly. The Gifted man turned his attention to him. "I – I'm sorry for interrupting you, and your meeting, but this is important."
The man's gaze fell on the girl next to him. He took one look at her dirty, nonGifted clothing and nodded.
"Come in," he said, opening the door. 256 hurried inside, gasping in awe when he saw the room before him.
The walls were a deep red, the floor beneath his feet wooden and a dark mahogany. In the centre there was a large table spanning almost the entire length of the room. About twenty people sat at equal spaces along its length, all dressed in the pure white uniform of Council members, differentiating them from the grey clothing 256 and the rest of the Gifted wore. Most of the Council were white or grey haired, but the woman sitting at the head of the table had a full head of dark, reddish brown hair tied back in a tight ponytail. Her uniform had sleeves lined with gold, giving away her position – the Leader of the Gifted and the Council.
"What brings you here?" she said, her eyes fixed on the girl. 256 gripped her arm tight.
"I – I found her on my Assessments," he said, his voice echoing slightly in the silent room. Stay calm…
"Tell us what happened," the Leader said smoothly, as though they were discussing something a lot less important.
He described how he had come to her house and Assessed the child like he was supposed to, but had found her instead.
"Something – Something is odd about this, though," 256 said once he had finished. "Her Gift isn't as noticeable as usual. I – I know you can tell that, but… I almost didn't find her."
The Leader stood up, striding across the room and stopping in front of the girl. Her dark grey eyes bore into her, and the girl glared back.
"What's your name, girl?" the Leader said quietly.
The girl opened her mouth and waggled her tongue in her face. Everyone in the room, 256 included, gasped in shock. No one disrespects the Leader like that…
Despite the girl's rude behaviour, the Leader laughed. "You have spirit, I'll give you that. But that won't help you now."
Two of the Council members stood up, seizing the girl by the arm on either side and pushing 256 out of the way.
"What are you doing?" he said as they pulled her towards the door. The girl struggled, yelling and kicking, but it was no use. "Where are you taking her?"
"You sound awfully concerned," the Leader said, raising her eyebrows. "Have you forgotten what we do to those who form attachments?"
256 shivered. "I - I'm not attached, but I found her. She is my responsibility now, so it is my duty to be concerned for her welfare."
I don't want her to get punished because of me. No – no one deserves that…
The Leader smiled eerily. "Don't worry, we're not punishing her. She will be taken to the Cells and held there until tomorrow morning, when her trial will take place."
She paused. "You can go back to your room. Make sure you get a good night's rest. A Servant will be sent to you tomorrow afternoon and will bring you back here. After hearing your story, and hers, the Council and I will decide her fate."
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