Peter : Main character and protagonist. First Appearance: Chapter 1
Diana : Peter's right-hand man, so-to speak. Another main character. First Appearance: Chapter 3
Mason : The third of the Peter-Diana-Mason trio. The third main character. First Appearance: Chapter 3/4
Peter's Grandfather (Name not relevant) : Peter's grandfather who he lives with due to his parents having died when he was young. First Appearance: Chapter 2
Cameron : The more uptight, serious twin of the two found in the forest First Apperance: Chapter 6/7
Rachel : The more fun-loving, young-at-heart twin of the two found in the forest. First Appearance: Chapter 6/7
The man in black : A mysterious character belonging to an unknown organization. First Apperance: Chapter 8
“Once upon a time, there lived—ah, a better word would be existed—an emerald. Now, mind you, this was no ordinary emerald. It had…powers. Imagine you possessed this emerald. Assume you could find a way to get the powers it beholds. You could have the speed of a cheetah. You could have the ferocity of a lion. You could have the strength of a tiger, the confidence of a shark, the intelligence of a dolphin. You’d be a living superhero! The emerald was lain deep within a forest, but which forest? Nobody knows. Some say it was our very own Emerald Forest, hence the name. It was found once, and only once, by a young man named Kevin. Kevin lived before my time; before documented records. Because his story is known only through spoken legend and folktale, nobody really knows what happened to him. Folks might tell you he went to find it and never came back. They might say he possessed its powers until the day he died. Some say the emerald just simply didn’t work. In any case, it was returned to its rightful spot in the forest and remains there today. Or at least that’s what they say. Good night, Peter.”
So said my grandfather two nights ago.
"TO EVERY END THERE MUST BE A BEGINNING."Edit
It’s a crazy thing, really. An emerald possessing powers beyond imagination, proven only to exist by a whimsical folk tale. There’s a certain feeling you get—a certain feeling I get—and I know it’s real. It’s not easy to explain, I’ll tell you that. Perhaps it will be easier to understand how I feel once you know who I am.
Allow me to introduce myself. I’ll be known as Peter to you, all of you reading this. As of now, I’ve acquired 13 years of knowledge, patiently waiting to be used and applied for just the right moment. I live with my grandfather and only my grandfather; my parents died in a chariot accident when I was younger and my grandmother divorced my grandfather long ago. None of us know what happened to her.
I attend the one junior high school we have in my suburb, Tikala. Closed off from the action and big city life, we really don’t get much action out here. It’s cozy sometimes, but you get restless. You get tired of the headlines being the newest insignificant branch of grain developed by the genetic scientists trapped in offices all day. Perhaps that’s what stirs up the feeling of knowing I get. Perhaps it’s just wanting, longing to break away from the monotonous suburb life. Every day it’s the same: for the kids, get up, eat breakfast, go to school, come home, do your homework, attend your after-school activities (if any), eat dinner, go to bed. Repeat 5 million times. For the adults, you replace the school with your job, and there you have it. Some people like being out of the way in Tikala, but out here, we mostly live with the old people like my own grandfather and the adults that were never cut out for stepping outside their comfort zone. There really aren’t many kids, living with a small population and an even smaller one that’s ready for the “adventure” of kids. I don’t mean to be so bitter, but it’s unavoidable when you’re me in my situation. In case you couldn’t tell by now, I’m not content here.
As I was saying before, I attend the one junior high school around. They call it “Tikala Jr. High School” (creative name, I know). It’s small enough to be a private school, really. I have a few friends, but to be perfectly honest, I’m lucky to even have a few. It’s hard to find people with common interests as me. Common interests of getting out. There are gates around the border of Tikala, and one question lingers no matter where or who you are: what’s outside the gates? The main road leads to Emerald City, but the lush forest, the Emerald Forest, that is the pride of our country surrounds us in Tikala. Are there secrets in the forest? Only time will tell, if even that.
My best friends in the city are named Diana and Mason. They’re both my age and we’ve known each other since primary school. We’ve always just been natural together, those people you can point to on the first day of school and say, “I don’t know his name, but he’s gonna be my friend.” Okay, nobody actually says that, but you get the point. I’m lucky to have them, and really, they’re the only ones keeping me from going crazy. We don’t get to see each other much, though. Only on school days, on our free periods can we talk freely without authority watching us like a hawk, daring us to step out of the explicit rules set by the Emerald City.
The Emerald City is the government of everything in our entire country. They seem like they’re giving us all the right things, but lately, in cities around, there have been some people trying to rise against the City. Why, I could never tell you. I don’t see them doing anything bad, but I can’t say I like them. The whole organization is run by a single Queen. Queen Aspasia, they call her. She’s always wearing beautiful silk emerald-colored dresses. Her skin is as pale as the moon itself, while her light brown hair always reflects the sunlight of our nation in such a way to make her appear almost as a goddess. She may as well be one, too, with all the power she has. When she says there’s a new law, you better bet there’s a new law. When she says somebody isn’t doing their job, they work two, three, five times as hard or else they get fired—or worse, executed. She’s clearly running a dictatorship, but in the end, it’s for the good of all of us. Everybody does their job and they do it well, giving us all the supplies we need always at our fingertips. Of course I wouldn’t rather have it any other way, but this only adds to the boredom. Everything is so perfect; there are never any problems that escape the massive walls of the Emerald City. What goes in, stays in. What comes out will never speak a tale of what happened within. It leaves us still more room to wonder what really goes on behind the walls.
You might be able to see part of the reason why I’m suspicious to the emerald existing. Practically everything is named after emeralds. The forest, the city, it’s even the national color! I feel like it can’t be a mere coincidence. I’m not quite sure what to make of Kevin, the man that once found the emerald. Is there even anything to make of him? With no clear story of his past, I can’t have many thoughts about him, can I? On the other hand, my grandfather gave a few outcomes, and only one of them was good. What if something bad happens to me if I decide to go out and get this emerald? What if the emerald doesn’t even exist in the first place? In any case, I decide as I get up for school in the morning, following the average day-to-day routine, I have to know the truth.
Chapter 2 Edit
It was a normal day, which is to be expected of Tikala. I began to follow the daily routine that I disclosed before. With thoughts of the emerald still lingering like an unwanted _ in the back of my mind, I changed my clothes, brushed my teeth, everything I’d usually do in the morning. I knew I had to focus in my classes, considering my grades have been dropping lately. I’ve been having trouble focusing, finding myself constantly daydreaming while staring out the window. I took a deep breath, knowing I had to push myself to stay attentive today.
As I walked downstairs, my mind started to drift off as to what was happening at school. I almost fell down the stairs and the realization hit me faster than the notion of falling: my ECST’s! That’s what we call them here, anyway. It stands for Emerald City Standardized Testing, and, might I add, they are the hardest tests any elder has ever testified to taking. I forgot to study last night!
Turning on my heel, I bounded back up the stairs. I rushed to my room faster than time itself. Digging through my backpack, I tried to find my notes from the previous day, in which my teachers spent all their time doing final lectures for the ECST’s. Finally finding my notes, I did a little dance of triumph and began to cram. The real feelings of doom didn’t settle in until I realized that I had spent the entire class period speculating about the emerald.
I began to panic, knowing that the ECST’s defined my future and this year was the first in which they actually went onto my permanent record. If I could hypothetically find the emerald, I needn’t worry about these tests, but for the moment that’s impractical and I need to put the emerald out of my mind. I began to pace in my room, furiously trying to come up with an idea to pass the ECST’s. They don’t begin until noon, and I could get Diana or Mason over to study with me. Or I could try cheating, God forbid. Or I could—
“Peter! Are you awake?” my grandfather called, likely wondering why I wasn’t down for breakfast.
“Coming!” I yelled back down to him, running down the stairs in the while. Here’s one thing you should know about my grandfather before you meet him in person: He doesn’t like to hear everything I told you about wondering what goes on outside our city. As far as he’s concerned, the world stretches from the north border of Tikala to the south, likewise from the east to the west.
“Good morning, Peter,” said my grandfather. I nodded at him in return, too tired and slightly devastated to respond in words. I filled a plate with the food he had prepared earlier in the morning; scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, and the finest government-issued sauces to go along with it. It was exactly to be expected; perfect. The perfect ovens made it easy to cook the perfect dishes for the most perfect taste experience. Sure, it was nice. Sure, it was boring. To be honest, I’d love to have a burned meal once in a while that my grandfather and I could laugh heartily about, paying more attention to the fun we were poking at each other than the taste of the meal.
“The meal is nice,” I comment, not daring to vocalize the aforementioned thoughts.
“It sure is,” responds my grandfather. “So, I hope you’re ready for the ECST’s today?” I froze here, not wanting to tell the truth but not wanting to lie to my grandfather.
“I...hope so,” I said reluctantly. I had avoided the doomed question for now. My grandfather chuckled at my response.
“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” he reassured me. I started to feel a little sick to my stomach. Starting to pick at my food, my grandfather noticed something was up. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing! I’m just a little nervous,” I said, maybe a bit too quickly. My grandfather raised an eyebrow in skepticism, but continued to eat without asking anything else.
“You know, eating breakfast will only help you,” he added. I nodded with a smile that might have been obviously fake. After about another minute of smalltalk, I dismissed myself to the upstairs room. I snuck out the upstairs window – hey, it’s more exciting than the front door – and left for Diana’s house. She was the smartest out of the three of us.
The morning cold nipped at me as I made my way across the street. My thin coat wasn’t nearly enough to cover up from the wind blowing as if its quest was to take me with it to its next destination, the way a father that lost his son and found him again may never let him out of his sight. My eyes began to tear up as the wind blew mercilessly threw them and I was reminded of a time when I was younger, much younger.
This wasn’t a memory I had ever had before. Rather, it had been locked up by the prison guards, namely, my own mind. It had finally escaped to let me know that it existed. I remembered being a small boy and the wind whipping through my eyes very much like today. I remembered seeing a man—was that my father?—grabbing another man and forcing him inside our house as I waited, frightened, outside. A woman who must have been my mother squeezed my hand. I heard screams from inside the house. I was crying from more than just the wind now as I saw blood splash the window. Before the memory progressed, I snapped back to reality. This left me with one burning question: What exactly did my parents do?
Chapter 3 Edit
Haunted by fleeting memories of my childhood, I decided to push the questions out of my mind for right now. They showed up at the worst possible time, with the emerald and the ESCT’s on my mind. I continued to make my way to Diana’s house. Along the way, I noticed a rock along the side of the road. I couldn’t say what was so compelling about this rock—the soft, emerald green color, the perfect smooth texture, the way it shined even with no sun out—but I caught myself simply staring at it and thinking. I picked up the rock and brought it with me, not thinking much of it.
Not much longer afterwards, I arrived at Diana’s house. Her house was two stories, beautifully painted and looking majestic overall. Her house was the envy of the rest of the block. Of course, none of the houses were close to being run-down or in need of a renovation. That would be too exciting for Tikala, wouldn’t it? Diana herself was quite a pleasure to look at. Her sleek black hair looked beautiful at any given time, while her flawless olive skin never disappointed. And she was quite a beauty, but, at least for the moment, I wouldn’t even think of getting romantically involved with her.
Diana was probably studying already anyway. She was just that kind of person, always doing her best on everything and better on the important things. It’s amazing how she does it. She’s never turned an assignment in late, as far as I knew, or gotten anything less than an A. Yeah, she’s that good. And for you in the back with that annoying stuck-up smirk on your face thinking you're just as good as her, you’ve seriously never gotten a B? Or even an A minus? That’s what I thought.
I walked up to her mahogany door and knocked. The hollow thump echoed across the eerie stillness of the morning. I rubbed my arms in a lost attempt to warm myself up. Since I had been waiting for a short while, I decided to turn back home. Just as I was turning, the door opened. Diana’s mom was standing in the entryway. She was a plump, happy woman that lived a simple life. That’s how it appeared from the outside, though. I’ve learned from living in Tikala that there’s such a thing as too perfect—not to say anything bad about Diana’s mother, though.
“Hi, Peter,” she greeted lightly.
“Hello,” I responded with a smile.
“Would you like to see Diana?” she asked, knowing that I wouldn’t come for any other reason. You could almost see light streaming from her face because she was so sunny.
“You know me so well,” I chuckled as she let me in, gesturing towards the hallway. I removed my shoes and made my way to Diana’s room. As I predicted, I found her studying.
She looked up at me with surprise, but was happy to see me. “Peter!” I began to speak in a flurry mess of words.
“Slow down! You’re not gonna fail anything,” Diana said with a knowing smile. She reached into a drawer and pulled out a black book. There was nothing on the cover except pure leather and it was made almost like a bible with thicker pages.
“What’s that?” I said with reluctance.
“This, my friend, is my secret cramming stash. It has everything in it that we’ve been working on for the past month and it’s all simplified, ready for study!” Diana explained.
“Oh, thank you!” I said with joy. I grabbed the notebook, eager to begin. Flash forward about two hours, and it was time to leave for school. I was halfway through that book at best. Frantically flipping page after page of Highlighter Heaven and Marker Mania, something inside me snapped. I put the book down and sat up. Diana cocked her head at me in confusion.
“I’m ready,” I stated blatantly before strutting out of the room, brushing right past her. Diana laughed at me.
“Uh, no, you aren’t,” she said.
“I’ve come to a certain peace about failing this test – I can make up for it in the other years,” I said confidently.
“Yeah, no, you can’t,” Diana cut in. “This time it counts, Peter.”
“It’s okay,” I said. I’m still not quite sure what I was thinking at this point. I left her house with my head held high. Diana ran out after me.
“You-You can’t just do this, Peter. Not here. Not now.”
“We have to go anyway, don’t we?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s called cramming for a reason. You could still be reading on the way.”
“It’s fine.” She threw up her arms in defeat. Diana was a good friend. She tried to do what was right for you (like now), but knew when you were hopeless (like now). We met Mason at the block corner. We walked to school like we always do. It was the same route that we knew. It was the same cracks in the sidewalk, the same anthills, the same creepy old maid’s house. Something felt different this time, though. Something in the air. I caught a glint of something out of the corner of my eye. I had a suspicion even before I turned. When I did, not even you would believe what I saw. Could it be? Right here in the open? Right here for anyone to take?
I ran towards the Emerald and scooped it up, the whole while knowing it was too good to be true. But here it was! I was holding the Emerald, after so many generations of not knowing…how could it be? I weighed it in both hands. It wasn’t heavy at all. And it looked like it was glowing from a hidden light source somewhere deep inside its mystery. I almost whimpered. “I found it,” I breathed.
“Peter, what are you talking about?” Diana asked warily.
“The Emerald!” I whirled around to show them. They gave me a funny look.
“You aren’t holding anything, dude,” Mason said. I looked down at my hands to find nothing was there.
“B-but…it was here! I swear it was!” I fell to my knees and started patting the ground, looking for it. I looked back up at them. “I’m not crazy.”
“What is the emerald, anyway?” Diana asked quizzically. I caught them up on my grandfather’s tale as fast as I could. They didn’t say anything for a couple moments.
“That’s a load of bull, man,” Mason said, breaking the silence. They started to walk again and I followed, not exactly with them anymore. I started thinking. I even surprised myself at how elated I was to find it – and how devastated I was to lose it. I really want this, I realized. I suddenly stopped.
“This is going to sound crazy,” I began.
“Most things you say are,” continued Mason, amused.
“I have to do this,” I started again, ignoring Mason. “I’m going to go back to my house and pack my bags.” I talked slowly and carefully.
“What are you talking about?” Diana asked, confused.
“The Emerald,” I said. “I have to find it."
“No, Peter, you can’t do this,” she argued. “You’re have to-to go to school and to take the ECSTs.”
“Diana, I know you don’t understand, but I have to do this.”
“No, I think you don’t understand, Peter. And of all times…why today? This could be the single most important day of our lives!”
“I have to do this now. It’s not something I can explain.” She knew I wouldn’t back down and paused. I took the opportunity to continue what I was saying. “Anyway, I’m going to pack my bags and leave my house with my money in my pocket and my suitcases in my hands. I’m going to head to the Station and get on the first flight to Emerald City. Once I’m there, I’m going to research the Emerald, everything about anything that has to do with it. And then I’m going to find it.” Neither of them said anything.
“And from there?” Diana said quietly.
“I don’t know. But I just have this feeling…I’m meant to do this.” I knew they couldn’t understand, no matter how well they thought they knew me.
“You’re crazy,” she said, barely above a whisper.
“I know, but—“ I started.
“I know I’m going to regret this,” Diana interrupted, “but I’m coming with you. You can’t do it alone.” She walked to stand by me and I beamed at her. She gave Mason a look.
“Hey, I hate tests anyway,” he said, beginning to grin.
“Yes! This is great!” I was elated to have my two best friends sharing this journey with me! I hugged them both. “I love you guys!” We all laughed joyfully, enjoying this moment of bliss before the long, hard road that lay before us.
“So where do we go from here?” Diana asked.
“Our parents won’t agree...you have to sneak in, pack your things, and leave a note,” I answered.
“And you’re sure about this?” Diana asked, wanting to confirm. I paused for a moment. Not because I wasn’t sure, rather that the idea was so preposterous that I wouldn’t be sure. I had never been more sure of something in my life. And sure, people throw that phrase around like confetti on our country’s induction celebration day, but I seldom used it. Sure, when I was a child, the time I wanted to race in a chariot speed race was the most sure I had ever been of anything in my life, but of course my grandfather said no. And when I wanted to move out of Tikala just last year, it was the most sure I had been of anything in my life, but again my grandfather had refused. Now this was the most sure I’d been of anything in my life. I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I wasn’t about to articulate all this to Diana, though, so I turned to her and gave a simple yes with a smile that said it all.
We went our separate ways and I snuck back into my house the way I had snuck out. It dawned on me that my grandfather would be wondering where I was if I had gone to school like normal and I would have ended up in trouble later anyway. As quietly as I could, I gathered all my stuff and threw it together in one bag. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quiet enough.
“Peter?” my grandfather called up the stairs. “Peter, is that you?” I stood, not moving, hoping he would forget about it. But then I heard footsteps creeping up the stairs. I didn’t have time to write a note, so I tried to just jump out the window before he saw me. I was a second too late.
“Peter, what are you doing?” my grandfather asked, bewildered. I turned to face him and gulped.
“I’m...” I stuttered, “I’m going to school.”
“Out the window?” he returned.
“It’s--I just--they said--I don’t--” I stumbled.
“What’s really going on?” he asked gruffly.
“I have to go,” I said, about to jump out again.
“Peter!” he said sternly, grabbing my wrist. “What in the world is going on?”
“The Emerald,” I said to him. “I have to find it.” He stopped dead in shock. Then he burst out laughing and let go of me.
“That crusty old folk legend? It’s been around since my grandfather was a boy! Don’t tell me you believe in that rubbish,” he chuckled.
“I don’t just believe it,” I said, “I know it’s out there and I have to find it.” I was frustrated that he didn’t understand me. He never understood me.
“Peter, you’re going to go to school and take your ECST.”
“No, Grandfather, I have to go!”
“Are you kidding me?” His humor was turning to anger. “You are not about to waste your life - could I remind you that these tests are your future? - looking for some thing from some fairy tale that doesn’t exist!”
“It exists!” I protested. “Think about it! The Emerald City, the colors of everything, even our religion...it all adds up! The Emerald is real! And I’m supposed to find it!” We were both yelling now. I put an arm on the windowsill, ready to jump out.
“You’re crazy! Don’t screw up your life, Peter!” I turned slowly. He lunged for me, but I was already gone. “You’ll regret this!” he yelled after me. “As soon as you come back, boy, I don’t know WHAT I’m going to do to you!”
His threats were lost in the wind.
I was already gone.
“Sorry I’m late,” I gasped. I had sprinted from my house to our meeting spot where Diana and Mason were already waiting. “I had a little...scuffle with my grandfather. Long story short, he didn’t really approve of what we’re about to do. I mean, I wouldn’t either, in his position. Either of you run into trouble?” They glanced at each other nervously before replying with a hasty no.
“C’mon, you guys,” I smiled, “You’re terrible liars.”
“I...ran into the principal,” Mason said reluctantly. “I told him I was just going to meet you guys and he told us to hurry along.”
“What’s so bad about that?” I asked. We had started to walk toward the Station.
“It’s nothing,” he muttered.
“Seriously, tell me,” I pushed.
“It’s just...it’s real now,” Diana interjected. “As soon as the principal realizes we aren’t there, that we aren’t taking the ECST’s, we’re in this. There’s no going back.” They seemed a little downcast all of a sudden.
“Well, that’s what we want,” I stated, answering the unasked question. “Right?”
“Right,” Diana said shaking her head. “Yeah, I don’t know what got into me.” She smiled her beautiful smile. Mason was still quiet. I shook his arm.
“Hey, you want to do this too, right?” I asked playfully.
“Uh, yeah, man,” Mason said, unsure. I frowned but didn’t question him any further. I quickened the pace as a little test and Diana quickened with me without thinking. Sure enough, Mason didn’t even notice, still dragging his feet, slowing us down.
“Mason,” I started. “You don’t have to do this for us. You should do whatever you want to do. I’m following my heart and Diana’s chosen to follow my heart with me. There’s still time for you to turn right back around and go to school and...and...” I stumbled, pausing for a moment. “God, Diana, if we do this, our lives are going to be gone. We can’t come back unsuccessful and just blend back into the community. If we ever go looking in the Emerald Forest, we’ll probably be looking at an extended stay, and they might even register us as missing people...we’re gonna have to break a lot of rules to do this. I want everyone to just think about this for a second. I know what I’m doing, but are you sure you want to do this?”
“That’s what friends are for, right?” Diana answered. Mason smirked and put his fist in the middle of the three of us. Diana put hers on top, and I put mine on top of that.
“We need a name,” Mason said.
“A name?” I asked, a little surprised.
“Yeah, something cool! The Killers...The Shredders...The Hunters,” Mason started listing.
“PMD,” Diana said thoughtfully. “It’s the first letter of each of our names. ‘Cause we’re a team.”
“I like that,” I said. “It’s like with this quest, we’ve all become one.”
“PMD it is,” Mason said. We were all happy with that. It seemed to be more than just a team name, but a binding contract. All the times we had said it, this was the final push. We had to do this now. Together.
Before my story progresses any further, I should explain what the Station is. There’s one and only one in every city, with the exception of having one extra private Station for royalty in the Emerald City. The Station is the only way in and out of every city. Every person that goes through is carefully monitored and it is recorded who comes and goes. For this reason, Diana, Mason, and I wouldn’t be going in together and we’d be going incognito and using the identities of kids from our school. We’d cover up as much as possible, which wouldn’t look suspicious considering it’s a cold day anyway.
There are 12 loading/unloading docks in every Station. The evens are oftentimes for loading, the odds for unloading. Once you buy your ticket, you are supposed to go to the Masters of Protection, who would wave an instrument over you to tell if you had any hostile weapons or such. They will then ask you a few questions. Your name, your birthday, what elementary school you attended, things like that. Then, assuming you’ve passed all of this, you will go to the dock corresponding to your flight and destination and take off.
So Diana, Mason, and I were now arriving at the Station. Mason was to go first, then a short time later, me, then Diana. The Station looked like a large factory; you wouldn’t suspect it to be anything special. Until you saw pegasi flying out of it, you wouldn’t give it a second thought. The Emerald City wanted us leaving our cities as little as possible, as they liked to be able to keep tabs on us.
So Mason went in first, and as far as I could tell, he didn’t run into any trouble. “Excited?” I nervously asked Diana. She tensely nodded her head. I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Nervous?”
She nodded her head again. “Anyways, I’m up.” I went up to the man selling tickets in the booth. Everything here had to be executed without mistake.
“Name and destination?” he asked.
“Ian Job for the Emerald City,” I answered. Ian Job had been a classmate of mine for a long time.
“You’ll be on the 12:30 flight at Gate 4. Best hurry,” he told me. I nodded at him and continued to the Master of Protection. I was waved down without conflict, as I didn’t really need any weapons anyway.
“Your name is?” he asked me. Check.
“Ian Job,” I responded confidently.
“Birthdate?” he continued. Check.
“February 18th,” I answered.
“Elementary school?” Check.
“EMT Elementary,” I said.
“You’re good to go,” he told me. Good, that went smoothly. I went to find Mason. Nothing eventful was going on in the Station, besides a scruffy-looking man carrying a porcelain monkey in one hand and a real monkey in the other. Still not sure what was going on there. Anyway, even though there were no big crowds or anything, I couldn’t seem to find Mason. I circled back around to grab Diana and got there just in time to intercept her.
I greeted her and tried to go off and find Mason again, but he was missing in action. Time was running out, and Mason was nowhere to be found.
“Peter, we have five minutes before this thing is supposed to leave,” Diana told me, “We need to get to Gate 4.”
“But what about Mason?” I responded. We started to walk back where we came from, to Gate 4. “We’re supposed to be a team. Be in this together.”
“He’ll find his way, Peter. He’s perfectly capable.” That was it. I knew in the back of my mind that he was somehow, someway gone. I felt saddened that my best friend wouldn’t be there to share this adventure with us. It felt like we got so close, only to have it ripped away from us so easily.
Then, like one of those once-in-a-blue-moon miracles, he was next to us.
“Where were you guys?!” he asked. “I was looking all over for you!”
“We were looking for you, too!” I responded.
“Guys, we need to go! We have, like, three minutes!” Diana cried. We all started sprinting across the large Station. Minutes ticked by.
We had one measly minute left when we arrived. The man at the gate door took our tickets and gestured us inside. We all hopped on our respective pegasi. The attendants strapped us in and we were off.
The sensation of riding a pegasus was like no other. The feeling of freedom, the wind blowing through your hair, the great feeling of being above the ground and at the mercy of the air. It’s a bit scary your first time, and maybe your second or third, but afterwards there’s nothing better.
It didn’t feel like we were up in the air long. Pegasi traveled fast and efficiently, but the rides always felt about half as long as they actually were. So what felt like about half an hour later, which must have been an hour into our travel, we were over the Emerald Forest. My pegasus shuddered.
“Did you feel that?” Mason yelled over the wind.
“Yeah!” Diana responded. My pegasus dipped.
“What’s going on?” I screamed. My feeling of bliss had turned to terror. At this point, we were falling behind the other pegasi.
Before I knew it, we were falling.
I awoke flat on my back with a pounding headache. I saw treetops above us. Groaning, I propped myself up on one elbow. I saw Diana and Mason lying on the shrubbery as well, and the memory of what had happened came flooding back to me. Sighing, I flopped back onto my back. It was around dawn now. I wasn’t sure how long we had been out, and Diana and Mason still weren’t awake. I got up to get some firewood for later. I took only a step before realizing that I’d never done anything like this before. I didn’t even know what firewood looked like, much less how to start a fire if I could even find any. Did it just lie around on the forest floor? Probably not, I guessed. I’d have to cut it down or something. I used my better judgment and decided to stay put for the moment.
It wasn’t too long before Mason stirred. He moaned as I had and slowly sat up. “Agh,” he grunted. “What happened?” He was rubbing his head like it hurt, and I’m sure it did. Mine did, too.
“Don’t you remember?” I replied.
“Oh,” Mason said simply. “Oh.” I suddenly realized that our pegasi were nowhere around. Rather strange if you ask me, but I thought little of it. “Well, we should start working on getting rescued, I guess.” I looked at Mason in bewilderment.
“Are you kidding?” I asked.
“What?” Now he was the bewildered one.
“This-this is where it could be. The forest. That’s where we were going anyway, isn’t it?” It all seemed so simple to me.
You see, Mason and I thought and acted very differently. Mason was like the star of his own show. He was very popular at our school; everyone liked him. He was friends with all the meathead jocks in the school, you know the ones. I wouldn’t in a million years say he was one of them, though. He sometimes acted like them and sometimes talked like them, probably even sometimes thought liked them. But something about him was different.
It was no single thing. Nothing you could identify like a species of bacteria. He was just a little different than them. What made him different, that was why we were friends. That’s why Diana and Mason and I were all friends. Anyways, Mason and I did think and act very differently. He could be very egotistical. Things needed to go his way at times. This happened to be one of those times.
“Peter, we were planning on researching this thing before we dove into it.”
“Things don’t always go according to plan, do they? Just this morning I thought I would be taking a test right now.”
“We can’t just stay here and act like we’re supposed to be here, like we belong here or something! We need to build a black-smoke fire, spell “HELP” with some rocks in a clearing and get rescued!”
“Mason, really, think about what you’re saying. Why you agreed to come in the first place! I—“
“Guys?” This voice was neither mine or Mason’s. We turned around and saw Diana waking. Our fight momentarily forgotten, we both helped her up. She didn’t remember anything after we got onto our pegasi, so Mason and I explained everything. “Oh, God,” was all she said.
“I’m not exactly sure,” I began, “but I think this is where we part ways. Diana, you can come with me and we can look for the Emerald in this place where we were supposed to end up anyway. The way I see it, it’s fate’s way of giving us a little shortcut.” I took a shaky breath. “Or,” I began, “you can go with Mason and try to get yourself rescued so you can return to the exciting life of a Tikalian!” I was sarcastic, of course. Mason looked at her expectantly, and I did too.
“So this is really it,” she said. “No more PMD? It’s just…just going to be PD, or DM?”
“Or Peter could try to get himself rescued like any normal person would do,” Mason said. That comment infuriated me for a reason I couldn’t tell you. White-hot rage burned though me as I turned to Mason and got real close to his face.
“I’m…no…normal…person,” I spat out.
“Stop!” Diana cried. “This is tearing us apart! We get along so well together, guys, you really wanna lose that over some stupid dispute?”
Again, we both turned to her. It was time for her to pick a side. If you could see the look in her eye then, you would know that the last thing she wanted in the world was for us to split up. If a genie popped out of a bottle and gave her three wishes, they would all be the same: to keep us together. But she knew that wasn’t going to happen. So she sighed the saddest little sigh anybody’s ever heard and said, barely above a whisper, “Peter’s right. I have to go with him.”
I wasn’t the bragging type. I didn’t shove anything into Mason’s face. I simply turned my back to him and began to walk. Since I wasn’t there, I’m not sure what words Diana and Mason exchanged, if it all. She may have apologized, or maybe tried to convince him to come with us. She may have said goodbye, or maybe just gave a little sob and walked away. But when she caught up to me, she was tough as nails. Her face showed no signs of weakness or emotion. She had left Mason behind. We both had. Out of sight, out of mind, you know?
“I’m sorry for making you choose,” I said.
“You know how I feel about splitting up,” Diana said, not meeting my eyes.
“So any ideas on where to go from here?” I asked.
“Not at all,” Diana replied. “That’s the same thing I asked you back in Tikala. By now, we should be in the Emerald City, researching anything and everything about the Emerald.”
“And I’ll tell you the same thing I told Mason back there,” I told her. “Things don’t always go according to plan, do they?” Diana gave me a weak smile.
“Hey, you can tell directions with a stick and the sun, right? Stick it into the ground or something?” Hey, at least I was trying.
“I’m pretty sure that’s telling time,” Diana answered. Suddenly, there was the sound of a stick breaking. We both went on high alert. I looked all around, but I didn’t see anything.
“I think we’re okay,” I said, just a bit too soon. Something strolled out of the underbrush nonchalantly. Diana gasped sharply just at the sight of it. I can’t explain it exactly. It was…a monster, to put it simply. It was roughly the size of a small lion or tiger, but looked about twice as dangerous. It had horns covering its entire body and fangs so large that they didn’t fit in its mouth. It looked scaly, like a reptilian creature. It was sort of a dull purple color. Its tail was dripping in something that looked suspiciously like poison.
It looked at us curiously, cocking its head, sizing us up. “Stand very still,” Diana whispered tensely into my ear. It started to look a little more menacing, as if deciding that we were in fact hostile. It flared its nostrils and Diana cried, “Run!” So we did. We ran like the wind. And it chased.
I had brought nothing to defend myself with. I only had my bare hands and the clothes on my back. I could hear the steps getting closer, and the monster knew this forest well, while Diana and I were tripping over roots here and branches there. My legs were burning like the fiery sun itself. I knew we couldn’t keep this up much longer, so I grabbed Diana and dived into a rather large, thorny bush. No mind the thorns, we had a bigger problem. The monster was going to fast to slow down yet, and when it turned around it had already seemed to have forgotten where we were. So I grabbed a branch and threw it in a the opposite direction of us as a distraction for the monster to follow.
“What was that?” I asked Diana. She was about to speak when another feminine voice came from behind us.
“Blaster. It’s the main protector of this forest.”
I whirled around to meet eyes with two young women on horseback. They didn’t look friendly.
There was nowhere to run.
Needless to say, I was a little surprised when they hopped off their horses without a fight or anything. Neither of them could be older than 20, but their eyes showed much wisdom beyond their years. You could look into those eyes for years and never know a single minute had passed. One of them was a sleek brunette, the other a blonde. The brunette had a feeling of brisk authority to her.
“My name is Cameron,” the brunette said. “And this is Rachel.” She gestured to the blonde one. Even as Cameron was simply introducing them, she had a commanding sort of tone to her voice. I nearly wanted to say “Yes, ma’am” and carry out the orders I hadn’t been given.
“We’re twin sisters; royalty in the Emerald City,” Rachel informed us. Her voice was sweeter and more welcoming, like Rachel was the honey and Cameron was the bee. Rachel was also smiling and overall looking more happy, more like you’d expect from someone her age..
They both paused, and I realized it would be common courtesy for us to introduce ourselves as well. “I’m Peter,” I told them.
“Diana,” Diana said. She shook hands with them. “What brings you two out to the forest?”
“We just needed to get up to the city for a meeting tomorrow,” Rachel answered. “We sort of don’t like to ride pegasi. We all have those weird fears, y’know?” She probably would have gone on, but Cameron shot her a look that said to shut up.
Diana and I shared a look, too. We were both coming to the same realization: if we told them our true situation, they would offer to take us up to the city. If we refused, they would at least loop back around later to come get us. On the other hand, we could lie about it, but there’s no way teenagers like us should just be wandering the Emerald Forest.
“We crashed here,” Diana said. Well, there goes that.
“That’s horrible!” Rachel exclaimed, looking genuinely concerned. “What are you planning to do now? Just wander this forest?”
“Well...” I said, not really sure how to answer.
“The truth is,” Cameron interrupted, “we’re lost. We’ve been in this forest for about a week. The meeting was yesterday.” It was interesting how they spoke as one figure. It always “we,” never “I” or “me”.
“Do you have any maps or anything?” Diana asked.
“No, but we have a general idea of what this forest is like,” Cameron answered.
“Do you know how to tell direction or anything?” Diana further questioned.
“Yes, we can tell cardinal directions nearly spot-on,” Cameron continued.
“I’m going to save us both a lengthy question-and-answer session,” I started, “and just summarize what we were going to figure out anyway: We’re both just cluelessly wandering this forest.” I’ll admit it. I didn’t trust them at first. It was just a little fishy to me. There was a lengthy silence and awkward looks following my aggression, but I stood my ground with crossed arms and firm feet.
“What do we do next?” Diana eventually said. I had been hearing that question a lot lately.
Rachel broke out into a smile. “So we’re travelling together?”
“Well, yeah, why not?” Diana said. “We’re going to the same place.”
“Yay! This is great!” Rachel exclaimed. “We’re going to be great friends!”
“And you two are twin sisters?” I asked. They seemed so weirdly different. I suppose I always knew that twins were two different people, but I had never met any back in Tikala.
“We’re both 18, but I’m older by about a minute,” Cameron answered. I nodded in response.
“What do you two do in the Emerald City?” I asked. It wasn’t every day that you met City royalty.
“We just work in the senate,” Rachel answered. “Not really royalty, I guess, but still a position of power.”
“No, it’s still cool,” Diana said. In the Emerald City, the senate was always just short of 20 people. It was a small group responsible for most all major decisions in the nation.
“We should go west,” Cameron suddenly commanded. She had been crouching on the ground, getting soil on her fingers, sniffing it, all the cliche stuff you’d see in the movies. It was a little odd to see it in real life. She began walking in a direction that I guess we just assumed was west. And we walked for a while in that direction. Rachel, friendly as she was, was trying to engage us in conversation and random games (Charades! B-L-A-S-T-E-R! Count the Trees!). Diana was the only one who responded, though, so eventually even she gave up. We hiked all through the afternoon until nightfall.
One eventful thing happened during the long day of hiking. We heard a strange chanting noise coming from somewhere off in the distance and decided to investigate. It wasn’t like anything I had heard before. It was sort of rhythmic in a language foreign to me.
“Oh my God,” Diana said, when we were pushing aside the bushes to take a look at the source of the chanting noises. “Are those surviving Ancient Latinians?” I had no idea what she was talking about, but I’ve learned over the years that if it has “ancient” in its title or some long scientific prefix to trust whatever Diana says about it.
“Indeed they are,” Cameron said.
“Wow,” breathed Rachel excitedly. There was a group of feral, unkempt people dancing to their chanting in circles and lines. They were wearing animal skins, some of which looking suspiciously like the monster chasing Diana and me earlier. It was a wondrous sight as we observed them while they had no idea we were there.
“There’s nothing to see here,” Cameron decided for all of us, getting up.
“Yes there is,” Diana said. “Almost all Latinians are dead. Gone. These somehow managed to survive. There’s got to be some good reason that they survived...you know.”
She was talking about the event now referred to as the Cleansing. At the beginning of our nation, in order to start over and create a new, better nation, the people with power bombed the whole land, then moved all of us here now into this land.
“They probably knew about it,” Cameron answered through gritted teeth, “and hid. We really need to get going.”
“We’ll probably never get another opportunity like this,” Diana argued.
“Well, enjoy your opportunity!” Cameron yelled, loud enough for the Latinians to hear, and she knew it. She grabbed Rachel’s hand and ran. I did the same with Diana, not wanting to be confronted by these ancient people. Diana was steamed for a while, but even that couldn’t make her hold a grudge for long.
Anyway, we had found a clearing when the bright moon was rising high against the black abyss of night.
“Let’s set up camp for the night,” Diana suggested.
“Yeah!” Rachel agreed.
“Alright,” Cameron confirmed. They had two small tents, one for each of them, so we had to pack two people into each one. Of course, Diana and I went together and Cameron and Rachel went together.
“Do you trust them?” I asked, climbing into the tent. It really was squished in there.
“Well, it would be less dangerous to trust them than the other option,” Diana replied. “If we leave them, we’re not just about to find more people wandering the forest. They could help us survive.”
“What if they use us somehow? What if they aren’t even royalty in the Emerald City and we get arrested or something?”
“I’m willing to take that risk.”
“Still...just be cautious.”
“Of course I will.”
“I just don’t want either of us to get hurt, you know.”
“Don’t worry about it, Peter.” Diana hadn’t convinced me, but she wasn’t interested in discussing the matter, that much I could tell from the tone of her voice. So, with that, we went to sleep. The first day of our crazy adventure was over.
Mason was done. He was fed up with just about everything. His life was a wreck right now. He just needed to get away. So he wasn’t exactly sure why he was trying to get rescued. His body was acting before his mind could think about it. He simply needed to distract himself. Whenever things got complicated, Mason just needed something for his hands to do. If his hands were working, he could avoid anything unpleasant.
Right now, he was trying to make a fire. It wasn’t easy work. He didn’t have a match or anything like that with him. It’s not like he had learned how to do this from anyone, either. Nobody anticipated that you would end up in a situation like this from the perfect little city of Tikala. Mason hadn’t been born in Tikala. Rather, in the nearest city, Binga. He moved to Tikala when he was about 5, so he didn’t remember much about Binga, but there were more people his age there. The atmosphere was a little more...friendly in Binga. Tikala was a very stiff and slow town. It wasn’t fit for someone like him.
Mason broke a stick over his knee angrily. It wasn’t fair. He hadn’t done anything to deserve this. And Peter went and turned on him like that after he declared his loyalty to him? The kid was stuck-up and self-righteous. Mason didn’t think he realized exactly what Diana and him had to give up to come on this dumb “quest”. Mason looked up and saw a flock of pegasi flying overhead.
“Hey!” he yelled. “Hey, down here!” He jumped up and down and flailed his arms. “Hey, down here! I’m stuck in this dumb forest! I need rescuing!” The flock had begun to move out of Mason's line of vision. It was too late for them to hear him. “Agh!” Mason cried in anger. He pounded a tree hard with his bare fist and made a deep gash. Suddenly, there was a rustling noise in the bushes behind him.
“What now?!” he cried at the bush. “Are you back to ‘apologize?’ Well, you know what?” He picked up rocks on the ground and began chucking them at the bush with each word. “I...don’t…want...to...talk...to...you!” He knew it wasn’t really Peter. It couldn’t be. It just felt better to be able to take out his anger on something.
He turned back around and collapsed onto his knees. Why did he want to get rescued so bad anyway? He didn’t have anything to go back to. There was nothing left for him in Tikala. He didn’t have any friends he really cared about, he sucked at school, he was sure his family hated him, and there was nothing in Tikala that could possibly make him want to stay.
Except for one thing.
And she had walked away from him with Peter.
Mason would have cried, as any normal boy would have, but he couldn't. His whole life had been suck it up, shut up, just do it, get over it. He couldn’t cry. He had a shell now. Nothing came in too deep, and nothing escaped from the inside. Suddenly in the silence, the rustling noise in the bushes behind him came again. Mason slowly stood up, looking at the bush curiously. He walked up to it cautiously and tried to part the bush's leaves. There was a little clinking noise and before he knew it, his world went black.
Mason woke up in a blank room with no windows or exits except for a single door. Mason got up and tried to open it, but it didn’t budge. The door was locked from the outside. Mason had about the temper of an unsettled rhino, so naturally, he got upset at this. He started pounding on the door. “Hello?!” he yelled. “Anyone there?!” There was no answer at first. Mason kicked the door hard and turned around. There really was nothing in the room to do anything with. There was a brown stain in one corner, though. Blood? Had somebody else stayed here before him? He shivered at the thought of being executed in this room.
Swiveling around, he still saw nothing. The room was white from walls to ceiling and there was no pattern on the walls save for a strange symbol Mason assumed was a sort of company's logo. After some time, the door behind him opened slowly and reluctantly.
“Mason?” a man dressed in all black asked, entering the room.
“How...uh, how do you know my name?” Mason asked. The man closed the door behind him.
“We know a lot about you, Mason,” the man in black answered.
“What? How?” Mason asked quizzically.
“We have our ways, Mason. There are things that...we need you for.”
“Who is ‘we’? Where are we?”
“You surely don’t think I’m alone in this operation, do you? And I can't tell you where we are.” The man held only a clipboard and was already starting to take notes.
“Why should I tell you that, Mason?”
“You should tell me because you freakin’ kidnapped me and I deserve something back for that.”
“As far as we’re concerned, what we want to do with you requires you knowing nothing. I’ve told you enough already.”
“You haven’t told me anything except that you can’t tell me anything!” Mason said, raising his voice in frustration. The man in black sighed.
“What do you want with me, anyway?” Mason asked, calming down a bit.
“Well, we don’t really want anything with you,” the man in black stated matter-of-factly. “Not now, at least. We want your friend.”
“Diana?” Mason questioned. “I guess she’s pretty smart, and, well-”
“No, no, not her,” the man in black interrupted impatiently.
“Peter?” Mason asked, surprised. “Ha! I’m more useful than that dimwit.”
The man in black chuckled. “Your naivety amuses me,” he said. Mason's frustration with the man continued to build.
“I have a few questions for you,” Mason replied, ignoring him.
“And why would I want to answer them?” the man in black smirked. “I don’t think you understand your situation, Mason. You’re the one at our mercy. You’re not the one asking the questions. We are. You’re just our little prisoner for now, our little bribe. I am--” The man in black was interrupted when Mason jumped up and assaulted him, pinning him against the wall.
“You...don’t...know...me,” Mason snarled.
“Let go of me,” the man in black returned calmly but firmly.
“I have a few questions,” Mason continued aggressively.
“Guards!” the man in black called. Two burly, official-looking men burst into the room and threw Mason off of the man in black. They pinned him to the ground as the man in black stood up and brushed himself. “At ease,” he commanded. They climbed off of Mason and got up to escort the man in black. As he was leaving, the man in black left 5 parting words.
“We’ll be back for you.”