Tension gripped everyone, a tension that made their skin crawl, their fingers twitch. Breaths became shallower and shallower as the suspense grew, spreading through everyone like poison, slowing down their minds, making them stop and widen their eyes as they registered what was being said to them.

And worst of all was the silence.

This unbroken silence that no one wanted to break, which grew with the tension in the air. That silence hung in the room constantly, like mist or a heavy fog, smothering every possible sound that could have been made. No one wanted to say anything.

The room was gripped with that tension, that horrible feeling of complete dread. Everyone felt it, and everyone, in their own way, acknowledged it. They had to - there was no escaping that simple fact.

There was fourteen of them in that room, all of them being choked by the walls, all of them bursting with the desire to escape.

And only one of them could get out alive.


Distrust

Chapter One: The Game


April, 2028

"Our world is dying.

"Over centuries of civilisation, humanity has acted like a cancer, destroying our planet and its resources. We has destroyed forests, broken mountains, drained rivers. In its desperate need to control everything around it, humanity has brought the natural world to its deathbed.

"And with the natural world came the human world. With so much aimless destruction, the natural resources of the world began to dry up. Metals and woods, crops and livestock, water sources such as rivers and lakes - all of it began to dwindle, slowly but surely.

"Even first-world countries suffered from this impact. Because that which many had taken for granted, like good food, basic shelter, clean water, all of that became precious luxuries that only the wealthiest could afford. The wealthy were able to make a living, because they could pay for everything they needed, but because of the rising prices of many resources, the majority was far too poor to afford any kind of living.

"Things escalated with war after war after war. Various governments were forced to disband, leaving dozens of countries to descend into anarchy. The world became filled with a deep toxin that threatened to destroy all traces of human civilisation immediately. Riots were becoming more common in the streets of many cities, and while the poor revolted against this new and unfair system, the rich desperately tried to hold onto their wealth and accumulating influence. Humanity would destroy itself in a decade or two, and no one was willing to stop it.

"It was in the year 2027, just last year, that humanity attempted to fix its many mistakes.

"The Prism Organisation was founded in the April of 2027, an organisation dedicated to trying to use whatever methods possible in order to secure a stable future for humanity. Funded by whatever governments are left, we work day in, day out, to make sure that a sustainable future for humanity isn't an aimless dream, but a definite reality.

"Dozens of projects have already proven successful. We have arranged for hundreds of people to participate, and we have already helped millions of people on an international scale. Of particular note are our Support and Aid programs, which allow the poor and mistreated of the lowest classes to be able to stand up and provide for themselves, with our help, of course. We have tried our hardest to make sure that our programs work towards a definitive goal of helping us reach a point where the differences in class are not as drastic as they are currently, where we can achieve a stable economic system and an improved social and environmental attitude.

"In a few hours, we shall begin our latest and most innovative program yet - the Youth Participation Program. This project is designed to involve the new generation that will inherit our Earth and will be tasked with carrying on our job. We are trying our best to involve young men and women in their late teenage years into our projects, so that we can make sure that the future is in capable hands that can still keep Prism operating when we are gone.

"Several volunteers have already surfaced, and many more are sure to arrive soon. We are very excited about this new project activity, and we sincerely hope that more young men and women will be motivated to act once news of the project's success spreads around. This will be international news, and both myself and the board of directors are very proud with how the program has been developing. To me, the volunteers aren't just volunteers, but over the months of planning this project, they've become something more to me, something almost like a family.

"The program's headquarters have already been built, with our large budget covering the cost of everything, and more funding is expected to happen if the governments funding us believe that we are using our time and resources effectively and efficiently. The volunteers will stay in this building for the majority of their time working with us, and will only be leaving the grounds in order to assist with another project overseas.

"These young men and women aren't just teenagers. They are our hope for the future… and that's why it's very important that we allow them to grow into wonderful, beautiful adults with the capacity to continue striving towards the better future for humanity that the Prism Organisation has promised everyone.

"This is Maia Curnow, the Manager of the Youth Participation Program, signing off, and wishing all of you a safe and secure week ahead."


The announcement rang out through the streets. That kind, comforting voice called out to people everywhere, and everyone looked to the screens in the windows, the electronic billboards on the rooftops. They were all lit up with that girl's face - Maia Curnow, the Manager - smiling and waving at the camera. She looked pretty young for a girl of twenty-eight, and incredibly bright as well, and her kindness and sincerity seemed almost shockingly honest and genuine. Her words seemed genuine, too, a heartfelt sentiment to thousands of people watching her every move.

Lance smiled when she mentioned the Youth Participation Program. He couldn't help but feel a twinge of pride when it was mentioned, and the stuff about the volunteers made his heart skip a beat. It was difficult to comprehend that this was actually, finally happening to him.

Nine months of talking on the phone, taking tests, signing papers - all of that was finally paying off. It had been tough, he realised, but he hadn't signed up for something easy. Prism only took people with passion, people that genuinely wanted to change the world, and he was certain that he could be one of those people. No, no, he couldn't think like that anymore… he was one of those people.

Just thinking that made him grin, despite the nervous feelings rising in his gut.

He turned away from the large screens, to the huge building on the other side of the road. Tall and imposing, made of metal and glass, it was elegant but also intimidating in design, with one huge tower surrounded by four shorter towers, all of them connected to each other by walkways. The grounds were expansive, and covered in brilliant and vivid plant life that Lance hadn't seen for quite a while.

Jesus, though… thank God we have government funding to pay for this. It must have cost millions to build, even without the plants.

He sighed, and looked around. This street was practically abandoned, and he could see why. This was obviously the more expensive place in town. Everything looked clean, the shops were all filled with food or toys, and the few people in the street were walking around, talking and chatting. Every now and then they would point at the building and whisper stuff, and Lance realised that he was dying to hear what they were saying about all of the volunteers. About him.

A small wave of disgust filled him. These people were acting like this, with their wealth and toys, as if these things weren't precious luxuries to most of the world. He had been rather well off, all things considered, but it just wasn't enough, he had realised. He had been fortunate, born in the middle class. He could afford an education, food on the table, clean water to drink and wash. But he knew dozens of people who would kill to have those things.

Lance sighed and closed his eyes. He couldn't let thoughts like that poison his mind. Everyone deserved a chance to live in a better world, and he was being stupid and forgetting that.

He took in a deep breath, his brown eyes staring at the building. A small breeze was picking up, ruffling his short hair, blowing his shirt slightly. It felt right, standing here, in front of such an establishment… right to be doing good, to help others, to make the world better… to save it.

Slowly, Lance took the first step forward. Then another. And another.

Each step took him closer to the doors, making his grin grow wider. Doubts were bubbling away at his mind, but he tried his best to shake them away as he continued to walk forward, towards the doors. The smells of the grass and flowers was a little bit more comforting than he expected, but his anxiousness was still rising up, building to the surface. He had waited for this day for so long… and now, it was finally here.

And then before he knew it, he was standing in front of the doors, a brilliant, radiant grin on his face, his eyes alight with a wild passion that no one could possibly replicate… inside his heart, small anxieties and fears were smothered by his ecstasy, his joy, his excitement, the enthusiasm that was shaking him to his very core.

Gingerly, he stretched out a pale hand, gripping the handle to the door with one hand, slowly waiting for the right time to push it open and walk inside the building to the front desk, the place where he needed to sign. Only one more step, and he would be inside the building, inside the place he needed to be, wanted to be, where he could finally be someone…

And then suddenly, just as he opened the door, he felt a tremor run through him, like a quick zap of electricity coursing through his body. It was so sudden, so out of the blue, that he found himself gasping with shock. He couldn't describe the exact feeling… but he knew that it couldn't be good…

His throat felt like it was tightening. Sweat glistened on his hands, his face, and a suffocating atmosphere began to surround him, making Lance's eyes bulge. Breathing was becoming so difficult… and he could feel his legs becoming heavier and heavier, like they were being filled with lead. He didn't even sense it when he stumbled, falling face first onto the floor, clutching his head as a dull ache rang through his body…

The last thing he saw was the door, slowly creaking open, and the light spilling out of the door in a strange way… like the room beyond that door was… calling to him…

And then the dark spots started to show up, and before he knew it he was already passed out.


…Blackness.

There was nothing but darkness surrounding him… nothing but the inky, murky shadows that filled every inch of this endless space…

Lance couldn't even see his hands, or any part of his body. Even that had been consumed by the darkness.

It was surreal, standing - or floating? - in this place, this strange void that seemed to have become his entire world… and every now and then, Lance could hear them, small snatches of conversations flitting past.

They can't be safe… can they?

I won't let them do this…

Guys… guys? Wh-what are you doing…!?

I can't take any of this anym -

When did everything become so broken, Lance?

Why don't we just -

The whispers cut short, leaving Lance in complete silence. Everything felt paused, almost muted in a way, but Lance realised… maybe he didn't mind it so much if he was here…

Slowly, he felt himself shift around, as if he was sleeping. Yeah, everything was feeling different now. The darkness wasn't cold, but was now warm and comforting. Almost like… blankets. And - what was the soft feeling underneath him?

Light began to flood his eyes, and he realised where he was. In his bed… everything would be fine. A lazy smile flitted across his face, and he opened his eyes as he stretched up, holding back a yawn as he managed to sit up on the bed and rub his eyes.

Even with his sleepiness, Lance could tell that this was not his bedroom.

The bed was different, with plain black sheets and blue blankets draped across. The walls and floor were different, cream wallpaper and gleaming wooden floors. Immediately Lance felt a feeling of dread creep down his spine. He shouldn't be here.

He sat up more and felt his breathing becoming shallow and frantic. Somehow, this room… it felt wrong, somehow, or maybe it wasn't the room. But it was something else, it was definitely something that was wrong. This room, or something else, but something did not feel right.

Where the hell was he? Was this the headquarters? He could only remember blacking out when he was opening the door… had someone carried him in?

He slid the covers off of him, and jumped back with a start. His old clothes, the jeans and shirt he had been in, had been replaced with black pants and a white shirt with a symbol on the front: a black pawn, just like in chess. Lance frowned when he looked at it. He definitely didn't own a shirt like this… so why would he be wearing it? Did it look like something he would wear? Usually he wore whatever he could get… it wouldn't be so strange for him to be wearing something like this. But… that still didn't answer his question. Where had these clothes come from?

He slowly stood up, his feet cold against the hard wooden floor. He frowned and looked around. This looked like an ordinary bedroom. There was nothing indicating it was his, but at least it had a bed, and a small bedside table next to it. He frowned and looked over at it, examining the alarm clock, and when he reached out his left hand to touch it he noticed a strange, chrome-coloured band on his left wrist.

"Huh?" Lance frowned. This was just getting so incredibly strange… he held the band up to his eye level like it was a watch, and he was checking the time. It was a strange little device, perfectly fitted around his wrist, and he couldn't see anywhere that looked like it could be removed. He gingerly touched it with one hand and realised how damn cold it was, and drew his hand away from it in surprise.

A small flash of red caught his attention. On the wristband, flashing over and over, was a time. 00: 00 was displayed, quite clearly on this strange wristband. Lance didn't know what kind of time it was supposed to be showing, but it made him feel strange all the same. It was ominous enough to wake up in a strange room with strange clothes, but this damn wristband seemed to be pushing it. There were too many questions he wanted answered.

Maybe I shouldn't play with this thing just yet… keep exploring. We might find stuff out if we keep working forward. Trying to answer questions like this won't solve anything.

Besides, I'm supposed to be inside the headquarters for the Project right now. Maybe I already am… well, in any case, even if I'm not, I still need to figure out what this place is. Being in the dark won't get me anywhere.

He sighed and let his hand fall to his side. It wouldn't hurt to try and figure out where he was, at least.

He headed for the door directly in front of the bed. It opened easily, into another room with wooden floors and cream walls. It had the same smell as the other room, too, a subtle smell of pine that made him think of forests and nature, even if this was as far away from nature that he could get.

This room was much larger than his bedroom, though. Two doors, one painted white, the other painted brown, were on different walls, the brown one directly in front of him, the white one to his left. There was a desk to the wall next to the white door that was pretty much bare, and right next to that was a bookshelf absolutely crammed with books of every size and colour. Lance didn't exactly think of himself as a reader, but he didn't mind books at all.

There was a counter as well, a small bench where cupboards and a tap could be found. A kettle and a coffee machine were also on that counter, and when Lance looked, he found a packet of chips in one of the cupboards. He put it on the counter for later, just in case he couldn't find any more food.

A clock was hoisted on the wall, right next to a wardrobe. The clock read 08: 22am. Lance shrugged at that; now he knew the time, at least. The wardrobe, however, was the most interesting find: full of clothes, all of them his size. A row of shoes were also there, also in his size. But no matter how hard he looked, he couldn't find his original clothes, or his original shoes.

He sighed and grabbed his head, turning away from the wardrobe to look at the white door, which was labelled 'Bathroom'. A part of him said that he'd do that later, and right now, Lance agreed with it. These two rooms were enough to make him start questioning everything.

How… why… what? Too many questions inside his head. It almost made him feel sick, and it definitely was giving him a headache, at the very least. He groaned and slammed his palm into his forehead, but he wasn't surprised when all that gave him was a dull burst of pain and not any memories back.

Look… there's another door besides the bathroom. Get some shoes and socks on, and we can try and investigate. Maybe there's more to this place than just a makeshift apartment.

Lance sighed. He couldn't help but feel like someone trapped in a horror movie right now, unable to do anything but keep heading towards the inevitable danger that was lurking around for him. But it wouldn't do him any good to just stand around waiting for something to happen.

He grabbed a pair of socks and some black shoes, crouching down to put them on. But before he managed to put the first shoe on, there was a frantic knocking at the door, the brown one that wasn't marked at all. The sudden sounds startled him, and he turned his head to look at the source of the noise.

"Hey! Hey, is anyone in there? Hellooooooo?"

A loud voice yelled out from behind the door, too. It was definitely female, and strangely bright and cheerful, despite the circumstances.

He headed to the door, reaching for the handle, but just before he grabbed it he found himself frowning even more. Was… this a good idea? Was this girl dangerous at all? Was he going to be safe?

"Anyone! Please? C'mon, open the door already!"

Well, she didn't sound like a threat. Lance sighed and grabbed the door handle tightly. If something was behind the door, he'd be able to deal with it. His curiosity was destroying him anyway. He quickly twisted the door open -

And a fist slammed into his head, and pain flared around his forehead where the fist had struck, making him scream and jump back.

"What? Oh! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh…" Standing in the doorway was a girl, just slightly shorter than Lance; her hand was over her mouth, and her eyes were wide in shock. Her raised fist was still in the air. "I was just tryna knock… oh, my gosh, are you okay?"

She was very loud. That was the first thing that Lance noticed about her; that, and her rather… colourful way of dressing herself. A pink sleeveless blouse with a bright golden Valentine heart painted on the chest, with baby blue fingerless gloves on both of her hands, a black skirt with white polka dots, and long purple and red boots that almost reached her knees. Her hair was just as messy as her outfit, though, with dozens of black curls cascading around her shoulders. Stripes of pink and purple ran through her hair as well, just as striking as the colours on her clothes. Her eyes were a bright hazel colour, and were filled with unspoken apologies as she waited for Lance to respond, hands clutching at her chest.

"Oh… er, um…" Lance didn't know what to say now. This girl looked so… surreal, so strangely out of place in this plain little room. He stood standing away from the doorway, awkwardly rubbing his forehead where her fist had connected with his face.

Then his eyes went to her left wrist, and his eyes narrowed. "That wristband…"

"What? Oh, yeah, this thingy." The girl smiled as if she had completely forgotten about the situation, and held her hand up to show him. "I woke up with this on… oh! And you've got one too! So…" She put a finger to her lips, and squinted like she was deep in thought. "Wait. Did you wake up in a room like this too?" Her eyes widened now in realisation. "This is like my room! Like, exactly exactly like mine! Except my wardrobe has better clothes, obviously. Oh, so this must be your name on the door! Lance Morrison, huh? That's a cool name. Lance, like a lance! And Morrison, like… the son of Morris!"

Lance frowned. "My… name?"

The girl nodded and stepped back, showing off the brass plaque on the door. Sure enough, there was his name, printed in bold: Lance Morrison.

"So you woke up in a room like this?" Lance asked, turning to the strange girl in front of him again. "Where?"

"My room is across the hall, right over there," the girl said, and her head drooped when she remembered where she was. "I don't know where we are…"

"And…" Lance wasn't sure what answer he would get - could this girl be a volunteer? That was the only possible link he could think of that they could share… and it was likely, considering where he had blacked out, and what seemed to be happening now. "Are… you also a volunteer? For the Youth Participation Project?"

"Yep!" The girl's energy was returning now. Lance sighed… this girl changed moods quicker than anyone he had ever met. Didn't she have an off switch?

The girl was still going on and on, though. "Wait… also? Oh. My. Gosh! We're basically twins! I mean, we're the same, sorta, except you probably aren't double-jointed, and you probably don't have a tattoo, or a sixth toe. But other than that, we're the same! We just won't tell people the toe thing."

Lance looked away. This girl was a volunteer? How likely was that? Weren't there qualifications for applying, or something? He had spent months trying to secure his position as a volunteer, how much had she spent if she acted like this?

The girl cleared her throat. "I should probably introduce myself, huh… alrighty then! Erica Bradley, from Brooklyn! And I know your name, so don't tell me again, I won't forget it, promise! Er…" She turned to the door quickly, her eyes scanning his name. Lance could see her whispering his name under her breath, and once she had 'memorised' it, she smiled and turned back. "Lance!"

Erica Bradley… Lance sighed. Already she was proving herself to be quite the bundle of energy.

She still didn't answer any of his questions, though. Where were they supposed to be? Where were they going? Why were they here? Although Lance could take comfort that at least he wasn't alone, and he'd probably get used to Erica in time, too. So it wasn't completely awful.

But still… all of these questions continued to burn at the back of his mind, ravaging his thoughts. The questions, the strange nature of this entire damn scenario, it was making him feel sick. He wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to answer any of those questions right now… and he hated having to wait for answers.

"Oh! So, if you woke up in a room like this, with a wristband too, did you also get one of these letters?"

"Huh?" Lance turned back to Erica, who was digging around the back of her skirt for… something. Immediately the wheels in his head began turning. Letter?

"Yeah, in the desk! I was looking for a pen so I could write down reminders on my arm, like I usually do, and I found this weird letter addressed to me. Wanna see?" Finally having found what she was looking for, Erica grabbed the piece of paper folded and tucked into the back of her skirt, holding it up where he could see.

"Well, what does it say?" Lance didn't get this. A letter? He must have gotten one too, surely… but what would it say? You're stuck here forever! Congratulations! Now you have to live your entire life in this strange place with a weird girl who acts like she drank twelve cans of Red Bull before breakfast! Yay!

Somehow he doubted it would be that explicit about their situation.

Erica handed over the letter, and he grabbed it gently. The paper was strangely soft, and he unfolded it to read what the letter said.

Miss Erica Bradley,

Congratulations on your success in becoming a participant in our game! We are delighted to hear of your arrival to the headquarters, which will be your new home for the duration of the game. We hope that you find the arrangements here agreeable - your help is very, very important to us, and we are here to make sure that your time here is as exciting as possible!

Please head to the central lobby, located on the first floor along with the dormitories, before 08: 30am, where the rest of the volunteers are being gathered. There, a debriefing will take place - we can introduce ourselves and the rules of the game, and then it's up to you to try and figure out what to do!

Good luck, and I'm rooting for you!

Sincerely,

Ebony, the Manager of the Youth Participation Program

"W-what the hell is this?" Lance lifted the letter up to the sky like that would somehow make something clearer. It didn't, sadly, and Lance just groaned in frustration and shoved the letter back to his face. "Game? What kind of game? And… rules? And who the hell is this Ebony chick, huh? Isn't there someone else in charge of the Program?"

"Maia Curnow," Erica said, nodding fervently. "She's the Manager. I spoke to her on the phone a lot… I don't know about an Ebony person at all."

"So what does this mean? 'Participant'? What the hell is she talking about?" Lance handed back the letter with a little bit more force than he intended, but he didn't really care. This was just getting worse and worse… were answers ever going to show up, or was he supposed to be flailing around like an idiot trying to find them?

"You found that letter in your desk. I should have one too." Lance turned around and practically bolted to his desk, opening the drawers lined up. Yeah, there it was - in the first drawer, a white envelope sealed with black wax, with his name in cursive on the front! Lance didn't care about how careless he was, and ripped away the wax and reached inside to grab the letter that belonged to him, trying to see if it would have any more answers, any more clues he could go off of -

Mr Lance Morrison,

Congratulations on your success in becoming a participant in our game! We are delighted to hear of your arrival to the headquarters...

It was the exact same freaking letter.

"Anything?" Erica asked, tilting her head quizzically, but Lance ignored her. He fought the desperate temptation to crush it into a ball and throw it at the wall. Instead, he just put it slowly on the desk, and stood back, trying to think. His hands went to his head, and he started to shake his hair around like that would somehow make him think even more.

Erica still stood in the doorway, her letter having been pocketed away. She was leaning against the post with her arms folded, looking bored. She stifled a yawn, and noticed Lance looking at her. Her eyes widened. "What? What is it?"

"What do you think's going on?" Lance asked, standing up straight and letting his hands fall to his side. He was curious about what she thought about all of this - she was obviously kind of ditzy and brash, but she didn't seem unintelligent. Maybe she'd realised something he hadn't.

She frowned and looked aside, as if she was trying to find the words. "I dunno… this is all soooooooo weird, right? I mean, I don't know anything at all! What kind of game are they expecting us to play?"

Lance rolled his eyes. "Well, I doubt they'd go to this much trouble if they wanted us to all sit down and play a few rounds of Clue."

Erica shrugged and got off from the doorway, fidgeting slightly as she did so. It was strange how she never seemed to sit still at all; she was always moving somehow, even if it was sometimes in the most subtle of ways. Twitching her fingers, or her curls bouncing, or rubbing her toe into the carpet.

"Maybe we should go to the lobby, huh…" Erica put a finger to her mouth as if in thought. "I mean, we're pretty much left with no other options. We can explore a really weird and claustrophobic building… or we can do what the letter says. But we don't know if we can trust it, do we, right? I mean, what if this is a trap?"

"Well, we know that this is the Prism headquarters, for the Program," Lance mused, and Erica nodded along with his words. "So maybe this isn't too bad… but I don't know what to think."

At this point, their best bet really was to trust these strange letters, and go to the lobby. There was a chance they'd find out stuff there… and Lance was dying to know what everything meant. He needed to know. He needed to understand, just what had happened to him, and Erica, and probably heaps of other people too…

Erica sighed. "This could still be a trap, right…? I mean, it's super suspicious anyway. Maybe they want us all in one place before they blow us up, or they want us to join some weird cult or something. Y'know, like in a movie!"

Okay, so she's also a conspiracy theorist on top of it all… how am I not startled by this new revelation? Lance sighed. "We're not gonna join a cult, Erica."

Erica sighed. "It was just an example! Geez… still, we should head off, right? We have to be there by eight thirty, otherwise something happens. I don't know what, but… something. Probably nothing good, too. So, yeah, c'mon! Get your shoes on, dude! We have a lobby to find!"

"Give me a sec."

He shoved his shoes on quickly, barely tightening up the laces before he stood up and headed to the door, walking quicker than normal. His entire body felt like it was both too empty and too full at the same time.

Erica hopped back out of the doorway, and Lance left the door slightly open. He didn't have a key, and didn't want to risk being locked out of his own room. He stepped back from the door and examined the hallway. Metal floor, metallic blue walls… it was much more precise than the room somehow, more functional. Bright white light shone from the ceiling, illuminating everything, and leaving long shadows across the walls.

Erica sighed and tilted her head again. With her bright outfit, she looked incredibly out-of-place in this muted hallway. "Let's go! C'moooooooon. I don't want to stand around forever, y'know."

"You can leave without me," Lance said to her as he started walking down the hallway. He shoved his right hand in his pocket, leaving his left hand hanging by his side.

There were more doors down the hallway, Lance noticed. He skimmed over the names; it would be interesting to look at them, he admitted, but he couldn't do that now. He had more urgent things to do than focus on the names of some people he would be meeting in a few minutes anyway.

Erica was walking beside him, although walking wasn't the best way to describe it. Hopping…? Skipping…? She was doing it with much more vigor than the average person, at least, her feet making echoing footsteps with every little impact her boots had on the floor.

"So… where are you from, Lance?" she asked, looking at him with a curious glint in her eyes.

"Vancouver. That's where my mom lives. My dad's from Boston, and I live there every summer."

"Ooooh! That must be so cool! But your parents are split up… aww, that's sad…" Erica frowned for a bit, but then almost instantly she smiled and giggled a little, her mind off the topic. "Well, I'm from Brooklyn, but I already said that! And Brooklyn's the reason I wanted to join Prism, see?"

Lance frowned. "Why?"

"Well, because of all of the people there! There's so many innocent people that have really crappy lives, just because they're poor! And the gangs…" Erica sighed and shook her head. "There are too many gangs in New York at the moment! Bu in Brooklyn, that's where the gangs go from being annoying to outright evil! Ugh, it just pisses me off, thinking about them and how they use people!"

"You… don't like gangs?"

Erica snorted. "Of course not! Honestly… I hope I can work to shut them all down. That's why I've joined Prism. Well, that and the free food. What about you? Why have you joined, Lance?"

Lance was about to open his mouth to answer that question, but suddenly they heard a massive crash in the distance, and someone scream, a scream full of absolute horror.

Lance stepped back; that voice, that scream… had he heard it before? No, but somehow it was familiar to him -

You keep treating us like this! Let us be free, goddamnit!

A shock of pain made him cry out; a headache was forming in his head, making him wince and clutch at his head. It felt like there was something in his head, pounding, trying its best to get out and break free, something desperately trying to show itself to him - if only he could remember -

"L-Lance?" Erica looked terrified, her face pale, her hands shaking. She grabbed him by the shoulders, looking him in the eyes; strangely, Lance felt disorientated, like it wasn't him that was being touched, but he was watching a video where that was happening to him…

"Lance? A-are you okay? Oh, oh my gosh, Lance, please…!" She shook him violently, and then Lance was pulled out of that weird feeling, and back into reality. The pain was back, the terror of their situation was back.

Suddenly, like magnetism, he felt his gaze being drawn to the end of the hallway. The scream had come from beyond there, he was certain of it… yeah, if he just bolted that way, he'd find out what the hell was going on -

Another scream jolted him out of that tangent, and before he realised it, he was running to the end of the hallway.

A pair of doors was at the end, and he smashed into them. Pain flared up around his arms and chest, but the doors swung open, revealing what he was assuming was the central lobby - and the scene before him made him stop dead in his tracks.

The room wasn't very big, that was true. It wasn't much of a central lobby, but it seemed to do its job. A sofa and a few armchairs were centred around a glass coffee table, and on each wall were four wide TV screens. There was a door leading to the dorms, and another one that was locked. But what really made Lance's heart stop were the people.

This room was full of people, roughly twelve, if Lance had to count. Twelve people, all of them teenagers, some standing, some sitting, and all of them looking at him, with either confusion, some surprise, or irritation. They all looked so different from each other - right next to a guy with curly blonde hair, designer clothes, and a shining smile was a crouching guy with messy hair, crumpled clothes, and the biggest bags underneath his eyes. A little girl wearing blue who looked more like a kid then a teenager was sitting in front of the coffee table, next to a spectral-looking girl in an armchair, wearing some bizarre black Victorian dress. They all seemed to be centred either near the doors or near the collection of chairs and the table; not only that, but the lobby was small, too, and that just added to the claustrophobia that Lance was feeling.

One of the people, a thin guy in glasses wearing some weird kind of cape, had his back to the wall and his hands outstretched. He was shaking with terror, his eyes wide with fright, his entire body quivering as he desperately tried to defend himself against the guy standing in front of him.

That guy was tall - he must have at least been six feet seven, and he was wearing a black long coat with a hood, drawn over his face. He looked strong, muscular, and… were those weapons glinting on his belt? Lance couldn't see his face, but he knew that the guy was glaring at him, and suddenly he felt unprotected, almost naked in a way.

"Um…" Lance stuttered, trying to find words, but he was cut off before he could find any.

"And what exactly are you doing?"

The speaker had been from behind him. Lance turned to face him, and the first thing he noticed was how thin the guy was. He was the skinniest person that Lance had ever seen, and was so bony that bits of his skeleton stood out in an almost eerie kind of way. He wore a red shirt with a black jacket and pants, and his gaze was full of some kind of irritation that made Lance want to step away from this guy and never speak to him.

"I… I heard a scream," Lance explained, trying to ignore the scarlet that was creeping into his cheeks. "It… well, it was sort of…"

"I-I-I screamed…" The boy on the ground whimpered, looking away from the giant standing above him. The taller guy sighed and turned away, muttering under his breath, and he walked away from the wall, all the way to the other side of the room.

Lance paused. The guy in the cape had screamed… yeah, that sounded about right. But if that was the case… why had Lance felt he recognised the voice? He hadn't met that guy in his life. So… what in the world was going on?

"I was just worried that -" Lance began, but another slamming door stopped him in his tracks.

"I'm heeeeeeeeeeere!" Erica launched herself into the room, her fists raised as if she was ready for a fight. Her eyes were alight with some strange kind of passionate fire, but it died as soon as she realised what a strange, tension-filled atmosphere she had just found herself in was like. "Oh. Er… ignore me!" Her fists turned into outstretched hands that she held in front of her face, like they could protect her from being hurt.

"There's two of you?" The thin boy sighed and put his palm in his hand. "Honestly… do I really have to repeat myself?"

"That won't be necessary."

Lance jumped back in shock. The speaker had been so quiet he had barely realised she was there. She stood against the wall with her head turned away, and with her plain brown hair and black clothes, she looked simple enough that almost no attention could have been drawn to her.

The girl was tall for a girl, at least - she couldn't have been below five feet six, and despite her plain appearance, she had a confident, authoritative air about her, like she was a natural born leader that knew exactly what to do at every moment. She flicked her hair behind her shoulder and continued speaking.

"At the moment, we're waiting for eight thirty," she explained to Lance and Erica. "We can have introductions after that."

Lance nodded; she made the order seem natural, and it was difficult not to agree with her. "Um, okay. Okay, yeah, that seems cool."

"You guys have wristbands too!" The guy in designer clothes stood up, beaming, his hands coming together as if he had made some grand announcement. "So you are volunteers!"

"You're all volunteers?" Erica asked, her eyes widening. Everyone nodded in response, and her eyes grew even wider, her hands rising to her mouth in excitement. "Oh, so it's like we're like one big humongous gigantic family! That's so cool!"

Lance looked at all of the faces. These were the volunteers? Interesting… so there was no doubt that this was all connected to Prism and the Youth Participation Program, at least, and now they definitely weren't alone.

The thin guy snorted. "Family? Yeah, right. Don't say stupid stuff like that, or I might actually punch you."

"Hey! That's mean!" Erica crossed her arms and glowered at him, which was surprisingly intimidating for a girl with her height and fashion sense. "You better not speak to me like that!"

"It doesn't matter how I speak to you," the guy continued, shaking his head and turning away. "You obviously don't have much to say, anyway."

Erica was about to make another loud statement, opening her mouth wide and raising a hand, but out of nowhere, a hand came around and grasped her shoulder. Like magic, a guy was suddenly next to her, smiling a genuinely kind smile.

"Hey, is that how we should be acting? Threatening each other? No, we should be friendly to one another! What's the point in getting mad right now?" The boy spoke with such friendly sincerity that Lance found himself almost trusting the guy instantly. He had a friendly appearance, too, with soft black hair, a welcoming, warm smile, and simple but tasteful pants and a hoodie. Erica seemed to calm down instantly by his mere presence.

"No…" she muttered. "You're right…"

"See? No use in getting angry. We should just focus on being on good terms with one another, don't you agree?"

Sitting by the coffee table, the blonde girl in the blue dress snorted. "Good terms? LOL, nope! That's sooooooo boring, don't you agree? Nah, it's so much better if there's heaps and heaps and heaps of drama! That way it's lots more fun, right?" She giggled and grabbed a wrapped candy from her pocket, unwrapping it and tossing it into her mouth casually, wearing an arrogant smirk while she did so.

That girl… Lance shivered. She spoke with a voice of a kid, and she looked a lot younger than a teenager. But her voice had a sweetened malice to it that made chills begin to run down his spine.

He was too busy looking at this bizarre girl sitting on the ground, resting her head on the glass coffee table, that he almost didn't notice someone tugging at his shirt sleeve. He looked down, and saw the person tugging him was an incredibly short girl wearing a coat far too large for her, with a big red scarf wrapped around her neck. Big green eyes gazed up at him, but she didn't say anything.

Somehow, she made Lance smile. She seemed lost, almost, like she had only just wandered into some strange building and had gotten completely disorientated. Only the wristband on her left wrist gave her away.

She was also incredibly quiet. Lance definitely wouldn't have noticed her if she hadn't tugged on his arm; what with her height and the fact that she hadn't said anything, she almost seemed to disappear whenever anyone wasn't looking at her.

The girl realised that she had gotten his attention, and a quick blush filled her cheeks. She waved at him shyly, and looked away, trying to use her scarf to hide the red filling her face. Lance blushed a little with her, and smiled at her, trying his best to make it seem as friendly as possible.

From the intercom, five chimes played in succession. Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing. It was almost like it was the signal for something to happen. Lance glanced at the wall where a clock was ticking - sure enough, it was eight thirty, just like the letter had said.

The girl in the scarf tugged on Lance's sleeve again, and when he looked down at her, she pointed at one of the TV screens on the wall. Sure enough, one of them was filled with the image of crackling static, although no noise was coming out yet.

"Is it working?" A distinctly female voice called out; everyone reacted, looking around frantically, but the voice just kept talking. "I can't tell. Crow, seriously, help me with this. What does the blinking light mean?"

The static on the screens continued. The whole room held its breath, waiting for something - anything - to happen.

"Oh. Yeah, I got it!"

And then the static was replaced by an image.

Sitting on a couch, smiling and holding hands, were two people. They looked like they were in their twenties, with big, wide smiles and gorgeous looks. One was a blonde girl wearing a white collared shirt with a black jacket and a red tie. Her hair was tied into a tight bun, and was against the chest of the guy she was sitting with, who had dark hair, a cocky grin, and wore a white suit with golden buttons.

No one knew what to say to these two. Lance couldn't register it either. Just… who the hell were these two people?

"Hello," the girl began, still smiling. She even waved at the camera a little. "I'm Ebony, the one who wrote those letters."

"And I'm Crow," the guy continued, his eyes glinting strangely. "We'll be your Game Masters."

"G-Game Masters?" It was the spectacled boy in the cape who had spoken; he had managed to stand up, and was gazing into the screen with a wistful expression on his face. "W-what?"

"And what is a Game Master?" asked the girl standing on the wall. "What game are we playing, exactly?"

In response to the questions, the two of them looked at each other… and laughed. That laugh made Lance freeze inside. Something about it screamed a message to him: 'Something is wrong here'. It was an eerie laugh, one that made it obvious that it was these two that held all of the power in this situation.

"You'll be playing our game," Ebony explained, still smiling. "But we can't start introductions with that! No, it isn't polite."

"Yeah," Crow agreed. "We've gotta explain first, right, Ebony?"

"Oh, definitely. I'll start, okay, sweetie?" Ebony patted his leg and cleared her throat, raising her hand with a dramatic flair, her grin becoming more malicious the more it stayed on her face. "So… at the moment, the fourteen of you all reside within this place - the headquarters for the Youth Participation Program, run by Prism. And you're all volunteers! How awesome is that?"

"So we are in the headquarters!" Erica said, jumping up with her fist raised in the air in celebration. "Called it!"

"Erica…" Lance hissed, but the girl in the scarf tugged at his sleeve again and pointed at the screen. Lance had no choice but to look back at it.

"Oh, yeah," Crow said, as if he had heard what Erica had said. "This place, it's the headquarters all right! It's a pretty sweet place, gotta admit. Dorms, kitchen, gym, library - all sorts of fun stuff for you guys to use!"

"There's a library?" The girl in the Victorian dress giggled. "My, that will be fun."

"And a kitchen!" Erica was practically drooling already. Lance rolled his eyes, and tried to think - what, so these guys just dropped them in here to hang around? That didn't seem likely.

"The headquarters is the place where the game will take place," Crow continued. "And you guys -" He pointed directly at the camera. "You guys are the participants."

"So we're playing the game?" Lance asked. He wasn't sure what was going on… what did these people want?

Hey, at least you're getting answers. Aren't you happy about that?

"Exactly!" Ebony said, clapping her hands together. "The players… that's what you guys are! The players in our amazing game of risk and deception!"

"There are rules to the game, you see," Crow said, waving his hand in the air. "You can live in the headquarters all you like… for ninety days. You see, you have ninety days to live here to your heart's content. But when those ninety days are up, so are you."

Lance's eyes widened. "W-what?"

"You have ninety days left to live here," Crow said, acting like Lance was some kind of idiot. He started saying his words slowly, as if he was trying to explain basic math to three-year-olds. "You can't leave. You can only stay here."

"Try to escape?" asked Ebony.

"We execute you."

"Try to attack us or our monitors?"

"We execute you."

"The ninety days are up?"

"Guess what? We execute you."

Lance's eyes couldn't get any bigger. Do anything, try to escape… and he'd die? And he had a time limit? What… what… what the hell was all of this bullshit?

Around him, people were reacting the exact same way. Only the girl standing by the wall looked anywhere close to calm. The boy in the cape was shaking like he was about to faint, his entire body pale and sweaty; the tall guy in the hood seemed shocked, his arms twitching; the girl in the blue dress looked horrified, her hands to her mouth, as if she couldn't comprehend that these people could kill her.

The girl at Lance's side came closer, holding onto his sleeve; she looked absolutely terrified, her body shaking, her eyes lost and scared. Erica looked stunned, and was staring at the screen in shock.

"How?"

That came from the skinny boy, his arms folded, his eyes narrowed. He seemed irritated at best, his foot tapping on the floor.

"How what?" Ebony asked. "Oh, well, we can kill you in several ways. Stabbing, burning, freezing, cutting, drowning, choking, hanging, throwing… but for this case, our preferred method is going to be poisoning."

"See those wristbands?" asked Crow, pointing to his left wrist. Everyone in the room looked at their wristbands, their eyes widening in absolute horror as they realised what might be happening. "That's actually filled with a pretty potent toxin. Break any of our rules, and the wristband injects that toxin into your bloodstream. You'll be dead just like that." To emphasise the 'that', he clicked his fingers and smirked.

Lance looked at his wristband, sweat dripping from his palms, his forehead, a feeling of dread spreading in his entire body. Surely… no, could this thing really…

Everyone else was staring at their left wrists, with horror, with confusion, with skepticism. The skinny guy rolled his eyes at his wrist, Lance could see, but everyone else seemed terrified. The guy with messy hair and dark circles even stifled a scream, while the guy next to him in designer clothes tried to get his wrist as far away from him as possible.

"P-p-poison?" The girl in the blue dress sat up, her eyes widening. "Nooo… No!" She grabbed the wristband with her right hand and frantically tried to tug it off, but it was no use. The thing was stuck. The girl seemed more panicked and terrified the more she tried to work it off, until she was on her knees, tears practically spilling out of her eyes as she tried to bash the wristband off with a fist, oblivious to the pain that must have been shooting up her arm.

"Keheheheh…" Ebony smiled as she watched the girl struggle. That smile was full of cruelty, and that feeling of powerlessness resurged throughout the room again, making Lance tense up and shudder.

"You won't want to try taking them off," Ebony said. "For one thing, you can't. But if you try… well, we'll execute you for that, too."

"What!?" The girl looked terrified, and her hand darted off the wristband like it was hot metal; everyone whose hands were on their wristbands flew off, and they just went back to staring at it in shock.

"It's one of the rules." Ebony cleared her throat and raised a finger. "Look, we'll count them down for you. I mean, we are gonna play fair, trust us!"

"Rule one," Crow began.

"You are trapped within this building for the duration of the game. There is literally no exit, and no way you can escape without notifying us."

"Rule two."

"If you try to escape or break out, or damage the building in any way, we will execute you. No hesitation. Attempting to remove a wristband will also be a reason for execution."

"Rule three."

"The game will last for ninety days, starting at noon today, the First Day. At the conclusion of the game, all wristbands will go off, regardless of the wearer, killing every single participant who is not dead beforehand."

"Rule four."

"Hehehe… rule four? The ninety day limit is only for a group of you, see. So, if there was only one left of you by the time the ninety days finish… he or she won't get poisoned, and can leave the building to the outside world."

The silence was absolutely deafening.

Everyone stood still. No one dared to move, no one dared to make any kind of noise. Instead, they just gazed up at the screen with wide, frightened eyes, their bodies shaking and sweating, their hearts racing, their stomachs flipping, their bodies filled with complete and total dread…

It was Erica who broke the silence, in a way that was distinctly unlike her: "Only… one of us… can leave?"

"Correct!" Crow exclaimed, his excitement completely contrasting the tension in the room he was talking to. Ebony beside him looked absolutely thrilled, filled with a silent laughter that seemed far too genuine for this situation. "I mean, we figured that we should reward the last person standing, at least. What better way than letting them go free?"

"B-but…" Lance found himself speaking now; the words came out of his mouth, but he barely registered them. It was like a stranger was speaking next to him, rather than his own voice. "You mean… thirteen of us are going to die?"

"Hahahaha! Oh, God, no!" Ebony snorted into her hand, like he had just said something incredibly stupid, like he had suggested the Earth was flat. "No, you aren't definitely going to die. But if you definitely, absolutely want to survive, thirteen people need to die, yeah. And while we'll punish rule breaking, murder isn't a part of the rules, so you can kill to your heart's content!"

"I see."

The girl who had leaned against the wall was walking towards the screen, her gaze determined. Her confident air was spreading, even though the sheer atmosphere of the room was threatening to dim it. She still had her head held high, and her eyes were full of a discrete but powerful fire that made everyone in the room stop and hold their breath.

"So this is a killing game," she continued, looking at the screen for confirmation. "A game where only one can survive. There's a time limit, and a guarantee that certain actions will be punished… this is certainly a scenario where murder would be considered a viable option to escape."

"We don't have any say over whether you murder or not," Crow explained. "You do what you want. We'll just step in whenever any rules are broken."

"What the hell do you even want?" Erica screamed at the screen, and when the two heard her they looked at each other and snickered. The two of them and their grinning, leering faces, it made Lance want to puke…

"Does it matter what we want?" Crow asked Erica, an eyebrow raising.

"Motive isn't very important, is iiiiiiit? Kiyahahahahahahahaha!" Ebony laughed into her hand again, and Crow laughed with her, their two laughs becoming one horrible, mocking, endless laugh that filled the entire room…

"I-I-I-I-" The blonde girl was standing up, shaking completely, her entire body frozen up. The boy in designer clothes was frozen too, and he seemed curled into the corner of the sofa, trying to disappear. The thin guy seemed nonchalant about it all, but he made several steps to get as far away from everyone else as possible.

The girl in the scarf by Lance's side stepped closer, holding onto his sleeve, her entire body shaking with silent terror. Lance tried his best to seem strong, but the truth was… he was terrified too, terrified of this situation, and of these two monsters that looked like humans up on the screen in front of them all.

"We'll be back at around noon, to start off the actual game!" Ebony promised. "Until then, feel free to explore, to talk to each other! And look forward to it - this game is supposed to be fun, you know!"

"Later, everybody!" Crow and Ebony both waved them off as the screen went black, leaving everyone frozen in a room that was absolutely and completely silent.

Tension gripped everyone, a tension that made their skin crawl, their fingers twitch. Breaths became shallower and shallower as the suspense grew, spreading through everyone like poison, slowing down their minds, making them stop and widen their eyes as they registered what was being said to them.

And worst of all was the silence.

This unbroken silence that no one wanted to break, which grew with the tension in the air. That silence hung in the room constantly, like mist or a heavy fog, smothering every possible sound that could have been made. No one wanted to say anything.

The room was gripped with that tension, that horrible feeling of complete dread. Everyone felt it, and everyone, in their own way, acknowledged it. They had to - there was no escaping that simple fact.

There was fourteen of them in that room, all of them being choked by the walls, all of them bursting with the desire to escape.

And only one of them could get out alive.


Hey! If you're still reading, thank you so much! Having people read my work means a lot to me.

I hope that you enjoyed reading the first chapter - the story's only just beginning, and this was a lot of fun to write. If you're still interested, please keep reading - the next chapter's long, but they get shorter after that I swear!

Once again, thank you so much!

-VorpalQ