I inhale deeply. The noise of rich Overs listening to the lies their “leader” tells them makes me sick. I almost feel bad, but no, he deserves this. They deserve this. Even if they knew the truth, they would never help us. To them, we are nothing. There is no turning back now. If I do, they will catch me. I need the money for my family.
While I may have a ruthless job, it is common among people like me. Poor people, Unders, I mean, the dirt on the bottom of the rich people’s shoes. Since all the jobs that are kindly provided for us are dangerous, have long hours, and very little pay, most able bodied people end up in the black market. Although my job may be common, no one in my family knows, not even my talented sister, especially not my talented sister. Everyone thinks I work in the factories, making the ornate decorations that adorn the halls of the castle.
I ready my crossbow. It is an odd weapon, fashioned from household items because I am too poor for anything else. Since I am the best shot in the black market, most people have heard of me and want me to do their dirty work. I can pick and choose which jobs I take. That is how I got this particular deal. My client is very mysterious and I still don’t know who it is. It must be some Over who’s going to run for King.
I take a deep breath and the world around me goes silent. I close one eye to get a closer look at the target. I take another breath and then steady my hands. This is by far the most impactful job that I have ever been hired for. My hand pulls back and the world slows as the arrow flies through the air and punctures my victim’s heart.
I put my crossbow away and start to turn around. My eyes widen and my breath stops short. My eyes narrow as I grab a knife from my bag. I feel a hand close around my mouth to stifle a scream that I know would give my location away to the hundreds of people watching the speech. The hundreds of people who would just love to see a public execution right now. Realization dawning, I put my hands in the air and sigh.
I pull my hair back as I walk to school. I have a gift, or so my mother tells me and one day that will save me from my horrible fate of working in the factories like my boring sister. While I am only twelve, I am the smartest girl at my school and know that when the Inspectors come, they will take me with them. It is a stupid attempt at trying to show that Overs don’t actually hate Unders. I am really just an exception to the wretched fate of being born a lowly Under.
I will spend the rest of my days in fancy outfits, an always full belly, and riches unimaginable. I will leave this dump behind and never look back.
At school, we get our math tests back. I got a perfect score of course, but it still makes me a little sad. This is the last time I will get a test back while I am still an Under. My teachers all act kind to me, even though I know they must hate me. They act as if I am already their better.
I practice saying my new name over and over again. Aravella. I still don’t know why the Overs are making me change it. I don’t care why though. As long as I can get away from my Under parents and sister who still think that they can protect me even though they know that I am better in every way than them.
Everybody practically worships me here. They hope that when I go Up, I will treat them with respect and kindness because I was once one of them. I laugh out loud in class. Some people turn and stare but quickly turn away. Like I said, I have them wrapped around my finger and soon they will have no choice but to worship me for the Over I am.
I have decided which Under I will take Up with me to become my personal servant. It will be my sister because she has no real skill and I do really love her. She deserves a reward for supporting me even though she knew all along that I was better than her.
I decided to play a trick on my classmates. I started lifting everyone’s papers in the air and showing off all of the grades. I noticed that some students looked hurt and some looked angry. At that point, I knew that going Up would be fun.
A million possibilities of who these people could be come to mind but only one makes sense. They must be part of a rebel organization, but why would they have come for me? Sure, I may be good at shooting, but that’s about it. They can’t have come for money because I have none.
The heavily armed men take me to a car. Half an hour later, we arrive at a building that is shabby, even by Under standards. They take me to a room that is completely bare except for a table with three chairs. Only one of the men sits down. He gestures for me to do the same. I sit. A woman walks in. Somehow, she looks familiar, but how?
“Anna, I am the leader of a secret organization called the Hidden Sword. You are here because of your sister’s current situation. And, we need to recruit you. You are the best Under shooter, even if you don’t have a proper weapon. Our situation is dire. The Overs must be defeated,” the woman said.
I pondered her statement. Suddenly, I realized that I had never told her my name. Something very shady was going on here and I seemed to be the only person who didn’t know what it was.
“Well, if you are going to harm a hair on my sister’s head, I will not do anything for you. If you are going to attack the Overs, make sure my sister is nowhere near. But, other than that, I think that I hate the Overs as much as you do, so I’m game on,” I responded.
I hoped that this lady had some sense of mercy, because otherwise, my minutes were limited. That wasn’t exactly the most endearing thing I’ve ever said.
“Anna, this rebellion isn’t about revenge, or hating the Overs. It’s about justice for the Unders. If we just go around killing people, we will just make Overs Unders, and Unders Overs. That will get us nowhere,” the woman said. “And besides, we need to have a new kind of society.”
I look around my room and silently say goodbye. It isn’t much, but it has been my home for twelve years. Last night had been my last night as a lowly Under. I will be leaving Ella Craft behind and entering into the world of Aravella Swift.
I put on my nicest clothes, brush my hair, and prepare for the Turnover. While I know that the Inspectors have to choose me, there is still a small sliver of doubt in my mind. What if they aren’t looking for somebody like me?
At school, everyone is tense and on their best behavior. They know that the Inspectors, and soon me, can end their lives with the snap of a finger, for something as simple as talking back, with no questions asked. My sister has always said that it is one of many faults in our twisted world. I used to believe her until this “twisted world” offered me a chance. She will need to change her thinking if she expects me to take her Up.
The Inspectors come in. They are three tall men in long, black trench coats and dark pants. One of them is carrying a clipboard. They look around at their surroundings with distaste. Obviously, they are used to better decorations than our measly carpet, desks, chairs, and belongings.
I turned around to look at my teacher. She is biting her nails and looks like she is trying to make herself as small as possible. Contrary to her usual attire, she is wearing a long, modest, brown dress that makes her look like a carpet. She appears to have bags underneath her eyes. If three people in my class fail, so will she. She will be shamed, her job taken away. She will be sent to the factories, or worse, the mines.
The Inspectors go to talk to our teacher. They ask her about her students. She hands over our legal files, the files that will say that I deserve to move Up.
They look through the files, concentration on their faces. They put aside three files. My teacher sighs in relief. Her job is safe.
“Thomas Splint, Michael Sander, and Ella Craft please come to the front of the room. All three of you are done with this school,” the Inspectors said.
I walk through the corridor with the woman who has said her name is Wil. She is taking me further into the maze of rooms, halls, and doors. I suppose that it is better for them to have the weapons room farther into the building than on the outside but still, this is crazy!
Once we get there, Wil shows me dozens of bows, arrows, and crossbows. She says to pick one and that I can keep it. I am drawn toward a navy and silver crossbow. I can tell that it is no weapon used by Unders. This weapon is from Up.
“How did you get this?” I ask. “This must have been worth hundreds, maybe thousands!”
“We have more power than you think, Anna. And it isn’t that hard to intercept an order of hunting weapons,” Wil responded. I am starting to get that this rebellion doesn’t exactly follow the rules. They’re my kind of people. But, something clicks in the back of my mind. What if this is nothing more than a luxurious bribe, to get me to do something for them?
It isn’t that hard to believe and I wouldn’t put it past them. Still, even if they are trying to bribe me, it seems like we want similar things and it isn’t like they have me at gunpoint.
“What do you want me to do?” I ask. Better get this over with. Hopefully it’s something easy like killing someone of importance or maybe even simply stealing something.
“Anna, we need you to be a spy. You need to get your sister to take you Up with her. Likely, it won’t be that hard. Then you will listen in on everything you can. Politics, battle plans, or demographics will work. We also have some people who are already stationed there and should be able to alert you if you ever need to do anything extra. Keep a close watch on your sister and don’t tell anyone that you are apart of this organization at all costs. The King still thinks that we are nothing to worry about and I would like it to stay that way. I trust your instincts, so do what you have to. I will give you a transmitter so you can report back to me,” Wil says.
I am shocked. This will be extremely dangerous. Even though I think that I can handle it, what if I’m wrong? What if someone finds out and I am executed? What if my sister doesn’t decide to take me Up and the whole mission is canceled?
A few minutes later, I say yes and gather my things. Wil walks me back to the room where I entered and hands me my transmitter. It is smaller than I expected, but it doesn’t seem that complicated. I head home just as the sun is setting.
I walk to the front of the room. Unlike Michael and Thomas, I am not scared and walk proudly. Someone else might have felt bad for the two boys, but not me. They have controlled their own fate by failing the year.
The Inspectors tell Michael and Thomas that they are expelled. They will graciously be provided with jobs in the mines. There will be no opportunity to switch jobs when the dust gets into their lungs or if they are injured in an accident. They have dug themselves a grave by not doing well in school.
The Inspectors turn to me. They tell me that because of the kind and loving King Rexano, I will be going Up and I will be able to take one person with me who will become my personal servant. I will be taught in math, science and the arts. They tell me to go home for the last time.
At home, I tell my parents and sister triumphantly that I am going Up.
“Anna, since I am going to let you come Up with me to be my servant, I expect you to gather my belongings and pack them. We will be leaving at sundown,” I say.
Surprisingly, Anna seems relieved. She does as I say and scurries upstairs. I look around at my surroundings and decide that I will not miss my tiny home.
Anna comes downstairs and says a tearful and emotional goodbye to my parents. She hugs them one final time and finally comes over to me.
“Aren’t you going to say goodbye?” she asks.
“Why should I?” I reply. The quicker we go Up, the better. Besides, I am an Over now, I can do what I want.