In the world of Olleb-Yelfra, everyone is born a slave and raised in the City of the Four Corners. The city is comprised of four districts—Healer, Creator, Agrarian, and Warrior—each playing a key role in the world’s ultimate survival.
Seventeen-year-old Arianna Belvedor, a slave to the Warrior’s District, is committed to earning a life of freedom but is bound by the ultimate rule: Win or Die. Her only chance of leaving the city with her life is to rightfully earn her citizenship during the annual Free Falls Festivals on her eighteenth year—A treacherous tradition in order to celebrate the strong and eliminate the weak from the world.
Though her will to survive is strong, Arianna succumbs to her defining weakness, curiosity. It only takes one pivotal moment, one broken rule to send her spiraling down a dangerous path. As she unearths the truth of a dark history and a secret which cannot be ignored, Arianna is thrust deeper into a maze of deception. Searching for a way back to ordinary, Arianna Belvedor must battle her way through this chilling yet enrapturing world. It’s up to her to accept the truth, but will she live to reveal the shattering secrets she’s come to know?
Targeted Age Group:: 13+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Have you ever felt like you were just going around in circles? Or like you were missing out on the bigger picture? Well, that’s exactly how I felt growing up in St. Charles, Missouri. Now don’t get me wrong because I love my hometown, but from a very young age change was something I craved. I needed new scenery and to meet new people. I wanted to be more cultured and to learn new languages. Most of all, I wanted to be someone unique and prove to myself that dreams can come true as cliche as that sounds.
So, I traveled. Little by little I began to explore the big, bad, beautiful world. I started in Guadalajara, Mexico where I made A LOT of mistakes. Then I reflected on that crazy time and turned it into something positive and professional while working in Barcelona. I’m proud to say that after all the trial and errors of my college days, I graduated with a B.A in International Relations and a few minors to my name. Then came another big step, spending a year in Jeonju, South Korea as an English Teacher or “Ashleigh Teacher” as my adorable students would call me.
And THERE. That’s how Arianna Belvedor was born. Right there in my studio apartment somewhere in Korea, she bled straight through my fingers until her story was out to the world, spiraling from my past, present and dreams for the future. I don’t think I could sleep more than 3 hours a night until I finished the first draft. For 2 months straight, it was impossible to focus on anything else but Arianna and where she’d end up. My fingers had a mind of their own, and I had enough inspiration to think up a pending series 🙂
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I read somewhere that most writers draw from their real life in order to build not just the story but also the characters that us readers grow to either love or hate. I won’t say who’s who, but I’m definitely guilty of stealing characters from my reality and placing them on paper. I just know the most interesting people, and they’re half of my inspiration next to scoping out the different corners of the world. I will say though that no character is 100% the replica of anyone I know. Some may have striking similarities to friends, family, or strangers I met on the street, but each character really has their own, unique personality. Their actions all have consequences, good or bad, and they learn and grow from their choices and experiences just as a real person does.
CHAPTER ONE: JAR OF STONE
Slave. She cringed as the word ricocheted through her mind, a testimony of her unfortunate status. Of course, everyone in Olleb-Yelfra suffered the same endless beginning, born with the weight of shackles until their eighteenth year. Get in, survive, and get out. That was the only thing on everyone’s mind in her world.
Arianna knew only the tiniest of threads needed cut to rip away all she had worked for since she stepped foot in her prison, the City of the Four Corners. There were so many ways to die in that dreadful place, so many ways to fail. So she trained hard, holding tight to her thread of life.
She scrunched her eyes closed as her roommates roused her awake. “Just five more minutes.” She buried her face in her pillow, trying to block out the world. A bell sounded, and, even from the city center, the echoes of the brass rang out loud and clear. She groaned as the sound filled her head, heralding the start of another dawn she couldn’t escape.
“You heard the bell. Now, get up! Ten minutes to get in line, or it’s the Pit!”
Arianna rolled her eyes at the regulator harassing the girls out of bed. Ticking down the days in her head, she took deep, long breaths. In just a few months’ time, her eighteenth year would pass, and she would become a contender in the Free Falls Festivals. She took another deep breath. Just a few more months.
She pushed the covers to her feet and sat up in bed, stretching her sore muscles. A shudder rolled across her skin at the sudden temperature change, or was it the thought of the Free Falls that made her shiver? It was such bittersweet thought. Arianna knew what the festivals stood for; ‘Free’ for the slaves who earned their citizenship and ‘Falls’ for the ones who died. If she was honest with herself, she knew most people would never earn their freedom. Olleb-Yelfra existed on the backs of wise, able-bodied citizens because the Free Falls weeded out the weak ones, or so claimed the King. But really, who was ever truly honest with themselves these days?
She shook her head and pushed aside her nerves for later. Today, she needed to focus on her training with Solomon. She relaxed a little, thinking of her master, of the man who would make sure she could survive the festivals.
“Get moving,” said the regulator in a tired voice. Arianna climbed down from her bunk, the wood floor chilling her toes as she dressed quickly. After pulling on her boots, she moved to where cloaks hung on a wall near the door. A deep red colored the fabrics and silver numbers embroidered the shoulder of each. Arianna searched for hers. There… number twenty-two. Her mouth set into a grim line as she studied the number, her hand stroking the old cloth.
My name is Arianna Belvedor. She yanked the robe off the hook and draped it around her shoulders so she didn’t have to stare at the number another moment longer. The heavy fabric warmed her skin, sweeping the floor as it fell down around her body. Floor boards creaked as the thirty other girls that shared the household assembled at the door. Arianna fell in line behind the regulator. “Let’s go.” She didn’t want to, but he pushed open the door, and they marched out into the cold, one by one.
There was no preparing yourself for that kind of cold, the sort that finds its way into your bones and sores your eyes. Snow bit at her skin and dotted her dark hair white, the same as any day. She pulled her hood around her head to shield her face as she gazed towards the sky. Morning dawned behind the gray clouds, but no sun could be found. Not shocking in the least as the sun was quite shy in these parts. Lowering her eyes to the ground, Arianna wished for just a little proof that the yellow bulb of light still existed behind the gray. As much as she disliked a cloudy sky, the view of the ashen-faced mountains that encased the Four Corners made her sick. Not physically sick, but imagine being forced to stare at the same, dull backdrop all day, every day, for a lifetime. That’s how she felt… if one can imagine.
The mountains that made her cringe so very much were impossible to ignore at almost any moment spent outside. They trapped the city in a wide, jagged cage with perilous peaks reaching towards the skyline like a claw, locking in the gray and barring out the sun. It created the perfect prison, and it earned the city a nickname, ‘Jar of Stone’.
Thousands of other slaves marched, in silence, alongside Arianna under the darkened sky, under the watch of the mountains, the snow turning brown under their boots as they slushed to the beat. In a crimson flock, they passed the many crumbling buildings that made up the small district until a deep hole spread out before them. Arianna stiffened.
The slaves maneuvered around the Pit with ease, their breath hitched in their throats out of respect for the deceased slaves. Arianna glanced down as they passed. Why did she always have to look? She strained to see so far down with no help from the imaginary sun, but she glimpsed some of the skeletons glinting in the dark. Needle-like rocks and the rotting bodies of young slaves who disrespected the law lined the bottom, putting on a very memorable display for any slave who considered straying from obedience.
“Hey! You wanna join ‘em?” Like Hell she did.
Arianna jumped as the voice shattered the silence. The fearful eyes of her peers watched as a regulator came to her side, grabbing hold of her arm and halting the line behind them.
“There somebody down there you’d like to see, twenty-two?” She could think of a few names.
The regulator moved closer so that half her body hovered over the Pit as his fingers dug deep into her skin. If he let go of her arm, she would surely fall to her death. Arianna’s eyes widened as she looked down, her curiosity fleeting away in terror as the sunken faces of the dead stared back. From this angle, she could see the bottom of the Pit with more clarity. She prayed, oh how she prayed, not to get any closer to that fate.
The regulator stepped back and let her go as a throaty laugh escaped his lips. She looked up, and he raised an eyebrow at her, waiting for an answer. She flinched and shook her head. “No.” Her whisper was sucked down into the darkness of the catacomb beneath her, and every time her heart beat she thought it might jump right out of her chest to follow.
“Then eyes forward.” He poked her in the shoulder, on her double-digit identity, gesturing for her to keep walking. Her knees shook as she moved her feet, one after the other. She lowered her head to the ground until they arrived at the city center — the Square.
They passed under a low bridge, and a wide, open area stretched out around them, slaves pouring in from all sides. High stone steps encircled the area, creating an amphitheater-like structure with pillars at the top. Arianna found the nerve to lift her eyes from the ground, and she peered to the sky, past the crumbling pillars and past the people below.
Wind pounded against a raised flag that rose high above the crowd at the front. She studied the embroidery while she waited for instructions. Faded reds, blues, purples, and greens weaved into segments. She knew them by heart all too well. They formed a circle which signified the emblem of the Four Corners and the four districts within the city.
Like any other day, the regulators ushered the slaves into lines facing an elevated platform, a wide, black-marble structure which towered over the crowd at the front of the amphitheater. Today, Arianna stood in front, wishing she could be anywhere else. She raised her eyes to the stage as General Ivo surveyed the red sea of prisoners from under his hood.
She saw them, his dark eyes that matched so well the ruthless demeanor of his character, and a scar. It slashed across his cheek like a worm etched through his white skin. The sword at his belt swayed as he paced, revealing the promise in his glare. His black robes, lined with red fur and emblazoned with the golden snake of the King’s crest, swept the floor at his feet as he stood waiting.
Behind him, a large image created the backdrop on a black wall. The same golden snake intertwined itself between two blazing swords, the symbol of Arianna’s district. She always saw that symbol as such a brilliantly clichéd idea, to use swords to depict the Warrior’s District. What a superficial view of what it takes to be a fighter. Well, that’s what she thought anyways.
A low hum buzzed through the crowd until General Ivo raised his hand. The slaves were silenced in an instant. Arianna’s lips zipped tight, her arms flat at her side. The general walked forward, preparing to speak but stopped as something caught his attention. Was he looking at her? No, but his gaze burned straight through her center.
Arianna’s ears perked up to a whisper coming from behind her in the crowd. She bit her lip as the hushed voice instantly vanished. Too late. Nothing went unnoticed under the general’s watch, and right now his eyes stayed unblinking. Arianna tried to quiet her pounding heart, hoping no one else could hear as a stone-faced regulator moved towards her from his post at the front.
She flinched as he stormed past her, yanking a small girl from the crowd by her collar. Arianna recognized the girl as a sixth year as she kicked and screamed all the way to the stage. The regulator looked to the general as the girl squirmed under his hold, and Arianna held her breath along with the rest of her peers.
General Ivo gave a nod of command, that sinister, ‘you-know-you’re-done-for’ nod she’d seen so many times. The regulator grinned. “Show some respect,” he said, his voice low as he locked eyes with the terrified child.
The girl’s cries drowned out his words for the most part, but Arianna stood close enough to hear the tragic ending they promised. Some days General Ivo gave second chances, but today he seemed to be in as foul a mood as any as he ordered her off to the Pit.
She felt others around her fidget as the girl was dragged away from the Square. Nobody dared make a sound, not a peep from anyone as the girl’s pleading tears left a trail behind her. Arianna closed her eyes, shaking her head at another wasted life. The girl should’ve known better.
To be honest, she couldn’t help but feel relief when all was said and done. I’m still safe. I’m still here. Her eyes flew open just as the general reappeared, front and center, as if nothing at all had surpassed. His calm demeanor baffled her because inside her own head she was screaming. It was a silent scream that echoed into every corner of her mind until she felt numb and the voice died away.
Then she felt her whole body come alive, alert, as if someone had just called her name. It’s the way you feel when you know someone’s watching you, as though her body could sense the glare of eyes on her skin. She looked to her left and saw the culprit, the eyes. They were Liam’s, and they looked worried. She nodded in reassurance to her friend who worried for her. They looked out for each other, and it made life easier that way.
General Ivo raised his right hand and bent to his knee, stealing back Arianna’s attention. The crowd mirrored his movement as he balled his hand into a veiny fist and placed it on his chest above his heart. “Hail to the King! Hail to Lord Devlindor.” His voice, such a terrible one, made her want to stick her fingers in her ears, but she straightened her back and repeated the daily verse along with everyone else.
Arianna’s words melted in with the other mechanical voices around her. The phrase tasted wrong on her tongue. She hated lying, and she hated King Devlindor. Her loyalty to someone who squeezed so tightly at her life made her dizzy, but she didn’t have the leisure of choice, not in this world.
“Dismissed,” said the general as he turned and headed off the stage, down the long staircase. The crowd dispersed to their daily routines, and a dull chatter filled the air as Arianna headed to breakfast. She walked by the Pit on the way, but she didn’t dare look down.
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