Authors: James Patterson
For Adlai, with love and sparks
I CAN’T BELIEVE what I’m witnessing.
You would think it was a riot if you saw us on TV.
Shouts cut through the crisp air. Bodies push and sway. Hands rip at flags and banners, and feet kick in surveillance screens. A great bonfire swallows up the splintered pieces of the destruction.
But no fists are raised, and this isn’t a protest. I’m opening my lungs, but it’s to join the ecstatic voices in
: The One Who Is The One, the Overworld’s violent dictator, is dead, and the New Order regime has fallen.
We are free.
Free to listen to music—and it’s pumping through the loudspeakers.
Free to read books. We’re clutching them to our chests.
Free to believe what we want and to say what we feel. Even free to walk the streets without being arrested.
Excitement fizzes through my whole being, and every nerve stands on end as the crowd moves as one toward a vast stage in the center of the capital’s square for the ceremony marking the end of the New Order’s totalitarian regime and the return to a peaceful democracy. I’m grinning in the middle of the sea of people, and I pull my tangled hair back from my face as I jostle for a view.
A man in a smart gray suit takes the stage and taps the microphone. He’s doughy and stern-faced, with his white hair parted severely to the side, and I recognize him as General Matthias Bloom, one of the last holdouts against the New Order in the outer suburbs.
A hush falls as thousands upon thousands of eager eyes gaze up at him.
“My dear, dear friends, today is a new beginning, a beautiful beginning for all of us. And to mark that birth,” his voice booms, “I introduce to you now… your new Council!”
I’m tingly all over, almost like the electricity I feel when my magic is strong, or the awesome rush of adrenaline when I’m performing onstage. It’s like the air itself is buzzing with hope.
General Bloom starts to read off the names of seventeen men and women and seventeen kids our age: the group chosen to restore this place to the way it once was, to the City we loved before The One Who Is The One brutally enforced the madness of his New Order.
“Wisteria Rose Allgood,” he reads, and I can’t help it—tears are streaming down my cheeks as I mount the stone steps, my name echoing through the loudspeakers.
My brother, Whit, is right by my side—and this is why I love him so much—Whit has tears in his eyes, too, and he’s not ashamed. As divided as our City once was, with neighbor killing neighbor and only suspicion to feed us when food was scarce, it’s incredible to be part of the leadership that will bring us back together for something else—something
As I stand on that stage, representing all these united voices, the rebel in me can’t resist. I pull a scrap of a banner from my shoulder bag. I spread the crimson fabric open with two arms above my head, and the crowd starts to jeer and yell as the sign of the New Order billows in the wind.
Red means the New Order. Red means the Blood Plague. Red means death.
My brother elbows me—this whole ceremony has been planned out minute by minute, and I’m definitely straying way off script—but there’s a method to my madness, and he knows it.
I concentrate on the buildup of heat in my chest, and flames lick out from my fingertips and climb up the banner, enveloping it in seconds.
The crowd is in a frenzy of cheers and shouts, and I’m up here grinning giddily. By seeing that shock of red blackening to ash, we know that even though we can never get back the things we lost, we have overcome so, so much. And with hands clasped, hearts pounding, and a few deep breaths, we can still do this—we can mold this society into something great.
I’m a part of it, and you’re a part of it.
It’s just the beginning.
DUSK IS FALLING, and we’re singing. My heart seems to be lodged way up in my throat.
Having taken our vows, we thirty-four Council members stand side by side in a circle on the stage. We wear different badges of honor or war or age, but standing here together, we’re equals.
We sing the old songs today, songs we learned from our parents. Songs I sang with the Neederman family last year on the Holiday, not knowing whether my sister would live or die from the plague. As our voices waver on the final note, General Bloom takes the stage again.
“Today, we sing for new beginnings.” Applause echoes across the square. “But we sing to remember our history as well, and an older order!” He holds a hefty, yellowed tome above his head, and an audible gasp can be heard from the crowd.
I’m in awe, like everyone else.
The Book of Truths.
The most sacred text in the Overworld. Destiny’s riddle. The book that has defined our lives. We all grew up revering its words, but few of us have seen it, and actually touching its dusty pages seems unthinkable.
But because Matthias Bloom salvaged the book from the embers while so many great texts burned, he is its new Keeper.
At her cue, Janine strides to the podium. I’d be sweating bullets if I had to actually speak today, but she’s poised and confident, and gives the crowd a long, measured look. She’s in her standard combat boots. Her hair is as wild as ever, and she wears no makeup. But as usual, she’s
The Book of Truths
prophesized that only a sister and a brother, a witch and a wizard, could defeat The One Who Is The One,” Janine says into the microphone, her voice clear and strong. “It told of their power, of a sky filled with flames.” At the mention of my sister’s Gift of fire, the square erupts in cheers. “Among many things we celebrate today, we pay tribute to their strength and courage that led to The One’s ultimate downfall.”
Now the cheers crescendo, but Janine’s not finished. “But never forget, we are all brothers and sisters. I know the fire of life, love, and leadership is burning not just in Wisty Allgood, but in each one of us.”
No one cheers that line more than my sister. Wisty hoots her agreement, rebel-style, and I grin. Janine was just supposed to introduce Wisty and me, but give her a platform and some willing ears, and she’ll tell you what’s what every time. She’s a great speaker—articulate, endearing, whip-smart—and the crowd is eating up her every word.
So am I.
“We all have equal power and responsibility to make this City great,” Janine continues. “Because that fire inside us is hotter than any magic, stronger than any spell. It’s the spark of change and the slow burn of new hope!” She looks out over the transfixed faces, satisfied. “And now, my friends, without further ado, I give you your heroes… Whit and Wisty Allgood!”
We step forward, and the crowd pulses and chants both of our names, but I know it’s Wisty’s fire they’ve come to see today.
She doesn’t disappoint. First, sparks shoot from her hands again, but as the fire grows, my sister becomes a human torch, the flames on her head even redder than her hair. Her feet singe a black spot onto the platform, and even her gaze smolders.
Plenty of people have seen her flame out, though, so this time she takes it to the max. She swoops her hand across the sky dramatically, and a splash of light follows her arc, exploding in a million dots of color. Her hands dance inside their flames, the shower of fireworks becoming brighter as the choreography becomes more complex. It’s the most beautiful show any of us has ever seen, but there’s something deeper going on here, too.
Wisty’s magic painted across the sky says what Bloom did not: We have the freedom to write our own story now.
I gaze out across the crowded square flickering with vivid color underneath the fireworks. I take in the many faces, old and young, magic-making or not, from near and far. Color dances in their eyes, and their faces glow with a joy we’d forgotten could exist.
There’s a small group at the very edge of the crowd, apart from the rest. As I squint my eyes, trying to make out their dark clothes—street rags or shredded New Order Youth uniforms—the tallest one drags a finger slowly across his neck. My own throat goes dry.
He’s looking straight at me.
I glance at my sister to see if she noticed the ragged group on the outskirts. Wisty’s still eating up the attention, waving to the people and grinning at our parents, who are levitating above the crowd to show their support.
When I look back to the threatening figure, there’s no one there.
It’s not over yet….
THE INAUGURAL CEREMONY earlier was superemotional and important, but
is what I have been waiting for: music pumping through my veins. The spotlight bathing me in its beam. My hair flying around me as I shred my guitar.
like when I played for thousands at the underground Stockwood Music Festival last year—I mean, I have to admit, it was pretty fun to break the law—but rocking the open-mic stage at the Art Is Alive Gala is pretty thrilling.
For one thing, the gala involves all the stuff we love that’s been banned for so long. There are tons of new sculptures, films, and writing exhibited here, and looking out from the stage, it’s incredible to see all the paintings The One confiscated now restored and lining the walls. You’d never guess this gallery used to be a New Order armory.
I wipe the sweat from my brow and shout into the microphone, “We can’t forget: art is alive…
because The One is dead
!” The crowd roars.
I strum the final chord and step off the small stage to rejoin my group of friends—mostly kids from the former Resistance. As the lights dim for the next act, Sasha hands me some strong-smelling punch.
“Cheers to the rock star,” he says.
I take a sip… and spit it out as the astringent burn takes over my nostrils.
“Sorry. Maybe it’s my strong aversion to the color red, but not for me.”
Whit nods. “Trust me, she’s already pretty spazzy as is without alcohol.” I scoff, and Whit breaks into a smile. “Hey, spazzy is a good quality in an entertainer. You were awesome up there, by the way.”
I beam at him. “So is this DJ,” I say as a new act starts up.
“Yeah. That’s my friend Ross Lilienfield,” Sasha says. “We used to record mixes together in his basement when we were kids. This is definitely his best stuff.”
I nod appreciatively and start to move with the music, the energy making its way down to my hips and feet.
Janine nudges me. “Looks like you’ve got a fan.”
Now I sense the eyes on me. Through the darkness, I can see a boy. His eyes lock on mine, and something in me feels as explosive as the fireworks I created earlier.
Janine squeezes my arm and giggles, but I can’t even brush it off.
As the boy starts walking over, my pulse thuds faster with each step.
But then Byron appears at my side, demanding attention. As usual, he’s in wooing mode. “You’re a virtuoso, Wisty,” he says, eyes shining with sincerity.
He’s overdressed, but he still looks dapper—almost handsome—in his crisp white shirt and black tie. I’m sure some other girl would find the anxious wrinkle in his brow endearing. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want some other girl.
“Thanks, Byron,” I murmur, eyes scanning the crowd for the gorgeous stranger in the shadows.
Where did he go?
“I mean, you were completely
up there!” he presses, sensing my attention drifting. Gotta give the kid credit. He never gives up.
“On fire? Really?” I look at him wryly, and Byron chuckles.
“I can understand your friend’s mistake,” a voice says in a low, playful tone into my ear.