It's time. I've fought against it for so long, and I knew it was time for me to get back up and continue on with the fight that meant life or death. Yet, I was losing hope, and I was beginning to lose grasp of reality. I've begun to fall deep into the darkness. But more so than going further into the darkness, far deeper into the cold. I prayed and I hoped that someone would come and save me, but who would? Is there someone that'll even be able to save me from this misery? Or was I just doomed for good to slip away to Death in my own puddle of blood? Dying like this isn't something that I neither want nor need.
Please! Come save me! I don't want to leave this world without being able to see his face at least one last time!
"June 20, 3021 DDA," an electronic female voice stated in its usual soft, yet stern voice as the buzzing of the alarm clock began to go off. "Eight AM."
Groaning, I croaked from the dry throat, "Alarm, off." I had to admit that I sounded more snappy than usual.
DDA. After all this time, it was still During Dark Ages era.
"Good morning, Miss JoBeth Mahlendorf," greeted the electronic woman's voice.
As I dragged myself out of the bed, I walked over to my wardrobe, ordering, "Open up the wardrobe, and reveal mirror." When the doors of the wardrobe flung open, I reached for the hairbrush that lay on the middle shelf on the left half of the stainless steel closet. "Good morning, Adriana," I finally replied to the computer that had been installed in my home, and I caught my own voice having softened up from earlier. "What's the schedule for today?"
"At nine this morning," Adriana replied, "you have a meeting with the Area Eighteen's mayor, Trace Dilnot, in his office. Once the meeting is over, you have to head over to Quantum Drinks Bar down in the Square to do your share of work behind the counter. And at one in the afternoon, you must head over to the Square for the draw of the names."
Once I was done fixing my hair and putting them up into a bun, I ran my fingertips along my clothes before choosing out a simple red dress and, changing into it, I asked in a hushed tone, "Have you found out what the drawing of the name this year is for, Adriana?"
Every year, I asked, and every year I got the same answer. I hoped for a different answer, even though it was hopeless. My hope was let down as expected when the computer replied, "My apologies, Miss JoBeth Mahlendorf, but I could not."
A deep inward sigh escaped from the depths of my chest, and all I could mutter was, "No need to apologize." I turned on my heels and headed over to the bed to lay out the sheet as clean as possible, ordering, "Close the wardrobe." The stainless steel doors slammed themselves shut and in matter of minutes, I was done making the overly large bed and soon began heading towards the front door. Stepping out, I softly demanded before closing the door, "Security system on."
"Have a nice day, Miss JoBeth Mahlendorf," the computer greeted. And the moment I had closed the door, I couldn't help but feel frustrated knowing the fact that the people, the so called government, only have designed these programs to keep an eye on everyone. This world started off with countries, such as South and North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, United States, so on and so forth, but as soon as the warlocks decided to reveal themselves to the mere human beings, the world only began to go down the road of destruction. And it all started when the world was separated into different Areas, and there used to be total of forty-eight different Areas – twenty four in total on both Northern and Southern hemisphere, and each all determined by the time zone itself.
I never gave off the secret that I was a warlock, but that's the secret identity I'm living with now, all so people that I've become quite good friends with, those that I've grown fond of, won't hate me for what I truly am. But that's only what others will call 'unreasonable fear' if anything, I supposed, but what does it matter? After all, it's one risk that I'm not willing take, is it not? Or is it just something that I'm over thinking?
"Where are you heading today, Mahlendorf," a well-built male warlock with dark blonde hair, nearly sandy brown, with blue eyes questioned. Six foot ten inches. Approximately two hundred pounds, and if not, more. That was my best guess, but I could have been wrong.
One thing for certain, I was glad there was no real way to tell a difference between a mere mortal and a warlock unless if the warlock was to show off their powers, or abilities rather, in the area that they were trained. And never having seen this man in action, I couldn't have guessed which area he was specifically trained in, but as for myself, I was trained to be a Healer warlock. I was advanced as a small child that I have managed to go from Medic class to Healer class and all the way into advanced Priest class.
But this man didn't know, and neither did rest of the warlocks. The last people to know were my family members, whom all the warlocks killed when my family tried to protect the mortals. Of course, that's a story for another day, and anyone that knows me quite well minus the warlock part would be able to tell that to another any given day.
With a blank look, I replied coolly, "I'm going out to meet with Area Eighteen's mayor, sir. I really have to get going to make sure I make it for the nine o'clock meeting before getting to the square for this specific town."
"You realize that that's in about an hour, correct?" the male warlock asked, and there was a familiar bitter taste in my mouth that most of the warlocks nowadays left as an aftertaste with their behaviors.
Looking at him square in the eye, I dryly replied, "I'm a human, sir, meaning there'll be at least one warlock coming to escort me soon to make sure I don't make a run for it. As well as to make sure I get to the mayor in time. No need to worry on whether I'll be late or not, sir."
Before the man could open his mouth to bark at me, a cheery female voice called, "There you are, Jo! I've been waiting for you, girl!" A female in her early twenties came running into the building and linked arms with me. Bright red hair to match her feisty, yet peppy personality, and unusually bright golden eyes. Well, more caramel golden brown, but close enough to be just bright golden eyes. And unusually beautiful, slim woman.
If she were a warlock, she would have done far better than anyone I know in terms of getting men – warlock or a mere human. It was a great shame, I have to admit, that she was born a human. And out of all the ironic things in the world, she was wearing white shirt with black lining around the neck and around the shoulders on the sleeveless shirt, with a cute school uniform like black skirt. Black and white. What every living being would say this world was – In black and white, and no in between of gloomy gray.
"Sorry, Tricia," I softly replied with a smile. "You know how warlocks get with humans like us when we try to leave our apartments."
The man seemed disgruntled as he growled, "Alright. Get out of my building. And I do mean both of you."
We walked out of there as we both tried our hardest to stifle our laughter, and Tricia had waited until we were out of the earshot range before she burst into laughter. "JoBeth Mahlendorf! What on earth did you do to upset one of the warlocks of Area Eighteen? Never in my life that we both have been alive have I seen one as upset as him!"
"Don't know what you mean, Tricia," I smirked.
Tricia Kaufman. One human I trusted with my life, but couldn't bring myself to trust her with my secret. How could I when she hated warlocks like any mortal humans? After all, if she were to find out I was a warlock as well, I would lose my one and only friend. And even though there was a part of me deep inside that she wouldn't care considering I was nothing more than a Healer, an advanced Priest class to be more exact, she despised warlocks with all her life.
It was a tradeoff I made for myself, I supposed. After all, generation after generation, my family had been trained to be nothing more than Healers with my parents breaking the tradition by adding on other types of sorcery into their portfolios, and I was the last one in my family standing. They all died trying to protect the secret of us being warlocks, all so we could live in harmony with humans. One thing I couldn't let my parents down on was revealing the family secret to even Tricia all so I could test our friendship. All so I could see if their theory on the mere mortals and warlocks being able to live in peace in one another's presence. Another reason was because warlocks already put the humans in fear – made themselves fearful beings with great amount of power.
"Earth to Jo!" Tricia's voice called, breaking my train of thoughts that seemed to run in a circle without a moment of rest.
Snapping my attention to her, I sad, "Oh, sorry. What were you saying?"
"What's eating you?" she questioned. "You seem so distant today. It's not like you, Jo."
I shook my head as I quietly told her, "It's nothing." After a moment of thinking and a bit of hesitation, I admitted, "Well, if anything's bothering me, it's the time of the year." If anything, Tricia seemed dumbfounded by my words and I couldn't help but let out a deep sigh. "Time for drawing of the names. For Survival Among the Weakest."
Her lips formed a round O as her eyes widened. Lowering her head, Tricia began to lose herself in her own train own of thoughts. "Your name's going in this year, isn't it?"
"Hasn't it always?" I sighed. "Everyone knows that among the humans, it's always the ones with the worst paying jobs that'll be put into six months of fighting. Six months of surviving in the wild life. I'm one of the people with the lowest paying jobs, and you know full well that you're lucky for being a surgeon, the highest paying job for the humans."
It was always those with top thirty-nine lowest paying jobs that were always chosen for the fight, and I fell into one of the categories. To name a few of the lowest paying jobs? Cooks for fast food restaurants. Dishwashers. Cashiers. Nursery workers. Waiters and waitresses. Maids and housekeeping cleaners. Nannies. Bartenders. Nonfarm animal caretakers. Manicurists and pedicurists. And pharmacy aides.
Which one of those categories did I fall into? I juggled three different jobs to try and make as much of a living as possible – I was nothing more than a cashier, a waitress, and a bartender. The jobs all rotated around the schedule that was set out for me each day, and all the warlocks were the ones to run all the businesses in the world.
In some strange logic warlocks have created to make themselves seem far more powerful than they are, there really was no such thing as first class, middle class, and low class. In fact, it was all separated by just warlocks and humans – warlocks being the first class citizens; no middle class citizens for the middle ground; and then straight down to the humans as the low class, kind of like the below the poverty line to sort of speak.
"It's a shame that your name will be going in," Tricia sorrowfully reminded me just as I always had to remind myself every passing moment. It was worse knowing that my name would be entered three times – name entered once for every one of the lowest paying jobs worked at.
Scratching back of my head with one hand and holding my arm with the other, I quietly told her, "Don't remind me. It's bad enough knowing my name will be entered three times. Just like all the other years past twelve years."
Age twelve. That's when all humans begin to get entered into the tournament, and once the kids all reach eighteen years of age, that's when the people get picked out in terms of who must continue on with entering and who gets excused. I chose terrible jobs for the sake of hoping my secret will go down to the grave with me, and so far, I have been unsuccessful. And to some degree, I couldn't be happier knowing I would have to compete in the treacherous tournament, especially since it was never predictable what kind of wild the chosen ones were given seeing it always changed. There were always mixes of various things from the past as well.
When it came to the competition, one tradition always remained. Every year, there were always total of two hundred forty contestants in total, five from each Area. The odd numbered areas had three male and two female contestants. The even numbers had two male and three female competitors.
"Attention," a computerized male voice boomed throughout the place, and I'm sure it was broadcasted worldwide. "Breaking news. All of the odd numbered Areas in the northern hemisphere have been destroyed. Only the even numbered Areas stand. Again, only the even numbered Areas stand. For the southern hemisphere, all the even have been destroyed, and only the odd numbered Areas remain standing. Northern hemisphere's even numbered Areas, and the southern hemisphere's odd numbered Areas continue standing. Let this be a warning and a lesson to any that try to oppose the warlocks to start up a war. Have a nice day, and when the names are drawn today, have a pleasant time. There will also be some change in the rules for Survival Among the Weakest. And due to the changes that were made, the drawing of the names this year will be moved on up ahead to noon. Thank you for your cooperation."
I felt my body freeze up as a bone chilling shiver ran down my spine. I felt blood drain completely from my face. What was all this supposed to mean for those of us that had names in and ready to be drawn? More so than what would happen to those of us that have our names in the ballot list, not much by choice since the warlocks wants to make sure that all jobs were taken by equal amount of people, one question remained standing – Was there a specific reason that they have destroyed pretty much half the world? Or was that another piece of information that the warlocks wanted to keep for themselves?
"What's that supposed to mean for the rest of us humans?" Tricia's voice trembled. "Did they have a reason for finishing off the amount of people that they did?"
My mouth felt dry as the words came rolling off my lips in a near hushed voice. "I'll try to find out when I see that scum of a mayor today. I promise."
Three warlocks all dressed in royal purple colored robes made of rich satin and fairly large staffs all carved in the same way, almost like the ones that children from long ago saw in their picture books, came up. Their faces were hooded, and face far too deep into the shadows to even see what they look like. Just the way they walked and the way their bodies were held up, there was a sense that they weren't small and scrawny ones either, but rather large and brawny warlocks. The one that walked front and center had a deep and rather captivating voice when he asked, "Are either of you JoBeth Mahlendorf?" When neither of us replied, the three men looked back and forth at us expectantly.
"I am," I croaked with a bit of fear once I managed to find my voice, and cleared my throat before repeating in more confident voice, "I am she." Looking around at the three men, only one explanation came into mind, and that was they were the ones to bring me into the mayor. Slowly inhaling and exhaling to keep steady breathing, I remarked, "Correct me if I'm wrong since I'm merely taking a stab in the dark here, but if I'm not mistaken, you three are here to collect me to see Mayor Dilnot, are you not?"
The men seemed a little taken aback, perhaps because I hit the bull's eye in just one shot, but the man who spoke seemed to give a small nod by the faint movement of at least his visible chin. "Come with us, please, Miss Mahlendorf," the man's deep voice said as he held out his hand to me.
Glancing over at Tricia, who had nothing more than worry written all over her face, there was something that came over me that caused me to take hold of her hands and give them a small, gentle squeeze. "Don't worry," I quietly told her with a weak yet soft smile. "I'll be fine. Worse comes to worst, the mayor tries to kill me with his own spell. I'll let you know what happened if he even gives me permission to talk about it when I get out, alright?"
She threw her arms around my neck and I heard her voice trickle into my ear, "Just come back to me alive if possible, JoBeth." When Tricia took a step back and turned away to head for her own work, there was a glint in her eyes saying there was something she was holding herself back from saying in front of these people. Something she didn't want the three warlocks to know.
When the warlock in the front cleared his throat, almost as a reminder that he was there, I turned to face him as I muttered, "I'm terribly sorry for having to keep you waiting like this." With those words, I took his hand and the surrounding of my town, or city rather, all disappeared in blink of an eye. We were being warped into the darkness, and I felt myself begin to spin, spiraling upward, in an uncontrollable manner.
Beginning to feel nauseated, I closed my eyes and hoped that the disgusting feeling in the stomach would just subside. Having to undergo the spiral took longer than I had hoped, or could have asked for, and just when I was about to lose all that were in my stomach, all the food that I had the day before, we came to a stomach. Taking in few deep breaths slowly, my eyelids lifted themselves in cautious manner before my head followed my instructions to move from side to side, allowing me to take a look at the new setting.
Glass windows. Those were what were surrounding me in the room – glass windows. In fact, the entire wall structure was made of glass material. As I went beyond with looking around the room I was brought to, I realized that behind me was a door, which caused me to realize that out of all the walls, that was one wall which was made anything but of the transparent material. And across from the doorway, by the largest glass wall, sat an office desk made of mahogany and a fairly large black office chair behind the desk itself. When I observed the chair more closely, I realized that the back of the office chair was facing me.
"Three of you," a chilling male voice ordered. "Leave me and the young lady in peace." As the three warlocks bowed before exiting the room, the voice called in a sweeter yet still bone chilling tone, "Would you like anything to drink, Miss Mahlendorf?"
Gulping, I muttered loud enough for him to hear in response, "Just a peppermint tea will be fine, sir."
When the man turned in his chair to face me, I found a slightly well-built man with black hair slicked back with a bit of a shine, almost as though from having been gelled, and sea green eyes. His features was what almost any woman would, I supposed, have said the ideal man – buff, good looking, squared off chin, great smile, and even looking all so professional. Not to forget to mention that he actually did seem quite stunning in the navy blue suit, white button down shirt, and blood red tie, but I was never into a man that gave off the hateful vibe such as this man. With a small nod, he typed a few things in a keyboard incorporated into his desk as the holographic computer screen appeared in the midair.
As he hit Enter key, he caught me completely off-guard as his voice had turned soft. "I'm terribly sorry for having asked you to come all the way out here, Miss Mahlendorf. There are things that I've been meaning to talk to you about, such as your situation on the submission for the SAW." The man quickly corrected himself as he said, "Survival Among the Weakest, I mean. I've noticed that you're the only one among all Areas that you are the only one who has their name entered three times." He paused for a moment and there was a look on his near stone cold face that said he had something going through his mind. Soon, holding out his hand, he shook his head with a smile, saying, "Where are my manners? My name is Trace Dilnot, the mayor of the entire Area Eighteen. It's a pleasure to meet you."
I shook his hand as I replied, "JoBeth Mahlendorf. Of course, you already know that by the looks of it, it seems." As I withdrew my hand, I remarked, "Well, there must be some reason why you have called me out to see you, Mayor Dilnot. But before you get to that, there was an announcement that my friend and I heard before few of the warlocks that works for you that half of the Areas around the world have been destructed. I know what I've heard, but is the Areas that survived really the only Areas that are now in existence?"
The mayor motioned for me to sit as he sat back down himself. "It's true," he informed me without much hesitation. "Currently, the remaining Areas that stands are 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, of course, obviously enough, 18, 20, 22, and 24 from up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Down in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, is a different story. Unlike the northern half of the globe, the southern half's Areas that remain standing are 25, 27, 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45, and 47."
"If you don't mind me asking, sir," I slowly said with bit of disbelief, "and I don't mean to be rude, but if in terms of Areas that were rid of and the Areas that were kept are put in color of black and white, wouldn't it just look like teeth of very uneducated people? Teeth knocked out alternatively? Not just from side to side, but above and below? If so, then why has the main head of the warlocks gone to the extremes to make it that way?"
With a slightly forced smile on his face, the mayor replied, "That's really not my place to question him myself, even if I'm one of the most highly considered warlocks around the world. Not that you mere humans would understand even if I knew the reason." When I finally sat down in a chair that had formed and come up from the ground when he had motioned for me to take a seat earlier, the mayor looked as though he was lost in his thoughts. Every second that passed felt like an eternity in the silence that dreaded along in the room. "I've been observing all those with jobs that have the lowest pays, Miss Mahlendorf. And out of all those people, I must admit that I have been keeping my eyes far more closely on you. You're quite the interesting lady, especially for someone with no family members."
"What for, sir?" I calmly asked as the doors opened behind me. A woman with auburn hair and hazel eyes came in and placed two cups on the desk, and the sweet yet fresh scent of the early morning arose from my cup of peppermint tea, and the aroma was something I never would never have been able to get tired of. When the woman went back out, I spoke once more. "There must be a reason why I have to be kept a close eye on out of all people."
A grave look came across his face as the mayor told me, "You're hiding something. From everyone. And I want to know what that something is."
"I have nothing to hide, sir," I replied calmly.
A lie. Nothing but a lie. My heart was pounding out of control, and at the rate that it was pounding, I felt as though my heart could burst out of my chest any time soon. If anyone, there was only one person in this world that would have been able to tell that I was lying, and that was none other than my friend Tricia Kaufman.
"From that bright orange hair to the unusual light purple eyes," the mayor remarked. "I'd say it's not just your appearance that stands out from rest of the mortals. There's just something about you that makes you stand out from everyone else, but I can't just seem to put my finger on what that something is."
A cold chill ran down my spine and I felt my body shiver a bit. Out of all things I wish I was in control, trying to keep my body strained from shivering didn't seem to be one thing that was out of reach. And there was a strange smile that crept across face, almost senile. It was almost as though he was enjoying himself at the reaction that I gave.
With a small gulp, words came rolling off my lips in a bare mutter, "Are you trying to say that out of flattery, or as an intimidation, sir? It seems quite unclear in which direction you're trying to go in."
"As both, I supposed," he replied, "but it can always be taken both ways. If anything, the one thing that will be the main question for your case at all times is what is it that you're trying oh so hard to hide from everyone?"
Taking deep breath in, I kept bitterness to myself as I remarked, "If there is anything that I have to hide, then that's for me to know and for you to find out. I guarantee that it won't be an easy task in any way if that was to be the case, Mayor Dilnot." The mayor's face hardened, and his eyes began to fill with hatred, which immediately froze up into a cold gaze. His eyes started to become clouded and I saw wheels begin to turn in his head, and I knew it had to do something with how to get my warlock secret come rolling off my lips. Not wanting to give him the chance to fully think things through, I got up to excuse myself as I quietly asked, "Can I just leave, sir?"
"Not yet," the mayor replied, and I could hear the faint sound of the heavy inward sigh. "I was sent a mortal by one of my Transport Warlocks from a different Area. Since he seemed so desperate to join in by the looks of how he's tried so hard to succeed to get at least here alive, I wanted to assign him to you seeing how your name has been entered multiple times."
Raising a brow, I repeated, "Assign him? To me? If you do not mind me asking, Mayor Dilnot, for what reason?"
"I have my own reasons," the man remarked, and an eerie cold smile like a serpent spread across his face as he threw my own words back in my face without missing a beat. "If there is anything that I have to hide, then that's for me to know and for you to find out. I guarantee that it won't be an easy task in any way if that was to be the case, Miss Mahlendorf."
Sighing inwardly, I regretfully asked in a near mutter, "Who do I have to watch over, sir?"
The cruel man's fingertips skimmed across the deep, rich brown colored desk of cool, waxed mahogany before pressing down on a barely noticeable red button that lay on the edge of the table. The door flung behind me as my seat declined back into the ground, and two warlocks wearing fiery red robes made of the finest silk came marching in as they shoved a male mortal in. At their final shove, the man skidded across the floor and slowed to a stop by my feet.
"That man," the mayor told me, and his ice cold voice brought chills down my spine. "He seemed to think he was a match for my Elemental Warlocks that were followed by Imprisonment Warlocks." At the sight of me dropping to my knees and my arms quickly wrapping around the fallen mortal's body, a dark chuckle escaped from the brutal man's throat as he told me, "What I find amusing is that he thought he even had a chance. I only allowed him to live so that if he gets chosen for SAW, he will at least be given the chance to fight for his life against other humans. Of course, the jobs I will be assigning him are the same jobs as you, another reason why I wanted you to be the one assigned to him to keep an eye on him for me. Otherwise, it'll be similar consequences that you shall face. Is that clear, Miss Mahlendorf?"
I did my best to help the helpless man up as I sorrowfully replied, "Understood, sir." I put one of the arms of the limp man's body as I murmured to him, "Let's go. I'm getting you out of here before it's too late."
I managed to get the nameless man out the door, and past the entrance waited the three warlocks that collected me. The main one from earlier came up to us and offered his hand, but when I didn't take his hand but merely looked at the injured, the warlock placed an unexpectedly gentle hand on my shoulder. Within moments, we were hurled into spiral of darkness and lasted for nearly as long as it took us to get to this very city where the dimwitted mayor's office was located. My stomach began to churn once more, and just as I felt as though I was just about to empty out my insides, the ride came to an end and the area was back to being my town. But to be more precise, the injured man and I were brought to the front of the apartment that I resided in.
"Do you need to assistance in bringing him in?" the warlock asked in his deep voice.
Shaking my head, I reassured him, "No. Thank you for the offer, though." I headed inside with the injured mortal and the man began to groan. Whether it was in pain or close to waking up, I could not tell, but I hoped for the later than the earlier that I found myself muttering without much thought, "Who are you, where are you from, and what have you come to this Area for?"
When I entered my own place, the female computerized voice greeted, "Welcome back, Miss Mahlendorf."
I half dragged the limp body to my bed and nearly dropped the man across it before going back to the door. Slamming it shut, I knelt down and opened a little hatch that every household had on the ground right by the entrance that barely anyone knew about. I was one of the few exceptions that found out, but it was unintentional. I never meant to find out, but I did, and out of all the tricks to learn in the world, turning off the computer in the apartment was one thing that I learned. And it was all to make sure that my secret would never leak to any warlock all due to the warlocks hacking onto the technology they created to keep an eye on all humans.
Sitting at the edge of the bed next to the nameless man, I turned him over onto his back. Asian. That's what the history books that managed to survive called people that looked like him. Or at least the comparison I could make out of the pictures that I recalled seeing in those books. He looked just like an Asian, but he had slightly round face. He was slightly well built, but at the same time, he didn't seem to be in all that fit of a shape. It was more like in-between if anything. But what did it matter? His hair was slightly grown out, and beard grew around his chin. It must have been days to weeks since he last shaved by the looks of how grown out his beard was. Out of curiosity, I lifted his eyelid a bit, and instead of the dark brown eyes I expected to see, I saw light hazel eyes. The clothes he were a button down shirt, red tie, black sleeveless waiter jacket, and nice black suit pants. If I were to let guard down completely, and allowed myself fall for just anyone, then it may have been him. At the same time, only at the cost of he was truly a decent of a man he appeared to be.
Shaking the thoughts out of my head, I undressed top half of his body to see how bad his wounds on at least upper part were. Carefully running my hands along his slightly cold yet smooth skin, I began the healing process and I felt warmth from my own body flow through to my hands and transfer into the man's body. A faint moan escaped from the man's throat and as much as I wanted to withdraw my hands, I couldn't do so until he was fully healed. I couldn't be heartless, especially not when I knew I had the chance to do right, and leave this man to be as injured as he was.
After a few minutes of healing him this way had passed, energy began to drain out of me and I began to feel clammy – all around me far too cold for my taste. And just when I thought I was going to pass out, a pair of large hands took hold of mine as they remained hovering over the man's chest, and the hands brought mine down to be in direct contact with his body. "Stop it," a hoarse, yet husky male voice escaped from the nameless man's lips. As he slowly opened his eyes and looked up at me, he angrily said, "Just stop it. Don't act like you care about a human. You're a warlock. You're just like them all. You only pretend to care when you don't!"
Fear took over my body and I tried to withdraw my hand, but his hands held mine down to his chest firmly. In a wide panic, I whispered, "Please let me go! I'm not like the others! I've tried for so long to blend in with humans! I don't see you mortals as those lower than those of us that are warlocks! I see you as our equal!"
The man sat up as he furiously bellowed, "Don't lie to me! You're a warlock, are you not? You lot are keeping my family somewhere as captives just so I'll cooperate!"
"I'm not like the other damn warlocks!" I screeched before I could have stopped myself. Tears began to well in my eyes as I snapped at him, "I don't look at you humans as those lower than us warlocks just because you lot don't have sorcery powers, alright? I see you as our damn equals! It's the corrupted ones that see you all as nothing but dirt! All my family members died in trying to stand up for the rights of you mortals, and I'm the last one in my family standing to try and stand up for the equal rights once more when the time for me is right!" Surprised, the man slowly loosened his grip on my hands as I got up on my feet to go over to the kitchen area. Splashing water on my face, I hoarsely whispered, "Have they injured your legs as well? I can heal them up for you if you'd like seeing there aren't that many advanced Priests that would be willing to help you like I."
Silence lingered over the room, almost as though he didn't even know what to say, but words sooner or later came out of his mouth. "No, they're perfectly fine. Maybe a little bruised in the back, but fine." I grabbed a cup and poured some water into it to bring over, but it was the moment I turned to face him that made me freeze. It wasn't that he was a warlock himself casting some simple spell that all warlocks, no matter what type, could cast. No. But it was rather for the mere fact he was holding a gun straight at me all the way from the bed. "Explain yourself. Why have you brought me here? What are you exactly to look over me?"
"I'm an advanced Priest, which no other warlocks no about," I replied. "Not even just the mere mortals know about it with exception of you, of course, but still an advanced Priest no less. I blended myself in with the humans so that I may live peacefully among you humans because I, unlike majority, if not all, warlocks, don't believe we are high above you. I have no intentions in making myself inferior like they do. I brought you with me to my place so that I may be able to give you proper treatment in terms of healing, which, if I do say so myself, I have done quite exceptional job on considering not many advanced Priests are able to heal within few minutes. It would take even the other advanced Priests at least half an hour, and it'll take at least half a dozen to a dozen of them to do the amount of healing that I have in the time that I did."
The man didn't seem to entirely believe me as he asked, "Why do you live like this?"
"Why wouldn't I?" I replied with a small shrug. I closed my eyes when tears threatened at the eyes once more.
It was as if I could see them all again.
My two older sisters and my big brother.
My parents were advanced Priests while my mother was a Flame Elementalist and my dad a Wind Elementalist. My eldest sister a Water Elementalist. My big brother a Lightening Warlock. And my other older sister an Earth Elementalist.
My second older sister picked me up in her arms when I was just at age of five, when I still understood nothing of the wars that would erupt every now and then. My parents did their best to fight the warlocks off as my sisters and my brother took me to run for our lives. When our parents fell, I still can recall them being trapped in the ball of sphere of water, drowning to their death, as my eldest sister instructed our two siblings to take me someplace far and safe before she went heads on with the warlocks.
It was when she fell against lightning strikes, causing her to electrocute herself to her death when she got soaking wet from her own elemental power, that my brother took charge and tried to bring the warlocks down. Our only remaining sister continued on running with me in her arms and never once looked back – all to try and protect me. And as she did just that, our brother fell like all the others when fire, water, and wind were all used against him when the warlocks used those three to create some form of a hurricane.
It was then that it dawned on me that my only remaining sister and I were the only ones left standing in our family. Of course, she fell like the rest when she hid me away in our secret hide out within a cave, one place that barely anyone knew about, and she made me promise to not come out until all was over. It didn't matter how curious I was, and I knew it must have been important to her if she was urging me to promise. I watched her die as she let out a piercing scream of agony as flames engulfed her and lightning struck down upon her from the sky.
CLASH. The glass shattered into small pieces as water that was contained within flooded the floor, and all I could do was kneel on the ground as I clutched onto my head with eyes shut tight. Memories. That's all they were. Memories. Yet, it all still seemed too real. It has been far after fifteen years since the happening, and I still couldn't get it all out of my head. It didn't matter how hard I tried – the memories just refused to go away.
A pair of hands gently rested on my shoulders as the man's warm voice, suddenly filled with worry, asked, "Are you alright?"
"Define 'alright,'" I demanded in a hushed voice, and I heard the choking in my own tone from the tears that were flowing freely down my cheek.
The man didn't seem to know what to do with himself before he finally began cleaning up the mess in my place. After a few minutes of silence, he began finishing up with the cleaning before helping me up onto my feet and bringing me over to my bed to sit me down. Sitting down next to me and leaning forward into his legs, he quietly told me, "Carlo Suarez."
"What?" I blinked with confusion as I averted my eyes to him. Not knowing where that came from all so abruptly, my mind immediately tried to connect the name to something else.
His eyes darted to me for a brief moment before quickly telling me, "Carlo Suarez. My name's Carlo Suarez."
"JoBeth Mahlendorf," I told him in return, but something must've possessed me to say to this complete stranger, "No. That's a lie. It's actually Zoey. Zoey Yukimura."
I saw a pleasant smile creep onto his face as he noted, "Originally a Japanese heritage, then. Interesting." When Carlo caught my curious look, he explained, "Snowy village. That's what your surname means. 'Yuki' means 'snow' where as 'mura' stands for 'village.'" He thought for a moment before giving me a weak smile as he said, "And I probably sound like a bit of a freak now, don't I? Studying all the languages from long ago."
"No, it's not weird," I reassured him as I shook my head. "It's actually interesting. I had no idea what my heritage originally was considering how young I was when my entire family died to explain it to me."
He looked at me with a curious look in his eyes, and I couldn't quite figure out exactly what it was that he was trying to connect in that mind of his. One moment, he was furious with me for some reason and was ready to shoot me to my death with a gun that he must have had in his pants pocket, and then the next, he was sweet, almost as though he wouldn't even hurt a fly. Then the least expected question came from his lips. "What happened to your family?"
I couldn't help but look away from him as I mumbled, "That's off the topic. Sorry. Not really a subject I'd like to cover." Looking at him, I remarked, "How about yours? You said that the warlocks took your family, didn't you? What exactly happened to them?"
"I couldn't tell you even if I wanted to," Carlo replied in a bare whisper. "My place was trashed when I got there, and there was a note left on the fridge saying I'll have to cooperate if I ever want to see them alive again. And it wasn't just my family they took. Out of all people to target, they targeted my girlfriend and took her with my family."
I felt my heart sink a bit at the word 'girlfriend,' and I didn't even know why. Was there part of me that was actually expecting him to be single? For me to even have a chance with some complete stranger? Or was it that I was hoping I could first befriend him before trying to become his girlfriend overtime, and I wasn't even conscious of it? Whatever the reason, I couldn't allow myself to ponder upon it for long.
"At least you can keep up with the hope that your family and your girlfriend are all still alive for the time being," I reassured him with a soft smile. "For now, don't worry too much about them, alright? Let's focus on the now and hope for the better future." Getting up to go back over to where the controls for the computer was by the entrance, I pleaded, "And please don't tell anyone about me being a warlock. Not a single peep even in this house, whether you're with only me or all alone."
He seemed puzzled, but nodded. "Alright. Not a single word."
When I turned the entire system around the house back on, the voice of computerized female greeted, "Welcome back, Miss Mahlendorf."
"Thank you, Adriana," I replied as I pushed myself off from the ground. "Sorry about the system shutting off. There must have been a bug going around for you to shut off so abruptly."
"Do not worry, Miss Mahlendorf," Adriana replied in its usual technologic voice. "It will happen every now and then whether we like it or not."
As I walked over to my closet, I ordered, "Open wardrobe."
As the doors flung open, I looked through the drawers that were inside as the computer informed me, "Miss Mahlendorf, you have to make sure you get yourself to work in time if possible to get your bartender job done for at least a bit before today's ceremony."
"Inform my work for me that the new worker, Carlo Suarez, and I won't be making it in today, Adriana," I instructed the computer. "I have to make sure that he's fully healed before I do any work at any of the three jobs."
In a respectful way, the computer responded, "Will do, Miss Mahelndorf. Also, one of your acquaintances, Tricia Kaufman, will be making a visit shortly. She asks for a meeting with you as soon as possible. She claims she wishes to speak to you on an important matter."
Groaning, I muttered, "Why do you have to do this to me today out of all days, Tricia?" Returning my attention back to the drawer and finally taking out a slightly faded picture of me and my family before closing the drawer shut, I sighed, "Thank you, Adriana. Close wardrobe."
"Who's Tricia?" Carlo asked the moment the stainless steel doors closed themselves shut, and I caught his eyes darting to the picture that I held in my hand.
Raising the small paper slightly, I told him, "Just an old family picture. And Tricia's an old time friend of mine. A mortal just like you to be exact." Just as he opened his mouth, I sat down next to him as I quickly cried, "If you're about to ask why she's on her way here, the only reasonable explanation I can give you is that I was supposed to see the Area Eighteen's mayor for some reason, and I didn't know it had anything to do with you when I went to see that man!"
Just then, there was a knock on the door with a cheerful call of Tricia's voice came from the other side of the door. "Jo! You home yet, dear? Well, of course you are! What am I saying? Open the door, Jo, before I try and get the warlock to open the door for me by having to lie to him that I think you escaped and ran for your life to Area Nineteen!"
"Area Nineteen doesn't exist anymore, Trish!" I called back in singsong voice, but with a bit of bitterness in the voice. I got up on my feet as I put the picture away in the cleavage area of my dress and walked over to the entrance to open up my place to her. "It's destroyed, remember? There's nowhere to run no matter how much we want to!" When I opened the door, Tricia came stumbling in and she was in a fit of giggles as I asked her, "What time is it?"
"About half an hour after noon," she chimed with a bright smile. Tricia took a look at my place like a new born puppy in a brand new space before her eyes landed on Carlo, which then her curious look turned into a look of a predator spotting its prey. But it wasn't in the same way that she wanted to attack, but rather wanted to pounce on him to try and seduce him if possible. "Who's the cutie?" Tricia asked loud enough for only me to hear as she leaned in towards me. "Never seen him before."
Rolling my eyes as I slammed the door shut, I warningly told her, "Forget it, Tricia. He's off limits." I walked over to the kitchen and before she could say anything, I snapped, "For your information, I'm not the one dating him. He already has a girlfriend, so just lay off. You're not allowed to pounce on him, let alone try and seduce the man, as long as he's in a relationship." Letting out a small sigh, I asked more softly, "But did you eat lunch yet? You must be starving if you took off from your work without warning."
"After the operation of that overly large man I had as my first patient of the day?" Tricia snorted. "Don't think I can keep anything down." A sudden bright smile came over her like a small child that saw a large lollipop. "But if it's you that's cooking, mommy JoBeth, cook up something good. I think I'll be able to keep down whatever you throw at me even after seeing someone's insides." As I took off a shoe and threw it at her, Tricia let out a laugh as it hit her in the smack middle of back of her head. Holding out a hand to Carlo, she giggled, "My name's Tricia. Tricia Kaufman. Nice to meet you."
"Carlo Suarez," he replied after warming up his hands a bit and taking on her offer of shaking hands. "Pleasure."
Rolling my eyes as I organized all the ingredients to make spaghetti, I couldn't help but ask, "How the bloody hell are you so cheerful, Tricia? For crying out loud, this year could be the year your own best friend goes out into the wild to fight for her life!"
"Oh, I'm worried alright," Tricia told me rather seriously. "Don't get me wrong about that, but it doesn't mean I won't try to be optimistic, Jo." Her attention turned back to Carlo and her tone turned cheerful once more. "Which part of Area Eighteen are you originally of?"
Startled, I cried, "Tricia! Don't go around asking questions like that, won't you? Besides, he's not even of Area Eighteen!"
"Who says I'm not, Zoey?" Carlo asked. "I actually am of this Area. There happens to be more than one mayor, actually, but all depending on which area of state each town or city was part of. My city's located far more closer to where New York would I have been, but your mayor and mine should be the same. Trace Dilnot, or am I wrong? That being asides the point, if your mayor's the same mayor as mine, he may have just lied to you that I'm of different Area, or at least something along that line just so you wouldn't question him too much."
Out of all things for Tricia to focus on, she just had to focus on my real name over all the other details Carlo had to give. "Zoey?" she remarked. "How on earth did he come with that for you, Jo? It's not even remotely close to your name!"
With a nervous laughter, I told her, "He was in a pretty bad shape when the warlocks brought him into the mayor's office, Trish. He must be getting mixed my name up with someone named Zoey." I gave him a look of warning, and when Tricia looked in his direction, I mouthed to him, "Only when we're alone. Don't use my real name in front of others." Just as Carlo rolled his eyes at me, Tricia looked back over to me and I immediately put on a smile to put on a show. "So, do you two want meatballs in your spaghetti as well? Or do you guys just want it with sauce and nothing else?"
"With," Tricia exclaimed just as Carlo replied, "You don't have to go through so much trouble by doing extra stuff."
With roll of my eyes, I said, "With meatballs it is, then."
"Why do you even bother asking?" Tricia giggled.
I made a face at as I replied, "To see how much of a child is still left in you, Dopey."
"Whatever." As Tricia looked back and forth between me and Carlo, she chimed more at me, "So, Jo, guess what my coworkers were saying just today before the operation."
"What's the gossip around for you surgeons now? There's got to be something interesting seeing we bartenders, waiters and waitresses, and cashiers don't get any rumors." I couldn't help but sigh. For a group of highest paying workers, there sure seemed to be some sort of rumor going around.
Tricia waved her hand dismissively at me as she informed me in a near singsong tone, "It may not just be warlocks that exists in this world! The reason that all the odd numbered Areas in the Northern Hemisphere and all the even numbered Areas in the Southern Hemisphere got destroyed may be because those were mostly vampire population, not human population! Those warlocks just couldn't seem to find a way to get rid of the vampires without burning down and bombing all those places!"
As I began cooking up the pasta once making sure that the meatballs had gone inside the oven at the right temperature, I couldn't help but sigh at such a ridiculous statement, but Carlo seemed quite intrigued. "Where on earth do you surgeons get all these ridiculous information?" I couldn't help but ask, and it was a moment too late to stop myself from asking such things. Out of all the things that I asked, if I could take back any, one would have been that exact question.
"It seemed outrageous of an idea for such things as magic to exist before the Dark Ages began, Zoey," Carlo said before quickly correcting himself, "I mean, JoBeth. Why would it be impossible for blood sucking creatures to exist?"
With a heavy inward sigh, I told him, "Because it just seems like a childish idea. That's all. I mean, really? Vampires? It's bad enough that for the time being, we know that nearly half the population is warlocks. If vampires exist, then how would we even been able to tell the difference between all the classes? Go overboard and classify all those that work in dark areas or during the night as vampires, the ones wearing those cloaks made of rich silk as warlocks, and the rest as mortal humans? Seems farfetched if you ask me."
"You're always thinking what we surgeons have to say to each other at work are childish and farfetched," Tricia pouted.
Giving her a bit of a sarcastic smile, I told her, "Maybe I wouldn't if you all started to think more like adults. I'm twenty, Tricia. And you're twenty-six. Perhaps it's time for you to think more like a disciplined adult instead of a small child."
"Says the girl that still loves reading those old Japanese mangas, watching the animes, and playing video games," Tricia grumbled.
The pasta finished up rather quickly, and the sauce with it, and that's one thing to have to love about the technologies these days – no matter how short of a time, the food always cooked faster than it normally would have compared to what people used to call the A.D. years before the D.D.A. years came into play.
Scooping some spaghetti onto three different plates, I remarked, "Yeah, says me, who, if you have forgotten, actually acts more mature than you for someone working far more lowly paying job, Trish." Looking over to Carlo with a smile, I said, "Come on over and dig in, Carlo. You must be starving by now considering you seemed to have been beaten since at least last night. Or early this morning with nothing to eat." Stepping over and leaning down towards the oven to get the meatballs, I apologetically said, "Sorry if it's not really good, but had to make it all in bit of a rush."
"Hoping to have your name drawn today?" Tricia sighed, and as much as I heard the bit of sarcasm in her voice, there was also hint of sorrow.
"You're hoping for your name to be drawn?" Carlo sounded rather surprised. "What for? It's pretty much a war among humans to try and make it to the end, and all for the amusement of the warlocks."
With a small shrug as I placed three meatballs for each Tricia and Carlo, I quietly replied, "If I have to get chosen before I die, why not get it done and over with while still young? Besides, the challenges are always getting changed every year, so who knows if it'll even be in the wild like it has been past several years."
"Well, it's better you don't get chosen," Tricia said as she poured spaghetti sauce for herself from the pot that lay on the stove. As she ate like a hungry wild animal, she managed to say with a mouthful, "Great food as always, Jo."
Carlo hesitated as I snapped, "Slow down, or you're gonna either choke on your food or throw them up later! For crying out loud, I'm not your mother, so why do I have to act like one?"
"Why do you think I call you 'mommy Jo,' huh?" Tricia teasingly replied as she gulped down her mouthful. Turning her attention to Carlo as she tilted her head a bit to the side, she said, "You should eat up while you have the chance, you know. We're all going to have to leave soon for the drawing of the names for this year's Survival Among the Weakest." I couldn't help but roll my eyes, and the second Tricia caught me, she cried out, "What? He should!"
"Ignore her," I sighed as I moved around pasta on my own plate. "But, please, do eat up, Carlo. The three of us will need to head to the gathering place as soon as we're done with our meal here for the drawing of the names."
With Tricia full of curiosity, she went on ahead at full steam and began asking questions as she and Carlo ate while my mind wandered off to elsewhere. I heard half the things that were said, but the other half that didn't hear a single word – it was off in its own little world full of possibilities. After what seemed like such a short period of time, which turned out to be a mere half an hour, both of them were done, and half of my plate was full.
I hadn't even noticed that it was the case until Carlo placed a gentle hand over mine as his gentle voice whispered, "Zoey? Are you alright?"
I looked up at him absentmindedly and gave him a blank look for a moment or two. Mind coming back to the present, I looked at both his and Tricia's plates before looking up at Tricia's confused face and over to Carlo's worrisome look. Withdrawing my hand from him to put my plate away in the fridge, I mumbled, "Yeah, I'm fine. No need to worry about me."
Once putting my half-finished plate away in the fridge, I nearly bumped into Carlo as I turned around and, out of all the least expected, he placed his warm hands on my shoulders and studied my face oh so carefully. "What's wrong?" he finally whispered after what seemed like an eternity. I pushed past him with every ounce of strength I had in my body, and it was times like this that I couldn't be happier about having to work in a bar where I learned to be nearly as rough as men to match up to their strength. When I didn't respond as I reached for the empty plates, he huffed in rather stubborn matter. "You're gonna have to talk sometime, Zoey."
"No, I don't," I told him through gritted teeth. "And stop calling me Zoey."
"Whatever," he muttered and took the plates out of my hands. "You've done the cooking, so I'll do the cleaning." Just as I opened my mouth to argue, he made a face at me as he ordered, "Go sit down. I got the plates covered. It's the least I could do."
This was new. Treatments like this wasn't something I was used to. I was always finding my own ways around to get things done. He must have known, especially with me having told him that my entire family was long gone from this world. And even Tricia saw the awkwardness that came out of me when I sat down next to her.
"What's going on between you two?" she whispered as soon as Carlo turned the water on at the kitchen sink. "Are you sure you two aren't in a relationship?"
Glaring, I warningly growled, "Zip it, Tricia. I met him only today, and I don't need to go diving into every chance of relationship I've got. It's not like he's an available man, anyway, so enough with that topic already!"
"Miss Mahlendorf," the computer finally spoke up. "It's about time to head down to the Square if you want to make sure you get to the Name Drawing event with a bit of a time to spare."
Rubbing the bridge of my nose, I softly called to Carlo, "You don't have to do the dishes right now. Those can wait."
"It's better to get these done and over with now than later," Carlo countered, and just that one statement alone was enough to make me get up on my feet and walk over to turn the kitchen sink off.
Taking the plate out of his hand and placing it in the sink, I took hold of his wrist and began dragging towards the door, saying, "Trish, let's get going. I want to get this year's drawing done and over with as soon as possible."
"Eager as usual." Getting up as she followed us, more so me as Carlo got pulled along, she huffed, "Why are you always so eager to get this entire thing done and over with every year?"
Coming to a halt as I turned to look at her as though she was out of her mind, I snorted, "You're joking, right? Every year, my name gets entered. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Ever since turning eighteen. Your name stopped getting entered when you turned eighteen because of the dream profession you wanted to get. Unlike me, who got something complete opposite, Tricia. Like all the other years, this year pretty much is the deciding factor on whether I live a peaceful life, or try to earn my right to live by fighting for it." Glancing at Carlo before heading for the door again, I muttered, "And it's not like Carlo won't want to get it done and over with starting this year either seeing his name will be entered three times as well."
Just as I reached my hand out to the doorknob, Carlo sharply pulled his arm out of my grip as he nervously asked, "You don't happen to have a large hoodie, do you? I don't do so well in the sunlight if it'll be for more than two hours."
I had to strain myself from rolling my eyes at him before grabbing a round straw hat that lay on the table by the door and placed it on his head. "Will this work for you?" I asked, and with seriousness escaped a bit of sarcasm.
He shot back, "Why not just give me a wig and dress while at it?"
I took out pair of gloves from one of my jackets that hung by the door and shoved them into his hands before taking the scarf that hung next to the jacket and shoved that into his chest as well. With a glare, I tried to say as calmly as possible through my gritted teeth, "These will do fine for now, right? Trying to act like the mythical creature vampires will do you no good in terms of getting yourself covered fairly well around here. You'll get noticed sooner or later since you're pretty much the fresh meat in town."
Tricia murmured, "Both like children." She took the gloves, hat, and scarf from Carlo to put them away in her bag as she asked, "Can we just get going if you're both going to behave like this? I rather get this done and over with to get away from you both more so than to know you'll be safe for another year, Jo." She was the first to walk out the doors, and Carlo followed without much hesitation. I waked out after them with a heavy sigh and, even without giving the computer the chance to greet its farewell, I slammed the door shut behind the three of us.
Outside the building with the sun now high in the sky, Tricia tossed a folded up board to me. "A hovercraft? Really?" I remarked questionably with a raised brow.
Tricia raised a brow at me in exchange, saying, "Got any better ideas to get to the general meeting area, genius?" As I unfolded what looked like a large snowboard from all the countless of centuries ago, Tricia apologetically told me, "You and your guest will have to fly together on that one InstaFlight Board since I brought only one extra with me. Mine will hold only one person at a time, and that one's big enough to fit two. Hope you don't mind." I opened my mouth to argue, but she simply smiled a broad smile at me, chiming, "Well! See you at the event, Jo!"
With those words, she was gone. Tricia never even gave me the chance to argue, or even just to make a deal. I groaned as I looked over to Carlo, and we both knew as much as we hated to admit that we were stuck with one another no matter how much neither of us wanted to admit it. Getting on the back half of the board, Carlo asked uncertainly, "Shall we get going, then?"
I got on the front half and tapped the boards twice to strap myself and Carlo on by the foot, warningly saying, "Keep your balance and don't let go of me if you're going to hold on." When I got up on my feet, the first thing he did, out of fear or uncertain, that I couldn't tell, was latch onto me. Without a moment of hesitation, I muttered, "Fly."
The board levitated us off from the ground on command and shot us forward, and I was soon weaving through the crowd with my knees slightly bent and arms out to the side a bit to keep my balance. There was that sense of feeling where I felt like I was free. I felt as though I was in a universe without worry. Where I could just be in a world where I could be carefree all I wanted to be, and there was no one to stop me. And just for the few minutes that I would have been able to fly on the board, I had completely forgotten about even Carlo, who continued to hold on as though his life depended on it. For some strange reason, I could have cared less if he held tighter onto me. It wasn't really that I wanted him to, but rather it felt nice to feel his arms around my waist for some strange reason, but I put that thought off to the side as I felt the wind rush between my fingers. All I wanted to do was soar through the sky, and put my mind only on that one small task.
Before I knew it, we arrived at the overly large park, which was partially used as a downtown area for businesses, only to find it completely packed. It would have been an unusual sight on daily occasion, but for Drawing of the Names every once a year, like today, it seemed far too natural. More than this damned event, I wanted for the flight last longer. Just few minutes of it seemed like a mere few milliseconds, and that wasn't good enough. At least for me it weren't. But I had to get that thought out of my head if I wanted to live. To be more precise, if I wanted to survive in this world.
When I shifted my feet to the best ability and tapped the board with my heels, the InstaFlight Board brought me and Carlo safely down onto the ground before releasing us. I took a quick look around, hoping to find Tricia, but knew that it would only be a failure in a crowd such as this before I took a quick hold of a small child nearby. "Sorry, kid," I told the small red headed child with large green eyes and freckles tracing along her cheeks and even across her nose. "Could you tell us how much longer it'll be before the drawing begins?"
"They just went over the changes, lady," the little girl replied in her squeaky voice. "They should start drawing names soon."
With a small gulp, I asked with a slight frown, "What are the changes?"
"Four people in total from all Areas are to participate," the girl replied with no delay. It was as if she wasn't afraid of strangers at all. In fact, she sounded far too confident as she went on with saying, "Two females and two males." Her following words matched her menacing smile and a cold chill ran down my spine, causing me to shiver. "If you're a human, then I can't wait to see if it'll be you or someone you're close to that has to compete this year. I heard the humans will be put into where Area 42 used to exist to fight for their lives!"
I felt blood drain from my face as Carlo asked, "What else did they say, kid?"
"That from each Area, only two survivors will be allowed to live – a male and a female each," the kid replied with a shrug. "But that's only if they can manage to live to see the end of SAW. Oh, and there are seven people from more upper part of this Area being held as prizes to sort of speak. If the survivors want to keep them alive, then they'll be free to go. If the survivors don't care much about them, then to the death they'll plunge."
I heard Carlo gulp slightly and, in an unwilling way, he asked another question. "Do you know what gender each of those people are by any chance?"
For a while, the child thought as she tried to recall each of the seven people. "When they came up on the screen for a bit, it seemed as though three of them were kids. Two girls and one boy. One of the girls and the boy were wee little kids, way below me, and the older girl looked like she was in her teens. The rest were three women and a man," the girl informed him. "Two of the women and the man all seemed all around the same age. Almost as though they were all in their twenties maybe going onto their thirties."
The little girl gave us one last broad smile before turning on her heels and skipped away. When I looked up at Carlo, the blood had slowly returned to my face, but blood was draining from his. It was almost as if he's heard one of the worst news of all times. Never taking eyes off of him as I straightened up, I slowly reached a hand out a hand to him as I slowly said, "Carlo? Is something the matter?"
"The seven people," Carlo barely managed to breath. "I think that kid was describing my family and my girlfriend."
I blinked. "You never said there were three kids in your family."
"Two of the kids, the nearly same aged ones, they're my niece and nephew," he groaned as he closed his eyes. "The teenage girl's my little sister and the man is my brother. He's already married with two kids, and they've all been taken for involvement in the game before two of them are even ready for it. But that's only if it was them that the girl was describing."
This time, it wasn't Carlo that gulped. Instead, I heard the saliva going down my own throat out of fear for him. For his family. My head turned towards the largest building around as the large windows all turned into one large screen. The all so arrogant mayor, Trace Dilnot, appeared as he greeted with a broad, bone chilling grin, "Hello to all those of Area Eighteen! Few of the councilmen that work under me in various areas of this lovely Area have all gathered around with me today for this year's drawing! As stated earlier, there are seven people that the victors at the end of SAW will get to decide whether the captured victims will live or die. And this year's SAW will take place at where Area Forty-Two used to stand. Instead of just surviving in the wild without any dangerous animals, it'll get changed up so that there'll be various types of animals such as bears and mountain lions on land and sharks in the oceans involved in this game. Furthermore, for each of the people participating in this year's tournament will be given weapons on top of a bit of food to start off with. And with the bit of starting food will be small necessities, such as water, five lighters, ten packets of matches, and many more! Or at least as much as a hiking bag will allow inside. Not just to hunt animals for survival, but also to kill off one another if wishing to end the games far more quickly."
I breathed in deeply as steadily as possible, and murmurs soon spread across the place like wildfire. All the humans that were terrified out of their minds whereas all the warlocks sounded far too excited for their own good. All I knew was that if I was chosen, I was going to do whatever it takes to try and survive to talk the other victors into letting the seven people live. I would have taken down my secret to the grave with me no matter what, but trying to save Carlo's family was what mattered to me for the time being. At least it was far more than my secret for now.
As the murmurs continued, the mayor cruelly said, "Now, let's get started on drawing out the names, shall we not?" The entire place fell in silence as there were whispers going around in the background of where Mayor Dilnot for at least half a minute before he announced, "Among the men, the two chosen are the following! Kevin Tong and Carlo Suarez!"
A picture of an Asian male who was on the slightly chubby side and with squinty eyes, almost like what the books referred to as Chinese in the old days, showed up on the top left of the screen. Next to it appeared Carlo's picture. All those around me and Carlo turned to stare at Carlo as they pointed their fingers at him, and there were a few that seemed to feel bad for the new face around the town having to be chosen. Most seemed to relieved that it was anyone but them, and couldn't be happier that it had to be Carlo and this Kevin over them.
When I turned my attention back over to the screen, the mayor spoke up once more. "And among the women are Justine Johnson and JoBeth Mahlendorf!"
On the top right corner of the screen appeared a picture of an extremely obese woman that was a mix of a European and an Asian on the right side, and to the left of her picture was a picture of me. All those around turned once more to stare just as they all stared at Carlo, but this time, all the eyes were on me. Out of all things, this was least expected – not just from me, I'm sure, but for all that knew me quite well personally. Especially this year out of all years, and as much as I despised how the results came out to be, there was a part of me that was relieved that out of all years, this year was mine to call. It was that very thought that cause my breath to get stuck in my throat, becoming harder and harder to breath by every passing second.
"Good luck to our four contestants!" the mayor said in the sweetest tone he could pull off, but hidden in his statement was the message, "Let's see what you and Mr. Suarez has up your sleeves to pull off for us warlocks, Miss Mahlendorf. Wishing you both the best of luck for his family's sake seeing you two may be the last hope for his family to live." With one final cruel smile towards the crowd, the screen went blank and had returned to being plain windows.
As all began to flood out of the place, my knees gave away as I collapsed onto the ground. Out of all things, what was this feeling that was growing deep in my chest? Hatred? Pain? Regret? Anger? Sorrow? Relief? Or was it a feeling that was somewhere in between of them all? With my chest starting feel as though it was going numb, I couldn't even tell what my own feelings were.
A pair of arms wrapped around my shoulders and among the crowd and there was a familiar voice cry out in the mist of the noisy crowd, "Jo! Where are you, JoBeth Mahlendorf? Answer me, Jo! Jo! JoBeth!" I saw Tricia push past through the crowd and fall onto her knees in front of me, but my mind was at another far off place. Tricia saw the daze in my eyes and, as she gently stroked my cheeks with back of her hand, she panted with her voice full of worry, "Jo! I'm so sorry about the results! I'm real terribly sorry! Are you going to be alright?"
I finally broke down into tears. After all this time, I finally caved as tears poured down my cheeks as I began to wail loudly, and for some strange reason, I could have cared less if those passing by were staring down at me. Carlo's arms wrapped tighter around my shoulders in rather comforting way, and I didn't think twice about leaning into his body and crying into his shoulder. All sorts of feelings were mixed, and I couldn't tell from which feelings these tears were coming so suddenly from.