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by Sage Sask
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: February 2019
Abandoned at eleven with no memory of her family, Alexia yearns to learn her true identity. She embarks on a dangerous quest for the truth of her past. In the resulting battle between life and death, Alexia learns that sacrifice and revealing the gift she fought to keep hidden may be her only chance for survival.
A secret unearthed, a shocking betrayal, and a moment when lives hang in the balance leaves Alexia with only one choice. Will the decision determine her destiny or end her life?
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FIVE YEARS EARLIER
The hard fist comes at the girl from the left. She throws her arm up. The fist slams against the bone above her wrist. She bites her teeth into her lip as the bone cracks. Pain radiates from her arm to every part of her body. She swallows air to silence her cry. Any sound of agony will lead to a reprimand. She is taking a deep breath through her torn lip, preparing to respond, when the boy pivots and slams his fist into her stomach. Bile rises in her throat as oxygen rushes out of her body. She doubles over, gasping for breath. Her broken wrist hangs limply from her forearm.
“Breathe through your nose,” the instructor orders the girl. He looms over the group. His cool voice lacks sympathy. He motions for the boy to hold up both his fists in preparation. “Again.”
There is a roomful of them. They range in age from six to sixteen - friends and siblings that have been raised together. Paired with someone of the same age, they fight one another. Every day, hour after hour, they train like soldiers. They test their strength on one another. Blood drips from the cut above the girl’s mouth. The skin around her right eye colors from pink to black. She swallows a mouthful of blood, nearly gagging on the coppery-tasting liquid.
“Ready,” the girl insists. Losing is not an option. It was a lesson learned long before she could remember. “Again.”
Sure the boy will go for her face; she raises her good hand and wraps her fingers into a fist. The silver ring her mother gave her years ago digs into her skin. The boy swivels on his heel. His foot strikes the base of her spine. The girl flies forward. Her head bounces off the wall. White spots dance in front of her before a black curtain of unconsciousness starts to shield her.
“You are too weak.” The instructor shakes his head in disgust. “You will never survive,” he spits.
His words are a bucket of cold water. The girl forces open her eyelids. The instructor towers over her, his thick feet spread evenly. At over six feet, he is a giant to her eleven-year-old self. Around them the rest continue in their battle.
His disappointment cuts through her. She struggles to stand, desperate to prove him wrong. At last she finds her feet. She walks past him, toward the waiting boy. He is taller than her by a few inches, and stronger. He eyes her, curious. The girl nods once, as if in defeat, then pivots and slams her foot into the boy’s abdomen. He staggers back. The girl takes advantage and slices him across the leg with another hit. He falls to the ground. He grips his leg in pain. Sweat pours down his face.
“It’s broken,” the boy whispers.
His pain cuts through her. She winces at his agony. The girl goes to help him up, but the instructor stands between them. He glances down at the boy then back at the girl.
“Finish him,” the instructor orders.
The girl steps back, sure she has misheard. “What?”
“Out cold. The loser should never be left standing.” He points to the boy. “Now. He is weak. You have the advantage.”
On instinct, the girl shakes her head. She glances at the boy, who pleads with her silently not to hurt him. “I cannot.”
“Cannot or will not?” the instructor demands. Around them the room falls silent, entranced by their exchange. “You think he would give you the same courtesy? You are a fool if you think he would spare you.”
They are all watching her. She feels the instructor’s disappointment and disgust. Maybe, she fears, he is right. Maybe she is too weak.
“He is my friend,” she whispers, trying to explain. “It is not right.”
“There is no right or wrong in war,” the instructor seethes. “Only winners and losers. And you have shown your hand.”
“No. She has shown her heart.” The woman who enters is dressed in all white.
“Mama,” the girl says. She starts to explain, but her mother raises her hand for silence.
“Sei forte, mia cara, si?” her mother asks in perfect Italian.
The girl stares at her mother before assuring her she is strong. “Si, Madre, sono forte,” she replies.
The girl’s mother offers her a broad smile before turning a cool gaze toward the man. “Enough for today.” She takes a clean cloth from her pocket and gently dabs at the blood on the girl’s lip. “You will resume tomorrow.”
“She is failing,” the man argues. At the woman’s silence, he sighs, then nods. Without a word to the girl, he leaves them alone.
“Mama.” Disappointed at her weakness, the girl starts to apologize, but her mother shushes her.
“You’ll get better tomorrow and every day after that until it is time.”
“Voy a ganar esta pelea.” The girl switches to Spanish. She promises to win the fight.
Her mother insisted she master five languages in total. The girl practiced for hours every week until she was fluent.
Her mother smiles as she continues to wipe the blood. The cloth touches a bruise. The girl winces at the explosion of pain. She quickly schools her face, desperate to prove her strength.
“Bueno,” her mother replies.
The girl wonders whether her mother is proud of her insistence that she will win or her refusal to show pain.
“How many are sick today?” the girl asks when her mother falls silent.
“Three.” The worry dances across her mother’s face. All around them their people are ill or dying from the serum. “We gave them the antidote, but there is little left …” She shakes her head and offers her daughter a smile. “We must focus on you. Soon the time will come.”
Her words are more powerful than any punch in training. “What if I don’t want to go? To leave my family?”
The girl wraps her arm around her waist and drops her head. It is the same question she has asked before, but each time, she silently hopes for a different answer.
Her mother’s face contorts until the girl is sure she is staring at a stranger. Coldness replaces the warmth, and her mother’s eyes narrow in warning. “We don’t have a choice. You are the only hope. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mother,” the girl answers, a well-trained warrior. She will follow directions. Always.
The woman grips her daughter’s hand and squeezes. The pain starts at the girl’s spine and travels like a speeding train toward the base of her skull. She imagines a white light to shield her from the pain as her mother taught her to do. The vision begins like a movie in a darkened theater. The girl closes her eyes and watches it carefully.
The ocean water is cold. Deep within its recesses, the girl struggles to breathe. Her mother’s hands push her above the surface. She has started to swim when there’s a searing pain in her abdomen. Through the clear blue waters, she sees a throbbing red scar etched into her skin. She turns to ask how she got it, but her mother pushes away.
The waves lap over the girl’s head. In the distance, she sees the shore, but it seems impossible to reach. With a deep breath, she pushes forward. Her arms swing side to side as her feet kick the water in perfect rhythm.
The sun beats down on her as her feet finally touch the sand. She falls onto the beach, exhausted. She lays her hand on the scar. The broken skin burns. She searches the ocean’s horizon, but there is no sign of her mother. Other than the silver ring encircling her finger, she has nothing left from her life before. Tears course down her cheeks.
The girl yanks her hand out of her mother’s. Immediately the vision starts to fade, along with the pain.
“What did you see?” her mother demands.
The girl tries to catch her breath. She searches for an answer about the vision, but nothing makes sense. “I’m in the water.” She looks up, expecting to see shock and surprise on her mother’s face, but finds neither. “I’m lost.” She fights the tears that threaten. “Why am I lost?” she begs.
“Because it is the only way.”
About the Author
Sage Sask is a team consisting of a Washington Post, USA Today and Amazon charts bestselling author and a group of young adult writers.
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