The static from his small portable radio was consistent, but fortunately, he was capable of comprehending the man's steady, gravelly voice.
"This world, which has the potential to be perfect, is hell due to power-hungry fools with malicious intent and a goal for change. The Trial you will all take tomorrow, should you pass, will open a door that will lead straight into the heart of a city full of such simpletons."
He scowled, listening intently to his words.
"There is little I can do to help you all now. You have made your beds -"
Abruptly he shut off the radio, mashing his finger into the off button harsher than necessary. He had been listening to that weekly broadcast for years, an older man who was well educated on the differences between the social aspects of the different parts of each country. A man who was well versed in the terminology of the Garrick and the Capitol. He had very strong opinions about them, and they weren't positive. However, he enjoyed listening to his perspective. Everyone had a different outlook on the matter, but something about how passionate the man was intrigued him.
The man obviously thought it was his duty, as a well-educated individual, to share his knowledge and opinions with those even considering moving to the Capitol. After all, not many people had lived in all the levels of so many countries. He had surely seen a lot and probably wanted to put his experiences to good use. He rose from his spot on the bench and stretched, his back cracking in a few bothersome places, being careful to keep his umbrella over his head.
The boy gazed ahead from underneath his safeguard as the rain poured mercilessly upon it. The light post bulbs flickered occasionally, intermittently darkening and lightening the ground. The ground was just mud and sludge at this point, instead of an easily traveled pathway. The storm was ruthless tonight, nothing less than miserable, and extremely inconvenient. It's as though nature knew what was coming, the miserable weather portraying his deep-seated anxiety and maybe a little fear if he was being honest with himself. This would be his last night on Class Three land, the last night in his bed, and the last time he would be kept awake at night by the thoughts of tomorrow's events.
Grabbing the old radio, he folded the small silver antenna downward and began to walk home.
There were very few things he would miss about this place. His time in this village hadn't been all bad, but it contained memories that he'd rather force into the back of his mind and ignore. Forgotten and left to fester until one day he'd explode, or drop into a state of madness. Taken to a hospital and sedated into a state of drooling, ignorant bliss. Then he'd truly forget everything this place reminded him of.
"Kash! Hey, Kash! Wait up please!" a voice called from behind. He slowed his pace so the young girl could catch up to him, feet slushing through puddles and slinging clumps of mud in her wake. She had a bright, smiling face, which was a nice contrast to how he was feeling. The dread of tomorrow seemed to completely leave his mind when she appeared. Almost.
They walked together, slowly. One with a large black umbrella, and the other with a smaller purple one. Both protected from the rain and comforted by the other's presence.
"I thought you said you were going to wait for me?" she frowned.
"I was waiting, but your class let out several minutes ago. I was getting bored."
"I'm sorry, I got distracted. You may be finished with the program, but I've still got work to do you know," she huffed, calculating the puddles ahead of her as they stepped through them with her rain boots.
"So, are you nervous?" she teased, shouldering him in the ribs and startling him into a slight stumble.
"About what, Sasha?" he grumbled, feigning ignorance.
"Don't play dumb!" she scolded, slapping his shoulder lightly, "You know just as well as I do that the Trial is intimidating as hell! How can you act so high and mighty, even at a time like this?"
He couldn't focus on her words, prodding him to discuss the inevitable. Instead, he focused on the path ahead, doing his best to tune out her incessant questioning.
"Hellooo?" she yelled, waving a hand in front of his face which he quickly swatted away, "You know, I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you," she fussed.
"Yes, and I'm trying to subtly avoid it."
"Well, that's just rude."
The girl was wholesome and moral, purity in the finest form. She had not a scratch on her little blonde head, not a scar to indicate any act of hate or violence. She was like his lucky charm, and he hadn't ever wanted nor needed another friend. He almost wished he could bring her to the Trial, to give him luck and a sense of comfort. However, knowing what she would see put that thought to rest immediately.
"A serious question though, are you good? Truly?" she asked skeptically, peering at him out the corner of her eye.
"I'm fine, really. Stop pestering me about how I am," he snapped, picking up his pace due to his growing level of irritation. "Just because the Trial is tomorrow doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to drop into a state of psychosis from stress!" he called over his shoulder.
"Well, you don't look fine, and you're making me worry," she continued as she tried to keep up with him.
"Then stop looking at me so closely!" he hissed, stopping in his tracks to stare at the girl. His eyes were fierce at first but quickly softened. She was small, and to him, she looked as fragile as glass. Easy to shatter without proper protection. He wanted so badly for her to stay safe. To forget everything she knew about him and the Trial, and stay here.
"I just can't see you going into the Trial, Sasha. You aren't one for fighting."
"Says the guy who I'm pretty sure I pinned this morning during our sparring match!" She smirked, placing a hand on her hip.
His cheeks reddened slightly and he quickly started walking again, "I don't know what you're talking about," he mumbled, pulling his umbrella closer to his head.
"Once again, you pretend!" she laughed.
He truly wanted her to stay in the village. He had begged her before, and of course, she was able to somehow reason him into backing off. At least for a while. It was a constant battle between the two, the topic always brewing in the back of their minds just waiting to be brought up at any moment. It was a sensitive subject that they would never agree on, and Kash absolutely despised that fact.
"I don't mean that you aren't capable," he continued, "your personality just doesn't fit. You harbor no anger, you don't seek vengeance or to cause pain, and in general, you aren't a fighter. You're from the Friarra Family, literally the opposite of a fighter, a healer. I mean, you could defend yourself if you had to, but you don't seem like a person who would willingly hurt someone if need be. Like you would have to in the Garrick."
She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, the only sound being the squish of their boots in the mud, and the rain falling onto rooftops.
"So what you're saying is, only potential serial killers try to go to the Trial?" she asked sarcastically.
"Not true. I want to make something of myself by moving up through the ranks in the Garrick. It's just that if you go into the Trial -"
"When I go into the Trial," she corrected.
He furrowed his brow, "Whatever. When you do, you have to put your worries about hurting others aside, or you'll be the one who gets hurt. I don't want that to happen."
"Aw, is Kash Ryker actually concerned about me?" she asked sarcastically, pretending to be awestruck and placing her hand over her heart.
"Shut up. This is my last night. If I didn't show some concern, I'd be a jerk."
When the two began to smell the ocean, they knew they were close to home. They lived in a tiny, incredibly shabby building. It contained maybe twelve apartments, providing homes to mostly loners, and one or two small families. One of which being Sasha's.
She walked ahead to a door on the ground level, and Kash followed somberly. They both closed their umbrellas once they made it under the overhang.
"So, I guess I'll see you in one year, right?" she asked, trying her best to keep up her positive attitude.
"Mhm," the boy nodded. His anxiety level was increasing, and he didn't feel like talking anymore.
"You've always been a man of so many words" she laughed. "Well, don't think of this as a goodbye. Consider it an 'I'll see you later' instead, okay? You'll pass this year, then next year I'll pass, and we'll both be on Class One land!" Kash wasn't sure if she was trying to comfort him, or herself.
"Just don't let this next year make you lose your faith in people. Everyone in your class, except for maybe a few, will turn on each other. At the end of the year, it's you or them. This is going to be the hardest year physically and mentally. They truly prepare you for the worst, and to do that they can't show you any mercy. You saw me, I've gone through some pretty... rough spots. I won't be here to help you through what's coming, so you've got to stay strong and be sure to -"
"Kash Ryker," she interrupted, "when have you ever not been able to count on me?"
He smiled, "Never." She was as stubborn as ever. He knew there was nothing that could make her waver, but he felt that it was his job to worry anyway. She didn't understand what was coming.
"Exactly! Now, get upstairs. You have a really big day tomorrow..." she trailed off sullenly.
Kash dropped his large, callused hand on her head and ruffled the blonde's hair, "Keep up the hard work, okay?"
"I will," she mumbled, looking at the ground.
Kash gripped his umbrella handle tightly, pivoted, and headed for the stairs. He felt it was best to simply rip the bandage off. They agreed not to treat this as a goodbye, so he did his best to act as casual as possible. It wasn't easy.
"Please, be safe, okay? I need you alive!" she called after him. Finally, she addressed what he knew had been eating at her the entire time. She had never said it out loud before, and now in the final hour, it came out. The perfect example of desperation.
He could hear her voice beginning to crack, making his heart sink. His anxiety level reached new heights.
"When have you ever not been able to count on me?" he called back. He turned and gave her the biggest, more reassuring smile he could. He hoped it reached his eyes.
She laughed with tears streaming down her face, unable to find her voice to answer. Kash knew she wouldn't go inside until she could no longer see him, so he made his way upstairs quickly. She needed to go inside, to be comforted by her family.
Letting his feet land heavily, he caused the metal stairs to creak. He reached the fifth floor and walked towards the very last door. Allowing his umbrella fall by the door, he continued on until he reached the railing. He let his body fall against it as he shut his eyes and gripped the metal tightly. It cut deep into his hands. It was a dull edge, he wouldn't bleed, but it stung.
His chest rose and fell with rapid breaths, and he felt the odd chill that comes before you begin to sweat. It felt like the muscles in his shoulders were cramping, and his heart was beating forcefully against his chest. He wanted to run, to get as far away from where he was standing as he could.
He grit his teeth from pure frustration, nearly rage. He was committed, stuck, and there was no getting out of it. He promised himself he'd reach the top, he had to, but when he opened his eyes and saw the ocean all he wanted to do was hop on a boat and leave. He didn't want to die.
Inhaling sharply, he held his breath for a long as possible. When he couldn't any longer he exhaled harshly, puffing his cheeks out. His grip on the rail loosened slightly.
Tilting his head back, a faint drop fell out the corner of his eye. Inhaling the smell of the ocean deeply, he allowed the sound of the waves to lull him into a false hope of peace and safety. He gazed at the sky, appreciative that somehow he could still see a few stars through the storm. Rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck, he brought himself back to reality.
He allowed himself to have that moment, but nothing else. He let go of the rails and turned away, saying a silent farewell to his favorite view in the world. By the time he entered his apartment, he felt nothing. The time for fake smiles and painful "see you laters" was over. He did as he had been trained to. He focused his mind and set all emotions aside.
There was no way he would die tomorrow.
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