The walls shut with a giant bang! that echoed around this lifeless place. The first way out was closed now.
There were buildings, tall buildings, like it used to be a busy city. All of them crumbling. Some looked like the victims of a fire, some looked like they were bombed, some roofs were blown off, windows were shattered. The city was abandoned, save for the vermin most likely. Whatever this trial was, we didn’t know what it was. I looked up at the sun, high in the sky.
“We have about half a day,” I said aloud, startling Kenna. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” She mumbled, rubbing her neck.
“We better find a camp to settle in before we know what this is about.” Milo’s voice from behind me made me jump. “Unless we want to split up.”
“No!” I instantly replied. “No. I think it’s better if we stick together. We’ll survive longer.” Kenna nodded, glancing at Milo.
“Ok, then let’s go.”
As we went toward the buildings, getting enveloped in the shadows, we had no idea we had company.
“Do you guys feel like we’re being watched?” I asked nervously, goosebumps appearing on my arms even though it was quite warm.
“I feel a little creeped out,” Kenna admitted, rubbing her neck again.
As we walked, the feeling grew more and more, until Austin could barely keep from running.
“Yes?” Milo didn’t turn his head and his tone was annoyed.
“I really th-“
The loudest screech you could ever hear pierced our ears, throwing us to the ground with our hands over our ears. It was a battle cry, outrageously high but unmistakably a war screech. Run, I thought. Get out, something is coming. The noise stopped and I looked up. A huge – like huge, huge, TOO HUGE TO BE REAL – bird of prey swooped down. I lifted Kenna by her arm and Milo jumped to his feet. She shook her head and stumbled out of my grasp.
“RUN!!!” Milo yelled, pushing us forward. We scrambled into a sprint only to slam into a scaley wall. Kenna flew back and Milo caught himself. I hung onto the beast as it swayed. It shook vigorously, slamming me against a building. I heard a snap-snap and slowly looked up. Eight pairs of eyes stared at me with a killer look. I leapt forward, inches away from its jaws.
“THE HOTEL!!” I shouted, bolting in the direction of the high building with broken windows and an old crusty door. I pulled on it and it didn’t budge. I yanked, but nothing. I cursed, lifting my foot and slamming it into the door. It smashed open as Milo and Kenna rushed in.
“Shut it, shut it, Austin!!” I pressed my shoulder against it and pushed. It was moving too slow. They joined me, and as it was an inch from closing, a leg stuck through. It shoved and we stepped back, thrusting one last time. A shrill ginormous cry and part of the leg crashed to the ground. I yelped, stumbling back. I looked back to Kenna and Milo, who sat on the floor, breathing hard.
“I think we know what this Trial is about.” Milo panted.
We wandered up the stairs to a particularly suitable room after hours of searching the big place.
“I call dibs on the couch!” Kenna said, and I looked wistfully at it as she dropped on it, stomach first.
“I’ll take the bed,” Milo responded, slapping himself face-first on the pillow.
“I’ll take the first watch, then,” I replied with a sigh. “Who wants the second watch?” They glanced at each other, Milo turned his unreadable face and Kenna sat up, scanning his expression. She huffed.
“Fine. I’ll do it.” She lay on her side, curling into a tight ball. “Wake me at midnight, Austin.””Got it.” I stepped to the window, watching the sun as it slowly, ever so slowly, vanished beneath the trees. A faint roar hit the hotel and I winced. They were furious, no doubt. “Why pick us?” I murmured. Would you rather it be someone else? A voice in my head retorted. I looked at the moon, just beside the nearest building. I suppose not, I returned.
The moon hit the first cloud after what felt like days. I yawned and moved to Kenna. I debated how to wake her, then decided I should let them sleep. I went back to the window, feeling a slight breeze brush past my face. It brought the scent of death, and I gagged. Are we doomed to die here? I asked my head. Of course, no response.
The moon was nearly full; back home that meant hope. Every six months’ full moon, Town Q would celebrate the dead children. That might be us, the sentence crept into my head. No! I thought fiercely, suddenly filled with determination and rage. We must win. The Fevkil Order will not torture us anymore. We will fight back!
But then the moment faded and I was left tired. My eyes drooped and before I knew it, I was drowsing. My closed eyes saw the serpent, its red eyes full of hatred. I shuddered in revulsion.
“They musssssst die!” It hissed.
“They will.” The hawk’s shockingly soft chirp soothed.
“They have defied us! No other puny human has done so in this way!!”
“They will be punished.” The silky voice made my head turn. The arachnid stomped it’s thick legs, shaking the ground. I desperately glared around, looking, looking, looking. Something to tell me their location. A sign, a light blue sign, stood behind them. I scanned for words.
The Jasx Night Club
It read. As I was tossed away, I woke with a gasp. My hands floundered in thin air. My mouth opened but a hand roughly covered it. I screamed into it until strength pulled me away from the window. The hand disappeared and I fell back into Kenna’s arms. She twisted me and looked into my eyes, searching. The terror I felt must show in my expression because hers grew concerned.
“What happened?” Milo demanded.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” Kenna added.
“The snake…I saw him.” I panted.
“Where?! Here?” Milo exclaimed, strangely fearful.
“No, no. I dreamed. I dozed off after finding that I should let you both sleep. I saw all three – the serpent, arachnid, and the bird – and I saw a sign that said, ‘the Jasx Night Club’ when I looked.” I replied shakily.
“Dreamed?” Kenna echoed. “Or predicted…?”
“I don’t know. But I do have a feeling.” I paused. “They’re coming.”
While Sin the Black Mamba and Sut the Venom Hawk argued about the best way to eliminate the humans, Sab the Darhk Arachnid remained silent. She was watching the sun rise above the buildings. It had been a very long time since a human – sometimes two, rarely three – had gone past them.
“These humans have intelligence.” She said silkily. “We need to be careful.” The hawk and snake turned their glares to the spider.
“How smart can they be? Not more than us! All humans are dumb.” The serpent hissed.
“Don’t underestimate them.”
“We need to get to the second Trial,” Milo said.
“How?” Kenna replied.
“I think we have to get away from the city. We came in from the East, so I’m guessing that we have to go West.”
“Towards the sunset.” I sighed.
“What about the snake, hawk, and spider?” Kenna asked.
“We’ll need to get – or make – weapons.” Milo glanced at the window.
“I want a metal staff,” Kenna said instantly.
“I’ll take anything throwable,” I added.
“I guess I’ll have a dagger, but I’m best with surprise-attacks.”
“What’d we have to work with?”
“We could start with the hotel.” Milo strolled to the window, pulling on the metal pole that probably had a curtain hanging from it before. It snapped down and Kenna gasped. “Scan the rooms and find anything metal and sharp. We can sharpen dull things as well if needed.”
“On it.” I strode to the doorway and went left. I looked around at the tortured room and upon seeing only a burned bed and charred window, walked out. I bumped into Kenna and apologized quickly. She blushed and nodded before whisking down the hall and to a farther apartment.
“Got something!” Kenna shouted and Milo whooshed by; I ran after him. “A couple knives for you, Austin.” She handed me four.
“Wow. Nice,” I commented, flipping them. “Someone had some hunting in progress.”
“Tell me about it.” Milo’s voice from inside a closet made Kenna and I move there. The entire closet was stacked with guns, bows, arrows, bullets, knives, daggers, swords, staves, hunting equipment, and armor.
“Or war,” Kenna breathed.
“Well, that settles the weapons problem.” I grabbed a waist strap and strapped it, tucking nine knives into their pockets. Kenna went forward, unracking a metal staff and stepping back. She twirled it expertly so fast the grey material blurred. My eyes tried to follow it but ended up getting entranced. I blinked as she stopped. Her lips lifted into a smile and I found myself smiling back. “That was really cool.”
“Told you I was good with a staff.” Milo huffed.
“Stop flirting and help me get this stuff out.” My cheeks flushed and I looked away, instead going to the closet and hauling three swords and two staffs onto the room’s bed.
“Should this be our new room?” I asked. I turned and brought out at least twenty knives and/or daggers. “Holy crap, who has this much weaponry in their room? Wouldn’t the hotel know?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Milo said. “At least we have them.”
“Chill, Milo. We’re fine right now.” Kenna responded.
“I don’t want to chill. Don’t you get it? This is our lives. If we die, our families will suffer. Our town will suffer. And more children will be forced to die in this hell. And we’re not fine. They could appear at any moment, and we would be unprepared. Now get some armor on and let’s get back to the other room before sunhigh. Our biggest priorities at this time are food and water.” He glared at us then left, carrying a couple daggers and some straps. I stared after him, mouth open.
“Well, that was…” I trailed, not knowing what to call his outburst.
“Yeah.” I picked up some dark gold-colored armor, heaving the stack to the bed. I dropped them heavily. “But he is right.”
“‘Suppose so.” She took three more staves and a leather-colored armor set.
“I’m gonna go back.” She nodded and I sauntered to the room. I didn’t see Milo but thought nothing about it. I slid the armor on, strapping it onto my arms and hiding a couple in my boots. Then I heard a scream. I raced out and crashed into Kenna.
“Milo?” She called warily, pausing me. I glanced around and heard the low definitely male scream.
“MILO!!” I yelled, bursting away from Kenna and rushing toward the fighting noise. I broke through an apartment door and stopped short. I growled, surprising me, and whipped a knife out, hurling it at the snake. It fell back slightly and I sprinted to Milo, hauling him up. The snake hissed and recoiled. I jumped with Milo, narrowly avoiding the dripping fangs. It hissed louder, its eyes full of hatred and rage. I stumbled up and threw Milo out in the hall, leaping after him. Spit launched onto the wall with a splat and I lifted Milo, helping him go to Kenna before slamming myself against the door, shutting it with a crash. I went back to Milo and Kenna. “Let’s go! Jump out the window and run East!” Kenna dipped her head and half-dragged half-walked Milo to the room. She pulled him up on the sill and he moaned awake.
“Snake…venom…” he mumbled.
“We know; just jump, Milo.” Kenna soothed, releasing him. He yelped and scrabbled at the sill before dropping with a thump. A groan echoed up and Kenna gave a little smile before following down. I ran to the window, hearing the door crash. I took a deep breath and let go. I fell, air whooshing by. I hit the ground hard with a wheeze. Kenna hauled me up.
“C’mon. I heard them.” She freed me and Milo stood woozily. Kenna steadied him and his eyes cleared.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
“East!” And we ran. We ran fast, and long, and hard. I was breathing so hard, but I kept the terror in my head, my adrenaline rushing. Kenna and Milo were a couple footsteps behind me. As we grew farther from the city, I began to see white ahead. “Snow?” I breathed. “What? How?” I slowed, Kenna and Milo noticing and taking my lead. We paused altogether, panting. They bent over, hands on their knees but I stayed upright, watching the snowland in front of us. The pound of long feet and the sound of slithering scales and a giant screech sent us fleeing yet again, our hands covering our ears tightly.
“Snow?” Kenna shouted.
“Yes! That must be the next challenge! Just make it there!” After what felt like ages of running, the snow became so, so close. I sprinted as fast as my legs would allow, plowing straight in. I fell face first, Kenna and Milo tripping on top of me. I groaned.
“Sorry,” Kenna panted, standing up. Milo rolled away and I jumped to my feet. The three beasts came running – or flying and slithering. I covered my head in fear, my head racing with death thoughts. But a crash made me look up sharply. The three had fallen and as they stood again I gaped. They hit an invisible wall, over and over, pure fury in their eyes.
“We… did it?” I asked, shocked into a stupor.
“I guess so,” Milo answered, surprised as well.
“We did it! We finished the first Trial!” Kenna whooped, leaping in the air.
And then we heard the roar.