For many kids, tests can feel like life or death — the balance of your future hanging precariously on a single grade. Dreams of success can abscond in a moment, a more dreary path emerging into view. Test anxiety is born out of fear of failure, one that extends far beyond the school walls.
The truth is, these fears are unfounded. A single test will never dictate your future, because when a door closes, a window opens — always. That is, unless you grew up where I did.
“Team captains, are we ready?” An obese gym teacher known as Coach Burns, or Coach Biggie Not Smalls as we called him behind his back, yelled menacingly at my class, beads of sweat already dripping down his flabby neck.
My team captain, Jamarcus, was a natural-born leader — as intelligent as he was strong. Even beneath his baggy sweats, his chiseled physique was apparent. Everyone loved Jamarcus, except me.
“Ready, sir!” In unison, Jamarcus and his counterpart Bryant replied, their voices brimming with confidence.
“Alright then — begin!” Begin was Coach Burns’ favorite word because it meant his work for done, for the moment at least.
A series of orange rubber balls bifurcated the gym, and like medieval soldiers, we stormed fearlessly into the fray, yelling like men (and women) possessed. The rival team mirrored our charge, just as they were also taught to do.
Volleys rained down on each side; it was an honest-to-god hail of rubber. The initial volleys took out almost half the class, many of them considered exceptionally weak by the community. Those relegated to the sidelines looked utterly defeated, eyes wide and bodies trembling.
Although not the strongest or the most agile, I had the mind of a frenetic tactician. I succeeded by outmaneuvering my foes and allies at any cost. I was of the mindset that the ends justified the means, always.
Despite being set up as a team game, most of us played as individuals — if the team won, that was just a byproduct of selfish intent. Those who finished in the top five, regardless of team, would be placed in the ‘Alpha Squadron,’ a daunting task in a class of seventy-five.
Being an Alpha was everything, more than that.
After five minutes, it was down to twelve students left, seven for us, and five for the other. Although outnumbered, those remaining against us were no pushovers. Ronald, the tallest in our class, was a skilled athlete who had dreams of competing against the world. There was also Sarah, a spry gymnast whose agility and wit kept her regularly at the top of the class. And of course, there was Bryant, the only one in my class I had even a modicum of respect for.
“Let’s finish off these fucks, and if it comes to it, I’ll deal with the rest of you too.” My teammate Janessa, strands of auburn hair wildly strewn across her face, chipped in with her typical arrogance.
The majority of the balls lay in enemy territory, so despite our numbers, we did not hold every advantage. Some semblance of caution was necessary, but I knew that everyone did not share this sentiment — that was my advantage.
“We need to finish them off before they have a chance to regroup — quickly!” I piped up, hoping to rile up the idiots amongst us.
Janessa and Ryan, two incredibly brash and cocky individuals, rushed forward without a second thought — just as I had planned. The rest of us remained back, Jamarcus unsurprisingly seeing through my ruse.
Bryant nodded silently towards his team; as I suspected, he was prepared. Scooping up a handful of balls, Sarah gracefully leaped into the air, hoisting herself atop Ronald’s enormous frame. She kicked several of them high into the air with severe backspin, their trajectory never in doubt.
Having to defend an attack from above, my compatriots were forced to shield the incoming volley — leaving their midsections wide open. They were without backup, so what happened next was a foregone conclusion. After several precise strikes, the two sullenly walked off the court, glaring at me with such hate I could taste it.
“You’re such a slimeball Aaron, that’s why you’re screwed if you don’t place today. Wouldn’t that be a treat to see?” Jamarcus’ words dripped with poison, whispering only loud enough for me to hear.
“As the old saying goes, takes one to know one — asshole.” Unlike Jamarcus, I was not one to say things quietly.
Imbued with new momentum, Bryant’s team decided it was their time to strike. Since we were kids, we’d been trained to detect weakness and destroy it. This act was as normal as breathing for us, maybe even more so. With these lessons in mind, Bryant and his team acted almost out of instinct.
Just as the enemy readied themselves to throw, a forceful push sent me tumbling forward. Several people began cheering from the sideline, greedily awaiting my demise. Planting my heel awkwardly into the ground, I purposely lost my balance and tumbled once again. Head bouncing against the hardwood, I watched as orange blurs flew only inches above me.
Vision slightly blurred and ankle searing with pain, I quickly rolled onto my side and lifted myself up. I limped frantically towards my teammates, who were grouped together against the backline. I had been the bait, but their plan had failed — barely.
“Happy to see me?” I couldn’t help but rub a little salt in the wound.
Just as I dove behind them, two other of my teammates were taken out — leaving us with only three. Bryant’s team was visibly jubilant, believing victory to be close at hand.
As I began to plot my next move, Jamarcus angrily grabbed as many balls as he could hold. His eyes raged with a fire I’d never seen, every one of his muscles twitching in anticipation. With a thunderous roar, he sprinted forward alone.
A slight smile crept across my face as I imagined what was to come next. Even the golden boy Jamarcus could let his emotions get the better of him, I thought, especially when his girlfriend was involved. But I was not a prophet, and my visions of the future were nothing but a pathetic daydream.
As he charged forward, Bryant’s team panicked and threw everything they were holding in unison. Their strategy had not anticipated such a move, and when plans crumble, so does the man.
In an impressive display of athleticism, Jamarcus flipped clear over the balls thrown at him. While in the air, he used his momentum to rotate his body a full 360 degree — unleashing everything he held in his hands as he did. Completely caught off guard, he was able to take out four of our rival classmates at once. Only Bryant remained, standing stoically with his hands clasped behind his back.
A shrieking whistle echoed through the gym, signaling the end of the game. Winded from even the smallest exertion of energy, Coach Burns panted as he jogged over to Jamarcus.
“What a move, what a goddamn move! I don’t say this very often; in fact, I never say it, but, good job kid.”
Those on the sideline marched robotically to the middle of the gym, breaking into lines of five. Several were sobbing uncontrollably. Others stared forward with vacant eyes.
“Sarah, today’s your lucky day. You were the last to be hit by Jamarcus, so technically, you placed as an Alpha. The honorable thing to do would be to refuse, but that doesn’t really sound like you — does it?” Head hung low, Sarah said nothing as she joined the rest of the Alphas and me.
Standing in the center of the gym, Coach Burns addressed those who had not placed, those who had received the dreaded designation of Beta. Such archaic terms were embedded into the fabric of our town, seeping into every interaction. Everyone, in everything they did, were judged and ranked accordingly.
Julia May was the town’s worst whistler. Neveah Carter was the town’s seventh-best fornicator. Alexander Hannigan was the town’s wealthiest man. Caruso Russel was the town’s best and only navel fluff collector. The lists and rankings went on forever, posted online and in public for all to see. Of course, even the rankings were ranked — some victories simply meant more than others.
“I’ll keep this brief because, at this point, you’ve been through this spiel enough times.” Coach Burns was an impressive kind of lazy, the kind of lazy that was immune to everything, even compassion. “As Betas, you have failed — nothing else to say. As is law, we will now eliminate three of you from the tribe. You will be judged by your peers and no one else. You have a minute to write down the name of only one person whom you believe should be executed at tonight’s ceremony. Choose because of hatred, choose because of fear, choose because of strategy, I don’t care why just choose.”
His words reverberating all around, my classmates nervously held on to pencils and pads, looking around with a unique combination of malice and dread. Fear dripped into the hardwood floor and malaise hung in the air like fog. No matter how many times you went through it, the process never became less terrifying.
Swinging his arm down like a hammer, Coach Burns yelled one last instruction, “Now, begin!”
Coach Burns tapped his foot with every passing second, seemingly annoyed that students were given even a minute to make such a momentous decision. Despite the fat, uncaring slob he’d become, Coach Burns was one of the best athletes our town had ever seen. Many of his records were untouchable, and because of that, he no longer felt the need to try. His place in society was set, so he could give a damn about the rest of us.
Even though I wanted to win more than anything, I despised our town and its medieval politics with every fiber of my existence. Many became desensitized to the brutality, even reveled in it — that was just something I could never do. I wept for every soul that perished, but I had to hide those tears from everyone, even my own family. My desire to win was really a desire to escape, which was only possible if I survived long enough to make that dream a reality.
My heart broke as I watched my classmates decide each other’s fates. I ruminated on their choices, wondering who would be eliminated and why. I’d never voted for someone who was killed; my strategy had always been to vote for the least likely of candidates — one time I even voted for myself. Ballots were secret, and it was punishable by death to reveal who you voted for, which inevitably bred unholy levels of suspicion and animosity. Despite my compassion, self-preservation would always trump everything else.
“Time’s up, hand your ballots to the front. Your selections will be revealed tonight. Until then, lockdown status is in effect. Report to your assigned bunker and do not stop for anything — unless you’re in the mood for a trip to the Iron Mistress.” The pleasure in Coach Burn’s voice was sickening. He was a true believer, not because of a hardened conviction, but because of personal benefit.
Like sheep to the slaughter, we formed into seven lines — our bunker groups. There were eight people in my bunker, much to my disliking. Alphas were always grouped together, so my bunker including Bryant, Jamarcus, Sarah, and my other dodgeball teammate Xavier. Along with the Alphas were Leslie, a pretty and petite girl with a perfectly sculpted afro, and Eduardo, socially awkward and pudgy with a sadistic steak — most people avoided him.
The bunkers comfortably fit three and uncomfortably fit more. Just like everything else in our town, the bunkers were a test, in this case of our mental fortitude. Being in a bunker when someone cracked, which was all too common, was a horrifying experience — especially if they turned violent. Things happened and things were covered up, so it was best to always keep your guard up when confined in such a space.
“I wonder who gets to meet ‘La Abuela’ tonight? I’m so excited! I love seeing the weakness purged from our veins, necessary and exhilarating. ” Eduardo was the first to break the uncomfortable silence. La Abuela was a term only he used, a reflection of his comfort and ease with death.
Eduardo was raised by his Grandmother Silvia, a stern woman who’d instilled all of the wrong lessons into her grandson. Silvia was part of the town’s upper echelon and served as the ‘Overseer of Permanent Expulsion,’ a fancy title for the executioner, which gave Eduardo an aura of invulnerability. There were whispers that relatives of the town’s leadership, also known as The Elevated, were untouchable — but after several disappearances those rumors rarely surfaced.
“And what if it’s you, Eduardo?” Bryant barked from the back of the room, not even bothering to open his eyes. Fearless in every regard, Bryant was one of the few who’d ever ask such a thing to a relative of The Elevated.
“I’m just too well-liked for that to happen, isn’t that obvious?” Eduardo flashed a sadistic grin, marinating in his retched ego.
“Can we please not talk about this, please?” In typical fashion, Sarah’s words barely squeaked out of her mouth, and also in typical fashion, her pleas were swatted away without a second thought.
“Janessa is going down for sure, she’s such a bitch to everyone. She’s really the only ‘Queen Bitch’ left at this point, all the others are gone. So yeah, Janessa is royally fucked.” A pang of guilt struck my gut as Xavier spoke up. I had always thought Xavier and Janessa were good friends, but friendship meant very little in our town.
Atypical to his personality, Jamarcus remained stoically silent — although it wasn’t difficult to figure out why. His girlfriend Cecily was elegantly beautiful, smart as a whip, a gifted athlete, and a genuinely kind person, well at least what our town would consider being kind. All of those attributes made her a fantastic girlfriend and the love of his life, but they also made her a threat and a potential candidate to be eliminated. If you were one of the best and didn’t place as an Alpha, you were inherently at risk. Jamarcus knew this full well, just like the rest of us.
“Jamarcus, are you pouting because your poor little girlfriend’s name might be announced tonight?” In a mocking baby voice, Eduardo lobbed a vicious taunt at Jamarcus. His smile grew even wider as he spoke.
Slowly, but with purpose, Jamarcus stood up from his seat. At 6’5, 250 pounds and almost no body fat, he was quite the specimen. Compared to the short and out of shape Eduardo, he almost looked like a different species.
“Out of respect for your family, I’m going to let that one slide. But respect only goes so far, and the truth is, I’m not feeling particularly respectful right now. Understand?” Despite his polite tone, Jamarcus barely contained his fury — hands clenched into trembling fists.
With no protection, Eduardo realized his error and quietly nodded his head. Eduardo was not used to being put in his place, especially not by multiple people, so he was clearly shaken up. You could see him seething in his seat, most likely daydreaming about ingenious retorts and unblockable punches that he’d never deliver.
Four hours later of mostly uninterrupted silence, a loud booming knock brought us back to reality. “Bunker Tango, the ceremony will begin shortly; please make your way to La Casa.” La Casa, also known as The Home of Truth and Justice, was the epicenter of our town. It’s where decisions were made, couples were married, and where The Elevated gathered for their weekly convening. La Casa’s grandiose courtyard served as the site of all our ceremonies, it’s gorgeous landscaping and ornaments in stark contrast to the death perpetrated on its grounds.
Untold numbers of lit torches lined the streets, guiding us towards La Casa. Thousands of people were leaving their homes at once, clogging the avenues and alleyways. The mood was jubilant, especially for those old enough to have passed the final test or young enough not to have started. Ceremonies were treated as a party, and you were expected to join in the celebration. Even those who knew full well that their children could be dead by nightfall danced to the rhythms of unheard songs.
Armed security guards escorted all current students from the bunkers to La Casa’s grounds, seating us in a roped-off section with stiff wooden chairs. Anyone between the ages of eleven and twenty-three were direct participants in the ceremony and seated together, all others were simply observers.
Alphas wore special bracelets on our wrists with a matching scarf, we were also allowed to eat and drink during the proceedings. The Betas were allowed nothing, and the townspeople would jeer and shout as they passed. Parents were often the cruelest, seemingly disgusted by their own seed.
A hush fell over the crowd as The Overseer, and grandmother to Eduardo, Silvia Ramirez, appeared on the balcony overlooking the courtyard. A brand-new mic sat in front of her, shining as if it just was removed from the box.
“Inka Mi No, Inka Mi Mi, Inka No Pei!” As with every ceremony, Silvia began with the traditional phrase, in the language only The Elevated were allowed to learn. The crowd returned the chant, roaring with fervent passion.
“I will now ask the Betas of Class Horus to stand, Alphas please remain seated — you’ve earned that right through unquestioned superiority of body and spirit.” Boos echoed through the night as the youngest of the Betas stood trembling. They’d never been through a culling before, the naked fear readily apparent on their faces. Several had peed themselves, even more were crying loudly.
“Shut your sniveling mouths, I will not tolerate such behavior! This fate was wrought by your own weakness, do not forget that.” Silvia yelled with such fury that the children immediately stifled their cries. More than a few beverages were then chucked at Class Horus, staining the shirts of the unlucky targets.
“Now, let us continue. Will the coach of Class Horus please read the names of the Fated Few?”
Everything in our town was wrapped in pomp and ceremony, even the execution of children. Those designated for death were referred to as the Fated Few, although there was nothing few about them. The number of students who could be selected as a Fated Few was directly correlated to the size of their class, meaning with every passing year, fewer students were eliminated by tests until eventually plateauing at two. The number of tests each year varied from one to five, although it’s been rumored that number has gone much higher.
Summarily, the list of Fated Few from the grades below us were read aloud to a chorus of laughter and insults — truly sickening to witness. Those selected to die by their classmates were led away into the basement of La Casa, where the executions would take place. Although the actual executions were conducted away from the view of the public, the descriptions of the Fated Few’s final moments were always published the following day.
“Will the Betas of Class Sobek please stand.” Finally, it was my classmates’ turn to learn their fate.
Standing proudly behind Silvia, Coach Burns took his turn at the mic, loudly clearing his throat before he spoke, reading from pre-prepared remarks, “To those of you selected tonight, I feel nothing for you, I will not shed a single tear. You were given a single task and you have failed. What comes next is part of the natural order of things. Without further ado, let us begin.”
I looked around at my classmates, reading them as best I could. Eduardo looked almost bored, swaying back and forth like a limp branch as if the outcome had already been written. Janessa was tense, biting her trembling lip as if to quiet her pain. Cecily looked lost, her eyes betraying her immense fear. Jamarcus remained stoic as ever, looking everywhere and nowhere. Bryant sported a slight frown and twiddled his fingers, clearly bothered by something. Xavier was staring at Janessa, legs slightly shaking. Then there was me, occupying my time analyzing others to block out my own thoughts.
“Janessa Diggs,” Coach Burns had already begun to sweat by the time he called the first Fated Few, “Cecily Adams,” I watched as Jamarcus almost crumbled, barely remaining in his chair, “and last but not least, Eduardo Ramirez.”
A noticeable shock washed through the crowd as Eduardo’s name was called, simultaneously, all of the color immediately drained from his body and he immediately vomited. Trembling like a leaf in a rainstorm, Eduardo then fell onto his knees and began to wail. The three of them were hastily taken away by armed security, flailing their limbs and screaming until they were escorted inside. No matter how ingrained certain societal rules may be, it is human nature to survive, or at least try to.
A firm hand grabbed my arm from behind, it was Bryant. We need to talk — after, he mouthed the words so no one could hear. Remaining silent as well, I nodded in affirmation. I had no idea what I was agreeing to, but if there was anyone to ever trust in our godforsaken town, it was Bryant.
After the ceremony proceedings had ended, and all Fated Few had been dragged kicking and screaming into the bowels of La Casa, Silvia demised the crowds to return home, or more likely, drink until the crack of dawn.
As streams of peoples exited the grounds, Bryant and I skulked to a darkened alley almost a mile from La Casa. It was about as private a place as our town afforded, and although I trusted Byrant, the setting made me unshakably nervous.
“We don’t have much time, so I’m going to pull a Coach Burns and keep it brief.” Bryant expertly mimicked Coach Burns’ voice, causing me to laugh heartily.
“Aaron, I know you hate this place. Don’t deny it, because I have verifiable proof.” My heart sank, although what Bryant was saying was correct, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what that proof could be, and the fact that there was any evidence floating around made me incredibly fearful for my safety.
I, I — I don’t know what you’re talking about.” If that had been a police interrogation, my stammering and panicked look would have immediately revealed my guilt. Planning ahead was my specialty, but improvisation could be tough.
“Jesus Aaron, I’m not going to turn you in. I need someone I can trust, someone whose willing to fight against this sick society, and for better or worse, you’re my only option. Simply put, I need your help man — sad isn’t it?” Bryant chuckled a bit, light-hearted and serious all at once.
“And if I was to agree, which I’m not by any means saying I am, what would that mean for me?” I replied cautiously.
“It would mean you’d be instrumental in sparking a revolutionary change not even The Elevated could hope to quell. It would mean you’d go down in history as a real hero of truth and justice. It would mean you’d be a part of something far greater than your self. More literally, it means we are going to save our classmates, tonight. So, are you in?” He spoke in a grandiose manner, like a preacher fighting to convert souls. Bryant spoke with a firm conviction and belief that I was only beginning to comprehend.
At that moment, for the first time in my life, I felt complete clarity. My spirit was invigorated with a new sense of purpose and fight. My soul felt on fire, burning with an intensity that could melt even steel. With pride and exuberance, I exclaimed two words, “Fuck Yeah!”
“Wrong answer.” Just as high as my heart had soared, those were the heights it plummeted from. Bryant’s grin was replaced with a menacing scowl, removing a pistol from his waistband. “I fucking knew it; I told Coach Burns you were a traitor! Now, I have all the proof I need — thanks for that by the way. Turning you in means I never have to participate in a ceremony again, pretty awesome isn’t it?” With a self-satisfied look, Bryant cocked the gun and pointed it directly at me.
“You bastard! I trusted you, I fucking trusted you!” The words exploded from my mouth, I practically spit them out.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah — my heart is breaking — blah, blah, blah. Coach said once I had concrete evidence I could bring you in dead or alive, and since the former sounds much easier, that’s the route I think I’ll take. Nice knowing you, Aaron, well, not really.”
With a final triumphant cackle from Bryant, a gunshot pierced the night and the world went dark.
Is this hell? These were my first thoughts as I opened my eyes. Bryant was sprawled face down in a pool of blood, a hooded figure loomed in the shadows behind him. My brain added hooves and curved horns, a delusion sparked by my near-death experience.
“What the hell’s going on out there, I’m calling the patrol!” An unseen man yelled angrily. The patrol were the armed peacekeepers, although they were more likely to leave you in pieces than peace.
Motioning for me to follow, my faceless savior bolted away from the scene, and without hesitation, I followed. At that point I was officially a fugitive, I assumed Bryant was recording our conversation and when the patrol found his body, they’d also discover evidence of my treason. If this was a game of poker, I was going ‘all in’ on this mysterious, hooded stranger.
“Oh my god, he’s dead!” It wasn’t long before Bryant’s body was discovered by a passerby. I was struggling to keep up with my new found friend, who was incredibly fast despite his bulk.
Turning on a dime, we careened around a corner, barreling into a thicket of trees. Thorned branches scratched against my skin, opening stinging wounds. Crashing through one last patch of foliage, it opened up into a narrow stretch of pavement sloping downwards. At the end of the path were several dilapidated buildings, heavily graffitied and weathered.
Breaking into a sprint, we ran down the path and stopped in front of an old manufacturing plant, with a seemingly endless string of broken windows.
“If after thirty seconds I don’t open the door, run.” A familiar voice said matter-of-factly.
After not even ten seconds, the door creaked open and I was hastily ushered inside. Several other hooded figures silently greeted me, holding dimly lit candles at eye level.
“Welcome Aaron, I bet I’m the last person you’d thought would be saving your ass.” Jamarcus slipped off his hood, revealing a toothy grin.
“Hey Aaron, I’m really happy you’re here. I’m sure you have a lot of questions” Sarah, quiet as ever, also revealed herself.
I remained silent, unspeaking. Not that I was unable to communicate, I was at a loss for words. I’d gone from crawling to rocketing through space, or at least, that’s how it felt — my mind hadn’t caught up yet.
“I get it, it’s fucking crazy. We’re in an abandoned factory, wearing creepy-ass hoods, and we just saved you from being shot to death. Unfortunately, we’re going to need you to process things quickly — very quickly. So I’m just going to give you the abridged version, sound good?” Jamarcus was amazingly nonchalant, but his attitude was disarming; it allowed me to relax.
Nodding my head, I was able to mumble in the affirmative.
“My real name is Kendarius, well I’m pretty sure at least, and I was kidnapped from my mother’s home when I was only an infant. I tell you this because I’m not the only one, every kid in this town was kidnapped — our parents aren’t our parents.”
“I’m glad my fake parents are dicks, made this whole thing a lot easier to swallow.” Jonathan, a quirky kid three years young than I, tried to add some levity.
“Okay…anyways,” noticeably unamused Jamarcus kept on without missing a beat. Jonathan didn’t interrupt after that, “Our town is located on an island, several hundred miles from a large landmass we don’t yet know the name of. Children all over the world are kidnapped and brought here to compete, and those competitions keep the town’s people enriched.”
I was utterly confused, not able to comprehend the gravity of what I heard. “What do you mean enrich? How the hell are we making them money, I’m not doing anything!”
“That dodgeball game earlier, it was broadcast all over the world, millions of people were watching us. It has commercials, sponsorships, the whole fucking nine yards. And that’s not even counting the gambling, you’d be shocked the amount of money people wager on us — and the town gets a cut of it all.”
“That’s, that’s just — fucker fucking fucks!” My brain began to malfunction, synapses scrambled.
“It’s beyond evil is what it is, and there’s one more layer to this shit cake. The Betas selected to die, they don’t kill them, they sell them. Sometimes its governments, sometimes it’s militias, sometimes its individuals — whoever is willing to shell out the most money for a highly-trained slave.”
“So why tell me all of this? I mean, how did you even know where to find me tonight?” The suspicion in my voice was apparent.
“You’re the key to everything Aaron. Without you, we have almost no chance to escape this hell. But before we brought you onboard, we had to be absolutely certain you were with us.” Jamarcus looked ashamed, but only for a brief moment.
“You didn’t…” My voice trailed off, realizing what Jamarcus had done.
“I’m the one who made Bryant suspicious of you, I set you up. But you have to understand, there’s so much riding on this, so many lives. There was no other way, I had to, “ taking a deep breath, Jamarcus steadied himself, “Aaron, the reason we brought you here is — “
Several booming knocks cut Jamarcus off, echoing through the complex. Shouting could be heard just outside, and the unmistakable sound of boots crunching on gravel added to the cacophony of noise.
“I’m so sorry, I wish It didn’t have to be like this — I’m so very sorry. But now that Aarons here, no one has to die, they promised me no one would die if we captured Aaron. Please don’t fight back, please. I’m so sorry, so sorry…” Sarah began to weep, the others staring at her cock-eyed.
“Sarah, what did you do? What did you fucking do?” Jamarcus grabbed her by the scruff, pulling her off the ground. Her legs dangled there pathetically. She refused to even look at him.
As Jamarcus held Sarah, the door flew off the hinges, and a squadron of heavily armed men began to flood in. Everyone began to scatter as gunshots ran out, unfortunately, Jonathan barely made it three feet before he was gunned down. Sarah screamed like a maniac as Jamarcus allowed her to tumble to the ground, “You promised, you promised, you promised.” She repeated the phrase over and over again until she too was shot dead, landing in a head atop of Jonathan.
Grabbing me by the arm, Jamarcus led me up a rickety staircase as bullets whizzed by. At the top of the landing, we approached a shattered window, peering down at a nauseating drop. A dumpster full of garbage awaited at the bottom, although I was far from keen on using that to brace my fall.
“Aaron, you need to find Neveah Carer’s house — don’t stop for anything until you get there. Without you, all of this goes away. I’ll distract them for as long as I can. Now go!” Before I could protest, Jamarcus pushed me out of the window.
As I fell, Jamarcus sprinted up the next flight of stairs, only to be struck in the leg. Screaming in agony, I watch helplessly as he fell backward towards certain demise.
Neveah Carter, the name pirouetted in my mind over and over again. That was a name I was particularly familiar with, it stuck out in my mind like a sore thumb. Neveah lived on my block, two doors down from my family. She was one of the cruelest adults I’d ever had the misfortune of meeting, on more than one occasion I’d left her yard weeping. She was an odd duck, to say the least, her unusual behavior making her a neighborhood pariah — but no one ever seemed willing to call her out. Her extreme adherence to the town’s rules and regulations also made her a righteous pain in the ass, and for kids who were still going through the tests, she was your worst nightmare — she’d break your spirit down with a single callous remark. It was difficult, almost impossible, to separate the image of this horrible woman from the supposed savior I’d been sent to find.
After climbing out of the dumpster unseen, I ran for what felt like miles, until my legs burned with such intensity I feared they may disappear in wisps of smoke. Gunshots could be heard echoing through the night as I fled the scene, a horrid scream following shortly thereafter. Those screams followed me into the darkness, creating an even darker shroud around me.
As I finally neared a familiar, well-illuminated clearing, my senses remained on high-alert. My body was tingling with fear and desperation. I felt a newfound kinship with wounded animals. Several deep scratches adorned my face, smearing blood across my cheeks. A cold wind washed over my wounds as I hoped to calm my mind and think through my next move.
To reach Neveah’s house, all that was left was to cross Viribus Park, which bordered our block. Going around was risky, as it was bordered by two heavily trafficked streets — my best option was to cut straight through. Looking nervously back and forth, I crouched in the shadows, wanting to ensure the coast was clear.
Taking one exceptionally deep breath, I planted one foot and bolted from the darkness. Every ounce of adrenaline in my body was fueling me forward like a tank of nitrous. There wasn’t a soul in sight, and as I reached the outer wooden fence, I readied myself to jump. Placing both hands on the upper beam, I vaulted myself upwards, but just as I had almost cleared the fence, my foot caught on the wooden beam and sent me tumbling onto my back.
As I lay there disoriented, I noticed a splash of movement through the corner of my eye. Standing at the opposite end of the park were several patrol members, a pair of vicious dogs snarling at the end of leashes. They hadn’t seen me, but the dogs had clearly picked up on my scent. Terrified, a warm trickle slipped down my leg as I scrambled to my feet, fleeing to the home of a woman I’d grown up detesting.
Peeling around a gnarled Oak Tree, I leaped over the hedges protecting Neveah’s immaculately trimmed back lawn. All too closely, I could hear the dogs aggressively barking, spurring me to move faster. Flying up the back steps, I pounded on Neveah’s patio door, praying to unknown entities above.
“My, my — no need to panic, I know you’re here boy. Took you a while didn’t it?” A shockingly calm voice said from just beyond view.
A homely looking old woman opened the door and ushered me inside. Hardly in a rush, she moved with the speed of a drugged tortoise, causing my anxiety to flourish. Sensing my nervous state, Neveah piped up again, “Calm down won’t ya, they can’t follow you in here, even if they wanted to — you’re safe now. Now, let’s get some food into you.”
While cooking a heaping of eggs and bacon, Neveah repeatedly shushed me as I attempted to pepper her with questions. “Your generation doesn’t know the meaning of patience. Settle down and give me a moment boy. Don’t want me to burn these eggs now do ya?” Her tone was exasperated, as if she couldn’t understand why I’d be yearning for answers, as if my life hadn’t just been turned upside down.
“I’m not hungry right now.” I tried to protest as she shoved a large helping of scrambled eggs onto my plate, but she was having none of it.
“You’re going to need the energy for later. Trust me — now eat!” Her tone was sweet and bitter all at once, although more the latter.
“So, you’re probably wondering why the patrol can’t follow you into my house?” Neveah plainly stated as I ate my first forkful of eggs. “Truth is, I can’t tell you, well more correctly, I don’t want to tell you — not yet at least. You’re also probably wondering my connection to Jamarcus and how I knew you were coming, well, that’s off-limits too.” Her words were as dry as the toast she served.
“Then what can you tell me? I really need something Ms. Carter, anything — I feel like I’m on the verge of losing it. I’m at the edge of the cliff about ready to jump, ya know?” This was uncomfortably close to my breaking point. I was the centerpiece of a vast conspiracy I knew nothing about, a chess piece who thought he was playing checkers. The weight of it all felt like a thousand tons, and it was crushing my body and soul. Taking a deep swig from the orange juice set next to me, I stared into Neveah’s eyes intently.
Her wrinkled skin cracked into a strange smile, revealing crooked and yellowed teeth. “Do you trust me, Aaron? I mean really trust me? Tell me honestly now boy.” Her voice was noticeably chipper, as if she was telling a joke.
“No.” I replied without hesitation.
“Good answer, no, great answer,” Neveah smirked with admiration, “I think I’d like to tell you about my life on this island, interested?.”
Yes, very much so.” I once again replied without hesitation.
“Well Aaron, it all starts with you.”
Neveah was nestled into a plastic-covered couch, her thick glasses balancing precariously on the bridge of her nose. Taking a deep, measured breath, she gently grabbed my left hand as she began to speak.
I was born in 1941, in a country far away from here, practically the other side of the globe. For my first eighteen years, I wasted away in a small fishing village about as remarkable as an old gym sock. I had dreams and ambitions that spanned the whole world, but my family would hear none of it. A woman was meant to raise babies, not sail aimlessly towards adventure — or so they told me. Well, this didn’t sit very well with me, so I stole a boat and sailed towards adventure anyways.
But I was young and arrogant and underestimated the dangers that awaited. Three days into my journey a fierce storm overtook me, and my vessel capsized at its apex. Violent waves crashed around me as I barely clung to a piece of splintered debris. As I was administering my own last rights, the most unusual of ships emerged gloriously from the south, its horn blaring like a beacon of hope. I was rescued shortly thereafter by a group of unpleasant soldiers and brought to the island a week later, it was only then did I discover I was pregnant.
Upon arrival, I was interrogated for hours by a frenetic woman with piercing eyes. She was incredibly stern and ready to strike like a rattlesnake, her frown curled into fangs. You know her as the Overseer of Permanent Expulsion, but back then, she was Inspector Silvia Ramirez.
During my interrogation, I was accused of spying and espionage, murder and mayhem, terrorism and drug smuggling — you name it, Silvia accused me of it. If it had been up to her, I would have been executed that very night, but the powers at be saw what Silvia refused to — a scared and lost child. Unfortunately for me, my saviors cared not about my well being, but my value.
To prove my loyalty, to gain my acceptance into the tribe, I was first ordered to undergo a procedure to abort my child. I refused, was beaten viciously, and then had a change of heart — they were quite convincing. Shortly after my procedure was completed, I was informed that I was to compete against the others in my age group to earn my entrance into paradise, that’s what they called it back then, paradise.
Like a moth to a flame, I found myself immediately attracted to this new world and its barbaric customs, reveled in it even. I was utterly ruthless, doing everything I could to rise above the rest. I’d become a true believer in the span of a year, and after passing my final test, I enlisted as an Inspector, just like Silvia.
Inspectors are charged with interviewing and investigating all ‘new arrivals.’ Arrivals were usually children under five, from all over the world, snatched from their homes. It was my job to both break them in and ensure they were not a threat. As crazy as it may sound, everyone was a threat, even children, until proven otherwise.
I did horrible things as an Inspector, things I cannot even bring myself to say out loud. People died because of me, and many more suffered greatly. I was a willing participant in it all, an addict high on her own power — what a sniveling fool I was. But I digress.
As I rose through the ranks, I gained access to the island’s greatest secrets. I was shocked to learn that the rest of the world was aware of our nefarious activities, including kidnapping and human trafficking. Despite their knowledge, direct military action was never threatened against us because of the Great One — a bomb so powerful, it makes an atomic blast look minuscule in comparison. There were also other countries that profited directly from our ‘exports,’ so our allies were as numerous as our detractors, and they happily protected their cash cow.
Still, we remained ever fearful and watchful for spies and foreign agents. If we became suspicious of anyone for any reason, they’d often find themselves hog-tied to a chair with a revolver in their mouth. Protection of the island and our way of life was placed above all else, for those of who climbed to upper echelons of the hierarchy, it truly felt like a paradise worth protecting at any cost.
I continued on with this life for many decades, not realizing how much I’d lost in the process. My humanity, my soul — piece by piece I stripped them away to the bones. It was when I was at my lowest, when my depravity could sink no further, that you came into my life. It wasn’t until I met you, Aaron, that I really began living, that I turned into the person I was born to be.
Red sirens were blaring as they brought you in, a tiny baby wrapped in bloody blankets. You matched the sirens’ intensity with your wailing, I’ll never forget your cries. Silvia marched in behind a troop of patrollers, her hair in wild disarray, ordering them to take you into an interrogation room. The scene was pandemonium, people running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I tried to take Silvia aside to be debriefed, but she pulled away from me and stomped towards her office, slamming the door behind her.
Her second-in-command, a spindly gentleman we called Twigs, took me by the arm and led me to a private room. He informed me that a powerful nation had directly threatened the island, a fact that had been kept strictly confidential up until that moment. The Great One was deemed too extreme of a measure for retribution, so something even more devious was concocted.
On the orders of The Elevated, the leader of the defiant country’s infant son was captured and brought back to the island. Numerous casualties were sustained during the operation, including Silvia’s son, but ultimately it was successful. Your father was one of the most powerful men in the world Aaron, and they kidnapped you and murdered your mother to prove a point — the island was not to be trifled with, ever.
At that moment, something snapped in me — if only it had snapped sooner. The pictures I was shown of your innocent mother’s lifeless corpse, while you cried endlessly in the adjoining room, is a memory I’ve never been able to shake — it haunts me every night.
As Twigs left the room, I gasped for air like I’d been underwater for the last 30 years and was taking my first breath. Something left my body that day, an evil spirit maybe, and a much stronger, benevolent force replaced it.
I stayed on as an Inspector after that fateful day, it was a necessary evil needed to accomplish my new and only life goal — revolution. Slowly but surely, I’ve recruited like-minded individuals to the cause, exposing the island’s secrets in the process. We’ve stuck to the shadows, growing a revolutionary army in the dead of night.
All the while, I kept close tabs on you. I had to play the villain as to not arouse suspicions, and honestly, I may have gone overboard in my interactions with you. But I needed you to hate me, and hate me you did.
A few days ago Aaron, everything changed. All of this pain, suffering, and hate finally amounted to something, and that’s why I sent Jamarcus to retrieve you. I understand he may have done some things I wouldn’t have, but he was well-intentioned, believe that. He was a good kid, a really really good kid — I hope you know that.
Back to the matter at hand, unbeknownst to even The Elevated, I successfully brought a foreign agent onto the island, in fact, he hails from your home country. It was an incredibly difficult task, but we pulled it off through careful planning and sheer luck.
It was from your father’s most trusted operative, and current island resident, that I learned the secret the rest of the world had kept from us, one that will guarantee the destruction of the island and all its wicked inhabitants — including me. They have an unbeatable trump card, but that card cannot be played without you Aaron, your father has made that abundantly clear.
Before I say anything else, I need you to keep this mind — no matter what you decide to do, everyone on this island is already dead.
“This plan is majorly fucked! The majority of people on this island are victims, they don’t deserve to die!” Fury ripped through my lips.
“Aaron, it’s the only way to ensure no one else has to go through this hell ever again. Sacrifice is unequivocally necessary if we are to progress, that’s just the way it is.” Neveah replied in a somber tone, her veiny hands slightly shaking.
“But sacrifice entails choice, and we’re not giving these people a choice. How could I live with myself? I’m not a soulless monster like you!” The words tumbled out of my mouth and lay awkwardly on the floor.
Neveah stared with vacant eyes, silently nodding. “I’m sorry, I really am — the choice has already been made,” her lip quivered as she spoke.
A gloved hand slipped over my mouth, quieting my screams. My strength had left me the moment Neveah revealed her final secret, so I did not resist. I’d been left emotionally emaciated, my supposedly truculent spirit had withered and died.
“I wish you nothing but happiness in this life, Aaron. Forget about this place and all of its horrors. Trust me, this pain is not worth holding onto. Goodbye forever.” With those parting words, I was hoisted unto the shoulders of the man who had been sent to save me, but just like every other savior on this island, he reeked of false prophethood. He was an angel of death disguised as something more benevolent.
Just before walking out of Neveah’s home, the man quickly turned around, unholstering a pistol adorned with a large silencer, and fired an expertly aimed shot. Lurching in her seat, blood trickled from Neveah’s forehead as she closed her eyes for one last time, a serene smile appearing as she faded away. “No loose ends, she knew the deal,” a gruff voice growled, “it’s time to go, father is waiting.” There was disdain in his voice.
Before her death, Neveah had revealed that my father had funneled untold riches into the development of a superweapon, one that could destroy the island in the blink of an eye. That weapon, as it turns out, had been ready for almost ten years, but my father refused to utilize it until one very important condition was met — the rescue of his long-lost son. The moment I stepped off the island all of its residents, good or bad, would be wiped off the face of the earth — nothing would remain.
As I was hauled into the night, I imagined my classmates going through their daily perfunctory tasks, ignorant to the fact that their lives would be snatched away by forces they never had the opportunity to understand. Even the thought of the feckless Coach Burns dissolving into ash caused feelings of guilt. There were those who deserved to die, I knew that, but the collateral damage was beyond the pale.
“Snap the fuck out of it, Silvia and her goons are on their way.” The choleric man escorting me was curt and unsympathetic. “If it had been up to me, you would have been dead a long time ago, I want you to know that. That was father’s decision, not mine.”
The man’s unkind interactions with me felt intensely personal, that was abundantly clear from the start. It was as if I had an unseen rival, hating me from afar. It was only when he said ‘father’, in the familiar way that he did, did everything click.
“Wait, are you my—” He quickly held up his hand to silence me, almost grasping my face.
“Hold up there, prodigal son, we may be blood, but I am not your brother — not in the kings’ eyes and not in mine.” The animosity was palpable, hanging in the air like a thick fog. “Follow me and do me another favor, no more talking — seriously.”
“Can I at least know your name?” I’m not sure why this bit of information felt so important, but it did.
“Call me Marco, now shut up and let’s go.”
Marco and I fled from Neveah’s home, following a carefully planned route through alleys and ill-lit backyards. We trudged forward without a single word passing through our lips, two strangers in the night who just so happened to be in lockstep with each other.
“Alright, lay down and don’t move a muscle. I’ll be back soon.” At the edge of town, Marco forced me to crawl under a dilapidated shed, concealing me from view. Gripping his pistol firmly, Marco trotted down a grassy path, disappearing around a metal fence.
Mud, and all things fetid, soaked through my clothes. An amalgam of horrendous smells whirled around me, escorted by a chilling breeze. A dog howled morosely in the distance, I imagined howling in return.
Suddenly, a pair of headlights cut through the night, shining on the ground beside me. Not knowing what to expect, whether the car was friend or foe, I remained frozen like a statue. Hands clenched into fists, teeth grinding together, I slumped further into the grime, and oddly, it was a comfort.
Skidding to a stop by the shed, the car sent gravel and dust flying into the air. These irritants caused me to break out into a hacking cough, giving away my hiding place to anyone within shouting distance.
A muscular leg flopped out of the car, at the end was an elegant and unsullied black dress shoe. This can’t be Marco, his shoes couldn’t like that after want we just went through. Thoughts of doom and gloom parked themselves uncomfortably in my cerebellum.
From behind, I was suddenly grabbed by the ankle and dragged out into the open. Fruitlessly squirming like a young child trying to escape a beating from his older brother, I screamed bloody murder as a forceful kick landed on my ribs, and then another.
“How the mighty have fallen. Luckily for you, it was only a short fall.” Silvia Ramirez stood over me menacingly, staring with such intensity it burned my skin.
“If you believe the end to be nigh, you are mistaken, young prince. I still have such glorious plans for you, just like your father — well, maybe not exactly.” Silvia chortled wickedly, like a satanist gallivanting in a meadow with Lucifer.
Thick ropes were used to bound my ankles and wrists. Afterward, I was tossed into an awaiting car. A patrolman, face hidden by a mask, followed me into the backseat, his weapon drawn. Silvia, barking orders at an older man, took the passenger seat. The driver was the last to enter, a portly man with a scruffy white beard.
An itchy hood was placed over my head as the car accelerated towards an unknown destination. During the ride, the passengers remained stoically silent, except the driver, who hummed the same melancholy tune for the entirety of the trip.
“Great, we’re the last ones here. Edgar will not be pleased, not that he ever is.” Silvia remarked indignantly as the car slowed to a stop.
As the others exited the vehicle, I was swung over someone’s shoulders like a sack of potatoes, still blind as a bat. The others murmured among themselves, mostly about their dislike of a man named Edgar. The names of The Elevated and all high ranking officials were drilled into the public, it was an expectation that residents be able to recite their names and titles on command. Edgar was not a name I recognized, and based on what they were saying, he held a rank even higher than Silvia.
The Edgar they described was more like a beast than a man, ruthless and voracious. He seemed an unstoppable force. It was hard to tell whether they feared or hated him, maybe even venerated him to an extent — it was a mish-mash of conflicting statements. Despite their ambivalence, it was clear that he was in charge. Who could be above The Elevated? I remember thinking to myself, the enigma only deepening.
“Sir, my apologies for our tardiness.” Bowing, Silvia spoke in a reverential tone, all traces of animosity having dissipated.
“Why is he covered in mud? I thought it was clear he was to be delivered here directly after leaving Neveah’s, am I mistaken?” An authoritative voice responded.
“No, you are correct — as always. Marco went off-script, but I’d call it a strategic decision on his part, a little gamesmanship even. It bodes well for his future, does it not?” Silvia kowtowed to her superior.
“We will discuss this at home, privately. For now, remove that wretched hood.”
A cloudy night sky greeted me as my hood was thrown off, tumbling to the side. About twenty people stood in a semi-circle, staring at me intently. They stood at the edge of a well-illuminated field, steel bleachers straddling the sides. White chalk was laid down on the grass creating an obtuse triangle, the pitch for some mysterious game.
A man dressed all in white stood elegantly to the side, dripping with jewels and accessories. He looked on beaming with pride, a thick beard somewhat obscuring his smile. Marco stood unsmiling to his right, staring at me with daggers.
“Shall we begin the final test?” The elegant man motioned to his followers, a spark of excitement cutting through the crowd. One by one, they dropped to their knees, chanting in a language I could not understand.
Taking a cue, Marco jogged over to the triangular field, shadow boxing within its boundaries. His movements were quick and fluid, stalking an invisible prey. Uppercuts were followed by jabs and a few kicks, each combination executed with deadly precision.
“You probably have many questions, Aaron, but you have not earned the right to those answers — not yet. Just know that everything that has happened to you was for a greater purpose, a purpose I hope you will one day come to intimately understand and care for, as if it were your own child.” Like a preacher, the man added emphasis to the end of his sentences, his voice rising and falling like the tides.
As the man was speaking, Silvia cut the ropes securing my limbs. She then dragged me to my feet, marching me over to the field. “Marco is superior to you in every way. He always has been,” Silvia whispered into my ear, her voice brimming with confidence.
Marco and I stood on opposite ends of the field, each of us parked in a corner of the triangle. The high ranking officials of the island sat in the bleachers, chattering contently among themselves. The man in white, who I inferred to be Edgar, strutted to the middle of the field, standing directly between Marco and myself.
“The world is a cruel and callous place, and to survive, it is imperative that we are not only strong, but the strongest. My father founded this nation on that simple premise, and through it, we have flourished. We are unchallenged on a global scale, feared and revered by enemies and allies alike. Now, it has come time to select the next generation of leadership, and only someone who has forged their spirit under the intense heat of suffering and pain is worthy to lead us.” Raising his hands high above his head, Edgar signaled the group to begin cheering wildly. The usually couth officials acted possessed and unhinged, spit dribbling down their faces as they howled like rabid animals.
Silvia stepped forward, unsheathing a ceremonial sword. Those in attendance quieted themselves as she began to speak to Marco and I, “Two men will enter and only one will leave victorious. Victory is achieved through the death of your opponent, that and that alone is your goal. Each competitor will be furnished with a knife and nothing more. I should also mention if a participant is pushed out of bounds, they will be summarily executed by this very sword.” Silvia looked at Marco with love and pride, before glancing at me venomously.
I stood there slack-jawed, utterly confounded. A deadly current had swept me away into a turbulent storm, the waters of life churning all around me. I’d not resisted since Marco and I had left Neveah’s house, an unwitting pawn in a game that extended far beyond the chessboard. But when a pawn reaches the end of the board, it elevates to royalty.
At that moment, despite everything swirling around me, I was singularly focused on survival. I could have cared less about the island’s plans for me, I wanted to live and I wanted to do it on my own terms. Edgar had assumed I was yearning for answers, but in truth, only my goals mattered to me.
“Neveah, Jamarcus, and all the other people who died for you — they were fools. We strung them along for years, and in Neveah’s case, decades. Every action they took was put into motion by The Elevated and Father; it was true genius. Traitors have their usefulness, especially those as dumb as Neveah,” Marco tore me from my thoughts with his hateful words. Whether or not he was telling the truth, he’d achieved his goal — getting under my skin. A burning rage surged through my body, causing me to shake outwardly. Marco grinned sadistically, licking his lips and winking.
“We have waited for this moment for almost 20 years, and what a long wait it has been. The time has now come, my children. Let us begin!” Edgar was ready to shoot the starting gun.
A slender older woman tapped me on the shoulder, handing me a jagged dagger, “Good luck, honey, you’ll need it.”
“Combatants, are you ready?” Silvia held the ceremonial sword high above her head, beaming with pride at Marco.
“Yes, ma’am!” We replied in unison. For me, it was a reflex, a response I’d given before the ‘staring bell’ numerous times.
“Begin!” Silvia swung the sword downwards with frightening speed.
Marco immediately charged, knife held tightly at his side. He moved with the confidence of a man who’d already won, Silvia roaring in the background with bloodlust. Marco was undoubtedly stronger and faster than I, that was his advantage. But our clear disparity in physical traits had made him cocky. That was my advantage.
Feigning flying the proverbial white flag, I crouched down and cowered next to the boundary line — Marco responded with a vicious laugh. I acted the helpless fly in the spider’s web, but little did the spider know, this fly was more cunning than the rest.
Just as Marco approached, readying his knife to slash me brutally, and my whimpers were loud enough for him to hear, I planted my left hand onto the ground and skillfully took Marco’s feet from under him. Unable to halt his momentum, he tumbled awkwardly before falling out of bounds — barely.
As he fell, a horrific shriek escaped Silvia’s lips, “That cowardly cheater, he is a disgrace — we cannot allow him to win in such a manner; it besmirches us all!”
“Now, now Silvia. Marco may be your son —“
“Our son.” Silvia interrupted Edgar’s remarks, growling as she did.
“Of course, our son. But our son lost, he was bested — and for that, he deserves to die. Without order, we crumble, and this is how we impose order. You understand that better than most. Despite the circumstances, Silvia, it is your duty to execute justice. Are you still up to the task?” Edgar was as cold and callous as the world he earlier described.
“Mother, please, please — don’t do this. I allowed you to raise my only son, then kill him once he turned disloyal; I never even questioned the reasons for executing Eduardo! I’ve given this island everything and more, I don’t deserve to fucking die!” The previously confident Marco was now groveling like a baby, pleading with Silvia to spare his life.
Turning to me with a malevolent expression, Silvia never broke her gaze as she sliced the sword through the air, catching Marco at the nape of the neck. She continued to stare as the vicious strikes continued, until Marco was nearly decapitated. His tortured screams echoed through the night, and they seemed to continue even after his breathing had ceased — maybe it was Silvia who had replaced him.
In stark contrast to Silvia, Edgar warmly embraced me. “I’m sorry about your step-mother. Her relationship with you is, well — complicated. She and Marco had a very special bond, so it may take her a while to come around, but don’t worry, she will come around. But let’s forget all of that. Tonight is a night of celebration my son.”
Despite his momentous revelations and the execution of his other son, Edgar spoke nonchalantly. The sycophants surrounding him began to clap and cheer wildly.
“To the future leader of our island, may he forever prosper!”