The sense of chilled morning air flooded my nostrils as I stepped outside. It was wet, and the brilliant blue of the sky was covered by a layer of drab, gray clouds. A lone bird's song rang loud and clear through the trees.

The world was just waking up—a perfect time to hunt.

The women of the family usually didn’t hunt, they were housewives—but ever since my brother Zan died, it was up to me to do it. I had to keep the family fed. My father had died before I was born. I had never met him, so I never really knew what having one was like. But when Zan died after being stabbed by a prisoner in the prison where he worked, I came to the conclusion that losing a dad was ten times worse.

I still remember the doctor’s desperate attempts to stop the bleeding, but even if they had, the metal shard he had been stabbed with had somehow been poisoned. I closed my eyes, reliving the god awful day.

Our doctors were paid horribly, which meant there were more deaths caused by lack of supplies alone. Zan lay on an examination table made out of uncomfortable and splintering wood, the doctors and nurses scurrying around him like mice.

There was no way to extract the poison, and a tourniquet wasn’t an option.

So, basically, the only thing they could do was give him pain medication to let him live the last few minutes of his life peacefully.

The doctors exited the room, mumbling something about being sorry that they couldn’t do any more than they already had, leaving me, my mother, and my younger sister Jane alone with Zan. I stood on the right side of the table, head ducked, trying to hold in my tears. Zan looked at me and smiled, but I could tell he was still in a lot of pain.

“Diana,” He said, fixing his green eyes on me. The stunning fire that usually burned passionately within them was slowly dying out. “I know you can keep the family safe.”

Each word seemed to hurt him as they left his lips.

“I need you to be strong.”

I nodded, feeling the first tear roll down my cheek.

“Take this.” He slowly reached up and unclasped something around his neck, wincing in pain. Then he dropped it into my palm and closed my hand over it. “It’s a good luck charm. Nothing bad will happen to you as long as you wear it.”

He rolled his head to the left, focusing on Jane and mother.

“Be sure to listen to Diana, you hear?” He whispered with another smile. I could see his face losing color, and his eyes were tearing up. Then, he looked at mother. “Thank you… for everything.” He said shakily. Zan was trying hard to stay here with us for at least a few more minutes. A cold sweat had broken out on his forehead as I ran my fingers through his black hair.

He looked up at the ceiling and let out a large sigh. “I have to go now.”

A flicker of a smile crossed his face, and he closed his eyes. Jane squeezed his left hand, and I clutched his other. Mother gently laid her palm on his leg.

“Love… you…”

The final words escaped his lips, and I heard his chest fall with a hiss of air leaving his cold body. The noise seemed to echo off the walls and ascend into the heavens and Avalon, where I was sure Zan was going. He was gone. He was dead.

Zan was dead.

I didn’t look at the charm until that night, sitting by the fireplace. It was a small, silver charm strung on a black cord. The charm was shaped like a lupin, a winged wolf. Everyone knew that lupins didn’t exist, that they were just a legend. But that night, sitting by the fire, feeling the heat reflect off of the silver charm, I told myself that lupins did, in fact, exist. And I was going to find one.

My eyes snapped open as I left the thought.

It had been two years since Zan died, and now I was eighteen, but I still hadn’t found my lupin. I had dreams about it sometimes—finding one in all its glory while hunting in the woods, its head held high and its wings spread beautifully…

And now I was thinking it would remain that way. A dream.

I had heard stories… About what the earth looked like before the Government took over. It was full of corruption and basically an utter hellhole, but I had also heard other stories… that the earth was a small paradise, full of creatures that the Government had hunted to extinction because they weren’t good enough for their new, “perfect” world.

I wasn’t sure which ones were fact and which ones were fiction, but I knew I hated the Government. They claimed they wanted to make the world “perfect”, so they basically bombed the old one and started a new one.

And making a “perfect” world also meant having “perfect” people living in it.

So, each year, every person living in Edelon, the “new” earth, had to visit the Square for a… checkup. And if you were crippled, disfigured, retarded, or had something—illness or not—about you that wasn’t considered normal, you were publically executed for crimes against humanity such as treason.

You see, this wouldn’t be a problem for me and my family if Jane didn’t have a crippled foot.

But she did.

Jane had always had a crippled foot. She walked with a little limp and now this was her first year to get a checkup. She had just turned thirteen.

But, the best part was, there was nothing we could do about it.

If we had lived closer to the Square, there would have been more technology, which would have meant possible treatment for Jane. But no. And just deciding to up and move wasn’t an option.

Everything increased in price and value the closer you got to the Square. Technically, even people did. And my family was dirt poor.

But my mother was smart. I held onto the last bit of hope that Jane would survive, and set out toward the woods with my sword.