Samantha stood next to me and Margaret. She shivered, looking at the great red forcefield that separated us from the world. The wall that held New Austin back.
“I’m scared,” she murmured, rubbing her arms. The single piece cloaks and sandals were not suited for such cool weather. “I mean, what if he lied about the Exile?”
I looked at her, and smiled. “He promised her. Even if he lied, would you want to go back?”
Samantha flinched at the thought, before turning back to the forcefield, her blue eyes scanning the wall.
The Exile. A gift that allows us to pass through the borders of New Austin once. A chance to leave. We all took it without hesitation. Margaret made a run for the borders, laughing. She phased through with ease collapsing to her knees at the other side still happy. Samantha followed, nearly tripping over in the dirt. Her cloak hood blew down and her long black hair flew behind her as she regained her balance and made a beeline for it.
I walked to the border, placing my hand against it. It was soft, kinder than whom it contained.
“Hurry, let’s go!” yelled Samantha, bringing me out of my distracted daze.
I pressed my hand through first, and began my trek to the greater world as I slowly felt the softness crash through me in a single step, like a wave.
Less Than Three Years Ago: Kingdom of New Austin.
Taker sat there, telling me the tale of why he did this. I wasn’t listening to him. I didn’t want to.
“So I just altered her mind and made her think she was a maid!” he laughed, sitting in his chair. He pointed at a jar of water and a glass on the table in the middle.
I shifted in my chair uncomfortably, the chains giving little leeway and rattling. Taker smiled to himself, his own little joke amusing him.
“So it has only been a single week so far, you know,” Taker said, leaning over to drink from his own glass as my eyes followed his movements. “I’m glad we could chat. See your progress so far.”
“You bastard,” I countered.
“Well, that’s enough speaking from you. Quiet.”
I shut up, unable to defy the King.
“So how are things anyway? Are the cracks already showing? Are you still angry at Sacrifice?”
I was, but…
“I should check up on her progress. She should be further along, after all.”
…I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy. I’m glad I don’t have any super-healing or super-durability at all. If I did; if Event Horizon did, I’m positive Taker would go all out on us, too.
“I must admit, the medical technology in here is pretty good anyway. I was actually surprised when they said that you wouldn’t die from shock!”
He laughed, wiping a tear from his eye.
“You know, that’s a pretty fun face you made there. You are still so angry at the world.”
I didn’t need to walk far before my first encounter with the world I was taken from happened. New Austin was small enough that a perimeter was easily built around it, thanks to the efforts of my companion and I, over three years ago. Chain-link fences formed a wall in the distance, and there was an occasional station with guards and turrets of all shapes and sizes lingering about. A gate with sand bag fortifications stood before me, Samantha and Margaret.
Samantha hesitated, seeing so many people. I caught up with her and Margaret as they stopped at the gates.
“Halt,” boomed a soldier holding a megaphone from the other side. I figured we’d have to deal with this sort of problem at some point.
I raised a hand, a gesture. Seconds passed.
“Somebody will be sent to see you,” said the soldier.
Maxwell. He was still blue, cold and frigid as the air around me began to chill. I huffed out a visible breath as he approached, towering over me, still.
“Greetings,” he said. “I am Maxwell. I’ll be the emba-“
“I know that,” I said, impatient. I had too few clothes to deal with the cold, and any more reminders for Samantha that she was separated from people by only two layers of cloth hiding away her body would do no good for having her help me at all.
Maxwell raised an eyebrow, looking at me as I stood there, my hood still covering my head.
“We’ll start by asking you to remove your hood,” Maxwell said. “It’s suspicious when three hooded figures show up by leaving the border of a country run by a known… Well, I’ll let you imagine.”
Those pronoun changes were enough to convince me.
I took off the hood slowly. “Hello, Unperson. Can you stop?”
Unperson walked into my view, surprised. She’d changed. Her hair was longer, her costume was different. She was wearing body armour, evidently enhanced by something, as the glow lines indicated. Her eyes were still covered, but the goggles were newer.
“Ryan? I thought you died!?” she exclaimed, a little too unprofessional for my liking.
I smiled back at her an Maxwell. “Not exactly wrong.”
Samantha moved behind me, peering over my left shoulder, staring at Maxwell and Unperson with suspicious eyes. I turned to look at her as she tugged on my hood.
“D-Do I know them?” She asked, figiting in perceived safety.
I smiled and patted Samantha gently on the head in response. “Yes, but not like how I did.”
Maxwell looked at me, her and Margaret.
“So, Ryan and…” he prompted me to finish.
“Margaret is your old leader. Sorry,” I said, looking and pointing at Margaret as she smiled and waved, finally taking her hood off.
Maxwell looked at Margaret, surprised. Three years change people. Three terrible years change people even more.
“And the big softie behind you?” asked Unperson, looking at Samantha.
Samantha whimpered slightly.
“I don’t want to say,” I replied. “It’s a long story.”
“I’m okay with stories, Ryan,” said Unperson, crossing her arms. “You’ll need to tell us one anyway. It’s not often that you see peo-“
“I told you I don’t want to say,” I emphasised, harsher. Unperson didn’t react. She took a step closer, making Samantha pull me by the hood as she took a step backwards, still clinging tightly to me.
“Ryan, things have changed,” she said. “I don’t know how you enjoyed the last three years but out here it’s been hell. We’ve had worse things than a fucking wa-“
Margaret cut Unperson’s ranting off with a wave of her hand. A cage of energy, holding her down with a mask covering her eyes, binding her to the spot with chains.
“Hey,” Unperson exclaimed, surprised. I was shocked too.
I gave Margaret a look. “Stop.”
She let Unperson go, allowing her to feel her face for the mask that disappeared and the bindings that left. Maxwell looked shocked most of all.
“What the hell happened for her to get to the second stage, Ryan?” He asked, the air becoming deathly chill. Samantha rubbed herself, her clothes too thin to help with the cold.
Margaret answered first. “I’m not at the second stage, dumbass.”
“I’m at the seventh.”
That statement did nothing to calm Maxwell down. He looked at me, blamed me. I did too.
“Ryan, what the fuck happened?” asked Unperson, serious.
“I fucked up,” I replied. “I fucked up and got everyone hurt.”