During her eleventh year, Elida became one of the youngest girls invited to the Hatchery in recent decades. Sure, she’d been assigned there several times, as all children were, but an invitation was something different. That whole morning, she couldn’t stop smiling. As she waited outside the Hatchery for a patrol to pass, she watched the tendrils of smoke drift and curl into the sky. Finally, she was able to step into the heavy heat, almost dancing out of her boots as she did so.
She tip-toed lightly down the hall, squinting left and right, hoping to see everything. The hall stretched on and on in front of her while the entrance dwindled and disappeared behind. Soon, she stopped looking around and stared straight ahead, foolishly hoping to see the thick fabric covering the main chamber entrance. With her middle finger tucked behind her thumb, she rubbed her thumb along the edge of her forefinger. It caught on a hangnail. She gingerly picked at her skin until she was standing in more smog than air. She came to a halt in front of the curtain.
Behind the curtain, Elida knew, was a jagged hole deep within the cliff face. But now it looked different than it had before. She shifted from foot to foot, trying to figure out what had changed. With the invitation, she had been instructed not to freeze, that she had to proceed as though she was there for Carer duty. Instead, she stood and watched the smoke curling, creating stories and pictures with each exhale. She inhaled shallowly to avoid sucking in too much of the sulfurous stench.
Finally, she heard the cries of the Carers on duty, sometimes hidden by louder screeches. With a quick exhale, she drew the curtain open and stepped forward.