Chapter 1: New Names
In a corner of Scotland, Yearl was a small city similar to any other: the city hall, the cinemas, the malls, the houses, all were perfect clones of the ones in the other towns of the country, maybe even of the world. Tourists were rare, as the mass of buildings was hidden behind a mountain with no name, far from every other piece of civilization and no one remembered that the city ever existed. It was even erased from most modern maps of the region. But soon enough, its name would be known to everyone and Yearl would be as famous as Paris, New York or Tokyo. And it all started on a day that was similar to any other...
It was a cold, windy day of October. The sky was grey, as it always was in this part of the year. The sun started to shine over the Mountain while most of the inhabitants were still sleeping. The night shift workers, slowly walking in the streets, yawning and dreaming of their beds ignored the usual police cars and firefighter trucks that were rushing around town.
In the Boy Training House 4, the oldest students were waiting, lined up next to a wall in a small room. The walls were covered of a dark-gray paint that time had destroyed and there was, in a corner of the room, a rusty chair placed next to an old desk. The six young men were anxious. Today was their birthday, they were all turning twenty. But none of that mattered to them. This day was important as today they received their names and learned to which of the thirteen Exam House of the city they would be assigned. Finally, Mr.Perkins entered the room. The headmaster and warden of the House was a thin man that was taller than anyone else. He was in his 30's but his grey hair and the many wrinkles of his face made him look older. He wore a dark suit, his "important days" one, not to be confused with his other identical dark costumes that were for normal days. He was holding a large, yellowish envelope. Slowly, he approached the boys and looked at them like a predator observes his prey.
"All right boys," he started "In my hand I have all the papers and the forms signed by the mayor's hand. You all know what is inside. And I know you are all impatient to learn about who you will be." The headmaster then went on in a long speech about never forgetting who you are, where you come from and knowing what you want to be while the young men in front of him were rolling their eyes. When the gray man finished, he sat on the rusty old chair, opened the envelope and spread the official documents on the desk in front of him.
"When I call you, make a step forward. I will then tell you your name and in which Exam House you will stay, starting tomorrow. " He paused, took a deep breath and studied the six students in front of him. He tried printing their faces in his brain, to never forget them.
"Number 4-02-10-A1. You are now Edgar Smith. You are assigned to Exam House 3. Number 4-02-10-A2. You are now Tom O'Malley. You are assigned to Exam House 7. Number 4-02-10-A3. You are now David Jones. You are assigned to Exam House 1. Number 4-02-10-A4. You are now Harry Churchill. You are assigned to Exam House 2. Number 4-02-10-A5. You are now James Campbell. You are assigned to Exam House 8. Number 4-02-10-A6. You are now Victor Brown. You are assigned to Exam House 13. Good luck to you all. If you want to talk to me, I will be in my office. Goodbye."
Once the door was shut and their elder was far, the boys started to chat: "I can't believe I'm named Harry! I always preferred what you got, David.", "Exam House 7! I've heard it's one of the smallest!", "Don't complain! I've got Exam House 1. The guards there are ruthless."
A little away from his friends, the newly named Victor Brown was thinking. He had heard rumors about Exam House 13. Some said that the ghosts of the ones who died there still haunt the place. Others talked about a mysterious woman who came once a year, checking on every patient while they slept. Another group of people said that the ones sent there were crazy, meant to be geniuses or had powers. As a realist, Victor preferred to ignore those talks and make his own idea of the place. Stuck in his thoughts, he took time to realize the others had left. He ran into the corridor, looking everywhere. He couldn't see nor hear the men. After a long visit of the place he grew up in, he still couldn't find his friends. They were gone. Startled, he walked back to his room. He knew they would never leave without him. So where were they? The birthday boy sat on his bed, and for an hour remembered the pact they had made the night before. And without realizing it, he fell asleep.