Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Adventure  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Contemporary  ➡  Action

Tumbledown

 

Tumbledown

By

T A Frawley

 

Copyright

Tumbledown Copyright © 2015 Thomas Frawley.

All rights reserved. No parts of this may be used in any manner whatsoever without written permission.

All characters in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Dedication

 

I dedicate this book to my beautiful wife Teagan and lovely daughter Lana. In a world that is forever changing the one constant in my life is the love I have for them both.

Chapter 1

 

It was always the same thought Phoebe as she watched the scene before her unfold. Places like Clarendon Lodge seemed to breed bullies such as Kate Nolan, a big girl that used her size to intimidate the weaker girls in the home.

Phoebe had so far managed to keep off her radar but that was all about to change.

“Leave her alone you big ox.”

There it was, no going back now.

“Who said that?”

“I did you big moose, leave her alone or I will make you regret it.”

All eyes were now on Phoebe as Kate turned to the brave young girl.

“Once I am finished with this little creep I will deal with your insolence.”

Phoebe could not abide bullying in any form and refused to be silenced.

“You will deal with me now you overgrown freak.”

It was a challenge that the big girl could ill afford to ignore. Losing face in front of the other girls was not an option for Kate Nolan who had built a reputation as someone to be feared.

“That is just fine by me you meddlesome little turd.”

With that Kate and her two companions turned to face a lone Phoebe.

“Come get me ox face I am waiting.” Phoebe did not feel near as confident as she was trying to sound but she knew that the only way to get Kate away from the girl that she was tormenting was to give her another target.

“You are slow even for a big fat moose of a girl.”

That was it, Phoebe had hit a nerve and Kate sped across the room in order to get at her.

“What is going on here? You know that you are only allowed in the communal room in smaller groups.”

It was Miss Hanlon and for once Phoebe was pleased to see the so-called care co-ordinator of the home.

“Run along now and find something useful to do.”

As the large group began to disperse Kate brushed past Phoebe and whispered.

“This is not over yet.”

Phoebe smiled back at the larger girl and replied sweetly.

“I know I still have to teach you a lesson in manners.”

Why thought Phoebe? Just for once could she not leave it alone, after all what business was it of hers anyway? The girl that was being picked on had victim written all over her and it was not as if she had even talked to the stupid girl.

Phoebe had been getting herself into these kinds of situations all of her young life; it was as if she could not stop getting involved in other people’s business.

Jolene Hampton came over to Phoebe and tried to thank her for saving her skin.

“Thanks, I thought I was a goner for sure that time. Kate was real mad at me.”

Phoebe could not bring herself to care about this pathetic specimen before her and told her so.

“Look at you, you have loser stamped all over you. It is no wonder that you get picked on by the others, you need to stand up for yourself and if anyone comes after you make them wish they had picked on some other poor soul.”

 

It was good advice thought Phoebe but with the size of Jolene she would definitely take some beatings if she took it. Still it had stood Phoebe in good stead and if it was good enough for her then it was good enough for the younger girl before her.

“You need to take care of yourself in this world because there sure as hell ain’t no-one else going to look after you.”

It was a harsh truth but the sooner you learned it the better and Phoebe Maddison had learned it at an even younger age than Jolene Hampton.

“I still want to thank you and if there is anything that you need I will try and get it for you.”

Although Phoebe appreciated the offer of friendship coming from Jolene she would not accept it. She did not need friends or relations to cause her more grief. No, you were better off on your own, that way no one could hurt you the way that…….

“She will come after you now that is Kate will come for you. I can help, I want to help and there are others that we can get to help us.”

Phoebe’s thought interrupted she began to look at the grateful girl a little more closely and maybe she was wrong about Jolene but it did not matter.

“If she comes I will deal with her myself and I have no need of anyone else’s help.”

As the disappointed young girl walked away from her Phoebe could not help but feel a small pang of regret at the way she had treated Jolene.

It was a couple of days before Kate made her move and it came from a typical sneak attack. Phoebe was not expecting such a cunning move from the bigger girl and although surprised by the nature of the attack she still felt completely up to the task of dealing with the situation by herself.

Miss Hanlon called Phoebe to the office for a meeting and to discuss her progress at Clarendon Lodge.

Phoebe was surprised to see Kate Nolan sitting opposite Miss Hanlon when she stood before the head of the home.

“Do you know why I have called you here Phoebe?”

“I was told it was a progress report but with Kate here I suspect that is not the case.”

Miss Hanlon looked very stern as she began to speak.

“Phoebe we take stealing very seriously here at Clarendon and it will not be tolerated, do you understand me?

“I understand you very well I just do not know what this has to do with me and what Kate is doing in here looking so smug.”

“I am glad that you have mentioned Kate as it is her assertion that you have stolen a gold bracelet from her.

Miss Hanlon paused to gauge Phoebe’s reaction before continuing.

“I would like to hear what you have to say for yourself before we conduct a search of your belongings.”

“Why would I want to take some gaudy piece of bling from anyone? It really is not my style; I cannot bear the cold touch of metal against my skin.”

It was true thought Bridget Hanlon as she looked at Phoebe and took in the girl’s appearance. With her short hair, bib & brace denim dungarees and scrubbed face she was every inch the tom-boy.

Although Phoebe Maddison was taller than the average girl for her age she made no concessions to her femininity at all. She was pretty enough but with her large accusing eyes and permanent scowl Phoebe gave off an aggressive vibe that was very disconcerting.

“You may not be inclined to wear the bracelet young lady but that would not stop you from selling it.”

As she said this Miss Hanlon realised that she did not really believe, for one second, that the girl standing, so tall and erect, before her was guilty of any wrong doing.

“You can think whatever you like I did not take any stinking bracelet and that is all I have to say on the subject.”

Seeing that Phoebe was going to stubbornly stand her ground Miss Hanlon took charge.

“Very well, we will search your room and if anything is found then law enforcement will have to be involved.”

Thinking that the threat of calling the police might change the stubborn girl’s position Miss Hanlon paused before rising to leave her office.

“Call whoever you want I did not take the damned thing and that is that.”

Kate Nolan was silent throughout the exchange between Miss Hanlon and Phoebe and seemed to be enjoying Phoebe’s discomfort.

“You can wipe that smirk off your face missy and if I find that you are making this up there will be hell to pay.”

“I would never do such……..”

Kate was unable to finish her protest as Bridget Hanlon said tiredly.

“That is it Nolan you can go and you Maddison will be escorted to your room by Malgosia, who will search your room in your presence.”

That was fine by Phoebe who wanted nothing more than to get out of the claustrophobic office and the idea of someone searching her room did not give her any cause for concern.

“That is fine by me Mal can search all that she wants, she will not find any crappy bracelet.”

The walk back to her room with Mal seemed to take a lot longer than usual and although Phoebe liked the woman by her side they walked in silence. Once they had arrived Mal asked Phoebe to stand at the door as she searched the room.

“Sure, no problem, I have nothing to hide.”

It was not long before the young polish care worker found something to Phoebe’s astonishment.

“I am so sorry Phoebe it was under your mattress, what can I do?”

Phoebe was still shocked to see the bracelet in Mal’s hand and could only say.

“You have to do what is right; you must report what you have found.”

“But I know that you did not take this, I know the Nolan girl and I know that she is a bully and a liar.”

Phoebe was grateful that someone believed she was not a thief but that did not change the fact that the bracelet was found in her room.

“If you do not report what you have found then you could lose your job and I do not want that to happen so you have to do your duty and report me.”

“I could tell Miss Hanlon of my suspicions and see what she has to say about the situation.”

Phoebe just smiled at Mal and said in a resigned voice.

“They are just suspicions and I think that Hanlon already has the same suspicions as you do but without proof she will do nothing.”

With that Phoebe walked away to await her fate and contemplate a way to get back at Kate Nolan. She had won for now but there would be another time and Phoebe would wait for her opening.

It was a whole new day before Phoebe found herself back in Miss Hanlon’s office and this time they were alone.

“It seems your protestations of innocence were but hollow words young lady.”

“I stand by my words and have nothing more to say, so if you are going to call the police then I suggest you do so now.”

Bridget was still inclined to believe Phoebe was innocent but with the bracelet being found in her room she had to act.

“In this case I have decided to deal with this in house and you should feel grateful for that my girl.”

Bridget Hanlon really did not want to involve any outside parties as she was under constant scrutiny by the governing commission that would like nothing better than to shut down the home.

“Really grateful to be branded a thief without a proper investigation or trial? I should be grateful for that!? I would prefer you called in the police so that they could find out the truth as you clearly cannot be bothered to do.”

“My decision is final Miss Maddison and you will abide by it and carry out any punishment I deem suitable.”

Phoebe wondered how Hanlon thought she could punish her; she was already in a secure home that was run like a prison. It amused her that this woman thought she could make her life any worse than it already was.

“You will have all privileges suspended for three months and for those three months you will be on supervised cleaning duties every day.”

A huge smile beamed out from Phoebe as she replied.

“Suspend my privileges that is a joke, I receive no visits, no mail and as for cleaning duties good luck with making me do anything that I don’t want to.”

Bridget Hanlon was surprised by Phoebe’s attitude to her punishment but could also see her point.

“If you do not wish to comply with your new duties then you will be locked in your room for the day.”

Phoebe’s smile just got wider at this news.

“I do love my own company and I could use a break from the Kate Nolan’s of the world. What else have you got?”

Bridget although Impressed with Phoebe did not show it and dismissed her, feeling that she had been bested by a fifteen year old girl. A feeling that she did not like one little bit and would take some thinking about.

After one month of assigning a member of staff to take Phoebe down to carry out her new duties it became obvious that the obstinate girl would be true to her word. She steadfastly refused to do any cleaning and would stand before her escort looking intently at the ceiling.

This behaviour landed her once again in Miss Hanlon’s office.

“You seem to have an aversion to good honest work Miss Maddison.”

There was no answer from Phoebe who would have relished the opportunity to do some real work but would not participate in a punishment regime that she felt she did not deserve.

“So be it, I have talked to Miss Nolan and she has given me her word that there will be no further trouble and that she holds no hard feelings against you for stealing her bracelet. Now if I have your word that you will not start anything between the two of you then I am willing to let you go back to normal duties and lift the restriction on your privileges.”

There was still no response from Phoebe who seemed more interested in looking out of the window into the grounds of Clarendon Lodge.

“Well girl do I have your word or not?

This was not going as planned thought Bridget who really needed to put an end to this nonsense as Clarendon was short-staffed and she could not spare any personnel to escort Maddison to and from her room every day.

“Not.”

My God this girl was infuriatingly stubborn and would not budge an inch.

“You are enjoying your daily lockups then Miss Maddison!”

Phoebe looked directly at Bridget Hanlon and said.

“You have accused me of a crime I did not commit and punished me accordingly. If you are now saying that you were wrong and that you are going to give my punishment to the ox then I will give you my word that I will not retaliate.”

“Firstly I will not be dictated to young lady and secondly as far as I am concerned you are guilty of theft. As you are unwilling to be reasonable and trying to get you to Implement your duties has proven futile, you will be locked in your room from the early morning to the evening until your punishment is over.”

After dismissing Phoebe Bridget Hanlon once again felt that the obstinate girl had won and that by sticking to her principles Phoebe had shown great strength of character. The file on Phoebe Maddison was not particularly pleasant reading nor was it a story that Miss Hanlon had not heard before.

All of the girls in her charge had disadvantaged backgrounds, broken homes, abuse, neglect, violence; there was nothing so different about Phoebe Maddison whose father had died when she was ten leaving her to be raised by her mother.

Jocelyn Maddison’s breakdown due to depression and an inability to cope with a young daughter was nothing new or special, it was a story that was repeated throughout the files in her office. Yet Bridget felt there was something missing from Phoebe’s file, it was just a feeling but she was sure that it did not tell the full story of how the young girl had ended up at Clarendon.

Three months of being locked in her room for extended hours every day had taken their toll on Phoebe. This surprised her as she kept her interactions with the other girls at Clarendon to an absolute minimum at the best of times. The isolation had given her too much time to think and all she could think of was her mother and how she had been weak, too weak to take care of herself. That would never happen to Phoebe, she would be strong and never show weakness even when everything was against her.

Jolene was the first to speak to Phoebe once her punishment was up.

“Everyone knows that you did not take the bracelet and that you were wrongly accused.”

For some reason Phoebe was immensely grateful to the younger girl for saying this, perhaps it was the isolation thought Phoebe.

“Thanks but it doesn’t matter the ox will get hers in due time.”

“What are you going to do to her?”

“Now that would be telling, just watch this space.”

Phoebe really had no idea what it was that she was going to do but she knew that the ox needed to be dealt with before she came after her again.

It was in the dining room that Phoebe first caught sight of Kate Nolan who was sitting with her little gang of followers. After getting her food Phoebe deliberately sat at their table and spent the whole of the mealtime glaring directly at her adversary without saying a single word.

After seeing that this bothered the ox Phoebe took every opportunity to stare the big girl out, sometimes whispering insults that only Kate could hear. It was only a matter of time before she would snap thought Phoebe who was enjoying the game that she was playing.

Sure enough after Phoebe had accidentally on purpose tripped Kate knocking her down in the corridor, the larger girl lost it.

“I am so sorry Kate it was an accident I do hope you will forgive me.”

Phoebe said this in the most mocking tone that she could manage.

“You little bitch I will paste the walls with you for that.”

The rage coming from Kate was uncontrollable and even with the corridor populated with staff and residents she could not stop herself from lunging at Phoebe. It was not difficult for Phoebe to sidestep the big girl’s clumsy attempt to grab her.

“Really Kate you do remind me of a big slow ox in so many ways.”

Phoebe said this quietly and the only one that could hear her was Kate Nolan who picked herself up and went on the attack once again.

“MISS NOLAN YOU Will STOP AND DESIST NOW.”

It was the unmistakeable voice of total authority coming from Miss Hanlon and it stopped Kate Nolan in her tracks.

“But Miss Hanlon she tripped me up, I was just….”

“You were just about to attack a fellow resident my girl and I will not have that.”

At this moment Jolene decided to give her account of the incident.

“It was awful Miss Hanlon, Kate just went after Phoebe for no reason, I saw it all.”

Phoebe looked quizzically at the younger girl not understanding why she would involve herself to such an extent in her business. It would just make her an even bigger target for the attentions of an angry Kate Nolan who was glaring at Jolene with undisguised hatred.

“Miss Nolan you will be escorted to my office where you will await my pleasure. As for you Miss Maddison I am not convinced that you did not have a hand in this incident but with young Jolene here backing you up I shall give you the benefit of the doubt for the moment.”

As everyone went about their business Phoebe took the opportunity to ask Jolene what she thought she was doing.

“Are you nuts? You know that the ox will come after you now and I won’t always be there to protect you.”

“I don’t care, you helped me and I am not your responsibility so we are now even.”

Jolene walked away from the confused Phoebe who could not fathom why the vulnerable girl would put herself in harm’s way like that.

Miss Hanlon did not quite know what to do about the situation concerning Nolan and Maddison, it seemed to her that their dispute would just escalate further until it became out of control. Something had to be done and done quickly, Nolan would be much easier to handle once Miss Maddison was removed from her immediate vicinity.

That was it, Phoebe Maddison had to go. It did not matter who instigated the trouble, Bridget Hanlon had found out the hard way that the Maddison girl would not bend or be swayed in any way from the path that she thought right.

With the level of oversight that Clarendon Lodge and her-self were being subjected to Hanlon could not have the governors getting a hint that she could not control the residents in her charge. Already the new cuts had eaten deep into her budget making it Impossible to keep staff levels to the level she needed and the applicants that were willing to work for minimum wage were ill-equipped to deal with some of the more difficult residents that came to Clarendon.

Phoebe was becoming quite the regular in Miss Hanlon’s office and fully expected this visit to be just as unpleasant as the ones that had preceded it.

“I think that I was perhaps a little harsh in the way that I dealt with the theft of Miss Nolan’s bracelet and I am now prepared to accept that you may not have taken it.”

Bridget waited for Phoebe to respond and was expecting some gratitude from the sullen girl. Instead she was greeted with silence and what looked to her as a triumphant expression that irritated her somewhat.

“Did you hear what I said Miss Maddison.”

“Yes I heard you.”

It was obvious that Phoebe was not going to make this easy so Miss Hanlon decided to power through her news.

“I have decided that you are to be sent away to stay with a family that are looking to temporarily foster a disadvantaged individual. I have given them your file and they are happy for you to come and stay with them for a period of six months. I hope that you know what a wonderful opportunity this is for you and would hope that you will make the most of it.”

“Do I get any say in whether or not I go?”

A perplexed Bridget Hanlon could not believe what she was hearing.

“Of course you do, but I cannot think for the life of me why you would not want to take advantage of such a generous offer by the Harrisons.”

“That is because you do not have to go and live in their house and eat their food all the while feeling like the poor relation that is only there to make them feel better about themselves.”

It was typical of her charges to exhibit such a cynical attitude but with Phoebe Maddison it seemed to be a default position.

“I have met the Harrisons and they are decent people that just want to do something good and I think that you will find they will treat you as if you were one of their family.”

Phoebe had heard this speech before and been the guest of decent families in the past with mixed success.

“May I ask where I would be going and if I would be allowed to visit my mother while I am there?”

This was better thought Bridget, if the girl was asking questions then she was also thinking of accepting the Harrison’s offer.

“You would be going to Sevenoaks it is in the South of England and as for visiting your mother that is not possible at the moment. You know that she is not well and is not in a position to receive visitors just now.”

Miss Hanlon handed Phoebe a file which contained all of the information that she would need to help her make her decision.

“I really think this would be good for you right now and I do hope that you decide to go but if you decide to decline this offer which is your right I cannot guarantee that I can be there next time to protect you when Miss Nolan inevitably comes after you.”

It was supposed to scare Phoebe into accepting the Harrison’s invitation. A tactic that could never work as Phoebe had no fear of Kate Nolan or anyone else for that matter.

Chapter 2

 

On the day of her move Phoebe was visited in her room by Jolene who seemed genuinely pleased for her.

“Wow you are getting out of here that is just fab.”

Studying the young girl’s face Phoebe could not detect anything but a selfless delight in her release from Clarendon.

“You’re not worried about the ox then?”

“I can take care of that one, don’t you worry about me.”

It was a brave face thought Phoebe but she wondered how truthful Jolene was actually being.

“When she comes for you make a run for it and if that is not possible scream as loud as you can. You are no match for her when it comes to a physical fight.”

It may have been good advice but in reality if Kate Nolan wanted to hurt Jolene she would get to her somehow.

“Like I said I can take care of myself, I have been doing that for a long time.”

She was beginning to sound like her-self thought Phoebe.

“There is no shame in asking for help and there are others here that hate the big ox.”

A smile from Jolene showed Phoebe that she was not really listening and had resigned herself to her fate.

“Goodbye Phoebe I hope you never have to come back here.”

“It is Maddie my friends call me Maddie or Maddison.”

It was the first time since she had been taken away from home that she had told anyone her preferred name and Maddie was not quite sure why she had done it at the moment she was leaving Jolene behind.

Turning back Jolene said.

“Maddie? I love it. You never really suited Phoebe.”

With that Jolene turned the corner and was gone, leaving her friend Maddie alone to contemplate what was in store for her at the Harrisons.

Jonathan Harrison was in his early forties and had been very successful in business and even though he was not sure that he wanted a strange fifteen year old girl under his roof he would do anything to please his wife Jennifer. It was Jennifer that wanted to foster and although she already had a sixteen year old son she felt that it was Important to help those less fortunate than herself.

The journey to Eynsford, a small village in Sevenoaks, was quick and uneventful. The duty social worker had tried to make conversation but Phoebe gave nothing back, leaving her to chatter on with no response whatsoever.

“Now that we are here I want you to be on your best behaviour young lady and do try to find your voice. I don’t want them to think that I have bought them a mute girl.”

Maddie did not really care what the Harrison’s thought of her and would only speak if she felt that she had something worth saying.

“I will behave just like myself Mrs Archer and if they don’t like it then I am quite happy to go back to Clarendon with you.”

It was not quite true, Maddie hated Clarendon and thought that just about anywhere would be better but that was no reason to give Archer or anyone else that information. If they knew that you cared then they would also know that they could hurt you and worse they would know how to get to you.

“Hello Phoebe, it is lovely to meet you. This is my husband Jonathan and my son John. I do hope that you will enjoy your stay with us and come to think of this place as your home.”

Fat chance thought Phoebe.

“Say hello Phoebe.”

The prompt from Mrs Archer was not necessary as Maddie found the warmth coming from Jennifer Harrison compelling.

“Thank you for letting me stay Mrs Harrison and I will do my best to live up to the faith you have shown in me.”

The sincerity in Maddie’s voice was unmistakeable and even Impressed old Mrs Archer who thought she had seen everything.

“Well I will leave you to get settled young Phoebe and you have my number if there are any issues Mrs Harrison.”

“Yes thank you so much for coming, do let me show you out.”

With the two women out of the room Maddie was left alone with the male contingent of the Harrison’s.

“Well young lady I think one of us should show you to your room and as I am getting old and decrepit I think it should be a younger man that carries your bags would you not agree?”

Maddie smiled thinking that Jonathan Harris looked anything but decrepit, if anything he looked fitter than his son who grudgingly agreed to take Maddie’s bags upstairs.

Once out of earshot of his father John Harrison spoke for the first time.

“Don’t get used to this kind of treatment as far as I am concerned you are not welcome here and I want nothing to do with a little vagrant like you.”

There it was, the lines were drawn between them and that was fine by Maddie, at least she knew where she stood with the son. It would be interesting to see how long before his parents showed their true colours.

“Thank you John and if I need anything else I will ring for you.”

Maddie enjoyed seeing the exasperated look on John Harrison’s face as she mocked him.

“You will regret taking the mickey out of me you dirty little guttersnipe.”

Seeing John storm off in a black mood was very satisfying to Maddie as she decided that he was not much of a threat to her. It should be no problem handling an overweight soft boy that had relied on his parents to provide for him all of his privileged life.

Looking out of her new room’s window Maddie could see a beautiful stream that was nestled in a woody area that looked ripe for her to explore and she could not wait to get started.

In the middle of her unpacking Mrs Harrison knocked on the door.

“Phoebe it is me. May I come in please?”

This would take some getting used to, at Clarendon they would just barge in without warning.

“Yes Mrs Harrison, that is fine.”

“Oh my dear please call me Jennifer, Mrs Harrison makes me feel so old.”

“Yes Mrs, I mean Jennifer.”

“That is lovely. I just wanted to know what it was that you wanted for your tea, is there anything special that you like or anything that you cannot eat?”

Maddie could see that Mrs Harrison was really trying and found to her surprise that she appreciated that she made the effort.

“Thank you Jennifer, I am not fussy. I will be happy to eat whatever you and your family eat.”

“I do hope that one day you will think of us as family Phoebe.”

A nice idea but not very likely thought Maddie.

“I am sorry Phoebe I know that you have your own family and I should not be so presumptuous. Tea will be ready shortly, I will get John to come and fetch you.”

It was not long before John Harrison came for Maddie and unlike his mother he pushed the door open abruptly saying.

“They are ready for you so don’t dawdle.”

“It is very rude to burst in on a person without knocking.”

“This is my house and I will go where I please and you are not a person to me you are more of a parasite.”

John slammed the door shut before Maddie could answer back, which was just as well for she might just have went for him there and then.

When Maddie arrived in the dining room the three members of the Harrison family were sitting patiently waiting for their guest.

“Took your time didn’t you? It is not like I have all day to wait around for you to grace us with your presence.”

A glare from his mother shut the boy up and this was reinforced by stern words from John’s father.

“You will apologise immediately young man and if you ever treat a guest in our home like that again there will be severe consequences for you, do you understand?”

“Yes father, I am sorry.”

“Do not direct your apology to me you clod, it is not me that you have insulted.”

“I am sorry Phoebe I did not mean anything by what I said; I just have things to do this afternoon.”

Maddie could see that John’s words held no sincerity and so had no worth to her.

“That is alright I will try and be more punctual in future, I was under the Impression this was just a casual tea and had no idea that there was a regimented time to arrive.”

Maddie was trying to sound as though it did not matter what John Harrison said but in truth he was beginning to get under her skin.

“And you would be correct Phoebe we do not stand on ceremony here and in future we will not be so formal. For your first meal with us it just seemed right to wait for you to arrive before starting, now sit and tuck in.”

Johnathan Harris had spoken and his family dutifully did as he suggested while Maddie sat and looked on.

“Is there something wrong Phoebe?”

“Not at all Mrs, I mean Jennifer it is just that I do not know where to begin.”

“I see my dear perhaps you should try the juice it is freshly squeezed and the croissants are to die for.”

Tucking into the veritable feast before her Maddie could not remember eating such good food, probably because she was used to the slop that they served up at Clarendon. It had been years since her mother had been well enough to cook a decent meal and that was back when her father was still alive.

“You must have been starving; don’t they feed the likes of you at the shelter?”

A smirking John Harrison could not help himself from commenting on Maddie’s eating habits.

“If you do not eat fully at Clarendon then you go to bed hungry.”

This honest comment from Maddie stunned the Harrison’s into a silence that was only broken when Jonathan Harris spoke.

“I am very sorry Phoebe we did not raise our son to be so rude and he will be punished for his insensitivity.”

“I don’t need you to punish him on my account Sir, I am fine.”

The look of anger on Mr Harrison’s face told Maddie that he would not be taking her needs into account and she wondered if he had even heard her words at all.

“John you will leave the table now and go straight to your room and if I find that you have turned on any of your fancy electronic entertainment systems before I come up to talk to you then I will be very disappointed.”

It was the politest telling off Maddie had ever heard, it reminded her of her father who could reprimand you with the softest voice that conveyed complete authority.

“Don’t be too hard on him Jonathan I am sure that he did not mean to hurt Phoebe’s feelings.”

A tough look from her husband silenced Jennifer Harrison who looked to Maddie for help.

“It is alright Mr Harrison I have heard much worse from people over the years and I am sure that John meant nothing insulting he was just making an observation.”

John Harrison looked at Maddie as if he wanted to jump across the table and throttle the girl for defending him.

“You are being very generous Phoebe and by the way my name is Jonathan, please use it.”

“Are you really going to punish me over this, I mean she is not family and won’t be here for very long so what does it matter how I talk to her?”

The look on Jonathan’s face was a mixture of disappointment and rage.

“Get out of my sight boy before I do or say something that you will regret.”

With that John stormed out of the dining room and his father excused himself leaving Maddie alone with Jennifer Harrison.

“I am sorry Phoebe but John is an only child and we did not consult him on the question of having a guest for the summer. I do hope that you will forgive him for his remarks and I can assure you that he is a good boy with a decent character.”

A mother protecting her son thought Maddie who was not at all convinced of John Harrison’s supposed good character.

“It is ok Mrs Harrison this is John’s home and he is entitled to his opinion of me and my barbaric ways.”

“Oh dear I see that he has really upset you but please do not give up on him and you can be sure that his father will put him straight on his behaviour towards you.”

A not very convinced Maddie asked if it was ok for her to go out and explore the area.

“Of course my dear, you must feel free to come and go as you please. Would you like me to show you around?”

“No thank you. I would prefer to discover the secrets of the place myself.”

After her first meal at the Harrison’s home Maddie tried to keep her distance from John Harrison who though polite when his parents were present treated her with contempt when they were absent.

“I see that you have been wearing those old dungarees almost every day since you have been here Phoebe, I think perhaps it would be nice to take a trip to town and buy you some new clothes.”

Maddie was not at all keen on Mrs Harrison’s idea and tried to tell her so as diplomatically as she knew how.

“There is no need Jennifer. I am very comfortable in the clothes that I have and I am very fussy about buying anything new.”

“Nonsense we shall find you something and of course if you do not like anything that we see there will be no question of us buying it. There is a lovely little cake shop that we can visit after our shopping; they do a lovely selection of fancies there.”

Maddie could see that it would be Impossible to get out of the trip without appearing to be an ungrateful wretch and so gave in gracefully.

“Thank you Jennifer I do hope that you enjoy your cakes as I doubt that I will find anything new to wear.”

Maddie’s dungarees had become part of her armour and without them she did not know that she could defend herself from the hostility of the world around her. It had taken her a long time to feel comfortable in the way that she dressed and Maddie was not about to give up that sense of security for some fancy new clothes even if they were being provided by a well-meaning soul like Mrs Harrison.

Jennifer Harrison had always wanted a daughter and the idea of a shopping trip where she had the opportunity to buy lovely, feminine clothes for her young charge delighted her.

“That is splendid we will go this afternoon and have a fabulous time together. Just don’t tell Mr Harrison how much we spend after all he is just a man and would not understand.”

It amused Maddie that Jennifer Harrison thought that she understood the excitement she obviously felt at a simple shopping trip.

“Will John be joining us?”

“Oh no dear, John is like his father and hates even the idea of shopping with his poor old mother.”

Maddie could not hide her relief and Jennifer was quick to pick up on this.

“I know that John can be a little moody but I am sure that given time he will come around and you will become good friends.”

Maddie smiled and nodded all the while thinking Jennifer was living in cloud cuckoo land.

“I will be ready whenever you want to leave, just give me a call.”

While waiting in her room for Mrs Harrison John Harrison knocked on Maddie’s door.

“Come in.”

Maddie was surprised to see John enter her room.

“My mother says that you are going on a little shopping trip, is this true?”

A puzzled Maddie replied.

“Yes Jennifer wants to take me into town.”

“I thought it would not be long before you would take advantage of my mother’s generous nature. The first chance you get you wangle a shopping trip to get free stuff from my family, you make me sick and the sooner you go back where you belong the better. By the way my mother is waiting downstairs for you.”

The nasty way that John Harrison spoke to Maddie gave rise to an anger that she had not felt for a long time. Usually she could shrug off the insults of others and take comfort in the fact that she really did not care what they thought of her but with John it was different.

Twenty minutes later there was another knock on the door.

“Phoebe it is time to go, I would like to miss the rush hour traffic if possible.”

When Jennifer Harrison received no answer she opened the door to Maddie’s room.

“Are you not ready dear? I sent John up to let you know that it is time to go.”

Maddie was sitting on the bed staring at the wall with little intention of going anywhere.

“Is there something wrong dear? I do hope that John did not say anything to upset you.”

The pained look on Mrs Harrison’s face prompted Maddie to say.

“Of course not, I just don’t think I want to go with you. I don’t need more clothes.”

Maddie felt like a sulky child saying this but for some reason she did not want John thinking that she was taking advantage of his mother.

“I am so sorry that you feel that way I was looking forward to showing you around town but of course you don’t have to come if you do not wish to.”

The disappointment in Mrs Harrison’s voice was too much for Maddie and she decided it was not fair to let her down like this, to hell with John.

“I am sorry Jennifer I am just being silly I would love to come into town with you.”

John’s mother could not hide her excitement and squealed.

“That is excellent my dear. I promise that we will have a wonderful time, just us girls together.”

Once downstairs Maddie glared at John as his mother said goodbye and could not help but add her own farewell.

“Goodbye John. I will try and stop your mother from spending too much of your inheritance.”

The look from John Harrison was priceless thought Maddie and well worth the effort.

“Come along Phoebe we have some serious shopping to get done and time is a wasting.”

Maddie smiled sweetly in John’s direction and was rewarded with a fierce glare that told her she was getting to the nasty little pig.

Oblivious to the atmosphere between her son and Maddie Mrs Harrison called back to John as she left.

“I will bring you back something nice baby.”

Seeing John wince at his mother calling him baby Maddie silently mouthed the word and blew him a kiss.

It took all of John Harrison’s self-control to stand still as Maddie did this safely from behind his mother.

“Thank you mother but I am sure that Phoebe will keep you too busy for you to think about anyone else’s needs.”

His words were obviously aimed at Maddie and for some reason they stung more than she thought they should. How did John Harrison know how to get to her so easily? It was a question that Maddie would love to have an answer to.

Jennifer Harrison could not stop talking all the way to town and Maddie found her-self warming to the chatty woman next to her.

“We are here Phoebe and I cannot wait to get you into the shops to show you how much is on offer.”

Maddie could not truly share Jennifer’s excitement but found it infectious to a degree and was looking forward to rambling around the shops with her new guardian.

“I warn you Jennifer I will have to be cut out of these dungarees and I do not exaggerate.”

Maddie smiled when she said this but thought it basically accurate.

“Come now Phoebe you are fifteen and you cannot spend the rest of your life in overalls. A beautiful dress and some more feminine touches are definitely the order of the day.”

It was no use thought Maddie, Mrs Harrison was not listening and if making her happy meant walking round a few shops it was a small price to pay.

“A dress? What do you think I am, a girl? I will have you know that I have an image to protect and I will defend it with my life.”

“Will you now my girl? Well I will have you know that I have a rep to and I will not have it ruined by a pair of dungarees that have seen better days?”

Hearing the middle class Mrs Harrison use the word rep in that context amused Maddie to no end.

“You have a rep, who with, the ladies that do lunch?”

Realising that she was being gently mocked by the smiling young girl Jennifer gamely joined in.

“The ladies that do lunch are not to be taken lightly, you should hear what they can do with a sharp tongue and as for their designer handbags, well you really do not want to know what is inside them.”

Maddie was surprised to find that Jennifer was happy to laugh at herself and her peers.

“Is that Yves Saint Laurent hanging from your arm?”

“No my dear it is just one of his bags, I don’t think that I could afford to have him on my arm and Mr Harrison would surely object.”

Jennifer’s deadpan delivery was perfect and Maddie could not help but laugh out loud at her silliness.

This friendly banter went on until Jennifer directed them into what looked like an upmarket boutique that immediately made Maddie feel uncomfortable.

“Really a doorman at the front of a shop, that is a bit over the top don’t you think?”

“He is just there to greet you and make you feel welcome dear.”

Strange then that he made Maddie feel the complete opposite of welcome.

“Just wander around Phoebe and see if there is anything that takes your fancy. I will be in the accessories section.”

Maddie walked away from Jennifer and could not help but stare at the other customers that frequented the shop. The more she looked at them the more uncomfortable she felt and decided to head for the exit.

“Where are you going Phoebe? We have just arrived you can’t have given the place much of a chance!”

It was true thought Maddie as she had not looked at anything that the place had for sale.

“It really is not my kind of style Jennifer and I cannot see anything that I would consider wearing in there.”

Mrs Harrison shot her a not very convinced look.

“Nonsense Phoebe you barely scratched the surface, come back in with me and we will look together.”

This was beginning to feel like torture thought Maddie as she allowed herself to be dragged back into the posh boutique.

“Look here my girl there are some lovely skirts and tops here, you would look lovely in this red skirt.”

Mrs Harrison was holding up a short skirt that had frills all over it and Maddie would not be seen dead in such a garish thing and said so in a very blunt fashion.

“You have to be joking Jennifer, do you really think that I would wear such a loud piece of crap and have you seen the price they want for it?”

Mrs Harrison looked hurt by this response from Maddie and so the girl tried to explain her feelings more diplomatically.

“I am sorry Jennifer I do appreciate that you are being very generous it is just that I could never wear something like that, it is just not who I am.”

“Not to worry dear we will persevere, there is another little shop that we can try across town and it is very near to our cake shop. I think perhaps they may have something more to your taste and if not did I mention we will be very close to the best cakes ever?”

It was nice that Jennifer had listened to her thought Maddie but she did not hold out much hope for this other shop either.

“Cakes did you say cakes? I may have heard you mention cakes but I am not sure, can you clarify, will there be cakes?”

It was fun joining in with Jennifer as they continued the quest for her beloved cakes but Maddie did not really have much of a sweet tooth and with Jennifer’s figure she doubted that she had eaten more than a morsel of cake in her life.

The name outside the next shop was Urban Apparel and underneath was the words Ethical, Organic, Relevant. Inside there was a sign that read outlet for new and upcoming designers.

To Maddie’s surprise there were racks and racks of practical clothing that appealed to her utilitarian style. The place was filled with jeans, shorts, t-shirts, jackets, hiking boots and all of it was top quality merchandise.

Seeing that Maddie was much more comfortable in this store Mrs Harrison said excitedly.

“Anything that you see just put in this basket and please do not worry about the prices.”

This of course caused Maddie to check out the prices of the wondrous little shop.

“My God that is outrageous. Who can afford to pay that much for a Jacket?”

“We can Phoebe and you need to have some new clothes. It maybe pricey but the quality is excellent and they will last you for years unlike some of the cheap stuff you can get on the high street.”

It was a good argument thought Maddie even though the dungarees that she was wearing had cost only a fraction of the clothes here and had lasted her forever.

“If I do pick out some items then I would like to work for them, are there any chores I can do around the house to help out with?”

Jennifer Harrison did not need any help around the house. There was a cleaner that came every day and a gardener that tended the garden on a regularly basis but she was not about to tell Maddie that.

“I am sure that we can find something for you to do if that is what you want; now please just see if you can find something that you like.”

Maddie took the basket from Mrs Harrison and spent the next half hour searching the shop for clothes that she found to her liking. It was not difficult finding things that she liked, the difficulty came in choosing what to put in the basket and what to leave on the hangers.

“I hope that this is not too much Jennifer, I can put some back if it is.”

Maddie had filled the basket with T-shirts, shorts and a masculine pair of boots that Jennifer Harrison thought totally unsuitable for a girl.

“Don’t be ridiculous Phoebe, if anything I think you should go around again to make sure that you have all that you need.”

Maddie steadfastly refused to look for anything else and felt that she was already taking advantage of her guardian’s generosity.

“Alright if you are sure then we will try one more shop before scoffing down some cakes.”

The numbers of bags that they walked out of the shop with just made Maddie feel even guiltier with every step.

“I think that we have enough Jennifer, we really do not need to buy anything more.”

“Hurry along now and this is not just about you young Phoebe, I just might want to treat myself you know.”

Once she knew that the next stage of their shopping did not revolve around her Maddie felt a little better.

“Do you need anything in particular for yourself?”

“Oh no my dear Phoebe it seems to me that you have not fully grasped the shopping concept. Let me enlighten you, it is not about what you need, it is not even about what you want, shopping is about the experience.”

Maddie did not really have any idea of what Jennifer was talking about but she could see that the woman was enjoying herself immensely.

The third shop was not to Maddie’s taste and she was glad that she did not have the pressure of finding anything for herself there.

“Wow! Come over here Phoebe, I have found the perfect dress for you.”

Oh God thought Maddie as she trudged over to Mrs Harrison.

“What do you think, isn’t it just perfect?”

The dress that Jennifer Harrison had in her hand was indeed perfect thought Maddie.

“It is very nice Jennifer but you have already brought me far too much and I really can’t accept anything more.”

“Oh poppycock Phoebe, just try the dress on and if it is not perfect we will leave this place never to return.”

The amateur dramatics amused Maddie and to please Jennifer she agreed to try the dress on.

“Ok I will try it on but don’t get too carried away, I don’t look good in dresses and this will probably be no different.”

“You do talk nonsense sometimes young lady, you are a very pretty girl and in this dress you will look gorgeous.”

Maddie smiled doubtfully as she took the dress to the changing room.

“You look fantastic Phoebe! We just absolutely have to buy this dress; I will brook no argument on this matter.”

Maddie really did not want to argue with Jennifer as she loved the dress and the way it looked on her. It went so well with her boots and once she put her leather biker jacket over it she knew that she would feel the outfit was complete.

“We will have to get you some appropriate shoes and maybe some…..”

Maddie felt she had to interrupt Mrs Harrison before she went too far.

“I am sorry Jennifer I do love the dress and if we do get it then I would have to wear it my way and with my own style.”

Jennifer Harrison was not sure what Maddie meant by this but that did not matter she had put her in a dress and that was a start. Small victories she told herself, small victories.

“That is fine Phoebe you must do as you think best and I think you should wear the dress home.”

A smile from Maddie and moments later they were heading for cakes with the young girl wearing the dress that Jennifer had picked out for her.

As she looked across the table at Maddie Jennifer could not help but think how lovely she would look if she were to grow her thick mop of black hair out.

“Your hair is quite short Phoebe, have you ever considered letting it grow to your shoulders?”

Maddie had always favoured shorter hair and would not even let it grow for her mother whom she loved dearly.

“It would not be me anymore if I was to do that and I am happy with the way that I look even if others are not.”

Jennifer felt the girl slipping away from her after her remark and was quick to correct her mistake.

“Oh dear I am sorry if I have offended you it is just that I am used to seeing girls of your age with long hair and I guess for me that has become the norm.”

The apology was genuine and Maddie was happy to accept it graciously.

“Didn’t I tell you that the cakes here were magnificent?”

“Yes you did and they live up to their reputation, I could not eat another thing.”

“Then we shall be on our way, it is getting late and I have had a lovely time.”

Maddie too had a great day, in fact she could not remember the last time that she had enjoyed herself so much and it was all thanks to Jennifer.

“Thank you Jennifer. I have had a wonderful time and you have been great today.”

It was more than Jennifer Harrison could have hoped for and on the drive home she felt that she had bonded with the young girl sitting beside her.

“WE ARE HOME, IS THERE ANYONE IN?”

There was no response to Jennifer’s loud announcement.

“I guess the boys are out dear, you go upstairs and put your new purchases away and I will get on with the dinner.”

Maddie did as she was asked and realised when she reached the top of the stairs that she was not alone.

“Look at the dag; she is a girl after all. I was beginning to wonder.”

It was John with two of his friends who found his insult incredibly funny.

“I thought you were out lardass, I guess that was too much to hope for.”

With that Maddie slammed her door behind her to contemplate why John Harrison’s words always stung so deeply.

After their last exchange Maddie kept away from John as much as possible and enjoyed the company of his mother whenever she was available. Having John’s parents around acted as a buffer for her from the unpleasant boy that seemed to hate her so much that he wanted to hurt her at every opportunity that he got.

It was on the night of the Harrison’s twentieth wedding anniversary that Maddie was to feel the full force of John’s resentment toward her. They left at eight o’clock and Maddie went straight to her room when they were gone. Her plan was to stay there until the morning and avoid any interaction with John.

Maddie would have stuck to this plan rigidly if she had not heard John leave a little while later, giving her the opportunity to pop down and raid the fridge for some snacks. Unfortunately for Maddie the tiresome boy came back almost immediately to find her in the kitchen making a sandwich.

John had felt bad about the way that he treated Maddie when his friends were around that day and was ashamed of how he had taken his anger out on her since she arrived.

“Phoebe I just wanted to say that I am……”

Maddie was not in any mood to listen to what this jerk had to say and could not contain the words that spewed forth from her.

“I don’t give a damn what you have to say you lardy gasbag, if it were not for your mother I would have torn you to pieces after you first opened your mouth to me.”

John was utterly shocked at the fierceness of Maddie’s words and tried one more time to make his apology.

“I guess I deserve some of what……”

Once again he was unable to finish and found himself at the end of another tongue lashing from an irate Maddie.

“You deserve a good beating and nothing less you lazy fat oaf.”

That was it for John, he had heard enough and was not about to let her last insult pass.

“Whatever you may think of me, at least I am not the product of a criminal father and a filthy drug addled mother that cannot even take care of herself.”

Maddie was incensed and could not stop herself from crossing the room and laying into the larger boy with her fists.

“You will take that back you great big pig.”

With her fists landing mostly on John’s forearms and doing little damage, he grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her back onto the floor.

Maddie got up three times and each time launched herself at John who to his credit did not hit back once but only pushed her away from him.

“Please stop Phoebe, you will only hurt yourself.”

The frustration and rage within Maddie had built to a point that she could no longer think straight.

“You are such an arse. I hate you and I never want to see you or your family again.”

Maddie ran from the kitchen straight to her room, grabbed her leather biker jacket, threw it on over the dress that Jennifer had brought her and left the Harrison home, for what she thought would be the last time, with tears streaming down her face.

Chapter 3

 

The further away from the Harrison’s house the darker it became and Maddie felt it was safe to slow down but with no light coming through the trees it was no wonder that she fell down the steep, overgrown path that would lead her to Tumbledown Cottage.

Picking herself up Maddie found herself confronted by a dark, derelict cottage that had seen better days. The long neglected building with part of its roof missing, windows broken and general disrepair did not look very inviting to the soaked young girl.

Although Maddie did not really want to enter the dark cottage she felt that there was no choice, it was spend the night there, catch pneumonia or go back to where she had come from. Maddie screwed up all of her courage, pushed the rotting front door open and entered the old house to find that the inside was almost as bad as the exterior.

Venturing up the stairs Maddie could hear each one creak loudly as she carefully made her way through the cottage, with no light and her eyes adjusting slowly to the darkness it was difficult to see anything at all. The young girl held her hands out before her and slowly felt her way to what she thought was a bedroom. In the pitch dark Maddie could just make out the shape of a bed and not wanting to lie upon a dirty old mattress she slid to the floor and curled up there to face the night alone.

It was not long before an exhausted Maddie fell asleep on the filthy floor of the third guest bedroom in Tumbledown Cottage.

Maddie awoke early the next morning with the sun shining through the huge open window to find her-self in a comfortable bed with fresh warm bedding. Looking around the room she was amazed to see a cosy well-furnished room. It was a little old fashioned for the young girl’s taste but she could not help but feel the room was put together with love and care.

How she had found herself in the bed and the amazing transformation that the room had undergone were questions that Maddie needed answers to and to that end she forced herself to rise and go downstairs.

There were amazing smells coming from the kitchen and Maddie found herself gravitating towards them.

“Ah you are up, that is good. You must be starving my girl.”

Maddie was still trying to process the change in the cottage from the previous night.

“I don’t understand, this place was in a dreadful state last night.”

“Really my girl I do not know what you mean, it was dark and you were tired. By the by it is not very polite to say that someone’s home is in a state .”

Maddie was not convinced by this woman’s glib explanation but thought it best to just play along.

“I am sorry perhaps you are right, thank you for letting me stay the night in your home.”

“Nonsense my girl what else should I do, leave you out in the rain to drown? I am Mrs Didcot and there is fresh bread, eggs, bacon and juice so please do help your-self.”

“Thank you Mrs Didcot, my name is Maddison and I am not very hungry.”

Maddie was not too sure why she had used her preferred name or why she had lied about not being hungry as she was ravenous.

“Now let’s not be foolish my girl, breakfast is the most Important meal of the day and I have gone to all of this trouble to make this good food for you, it would be criminal to waste it now wouldn’t it?”

Maddie said nothing and just tucked into the food put before her and relished every morsel.

“Thank you again Mrs Didcot I am very grateful but I must be leaving after breakfast.”

“As you wish my girl, I have no intention of interfering with your plans.”

There was an open newspaper on the table in front of Maddie and on the left page there was a full paged ad that displayed in bold letters.

TO FIND YOUR WAY HOME

CALL

223344

ASK FOR TUMBLEDOWN

On the opposite page there was an article concerning the exclusion of a ten year old boy from the local school. It seemed that he was considered to be obese although the picture showed a normal, healthy boy smiling away. There was some more about height, weight and BMI which Maddie did not quite understand and the whole story seemed ridiculous to her, why would you take someone out of school for being a little overweight not that he even looked slightly chubby.

“Mr Didcot will be back soon Maddison and I am sure that he would be happy to drive you home.”

Maddie was not expecting this and did not have time to come up with a good reason to say no to the kind offer.

“It is fine Mrs Didcot I can easily walk and I do not want to put anyone out.”

The look on the woman that had cooked her that lovely breakfast was one of indifference as she said.

“As you please my girl, it is your legs after all.”

It was so strange thought Maddie; here she was in a warm, cosy kitchen with a woman that looked as though she just fell out of an old 1950’s American sit-com that her mother used to watch. With her apron pristine, not a hair out of place and the deferential way she referred to her husband Mr Didcot she did not seem to belong in the modern world.

“You should leave through the back garden it is much safer that way.”

Maddie thought it better not to ask what she meant by this as she just wanted to be on her way. It was not that she knew where she was going or what she was going to do, it was just that she wanted to be away from Mrs Didcot and her cottage.

“That is fine I will be happy to leave any way you want me to.”

“I have not indicated that I want you to leave at all my girl, the choice is yours, and it always has to be yours.”

The woman was becoming more cryptic by the minute and it was giving Maddie the creeps.

“Yes Mrs Didcot and I choose to leave now.”

Heading for the back door that lead to the garden Maddie said her goodbyes.

“Remember my girl; you can only come back when you have eased their suffering.”

This was getting silly; the woman was making no sense as Maddie hurried through the back garden in order to get away from Mrs Didcot.

“BE CAREFUL, THEY DON’T LIKE CHILDREN WHERE YOU ARE GOING AND THERE IS NO TOLERANCE FOR WHAT THEY CONSIDER BAD BEHAVIOUR.”

Maddie was through the garden and opening the gate when she heard this latest piece of gibberish and decided to just ignore it and get the hell out of there.

After her calling out to Maddie Mr Didcot joined his wife in the kitchen whereupon she found comfort in his arms.

“Do you think that she will be the one to release us?”

Although doubtful that this was the case, Mr Didcot used his most reassuring voice when he said.

“She showed some spirit and we can only hope, just remember there have been many that have gone through before her.”

It was a fact that Mrs Didcot was not likely to forget.

“I know that Henry and what of the boy, he was not supposed to go through?”

“Don’t worry about the boy; he has no relevance to us. Our only concern is that the girl succeeds and finds her way back.”

It was a very grey sky that greeted Maddie as she left Tumbledown and the country lanes looked decidedly uninviting as she walked briskly away from that strange place that perplexed her even now.

Choosing which direction to go in was not difficult as Maddie had no plan and nowhere to go. If she went back to London to try and see her mother then she would almost certainly end up back at Clarendon and she was not ready to go back there just yet. Maddie knew the inevitability of being caught, she had runaway many times before and the result was always the same but this time she would be smarter and stay away from the places that she knew.

It had been hours and though Maddie had left on a full stomach she was beginning to feel the need for more food. So far she had seen nothing and no-one on the road that she had been travelling and the signs that she could see meant little to her.

At least now she must be getting close to another village she thought as the houses were more frequent and there were people dotted around. It just felt so unreal as though she were out of time; the houses and streets were so clean. It was the silence that really struck her, after all this was the countryside and the people were friendly but everyone that she passed just averted their eyes and ignored her as though she did not exist.

Maddie just kept on walking with her head held high and her eyes straight, it was how she had survived the harsher streets of London. A few country yokels acting strangely would not intimidate her, in any case what else could she do but keep going, there really was no going back.

At last there was some noise to break the unnatural silence around her, the voice of a girl shouting. As Maddie turned the corner she witnessed a young boy in what looked like a dark bottle green uniform playing tug of war with a smaller girl’s bag. The only problem was that it appeared the young girl was not playing but taking the whole thing much more seriously.

“You, what the hell do you think you are doing?”

Maddie was straight in with her hackles up.

The boy looked down the street in Maddie’s direction and stared blankly at her.

“Yes that is right I am talking to you, give her back the bag or I will make you sorry that you messed with her.”

Maddie saw it as a straightforward case of bullying and would not tolerate it.

The boy was smiling now and shoved the smaller girl hard causing her to fall to the floor.

“You snivelling little rat.”

Maddie ran at the boy knocking the wind out of him as she landed on top of him and then quickly rolled off him. As she readied herself for any retaliation from the boy she noticed that the few people around were watching her intently, she even thought she could see some of the curtains twitching as she waited for the boy to react.

“Are you mad, attacking a Cadet in the middle of the street?”

“I see a rat and I just think that it needs to be exterminated, that is what you do with vermin.”

In the skirmish Maddie had taken the bag from the boy and was holding it tightly.

“You have interfered with me when carrying out my duty and for that you will be punished. As for you I will find out where you live, I know it is somewhere in the village.”

The boy turned and marched away after his little speech, empty threats thought Maddie.

“We must go now before he comes back.”

The young girl said this in such an urgent tone that Maddie almost felt that they should be afraid of the silly boy.

“Don’t worry he is gone and if I know bullies he won’t be coming back anytime soon.”

“Are you crazy? You don’t just attack a Cad and stick around now come with me.”

Maddie was beginning to lose patience with the young girl now and just wanted to be on her way.

“Yes you should run along home now and I will be on my way, goodbye.”

“My God you are touched, if you stay on the streets they will catch you for sure. Please come with me.”

Something in the young girl’s voice made Maddie go with her.

“We can hide here until they have gone.”

The girl had taken Maddie to a small back alley where they climbed some iron stairs at the back of a disused distillery to reach the roof.

“Look they are coming.”

Maddie looked on in disbelief as she saw a troop of boys dressed in the same green uniform march down the street.

“They won’t find us up here. I am Lana by the way.”

“Who are they and what do they want with you?”

Lana laughed and said.

“You mean what do they want with us, remember it was you that jumped on the Cad not me.”

This was becoming surreal thought Maddie; here she was hiding on a rooftop from a bunch of boy-scouts on steroids and she could not work out why.

“He is just a boy in a uniform playing at soldiers just like the rest of them.”

“My God you really are touched aren’t you? I mean you act like you don’t know about the Academies and how much serious trouble we are in.”

Maddie thought to inject a little sanity into the proceedings.

“Let us start over my name is Maddie and I really do not have a clue what you are talking about. Look at them Lana they are just boys and nothing to be afraid of.”

Lana looked at Maddie with astonishment.

“No Maddie you look and keep looking.”

Again finding something compelling in Lana’s voice Maddie watched the troop as they continued their slow March. She did not have long to wait before she witnessed what appeared to be the leader stop the troop and question some of the people.

“I am still looking and I can’t see anything that……”

As Maddie said this the troop’s leader took out what looked like a baton and prodded an elderly woman with it. She immediately dropped to the floor and from the distance it looked as though she might not get up again.

“You were lucky that he had not been issued with his lektro yet when you jumped on him or you would have gone down like that to.”

This was crazy what kind of place had she landed herself in thought Maddie.

“What the hell is a lektro?”

“You really don’t know anything do you Maddie?”

“I know that It is time to get out of here and I think you should go home where it is safe.”

“Safe? After what you did there is nowhere safe but we should go back to my house and warn my parents that they will be coming for them.”

Maddie’s patience was already stretched thin when she said.

“Who will be coming for them and why, my god Lana what kind of world are you living in?”

A wide beaming smile came from the young girl and then a simple statement.

“The same one as you Maddie, by the way I love your dress.”

Since she had left the crazy cottage Maddie had felt there was something different about the world, there was something in the air and the grey skies above her only added to the dark feel of her new surroundings.

“Lana where are we?”

The young girl looked puzzled but tried to answer Maddie’s strange question.

”We are on a rooftop just outside the village of Kalen.”

Maddie wanted Lana to be a little less specific.

“I mean are we near London? I know that we are still in England, right!?”

Once again Maddie saw that Lana was puzzled.

“You have heard of London and England!?”

Lana’s short answer was devastating.

“No, what are they?”

Perhaps the girl was right and she had indeed gone insane thought Maddie.

“Then where the hell are we if not in England?”

It was beginning to dawn on Lana that Maddie meant what country she was in.

“We are in Velaria and we need to be on the move now.”

One of them must be mad and Maddie just hoped that it was not her.

“Come on we can’t stay here forever or we might be discovered, the Cads might be stupid but they are thorough.”

Maddie wished that she could wake up from this particular nightmare but there was no time as Lana took her by the hand and led her away from the uniformed boys that were looking for them.

The journey to Lana’s house was short and Maddie was full of questions about what had happened.

“Why are you not a Cad Lana?”

“Same reason as you, I failed to get into an Academy.”

It was said with a wide smile, it seemed that Lana always found a reason to smile and Maddie found it very endearing.

“Why did you not get into your Academy?”

“Oh you know how strict the rules are and I was a couple of inches too short when I was ten. So they rejected me and I became an Imp just like you.”

It seemed that Lana wanted to identify herself with Maddie and she was not sure why.

“So we are Imps are we? What the hell is an Imp when it is at home?”

A loud laugh from Lana told Maddie that she thought her question ridiculous.

“Come on Maddie I know you are a little touched but you must know that you are an Imp.”

“Humour me please and explain.”

“Imps are those that have failed to secure a place in the Academy system. If you have not been taken by the time you are ten years old then you become an Imp. We are called Imps because we are Imperfect and not worthy of becoming a Cadet or Cad as we call them.”

“And you think that I am an Imp because as you say I am touched.”

“Yes you would never have passed there psych test.”

It all sounded very logical in a twisted kind of way thought Maddie but this was not her life and so it did not really concern her.

“I am not what you think I am Lana and I am not from here but that does not matter right now. I think we should just concentrate on getting you home safely.”

Lana took Maddie’s arm and smiled openly at her.

“Not long now Maddie and then I can warn my parents of what is to come.”

Maddie did not really understand what Lana meant by this but let the younger girl direct her anyway.

Lana’s parents were surprised to see their daughter arrive home with an older girl that dressed and acted so differently than anyone else they had known.

“Father something terrible has happened we have offended the Cads and they are coming for us.”

“Oh my God. What have you done girl?”

The hysterical cry came from Lana’s mother who was listening intently to what her daughter was saying.

“I am sorry mamma it just happened.”

Maddie felt that she had to pitch in even though she found the whole scene over-dramatic.

“It was my fault; I interfered without knowing the consequences so if you are going to blame anyone then blame me.”

For some reason Lana brought out a protective streak in Maddie and she did not want to see her hurt.

“Yes I am sure that it was not Lana’s fault, Robert call Justice immediately and explain that it was this girl’s actions and not our daughters.”

Lana’s father looked pityingly at his wife and replied.

“You know it does not really matter whose fault it is, they will not distinguish between the two of them. You have to leave now Lana and we will try to distract them from coming after you as long as we can.”

“No Robert we must call Justice now or they will disappear us just like they have so many others.” Lana’s mother was exhibiting full blown hysterics now and her husband tried to calm her down.

“It will be fine my love we have done nothing wrong and they will see that we have been good citizens all of our lives.”

Robert Farringdon knew that he was lying to his wife but could see no other way to keep her from going completely off the deep end.

“Are you sure Rob, I mean they are not known for their leniency?”

“I know but we have value in society and they will not want to lose two as loyal as we.”

Maddie could see that the man was not being truthful and that Lana’s parents were in great danger.

“If I leave you can tell them that I caused this and that Lana had nothing to do with it.” Catherine Farringdon seized upon this immediately.

“Yes Rob that is right we should put it all on the strange girl after all it is what she wants.” Before her father could reply Lana interrupted the conversation.

“No Daddy that is not right and you know that they would punish me anyway. We will leave now but before we go Please call Justice and report me so that they do not hurt you.” To Maddie’s disbelief Robert Farringdon picked up the phone and asked for the Justice Department.

“Come on we need to be out of here now.” Lana grabbed Maddie’s arm and yanked her away as they heard her father say.

“I would like to report an infraction against an Academy Cadet….”

Before Maddie knew it they were outside Lana’s house and running for all they were worth. Lana was the first to stop to catch her breath.

“We should be far enough away now to walk.”

“Walk where Lana, where are we going?

“Sanctorea, we are going to Sanctorea.” It seemed that Lana felt there was no need to explain further and that Maddie should have heard of Sanctorea.

Maddie spotted a large tree stump and sat down while Lana carried on walking in front of her until she turned and saw her new companion was no longer by her side.

“What are you doing? We do not have time to sit around it will be dark soon.” Maddie just looked back at the girl and said.

“I do not belong here Lana and I have already caused you enough trouble so just go on to this Sanctorea of yours alone.”

A smiling Lana walked back towards Maddie.

“You are being silly if you stay here then they will find you and I was in trouble before you helped me. You know we all end up at Sanctorea eventually anyway, it is either there or Juvi and I never wanted to end up there.” Maddie was tired and confused, there was just too much information coming at once and she just wanted to lie down to sleep, maybe then she could wake from this nightmare.

“I don’t know what you are talking about Lana, I have never heard of Sanctorea or Juvi and this world is very strange to me.” Lana could see how muddled her new friend was and put her arm around her shoulder to comfort her.

“It is OK Maddie once we get to Sanctorea there will be more Imps like us and we will be safe from the Cads. You just have to trust me and I will make sure that we do not get caught.”

Maddie appreciated the younger girl’s concern and felt a little ashamed at showing such weakness.

“OK Lana, I will go with you but I do need to know what is going on so if you could tell me as much as you can about this place that would be great.”

Lana was a mine of information and answered all of Maddie’s questions patiently but could not help but show her amusement at times when she thought that Maddie was asking something silly.

She told Maddie all about the Academy system and how their society favoured Cads over all other children. Lana explained how the Imps all knew of Sanctorea because they all knew that one day they would have to find it or be sent to Juvinescence on their eighteenth birthday.

“And this Juvinescence is really that bad that you all run from it?”

“Oh yes, it is said that once you enter Juvi you never come out.”

The more Maddie learned the more bizarre this place seemed but she was fascinated to know even more.

“A while back you mentioned the word Lektro what exactly is that?”

“My you really don’t know anything do you? It is an electro-shock baton; you saw what it did to the old woman when the troop leader poked her with his. If it had been one of the top ten Academies we were facing then the Cadet would have had one and used it on you.”

Maddie remembered seeing the number 50 in silver on the boy’s epaulettes.

“Is that what the number means on their shoulders?”

“Yes it is also on their service cap or as some of them call their wedge, if it had been Academy 1 then we would have never made it out of there.”

Maddie was asking lots of questions now; they came thick and fast as darkness approached.

“Academy 1?

“Oh for goodness sake you are ridiculous how have you survived knowing so little? It is the first Academy, the elite, only the very best are sent to Academy 1 and even then most do not get to join them. They get all of the equipment and are always better turned out than the other Academies; you really cannot compare Cad 50 to Cad 1.”

Lana seemed to be getting a little Impatient with all of Maddie’s questions so she gave it a rest for the time being.

“I think we should find somewhere to rest Lana it is dark and we have been walking for hours.”

A tired Lana nodded in agreement.

“I thought they would have found us by now but you are right we need to rest somewhere.”

Find us thought Maddie, what did she mean?

“Lana you do know where Sanctorea is don’t you?”

“Now you really are being silly of course I don’t know where it is, nobody really knows.”

It was Maddie’s turn to lose patience now.

“Then just what the hell are we doing in the middle of the woods at night searching for some mythical place that could be anywhere.”

“Indeed it could be anywhere and perhaps nowhere and the idea that it is mythical does take my fancy.”

The boy had seemingly come from out of nowhere and yet there he was a tall willowy boy with wild dark hair that was in dire need of a good comb.

Maddie was alert now and ready to fight as more of them came out of the trees to join the boy who was obviously their leader.

“Who are you and what do you want with us?”

Lana jumped in between the boy and Maddie as they faced off against each other.

“Don’t be silly Maddie they are Imps just like us and they are going to take us to Sanctorea, you are aren’t you?”

The question from Lana was directed at all of the strange young people that had now surrounded them. It was the boy who broke the following silence.

“Yes of course young one although I think your friend is the funniest looking Imp that I have ever seen.”

With this the whole group erupted into laughter and even Lana joined in, much to Maddie’s annoyance.

“You should all take a look in the mirror; it looks as though you knocked up those clothes you wear on a broken sewing machine or by a blind seamstress.”

Ever since the boy had appeared Maddie had felt eyes upon her and those steely blue eyes belonged to the tall blonde girl standing on his left hand side. The striking girl was the only one of the bunch that looked as though she had been dressed with some style and the baton that was tucked into her belt gave Maddie the feeling that she was a fighter.

“You have a strange way of speaking and your dress is unfamiliar to me but I apologise if I have offended you. We embrace all here unless of course you wear the uniform of the Academies .”

Lana jumped up and down with delight at the boys words.

“See Maddie I told you that we would be safe here with our own kind.”

The boy who Maddie later found out was named Dylan was far from convinced that the girl with the dark red dress, service boots and leather jacket was one of their kind at all.

“Lissa take our guests back to our campsite, me and the others will join you shortly.”

It was a clear order from the boy and Lissa obeyed without question.

“Come with me you two, we have some walking to do.”

Maddie was about to object until she saw the expression on Lana’s face, it was one of total relief and she was not about to take that away from her.

“We are not ‘you two’, our names are Maddie and Lana, do please have the courtesy to use them.”

Lissa looked at Maddie and nodded sternly giving nothing of her feelings away.

“It is not safe to be out here on your own at night, they patrol this area and although they do not really want to find anyone that does not mean that you will not be beaten by them.”

There was nothing more to be said so Maddie fell in behind Lissa and Lana, keeping her thoughts to herself.

“We are here and Dylan will be back soon, please do not go to sleep as I imagine that he will have some questions for you.”

Maddie felt that Lissa meant he had questions for her and not Lana who already seemed at home in their camp.

“It is great here isn’t it?”

Maddie did not want to burst the younger girls bubble and so agreed with a nod. In truth as they sat around the open fire all she could think of was a camping trip that she had once been on with her Dad. It was a couple of years before he got sick and although she did not really enjoy the experience Maddie now treasured the memory of the time they had spent together.

Maddie was grateful for the fact that she had the presence of mind to bring her jacket as the rain began to lash against her already wet face. All she could think of as she ran down the darkening country lanes was that she could never set foot in that house again.

Chapter 4

 

“I AM HOME FROM THE HUNT AND BACK TO FEED MY PEOPLE.”

The bellowing voice woke a bleary eyed Lana who looked to Maddie to see what was going on.

“Maddie where did that voice come from?”

Seeing how tired Lana was Maddie reassured her that everything was alright and told her to go back to sleep.

“Ok Maddie if you say it is alright then it is alright.”

Turning to Dylan who looked very proud of himself as he threw the dead rabbit next to the fire Maddie gave him a disapproving look.

“You look unhappy new girl is there something wrong?”

Maddie had the idea that he knew exactly what was wrong and was just humouring her.

“Lana here has had a long day and it would have been considerate of you to keep your boasting at a much lower level.”

Dylan smiled a smile that took over his whole face.

“I did not see that she was asleep and around here the sight of food is a reason to celebrate no matter how tired you are.”

Not quite an apology, more an explanation of his behaviour thought Maddie.

“Your blonde friend seems to think that you will want to ask us some questions.”

Another smile from Dylan followed by a shake of his head said otherwise.

“Ah Lissa, always so thorough when it comes to security and of course she is right to be so but it is late and like your friend, we should all get some sleep.”

There was no talk of where they should sleep so Maddie took her jacket off and put it over Lana to make sure that she did not get a chill in the night. After keeping the fire going for a while longer Maddie lay down to sleep her-self. It was not a peaceful sleep for Maddie as her restless mind tried to cope with everything that had happened during the day.

Feeling the kick against her back Maddie swung around to grab the foot as it travelled towards her for a second time. Pulling it upwards and sweeping the owners other leg from under them, Maddie jumped to her feet and was surprised to find Lissa on her back. The tall blonde girl was smiling as she slowly rose to her feet and faced Maddie.

“Nice move but I was just trying to wake you, Dylan wants to see you. Oh and by the way next time you put your hands on me it will be a very different story.”

Maddie believed the tall well-toned girl when she intimated that she could easily beat her in a full on fight but that did not mean that Lissa would not know that she had been in a fight.

“Kick me again and you will lose a foot blondie and that is a fact.”

Lissa laughed and it appeared that Maddie’s threat did not worry her in the slightest.

“You have the spirit Maddie but I can see you do not have the skills to fight me so I advise you to back off.”

Maddie thought that she could detect a note of admiration in Lissa’s voice as she said this but maybe she just wanted that to be true.

“Come on Dylan is waiting and he is not known for his patience in the morning.”

As she walked behind the Impressive girl Maddie thought she could detect a touch of the military in the way she walked and it would certainly account for her arrogance.

“Over there, you will find Dylan in there.”

Lissa was pointing at a large dome shaped construction made of wood, leaves, mud and anything else that they could scavenge from their surroundings. It looked to Maddie like a Native American wigwam that she had seen on a documentary at home, her dad had loved to watch documentaries. It was bigger than all of the other makeshift tents in the camp by a long way, it was at least 15 centimetres in diameter, it was also constructed to a better standard than the rest of the homes in the camp.

“Good morning Maddie, it is Maddie isn’t it?”

“Yes it is and how gracious of you to remember a lowly servant such as I.”

A dark frown from Dylan told Maddie that he was not used to being mocked.

“You have a prickly hide Maddie and I am not your enemy.”

Who talked like that thought Maddie? She had no enemies just people she liked or did not like and she just ignored the latter.

“So pleased to hear that we are not mortal enemies and that I do not have to slay you with my longest fingernail.”

For some reason Maddie could not help but taunt the boy-leader of the Imps.

“You insist on talking to me with such disrespect and I believe that I have been nothing but hospitable to you, why is this?”

Dylan’s argument was calm, reasonable and put Maddie to shame.

“I am sorry, it is just the situation. I find it unbelievable to be in a place like this and with a band of kids that look like they are playing at, well I am not sure what you are playing at.”

“We are not playing at anything all we are doing is our best to survive in a world that has rejected us and branded us non-citizens.”

It sounded like a well-rehearsed speech that Dylan gave to new recruits to his rag tag band of child warriors.

“Look Dylan you sound sincere and I know that Lana believes in this place so I would appreciate it if you could take her in and I will be on my way.”

After a thoughtful pause from Dylan which Maddie thought a little theatrical he spoke quietly almost reverently.

“Of course Lana is welcome to stay she is one of us and as for you I certainly have no intention of keeping you here against your will. I would ask you a favour before you leave and that is for you to stay a few days longer until Lana is settled? I can see that she looks up to you and it would be easier for her if you were close, I understand if this is too much to ask.”

Maddie heard all that Dylan had said but could not help but think he had an ulterior motive for wanting her to stay.

“Lissa was a Cad wasn’t she?”

Why she asked this question of Dylan so bluntly Maddie could not think and she certainly did not expect an answer.

“Yes for three years until she was thirteen she attended an Academy as did I.”

Dylan’s honesty threw Maddie for a moment until she had a realisation.

“You were both Academy 1.”

If Dylan was shocked by this outburst he did not show it.

“You see a lot Maddie, just as I see you do not belong, you are neither Imp nor Cadet.”

Maddie felt a kind of relief at Dylan’s words but was still not sure that she could trust this boy.

“That is right I am not from around here and I would like to get home.”

“A word of advice Maddie if you are caught by the Cadets do not tell them what you have just told me as they will think you some kind of spy, they are a paranoid bunch.”

Maddie was feeling a little more comfortable in Dylan’s company so boldly asked.

“So what made you leave Academy 1? From what Lana tells me they have it better than anyone else in this crazy land of yours.”

A wide grin and a truly remarkable look of pride from Dylan was followed by.

“Apparently I have authority issues, I really don’t know what they mean, I love being in command.”

Maddie found herself smiling back at the jubilant boy and boldly stepped out again.

“Lissa belongs to you doesn’t she?”

A shake of the head later and Dylan put her straight.

“Lissa belongs to no-one, she belongs with me. Lissa is the freest spirit, the strongest heart and the most beautiful soul. Oh and if I were you I would not call her that, her name is Lysette.”

Maddie was beginning to be impressed with this boy-leader that had poetry in his heart when it came to Lissa and was unafraid to show his love for her.

“I will stay for a few days as you ask and then I must find my way home.”

“That is good. I think the young girl will appreciate it, I also think she is more fragile than she appears.”

Once again Maddie was impressed by Dylan and could only agree with his assessment of her young friend.

“Do you have a place for her to sleep; it was not very comfortable last night by the fire.”

“Find George, she will help you build a small dwelling for two, never mind I will instruct her to find you.”

It seemed to Maddie that members of Academy 1 were conditioned to expect their commands to be obeyed and this showed with both Dylan and Lissa.

“You really do enjoy being in command don’t you?”

“It beats the alternative but that doesn’t mean it comes without responsibilities, I will find you later and show you what the reality of being a leader is like.”

It was later that evening when Dylan came to find Maddie.

“That looks great, George does good work.”

“I helped to build it and Maddie watched.”

A look of faux reprimand from Maddie made Lana giggle hysterically.

“It seems that you have the knack of delegation Maddie, a very good quality in a leader, you must trust those you command.”

“To be fair Maddie did as much as anyone else to build their home, although at times she lacked basic skills that I would expect from someone of her age.”

It was George’s assessment of Maddie’s performance that Dylan truly respected and not the make-believe tale that Lana told.

“If you will come with me Maddie I would like to show you something?”

Maddie was happy to leave the grinning Lana to go with the earnest young leader.

“This is what being a leader is all about Maddie; you see before you the outcasts of our society. The ones left behind by a system that deems them of no value.”

Looking around her Maddie was horrified by the plight of the poor wretches that surrounded her.

“We give them food and what medicines we can steal but still more come and we cannot save them all.”

There was genuine sadness in Dylan’s voice as he continued.

“There is never enough of anything and it is my responsibility to see that we save as many as possible. We have to ration our supplies and I have to decide who is more deserving of them.”

“You mean that you play God with people’s lives.”

“I am not a Dev and have no belief in any kind of God or higher power.”

Here we go again thought Maddie, another word that meant nothing to her, she decided that she would ask Lana later what the hell a Dev was.

“Still what gives you the right to decide?”

“If not me then who else is there? Lissa would let them all die.”

It was not a criticism of Lysette just a fact by Dylan.

“It is horrible to think that some of these people will die for the sake of a little food or basic medicines.”

“Yes that is the right word for it, does this not happen where you come from?”

It was the first question Dylan had asked of Maddie about where she came from and she dearly wished that her answer could be a big fat no. Instead she thought of all the children that were starving in the poorer parts of her world, she thought of the disease ridden communities and the filthy water that these children were forced to drink. Her thoughts made her feel ashamed for never having the courage to face the problems in her own backyard. Just like those around her Maddie buried her head in the sand and worried only for her-self.

“Your silence has answered my question for me Maddie.”

Dylan was at least trying to do something, it may not be enough but shouldn’t she applaud him for caring enough to try? Maddie knew that she should be more practical and that saving some was better than none but something told her that all of this was wrong and it needed to change.

“I guess there is suffering everywhere Dylan and my land is no different. I just have never seen it on this scale and so close up before.”

Seeing how deeply affected Maddie was by the suffering that surrounded her Dylan walked her back to the centre of the camp but not before a heavily pregnant young girl grabbed his arm.

“Thank you Sir, I was starving. I had not eaten for days.”

Dylan gently removed the girl’s hand which had gripped tightly round his arm.

“You are welcome to share what we have, have you decided a name for the baby?”

“I dare not for I fear that it will not survive.”

“You must not think like that, be strong and your baby will be healthy. Now go and get some extra rations tell them Dylan said it is ok.”

The girl thanked Dylan again and quickly went back in line to receive second helpings of what Maddie considered not very generous portions of slop.

“Do you think that her baby will be alright?

“I have no idea if she or her baby will survive but I know that she needs hope as much as she needs food and shelter.”

“So you gave her false hope.”

“Hope is hope, how can it be false? I told her what she needed to hear and she is the better for it. Would you have me tell her that she and her baby will not survive the coming winter?

Maddie thought about this before answering.

“I would have you tell her the truth.”

“Here the truth is a shifting line that is buried beneath our feet. I do not know if she will survive or not but I do know what a self-fulfilling prophecy is and I am no prophet.”

Words thought Maddie just more words to hide the lies that Dylan told himself.

“A lie breeds more lies and before you know it you have forgotten what the truth is.”

It was clear to Dylan that he was not going to convince Maddie of the wisdom of keeping hope alive with half-truths.

“Come on it is getting late and I should get you back to Lana. I am sure that she is missing her friend.”

Their discussion was over and Maddie was relieved as she was not nearly as sure of her ground as she had made herself sound to Dylan.

“Goodnight Maddie, just one thing before I leave you. Unlike the State we value every-one of our people and will fight to protect them, the strong will always protect the weak here and we will leave no one behind. We all fight here, Lissa fights to keep us safe, George fights to keep us sheltered, Lana will fight to keep us fed and if you stay then you too must learn to fight for more than just your own survival but for the survival of others.”

Just one thing thought Maddie; she would hate to be around when he really had something to say.

The small dwelling that George had helped build earlier could barely accommodate two and as Lana was already inside with George it was a bit of a squeeze for Maddie when she arrived back.

“Maybe we should have made the place a little larger if we are going to be having guests over!”

Taking it as a criticism George looked offended.

“I will leave you to it then, goodnight.”

Maddie, seeing the disappointed look from the girl that had spent all day erecting their shelter, apologised.

“I am sorry it was just a bad joke and the place is great, please stay and chat for a while. I have questions and we would love to have your company.”

A large smile from George gave Maddie her answer and the girls made themselves as comfortable as possible.

“So come on you two, what the hell is a Dev?

Lana and George exchanged a look then burst out laughing. It was George that was the first to recover and answer Maddie.

“The Dev’s are a cult or what used to be called a religious sect before they were outlawed by the State. They believe in a higher power than the government and that the fate of citizens is governed by this power.”

“It is a strange thing to call your organisation, why the Dev’s?”

Lana answered in the middle of more giggling from the two girls.

“You really don’t know anything do you Maddie? They are called Devotees, everyone just calls them Devs.”

“You shouldn’t worry about them, they are a ridiculous bunch and no-one takes them seriously these days.”

It was strange thought Maddie, a world where religious freedom was outlawed. Never having any such beliefs herself this of course did not affect her directly but still it seemed somehow wrong to her.

“Are there any other groups that I should know about? So far I have joined the Imps, upset the Cads and I am told to dismiss the Dev’s.”

“You should watch out for the Lana’s they are a fierce tribe of warriors that are feared throughout the land and they are partial to young, tender human flesh.”

The mischievous smile on Lana’s smiling face was irresistible and they all fell about laughing at the young girl’s foolishness.

After another hour or so of talking George decided it was time to retire to her bed.

“I should go it is getting late.”

“I really am grateful for all of your help today George and if there is anything I can do to repay you then let me know.”

George stood there for a moment in hesitation before turning to leave.

“Wait a moment George, there is something isn’t there? I can see that you want to ask something of me.”

It looked as though George had lost her tongue until Lana interrupted.

“We heard that you knocked Lissa on her ass and George and some of the others want you to teach them how to fight.”

It was George’s turn to interrupt.

“Lana I told you not to call her that, her name is Lysette and she only allows Dylan to call her Lissa.”

Maddie did not want to refuse George but did not feel qualified for the favour she was being asked.

“George I think that I got lucky and took her by surprise, the point is that I don’t really have the skills to teach you.”

“Taking Lysette by surprise is Impossible and it has not been seen since I have been at the camp. I understand if you don’t want to help and I will not bother you with it again.”

The disappointment in George’s voice was unmistakeable and Maddie felt compelled to agree to her request.

“I will give you all of the time I have and I will also show you how to stand up for yourself. I warn you though I am not a trained fighter like Lissa and so do not have her skills.”

George left Lana and Maddie with a contented look on her face but not before remarking.

“Love the dress Maddie.”

“We should get some sleep now Lana, it seems that I have a busy day tomorrow.”

An excited Lana looked like the last thing she wanted to do was sleep.

“It is great here isn’t it? I mean everyone is so nice and they are all just like us, except Lysette she seems mean.”

Maddie would not have used the words just like us as she had never felt more of an outsider and she had not felt this alone since the death of her father.

“Go to sleep Lana and yes I agree Lissa seems mean.”

“You have to stop calling her that or she will get mad if she hears you.”

Maddie could not help it, for some reason she could not bring herself to call the tall Imposing blonde anything but Lissa.

“Let me worry about Lissa and now you must sleep Lana.”

Maddie turned her back to Lana as thoughts of her attack on John Harrison filled her mind. She had attacked wildly with no plan and her blows were easily deflected by the tall, chubby boy that had angered her so.

It was her anger that had made her attack so ineffective and she knew that it was stupid to become so emotional in a fight. Maddie had never before felt that way at a few insults and she had been taunted by far nastier people than John. He had a way of getting to her without even trying and Maddie could not let that happen again, this would be the first thing she would teach George and anyone else who turned up in the morning.

Maddie’s night was interrupted by a sobbing Lana who climbed into her bunk and snuggled up close to her. Not knowing what to say to the distressed young girl Maddie pretended to be asleep as she felt Lana cry herself to sleep.

“Come on Maddie they are waiting for you.”

It was Lana back to her enthusiastic self.

“You won’t believe it Maddie but I think the whole camp has turned out.”

Maddie did not believe it as she thought that only George and a few others would come out of curiosity.

“Are you sure they are all waiting for me Lana?”

“Yes I am sure so come on get a wriggle on, I will wait outside with the others.”

This was getting out of hand thought Maddie as she readied herself to face the awaiting Imps.

“As I told George last night I am not a trained fighter but I can show you some things that I have learned over the years.”

The twenty or so strong crowd in front of her only made up a small percentage of the camp and for once Maddie was glad of Lana’s tendency to exaggerate.

“There are some basics that I would like to cover first.”

Maddie waited until she had all of their attention before continuing.

“1) in a fight if your opponent is larger than you find something to level the odds, anything that can do them damage.

2) if you are up against more than one opponent run.”

A voice of dissent came back at Maddie from the centre of her audience.

“Lysette would never run.”

Maddie identified the boy who had spoken and spoke directly to him.

“Do you have Lissa’s training and skills because I do not?”

The boy remained silent as Maddie turned away from him and continued.

“3) remain calm and do not let your fear or anger get the better of you.”

Maddie paused as she waited for the last one to sink in before carrying on.

“As hard as it is to control your emotions is, it is also critical to your success in defeating your opponent.”

The single sound of applause drew Maddie’s attention away from the group and her eyes met those of Lysette.

“Thank you Lissa it is nice to have your approval.”

Turning back to the group in front of her Maddie called forth George.

“George here is well built and almost as tall as me and yet I know that I can get the better of her in a fight. To demonstrate this I want you to attack me George.”

“I can’t do that I have never been in a fight in my life.”

“You wanted to learn and the only way to learn is to do, so come at me or get back in line and let someone with some courage take your place.”

George just stood there glaring at Maddie.

“I will attack you for being such a mean fat bully if you don’t leave her alone.”

It was Lana and she looked genuinely mad.

Maddie beckoned the usually smiley Lana to come and take George’s place.

“No I don’t need anyone to defend me; I can do this stay in line Lana.”

“I am waiting; I guess we are all waiting.”

George ran at Maddie putting all of her force and weight behind her fists only to find herself on the ground with blood pouring from her nose.

“You see the way George lunged was wild and lacked any purpose other than to knock me over, at least I think that was her plan.”

“You didn’t have to hurt her like that.”

It was of course Lana that had to put her viewpoint across.

“Yes Lana I did and if George does that to anyone else she may just get very badly hurt. You need a plan of attack, you need to find your opponents weaknesses and you need to know where to hurt them.”

“That is why we asked you to teach us not damage us.”

George’s speech sounded muffled due to the blood clogging up her nostrils.

“That was your first lesson George and now I want you all to find a partner, you stay with me George.”

As the group paired off Dylan joined as Lissa continued to watch with interest.

“She is Impressive don’t you think?”

“She wouldn’t last five minutes against a Cadet from the 1st and you know it.”

“Maybe not but she commands there respect and has some useful moves.”

“The girl lacks technique, discipline and has the finesse of an elephant. She will fit in well with the rest of the Imps.”

Dylan couldn’t resist calling after Lissa as she turned and walked away.

“So you’re Impressed then?”

Once Lissa had disappeared from view Dylan continued to watch as Maddie demonstrated what he considered to be basic defensive techniques.

“I think that is enough for today, if any of you want we can pick it up again tomorrow at the same time.”

As the group dispersed Dylan approached Maddie.

“Well done you are a natural leader, even Lissa was impressed.”

“I was watching Lissa and if that is how she looks when she is Impressed then she needs to inform her facial muscles so that they can change her expression.”

“I have known Lissa since we were children and I know when she has admiration for someone and I see it when she looks at you.”

Maddie was not totally convinced by Dylan’s words but what the hell, they sounded genuine enough.

“Thanks I really think I am out of my depth when it comes to showing them how to fight.”

“You are not trained like Lissa and I but that does not mean that you cannot show them a thing or two and you do seem to have a natural talent for it.”

Chapter 5

 

Maddie’s first attempt at training her group went as well as she could have expected and for the next few weeks she carried on with the morning sessions with only a few of them dropping out. It had although become evident that she had reached the limit of her knowledge and that they were going over the same routines that Maddie had taught them in the first week.

“Are we going to be doing anything new today?” Inevitably it was an optimistic Lana that voiced the question that everyone had on their minds.

“No Lana. I do not have anything else to show you but I do believe in being prepared and if we continue to practice what I have already shown you then you will be better able to protect yourselves.”

It made sense thought Maddie but the group before her did not look particularly enthused by her little speech.

“Lysette knows how to fight with weapons.”

It was the boy again and this time Maddie lost patience with him.

“First you must learn to fight with your body, your heart, your mind and then maybe you will find the courage to ask Lissa to train you.”

It was a sombre session after that and Maddie sensed correctly that it would be the last. She dutifully arose the next morning to find that the only ones to show up were George and Lana.

“It’s ok you two, I knew yesterday that it was over and I am sure that you have better things to do.”

George looked at Lana who was smiling as usual.

“Come on, I will show you how to build a larger structure out of the materials we find around us.”

Lana looked to Maddie for approval.

“It’s fine Lana, just go and have a little fun.”

In truth this left Maddie at a bit of a loss, Dylan had not assigned her any duties as he liked to do with newcomers. So she was left to wander around the campsite alone and once again she was overwhelmed by feelings of isolation that she could not shake.

It was only upon entering a clearing in the woods where she saw Lysette that Maddie forgot all about her own situation. Lysette was amazing with a wooden staff in her hand; she was executing the most complex and beautiful moves that Maddie had ever seen. It was a cross between dance and Martial Arts; it was wonderful to see how fluid her movements were, the staff passed from one hand to the other as if by magic. Lysette was mesmerising and Maddie could only stand there transfixed as she witnessed the warrior girl perform her morning ritual.

“That was the most amazing and beautiful thing I have ever seen.”

Maddie blurted this out as soon as Lysette finished.

“Thank you, it helps to set me up for the rest of the day.”

Both girls looked embarrassed and neither one knew what else to say after this surprising exchange until Maddie took the initiative.

“You need to be training these people, not me.”

A wry smile from Lysette as she sat on a fallen tree told Maddie that she found the idea distasteful.

“Your speed is phenomenal and the way that you carry that staff, it is like it becomes part of you. It is no wonder you found my attempts at training them laughable.”

Lysette invited Maddie over to sit with her.

“You are a street fighter Maddie and you taught them the best way that you could. It was not you that I found laughable it is the thought that Imps could fight, now that is funny.”

It was the first time that Maddie had heard the term Imps said in that way. Lysette managed to convey such contempt when she used the word whereas Lana used it with pride.

“You hate these people then?”

“You have to be realistic; they were rejected by the Academies for a reason. It does not matter how hard they train or how much they want to learn they will never beat the Cadets.”

So Lissa had already written them off just like the system and it seemed nothing would change her mind.

“Then you are only here for Dylan?”

“Dylan will come to his senses and once he does we will go back to where we belong. I suggest you do the same because you sure don’t belong here with the rabble.”

It was a compliment of sorts from Lysette.

“You hunt with these people; you eat, sleep and drink with them. Isn’t it obvious to you that they are just like you only less fortunate?”

The look of disgust on Lissa’s face gave Maddie her answer and if that was not enough Lysette drove her opinion home.

“They are nothing like me, take a closer look at them Maddie, they take no pride in their appearance, they take without giving back and they are also weak and feeble minded.”

“I only see a community that supports each other and is desperate to survive.”

Another withering look from Lysette and Maddie knew she was not going to get through to her.

“In the Academy we are taught to be self-sufficient and anyone that cannot keep up is not worth our time. This rabble could not even get into an Academy which just shows you how useless they are.”

Maddie stood up to get away from Lysette’s scathing words.

“You may not want to listen Maddie but I know that Dylan has shown you the dregs of our society that come to us every evening looking for handouts. They take without giving, they are leeches and the sooner Dylan realises that they need to help themselves the better for him and them.”

It was tough love at its most extreme thought Maddie and she did not like it one little bit.

“And what if you fall behind Lissa? Who comes to your aid or do we just leave you where you fall?”

Lissa smiled brightly and Maddie thought the girl might just burst into laughter at the thought of needing help from anyone.

“You think these Imps are capable of helping anyone but themselves then you are touched just like Lana says you are.”

Hmmn Maddie would have to have a word with young Lana for spreading that particular rumour.

“So the Imps are incapable of helping you and the Cads don’t think you are worth helping then I guess you are truly alone.”

Maddie walked away hoping that she had made a dent in Lissa’s armour, though she doubted that anything she had said got through to her.

Maddie knew it was time to find Dylan and tell him of her decision.

“I have decided it is time for me to leave.”

“I am sorry to hear that. I had hoped you would find a reason to stay with us.”

“There is no role here for me to play and I need to find a way home.”

Dylan motioned for Maddie to sit with him.

“Maddie do you even know where you are? It seems to me that you are lost and I mean that in more ways than one.”

He was right thought Maddie; she had lost herself when her dad had died.

“My mother needs me and I have to go.”

It was the first time since losing her father that Maddie had thought of her mother’s needs. In all the time since that terrible day Maddie had only ever thought of herself and her own pain. In fact Maddie had blamed her mother for not being there for her when she needed her the most. It seemed to the troubled teenager that her mother had drifted away from her on a sea of tranquilizers.

Seeing that Maddie was determined to leave Dylan decided to help.

“I will get Lissa to take you back to where you found Lana and maybe you can find your way back from there.”

Dylan was not altogether sure that Maddie really had a home to go back to but he knew she did not really belong in Velaria.

“Not Lissa, just point me in the right direction and I am gone.”

Not for the first time Dylan found himself defending Lysette.

“Lissa may seem harsh but she is a good friend to have at your side.”

“The trouble is she is not my friend and never will be.”

At least Lissa knew how to make an Impression thought Dylan.

“Ok I will take you back myself and Lana can come along to show us exactly where you met.”

Although Maddie could see the sense in this she really did not want Lana to make the trip with them.

“I think it better if I say goodbye to Lana here, she has become attached to me and I don’t want her making a scene.”

“Nonsense Lana knows the way best and saying goodbye now or later is not going to make much difference.”

There was that arrogance again; Dylan knew better and it would be done his way or not at all.

“Fine I will tell her before we leave that I am not coming back with you.”

“As you wish, now hurry if we leave immediately we have a chance of getting back before it is too dark.”

Maddie wanted to say something clever about the big brave leader of the Imps being afraid of the dark but thought better of it.

“I will go tell her now.”

Maddie found Lana with George; they were in the middle of building some kind of make-shift hut.

“Lana can I have a word please?”

“Yes come and hold this while George straps that branch down.”

Maddie did as her young friend asked.

“Lana we need to talk and then we are taking a trip with Dylan.”

“Oh how exciting, are we going hunting? I would love to try my hand at hunting.”

There was something so infectious about Lana’s enthusiasm that Maddie was almost sorry to be leaving.

“No Lana. I am going home and we need you to show us the way to where we first met.”

Lana jumped back from Maddie and began to walk away.

“Lana I need your help.”

“I heard you I am going to get ready, I will be back in a moment.”

Lana went back to what they had called home for the past few weeks and emerged minutes later.

“Ok I am ready but I might need Dylan to bring us back to where he found us and then I can take it from there.”

Maddie had been expecting more emotion from Lana and was a little disappointed at how well she was taking the news of her departure.

“You will be fine here without me Lana.”

“I know, I have been expecting it and George says that I can move in with her when you are gone.”

Maddie should have known that the resilient young girl would be able to cope without her, after all she was well liked and had made many friends since she arrived.

“Right let’s go, there is no point in dawdling.”

It was not quite a direct order and yet Dylan still made it sound like a command.

On the trip back Dylan was virtually silent and if it was not for Lana’s endless chatter Maddie would have found it very awkward.

“So Maddie you are going home to this distant land of yours called London!”

“It is called London and I am hoping it is not too distant.”

Maddie was aware that she was being mocked by Lana but she did not mind too much.

“It must be very distant because no one here has ever heard of it, have you been to London Dylan?”

“No Lana and you really should not be so sceptical; there are many places that we do not know of.”

“I thought they taught you history, geography, science as well as discipline at the Academies.”

“They teach you what they think you need to know to become a useful citizen and no more. Their history is a lie and their geography does not extend beyond Valeria.”

Lana looked puzzled by Dylan’s revelation.

“Then you don’t know any more than me?”

This was followed by a low chuckle from the inquisitive girl.

Maddie joined in their exchange.

“Lissa paints a very different picture of the Academy system and I get the Impression she would never have left if not for you.”

“Lissa is her own person and has her own views, I do not happen to share them.”

Maddie ended the debate by stating that they were close.

“How far?”

“A mile, no more than that.”

The time had gone quickly and Maddie could not help but anticipate finding the road back to tumbledown.

Chapter 6

 

Once the three of them had reached their destination Dylan took charge.

“You two wait here while I scout around to make sure that it is safe.”

“I don’t think that is necessary, I am sure that I will be able to find my way back from here.”

Dylan shook his head and moved on ahead.

“I have not come all this way for you to be captured so keep your heads down until I get back.”

It was quite some time before Dylan made it back and on a couple of occasions Maddie had contemplated saying goodbye to Lana there and then. The only thing that kept her from doing so was that she did not like the idea of leaving her in the woods at the edge of the village alone.

“For some reason there is quite a flap going on around here and there are Cadets from the 50th everywhere.”

“Do you know what is going on?”

“No but it will be difficult for you to negotiate your way through them. The way you look is different and they will stop you on sight.”

Maddie was determined to go on.

“You two go back and I will wait until dark before trying for home.”

Dylan gave this some thought before coming up with his own plan.

“No that will not do, what you need is a distraction and we will provide it.”

A stubborn Maddie knew that this was her best chance but still argued against it.

“I will not have you put yourselves in danger just to help me, now please go.”

A big smile from Lana showed that she was not afraid and had no intention of leaving her friend.

“You saved me Maddie and now it is my turn to save you.”

“No Lana they are looking for you and I would never forgive myself if anything happened to you. I can’t imagine you inside this Juvinescence place.”

A loud blustering laugh issued forth from Dylan.

“Lana is only twelve years of age and Juvi is only for eighteen and above at worse Lana would be publicly flogged but more likely she would be given a work detail.”

“Flogged what kind of barbaric world are you living in?”

Dylan looked offended now.

“We are living in a world that holds discipline and strength above all else. It is a world that I have called home all of my life and I doubt that your world is any different.”

Lana jumped in between the two of them with the idea of changing the subject.

“I know this place well I have played here since I was little and I think that I could find a way through if Maddie were to agree to follow me.”

Dylan was not letting go of his plan that easily.

“That could work but first we will set a little fire close to the Academy quarters and then we both follow Lana.”

Maddie felt she had to point out one little thing.

“You have not given much thought to how you are getting back.”

Dylan had a wild look in his eye as he ran from the cover of the trees.

“He is coming back isn’t he?”

“Yes Lana he will be back after he has started his little distraction.”

Reckless thought Maddie, the boy was acting like an adventurer with no responsibilities and had no business being the leader of anyone.

“It is done, now Lana take us through.”

Dylan had an irritating habit of coming up from behind people and Maddie did not appreciate it.

“Next time give a girl some warning before you leave her and even more when you come up behind her or you might just get knocked on your arse.”

Lana led the group through the smaller less travelled lanes of the village and it was all going well until.

“YOU THREE STOP.”

Turning back in unison the trio saw a small number of Cadets.

“THAT’S RIGHT YOU LOT, COME HERE.”

Dylan whispered to the others.

“When we get close I will take them out and then you scatter, if we make it we meet up back in the woods.”

Maddie was not too sure of Dylan’s plan but it was bold and just might work; besides she did not have an alternative one to offer up.

“THAT’S THEM; THE ONE WITH THE BLACK JACKET ATTACKED ME.”

Just their luck the boy that Maddie had the tussle with was with them.

“Cadets stand straight and stop your bellowing.”

Maddie recognised the voice as soon as she heard it.

“What is happening here?”

As the voice came around the corner Maddie was shocked to see the sight of John Harrison in what appeared to be a similar uniform to the Cadets from the 50th.

“It is a few Imps sir, we are dealing with them.”

“I will be the judge of that Cadet.”

The three carried on walking back until Maddie was face to face with John Harrison. Up close she could see that his uniform was of better quality than the other Cadets and had one other difference, the number 1 was emblazoned on its shoulders.

“What do you intend to do with these three?”

“Question them and punish them for attacking a fellow Cadet.”

“I will take over from here; we have been looking for one that matches the description of the girl in the jacket.”

The boy that Maddie fought looked extremely disappointed at being cheated out of his revenge.

“But sir we need to make an example out of them.”

A long hard look from John Harrison put the boy in his place.

“Does anyone else wish to question a member of the 1st?”

There was an awkward silence from the Cadets who would like nothing more than to question the boy in front of them but they knew better.

“That is settled then and you go back to your quarters and consider yourself on report.”

John Harrison waited and watched until the Cadets he had dismissed were out of sight.

“We have to go now before they figure out that I am not really one of them.”

Maddie was still trying to process the fact that John Harrison was in front of her when Dylan spoke.

“I am not following you anywhere until I know who you are.”

This seemed to snap Maddie out of her shocked state .

“His name is John Harrison and I don’t think we have much choice but to get out of here now.”

John looked at Dylan before answering his question.

“And by the way I don’t want you to follow me; I was kind of hoping that you had somewhere to go.”

John’s answer seemed to sit well with Dylan as he took the lead.

“It is too dangerous to keep going so we go back and maybe you can try to get home at a later time.”

It was not a question but more of a command and Maddie nodded in agreement.

“I am game just as long as we get out of here in a hurry.”

Dylan looked at John as if he did not care what his opinion was.

“You can come along for now but at some point I will need to know how you come to be wearing the uniform of the 1st.”

A smile from John and they were on their way back to relative safety of the woods.

“How did you get here John?”

Dylan interrupted Maddie abruptly.

“This is not the time for a reunion chat, we need to keep moving.

After this the four companions moved quickly and quietly until they reached the outskirts of the village.

“Now that we are away from the 50th you can explain to me how you came to be dressed in the uniform of a 1st Cadet.”

John had no intention of being pushed into telling this stranger anything.

“Are you ok Phoebe I have been searching for you for such a long time?”

Dylan and Lana looked at each other wondering who this Phoebe was.

“I am fine and exaggerate much; I have been here less than a month.”

Now it was John’s turn to look perplexed.

“It has been a year since you left that night and I came straight after you to find myself here.”

“That can’t be possible I have not been here for more than three weeks.”

Maddie caught herself there and then, who was she to say what was possible or not. This place was not possible but here she was and now she was not alone anymore.

Dylan’s voice cut through the air as he said decisively.

“This is going nowhere so I suggest we get back and sort out all of our questions later.”

The silence and downward looks signalled to Dylan that they were in agreement.

“Good let us get a move on, we are losing daylight.”

“No I want to see if my parents are safe.”

Lana stood her ground and stubbornly refused to move.

“Lana it is not safe this day but we will come back I promise you.”

Dylan was gentle but firm with the stubborn girl who still refused to move.

“Draw me a map and I will go to see if they are ok, with this uniform I should be able to bluff my way through.”

Maddie was surprised to see John offer to put himself in harm’s way for a complete stranger.

“It is a bad idea and I have no intention of waiting here while you are off playing hero.”

“I will go with you and if anyone says anything then you can say that I am your prisoner.”

Lana made the offer primarily to see for herself that her Mother and Father were safe.

“No Lana John will go alone and I will wait here with you.”

An exasperated Dylan was not used to having his commands questioned.

“You people are crazy there is no point in risking yourselves in this way. Lana you know they won’t be there and that in all probability they have been relocated.”

Relocated it was a diplomatic way of putting it thought Maddie.

“I have to know and I am not going back without finding out.”

There was a determination in the girl’s voice that brooked no argument.

“If you are going through with this folly then you will do it without my help.”

John spoke for the two girls.

“That is fine you can leave but we are staying and I am going to find out about your parents for you Lana.”

Maddie could not believe the change in John Harrison, gone was the selfish boy that she knew, to be replaced by a slimmed down version of that wretched boy. A new John Harrison that reminded Maddie of a younger version of his father whom she respected, this John seemed to have empathy and courage.

“I thought he would never leave what a party pooper.”

Lana and John burst into laughter as Dylan disappeared from view.

“I am glad you two think this is funny, Dylan maybe arrogant and bossy but he also knows the way back to the Imps.”

Lana was still laughing when she said.

“It is ok I can find my way back there and if you are feeling scared because our fearless leader has left then don’t worry I will protect you.”

“Cute Lana very cute.”

“If you two are finished with your routine I shall take my life in my hands and check out the situ with your moms and pops.”

Such a drama queen thought Maddie but she could not deny John’s bravery.

“Just be careful and get back here quickly or I might just leave you behind.”

John feigned hurt and then winked cheekily at Lana before leaving.

It was dark by the time that John returned with news.

“It seems you two caused quite a stir last time that you were here, that is why the 50th is in evidence everywhere.”

An excited Lana did not care why the Academy was out in force.

“My Mum and Dad are they still at home?”

“Yes Lana they are, I talked to your dad and he said calling justice to report you saved them from being removed from their home. Here he gave me this to give to you.”

John took a small stuffed giraffe from his tunic and handed it to Lana.

“Thank you for going it was very brave.”

Maddie could see how much the scruffy toy meant to Lana and was relieved that her parents had not been punished.

“Your dad told me that the Cadets have been put on high alert ever since a girl kicked one of their arses in public.”

John was looking at Maddie with a mixture of pride and admiration when he said this.

“Don’t look at me Lana here was doing just fine without me.”

John knew the description given matched Maddie perfectly but said nothing when Lana chimed in.

“That is right if not for Maddie getting in the way I might have hurt the poor little Cad.”

As usual Lana had gone too far and Maddie shared a knowing smile with John.

“It is too dark to go on now so I reckon we would be better off finding a place close to get our heads down.”

John nodded in agreement and they both looked to Lana who was clutching her giraffe tightly.

“There is an old abandoned windmill not far but they maybe guarding it.”

“Well let’s go see.”

John took Lana’s hand and propelled her to the front of their little group.

“It is not that way silly, the mill is over yonder.”

“Then a yonder we shall go, a yonder we shall go.”

John said this rhythmically and with humour laced through his voice. Maddie was sure he was being whimsical for Lana’s benefit and she loved that he made the effort.

“You are laughing at me John Harrison and I won’t have it, remember I nearly killed that Cad with my crazy skills.”

John was happy to play along as they ventured closer to the old mill.

“I do so apologise I forgot I was talking to a master of the fighting arts that could dispatch me with her little finger if she so chose to do so.”

“It is not wise to forget who your superior’s are John Harrison, it could get you killed or worse.”

As much as Maddie was enjoying their friendly banter and seeing Lana happy it occurred to her that they should be walking in silence.

“Cut it out you two, we need to be quiet and Lana his name is John just John.”

For some reason Maddie was finding listening to John’s full name all of the time irritating.

“Don’t mind her she is just copying Dylan about the whole silence thing and I will call you John Harrison if I want to.”

Maddie decided to ignore Lana’s last remarks and hope that they would indeed be the last.

“Did my dad ask how I was?”

“Yes Lana he was very concerned about you and wanted reassurance that you were safe.”

Maddie thought that she had detected a tearful tone from Lana as she asked her question but it was too dark to see if there were any tears coming from the poor girl.

“Now that we know they are ok you can come back and visit them when all of the commotion dies down.”

Lana could not hide the excitement she felt at this idea in her reply.

“Do you really think that Dylan will let me come back?”

Maddie was surprised at this reaction as so far Lana had not let anyone dictate to her what she could or not do.

“I don’t see how he could stop a raging tiger like you and besides I will be right beside you to back you up.”

“That goes for me to I may not be a raging tiger, more of a wussy pussycat but I will be right there to.”

Lana found this hilarious and could not help but give way to a fit of laughter.

“John don’t make her laugh, there may be Cads close enough to hear.”

Although Maddie pretended to be angry with John for making her friend laugh she was really happy to have the cheerful girl back.

“There look over there behind the big oak that is the old mill.”

John could only just make out the outline of the old building and Maddie was just pleased to be at the end of their journey.

“Hurry you two let’s get inside and try to get some rest. We have a long way to go in the morning.”

“Who died and made you the boss?”

It was the irrepressible Lana with a cheeky grin plastered across her face.

“Be careful young lady or it will be you that is the one that ends up as the boss and then where would we all be?”

“We would be in a land of rainbows, laughter, honey and kindness.”

“Sounds like hell.”

Lana looked as though she had never heard the word.

“Hell is the worse place in the world.”

“You mean Juvi that is the worse place that you can ever go.

Maddie noticed, and not for the first time, that Lana’s fear of Juvinescence was very real and although Dylan said she was too young to be sent there it still terrified her.

“Yes Juvi is indeed hell and I would not want to be sent there myself.”

It was John and Maddie was not sure if he was humouring Lana or if he actually knew more about this place than she did. If he had been there a whole year then he might just know a lot more than she did but how could he have been there longer than she had been there?

“John can you tell me how my dad looked, they did not hurt him did they?”

John sounded genuinely sympathetic as he reassured the nervous looking Lana.

“He looked and sounded well Lana. His only worry seemed to be about how you were and I told him that you were fine.”

Maddie thought it best to interrupt and took charge of the sleeping arrangements.

“Lana you can sleep next to me and John can sleep over there in the corner.”

“You two get some sleep I will keep watch for a time to make sure that we are not disturbed.”

Maddie felt a little foolish for not thinking of keeping a watch through the night.

“Yes you are right you should wake me in a couple of hours and I will take over from you.”

A nod from John signalled his agreement and moments later Lana fell asleep close to where Maddie lay.

“She must have been exhausted, it is the first time since I have known Lana that she has fallen asleep so quickly.”

“The relief of knowing her parents are safe may have helped.”

Maddie joined John who was standing at the window staring out into the darkness.

“How did you get here John and how do you happen to be here for so much longer than me?”

“I can only answer the first part of that question Phoebe.”

It was the first time in weeks that anyone had called her by that name and it now sounded alien to Maddie.

“Here I am called Maddie and please just tell me how you are here?”

John paused before relating the story of his arrival in Valeria to Maddie.

“The night that you ran out of our house I waited for an hour and when you did not come back I went to look for you.”

Maddie wanted to correct John and say the night that you drove me out but kept quiet instead to let him continue.

“It was dark and the rain was bad that night but I know the area inside out as I have lived there since I was a small boy. When I came across a pathway that I did not recognise I followed it hoping to find you at the other end. Instead I found a dilapidated cottage that I know was not there before, I have explored the whole area and that place did not exist before that night. I felt that I had to go inside to see if you had taken shelter there even though I felt queer about the whole place and once inside there was an old man standing there in the darkness of the kitchen.”

Maddie waited for John to continue as he searched her face looking for any sign that could tell him what she was thinking.

“Go on, who was this mysterious old man?”

“He said that he was the caretaker Mr Didcot and that I was trespassing. I asked him if he had seen a young girl and he told me that you had scarpered out the back when he discovered you in the cottage a little earlier.”

Maddie had only met Mrs Didcot and wondered why her husband would have lied to John like that.

“I thanked him for the info and went to go through the back when he warned me off.”

“What was the warning?”

“He said that It was not wise to go through the back garden and that I should go around the front. As you can see I did not take heed of his words and here I am as to why I have been here so much longer than you that I do not know.”

Maddie thought perhaps she had the answer.

“You did not follow me here John, I followed you. It was not until the next morning that I walked out into the Didcot’s garden and found myself in this crazy place.”

John thought about this and still could not really make sense of what Maddie had told him.

“The difference of one night equates to a year, like most things about this place it is insane. Still I am glad to have found you now and if it had not been for your exuberant entrance I might never have seen you again.”

Maddie looked confused.

“Lana’s dad was not the first to tell me the story of the strange girl with the black jacket. You have become quite the legend in these parts and you have only been here for a few weeks.”

Maddie still did not know what John was talking about.

“You are talking in riddles now John, please explain yourself.”

“Here you do not attack a Cad and you certainly do not do it to protect an Imp. You had quite an audience when you did this and the story has spread like wildfire. It is not always the same story sometimes you took out three of them before escaping with a young girl that they were beating on. In other versions the girl with the black jacket took a lektro from a lone Cad and gave him what he deserved before running off. The Imps have made you quite the hero and the Cads are looking for you everywhere.”

Maddie could not believe it all she had done was stop a bully from hurting a young girl and now she was a fugitive in a land that she found to be both cruel and perplexing.

“We can bring Lana back to Dylan and then leave; I do not want to put them in danger. We do not belong here and the sooner we get home the better it will be for everyone.”

John turned away from Maddie to stare back out into the darkness.

“What the hell is so interesting out there John?”

As John turned back to look at Maddie she saw for the first time sadness in those deep dark eyes of his.

“We can’t go back Phoebe there is no way home, I have tried and the cottage is no longer back there.”

“But that is not possible, how can it not be there?”

Maddie knew she was asking a question that John could not possibly have an answer to.

“I only know that I have retraced my route here and there is no longer a dilapidated old cottage to go back to.”

“It was not dilapidated by the time I came through it was a lovely place that you would be happy to live in.”

John did not really understand what Maddie was telling him and was not sure if it had any significance anyway.

“This world is messed up Phoebe and the people need help, you could be just what they need.”

“They need something yes but what do you expect I can do for them?”

“You have seen their suffering first hand and it is not just the Imps the Cads need help as well. You could help to ease their suffering and seeing as we cannot go back I think that is a noble way forward.”

Maddie was suddenly reminded of what Mrs Didcot said, you can only come back when you ease their suffering was it just a coincidence that John had used the very same words?

“I don’t know anything about this world John and I certainly have no idea of how to fix it.”

An enthusiastic John began to explain his thoughts to Maddie.

“You could become a rallying point for all of them to get behind, you have already reached the ears of the Capital or there would not be such a commotion in every village and town I have passed through. The State here does not tolerate any violation of its directives and people live in fear of any reprisals against them for the smallest infraction of the rules.”

“John I am just one girl and this place needs some kind of revolution and that takes a leader someone like Dylan would fit the bill better than me.”

“No you are missing the point; it needs to be an outsider someone that is not afraid to attack its core beliefs and values. Someone that is willing to tear this world apart to make it a better place.”

Maddie thought that she saw the face of a fanatic in front of her and wondered if John had been here too long.

“As I said we will bring Lana back and then we should try to figure a way out of this crazy place. Your mum and dad will be worried.”

Maddie thought the mention of John’s parents would bring him down to earth but she still had Mrs Didcot’s words echoing through her mind.

“You can only come back when you ease their suffering.”

What if that was true and what if John was right?

“I will stay with you until you drop off Lana as I need to talk to Dylan but then I will be getting back to the people that I have been with for the last six months.”

Maddie was too tired to talk anymore and she had way too much on her mind to sleep.

“Phoebe I am sorry about that night I was a complete pig and never should have talked to you that way.”

John was totally sincere in his apology and Maddie almost felt sorry for him.

“Yes you were and I am not sure that I can forgive you.”

John nodded in understanding.

“Can we sit and talk for a while please?”

“I really don’t have anything to say.”

Maddie was not going to make this easy for John, why should she he was a complete arse to her?

“Then will you sit and listen while I talk?”

“Ok but you don’t really have to say anything it is not as if we are friends or anything.”

They sat down facing each other and John began to speak.

“It has been a long time for me since that night and I have thought about it every day since. I treated you like scum from the moment you entered our house, I tried to belittle you at every opportunity. I thought at first it was because I was not consulted about having a stranger in the house and that you had ruined my plans for the summer but I know now that was never the case.”

John waited for a response from Maddie but when he saw none was forthcoming he continued.

“I liked you from the beginning and I did not know what to do with that. It was unexpected and confusing for me so I lashed out at you and acted like I hated you. If you really want to know I was attracted to you and did not have the courage to admit it to you or myself.”

Where the hell was all of this coming from thought Maddie, only three weeks ago this boy was a thoughtless pig that she wanted to have roasted over an open fire.

“You cannot be serious if you like someone you do not treat them like trash.”

John did not try to defend himself.

“You are right there is no excuse for my actions and I don’t expect you to forgive me. I do however hope that one day you will find a way to stop hating me.”

Right at this moment Maddie was far from hating the changed boy in front of her in fact he was stirring up feelings inside of her that she was finding hard to fathom.

“You have explained yourself enough for one night John and it is time for us to sleep.”

John agreed and Maddie went back over to Lana knowing that she would be awake all night thinking of all that John had said to her.

Chapter 7

 

Maddie hardly slept at all that night in the windmill, what with the crashing news from John that there was no way home for them and the revelation that he had feelings for her. She found her mind could not rest with this knowledge.

Surprisingly it was the idea that John liked her that gave her the most trouble that night and as she walked behind him the next day towards Dylan’s camp. Maddie could not help but admire how good he looked in the uniform of the 1st. There was now a quiet confidence in John that Maddie thought must have come from surviving alone in this strange world.

“This is where Dylan found us last time; I hope that he has not moved on.”

“I don’t think so Lana and I am sure it will not be long before he descends upon us again.”

John thought that he detected a note of irritation in Maddie’s voice.

“It seems Dylan is not exactly your favourite ex-Cad.”

Once again Maddie found herself Impressed by the new Improved John Harrison.

“You know that he was once a Cad then?”

John smiled broadly.

“With that military bearing and insufferable arrogance I would not be surprised if he had been a member of the 1st.”

It was Maddie’s turn to smile.

“Dylan is not the only Cad that is at the camp you know, it is not unusual for them to desert because they cannot take the discipline.”

“Is that right Lana?”

Lana loved that John took such a keen interest in what she had to say.

“Oh yes I would say at least a third of the camp came from the Academies.”

John looked at Maddie.

“You see Phoebe neither side is content at the way this society treats them.”

Why tell me thought Maddie?

“That has nothing to do with me or you for that matter, in this world or any other you take care of yourself.”

A disappointed John turned to Lana.

“Is that right Lana do you just take care of yourself and not give a care for those around you?”

Lana thought about this for a moment.

“If that was right then Maddie would not have helped me and stop calling her Phoebe it is very confusing.”

Maddie looked at her young friend and tried to explain.

“I helped you because I could that is very different than looking after everyone, I am not equipped to do that and my name is Phoebe Maddison. Only my friends call me Maddie and John has never been my friend.”

Lana thought she saw John wince at Maddie’s last words.

“Dylan tries to help everyone that comes to him so if you help him then I think you will be helping us all.”

The girl’s logic was simple and Maddie could not find fault in it.

“Let’s just wait for him to come and fetch you Lana.”

They settled in to wait for Dylan to find them.

“You see her point don’t you? If we can unite them then we can form an opposition to the State.”

Maddie was not convinced by John’s argument and thought Lana naïve.

John was the first to be alerted to the fact that they were no longer alone.

“There is someone here, they are circling around us.”

John looked as though he was getting prepared to fight as Dylan appeared.

“You made it back then!”

“You get a degree in stating the obvious when we were gone then?”

Dylan looked suitably offended at Maddie’s insolence as Lysette took up position by his side.

“Your mouth never gets any less smart does it Maddie?”

Maddie barely heard Dylan as she watched Lysette’s eyes fix on John.

“Where did you get that uniform?”

Lysette asked this in such a confrontational way that John became immediately wary of the athletic blonde.

“I need to have a word with you Dylan but I think it prudent that we get Lana back safely first.”

Lysette did not like it that John had chosen to ignore her question completely.

“You will answer my question or I will beat the truth out of you.”

For the first time John looked directly at Lysette.

“Spoken like a true Cad, ask questions first and when you don’t get the answers that you want resort to violence.”

As the two squared up to each other in anticipation of the fight to come Dylan spoke.

“That is enough Lissa we will find out more from John when we return to the camp and if his answers are not to our satisfaction then maybe I will just give him over to you.”

Lysette immediately stood down while John remained on full alert.

“You take orders well blondie and that will be how I will defeat your sorry arse.”

Maddie was amazed at the brazen attitude John was displaying.

“John it is alright we will just bring back Lana and leave.”

John nodded in compliance but he did not think that Dylan had any intention of letting them leave without getting answers.

It was over and though the tension between Lysette and John remained there was no question of them clashing at least not for the time being.

Maddie whispered to John as they were escorted back to the camp.

“You should show Lissa some respect she is the best fighter they have and I have seen her moves which are incredible.”

John did not look too worried and did not seem to be taking Maddie’s warning seriously.

“It is alright Phoebe I can see that she is not a pushover and I am not stupid enough to take her lightly.”

Maddie fell silent as she thought that John was not really listening.

“John I bet that Lysette can kick your ass.”

Of course it was Lana being her cheeky self.

“That maybe so Lana but this arse won’t go down without a fight and by the way stop thinking about my arse.”

Maddie was grateful for the humour but could not help but feel it was out of place.

“You two are idiots and should shut up before I kick both of your arses.”

John wanted to tell Maddie to stop thinking about his arse to but thought better of it after looking at her dark expression.

Back at the campsite Dylan directed John to sit by the fire while he took Lissa aside and put his hand on her shoulder. The others could not hear what he said to her but were relieved to watch her walk back away from them.

“You wished to talk to me and I am intrigued to hear what you have to say but right now we are all tired and I think it in our best interest to wait until the morning.”

As Dylan walked away Maddie noticed he stopped to give orders to two of his more capable men.

“I think that they will be watching over you tonight John.”

A smile followed by a full on yawn was not the response Maddie expected.

“You are taking all of this very lightly John; I mean you are in a serious predicament. I think that Lissa wants to kill you and Dylan might just let her do so.”

“I can take care of myself Phoebe and I can assure you that I take Lissa very seriously indeed.”

“I should tell you that the only one that calls her Lissa is Dylan so if you want to get on her good side I should call her Lysette if I were you.”

That is not true thought John as he had clearly heard Maddie address her by Lissa at least once.

“Thanks for the info it might come in useful if we do actually come to blows which I very much doubt anyway.”

That was it there was no helping him thought Maddie.

“I am going now; I hope you have fun with your new friends.”

Maddie pointed at the two boys Dylan had spoken to and was astonished to see John wave cheerily at them.

Lana was still up when Maddie arrived at their hut.

“John is so handsome and brave Maddie you are very lucky to have him.”

Maddie looked angrily back at the poor girl.

“What the hell are you talking about Lana? John Harrison is the reason I am here and I want no part of that fool.”

Maddie knew even before the harsh words had left her mouth that they were not strictly true.

“But Maddie you must see the way that he looks at you, it is the same way that Lysette looks at Dylan.”

If that were true then John was being honest when he said that he liked her and if he truly looked at her in the way Lissa looked at Dylan it could be much more.

“You are being silly Lana Lissa is in love with Dylan and everyone can see that.”

“Yes I know and I am sure that everyone will see the same from John.”

Maddie really liked Lana but sometimes she had some strange notions in her young head.

“Lana now it is you that are touched and if you don’t go to sleep immediately I will tell everyone that is the case.”

Lana turned away from Maddie but could not resist teasing her a little before going to sleep.

“John Harrison loves Phoebe Maddison, Phoebe Maddison loves John Harrison.”

Lana repeated these words over and over in a childish mantra until Maddie gave her a swift kick in the butt.

“Goodnight Lana and any more nonsense from you and I will throw you out with the wolves.”

Maddie had no idea if there were wolves in this world or if Lana had even heard of such animals but it seemed to do the trick as the cheeky young girl fell silent for the night.

The morning came around all too slowly and Maddie found herself looking forward to seeing John more than she thought possible. She told herself that it was because he was from her own world and nothing more but was not altogether sure if that was true.

“You seem to have started without me.”

Dylan and John looked up at hearing this.

“Good morning Maddie or is it Phoebe?”

Ignoring Dylan’s question Maddie stood opposite Lysette who looked in a foul mood.

“Morning Lissa it is a lovely day to be leaving your charming company.”

The look upon the tall blonde girl’s face only got darker as Maddie baited her.

“You really should not tease Lissa it is not the healthiest pastime. Besides you are not leaving today or anytime soon.”

Maddie was not about to be told when she could leave this place or any other for that matter.

“I would like to see you and your band of apes stop me from leaving Dylan.”

Dylan’s mood, this morning, seemed the complete opposite of Lissa’s as he answered pleasantly.

“Don’t be so dramatic I told you once already that you are free to leave anytime you please. It is just from what John here has been saying it will not be safe to do so for some time as yet.”

“It’s true Phoebe the whole country is riled up and if we try to get back home now then we will almost certainly encounter one or more of the Academies patrols.”

“So you propose that we stay here until it is safe for us to go, is that the gist of it?”

John looked earnestly at Maddie and nodded.

“You are not staying anywhere near me until you answer some questions.”

It was Lissa and this time there would be no placating her.

“You again it seems that you are like a dog with a bone.”

Dylan once again got in between them.

“You two are going to have to learn to get along and in the spirit of co-operation I think you need to tell us how you happen to be wearing the uniform of the 1st.”

A sigh of acquiescence issued forth from John.

“It was loaned to me by the group that I have been staying with for the last six months. I am the only one that the uniform fitted properly.”

“Do you happen to know where this so-called group acquired the uniform in the first place?”

Lysette’s question was delivered with a hard edge to it.

“My dear Lissa I am happy to let you know that no children or animals were hurt in the acquisition of this uniform.”

It was clear to everyone around John that Lysette was beginning to lose patience and that Dylan was the only reason she had not attacked.

“Look John it is a reasonable question and I know that Lissa can sometimes be a little pushy but I would appreciate it if you could answer it properly.”

Maddie was mightily impressed at how diplomatic Dylan could be when he wanted.

“It is a work village near Capital city, they took me in when I had nothing and I have been with them ever since. They came by the uniform when one of the 1st’s Cadets took a fancy to one of the girls in the village. He was a little drunk or more like a lot drunk and when he passed out the girl and a few friends relieved him of the uniform leaving him with a tale to tell when he got back.”

Dylan looked to Lissa to see if she was satisfied.

“Do you know what they will do to that Cadet for losing his uniform?”

John thought about this before answering.

“I would think that he would be punished severely and that is why I do not think he reported the incident. If he had the village would have been raided and the girl found and that did not happen.”

Lysette still looked far from satisfied.

“Lissa it does make a kind of sense, just wait here and I will see if I can verify his story.”

Although clearly unhappy with the story that John had spun, Lysette agreed to wait until Dylan returned with news.

Inside his hut Dylan went through a large chest until he found at the bottom a satellite phone wrapped in old clothes.

“Patrice I have something I would like you to do for me, I want you to find out if a Cadet from the 1st has recently lost a uniform. It will not have been reported and you may have to do some digging to uncover the truth but it is Important.”

The voice on the other end of the phone sounded distant and a little sketchy.

“Fine Dylan I will get on it and how are things out there in the wilderness?”

“They are fine and I trust everything is good in the city.”

“You know how it is nothing changes except I miss you and Lysette, how is Lysette?”

“You know Lissa serious as a heart attack and beautiful as ever.”

“You both belong here in the city that country air is bad for you, it will kill you one of these days either that or a filthy Imp disease.”

Dylan loved Patrice but it was always the same when he called.

“You know I can’t come back and there is no point in going over old ground again.”

“But you were the best of us and I know they would forgive your betrayal to have you lead the 1st again.”

It was Patrice dreaming thought Dylan, the State forgave nothing and no-one.

“You and I both know that is not true and even if it were I would never return. Please look into this for me and get back to me as soon as you can.”

It would take time thought Dylan and Patrice would need to tread carefully in order to keep his investigation from his superiors.

“Forty eight hours that is how long it will take for us to know if John is telling us the truth.”

Lysette wanted to say something but Dylan was the leader and she respected the chain of command unlike the rabble around her.

“Gee thanks Dylan I feel so much better now that I have been granted a reprieve.”

“Where you come from are all of you gifted with this mocking tone?”

Maddie answered Dylan before John could cause more trouble.

“It is a defensive reaction and John did not mean to cause offense, I am sure that he is grateful for your intervention with Lissa.”

Seeing that Maddie was trying to smooth things over John quickly agreed.

“That is right where we come from it is considered normal to be disrespectful perhaps even compulsory. I sometimes forget where I am and that my humour is not much appreciated here.”

“There is a place for humour and even disrespect but you two seem to make it a religion. I am not sure that I understand but I will try to make allowances.”

Dylan was still shaking his head while he walked away from them.

“What a pompous arse.”

“I thought that at first but there is more to him than that and you would do well to remember that. If not for Dylan Lissa would have put you in the ground by now and of that I am sure.”

John was looking directly at Maddie and as she looked up into his eyes she thought she could see tenderness, compassion and love. Quickly looking away she thought what nonsense they were just nice eyes.

“What were you looking at Phoebe?”

Maddie wanted desperately to change the subject and for the first time realised there were letters on the left hand pocket of his tunic.

“What do the letters DPRV stand for?”

“It is the Democratic People’s Republic of Velaria.”

“Velaria?

“Yes Velaria it is the country we are in.”

Maddie felt foolish for having forgotten that Lana had told her the name of her country.

“Yes Lana has already told me that I had just forgotten as no-one else has mentioned Velaria since.”

John looked as though he felt sorry for her when he said.

“You have not been here that long and it is understandable……”

“I don’t need your understanding or for you to feel sorry for me if not for you we would not even be here in Velaria.”

Maddie was not sure where her sudden anger came from but for some reason she just wanted to be away from John.

“I am sorry you feel that way Phoebe and while I am here I will try to stay out of your way as best I can.”

In the next few days John had been true to his word and stayed away from Maddie to the best of his ability. She saw him with Dylan many times and each time John looked as though he was becoming more and more frustrated with the camp leader.

“Phoebe I want you to help me to convince Dylan to come and visit my village so that he can meet my friends.”

“I don’t think that he will even entertain the idea of going anywhere with you until he has resolved the whole uniform problem.”

“Oh that is fine his source in the Capital has confirmed my story. Did you not notice I no longer have company when I venture around this place?”

Maddie had not noticed that Dylan’s men were no longer watching John but now that he mentioned it.

“Yes you are right you do seem to have a little more freedom to come and go.”

“Well will you talk to him with me?”

“And say what exactly?”

John’s frustration with the situation was beginning to show when he replied impatiently.

“For god’s sake Phoebe we can help these people, look around you they have no access to medicine, hospitals, proper shelter and food is scarce. It is not like this in the Capital; they have everything and outside the Imps lack the basic necessities to live a decent life.”

Maddie thought of the night Dylan showed her the desperate visitors to the camp and felt shame at her attitude.

“What makes you think that he will listen to me? I have only been here for a short time and my contribution so far has not been much.”

John was taken aback by what Maddie said.

“You are wrong in the time you have been here you have won Dylan’s respect and also Lissa’s, I can see that in the way she looks at you.”

Maddie loved the passion that John was exhibiting but just could not find it within her-self.

“I am going home soon John and as much as I like them I don’t want to get involved.”

It was hard seeing that look of disappointment on John’s face as he walked away from her without another word.

“Maddie come, you have to come and see what I have done.”

It was wonderful to see Lana so excited and Maddie could not conceive of what could have caused this miracle.

“Look Maddie isn’t it beautiful?”

Lana had dragged Maddie to a corner of the camp where she and George had built a lean-to against a giant oak.

“It is great Lana but who is it for?”

“It is for John Harrison of course silly.”

Maddie did not have the heart to tell the excited girl that John would in all probability be leaving very soon.

“It is lovely and I am sure that he will appreciate it.”

Something in Maddie’s voice must have given her true thoughts away.

“You don’t like it or is it that you don’t think John will like it?”

“I love it Lana and I think the best thing for us to do is to find John and see what he thinks of your work.”

Finding John was not difficult as usual he was in talks with Dylan.

“John we have something to show you.”

“Not now Lana I am talking to Dylan and it is Important.”

John’s dismissive tone knocked all of the excitement from the crestfallen young girl as Maddie watched her turn and walk away.

“You total arse could you not see how excited she was and that all she wanted was your approval?”

Looking up at Maddie John recognised the anger she was displaying but did not quite know why it was directed at him.

“I am trying to do the right thing here Phoebe and without your help it is proving bloody impossible so don’t come over to me pretending that you care because we both know that you only care for yourself.”

The words hit home and the truth in them bit deep.

“Like I said you are an arse, the same insensitive arse that you always were.”

It was lame thought Maddie but it was all that she had left to say as she could not defend her own actions it was better to attack John’s.

Once she had gone Dylan spoke quietly to John.

“She is worth the trouble John and you should not give up on her.”

John pretended not to know what Dylan was talking about.

“Phoebe is just the symbol that we need to unite the Imps against the State and fire this revolution.”

Dylan smiled and looked at John knowingly.

“There will be no revolution my friend and the Imps do not have the will or the discipline to get behind anyone. They know that they cannot defeat the Academies and that they cannot change the way things are.”

“Do they know who you are?”

A wary Dylan looked back at John.

“They know I am there leader and that I take care of them and yes they know I was once a Cadet.”

“I take it they know you were once a Cadet of the 1st?”

“The 1st have a reputation for being the best of the best an elite force I would not want to burden them with that information.”

Dylan was wondering what else this outsider knew.

“And who you are I suppose it would be a burden for them to know that as well?”

“It seems that you know all of my secrets John and if you wish to enlighten the camp then I will certainly not try to stop you.”

John was beginning to like Dylan and the idea of blackmailing him was not to his taste.

“They are your secrets Dylan and it is not for me to share them with others, that is your business.”

“Why ask me these questions if you are not going to use the information against me?”

“Idle curiosity and I apologise for being so inquisitive, the fact is you left the Academy at thirteen and I wanted to get a sense of why.”

John could not tell what the Imps leader was thinking as Dylan sat there stone faced.

“I had my reasons and if you are around long enough then you may just get know them but for now I think it time you returned to your friends and told them I have no interest in meeting them.”

It was an emphatic no from Dylan and to continue would have been useless.

“You are making a mistake Dylan if you don’t unite with others then nothing here will change and your people will keep dying needlessly.”

It was a last parting shot to give, Dylan something to think about thought John, although in truth he knew that he had lost the argument with the stubborn leader.

After her encounter with John that afternoon Maddie kept to herself until the evening came around when she went back to the part of the camp where Dylan had shown her such suffering earlier. It was the same as before and the thought that Dylan visited them every night to remind him of their pain made her feel small.

“Hey you, there was a pregnant girl here the other night do you know how she is?”

The scruffy little boy that looked like he could use a good meal or three shrugged his shoulders.

“Try asking the lady over there she knows everything.”

The boy was pointing at a young woman who could not have been more than eighteen years old.

“Hi my name is Maddie, do you have any idea of what has happened to a young pregnant girl that was here the other night?”

The girl looked back vacantly at Maddie until a sudden dawning of recognition appeared in her eyes.

“Maddie yes you are the one who killed the Cad.”

“No I have killed no-one and about the girl do you know where she is.”

The girl ignored Maddie’s protestation.”

“Yes you are the one that fought back good on you, the girl Terri she don’t come around anymore I heard that she bled out.”

“Did she lose the baby?”

“Lost her-self too, probably for the best I doubt they would have made it much longer, I am not sure any of us will.”

My god thought Maddie how could she be so casual about the whole thing?

“You’ll make it, you will all make it.”

How could she make such a statement after all she had said to Dylan that night and yet how could she not?

Leaving the poor wretches to their misery Maddie went back to the main camp and joined Lana who was with George at the fire.

“Have you two seen the poor souls that come to be fed here every night?”

It was George that answered.

“I have Dylan likes to give everyone the tour when he thinks they are ready.”

“I’m ready why doesn’t Dylan think that I am ready?”

Maddie looked at the innocent young girl before speaking.

“Trust me Lana no-one is ever ready to see what is happening back there.”

Lana took on a stubborn expression.

“I am ready for anything to fight to hunt and to see whatever is out there in the dark, I am not afraid.”

Maddie admired the spirit that Lana was showing but was just too tired to talk.

“I am off to bed now Lana and I know that you are not afraid but that doesn’t mean that you have to rush headlong into trouble. Goodnight George.”

With her goodnights said Maddie retired for the night and found herself haunted by the words of John Harrison.

“You only care about yourself.”

Who was he to say such a thing to her? As far as she knew he had led a pretty damned easy life at home with both of his parents. What did he know of suffering? Nothing absolutely nothing let him lose his parents and fend for himself at ten the way that she had to. In the instant Maddie thought this she realised that John had lost his parents and did have to look after himself in a strange and frightening land at that.

John the pregnant girl Terri, Lana, George, Lissa and even Dylan could she really help them, It was too late for Terri and her baby but John seemed to think that she could unite them to fight for their own survival. It was crazy thought Maddie but how could she refuse to do whatever she could for them after all they had taken her in when she had nowhere else to turn.

Chapter 8

 

It was only after making the decision to help John that Maddie slept that night and the next morning she was keen to find him. With Lana already up and gone it seemed that Maddie would have to seek John out by herself. As she dressed Maddie thought about what she might say to him and more importantly how he would react.

John was with Lana when she found him and it was evident that he had charmed her back on side.

“I see you two have made up then!”

“Oh yes John was just busy and he loves that I made him a place to stay when he comes back.”

“You are going back to your friends today?”

“Yes it has become obvious to me that I am not going to get any help here and there is a lot of work still to be done.”

Maddie found that she did not like the idea of John leaving without her one little bit.

“Before you go I need to speak to you.”

An Impatient john shrugged his shoulders and turned his back on Maddie.

“You have said enough and I have nothing left to say to you.”

An angry Maddie stormed off leaving John with a confused Lana.

“Are you two fighting? If it is over me and what happened then please stop.”

John smiled warmly at the concerned girl.

“You needn’t worry it is not about you, it is just that Phoebe and I can always find something to argue about.”

Maddie was sitting with Dylan when John joined them to say goodbye.

“I am sorry that you will not be joining the fight Dylan we could have used you.”

“I like a good fight John but I am not willing to participate in a massacre, my advice for you and your friends is to keep your head down, no-one needs to die for nothing.”

Maddie found Dylan’s words unacceptable and could not keep silent.

“DYLAN YOU ARE WRONG THERE ARE ALREADY PEOPLE DIEING FOR NOTHING.”

Maddie was on her feet now and although she was not shouting she was loud enough to gather a crowd from the camp.

“A YOUNG PREGNANT GIRL LOST HER BABY THE OTHER NIGHT AND BY ALL ACCOUNTS SHE THEN LOST HER OWN LIFE. DID SHE DIE FOR NOTHING AND HOW MANY OTHERS HAVE TO DIE BEFORE YOU ARE WILLING TO DO SOMETHING?”

With all eyes now on Dylan he too stood up.

“We do all that we can but the sad truth is that we cannot help everyone there is just not enough food or medicine for all of the people that come to us.”

“In the Capital there are doctors, hospitals and plenty of medicine; no-one dies there for basic lack of medical care. They deny it to you because you are non-citizens, simply because you did not fit in to their idea of a perfect society. You have to fight back or nothing will change and without change then you will freeze in the winter and starve when you cannot scare up enough food to eat this week.”

John’s words were passionate but they were not enough to sway Dylan who had heard them before.

“An attack on the Capital is suicide and I think you know that John. It may be that we are outcasts and have no access to the riches that the Capital has to offer but out here we are free.”

“Yes free to live in hovels, sorry George, hiding from the world while others are preparing to bring the fight to the State.”

Maddie was not sure if her voice was being heard until her last statement received a cheer from those crowded around her.

“Just come with me Dylan and listen to what others have to say, see for your-self the preparations that have already been made. If you decide that we are crazy you can always come back and tell everyone so.”

For a moment it seemed that Dylan was wavering.

“I have been listening to your argument for days and nothing has changed, you are an outsider and my decision has been made.”

“I will go with you if you prove yourself worthy.”

It was Lysette and she looked amused at the thought of John being worthy of anything.

“What did you have in mind Lissa?”

Dylan looked curiously at Lysette as he asked his question.

“A fight between John and me, no weapons just a demonstration if you will to show him what he will be up against. If he defeats me then I will go with him to checkout his friend’s preparations.”

“And if I lose what then?”

“I get the pleasure of beating on you for a while as my reward and then you leave never to return.”

Maddie closed the distance between her and John with intention to warn him.

“John you should just leave, I will go with you and we can plan on how to help them all on the way to your friends.”

John stubbornly refused to back down.

“It is ok Phoebe it is just a friendly roustabout to see if I am up to Lissa’s standards.”

“No John you don’t understand she is deadly and very well trained you cannot hope to win and even if by some miracle you beat her, Lissa hates the Imps and would never help us.”

John was in the middle of taking off his tunic when Maddie noticed his toned torso and muscled arms. He really had been here for a year and the change in his physique was dramatic.

“If I back down now Maddie we will have lost them for good.”

John was looking at the crowd they had gathered when he said this.

“She may just cripple you John and what use will you be to anyone then?”

Maddie’s mounting concern was not for the loss of a champion to the Imps but for the brave young man that she now saw before her.

“Please John we can leave now and never look back.”

John could see the concern in Maddie’s eyes.

“If we leave now then we could never look each other in the eye and you know it. I have to do this and if I fail you must carry on with the mission.”

My god when did this all become so serious? When did she start to care so much for him that the thought of seeing him hurt turned her stomach into a tight knot?

“Be ruthless John, she will not hold back.”

It was the only advice Maddie could think to give him.

“So Lissa this should be fun and don’t worry I will try not to hurt you, no promises though.”

Lysette knew she was being baited and silently ignored her opponent, waiting for an opening.

The first move was made by Lysette and it was beautiful and deadly, she wanted to get this over with quickly to make an example of the outsider.

John’s stance was deep and long to give him both power coupled with stability and he was quick enough to block Lissa’s succession of kicks.

“Not bad Lissa but you lack power and oh yes you hit like a girly girl.”

John’s stance and movements were proving effective at blocking Lissa but he looked stilted and lacked her fluidity of movement.

Predictably the first blood was credited to Lissa with a side swipe to John’s jaw causing him to bleed a little from the mouth.

“Nothing like the taste of your own blood to put a fire in the belly.”

John was still in defensive mode when he heard Maddie’s voice.

“You have to take the fight to her or she will be all over you.”

John knew Maddie was right and that he would have to attack the girl before she breached his defences a second time. His opportunity came during Lissa’s next attack which if it were not for the fact it was aimed at him John would have admired for its form and beauty.

The roundhouse kick caught Lissa full in the stomach and the strength of it knocked the wind out of her.

“You seem to have been caught by a stray leg of mine I am so sorry it was just beautiful watching you do your dance thing and I did hate to interrupt.”

John knew he should have moved in for the kill but that was not why he was here and hurting Lissa would not further his cause.

“You are a fool that talks too much.”

A quickly recovering Lissa stood up to continue the fight until she saw John take a step back from her.

“What are you doing? The fight is not finished, why are you not attacking me you have had the perfect opportunity to finish me off?”

A smile from John was the only answer Lysette received.

“I have no wish to fight someone that is not willing to fight back.”

“I will keep fighting until you deem me worthy or you knock me on my arse.”

“You are not fighting you are playing and in a real confrontation you will be defeated as you do not show the will to……”

“If you mean the will to kill then I am not ready to kill you just to show you that I can fight but I am willing to keep this fight going until you agree to come with me.”

Lysette did not understand what was happening but she too wanted to end this non fight.

“I will come with you and report back to Dylan for what it is worth and you should know that if we continued with this I would have bested you.”

John did not mind the idea of being bested it was the idea of being seriously injured by Lysette that really worried him.

“Yes Lissa keep telling yourself that and you will be able to sleep at night.”

Lysette shared a look of exasperation with Dylan.

“You are not a serious opponent even though you seem to possess skills that I have not seen before. Your techniques are rudimentary at best and though they give you power you lack the necessary will to use them to their full affect.”

A fairly damning review thought John as he walked back to Maddie.

“You have only been here a year and you have learned to fight like that.”

“Don’t be silly I have been going to karate with my father since I was five and to be honest I never really took it that seriously.”

“Well you seem to be very capable; I don’t think many people could hold off an attack from Lissa.”

“Thanks but what happens now if she is truly down on the Imps I have achieved nothing by getting her to come with me.”

Maddie decided to hold her tongue and not bring up the fact that she already mentioned this to John.

“We can only keep to our end of the bargain and let your friends try to persuade her of how serious they are in their intentions.”

It was good to have Maddie on side thought John as Dylan spoke.

“I have a contact in the Capital and I will find out when it is safe for you to leave.”

Having spoken Dylan gestured to Lysette to follow him.

“Do you think this wise Lissa?”

“Yes we have to know how their actions will affect us and if we should inform Patrice.”

“No Lissa I forbid you to do that we are not agents of the State and I refuse to help them in anyway.”

Lysette loved Dylan but did not feel bound by his principles and would do what she thought was right when the time came.

“You forget sometimes that the State raised us, clothed us, fed us and kept us warm for years and that means something to me.”

Dylan had forgotten nothing of what the State had done for him or to him.

“You and I will never agree on this and though we were both brought up through the system we have very different memories of it.”

Lysette said nothing but it was obvious to Dylan that she had been hurt.

“Rudimentary Lissa really, it looked to me as though he kicked your ass because you underestimated him.”

Dylan could see that John’s last kick had really hurt Lysette and that it would have finished a lesser fighter.

“He got lucky and I could have continued on to defeat him.”

Dylan was not sure this was in fact true.

“Why not just admit that his technique allows him to deliver blows with considerable force?”

Lysette was not in the mood to admit anything of the sort.

As an opponent he shows promise that is all.”

Dylan knew better than to argue with Lysette when she was in this mood.

“Fine have it your way, now let’s get you inside that kick will have left one hell of a bruise.”

“I’m ok and I don’t need you fussing around me so go find someone else to irritate.”

Dylan would have liked nothing better than to stay and take care of Lysette but her hatred of showing weakness to anyone even him would not allow that to happen.

“Get some rest while I tend to our people.”

That was a joke thought Lysette these were not her people and they never would be.

“That’s right go see to the poor filthy little urchins they might need you to hold their hands.”

Once alone inside their hut Lysette lifted her top to reveal her stomach and gently examined her tummy. Dylan was right there would be one hell of a bruise there by the morning, which did not surprise Lysette as she felt as though she had been kicked by a horse.

“John that was an Impressive showing, Lissa is not easy to defend against.”

Maddie who was in earshot of Dylan’s compliment felt she had something to say to him.

“You are the one that should be coming with us Lissa has no sympathy with our cause.”

“Your cause, up until this morning all you wanted to do was go home.”

It was true though Maddie but that did not change the fact that Lysette was a poor substitute for Dylan.

“Do you even remember the girl from the other night? She is dead and her baby is dead. It is not enough to feed them scraps and tell them everything will be ok.”

Dylan looked at John and Maddie then with sadness in his voice tried to defend his position.

“It is not perfect here but we do what we can and that is all we can do. You want to change things that cannot be changed. I have lived in the Capital amongst the citizens, I have lived as one of them and they will not give up their lives of privilege easily. You two are going to get a lot of people killed if you continue with your plans.”

John was confused by Dylan’s complete refusal to accept that change was possible.

“If you are so convinced that we are wrong and nothing can be done, why are you allowing Lissa to come with us?”

A big hearty laugh from Dylan was not what Maddie and John expected.

“You think that I can stop Lissa from doing something now that is funny. Once Lissa decides to do a thing it gets done and no-one gets in her way.”

Dylan was still laughing as he walked away.

“It does not matter we will just have to carry on without him.”

John sounded disappointed but still determined as he said this under his breath.

“You will have to tell me all that you know of this world John if I am to help you.”

Over the next few days Maddie asked John many questions and he did his best to answer them all as clearly as he could.

“Yes in the Capital they have doctor, hospitals, medicine and food is plentiful but it is only for the citizens. Imps are not allowed to enter the Capital unless they are on a work detail and even then it is unofficial, a kind of backdoor child labour market if you will.”

Maddie’s education on various aspects of Velarian society both fascinated her and shocked her at the same time.

“So all of the riches are in the Capital city while those outside are left to starve, how does a country let that happen?”

John was casual when he reminded her of home.

“Before we left London had record homeless people, food banks and I read that they were putting metal spikes outside of shops to stop people with nowhere else to go from sleeping in their doorways. If you look further afield children are dying from lack of basic medical care and no food, they are forced to drink filthy water that carries disease. Is it really that different here than where we come from?”

Hearing John say these things out loud was tough but Maddie recognised that he was just being accurate and that at home it seemed easier to turn your back on these facts, as you told yourself there was nothing to be done about it.

“Those starving children are on a TV screen and thousands of miles away what are we supposed to do about them?”

John gave this some thought.

“Something we are supposed to do something other than turn away and buy the latest gadget to amuse ourselves with.”

Maddie was feeling guilty now and did not like the fact that John had made her feel this way.

“You may have had the latest games, computers, phones John but I might remind you that I was in a home where there was no such luxuries.”

“You were clothed, you were fed and you were kept warm. That is more than you can say for a lot of the unfortunates here and at home.”

Maddie was not at all sure that it was that simple but John was right about one thing.

“It is all too easy to say don’t turn away John but when you have your own problems what else can you do?”

John could see that he was upsetting Maddie and that was the last thing that he wanted to do.

“I am sorry but I have been here a while longer than you and it brings certain things home to you. I am not blaming you or judging you it is just that I am guilty of being selfish here and at home. I have to remind myself every day to be a better man.”

You are a better man thought Maddie; the John Harrison she first met would not have been so hard on himself.

“You are doing something here John and if we ever get home then I am sure that your dad would be very proud of you.”

John was a little surprised to hear the warmth in Maddie’s words.

“Thanks but it is you that will make the difference here and not me, of that I am sure.”

Maddie did not really know what John meant by this and so continued to ask questions of him concerning the Capital.

“I take it they have electricity, running water, communications and other mod-cons in the City?”

“Oh yes I am told that they have personal computers and even mobile phones of a sort but of course these are only for the citizens. All access to computers, communication devices and the airwaves is strictly restricted, the penalties for breaching their rules are draconian.”

“What do you mean by draconian?”

“They seem to enjoy a public flogging here and then of course you will be thrown into Juvi.”

“Lana was terrified of Juvi can you tell me anything more about the place?”

John’s expression took on a look of disgust as he thought about the vile place called Juvinescence.

“It is a human dumping ground where anyone that opposes the State is dispatched to and not only that if you are found on the streets and have no ID you can be sent there without trial and for life.”

“Dylan said that you could not be sent there until you were eighteen.”

“He is wrong we have reports that there are children as young as ten inside that hell hole.”

“You seem to fear it as much as Lana does!”

A short pause later and John carried on imparting the information he had accumulated on Juvi.

“It is a prison city that is surrounded by mines, guarded turrets and electric fences. Once a week food and supplies are dropped in by airship as you can imagine the distribution of these supplies leaves a lot to be desired.”

Maddie thought perhaps they were both right to be afraid of this place.

“Do you know anyone that has been sent there?”

John’s voice faltered a little as he answered.

“Yes a few of our people have been rounded up and then disappeared; we assume that is where they are.”

“I am sorry John.”

“There are mainly three factions in there that hold any power the Five/Sevens, The Dev’s and the Old Tarians.”

Here we go again thought Maddie as she asked what the hell these factions represented.

“I have heard of the Dev’s but not the other two.”

“The Five/Sevens are incarcerated under Correctional Procedural Code 357 which means they have been caught in the commission of a violent act and they are the most powerful faction in Juvi as for the Old Tarians they were thrown into Juvi for their political opposition to the State, they hold less sway within the prison.”

“You seem to have learned a lot since you have been here John.”

“The most Important thing that I have learned is that you cannot survive here alone you need the help of others.”

Maddie did not think his last statement was necessary and sounded a little preachy but she got the message.

“Yeah, yeah all for one and one for all I saw the movie.”

This made John smile.

“You would look good in a mouseketeers uniform although you look pretty good the way you are now.”

“You are not very funny and less of that leering at me when you say things like that.”

It was not fair John had a whole year to sort out his feeling for her and to Maddie it had only been a few weeks since she had attacked the insufferable boy. At least now she did not feel too bad at her poor performance he was probably a black belt in karate or something.

“Leering I will have you know that my smile has been known to lighten up many a fair maiden’s day.”

“You are a fool John Harrison and I will not have your eyes devouring me like that so back off or I will steal Lissa’s Lektro and teach you a lesson with it.”

The following days were spent in much the same way until Maddie suggested that John give Karate lessons to George and Lana.

“I have already taught quite a few groups that we have reached out to but do you think there is interest here?”

“George is keen to learn and Lana will fall in with her so I think that is a good start.”

Maddie called George over and found that she was as keen as ever to learn to fight.

“You bet I would love to learn to kick like you John.”

“Fine we will start in the morning and you can tell everyone that they are welcome to join us but I am not sure just how long I will be here.”

Maddie knew it was time to find out if Dylan had been in contact with his friend in the Capital and to see if he had any idea when it would be safe for them to leave.

Chapter 9

 

It seemed that Dylan had not been able to reach his contact and he told Maddie that he would keep trying.

“You have not even attempted to contact Patrice, why are you lying to her?”

Lysette may not have liked the idea of running around the country with the two outsiders but she liked the idea of lying to them even less.

“You know I don’t like my conversations with Patrice, I guess I was just putting it off as long as I could.”

Dylan was not too thrilled at Lysette leaving either and that could be put off forever as far as he was concerned.

“If you don’t talk to him then I will leave with them anyway so do it now or we leave tonight.”

Dylan was well aware that his conversations with Patrice were becoming more strained but he felt he could not let Lysette and the other’s go without knowing if it was safe to do so.

The thought of losing Lysette was unbearable and he could not let that happen.

“It is good to hear from you Dylan.”

Dylan could not say the same but felt he needed to go with Patrice on this.

“Thank you for the info on the missing uniform, I know it must have been difficult for you.”

The response from Dylan’s old comrade was immediate and emphatic.

“You do not need to thank me and I am only too pleased to help you whenever you need me to.”

“It seems that whenever I call it is because I want something and I am afraid this time is no different.”

Again the response was immediate and positive.

“We served together, we sweated together, we are brothers and I like most of those that served under you would refuse you nothing.”

Dylan though gratified by these words felt a pang of guilt at leaving his comrades behind.

“You know I had to leave Patrice, I could not stay after what happened and there is no going back for me now.”

Patrice sounded regretful and sad as he replied.

“Let’s not talk of things that will not change and tell me what it is that you are in need of?”

Dylan wanted to explain his actions further but he knew that Patrice would never understand.

“I am sending Lissa and some friends to visit a work village……”

The abrupt interruption caught Dylan by surprise.

“Not now, I would give it a while, we are on high alert at the moment.”

Dylan thought he knew why but wanted to confirm that he was right.

“I have noticed more activity from the outer Academies, what is going on?”

With Dylan’s knowledge of the system he knew that for it to reach the 50th someone senior was taking things seriously.

“It is nothing apparently a girl attacked a Cadet and we should all run for cover. I think it is a huge fuss over nothing but apparently the Imps are making this girl into something.”

Dylan never for a moment doubted John’s word but his training informed him that it was Imperative to question the integrity of his information.

“What is known of this girl?”

“Nothing much, it seems that she dresses strangely and the parents of the Imp she helped thought she was a little different.”

A direct question to Patrice seemed like a good idea and Dylan thought there was little to lose by asking it.

“Who is directing the campaign against this girl?”

As soon as Dylan asked the question he regretted his decision to do so.

“Do you have information on this girl? If you do then you need to tell me and distance yourself from her. Please Dylan do not tell me that she is with you?”

They were really scared thought Dylan and there was no way that he could tell Patrice the truth.

“You have turned into such a bunch of old women worrying about a lone girl and if I knew where she was I would never tell you but I am not stupid enough to put my people in peril.”

“This is serious Dylan you don’t want to get involved with this girl, there will be nowhere for you to hide if you do.”

It was by his own leadership skills and the grace of the State that allowed Dylan to operate as he did and he could not deny this even to himself.

“I know that as long as we are outside of their influence and we do not cause them too much trouble we are left alone. Do you really think I would risk our freedom for some strange girl that could bring us all down?”

Dylan hoped that he had said enough to satisfy Patrice’s concerns.

“I know you Dylan and I know what you are capable of, on this occasion I am telling you that she is poison.”

“Keep me informed as Lissa has found a source of supplies closer to the Capital and she is as impatient as ever.”

Patrice felt the wall go up as Dylan said this.

“When I know it is safe you will know it is safe.”

There was no nee d for goodbyes and Dylan was grateful that Patrice no longer seemed to entertain the idea of his return to the 1st.

“You still believe in him then!”

Lysette’s words caught Dylan by surprise.

“I know that you two never saw eye to eye but he has always had our back.”

Lysette looked doubtful at the thought of Patrice having anyone’s back other than his own.

“He has always been a self-centred ass and he always will be.”

Patrice turned to the First Minister Jarod Holt as he ended his conversation with Dylan.

“She is there with Dylan I am sure of it.”

“Then he will deliver her right into our hands even if it is unwittingly.”

Patrice had other ideas and made the mistake of voicing them.

“We should take the 1st and go in now or we might lose her and it will give us the opportunity to set an example to Dylan and his little band of Imps.”

Jarod Holt had been First Minister of Valeria for over twenty years and was not one to tolerate his decisions being questioned.

“You are a fool Patrice and you are only in command of the 1st because Dylan deserted, remember that when you have the audacity to offer up your opinions to me.”

It was a dismissal which left Patrice angry and frustrated.

“Remember boy you exist only because I allow you to exist.”

Jarod was not a patient man but he had learned through long years in office that it sometimes paid to wait and that was what he would do.

“Get me an audience with the Chancellor immediately.”

“Yes sir.”

Jarod was a big man that could intimidate just by his size but it was the power of his voice that really gave him the air of authority that told those around him he was in command.

“Chancellor I think we may have found the girl that has so inspired the Imps and it is my opinion that we should make an example of her.”

Helene Berghoff had come to power at the same time as her First Minister and though in name she was the head of State it was common knowledge that Jarod Holt was the real power in Velaria.

“She is just a young girl Jarod, is it really necessary for us to go that far?”

“I believe she is a threat to the State and as such should be taken seriously.”

Helene did not have the strength to argue with her head of justice and also knew that if she were to do so there could be dire consequences.

“Very well Jarod I will leave it to you all that I ask is you are merciful in your dealings with the girl.”

Mercy thought Jarod was just another word for weakness and he would show this girl his strength of purpose in its stead.

“As you wish Chancellor.”

The audience was over and Jarod would do what was best for the State and that meant preventing anything from changing.

Jarod would make preparations and inform Patrice when to set the trap for the girl. It would not need the StatePol to handle this, no that would be over-kill. Just as he and Patrice planned they would utilize the 1st to capture the girl and anyone who was foolish enough to join her.

Lysette’s stomach was still hurting as she went to John with news from Dylan.

“It is not yet safe to travel; they are still looking for your woman.”

“You might want to be careful saying things like that in front of Phoebe after all you are not fully recovered yet.”

Lysette hated the fact that John could see she was still in pain from his kick.

“Even on my worse day I could defeat her and you to if it came to it.”

A smiling John could not resist teasing the solemn Lysette.

“It seems to me that you were close to defeat on your best day and by a non-citizen at that.”

Walking away from these fools was becoming a habit thought Lysette.

“You can believe that you are skilled enough to defeat me if you choose but I think we both know the truth.

“What was that all about Lissa seems mad and all I can see is her back?”

“Nothing much, it seems that we are not going to see my friends just yet.”

Maddie was relieved as she was enjoying spending time at the camp with John.

“Did our great leader give a reason or is he just afraid of the bogey man?”

“You are the reason Phoebe, they are looking for you and I think they are scared of you.”

It was crazy thought Maddie how could she have caused such trouble in so little time?

“I do hope that I am not a huge disappointment to your friends after all I am just one girl.”

“You still don’t get it do you? Look around you, take a close look at George, Lana, Lysette and the others.”

Maddie looked around and still could not see what John was talking about.

“I see what I have always seen and nothing new so just please tell me what you want me to see.”

“You’re different Maddie it is not just your clothes it is your attitude, the way that you carry yourself and the fact that you are not afraid. If you really look at these people then you will see fear in their eyes even Lissa is afraid.”

Maddie did not want to ruin John’s little speech but she had to be honest with him.

“You think that I am not afraid then you are wrong. I am afraid of being stuck here, afraid of never seeing my mum again and scared of how I am beginning to feel for you.”

That last bit was not supposed to come out there was such a thing as being too honest and Maddie was not ready for that yet.

“Just forget the last bit John we have more important things to think about than how we feel about each other and I sometimes still see the rotten boy that hounded me out of his house and not the man you have become since then.”

John was not about to forget what Maddie had said but he would reluctantly give her time to work things out.

“You are right there are important things to think about here but the most important thing to me is to know that you are beginning to feel as I do. I will not mention this again and I want you to take as much time as you need but you should know that I will never give up on there being an us.”

Maddie was pleased that John was willing to put things on hold for now and elated that he was not about to give up on her.

Chapter 10

 

While waiting to hear if it was safe for them to take their trip to see his friends, Maddie and John fell into a routine of sorts where he would rise in the morning to be greeted by his only two students, George and Lana. Although they were both enthusiastic, Lana lacked the discipline or aptitude to progress in the rigid structure of John’s lessons.

“Maybe if you were to join us in the morning it would help Lana to focus.”

“You might want to consider an afternoon class then I could continue with my beauty sleep.”

John wanted to tell Maddie that she did not need any help to look beautiful but thought perhaps it better to step back a little for now.

“You would be helping your friend and I could use the support.”

“Fine I will be there front and centre tomorrow morning.”

Mornings were not Maddie’s favourite time and she would much prefer to spend the time alone in her hut but she did not want to refuse John. So true to her word she turned up the next morning and gave it her all.

“Nice of you to join us this lovely morning, today we will be returning to the basics.”

A groan from Lana did not go unnoticed by John.

“Yes Lana you heard me correctly we are revisiting the basics until we have perfected them.”

“Fine just don’t be surprised if I fall asleep at how boring your teaching is.”

Maddie was enjoying the exchange between the two of them when George chipped in.

“Come on guys I have work to do later and time is getting on.”

They practiced all of that morning with Maddie discovering that she was a natural and picked up John’s techniques very quickly.

“That is enough for the day; I will see you tomorrow when we will concentrate on kicks and punches.”

“’bout time we learned something useful.”

Lana did like to be heard and with her non-stop chattering and cheery disposition she had become one of the most popular members of the camp.

“There really is no keeping that girl down is there?”

Maddie smile in agreement.

The following morning John was greeted by the sight of the whole camp waiting patiently for him.

“It seems we have a few new additions to the class and therefore we will return to the basics for their benefit.”

John looked at Lana who appeared to be about to say something.

“Why are you looking at me I love the basics, I live for the basics, the basics are my life.”

Maddie was trying her best not to laugh but it was Impossible not to be amused by the sassiness of her young friend.

“We shall continue, George come up here and follow my lead.”

Once the class was over John came over to Maddie.

“You see how it is now? You take one class with me and they all follow your lead.”

Maddie shrugged this suggestion off.

“Maybe but that does not mean they will follow me into a battle.”

“Right now I think they would follow the lead of the girl in the black biker jacket anywhere.”

Although the days that followed were pleasant and Maddie was enjoying spending time with John and her new friends, she always felt the spectre of the State breathing down her neck.

It was the evenings when they sat around the fire that Maddie enjoyed the most as this is when everyone had a chance to talk freely. The same crowd frequented the camp fire and Dylan always headed up the group with Lysette close by his side.

“So what is it like where you come from?”

It was the boy that questioned Maddie when she was training them. Lana told her later that the scrawny boy’s name was Jinn and that he smelled funky.

This time Jinn had directed his question at John.

“It is much like here but we do not have the Academy system and our society is not quite as divided as the one here.”

“I meant what is it like to live there?”

“It is mostly good but there are those who like here struggle to have a decent life.”

Jinn did not look very satisfied with John’s answers and Maddie thought he was being altogether too diplomatic.

“In our world we do not exclude people from our society just because they are different or don’t fit in.”

John glared at Maddie and was about to say something when Lysette spoke.

“You don’t seem to be too impressed by our world Maddie.”

“You have no rights here simply because you failed to get into some stupid Academy.”

An offended Lysette looked back at Maddie as she continued.

“Children are not allowed to die from starvation and we have the freedom to believe what we choose.”

Dylan seemed interested in Maddie’s criticisms.

“Your world sounds much better than ours it is no wonder that you were so keen to go back there.”

“I am sorry if I am upsetting you but there are things here that I do not understand and I would like to know how it got to be this way.”

“You should ask the old man.”

It was Jinn who looked away as soon as he said this.

“He is just a crazy old man and you won’t get any sense from him.”

Lysette’s disdain for this old man was evident in her voice.

“Come on Lissa he has helped George with her building knowledge.”

Dylan as usual stepped in attempting to diffuse Lissa’s rudeness.

“I will take you down to see him tomorrow if you like Maddie?”

“Thanks George I would appreciate that and Lissa if he is crazy then I am sure that he still has better manners than you do.”

“You are aware that I do not care for the name Lissa and yet you insist on using it. Is this not considered bad manners where you come from?”

Maddie hated the cold, logical way Lysette addressed her at times.

“It’s just a name and you bring out the rebel in me.”

“Just a name is that all? It is ok if I call you Phoebe then or am I mistaken when I say that you have an aversion to being called this name?”

Lysette was not quite right Maddie had no such aversion to being called Phoebe she simply preferred Maddie but she got the point.

These fireside discussions sometimes continued late into the night or like tonight broke up abruptly leaving Maddie feeling that she still had a lot to learn about this world.

“Sometimes I think you push too hard and your criticisms of this place can just as easily be levelled at our own home.”

“And sometimes I think you are too quick to defend them while forgetting all of the good things back home. You and I know that this world is cracked so stop with the cryptic comparisons. I know where I would prefer to be and I know where I belong.”

“GEORGE WHAT TIME DO WE SEE THE OLD MAN?”

“AFTER CLASS, I WILL TAKE YOU THEN.”

“Are you coming to see him with me John?”

“No I will tackle Dylan again tomorrow to see if I can hurry his contact along.”

Lana started to follow George and Maddie after John’s class had ended.

“I am sorry Lana but the old man does not like too many visitors and I think he would turn us away if you tagged along to.”

Maddie could see this explanation did not sit very well with the feisty young girl.

“Please Lana I just need to ask him some questions and besides you would only get bored.”

“Your right it does sound boring I would rather spend time with Jinn and he smells like old sweat.”

Lana turned and skipped away leaving George to escort Maddie.

“Is he crazy like Lissa said?”

“No I just don’t think he likes people very much and he can be funny with new people.”

It did not take them long to find him and he seemed genuinely pleased to see George.

“Hi Georgie who is your friend?”

“Henry this is Maddie and she is new to this place, she would like to talk to you.”

The old man looked Maddie up and down before gesturing for her to sit.

“Yes I can see that she does not hail from these parts.”

There was nothing crazy about this man thought Maddie and he was not really that old either.

“Thank you there is just so much about your home that I do not know and I was hoping you could help me with that.”

Henry was in a good mood today thought George as he continued to be hospitable.

“You may ask me anything young lady and I will attempt to answer your questions as honestly as I can.”

“Thank you Henry I would like to know how it is that your society outlaws children at such a young age just because they fail to enter into an Academy. It seems to me that this is very harsh and leaves them with no future in this country.”

Henry sighed as he tried to answer Maddie.

“Yes Maddie I would tend to agree but the Academy system goes back decades, the first minister of Velaria was the architect of this and he still holds power today.”

“But why would any place create such a system surely there must be an answer to this question?”

“I think you could trace it all back to the Tarians who believed in personal freedom without responsibility. It was their love of freedom that allowed children to express themselves without consequence.”

“I am not sure what you mean Henry.”

“The rights of the children became so important that in Tarian law it became illegal to punish children for anything, you could be fined or have your children taken away for telling them off harshly in public.”

Maddie did still not really understand where Henry was going with his explanation.

“It is similar in my home and I think that is a good thing.”

“Yes it seemed a good idea here too until the children realised they could do pretty much anything they liked and not be punished. After a generation of this attitude we had gangs on the streets and adults were being openly intimidated by feral adolescents.”

“And you think that this is how the Democratic People’s Republic of Velaria gained power.”

“Ah the Dumb Pinheads of RagsVille, they were swept to power because they offered a solution to the problem.”

“There solution was the Academies?”

“There solution was discipline and personal responsibility for your actions. They promised to clear the streets of gangs and stop the frequent riots that were blighting people’s lives. If you give the people what they want then you tend to gain the popular vote.”

“Discipline is one thing Henry but how did the people let it get this far?”

Another sigh issued forth from Henry before he continued.

“Once in power one of their first actions was to introduce the Vogel Act. This made the over-indulgence of children a criminal offence. Corporal punishment administered by parents is reintroduced and considered one’s duty. Citizens are called upon to report adolescents that are out of control, parents and guardians become totally responsible for the actions of their children. They face the consequences of said children’s bad behaviour.”

“Did this clear the streets?”

“No the State created a place called Juvinescence and rounded up all of the offenders and put them in there. At first this seemed to be a good thing until the State started to erode other freedoms that the people enjoyed but by then it was too late.”

“The Academies Henry how did they get them past the people?”

“That was easy after the Vogel Act and the streets were swept clean Kara’s Law was initiated. The law stated that all children between the age of ten to eighteen are required to attend an Academy, any children deemed unfit or unwilling to comply are automatically considered (Non-Citizens) or as we now call them Imps.”

Henry seemed to be tiring of Maddie’s questions.

“You may find our society strange young lady but that does not give you the right to judge us.”

“I am sorry if you think that Henry, I am just trying to understand and that is all.”

It was not quite true Maddie was finding it very difficult not to judge the people who stood by and let this happen.

“You should go now I have had enough of talking about the past.”

George who had been attentively listening throughout Maddie and Henry’s conversation readied her-self to leave.

“Goodbye Henry.”

“Wait, Henry can I come back tomorrow?”

“You may but I may not be so talkative and by the way you should know that you are not the first strange girl to come through here.”

Maddie was more curious than ever now and wanted to question Henry further but knew better than to push him further today.

“Thank you Henry I will find you tomorrow.”

Henry wandered off mumbling something or other to him-self.

“Did you find out what you wanted Maddie?”

“I am not sure George I just feel that I should find out as much as I can about this place, especially if I am to stay here.”

When they arrived back at the encampment John was waiting for Maddie.

“So are you now the font of all knowledge concerning Velaria?”

It was not a serious question but Maddie chose to answer as if it were.

“If knowledge is power then I am not feeling it, although everything Henry told me was interesting I am not sure how useful it could be. I am returning to him tomorrow to see what else he can tell me of Velaria and its people.”

“It sounds like your day was more productive than mine as Dylan was not very forthcoming when it came to information of us leaving. I did however have a chance to talk to Lissa who is not as down on the Imps as we think.”

Maddie could not quite understand the feeling of possessiveness that came over her when John said he had spent time with Lissa. He did not belong to her but Maddie did not like the idea of him with anyone else.

“I have heard the way she speaks of them John and I have seen the way that she treats them. So don’t tell me that she loves them one and all.”

John was surprised at the harshness in Maddie’s voice.

“I was not suggesting that she loved them, just that she could be persuaded to change her thinking. I find her to be honest, direct and there is no malice that I can detect in her.”

Maddie was not proud of the way that she was feeling as John extolled Lysette’s virtues.

“She is a hateful bitch that has no time for anyone weaker than herself and you should not forget that fact.”

She was aware that she was being over the top but Maddie could not help it.

“Look I am going to try and change her view and get her to see the Imps as something other than sub-human. It might be helpful if you could be a little friendlier around her as she respects you.”

At this moment Maddie did not give a damn whether or not she had Lysette’s respect.

“You want me to cosy up to that cold, logical, stick thin blonde, you can think again.”

Walking away Maddie knew that she had massively over-reacted and that John was right to try and get Lysette on side but she did not care about that. All she could think of was John slipping away from her into the beautiful blonde girl’s waiting arms.

“What is wrong Maddie? You look upset.”

It was Lana that found Maddie and her cheery face helped to lift her black mood.

“Nothing Lana I was just thinking about things and stuff.”

“Yeah John is pretty hot stuff to think about.”

The cheeky girl always managed to make Maddie smile.

“Lana you really do not know what you are talking about and that imagination of yours is going to get you into trouble one of these days.”

Lana’s grin was wider than ever.

“I don’t need to imagine anything I have seen you two together and felt the heat.”

Maddie laughed out loud at this.

“You are too young to even know what that means little girl. Come to think of it I might just be a little too young myself.”

Lana returned Maddie’s laughter with her own.

“I maybe young but I see things and I know things.”

Very cryptic thought Maddie.

“Come here little girl and tell me what you know before I tickle it out of you.”

Lana giggled and ran.

“I will find you and then there will be trouble, so much trouble that you will never again give me such cheek.

Maddie and Lana played this game for a while until the younger girl looked tired.

“You should go find Jinn now Lana as I know that you have a thing for funky smelling boys that ask too many questions.”

The horrified look on Lana’s face made Maddie believe that she had perhaps hit a nerve.

“Jinn is a smell away from a rotting dump truck and he tells lies. He told me he was in Juvi and everyone knows that once you go in there you never come out.”

“Now Lana there is no need to deny it I have seen how you look at his scrawny little body.”

It was a little mean thought Maddie but it would not hurt the girl to get a dose of her own medicine.

“You really are touched just like I first thought now go away and leave me alone.”

Even with the strong protestations Maddie thought she saw the hint of a smile on Lana’s face.

Chapter 11

 

Another evening spent at the fireside and no word from Dylan’s contact and Maddie could not help but spend it glaring at Lissa.

“Is there anything wrong? You seem to have been staring at me for hours.”

Maddie was not even aware that she was staring so openly.

“Where is Dylan tonight he usually likes to join us?”

“He is talking to his contact in the city, checking to see if it is safe for us to leave.”

John wondered how this was possible.

“He is in his hut at this moment so how is it he can talk to anyone? Mobile communications outside of the capital are limited to citizens.”

Lissa raised her eyebrows and looked to the sky.

“He is using the great god kali to summon the airwaves that can carry his voice to the city and blow the words into Dylan’s friend’s ears.”

Lana looked astonished.

“Really Lissa, I am sorry I mean Lysette.”

The whole camp erupted into laughter at this enquiry from the young girl that they all loved.

So you do have a sense of humour behind those cold eyes thought Maddie.

“You two are good to go and what is all the laughter I hear out here?”

“It is Lissa who knew that she had such a good sense of humour?”

Dylan knew it was one of the things that he loved about her and there were many more things that he loved.

“Yes Lissa has a sense of humour and you should all feel privileged to have been shown it.”

A smile of Impatience from Lysette showed Dylan that he should move on.

“My contact says that it is now relatively safe to travel and I have drawn you a map which pinpoints the check-points to avoid.”

“Dylan was handing the map to John when Maddie snatched it from him.

“He knows where he is going, I need to familiarise myself with this place. It is also sexist to assume that only the man can read a map.”

John gave a loud involuntary snort at this statement.

“There is no sexism here; they don’t know the meaning of the word. Just like there is no racism or discrimination against those of a different sexual orientation than their own.”

Maddie was altogether fed-up with John defending this crazy place.

“It is easy to have no racism if everyone is white and the same culture as your own.”

Dylan looked confused but countered her statement anyway.

“You are deep into the north of Velaria and the population here is white in its majority but as you get closer to the Capital in the south our people are much more diverse. What is sexism and why should we discriminate against someone’s sexual preference?”

My god thought Maddie it was like talking to a child until she remembered all of the questions she had thrown at Dylan.

“To be sexist is to discriminate against a person because of their gender, racism is to discriminate against someone on the basis of their skin colour and why indeed would you care who someone was attracted to?”

John was doing it again, trying to be the voice of reason in a world that still made little sense to Maddie.

“We have discrimination here too but only against those who cannot contribute to society.”

You are one cold bitch thought Maddie.

“Who decides if you can or cannot contribute to society? It seems to me that Lana, Jinn, George and many others here contribute a hell of a lot to your camp and yet society here discarded them.”

It seemed Lysette was considering this when Dylan answered for her.

“You have to understand Maddie we were raised within a system that worships strength and it is hard for us to consider that weaker members of our society have anything to offer.”

“You do not need to answer for me Dylan or defend me; I have my own opinion on what the outsiders say. Here there is enough resources for those who work and if you cannot then you are a drain on those resources. It is not that we would not like to take care of everyone it is just not possible.”

John felt he needed to say something at this point before Maddie challenged what Lissa had said.

“It is similar in our world Lissa but a great man once said. There is enough for everyone’s needs but not enough for everyone’s greed. I suspect it is the same here and I have seen those go without while others have plenty.”

“Perhaps you are right John but why do you think those that have everything should give it all up for a bunch of Imps that cannot fight for what they want?”

Maddie saw an opportunity and took it.

“They will fight and they do fight, do you remember what you said to me Dylan? You said everyone here fights and you were right.”

A smile from the camp leader was Maddie’s reward.

“Yes I believe I said that and it is true everyone here has to fight for what they have. I am not sure that you can replicate that across Velaria and if you cannot then you cannot hope to change things here.”

Lysette loved the idea of change but not in the way that John and Maddie hoped.

“It would be interesting to see the able bodied Imps pitted against the Academies and it would eliminate some of the weaker members within the outer Academies.”

“You only think in terms of strength and weakness Lissa. I think your lack of compassion for those that cannot take care of them-selves is a weakness.”

It was clear by Lysette’s expression that she had no understanding of what Maddie was saying.

“You are soft like your man and that is definitely a weakness, I am getting some rest now as we need to set off early tomorrow.”

“I can commandeer a transport to take us where we need to be.”

“No John you will need to travel by foot and keep to the back roads.”

“That will take days and with the uniform of the 1st it will be easy to find someone to take us………”

Lysette looked directly at John.

“You will not be wearing that uniform while we travel, Dylan will find you more suitable clothes.”

Lysette did not wait around to be argued with and quickly left the group.

“It seems your leader has spoken and I should listen to her and John make sure that you study the map that Maddie took from me.”

After that the group around the fire slowly broke up leaving only Maddie and John.

“You look worried.”

“I am terrified, now that it is time to go I am not sure that I can do it.”

John leaned in closer.

“You are incredible Phoebe, Maddie, Maddison and I know that you can do anything that you set that stubborn mind of yours to.”

A compliment of sorts thought Maddie.

“Do you always wrap your compliments up in insults? Besides I am not stubborn I just like to get things done my way.”

“What woman doesn’t?”

Maddie wanted to slap his face but he looked so handsome by the fire.

“You are thinking of introducing sexism to this world then?”

“Me a sexist, what nonsense I marched for women’s rights back in the day.”

Shaking her head Maddie threw more wood on the fire.

“You really are the fool John and I think back in the day it may have been your father doing the marching. He seemed to me to be the type to stand up for all that he believed in.”

The mention of John’s father introduced a sombre tone to the conversation.

“My dad was a far better man than I could ever hope to be.”

Maddie picked up on the past tense of this statement.

“You mean that your dad is a far better man than you could ever hope to be and I don’t think that is accurate either.”

John decided to ignore this and changed the subject.

“Did you notice that Lissa found her sense of humour when I asked how Dylan communicated with the Capital?”

“Not really and she wasn’t very funny anyway, why?”

“I think it is part of her Academy training to never give any information away to the enemy. It must have been an encrypted Sat-Phone that he was using.”

“They have them here!”

“Yes their technology is comparable to our own it just does not filter down to the general population. In the city I am told that there are fewer restrictions on using tech than outside and of course if you are not a citizen then you are forbidden to touch anything resembling a phone.”

Maddie could hear the sadness in John’s eyes as he said this and knew that he was thinking of his parents.

“I think about my mum too and I know that I will see her again just like you will see your dad.”

John shook his head.

“You cannot know that and I have been here long enough to know that I am not supposed to leave here.”

“And you cannot possibly know that so stop thinking like a loser and get back in the game. We will find a way home and just for fun we will fix this upside down country of theirs.”

John wanted to throw his arms around Maddie for trying to raise his spirits.

“You are a little crazy Phoebe but I must admit that does sound like fun. Did you learn anything new from the old man?”

“I got a potted history and he gave me some information that might be useful but the most interesting thing he said was that I am not the first to come through.”

“What do you mean you are not the first to come through, what exactly did he say to you?”

“He said that I was not the first strange girl to come through here and I really wanted to quiz him some more about this but we are leaving tomorrow morning.”

John found this to be very interesting and thought the old man may even know of a way back for them.

“If we make it back then we will have to find out all that he knows about this other girl and if she is still here or not.”

“If we make it back, I am not sure that I like the sound of that and if you are that worried maybe we should just find him tomorrow and forget about the whole revolution thing?”

John lowered his head and spoke quietly.

“I cannot leave without doing everything that I can to make it a safer place to live here. I have seen the injustice and cruelty that is doled out to the lowest of the low here and I need to help them even if it means I never get home.”

The determination in John’s voice brooked no argument not that that stopped Maddie.

“What about your mum, don’t you think that she deserves to see her son again? As it is she will have no idea of where you are or what happened to you.”

“You don’t have to tell me that I have had a year to think about how she feels and though now that I know it has only been a few weeks rather than a year for her it makes no difference. I know she will be heartbroken and my dad will be moving heaven and earth to find me. I can’t help that if I run away from my responsibilities here I will be running for the rest of my life.”

It might be John’s dad speaking thought Maddie as her admiration for the man sitting next to her reached new heights.

“Your dad would be very proud of you and your mother too but I am not sure she would approve of your decision.”

“I am damned sure she would disapprove Phoebe but she is not here and I need to do what is right.”

Maddie wanted John to hold her, touch her and kiss her but all she could think to say was.

“You can call me Maddie.”

“Thank you Maddie that means a lot, it is getting late now and we need to be rested for the trip.”

It was an awkward end to the evening and Maddie was not sure that she would sleep especially as when John got up to leave she could feel his breath against her cheeks. Being so close to him gave stirrings to feelings that she had never known before.

Chapter 12

 

Dylan said goodbye to Lysette in private knowing that she would not tolerate any display of affection in public.

“Whatever happens Lissa come back to me safe?”

“I will always come back to you so stop being such an old woman about this and come join the others.”

“Wait I need you to know that without you by my side there is nothing else that matters to me.”

Lysette knew that Dylan thought he was being genuine but if he truly meant what he was saying he never would have left the 1st.

“You will be fine just as you were fine when you left me at the Academy to come play leader of the Imps.”

Dylan looked genuinely hurt by Lysette’s words.

“You know I would have come back if you had not followed me and that I could not ask you to leave with me, no I could not ask that of you.”

More words thought Lissa just more words, Dylan was good at talking.

“You could have stayed and worked things out with your father but you chose to run away and hide.”

She was being overly harsh and she knew it but Lysette could not help it.

“I don’t want to argue with you before you set off Lissa but it does seem that we need to talk about this some more.”

“There is no time now but if you want to hear what I have to say then I will be happy to talk when I return.”

It was typical Lissa thought Dylan.

“I will listen to whatever you have to say and what you have to say means the world to me.”

Dylan took Lysette in his arms and held her there for as long as he could.

“Time to go we are losing daylight.”

John and Maddie had been waiting patiently for Lysette when she joined them with Dylan.

“I see you found him some clothes to wear! He looks more like an Imp now that we have taken the uniform from him.”

John did fit in with the rest of the camp with his worn and ill-fitting garments that Dylan had scrounged up for him.

“Thanks I think I look rather elegant myself.”

A confused look between Dylan and Lysette told John they did not really get his humour.

“Elegant you look like a horses behind.”

“Thanks Lana you always know just the right thing to say.”

The laughter at John’s expense did not really bother him if anything it diffused the tension that surrounded them.

“What about the girl she stands out in those clothes we should make her change too.”

Lysette was of course right but john strongly disagreed.

“No Maddie stays as she is, we are taking the back roads and will not be seen if we are careful.”

“Why take any chances when it is a simple matter to find other clothes for Maddie?”

It was a reasonable question from Dylan.

“Because Maddie will be the inspiration that unites us all against the State and she needs to remain true to herself.”

Lysette was not convinced that you needed a particular set of clothes to be true to yourself even though she only ever felt comfortable in the uniform of the 1st.

“It is your decision but if she gives us away and there is trouble it is on you and then it is everyone for them-selves.”

That was clear enough thought John, any trouble and Lysette was gone. It was good to know and he admired her straightforwardness in telling them.

“Trouble I eat that for breakfast and spit it out at lunch.”

A chuckle from Lana made John feel a little self-conscious at his sudden bravado.

“Come on my hero as you are so strong, brave and fearless you can lead the way. That and you are the only one that knows where we are heading.”

Maddie was smiling and her words were dripping with sarcasm.

Leading the way John could not resist a little gentle ribbing.

“Yes that is right the man should always lead and show you poor girlies how things are done.”

“Just in case you are wondering Lissa that is sexism and if John doesn’t shut up he will get my boot up his arse for it.”

Lysette was not really paying any attention to what John was saying; she was too busy keeping a watch for any stray Cad patrols.

“You two can be as foolish as you like but I would suggest you pay more attention to what is around you.”

It was like being reprimanded by a teacher thought Maddie.

“You never let up do you Lissa.”

“If you mean I never let my guard down then you are correct and that is why I have not been caught unawares by some poor wandering Cadet.”

Maddie knew that Lysette was right to take precautions and was even glad of her presence. She just wished she wasn’t so solemn.

“Wait.”

With this one word Lysette seemed to stop time as they all froze.

“I have you.”

Lysette speed was extraordinary as she pulled the crouching girl from the bushes behind them.

“Get your hands off me you big dumb blonde.”

It was Lana but the words were all Maddie’s.

“What the hell are you doing here Lana?”

“I thought you might need some help but if I knew I was going to be treated this way I would have stayed at home.”

You had to love Lana even when she was caught in the wrong she tried to turn it back on you.

“You never should have come and I am not taking you back so turn around now.”

“No Lissa she cannot go back on her own and we are not about to leave her.”

A triumphant smile appeared upon Lana’s face.

“I don’t know what you are smiling for it is a long trek and we will not be slowing down for you so you had better keep up.”

John looked like he disagreed with Maddie’s decision and was about to side with Lysette.

“Don’t even think about saying it John, she is coming and that is final.”

Lana tucked herself in beside Maddie and they continued on for a time without anything else said.

“It is getting dark, we should camp here.”

Lysette practical as ever had picked a perfect spot for them to spend the night.

“Lana I hope you brought something to keep you warm tonight.”

The blank look on the girl’s face answered Maddie’s question.

“Don’t worry she can have what is in my pack and I will take first watch.”

Once they had settled in for the night and Lysette had built a fire a tired Lana quickly went to sleep.

“You are a sentimental fool for allowing her to come with us; she will slow us down and possibly get us caught.”

“And you are a callous bitch who would send her back on her own with no protection.”

These two were just never going to get along thought John.

“It doesn’t matter anymore Lana is here and we are safe for the night, I will take up position over there and you should both get some sleep.”

Lysette and Maddie both nodded as John moved away.

“I will take the second watch; your man seems competent so it should be safe to rest.”

There was something about Lysette that really got under Maddie’s skin.

“John is not my man and I am glad that he meets your standards to watch over us for the night.”

Lysette was unaware of how she had offended Maddie but it was clear to her that she had done so.

“Maddie you always seem so angry when you talk to me and I don’t really understand why. Do you think of me as a threat? If so I can assure you that I have no interest in John and I know that he is only interested in having you as his woman.”

For god’s sake my man, his woman, who talked like that it was ridiculous?

“I don’t like you Lissa and I know that you do not like me.”

“I have no dislike for you in fact I admire your spirit for someone who did not go through Academy training you fight bravely and ruthlessly. John has admirable qualities also though I do think him a little soft when it comes to fighting. He lacks the will to win and in a fight that just means that you are setting yourself up to lose.”

“Lissa you have nothing but contempt for the Imps and I can assure you that if I was born here then I would have been classed as one of them.”

“Perhaps but the fact is you are not one of them and you never can be just like Dylan can never be one of them. You can pretend all you want but you are different from them and so am I, we will never just lie down and accept our fate, we will fight with our last breath to live a better life.”

Lysette was right about one thing and Maddie could not deny the fact that she did not understand the casual acceptance of their fate by the Imps.

“You are right I have never let anyone ride rough shod over me and I never will but these people have never really been given a chance. Look at Lana she has courage, intelligence and shows more spirit than I did at her age. Yet you dismiss her because she is a few inches shorter than you think she should be.”

“Lana is an exception and if you had been here long enough you would know this to be the case. The majority of the Imps fall into line and never question their place in the order of things.”

“You admit that Lana is worthy of your Academies then.”

Lysette thought about this for a time.

“Yes Maddie I think Lana would have made a fine Cadet and it is unfair that she has been excluded for such a seemingly silly reason. I like Lana and others in the camp but this is the way it is here. If you are to genuinely change things then you not only have to unite the Imps you need to defeat the Cadets. It is not something that I see happening and I can tell you now that it is not something that Dylan wants to happen.”

Maddie did not understand what Lysette meant by her last statement.

“Dylan leads a camp full of Imps and shows genuine concern for those weaker than him-self, why wouldn’t he want to change the system? He left the Academy to help the Imps and as far as I can see he is doing a fine job.”

A knowing smile from Lysette was followed by a surprising revelation.

“Dylan left the 1st for entirely different reasons than you imagine Maddie. It had nothing to do with helping others it was for entirely selfish reasons.”

“If you are trying to be all mysterious then you have succeeded but if you want to tell me something it would be better to just come out with it.”

“I have told you all that I wish to and if you want to know more then you should ask Dylan. I am only trying to make you aware of the reality of your situation and the fact is that Dylan enjoys his status as leader of the Imps. He likes the way they look to him and he loves the adoration of those less fortunate than him.”

Maddie had thought Dylan’s motives were suspect but did not really want to believe what Lysette was telling her.

“You do not paint a very pretty picture of the man you are with.”

“I love Dylan but I am not blind to his faults and I advise you to open your eyes too or you may make some ill-informed decisions.”

Maddie was getting the Impression that Lysette was trying to warn her of something but was unwilling to give away too much information.

“Thanks for the advice but like all free advice it is worth exactly what you paid for it.”

“You are stubborn Maddie but just remember I tried to help you and please do not expect too much from Dylan or me if you do you will be bitterly disappointed.

“I expect nothing from you Lissa but I won’t lie I did hope for Dylan’s support.”

Lysette had nothing more to add so turned away from Maddie to get some sleep.

“Lissa you are up.”

John’s wake up call for Lysette also awoke Maddie who watched as she took up her position in silence.

“Lissa does not seem to think that Dylan will be of any help to us.”

“I know she said as much to me and I had already come to that conclusion myself.”

“Then why are we bringing her along with us?”

“I believe that Lissa will bring a dispassionate report of what she sees back to Dylan and if she is persuaded to our cause she may be able to bring him on board.”

John sounded like some schoolboy dreamer when he said this and Maddie tried to bring him back down to earth.

“Lissa is not someone that will put herself or Dylan at risk for those she considers lesser than them. It is just not in her to see their suffering and help to alleviate it.”

John was still optimistic and was keen to defend Lysette.

“She is a little blunt and her communication skills could use some work but I believe she has a good heart. I think that when it comes to choosing sides Lissa will come good and choose us.”

It was no good thought Maddie he had made up his mind and nothing she could say would change it.

“You should get some sleep John and so should I for that matter.”

Lysette woke Maddie up a few hours later and they exchanged places without another word between them.

Lana was the only one of the four that got an unbroken night’s sleep and this showed as she was full of beans the next morning.

“How long before we get there John?”

John could not help but laugh as he said aloud.

“Even here all kids say are we there yet it must be universal Maddie.”

“Actually I said how long before we get there and I am not a kid.”

The huffy little voice Lana used sounded false to John.

“Sorry Lana it is just in my country….., never mind it would take too long to explain and it is not that interesting anyway.”

Maddie agreed it was not that interesting but it had amused her as well.

“We need to be quiet now, there is a village coming up and I think it best if we go around it without them seeing us.”

“There are none of your people in this village then John?”

“We have supporters in every town and village Lissa but I have not been in communication with this place as yet.”

Maddie thought that Lissa’s question was just her way of pointing out that not everyone wanted to change their society.

“You don’t quit do you Lissa? Just because this village does not show open support that does not mean it is happy with the way things are.”

“Sssshh that is enough from you two and Lana I need you to keep quiet for a while to; we have another few days before we reach my friends. It would be nice if we could all get alone until then and we need to work together here.”

The group fell into silence as they negotiated their way around the village shown on Dylan’s map.

“We won’t reach the first check-point on the map until tomorrow evening so until then we can follow the back roads and with a little luck we will get there without incident.”

A nod from Maddie and Lysette informed John of their agreement.

“This trip is so boring, I thought we would be visiting all of the places on the way and talking to the people about Maddie.”

“Lana you invited yourself along and although I love your company you have to understand that we are in danger as long as we are on the road. We cannot expose ourselves to any further risk by talking to strangers.”

A disgruntled look from Lana was John’s only reward.

“You need to listen to John girl or you could put us all in danger.”

Maddie’s protective instinct kicked in as she defended Lana.

“Leave her alone Lissa and her name is Lana not girl. You need to chill out a little and John said all that was needed to say.”

The bickering between Maddie and Lysette did not seem to be getting any less as John had hoped it would.

“You and I both know that she should not be here with us, she is nothing but a liability.”

If this carried on he would have to get between the two warring women thought John.

“Maddie I would appreciate it if you kept quiet and Lissa please we do not need both of us to tell Lana that she should not have come.

The evening before the first check-point was an awkward one with none of the four having much to say. Lysette took the first watch as the other three slept then Maddie was up leaving the last watch to John.

“Now this morning I want to make steady progress without any squabbles.”

“So you are in charge now John?”

“He is a man Lana and we just let him think he is or it will bruise his delicate ego.”

Lysette did not join in the friendly banter and kept silently to herself.

“There is nothing delicate about my ego or anything else thank you very much.”

The good humour between the three of them lasted all of that day and John was glad that Lysette made no comment that might spoil their mood.

“We should be thinking about making camp the check-point is close now. We can get a closer look at it tomorrow in the daylight.”

“No I will find it while you setup camp.”

It was the first words that Lysette had uttered all that day.

“If that is what you want to do then we will see you back here in half an hour or I come looking for you.”

The clearing they were in afforded reasonably good view all around them but still they did not see the Cads coming.

“You four what are you doing in this area? It is no place for a bunch of filthy Imps.”

There were five of them and they wore the uniform of the 1st.

“We are heading for the town of Arcadia but I admit we are a little lost.”

John sounded suitably subservient thought Maddie who was more worried for Lana. In a whisper she told the young girl to lie down in the grass.

“Lana stay low and get to the bushes, when the fighting starts run.”

“Stupid Imps couldn’t find their ass with both hands Arcadia is miles away from here.”

Lysette took the initiative and spoke to the young leader in a way that he had not been spoken to by an Imp before.

“No but I can find the weakness in your defences you jumped up little prig.”

Seeing that Lysette was picking a fight with the Cads Maddie readied her-self.

“You really should not speak to your betters like that or they just might have to teach you a lesson in manners.”

“You have nothing to teach me little boy and as for you comrades they look like a sorry bunch of rejects is this really the best that the 1st can send after us?”

That was it thought John she had injured their pride and they would not be able to resist coming after them.

Lysette countered the leaders attack with ease and John took care of two of the others leaving two for Maddie.

“You boys really going to attack a poor defenceless girl?”

As the words left Maddie’s mouth they were upon her.

“I guess you are and I guess you are going to get your arse’s kicked by a girl how messed up is that?”

Maddie was not as confident as she sounded and thought she could really use some help right about now.

“Lissa help Maddie?”

John’s plea reached Lissa who was finding the leader to be a little more competent than she first imagined.

“She will have to take care of herself for now.”

“LOOK OUT MADDIE.”

The warning came from Lana who rushed out of the bushes to tackle one of the Cads who was about to use his Lektro on Maddie.

“Get off me you filthy little Imp.”

Lana had jumped on the Cad’s back and had her hands around his throat until he threw her to the ground.

“Don’t worry Maddie I have got him.”

It certainly did not look to Maddie that Lana had the boy at all but she had her hands full with the other Cad and could not get to her to help.

“John you must get to Lana and help her now.”

Maddie’s warning came too late as the Lektro struck Lana and she went down with a thud.

“Lana is hurt let’s finish this now.”

Seeing Lana go down like that gave Maddie a surge of adrenalin enabling her to take down her opponent. Almost simultaneously John finished the last of his attackers off and Lysette won out over the leader.

“She is not moving John.”

Lana was lying still on the ground when Maddie reached her.

“We have to leave now, there will be more coming.”

It was Lysette and though Maddie knew she was right there was no way she could leave Lana.

“You go I will take my chances here.”

Seeing Lana could not go on and that Maddie would not leave her behind Lysette bent down next to the fallen girl.

“There will be more and they will take us back to the Capital and then in my case to Juvi. I am not sure what they will do with you and John.”

Pointing at Lana she continued.

“The girl is finished she cannot go on and in all likelihood will not make it anyway.”

“I don’t care I am not leaving her here to die alone, go if you want to.”

Lysette could not help but admire the determination and bravery of the strange girl next to her.

“You are a fool Maddie but sometimes there is no difference between foolishness and blind courage.”

“THEIR COMING, GET READY.”

John’s warning was sudden and did not give them much time.

“Maddie pick her up and head for the woods and do not stop to look back.”

“No I will fight with you.”

“There is no need for all of us to go down and if you stay then that is what will happen now do as I say and run.”

Maddie did not want to leave John but she knew that if she stayed the Cads would capture them all and leave Lana there to die.

“I will be back with Dylan to find you both.”

“Tell Dylan we were betrayed, they knew we were coming. Oh and I have been meaning to say that is a great dress you are wearing.”

Lysette stood to join John who had been keeping watch.

“Come John let’s take the fight to them.”

John did not hesitate and without looking back they headed forward towards the sounds of gathering troops.

“John… “

Maddie tried to say something but it was too late they were gone and what was there to say anyway?

“Come on Lana let’s get you out of here.”

Maddie picked up the stricken girl threw her over her shoulder and ran. If Maddie had taken the time to look back she would have seen Lysette and John being surrounded by Cadets from the 1st.

“Let’s see what you have really got John Harrison.”

John smiled at Lissa and could not help but think of Maddie as the Cadets attacked.

“I got power Lissa and with you by my side who knows we might even make it out of this.”

They both knew that this was not really a possibility but they bravely made their stand together.

Lysette was magnificent and deadly, her speed was the perfect counterbalance to John’s power and for a time they held off the growing weight of numbers.

Cad after Cad fell before them and John wished that he could stand back to watch the beauty of Lysette’s movements, she really was extraordinary. Inevitably her defences were breached and she was felled by the prod of a Lektro in her back. It was a sneak attack from a Cad that was not worthy of her courage and skill.

John was taken down by the force of a blow to his head that gave him the gift of loss of consciousness almost immediately.

It was not the first time that Lysette had felt the sting of a Lektro, at the Academy it was part of basic training that you take the full force of the weapon. The trainers wanted to test your strength and see if you could stand after such an attack.

Dylan was the only one in her year that had gotten up and seeing him rise to his feet had given her the strength to rise partially.

“Patrice is that you?”

Through the pain Lysette thought she could see her old comrade but she could not be sure if it was real.

“Lysette it is good to see you once again.”

It was the last thing that she would hear before Patrice’s boot came crashing down on her left cheek.

“BRING THESE TWO AND THEN FIND THE GIRL OR I WILL HAVE YOUR HIDES.”

The Cadets from the 1st dutifully loaded the unconscious John and Lysette onto a transport and set about searching the area for Maddie.

“REMEMBER SHE WEARS A BLACK JACKET AND DARK RED DRESS, YOU MUST NOT LET HER GET AWAY.”

They searched in a methodical grid pattern but fortunately for Maddie the fight with John and Lysette had given her enough time to get far enough away for now.

“You maybe small Lana but you sure do have some weight to you.”

Maddie was exhausted and could not carry on; she needed to rest and could only hope that she was far enough away from the Cadets of the 1st.

“When you wake up I shall have to have a word with you about gate crashing other people’s party’s young lady.”

“You always talk to yourself Phoebe?”

Maddie got to her feet and stood defensively as she searched for where the voice had come from.

“It is ok Phoebe I am a friend of John’s, how else would I know your name?”

John had told Maddie precious little of his friends and she was beginning to regret not asking more questions about them now.

“Show yourself and then maybe we can talk about what you know.”

A tall well-muscled man with dark skin appeared from the brush and introduced himself to Maddie.

“Hello Phoebe I am Jerome and it is me that you were coming to meet.”

“How can I be sure that you are a friend of John’s?”

“I am not alone here Phoebe and if I were not a friend of John’s there are plenty of Cads around for me to turn you into.”

It made sense thought Maddie and besides she had no choice but to trust him.

“Ok you are a friend of John’s so let’s get out of here and then we can think of a way to find him.”

“You are right that we need to leave here quickly but as for John the Cads have him and he will be headed for the Capital.”

“Fine then we will go to the Capital and get him back.”

There was faint laughter coming from the trees as Maddie made her statement.

“If your friends think that I am joking they should show themselves so that I can assure them I am deadly serious.”

Jerome was impressed by Maddie’s determination to get John back and her loyalty to him was admirable but thought she was being unrealistic in her thinking.

“Right now we need to leave and get away from the search area of the Cads which is increasing by the minute.”

“Ok so let’s go, I will need help with my friend here.”

Jerome looked Impatient as he answered Maddie.

“We have no time for passengers your friend is unconscious and not moving it is very likely that she will die. I am not going to risk any of our people to help a dead girl.”

Maddie was beginning to hate this place and their casual attitude to death.

“Fine then get out of my way and stay out of it.”

Maddie attempted to pick Lana up but could not find the strength.

“You want me to go with you then you better take her or I am not moving from this spot.”

Jerome could see that Maddie meant what she said.

“Very well we will bring her along, now let us get going.”

Chapter 13

 

As soon as they arrived at Jerome’s village he gave orders to find somewhere to hide Maddie and Lana.

“Phoebe it is unlikely that they will come this far to search for you but that does not mean that we should not take precautions.”

“All I care about right this minute is that my friend is taken care of.”

“We do not have access to medical expertise but we do have someone in the village with knowledge that can help.”

Maddie was eager to find this someone that Jerome spoke of.

“Then get them here now, my friend needs help now.”

Jerome tried to calm an anxious Maddie down.

“You need to remain focussed Phoebe, the Cads are out in force and they are looking for you. We have a place to hide you and your friend but it must look like business as usual here if they show up. You have to understand ours and your safety is the priority here.”

Maddie understood but her only priorities were to help Lana and get John back.

“I will follow your instructions but you have to promise me that you will send help for Lana as soon as you can.”

Jerome nodded and then made arrangements with his people for the girls to be taken to a place of safety.

“You will be taken to an underground bunker that is fully equipped to cater for your needs. It will be a few days before it is safe for you to come out but I will send our healer to look at your friend before then.”

Maddie was far from satisfied but felt she had no alternative but to agree.

“Tomorrow morning at the latest or I am coming back to find this healer myself.”

Jerome was highly impressed by Maddie’s compassion for her friend, it was a shame that the girl would almost certainly die.

“I will find a way to get her to you.”

Two of Jerome’s men carried Lana and a third escorted Maddie to the underground bunker.

“Stay here until we come for you.”

That was it the three men left Maddie to take care of Lana in the dark, damp bunker.

“Well Lana it is just as well that you are not awake to see our accommodation’s because I can tell you they leave a lot to be desired.”

Maddie knew nothing of first-aid but decided to look Lana over anyway.

“Well there does not seem to be any blood anywhere and I don’t think you have any broken bones. Of course I am far from being an expert in this field; I neglected to go to the first-aid course they held at my school.”

Maddie was not too sure why she was talking so much, as if Lana were conscious she would have had a lot less to say to her friend.

“By the way I could have taken both of those Cads so the next time I tell you to run you bloody well do it my girl.”

With her cursory examination over Maddie felt a wave of exhaustion wash over her?

“Well I don’t have to tell you to sleep for once and I also don’t have to tell you to be quiet but I will say goodnight Lana.”

Maddie slept through the night and was awakened the next morning by a young woman who introduced herself as Raea.

“I am here to take a look at your friend Jerome sent me.”

“Please she has not moved or made a sound since the Cad felled her.”

Raea set about her business and gave Lana a much more detailed examination than Maddie had the night before.

“There is no movement of her eyes, no verbal action and her motor response is nil. I cannot say for sure but in my opinion your friend will not regain consciousness.”

Maddie was not ready to accept this diagnosis.

“You are not a doctor and your examination could not possibly tell you that for sure.”

Raea looked offended at Maddie’s questioning of her skills.

“You are correct I am not a doctor and I do not have access to fancy machines that can tell me brain function activity but I do have experience and I am telling you that it would be a mercy if your friend were to die now rather than linger.”

“I am sorry I know that you are doing your best but I just cannot give up on her not yet.”

“That I understand but there is nothing we can do for her here except keep her comfortable until she……”

“Until she dies, I see can you tell Jerome that she needs to be moved to somewhere less damp at least.”

“Jerome is a good man and he will move you both when he feels it is safe for everyone and not before.”

Maddie already knew this but still felt the need to have her say on the subject.

“We will not wait down here forever, has there been any sign of the Cads visiting your village.”

Raea looked at Maddie as though she was stupid.

“You do not see signs of the Cads they just show up when they please and do as they please.”

Raea could not help thinking it a little crazy for Jerome to expect them to follow this strangely dressed girl who asked foolish questions of her.

“Thank you Raea for all of your help and I am sorry if I am putting your people in danger.”

The young healer did not expect this genuine apology from Maddie and found her-self warming to the girl.

“Jerome says that we need you and Jerome is not often wrong. I just know that a lot of us are going to get hurt in the coming weeks and months.”

Raea’s statement was flat and devoid of emotion which is why it resonated so much with Maddie.

“It seems to me that you are already hurting here quite a bit and to make a big change there has to be sacrifice.”

Maddie was beginning to sound like John at least that was what she thought.

“And what are you willing to sacrifice? You have already lost your friend and I here that John is on his way to the Capital.”

“Lana is not lost and I will find a way to get John back.”

“Your passion is Impressive but the odds are against you ever seeing him alive again.”

This girl was beginning to get to Maddie who was having enough trouble staying positive without her negativity.

“You should get back to Jerome and your people. Remember to tell him that I will not stay here forever.”

It was a further two days in that damp hole before Jerome decided it was safe for them to come out.

“We have prepared rooms for you in one of the work cottages; you will be comfortable there until we decide how to proceed. Your friend is no better I see?”

“She is the same Jerome but that does not mean that I am ready to give up on her and I will not let you do so either.”

Shaking his head Jerome replied.

“You are being unrealistic in your thinking, it would be better if you accepted that she will not last more than a few days more and that John has been lost to us.”

“You accept what you want Jerome I do not have to agree all I ask of you is that you help me take care of Lana.”

Maddie knew that she was going to ask much more of Jerome in the coming days but felt now was not the time to say so.

“We will of course see to her needs for now but once you are settled I need to talk to you.”

The cottage was small with running water and electricity which surprised Maddie although she did not know why. John had told her that the Capital had these utilities and it made sense that the surrounding work villages would also benefit from them.

Lana looked ashen faced in the light of the bedroom as she lay there without sound or movement. Maddie thought it eerie that she could be so still it was as if the spirit had left her body and the Lana she knew was gone.

“I know you are there you little pest now come back to me or I will come over there and kick your pesky little arse.”

The idea that Lana could not respond to her teasing distressed Maddie more than she thought possible and so she left her alone there to seek out Jerome in the hope that he had news of John.

“Have you heard anything more of what happened to John?”

“No Phoebe and I consider us very lucky that we were not visited by the Cads.”

“Stop calling me Phoebe my name is Maddie.”

“John told us that your name was Phoebe.”

“My name is Phoebe Maddison and I choose to be called Maddie.”

“Do you hear that everyone she chooses to call herself Maddie, that is fantastic it plays well don’t you think?”

There was a general agreement from those surrounding Maddie and Jerome.

“What are you talking about it plays well?”

“Maddison that is what you will be called and the Imps will be told that you chose to use your family name.”

“Hold on their big man you are getting carried away and I do not understand what you mean.”

“Here if you do not get into an Academy you forfeit your family name and are forbidden to use it. We will tell our people that the girl in the black jacket chooses to call herself by her family name of Maddison. It will help to unite them and it will have meaning for them.”

“If you want me to play along with your little charade to mislead your people then you will have to give me something that I want.”

Jerome sounded wary when he answered Maddie.

“It is no charade and if I have to mislead my people to have you lead them so be it. What is it you want in return for your help?”

“John I want John.”

Maddie could not have been more succinct.

“You ask the Impossible, he is on his way to the Capital and nothing can stop him getting there.”

“Then I am leaving and I would advise you not to try and stop me.”

Jerome was stunned by Maddie’s stubbornness.

“You are being ridiculous where would you go?”

“I am going back to Dylan’s camp; he will help me get Lissa and John back.”

“Dylan betrayed you and that is why the Cads have your friends right now.”

Maddie knew this not to be true; Dylan would never sacrifice Lysette she meant too much to him.

“We were betrayed but not by Dylan and that is where I am going.”

Jerome looked as though he was struggling with the decision to tell Maddie something.

“A time after John left to find you the Cads of the 1st paid a visit to our neighbouring villages looking for a girl. We heard of this and knew the girl they were searching for so we hid her in the very bunker you spent time in. By the time they came to us their leader had lost all patience with the Cad that knew the girl and bullied him into pointing her out.”

Maddie thought Jerome’s story interesting but had no idea what any of this had to do with her.

“I don’t see why you are telling me this it is in the past and has no relevance to me now.”

“After a while the Cadet desperately picked a young girl not the actual young girl they were looking for as you know she was safely hidden away.”

Seeing that Jerome was determined to tell his story Maddie had him continue.

“Go on.”

“Their leader had the Cad use his Lektro on the girl and he kept using it on her until he was ordered to stop by which time she was lying dead on the ground. After this the leader had the Cadet hung as an example to his men.”

“It is a horrible story and I feel sorry for the girl but still I do not see the relevance of this to me.”

“John was wearing the uniform of the 1st and it came from the Cad that was hung, the only person outside of the village that knew of this was the Cad and John. We had the uniform for over a year then suddenly when John leaves they come looking for the girl that was involved with acquiring it.”

Maddie was now beginning to see where Jerome was going with this.

“You think John blabbed to someone and it got back to the Cads?”

“That is exactly what I think because nothing else makes sense.”

Maddie could still not contemplate the thought that Dylan gave up Lysette.

“There were others there when John told how you acquired that uniform; anyone of them could have said something. I am going back to enlist Dylan’s help and I would prefer that to be with your help but if you will not help me then I will go alone.”

There was that stubbornness again thought Jerome and as far as he could see there was no way around it.

“I don’t deny that we need you and that is a fact but going back there is foolhardy as is hanging onto the idea that you can rescue John but if I have your word that when the time comes you will help us in our protest then I will agree to take you to Dylan.”

Protest that was a weak word thought Maddie what happened to the revolution that John talked about?

“Agreed but you must also do everything you can for Lana while I am gone.”

Raea stepped up and spoke softly.

“Of course we will take good care of her but I fear the worse for your friend.”

The soft voice filled with compassion reassured Maddie who disregarded Raea’s last words.

“Then we should leave as soon as possible, I have a map that will help to guide us back to Dylan’s encampment.”

Jerome stepped aside and spoke to one of his men returning with his decision.

“We leave tomorrow morning, we will be travelling in one of our work trucks. Maddison will be hidden in the back while I drive. You Tariq will accompany us and if there is any trouble we are on a trip into town to get supplies.”

Maddie was looking Tariq up and down unashamedly when he spoke for the first time.

“Do not worry Maddison there are no betrayers here.”

It was an insult aimed at their destination.

“We do not know that anyone at Dylan’s camp betrayed anyone so let’s reserve judgement until we get there.”

The idea that it was Dylan himself that gave them up was not one that Maddie would even consider.

“If you do not trust Dylan then you two can wait outside while I talk to him.”

“That is not necessary we will accompany you into the camp and talk with him.”

Maddie was now getting the sense that Jerome did not trust her either.

“If that is what you want it is fine by me just remember my objective is to get Dylan onside to help rescue John and Lissa.”

It was the first time that Maddie had given any thought to rescuing Lysette and her selfishness in only caring about John’s well-being did not sit well with her.

“You should go see your friend and be with her this night. We leave at first light.”

It was more than just a dismissal from Jerome it was also a plea for her to see that this would be the last night she would spend with Lana.

“I will see you in the morning Jerome and I thank you for all that you have risked on my behalf.”

Raea once again saw a side of Maddie that she liked and gave her unsolicited opinion to Jerome.

“She is stubborn, bright, loyal, and passionate, she will in all probability get us all killed.”

A smile from Jerome did nothing to allay her fears.

“Perhaps she will Raea but you and I know that something needs to be done or we will all die slowly under the increasing pressure from the State to produce food for all their needs while near starving ourselves.”

It was a valid argument thought Raea and one she had heard a thousand times from Jerome.

“You think a protest against the State with an outsider at its head will sway the first minister?”

“I think that a united army of children marching on the Capital will sway the people and galvanise them into action.”

“This Maddison is expendable and just a means to an end. Once we have used her as a symbol of rebellion and we have enough followers then we march. At that time we will have little further use for her and she will no longer be able to make demands of us.”

Raea thought that Jerome was beginning to sound like the people they hated and wanted no part of his plans.

“You wish to fight against oppression and yet you are willing to use a young girl up as though she was nothing. You are no better than those you oppose Jerome and if you continue to think as you do then there is no hope for you or us.”

It was a damning statement from a friend that Jerome had known all of his life, a friend that he both trusted and admired.

“They have weapons, they have the power, and they have the Statepol all we have is hope. If you cannot see that then I cannot in all conscious let you roam free.”

Jerome motioned to Tariq and another of his men.

“Take her away and make sure that she talks to no-one.”

“You are making a mistake Jerome I am not your enemy and are you going to lock away anyone that disagrees with you? Does that remind you of anyone else?”

Jerome had turned his back to Raea and was doing his best to block her words out.

“Raea you have been my friend for many years please do not test me, get her out of here.”

With Raea gone Jerome gave orders to spread the word that Maddison would be leading them to the Capital. It may have been opportunistic of him thought Jerome but having Maddison as a symbol of freedom was too good an idea to let go of.

“Make sure that you tell the story of her arrival and how she named herself Maddison. Tell every one of her fight with the Cad and how she rescued an Imp single-handedly. Feel free to embellish as much as you like.”

The morning came quickly for Maddie and she could not wait to get back to Dylan so that she could make progress on John’s rescue.

“You have said goodbye to your friend?”

“Yes Jerome I have said goodbye and her name is Lana.”

“That is good it is best to have made your peace with her passing.”

Maddie did not bother to argue with Jerome about Lana’s chances, somehow she knew that the feisty young girl would never give up.

“Where is Raea I wanted to say goodbye and thank her for all of her help.”

“She is busy not everything here revolves around you Maddison.”

Jerome’s answer was Impatient and a little over the top thought Maddie.

“Do you have to call me Maddison? I mean I know it is your whole plan to make me some heroic symbol but when we are alone maybe Maddie would be fine.”

“We are never alone Maddison.”

Wow this guy was one serious dude thought Maddie and she did not relish the idea of being in his company for the foreseeable future.

“You know Jerome you really need to lighten up that rod you have strapped to your back must get damned uncomfortable.”

The questioning look on Jerome’s face told Maddie he had no idea what she was talking about.

“Never mind, I will introduce you to Lissa she has a similar affliction.”

Jerome did not really understand much of what the girl was saying but he got the idea that he was being made fun of.

“This is serious business we are embarking upon and you would be wise to take it seriously. Please now get in the back of the truck and remain quiet until we come for you.”

“How long will it take?”

“If there are no detours or stops then we will be there by nightfall.”

A journey that had taken the four of them days was now just a few hours ride in the back of a dirty old grain truck.

“We could have done with one of these on the way here.”

“Yes it would have been better if John had commandeered a vehicle as we discussed. It was foolish of him to veer from our plan.”

Maddie did not like Jerome criticizing John.

“You were not there and John did the best that he could to get us here.”

Although Jerome did not agree he did not want to argue either.

“You are right I was not there and I should not second guess John’s decisions.”

Maddie knew that she was being placated.

“In the circumstances you would have done as John and used your initiative to get us here anyway that you could.”

That was true enough thought Jerome but he still could not see the necessity for going on foot.

“I have no wish to argue with you Maddison I have already said that John was right to do as he thought best. Now please we need to be on our way.”

Maddie was not really satisfied with Jerome but then she was beginning to think that she would never really be comfortable around him.

“I am getting in just don’t forget I am back here.”

The inside of the back of the truck was far from comfortable and Maddie hated that she could not see anything for the lack of windows.

If not for the sounds and bumps on the road the journey would have been even more tedious for her but it was the not seeing that was really difficult for Maddie.

Once her eyes adjusted to the dark of the truck Maddie saw old grain bags and what looked like farming tools scattered on the floor.

It struck her hard that this could have been the same truck travelling down a country road in Kent on its daily business but instead they were driving down roads that could be filled with treacherous Cads out to do them damage.

“We are close Maddison, we are going to leave the truck here and continue on foot.”

Maddie climbed out of the truck and began to stretch her aching legs.

“Do you recognise where you are?”

It was Tariq who wanted to know if Maddie knew where they were.

“Not really Tariq, I am a City girl and all of the countryside looks pretty much the same to me.”

It was an honest answer from Maddie but she soon regretted answering Tariq so openly.

“You expect us to follow someone who does not even know where she has been?”

A brief hard look from Jerome silenced his companion.

“I am sorry Maddison my people have a habit of saying what is on their mind.”

“Just follow the map that I gave you and we will find Dylan and as for Tariq his opinion means nothing to me.”

Maddie said this loudly making sure that Tariq heard her.

“I think silence is now in order.”

The three walked for a further twenty minutes before Jerome broke the silence he had requested.

“This is it as far as I can tell this is where you set off from.”

“Then we wait, Dylan will discover us soon enough.”

Maddie was right it was only another hour or so before Dylan’s inevitable arrival.

“You seem to have brought some friends and lost some comrades Maddie.”

Dylan somehow looked diminished without the Impressive Lysette by his side thought Maddie.

“They have John and Lissa.”

Dylan’s face set in stone as he looked at Maddie.

“You three will come with us and you Maddie will tell me everything that has happened on the way to camp.”

Chapter 14

 

Maddie told Dylan what happened when they arrived at the first check-point and waited for his response.

“You left Lissa and John to be taken by the 1st?”

“There was nothing else to be done if I had stayed then they would have us all and there would be no-one to take care of Lana.”

“From what you have said Lana is most likely dead anyway and I would rather they had you than Lissa.”

“Did you not hear me when I said we were betrayed? They knew we were coming.”

“Stop talking now I need to think.”

Dylan heard Maddie alright and difficult as it was to hear it was more difficult to think that Patrice would betray him like this.

“There is nothing to think about we need to get them back and quickly.”

The outsider was talking nonsense there was no getting anyone back once they had been taken.

“How do you suggest we do that Maddie? Should we storm the Capital with our ragtag army of Imps?”

What was wrong with these people that they were ready to give up on the ones they loved so easily?”

“Yes Dylan if that is what it takes we do exactly that.”

Jerome was listening intently to the conversation between Dylan and Maddie.

“Who is it that betrayed you Dylan?”

“That is yet to be established and when I find out you will be informed.”

Jerome had the feeling that Dylan already knew who it was.

“If it is someone inside your camp then you need to deal with it as soon as possible.”

Dylan was not about to take orders from a complete stranger and was in no mood to be diplomatic.

“They were in your territory when they were captured and it seems to me that you did nothing to protect them or warn them so I will not be lectured by you on the security of my camp.”

Jerome was not a man to give up easily when he had a point to make.

“The only people that knew John was bringing Maddie back to us were you and others in your camp or am I mistaken?”

“We will discuss this when we are back and not before.”

Maddie immediately thought of Dylan’s contact in the Capital when Jerome asked this question.

“Dylan it may not be the right time to ask but could it be that when you contacted the city you gave away our plans?”

There it was she had asked the question that Dylan had been asking himself and the only answer that made sense was yes.

“As far as I am concerned Maddie you and John lost Lissa. That is all that I care about right now so do not speak to me and that goes for your friends too.”

The silence on the way back to Dylan’s camp was awkward bordering on the unbearable but Maddie was determined she would not be the one to break it.

“Maddie and you come with me to my hut.”

Jerome followed Maddie into Dylan’s large residence.

“I have a contact in the city as you know Maddie and I have thought about what you have said. Yes you are right I think that he may have been the one to inform on us.”

Jerome jumped in straight away with both feet.

“Does this man know of your position here and the strength of your numbers?”

“I am sorry Dylan I know it must hurt that someone you trust has done this to you but if we are to rescue Lissa and John we need to know.”

Dylan looked at the sympathetic Maddie and troubled Jerome before making the decision to call Patrice.

“As you have probably guessed Maddie I am in possession of a Sat-Phone which was given to me by my contact. I will use it now to try and find out where they are and if there is anything to be done.”

Anything to be done what was he talking about? There was only one thing to be done and that was to get them back thought Maddie.”

“Patrice.”

“Hello Dylan my boy it is good to hear from you it has been a long time.”

It was the unmistakeable voice of the First Minister Jarod Holt, the voice that had terrified Dylan as a child.

“Hello Father, where is Patrice?”

“He is bringing some rebel Imps back to the capital at the moment, I am sure that I can get him to call you back when he returns.”

Dylan knew that his Father was playing with him.

“How long have you known that I have been talking to Patrice?”

“Why my boy how disappointing that you have not realised it was me that gave Patrice the Sat-Phone that you are now speaking to me on. Did you really think that he had the wit or resource to find one on his own? On second thoughts please do not answer that question I am already disappointed in you enough.”

“What is it that you want from me?”

Maddie and Jerome could only hear one side of the conversation and were finding it very frustrating.

“Do you know who he is talking to?”

Jerome shook his head and continued to listen.

“I want the girl Patrice seemed to think she was with you and for once I think he was right. I suggest a swap Lysette for the girl.”

“Wait I will get back to you.”

Dylan ended the call and looked to Jerome and Maddie.

“They want you Maddie and they are willing to swap you for Lissa.”

Jerome knew full well that Dylan was talking to Jarod Holt; he had known all along that they were father and son as had John.

“You called him father; does your father have influence with the State?”

“It does not matter who I was talking to what matters is that nothing he says can be trusted.”

“I will gladly give myself up for Lissa and John.”

“And I would give you up in a heartbeat if I thought for one second that my father would keep to such a bargain. The truth is he would have you both and I am even tempted to let him have you for leaving Lissa behind as you did.”

“Without Maddison you have no chance of getting them back.”

Dylan looked quizzically at Jerome before asking what the hell he meant.

“I mean that Maddison can help to change things here for all of us and you can be a part of that change.”

Maddie remembered what Lissa said about Dylan not wanting anything to change.

“You are a fool that sounds like John and look where that has got him, are you the one that filled his head with such dangerous thinking?”

“Yes I spent many months with John and like me he could see the injustice here in Velaria but it was only when the stories of Maddison reached us that John put up the idea to use her as a symbol for change.”

More crazy talk thought Dylan.

“You are not going to change anything here all that will happen is Imps will suffer.”

“Dylan you know that they are already suffering you were the one that showed me how much.”

“I cannot bear to look at you Maddie if not for you Lissa would still be here.”

Maddie put her hand on Dylan’s shoulder as he turned his back to her.

“We need to go and get them Dylan. If Jerome is right and the Imps will follow me we can march into the Capital together.”

Jerome was not ready for this kind of madness.

“Yes Maddison we can get the rest of my people behind you but first we must let them know of your bravery and then make our stand.”

Maddie could see Jerome backing away from her and could only think that he was still thinking protest not revolution.

“We need to do something big to bring the Imps together, something to show that we can make a difference.”

Dylan looked intrigued.

“What did you have in mind Maddie? Like I said storming the capital is not a sane idea.”

Lana was in total fear of Juvinescence as were most of the other Imps what if we were to take the reason for that fear away thought Maddie.

“Juvi we release all of the Imps from Juvi, once we have them all out we march to the Capital picking up Imps from every town and village on the way.”

Now both Dylan and Jerome were looking at Maddie as if she were crazy, it reminded her of how Lana had looked at her when they first met.

“You want change Jerome and you want Lissa back Dylan well I have just given you both a way to get what you want.”

“How do we free the prisoners from Juvi? It is a fortified city.”

“Find Jinn for me he escaped from there and if he can get out then he can get us in.”

Dylan looked sceptical.

“A skinny twelve year old tells stories of escaping from Juvi and you believe him, you really are crazy.”

Maddie turned and left Dylan with Jerome.

“JINN I AM LOOKING FOR JINN, I NEED TO SEE JINN NOW. IF YOU KNOW THE BOY JINN I NEED TO FIND HIM, JINN, JINN.”

Maddie was shouting at the top of her voice and had no intention of stopping until she uncovered the whereabouts of Jinn.

“You will awaken the whole camp.”

“That is right Dylan I will awaken the whole camp and once they are awake I will find Jinn.”

“He is here what do you want with him? It is late and we need to sleep.”

It was George who had found the boy.

“Thank you George now stay and all of you others should listen to what I have to say to.”

Maddie looked at a confused Jinn before continuing.

“This boy has been inside Juvi and he escaped he is going to show us how to get inside and we are going to release all of the Imps inside.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, I have never set foot inside Juvi everyone knows once you go in you never come out.”

Maddie was not surprised at Jinn’s reaction to her plan.

“Jinn and the rest of you should know that Lana is lying unconscious due to saving me from a Cad who would certainly have cut me down with his Lektro if not for her bravery. Lissa and John are on their way to the Capital as I speak, you should also know that this camp has been betrayed by a so-called friend in the city. Jinn you told Lana that you were in Juvi and I believe that to be true even if she did not believe you I do.”

Dylan watched as Maddie spoke to his people and though he thought her plan insane could not help but admire the conviction she conveyed to them.

“It is true we have been betrayed and we have to move from here but that does not mean that we have to give up the freedom that we have. Tomorrow morning we will make ready to leave so you all need to get as much sleep as you can. Jinn you come with Maddie and me for the time being.”

“Dylan speaks of freedom but here you have built your freedom on an ocean of ignorance and soon enough the crushing waves of authority from the State will drown you all.”

After Maddie’s sobering words the crowd dispersed leaving Jerome, Dylan and Jinn alone with her.

“Come back into my hut you three.”

“Look Dylan I don’t know anything about Juvi and I think that I should get to sleep with the others if we are leaving.”

“I know you are scared Jinn but we need your help and I know that Lana would expect you to show courage right now.”

Maddie did not like lying to the boy but she thought it the only way to elicit his co-operation.

“Lana doesn’t like me very much; she says that I smell funny.”

“You don’t know much about women do you boy the very fact that Lana says you smell when you clearly don’t says that she likes you.”

“Yes my boy Dylan is right after all you cannot expect logic from the female brain now can you.”

No sexism here my foot thought Maddie that last remark by Jerome could have come from home.

“It is not as if I expect you to lead us into Juvi all I want is for you to show us how you escaped.”

With the three of them working on him Jinn eventually admitted that he had been a prisoner at Juvi.

“It is a terrible place I never want to go back there and you should keep away from there to.”

After his admission it was relatively easy to extract the information that they needed from the boy.

“You should go back to your hut Jinn.”

Jinn was relieved to be getting out of there but had to ask a question of his own before leaving.

“Is Lana going to be alright?”

Maddie could see how concerned the boy was and tried to be gentle with him.

“I don’t know for sure Jinn but I do know that Lana has courage and determination, I may not have known her for long but I have seen the strength of her spirit and I cannot believe for a moment that she will not come back from this.”

All that Jinn heard was the words before the word but in Maddie’s sentence anything after these were lost as he thought about never seeing Lana again.

“Now that the boy is gone and you know how to get into Juvinescence you can tell me how this gets Lissa back?”

Dylan like Maddie only really had one objective on his mind and that was getting back the one person in the world that he cared about.

“You and I Dylan will go to Juvi to release all of the prisoners that are there. Once we have achieved this we will meet up with Jerome who will bring as many Imps as he can with him. Your people will disperse tomorrow and make their way to Jerome’s village and he will find a way to accommodate them.”

Dylan was not convinced of Maddie’s plan and Jerome looked decidedly sceptical.

“You and me just you and me against armed State police are going to get into Juvi and then get everyone out. Once again I ask how we pull off this miracle?”

Maddie was beginning to lose patience with the two men’s attitude.

“We have a way in and once we are inside we will figure a way to release them. If you do not intend to help me then please don’t keep putting up obstacles and just get out of my way. Lissa would have had the courage and the will to do anything to get you back Dylan.”

Dylan was not Impressed by Maddie’s words or moved by their passion.

“I will go with you Maddie but remember I hold you responsible for Lissa’s capture and if anything should happen to her then I will not forgive you.”

The threat to Maddie was very real and she knew that if Lissa was not returned to Dylan her life would be in danger from him.

“I will take Tariq and the truck back with me tonight and make preparations to get the word out. As soon as you have released the prisoners start your march towards the Capital Maddison and we will join you at an appropriate time.”

Maddie knew that Jerome would only join them if they were successful and that was alright by her.

“The appropriate time is now Jerome and you should start to gather your people as soon as you return.”

Jerome thought the whole plan was doomed to failure but he also knew that he would never have Maddie’s as an ally so long as John was a prisoner of the Cads.

“Is there any way that you can stall your father Dylan?”

“My father is not a fool and he knows that I would never trust him to keep his word so I don’t believe that he will hold off coming for us because of anything that I say to him.”

Maddie still thought that it a good idea to try.

“We have nothing to lose here Dylan and even if there is a chance that we can gain some time then I think you should try.”

Dylan retrieved his Sat-Phone and made the call.

“Father.”

“Yes Dylan it was rather rude of you to disappear like that.”

“When did you have in mind for the trade?”

“Dylan we both know that you have no intention of trading the girl for Lissa so please do not take me for a fool, it is not Patrice you are dealing with now.”

“What are your plans for Lissa?”

“I intend to have her publicly flogged then thrown into Juvi as I am sure you suspected.”

“If you touch her I will come for you and end you.”

“Such passion my boy and for a fellow Cadet, you are to be admired.”

The strong deep voice of his father was beginning to irritate Dylan.

“You may think that you have all the power there but it only takes one lone assassin to take it from you.”

“Is that what you have become Dylan an assassin that sneaks in through windows to ply his filthy trade?”

“You would do well to heed my words father harm Lissa and you will regret it.”

“It is good to hear that you have finally found the strength to stand-up to me my boy but it will do you no good my men are on their way.”

The Sat-Phone went dead in Dylan’s hand.

“There is no time my father has sent his men and I believe they will be here before morning.”

Jerome was the first to find his feet.

“You two warn the others then disappear, I will find Tariq and leave immediately.”

Maddie and Dylan went from hut to hut quietly waking everyone in the camp.

“Jinn you need to gather your belongings and leave now.”

“I will come with you Maddie I want to show you how to get into Juvi myself.”

The gesture was not necessary thought Maddie but she could see how much the boy wanted to be of use.

“Get your things ready and meet me at Dylan’s hut.”

It took half the night but Dylan and Maddie finally got around the whole camp.

“We need to leave now and it is going to be difficult to navigate our way in the dark so just follow me.”

Jinn disagreed with Dylan and then looked down to the ground.

“You should both follow me I know these woods better than anyone and I can take you out of here with my eyes closed.”

Dylan looked unsure but Maddie wanted to trust the eager boy.

“We will follow you Jinn but if you are uncertain at any time just say so.”

Jinn smiled at Maddie for the first time that night and she noticed how rotten his teeth were.

“I can get us out of here don’t you worry ‘bout that.”

The brush that Jinn was taking them through was thick and the night pitch black but this did not seem to slow his pace as he pushed on ahead of them.

“You think he knows where he is taking us?”

Maddie nodded to Dylan positively though she did not feel that positive on the inside.

“It is getting light Jinn and we are still in the thick of it.”

“I know but this is the quickest way through and we are nearly through now.”

Dylan and Maddie followed the boy for another hour before getting through the brush and felt exhausted by their efforts.

“Well done Jinn we are well away from the camp now and no-one would be able to follow our path through all of that.”

Jinn soaked up the praise and went fishing for more.

“Thanks but that is nothing you wait until I get you to Juvi then you will see how useful I can be.”

“I am sure of that it was wise of Maddie to think to bring you along.”

Jinn looked at Maddie as if waiting for her to say something.

“It was not my idea Jinn volunteered to come with us and I am glad that he did.”

The look of pleasure on the boy’s face told Maddie that he did not receive compliments ever.

“I know the way to Juvi from here Jinn but we will have need of you when we get closer.”

The boy’s time in the spotlight was over for now and the disappointment showed on his face.”

“I can’t wait to tell Lana of how you helped to free the prisoners from Juvi and how you got us away in the dead of night from the camp.”

Maddie was laying it on a little thick thought Dylan but he could see that the boy thrived on her recognition of his deeds.

“Come on you two we need to move if we are to get to our destination.”

Maddie really wanted to ask Dylan how far Juvi was but did not feel that he wanted to talk to her.

“When we get there I will go in alone there is no need for you two to put yourself in danger.”

Maddie’s words were met with silence.

“Do you think that you can find the way in for me Jinn?”

“Yes it is not difficult for one person to slip in or out of Juvi especially if you are young enough.”

“Do you mean small enough jinn? As you can see I am not exactly small.”

“No I mean they do not shoot at children if they see one of the older’s getting through they shoot them but the guards don’t like to shoot kids.”

Dylan was beginning to question that Jinn had even been in Juvi.

“That makes no sense are you sure that you were ever in there? I mean you are only twelve and they don’t put you in there until you are eightteen.”

“There are loads of kids in there my age and younger, I was put there when I was ten and the Academy didn’t want me they said there was nowhere else for me to go.”

Dylan did not look as though he believed the boy but said nothing further on the matter.

“Jinn did you see many other kids escape?”

“Not too many most of us were too scared to try I only did it because I was starving and I could not fight the bigger kids for food.”

“Did they see you leave Jinn?”

“I am not sure but the guards have spotlights and they sweep the place every night so it is not easy to get out without being seen. I just made a run for it when the light was not on me and never looked back.”

Maddie was being genuine when she said.

“That was very brave of you Jinn.”

Chapter 15

 

The Journey to Juvinescence was an uncomfortable one for Maddie she felt Dylan’s eyes burning into her the whole time and with his virtual silence. Maddie could sense the accusations from him in the very air.

Travelling mostly by night and keeping to the back routes they made good time and not once were they challenged on their Journey.

“You have got it bad haven’t you?”

It was the first time Dylan had spoken to Maddie for quite some time and his tone was not exactly pleasant.

“I don’t know what you mean by that.”

“Your urgent need to rescue John it can only come from the heart.”

Maddie was not about to admit how she felt to someone who had threatened her life.

“I think this is the best way to get both Lissa and John back, if you have a better idea then I would love to hear it.”

“You don’t have to hide your desire for John from me Maddie after all I am only here for Lissa; the difference is I am willing to admit to it.”

Maddie knew Dylan was telling the truth about his own motives but she was not really sure of her own.

“Yes I want to help John but there are other reasons for what we are doing.”

“You are lying to yourself or perhaps just lying to me if John had not been here then you would be on your way home by now. As for having a better idea than going into Juvi I could hardly have a worse one.”

“If it is such a bad idea what are you doing here?”

“Lissa will end up here anyway and I could wait until then to get her out but that could be six months from now, I cannot be without her for that long.”

“What will they do with John?”

A dark smile formed around Dylan’s face.

“They will question him Maddie, first my father will be pleasant but if he doesn’t get the answers he wants it will get much more uncomfortable for John.”

The idea that John might be tortured by these people made Maddie physically sick.

“And this amuses you how?”

“They are going to flog Lissa why should John not feel some pain also? It is his idiocy that has brought us all too where we are now.”

Maddie could see that Dylan was blaming all of his present woes on John and her.

“Yes it has nothing to do with your acceptance of how things are here and your failure to persuade Lissa to stay with you.”

“Be careful Maddie I am not far from turning around and bringing you back to the Capital on your knees.”

“You could try but I would not recommend it Cad.”

If not for Jinn returning from his watch there may have been a lot more than just threats exchanged that night.

“It is quiet out there and I could use some sleep.”

“Good job Jinn I will take the next turn, the company here is not to my taste anyway.”

Maddie needed to put some distance between herself and Dylan or she might just strangle him as he slept.

One thing was true though and that was that in her urgency to rescue John Maddie had given little thought to anything else. Was Dylan right, was John the only reason that she stayed in this crazy place?

The more Maddie thought of John the more she wanted him by her side and she began to realise the ache she felt deep inside was for his touch. It was nuts how could she be feeling this way for a boy that not too long ago she despised?

John was not a boy thought Maddie just as Dylan and even Jinn were not boys they had never been given the chance to be children. In all of her time at home Maddie had only ever met boys that thought only of themselves but here you had to grow up quickly and forgo any foolish boyhood traits.

John had certainly grown up here and become a man, a man that she wanted desperately to have close to her. It was unthinkable to her that he was in danger and maybe the subject of torture by these bastard Cads.

“Wake up you pig and tell me when we will arrive at Juvi and the next time you smile when you talk of John being tortured I will knock your stupid head off.”

Although shocked at his rude awakening Dylan managed a half-smile.

“It is my turn to take the watch?”

Dylan was being as irritating as hell as far as Maddie was concerned.

“Get up off your arse and tell me when we will arrive or I swear I will make sure that you never get up again.”

Dylan rubbed the sleep from his eyes and half raised himself from the hard ground.

“One more day and night then we will be there now get out of my face or you will be the one on the ground.”

Dylan got to his feet and pushed past Maddie to take up his watch.

“You should be careful Maddie he was with the 1st and they know how to fight.”

“Thanks for the warning Jinn, now get back to sleep and I am sorry if I woke you.”

Jinn was right thought Maddie if Dylan wanted to he could certainly beat her in a straight fight.

“The 1st are known for their cruelty and they have never been beaten by anyone outside of the Academies.”

Maddie could see where they had gotten their reputation for cruelty both Lissa and Dylan were arrogant with what she could now see was a streak of ruthlessness about them.

“Go back to sleep Jinn and you don’t need to worry about me I can take care of myself.”

It was early evening when they reached Juvinescence and Maddie was shocked at the sheer size of the place.”

“It is huge no wonder they cannot guard all of the exits properly.”

“I can show you the way to get in Maddie but I think that I should go with you.”

A shake of Maddie’s head told the young boy that she thought this a bad idea.

“I spent almost two years in there and I know all of the safe places inside, you will need me to show you around.”

Dylan who had been quiet since Maddie called him out chose this moment to speak up.

“Jinn is right we will need him once we are inside.”

Maddie was surprised that Dylan had included himself.

“So you want to come inside with me, why?”

“Lissa would never look at me the same way again if she heard that I skulked around outside while you went bravely in there to rescue the prisoners.”

Maddie knew Dylan was right Lissa would have considered this weak and she could never forgive that of Dylan.

“It is best to go in when it is dark so we should wait for a few hours then I will lead you in.”

Maddie saw once again how courageous you needed to be to survive in this world and felt pride in standing beside Jinn as he said this.

“I know this is not easy Jinn and I want to thank you for having the courage to come this far with us. Me and Dylan can take it from here just point us in the right direction.”

Maddie could not stand the thought of losing someone else and did not want Jinn in danger.

“Don’t be a fool Jinn is coming with us and that is that, without him we have no chance in there so just face it.”

Jinn looked up at Maddie with determined eyes that showed no fear.

“It is ok Maddie I know that as long as I am with you nothing bad will happen.”

His blind faith put Maddie to shame and she gave in.

“Fine we will all go just remember that we stick together in there.”

The next few hours seemed to last forever and were spent in virtual silence.

“It is time.”

Dylan’s voice brought Maddie back from her thoughts which were all of John.

“I will take the lead you two follow me.”

Jinn crouched down as they reached the outer limits of Juvinescence and waited as the spotlights waved back and forth.

“There you see where they intersect there is a blind spot, that is where we enter.”

Maddie was not at all sure this was a blind spot.

“Are you sure Jinn it looks just like anywhere else around the place?”

“He is right if we time it correctly we can make it but we have to go in separately.”

Dylan’s confidence in Jinn made up Maddie’s mind for her.

“Ok seeing as you are so sure I will go first and you two are to follow just tell me when to run for it.”

Dylan and Jinn nodded in agreement and waited for the first opening.

“Go Maddie go.”

Maddie ran as fast as she could and stopped only when she had reached the spot that Jinn had described to her.

“Jinn go.”

A few minutes later Jinn appeared by her side and they were waiting for Dylan.

“He is taking longer than he should.”

“Shssh Jinn he will be here soon.

And to Maddie’s great relief Dylan arrived shortly afterwards.

“Where next?”

“There is a small unoccupied building not far from here; I used to bed down there at night.”

The place was eerily quiet as they made their way to Jinn’s old sleeping haunt.

“Is it always this quiet at night here?”

“It is not safe to be out after dark so nobody should be around we just have to make sure that we are not seen by the Five/Sevens.”

It was slow going as Jinn seemed to stop at every corner to wait and make sure their path was clear.

“Is this caution really necessary Jinn I can’t see anyone around.”

Immediately Maddie said this Jinn faded into the shadow of the wall next to them and gestured his companions to do the same.

“What is it?”

There was no need for Jinn to answer Dylan as he soon saw what was holding them up.

“Who are they Jinn?”

“Devs they are the only others that come out at night everyone else is afraid of the 5/7s.”

They waited for the Devs to pass and only then did Jinn move.

“We are nearly there just a few more streets to go.”

It had taken them over an hour to travel through the city to their destination and the strain had taken its toll on the three of them.

“Check the building is empty then we need to get some rest.”

Maddie was getting tired of Dylan’s take charge attitude.

“You check the bloody building I am getting some sleep now.”

She was being childish and she knew that Dylan was right but to hell with him.

“Some leader you will make you have no idea of basic security and you lack the discipline to take orders.”

“I may not be good with orders but as a leader I sure know how to give them so you check this place out while Jinn and I rest.”

The irritation she was causing Dylan was etched into his face and Maddie took great delight in his discomfort.

“You are not in command of anything Maddie and from what I saw of Jerome you never will be he is a born politician and an expert at using people like you.”

Strange thought Maddie that Dylan and she would have the same opinion of Jerome.

“Jinn you take us around the place and we will all check that it is safe before we bed down for the night. I will take the first watch and you can get some much needed beauty sleep Dylan, has anyone ever told you that you are grouchy when you are tired?”

Dylan had been told that often by Lissa but he did not want to think about that right now.

“We should check the back of the building first, sometimes there are strays that find this place and settle there for the night.”

It turned out that the building was empty and the three settled in for the night with Maddie taking the first watch and Dylan the last one.

“You should have woken me Dylan.”

“There is nothing going on here right now and I needed time alone away from you.”

Dylan was still holding a grudge against Maddie for leaving Lissa.

“I am sorry for the way things have turned out Dylan but I will do anything that I can to put it right.”

A shrug of Dylan’s shoulders was the only response Maddie received.

“You have to understand that I had no choice but to leave Lissa and John behind.”

“I don’t give a damn about John and if not for you Lissa would not be where she is now. Don’t forget that I hold you totally responsible for her capture and that if anything happens to her I will have no choice as you put it but to put you down.”

“I am hungry if we make our way to the Forum there might be food there.”

Maddie and Dylan looked at Jinn and asked in unison.

“What is the Forum?”

“It is a meeting place where you can speak and air your beliefs it is mostly used by the Devs.”

“Where is it Jinn, is it far?”

“It is in the city centre and we should make it by mid-day.”

The outer limits of Juvi seemed mostly deserted and the trio made it to the city centre without incident.

“What makes you think there will be food at this Forum Jinn?”

Maddie was curious to know more of how Juvi operated.

“If supplies are high then the Devs sometimes distribute food to those who will listen to their ideas.”

“Can anyone get up and speak at the Forum?”

“Yes Dylan you are free to speak and say whatever you want but the 5/7s will most probably be there to shout you down and mock you for getting up to speak.”

“That is your chance Maddie you have to get up and make a speech, make your presence known. You need to get the attention of those in charge of this place.”

Great thought Maddie, a speech in front of god knows how many people and with no idea of what she needed to say.

“You sure you don’t want to do the honours Dylan? I have heard you speak and when you do people stop to listen.”

Dylan was not quite sure why Maddie was hesitating.

“You are the one that wants to change my world and you are the one that had the idea to come here. If you don’t have the courage to stand up for what you believe in then how can you expect anyone to follow you?”

Damn the man thought Maddie, once again he was right and she knew that it was the only way.

“Just don’t listen to the 5/7s Maddie they can say some pretty rotten things to those that speak.”

Jinn was just trying to help but his reassurance was just making Maddie more nervous.

“I will be fine Jinn just get us there and I will think of something to say.”

When they arrived at the Forum Maddie could barely hear the speaker over the jeering and felt sick about having to perform the task before her.

“I think they are giving food out over there I will see if I can get some for us.”

Jinn was off, leaving Maddie alone with an unhelpful Dylan.”

“Just get up there and get the attention of those that matter in here.”

Dylan was beginning to sound like Lissa thought Maddie.

“Everyone matters in here and that is part of why we are here to show the State that everyone matters.”

The only one that truly mattered to Dylan was Lysette but he did not feel the need to burden Maddie with this knowledge at this time.

“Tell them they matter not me.”

The present speaker seemed to be winding down until he found a second wind giving Maddie a chance to look around at his audience.

“Those over there the ones that are making most of the noise they must be the 5/7s.”

“Yes Maddie I guess it is the ink they are displaying that gives them away.”

Maddie did not appreciate Dylan’s sarcasm much but he was right they all had 5/7 tattooed on various parts of their bodies, arms, neck, cheek, and some on their knuckles.”

“You know you can be a real arse sometimes Dylan?”

Dylan chose to ignore this remark as Maddie continued to survey the crowd.

“Who do you think they are over there?”

Dylan looked at where Maddie was pointing to a group of old men.

“It can only be the old Tarians they were thrown in here a time after the State took control.”

“What was there crime?”

“They opposed the State and so were deemed a threat and all threats to the State have to be dealt with.”

Maddie now had a sense of those she would be speaking to and though she still had no idea of what to say she knew it had to be done.

“I think he is finishing.”

“Thanks Dylan I never would have seen that for myself.”

The present speaker stepped down disappearing into the waiting crowd of Devs amid a mixture of applause and jeers.

“Is there any other that wishes to be heard?”

Maddie made her way through the crowd at hearing this question.

“I would like to speak.”

“And who are you and who do you speak for?”

Remembering Jerome’s plan Maddie gave her name.

“I am Maddison I speak for all of the people here and I speak to all of the people here.”

“You may speak Maddison.”

Standing there before the waiting crowd Maddie could not think of a thing that she had to say. It was only a moment before the jeering started and the anger welled up in Maddie.

“I am Maddison, I do not come from this place and from what I have seen of your country so far I wish that I had never set foot in it.”

Maddie’s opening shot seemed to quieten her audience, even the 5/7s seemed to be listening.

“You treat the fact that you have been cast out by your own society with a casual acceptance that is beyond my understanding, you embrace the name Imp as if you are proud to be called Imperfect and treated as second class citizens, no scratch that you are treated as non-citizens. You have no rights in your own country; you are thrown into a prison city without trial and the worst of it is you seem not to have the will to fight back.”

As Maddie paused for breath the jeering from the 5/7s became louder than ever and she thought there was no way that she could be heard over them.

“THAT IS IT JEER AND SHOUT BUT DO NOTHING, DON’T MAKE A STAND, DON’T FIGHT BACK, DON’T UNITE AGAINST A COMMON ENEMY, DON’T LISTEN JUST JEER AND SHOUT. MY NAME IS MADDISON AND I HAVE COME HERE TO FREE YOU FROM THIS PLACE ALL I NEED FROM YOU IS FOR YOU TO SHOW ME THAT YOU HAVE THE COURAGE AND WILL TO COME WITH ME.”

Maddie had lost her audience and she knew it.

“They could not even bother to jeer towards the end.”

Dylan had been listening and watching very carefully.

“You were focussing on the 5/7s if you had been paying attention to the less vocal part of your audience you might have noticed they were actually listening to you.”

“What now?”

Dylan had no more idea of what to do next than Maddie.

“I guess we wait here and hope that you made enough of a stir to get the leaders of this places attention.”

“You got their attention alright Maddie.”

Jinn handed Maddie some food that he had scrounged up.

“After you had finished the Devs gave me this food and asked me who you were.”

“What do you think that means?”

A blank look from Dylan told Maddie that he did not know.

“It means that Jasmine is coming I am sure of it.”

“Who is Jasmine Jinn?”

“She is the leader of the Devs and I know that after your speech she will want to meet you.”

It seemed to Maddie that Jinn had been holding out on them.

“You have never mentioned Jasmine before.”

“That is because I never really thought we would get to see her, I have only heard of her and she is never seen in public.”

“And yet you think she will come to see me?”

“From the way the Devs were talking I think she will most definitely want to see you.”

There were a few more speakers that day one more from the Devs and an old man that they believed to be an old Tarian who spoke of free speech and liberty.

“It looks like they are finished for the day.”

Jinn looked at Dylan and agreed.

“Yes it is around this time they break it up.”

“There is still no sign of your Jasmine.”

Jinn looked a little disappointed at being mistaken.

“I am sorry Maddie I felt sure that she would come, we should go too it is not safe to be on the streets at night and we need to find shelter.”

Dylan looked angrily at them both and let loose.

“It seems that you have wasted my time in bringing us here and what for? Did you really think you could persuade a bunch of Imps to think for themselves and follow you out of here?”

This could be it thought Maddie; this could be the moment when she would have to fight Dylan for her very life.

“It is not over yet Dylan we can try and find Jasmine tomorrow and she may help us.”

Too vague thought Dylan it was too vague.

“I am going to take you back Maddie and if you try and stop me then I will carry your lifeless body there on my shoulder.”

Scrawny little Jinn squared up to Dylan.

“You are not taking Maddie anywhere and if you try then I will stop you.”

The laughter from Dylan was more from shock than amusement.

“Don’t be a fool Jinn you are no match for me and I have no wish to harm you.”

Maddie could not believe that Jinn was willing to put his life on the line to defend her from Dylan and was not about to let that happen.

“It is ok Jinn there is not going to be any fighting between us, if Dylan thinks it best that I go back with him then I will go willingly.”

Jinn was not happy with this decision and said so as forcefully as he could.

“It is not best to go back it is best to stay here and finish what you started. I heard the Devs talking and you impressed them when you were talking. If you go back then nothing will change and Lana will be lying unconscious for nothing.”

“Jinn everyone is gone and not one of them stayed to talk to us does that not tell you they are not interested.”

“Shut up Dylan you don’t know everything and we may all be just a bunch of Imps to you but to Maddie we are people. That is what will make the difference Maddie sees us as human beings and you see us as weaklings that need to be protected by you.”

Dylan may have been impressed by the boy’s courage but that would not deter him from doing everything in his power to get Lissa back.

“My father is not to be trusted but without another option I will take you back to trade you for Lissa.”

“Jinn it is over we tried and I cannot let Lissa stay where she is while I go free, do you understand?”

It was clear from his face that Jinn did not understand but he stood down anyway.

Chapter 16

 

As they left the Forum Maddie felt the heavy weight of defeat and could only console herself with the fact that soon she would see John again. It would be too cruel to be taken to the Capital and for them not to let her see him one more time at least.

“You are Maddison?”

Maddie turned to face the voice that came from behind her.

“Yes I can see that you are the girl I have been told of.”

Maddie knew straightaway that this was Jasmine and did not need Jinn to confirm it for her.

“Yes I am Maddison and I assume that you are Jasmine.”

A beaming smile escaped from the tall brown skinned woman whom Maddie estimated would be in her late thirties.

“Your assumption is correct young lady and may I say that I am very pleased to see you?”

Maddie could feel the warmth from Jasmine and sensed that she was genuinely pleased to meet her.

“Thank you this is Dylan and Jinn my friends.”

“You did not look too friendly a moment ago Maddison.”

Dylan was looking at the Jasmine’s entourage when he assured her of their friendship.

“Just a minor disagreement, we have come here together to help those of you in here that want to escape.”

Jasmine’s smile diminished as she replied.

“Escape from here is not possible for the majority of us, if it were we would not need the help of three such as you.”

“Jinn spent time here and escaped so it is possible to leave here.”

“Yes Maddison it is possible if you are young and small like Jinn to just walk out of here as the guards do not tend to shoot children. I can assure you however that if I attempted to do the same I would be shot instantly.”

Maddie felt the hopelessness of the situation overwhelm her.

“Then we have come here for nothing and wasted our time and yours.”

“Don’t feel so bad Maddison I am sure that we have much to talk about and I would love to have you as my guests for the night.”

Maddie had no idea what she would talk to this woman about but the invitation was gracious and she was hardly in a position to refuse.

“Thank you we will stay the night but then we must get back to the Capital.”

Dylan did not look happy and was reluctant to waste any more time in Juvi.

“We should leave now there is no point in staying here a minute longer than we have to.”

“Nonsense Dylan you are my guests and one more day cannot possibly make a difference.”

Feeling more like Jasmine’s prisoner than her guest Dylan felt he had no choice but to comply.

“So Jinn you have been here before tell me did you join the Devs or were you a scavenger?”

“I did whatever I had to when I was in here so I listened to the Devs avoided the 5/7s and stole whatever food I could get my hands on.”

“A scavenger then and that is just fine with me when I first got here I too scavenged for food without joining any of the groups in here.”

Maddie was fascinated by the almost beautiful Jasmine and wanted to know more.

“How long have you been in Juvi Jasmine?”

“I have been here for nearly fifteen years now Maddison and all in all I would rather be on a beach in Saint Tropez.”

Jasmine flashed a knowing smile at Maddie after saying this.

“Saint Tropez that sounds a long way from a prison city like this.”

Maddie was trying not to give anything away but could not hide her excitement at finding someone from home.

“It is a place in my head Maddison it is located on the French Riviera and has the most magnificent beaches in the world.”

It was most certainly not just in Jasmine’s head thought Maddie as she thought perhaps she could detect the slightest trace of a French accent.

“Sounds lovely I wish I could go there myself.”

Dylan was listening carefully to Maddie and Jasmine’s conversation but could not find an opening to join in so kept quiet.

“We have beaches here or so I am told but I have never been to one.”

Jinn looked a little sad as he reflected on this.

“This is an island Jinn so yes there are definitely beaches here but I have to admit that I too have never had the privilege of seeing one. Of course that may be because I have spent half of my life in this dung hole.”

Maddie had learned something else about Velaria and wondered if this knowledge would be useful but mostly she wondered how Jasmine had come to this place.

“How did you end up in Juvi Jasmine?”

“Wrong place, wrong time but that is a story for another time Maddison.”

“My name is Maddie it was someone else’s idea to use my full last name to inspire the Imps to follow me.”

“Whoever this was I think it was a good idea and I shall continue to call you Maddison as will everyone else in here.”

“There is no reason to I have failed in here and all we can do is go back to the Capital and hope that the State shows mercy.”

Jasmine stopped and took hold of Maddie by the shoulders.

“You are a fool if you think that the State even knows the meaning of the word mercy and it is too soon for you to admit defeat.”

Jasmine’s anger seemed to subside as quickly as it had appeared.

“I am sorry Maddison but I will not stand idly by and watch you make the same mistakes that I have made.”

“I do not know what else to do all I do know is that I have to help my friend.”

Dylan noted that Maddie had used the term friend and had not included anyone else but John in her stated intention.

“You are wrong Maddison you are here to help everyone not just one person however Important they are too you. If you do not act selflessly when you are here then you too will end up stuck here just like me.”

Maddie knew that Jasmine was right and she would dearly love to help Lissa, the Imps and even the Cads but all she could think of was John sitting alone in some dark cell.

“How Jasmine how do I help all the people I am just one girl?”

Jasmine stopped again and this time the hands on Maddie’s shoulders were altogether more comforting.

“I will help you Maddison tonight you and your friends will stay under my protection. Tomorrow I will arrange a meeting with the 5/7s and the Tarians to formulate a plan to get you out of here.”

Jinn was the first to speak after hearing this.

“We need to find a way to get everyone out and not just us three.”

“I admire your ambition Jinn but everyone may not be possible.”

“Then we stay if we cannot free everyone we stay.”

Maddie could see Jinn’s courage growing all the time and wished she could match his convictions.

“Jinn it may not be possible to get everyone out now but if we listen to Jasmine we may be able to come back for those that are left behind.”

Jinn was not at all happy with this turn of events but kept quiet anyway.

“They’re right Jinn getting everyone out was a little over ambitious and we do have to be realistic.”

All Dylan received for his trouble was a glare from Jinn who was still smarting from their earlier confrontation.

“This is my palace and here you will be treated as my honoured guests until you choose to leave.”

Looking at the dilapidated building/house before her Maddie thought this could not be any further from a palace.

“It is great and we are very grateful for your hospitality.”

Jasmine could see that Maddie was deeply unimpressed by her new accommodations.

“Now Maddison let’s not be snobby about this and I do have electricity and running water of sorts.”

“You have electricity and water, how have you managed that?”

“We are very resourceful here in Juvi Dylan and having your own generator helps.”

All Maddie could think of was having a bath/shower anything to wash away the grime and the dirt from her journey.

“Is it possible that I could have…….”

“Of course my dear you could all do with a good clean-up and there is a bit of an odour coming from you if you don’t mind me saying?”

Jinn looked a little embarrassed as Jasmine mentioned the smell.

“Yes we have not had much of a chance to see to our personal hygiene on the road so I suppose we do whiff a bit.”

It was Dylan who quickly covered for the poor embarrassed boy going someway to getting back into his good graces.

Although the building needed to be knocked down and rebuilt rather than refurbished Jasmine and her followers had made it as comfortable as they could. The added benefit of electricity and water made it the most luxurious of homes that Jinn had been in since he was a young boy.

“We can talk more in the morning Maddison, tonight you need to rest.”

Maddie did not want to wait until the morning to find out more of how Jasmine came to be in Valeria.

“Once I have cleaned up I would like to speak to you, I am not sure that I will be able to sleep with all of the questions I have for you on my mind.”

“Very well Maddison I will talk to you later but I think your friends should rest and besides I am sure they are not interested in our girl talk.”

Dylan was very much interested in what these two strangers had to say to one another and would love to have been invited to sit in on the conversation.

“I take it we will be included in the talks of how to get out of here tomorrow?”

“Of course Dylan we would not dream of doing anything that concerns you behind your back now please go clean-up and rest yourselves.”

Maddie spent much more time in the shower than she first intended but the luxury of having the hot water running over her was irresistible and the time slipped away from her.

“You look far more relaxed my dear did you enjoy your shower?”

“I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a shower that much before in my life it was heavenly.”

A generous smile from Jasmine opened the door to Maddie’s questions.

“You are not from here Jasmine; I am from London where do you come from originally?”

“I am originally from France a small town called Murat.”

A wave of relief swept over Maddie as Jasmine confirmed her suspicions.

“My god then it is true I am not the first to come through?”

“No Maddison you are not the first but you must be the one to succeed in your mission.”

“And what mission is that I don’t even know what I am doing here?”

Jasmine looked Impatient as she answered Maddie.

“Do not lie to me or yourself Maddison you know exactly why you are here and what you must do.”

It was true thought Maddie but why her and how could she achieve what Jasmine had clearly failed to do?

“Even if I thought that I could save these people why me I am nothing special so why choose me to come through here and be their saviour?”

“Those are questions that I do not have the answer to but now that you are here and we have met I intend to give you all the help that I can.”

“What happened to you to get yourself thrown into Juvi and why do you think that I can succeed where you failed?

“I failed because I did not have the courage or belief to succeed it is that simple you need to believe.”

“I have no such beliefs you may believe in some higher power or destiny like the rest of the Devs in here but I don’t.”

“The Devotees believe in many different things the one thing they have in common is the idea that everyone has the right to their own faith. I myself like you have no religious belief but I have come to believe in myself and that is what I am talking about when I say you must have belief, you must have belief in yourself.”

“Does Tumbledown still exist when we are here in Velaria?”

“I have no idea of what Tumbledown is Maddison and that is enough questions for now, it is time to sleep.”

How is it that Jasmine had not heard of Tumbledown, had she found another way here? Maddie had so many more questions that she did not want to leave.

“There is so much more that I don’t understand and you could help me with that.”

“And I will but not tonight you look tired and even if you are not I am.”

It was no use Jasmine was not going to continue talking tonight.”

“Tomorrow we can talk more tomorrow, you promise?”

“Yes Maddison but there is much for us to do in the morning so please get some sleep.

Jasmine escorted Maddie to where Dylan and Jinn were quartered.

“Jinn is asleep, so what did you two talk about?”

Maddie did not want Dylan to know that Jasmine came from her homeland and so told him very little of their conversation.

“Jasmine is going to hold a meeting with the other leaders and we will formulate a plan to leave here together.”

“Is that it? It seemed to me that you had a lot more to talk about.”

“I have only just met her what else would there be to say?”

Dylan was not happy with what he was being told and felt he was being kept in the dark about something but turned over to sleep without another word.

“Maddie, Maddie there is something happening outside.”

It was a very excited Jinn that woke Maddie up.

“Come look out the window there are 5/7s and Tarians all over the place.”

It was a bit of an exaggeration thought Maddie as she looked through the dirty window pane.

“Do you recognise any of them Jinn?”

“Not really but I think Axel must be here or coming otherwise there would not be so many 5/7s gathering outside.”

Dylan was the next one to ask Jinn a question.

“Who is this Axel you are talking about?”

“He is the leader of the 5/7s of course and he doesn’t go anywhere without taking a lot of his men with him.”

A coward thought Dylan who despised a leader that had to surround himself with guards.

“It doesn’t sound like such a man will give his help to us.”

“Maybe not Dylan but if Jinn is right and he is here then it is because Jasmine has summoned him.”

“Then we should be there listening to what they have to say.”

Maddie could not disagree with this.

“We should go downstairs then and see what is happening after all we are not prisoners here.”

Maddie led the three down the flights of stairs to find Jasmine.

“Can you tell me where Jasmine is I need to speak with her?”

Maddie’s enquiry was met with blank stares from two of the Devs that stood before her door.

“Is she through there?”

Dylan attempted to go through the two of them when he received no answer to his question.

“Stop Jasmine is busy and does not wish to be disturbed at this time.”

At least a reaction this time thought Maddie.

“Can you please tell her that Maddison and her friends are outside or I am afraid we will disturb her by kicking the door down?”

Maddie said this as pleasantly as she could in the hope that they would tell Jasmine they were there.

“She is not to be disturbed and that is final.”

A not from Maddie to Dylan and he took action.

“You really should have moved Dylan is not the most patient of people.”

Maddie said this to the two guards as they lay on the floor licking the wounds inflicted by Dylan.

“Me I am the personification of patience now hurry up and let’s get this door open.”

To Maddie’s surprise when she tried the door it was not locked and swung open easily.

“Hello dear I was hoping to let you sleep some more you looked as though you needed it.”

Jasmine was not alone in the room there were others standing around but only one really caught her eye and she knew instinctively this was Axel the leader of the 5/7s.

“You seem to have started without me Jasmine, a little Impolite don’t you think?”

An older man standing some way away from them all as though he wanted to distance him-self from Axel spoke up.

“Hello my name is Randall and I do apologise if we have offended you but it seemed prudent for us to talk first to see if we could come to some accord between ourselves before giving you too much hope.”

An old Tarian thought Dylan and they were as weak as he had heard.

“Any decisions that you make here affect us and we should be part of the decision making process.”

“Dylan is right we need to be involved.”

The man that Maddie had assumed was the leader of the 5/7s approached her and while standing far too close to her for comfort spoke for the first time in her presence.

“You may look a little different than the average Imp but you are still just a girl and the 5/7s want no part of your crazy plan to get shot.”

Maddie stood her ground in front of the man with the 5/7 tattoo on his forehead.

“I have no desire to get anyone shot not even an ape like you.”

“You have spirit girl but that will only get you so far and to make my point I could snap you in half with my bear hands and a bullet can easily tear your flesh apart.”

Axel was even closer now with his breath upon Maddie’s face yet she still would not back away from him.

“I don’t like you much but whatever your crime was you still deserved a trial and a sentence being thrown in here without either of those is wrong. If you are too scared or weak to even try to find a way out then I feel sorry for you.”

Dylan stood ground with Maddie as Axel looked ready to explode on her.

“That is enough Axel you have said your piece and I think it is time for you to leave.”

Axel looked at Jasmine with barely concealed contempt before leaving.

“You will all be killed and that is just fine by me it just means more food for the 5/7s.”

“I am sorry you had to see that Maddison I was hoping that I could persuade the 7s but it was always a long shot. I do however have the Tarians with me and I think our plan to get you out is pretty solid.”

Maddie was feeling pretty put out at being left out of the talks.

“You never should have started without us being here Jasmine.”

“It was unforgiveable Maddison I know but we needed to know if we could count on any help from the 7s and as Jasmine has said it was not very likely. We just did not want to get your hopes up please do not be too upset with us.”

Maddie found it difficult to be angry at the old man he completely disarmed her with his old world charm.

“What kind of plan have you come up with Jasmine?”

“Thank you for asking Dylan it is simple really you are going to walk out of Juvi with all of the children following you.”

Simple thought Maddie but completely crazy.

“When I first arrived they thought I was nuts but what you are proposing is beyond crazy and falls into the realm of insanity plus.”

Jasmine looked amused as she answered.

“Insanity plus that sounds like a lovely place to be and if it is a little insane then so is living your life in a place like Juvi.”

“But it is not your life that you are risking is it Jasmine?”

“I would not ask anyone of my people to do something that I was not prepared to do Dylan and while you are marching to the south perimeter of Juvi I will be marching to the north.”

Maddie was confused and this plan was sounding crazier than ever.

“You need to explain Jasmine as far as I understand they will shoot adults if they attempt to escape but probably will not shoot at children and if that is correct you will be killed.”

“Maddison we have been incarcerated in here for a very long time and I have had many conversations with Jasmine not only do I know where she has come from I also recognise that you are from the same place. Our sacrifice will be worth it if you succeed in your mission as one of the original members of the government whose mistakes gave rise to the State I owe It to the people to do everything that I can to help them.”

Dylan was Impressed at how genuine the old man sounded.

“Dying does not help anyone all it does is show that you were foolish enough to walk into the bullets of the StatePol.”

“Young man I thank you for your concern but you should recognise the value of martyrs in society and if I must die to change the order of things then I am perfectly willing to do so as are all of the Tarians in here.”

Dylan did not really understand but he recognised courage and conviction when he saw it.

“So what are the details of this plan then?”

Jasmine was the one to explain.

“Maddison will take the lead as all of you and the children march south at the same time I will lead those that choose to follow north. We will not stop for anything or anyone if you hear shooting in the south you will not look back you will carry on until you are out of Juvi, do you understand you will not stop or turn back?”

Maddie understood they all understood.

“And if they shoot Maddie or the children?

Jinn asked the question that was on all of their minds.

“Then you carry on if you are still alive you pick yourselves up and you carry on marching. Maddison is Important and she will lead you out of here but if she does not make it you keep going is that clear?”

“It is very clear but if Maddie does die out there as you are surely going to then what good does it do anyone?”

“Dylan can’t you see that it all has to change, it needs an act of courage and defiance to ignite the fires of resistance. Can you think of anything more courageous or more inspiring and even if we are all killed they will never kill the story of how we went up against the State unarmed and unafraid.”

“You maybe unafraid but I am pretty damned terrified.”

It took Jinn to reassure Maddie with his own quiet courage.

“We will be alright Maddie they will not shoot they just won’t.”

“When do you want to do this Jasmine?”

“It will take some organising and I will have to leave you here for today while i get things ready but it will happen tomorrow afternoon if everything goes to plan.”

“Will I get a chance to talk to you this evening or tomorrow morning, there is still so much I would like to know?”

“I hope so Maddison but I cannot make any promises there is a lot to do.”

Once Jasmine had left Dylan spoke as though he knew her secret.

“She belongs in your world Maddie and she is just as crazy as you and John are.”

Maddie automatically came to Jasmine’s defence.

“She may be crazy but she is about to put her life on the line for this world and the people in it. I think she is the bravest person I have ever met.”

“If we go ahead with her plan we will all probably be killed but I find the idea irresistible just like I know that Lissa would. If she were here then she would be up front taking the lead and she would expect no less of me.”

Maddie was surprised that Dylan was so easily persuaded to participate in Jasmine’s plan as she herself wanted nothing more than to run away. If not for John she would have done just that but she was beginning to think that although she was attracted to John and admired his courage. It was more the guilt she felt that was spurring her on, after all if not for her John would be at home with his parents instead of languishing in some dungeon being tortured.

“Jinn I would like to see more of this place would you show me around?”

“Of course Maddie but we will have to be back by dark as it gets dangerous to be out on the streets then.”

Dylan was a little put out that he had not been invited but then he was beginning to feel like the outsider in their little group.

“Fine I will wait here for word from Jasmine.”

Maddie was not listening to Dylan as they left and only really wanted to explore the place to keep her mind occupied. The more she thought of walking out of Juvi ahead of an army of children the more she thought of slipping out of there alone under the cover of night.

“It will be alright Maddie we will get out and Lana will recover I can just feel it.”

Maddie could only raise a half-smile for the boy.

“So show me where you lived while you were here Jinn.”

“I lived in a lot of different places I never felt that safe staying in one place for long.”

Jinn took Maddie to some of the places he had hidden out in to keep away from the 5/7s and treated her to a visit to scavenger’s row.

“This is where all of those that don’t want to join any of the groups in here come.”

“Surely you can only really join the Devs or possibly the Tarians as to be one of the 5/7s you have to have committed a violent crime?”

“No Maddie if you are willing to fight one of them and you win they will let you join but they are tough.”

Interesting thought Maddie not all 5/7s were really violent criminals and if they were like Jasmine not all Devs had religious beliefs.

“Do you know much about the Tarians Jinn?”

“Only that they are mostly old men and have no power in here, it is said that they were once more powerful than the State but I am not sure that I believe that.”

“From what I can see there are a lot like you here that don’t belong to any other group why not band together?”

“The Devs leave them alone but the 7s pick them off one at a time and break up any large group of Scav’s that they think could become a threat to them.”

“It must have been hard surviving here on your own for so long?”

It seemed that Jinn did not want to talk about his time in Juvi.

“We should get back now; there is nothing much more to see anyway.”

It was almost dark by the time they returned to find Dylan in a foul mood.

“You took your time and there has been no word from Jasmine while all this time they have Lissa in their hands.”

At least they are not torturing her thought Maddie.

“Jasmine said it would take some organising and we need to be patient.”

“Patient my ass I think we should just get out of here and take our chances by going back alone.”

Dylan could not have known how tempting that was too Maddie.

“I am going nowhere and if you want to see Lissa free again I think you should stick to the plan.”

Dylan was pacing up and down now.

“You know something about this Jasmine that we don’t isn’t that right Maddie?”

Maddie was not about to give up Jasmine’s secret to Dylan or anyone else for that matter.

“I know that she is risking her life to help us and that is all I need to know.”

“You talk to her Jinn maybe she will tell you the truth.”

“If Maddie trusts Jasmine then so do I and I don’t need to know any more than that.”

It was not fair to keep Jinn in the dark thought Maddie but it just was not her secret to tell.

“I am turning in now and as soon as Jasmine returns you can ask her any questions you like Dylan, goodnight Jinn.”

Maddie knew that she would not sleep but it was becoming too difficult to be around Dylan with his accusations and open distrust of her.

“Goodnight Maddie and don’t worry tomorrow will be a good day.”

Jinn was beginning to remind Maddie of Lana with his eternal optimism and high spirits.

“Maddison come with me.”

It was a mere whisper but that did not stop it from disturbing Dylan.

“Where are you taking her? I think I should come with you.”

Jasmine looked at the boy and dismissed his request.

“This does not concern you Dylan it is between me and Maddison.”

Dylan wanted to argue but could see that Jasmine was not to be swayed.

“If there is anything that you need to know from our talks I will tell you when I get back.”

Maddie was not sure why she said this to Dylan because she was sure that nothing they discussed would concern him at all.

“It is all set Maddison and I have the majority of the prisoners on board even some of the younger 7s will be joining you.”

“So this is really going to happen then?”

“Yes Maddison it has to happen and it has been a long time coming. I arrived here when I was about your age and I should have been the one to change things but that was not to be and it is now down to you.”

Maddie wanted to know more of how Jasmine had arrived in Valeria.

“How was it that you came to be here if you did not come through Tumbledown then how?”

“That is a story for another time Maddison but right now you must have courage I know that it is a lot to ask but if you do not do this I believe that you will become a prisoner of this place just as I did all those years ago.”

Maddie persisted with her questions.

“But I need to know how you arrived here and what it is that makes us so special that we are expected to lead a people that we don’t even know?”

“Maddison even if I knew the answer to your last question it would not make any difference to our situation. You just need to know that if you do not lead these people to victory then you will never find the way home and I do not want that for you.”

Maddie was becoming frustrated with Jasmine’s lack of answers.

“You don’t seem to be telling me anything and yet you expect so much from me. I don’t know that I can do what you ask.”

“Then you should wake your friends and leave now because if you stay I expect you to be at the head of the march to the south perimeter.”

That was all she was going to get from Jasmine thought Maddie.

“You will certainly be killed if you try to walk out of here and then I will have no one here that understands where I came from.”

“If all turns out well then you will be returned home and from what you have told me you have your friend John.”

Yes she would have John if he were even still alive.

“If that is all that you have to say to me then I will see you in the morning.”

A solemn nod from Jasmine signalled their time was over.

“What did she have to say?”

“Everything is set for tomorrow, we walk out of here with the children following us.”

Dylan wanted Maddie to give him more.

“And that is it? If that is all she had to say why did she object to me being there?”

Maddie was not in the mood for questions and just wanted to think about what Jasmine said to her.

“That was it and now I need to sleep so stop talking to me.”

Jinn lay there awake listening to every word but decided there was nothing for him to say.

“Good morning Maddie there is food to be had downstairs we should get down there before it is all taken.”

“Jinn is that all you think of your stomach?”

“If you don’t eat when you can then you might not get another chance so yeah I think about it a lot.”

Jinn was such a skinny kid that Maddie could not see him as a big eater but when he was near food he sure as hell could shovel it down.

“Where is Dylan?”

“He got up a while ago; I think he wanted to talk to Jasmine.”

After Maddie had eaten she went to find Jasmine to see if she could extract any more information from her but found her with Dylan.

“Hello Maddison I hope you slept well last night for we leave in one hour.”

An hour god that was quick thought Maddie.

“An hour are you sure that everyone will be ready by then?”

“Everyone is ready now we are just waiting for the change of guard not that it will make much difference but there may be some advantage in it.”

Maddie was struck by Jasmine’s calm.

“You don’t seem to be too worried considering that you are probably walking to your death.”

Jasmine could not help but let a wry smile show as she answered Maddie.

“Maddison I have died a little each day since I entered Juvi and if I am killed outright today that would be a blessed relief.”

Great thought Maddie she was following the plan of a suicidal maniac.

“Have you even given any consideration to the fact you might live?”

A full on laugh from Jasmine, caught Dylan and Maddie by surprise as she gave her reply.

“Don’t get me wrong Maddison if by some miracle they don’t shoot my sorry ass and I walk out of here a free woman then I will be happy to follow you to the Capital and settle some old scores.”

“Anyone in particular you wish to settle those scores with?”

“The First Minister Judd Holt he is the bastard that had me thrown in here and if I were to meet him again that would please me greatly, Dylan Holt.”

Maddie was shocked to see that Jasmine knew who Dylan was and even more shocked at the strength of her hatred towards his father.

Jasmine could not resist having the last words on the matter.

“Honey with that dress you are set for success.”

Chapter 17

 

Maddie took her up her position and waited for the rest of the children to come as Jasmine said they would.

“It is nearly time and we are the only ones here.”

“They will come and we will wait and if they do not come we will walk out of here on our own.”

“What exactly will that achieve Maddie?”

“It will show them that it can be done and that they should not be afraid.”

“That is if they do not shoot us all.”

Jinn was the first to see them.

“Look there it is the first of them.”

Jinn was right they were coming from everywhere now and settling in behind them.

“My god there is hundreds of them.”

“Yes Maddie this place is huge and when I was in here there were too many to count then.”

By the time they had all lined up behind them they appeared like a small army.

“What now that it is time to leave?”

“You have to lead them out of here Maddie so you should start walking towards the edge of Juvi.”

Dylan was right but for a moment Maddie’s feet refused to move until miraculously she found herself moving off ahead of everyone else.

Please follow she thought to her-self or this would look even more ridiculous than it felt.

Dylan raised both of his hands above his head and started to chant the word Maddison over and over again.

Seeing this Jinn followed suit as they moved on after Maddie and soon the whole crowd were chanting and following Maddie.

Not once did Maddie look back as they chanted her name, Dylan and Jinn took up position beside her with what looked like the whole prison population behind them.

“We have them Maddie now all we need to do is not get shot.”

Maddie could not have agreed more and was about to say as much when they heard the first solitary shot ring out.

“Don’t stop we have to keep moving no matter what.”

Maddie did not hesitate and just kept on walking with Dylan falling slightly behind her.

“There Maddie that is where the guards are posted and they must have seen us before now.”

Jinn was scared but he kept pace with Maddie as he said this.

“We keep on going just ignore them and keep on going.”

The guard on duty that afternoon had seen them coming for quite a while and was waiting for instructions from the Capital as they approached his position.

“Yes sir there are hundreds of them all children and they do not appear to be stopping.”

“This is the First Minister here when they are close enough fire a few warning shots close enough to frighten them.”

The young guard who had once been a State policeman did as he was ordered.

“Maddie those shots were meant as a warning if we do not stop then the next ones may just tear through the crowd.”

Maddie was aware that these shots were not meant to harm them but could not stop thinking of the shots they heard earlier.

“I know they were warnings Dylan but I don’t think that the shots earlier were to warn and if Jasmine and her people can walk into a hail of bullets then we can do no less.”

Dylan thought they could do a lot less like running for cover and not getting themselves slaughtered senselessly.

“They are still coming sir and they seem to be shouting a name.”

Jarod had already had reports of a revolt at the north side of Juvi and had ordered the shooting of those involved but was reluctant to give the same order involving children.

“What is the name they are saying?”

“It sounds like Maddison sir.”

On an Impulse Jarod made his decision, he did not want a bunch of martyred children on his hands.

“Let them through and then make your way to the north of Juvi to make sure that no-one gets out that way.”

It was incredible thought Maddie a few warning shots and that was it they were nearly through.

“I think we are going to make it Jinn.”

Jinn never thought for a moment that they would not make it out and had been chanting the name Maddison louder than anyone else.

“I knew we would Maddison I just knew we would not fail.”

Maddie could not help but notice that he had called her Maddison.

“I am still Maddie you don’t have to call me anything else Jinn.”

“No you are Maddison and everyone here knows it and so will everyone else in Velaria by the time we reach the Capital.”

It was happening thought Maddie they were out and together they would march on the Capital picking up anyone that wished to join them along the way.

“This is just the beginning and although I don’t think my father will set the StatePol on us he will certainly use the Academies to stop us when we reach the Capital.”

“Then we need as many Imps to join us as possible so we must hit as many towns and villages as we can on the way to the City.”

“There are Academies in those towns and villages that may just put up some resistance.”

Maddie was in no mood for Dylan’s negativity.

“Then we will deal with them when we come across them.”

In her relief at being out of Juvi Maddie had not given much thought to the fate of Jasmine and her followers but now that they were all safely out she could think of nothing else.

“Jasmine may well be lying back there dead with most of her people suffering a similar fate so I do not want to hear anything more about how difficult this is going to get.”

Jasmine set off to the north perimeter of Juvi at the same time as Maddie, the distance to the guard’s turret being somewhat shorter she found that her people were in danger that much sooner.

The first bullet took down one of the Devs a few feet away from Jasmine but he was held up by the others as they kept on marching.

“KEEP GOING WE MUST KEEP GOING OR IT IS ALL FOR NOTHING.”

Another shot and if they were not all linked arm in arm another Dev would have fallen.

“WE MUST KEEP FAITH AND WE WILL SUCCEED IF NOT IN THIS LIFE THEN IN TH………?”

Jasmine was cut off as the bullet seared into her cheek and then another went through her chest silencing her forever.

“THIS IS NOT THE END FRIENDS WE HAVE JUST BEGUN A JOURNEY THAT WILL END WITH THE DEATH OF THE STATE.”

These were the last words that Randall spoke as the bullets that killed the old man tore into his ageing flesh.

The bullets just kept coming and as more and more of Jasmine’s people fell, the panic began to set in as those left alive began to run for cover. When the shooting was over there were over fifty bodies left out on the street some wounded but most lay there motionless.

“It is over sir, the crowd has dispersed.”

“Well done son now make sure that that you flush out any more dissenters and punish them.”

Jarod may have failed to stop Maddie from leaving Juvi but he was pleased to know that his guards had been successful in containing the adult population of the prison.

Maddie just wanted to get as far away from Juvi as possible and not think about what may have happened to Jasmine.

“You know your way around pretty good Jinn where do you think we should head for first?”

Dylan jumped in with an answer before Jinn could think.

“Ardil it is an average sized village and then after that we can move on to the town of Kalen.”

Maddie did not feel qualified to argue with Dylan but still wanted Jinn’s approval.

“That sounds good they are on the way to the Capital and we can pick up more Imps along the way especially in Kalen.”

“What is so special about Kalen?”

“Have you forgotten that is where Lana comes from and when we tell them what has happened to her I am sure we will pick up hundreds of Imps to come with us.”

“I remember that there are Cads there and it might be best to avoid them.”

Dylan shook his head.

“Jinn is right we need as much support as we can get and we cannot avoid the Cadets they are in every town on the way to the Capital not just Kalen.”

“They are well trained and armed with Lektros what chance do we have against them?”

“The further you get away from the Capital the less formidable the Academies are they have scarce resources and just basic training also we will have superior numbers.”

This went some way to reassure Maddie but she was still not sure what to do with the large number of ex-Juvi residents at her back.

“What do we do about feeding these people and do you think they are just going to blindly follow us all the way to the City?”

It was the first time she had seen Dylan smile for some time.

“Not us Maddie they are going to follow you just as they risked their lives to follow you out of Juvi and as for food well they are all expert scavengers who have survived with a lot less than they will be able to steal outside of there.”

It was good to have Dylan here with her thought Maddie but she knew that if this did not turn out well for him and Lissa she would have to deal with his anger when it was all over.

“You have experience of being in command Dylan and I need your advice when it comes to leading these people and getting to the Capital are you on board with that?”

Dylan looked thoughtful before answering.

“I am on board with anything that brings me closer to getting Lissa back but if I feel that anything is getting in the way of that then I will not hesitate to go my own way.”

Not exactly what Maddie wanted to hear but she knew it was the best that she could have hoped for from Dylan and she at least knew he was being honest with her.

“On to Ardil it is then and how long before we get there?”

Not wanting to be left out Jinn decided to give Maddie the answer to her question.

“We should reach there in a couple of days, less if we don’t have to stop for any reason.”

“He is right and I don’t see any reason for us to stop on the way.”

Jinn looked a little put out at being echoed by Dylan.

“I know I am right Dylan and I don’t need you to jump in every time that I speak.”

Dylan was about to say something in his defence when Maddie interrupted his train of thought.

“Stop bickering you two it is not doing us any good and there is a thing as being too sensitive Jinn.”

Chapter 18

 

Jerome and Tariq’s journey back to Fermar was an uneventful one. They travelled through the night taking turns driving the old truck.

What do you think of this Maddison then?”

“She is a means to an end and nothing more.”

Jerome went silent for a few moments before continuing.

“If she does not get herself killed in Juvi and does actually free the prisoners there then we will be able to use her to strengthen our position against the State.”

“What then?”

“Then we improve our lives and bargain our way into becoming citizens.”

“They won’t make all of us citizens and what happens to the rest of the Imps.”

“They go back to their miserable lives while we live in the Capital and Maddison quietly disappears.”

Tariq was not really happy with Jerome’s plans but he could see the practicality of them.

“You don’t think that maybe we have a chance to change things here for everyone.”

“Now you are talking like John and you should know that I was just humouring him and his ideas of revolution.”

“But if she breaks into Juvi and is successful surely that would mean something.”

“It just means that they would make the security there stronger and no-one else would ever escape. Look Tariq I am nearly twenty years old, I should have been thrown in there already and the only reason that has not happened is because I have made myself useful to them in the village but that won’t last forever. I need things to change or I will end up in Juvi like every other Imp does when they get to my age.”

“I know I am pretty close to being sent there myself and Raea too.”

“Raea will do nothing to help herself and as for you if everything goes to plan I will be taking you with me when I become a citizen of the State.”

Tariq was still not entirely satisfied but he had always followed Jerome and he would do no less now.

“If there are no patrols we should be there in an hour or so.”

Jerome knew exactly how long it would take and was mildly irritated by Tariq’s unnecessary commentary.

“Just wake me when we arrive.”

It was first light when Tariq pulled into Fermar and woke Jerome.

“We are here and there were no Cads on the road all the way.”

Again Jerome found that Tariq stating the obvious irritating and wondered if it was a good idea to take him into the City with him.

“Yes Tariq I was there and I saw that the road was clear so I suggest you go get some sleep and stop telling me what I already know.”

Tariq had always taken orders from Jerome and was used to his mercurial nature.

“I will see you later Jerome do you want me to have Raea released before I turn in?”

“No I will do that you go get your rest.”

Jerome had no intention of releasing Raea just yet his first thought was to get some rest himself but before he could do that he would send a man to Diverton where he had contacts with access to communications and have them monitor Maddison’s progress.

“Jak I need you to go to Diverton and talk to Kara for me, I specifically want to hear about any word from Juvi, take someone reliable with you and send them back immediately you hear anything.”

“I will take Mira she is a good runner and knows how to keep her mouth shut.”

Jerome knew that Jak would take Mira as he had always done so in the past.

“Be careful Kara is in a delicate position and she cannot be seen with an Imp.”

Jak knew this and felt he should have already earned Jerome’s trust.

“It is ok I will not let you down I have after all done this kind of thing for you before and Kara is still safe.”

Jerome did not want to upset the boy before sending him off so he went out of his way to assure him that he had his confidence.

“I am sorry Jak it is just that this is so important and that is why I have chosen you for this mission; I could trust no-one else with this.”

The look of pride on the young boys face showed Jerome he had done enough to incentivise him.

“Thank you Jerome I will wake Mira and we will leave shortly.”

Jak left leaving Jerome alone to get some much needed rest.

It was mid-afternoon when Jerome woke and his first thought was Raea.

“You know why I had you taken into custody don’t you Raea?”

“No please do enlighten me as I really don’t have a clue.”

“I cannot have you disagreeing with my decisions every chance you get and if you give me your word that you will keep your opinions to yourself then I will have you released.”

Raea was stubborn and there was no way that she was going to make such a promise.

“I promise that I will challenge you whenever I think you are acting like an ass, how is that for giving you my word?”

Although Jerome smiled he was not at all happy with Raea’s response although he really should have been able to predict it.

“You have always been a stubborn little fool and this is not the time for such behaviour. I need you out of here we have people that could benefit from your knowledge of natural herbs are you really going to stay in here and let them suffer?”

Jerome knew that appealing to the healer in Raea would have the best chance of turning her around.

“You mean you would not let me out even to help those that are in need of my help?”

“It is your choice Raea either rot in here or agree to my terms for you to return to your duties.”

Raea hated Jerome at that moment but she felt that she could not let the people of her village down.

“I will keep quiet all I ask is that you keep out of my way and let me do my work?”

Jerome was glad to stay out of Raea’s way and had no intention of impeding her in her duties.

“Then we have a deal but first I want you to go and check on Maddison’s friend to see if she has made it through the night.”

“Just get me out of here and I will do as you ask.”

Jerome motioned to the two men detaining Raea and they left.

“You are free to go where you please just remember that you gave me your word to not make trouble.”

Raea brushed hard against Jerome as she left a last futile act of defiance.

“Lana, Lana can you hear me?”

Lana was moaning and moving fitfully in her sleep as Raea tried to wake her.

“Can you hear me Lana?”

Lana still did not wake but Raea was now hopeful that the young girl would recover soon and continued to watch over her for the rest of the afternoon.

“Where am I and where is Maddie?”

Raea was a little taken aback at the sudden questioning coming from Lana.

“You are in a small village called Fermar and your friend Maddie is no longer here.”

“I am hungry.”

Raea smiled at Lana encouraged by the strength of her appetite.

“I will get you some food Lana but I think it wise that you continue to rest.”

“I will rest when you have told me what you have done with Maddie, John and Lissa?”

Raea thought it best to tell Lana the truth as she knew it.

“John and Lissa have been captured while Maddie has gone back to the camp where you all came from.”

Lana took the news well but was very concerned about Maddie.

“Why would she go back to Dylan’s camp?”

“Look Lana I have told you all that I know and now I am going to get you some food, so please rest here until I come back.”

Raea knew that the girl would not rest until she had proper answers to her questions and so decided to tell Jerome that he needed to talk to her.

“The girl Lana is awake I am bringing her food but she is demanding answers and I think that you should be the one to give them to her.”

Jerome was not one for being told what to do but he wanted to talk to Lana to determine if she could be of any use to him.

“I would be happy to talk to the poor girl bring her some food and I will be over after she has eaten.”

That was easy thought Raea but then why shouldn’t it have been Jerome was not a complete monster.

“Thank you Jerome she needs to be reassured that her friend Maddie is ok.”

“Maddison from now on everyone calls her Maddison do you understand?”

“I will call her whatever you want just come see the girl.”

He could be such an insufferable bore at times thought Raea as she left to bring food to Lana.

“I have someone coming to answer all of your questions Lana but first you must sit up and eat something.”

Lana did not need to be told twice as she sat up and wolfed down the food that Raea had brought her.

“Who is coming to talk to me?”

“You really should not talk with your mouth full Lana.”

Lana was beginning to think that Raea was very kind but a bit bossy.

“You sound like my mother and I didn’t care much for her telling me what to do either.”

“It seems that you are quickly regaining your strength and I see that comes with more than your fair share of feistiness.”

While still eating her food Lana answered the smiling Raea back.

“I don’t really know what that means but it doesn’t sound like it is a good thing so if you are going to insult me just say it plainly.”

“It was not meant as an insult and it just means that you have spirit which in this life is no bad thing.”

“How long before whoever is in charge comes to tell me what has happened to Maddie?”

“He will be here shortly and his name is Jerome, now eat your food and remember to chew.”

This advice just made Lana eat all the faster putting whole chunks of bread in her mouth at once.

“You really are a stubborn little girl aren’t you?”

Before Lana had the chance to answer they both turned to hear a voice coming from the door of the bedroom.

“It takes a stubborn girl to recognise another.”

“I am not a girl Jerome and it has been a long time since I have been.”

Maddie could see that Raea did not really like the big man who stood in the door frame.

“Do you know what has happened to Maddie?”

“Your friend was fine when I left her and I would prefer it if you would call her Maddison as everyone here does.”

Lana took an instant dislike to Jerome and defiantly asked her question again.

“Where is Maddie and when can I see her?”

“Your friend Maddison was at Dylan’s camp the last time I saw her, now I have a few questions for you.”

Maddie had no intention of answering Jerome’s questions.

“Is there someone here that can take me to Maddie?”

“Maddison has her own mission and if successful you will see her soon enough, now I take it that you are the girl that Maddison saved from the Cad in the town of Kalen?”

“What mission would that be then and what about John and Lissa? Maddie would not abandon them.”

“I am afraid that I have told you all that I know for the moment Lana now can you confirm that you are the girl from Kalen?”

“I can confirm that I will tell you nothing until I see Maddie and that I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

Raea was smiling from the side of the room and enjoying the way that Lana was speaking so disrespectfully to Jerome.

“It would be helpful if you could tell me more of how you first met Maddison.”

“That is enough Lana needs to rest now; I think it better if you continue this at a later time.”

“Nothing to continue until I see Maddie I have nothing to say to him.”

Jerome turned his back on them both and left the room.

“I don’t like him he is not a good man.”

Raea could not disagree completely with Lana but she had known Jerome since she was a young girl and she knew it was more complicated than that.

“Don’t you worry about Jerome for now, you need to rest and if I hear anything more about your friend I will be sure to inform you.”

Lana was feeling very tired and was grateful for Raea’s kind words.

“Thank you I think I will try to sleep some more now.”

Jerome was waiting outside of the cottage when Raea left Lana.

“She seems to like you Raea maybe you can talk to her and get her to co-operate.”

“What is it you want from her Jerome?”

“It would be good to get her side of the Maddison story so we can sell it to the people, we already have a pretty good version that we are going with but Lana could help to give it more authentication.”

“What if she has a different story to tell and it is less heroic?”

“Then we persuade her of the necessity to carry on with the story we are already telling, it would not be convenient for her to cause us to change it.”

“You call it a story when it really sounds like a lie to motivate our people to go up against the State.”

“A lie, a story it does not matter what does matter is that that girl in there does not contradict a word of it.”

Raea could not listen to anymore of Jerome’s self-serving garbage and did not want to hear how he justified his actions to himself so walked away in disgust.

It was another full day and night before Lana was strong enough to get out of bed and leave the cottage.

“Lana it is good to see you up and around so soon.”

Great thought Lana the first person she bumped into was the big man that insisted on calling her friend Maddison.

“I have very little news of Maddison as yet but as soon as I do I will update you immediately.”

It was false thought Lana everything about this man was false and she would not believe a word that came from his mouth.

“Where is Raea I want to thank her for looking after me?”

Jerome could see that his charm offensive was having no effect on the girl before him.

“I was hoping we could talk Lana there are some things that I would like to discuss with you.”

“When Maddie returns then we can talk but right now I would like to see Raea.”

Jerome was tempted to use a harder line with Lana but thought it best to be patient with the girl for just a little longer.

“You will find Raea in our clinic it is where she spends most of her time, it is over there past the large storage building.”

“Thank you.”

Lana found it difficult to even thank the man such was the strength of her dislike of him.

“Lana you should still be in bed not wondering around the village like this.”

“Yes mum and I ate all my breakfast up this morning just like you always told me to.”

The cheeky grin emanating from Lana’s face completely disarmed Raea.

“You are an obstinate one aren’t you?”

“Sure am that is me obstanit and proud to be so now if I just knew what it meant?”

Raea found her-self smiling at Lana and wished she had news of her friend.

“I am sorry I have still not heard anything more of Maddison.”

It was awkward the way they called her Maddison thought Lana after all she would always be Maddie to her.

“Yes the big ape made a point of telling me he knew nothing more of Maddie as well.”

“You should not call Jerome names Lana he is very well respected around here and if he gets to hear about it he might just do something bad to you.”

It was meant as a friendly warning but the way Jerome was acting lately Raea felt it needed to be said strongly.

“He doesn’t frighten me and he called this place a clinic so where is all the sick people?”

A smile of pride washed across the young woman’s face as she answered.

“I have healed them all and the only one left to work on is you.”

Lana laughed loudly before she began to tease the village healer.

“You’re not coming near me for all I know there are no sick people left here because they all died under your care.”

“I will have you know that I have not lost a patient in at least an hour and she had a severe case of the sniffles so what else would you expect?”

They were both laughing now and Lana was beginning to feel a little better at being stuck in this place without her friends.

“I expect that you are really a terrible healer and now that you have killed off all of your patients you might as well show me around before you do anymore damage.”

Raea could use the distraction of showing Lana around her village and introducing her to some of its inhabitants.

“I do have others to see in their own homes to follow up their care but they are not urgent so I think it would be good for you to meet some new people.

“Hello Peta this is Lana she is new to the village.”

“Are you the girl that Maddison saved from the Cad?”

“I guess I am although I did not need that much saving really.”

It was the same no matter who Raea introduced Lana to the only thing they wanted to know was how Maddison as they all called her had saved her life.

“How come they all know about me and Maddie?”

Raea did not hesitate in telling the curious girl the truth.

“Jerome has made it that way he wants everyone to know how brave Maddison was when she attacked the Cad that was hurting you. He wants Maddison to spearhead his plan to take my people to the Capital and protest about the injustices committed against them.”

It was not quite the same plan that John had told them about but it was close thought Lana.

“So he wants Maddie and my story to help give the Imps the courage to follow him to the Capital?”

“That about sums it up and I think although he wants to do the negotiating he needs Maddison to help get the people behind him.”

So far Lana could not really see the real difference behind John’s plan and Jerome’s but she just did not trust Jerome and wondered what would happen to Maddie when it was all over.

Chapter 19

 

After arriving at the town of Kalen Maddie had been joined by hundreds more Imps and knowing this was where she had first arrived wanted nothing more than to find Tumbledown and get back home.

“They just keep on coming Dylan, where are they coming from?”

“Once the story of how we walked out of Juvi spread and that we were heading for the Capital it was inevitable that they would come.”

“This is where I met Lana; I hope that she is ok?”

“We have to work out a route to the City I propose that we go through Mulan, Trood, Roana, and Hillda then Diverton that should give us maximum exposure and allow many more Imps to join us.”

“How far from the Capital is Diverton?”

“Just a day’s march and Jerome’s village of Fermar is not that far away so it will give him an opportunity to join us if he so desires.”

“Why would he not want to join us Dylan?”

“Because I think this may have gotten a lot bigger than he expected and him being a politician he will join whichever side he thinks will gain him the most advantage.”

“You have a very low opinion of a man that you met for such a brief time.”

“Jerome maybe an Imp but he is no different than my father and those that surround him. I recognise his ambition and believe me when I say that his goal is not to help the Imps but to help himself.”

Maddie could not really argue as she had not really warmed to Jerome after he had wanted to leave Lana to die in the woods but she also knew that Dylan would have probably made the same decision.

“You know this place and I don’t so if that is the route you think best then we will take it. Do you think we will meet much resistance?”

“Not until we get to the Capital my father let us walk out of Juvi and I cannot think that he would set the StatePol on us. I think he will want a showdown between the Imps and Cadets on the streets of the City to show the superiority of the Academies over the rejects descending on the Capital.”

“You think of all these people as rejects and yet we have come this far together, surely you cannot deny their courage and commitment at this stage?”

“Rejects, outcasts, Imps it doesn’t matter what you call them and I have never denied their courage but I do know that unless we have the numbers when we get to the Capital then we will be defeated by the Cadets.”

“If we do increase our army to the numbers we need and beat the Cads what do you think will happen then?”

Dylan looked a little lost after Maddie asked this question but tried to answer it honestly.

“My father can be a very ruthless man and if he feels cornered then he might just utilise the StatePol who are well trained and heavily armed.”

“He would order the slaughter of thousands of innocent children?”

There was a long pause from Dylan before he reluctantly gave Maddie her answer.

“To preserve the present order my father would give that order and he will not consider us innocent children but enemies of the State and he will have no problem in executing us as such.”

Maddie was beginning to think this march to the Capital to be a futile gesture that would get them all killed.

“It doesn’t sound like there is a good outcome here for us maybe we should think again about going up against the Cads?”

“It is too late there is no turning back now and there is also a small chance that the Chancellor will intervene, she is the only one with the power to stop my father.”

Maddie had heard precious little about this Chancellor and wanted to know more.

“If she has the power to stop him then why has she not done so up until now?”

“Because my father is strong and has kept order for decades. Chancellor Berghoff relies on his strength and trusts his judgement in all matters of discipline.”

“If that is the case why would she go against him now?”

“Because if we defeat the Cadets that will prove that my father has failed and I don’t think she will want the streets of the Capital littered with the dead bodies of children.”

A gamble thought Maddie they were taking a desperate gamble.

“I am not sure that I can lead these children into what could be certain death.”

“There is nothing certain in this life and I am sure that there is nothing certain about them going to their death. Anyway as I have said there is no turning back so it is onwards to Mulan tomorrow.”

In the following days they marched through villages and towns only to be received with a fantastic reception.

In the villages of Mulan and Trood they were cheered on by what seemed to be every member of those communities. When they reached the larger town of Hilda it was the same, its occupants lined the streets to show their support and cheer the name of Maddison.

“These people really want us to change things?”

Maddie was not saying this to anyone in particular but Jinn was the one to try to explain his thoughts to her.

“They want things to change but they are afraid to do anything against the State.”

“They look like ordinary people to me the same as I would see back home.”

Dylan joined in the conversation as they continued to march through the town.

“Jinn is right they may want better lives but they lack the courage to do anything about that.”

“They are supporting us, giving us food and cheering us on don’t you think that shows a certain amount of courage?”

“These people maybe citizens but they are still just one step up from Imps, like the outlying Academies they are starved of resources and considered less important than those that inhabit the capital or the garrison towns.”

Maddie was determined to be positive and take heart from the attitude of the people they encountered.

“I don’t care what you say Dylan these people care and more and more join us every day.”

“Yes we are growing all the time but if you notice not one citizen has actually had the courage to join us although I will admit that we have gained a few hundred Cadets or so along the way.”

It was true some Cads had joined the march causing some friction at first until Maddie had intervened.

“We will reach Diverton this evening and it will be different there so we will camp on the outskirts and March through it in daylight.”

Maddie was keen to get to the Capital as soon as possible so questioned Dylan’s idea.

“Why not just walk straight into Diverton like we have every other town and village that we have come to so far?”

“Diverton is a garrison town and we will not receive such a warm welcome there.”

“I don’t know what you mean by garrison town so can you please just tell me why Diverton is so different?”

“Diverton is one of four garrison towns that surround the Capital and they each house the State police. They are there to protect the Capital and like those in the Capital they enjoy privileges that those around them do not.”

Maddie was outraged at the idea of going near such a place.

“Then why the hell are we even contemplating going there in the first place? We should be making a large detour around the place and not walking freely into such a dangerous town.”

“We are close enough to Diverton already that they know we are here and Hilda will have been in communication with them, do not make the mistake that everyone we encounter is on our side no matter how loud they cheer your name.”

Dylan was right thought Maddie she was beginning to think that the whole of the population of Velaria was giving her their support.

“Do you think that the police in Diverton will attempt to stop us?”

“If they are ordered to stop us then they will not attempt to do so they will definitely stop us.”

Maddie thought there must be another way.

“Then we need to rethink our strategy and find another way through to the Capital or we will have come this far for nothing.”

Dylan felt like a father explaining the facts to an innocent child.

“They could have stopped us at any point if they had a mind to, they could have stopped us at Juvi, and they could have stopped us from entering any town or village after that. They want us to enter the Capital or at least my father wants us to.”

“Do you know why?”

“I suspect he wants to humiliate us by having a few thousand Cadets defeat us it would serve his purpose to show that a small force of his Cadets can overcome incredible odds.”

Maddie had not heard anything to her liking from Dylan and it must have showed.

“Don’t worry Maddison we will win we have thousands of Imps and we are willing to fight for what we deserve.”

Jinn was a certainly a lot more positive about their outcome than Maddie was.

By the time they were approaching Diverton it was dark and Dylan gave the order to make camp.

“When we march through tomorrow keep your head up and say nothing Maddie but don’t show any fear.”

“I will lead us through so don’t worry about me Dylan, I have gotten us this far haven’t I?”

Maddie might as well have been asking the question of herself as it went unanswered.

“Tomorrow will be just like every other town Maddie so don’t listen to him.”

Jinn could not have been more wrong, the march through Diverton was completely different and the silence of their reception unnerved Maddie.

On the streets there were groups of men in black uniforms with peaked caps and blue armbands that had DPRV written in white letters on them. The uniforms in themselves were intimidating enough but what really scared Maddie was that they all had holsters across their waist and what looked like machine pistols casually slung across their shoulders.

“My advice Maddie is not to look any of the police directly in the eye.”

Dylan and his advice thought Maddie well he could shove it.

“They look as though they are laughing at us, MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON.”

Maddie was the first to chant her name defiantly then Jinn and then everyone began to chant until you could hear nothing else above their mantra.

“Are you crazy Maddie? Why would you do that are you trying to provoke them?”

Maddie was not really listening to Dylan she was too busy scanning for police to glare at.

“We are all crazy and like you said they won’t do anything without being ordered to.”

“That is no reason to antagonise them it only takes one of them to lose their cool and we are finished.”

Maddie could see some sense in what Dylan was saying but did not want to listen.

“What are you doing now?”

Maddie had halted in the middle of the street where the biggest concentration of police were loitering and was annoyed by their amused expressions.

“I am going to say something to these people.”

“Please just move us along Maddie I don’t think this is a good idea.”

If not for Jinn’s urgent plea Maddie would have walked up to a group of what she considered to be grinning goons and told them a thing or two.

“Ok Jinn we can go.”

Jinn started chanting Maddison as they set off and was thankful that they made it through Diverton without any further interruption.

“What the hell do you think you were doing back there? You could have gotten us all killed.”

Maddie did not know how to answer Dylan’s question as she could not even explain her actions to herself.

“We got through that is all that matters and I would be grateful if you would stop questioning me and remember whose name they chant, it is me that they follow and not you.”

Dylan was really angry now and looked as though he wanted to throttle Maddie.

“If you deliberately put us in danger again Maddie I will not be responsible for my actions and I won’t tell you again how important getting Lissa back is too me so do not put our mission in jeopardy again.”

Maddie could see the frustration that was consuming Dylan and knew that if he did not need her to get Lissa back he would not have been able to control his temper.

“Now that we are past Diverton I assume our next stop is the Capital?”

“Yes.”

Maddie understood that Dylan was having trouble holding him-self back but she needed more than one word answers from him.

“Dylan we are close now so I need you to put your hatred of me to one side and help me get where we need to be to rescue our friends.”

Dylan could barely hide the contempt he felt for Maddie at that moment.

“Lissa is more than a friend to me and though you seem unwilling to admit it John is not just a friend to you.”

Maddie could not deny that she had feelings for John but she could not really define what those feeling were.

“I know that you love Lissa and you will do anything to get her back now prove that by helping me get to the Capital.”

The thought of being reunited with Lissa was enough to bring Dylan back to some semblance of normality.

“Yes you are right we are very close and so is Fermar and I think it would be wise to get word to Jerome so that he can join us.”

Maddie thought this a wonderful idea as she wanted desperately to have news of how Lana was.

“I will go.”

Jinn was quick to volunteer and Maddie wanted to say yes but somehow she did not think him up to the task.

“Are you sure Jinn? You have never been there before and I don’t want you to get lost.”

Dylan came up with a solution that was to satisfy both Jinn and Maddie.

“I will draw the boy a map and we can send someone with him to watch his back.”

The question was who else could they send? They were surrounded by Imps and yet they knew little or nothing about them and they needed someone they could trust.

“George is here and I am sure she would want to come see Lana with me.”

Maddie was shocked that Jinn would know George was there and she did not.

“Why have you not told me that George was here Jinn?”

“She asked me not to make a fuss and she did not want to be treated any differently than anyone else who joined us.”

Maddie was a little annoyed at this but for some reason felt enormous pride in the girl.

“Did anyone else from the camp make it here?”

Jinn’s growing dislike of Dylan prevented him from answering him.

“Jinn answer Dylan did anyone else from the camp join us.”

“Just about all of them are here and they are all happy to march with you Maddison.”

Dylan was feeling a little pushed out as he ordered Jinn to find George.

“It’s ok Jinn we need to find her and I would love to see her again.”

Maddie was genuinely looking forward to seeing her friend and the sooner she sent her off to Fermar with Jinn the sooner she would have news of Lana.

“George I should be very cross with you not coming to me as soon as you arrived.”

The seemingly embarrassed girl looked down at the floor as Maddie spoke to her.

“I am sorry Maddison but I did not want to bother you.”

Maddie found her-self-giving George the biggest hug ever and could not think why.

“Has Jinn told you what we need you to do George?”

“Yes Dylan you want us to go to Fermar and tell them that you are here so they can join us.”

Maddie knew that was the mission but she wanted to remind George that she needed news of Lana.

“Yes George that is correct but I also want news of what has happened to Lana that is very important, you understand?”

It was plain to see that George understood and that she wanted to know if Lana was alive or dead as badly as Maddie did.

“I am sorry George I know that Lana is your friend too and yours Jinn, I know that you care about her as much as I do.”

It was Dylan that sent them on their way with directions and a hastily drawn map.

Chapter 20

 

Jerome had received news of Maddie’s incredible feat at Juvi from Mira; the first reports were sketchy but Kara who worked in the communications building in Diverton knew the State would put out their own version cleaned up version later. So she was quite satisfied that the early reports were the most accurate and was happy to relate them to Jak.

After Mira reported back to Jerome he could not really believe that Maddie had been successful but then there were whispers from everywhere that there had been an escape from the prison. The story from the Capital seemed to be that a few Devs had attacked the guards but were quickly contained but underneath this there were rumours that there was a mass escape and that many inmates had lost their lives.

Jerome trusted the information that he was given by Mira and shared it with the village to ready for them for what was to come.

“I have gathered you all here to tell you that Maddison has broken out of Juvi and is Marching to the Capital with the Majority of the poor souls that have been languishing in that hell hole for years. When the time is right I will lead those of you here who wish to come with me to join her and together we will enter the Capital to negotiate a fairer deal for all on your behalf.”

Most of the village cheered at this news but Lana had more questions.

“When will we join Maddie?”

Jerome was irritated at the question and her use of the name Maddie.

“When the time is right that is when we will join with Maddison and the others.”

Lana was about to ask another question until Raea put her hand upon her shoulder and shook her head.

“But he did not really answer me.”

“I know and he has no intention of giving out any further information or answering any of your questions.”

Lana was not quite so easily deterred and once the meeting was over she followed Jerome to try and find out more.

“Is Dylan with Maddie and how far away is she?”

“Lana you have not co-operated with me all of the time you have been here and refused to answer any of my questions, tell me why should I answer any of yours?”

“Because Maddie is my friend and when she gets here she will want to know that you have been kind to me.”

Jerome was not impressed by Lana’s argument.

“You have a place to sleep, food and as far as I can tell you are doing very well in which case I think you have been treated with great care now run along.”

Lana was beginning to hate this big man that would not tell her what she wanted to know and was not afraid to tell him.

“You are just a big liar and I would not believe a word that you told me anyway and her name is Maddie no matter what you call her.”

Lana stormed off after this little tantrum and went to find Raea.

“Have you heard anything more Raea that big ape won’t tell me anything?”

“You were foolish to think that he would my little friend but I have had a talk with Tariq and he says that we will be joining your friend when she sends word to do so.”

“Is that all he told you?”

Raea was reluctant to tell Lana everything but thought she deserved the whole truth.

“He said that she had a small army following her that numbered in their thousands and he also said that a lot of people were killed during the escape from Juvi.”

Lana hoped it was none of her friends from Dylan’s camp who for some reason she imagined were there with Maddie when she escaped.

“How long do you think before she gets close to us?”

“That I do not know and I don’t think Tariq knows either or he would have told me but if I were to guess I would say three to four days.”

Raea was not far off in her guesswork for it was five days from then that Jinn and George walked into the village of Fermar.

“We are looking for Jerome we have a message from Maddison for him.”

The excited young girl that Jinn was speaking to took him straight to Jerome.

“They say they have news from Maddison and I brought them straight to you.

“Thank you Dexie now leave us and tell no-one else that they are here.”

As soon as Dexie was out of Jerome’s sight she began to tell everyone she met of the two strangers and how they had come from Maddison with news.

“How have you all been and is Maddison safe?”

Jinn and George looked at each other before deciding which of them should answer.

“My name is Jinn this is George and Maddison sent us to tell you that she is waiting for you this side of Diverton.”

His duty done to Maddie Jinn continued by asking the question that both George and he really wanted the answer to.

“Is Lana well?”

The question was short but it was asked urgently and the time it took for Jerome to give his answer seemed to last forever.

“She is doing well and has been up and around for days now.”

The relief from the two strangers was palpable and Jerome found it hard to believe they cared so much about this annoying girl.

“We would like to see her and get back to Maddison with news of her good health as soon as possible.”

“If she is well enough why don’t we just take her with us Jinn?”

Jinn was delighted at the thought of all three of them travelling back together.

“I really think it would be better if you waited until we were all ready to leave and then come with us, it would be safer for everyone.”

Jerome’s plan did not go down very well with his two guests.

“No it is our orders to bring back news of Lana immediately to Maddison.”

It was a harmless lie thought George and she was sure that Jinn would back her up on it.

“Yes Maddison was very specific about this.”

Faced with this Jerome capitulated after all what did it matter to him if they wanted to leave with the girl?

“If that is what you want I will send for Lana and you can be on your way, tell Maddison it will take a day for us to reach her.”

Lana burst into the room where they were talking and upon seeing George threw her arms around her.

“It is very rude to just barge into someone’s home Lana.”

Lana ignored Jerome and was even pleased to see Jinn.

“What are you doing here Jinn? I thought you would just sneak out of Dylan’s camp at the first sight of trouble.”

It was unkind of Lana to say this but Jinn recognised that she would normally have been right.

“I thought I should hang around and save everyone’s butt although why I really don’t know.”

Boasting again thought Lana, well that was Jinn for you and he just would not change.

“Do you know anything about John and Lissa? They won’t tell me anything here.”

Lana was looking directly at Jerome when she said this.

“As far as we know they are being held in the Capital and we are going to fetch them.”

This bravado coming from Jinn sounded hollow to Lana who had already decided that he could not tell the truth no matter how hard he tried.

“Yes Jinn you are just going to walk in and politely ask if you can have our friends back.”

George was beginning to get annoyed with Lana’s attitude to Jinn.

“Jinn, Dylan and Maddison walked out of Juvi together Lana.”

Lana could not think of the scrawny little Jinn as being heroic in such a way.

“Were you there George?”

“No I joined later when it was safe and there were no guards with guns ready to shoot me.”

Lana knew George was trying to tell her that Jinn was more than she thought but she could hardly believe it.

“When do we get to see Maddie?”

Jinn had gone silent, was not enjoying seeing Lana as much as he thought he would.

“Jinn and I are heading back straightaway if you want you can come with us.”

Lana jumped at the opportunity.

“Anything to get away from here and his high and mightiness.”

Knowing this was directed at him Jerome played along with the image Lana had of him.

“It is such a shame to see you go Lana, it has been such a pleasure to have you here.”

Lana looked at him and hearing the heavy sarcasm in his voice decided she could not wait to get away from him.

“We will tell Maddison that you will join us soon.”

“Not you too Jinn it is Maddie and you know it.”

Jinn ignored Lana and continued to talk to Jerome.

“Maddison and Dylan are prepared so we will march on the Capital as soon as you are with us.”

Now that Jinn had found his voice again Lana could not help but notice that he had grown in confidence and was impressed by the authority in his voice.

“I understand and as I have said it will take us a day to get to you.”

Jerome did not like the idea of anyone Marching on the Capital and wanted to get to Maddie as soon as possible to stop such a thing happening.

“I have to say goodbye to Raea before I leave.”

It was Jinn that nodded in agreement and Lana was getting the idea that he was the one in charge here and George was just along for the ride.

“Please don’t be long Maddison is worried about you and I want to give her the good news as soon as possible.”

It was not quite an order from Jinn and that was just as well because Lana did not like the idea of being ordered around by anyone.

“It will take as long as it takes and you will wait for me.”

Jinn was beginning to wonder why he liked Lana and was losing patience with her.

“You have ten minutes if you are not ready by then we are leaving with or without you.”

This was a very different Jinn thought Lana and she was not sure that she liked the new not so improved version.

Jinn and George waited for Lana to say her goodbyes.

“We should leave she can follow with Jerome.”

“It has not quite been ten minutes yet, just give her a chance Jinn.”

Jinn began to pace up and down until he finally said.

“It is time to go I am not waiting a minute longer.”

“There she is coming I told you she would be along.”

Lana was coming alright but she was deliberately walking at a snail’s pace in protest at being rushed.

“If you continue to walk that slowly then you will be left behind and I think it better that you stay behind.”

Lana was finding it difficult to keep up the slowness of pace anyway.

“Whoever put you in charge made a big mistake and I intend to tell them so when I see them.”

“Maddison trusted me with this mission and you can tell her what the hell you want just don’t speak to me again.”

The anger in Jinn’s voice was unmistakeable and made Lana think twice about baiting him further.

“George are we really going to march into the Capital? It sounds a little crazy.”

George took hold of Lana and pulled her into her arms.

“It is so good to have you back we all thought we had lost you and yes we are marching on the Capital and yes it is more than just a little crazy.”

Jinn looked on and could only hope that one day he would get to hug Lana like George was doing although there were moments where he could quite easily throttle the girl.

“Come on you two Maddison will be eager to have us back.”

Lana could not get used to Jinn telling her what to do but for once kept quiet and set off arm in arm with George.

Jerome was not surprised at the news that Maddie had made it through Diverton as Jak had taken the initiative and left to return home after he watched them March through the garrison town.

He had been expecting a messenger from Maddie and was prepared to move at a moment’s notice but the idea of Marching into the Capital was sheer madness and he would need to do some quick talking to dissuade her from this course of action.

Chapter 21

 

The Chancellor Helene Berghoff had been monitoring Maddie’s progress ever since the news of the break out at Juvinescence reached her. It was not her usual practice to burst into her First Ministers offices but she thought the present circumstances justified her actions.

“You were supposed to contain the situation with this girl and yet I hear she is perched at the edge of the City with an army of Imps ready to descend upon us at any moment.”

Having his decisions questioned like this was unacceptable to Jarod even if it was coming from the Chancellor.

“You must remain calm Helene I have everything under control.”

“If this is your idea of control Jarod I question your judgement.”

Jarod stood up to his full height and without raising his voice gave the Chancellor the full benefit of his powerful voice.

“We have worked well together for all these years because you have never felt the need to question my judgement and I would appreciate it if you would not do so now.”

Helene would not be intimidated by the power of this man any longer.

“You will tell me of your intentions Jarod and I will hear of them now.”

Jarod sat back down and began to talk to his superior as if she were a child.

“You do not understand the facts here Helene, we have to show strength against the rabble that is at our door and as for my intentions. I intend to let them march into the City and then line up the Academies against them.”

“You want a bloodbath on our streets?”

“Hardly that Helene, it will be more of a skirmish where the Cadets teach them a well-earned lesson.”

“Why let it get this far Jarod? You could have stopped them at Juvinescence.”

“I refuse to use the State police against them apart from making martyrs of them I don’t wish to give them that kind of respect.”

“You were not quite so squeamish when it came to the Devs and by the way I think you went a little over the top with the clean-up.”

“They too needed to be taught a lesson and some examples needed to be made.”

“I was not suggesting that you use the police on children Jarod I am saying that someone needs to talk to this girl Maddison.”

“I will talk to her when her rag-tag army is humiliated on the streets of the Capital by a smaller more disciplined force. I will then have her thrown in Juvi where she belongs along with the rest of her followers.”

Helene was not completely satisfied with the answers she was receiving from her First Minister.

“Jarod if this fails then it will be your Cadets and you that is humiliated and I will have you removed from office.”

“I appreciate that you are worried Helene but please do not make idle threats that you cannot back up.”

“I have more than enough support to have you removed Jarod and I think you sometimes forget who you are talking to, you have made many enemies in your time and if this plan of yours fails then you are gone.”

Jarod could see how serious the Chancellor was and began to wonder if she really did have the support of the council.

“You need more than fifty per cent of your ministers to back you to remove your First Minister and that will never happen.”

“Be very careful Jarod and believe me when I say that I have all that I need to see you thrown out of office.”

Could it be true had he really lost all of his supporters so quickly and over a young girl?

“Even if what you say is true it is irrelevant as my Cadets will easily defeat a bunch of undisciplined Imps.”

Helene could see a hint of vulnerability for the first time in her First Minister.

“We could invite the girl in for talks and avoid any kind of bloodshed.”

“I am your Minister for Justice and I advise that we wait until she comes to us so the Citizens can see how easily she is defeated and then you can talk to them from a position of strength. If you give in to this girl or give concessions to the Imps then our Citizens will think us weak and that is unthinkable.”

Helene thought for a moment and began to think that she imagined the vulnerability she saw in Jarod.

“If that is your advice I will accept it but if things do not go as planned remember you are the one that will be held responsible.”

After the Chancellor left his office Jarod called for Patrice.

“You asked for me Sir?”

“Yes boy that is why you are here now tell me more of Lissa and this John.”

“I have them in custody they are down below in separate cages.”

“Don’t be so dense boy I know where they are I want to know how they are?”

“Lysette is her usual self and the boy John has said nothing of interest so far, we are getting ready to interrogate him further.”

“You do not have the authority to interrogate anyone; just make sure that no harm comes to either one of them, do you understand me boy?”

“Yes sir I understand fully.”

“Now get out and ready your Academy for the coming battle, the 1st will be leading the fight. You are to show no mercy and if you get the chance to put the girl down then you will do so at any cost.”

“Yes sir, but what about Dylan all reports show that he will in all probability be by her side?”

“He is a traitor and you will treat him as the enemy, just make sure that Lysette is safely in custody.”

It was just what Patrice wanted to hear a clear command to show no mercy to Dylan who was now to be treated as an Imp.”

The cages beneath the Justice building were exactly that and they were barely large enough for John or Lysette who were both almost six feet to stand up in.

“What do you think they will do with us Lissa?”

“I am sure that they will send us to Juvi once they have extracted all of the information they need from us.”

“You mean they are going to torture us?”

“You should just tell them all that you know immediately and hope that they believe you.”

“If I do that then I would be betraying others and I cannot do that.”

“That sounds very noble but I can assure you that you will tell them everything they want to know eventually so just save yourself the pain.”

John was sure that Lissa was right but he could not just give up his friends.

“And you will they interrogate you and if they do will you talk?”

“I have been trained to resist and will be able to hold out longer than you but eventually I will tell them what they want to know.”

“Then why hold out at all?”

“Once Dylan knows I have been captured he will be aware of what will happen to me and the longer I hold out the more time he has to get as far away from the States clutches as possible.”

“You think that Dylan will run and hide while you suffer here?”

“It is what I would do; there is nothing he can do for me now.”

John admired Lissa’s stoic stand.

“You really do amaze me Lissa and if I am to be thrown into Juvi then I would not want to go there with anyone else.”

Lysette did not quite understand the idea of wanting to go to Juvi with or without anyone, other than Dylan possibly.

“You have been a fool John and I have been an even bigger one for coming back towards the Capital with you but you have courage and if we were not betrayed by Patrice perhaps we would have been friends.”

John already considered Lysette his friend.

“Is Patrice the one that did that to your face?”

Lysette’s face had come up in the most horrendous bruise after Patrice had put his boot down on her.

“Yes and if I get a chance he will pay for doing that to me.”

John did not think it sounded like Lissa thought she would get that chance.

Maddie was surprised at the strength of her own feelings when she saw Lana walk into her encampment with Jinn and George.

“You little so and so I thought you were dead I should kill you right now for worrying me so.”

Lana looked a little embarrassed as Maddie threw her arms around her forming a tight bear hug.

“I am not calling you Maddison and that is that I am not one of your army of zombies.”

Maddie released the girl and laughed in what seemed the first time in an age.

“You can call me anything you like Lana just as my army of zombies as you call them can and it is good to see you to.”

Lana was smiling her mischievous grin and Maddie knew that something cheeky was going to come out of that mouth of hers.

“I let you out of my sight for a moment and you go and give Jinn the idea that he is the boss of me that is just dumb, you really do need me don’t you?”

“Yes Lana we do need you but you should know that without Jinn we would not have gotten into Juvi let alone out again, he has been invaluable to us.”

Jinn’s face was a mask of pride as Maddie praised him.

“You talking about skinny Jinn I don’t believe a word of it.”

Jinn’s expression of Pride disappeared as quickly as it had appeared to be replaced with anger and frustration.

“I should get some sleep Maddison if you will excuse me?”

Maddie looked back with sadness at Jinn and nodded.

“You really should not say such things Lana Jinn has earned our respect in the time that you have been away.”

This from Dylan thought Lana, how could Jinn have changed so much in so short a time?

“But it is just Jinn and you know Jinn is well I don’t know just Jinn.”

Maddie could see that Lana was struggling with the idea that Jinn was anything but the smelly little boy that followed her around Dylan’s camp.

“Dylan is right Jinn deserves your respect but don’t worry about that for now as I have a bone to pick with you.”

Lana looked confused at the idea of anyone wanting to pick her bones.

“My bones don’t need picking thank you very much and if you come near them I will poke those eyes of yours out.”

Maddie loved Lana’s feistiness and tried to explain.

“It just means I want to discuss something with you and it is this the next time you try and come to my rescue I will knock you out my-self.”

Lana smile that Lana smile.

“You mean the next time I risk my life to rescue you that you will attack me, I should think a simple thank you more appropriate.”

A shake of Maddie’s head was followed by.

“You are Impossible.”

“Yes I know impossibly beautiful, smart and of course brave but don’t be too jealous Maddie one day you too could be as perfect as me. I just can’t wait to tell everyone how I saved the great Maddison from certain death at the hands of the Cads.”

Everyone within earshot was laughing at Lana’s little speech.

“I think that blow to your head may have dislodged your brain and now it is you that are the one that is a little touched.

Maddie pointed her finger at her own head and turned it in a circle and was rewarded with the widest smile from Lana.

The day after Lana arrived Jerome, Tariq and Raea rolled up in their old truck.

“I thought you would be bringing everyone in your village Jerome?”

“I first wanted to talk to Maddison to see if she still planned to March into the Capital with the rest of you behind her.”

Dylan was not surprised that Jerome had joined them without the rest of his village and did not really have any faith in him.

“I can tell you that is our plan and we could have used the numbers from your village.”

“As I said I would like to talk to Maddison.”

There were no introductions as Raea and Tariq stood awkwardly watching the two men talk.

“I see you have brought two recruits that should swell the ranks considerably.”

“Your sarcasm is not welcome and I will not take criticism from the son of Jarod Holt, now I insist on seeing Maddison.”

“Fine by me Jerome but if you are planning on trying to change Maddie’s mind then I would advise against it.”

“And why is that?”

“Because if by some miracle you were successful I would have to slit your throat.”

Jerome was much bigger than Dylan but this statement still gave him pause.

“You think Maddison going in there with an army of Imps is a good idea then?”

“I think you are a politician like my father and that you have your own agenda that you have yet to disclose to me or Maddison.”

Lana ran up to Raea as soon as she saw her.

“It is good to see you I didn’t think you were coming and I don’t know why you brought the big ape.”

“It is good to see you to Lana and the big ape needs to talk to Maddison.”

Lana shrugged her shoulders and looked at Maddie.

“Don’t trust him Maddie he is not a truth teller, come on Raea I want you to meet some friends of mine.”

Raea was only too pleased to get away from Jerome who she knew wanted to dissuade Maddison from her present course of action. She really did not know why Jerome had insisted on bringing her along with him anyway.

“Hello Jerome when is the rest of your people arriving?”

“They will come when you have agreed to come into the Capital with me Tariq and Raea to talk to the Chancellor.”

Maddie felt a little confused by what Jerome had said.

“I thought it was agreed that we would all march into the Capital together or did I get that wrong?”

“I want change as much as you do Maddison even more but I don’t think marching into the Capital and demanding it is the right way to go about things. I want us to negotiate a fairer deal for all the Imps and the only way I see us getting that is by talking not fighting.”

Dylan chipped in at this point.

“If you are not willing to fight for what you want then you don’t deserve to become citizens.”

“Oh come now Dylan you know that your father will never allow us to become citizens but we may just be able to secure a more comfortable way of life for ourselves.”

“For ourselves do you mean all of us Jerome or do you mean just a select few at the top?”

“Look Maddison you are new here and in all likelihood you will be leaving once you have secured the release of John. So I don’t think it is up to you to decide how we proceed.”

Maddie noticed that just like the politicians at home Jerome had dodged a direct question.

“You are probably right Jerome it should not be up to one person to decide what happens here so I suggest we ask the people.”

The horrified look on Dylan and Jerome’s face told Maddie what they thought of her idea.

“They are an uneducated rabble and will do as you tell them Maddie so I suggest you tell them to march on the City as planned.”

Jinn who had remained silent throughout the talks suddenly inserted him-self into the conversation that concerned all non-citizens.

“As one of those uneducated rabble I think I should have a say in what happens and so should everyone else that has joined us.”

“I don’t know who you are boy but Dylan is right we cannot let something this Important be decided by an army that is made up of Devs and ex-prisoners of Juvi.”

Maddie decided to make her position clear.

“We will ask them and whatever their decision is that will be the one that we will abide by.”

Dylan was the first to speak after Maddie’s decisive action.

“If this backfires and they choose to go with Jerome’s idea then we will never see John or Lissa again and if that happens there will be consequences.”

Once again the threat was undeniable and Maddie was getting tired of Dylan’s thinly veiled threats.

“Yes yes I know you will end my life and so on and so on but for now just try to have my back while I give your people a choice for the first time in their lives.”

Dylan was not really thinking about his people but more about Lissa and how the outcome would affect their rescue attempt.

“Tell them that walking in their too negotiate is an act of weakness and that the First Minister will see it as such and then this will all be over.”

Maddie turned to Jinn.

“Jinn spread the word that I have something Important to say to everyone and that I will be ready in two hours to talk to them.”

Jinn nodded and left.

“You will be relying on the decision of a mob and that is very unwise.”

“Jerome this is the way it is going to happen so I should accept it if I were you.”

“But you are not me Maddison and you do not belong here, what gives you the right to decide the fate of my people?”

Maddie was furious at this accusation from Jerome.

“You are the one that wants to decide their fate I am putting the power to decide what happens to them in their hands.”

Dylan was still unconvinced but seeing there was no changing Maddie’s mind tried to get her to influence the people.

“You must tell them that Jerome’s way will result in them being returned to Juvi and that the State will crack down even harder on them to make examples of them.”

Jerome decided that this would be a good time to enlighten Maddie to what really happened at Juvi.

“Are you aware Maddison of the sacrifice that was made at Juvi on your behalf?”

Maddie knew what was coming but felt she had to ask anyway.

“No what happened we heard shots as we left and I am certain that something bad did happen.”

“Yes Maddison something terrible did happen, over one hundred Devs were shot and once the rest had been dispersed Jarod Holt sent in a clean-up team.”

The look of shock on Maddie’s face told Jerome that his words were having an Impact.

“Do you know if Jasmine was killed?”

“I am not aware of that name but the clean-up team rounded up another fifty prisoners and hung them as a show of strength.”

Jasmine must have been killed thought Maddie as she tried to force the tears to stay away.

“It is done and they are gone there is no point in crying for them now Maddie.”

Dylan’s callous disregard of those that lost their lives at Juvi made Maddie sick.

“You cold bastard they were people and if I do not cry for them then who will?”

Jerome saw an opening.

“If you march into the Capital then there will be many more dead for you to cry for.”

Maddie could see that Jerome was trying to manipulate her and would not let him get away with it.

“You are right Jerome there will be more tears shed by the time we finish this and many more of us may die but that does not mean that we should not try, I will tell the Imps that we should honour the sacrifices made at Juvi by marching proudly into the Capital.”

Jerome had lost and he knew it.

“Just make sure that you tell them everything and give them an informed choice Maddison.”

Maddie stood before thousands of Imps, Devs, Cads and strays who had gathered to hear what she had to say.

“WE HAVE COME ALONG WAY TOGETHER AND TODAY I HAVE LEARNED THAT ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FELLOW NON-CITIZENS WERE MURDERED AS WE WALKED OUT OF JUVI. I WANT ALL OF YOU TO KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MARCH ON THE CAPITAL AND THE RISK YOU ARE TAKING, WE MARCHED THROUGH A STATE POLICE TOWN AND THEY DID NOTHING I CANNOT GUARANTEE THAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE CAPITAL AND AT THE VERY LEAST WE WILL HAVE TO FACE THE ACADEMIES WHO ARE ARMED WITH LEKTRO’S AND WELL TRAINED. IT HAS BEEN PROPOSED TO ME THAT IT WOULD BE BETTER TO ENTER INTO NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE CHANCELLOR MYSELF AND LEAVE YOU BEHIND. IF THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT THEN I WILL ENTER THE CAPITAL WITH JEROME AND TRY TO GET A FAIRER DEAL FOR YOU. I NEED YOU TO DECIDE DO WE MARCH OR DO I NEGOTIATE FOR YOU?”

“MARCH, MARCH, MARCH, MARCH, MARCH, MARCH, MARCH. MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON.”

The chanting continued for what seemed an eternity and even after Maddie stood down and walked away she could hear the voices of her army chanting her name.

“It is settled then we go in tomorrow and it would be nice to have your people with us Jerome.”

“They are not far Tariq can have them on the move immediately and they will join us as we march into the City.”

Dylan had a look of curiosity on his face.

“Where will you be when we march on the Capital Jerome?”

“I will be at Maddison’s side as I expect you will be.”

Dylan smiled and said no more, satisfied that Jerome had been forced to march up front with him and Maddie.

Chapter 22

 

Jarod was expecting the call telling him that Maddie had reached the City and took the news in his stride.

“They have entered the City and there are thousands of them Sir.”

“Tell Patrice that I want to see him in my office.”

Jarod was in a relaxed frame of mind while he waited for Patrice.

“You called for me Sir?”

“Yes it is my information that they are moving into the City. It is your job to prevent them from reaching the steps of the justice building.”

Jarod knew that his son Dylan would lead them straight to him.

“Yes sir we are ready, they will not get past the Cadets.”

Patrice was not as confident as he sounded for he had heard that the Academies would be outnumbered by 10-1.

“If they do then I will hold you personally responsible and they do not look kindly on Cadets from the 1st in Juvi.”

“I take it we have the support of the Statepol and the Chancellor?”

Jarod took the question to be a pathetic plea for assistance.

“You have my support and if you do not feel this is adequate then I can easily have you replaced.”

“Of course sir, we will not let you down.”

Jarod dismissed Patrice wishing that it was Dylan that he was sending out to face the oncoming Imp army.”

Patrice though the idea of not using the full resources of the Statepol was a mistake and he was not about to risk the 1st by committing them fully without knowing exactly what he was up against.

“As the leaders of the twenty Academies we have been tasked with stopping the Imp rabble that is moving through our City. The 1st will protect the justice building while each Academy below it will be positioned fifty yards in front of us.”

“Patrice I have heard there are thousands heading our way do you not think it wiser for the 1st to lead with all the Academies following?”

“My orders are that they are not to reach the steps of the justice building and I know that they will not get past the 1st that is even if they manage to reach us.”

The same voice came back at Patrice.

“So the 20th will be the vanguard while you skulk away at the back hoping to avoid the fight?”

“You dare to talk to me this way Mayer? When this is over I will have you brought before the Chancellor for your insolence.”

“It is interesting that you do not mention bringing this to the First Minister who I am sure would love to find out that the 1st led the attack from behind.”

Patrice would not be bullied or shamed into changing his plan.

“That is enough you have your orders and I expect you to follow them to the letter. Mayer stay behind I wish to speak to you.”

The rest of the leaders of the Academies filed out leaving the two men alone to talk over their differences.

“Mayer we have never been friends and I know that you were friendly with Dylan but the fact is that I am leader of the 1st now and I must do what I think is best.”

This just reminded Mayer that Dylan was a much better man than Patrice and would never have hidden behind the rest of the Academies.

“Dylan would have acted differently and yes the truth is that I have more respect for him than I do for you but as leader of the 2nd I will follow the orders given to me but I will be putting in an official report that will highlight my reservations concerning your actions in this matter.”

Patrice was beginning to lose patience with the boy.

“You know that I am protected and your report will be filed away and you removed from the Capital?”

Mayer looked disgusted as he replied.

“You are lower than any Imp I have ever come across and if we lose I hope that they beat the life from your cowardly body.”

“Get out and back to your Cadets.”

“Gladly the air in here is thick with fear and it comes off of you in waves.”

Patrice would have to do something about Mayer once this was over but first he had to get through it in one piece.

Maddie and her legion of misfits entered a City of steel and glass with reflective surfaces looking back at you from every angle. In stark contrast were the older buildings and houses that varied greatly in design, the huge difference between the new glass and steel structures to that of the older more diverse buildings only added to the character of the more historical constructions.

The thing that struck Maddie hardest was how clean the City was it was almost clinical in its cleanliness a fact she found gave the Capital a particularly unwelcoming feel to it.

As they marched slowly through the mostly empty streets Maddie caught quick glimpses of isolated citizens that were brave enough to remain on the streets to watch them march through the city.

From what she could see of them Maddie saw that their clothes were better fitting than anyone she had met from outside the City and that they looked much healthier than any of the Imps that followed her.

As they journeyed deeper into the City Jinn started the Chanting.

“MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON, MADDISON.”

Even Lana who had so far refused to use the name began to chant along after a while.

Dylan was up front with Maddie and directing the way.

“We need to turn here.”

“How long before we reach the justice building?”

“An hour or more and we should be there but I don’t think we will get there without being obstructed.”

Dylan was right it was approximately half an hour later when they caught sight of the 20th waiting for them.

“Look Maddie it is the 20th they do not even respect us enough to send the 1st.”

Maddie looked at Dylan’s disappointed face.

“If they underestimate us then that is a good thing and I am sure that we will face them at some point.”

Maddie was right but Dylan could not help but feel cheated out of the prospect of going up against Patrice.

“Keep marching Maddie and we will stop inches from where they stand.”

“We should talk to them first before we do something we regret.”

“Jerome the time for talking is over and if you have not realised that yet then you should not be here.”

Maddie was beginning to get a little tired of Jerome’s interference as she looked behind her for Lana.

“Raea take care of Lana she has a tendency to get carried away with herself.”

Raea nodded and of course Lana had to have her say.

“You take care of yourself and if you don’t just remember who saved your life last time. If you are not careful I might just not be there for you this time.”

Jinn who was by Maddie’s side whispered to her.

“Don’t worry I will make sure that nothing bad happens to Lana.”

It was said with such confidence that Maddie felt greatly relieved.

“Thank you Jinn and one day she will appreciate all that you have done for us.”

They were there in front of the 20th Academy with their leader just inches away from Maddie, Dylan, Jerome and Jinn.

“You can stand down we have the numbers and you don’t really stand a chance.”

Jerome just had to try and when he received no response Maddie advanced on the 20th.

Dylan was the first to take down a Cadet quickly followed by Jerome who showed a brute strength and ferocity that was incredible.

“Keep going Maddie and whatever you do don’t stop for anything.”

Maddie continued to advance as all those around her fought to keep the Cadets away from her.

“Jerome watch your back.”

Jinn’s warning came just in time as Jerome avoided a Lektro and with one powerful blow knocked the attacking Cadet to the floor.

Dylan was going after the leader when he was put down by a crashing blow to his chest.

“Tariq help Dylan he is being over-run.”

Dylan’s troubles gave the leader of the 20th an opportunity and he was determined to take it as he went after Maddie.

“Get to Maddison she is unprotected.”

Raea’s warning came too late as the leader of the 20th approached her freely.

“Maddie look out.”

Maddie was aware of the approaching danger and side-stepping the Lektro aimed at her breast she pulled it from his hand only to turn it back on him. The look of shock and pain on the boy’s face was not something that Maddie wanted to ever see again.

“He is down now stop worrying about me and keep on moving forward.”

Seeing Maddie put the leader of the 20th down inspired her followers and they moved on the Cadets who without their leader looked lost.

Once through the first Academy with very few losses it was Dylan who advised them not to get over-confident.

“There are more and we only made it through because of the weight of numbers but as we get closer the Academies will join together to stop us and although they are fewer they have weapons and are better trained.

“Dylan could not really understand the strategy that the Academies were deploying, if it were him in charge then they would have been led by the 1st and all came at the Imps as one.

“The ones that are not down are running back to join the next Academy.”

Jinn was the first to see the 19th and he was right those that had not been too badly injured were running back to join them.

“Then that is it we cannot let that happen again, we must assume that each Academy is lying in wait for us and so we cannot give them time to absorb the defeated Cads.”

Now that Jerome was in the fight he was not about to show the Cads any mercy and having proven what a valuable warrior he was Maddie was inclined to listen to him.

“Jerome is right we cannot pause to give them a chance to regroup this time we go on and we do not stop until we have gone through each Academy.”

It was Jinn who once again started the chanting as they marched towards the 19th.

“We have left some good people behind there and we have taken quite a few injuries.”

“That is war Maddison and it is you that wanted to take the fight to the Chancellor.”

Jerome was right though Maddie as they fought their way through Academy after Academy until they reached the 1st and Patrice.

“We have you outnumbered brother, you have no chance.”

Maddie could not believe that they were betrayed by Dylan’s own brother.

“And you blame me for Lissa’s capture when I should be blaming you for trusting your brother surely you should have known he would betray you?”

Dylan did not want to hear this from Maddie and attacked Patrice ferociously before he had a chance to surrender.

“Did you think that by betraying me our father would finally love you, haven’t you figured out yet that he is not capable of love?”

“You talk of betrayal and yet you betrayed the State your family and the Academy.”

The two brothers had trained together as boys and it was always Dylan that had excelled in the art of combat. While Patrice did not have his younger brother’s natural skill to call upon he did however have the advantage over Dylan when it came to savagery.

Using their Lektros as batons they danced around each other waiting for an opportunity to use its deadly sting.

The viciousness of the blow that caught Dylan across his shoulder almost put him down as his brother continued his assault.

“You think that is enough to finish me?”

Patrice ignored Dylan knowing that he was playing for time to launch his counter attack.

“Yes it is wise to keep silent brother for there is nothing you can say that will save you.”

Dylan was now taking the fight to Patrice and with his superior skills there could be only one outcome for Patrice.

“We should end this and you should order your Cadets to give way before anyone else gets hurt.”

Seeing that he was losing and was no match for his brother Patrice ordered his Cadets to attack.

“You are a fool Dylan even though you have come this far you should know that the Statepol will not let you win.”

The Cadets of the 1st were the best and put up a valiant struggle, if the numbers had been more equal they would certainly have beaten Maddie’s army back.

“Have you seen Patrice anywhere?”

Dylan had lost him when he had given the order for the Cadets to attack and now that they had been defeated he could not see his brother among them.

“It is over and now we must talk to the Chancellor you do see that don’t you Maddison?”

Jerome was right thought Maddie as she looked around at the carnage all around her.

“Lana where is Lana and Jinn has anyone seen Jinn?”

“Over here I am over here.”

Maddie made her way over to where she heard Lana’s voice to find her holding Jinn in her arms.

“He saved me they were coming from everywhere and he saved me.”

Lana was crying and her whole body seemed to be shaking as she held the young boy.

“He didn’t really smell Maddie, well not really bad and he shouldn’t have risked himself for me, why would he do that?”

The loss of Jinn was heart-breaking but Maddie could not mourn for him just yet.

“Raea take Lana away and look after her while Jerome and I go inside the Justice building.”

As Jerome and Maddie walked towards the Imposing steel and Glass building Dylan joined them leaving the rest of their people to chant the name.

“FOR JINN, FORJINN, FOR JINN, FOR JINN, JINN, JINN, JIN

N, JINN, JINN, JINN, JINN, JINN, JINN, JINN, JINN, JINN, JINN.”

Chapter 23

 

Patrice’s order for his Cadets to attack Maddie gave him the opportunity to escape from his inevitable defeat at his brother’s hands. In the following confusion he slipped away with two of his most trusted men and made his way to the bowels of the justice building where Lissa and John were being held prisoner.

“Well Lysette it seems that Dylan has come to rescue you, how romantic a figure he must seem to you right at this moment.”

“Dylan is a man while you are a snake and if he really is here then I hope that he puts you out of your misery for good.”

“Such defiance from someone locked in a cage but then you always did have a rebellious streak just like my brother.”

Dylan ordered his men to take Lysette out of the cage.

“Be careful; hold her tight she is very skilled.”

The two men did as they were ordered and were very careful in their handling of Lissa.

“Make sure that you have her I want to enjoy this.”

With both her hands tied behind her back and Patrice’s men holding her tight Lysette could barely move at all.

“You feeling safe now Patrice?”

Patrice reached down inside his boot and produced a sharp blade which he then ran along Lissa’s neck.

“Do you like the feel of the cold steel Lysette?”

John had been watching from his cage.

“What the hell are you doing? If you hurt her I will kill you myself.”

Lysette did not feel that she needed anyone to defend her.

“Don’t worry John he does not possess the courage to do anything but threaten me and if Dylan is truly here then Patrice is already dead.”

The sharp blade cut much deeper as Patrice sliced across her throat.

“You bastard I will make sure that you die for that.”

Patrice ignored this threat from John as he watched the light dim from Lysette’s eyes and she died in front of him.

“Let her go.”

The two men that were now holding Lysette up did as they were told and she dropped to the floor like a stone.

“Your murderous bastard just let me out of here for a moment and I will tear your head off.”

John’s threats did not even seem to reach Patrice as he left without a backward glance.

“Come on let’s get out of here I need to see the First Minister.”

John was left in his cage helpless to help Lysette who was not moving and he suspected she was already lost to this world anyway.

“Sir the battle is lost there were too many of them and we have been over-run.”

Jarod looked at his son with ill-disguised contempt.

“You could not stop an untrained rabble with disciplined troops at your command, you are a disgrace.”

“We need to authorise the Statepol to finish them off, they are unarmed so it should be easy for them to be wiped out.”

“You bloody fool don’t you see it is too late for that? They have humiliated the Academies and now you want to have them shot by armed police, you never were very bright were you Patrice?”

“No sir I suppose Dylan would understand much better than his older brother your first born.”

The rage was building up within Jarod Holt and if Patrice was not careful he would feel the full wrath of his father.

“Don’t remind me that you are my son especially after such a monumental failure and bring Lysette and the boy here to me now.”

Patrice had not been expecting his father to ask for Lysette.

“I can’t do that Sir.”

“You will bloody well do as you are told or I will have you caged instead.”

There was no way round it so Patrice told his father the truth.

“Lysette is dead I slit her throat before I came here.”

Jarod could no longer contain the rage that had been building up inside of him and reached out for his son. Grabbing him by his lapels and pulling him close to him Jarod spoke in what was almost a whisper.

“You imbecile she was the bridge that would have brought my son back to me.”

Jarod’s fist crashed down on the side of Patrice’s head knocking him onto the hard floor.

“You already have a son here that is loyal to you and yet all you think of is the son that betrayed you.”

Patrice said this through a fog that was beginning to form in his mind from the strength of the blow he received from his father.

“I have only ever had one son and he is not in this room.”

Jarod was ready to go after Patrice again when the Telephone interrupted the one-sided clash.

“Tell the Chancellor that I will be there presently.”

When Jarod put the receiver down and looked up his son had disappeared from the room.

Immediately upon entering the Chancellor’s office her First Minister realised the gravity of his situation.

“They are in the custody of the police and demanding to see me.”

“Then we will see the girl together and detain anyone else that has entered the building.”

“I warned you Jarod and now we have come to this.”

Jarod was not interested in past warnings or recriminations.

“What is done is done, now we deal with the here and now.”

“Have the girl brought to me.”

As they waited for Maddie the Chancellor looked sadly at her First Minister.

“Dylan is with them and inside the building.”

“Unfortunately my son is lost to me and I believe that the actions of today have confirmed that fact to me.”

Jarod was thinking of Dylan’s reaction when he heard of Lysette’s death and he knew that the blame would come his way.

“We have had a good run Jarod but I think it is time for change and it seems that our people also have an appetite for something better.”

Before Jarod could reply the Chancellor was told Maddie had arrived.

“Bring her in then.”

“Hello young lady I am the Chancellor of Velaria and this is my First Minister.”

No names thought Maddie well that was just fine they could be as formal as they wanted.

“You have some friends of mine held here in the Capital I would like to see them.”

“So you have come here with demands may I know the rest of these demands?”

Jarod was quietly standing back and observing the young girl that had led the Imps against him.

“I would like to see my friends and then have you talk to the real leader of those that now occupy your City.”

Jarod was intrigued by Maddie’s statement.

“And who is this leader?”

“His name is Jerome and he speaks for all of the non-citizens of your country.”

The Chancellor shared a look with her First Minister before asking Maddie what stake she had in all of this.

“If you are not the leader then why are you at the head of an army battling with my Cadets?”

“You took my friends prisoner and you murdered my friend Jasmine. If you continue to act in this way then more of your people will organise against you and they will find a way to defeat you.”

“You say that we murdered this Jasmine but I don’t think that we have any knowledge of that.”

Jarod was quick to correct his Chancellor.

“She was the leader of the Devs and she was shot while trying to escape from Juvinescence.”

“Ah hardly murder then young lady.”

“The shooting of unarmed civilians is murder and if you choose to shoot me and all the people that followed me into the Capital then that will be an act of mass murder on your part.”

“Jarod would you please go and fetch the two young people that Maddison wants to see, I would prefer you handled this personally.”

Jarod was inclined to object but in this case the Chancellors order fitted in well with his plans.

“Of course Chancellor I will be back with them shortly.”

Once Jarod had left the room Helene felt she could speak more freely.

“I sympathise with your cause Maddison and there will be no shooting here in my City.”

Maddie was relieved to hear this but was not altogether sure the Chancellor was completely in command.

“Have you told that to your First Minister? He is the one that ordered my friend shot and the capture of my other friends.”

“Jarod is a powerful man and has many friends here in the Capital but I can assure you that I am the one that has the final say in all things concerning my City.”

It was interesting thought Maddie that the Chancellor only seemed concerned with her City.

“And what about outside of your City? When was the last time you went outside of the Capital and looked at how the people out there were treated?”

“I will listen to Jerome and his concerns Maddison. You may also want to know that Jarod Holt will no longer hold the office of First Minister after the way that he has handled things recently he no longer has the support of the council.”

Maddie was not interested in the internal politics of this crazy country and thought it would be better for Helene to talk to Jerome.

“I am not from here and I am not planning on staying after John has been released so I think it best that you speak to Jerome about any future changes here.”

A surprised Helene was more than curious concerning Maddie’s motives.

“You risked your life to free inmates from Juvi and then again to enter the Capital. Yet you have no real interest in the future of the country?”

Maddie could understand the question and it was not exactly true that she had no interest in the future of Velaria.

“I care about your people, I have come to know them and they are a courageous people that deserve freedom. You have denied them status in their own country and treated them as if they are sub-human. I don’t understand a society that can do this to their own children and then hide themselves away in a City of wealth like this one.”

Helene was impressed by Maddie’s passion.

“Perhaps you should stay for a while and help us to change things you certainly have the support of the people.”

“I don’t belong here and I have to get home to see my mother.”

Jarod was saddened to see Lysette’s lifeless body on the floor when he reached the cages and disgusted by the actions of his son.

“Get the boy out he is coming with me.”

John was ready to fight but there were too many of them.

“Your name is John I believe; please do not struggle or I will have one of my men take away your consciousness.”

“You had her murdered in front of me by that vicious thug Patrice.”

“I gave no such order I had great respect for Lysette and would never have harmed her. I know in her heart she was always one of us.”

Jarod knew that he had to get out of the City and with many of the Statepol still loyal to him it would be easy enough to affect his escape.

“I am bringing you with me as I want to know more of where you have come from and it is no longer safe for me in the Capital. Your friend Maddison is here with thousands of your rabble and our Chancellor is ready to give into them. If you cause me too much trouble or try to escape then I will have one of my men terminate her life, do you understand?”

John did not know whether Jarod was telling the truth or not but he was not prepared to risk Maddie’s life.

“I will come with you but what of Patrice, what happens to him?”

“He will remain here to face the consequences of his crime and I hope that those consequences are severe.”

John was as satisfied as he could be in the circumstances and went willingly with Jarod and his men but not before looking down at Lysette’s body.

“She was the most courageous of us all.”

Jarod ignored what he considered the boy’s oversentimentality.

“It has been quite some time how long before he comes back with my friends?”

Helene was wondering the same thing and sent someone to check on why there was such a delay.

“The girl is dead and the boy is gone Chancellor.”

“And what of the First Minister?”

“He was not there Chancellor.”

Maddie was in shock and could not believe what she was hearing.

“Maddison I am sorry about what has happened to your friends but we still need to resolve the present situation.”

The present situation what on earth was the woman talking about?

“Lissa is dead and John is missing that is my present situation.”

“You say your care about the people of my country then please act like it and help me help them.”

Maddie knew that she had to think about George, Lana and Dylan, oh god how was she going to tell Dylan about Lissa?

“You need to bring Dylan and Jerome in now.”

The Chancellor had them brought to them.

“Dylan I am so sorry but I have something terrible to tell you.”

“No don’t I won’t hear it and certainly not from you.”

Maddie went silent and looked to the Chancellor.

“Dylan Lysette has been killed and there is nothing more to be done about it.”

My god that was blunt thought Maddie.

“You this is your doing.”

Dylan ran at Maddie with deadly intent.

“Stop him.”

The Chancellors words carried the weight of her office.

Jerome was the closest to Maddie and placed himself between Dylan and Maddie.

“Get out of my way if you want to live.”

Jerome remained exactly where he was and readied himself for Dylan’s onslaught.

“Aaargh you bastards.”

The Lektro from the Chancellors guard struck Dylan from behind before he could reach Jerome.

“You did not need to do that.”

Maddie was not sure this was true but she hated seeing Dylan treated this way.

“He had to be stopped young lady and from what I could see it was entirely necessary.

“Dylan if you attempt anything like that in my presence again I will have you caged.”

Dylan was recovering quickly from the charge of the Lektro but he did not want anyone else in the room to be aware of this fact.

“There will not always be someone to protect you from me Maddie.”

“I am sorry about Lissa and I would do anything to change what has happened.”

The look she received back from Dylan told Maddie that her words had no meaning for him.

The Chancellor received a call and ordered her guards to keep an eye on Dylan while she answered the phone.

“Really have him brought to me.”

The Chancellors chief of police entered the room with Patrice trailing behind him.

“Patrice has placed him-self in my custody and asked me to bring him to you as he wishes to report a crime.

“Come closer Patrice I would like to hear what you have to say.”

Patrice approached the Chancellor with all eyes in the room upon him.

“I have come before you to report the murder of a prisoner while in my care.”

Dylan was quick to interrupt his brother.

“What do you know of Lissa’s death?”

“It was our father he killed Lysette in revenge for you entering the City, I tried to stop him and I received this for my efforts.”

Patrice pointed to where Jarod had struck him.

“John what happened to John?”

Maddie sounded desperate as she asked her question.

“He was shot trying to escape?”

It was Impossible and Maddie refused to believe this it did not help that Patrice showed no emotion as he gave her this news.

“You are lying why would he try to escape?”

“I have no reason to lie and I have no idea why he attempted to escape.”

It was true thought Maddie he had no reason to lie and if John was alive where was he?

The chancellor asked Patrice a direct question, one that she desperately wanted to have an answer to.

“Where is your father now Patrice? If you know then you must tell me.”

“I have no knowledge of where my father is I have not seen him since his blow knocked me unconscious.”

Jerome had been studying Patrice and being a practiced liar himself could see that there were holes in his story.

“The death of John is tragic Maddison but we need to think of our people out there on the streets, think of Lana.”

Jerome wanted to take the attention away from Patrice and for Maddie to accept that John was really dead.

“I want his story checked before I believe that John has been killed.”

That was fine thought Jerome.

“I will talk with the Chancellor and we will get to the truth of this but right now we need to take care of our people.”

Maddie could see that Jerome was right and knew that she had a responsibility to those she had led into the Capital.”

“There are many out there that need medical attention Chancellor and as a gesture of good will I think that you should arrange they get it.”

“It is done Maddison and as Jerome has said we will find out what happened to your friend but for now I think that you should take some time. I will arrange a room for you while we talk and as for you Dylan I do not want to have you caged so I will accept your word that you will not attack Maddison while she is my guest.”

Dylan had fully recovered now and had contemplated the idea of snapping Maddie’s neck but had calculated that he would be stopped before he could reach her.

“You have it Chancellor and now I want to join the rest of the Imps and get away from the politicos in this room.”

Helene had always thought Dylan astute and now she was Impressed that he recognised Jerome as a political animal in the same way that she had as soon as he started to talk.

“I accuse Patrice of Murder and would like to have him detained while he awaits trial.”

Jerome’s voice barely registered with the grieving Dylan as he left the Chancellors office.

“Do you have any evidence of Patrice’s crime?”

“Over two dozen witnesses will testify to him giving the order for a young girl to be Lektroed to death.”

Helene knew that she would have to give concessions to Jerome and it seemed a small thing to have Patrice caged for the time being.

“Take him away and we will deal with him later.”

Maddie was taken to a large office with a smaller room that could be used as a living space and left there. John was all that she could think of, how could she tell his parents what had happened to him and what the hell was she thinking trying to change the order of things in a world that she had no place in?

It had been hours since Maddie had been escorted to the room and she must have fallen asleep only to be woken by Jerome’s voice.

“Maddie wake up, wake up I have something to tell you.”

Rubbing the sleep from her tired eyes Maddie faced Jerome.

“I am awake tell me what you have to say.”

“I am sorry to say Maddison that John was killed while trying to escape we have found the shooter and he verifies Patrice’s account of what happened.”

If not for her great sense of loss Maddie might have known that Jerome was lying to her to further his own agenda.

“There is no doubt that John is gone.”

Maddie could not bring herself to say the word dead.

“There is no doubt Maddison and I think that you should seriously think about leaving here as soon as you can, Dylan has disappeared and I fear for your life.”

Chapter 24

 

It was time to leave that was clear but had she done enough? Maddie had long known how to find her way back the thing she was not sure of was had she eased the suffering of the people of Velaria?

There was only one way to find out and that was to call the number that she had seen in the paper that morning in Tumbledown cottage.

“223344 Tumbledown I want to come home.”

At first there was silence until Maddie heard a familiar voice.

“That is lovely dear I will send Mr Didcot be outside the back of the Justice building presently.”

Maddie was in awe at how easy that had gone and could only hope that leaving Justice would be just as easy.

“Can you tell me how to get out the back please?”

Why not just ask thought Maddie after all she was not a prisoner and there was no reason why anyone should stop her.

“Hello Maddie you made it all the way to the Capital I see.”

It was Henry the old man from Dylan’s camp who pulled up in a battered old jeep.

“Your Mrs Didcot’s husband, why didn’t you tell me who you were?”

Henry smiled as he gestured her into the jeep.

“Not allowed I’m afraid it’s against the rules and yes I am indeed Mrs Didcot’s husband.”

The drive out of the Capital did not seem to take as long as it should have and Maddie could not understand why.

“How did we get out of the City so quickly?”

Henry had a sparkle in his eye as he answered glibly.

“I know all of the shortcuts Maddie and we will be back at Tumbledown shortly.”

“John tried to find his way back but he said that Tumbledown was gone.”

A saddened look from Henry signalled to Maddie that he did not want to talk of John.

“I would have liked to say goodbye to Lana I will miss her.”

“You have done more than enough for the people of Velaria and her life will be all the better for knowing you.”

Maddie was not convinced that she had made anything better and did not want to think about it anymore.

“When we go back how long will I have been gone for?”

Henry had always been Impressed by Maddie but the fact that she was aware that time worked differently in both places really bowled him over.

“You will have been gone for a couple of days and that is all.”

“I will make my way straight to my mother and when they find me I will tell them that I know nothing of what has happened to John.”

Maddie could not face John’s parents and could not give them answers anyway.

“I think that is best Maddie.”

The walk through the back garden of Tumbledown was short and Maddie had to stop herself from looking back.

“Hello dear I am so pleased that you made it back so many others don’t you know.”

Maddie thought of Jasmine and John as Mrs Didcot greeted her.

“I know, I know only too well.”

The couple looked at Maddie and said in unison.

“It is time to leave now Maddie and now that you are back Tumbledown will no longer exist as a gateway so there is no way for you to return to Velaria. We would both like to thank you for releasing us from our duties as guardians.”

Maddie did not understand or care what the Didcot’s were talking about all she wanted to do was be on her way to see her mother.

“Goodbye Henry.”

Maddie left the Cottage by the front entrance as she had entered it and knew that she would never be the same again.

 

The End


Tumbledown

In a world within our own Phoebe Maddison finds herself facing an unjust society that is ruthless in its treatment of its own people. Inspired by the plight of the oppressed children that are suffering under a tyrannous government, the young girl needs to find the courage to lead the way forward against a brutal regime that values only strength and despises weakness of any kind. Along the way Phoebe discovers the true nature of humanity and begins to understand that real strenth can only come from compassion and understanding. John Harrison's search for the girl that interfered with his summer plans would take him on a journey that would force him to grow up quickly. A Journey that would begin with Tumbledown and end in a faraway land that would bring him closer to finding the fiery girl that so unsettled him.

  • Author: tomfrawley
  • Published: 2017-02-08 14:50:18
  • Words: 86623
Tumbledown Tumbledown