I don't know where we are. The room is dark. I wake up with my brother on the other side of the room. He doesn't speak to me. He crosses his arms and just leans up against the wall. We’re silent for a few minutes. He stares up at the ceiling. I have no doubt we’ve been imprisoned by Manolo. I wonder why he didn’t just kill us. Maybe he’s just waiting to prepare the firing squad. Who knows? I felt a little dead inside anyway. I start tearing up. Shaunie doesn't comfort me even though he knows why I'm crying.
Noah is really dead.
He isn't coming back.
Every moment that goes by I get deeper and deeper into depression. Noah and Demona were my best friends. They made this easier for me. They made this transition better. It was always the three of us before anyone else. Now it wasn't.
However through mourning for Noah I realize Shaunie's dry eyes. He shakes his head as he looks over at me.
“You want to say something to me?” I ask him.
Shaunie gets up off the floor. They've taken our weapons and cleaned out everything from our inventory except our armor. Shaunie just stares out into the darkness.
“You chose him over me,” Shaunie finally says.
“YOU CHOSE HIM OVER ME!” Shaunie barks at me.
Shaunie was always a little bossy growing up. He still had that thing where he felt like he was too cool to show emotion though. The fact that right now Shaunie wasn't only screaming at me but tears broke out of his eyes made it clear that he was upset. I avoid eye contact with him. He's hurt and he probably has every reason to be.
“Since this whole thing has started he was the one that I've had by my side,” I explain to Shaunie.
Shaunie's facial reaction makes me realize that he isn't believing a word that is coming out of my mouth. He just shakes his head. We've been in this cell for probably a long time and the fact that he's been so quiet makes me feel like he's been holding this in.
I wish I could tell Shaunie about all the times Noah made me laugh when there was nothing I should be finding funny. I wish I could tell him all the times that he'd stuck by my side when I felt all alone and confused. Shaunie wouldn't understand though.
Noah was my friend. Not his.
“You've always had friends. You've always had Madden and the others,” I explain to him, “I've always been alone. Noah and Demona. That's it. Now Noah is...”
Noah is gone.
I turn away. For a minute I think that Shaunie is going to comfort me. I think that he's going to put his hand on my back and be that big brother. Shaunie doesn't do it though. He leans up against the bars of the cell that we are in. He presses against them as though trying to escape being locked away with his annoying little brother.
“You chose him over me. I'm your own brother,” he tells me.
I have a feeling Shaunie isn't going to let this go. I have a feeling he's hurt deeper than he wants me to know at this moment. It’s past the tears with Shaunie now. Yet at this moment I can't sit there and really even apologize for it.
“You would have chosen Madden over me,” I respond.
“Are you fucking serious?”
“I'm dead serious,” I respond shaking my head, “Shaunie, let's not sit here and pretend like we are so fucking close. You hated me being around your friends. You know how I felt about Madden from the first day I've met him. You used to threaten me to stay away from the guy, remember?”
“Madden is straight.”
“No...he's not,” I respond.
“Shaunie, your best friend and I have been dating.”
Shaunie shakes his head at that moment. He pauses. The grimace on Shaunie's face is sick. I probably am making a mistake here. I know I am making a huge mistake actually but I'm emotional. I'm not thinking straight.
“I'm going to beat that guy's fucking ass.”
“No you're not,” I respond shaking my head, “Fuck you Shaunie. Since when were you a real brother to me?”
“I guess never huh? If it were up to you I'd be dead and Noah would be in this cage stuck with you...”
It's weird when you come to the reality of a situation. Shaunie and I weren't close. We were horrible brothers. For the majority of my life Shaunie was just the cockblocker who kept me away from his friend Madden. He was just the guy who always got all the attention in the family. Now this was a new world though. This was a new reality and Shaunie knew it.
I didn't have to be in his shadow anymore.
“I'd rather my friend was here,” I acknowledge.
That's when I see him go across the room and wail on me. He punches me dead in my face. He's so pissed off after he hits me that he stands there and looks down at me again. I drip blood. He's shaking out of fury. I think after a second or two that Shaunie is surprised that he hit me. I don't hit him back. I get why he's mad. The truth hurts and maybe I'm wrong for saying it to him.
Maybe our relationship has been fucked up beyond repair by what happened.
“Do it again and you get a bullet,” someone tells Shaunie.
The voice is familiar. I turn at that moment and I'm shocked to see Hunter standing out of the prison bars. He has his gun pointed right at Shaunie. Shaunie isn't going to do it again though, even if Hunter weren’t here. He shakes his head and backs away from me. I can tell that he's in his feelings still. So am I.
It’s embarrassing but I maintain my composure and turn to Hunter, “Hunter. How'd you find me?”
“Sarafine gave me your coordinates. I broke in here to get you,” Hunter says.
I watch Hunter take out his ninja sword and in one hit he breaks apart the lock on the cell. I don't know why I rush over to Hunter at that moment. I'm crying in his arms. I'm breaking down before I realize it.
Maybe it has something to do with the argument that Shaunie and I had, but I know the main reason is still Noah.
Hunter seems surprised that I'm breaking down like this. Then I realize he does something so odd. Hunter starts stroking the top of my head. He is slow, repetitive and caring as he does that. He holds me close to his chest. He has his mask on and I'm pressed up against his hard, tight exoskeleton armor but I don't care. I have never felt as close to Hunter as I felt now.
“You came for me,” I say in disbelief.
Hunter leans back. He takes off his mask. He looks at me as though wanting me to understand the words that are coming out of his mouth in the clearest way possible.
“I'll always come for you,” he tells me.
“Hunter, Noah is...Noah is...dead...”
We are interrupted. Shaunie is halfway out of the prison door by now but turns back and looks over at Hunter. It's clear he doesn't want to lead the way. We still don't have our weapons. Hunter is the only one who does.
“Someone's coming...” Shaunie lets us know.
Hunter puts back on his mask, “Follow me.”
We head down a dark hallway. I notice some guys who are dressed up in guard outfits. They are laid out on the floor, clearly knocked out by Hunter. Hunter moves quickly through this place and I know Shaunie and I are only slowing him down.
As soon as we turn the corner three men walk our way.
“Hands up!” the guards say.
Hunter puts his hands up, whispers a virtual command and immediately goes invisible. The guards struggle to find him but it's useless. Within a matter of seconds he takes them out one at a time without even breaking a sweat.
“These are regular men,” I notice when Hunter knocks them out cold on the floor, “They aren't even moderators. They are regular players.”
“My father has a lot of people working for him,” Hunter replies, “Let's keep moving. And in case we get stopped...I found your weapons. You might be needing them.”
The hallways we walk down are dark. It feels good to have my bow back in my hand. I feel safe again. This place is eerie though. It's like some sort of dungeon or something. It's so dark and cold. This place is huge. Hunter leads Shaunie and I through the dark tunnels. He's so cautious. Any sound no matter how slight makes Hunter stop and pause for a few seconds. I can tell that he's worried that we are going to get caught.
“This place is called Headquarters,” Hunter tells me, “It’s where the Manolo Corporation’s base is. It's where he is most powerful. If a moderator sees us in here we're dead. We can't fight them...not with how strong they are now. We have to get out of this place as quickly as possible.”
I think about how strong the moderators were. They seemed to be connected to the world in a way that I couldn't explain.
“How do you know all of this?” Shaunie asks Hunter.
Hunter shrugs, “I saw the blueprints. Long story short: We need to find our way out of here.”
Shaunie lags behind when Hunter gets quiet again. I think Shaunie does this on purpose. I think he's still upset. He has never been close to Hunter. He isn’t talking to me.
“Is he going to be a problem?” Hunter whispers to me.
I look back at Shaunie. Shaunie isn't even paying attention to us. He's looking around at the doors and walls of this huge place. Hunter is good at reading facial expressions, I guess. He knows something happened. Shaunie is looking around trying to avoid us. This place is so huge you can't even see the ceilings. There are pillars so wide that they look like buildings. The hall seem to stretch out for an eternity. Every step we take is a step where we are struggling to fight back echoes.
I shrug, “He's just...upset. I made a choice to save Noah instead of him.”
“So why is Noah the one dead?” he asks me.
I shake my head.
“I don't want to talk about it.”
Hunter puts a hand on my shoulder. He pulls me close, “I'm sorry...”
I nod. It's probably the most emotion Hunter has given me in quite some time, all in one day. He knows I was close to Noah. He isn't exactly the most sensitive guy. The hand on the shoulder from Hunter seems like him putting down his guard, I guess.
“I'll survive. I'm worried more about breaking the news to Demona,” I tell him shaking my head, “She's not going to take this well.”
Hunter shrugs his shoulders.
“Are you really that cold?” I ask Hunter.
“You think I'm cold?”
He's acting so surprised when I say that. This guy has on an all black armored ninja suit with a sword in one hand and a gun in another but was surprised when I said that he was cold. He turns to me as though really concerned by it.
The hallways get deeper and darker but I think Hunter knows where he's going.
I shrug, “You don't care about anything Hunter. Be honest.”
“You know how much I've sacrificed to stop my father?” Hunter asks.
I roll my eyes.
He didn't get it. I wasn’t questioning his morality. I was questioning his passion. He was so cold. Even now his gun aimed out into the darkness as a bat appears out of no where and flies overhead.
“I'm not talking about that,” I tell Hunter.
“Then what are you talking about?”
I shake my head. I shouldn't bring this up. I'm in a relationship. I was really feeling Madden and we had other things to worry about.
“What is it because I didn't cry over Noah? I'm sorry but him and me weren't that close. I liked the guy, don't get me wrong and I feel bad that he's gone. I'm not gonna cry over the guy though,” he states coldly and shrugs his shoulders.
I can't take it anymore. I can't take how cold and distant he is. This wall is so annoying.
“Would you cry over me?”
“Would you cry if something happened to me Hunter?” I ask him.
He pauses for a minute. He looks back at Shaunie. He's uncomfortable. I think he's looking for an excuse not to answer it. Hunter crosses his arms. I think he's disappointed when he notices Shaunie isn't paying attention and that there is nothing to distract from this situation right now. Hunter looks more on edge then when he did taking on those guards back there.
He sighs as he walks through, “Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
“That wasn't the question.”
“Why's it matter? You got a boyfriend, don't you? Madden will cry buckets I bet. Goddam. We won't be able to stop that cocksucker from crying,” Hunter bluntly states.
“I bet if Joaquin asked you the same question----” I start off.
“Wow. Really?” he asks shaking his head laughing.
“You spend a lot of time with him.”
“Have you fucked him?”
“You met me fucking him, remember?”
“I'm not talking about the spell Hunter,” I state, “I'm talking about when he joined the Fire Walkers.”
“Of course,” Hunter replies at that moment.
I don't know why it hurts. It shouldn't hurt. I feel stupid that I'm letting this hurt me right now. I'm still mourning my best friend. I'm in enemy territory. There are a lot of fucking things that I should be concerned about. Where Hunter stuck his dick wasn't exactly one of them.
“Figures,” I respond trying to push back the feelings.
“What? Did you expect me to turn into a born again virgin while you paraded around with your knight in shining armor?” Hunter asks me.
I shrug, “Nah. Didn't expect that. I expected you not to care...”
Hunter grabs my arm and stops me.
“Where am I right now? Am I with Joaquin?” Hunter asks me, “I can't believe you're sitting here worried about what I'm doing with Joaquin. Does it matter? You chose Madden over me. Ok. I accepted it. I moved on. And even though you played me, I'm risking my life to save you. Aren't I? Isn't that enough for you?”
“No it's not.”
“What MORE do you want?” he asks me.
Hunter wouldn't understand if I told him. He wouldn't understand that I wanted real emotion out of him. I wanted him to show me that he was something deeper. I wanted him to confirm with me that all this wasn't just a virtual reality.
“I want this to be more than just a game to you,” I tell him.
And just as I assume Hunter raises his eyebrow confused.
“What?” he asks.
“Hey,” Shaunie interrupts us catching up to us, “There's a light coming from ahead.”
Shaunie interrupting us snaps us back into reality. Hunter doesn't let go of my hand. For once he wants more. He doesn't just want to disappear into the darkness. He wants more of an explanation. For the first time though I'm the one who isn't willing to talk any longer.
I shake Hunter off me and look over at Shaunie.
“What is it?”
“It's the way out,” Hunter lets us know before taking the lead again.
We follow Hunter down this final hallway. The green light fills the room and all of a sudden I see something that blows my fucking mind.
The pillars that go up now are attached to huge PODS. There are people piled in these pods of green liquid. People float in the liquid. They aren't moving. The pods are piled on top of one another. They go up into infinity. I can't see the top of the pillars.
“These are all people.”
“They are all people sleeping,” Hunter says, “Until my father wakes them up. The last awakening.”
It creeps me out. I try to follow Hunter but I can't help just looking at all these people. There are rows and rows of them. The pillars are lined on every side with these pods of people. This must have taken forever. As I sit there and look at them I realize that I was one of these people. I was asleep like they were. Except I thought I was playing a game.
“Someone's coming,” Shaunie states.
Hunter stops us. He listens to the footsteps. They sound weird. They are routine almost like an army walking in complete sync.
Fuck. My heart is racing.
“What do we do?”
“Run!” Hunter says.
He leads the way. My heartbeat skips beats when I turn back and see the lines of white suits walking towards me. My legs are slower than usual and rubbery like glue. I’m scared maybe Manolo is doing that technique on me from a distance. I’m wrong though. Soon my legs kick into high gear. There are dozens of them walking our way. They have guns out.
Hunter leads us further away. Our feet are running as fast as we can. My heart is racing. I can't believe this is happening to me again. Yet again I'm running from these fucking moderators. I'm sick of running. I turn around at that moment.
I aim my bow.
“Are you fucking stupid?” Shaunie tells me, “Don't shoot...you might destroy one of those pods...”
He has a point. I lower my bow and Hunter grabs me from the back as though trying to get my attention. He points at that moment at a very random hole in the ground.
“That's the way I came. Vent system,” he states.
The vents lead us all the way out of the the building. As soon as we get out I can see how massive the
Headquarters are. Imagine taking rows and rows of skyscrapers and putting them together. It hurts my neck to look at the top of one of those things. We are on the outside now. To the east is a road. To the west is a what looks like a forest.
Hunter, Shaunie and I attempt to catch our breath from all that running at this fork between the forest and the roat.
We are out in the open once we leave the building though. We are completely exposed.
Shaunie looks over at me with this daggered stare, “What were you thinking back there when you were about to open fire with all of those people around?”
“I wasn't thinking. I was just...”
“That's the problem!” Shaunie screams at me, “You're not a good leader. You're never fucking thinking.”
“I was just tired of running.”
Shaunie walks up to me. He grabs me by my armor's collar and pulls me up, “You’re such a FUCKING dumbass. You could have killed one of those people sleeping. What if the moderators opened fire back at you?”
“It's over,” I respond.
“It's never over as long as you are in charge,” Shaunie tells me.
I can see it in his eyes that he doesn't touch me. It doesn't take much to tell.
“Let go of him,” Hunter replies.
Shaunie shakes his head at that moment and grunts, letting go of me with a smile, “What's going to happen when your boyfriends are done saving you all the goddam time, little brother?”
It’s awkward when Shaunie says boyfriends as though I have more than one. I think Hunter notices it as well because he backs away awkwardly. There is so much hate in Shaunie's eyes. It's pure hate. He's pissed still about me choosing Noah over him. He's pissed that I wanted him to die. He's pissed that I'm not sorry about my decision. A part of me wants to apologize and end this now but I don't. I just cross my arms and ignore his aggression. I'm the leader of the Fire Walkers whether he likes it or not.
I kept this guild safe so far and I'd continue keeping it safe.
“I'm not saving him from you. We're being approached. The trees in the forests. They have rustling leaves,” Hunter states, “There are a lot of them.”
“Fuck...can we run?” Shaunie asks.
“Run where? The road is clear...the other way. They'd be able to snipe us down from a mile away if they had the right guns.”
“Then we fight, as soon as they come out of the forests,” I state.
“You want to die so bad?” Shaunie asks me.
“Sorry to get in between your brotherly bonding but Killian's right,” Hunter states, “The only chance we have is to drive off whoever is coming out of that forest back far enough so that we can create a path through the forest. The road is way too dangerous. I'm sure there are more moderators patrolling the roads.”
I don't want rub it in Shaunie's face but I smirk when Hunter agrees with me. Shaunie lets out a deep sigh and takes out his staff. He holds the staff up.
I get down on one knee to balance my bow. I take an arrow out of my quiver. I'm ready.
“We're going to die here,” Shaunie states.
I ignore him. The trees get louder and louder. There has to be a lot of people coming our way. God knows how many. All I know is that I'm getting ready for the fight of my life. At this point I am just hoping they aren't moderators. If they are regular guards, we might stand a chance.
Please let them just be regular guards and not those god-like moderators.
A single sweat drips down my forehead and burns my right eye. I wipe it away and struggle to focus.
I’m holding onto this bow for dear life.
“You ready?” Hunter tells me drawing his gun and putting on his mask.
“Do I have a choice?” I ask.
“You can run. I'll hold them off for as long as I can,” Hunter suggests.
“That's not a choice,” I state, “I'm not leaving you.”
That's an interesting thing to say. Hunter says that he knows that I'm not leaving him with such a stern confidence. It's almost as though he is completely aware that I'm not going anywhere. How can he be so confident?
I breathe. I draw my breath and hold it. I listen to the sounds of the forests. The crackling of leaves. The wind whistles against wood. There is a mashing sound. It’s the stomping of feet as people make there way out of the forest towards the fork in the road where we are standing.
“A bad day to die,” Shaunie says staring up at the sky, “Such a bad fucking day to die.”
I roll my eyes. I want to tell him to shut the fuck up. Shaunie wants to be right so bad. What is he going to prove if he's right? We'd be dead. Then what?
What could he possibly be proving from a grave?
Hunter turns my way, “Hey Killian.”
“I'd cry for you. I'd cry more than I ever cried for for someone before, man. I'd cry more than I'd ever cry for anyone again.”
I don't know why it feels deep at that moment. I don't know why at that moment I feel so close to him. I don't know what makes me walk over to him, reach my hand up and hug him. I hug him so tightly. I am hugging nothing but hard armor but it doesn't matter because just now Hunter let me know that he isn't all armor.
There is a breach in his armor and he just showed it to me. He'd cry for me.
“Someone’s running!” Shaunie states all of a sudden.
He's right. They are running towards us. I let go of Hunter and draw my bow. I'm ready to release.
All of a sudden I see who is running towards us. They aren't moderators. They aren't guards. It's Sarafine. SARAFINE is fucking running towards us. She runs straight out of the wood and straight towards me. The girl gives me the biggest hug ever...
I’ve never been happy to see the giddy child-like girl in my life!
I finally exhale my breath.
And then the others come. The Firewalkers. There are dozens of them. A majority are the old Rebellion guild but there are even some others that we picked up along the way. I'm not surprised when the majority of them rush over to Shaunie first to make sure he is OK. Shaunie is so happy that he breaks out into tears when he sees his friends are here to find him.
“You guys are hard people to find, lucky we had Sarafine to lead the way,” Joaquin states.
Hunter takes off his mask. He looks at Joaquin and then me as Joaquin approaches. Hunter seems hesitant to walk over to Joaquin and give him a hug. Joaquin seems confused about it but I know why. Something happened between Hunter and I a moment ago. It was something small but it was the biggest thing that happened ever.
In his own way... I'm pretty sure that Hunter admitted he was in love with me...
“Hey you,” a voice interrupts me.
I turn and see Madden standing there. He comes out of no where pulls me close and gives me the tightest hug I'd ever felt in my life. He smells good. He smells strong, consistent and solid. He smells familiar. It’s a smell I know well and I’ve grown to really appreciate.
“I was worried about you. Don't ever do that to me again...” Madden says, “God Killian. That was the scariest moment of my life.”
He's hugging me so tight. He's hugging me so closely. Madden keeps pressing up against me and as he does it he turns slowly. He turns slowly enough that I see that Hunter is hugging Joaquin....but for some reason Hunter is staring back at me as well.
Our eyes lock for a moment.
We are so lost in each other that I don’t even notice someone else walking towards my way from the group of Fire Walkers.
“Killian!” another voice says.
No. It's too soon. I was still celebrating. I couldn't believe this was happening already. That moment was here though.
It's Demona. She is in full armor. She comes around the corner and hugs me. Her and Madden are laughing about how happy they are to see me.
I'm staring out into the distance. I don't hug Demona back. Not yet at least.
“Why do you look like that?” Demona asks, “You know how much trouble we went through to get your ass? You need to be happy.”
“I'm happy to see you Demona. I'm happy you came for me,” I state.
I don't smile. I can't...
Demona sees right through it, “Bullshit. I don't know what you're problem is. We'll talk about it later though. Where's Noah? I know at least he'll be happy to see me.”
This is not happening. It’s almost like that moment is playing over again in my head.
“Demona. We need to talk...”
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