Chapter 1 - Isolde
I don’t move a hair as I eye the Antithetical. The lessons drilled into me at school and the numbing newspaper headlines should be more than enough to send me fleeing. But instead I watch, silently hiding behind a tree as I wait for the Antithetical to do . . . something. A couple years younger than me, she is shorter, thinner, and frailer. Not at all like a deranged psychopath.
Her bird-like hands coax a fire out of a few twigs, and her face is illuminated in the dim twilight. Freckles and a pale, thin face come into clearer view, behind a veil of twisting smoke. Apart from her being so skinny, she looks normal. But normal does not encompass being able to shrink and grow objects with just a touch.
Not that harmful, right? Nothing to do with the Antithetical who can shoot beams of pure fire out of their palms.
You’ve had your look, I tell myself. Get out of here.
My body does not obey.
I look at the girl as she increases the size of her fire, and huddles over the burning flames, thin arms wrapping round her slight body. I wish that I could do something to help, but I don’t know her: I can’t trust her. She is an outlaw, who I should not be sympathising with. By law, I should be sprinting in the direction of my Sector’s headquarters, and then report her.
I glance at my watch – it’s getting late. Making sure not to alert the girl of my presence, I carefully extract myself from the tree’s thick branches. I intended to go tree-jumping, but the ruffle of leaves will be a dead giveaway. The dark is on my side, I suppose, but I think I’ve taken enough risks for the day.
Sectors are supposed to be of equality – in all factors; size, population, importance – but my one, Brackleby, is definitely the most eventful. What with it being right next to the NS – non-sector – which is the large expanse of forest that homes the Antithetical. They are a lot more common here than anywhere else, even in Cilvermoor, the Sector on the other side of the NS.
I descend the tree, barely disturbing a leaf, and glance one more time at the young girl. The urge to talk to her, or leave her something is strong – she looks so needy – but fear restricts me. I steal off in the direction I said I’d meet my best friend, Isaac, my head buzzing with thoughts about the Antithetical. They’re supposed to be villainous and dangerous, but those words do not seem to relate to the young teenager I just saw.
Looks aren’t everything, I remind myself, but am still unconvinced.
Our leaders – the Radii – claim that the Antithetical are the one major thing that stops us from reaching sustainable happiness. The Radii spread their influence, teaching, and laws around, support all of us in this Circle. Everyone looks up to them, speaks of them with reverence. They take a big weight on their shoulders, and I appreciate that. But why such hatred of the Antithetical?
Even as I think of the question, I know the answer: they’re different. With abilities beyond anyone else’s capacity, it’s predictable that they would incite fear. The terrible crimes committed by some of them only testify to the allegations. Killing, maiming, stealing . . .
Not all of them, though? Surely not.
There are theories that they are rebels, come from outside the Wall to disrupt the peace we have. The word ‘outside’ brings chills to my body, even though the autumn evening is fairly warm.
Ages ago, the leaders of the world decided that the reason so many atrocities took place was because of too much. Too much coveting and knowledge. Too many possibilities and opportunities. So they created Circles – large, round, impenetrable wall-encased areas with several divisions, called Sectors. The aim was that lowered levels of interaction would mean that the next generations would not crave as much, and do so many terrible things to get what they wanted.
We’re not allowed to step out of our Circles. We can’t, regardless. I’ve been to the Wall. It’s made out of some rough, tough, unyielding substance and is so tall. I cannot even describe how tiny I felt standing next to that daunting barrier. I craned my neck back as far as it could go, and all I saw was the unbroken curve of the Wall – a colour like watery milk. My heart started to beat fast and I began to feel claustrophobic, overcome by the desire to find out what’s behind that titanic, impermeable wall.
But I’m not allowed. This is what caused troubles in the old days – mind-consuming desire. Trying to attempt things that people would not, should not, and could not have the ability to do. So I try to dampen down the feelings – unsuccessfully. I guess there’s a little bit of badness in everyone.
But why would the Antithetical be worse? I’m not naïve enough to think that they are all misinterpreted saints, but powers can’t immediately turn people evil. Makes them more susceptible to corruption, yes, but not so much that every Antithetical should be immediately, unconditionally locked up. Not so much that troops of Hunters dedicated to seeking them should be daily deployed to the non-sector, clad with protective gear and massive stun guns.
Not so much that I am leaving a girl to probably die in the wild.