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My name is Alaki Bea Miller—or known in the ground above, Alaki Bea X.
That is what us, the inferior, are referred to: X.
After the third war, the governments collapsed. The lands occupied by millions of human beings were destroyed and left unseen diseases that forbid us from ever stepping onto another land apart from the only one saved, the only one not bombed: Serenity.
The five million humans left were divided into five Rings, each human falling into a division that matched their physical appearance. The pure-breed are the superior and the forbidden children, conceived of two of different races, were seen inferior.
Diallo, Santos, Talos, Wen, and Mustafin: the five Rings.
But beneath them, hidden in the tunnels within the mountains and underground, are the outsiders. The individuals killed on sight, or taken as servants if purely bred and abandoned as children survive within tunnels.
Above ground we are the abomination. Above ground we are X.
I am no leader and I am no special kind of half-blood—as those superiors call us—I am but a mere human being...just like the rest of us.
I advice...that is what I do.
If you get caught, don’t get caught.
If you get caught, fight back.
If you get caught, keep quiet and kill yourself before they do.
And most importantly...
...if you get caught, remember you did not die in vain.
The heel of my combat boots steadily meets the dirty ground beneath, the sound of my footsteps echoing and bouncing off of the walls as I continue my movements deeper into the tunnels.
The path ahead of me is illuminated by the dim bulbs flaming above, individually covering the ceiling with a space of two yards in between. To the sides of me, the walls are concealed with weeds that grow in favor of the darkness rather than under the scorching sun in the ground above.
My eyes remain their sight ahead, my dear friends, Antonio and Miya, coming into view. Noticing the uneasy looks on their faces, I make an abrupt halt when I come to stand within arm’s reach of them and I question, “What’s going on?”
I focus on Miya’s soft features and at the sound of my voice, she shifts her dark brown eyes to meet my blue ones. She explains, “Someone tried to get in.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, moving closer to her. My eyes land on the dirt concealed wall, but not before briefly shifting to catch Antonio’s slim figure now standing beside me.
“We just got back from above,” Antonio answers in his deep voice. “There is sign of digging on the other side.”
“We don’t know if it was another X,” Miya is quick to add, her gaze shifting to meet my own as she finishes, “or another member of the Rings trying to find a way in.”
“Well, whoever it was,” a husky voice echoes from behind us. We are quick to turn our attention in the direction in which I originally came from, catching sight of the tall, dark-skinned male approaching. “They’re gone now.”
“Did you bring what I asked for, Miya?” he asks, his eyes reverting to the woman standing to my right.
I watch Miya draw a pack of needles from the black purse hanging just beneath of her hip and she places them in Jeremy’s hand with a sorrowful smile on her face.
“Is Briannah going to be okay..?” Miya asks sincerely.
“Don’t you worry about that, now,” Jeremy attempts to comfort her. His hand moves to lightly pat her on the shoulder, and as he acknowledges her, he looks at Antonio and shoots him a look that I assume is understood only between them.
In the next moment, Antonio lets out a heavy sigh and moves to Miya where he throws his arm around her and says, “Alrighty! Let’s get going.”
I am only able to give both, Miya and Antonio, a small smile before they take off and leave me to stand alone with the weed covered walls and a well composed Jeremy. I have to give him credit for his ability to remain calm and hopeful through the hard time he is facing.
Briannah, another one of my dearest friends, has been sick for a while and although they hardly care to admit it to themselves, especially to those around them, it is clear that Jeremy’s feelings for her go deeper than that of mere friendly ones.
“I have assembled a meeting that is to take place later today,” Jeremy abruptly states.
“Oh?” I muse. I am not sure why he is bringing this up with me—I am not part of the leading group within these walls.
A sigh escapes Jeremy’s mouth and he crosses his arms just beneath his chest. “I would like for you to attend.”
“I told you,” I breathe out in exasperation, “I am not interested in becoming a leading member.”
His hazel-green eyes narrow on me, briefly catching my blue ones before following my long curly hair that hung just above my waist, and stopping at the hem of my navy-blue t-shirt where it met the top of my khaki cargo pants and black wool belt.
“You already behave like one,” Jeremy insists as his gaze returns to catch my own. “Why not going ahead and taking a title?”
The truth of the matter is that I do not want to be responsible for anyone. Yes, I do—from time to time—go out of my way to do more than I have to, but that is because I want to. Taking a title, I would fear someone’s life being taken by my mistakes.
“I’m just not interested, Jeremy,” I finally say. With that, I refrain from giving him anymore of my time and attention and I avert my eyes to the dead end of the tunnel to study it a while longer. I am more interested in that who Antonio and Miya claim attempted to find their way in, and Jeremy having more than likely understood that, I hear his footsteps echo away seconds later.
I linger on the spot a while longer, just briefly turning my head to a side to eye the ten-foot-high and five-foot-wide hole that Antonio and Miya used to return into the tunnels.
I suppose it really works...
After Jeremy’s footsteps fade away completely, I turn to the direction in which he disappeared into and I follow silently. My hands slide into my pockets and my eyes wonder the safe havened walls as I lose myself in my thoughts.
It is no easy task finding your way into this home of ours, but once having done so, it’s hard to forget.
These tunnels run six-miles-long and connect to each of the divided sectors above ground. The five doors to this sanctuary tenant of the undesired is hidden on the walls and grounds of the deceiving dead end caves. It had been made as such after the founders, who are decades gone, built this refuge.
As I come to a stop at the center market of the ground, I eye the happy individuals coming and going. It is a happy place, I would say, or so we must make it as such for it is all we have. In this home, we live off of favors. The stands serve to give away and when one is in need, we happily provide to others as they would for us.
With a greeting nod, I continue my steps and walk into the fifth corridor, leading me out of one of the market centers and into another until I reach the cascade that falls into the river that serves as the entire village’s water supply.
I watch the children run around and play, every-so-often kneeling at the edge of the running water and dipping their small cupped hands for a refreshment as if without a care in the world. It is satisfying to see them laugh away in innocence as they continue their game of ‘Tag’, and as I catch the sight of their bare and mud stained feet, I am reminded of how we quickly grow accustomed to the dirt that sticks to our skin and stains our clothes as it is what we practically live in.
I shoot a smile at the couple of children that take the time to acknowledge me and I continue my walk, turning to the first corridor to my left that leads me to the cob built home of my dear friend, Briannah.
The gray walls quickly come into view and I draw my hands from my pockets as I come to a stop at the doorless entrance. I rap my knuckles against the hard clay, peaking my head in before I hear the familiar voice of Doctor Caleb echo, “Come in.”
Doctor Caleb is a sweet man in his mid-forties with a the brain of a genius. He is one of the rare few that were born and raised in the ground above and later sentenced to death for a unforgivable crime committed: he mated with a woman of a different Ring.
With cautious steps, I silently enter the well-kept premises. I briefly gaze at the hard mud ground, shifting my sight to the cob walls as I proceed forward until I meet Briannah’s bedroom.
I move to a side and cross my arms just beneath my chest as I lean my back against the wall and catch the gaze of the red-haired man who glances back at me to confirm my presence. While he returns his sight to the chocolate-brown eyed woman lying on the bed, I notice Jeremy out of the corner of my eye.
He stands on the far left side of the room in the same position as I with a blank expression on his face. Though he pretends as if he isn’t worried in the slightest, I can tell he is otherwise by the look on his honey colored eyes.
When a hard cough emits from Briannah, I snap my eyes to her to watch as Caleb gently sits her up and holds a white towel against her mouth. Shortly after, he sets the towel down, and the blood stain doesn’t go unnoticed by Jeremy or I as we are quick to step forward in apprehension.
“It’s all right,” Caleb says softly as he hands her a glass of water and allows her to take a sip before setting it down on the small cob table stationed beside the bed. He then proceeds to help her lay back down and pulls the bed sheet over her lightly sweating body before concluding, “Get some rest.”
With that, Caleb gathers his tools and nods for the exit as he gazes between Jeremy and myself. I am only able to merely glimpse at Briannah to see that she is laying with her eyes closed and I nod at Caleb as I watch him walk past me, and I follow behind him.
I hear Jeremy’s light footsteps mix with my own and a sigh passes his lips when we come to a stop at the exit of the house.
“What’s wrong with her, Caleb?” Jeremy asks with an irritation in his voice.
Caleb exhales a heavy breath and he turns to the both of us with a thoughtful look on his hard features. “The good news is that she is going to be okay,” he reassures and almost instantly, Jeremy’s and my own demeanor change to show our relief.
"However,” he emphasizes as he hands Jeremy a written piece of paper, “she is going to need medicine. What has been causing her headaches, fever, and the coughing of blood in phlegm is a sinus infection.”
At the mere mention of medicine, Jeremy and I turn to look at each other with a mutual understanding look.
“One of you will have to make the trip,” Caleb adds. He shoots Jeremy and I one last look before he walks away and leaves me with Jeremy to decide between us two.
Although it is true that, from time to time, some of us take the risk of leaving these walls to get a breath of fresh air and food other than the vegetables and fruit that grow in the large greenhouse back in old Phil’s place, the dangers behind doing so are great.
I have only been out of the tunnels a few times in my life and I have never been out on a purpose to go into town and purchase from the drug store. Jobs of such are left to the others who live here and hardly look like half-bloods or aren’t half-bloods at all.
However, a job like this requires someone who is willing to put their life on the line for the mere purpose of saving another, and only Jeremy and I cared about Briannah enough to that extent.
“I’ll go,” Jeremy decides without allowing my speak beforehand.
I scoff, “No. You’re not.”
His eyebrows furrow at me as I snatch the paper from his hand, I knowing that within the folds is written the prescription of the medicine needed.
“You have a meeting to attend,” I mutter before he can protest, and as I am to turn away from him, he grips my upper-arm and holds me back.
I am almost certain he is to fight me for my decision, but I am utterly surprised when he doesn’t but instead his voice trails off as he says, “Alaki, don’t go alone. If you get caught...”
“I know, Jeremy,” I breath out, a sigh passing my own lips as I pull out of his grip and begin to walk away.
I don’t turn back to look at him or acknowledge him any further; I know his reasons for backing down. He has far more to lose than I, and truly, if anyone was in a situation where they were caught by anyone above, I would be the perfect subject: I know exactly what and what not to do.
“Morris?” I call as I make my way across the farthest center market and meet the tall and secure stand of the Jade keeper.
My eyes scan the nearly empty grounds, the time of slumber coming around to have most of those who work and roam the markets retire to their respective homes.
“Alaki!” Morris greets, coming to stand from the large rock he had been sitting on to move closer to the wooden counter. His large blue eyes meet my own and he kindly asks, “How may I help you today?”
I smile at the sight of the wholehearted old man. I have known him all of my life and it almost seems as if he never changes—inside and out. The same old gray hair covers his chin and jawline, and not a single bald spot serves to ruin that perfectly whole-haired head of his.
“Well,” I acknowledge as I arch an eyebrow. “First you can start off by telling me how you’re doing.”
He emits a joyful chuckle while bringing his hand up to his head to run it through his hair, and he states, “Always looking out for the old man, eh?”
A smirk plays on my lips and I playfully say, “If I don’t, who will?”
“Not I, that’s for sure,” Morris scoffs. We chuckle away until he clears his throat and finally acknowledges, “I’m doing well. How about yourself?”
I nod and give him a warm smile. I don’t waste anymore time and I get straight to the point after briefly answering, “Good. Listen, I need to go buy medicine for Briannah.”
“How is she?” Morris asks. It was nice not having to explain everything to him, he just about knows everyone that lives within these tunnels. Yes, Morris is that sweet old man that goes around and greets everyone on his way to his stand, considering that he does rest several markets away.
“She’s going to be okay,” I explain. “Caleb says she has a sinus infection?”
“Ah, yes...” Morris’ voice trails off as he nods away. “Those are pretty nasty.”
He reaches for a small, crossbody, burlap bag and draws his hand into the large box that is stationed beneath the counter. The sound of the gemstone coins clicking meets my ears and moments later, Morris pulls the small bag up to the counter and seals it.
“Here you are,” he says with a smile. “I threw in a little extra in case you get hungry.”
I scoff, “I doubt I will, but thank you very much.”
With that, I take the bag into my hand and set the strap across my torso, adjusting the bag on my hip.
“It is always my pleasure, sweetie,” Morris returns.
We exchange smiles once more before I turn and begin my way out of the market. However, before I am too far off, I hear Morris call, “Eh! You got anyone to go with you?”
I immediately stop on my tracks and my breath catches in my throat. I fear that the old man wants to tag along and it instantly makes me anxious. Although I am well-aware that I cannot go alone for if I get caught someone has to get the medicine here, Morris is in no condition to run and much less attempt to fight back if it comes down to it.
When I turn around to catch sight of Morris, a dark-skinned boy around the age of sixteen is standing beside him. His head has been shaved to be completely bald, and he could easily pass as a valid Ring member, if it isn’t for the color of his hazel-green eyes.
“This is Marcus,” Morris introduces. “He’s a good kid and hasn’t been out in years. He should help you blend right in.”
It must have been a cue for the teenage boy because the second those words left Morris’ mouth, the boy slipped on a pair of shades to prove Morris’ claim. I study him, his composure and clothing.
The old man was right. From the combat boots on Marcus’ feet and black cargo pants concealing his legs to the white t-shirt concealing his torso and the shades covering his eyes, he is perfect.
With a nod, I decide, “Alright. Come along, then.”