The beginning of the end

They say it began long before I was born. Long before even my parents were born. Some claim it started in the years R5.80’s. Most people say it did not begin before the year R.7.13, when we finally ran out of everything, and the world became empty. When we faced The First Fall and the first battle of three continents began, killing each other in the millions.
They are all wrong. It is starting now. This is it, the beginning. The beginning of the end.

Alyn lives in a dystopian world scarred by war, pollution and lately, the newest mutation, mages. Can she survive the totalitarian regime that suddenly finds an interest in her, or will she, like so many before her succumb and die?

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3. The beginning

An involuntary smile forces the corners of my lips up, and I tilt my head backwards as I focus on the cold air filling my lungs. I allow myself to stand like this for a minute or so, not doing anything besides watching a lock of my hair dancing in the lazy breeze, before I sigh and close the door behind me.

Our neighbourhood is barely visible in the cool morning light, and the sky above the shacks is steel grey. A tint of gold above the distant silhouettes of the skyscrapers in the Centrum tells me sunrise will be here any minute.

My boots send dust and sand into the air as I begin to walk, and for a while, the only thing I can hear is the faint sound of old soles on dirt ground. My head feels hazy, and my thoughts are slow, as if they were floating in and out of a thick fog filling my mind. I shake my head, thinking the dizziness is probably just a product of my lack of sleep, but it doesn’t help much.

I keep walking, going wherever my feet take me, and look at the shacks and houses as I pass them. They are made of a metal and plastic patchwork; whatever that keeps the toxins of the outside air away, forged into an ugly puzzle of scrap. This is how we live. Clustered and dirty, but safe.

 

My foot lands on hard ground after the next step I take, and I look around, realizing that I have wandered far away from my house and wound up somewhere close to the Westeren Main Street. The pavement under my feet is still old and worn down, but as I continue walking, the old asphalt turns into to white cobblestone.

My eyes are drawn to a white light standing out from the grey tones around it, and I look up. The building in front of me practically glows in the dim morning light. It’s made of polished steel and a cool, white light flows from its windows. There are a number of shops like this in our ring, all owned by the government, but this is one of the biggest. I can’t help but stare at the building, knowing what is inside. My mother took me to one many years ago, but, however old the memory may be, I can still see the grey floors, the stainless, white walls, and the long rows of small plastic bottles filled with clear water. The inside of that water store was the cleanest thing I had ever seen, and I couldn’t help but feel like a stain in its pure interior.

A strong wind pulls me out of the memory, and my eyes land on a plate made of polished, white stone that is mounted above the double glass doors to the airlock chamber. Carved into it is a blue star surrounded by four silver rings. The Third ring is slightly thicker than the others, showing that this is the third ring around the city of Vandor.

This is how almost all populated cities in Auperon, my continent, are built. The onion-like layers of circles divided by tall white walls and force fields, are in case the war spreads all the way here, or at least that is what the government says. The in-case-of-war-explanation doesn’t justify why we are only allowed to travel one ring away from the centrum, and not one ring towards it, or Siennis forbid, move freely.

My stomach growls and I look sheepishly away from the water store. Now that I think of it, I haven’t eaten since yesterday… My stomach makes another demanding sound, and I give up and begin to walk again, this time away from the finer streets.

Ten minutes later, I am standing in the middle of busy, but narrow street. Along the houses on both sides, stalls are lined up, their owners yelling out their prices, or arguing about them.

I follow my nose and slip down on an improvised stool, that is really just a crate on its side, and fumble through my pockets until I have enough coins to pay for a bowl of some sort of stew. The taste is not exactly great, but at least it’s hot and it puts an end to the growling from my stomach. However, the dizziness doesn’t end, if anything, it’s worse than ever when I hear shouts.

I look up to see people crowding around something a few blocks away. They all seemed to yell at whatever is in the middle, hidden by the bodies around it.

“You know what’s going on?” I ask the man in the stall I’m sitting by. He simply shrugs, no longer caring about me as I have already paid. Even though my head is still spinning, I scramble to my feet, curious to see what is going on.

“Yeah!”

“Hit the damn bastard!” Someone yells in front of me and I silently curse my height, or rather lack of thereof, and push past the people around me to get a closer look at what is happening.

I am just pushing past the last person when I pass out for the first time. I get a glimpse of the scene in front of me, the two people in the open space between the spectators, the blood flowing from the one on the ground’s nose. His limp body not resisting, not moving at all, when the much larger man sends him flying by a kick to the ribs. Then my vision clouds as my head spins faster than ever, and I have just enough time to worry about throwing up before I faint.

I’m not standing, I vaguely think as I slowly regain consciousness. But where’s the ground? I can’t feel it underneath me, but I’m not standing. So where’s the gr…

I open my eyes wide and yelp as pain splinters spread through my face, and suddenly I do feel the ground underneath me, as whatever was holding me up lets go of my and I fall like a sack of potatoes. My jaw is throbbing, and I can feel tears slowly pooling in my eyes.

What’s going on?!

“What the hell is a shrimp like you doing in my ring?” a deep voice growls, and something lifts me off my feet by the front of my shirt. I look down to see them dangling helpless underneath me in the air.

“Answer me when I talk to you, boy!” yells the same voice, and all the air in my lungs is knocked out of me when he hits me in my stomach. Voices I do not know cheer when I hit the ground again. Boy?

“N-no!” I  begin, stuttering and holding my hands up in front of me. “There’s been a mistake! I’m not a boy, I didn’t mean to, I don’t want to be here!” I try to crawl out of the ring, the ring, but hands push me back inside.

Finally, I look up at my attacker. He is big, no doubt more than big enough to snap someone as skinny as me in two like a dry twig. The look he sends me tells me that that is exactly what he intends to do.

“I don’t care, boy,” he snarls

“I-I’m not a…”

“You’re in my ring, kid. You’re a boy.” The people around us cheer and hands lift me to my feet and push me towards the man in the other end of the ring. He smiles of the terrified look on my face, like a cat toying with its prey before finally killing it.

“Do you hear that, boy?” he smirks, slowly taking a step towards me. “They want a show. They want me to kick your bony ass into the gutter like I did to the one before you,” I feel my mouth run dry, as I he takes another step towards me. I should run, or attack him or do anything but just standing there waiting for him to beat me to a pulp. Yet, all I can do is stand there waiting for him, as my body seems to have turned to stone.

“And you know, I don’t think I want to disappoint them,” he whispers, and raises his hand.

Here it comes, I think, and close my eyes. But it doesn’t. What comes instead, is a glimpse of cold white light, so bright it forces its way through my eyelids and temporarily blinds me.

I open my eyes, finding myself lying on the ground again, dirtier than before, but otherwise unharmed. The man is lying on the ground, and I can’t tell whether he’s breathing or not. I turn around and find that the crowd that was cheering for my pain moments ago have grown more silent than a grave.

At least until a small hand rises to point at me. I lift my head, and look into two frightened brown eyes staring at me from behind the glasses of an old gasmask. The boy can’t be any older than eight, and is dressed in rags even dirtier than mine. His feet are bare, slightly blueish in the cold, and full of scabs and dirt. He is lit up by some light source I can’t identify. Something that should be right in front of him is bathing him in a clear white light, but I can’t see what it is. Then he slowly turns his head towards me, and I know. In the clear glass panels of the gasmask, I see myself, or rather something that looks slightly like myself. Something with glowing white eyes. I open my mouth to say something, not sure exactly what, but the boy beats me to it.

His eyes are fixed on me as he whispers that word; the one word we all pray will never be used against us. I hear it ringing in my head, over and over again, until I’m not sure which voices are in my head and which ones are chasing after me. It becomes the only thing on my mind besides the fog of dizziness. Then I realize that the word is the fog, and the world around me, the world I know, is slowly disappearing as I run through street after street, slowly being swallowed by the fog. By the word.

Mage

And then, everything turns white.

 

I open my eyes with an exertion incomparable to anything I have ever felt before. It takes a moment before I realize that what I am looking at is the streets of the third ring, upside down. I am floating, mid-air, far above the dirty roofs and the clean white wall below me. For the first time in my life, I can see what is on the other side of it. As I look at the different rings below me, the white walls parting them, this prison I grew up in, bathed in golden morning light, I can’t help but finding it beautiful. It, this, is my home.

I get one glimpse of this beauty, this freedom of seeing it all, and then the light encases me and I lose consciousness once again.

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