Home > True Born (True Born Trilogy #1)

True Born (True Born Trilogy #1)
Author: L. E. Sterling



Chapter One

 

When we came into the world, silent and cowled, my sister and I were attached by our big toes. They waited a whole day to separate us, and for that one perfect day, Margot and I were one. After the separation, they tell us, we cried for days, would not be pacified except when we were laid side by side, touching. Our toes show the scars from our being ripped apart. Mine is brown in the shape of a blotchy lock. Margot’s is long and thin with little teeth that make it look like a key. We decided this as young girls, as we stared at the freckled flesh that has long since become a part of the story of us. I pull my foot free from my leather boot and wiggle my toes, staring at the inky blot that marks me one of two. Beside me at the courtyard table of our exclusive private school, my sister throws back her hair and looks around for teachers or guards who might be able to convince her to come inside—since I clearly can’t.

“I’m not skipping the whole day, Lu. Just this period. I’ll be back after lunch. Promise,” Margot reasons, staring back at me with a look one inch shy of mischief.

We are supposedly identical, but despite carrying the same long chin, we don’t look precisely alike. Our mother tells us I’m built like a bird: thin and small, with a cap of deep shadow-brown curls and dark gray eyes. Margot is a smidge taller, fuller, her hair a shade lighter and three shades straighter. Her eyes are a mystery: green and gray and a glint of gold. And when Margot walks into a room, she commands all eyes while I, the sparrow, sit unnoticed and observe. Margot is fire: bright and ready to burn out of control. I am the less exciting twin, the responsible twin.

Despite Margot being older by one and a half minutes, it has always fallen to me to watch over her. I’d not call her wild—our parents wouldn’t stand for a wild child—but she does know how to skate the boundaries. Still, though I’ve not given our parents a moment’s worry, Margot is the family favorite: the one our mother most enjoys and our father coddles. And me? I’m the one who keeps her out of scrapes so she can enjoy her favored status. It may seem like I’m doing a lot of work, but I get something out of it, too. As long as I keep Margot in the limelight, I’m not the one our parents expect to entertain visiting businessmen and politicians. Which is the reason I’m currently outside in the cold arguing with my sister instead of sitting in my favorite class.

“You can’t skip, Margot. I mean it. Besides, what do you think you’re going to do? Half the city is on lockdown today.”

This is Dominion, after all. The Plague has escalated the last few years, sweeping over the world on its dark horse and gobbling everyone with its diamond teeth. Whole sections of the city are kept under constant martial law to prevent the lawlessness that comes with rising body counts.

I stare up at the gray, moody sky before turning back to my twin, who busily packs up her things. A fat raindrop falls with a plop onto my inky blot of a birthmark. I sigh. She’ll not listen. This I know for sure.

“What are you even doing, Margot?”

She’s been skipping a lot lately. Meeting someone in private. I suspect she’s going around with Robbie Deakins, the boy she’s had a crush on since seventh grade, although I can’t see it when they’re together. We live in a very small world. It’s nearly impossible to keep secrets in our set. But between us, my sister and me, it’s even harder.

“Just heading out for a walk with some friends. Don’t worry so much,” she scolds.

“It’s not like you to keep secrets from me.” I shove my toes back into my boot and regard my beautiful twin shrewdly. “And I know you’re doing more than going for a walk.”

We are not like other people, despite how normal Margot likes to imagine we are. Our mother tells us we are like pieces of the same puzzle, and she’s right. When we’re apart, I can feel us stretching to fit the pieces together, no matter the distance.

We should have died at birth. They thought about killing us: two babies dressed in our bloody cowls and so supernaturally quiet that the doctors and midwives were looking for hammers. But we lived, and as we grew, we slowly came to know that we were unique, though two. At times I think I can read her thoughts, like bells in my mind. And what Margot feels, I feel—sometimes more sharply than even she does. Her pain, her joy. Her excitement…

It’s our secret, and one we guard closely. Lock and key.

There’s one secret more. We never speak about it, but I’m different still. Sometimes I can say with certainty who’s going to catch sick next. I know when the street preachers and their rabble will erupt into violence. Today’s death and violence is nothing compared to the ugliness of tomorrow. She has her own special gifts, my sister, but this one, this secret, is mine alone.

I also know when I’m wasting my breath. I stand up, pulling my coat closer around me as the sky opens in earnest. “Fine,” I tell her sternly. “But I won’t cover for you. You get in trouble, you dig yourself out.”

“Fine,” she says, then leans over to kiss me on the cheek before rushing off in a blur of color, cheeks bright, eyes shining. “Love you,” she tosses back over her shoulder.

But as I make my way to the doors on the other side of the large courtyard, jumping over gray-black puddles and getting drenched, a traitorous thought—all too familiar of late—flashes through my mind: why does Margot get to have all the fun?

I yank on the heavy oak door and barrel through, fuming over Margot’s latest caper. Grayguard Academy is as old as the hills and we’ve been attending it practically since birth. I know every nook and cranny, every dip in its polished marble halls, every loose joint in its four-hundred-year-old wooden stairway. So I’m flapping my wet coat free of rain rather than looking where I’m going as I fly from the hallway up the flight of stairs, a route that will take me to my class more quickly.

And smack right into something as hard as bricks.

I bounce and careen backward, losing my footing. My arms flail, but I can’t catch anything but a whiff of real danger and the fact that the object is a man. He reaches out to grab my hand, but my arms have already started sailing over my head. Images of splattered brains all over the highly polished marble floor flash through my mind as I fall back, back, and snap still in mid-air. Adrenaline spikes through me as my head-over-heels tumble is suddenly halted. I’m not dead.

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