Imperium - Book 1
in which, a girl learns she has powers and is whisked away to another world...
Lilli awoke to the sound of her alarm clock beeping. As it persisted in her ear, she groaned and turned over, swatting at empty space until hitting the snooze button. She slowly sat up, rubbing the sleep out of her tired eyes. The room was blurry due to her terrible eyesight, and it was even worse this morning because of how late she had stayed awake. She had been up until midnight finishing her homework, which was already difficult without her foster mother giving her hundreds of chores.
Lilli lived with a foster family, the Spencers, which consisted of Janet Spencer and her husband, Todd. They never had children of their own, so they had decided to foster Lilli solely because eight-year-old her (almost nine) had blindly told them that she was a hard worker. She had gotten stuck with them ever since.
Lilli fumbled for her silver-rimmed glasses that were on the nightstand. Okay, it couldn’t really qualify as a nightstand, since it was just the corner of her rickety old desk. It still did the job well enough, so Lilli wasn’t about to complain. Placing the lenses on her nose, she reached for the cupful of water that was on her nightstand, brushing past the books that she was supposed to return to the school library today.
Just as Lilli was about to drink the cool water, her alarm went off again. She started, spilling half the water onto her worn blue pajamas. Grumbling, she turned off her alarm, her pajamas sticking to her skin.
Off to a great start, aren’t we? whispered the voice in her head.
Throwing off her old beige bedspread, she got to her feet and walked barefoot to the bathroom across her room, being careful not to disturb Janet and Todd. They would murder her for waking them up at six-thirty in the morning, especially since they usually wake up at around eight.
Lilli closed the door as silently as she could and walked over to the sink. She absently scratched the birthmark on her right wrist. It had been there for as long as she could remember and was a darker tan than her skin. It was slightly larger than her thumbnail and a little off-center on her inner wrist. The birthmark was shaped like the outline of a diamond, but had a smaller diamond nestled inside, which resulted in it looking like this: ◈
She spit out the mint foam that was in her mouth and rinsed her toothbrush. She straightened up to her full height, a tall five foot and nine inches. She was the tallest kid in her class, almost taller than everyone in the grade. Some kids were the same height (all boys) and constantly lorded it over everyone else.
Lilli attempted to make her dark, frizzy excuse for hair actually presentable, a feat that she struggled with every day. It wasn’t straight, but it seemed much limper than it was supposed to be. The Spencers didn’t want her spending extra money, so she didn’t know how to fix it.
Just buzz it off. Start it all over. The voice in her head really needed to shut up. Lilli imagined shoving it into a corner, effectively making it silent.
Lilli had always wanted to change her hair.
She had never wanted it to be straight, but curlier. She hated the fact that it looked like a sad, wilted plant. Maybe, she thought, I’ll dye it. When I leave. She had formulated a plan in her mind to escape foster care and start her own life. Right after she graduates high school. Maybe she should just listen to the voice in her head and just chop it off. Do it like Mulan in her bathroom, which risks the possibility of her looking like the lovechild of the freaking Little Lad from the Starburst ad and Lord Farquad.
Her fingers picked at her hair, attempting to make it better than what she woke up with. Eventually, Lilli gave up, perfectly fine with her hair looking like a charred bush. As she scratched her scalp, she swore she saw her birthmark flash in the mirror. Lilli slowly looked down at her wrist, only to see that her birthmark was, in fact, not glowing. She attributed it to her vivid imagination and returned to staring at her mirror.
A girl stared back.
The girl looked exactly like her. Dull brown eyes, mid-length frizzy black hair, glasses. The occasional pimple.
Then again, this is a mirror. It’s not like a doll from Coraline that looked exactly like her suddenly spawned. Get it together Lilli.
Once she was (semi)satisfied with her current hair situation, she opened the door and tiptoed back into her room. Lilli lifted the white blinds that covered her window.
Lilli gripped the edge of the glass and opened it, albeit with some difficulty. Her window didn’t have a mosquito net, as it was damaged long ago and the Spencers quite plainly didn’t care. Neither did she, save for the times when a fly got in and buzzed near her ear when she was trying to sleep. She stuck her arm out toward the cloudy sky and stayed in that position for a few minutes. A man walking his dog gave her a strange look in passing. Lilli glared back and stuck her tongue out. Satisfied with her approximation, she shut the window with a thud.
Opening her small dresser, she pulled out a pair of grey sweatpants and a random t-shirt, along with her favorite baggy hoodie. It was a rather chilly day as compared to the usual early September weather.
Well, that’s what she gets for being a blabbermouth to people who lived in ‘Middle of nowhere, Illinois.’ Okay fine, it wasn’t the middle of nowhere, it was a decent-sized town called Penketh. It wasn’t as big as nearby Chicago. Instead, it was a little smaller than Springfield. But hey, at least it was accessible with all the bus routes.
The Spencers had taken her in right before fourth grade. She was nine. Everyone else had already found their friend groups, leaving Lilli as the outsider. Every year.
And with that thought simmering in her brain, she pulled on her desired outfit, grabbed her backpack, and shoved her stuff in. Lilli pulled a worn, stormy blue scrunchie on her wrist (normal hair ties kept getting stuck in her hair) and she almost left her room when she remembered her books. Rushing back in, she swept them into her black bag and quietly ran downstairs. She fished out her iPod and earbuds from the depths of her bag. The iPod had been her faithful companion since fourth grade, when Todd had given it to her for Christmas.
Jamming the earbuds in, she glanced at the clock. Seven-thirty!? She was going to be late, again. With her school starting at eight-fifteen, it left her little time to press shuffle play on the ‘late for school again?’ playlist she so dearly loved, grab an apple, snatch her already-packed lunchbox, and mindlessly leave a note on the kitchen counter. Not that they were ever read, but Lilli found it fun to pretend that they were. Besides, she wasn’t paying attention to what she wrote, so chances are the only thing on the note was ‘bye’.
Lilli shoved her iPod in her pocket and took a bite out of her apple. She debated whether or not to run to the bus stop while locking the door. Her panicky side won, and she dashed to the bus stop, holding her half-eaten apple in her hand.
Sure, she almost tripped and face planted on the sidewalk, but she still got on the bus. She dug out her PPTA (Penketh Public Transportation Association) card and swiped it in the card reader. The bus was half-empty since it was early morning, so there were empty seats all around. Lilli picked out a window seat on the left side of the bus and sat down on the blue patterned seat, trying to regain her breath.
She placed her bag in her lap and checked once more that she had done all her homework, breathing out a relieved sigh as she did so. In the past, Lilli was prone to forgetting assignments, forcing herself to do them on the bus, resulting in the shakiest handwriting possible.
Slowly regaining her breath, she counted the stops until her school. There were a total of twenty-seven stops, which amounted to almost forty minutes worth of listening to some old lady argue on her phone call directly behind you. That’s the price for going to one of the best public middle schools in the city while your ‘family’ lives on the sheer cliff edge of the city.
Okay, it wasn’t entirely the sheer cliff edge.
But what would you even call living near a street that goes through 5 different suburban areas in under an hour? There’s a reason why her neighborhood was called Acers. Lilli had logged onto a school computer once and tried to figure out why someone wanted to name a neighborhood Acers. Honestly, it was a really dumb thing to name a neighborhood. It sounded more like a sports team. She was thinking about the word in particular when she randomly remembered that the Latin word for edge was acies. She had no memory of actually looking that up, so she just assumed she had read it elsewhere. Either she was overthinking it, or her neighborhood was literally named for being on the brink of civilization.
But hey, at least the Spencers cared about her getting a good education. But that didn’t make the long commute all that bearable. Silver lining, silver lining, she thought. Ever since Lilli had moved in with the Spencers, she had found that it was very helpful for her to always think of the silver lining in every situation, no matter how crappy. Like with the long commute to school, at least she could finish any homework she didn’t at home on the bus. Not that Lilli was going to do it. No way was she going to risk more hour-long lectures if she relied too much on the bus.
Lilli leaned her head against the window with Nirvana blaring in her ears, contemplating all the ways today could go wrong.
There was a lot of traffic.
That in itself was probably an understatement. People were honking all around the bus Lilli was in. She blinked tiredly but didn’t fall asleep. Once, she actually did fall asleep and was woken up by a very worried-looking bus driver. She had gotten to school at lunch and got a huge lecture once she got home. Yay.
Once the bus finally got past the most sluggish bit, Lilli turned around to see what was causing all the hold-up. Once she saw it, however, she sighed and rolled her eyes. Some fool had left their car in the bus lane. Lilli swore that this happened at least once a day, always at the most convenient times. Every. Single. Time.
When her stop finally came, Lilli collected her things and stepped over the legs of the old woman she had been sitting next to. She thanked the bus driver and hopped off the bus before almost tripping over a rock.
“You okay, kid?” the bus driver asked, a concerned look on his face.
“Yup!” Lilli replied, giving the driver a thumbs up while smoothing out her hoodie. “Thank you!”
The bus driver smiled and nodded in a reply before closing the door and driving away, the bus belching out exhaust that made Lilli cough. She readjusted her glasses before sticking her iPod and the connected earbuds back into her bag.
Not that anyone could see the earbuds anyway from her long hair.
She shouldered her black backpack and started to walk toward the school.
Her school was average-looking, with four floors in the old red brick building and two in the newer, white one. The school grounds were decently well-kept, with four huge trees dotting the area. One quarter was a small parking lot with six basketball hoops around the edges (They’re double-rimmed, which means they SUCK). The main entrance was nothing fancy, just three dark green double doors locked by a buzzer lock. Along with a mini mural just above the doors.
Lilli glanced at the tall electric display outside Oak Hills Middle School. The plastic read the school name and a cartoon illustration of a grey bulldog snarling. The time read 8:29 a.m., with the cheerful flashing words ‘Go Bulldogs!’ right above it.
Crap, she was late.
She sighed, accepting her fate for the fifth tardy in a row (the streak starting last Thursday), and pressed the buzzer. A faint ringing noise was heard from inside before the door in front of Lilli clicked. She heaved the door open and stepped inside, opening the second door.
She tentatively walked to the check-in desk. “Hi,” she said.
The security guard tilted his head from his computer before smiling. “Lilli!” he said.
Oak Hill’s security guard was a slightly round man who went by the name of Harrison Clide. Everyone called him Mr. Clide since that was what the teachers drilled into their brains two years ago.
“So,” he began, “What was it this time?”
Lilli suppressed a grimace. “Traffic. Some moron parked in the bus lane.” She had used that response for so long that it sounded like an excuse. To any other teacher, it was. Except for Mr. Clide, and a few others.
Mr. Clide laughed before typing her last name into the computer.
He clicked his mouse a few times before signing a late slip. He handed it to her. “Have a good day, Lilli.”
“You too!” Lilli said, taking the late slip. The slip was roughly four inches tall and two inches wide. The date and Mr. Clide’s signature were signed beneath the school logo in rushed but legible handwriting. Lilli had seen it so many times it was committed to memory.
Lilli rushed up the main stairs, two at a time, up to the second floor, down the hall to her classroom, Room 207. Homeroom and English. There were no lockers, only high schools got those, which Lilli thought was totally unfair.
She stopped outside her classroom and caught her breath. She peered into the classroom through the glass at the top of the door. Everyone was already seated, and she internally groaned. It looked dead silent in there. This was going to be so awkward.
She took a deep breath and entered the classroom, bracing herself for the stares of her classmates.