a Raven Chronicles book by Stephanie Thomas
My name is Beatrice. When I was born, I was blessed with the Sight, an ability to see into the future. I was immediately removed from my parents and enrolled in the Institution, where all Seers are raised and trained. At the age of twelve, I had my first true vision, earning the mark of the raven’s wings tattooed by my eyes. And when I turned seventeen, one of my Visions came true. Things haven’t been the same since.
The Institution now depends on me to keep the City safe from our enemies, the Dreamcatchers, but I’m keeping a secret from everyone. It is a secret that could put us all in danger. A secret that could kill me and everyone close to me…
© 2012 Stephanie Thomas
At night, my room illuminates with an indescribable brilliance. The glow of a million City lights pours into the small space officially referred to as Bunk 34A. It’s not a large bunk by any means—just enough space to harbor a twin bed tucked under an overhead compartment of drawers where I keep my jumpsuits and robes. Stacked in squares of black, it is hard to tell which article of clothing is which without touching them. Sometimes, it feels the same way in the Institution—you don’t know one thing from the other, no matter how long you try to figure it out. The Institution is all about uniformity. Nothing has changed here in years.
I have a small desk where I finish my class work. Stacked books form little towers on the surface, mimicking the tall buildings just outside my window. Some books are about learning to survive in conditions that aren’t ideal. Some are about our enemy, and others are about the history of the Seers and our gift. There’s always something to be learned here.
My reflection stares back at me, and I try to peer through it and the tinted glass panel. I trace the image of the black raven’s wings, one tattooed over each of my eyes. The wings are spread and ready for flight. These mark the maturation of my Visions. They are a rite of passage, a signal to everyone that I am truly gifted with the Sight. Most of us earn our raven’s wings by the time we are teenagers, but there are still those who take a little longer to understand the images that come to us. It’s not easy to decipher or pick out what is truth inside our minds.
Just outside my window, patrol helicopters hover high above the ground, their searchlights bright and unforgiving. If you are caught in one of those beams, there is no escaping. The Watch are beyond vigilant since the first sighting. They take no chances in the City, or in the Institution. Especially not since the Dreamcatchers came.
The Keeper mandated a curfew, demanding that every Seer be in their bunks by nine in the evening. The Dreamcatchers are double the threat to us. They are able to reach into the minds of normal humans—Citizens—through dreams or touch. From what I’ve been told, a Dreamcatcher can shatter a person’s mind with just one touch. I once saw a picture of one of the unfortunate souls who was Caught. His eyes turned white, mouth open…gone. Like an oyster shell without any meat inside.
The Seers are trained to prevent this, to protect the Citizens at all costs. At seventeen years old, I am arguably the most revered Seer because my Vision is the clearest, next to that of the Keeper. I didn’t understand the importance of that at the time. I had the Vision that would change everything. But we all do now.
A knock jars me out of my thoughts. “Who is it?”
The door slides open with a hiss and then disappears into the wall. Gabriel stands in the doorway, his uniform a black and grey one-piece jumpsuit with the lavender eye of the Seer sewn above the right breast pocket. It matches our eyes, all of which are the same hue of purple, the mark of a Seer. His combat boots are tied tightly and shined to perfection. Gabriel is always perfect. Always. “Just me, Bea. It’s my turn to make the rounds tonight. I can’t stay long here, though. Gotta keep moving.”
I smile as I lie down in my bunk. “Okay, okay. I’ll go to bed.” It’s not going to be easy to sleep tonight, though. Not with the thought of the Dreamcatcher girl on my mind. They arrested her yesterday after I saw her in a Vision. She looked so young…so innocent.
Gabe grins and steps back from the door, allowing it to slide into place. With a click, it locks from inside. I flick the lights off, and I’m left in the dark to think about how it will be now that the Dreamcatchers have actually made their appearance in the City. Already, the change in security is overwhelming, and I’m sure it won’t be long until the Keeper is back at my door, ready to record my latest Vision.
In two days, our new training begins, and I am not ready. None of this feels real, and there are so many unknowns that it seems like I’m walking around a corner without any idea what’ll be on the other side. Yesterday as we sat together at dinner, Gabe told me not to be afraid. I poked around at my mystery-sauce pasta, and just as he always does, he picked up on my worry. Gabriel has been by my side since before we could remember. We were in the same batch of infants brought to the Institution, ready to be inducted into a lifetime program that we didn’t choose to be in. It is the law, though, and anyone caught harboring a rogue Seer is put to death.
He’s my best friend, but not my only one. Lately, though, it’s been different. When he comes around I feel like something is curling up in my core, ready to spring out in excitement or giddiness. I wait anxiously to see him every day, just to catch a glimpse of him before we go to class. It makes me feel like a silly little girl, so I try not to think about it. Especially when he is close.
Ready or not, neither I, nor any other Seer, have any choice but to step into this whole new Dreamcatcher conflict which we’d previously only read about in our school books. This is more than just words on a page now. The Dreamcatchers are here, and it’s our job to keep them at bay. But how much will we have to sacrifice to keep the City safe?
It is dark. The whole City sleeps. But it is a blank sleep, a hollow sleep. The lights should be on, but nothing glows. The City should still be alive deep down in the alleys and shady buildings where guards keep the unwanted from getting in, but no one is outside. There should still be a pulse, a few cars left on the roads, racing to get home before the curfew bells begin to ring high in the City Tower, but the streets are bare.
It’s cold. The rain doesn’t stop falling. Then something interrupts its fall. Something invisible. The same something that shrouds the City and makes it sleep. I don’t understand how I know it is there; I just do. Whatever it is, it is looking for me, snaking through the City, hugging the corners and shadows in order to not be found. It whispers my name, “Beatrice, Beatrice…”
I want to go to it. I want to step into the rain and show it that not all of the City is dormant. I want to capture it, ensnare it, bring it back to the Institute and prove myself to it.
No one else hears it. There is no one else. There is only me.
I wake up in a rush. My head pounds like it normally does after I have a Vision. It feels like my skull is going to crack right down the center, and right now, I wish it would so that the pressure could break free. My hand curls around the bunk, and I feel for the purple button underneath. The Keeper will come running, as she always does, only to find out that it’s the same Vision I’ve been having over and over. Since the Vision. The one that set the City into the protective, alert overdrive that it’s been in since.
I dim the lights in my bunk to protect my eyes. When I look into the mirror, my eyes still glow a vibrant, violet hue. As time passes, though, the luminance will begin to fade until they are dull once more.
The door slides open. The Keeper stands with her digipad in her hand and her raven companion sitting on her shoulder. She is tall and stern, her face long, expression serious. Her eyes are the same color as mine and every other Seer, but they are so light now that they almost look white. She wears a red robe that brushes the floor and covers her feet. The bird stares vacantly at nothing and everything as the Keeper waits for me to report.
“It is the same Vision as before. They are coming.” I rub at my head with my knuckles to try and relieve the pain.
“There is no new information?” The Keeper touches the digipad’s screen, and I don’t have any idea what she is doing. And I don’t care. Right now, I just want the throbbing in my head to subside before it really does crack my skull in two.
“No. No new information. Just the same things. Dark buildings. Something there calling my name…shad—”
“Shadows.” The Keeper knows the Vision as well as I do. She’s heard it at least two dozen times by now.
Gabe shows up behind her and stands tall and rigid, mocking the Keeper’s stoic pose. He crosses his arm over his chest and pretends to type on a mock digipad. It takes everything in me not to laugh at his antics. Laughing would hurt my head anyway.
“Very well, Seer Beatrice. Lie down until you recover.” Turning, the Keeper nearly collides with Gabriel, but he sidesteps out of her way. “Seer Gabriel.”
“My Keeper.” The Keeper leaves as Gabe greets her.
“She scares me.” I lie back in the bed and drape an arm over my eyes. “It’s like she doesn’t trust me.”
“She probably doesn’t. After all, you seem to have a better Sight than she does. She probably feels threatened.” Gabe sits on the edge of the bed and wiggles my leg. “So you didn’t See anything new this time?”
“No. Why would she be threatened? I helped protect the City, didn’t I?” I scrunch my nose up in annoyance at Gabe shaking my leg, but really I don’t mind it. I never mind when he touches me.
“Yes, you did. Will you be going to the execution today?”
The execution. I forgot. Of course I was invited, being the one who technically captured the girl in the first place. She is a Dreamcatcher, one who somehow snuck through the barrier and into the City. I had a Vision of her wandering the streets, preying on people, grabbing them by the arms and stealing their minds, leaving them hollowed out. Dead. The bodies crumple to the ground, but she keeps walking. Always walking, like she has somewhere she must end up. Like there is something she is hunting.
When I reported the Vision, the reaction was immediate. The Watch swept the City for any signs of the girl, whom I saw very clearly. She was beautiful, with wide, blue, almond-shaped eyes, and short light-blonde hair. She wore a bright sundress. White, with tiny pink flowers. Against the black and gunmetal grey of the City, she screamed of being out of place. It was the pretty sundress that was her downfall; they found her almost immediately. Her name is Paradigm. The Dreamcatchers always have strange names.
“I really don’t want to see the execution.” And I don’t. I already see her face when I close my eyes. It floats against the brightness that comes with having a Vision. Why would I want to see it hanging at the end of a rope, or however she’s going to be executed?
Gabe shakes my leg again. Sometimes I wonder if he touches me because he really wants to, or just to tease me. Or both. Either way, it doesn’t bother me. He has always stood right by my side, mirroring my accomplishments. But when I Saw my recent Dreamcatcher Vision, it seemed like a rift tore between us as everyone, including the Keeper, started to pay more attention to me. The time we used to spend with each other, the time I used to spend with my friends, has slowly dwindled. Now that the original Vision has passed, it hasn’t been so bad, but still, I miss being “normal.” The more time I spend away from Gabe, the more I realize I need him.
“Come with me. You can look away, but I think it would be good for people to see you, Beatrice. You’re like a legend now. A hero. You should be proud.”
“I’m not proud of being someone that gets people killed.”
“She’s our enemy. A Dreamcatcher.”
Our enemy. Then why do I care so much? “Fine, I’ll go. But I’m leaving before they execute her. I don’t want to see it.”
Gabe stands and then slides his hands into his pockets. “After lunch. I’ll see you there. Today’s ham day.”
I laugh because it’s so pathetic that Gabriel looks forward to ham day. The cafeteria food is never good, but it’s all we have. Ever since we were little, he’s liked this day the best. Sometimes he even convinces me to give up my share for an extra ration of green beans. Not that I like green beans, mind you, but Gabe is so pitiful on ham day it’s hard not to feel bad for him.
“See you there.” Gabe leaves, and I drape my arm back over my eyes. I’m not going anywhere until my head stops hurting.
Before it’s time for the execution, our interrogation instructor calls an emergency class. Everyone reports immediately, filling the dim lecture hall bit by bit. Gabe finds me, and we steal two seats next to each other. Once we are seated, he leans over and whispers, “Do you know what this is about?”
I shake my head. Rumor has it that the execution has been delayed, which doesn’t make sense since the Keeper probably wants to be rid of this Dreamcatcher as soon as possible.
The Instructor steps up to her podium and holds it tightly in her hands, bent over slightly, mouth close to the microphone. “Seers. Thank you all for coming here today on such short notice.”
I spot Brandon, Mae, and Connie scattered about the room of faces, and when Mae finds me staring at her, she turns and cheerfully waves. I wiggle my fingers back and would normally be happy to see them, but mostly I am focused on the Instructor.
“As you’ve all heard, yesterday a Dreamcatcher was found among us. This didn’t entirely come as a surprise, thanks to Seer Beatrice’s Visions.” There’s a pause, and people shift to turn and look at me. I stiffly stare ahead, even when Gabe nudges me in the arm and grins, “Did you hear that? She mentioned you!”
“Shh! This is embarrassing.” I mutter the words through my clenched teeth, and then smile benignly at those who are still staring.
“Still, we’ve found some disturbing information during our interrogation, information that will be shared with all of you, so that you understand the gravity of the Dreamcatcher invasion.” The Instructor pushes a button on the podium’s stand, and a projector lights up the screen behind her with the image of a young girl wearing a white dress with flowers scattered all about it. Fair-haired with deep blue eyes, the Dreamcatcher stares up into the camera, right at us, and she seems entirely unafraid. I feel like she’s looking beyond me, and I glance away elsewhere, discomforted.
“This is Paradigm. She claims she’s a Princess of Aura, the Dreamcatcher City. We have no way of verifying this information.” The Instructor taps her fingers on the podium and looks to the side of the stage. “With the permission of the Keeper, we wish you to watch the interview and learn from it. This is your first time seeing a modern Dreamcatcher, so listen and absorb how manipulative they can be.” The Instructor nods her head, and pushes another button that sets the video in motion.
The Dreamcatcher’s cell is small, and she sits at a metal table across from a black-robed Seer, the Interrogator. The Dreamcatcher’s hands are bound behind her back with metal chains. The girl looks so helpless and innocent that it’s hard to imagine her killing someone with just a touch.
“Who are you?” the Interrogator asks.
“Princess Paradigm of Aura.”
“And why are you here?”
“To bring about the war.” She looks back at the camera, staring at the audience. Does she know it will be us?
The Interrogator doesn’t even blink and continues with her questions. “And how do you plan to do that?”
“How do I plan to bring about the war? I’ve already done it, Seer.” Paradigm smiles.
“By coming here. They are looking for me.”
“But you will be dead when they find you.”
“And you will be standing at the doorstep of disaster.”
The Interrogator laughs a brief, staccato laugh, and all at once she stops and silence fills the cell once more. “You say that you’re a princess?”
“I am. Of Aura.”
“That makes your mother the Queen of the Dreamcatchers?”
“Yes.” Paradigm seems unfazed by the seemingly cold and bare cell, and the unrelenting questions of the interrogation.
“What made you come here? Why now?”
Paradigm doesn’t answer. She doesn’t look up at the camera. This is when, for the first time, the Interrogator uses other methods of producing answers from the girl. With one nod from the Interrogator, two large Watchmen step into the room with metal prods and they poke Paradigm in the sides, just under her ribs. The girl is filled with what looks like a jolt of energy, and her whole body abnormally tenses and contorts into something strange. When they take the rods away from her, her body goes slack and she falls forward onto the table.
“You will answer me. What made you come here? What made you choose now?”
“My…my mother…she’ll…she’ll make sure you all die…”
The Interrogator nods to the Watchmen. “Again.”
This is when I turn my head toward Gabe, unable to watch as they electrocute Paradigm again.
“…he doesn’t know better…he’ll come for her…and he doesn’t know any better…” Paradigm breathes through clenched teeth and stares up into the camera again. “Do you hear me, girl? He might come for you, but he doesn’t know any better. You will all die!”
The Interrogator stands from the table. “Keep it up until she gives us an answer.” With that said, she leaves the room. Screaming ensues. The video switches off.
I swallow a lump in my throat, wondering why they made us watch something like that.
“Who do you think she was talking to?” Gabe murmurs to me, one voice among the many that babble on about what we’ve all just witnessed.
“Huh?” I don’t know what Gabe is referring to, mostly because all I can hear are the echoes of Paradigm’s screaming in the back of my mind.
“Did you hear what she said? She mentioned a girl, and that someone is coming for her…I wonder who she is talking about, is all.” Gabe’s eyes meet mine and he frowns for a moment. “You don’t think she means you, do you?”
“Why would she mean me?”
“Because you are the one who can See them coming…What if she means you?”
It becomes too real then, and I shut the screaming out of my head to wrap my thoughts around the idea that the Dreamcatchers might be coming for me. “I don’t know…”
The Instructor takes the stage again and taps the microphone to command our attention. “That’s all we are showing you today. This is your warning that they are targeting specific Seers, though we never found out who the Dreamcatcher meant by ‘he’ and the ‘girl.’ We must be ever-vigilant now. Today, a Dreamcatcher will die, and we will be entering a new phase of our preparation for the impending invasion.” With a pregnant pause, the Instructor looks us over, and I swear that, for a brief moment, her eyes meet mine, as if warning me specifically. But then she issues her dismissal and everyone stands, blocking my view of the stage.
“Come on. We’ll be late.” Gabe insists, and I follow after him, numb from the interrogation video and the memory of Paradigm’s writhing body.
It is strangely quiet for an execution. The sun struggles to shine through the thick cover of grey clouds. Few people have seen a Dreamcatcher up close before, so when they march her onto the platform and position her against the brick wall, everyone stands attentive, mesmerized. Her hands are cuffed together and bound in an iron box to keep her from grabbing anyone.
Paradigm is not scared. She looks as though someone could be walking her from one room to the next. She holds her chin high, and her hair angles around her face. Both her cheeks and her white-flowered sundress are smudged with dirt. When she looks over the crowd, she stares at me. How she finds me in the midst of a hundred people, I don’t know. I can feel a dull pain building in my head, and though I quickly glance away, the pain remains.
The Keeper rises onto the platform but keeps her distance from the accused. She has her raven with her, though the bird is quick to take off, landing on a nearby light post to watch from afar. Tapping on the microphone, she sends a muffled noise through the speakers, then steps closer. “Seers and Citizens. Today we will witness the execution of this vile Dreamcatcher. She is found guilty of killing three Citizens by seizing their minds.”
The crowd erupts into jeers. Gabe boos along with them, taking care to be extra loud and annoying. I elbow him in the side, and he stops abruptly. “What?”
I look back at the Keeper and Paradigm. “Don’t be stupid.”
“I’m not being stupid. She killed people.”
“You’re being stupid.” I leave it at that because the Keeper begins to speak once more. The sun beats down through the smog of the City, which smells like trash and something else that I can’t decipher.
“Dreamcatcher.” The Keeper doesn’t give Paradigm the respect of calling her by her name. “Your sentence is execution by firing squad. Do you have any last words?”
My chest squeezes tight. For some reason, I don’t want her to speak.
Paradigm’s lips peel apart. “We’re coming.”
The Keeper steps off the platform. The captain of the firing squad calls them to arms. The black rifles rise one-by-one, all pointed toward the girl who could hardly be my age. She looks at me again. I’m still looking at her. I promised myself I would not watch, but I watch. I can’t look away.
“Ready!” The captain calls. The firing squad’s elbows rise. “Aim!”
“I thought you weren’t going to watch.” Gabe reminds me, but I still can’t tear my eyes away.
But I am.
Bullets slice through the air and into Paradigm. Where they hit, her sundress turns crimson, first in small circles, then bleeding into larger spots. Even after she is hit, she stands for a moment, her eyes on me. Then, all at once, she crumples onto the ground in a pool of her own blood. The raven is screeching somewhere in the background.
“It looked like she was looking at you, didn’t it?” Gabe speaks over the cheer of the crowd. People clapping for the end of someone’s – or something’s – life.
Why was she looking at me? How did she know it was I who had the Vision? Standing in a sea of other Seers, it could have been any of us…but she knew it was me.
When it is clear that she’s no longer alive, the pain in my head starts to fade away. Some poor soul tasked with removing the body hooks his arms under Paradigm’s shoulders and begins to drag her off the platform. A trail of blood follows behind, even down the stairs as she is thunked down each step.
“No, she couldn’t have been. There are too many of us here for her to have picked me out of the crowd.” I don’t want Gabe to worry. Of course she was looking at me.
The Keeper steps back up onto the platform after it has been washed clean of the blood. “Let this be an example to you all. The Dreamcatchers can be anywhere. They are coming, and we must be prepared.” Her violet eyes seem to meet each and every one of our stares. “You are dismissed.”
“We are sparring in the arena today, remember,” Gabe says, and we start to walk back to the Institution. We have little choice as the crowd begins to push in that direction. “It’s about time we bring down Team B. I hope you are on your toes today, Bea. If we lose again, they’ll think we are hopeless.”
“Maybe we are.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We have you. We can’t be hopeless.” Gabe grins, and something inside of me flutters. He always knows the right things to say. But what will happen when he realizes I am not the solution?
As we turn and leave, I hear the voice from my Vision in my head again.
It whispers sadly, “My sister…”
And suddenly, I’m filled with an unbearable sadness. An overwhelming feeling of sorrow flows through my arms, my fingers, down my middle and through my legs. I stop walking and close my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Gabe pauses next to me.
I have to shake the feeling. Gabe would never understand. I pretend as if nothing is wrong and smile at him. “Nothing. I guess the execution kind of got to me, that’s all.”
Gabe smiles and puts his hand on the small of my back, ushering me forward. “Let’s sneak off and go get something cool to drink before the Keeper can find us. That’ll make you feel better.”
But I know it won’t.