Chapter 1: Inchoate
I only noticed how badly my hands were shaking when I reached up to wipe the sweat from my brow. My blood pounded through my veins at an unnaturally quick pace like horses stampeding on a racetrack. This always happens to me before a test. I pretend not to care about tests, but then again, I pretend not to care about a lot of things. I guess that's just how my life works. Shall I explain myself?
The reason I came to this school in the first place was because I wanted to go to the same school as my best friend. On my first day, she told me that the options were to either be with the in-crowd or be picked on. She had fallen into the latter option because she hadn't been aware of "the rules", as the popular kids put it. I was in the in-crowd at my old school, but it was relatively tame. Their version of popularity didn't include glorified gossiping back-stabbers. The in-crowd was like any other group in the school, but its members were definitely social butterflies.
The instant I entered my new school, I imitated the actions of the popular girls, and by the week's end, I was considered one of them. The only issue I had with this new group was that they acted out every stereotype in the book- gossipy, mean, and Barbie-esque. Even though I didn't like it, I had to hang out with them. I never told them about my real marks, and I sure as hell never told them about how I really felt about their little group—I guess it was my little group now too. I was almost kicked out of the group because I had a friend who was "so not popular and never would be". We're acquaintances rather than friends now, because we don't get much time or privacy to hang out together.
This leads me to the reason my hand was shaking as it held the lid of my lip gloss, which was poised and ready to be applied.
"Hurry up, Zaz!" Abigail complained from next to me. "We don't want to be late for the test…" she trailed off and then became her usual self, "Oh wait, yes we do. Take your time!" she giggled. I'd never realized how obnoxiously high-pitched and fake-sounding her laugh was before that moment.
Zaz was the nickname she had given me. I hated it, but I wouldn't tell her that. She gave everyone nicknames. My real name is Zoey-Alice. Not just Zoey, but Zoey-Alice. It just sounds cooler to me; it rolls off the tongue nicely.
Abigail, or Abi as she vehemently demanded we call her at the threat of exile, was supposedly my BFF; however, I'd bet everything that I owned on the fact that, if it came down to it, she would desert me as though we were never friends in the first place. Abi used to have another BFF, but she told Abi something that she assumed her best friend should know, and Abi decided that it was "too embarrassing to keep her as a friend. After all, what kind of person in the in-crowd would ever just up and decide to be a lesbian." I swear, Abi gets worked up over the smallest things.
The shrill ringing of the bell signaling the end of lunch break snapped me out of my thoughts, and I quickly applied the lip gloss as we walked out of the bathroom and into the gymnasium.
I normally don't get this nervous about tests, but I suppose it's because the results of this test could drastically change my life. I know that seems a bit dramatic, but it's true.
Heaving a deep, weary sigh, I took my seat in the uncomfortable plastic chair at the cheap desk in the corner. It was such an ordinary-looking set-up for a test as extraordinary as the one that sat on the desk, just waiting to be filled out. I don't know why I was so nervous. The chances of me being picked were slim.
I still couldn't decide whether being chosen would be good for me or not. On one hand, I didn't like the person I was currently pretending to be. I could get a fresh start if I left for "better things". On the other hand, I would have to leave home and everything I cared about just to have a second chance at actually liking a school. The problem is that I might get into the same situation that I'm currently in. I let the subject drop in my mind, clearing myself of all thoughts as I began the test. "Whatever happens, happens." I told myself firmly, "Not many people are chosen anyway."
Some of the questions were easy, like what are your four favorite colors? And some were harder like how would your friends describe you? Then there was a whole section with questions that reminded me of case studies. Each question listed four possible gifts that one might have and then asks which gift/s you would use and how you'd react in a given situation.
I thought I'd be relieved to finish the test like I usually am, but sadly, my nervous jitters decided to stick around a little longer. I had tried to describe myself as honestly as possible. I had briefly thought about putting the opposite answers for everything so that if I was chosen I could tell them that it was all a joke, but I truly believed—and I still do—that if something as important as this is to be done, it has to be done fairly or not at all.
I knew that the results would be out about a week after the tests were taken, and let me tell you, it was the absolute longest week of my life. Every night I would wake up from dreams where I was the only one who was chosen, and I had the same mixed feelings about it that I had on the day of the test. I often found myself silently chanting, "Shikkata ga nai. It can't be helped." Even with that slight reassurance, the dream recurred. There was nothing I could do about it. There was nobody I could tell about it—my "friends" would dump me and my mother would throw me out on the street.
My mum is a very strange woman. On one hand, she has a strong hatred for the society that I have a one percent chance of joining, and on the other hand she believes in powers such as visions that take the form of dreams. If I told her that I had a dream about being chosen, she'd likely think it was really going to happen, and she'd save herself the humiliation by kicking me out of the house before my dream became reality; therefore, it wasn't safe to tell anyone about my recurring dream.
On the day when the results were to be revealed, I was a walking bundle of nerves. My sense of humor was shot and I had a dwindling capacity for the idiocy of the group I usually tolerated as my 'friends'.
A PA speaker is set up for announcements in every classroom, but there would be a special assembly after lunch to announce the names of the people from our school who were chosen. Apparently it wasn't enough to have an entire class staring at the unfortunate fool who was chosen from the test results. Instead, they had to be silently humiliated by everyone in the school; they had to stand up and have the weight of everyone's eyes pressing down on them like a suffocating cloud of ash.
My morning classes dragged by slower than I thought possible. A little voice in the back of my mind tried to reassure me that I would be glad when it was finally time for the assembly. Let me just tell you right now, the voice was dead wrong. As soon as I walked into the gymnasium, my nerves started majorly acting up. I wished I could just turn back time and be anywhere but here.
We all took our seats as the speakers crackled to life. My nerves jumped up another three octaves and my heart suddenly found itself in the back of my throat. Something as loud as audio feedback usually doesn't make me jump but, as I said, I was a walking bundle of nerves. Abi glanced at me questioningly, but I waved her off.
"Let's make this quick." The irritated voice of the headmaster cut through the buzz of voices. He's always irritated by one thing or another. Everyone instantly quieted in preparation for the announcement. I suddenly felt terrible for the people who would be chosen. Usually assemblies were a competition between the noise of the students and the speaker trying to make themselves heard, but not today. Today, this crowd of judgmental teenagers would bear witness to one of the most traumatic moments of someone's life- the moment they discover that they're not just an ordinary human.
I told myself that it was almost over, and I fully believed it. That is, until I saw the stack of papers that the headmaster put on the podium. My heart sank. He would read them word for word, just as he'd done last year and the year before. Why did I think it would be different this year? I didn't even bother listening, because I knew what it was about.
Basically, every single person on Earth who reaches the age of sixteen is required to take a test. Somehow, the test determines whether or not they are descendants of a god or goddess. If you are a Descendant, you get four powers that are similar to your ancestor's and, as if that wasn't enough all on its own, you get to live for around five hundred years.
Everyone who gets selected is uprooted from their life and moved away to their new school. There is only one in each country, so most often the chosen ones are miles away from their homes and families. You go to the school for five years, and then you are free to do whatever you want. That's the short version of the five minute speech. There's likely more to it (the speech, that is), but everyone tunes most of it out. I tried to listen to it, I really did, but the headmaster's monotonous reading voice combined with my nerves made it really hard to focus.
The in-crowd of this school has mixed opinions of Descendants. Some (like Abi) think that it would be pretty cool, but that's because there's power involved, and power to her is like food and water to a normal person. Others such as Ashley, the leader of the in-crowd, are devout Christians. Ashley believes that the whole set-up is just a cover for those who decide to worship the devil. The sad part is that she's not the only one who truly believes that. I suppose I can see where that theory comes from though: The Descendants are known to do rituals in honor of their deity. That could easily be misinterpreted by those who don't know any better. I was one of very few who had decided to withhold judgment until clear evidence of a theory was presented.
In other, much shorter words, everyone is afraid, envious, or disgusted by the Descendants.
I only tuned back into the speech when I heard my name being called. I snapped my head up to see that the headmaster had put his papers away and was now staring at me. So was everyone else in the school.
Only one thing crossed my mind.
I was one of the ones who they'd found to be a Descendant.
I guess my dream was actually a reality.
My entire body was shaking as I stood up for everyone to see.
As I stood up, I noticed something else. I was the only one who they'd found. Out of the whole school, I was the only Descendant.