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Author's note: This book is heavily inspired by "The Hunger Games", "Uglies", and other works. It's a work in progress, so check back often!
I wake up in the middle of an alleyway in the Fifth Locale, like I always do. I want to wake up somewhere else, but even a small room costs thirteen senqite a month in this part of town. I walk down the narrow alley and look up to the make-shift bell tower the people of district three have set up. It seems to be about time for school, but I never go. Schooling is required for all children under two-hundred and fifty-six months old for people in the Fifth Locale, but not required in the Wasteland in itself. Usually, when someone asks me why I'm not in school, I usually say I'm from the Sixteenth Locale, which is next to the Fifth Locale and doesn't require schooling. They usually nod and accept my lie.
I make my way down to the market, but not for food. If I want any food I usually just steal it. No one pays attention to a dirty street teenager, do they? I look around to make sure no one is looking, then I duck down a narrow alley and slip into an abandoned building. There are so many in this part of town. Inside the old condemned building lays just about nothing. It's been gutted out of anything valuable, many years ago from the looks of it. I look around for Kyle, and spot him sleeping underneath an old piece of cardboard. I walk over to him and push him awake.
"Wha..?" He manages to mumble. "Aaron?"
"Of course it's Aaron," I say impatiently. "If it wasn't, you'd be dead by now in this part of the Locale."
"True." Kyle mumbles, and stands up. "So, we going out again?"
Kyle walks almost drunkenly next to me as I lead the way out of the old building. "You haven't been drinking, have you?" I ask.
"Naw, not recently." He mumbles. Kyle always seems to steal the good wine whenever we had to break into houses. I warn him against it usually, since drinking gets you nothing but drunk, but he usually slips some anyways.
"Sure..." I say, and we walk back out into the marketplace. It's about eight in the morning now, and by this point loads of people are lining up to get their hands on something good during today's trade. Sure, you can use regular money, like reguild, havben, and even senqite, but usually its just trading that ever goes on. I reach into my pocket and pull out two reguild, the last two I have, and hand it to the baker, expecting a decently-sized loaf in return.
"This ain't gonna cut it, kid." The baker told me. He seemed as drunk as Kyle had been. "I'm gonna need five reguild for a loaf." I look to Kyle, who reaches into his pocket and hands me the remaining three reguild he had. I paid the man and broke the loaf in half, handing one piece to Kyle. We walked down the square and past the small, unimportant capital of district three. The Fifth Locale is the most well-off district in all of Wasteland Four, but it still was as poor as the rest of the districts. The capital here consisted of a small, worn out building and two or three even smaller buildings for government business. When the utopods were formed, according to legend, they left us no form of government to run on, or even if we had to have government at all. If you travel west to Wasteland Three, you'll see what I mean.
From what we hear (Which isn't much, just word of mouth) Wasteland Four is the nicest of all of the Wastelands. It's got fertile soil, a republic government, and even a great ocean to the east. We don't know what it's called, since that information was lost when we were abandoned by the utopods, but gives us water to wash it. Not to drink, though, the water is very salty. All the water we drink has to be pulled up by wells in the ground.
After we pass the capital, me and Kyle reach the end of the city, and we come to the place where the fence used to stand. Even though all citizens of the wasteland are allowed all around it, the past mayor of district three found certain areas of the district far too dangerous, and used a lot of money to fence them off. However, the funds for the project were so low, the fence was made with wood, and a good bit of it burned down after a fire broke out a few months ago.
"Sure was a waste, that project was..." Kyle says as he steps over the small stumps of wood where the fence was. I do the same, and we are off into the woods.
The woods of the Fifth Locale are very beautiful. Not as torn down as the Eighteenth Locale, or as burned and charred as Kyle's home, which was the Second Locale. These trees haven't really been touched, which is quite surprising, given that there are many homeless people in the district. I guess everyone respects the nonexistent fence.
It's fall in the capital, and that means the leaves begin to change color. No one I've asked can explain why they change. A lot of us think it's magic, but one old man told me that long ago, when the people of the Wasteland and the people of the utopods were together, they discovered why the leaves changed with science. I never really believed him, but then again, I never knew what I thought about the leaves. I just figured I would find out eventually.
"Hey Aaron!" Kyle says. "I think I found something!" I
I look over to Kyle, as he walks over to a tree not to far away from me. "What is it?" I say. I hope it's a large chunk of food. That bread didn't fill me all that much. Kyle picks up a small circular object. "This thing moves!" He exclaims.
I walk over to him and quickly lift the thing up to the light. I didn't see too much of interest, in my point of view. Just an arrow that pointed to the right of me. "It's not moving at all." I tell Kyle, but he shakes his head in disagreement.
"Watch." He tells me. I stare at the object as he slowly rotates it in his fingers. The arrow in the middle never moves, even though he was turning it. Suddenly, I remember what it was.
"It's a compass!" I say triumphantly. "A what now?" Kyle asks, and I don't blame him. He's never been to school a day in his life.
"A compass," I repeat. "They taught me in school that these things are very rare. They told me that you simply aim the arrow in the middle to the 'N', and then you can figure out which way is west, east, north, and south."
"What's the point of that?" Kyle asks. "I just follow a trail."
"The point is this will make a killing in the marketplace." I say. "Probably even a hayben. "
"A hayben!" He exclaims. "That'll buy us food for like, a week!" I just shake my head. "Yeah, better hold onto this." I hand it back to Kyle and he slips it into his pocket. "Well, let's keep moving then."
Kyle and I have been doing the same thing ever since I met the boy. Every day we would meet up at the marketplace and travel into the forests. We both would look for any remnants of the past as well as something to make a quick buck with. The partnership works well, and I have no plans to end it anytime soon. Heck, we even look alike. The same dark brown curly hair, tan skin and raggedy clothes. We easily pass as brothers, which helps us get a good trade with women when we tell them we are poor brothers who have nothing to live for.
We walk in the woods for another few hours, looking for anything of use. We find two old rusty knives, a box filled with old papers, and a leather pouch filled with odd looking pieces of green paper. They taught us in school that this was the old money in the dark ages, before the utopods appeared to end the dark ages. Usually we use it to start our fires. We walk for another few minutes, knowing that the sun is in the middle of the sky, and that we would need to head back before markets close. I look around and see a tall hill about fifty feet away.
"Be right back, Kyle." I say quietly. He nods, and I walk up the hill. We usually don't venture this far into the forests, but we have not found anything of good use other then the compass, so we are desperate. I climb the last bit of the hill and look outward. I am amazed at what I see.
The hill is very high up, and I can see over the tops of all of the trees. I see, to the far left of me, the great mountains of the Sixteenth Locale. Beyond the mountains lays the cruel and barbaric Wasteland Three. Right in front of me is a great sea of trees, as far as the eye can see. Finally, to the right, I see Utopod Four.
Utopod Four is an amazing sight to see up close, but far away, it's even more beautiful. The utopod is huge. It's about fifty miles in diameter, or so I hear. I've never had the courage or stupidity to venture to the far side, since on the other side lays Wasteland Two, and I've never met anyone travel who traveled to Wasteland Two. The large glass bubble rises high into the sky, but doesn't allow anyone outside to see in. The people in district three say that the people inside see outside, but I doubt they could ever know. The walls of the utopod stretch two hundred feet into the air, made of metals so fine in color that we haven't discovered what they are.
Kyle joins me at my right and looks out the utopod. "Sure is beautiful" he murmurs.
"Sure, but we suffer out here while they live in paradise." I say angrily.
"What makes you say that?" Kyle asks. "They could all be starving inside of that thing. They could have run out of resources or something."
"I doubt it. Haven't you read the inscription?" Kyle hears my words and looks down. I know he has read the inscription. Everyone has. It is written in big, bold letters on the outside of the utopod hundreds of times around the whole thing. It reads:
Here is Utopod Four
May it prosper greatly for all eternity
and all others face destruction.
Then below the inscription lays a list of all resources taken inside of the utopod the day of it's formation. The list goes on and on like a trading list that ever ends. Three million cattle. Five million chickens. The list continues until finally, at the bottom, it states proudly that four hundred thousand people entered on the day of the utopod's formation. I highly doubt that four hundred thousands of people would sit and starve to death with that many chickens and cattle. And so does Kyle.
"Well, let's move on then." Kyle says. "We still have a bit before we have to head back.
I walk down the hill, wanting to continue the search. I turn the left and continue the trail that we were on. I only have to walk five steps before I hear Kyle scream out, saying to look over here. I sigh, and turn around. Kyle has ventured down the hill, and I run back up it to see what is the matter. I walk down the hill and see Kyle staring at what appears to be a giant wall. It's not a new wall, definitely.
Moss hangs from the top of the wall, and large sections are covered in bugs and grime. Clearly this wall was from the dark ages, but what was around it? I walk up to Kyle.
"We need to see what's over this wall."
"But the suns already beginning to set! We'll never make it in time to sell the com-"
"Nevermind the compass. Just give me a boost." I say. Kyle pushes aside his frustration and gets on one knee, cupping his hands together. He helps me up to the top of the wall, and I quickly pull him up as well. Without truly looking, we both jump down onto the other side of the wall. What we saw was amazing.
I had seen quite a few dark ages-era houses, but never this many. There must be hundreds in this area. They seem to be connected to each other by this weird stuff on the ground that I was told used to be called "concrete", instead of regular dirt roads we use today. The wall we climbed over was made up of the same stuff. I always wondered why they used it since all of this "concrete" is cracked and mossy, but I never got the chance to wonder for too long.
The houses seemed to stretch on for miles. The "roads" kept going for as far as I could see. It's as if these people were trying to cram as many people into one area as possible, like the utopod, but much worse.
Kyle and I walked slowly to the concrete "road" that the dark ages people built and walked down it. These houses were so similar, even after being here hundreds of years. They had the same color, same doors, and same holes in them were I think glass used to be. I pick one quickly and go inside. Kyle follows after me.
I push the door open quickly, as it is rotting and falling apart from lack of use. The inside of the house is dusty and hot. Old chairs sit around the room, and a thin black rectangle hangs from the screen. I have seen a lot of people try to sell black rectangles similar to these but nobody knows what to do with them. I walk further into the house and come across an interesting kitchen. Even through the dust, I can see that the whole kitchen seemed to be made out of shiny metal and shiny stone. Even shinier plates and bowls lay strewn about. Kyle heads up a set of stairs and I continue looking around on the first floor.
I come across another room, ever larger then the kitchen or first room combined. In there, many those thin rectangle things, this time smaller then the one in the first room, surrounded this table in the center. I used my hand to move the dust, and I see that the table has some sort of green blanket on it. I try to grab the blanket, but it seems to be glued onto the table. I try to look around more when I hear Kyle call out to me.
"Come up here and look at this!" He yells to me from up the stairs.
I walk slowly across the creaking floor to the stairs, then take my time up those. The house is so old and rotting it scares me just to move around. Yet, the place intrigues me in some strange way. Kyle greets me at the top of the stairs and motions for me to follow him. He leads me down a hallway and through another old door. Inside lay a simple bed. Across from the bed a third black rectangle was mounted on the wall, and on the bed lay one of the most odd looking devices I have ever seen.
It seemed to be a very circular black device, with a cylinder sticking out of it. I cautiously pick it up and look at it. On the back was another one of those black rectangle things. I slide my finger across the top and notice a little switch on the top, reading 'ON'.
"What do you think that means?" I ask Kyle, nervous.
"I don't know..." He mumbles. "Look, let's just go."
"Hold on!" I protest. I look back down to the thing and slide the switch to on. Suddenly, the rectangle on the back lit up like a candle, except thousands of times brighter and more brilliant. Colors filled the rectangle, and I finally notice that the rectangle is showing me what is on the other side of the machine.
"Woah!" Kyle screams. "What kind of magic is this!?!"
"I'm clueless." I answer, shaking from the flash of light. "But it's like I can see through it!" I show Kyle the screen, and he looks nervous as he looks right through it. "Can you see me?" He asks.
"No. I don't understand the point of this thing. All these buttons just to looks through it." I say, pressing some of them. Then, a second time, the machine flashes a brilliant white light in my face for a fraction of a second. The blast of light is so bright that I fly backwards onto the bed and Kyle drops the device, which hits the ground with a loud thud and the light stops coming out of it.
"This place is freaky, dude. Let's get out of here." Kyle exclaims as he makes for the door.
"Why?" I ask. "This place is really cool. I've never been to a dark ages house like this one."
"They're called the dark ages for a reason, man!" Kyle exclaims. "That thing could have killed you!" sigh, and nod. "Fine. We should be heading back anyways."
We spend the next few hours climbing back over the wall, walking to the top of the hill, then finally tracing out steps back to the capital. By the time we get there, the sun is setting, and the marketplace has now closed.
"Aww, man!" Kyle exclaims. "Now we don't get to eat until tomorrow!" Sighing, I look around and see that he is right. Nobody stays open around the capitol at night, and the only way to get food is to buy it with reguild or haypen or senqite.
"Whatever." I say, trying to not think about food. "Lets just get some water and call it a day."
We walk slowly over to the town well and wait in a small line for access. I pull the canteen out of my belt and lower the bucket as Kyle pulls his. We both fill up the canteens and head back. I walk with Kyle to his abandoned building.
"Are you sure you don't want to stay with me here?" Kyle asks as we enter the small building. "It's depressing seeing you sleep in that alley."
"It's fine." I say. "Besides, your building doesn't have a roof either." I point the they nighttime sky to prove my point.
"Whatever, dude. Just remember to wake up early. Tomorrow is 'The Great Deliverance', and you need to be energized if your going to fight your way to the good stuff."
"I'll remember." I say. "Just lay off on the drinking tonight." Kyle blushes nervously and slides over to block my view of the suspicious cans behind him. "Will do, bro. Goodnight."
"Goodnight." I say as I turn around. I walk back outside and down to my own alleyway. Sitting down, I find my old blanket that I hide underneath some stones and pull it over me. I am still cold, but I'm used to it. I needed all the sleep I could get if I was going to survive this weeks 'Deliverance', but sleep never comes easy for me. I think about the day's events. The flashing device, the compass, and even the sight of Utopod Four. Shivering in the cold, I pull the blanket up to my neck as I slowly fall asleep.
It's the day of The Great Deliverance, and I am definitely up early. In fact, I didn't sleep but for three or four hours. The cool night breeze and air kept me up the entire time. I head out at about six in the morning, just at sunrise, to wake Kyle. Surprisingly, he is already awake, sharpening his dull spear with a stone.
"Someone is in the spirit for Deliverance Day." I say jokingly.
"Of course I am." He responds.
I never was a fan of The Great Deliverance. I always felt like it was just a way for the Utopians to show us how high and mighty they are, how they can control us, make us kill each other. Once a week, on Saturday at noon, the only door in and out of Utopod Four opens and an automatic machine, carrying loads of goods and other items, moves foreword to across the great bridge separating Utopod Four from us. The great bridge is the only way to get close to the utopod; there is a fifty foot wide trench in the ground dropping so low that the bottom of the trench cannot be seen.
After the machine, which, according to the town's elders, used to be called a 'vehicle', makes it to the grounds of the Wasteland, the fight for the goods becomes a free-for-all. People literately fight and kill for food inside that machine, and usually about a hundred people show up to fight. The rest of the town in district three tend to watch intriguingly. The Great Deliverance, as morbid as it may be, keeps people like myself and Kyle alive. His choice of weapon has always been a long spear, while I always carry a serrated knife I keep in a sheath on my belt at all times.
Kyle and I wordlessly walk together towards Utopod Four. Other men join at our sides, some even younger then us. The carry knifes, spears, bows and arrows, and any other weapon you could think of. A few of the lucky ones, mainly the rich, even hold a coveted magic bow and arrow, which literately shoots a piece of metal at someone so fast, it usually kills them.
The walk to Utopod Four is a calm one, through forest and trees, but it is also a long one, usually taking two or three hours. As we walk, other men join us, wordlessly. The men of the Fifth Locale have always had this sort of mutual respect for one another. Any other day of the week, all of the men are generally friendly and calm, sharing the hospitality that Wasteland Four has become known for. However, on Deliverance day, men usually say nothing to each other, out of respect. Even after the Deliverance has past, no words are spoken. It's usually out of respect for the dead, really. About thirty to forty men are typically killed in battle during the fight.
The bond of silence we all share is between myself and Kyle as well. We allow ourselves to talk for a few minutes, but we uphold the same respect that the other men give us. The walk this week is completely silent, as the dozen or so men that have joined us remain quiet.
We all arrive to the great bridge about thirty or so minutes before The Great Deliverance, and already I can see that today's competition is stiff. Fifty or so burly men have already arrived today, some even carting their teenage boys alone with them. A large bit of the town is already here as well, waiting cautiously behind a group of rocks nearby. The older men place their bets on who will survive while the children cling to their mothers who cover their eyes. Somehow, in the years that have passed, attendance has become nearly mandatory.
Now keep in mind that this isn't completely barbaric. There is one rule that we have always kept. Never touch the great bridge until after the machine has crossed it. Any attempts to get the goods early usually ends in an arrow through the heart, delivered by our most skilled huntsman, Silas, who stands next to the mayor during every Deliverance.
Kyle and I take our place next to the other men by the great bridge. We have about five minutes left. I look to Kyle, who gives me a friendly, yet solemn nod. I nod back, and slowly draw the serrated knife, almost dagger, out of it's sheath. The next five minutes pass slowly, as sweaty faces look to the great bridge and the large marvelous door that will deliver the goods to us. The wait is unbearable, and the tension is almost palpable.
Then, with a large clang, the door of the utopod opens, revealing the machine to us. The machine takes up almost the whole door, so the only bits of the inside we can see are pitch black, seemingly on purpose. The machine slowly moves foreword, and just as it exits the door, the only entrance into Utopod Four clangs shut and bolts. The machine rumbles slowly toward us as we prepare for the bloodbath to ensue.
Before it could, though a man steps out and runs across the bridge, hoping to get an early shot at the goods. Someone attempts this every year, but with no luck. This time is no different. The soft ping! of a bow unleashing an arrow is heard, and Silas' arrow pierces the man's chest with such a force, he falls from the great bridge while clutching the arrow in his chest. We watch him fall, down and down, until he can be seen no more. His family can be heard weeping in the audience as the men turn their attention back to the oncoming truck. It creaks ever closer to us, now only ten feet away.
Five feet away...
Two feet away...
Just inches away....
The truck touches solid ground, and all hell breaks loose. Men smash in the two glass windows of the machine.. reaching for goods before getting stabbed in the back by other men. The machine at this point has inched completely onto the grounds of Wasteland Four, and now men surround it from all angles.
I stay towards the back of the powerful mob as the destruction continues. Screams come from both the audience and the crowd as the first victims fall to the ground. Finally, I decide its time to move in, and fight my way to the front.
Being as young as I am, the serrated knife I carry is my saving grace. I literately slice my way to the front of the crowd, stabbing people in places that will hopefully not kill them. The front of the machine is probably raided at this point, and everyone is digging at the open compartment in the back. I see three or four guys, fighting each other inside the compartment, while the rest of us try to get in.
The few men inside are quickly dispatched by other men, and their bodies dragged out of the way. I try to jump into the compartment, but a strong force pulls me back. I am quickly slammed to the ground by an older, more muscular man, standing above me and pinning my arms down by my sides. He lifts his weapon, a crude mace, above me, a look of pure hatred in his eyes. I slam my eyes shut and prepare for the worst, but it never comes. When I open my eyes again, a spear is straight through his heart, and he collapses beside me. Kyle pulls his spear out of the man and nods to me happily. I nod again and he pulls me up.
Turning my attention back to the compartment, I jump into the compartment and join other men battling for the food. Inside lay a roast chicken, a medical kit, and a magic bow and arrow, sized for holding in one's hand. As much as I want the chicken, I know the others will fight more for it, so I shove the magic bow and arrow into my pants pocket and grab the medical kit. It's looking like this is all I will manage this time, so I make a run for it. Many men block my way, wanting all of the goods for themselves, but Kyle stands beside me, helping me fend them off as we near the safe zone.
The safe zone is where you stand after you have claimed your prize. No one fighting in The Great Deliverance is allowed to touch you once you make it to the safe zone. Kyle and I were just about there when a searing pain shoots through my leg and I scream in pain, falling to the ground. I turn so that my back is on the floor and I see a middle aged man, holding a machete covered in blood. My blood. In anger, I swing my knife blindly at him. My eyes are closed in pain but I feel the blade cut flesh. Kyle quickly drags me off to the safe zone and I open my eyes.
The second I see the man, I vomit right there. I had killed him. He was the first person I had ever killed in The Great Deliverance. Kyle had no issue with the killing, but I always valued human life. I cry soundlessly and wipe the vomit from my mouth as I stand and turn away from him. The killings are over. The Great Deliverance is over. Yet I had done what the sick Utopians wanted. I turned into a barbarian to survive. The very thought makes me sick.
The pain in my leg reminds me that I cannot focus on that now. Looking down, it's worse then I thought it was. The gash in my leg is almost two inches deep and five inches long. The volunteer medical team quickly come over and look me over. They tie a tourniquet to my leg and pour antibiotics into it. I wince in the pain, but I hold through. They give me a crude pair of wooden crutches and quickly move to the next wounded person, another victim of The Great Deliverance.
"What did you get?" I ask Kyle wearily.
"Not much." He says. "A piece of chicken and some gasoline. You got the medical kit and magic bow and arrow, right?"
"Yes, but I don't think it was worth it. I mean, I killed that guy for it!" I exclaim.
"Don't think anything of it." Kyle reassures me. "That's life. That's The Great Deliverance!"
"That doesn't make it right!" I say, much louder then before. "I mean, just think about it. Those sick Utopians are probably laughing at us right now from their fancy little homes and...their stupid technology! I mean they probably know how this magic bow and arrow works." I continue, holding the device in my hand. "It's not even magic to them!"
Kyle looks at me gravely. "There is nothing we can do about it, ok?" He glances down at my leg and looks back up to me. "You know your not going to be able to walk right for a while, let alone participate in the next Deliverance, right?"
I sigh in acceptance. "I know...so what am I supposed to do for the next two weeks? Go to school?"
"Maybe." he says. "Look, I'll handle the trading. You just deal with yourself, alright? I'll make sure you have something when you get back 'home'" Kyle adds, using the word 'home' in this case meaning 'street'.
"Fine." I say. "But you better have some good meat."
We take the walk back to the capitol slowly, since my injured leg makes sure I go as slow as possible. Me and Kyle keep the code of silence once more, walking beside men we tried to kill just minutes before. It takes us three hours to finally make it back to the capitol, and the festivities have already began. I huge party is usually thrown after The Great Deliverance, for all those who participated and survived. However, there are always those few that sulk back to their homes and figure out what they are going to do without their loved one. It won't be easy, and I know from experience. My own father died in The Great Deliverance. I was about twelve years old when my father was impaled with a spear in the side, one similar to Kyle's, and pushed down the trench.
Mom and I couldn't make it alone. We worked so hard for food, and since mom always gave me more food then herself, she died of starvation not six months after my father's passing. Ever since then, I vowed not to kill anyone in The Great Deliverance. A vow I had broken today. I could not stop thinking about it.
Kyle asks if I want to join the parties, but I say no. He just shrugs and runs into the party by himself. I walk by myself alone to Kyle's building and sit in silence, sharpening my blade and wiping the man's blood off of it, over and over again, until Kyle stumbles into the room, drunken as ever. I simply chuckle at him as he prances around the room like an idiot, but it still doesn't take my mind off of the man.
Lifting the 'magic bow and arrow', I closely examine it. I never understood why we called it a bow and arrow, let alone magic. The device didn't look like a bow at all, and the 'arrows' in this case were just curved metal pieces, about the size of the top half of my index finger. I look through the opening of the device, where the metal pieces come out, hoping for an answer to the question of why it works. Legend tells us that the Utopians took everything from us; technology, food, even civilization. It was generations before anarchy was wiped out in Wasteland Four.
Kyle and I sit around for another few hours. I do nothing, save for talking to Kyle, looking through the medical kit, eating the raw chicken, and just sitting around.
I wish Kyle goodnight at about nine at night and promise him I'll be at school tomorrow, although he is probably too drunk to remember anything I say to him at all. So I walk down the streets alone, in the cold, and think about tomorrow. What if the man had a kid? What if he goes to school? What will I say then? All's fair in love, war, and Deliverance? The questions rattle through my minds as I walk back to the alley. I pull the blanket over me, just like every night, but I already know that I am going to find little sleep tonight. So I lay in silence, filled with guilt, until my body shuts itself down and I finally fall asleep once again.
School in the wastelands is an odd thing. Since we know so little about how things actually work, most of the information taught in the schools seems to be legend or myth. I think that was part of the Utpoian's plan, long ago, to keep us from the truths in life. I find books in many houses, but I have never found a single one explaining how things work.
I wake up earlier then usual in my alleyway, pushing the worn blanket off of me as I sit up. Walking casually, I look at the clock-tower and see that I have about thirty or so minutes until school. This should be just enough time to get ready.
I walk to the well in the center of the town and I see that people have already lined up to get their hands on water. After waiting for my turn in line, I carry the bucketful I receive and make for the woods.
One of the cons of being homeless is really that you lack hygiene. I wash myself in the woods with the little water that I have, looking for other people that may be watching suspiciously.
After washing, I walk back to the marketplace, compass in my pocket, and look for a good trade for the compass. Today, I look for someone who will take the compass for at least a hayben. I walk up to the nearest trading post with a man I know occupying it; the mayor's young son, Levi.
"How much for this?" I ask, placing the compass down on the table for Levi to see. Levi picks up the compass and examines it closely. He turns it in his hands, as Kyle did, and hands it back to me.
"I'll give ya a hayben for it." He replies gruffly. It's the answer I wanted to hear. I ask for the hayben in reguild, but he says he does not have that many reguild on him. I sigh and take the hayben, aiming to exchange it for fifty reguild tomorrow.
The school building in the capitol is the only school building in all of the Fifth Locale. I have attended the school before, but after my mother passed away I had to live on the streets, holding my own in order to survive.
The building definitely shows it's age. School is held in this building since it used to be a school in the dark ages. Half of the building has since collapsed with age, but schools in the dark ages were so large, we only use one of the four large hallways that the school originally had. The teachers and administrators of the school blocked off the broken parts of the school, so no one really gets to examine the entire place. I hold my breath as I walk into the front doors.
Schooling in the Fifth Locale is even more odd than in other places in Wasteland Four. School lasts from eight in the morning until three in the afternoon, as long as they say dark ages schools lasted. Many people believe we need to separate ourselves from the dark ages, since humans before us decided on keeping life simpler. However, the mayor, as lucky as he was, convinced the board of elders to allow a longer school day, and they approved.
I looked to the front wall of the school to see what room I would be in. Classes are usually divided by age, and a crumpled piece of paper in the front of the school tells you what classroom you need to go to. Today, the paper told me that I needed to go to room 113, so I wordlessly walk down the hallway, past the other students, and enter the classroom.
Nothing had changed, really, since I went to school last. The desks were still old and rusty, the front board so rotted it's covered by a tarp, the ceiling half caved in. It's a wonder this room hasn't fallen down yet. I take my seat quietly and wait for class to start.
Our teacher walks to the front of the classroom and begins the first subject of the day, History. I find it ironic, really, for us to teach history when we know so little about it. So the teacher just covers the basics.
"According to legend," The teacher begins, already sweating in the musty classroom, "Long ago, we had the dark ages. A time of war and pain, of evil technology and weapons. Back then, there were no wastelands, only organizations called 'countries'. The people of the earth, after a tragic war, decided that the world needed to be saved. So the earth was divided into twelve sections." The teacher pulls out an old map of the earth on it, a very rare item. The maps we have are so old, we only see land masses. The names and lines of these 'countries' has since worn out. Ink is scribbled on it to separate the land into about twelve sections, showing us where we think the sections are.
"These twelve sections are called 'Wastelands'" The teacher continues, most of the students already asleep from the monotony of the story. Most all of us know the story as kids, yet they teach it every day. "In the Wastelands there is always one place of paradise, called a utopod. The world's leaders moved into the utopods with their families and closed the doors. Once a week, they provide us with generous food and technology, so that some day, we may grow as vast and powerful as they do." The teacher finishes.
It's this story of hope that we are taught throughout our adolescence. Most of us know better then to believe it, but again, the schools teach it anyway. The teacher now tells us to write a paper on the formation of the wastelands and what it means to us. We write until the teacher tells us to stop, and I hand my paper to the teacher. After the teacher has collected the papers, the next lesson begins.
The entire first half of the day goes by like this. A lesson, and then a paper. It's all the teachers can come up with, and is the reason why many kids like myself skip school to learn for ourselves, think what we want to, to grow up and face the realities of living in a wasteland. It's only until after the teacher tells us we can go to the lunch room for lunch that I sit up and actually move. I had been sleeping for a few hours.
The only nice thing about school here is that lunch is extremely cheap, usually only a reguild. The only problem was that I only had a knife, 'bow and arrow', and a hayben on me, so I just sit at a table alone. I was used to being alone anyways, sleeping in alleys, skipping meals, stealing from others, so I just watch the children grab their meals and talk to their friends happily while I lay my head down.
"Hey." Comes a gentle voice from above me. I'm startled and look up fast. Standing in front of me is a girl. She had pale skin and straight blond hair. She seemed like the kind of girl that was always bubbly, another pretty face just wanting to have fun. However, today she looked startled and solemn. She wore clothes just as dirty as my own. She appeared to be about one hundred and sixty-eight months old. "Can I sit with you?" she asks. I don't see why she can't, so I nod politely and the girl takes the seat in front of me.
"What's your name?" I ask, wearily. Might as well make small talk. The girl looks back up at me while finishing her piece of food. "Laura. What's yours?"
"Aaron." I reply. The girl keeps eating a bit, then looks back up at me. "
"I haven't seen you here before, are you new?" She asks.
"I never go to school." I reply. "I...don't have a family, so I usually go out and take care of myself." I try to avoid the whole story of my parents and keep the mood light, for the girl's sake. She looked sad enough.
"I'm new here too." She responded. "But I..." She cuts off and looks away for a second, closing her eyes. I think she might start crying, but she turns back. "I don't have a place either."
"No where?" I ask. She nods. "Like I said, I've only been here a week or so."
Now it made sense. Usually people that try to move here have a hard time, so most live on the streets, like me, so that they don't have to pay the rent for an apartment, in order to save up for a house.
"Well, don't your parents-" I begin, but she just shakes her head 'no'. I nod.
"If you want." I begin. "You can use my shelter. Or at least my friends. I like to sleep alone."
She looks up to me and smiles. "Really? You'd do that?"
"Sure." I say. I usually didn't just invite people to live with me, but this was an orphan girl with no place to go. I had to help out somehow.
"Thanks." The girl added. She offers me a piece of the moldy roll she was eating, but I just shake my head. "You probably need it more than I do." She nods and eats the rest of it.
The rest of the lunch period goes by slowly. I try to ask more about Laura, but she doesn't usually answer any questions about where she is from. The most I get out of her is that she is from the Eleventh Locale, which is actually quite far away from here, but I never get any more information. I ask her to meet me after school in the front and she nods. I walk back to my classes and try to finish the rest of the day, but after an hour of learning simple math, I fall asleep, and the teacher wakes me up when school is over.
Walking back to the front of the school, I see that the girl has taken me up on my offer. She stands, thin as a rail, waiting for me. We share a silent glance and walk out of the door, with me leading the way. We take the walk back to the condemned building in silence, until Laura sees the marketplace.
"Wow. All those people trading..." She comments, and I nod. "It's just what everyone does around here. Hold on a second." I walk over to the banker, who was closed yesterday. "Got change for a hayben?" I ask.
He nods and takes my hayben, giving me fifty reguild in exchange. I count them carefully before thanking the man and walking back off with Laura.
"How on earth did you ever get a hayben?" Laura asks. I feel like she is suspicious that I stole something, so I quickly clarify the situation.
"By trading. Me and my friend, Kyle, go out into the woods and look for remnants of the dark ages. When we find some, we usually trade it for money, then we buy food." She nods and accepts the answer. I lead the way down an alley and into the condemned building. Kyle is waiting for me inside.
"Hey, Aaron!" He says happily. "How was school?"
"Boring as usual." I add, then move out of the way so that Laura can see Kyle. "This is Laura." I say. "She's from the Eleventh Locale. She, um, has no where to stay, so I thought she could hang with us for a while."
Kyle looks at me oddly, wondering if I took her here to rob her or something. I quickly shake me head no, and Kyle looks back to Laura, his look of indifference replaced with happiness.
"Well, Laura, we don't have much, but you can stay here." Kyle says happily. Laura lets out a shy thank you and we all sit on the old floor.
"So Laura, are there any wonders of the Fifth Locale you would like to see?" Kyle asks sarcastically. There is nothing to see around here. However, Laura looks to Kyle and smiles. "Well, I never got the see a utopod before..."
Her response puzzles me. How can you live so close to a utopod, yet never see one? I sit puzzled while Kyle smiles and responds. "Would you like to go see it?"
"Now?" She asks, a bit happier then before.
"Well, from far away." Kyle adds. He knew that they were probably still cleaning up the mess from yesterday, so we would have to walk to the hill and see it from there. I don't feel like going out again, especially at three, but if it makes this girl a bit happier, maybe we can find out more about her.
"Sure!" She agrees, and we all stand up and leave the building. I buy some bread rolls on the way out of the marketplace, and we begin our journey that me and Kyle took about two days ago. We walk forward and make it to the burned down fence. We step over the fence and begin the walk through the woods. Its a silent journey as we walk, as no one seems in much of a mood to talk. We take a second look around as we walk, hoping that we can find something else to trade, but to no avail. The sun begins to set in the sky as we finally find the hill we were looking for.
"We're here." I say quietly as I walk up the hill. Laura and Kyle follow behind.
Utopod Four looks even more brilliant in the sunset. The shiny gold-colored walls of the utopod shine brightly in the night sky as the dome reflects some of the sun's rays back out in all directions. It appears to be a symbol of hope, of peace, but to us on the outside, it's a symbol of tyranny.
"It's absolutely beautiful!" Laura gasps as she sees the wonder about a few miles away.
"It truly is, isn't it?" Kyle adds.
I nod, and we stare out for a few more minutes before Kyle says it's time to head back, so we can make it while the candle lights of the capitol are still lit and we can find it. Kyle and I turn to walk down the hill, but Laura sees the old wall that we found.
"Hey guys, check this out!" She exclaims, and runs down to the wall. I sigh and look at Kyle. He simply gives me a look that says 'time to go', and I nod. I walk back up and down the hill to retrieve Laura.
"Laura, we have to go." I say politely, but the look in her eyes shows me that she isn't going to just leave.
"But, I mean, look at this!" She says. "I mean, what do think is on the other side of this thing?"
"I've been there." I say. "It's just a bunch of houses from the dark ages. Not to much excitement." I lie. We really just needed to leave, so I was hoping Laura would forget about it.
"Well, take me back here some other time." Laura adds. "I want to see it for myself." She turns from the wall, and we walk back up the hill and meet up with Kyle together.
The long walk back really hurts my leg, and even though I tried to ignore the pain all day, at this point I was limping badly. Laura notices and looks at me.
"What's wrong with your leg?" She asks.
"I injured it in-" I begin, but I remember that she is not from around here, and probably doesn't know that The Great Deliverance is a violent and bloody affair. "-in a fight." I lie again. Laura nods and doesn't ask further questions, to my relief.
It's late when we arrive at the capitol, probably about ten or eleven at night. Kyle goes to get us water for the night as I lead Laura to the building in the night sky. We arrive and sit, and some time later Kyle comes back with both water and my blanket. He must have walked to my alley and gotten it for me.
"Again, we don't have much." Kyle began. "But we have enough." I reach into the medical kit I had gotten from The Great Deliverance and pulled out a nice blanket.
"You can use this to sleep with." I say, and hand it over to Laura. She nods thankfully, and we lay down to sleep. Kyle seems to fall asleep almost instantly, and I am almost asleep as well when I feel Laura softly nudging me. "Aaron." She says quietly.
"Yeah?" Is the best answer I can give at this time of night.
"Where can I go to, you know, go?"
"You know where the well is?" I ask.
"Just go left from there. There are public restrooms there."
"Thank you, Aaron. For everything." Laura stands up and walks out quietly. I smile and close my eyes once again. I'm just about to fall asleep when Kyle nudges me. "Aaron." He says. I annoyingly grunt, giving him the answer that I'm awake but annoyed.
"What do you want?"
"Why did you invite this girl here anyways? I mean, you never do this." Kyle asks.
"She reminds me..." I fade out for a second, before finishing my statement. "She reminds me of myself, when I lost my parents."
"Well, you better hope she can woo the traders into giving up a good deal." Kyle adds jokingly.
"Haha, she will." I finish. "She will."
We both roll over once again, and close our eyes. I am just about to fall asleep when I hear Laura creep back into the abandoned building.
"Thank You." She says, as I slowly lose consciousness.
The next week was going to be a very long week. We convince Laura to stay out of school in order for us to teach her the art of trading. I also need a long time for my leg to heal, as I need to participate in the upcoming Deliverance. Kyle and I cannot support Laura and ourselves with just one person participating, so we double our efforts to trade well and try to obtain medical supplies for my leg. The gash in my leg has yet to seal shut, and Kyle tells me I may need to get a doctor to stitch it.
The first day of 'training' for Laura actually goes well. We set up a small stall for our few items to sell and actually make three reguild off my old blanket. Laura tells me not to sell it but I am too desperate for money at this point. I manage the shop as Kyle and Laura venture into the woods to find a decent item to sell. When they get back, they bring with them an old set of pliers, scissors and old socks. I sell them for a good price and by the end of the day, we make forty-three reguild. We use the money to buy dinner and end the day with twenty-four reguild.
The next three days continue in the same pattern. Kyle and Laura go to gather items and I sell them. I was able to spend one of our hayben (with their permission, of course) to purchase ointment from the town healer. The doctor's bill would have exceeded a senqite, money we didn't have, so I pour the ointment into the wound. It hurts badly at first, but the pain subsides and the wound begins to heal overnight.
It is the morning before The Great Deliverance, and finally, I have healed enough to assist with the gathering of items. We walk together through the woods and Laura leads the way.
"You guys sure have been bringing back quite a lot of stuff recently." I ask. "Where do you go to get it?"
"West Lake Country Club." Laura says, as-a-matter-of-factly, her mood gradually cheering up since I met her.
"West what?" I ask, really confused at this point.
"West Lake Country Club. Those houses that we found the other day together." Kyle adds.
I finally remember. Staying back in the capitol so long hindered my thoughts, and I remember that day with the flashing machine. "You guys have been going in there this whole time?" I ask.
"Of course we have." Laura says as we walk up the hill. "And you were the one that told me it was boring over there."
"Well, I didn't know you were that interested in things of the dark ages." I add. "My bad, haha."
We descend down the tall hill and make it to the wall. I now see that Kyle and Laura have cleared the dirt and debris off the wall, and the side does say "West Lake Country Club".
I follow them to a point where the wall is completely torn down by age. We walk through the rubble and they lead me to another street.
"We have already covered most of the houses by the entrance." Kyle explains. "We are working our way inward."
I nod, and follow the two into one of the houses. All the houses in this area still look the same, and this house is no different. Same odd color, holes, and doors. We walk in and Kyle tells me to check downstairs. I nod and Kyle goes upstairs while Laura follows me. The living room of this house was only slightly different then the one I remember, but still contained a rectangle box and old couches like the others did. I walk into the kitchen and open the small doors next to the shiny metal machines. Inside lay various items, such as knifes, spoons, forks, and any kind of plate you can think of. I hand a few to Laura and she takes them silently.
I skip the room that held the odd green blanket in the last house and go behind the house through a broken window. Grass grows to my knees here, and moss covers the entire back of the house. I move cautiously, not wanting to disturb and creature that might have taken residence after the previous homeowners left.
I feel something under my foot and I quickly back up, looking down. Underneath my feet was a green tube, rubbery in appearance. I pick it up slowly and feel it carefully. Looking left and right, I find the source of the tube, connecting to the house. Walking carefully over to the source, a metal knob sticks from the house, and I turn it so it turns loose. Suddenly, I hear Laura scream, and I turn around quickly.
The end of the tube, about three feet away from Laura, was spewing this bark brown water quickly.
"Make it stop!" She screams. I quickly turn the knob back to its original position, and the water stops flowing.
"What do you think that means?" I ask. Laura is shaken, but answers calmly.
"I have no idea. I think maybe that's how the dark age people got their water, but it sure was disgusting..."
I nod and we walk back into the house. Kyle has come down the stairs, holding old dolls that little girls may end up playing with, so we call it a day and leave the house. I notice that on a brick column outside the house by the road had a number engraved into it: 839.
"What does that mean?" I ask Kyle as we pass the column.
"I think that's what the people used to tell people where they lived." Laura adds. Kyle agrees.
"Yeah, we've seen it on every house so far."
"I guess so..." I add, and we walk back to the capitol.
After getting back inside Kyle's 'place', we sit down and eat some of the food we saved from trades the previous day.
"You think we got enough stuff for tomorrow?" I ask Kyle. He nods in approval. "Of course, bro. I'm glad you healed enough to fight."
"What?" Laura asks, confused. "What's going on tomorrow?"
"The Great Deliverance." I respond. "Don't you remember, it's every week."
Laura's face went from calm to immediately upset. "You can't go to that!" She protests. "You'll get killed!"
I'm surprised at Laura's sudden reaction. The way they teach it in school, it makes it seem like a fun and lively affair.
"We do it every week." Kyle responds. "It's how we get our-"
"NO! You can't go!" She screams. "It's too dangerous!" Tears are now begin to pour down her face. She runs to me and buries her face in my chest. "Don't leave me! Don't leave me!" She screams over and over again.
At this point, me and Kyle look at each other, as confused as ever. This is the most upset she's been all week. She's even more upset then when I first met her. I try to ask why she is so concerned, but she just lays in my arms, not responding. I pat her back awkwardly and look to Kyle once more, so simply shrugs. He has no idea why she burst out this way, and neither do I. Maybe she heard a bad story or something. Whatever it is, it's turned Laura into a young child that acts as if she lost someone dear.
"Laura." I begin, as nicely as I can put the name. "I'll tell you what. Let Kyle go into the Deliverance, and I'll stay out of it. Ok?"
Laura finally lifts her head up and looks at me. "Really? You mean it?"
Laura smiles and sits back up, regaining her composure then. She reaches her hand out to me.
I take the hand and shake it. "You've got a deal."
The next morning, Kyle, Laura, and myself walk together to Utopod Four. The silence of the town begins again, according to tradition. Laura clutches onto Kyle a lot of the way down to Utopod Four. She can't help herself and I don't blame her. Walking to possibly your own death is a hard feeling to get used to.
The walk seems to take longer today, possibly due to my still-injured foot, but I move with the others and arrive on time, a good twenty minutes before the Deliverance begins.
This is the first time I have witnessed the Deliverance without participating since my father's death. So I take my place among the crowd next to the mayor. Laura has said her 'goodbyes' to Kyle and he has walked over to the player's area. She stands next to me, sobbing lightly. Our mayor, who usually means well, pats Laura on the back and smiles to her. She gives him a smile back.
"First Deliverance?" The mayor asks me politely. I nod 'yes' and he smiles.
The next few minutes are filled with solemn faces and silence. The people participating stand together, almost as a unit, preparing for battle. It's barbaric, really, to befriend someone one day and stab him in the back the next. But what choice do we have?
Finally, the tension is broken, and the door to Utopod Four opens. The machine slides forward, but no one steps out early today. I guess they all learned their lesson from the last poor soul last week. There is much less tension today for me than last week. The machine seems to move speedily from this angle and before you know it, the Deliverance has begun.
Men jump over other men, diving into every part of the machine, and already the first few men fall to the floor. I can barely see Kyle from this angle, who had quickly skewered his way into the middle of the battle. The truck is now completely invisible to us in the crowds. Everyone holds an expressionless face in the crowd, including the mayor and Silas. Laura sobs quietly, as do many women in the crowds.
Today's fight is over quickly. The men today seem to take whatever they can and run more then stick around for good items. Laura and I see Kyle emerging from the crowd of men. He's limping, as well as bloody in the face, but he seems to be ok as he crosses the line into the safe zone. Laura runs over to him and hugs him quickly as he sets down his winnings. I walk over to him.
"So, anything good this time?" I ask. He releases Laura and picks up his items from the floor.
"Some food inside these metal cans, fresh bread, and this steel case." Kyle replies. I look to the cans and the bread. Worthy catches in the chaos of The Great Deliverance, but what was the steel case? I reach down to it and try to pull it open, but it's dead bolted.
"I tried too." Kyle says.
"We can open it with those pliers we have back home." Laura suggests.
"We sold those." Kyle says, and I shake my head yes. I did sell those. But I knew how to open that case.
"If we hurry, we can catch the locksmith before the party." I suggest. Maybe something valuable was inside.
"Alright then, let's head out." Kyle says. We lead Laura away from the area, but Laura seemed to keep looking back, as long as the utopod was in sight.
We walk as fast as my wounded leg would carry me. The locksmith is known for being the most drunk at the parties and I intend to find him before he gets that way. We finally exit the path into the square, and I lead the group to the locksmith's store. Luckily, we catch him on his way out the door.
"What do you want?" The locksmith asks. He has the same accent as a lot of the old folks around district three as well as all of Wasteland Four. "I've got a party to attend."
"We need you to open this case for us." I say, handing the man the case I held in my hand. The locksmith takes it roughly and examines it, flipping it a few times before glancing back to me.
"Yew got this 'ere case from The Great Deliverance, didn't ya?"
We nod to him, and he turns to his table. We expect him to pull out some set of keys to open the case, but the locksmith takes a metal wedge and sledgehammer. He places the wedge onto the deadbolt, and slams his hammer into the case, smashing the dead bolt to dust. The three of us wince at the shockwave it produces. The locksmith hands the case back to me and pushes us out of the way.
"Have a nice day." He grumbles as he heads to the party. Kyle rolls his eyes and we head back to the house.
The sun begins to set as we head inside to our 'house'. We are tired and weary from the day and Kyle needs a bit of medicine from his fight in The Great Deliverance. I open my medical kit I still have and hand a pill in the kit that was labeled 'For Pain' to Kyle. He takes it with some of the water we have left over while Laura leaves to get more water. I sit down on the floor and wait for the two of them to gather around. I want all of us to see what's in this thing together.
Kyle wordlessly scoots next to me and some time later Laura comes in as well. She sits next to me and sighs.
"So, what's in this thing?" She asks.
"No idea." Is my reply. "I was waiting for you guys. Now we can open it together."
We all look back to the small metal case together, and I place my hands to the side of the case, lifting the cold metal upwards, revealing the contents. I am amazed at what I see.
Inside lay ten shiny metal boxes, each sealed shut on the top and locked by what appeared to be an old combination lock, like the ones found on the worn lockers at school. We still use them today to secure valuables. We lift up the ten boxes from the case and hold them up to the light. None of them are any larger than my hand. Underneath the boxes lays a handwritten letter. I pick it up and read it out loud to Laura and Kyle:
Solve these, my riddles ten,
And have your lives back again.
Look in West Lake, 421,
The child leads you to the chosen one.
I look to Kyle, who gives me an unknowing glance.
"I have no idea, man."
"They're trying to give us our lives back!" Laura exclaims. "'And have your lives back again.' . They're going to give us whatever is still in that utopod!"
"How are we supposed to believe some random suitcase?" Kyle questions. "I mean, for all we know, it's a trap! They could just be messing with us, just like The Great Deliverance!"
I look to Kyle and smile wearily. "We have to try, dude."
Kyle opens his mouth to deny it, but he knows I'm right. "We don't know where this could lead us." Kyle says mournfully.
"Hey guys, check this out!" Laura exclaims. We turn back to Laura and the case, and we see that she is holding a painting in her hand. This isn't some regular old painting we see in the marketplace, though. This painting hasn't aged a bit, keeping all of its splendor and glory, just as if it was made yesterday. In fact, I don't think it's a painting at all. It's so brilliant and detailed, far too much so to be a painting. The 'painting' is of a house, newly built, standing tall, with a family standing in front of it, smiling happily and looking happy. Judging by the neatness of their close, whatever this is was made in the dark ages. Laura turns it around and reads a handwritten inscription:
Photograph of Suburban House, circa. 2079
"Photograph?" Kyle asks.
"2079?" Laura adds.
"I guess these things are called 'photographs', then." I say. "But 2079? What does that mean?"
"Maybe it's one of those 'year' things people talk about." Kyle says. I remember how we were taught as kids about how the dark ages people had a odd thing about them. They would use weeks and months, but they needed a greater expanse of time, called 'years'. They had thinks called 'birthdays', on which they would celebrate each 'year' that passed after their birth. It was a funny thing, really.
"Probably." I add.
Laura studies the photograph closely. "Wait a second. This is a house in that 'West Lake Country Club'!"
Kyle and I look back at the photograph and realize she's right. The same colors, although much brighter her, the same windows, and doors.
"Well, I guess we found where the first clue is. House number 421. Now we just need to figure out what 'The child leads you to the chosen one' means."
"So we're really going to do this?" Kyle asks.
"What else are we going to do? Sit around and wait for The Great Deliverance to kill us off?" I ask.
"Aaron's right." Laura says. "We might as well find all of these clues. It might lead us into Utopod Four!"
"I guess. But can we at least wait until tomorrow? I'm tired."
Laura and I laugh a bit, then we all place the items back into the case and close it. I get out our blankets and prepare to sleep. While they set up our new makeshift beds (A large pile of straw we found), I hide the case inside the medical kit and then place the medical kit underneath the straw. There isn't much straw to go around, so Laura, Kyle and I huddle for warmth in the cool fall air.
"You think we are going to do it?" Kyle asks, quietly, as Laura has already fallen asleep.
"Do what?" I ask.
"Get inside of Utopod Four."
"To be honest, I don't really know." I reply.
And I don't know. But I have this feeling that whatever this case leads us to, it will change everything.
We set out early the next morning. With the money we made from past trades throughout last week, we have enough money to purchase canteens for Kyle and Laura, a large leather bag to carry our food, and a small dagger for Laura. She protests, but I insist that this still may be a trap, so she reluctantly carries it with her. I put all of our remaining foods, along with the actual case, inside the bag as well as all of our supplies. We intend to come back, but we have no idea how long the search for this house may take.
The woods are now much more barren, with fall claiming many of the leaves on the trees and leaving them on the floor, causing our treads to be a fair amount louder. The thickness of the leaves on the floor as well as our mission today causes us not to look for any items on the ground or anywhere else as we walk.
Two hours pass, and we arrive at the hill. It's steep slope is much harder to climb with the slippery leaves on it, but we manage. We all slide down the other side and enter West Lake Country Club.
"You think we should split up to find 421?" Kyle asks as we enter the maze of houses.
"That wouldn't be a good idea." I say. "We don't really know how big this place is."
I look at the road in front of us and look at the pillar holding the numbers of the houses. 893. I walk to the next one over, whose number is 891.
"Kyle, what's the number on that house over there?" I ask, pointing the house directly across from the one I am standing at. We walks over and glances at the pillar.
"890!" He yells to me. I look to both him and Laura.
'So they're going down this way, so we should head down this road until we find a split." I say.
"But we're in the eight-hundreds!" Laura protests. "There has got to be a quicker way to get to 421."
I shrug. "Got any ideas?" I ask.
We all look around for a second. We are completely lost in these houses and it seems that the only way to 421 is to walk for hours, maybe even days. I glance through the space between two houses, which is really not much larger than a small alleyway, and try to see as far as I can. In the distance, I see another road, interlinking the houses together.
"See that?" I say, pointing. "Let's check the numbers on those houses."
We walk together through the gap. It seems hopeless, really, but we might as well. The grass remains tall and thick, and I wish we had purchased a sickle from the tool man back in the capitol marketplace. We pass behind the row of houses we saw as we entered and through the front yards of the houses behind them, leading us to the road. I walk to the left and check the pillar on the house to the left and Kyle does the same on the right.
"790!" I call out.
"792!" He replies.
We have Laura check the house in front of mine and learn that it's number is 791.
"Alright, so if we pass through these yards," I begin, "Then we'll probably get to the four-hundreds a lot quicker than following the road."
"Hopefully the pattern won't change on us." I hear Kyle mumble pessimistically. I ignore him and we continue on the route we were on.
We must have walked a good mile or so before we found the 400's. The walk was tiring and long, through more tall grass and more monotonous houses. We come out to the same few numbers, 490 and 492, and head to the left. Our walk is not over yet. The road we are on curves to the right and veers down a long hill. We see that the houses, instead of being built at an angle to match the lean of the earth, are built straight up with only parts of the house above the ground.
"Why do you think they did that?" Laura asks me as we pass house number 458. "I mean, wouldn't it be easier to go with the earth rather than build against it?"
"Maybe they wanted more room to live in." I say. "This way they have parts of their houses underground."
"I don't understand these people..." Kyle adds. We keep walking past the houses and the land flattens out.
The numbers pass by slowly, but eventually, after about thirty or forty minutes, on the right, a house, just like every other house, is numbered 421.
"Alright, Kyle, get out the riddle." I tell Kyle. He reaches into the large bag we've been carring and pulls out the case, then the box, and finally, the riddle.
Look in West Lake, 421.
The child leads you to the chosen one.
Kyle puts back the paper as I look to Laura.
"Alright, so we're at the house, but what do you think 'the child' is?"
Laura looks at the house, and I turn to it too.
Nothing is special to me about this house. Like the others, it is painted a bright color, or at least was, as the house is a faded green. The windows are smashed out, and the door is molded and rotting. The only thing I can see that is actually different is that the top of the house seems to be burned off a bit and there is a significant hole in the wall, almost as if it was blasted out.
"Well, let's look inside." Kyle says as he puts the case back into the bag. We walk forward to the door and push it to the side. Maggots crawl out of the door, angry at us for disturbing them.
Inside, the house is a splitting image of all the others, which was expected. As usual, Laura and I walk through the downstairs and Kyle goes upstairs.
"See a child?" Laura asks me sarcastically as we walk into the kitchen. I make my way over to the cupboards and begin searching through them. "There's no way that riddle meant a physical child." I say. "We need to look for something that he meant to be a child. A kid's play toy, a statue, something."
I look in all the cupboards to no avail. Just the same dreary old cups and plates. Nothing changes about these people. I walk over to the room that usually has the black rectangle thing it, since that's the room with the hole in it. Kyle comes down the stairs.
"Any luck?" I ask. He shakes his head 'no'. I sigh, and inspect the hole in the wall. The floor of the house turns black here. Ash lays strewn about and lays on top of anything near the hole, weathered and worn, but still laying in the cracks of the house. Walking in the ash leaves heavy footprints. No one seems to have been here for hundreds of years. I feel along the wall and it crumples like paper. The odd-colored walls fall apart with my touch.
Suddenly, I hear someone stumbling, and I see Laura clutching her leg.
"Ow!" Laura says as she holds her leg. "I freaking just stubbed my toe!" Kyle laughs and looks to her.
"On what?" He teases. "Steel?"
I ask her where she kicked whatever it was at, she points to the ground. I almost can't see anything, but something in the ash looks off. I grope on the floor and, sure enough, my hand bumps into something.
It would have been easy to miss, of course. The ash was so imbedded onto it that it was almost invisible on the floor.
"I think I found the problem." I say, and turn to the back of the house. Kyle and Laura look at me confused for a second, then follow.
I opened the back door slowly, which was made of some other material and was not rotting. In the thick grass, I feel for the green tube I had found behind the other houses and find it. I ask Kyle to turn the knob on the wall, and he quickly obliges.
The blackish-brown water flows freely from the nozzle, and I move the object in my hand underneath the nozzle. Years of dirt begin the flow away from the piece, and soon I begin to make out that what I am holding is a large steel plate. Engraved in it seems to be a small child, pointing upwards.
"You were right." I say to Kyle, as I put the tube down. He turns the knob back to off and looks at me puzzled.
"It's steel!" I say happily. I hand it to him, and Laura and I look at the piece with Kyle.
"Wait a minute..." Laura says. "Come here!" Laura runs into the house, and we follow after her. We go back through the kitchen and back to the room with the hole once more. Laura is standing in the middle of the ash, and looks up.
"Look! This thing fell!" She says.
"What?" Kyle asks as we join her in the middle of the ash. I look up, and see that she was right. This hole in the wall wasn't where the fire began. Above us, we see that the high ceiling was burned through, and the second floor after that. The fire must have originated from the attic, and something heavy, on fire, burned it's way down to the ground floor.
"Come on!" I say, and Kyle and Laura follow me as I run up the stairs to the second floor of the home. I look around on the ceiling to find some way up to the attic, but it's no use. The attic is sealed off to us, and the hole that was burned into the ceiling is too torn and broken to get to. We stand for a minute, puzzled.
"Wait a second..." Kyle says. He pulls out a knife from his bag, then quickly puts it back and looks to me.
"Aaron, do you have your serrated knife on you?" I nod my head.
"Here," He says. "Get on my shoulders. Then you can cut a hole to the attic!"
Quickly, Kyle gets onto his knees as I pull out the serrated knife and get on his back. He lifts me almost all the way up to the ceiling, so I only reach a little bit and start sawing. Dust starts to fall from the roof, and I have to close my eyes and blindly cut. The process is slow and tiring, but finally, I cut the hole out and throw the piece down to the floor of the second story. "Push me up." I say, and Kyle lifts me up even higher. I grab onto the beams of the attic and pull myself in.
"Hold on!" I shout. "I'm gonna look for a way for you guys to get up here!" I look around in the attic in front of me. The place is barren and quite worn from it's lack of roof. Sharp slivers of glass stick from the ground, and cut me as I walk to find something useful, finally, I find a chain ladder. I pick it up quickly and hook it to the nearest beam in the attic and drop it to my friends. Soon, all three of us are standing in the attic.
"Alright," Laura says. "Look for some symbol of 'the chosen one'". She walks right as I walk left. Kyle looks around and heads forward.
A lot of things appear to have been damaged by the fire that raged here so many years ago. The floor is cracked and charred in places and most of the items are torn apart. I look for something, anything that could be of some use to us. It doesn't take long, either.
Down towards the end of the roof lays a human figure. It's half charred, but it's steel, like the child, and I wipe some of the ash away with my hand. It appears to be a human on some sort of cross, nailed onto there. Suddenly it comes to me.
"Guys I found him!" I shout, and I hear them approach me. "The chosen one was Jesus!"
Christianity was one of only a few religions that still lingered on the dark ages, and I should have immediately recognized it.
On the bottom of the cross is a hinge, and I quickly pull it open. A small piece of paper falls out, and I catch it. I unfold it and read it out loud to the others:
"That's all that's written on it." I say. Kyle looks at me happily. "Dude, that's all that we need! Don't you see? It's the numeric code for the combination lock on box #2!"
I smile happily as I realize it. "I guess this isn't some trap after all." I turn to the left and head for the hole in the floor that I had cut out a few minutes ago. "Come on, we can open this thing back at home."
Suddenly, we all heard a great cracking sound and a low moan come from the house. We feel the floor lean a bit and the house sway. I look at Kyle and Laura, paralyzed in fear for a few agonizing moments.
"GO!" Kyle finally screams, breaking the silence, and I don't have to be told twice. I jump down through the hole in the floor and land back in the second story of the house. The house creaks and leans once more, and this time, we can easily feel the house leaning to the left, the side of the house where the hole in the wall is.
"Come on!" I scream into the hole above me, and in moments, the case drops down from the attic. I catch it and quickly help Laura and Kyle out of the attic.
We run down the stairs and the house nearly gives out on us. Debris and ash fall onto us as we run down the stairs and into the main room of the home. I blink my eyes rapidly to clear all of the debris out of it. We hear more terrible sounds coming from the house, and burst out the door before we can hear any more. Behind us, we hear the house finally give out, and wood, concrete, and metal collapse quickly behind us. We run onto the road, where we feel safer, and finally turn to the house.
The entire building seems to be collapsing in slow motion. The entire left side of the house has already collapsed, leaving an open view of the house, as if it was cut in half by a knife. The rest of the house finally gives away, and falls down to the left, on top of the rubble left there. Smoke and ash rise up from the mess, as the movement gradually ceases. I turn to Kyle and Laura, and they look at me, scared to death.
"I guess..." I began. "Well, the house has been sitting here for a very long time...so, I guess it just couldn't handle our weight."
We look at each other awkwardly for a few moments. The fact that we almost got killed was so insane, it was almost funny. I feel like Kyle is going to yell at me, but suddenly, Laura starts to laugh. Kyle and I look at each other for a moment, then we laugh too. I guess the tension of the house collapsing was overshadow by the fact we escaped just fine.
"That was pretty insane!" Laura says, smiling. "I mean, it just fell down!"
"Well, let's' head back then..." I say, and we leave the rubble in good spirits.
The walk back to the capitol of the Fifth Locale is very boring. We walk slowly back to the exit of the maze of houses, still happy, yet shaken, by the day's events. We climb back up the hill and begin our walk through the forest. The sun begins to set as we continue the long walk back to the capitol. We joke about the house as we go, as well as what the next mission will be that the case sends us on.
The easy nature of the first clue has brought our spirits up, and, even though none of us have mentioned it, I guess we feel like this case that has come to us really will get us into Utopod Four.
Nighttime falls upon us as we almost arrive. The sun sets ahead of us, and darkness begins to overtake the land. Yet, in the distance, we can still see brightness coming, long after the sun has set.
"Do you know what that is?" Laura asks us as we continue the long walk.
"Not sure..." I say. "Maybe they are having some sort of huge bonfire. It's happened before.
"It's a little bright to be a bonfire..." Kyle adds. "You think it's coming from Utopod Four?"
"Naw, it can't be. Utopod Four is to the left of us, not ahead." I add.
We walk in silence for a few more minutes as the brightness ahead of us gets brighter and brighter, yet we cannot see what it is behind the mass of trees. Finally, as we almost arrive to the capitol, I hear faint sounds coming from the city. I can't quite make it out. The noise is just too faint to be comprehended. Then, just as the orange glow ahead of us gets very close, I finally understand. The sound is the sound of burning.
"Come on!" I scream, and Kyle and Laura follow me as I run to the capitol. The orange glow can be completely seen as flames this close, and the heat hits us like a wall. We push through into the city, and run into the main square of the capitol
The whole city was burning to the ground.