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Chapter 10

When I woke up, I couldn’t believe my eyes, but at the same time, I never had a doubt. Section 2 was nothing like I expected. There were fewer rampaging monsters than I anticipated. People were acting like people. Living in a wasteland of trash and dark skies, they were harder-edged than other Mock City residents, but they weren’t senselessly fighting.

Garbage was everywhere.

Buildings were made out of recycled materials. Roads were little more than dirt, mud, and trash. People sold scrap on every street corner. There was a stench of standing water, even where the land was dry. Section 2 was more of a landfill than a prison. Hell, the spot I picked myself up from was a patch of plastic and wet cardboard. I wasn’t dirty but standing there made me feel covered in grime.

It could have been worse. It seemed as long as I didn’t bother anyone, things were orderly enough to navigate the neighborhood freely.

Everyone minded their own business.

When the requirement to get in was to be a criminal or a monster, I suppose it made sense. No one looked happy or talkative. It was a bad neighborhood, but at least it wasn’t a kill zone.

Unfortunately, things were so civil I couldn’t find a monster by merely walking around. I had hoped to hop the fence, pick something out, then jump back over. That plan quickly flew out the window. What a strange feeling to wish there was more chaos on my already suicidal mission. I was both lucky and unlucky enough to find order in The Play Pen.

How hard could it have been to find something with sharp teeth or flaming breath? The place should have been crawling with beasts, but all I saw were people; people I felt were shifty and shady, but nowhere near bad enough to pit against The Trio.

I couldn’t wander forever.

Regrettably, after deciding to ask for help, I quickly noticed a pattern. I was stabbed three times, shot twice, and thank God I didn’t have a wallet on me because I was pickpocketed too many times to count. Then again, not having a wallet may have contributed to my being stabbed a fourth time. It only took ten minutes to come to the conclusion no one wanted to help me. At least no one was willing to help a person for free.

Good Samaritans didn’t exist in Section 2. People weren’t being murdered in the middle of the street, unprovoked at least, but everyone was business-oriented. That’s the nicest way I could put it. Everything was a transaction. On top of that, finding a person willing to speak with me, a new face, was difficult all on its own. I didn’t have time to waste, but I couldn’t make the process any faster. Earning the trust of thieves and cold-blooded creatures was a timely affair.

I was willing to take a hand from anyone kind enough to offer one. Thus, I was indiscriminate in who I turned to. I’d say one out of every ten people were reasonable enough to have a conversation or strike a deal. Finding the right deal was a numbers game. There was an older woman who said she’d help me if I got her son over the electric fence. Her son was a pyromaniac. There was a kid who wanted me to steal a bike from a gang of bikers. A girl said she would help if I figured out how to clean the drinking water.

Honestly, everyone wasn’t bad. The majority of the conversations I had were just sad. Sure, people were trying to screw me over left and right for their own benefit, but I could understand why. A few requests I got were for things I wished I could have helped with.

I wanted to help.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the know-how. Medical supplies, electricity, food, and water shouldn’t have been things people had to bargain or con for. I thought my life in secret 5 was bad, but Section 2 was abysmal. I knew to expect criminals, but I couldn’t have prepared myself for such sympathetic people in need of help. I felt bad having to turn them down, but I wasn’t in the neighborhood to play hero. I didn’t have time.

After coming up short numerous times, I might have found someone I could work with.

She was standing under the shade of a gun hut after buying a weapon from its vendor. I almost missed her as I turned down a corner. Everything in Section 2 was rundown, but that particular structure was close to crumbling. Still, it didn’t catch my attention until she turned my way. That woman, with her volcanic hairstyle, stood out. It wasn’t just her curves that held my eye either. As far as I could tell, she didn’t have a mouth, and her eyes might have been hidden behind her hair. She was a faceless beauty standing in the land of waste.

I can’t say for sure how we got to talking. I know I walked over, and she pointed a gun at my face, much like the other locals. It was a surprise to find someone like her in a place like Section 2. Her clothes, her walk, everything about her was so polished and clean.

She was so beautiful, but I was on the clock.

“All I’m looking for is a monster,” I said.

“Then you’re in the right place,” she joked sarcastically.

Where did her voice come from? Her lack of a mouth raised several questions. How did she eat? How did she breathe? Did she need to breathe? Regardless, even when she dismissed me, her tone was smooth and sultry.

“I’m serious. I need something wild but not so dangerous it can’t be stopped. I’m desperate,” I added.

She had already started walking away, and I found myself following behind her.

“Looking for a pet then?” She said with her back to me.

“Something like that,” I answered.

She stopped to look over her shoulder. She took a glance, and I assumed she was looking at me. Who could say for sure where her attention laid with her eyes hidden? Before I could fill the break in our conversation, she started walking again.

“I happen to know of a monster. I know a few. Should fit your description too,” she said.

“Really!?” I exclaimed much too happily.

My burst of optimistic energy attracted the attention of a few people on the street around us. I quickly sucked myself back in, but obviously, I wasn’t from around those parts.

“Yes,” my new friend said while laughing at my outburst.

I was finally making headway. Out of everyone I spoke to, she was the only one to say outright she knew where to find monsters.

“I’ll help you just as soon as you help me,” She added.

Of course. Nothing was for free. I sighed exhaustedly, but at least she was getting me closer to my goal. That’s when I noticed we stopped moving.

“My house has been over run by a gang. If you clear them out, I’ll lead you to your pet,” she said, finally turning to address me somewhat.

“Your house?” I questioned.

We were standing at the end of a path. Down the way was a lone building. I wouldn’t call it a house, but with four walls, a roof, and a few windows, I suppose it was something livable. Compared to the other homes in the area, it was the closest thing to luxury I’d seen all day. My friend pointed it out for me.

“I was going to take care of them, but I’d hate to waste my bullets when you’re here,” she added.

“I’m not much of a fighter,” I replied.

“Sure you are, every man is born to fight a battle, and this one could be yours,” she tried to persuade me.

“You don’t understand.”

“I understand perfectly. You deal with my gang problem, and I’ll help you find a pet, or I deal with my gang problem, and you get nothing.”

She was blunt and almost cute about it. I had never won a fight before. My skills were perfect for defense but useless for offense. That didn’t change the situation. After wasting so much time looking for a lead, I had to at least consider the only one I found so far.

“You’re sure you know where to find a monster?” I questioned hesitantly.

“If I’m lying,” she said.

“If you’re lying, what?” I asked, waiting for the other half of whatever she meant to say, but again she had already started walking away.

“I’ll be two blocks over when you’re done,” she said.

“Wait! I didn’t say I’d do it. I don’t even know your name.”

“Call me Joan, but not before the job is done, Twig.”

And with that, she left me. I wondered how she knew my name until I looked down and remembered my uniform had my name stitched into it.

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