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The Rise of Idravale This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

My ears rang as Holden’s foot slammed against my head, sending me sprawling across the floor. I immediately sat up and heard the sound of the buzzer that declared my defeat. I stared at Holden and rolled my eyes. He proceeded to smirk back.
“Get up Dixon! Torelli and Kepler, you’re up!” I cringed as my instructor, Ms. Keely, pulled me up and shoved me towards the door. “You're done for the day Dixon! Sparks, you go too!” I looked back as soon as I regained my balance, and saw Holden jogging happily towards me.
“You didn't need to kick me so hard,” I said as he caught up to me.
“Sorry,” he replied. “I guess it’s just my incredible skill.” I nudged him in the arm. Holden was my best friend, ever since I could remember. Sometimes I wondered how a smart, humorous guy could be friends with a shy, over-thinker like me.
“Yeah right,” I chuckled.
He looked back at me sympathetically. “But seriously, you're getting better,”
I forced a smile. “I really hope so Holden. I just really want to be prepared.”
    “Prepared for what? The wall to fall down? It's been over a century. You'll be fine. Plus, Idravale is way beyond prepared.”
I nodded solemnly. Thoughts swam in my head as we continued to walk. We’ve been raised in a Utopia, a world where everything was near to perfect. We cared about wildlife, we valued education, everyone was happy. Disease was handled well and being homeless was no longer a thing.
       I’ve been told about the past, and Idravale wasn't always this way. I will always remember the first day of history, and what I learned. I remembered how Mr. Birchwood stood in front a map… a map like no other. Each piece of land was divided and there were whole other continents that I had never seen before. The map was labeled by unfamiliar words such as America or Mexico. I was amazed that day, and listened to Mr. Birchwood’s every word.           
Idravale was split into three continents called North America, South America, and Antarctica. And beyond that, we were split into countries. The United States (where I now live), Canada, and Mexico were just to name a few. That was just Idravale’s side of the wall, the east side of the world was even bigger.
      The day our world was split was a day no one would ever forget. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was an enormous wall, a wall bigger than any man has ever built. No one knows how it got there or why it was there. Many conspiracy theories placed the blame on extra terrestrials. Others thought that this was a wicked plan formed by the government at the time.  I've never seen the wall in person, but I have seen pictures. It was silver, with no distinct features other than its ability to tear the two sides of the world apart. The wall was invincible and no one has been able to cross it for over a century.
      At first, we didn't know a giant see-through dome was trapping us to our own planet. It took us a long time to find it, and when we did, it was devastating. The dome was higher than any airplane could reach, so when we flew, we assumed it was okay to send rockets. The day we did was a wakeup call for all the countries.
      The rocket was too high to see from Earth, so at first everything was going as planned. Until we spotted debris and flames crashing back down. The west side of the world was in chaos. Everyone had been panicking since day one and our leaders had to gain control. That’s when Idravale was formed.
      Back then, it was well known for countries to stick to their own beliefs and cultures. When the wall came, we learned to accept each other so we could become one. It took a while, but most countries on the west side agreed to stick together. Some countries were against it, and our new oligarchy chose to leave them in the dust. See how long they could survive without the unity of Idravale. It didn't take long for those countries to cave in to our system.
      Today, I would say our community was as perfect as it was going to get. Sure, we still had some problems to figure out, but for the most part we worked together. And our biggest worry has always been the wall.
       We didn't know what was on the other side. We’ve tried everything to contact the eastern hemisphere, but we never got answers from them. Our satellites were out because of the dome and the east side of the world remained silent. Luckily, we were able to ‘recreate’ the internet with hovering satellites that remained afloat in the air. But we still continue to wonder what was on the other side. Perhaps they thought their way of running things was better, and wanted to attack us once the wall was gone. Maybe they were just like us, an improved nation with peace and prosperity. We had no way of knowing.
       That is the reason we still have a military base. Sure, crime exists in Idravale, but you would think that we would only need police. We still have them, but our oligarchy decided that we needed to be prepared for what may be on the other side of the wall. So they've been training young people, each for five years to be a part of their military. If you do this, you will be paid for the rest of your life, and don't need a job that helps the community. You've already completed it. That's one of the reasons I'm here.
     “Prepared for my future Holden,” I replied.  “What are you going to do after this? I just want to be ready and set for the rest of my life.”
Holden looked down at me and smiled. “I’ve told you about this. I'm planning on working in our government. Helping run Idravale from the office or something,” as we reached the end of the hallway, an elevator opened up for us. “After you,” Holden gestured.
      “I know I'll be set after this. But I don't know what I'm going to do afterwards.”     
“Maybe you could teach? You could always stay here,” I perked up at his remark.
      “That's a good idea, plus there are more advanced military bases. That's really clever Holden. I can’t believe I’ve never thought of that.”
       “It is something to think about,” he replied back casually. The sharp ding of the elevator told us that our floor was reached. Hard metal doors slid open, revealing a long hallway filled with doors and the soft glow from lights on the wall.  “You've got five years to think about it. You could always go back to school,”
I nodded as memories of school filled my mind. In school, we always focused on what we would do when we grew up. The first twelve years of our lives were spent learning English, math, and history. After that, you were free to study whatever you wanted to get a job in what you wanted to do.
      “Thanks for the advice Holden,” I said truthfully.
     “No problem. I'll see you tomorrow,”
I watched as he turned and faced the door to his room. He pressed a small button to the right of the knob and looked directly into the peephole. Something inside clicked and the door swung open.
            “See ya,” I said and headed towards my own room. Keeping my future in mind, I unlocked my door and got ready for bed. It was early, but I was exhausted. Tomorrow was a new day, and I wanted to be ready for it.
* * *
I jolted awake as my alarm blared that all familiar sound throughout my room. My breathing was fast and I could feel the beat of my own heart. My alarm had saved me from a terrible nightmare. I pressed the snooze button as the images from my nightmare flashed past my eyes. It was something about the wall. I sat there for a moment, thinking about what had happened. All I could collect were fragments and I gave up, thinking it was useless to remember. I hauled myself out of bed and peeled back the curtains from the window. The weak glow of sunlight illuminated my room. I squinted my eyes to adjust them to the brightness. The sun was just starting to climb up the horizon.
The city shimmered with the first rays of sunlight. Everything seemed to wake up to the call of the sun. Few vehicles were out on the streets, but I could see aircraft flying into the Port Center. The tall, yet wide, building to the north of ours was lit up with lights and action. On the sides of the building were takeoff and landing platforms for aircraft of all sorts. I remember my history teacher telling us about airplanes, how they used to take up so much room to take off. All of Idravale’s ships hovered, and used their own supply of compressed air to fly.
I yawned and stretched. The morning view of the city usually took my thoughts away from my nightmares. If I awoke during the night, I usually looked at the stars while the city slept. The sky remained lit with stars while the city remained mostly black with motion sensors in all of our lampposts and most people asleep. I jumped as my alarm clock screamed at me to get ready. I sighed and rummaged through my drawers for a clean uniform.
* *  *
The cafeteria buzzed with activity as cadets hustled to get breakfast and educators discussed today’s lesson plans. I sat down with a tray full of food, waiting for Holden to get his own. As I looked around the cafeteria I noticed cadets gathered in ‘clusters’ around the room. It has never changed, social status. You know how there’s a group for each ‘category’, the popular kids, the nerdy ones, etc. Holden and I were first years, halfway through all four quarters and we’ve been keeping to ourselves for just that long. Sure, there were a few other students I got along with. Aaralyn, Terason, and a few others. But somehow, it has always just ended up being Holden and I hanging out with each other.
“Hey,” I felt a tap on my shoulder, smiling as I recognized Holden’s voice.
“Hey,” I replied. “You ready for today?”
“Yeah, how about you?” he sat down beside me, an apple already between his teeth. I heard a crisp crunch as he bit down.
“Ready as I’ll ever be, I’m still tired from last night,” I sighed as I plunged my spoon into steaming hot oatmeal.
“That sucks. Nightmares keep you up?”
I paused, right before the spoon reached my mouth, and shut it to contemplate for a second. I grasped images floating around in my head, but none of them seemed to fit together.
“Actually, yeah. But I can’t remember anything,” I continued to search my mind, frustrated on why I couldn’t figure out my nightmare.
“That’s how most dreams end up. Something scares you to death, but you never know what. I can never remember mine…”
“ATTENTION CADETS!” 
I snapped back to attention and faced the end of the cafeteria, where the prime educator, Mr. Bentham was standing. The cafeteria went silent. “Today we will continue to test your strength in fights. We will also continue working on weapon usage, you will be introduced to a new one today. Do I make myself clear?” The whole cafeteria replied back with a loud and synchronized ‘yes’! Mr. Bentham nodded and walked out of the room without another word. The cafeteria burst into noise as soon as the door began to close behind him.
“A new weapon, that sounds exciting,” Holden said as he took another bite of his apple, which was now bitten down to the core.
“Yeah, do you think it will be like a bow or a knife or a gun or something?” I asked. “It’s not very common to be able to use these kind of things at home you know.”
“It’s good to know how though.”
“Not when you only have access to one gun in your household,” I think back to when I was little, my parents explaining the rules of how to treat the only gun in the house. Each family got one, for safety. And it was imperative that you only use it for self-defense. In history, we talked about how people used to own many guns, to hunt wildlife. Today, hunting was illegal. Animals were sacred and were treated with respect. Farm animals, such as chicken, cows, pigs, etc., were still used by farmers to help feed the people, but to prevent cruelty, we were only allowed a certain amount of meat, eggs, and milk a week. The population was also controlled by the number of kids you can have. But that’s another story.
“That’s true,” Holden agreed and stood up. “I’m full. See you at practice!”
I nodded and stared at my bowl of oatmeal, contemplating my situation. Something didn’t feel right, and it felt as if my nightmare was linked to it. It was a small, lingering feeling that just sat on my shoulder, waiting for me to acknowledge it. But for now, I shrugged it off, finished my breakfast, and headed to practice.
* * *
“Your next move would be throwing your partner to the ground! Stay on top and blow some punches to weaken them!” I gulped as I stood facing Aaralyn, pondering on whether I should go first or not. “If you are on the bottom, continue to block and try to flip your partner over! Go ahead and begin!” The gymnasium was then filled with the sounds of grunts, hits, and insults. I shyly made eye contact with Aaralyn.
“What are you waiting for? Go ahead,” she beckoned. I brought my fists up reluctantly and ran towards her, pushing her back with a blow to the stomach. She paused a moment, then brought an arm up to guard her small frame as she came back with a head lock. I squirmed under her grasp as I’m brought to the floor. “You know if you weren’t so scared of hurting me, you would be much better at this,” Aaralyn said through gritted teeth. She was still holding me to the floor, waiting for me to comeback with some kind of attack. I swung my arm back fast and hard, hitting Aaralyn square in the head. She grunts in pain and loosened her grip. I took this chance to free myself. I immediately turned around to push her to the ground with all my strength. Trapped between my thighs, I bought an arm up to hit her. She flinched and brought up both her arms to block me. My mistake was to lower my arm, in empathy, for I was once in that position. She took this opportunity and threw me off of her, using both her arms and one propped up leg. I fell to the space beside me as Aaralyn trapped me. She threw three punches, leaving my cheeks burning with shame. As soon as Aaralyn stood up, she offered me a hand. I sat there for a moment, feeling my heartbeat and listening to my fast paced breaths. I then grasp Aaralyn’s hand as she yanked me off of the floor.
“Good job Torelli!” Ms. Keely praised Aaralyn as I stood there motionless. Ms. Keely moved on, continuing to shout critiques, encouragement, and applause. I had a feeling she didn’t really like me.
“Hey, good match Annora,” Aaralyn said. “You fought good, but you could’ve…” Aaralyn’s voice was then brought to the back of mind. All I heard was mumbling and indistinct sound. I stood there in complete and utter horror. My mouth gaped open as I faced the TV. Usually they were off, unless a major announcement was to be said, but the TV was on, blasting a loud and urgent announcement. “What is it?!” Aaralyn asked and whirled around to face the TV. “Oh my goodness,” she whimpered in disbelief.
“ATTENTION IDRAVALE! THIS IS NOT A DRILL. I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” At this point the whole class was in shock. Desperate and hushed whispers echoed throughout the room. “WE HAVE BEEN PREPARING FOR THIS MOMENT, SO THERE IS NO NEED TO PANIC. PLEASE CONTINUE WITH YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AND REMAIN CALM.” The TV then turned to black. Remain calm? Was that the oligarchs’ only request? Were military officials being contacted? The gymnasium was now filled with noise, frenzied voices which filled the room with a sense of fear. Aaralyn was talking to me in alarm, but I wasn’t listening. It all clicked in my mind right then. The TV showed the same picture as my nightmare last night. The towering silver wall that had separated the world for over a century, tumbling down into the ocean, revealing a smoky grey fog that spread out over Idravale’s blue waters. The ocean swallowing up the wall, leaving the world as if it was never there. A dark grey never ending sea of rolling, angry water, crashed into our tranquil and clear tides. These were the first sights of the other side of the world, for over a century. The wall was finally gone.
    * * *
“HOLDEN!” I screamed, shoving my way past cadets in this long and thin hallway. “HOLDEN!” My mind was racing. Get back to your rooms. I dodged someone as I continued to look for him. Pack your things. “Have you seen Holden Sparks?” I asked a tall, lanky figure beside me. He remained expressionless as he shook his head no. You will be sorted into groups. You will help on missions to the East side. Meet back in the cafeteria. I should’ve kept track of him. All I could remember was Ms. Keely beckoning students out of the gym, repeating the same words over and over. They remained in my head as I clutched my bag of possessions. I should've waited for him.
“ANNORA!” my heart leapt sky high as I heard Holden’s faint voice call out my name through the large crowd of cadets.
“HOLDEN!” I yelled back with relief. I pushed my way past a few more people and could see him. “Holden!” I ran towards him, tears welling at my eyes. I wrapped my arms around him, so happy to have him by my side.
“Woah,” he whispered. “It’s okay, I’m here. Don’t worry.” I pulled away from him and he smiled. “I was worried about you.”
“I was too, I don’t want to go alone.”
“No one wants to, I can’t believe that today, of all the days,” he shook his head.
“I know right,” I said, keeping my nightmare at the back of my mind. It was best to keep it to myself for now.
“Well, I want you on my team for the journey there. There’s tons, literally tons of military bases getting ready for missions. Most of them made it to the coasts of Idravale to protect our borders. Others are crossing the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean to see what’s on the east side.
“And we’re going too,” I mumbled, casting my gaze to the floor.
“I know how you feel,” Holden replied.
   “Tell me,” I asked. “Tell me how you feel.”
   “Scared, worried, unprepared... the list could go on.” Holden shifted the bag he was carrying over his shoulder. “How about you?”
            “I feel the same, I hope we end up on the same ship,” I said as we entered the cafeteria. Cadets were standing in clusters, waiting to be assigned to a ship. Cadets with training experiences under a year were here. When you’re past that, you head to other schools for advanced training.
            “We're you able to contact your family?” I asked Holden, who was scanning the room with thought.
            “No, I forgot to do that! Hold on,” he swung his bag out in front of him and looked for his phone hastily. “Are you going to?”
            “I already did,” I said, recalling my parent’s words to me. Stay safe. We will see you soon. We love you. They didn't sound too worried, they probably thought I was in good hands or the east side was safer than what everyone else thought. Holden's voice pierced my thoughts.
             “I know, I know… I’ll be okay… don’t worry, don't cry. I'll be fine, I love you guys… I'll see you again I promise, I love you,” Holden then turned his phone off, tears brimming at his eyes. I felt my heartache for him and for myself. Why were my parents so calm about my situation?
             “Holden,” I said quietly, touching his arm gingerly.
             “It's okay Annora,” he replied, placing his hand on top of mine. “They just sounded so worried.”
I nodded, thinking of what to say. “How about we find another group?” I look at Holden, raising an eyebrow at the suggestion.
            “Another group?” I inquired.
           “Yeah, in case we get split up we’ll be with people we know.” I nodded slowly, unsure of his plan.
“Okay, do you have other friends other than me?”
“Well, yeah I do, but they aren’t as close,” Holden scanned the room again. “How about Aaralyn? You fought her today right?”
“You saw me?” I blurted out, thinking back to my forfeited fight.
“Well, I saw you were paired up with her, that’s it.” I felt a blush creep up my neck from embarrassment.
“Aaralyn’s cool, we just need to find her,” Holden nodded and started walking, inviting me along with a wave of his hand.
“Here, I know where she is,” I followed quickly behind Holden, wondering how he could have possibly found Aaralyn in this humungous crowd of students.
“How did you manage to find her this fast?” I called after him, trying to get my voice louder than the crowd’s.
“Texted her!” he called back,” she says she’s at the north side of the cafeteria!”
“Oh hey Annora!” I heard Aaralyn’s voice cut through the mass of people surrounding me.
“Hey!” I called back shyly. “Holden I found her!” I started walking towards Aaralyn, Holden walking swiftly behind me.
“Hi Holden!” Aaralyn said happily, smiling at the both of us. “Glad you could find me, the more people I know with me, the better I feel, you know?”
“Yeah, is there anyone else you plan on bringing onto your ship?” Holden asked.
“Of course! Adira, Norlene, and Kirito,” she replied. “I don’t know if you know them, I hope we can all be friends. I know you guys are really close. But I’d like to call you my friends.”
“Yeah! Of course,” I said happily, shaking off my shyness and feeling an ecstatic feeling flow through me. Aaralyn grinned and coaxed us towards a round table. I didn’t recognize any of the figures sitting down, but they did look familiar.
“Are these the people you were talking about?” asked a dirty blonde haired girl. She had large blue eyes and seemed shorter than the others, with freckles dotting her face. Her hair was tied back into a tight bun and she wore a simple, black bracelet on her wrist. I couldn’t read it, but it had little words engraved on the face.
“Yeah, this is Annora,” she gestured a hand towards me, “and this is Holden.”
“Nice to meet you,” said the dark haired boy. “I’m Kirito. Welcome to the team.”
“Yeah, glad to have you here!” the girl sitting next to Kirito responded. She had long, black curly hair. She also had dark chocolate brown skin and bright green eyes. “I'm Adira.”
“I doubt we'll even make it onto the same ship, but yeah. Glad to have you guys as extras tagging along,” said Norlene. I frown at her comment, wondering what she meant by extras.
“I’m really happy to be a part of your group, really.” Holden said.
“Me too,” I replied.
“So how about we get to know each other?” Adira smiled. “Tell me about yourselves.”
          * * *
“You six! At that table! You’re up next! You two, over there! We need you too!” I snap back to attention as an instructor beckons our table over. It’s been half an hour, waiting for our ship and the cafeteria was half full. It has been a blast, talking to my four new friends. I’ve learned a lot about them and it was a lot easier to talk to them than I initially thought. Now, it was finally our time to board.
“Us?” asked Kirito. The instructor nodded.
“Come on! I think we’re going to end up together!” Aaralyn said. We all gave a cheer as we trotted over to the instructor. Two other cadets join us. They seemed upset about something, but they were probably just nervous.
“We need you to listen and pay attention! We are giving eight cadets to each ship. Each ship has fifty officers including other students. The first years will be staying in their own room. We need you guys to act as backups and follow instructions. Some ships will travel in armadas, including yours. You will each get a bunk, but will all be in one room. You will be spending a few hours on this plane and who knows how many days on the east side of the world. Get along, listen to instructions, and be prepared. Now go ahead and board!” I glanced at my friend’s faces. Kirito and Aaralyn looked a little excited, Adira and Norlene looked pretty calm, and Holden looked anxious. I waited for Kirito to take the lead as we walked outside. I gasped at my first sight of the ship.
I’ve never seen a ship up close before because I’ve never traveled outside of my hometown Clearston. But now, it was right there, practically in front of me. Its enormous shape loomed above me as lights streamed down to light up the area under it. A long, extended aisle came out from the opening door. The whole ship was circular, looking like a rounded cylinder on its side. Little windows were stationed along the sides and the pilot’s controls were located at the front in a protruding, rectangular room.
“Woah,” Holden breathed. “I’ve never seen a ship up close before.”
“I haven’t either,” I replied.
“Wow! I can’t believe you guys haven’t seen a ship before! Isn’t it amazing? I remember seeing my first ship,” Adira said, excitedly.
“Go on! Hurry up!” huffed Norlene. “We haven’t gotten all day,” our group proceeded to go onto the ship, escorted by an instructor. We walked past many rooms on the ship, were given maps, and were introduced to where we were to be staying.
It was a decent sized room for the eight of us. Two sets of bunks imbedded the wall on one side and two more on the other. There was even a bathroom, a couch, a desk and a TV in this room. It almost felt like a fancy hotel room. We still didn’t know who the other two cadets were. Both of them were boys, one a bit shorter than the other. The taller one had crazy blonde hair with dark brown eyes. The other had short brown hair with hazel eyes. They didn’t seem too interested in us. So I shrugged it off. Someone would acknowledge their presence.
“Who want’s top bunk?” asked Aaralyn, throwing her bag onto a bottom bunk.
“I’ll take it,” Adira said happily. “This is a really fancy room. Too bad I have to share it with you guys.”
“Hey!” Aaralyn teased and threw a pillow at her.
“Don’t you start a fight without me,” called Kirito from the desk. He whirled around in the chair to face all seven of us. “Before all chaos breaks loose, who are these two?” There was a slight pause of motion from the group as we shifted our attention to the two boys at the end of the room.
“Uh, hi, I’m Jean, and this is Brazen,” the blonde haired boy answered.
“Welcome to the team,” Kirito said. “You’re welcome here with us. Make yourselves at home, feel free to ask us questions, most of us are crazy, anything else you want to know?”
“No, I think we’re good.” Brazen said. Jean placed a hand on Brazen’s shoulder.
“What he means to say is that we’re happy to be here. Thank you.”
“Not really, not since we were broken up with our other friends. Who knows when we’ll see them again?” Brazen implied angrily. Empathy lit up my heart. That’s exactly what I wanted to avoid.
“You were? Oh my gosh… that’s terrible.” Aaralyn said softly.
“It’s not really your business you know, I’ll be fine. Just keep to yourself and your group.” Brazen then stormed off angrily to his bunk, pulled the curtains shut, and remained silent. Jean stood there, with his hand outstretched towards Brazen’s bunk.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, dropping his arm down to his side. “He can be stubborn, but this isn’t easy for him.”
“I understand,” I said quietly, trying to comfort Jean a bit.
“Thank you, again guys, I think I’m going to go to bed. I didn’t get much sleep last night, I had a nightmare…” my heart jumped at the word nightmare, but I shrugged it off.
“Okay, just know that, you know, you can always talk to us,” Kirito commented. Jean nodded and headed to his bunk.
“Well that was great,” Norlene said sarcastically. “It’s not like he can’t text them or something.” I hold back my scowl as Norlene closed her own curtain. A moment of silence passed by until Adira broke it.
“I guess that leave the five of us!” she said cheerfully. “Onward with the fight!”
Kirito frowned.“Those curtains aren’t exactly soundproof. How about we just watch a movie or something?”
“Yeah sure, that sounds good,” Holden agreed.
“Yeah!” agreed Aaralyn from her top bunk.
“I’m in,” I said, happy that the five of us were still in good moods, despite everything that had happened today. I don’t think I could’ve stayed positive without them.
* * *
I awoke to complete darkness. Silence filled the air as I tried to shift my position on the couch. Two people were beside me and one of them was even leaning against me. I couldn't recognize them in the darkness. I yawned and pried myself loose from the tight space in which I was confined. I flipped the switch, and immediately hear Kirito groan from the couch.
“Turn the light off,” he moaned, rolling over onto Aaralyn. She shoved him off the couch.
“Get off!” she grunted a moment later and falls back asleep. I didn't know why they were so tired. I felt wide awake.
“What time is it?” Holden asked from his bunk. He must've moved there once we were asleep.
“We left Idravale at 8:00 a.m. right?” The door to our room then opened, revealing Jean, Brazen, and Norlene at the doorstep.
“You guys just slept through lunch. Everyone was wondering where the other five first year cadets were. We are almost to land, in what we used to call Africa.”
“Oh snap! We need to get going then!” Adira said as she hopped off the couch.
“Yeah that’s right, if you want your weapons and gear you’re going to take the walk of shame down to the instructor's office.” Norlene commented. “Good luck. They’re about to start a meeting.”
“Come on guys, we’re going to do this together. I am not going alone.” Adira waited at the door as Kirito wakes Aaralyn up and Holden gets off the top bunk. Soon, we were all taking the walk of shame to the instructor's office.
* * *
“See that wasn't too bad,” Holden said, examining his gun at eye level.
“They still weren't too happy about us being late,” Kirito replied.
“Well, now we know what we are doing once we get there,” I said, anxiety pumping through my veins. It was coming back, despite the fun this journey has been so far. “I'm still worried though.”
“Aren't we all?” Holden backed me up. “We have no idea what's over there, we could be walking right to our own deaths.”
“I still don't understand why they need us on this ship,” Adira commented.
“It’s because we’re backup. Plus, we can learn from the experience. There are other cadets on the other ships,” I answered.
“That makes me feel a bit better,” Holden said.
“Same, but we still need to be careful,” Aaralyn said. Just then, the intercom for our room cracked as someone picked up.
“ATTENTION ALL PERSONNEL REPORT TO THE EXIT. WE HAVE LANDED. I REPEAT, WE HAVE LANDED.”
* * *
Walking out of the ship felt like being thrown into an oven. The only thing our crew could see was sand. The sun was a little bit away from the horizon but was still going down. The air was salty, for the ocean was right next to our ships. I could hear the gentle crash of the waves against the shore. I gazed at the ocean, it was a lot bigger and scarier than I imagined it to be. Especially in a place where you didn't feel safe.
“Woah,” Aaralyn breathed as we waited for other ships to arrive. There were ten so far, and I heard that there were two more coming.
“It's so humid,” Adira groaned, slumping her shoulders and dangling her arms.
“Guys, this is so exciting!” Kirito commented and I frown.
“I’m terrified,” I shivered, clutching my gun with both of my hands.
“Okay, listen up! We are going to leave two personels behind per ship. We would prefer one of you to be a cadet.”
“I’ll stay,” said Jean immediately. Nobody argued with him. I looked at Holden.
“Let him stay, we’re staying together whether we’re out there or right here,” I nodded, I wouldn’t want to leave my team.
“Do you want to be on a bike with me?” I asked Holden. We were given four hoverbikes that would last us for about two hours of power. They hovered over the sand well, saving us energy and time for exploration.
“Sure, Adira is with Aaralyn,  Brazen is with Norlene and Kirito is by himself,” Holden turned the hoverbike on.
“Okay! Crews split up and head out!”
    * * *
There has been nothing but rocky cliffs and sand for the longest time. I can’t remember when we started riding, but I’ve been sweating like crazy from the heat, despite the wind constantly blowing in my face. Sand was a big problem too, because it would fly into us, covering our faces and blinding whoever was controlling the bike. Soon, we had everyone wearing face masks and glasses to shield our faces. We haven’t talked much, we were too focused on our surroundings and the wind was too loud for us to be able to speak.
“Ugh, does anyone have water?” Aaralyn asked on our second break.
“Here,” Kirito replied, tossing a water bottle towards her. “You should’ve grabbed one before we left.”
“Maybe everyone has died off? Maybe a terrible disease riddled this side of the earth. Maybe…”
“Maybe we should be quiet and continue looking for buildings,” Norlene said bitterly, cutting off Adira’s curious questions. The officers and other personnels were spread out beside us, and I could hear some scattered conversations among them.
“I hope that we find something to report back,” said an officer to the left of Holden. We continued to ride on, leaving small wide crevices in the sand from the air in our bikes, and made it to the top of a dune. We immediately stopped our bikes. We had come across something and what lay below us terrified me.
At the bottom of a dune was a humongous building, and beyond that was a small city. The city looked old, torn, and in need of help. The building, however, was the complete opposite. It looked well maintained. A big logo on the front was spelled in a different language, one of which I have never seen. There was also a small aircraft sitting on the outside, four blades were attached to the top. I recognized it as a helicopter, an aircraft Idravale hasn’t used in over fifty years.
“What do we do?” I asked aloud, hoping someone had a plan.
“We go in,” said an officer. “Spread out and make sure they know we’re coming in peace!” I gulped, unsure of this plan.
“Kirito,” I hissed. “I feel as if we need back up. The other crews may be a long way away from here.”
“We’ve got thirty people in this crew, I’m sure we can handle it.”
“Okay,” I said reluctantly. We had weapons and good power, but what was on the inside of that building? My heart began to race.
“We’re going in!” an officer said, hopping off his bike.
“All right,” Kirito agreed and hopped off as well. Our bikes remained in a group at the top of the hill as we walked down the dune. Everything seemed calm and collected at first, until an ear splitting alarm went off. Every personnel covered their ears immediately as a long line of people came out of the building.
        They were skinny, with ragged clothes and unkempt hair. Their eyes seemed to be sunken and lifeless, their expressions dormant. I hastily pulled up my gun.
       “We come in peace!” an officer said. Holden shoved my gun back down to my side. The people still remained expressionless, until one of them stepped forward. He yelled at us, but in a language we couldn’t understand. He didn't look scared or nervous in the least. It’s like he’s seen this kind of stuff before. Each person in line pulled out a weapon.
           My first thought was to run, but every crew member stayed put. I held my gun, my arms shaking. Anxiety ran rampant through my veins, and I tried my best to calm. I studied the weapon the man was holding up. It was like a regular gun, but a small barrel was on the bottom. It glowed with a fluorescent green. Other guns glowed orange.
          “We don't want to harm you!” an officer yelled, trying their best to communicate. It was no use, I thought. We couldn't understand each other.
          “It’s Oceania!” screamed the man. He yelled a few other words at his men and they all came charging towards us. I looked around frantically, trying to mimic the other officer’s moves. A few of them ran, while others stood still and fired. I felt something whiz past my ear.
         I immediately turned around and saw Brazen fall to the ground, an orange dart sunken into his arm. I scrambled towards him, scared to death, and checking hastily for a pulse. I couldn’t find one.
        I screamed, realizing what I had just experienced and how much danger I was in. I sat there, like a deer in headlights, hyperventilating over Brazen’s dead body. I thought about how much had happened. How fast it was and how easily it could've been me lying in the sand. He would never see his friends again, and that's the last thing he had wanted.
          Suddenly, I was up yanked by the arm. Everything seemed blurry and all I could hear was a constant ringing in my ears. I could just make out Kirito’s face as he yelled something at me. Before I could tell what he was saying, I was swept off my feet as he carried me back to the bikes.
         Looking back, all I could see were cloudy figures, running, screaming, and falling. Tears ran down my cheeks, wondering what we had done wrong. The last thing I felt was Kirito placing me on a bike, hopping on and driving away as the sun set in the distance.
* * *
Muffled voices surrounded me as I came back into consciousness. My body ached all over and the nape of my neck was throbbing with pain. My stomach was growling with hunger and my mind was aching in pain. I groaned as I hauled myself up, the voices went silent.
“Annora! You’re awake,” I immediately hear Adira’s voice cut through the silence. I opened my eyes and saw that we were back in the room with our bunks. Everything seemed normal, then I remembered what happened.
“Wait, what happened?” I lashed out. “What happened after I blacked out!” My voice was almost a shout as I scanned the room. Adira, Aaralyn, Jean, Kirito, Norlene… Holden. Where was Holden. I never felt as scared as I did then. Waves of fear, dismay, horror, and panic hit me. “Where IS HE?” I screamed, wanting answers. I jumped off the couch and frantically searched for him. I threw back curtains, checked under desks, looked in cabinets, open the bathroom door. I knew it was no use, he wasn’t here. I slammed the door shut. “Why are you guys just standing there? Tell me where he is!” I was full of abounding emotion trying to comprehend what was happening at the moment. I ran my hands through my hair grasping the concept that Holden might be…
“Annora,” Kirito called, with a calm, easiness to his voice. “We need you to calm down if we’re going to explain anything.” He reached a hand out to touch my shoulder, but I quickly shrugged it off.
“Then tell me,” my voice came out shakily and soft. I sat back down, holding my stomach. There was a knot in my throat and my eyes burned from holding back tears. I felt like throwing up. I rocked back and forth, trying to control my emotion. I looked at the rest of the group, desperate for answers.  
“Annora it’s not as bad as it seems,”  Kirito explained. It took every ounce of self-control not to scream at him, not to tell him how hard my life would be without him. “There is still hope for him,” I paused for a moment, then take one look at Kirito and spill, I couldn’t stop myself. I was sobbing uncontrollably at the thought of hope. Tears stained my cheeks as my body racked with exhaustion, pain, and distress. It was nothing like I have ever felt before. The relief I felt was enough to get me to calm down a little bit. Whimpers still came out and my body was now riddled with hiccups, but I felt a bit better. Kirito came up and attempted to touch my shoulder again. This time I let him.
“Keep going,” I said.
“Some of the officers and all of the cadets who made it out fled. That’s us, if you couldn't tell. But the officers that stayed were able to send out distress calls out to the other ships and got back up. That’s the last I heard from them, our signal was cut once we got far enough away.”
“But how do I know Holden didn’t get hit?”
“That’s the problem. I didn’t see him, so I don’t know where he went.” Kirito handed me a handful of tissues as I wiped my tears away.
“So what were you yelling at me before I went out?”
“I was telling you that you got hit.”
“Then how come I didn’t die like Brazen?” there was a pause, then I realized what I had said to cause that. “Oh my gosh, Jean, I’m so sorry,” Jean held up a hand.
“It’s okay. Brazen was only someone I knew,”
“But he still died, it’s disrespectful to shrug off a death like that. He still served with us even though he wasn’t so happy about it,” Aaralyn mentioned.
“That’s true, but I still don’t understand, why didn’t I die?”
“It’s because half the guns were filled with poison and the other half were full with a knock out type of drug. You were hit with green, Brazen was hit with orange.” I shivered at the word hit. The memory of almost being killed would haunt me forever.
“I would suggest you get some rest. We’re going to be back at Idravale soon, you’ve been out for a few hours.” I nodded, laying my head back on my pillow, unsure of where Holden was, what I was going to do about it, or what was in store for the future.
    * * *
“Wake up we’re almost there,” I opened my eyes to the sight of Kirito gazing down at me.
“Okay,” I replied, getting up as easily as I went to sleep. The rest of the group got ready silently, thinking about the events of the previous day. My mind was pondering on what I was going to do next. Should I go back? Where was the rest of the armada? Am I going to continue training while the wall remains down? I was still hungry, but I felt a bit better than I did last night.
“Is there any food?” I asked the group. “I’m starving.”
“There should be breakfast back at base,” Adira replied. “Do you think we’ll be the only people there? All of the other ships were from our base and we were the only ones to make it back.”
“We should all go and find some information and decide what we want to do next,” Aaralyn suggested. I nodded.
“I like that plan. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
“To be honest, I’m stuck too. I don’t know if I want to continue with training,” Aaralyn commented. “I did this so I could get paid for the rest of my life. I never realized that stuff like this would happen.”
“To be honest, I did the same thing,” I nodded in agreement to Aaralyn.
“What? You guys never told me this. After how long we’ve been in training…” Kirito shook his head in disbelief.
“I think I’m going to keep doing this,” Adira said. “Think about it guys, we slipped up this time. We should’ve been prepared with more people. Just think about the adventure! How much of the world we have to explore again. I don’t want a boring life in Idravale, I wanted this.”
      “It's definitely something I have to think about,” I chimed in. “I don't want a boring life in Idravale, but it feels like I’ve set myself up for one.”
      “ATTENTION ALL CREW MEMBERS. WE HAVE MADE IT BACK TO BASE. I REPEAT, WE HAVE MADE IT BACK TO BASE. PLEASE UNLOAD THE SHIP. OFFICERS MEET UP FRONT. CADETS PLEASE REMAIN IN THE CAFETERIA.”
* * *
         Seeing my parents was the last thing I expected when I got back to the cafeteria. As soon as they saw me, their faces lit up with happiness.
       “We were so worried about you!” my father said, taking me into his arms.
        “What happened out there? Did you get hurt?” I felt my cheeks begin to flush while my friends stood by and watched everything.
         “Why did you guys come all the way from Clearston? You didn't have to, I'm fine…” my dad let go of me.
        “We came to take you home,” right then, I made my decision on what I was going to do. After all this time, wondering where my life was going, that one sentence pushed me off the fence that I was stuck on.
       “No, I don't want to go home. I want to stay. I need to know what happened to Holden, and I can't leave them,” I gestured towards my friends. “Not after what happened,” the room went silent, as my parents stood there dumbfounded.
         “What happened to Holden?” my father asked after a moment of silence.
          “He’s back on the east side, I don't know where, but he is,” my voice came out shaky. “He might be… gone.” I spat out the last words, holding back tears.
           “I didn't know it was this serious. Why do you want to stay?”
           “Why are you guys so calm? You know this has been a big deal for me! The last six months have been so tough. And you don't really bother to talk to me. As long as I'm safe, as long as I’m okay, you don't really care. I'm surprised you even know who Holden is, and I'm staying, whether you like it or not,” my parents stared at me blankly, no expressions to be had. They just seemed okay with the situation. What my mom said next made my eyes burn from all the tears that were trying to escape.
        “Okay Annora, if you want to stay we are fine with that. But we want you to know that you don't really understand why we haven’t paid attention to you. One day you will, but for now know that we are still in Clearston, we will be there,” and with that, my parents walked out, leaving me and my friends to wait for what was next.
* * *
It was a long day, waiting for the rest of the armada to get back. The rest of the ships found more buildings just like the one we ran into and called a retreat. But it was worth the wait when I got the most important phone call of my life.
“Holden!” I cried into my phone, tears streaming down my face. “Are you okay? Where are you? I shouldn’t have left, I should’ve stayed. I should’ve-”
“Oh Annora, you have always been a worry wart. Just turn around,” I whirled around, seeing Holden walking towards me with arms open wide. I ran into him, holding him just like the day I lost him in the crowd. I laughed, crying with tears of joy. Pretty soon, everyone was in a group hug, even Norlene. As soon as we were done, I told Holden my intentions.
“Holden, I’m going back. I’m going back to the east side, and so are the rest of us, right?” the group nods back. “I’ve decided that I’m going to fight for this country and explore what the rest of the world is made of,” Holden nodded and beamed with happiness.
“That sounds amazing.”
“A life full of adventure and serving our country,” Kirito nodded. “I like it.”
“I do too,” Aaralyn agreed.
“Same here,” Adira commented.
“It’s better than any other boring job out there,” Norlene said. I laughed.
“And I’ll be glad to spend it with you guys,” I beamed. And with that, our group decided to stay together to explore the east side, to find out what Oceania was, and live a life of adventure. 




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