Returning to Sovereign City after everything that was stolen from her is something Indra never thought she would do. Despite the scars she wears both inside and out, left there at the hands of the Sovereign and the Fortis, she is determined to save her people from oppression, even if it means putting her own safety at risk. But it isn't long before she once again finds her world shattering around her. As the dust settles, Indra manages to find strength among the ruins, and she sets out on a quest to unite the four Outlier tribes, hoping to take their enemies down once and for all.
Release date: May 21, 2018
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 363
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Uprising: A Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Novel
Kate L. Mary
I stood at the edge of the village, watching the the sun rise over the wilds while I waited for Mira. The chill in the air told me that winter was once again on its way, and I found myself thinking back to the year before. To the day of the first snowfall, which had also been the day I received my first punishment from Saffron in almost three years. I had not known it at the time, but that day had been the beginning of something new. It had started a chain of events that had changed me so thoroughly that I found the life I was now living completely unrecognizable at times. The person I had become was nothing like the old Indra. She had been timid and weak, scared to go out into the wilds even with her husband. Now, though, I had found strength buried deep inside me that I had never known I could possess. If I went back to the city now, if I once again put myself in a position where the Sovereign and Fortis had power over me, would it change me even more? Would it make me stronger, or more vulnerable? Did I really have the strength to make a difference in the lives of my people, or was I fooling myself?
Until last night when Mira came to me, delivering Saffron’s request that I return to my job, I had never considered returning to the city. Not after everything they had stolen from me. Not after watching my husband lose his life on my last day there. But I could do so much more for my people inside those walls than out here in the wilds, and not going back would be an act of cowardice. It was what the old Indra would have done, and I was no longer that person.
While my mind was made up, thinking about that punishment, as well as all the other things that had transpired over the last year, I still found myself wondering why I would ever choose to head back into the city when I had barely escaped with my life the last time. The reasons to stay away numbered more than the stars in the sky—the threat of Lysander, the brutality of the guards, the cruelty of Saffron—but every time I thought about them, the reasons I had to return pushed at my doubts until they were carried away like the dust in the wind.
By the time Mira emerged from between the huts, her passage markings dark against her pale skin in the early morning light, my mind was made up. When she saw me waiting at the edge of the village, a smile spread across her face that illuminated her blue eyes. I was fairly certain it was the first genuine smile she had given me since Bodhi’s death, and I added it to the list of things that had changed over the last year.
She stopped in front of me just as a breeze swept through the wilds, rustling her blond hair. “You are sure?”
“I am,” I replied.
The words came out firm and confident, and they gave me strength. Strength I would need on the long walk ahead of us, as well as throughout the day. Just being in the city would challenge me emotionally, but being around Saffron and Lysander, the very people who were responsible for the death of my husband, would no doubt test me to my very limits of self-control.
Mira and I set off, and the cool morning air clung to us all the way through the wilds to the borderland. By the time the wastelands came into view, the sun was well over the horizon, and the warmth of its rays sucked every ounce of chill from the air.
I had not set eyes on the dry earth of the wastelands for more than six months, and it shocked me how blinding it seemed after emerging from the cover of the trees. My hand went to my eyes on its own, shading them from the rays, and I had the sudden recollection of doing this same thing four years ago on my very first trip to Sovereign City. Even though I had been well into my twenties back then, I had still been a child, naïve, my fears superficial compared to what they were now. I was better equipped to deal with the concerns that plagued my life now, but compared to the worries of that day, they were as massive as the Lygan Cliffs at my side.
Despite the long walk, when the wall came into view, looming in the distance and dwarfing even the cliffs, it seemed as if only minutes had passed. Then the tops of the houses that signified the Fortis village were visible as well, and the dread I had been trying to keep at bay balled into a rock and settled in the bottom of my stomach. Mira and I paused to stash our weapons like we usually did, neither of us saying a word, and I was grateful for the silence. I was focused on what I would need to do to get through the day, and Mira no doubt knew that.
Last time I left the city, the building that was to be quarters for the Outliers had been little more than a shell. Now, six months later, it was well underway. It towered over the homes in the village. Three stories high, it had a walkway on each level and rows of doors lined up one after the other. So many that I could not comprehend it, but the numbers were no doubt correct. It would be enough to hold every Outlier who worked in the city, and when that happened, we would be nothing but slaves for the Sovereign.
Thankfully, the progress seemed to be very slow.
“I thought it would be further along,” I said as Mira and I started walking again.
“They do just enough work to please the Sovereign, but they are dragging it out,” she replied. “As long as it is being built, they receive more from inside the city.”
“Then let us hope it takes them years to finish.”
My time away had not been long enough to wash the sights and smells of the Fortis village from my mind, but I still wrinkled my nose in disgust when we reached the outskirts. It was the stench of rotting food and too many people living together, as well as the stink of waste, from both animals and people. It was enough to make me second-guess my decision, even though I knew I had been right to return to the city. Still, no matter how vivid my memories of the brutality I had witnessed and been subjected to at the hands of the Fortis, it was not until this moment that I was able to once again fully appreciate just how repulsive these people were. They lived like animals, took little to no care with themselves or their homes, and their stench was as rotten as their souls.
Thankfully, as usual, the village was quiet in the dawn of a new morning, and we made it through without incident. Then the gate was in front of me, opening so Mira and I could pass through, and I suddenly found myself ready to cross the threshold into Sovereign City for the first time in six months. It took a great deal of effort to put one foot in front of the other, because all at once my legs felt as weighed down as my stomach. I managed it though, lifting one foot after the other until I was finally inside and the doors had shut behind me, and I knew there was no going back.
The city had not changed in all the months I had been away, and yet it had. Mira and I walked down the street, surrounded by the same world I had visited nearly every day for more than three years. On the surface, nothing had really changed, but everything about it looked different to me now. Or maybe it only felt different.
The streets were already busy despite the early hour. Outliers hurried to jobs or ran errands for the houses they worked in, while Fortis guards leaned against walls, watching with cool eyes. I spied the occasional Sovereign among the crowd, cloaked in the thick robes they wore, the hoods pulled up to protect them from the sun, electroprods in their hands.
At the first sight of them, my heart pounded faster and I found myself being transported back in time, back to the day I knelt in front of dozens of people, waiting for my husband’s punishment. The memory of the crack of the whip against my back caused me to break out into a sweat, and a tremble moved through my body. I wanted to turn and run, to get away from this city and these people. To never return.
Then I saw an Outlier, a member of the Huni tribe, standing in front of two Fortis guards. Her shaved head was lowered, and surrounded by the massive forms of the men, she seemed impossibly small and helpless. Anger surged through me when one of the men took the basket from her hand and dumped it on the ground, spilling the contents on the street. The other man grabbed her arm, jerking her forward until his face was nearly pressed up against hers. His lips moved, and even though I could not make out his words, I knew the tone with which they would be flung at the poor girl. The hatred, the rage. Directed at her simply because she was an Outlier, and within these walls she had no rights. She was helpless.
But I was not. I had killed men just like the ones standing in front of her. Had raised my bow and released my arrow, and watched as they bled to death on the forest floor. Inside these walls I might not have had the power to put a stop to this, but that did not mean it would always be that way. This was why I had come back. To find a way to turn the tables on the Fortis. To find a way to free my people.
After that, I kept my head high as I walked, refusing to lower my eyes when I passed the Fortis guards, refusing to steer clear of the Sovereign the way I always had before. They no longer scared me, because not only had I been through the worst they could do to me and survived, I also knew the scars they had left behind were just that. Scars. The marks on my back no longer hurt, the bruises had healed, and the cracks in my heart would heal over time as well. I would always miss Bodhi, but he was with me in spirit and that was something no one could take from me. Not even the Sovereign.
Mira and I arrived at the house to find my new uniform waiting in the mudroom. My friend was silent as I changed my clothes, the worry in her blue eyes feeling louder than a scream in the small space.
“I will be okay,” I told her.
Mira’s expression did not ease. “Saffron will want to see you.”
“I know.” I exhaled as I ran my hands down my uniform.
The stiff fabric of the dress against my skin brought a new rush of memories, and for a moment I had to close my eyes. Wearing this dress seemed to transfer me back to the person I used to be. It made me vulnerable. Weak, even.
It was only a dress, though. Nothing about it changed who I was now or erased the things I had done. I was strong, and I would not let Saffron break me.
“I will be okay,” I murmured, almost to myself.
When I reopened my eyes, I felt stronger. More prepared to face the day.
“We should go in,” Mira said, turning toward the door.
Even though we were silent when we stepped into the kitchen, most of the Outliers in the room turned, almost as if they had been waiting for my arrival. No one spoke, but the gazes of the other women followed my progress as I crossed the room, their eyes filled with pity. If only I could tell them how unnecessary it was. If only I could explain to them it was not me they should pity, but the Fortis.
I said nothing as I passed through the kitchen and out into the dining room, heading for Saffron’s office. Months had passed since I had last seen the woman who wore my husband’s blood on her hands, and I felt like a totally different person when I stepped into the room. The last time I was here, I had been beaten and bruised from Lysander’s attack, and facing the death of my husband. I had felt on the verge of dying myself and had been very certain it would be at the hands of the Fortis. Now, though, I walked with confidence. The blood that ran through Saffron ran through my veins as well. I was Sovereign, I had been born inside these walls, but I was stronger than they were because I was an Outlier as well. I knew what it meant to suffer and struggle, and I had the strength to drag myself up off the ground even in the face of extreme despair. I had the power to be as strong as the woman who ran this house. Not cold and unemotional, but persuasive and determined. Someone who did what needed to be done no matter the cost.
Just as I had expected, Saffron was sitting behind her desk when I stepped into her office, waiting for me. Her eyes, which were the same steely gray as her hair, swept over me when I stopped in front of her, and her lips twitched as if she were working to hold in a smile. In front of her sat the electroprod, menacing even in its silence.
“I’m glad you decided to return,” she said after only a beat of silence.
I lowered my head, but not nearly as low as it used to be. My eyes, however, were not focused on the wood floors gleaming beneath my feet, but instead on the woman in front of me. Her skin appeared twice as pale in the dim light of the room, and I was once again struck by how smooth it was despite having lived more than a half a century.
“Thank you for the opportunity.” I intentionally left off the word mistress.
If Saffron noticed, she made no mention of it. Instead, she stood from her chair and crossed to the front of the desk, her eyes on me the whole time. I watched as she did it, my gaze focused and steady. Not once did it waiver from her face, and not once did I consider lowering it to the ground.
She frowned, pulling her waxy skin down as her eyes swept over me again. Saffron had put on weight over the last six months, although she was still nowhere near as plump as most of the Sovereign, and her face was rounder than it had been. It made her look more like her son, which should have scared me, but instead made my back stiffen even more as my determination to stand up to this woman grew in intensity. She and I were the same height, short by the standards of both the Fortis and the Outliers, but average among the Sovereign.
I had always been the shortest among my people, though, and it suddenly made sense why that was. Outliers tended to be tall and wiry, while the Sovereign were short and much rounder. Their thickness stemmed from their gluttonous lifestyles, but the height was something that had come about over centuries, perhaps due to the lack of variety in their bloodlines, and it explained why I was such a small person. Only last night, right after Mira had returned to the city and told me Saffron wanted me to return to my post, I discovered I had been born within these very walls. That I was Sovereign by birth but had been smuggled out of the city and raised as an Outlier.
Saffron stood in front of me, her emotionless eyes silently taking me in for another moment before saying, “Six months? That’s how long it’s been?” She paused so I could nod. “I thought you would need the time to not only recover, but to think about how you would proceed once you were back in my good graces. I take it you now understand that defiance of any kind will not be tolerated?”
“I now know that Outliers are expected to bend to the will of the Sovereign no matter what the circumstances are.”
Saffron’s left eyebrow lifted just a tad, and I could tell that she was trying to decide if my words meant I agreed with her, or if I was making a point.
After a moment she said, “Very well, then. You may return to your post.”
I bowed my head slightly as I took a step back. “Thank you.”
This time when I left mistress off, Saffron’s eyes did narrow. She said nothing, but her gaze followed me as I turned away and dug into my back like the claws of a lygan. I kept my head high, though, and my spine straight as I left her office, and I had no intention of changing that, no matter what I faced today or any other day. From now on, I would be stronger than even the strongest of the Fortis guards.
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