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don't let me be

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“I was pushing something,” Tyler twirled his hair between his index and thumb. “It was metal, and it cut the greenery. I pushed it around the area, outlining the big square, going back and forth. The green got shorter as I went over it. The smell was so… relaxing. I heard music through what were headphones, but not the type of music you would think of, it was… different. It was, loud, yet quiet. Chaotic, but still as if every noise and sound worked together to make… something meaningful. The lyrics meant something, something that I had never heard. Something that wasn’t to please the bishops. It was something to… it was something that made me feel less alone. It made me feel… like it’s worth it.”

“Like there is a reason to fight?” Josh softly mumbled, playing with the last button on his shirt. The room was quiet, and dimly lit. The clock glowed, displaying the white numbers 1:34 am. No one was awake accept for the two boys, sitting on the floor of the basement in Tyler’s building. “Was there anyone else there?” Josh finally broke the silence.

“I vaguely remember, but I’m pretty sure Jenna was there. It would make sense, it was outside our living quarters. I’m pretty sure she was sitting on the porch with… a baby. And it was, it was our baby.”

“Tyler….” Josh looked in sympathy. Jenna and Tyler had been wanting a child for so long. They were truly in love and wanted to start a family. She was the only thing that made Dema worth it, and the only reason Tyler stayed.

“I want to leave, Tyler.”

“What?”

“I want to leave. Jenna does too. We all do, me, Ash, Jess. I want to see what’s beyond the walls. The places you dream of, all the green? I’ve seen it too. It’s beyond these walls that keep us confined to this hell. I can see it in their faces, Tyler, they’re miserable. The stuff the Bishop’s tell us is bullshit and I see past it. God knows we’ve all questioned them but… but I’m sick of it. They lie to us about the outside world and I’ve seen it-”

“Josh, nobody's seen above the walls except the bishops. You don’t know what’s out th-”

“Tyler, I can show you.” Josh reached his hand out. Tyler hesitated, doubting what Josh had just said, but he wanted to see the green. He had to know. Tyler grasped his hand, remembering his dream about taking care of the greenery, remembering the music, and remembering the baby. Everything Tyler wanted may be past the walls that confined him, and though trusting Josh at the moment may not be the right thing, it was the best thing. He was willing to take the risk.   

....

Ash could see her breath in the cold air as she waited for Josh and Tyler. Her watch read 1:47, 9 minutes since Josh had called her. The wind brushed through her long, brown, curly hair. 1:48. 10 minutes since she heard from the boys. She was starting to worry about them, but pushed the thoughts to the back of her head, as Josh had taught her. He told her a lot of advice, including not to worry about others when you’re risking your own life.

The sound of footsteps finally crushed against the pavement. Tyler and Josh turned the corner, halting in front of Ash. They looked tired, as if they had just outrun something.

They breathed heavy, pain and fear in Tyler’s face. Josh on the other hand was more light hearted. He was so used to the fear factor, it became adrenaline. The anxiety still lingered, but he had taught himself to use it to push through the fear. A small grin tugged at his lips.

“You have the keys?” Ash gestured her hand out, feeling the cold metal bite against her hands as josh placed them in her palm. She shoved the key into the door she stood by, unlocking it and swinging it open for the boys. They walked in together, lighting the flashlight once the door slammed behind them. Josh shined it to reveal a long staircase, winding up Keon’s tower. Josh started up the case, his footsteps echoing throughout the hollow tower.

The bishop had left for the night, but they still headed up catiously, careful that their breathes weren’t too loud. The ascent was long, and Tyler could feel his legs weakening. He wanted to sleep, but his curiosity got the best of him.

(Nobody had access to the tower accept for Ash and Josh, who previously worked in the tower. Ash’s family had a deep history with the bishops, generations of them working and maintaining the towers that were sacred to the bishops. Ash had recently resigned to focus on school, sneaking the keys back to her apartment after her last day.)

Tyler, Josh, and Ash finally reached the top of the tower.

“Where do we go from here?” Tyler’s voice shook, at a low volume out of fear of being heard.

Josh pulled out a steal key, putting it in a small key hole. He fiddled with it until, click, the wooden door opened to the roof of the tower.

Josh slowly exhaled, watching his breath appear in the air, and his boots clacking against the bricks. He walked slowly to the edge of the tower, dropping his backpack on the cold stone. Tyler watched in amazement as he walked onto the terrace. He breathed out slowly, and his eyes widened in amazement. The green hills cascaded in the distance, far past the walls of the city he now saw imprisoned him. The hills surrounded the wall, and to the south, the hills dropped off into black, sandy plains and fields of green. His eyes started to water, seeing what he had always dreamed of. A land he could never describe, always on the tip of his tongue, and always in taunting his dreams.

“Josh…” Tyler couldn’t finish the sentence. He came to him, embracing his best friend, letting the tears roll down his cold, red cheeks.

“I wanna leave, I wanna leave so bad Josh. What’s beyond those walls is what I’ve dreamed of. It’s the life I’ve imagined josh, for me, for Jenna, for you, for all of us.” Tyler looked him in the eyes, “I want to go Josh,”



Chapter Text

“Sahlo Folina” echoed loudly, buzzing through tyler head. He woke up, gasping for air. The clock read 3:47 am. The phrase rang in his ears, getting louder and louder. He tried to ignore it, but he couldn’t.

It reminded him of something Ash had said earlier. It hadn’t really stuck with him, and he thought he had brushed it off and forgot about it. He tried to recall what she said, his brain hurting the more he thought about it, and the more the phrase echoed in his head. He finally remembered what she mentioned. Anytime she wasn’t around the neon or wasn’t alone, she could almost feel like she could breathe normally.

Tyler kicked the covers off quickly, grabbing a shirt and slippers. It was winter in dema, so grabbing a coat out of the closet, her opened the door and ran down the hall. Down the stairs he ran, putting on his coat as he tried not to trip. He ran down the hall to Ash’s apartment, which wasn’t too far from his own. The building was connected to his by a inclosed sky bridge, making it easier to sneak to her place. He did it a lot, it was just the kind of person he was. Jenna had always told him to stop, but he never listened.

He finally reached her door, which laid at the end of the hall on the second floor. Just as Tyler was about to pound on the door, he realized the early hour it was, and realized what a
bad idea it was. He didn’t want to get punished for being out past curfew.

He was about to tap on the door, when Ash opened it, dressed in her sleep wear, but wearing her winter coat. She was dressed to leave.

“What are you doing up?” Tyler sounded shocked.

“Tyler you’ve known for a while.”

“Ash, I’m tired, and I don’t know, can I come in?”

“Just go back to your place, Jenna’s gonna worry.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to Jess’s.” Tyler stood there in silence. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to hold her back, but he cared about her too much to let her get caught. Ash finally met his eyes and spoke cautiously.

“The camera’s turn off at 12am and back on at 6am, a few hours before worship starts. I can make it back in time.”

“Their gonna punish you for being out past curfew, Ash!”

“I could say the same about you, Tyler.”

“Yeah, but I do this type of shit all the time, not you.”

“They’ll kill me if they see me with Jess, so I have to go at night.”

“Ash-”

“They punished us for holding hands Tyler, they banned us from seeing each other. Imagine not being able to be with Jenna, how heart wrenching that would be. Tyler…. I love her.”

“Ash…” Tyler stared deep into her eyes. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what it was like to not be with the one you loved. All he wanted was to leave, so his friends could be happy.

“It’s fine.”

“I need to come with you.”

“What, no, you’re already gonna get in trou-”

“Sahlo Folina.” Tyler stared at Ash. It took her a moment to respond.

“Come on.” She grabbed his hand and started sprinting toward the end of the hall.

....

Jess starred at her ceiling fan. Why do I keep it on? It was such a routine for her, she had to think for a little bit. It was to keep the neon from infecting her system. It circulated it through the air and kept it out of her lungs. Maybe that’s why she was the only person who could think semi clearly in dema. It didn’t matter. She was leaving in 3 days. She planned to escape, and tonight she was going to try to convince Ash to come with her.

Jess went through the checklist again. Hoodie, hair brush, food, water, knife, and her backpack. Her clothes she was going to sneak out in were concealed in her secret drawer. She also had a map of dema in there, showing her key escape points. Jess was ready to go, accept one thing she had to do. Cut her hair.

She had always been artistic. She got punished for using the bleach in the laundry room to bleach her hair. She then used the flower pigments she got from the flowers growing on the west wall and mixed it with fabric dye to dye her hair. It was a color only seen in the ancient paintings hanging in keon’s tower, which she went to for punishment. Jess had spent 3 days in a confined space with the neon tubes, attempting to cleanse her of her rebellious thoughts.

Her hair was now a faded aqua, and her brown roots had grown to right above her ears. If she cut her hair to shoulder length, she would be able to keep the color.
There Jess stood in her bathroom, only a dim light bulb lighting the room. She carefully brought her paint stained scissors up to her hair. There was no going back. Snip. A lock of aqua hair fell to the floor. She smiled in the mirror, a rare occurrence in dema, but Jess felt truly happy. She felt like she was about to leave. Like the misty fog that covered dema in the morning was lifted off her shoulders.

About halfway through the cutting process, there was a startling tap on the door. The scissors flew out of her hand, cutting across her lip and onto the floor. Jess contained her agony by clenching her teeth, and blood dripped on to her bathroom counter. She quickly grabbed a cloth and rushed to the door. Peering through the eyehole, she saw two figures. One was tall and skinny, while the other was the figure of her slim girlfriend.

“What the hell!” Jess slammed the door open, and without even saying hello, Tyler and Ash barraged into her dull, grey apartment like the rest of dema.

“Hey Jess, I know this is inconvenient, but-” Ash glanced around the room. Her sew deep eyes darted around observing. Thoughts raced past her mind. She slowly realized what was happening, why the room was covered with stuff, why there was a backpack. She realized why Jess did her laundry yesterday and not on her usual day. Ash went in to a panic, quickly wiping around to face her girlfriend who stood in the entryway next to her bathroom door.

“Are you le-”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Jess lowered her gaze, looking at her socks. She hadn’t processed how she was gonna tell Jess. She didn’t realize how hard it would be on her walking in and seeing her plans.

Ash stood in disbelief as Tyler sat on Jess’s bed, looking out the window. Ash finally stopped looking around to get a good look at Jess.

“Oh my god, you didn’t…” Ash reached out for where used to be Jess’s hair, but instead found only her arm. Ash grasped it, breathing heavily. She didn’t know what to think. Her anxiety was starting to spike at the realization her girlfriend was gonna go out into the unknown and leave her behind in the grey, dull hell.

“I did…” Jess quietly mumbled.

“You can’t leave Jess…” Ash sat down next to Tyler and buried her head in her hands. She let out a small choke, letting the tears well up in her eyes.

“Ash, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, it’s just…” contemplating on what to say, Jess kneeled down in front of her girlfriend. She felt guilty, though she shouldn’t. Jess was trying to do what was best for both of them, but maybe she was making the wrong decision. “I didn’t even know I planned on leaving until yesterday morning. And… I’m not leaving without you.”

Tyler suddenly stood up, darting to the window. There was shock on his face, a rare occurrence. Hands on the cold windows sill, he gasped loudly. Cupping his hands to block out the light, he pressed his nose against the window and looked for a quick second. He gasped and ran to the door, going to see what had caused him to go into panic mode.

“What ,Tyler, what did you see? What are you doing?” Jess and Ash both followed him to the door that he was about to open.

“You weren’t the only one planning on leaving, Jess.”

Tyler rushed out the door and down the hall, out to the street that Jess’s room overlooked. The couple hesitated, but after a few long seconds, they ran after Tyler down to the street.

“JOSH.” Tyler ran up and grabbed the figure he had saw out the window. He wore a hoodie and backpack, carrying a torch that was not yet lite, but he had a lighter in his hand. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Tyler, you need to leave.”

“You think you can leave dema just like that? You think you can leave without even saying goodbye? At least Jess had the decency to warn us!” Tears started to well up in Tyler’s eyes. So many thoughts ran through his head, and he couldn’t control what he felt.

“Tyler, you’re not safe, you need to get back to your living quarter.”

“Josh, why?! Please, please don’t leave i need you josh. You can’t leave, you don’t know what’s out there. I know it’s bad here but Josh-”

“Nico is coming, I’m trying to protect you Tyler. Just trust me on this. Please. It will all make sense. Just go back, Jenna will explain. Please Tyler just trust me, we will see each other soon, just not in dema. I’ll… i’ll come back for you. ”

“I…”

“Tyler,” Josh embraced his best friend, letting out the smallest choke of tears, “Stay alive. Please.”

They let go of each other, and Tyler watched as Josh walked toward the east wall.

“Oh, and remember, Tyler,” Josh turned around for the final time, tears streaming down his face, ”east is up.”
Tyler fell to his knees, standing where Josh had once stood. The ground was cold and his knees hurt. He didn’t know how to feel. Josh hadn’t betrayed him, and he wasn’t mad. He just felt… empty.

Ash rushed out and grabbed him just in time before they started to hear the distant hoof against the stone path.

The three ran back up to Jess’s room and turned all the lights off, so they would not be seen by the incoming bishop. They watched as the red hooded figure rode by on a white as snow horse.

“It’s definitely Nico” Ash whispered, peering just above the window sill so she could see the bishop. “He’s the only one with a white horse.”

The bishop seemed to crall past, but finally, he was gone. Jess turned on a small lamp and headed back to the bathroom to finish her haircut.

“Well? What’s your plan then? Am I coming with you?” Ash leaned against the door frame with crossed arms, trying to seem intimidating. Really, she just wanted to hug Jess. She wanted to feel safe in her arms again, no matter where they were. Ash wanted to spend the rest of her life with her.

“Well, yeah, I wouldn’t leave without you. Ash, you’re the only reason life is worth it right now. ” Jess turned to Ash, and stared deeply into her eyes, cracking a smirk. All was well, until Tyler finally started talking.

“Do you even care about what just happened? Josh just… left. He left us with nothing.”

The girls stood quietly. They were close to Josh, but not like Tyler was. They were more tolerant of Josh’s behaviour. Tyler on the other hand was so protective of him, he was the only person he has except Jenna.

“He left Jenna with something…” Ash lifted her deep sea eyes to meet Tyler’s.

Tyler’s eyes were like honey. Smooth and pretty, yet to mysterious. They darted back and forth, his thought running a million miles an hour.

“Why not me, why Jenna. Why not his best friend?”

“Tyler, everyone knows you’ll listen to Jenna better. You weren’t home and he had to leave, so he left the info with her. Either way, he said you would see each other again, outside of dema. Isn’t that good?”

Tyler stayed silent. He didn’t want to respond, he was too emotional. He wanted to know if Josh was okay, but that was near impossible.

“I need to get back. Jenna will worry about me.” Tyler walked past the girls, his head down trying to hide the tears running down his cold cheeks. He exited the apartment and carefully walked back to apartment 1539.

Chapter Text

“It is currently 6am, November the 3rd. Worship starts in 2 hours. You are now aloud to roam freely until then.” The morning speaker echoed throughout dema, as it did every morning of every year.

Tyler turned over to his snoring wife, and thought about how pretty she was. The only pretty thing in dema. Even better than the outside world.

Still, he wanted to leave.

Josh’s words echoed through his head, and the phrase that he originally went to talk to Ash about was stuck in the back of his head. He never got to ask what she thought it meant, after all that happened last night.

Tyler decided to get up and pour himself some cereal. He was starving, and his stomach was empty from crying. Jenna hadn’t heard him when he came home, surprisingly. He didn’t want to wake her up, because even though they were married, he still felt like a burden to her when he cried. She had told him before he needed to wake her up if he was having a hard time so she could help, but he still didn’t. He still felt like she would unrealistically get mad.

Tyler sat at the counter chewing the flavorless bits of wheat as he got lost deep in thought. He thought about Josh. What was out there? Did he even make it out? Josh was smart. He knew how to avoid the bishops, yet Tyler still worried. There was no civilization out there, not that he knew of. There were rumors of rebel groups, but they were just folk tale. If there were any, they would have died long ago. Josh had no one out there. Unless he could find a source of food, he was as good as dead.

His thoughts were disrupted by the feeling of arms wrapping around his waist. He felt a small peck on his cheek, and then a head on his shoulder, blond hair spilling onto his chest. Jenna has woken up, and she was now hugging her husband from behind.

Jenna released from him and pulled out the bar stool next to him. Sitting next to her husband, she wrapped her arm around him.

“Josh stopped by last night.” She spoke softly, in a comforting tone.

“I know.”

“Oh…”

“I saw him leaving, so I ran out to him. He told me he would come back for me.”

Jenna contemplated on what to say next. Did she tell him about the banditos first? Or did she explain when the details about leaving?

“There’s so much… there’s so much I have to tell you, Tyler.”

“Okay. Start with Josh. Where did he go?”

Jenna pulled out a note, unfolding it and laying it in front of Tyler. Josh’s words were scribbled across it.

Written on was a set of coordinates and a set of directions in detail on how to escape through the east wall. Jenna inhaled deeply, preparing for Tyler’s reaction.

“Josh decided last night that he needed to leave. The neon was too much for him. He had found some old books on how to escape in the bishops library, and planned it all out.”

“There’s nothing out there Jenna, he’s good as dead…”

This was the moment she had to tell him. She had to tell them about the banditos.

“Did you hear about the infiltration last weak?” Jenna knew he probably hadn’t, since the bishops had to keep most news about escaping away from him.

Tyler had tried to escape a few months ago, but the bishops wiped it from his memory. They had cleansed him. He somehow was able to remember his friends, which was unheard of. They had to keep all info away from him just in case he remembered his last escape attempt. Jenna had kept it up for the first month because she knew what would happen if she didn’t obey the bishops. She couldn’t bare to lose Tyler to his own impulsive actions of wanting to escape.

“It sounds familiar…” Tyler finally interrupted her thoughts.

“It was a bandito. Josh was working when it happened and he… he interacted with the bandito. The bishops didn’t catch him but he said something changed in him after that interaction. He said he felt like he was suffocating and needed to leave.”

“The banditos aren’t real, Jenna…”

“That’s what they want you to think, Ty.”

“He’s dead.”

“He’s not dead.”

“I’m never gonna see him again…”

“Ty!” Jenna grasped his hand. “You’re gonna see Josh again! He’s with the banditos!”

“Please, Jenna, don’t lie to me.” He stared into her enthralling, sky blue eyes. Jenna locked her gaze with him.

“Why would I lie to you?”

…..

It was early in the evening when it happened. Tyler stared out into the street blankly as nothing happened. Nothing ever happened. The evening was dull for now.

Suddenly, the screech of a girl pierced the silence from outside his window. He would have just ignored it, assuming it was just a citizen being punished, but it sounded way to familiar to him.

He grabbed his coat and ran out the door. He heard another scream and ran in the direction of the sound. It was coming from Nico’s tower.

Tyler reached the door, putting his ear up against it. The metal door was numbingly cold, but Tyler forced himself to stay against it. The scream became fainter along with the sound of two pairs of feet climbing up a set of stairs. No, he thought, one was footsteps, and the other was a constant dragging sound. The sound of feet scratching, struggling against metal stairs, fighting for freedom. The scream finally stopped. Tyler was just about to remove his ear from the door when he heard something startling.

“TYLER!” the voice pierced through his ears. He finally recognized the screech, sending him into a panic. It was Ash. Ash was about to be punished by the most ruthless bishop of them all.

Tyler sprinted for Jess’s building, knowing she could be the only person who would get her out alive. That was if she wasn’t being punished too. If she wasn’t, then Ash was definitely in trouble for something he didn’t know of.

He finally reached her door, pounding as if his life depended on it, because Ash’s. Jess finally answered the door, taking a little bit of pressure of his chest.

“Tyler- “ She started to question him, but he rushed in too quickly. He grabbed her coat, throwing it at her and grabbing her hand before she had time to comprehend. He dragged her down the stairs of the building to the concrete street.

“Tyler! What are we doing?” They stopped in front of Nico’s tower. Tyler grabbed her coat from her hand and started searching through the pockets.

“What are you looking for?” Jess grabbed Tyler head and forced him to look at her. “Why are we here?”

He took a deep, shaky breathe in. He was bad at telling people anything, especially when it could make them cry.

“You always have a copy Ash’s key to Nico’s tower.”

“No I don’t.”

“Just in case something bad happens.”

He could see her expression morph quickly, hurt and pain on her face. She knew what he meant, she knew exactly what was going on. Anger started to form in the pit of Jess’s stomach.

Here,” She reached into the inside of her coat, unzipping a small pocket, unseeable by anyone not looking. Hands shaking, she pulled out a small brass key and slammed it into the keyhole. Jess fiddled with it until she finally got it to unlock. She pushed the door open, letting it creak. She gazed into the darkness, ready to face the worst.

….

 

“Ashlynn Watts.” Nico’s raspy voice pierced her ears as she started to fade back into existence. She felt her wrists bound to the chair she sat in. Her vision was still unfocused, but she could tell Nico was standing in front of her. The room was dimly lit, neon tubes faintly glowing behind her. To Ash’s left was a pile of empty vials and scrolls on a desk. There was a missing chair, she could tell due to the arrangement of the papers. She assumed she was sitting in the chair that was once there.

Her vision finally focused. Nico was now holding one of the empty vials. He stared deeply into her eyes, with a face of disgust,

“Do you know why you’re here?” Nico stood perfectly still, his eyes locked to Ash’s.

Honestly, probably. I’ve done a lot of code breaking lately.”

“Violation of code 15398642_01, association with the banditos.”

Ash’s eyes widened. She had done a lot of things, but she hadn’t been associated with the banditos.

“Are you an associate of Joshua Dun?” Nico inched closer, his tone becoming more annoyed.

“Yes, but, I didn’t know anything about his escape.”

“You were his closest friend. You let him into Keon’s tower a few nights ago, past curfew, and with a key that was supposed to be confiscated with your resignation 3 months ago. You are in violation of associating with a bandito and helping them escape. Punishment is cleansing.”

“I didn’t know he was a Bandito, he didn’t even tell me he knew about them.”

“It does not matter, you had the means to break code when you entered Keon’s tower.”

“What about Tyler?” Ash felt bad throwing him under the bus, but she had to know why he wasn’t here. Nico stood there in silence, his face slowly turning bitter.

“Tyler shall not face punishment due to his previous record of cleansing.” Nico inched closer, a tone of anger in his voice. Ash knew she was about to be cleansed, and she accepted it, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t try to find answers.

“You’re scared of him, aren’t you.” A smile pulled at Ash’s lips. It finally made sense why Tyler never got caught. It finally made sense why he had the power to withstand all the cleansing.

“You want to use him to strengthen dema, but he’s refusing. He’s one of the most strong willed, stubborn citizens I know and you want to use him.”

Nico became enraged and started to quickly approach Ash, vile stretched out toward her.

“You’re dying, and you need a new Bis-” Ash was cut off by a surging pain. She felt neon surging through her body, piercing every bone. It ran through her veins and buzzed in her ears. She screamed at the top of her lungs, trying to get rid of the pain, but it was too strong. It was numbing, making her thoughts muted. All she could think of or… remember, was her name, her bishop, and her city.

The pain eased away after Nico took the now full vial away from her chest, her eyes still buzzing and ears ringing. All she could hear was Nico’s sour voice, telling her information.

“Your name is Ashlynn, you live in Nico’s district, you know no one accept yourself and the Bishops.”

Ash repeated the phrase mindlessly. There was nothing in left in her accept that information. She was cleansed of the outside world. She was cleansed of the Banditos. She was cleansed of Jess. She was cleansed of emotions. She didn’t feel anything.

Chapter Text

Tyler grabbed Jess’s hand, rushing towards an unlocked door that he had spotted. They heard the screams from Ash above them and decided they needed to hide since Nico would obviously be coming soon, since the cleansing had been done.

After the door shut behind them, Tyler quickly scrambled for a light switch. As he discovered it was non existent, Jess pulled a flashlight out of her coat.

She shined the light across the room, the light beam gracing across the stone walls. On the wall across from them they spotted a window, the shades drawn, causing the lack of light.

Tyler crosses the room, gently tugging at the two curtains, moving them out of the way so the natural light could illuminate the room.

The sun had nearly set, but the room was still bright enough for the girl to turn off her flashlight.

To the right of the room was bookshelves, scattered with old, torn, faded books and old papers, which Tyler assumed to be maps. Right in the corner behind the bookshelves stood some torches, covered in dust due to the fact of not being lit in ages.

To the left of the window was an old wardrobe. It was made of an old wood, with yellow painted details, a color rarely seen by the citizens of dema unless there was a break in. Jess walked over to it and tugged at the door, trying not to make much noise.

She gasped when she saw what was inside. Hanging on the rack was an assortment of green, white, grey, black, and yellow clothing. Jess pulled at one of the sleeves, looking at the green with a strip of yellow on the upper arm. Grasping at the hanger, she pulled the jacket out, revealing a long olive green trench coat that was covered in yellow strips.

“He’s alive.” Tyler spoke into the piercing silence.

“If means the banditos are real… Josh could very well be alive and with them.” Jess breathed heavily, taking the coat off the hanger. She slipped it on, not paying attention to Tyler as he crossed the room to the window.

It was fitted well, fitting her perfectly. A smile tugged at her lips as she realized how happy she was. She felt so free, and motivated. Tonight was the night she had to escape. Tonight was-

“No, he’s alive.” Tyler interrupted her thoughts, sliding open the cold window and leaning out to get a better look at the figure standing at the bottom of the tower. The figure held a torch and was covered from head to toe in green and yellow.

“It’s him, it has to be him.” Tyler shook his head in disbelief and started for the door.

“Wait, what about Ash?”

“I...um...well-”

“Ash is just as important as Josh!” Jess opened the door and started up the flight of stairs.

“Josh is alive!”

“And Ash could be dead!”

Suddenly, they heard the sound of a door swinging open from above. They looked above to see the menacing, red hooded figure. He started winding down the staircase toward them, not yet seeing the pair.

Tyler pulled Jess back into the room quietly closing the door, but leaving it so it didn’t click closed.

The ominous red figure passed them slowly, winding down the cold, metal stairs. Nico eventually reached the bottom of the tower, exiting out into the cold night.

Tyler leaned against the door, sliding down into a couch and barring his hands in his face. Tears slowly soaked through his pale fingers, dropping to the cold stone ground that he stood on. Josh wasn’t gonna make it out. Nico had seen him and was coming to kill him. No, he couldn’t think like that. Josh will be punished. This needed to stop. He needed to stop thinking that- You’ll hear the same screams from Josh as you did from Ash, just another friends blood on your hands-

“ENOUGH!” Tyler screamed in agony. He couldn’t take it anymore. He didn’t want to hear anything from his messed up thoughts.

He looked up to see horror on Jess’s face as she clutched green jackets detailed with yellow and a two backpacks on her shoulder filled with essentials. She must had gathered supplies to escape while he was lost in thought.

“No, no, no…Tyler.” Jess ran to the door as Tyler bounced up. She swung it open just in time to hear the entrance to the tower swing open and see the scarlet hooded figure enter. Nico knew they were there.

Jess grabbed Tyler’s hand and started taking the steps up to where Ash was, skipping two at a time. Their heavy footsteps clanged against the metal steps as they climbed what felt like was forever. Finally, they reached the old wooden door to the punishment room and rushed in.

Once they entered the room, they slammed the door shut and found anything to block it. There was a desk in the corner they could use, so with a swift sprint, the pair pushed it in front of the door as a barricade. That would give them at least an extra minute or so depending if the watchers were around.
Breathing heavily, Jess finally turned around to see her lover.

Ash’s hands were white, clinging to the chair she was bound to though she remained unconscious. Her hair lay scattered over her ghostly face. Where her beautiful eyes once lie, was now grey toned eyelids and heavy, dark bags under her eyes. Though she was unconscious, she took heavy, sorrowful breathes, like she was having a depressing dream.

“Ash… what did he do to you?” Jess approached the limp body, reaching her hand out to cover her lovely ghosts hand, and the other to cup her cheek. She could feel the pressure of a sob building up in her throat, but she forced it back. She couldn’t cry. She wouldn’t cry.

“Right.” She stood up and brushed off her thighs and wiping her face. Turning to Tyler, she picked up one of the coats she had dropped on the desk barricading the door. She held it out to him.

“Wear this. You’ll need it.”

Tyler raised his eyebrows and slowly reached for the jacket. It was an olive green, and two yellow stripes covered the shoulders, while a yellow band ran around the upper left sleeve.
While Tyler hesitantly pulled on the jacket, Jess walked back over to the phantom that was left of Ash and worked at the straps that bound her arms to the chair.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash on the door. It sounded as if multiple people were slamming their shoulders into the door, and it slowly inched the desk away from where it held the door shut.

Jess worked harder at the arm braces as Tyler rushed over to help.

“Hold the door!” Jess screamed.

“I have a plan!”

“No you don’t!”

“Okay like 20% of a plan!”

“Tyler go ho-”

The desk crashed over with the force of a thousand winds as the door swung in. This was the end. Nico was here, and they were all gonna end up in the necropolis with the other neon graves.

Tyler slowly turned around, eyes closed in surrender. This was it, he was never gonna see the light of day again. He was certain of that until he felt warm arms around his waist and head spilling tears buried in the crook of his neck.

“I told you I’d come back.” A familiar voices lips moved against Tyler’s newly found jacket.

No, no, it couldn’t be.

“J… Josh?” Tyler whispered, slowly fluttering his eyes open.

“We’re going home Tyler.” Josh said as he released his friend to smile a toothy grin at him.

“Josh, we need to go. Nico will be coming for us soon, and he won’t be happy.”

Tyler hadn’t noticed the second figure in the room. It was a tall, slim female. She had dirty blond hair pulled up into a high ponytail with strands hanging out everywhere. She wore a similar jacket to Tyler’s, but with the tape in different places. She also had black pants on that were ripped around the knee. They met yellow combat boots at her ankles, which happened to be the same color as the bandana covering her face from the nose down.

Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t noticed Josh’s clothes. He wore the same bandana around his neck and a green hoodie with two stripes of yellow tape that crossed from his shoulders to the opposite hip. He had a black beanie on that matched his boots, and camo pants with a yellow band around the right knee.

“Right, Tyler and Jess, grab Ash. Follow Paige to the tunnels.” He gestured to the girl who stood behind him. “I’ll deal with grab Jenna and deal with Nico.”

“Josh, I’m coming with you.” Tyler started to head to the door, but was quickly pulled back.

“Tyler, I’m not risking losing you. We’re getting you as far from Nico, as quickly as we can.” Josh grabbed the torch he had set down earlier and reached for a lighter in his back pocket.

He turned to say one final goodbye and noticed Tyler’s face. He had tears in his eyes and was choking back a sob.

“I’m gonna come back Tyler… I always will.”

And with that, Josh left the stranger and the three best friends in the cold, suffocating room.

Chapter Text

Tyler followed the blonde girl down the steps of Nico’s tower with Ash in his arms. Jess had offered to take her, but Tyler figured she had better things to do than struggle to carry her girlfriend he could easily carry. The blonde girl, who Josh had identified as Paige, had said that it would be a short trip to the tunnels and they would camp out in there till Josh returned.

The cold air nipped at Tyler’s nose as he stepped out into the Dema air. Ash was starting to get heavy in his arms, but he didn’t mind. He felt a lot lighter now that he was out of the hellish tower, and his thoughts were more calm.

He could hear the girl he carried start to stir, her breathing becoming more lively. Her skin was starting to become more human again. Tyler reached to brush the small hairs that had fallen in her face, out of habit of doing it with Jenna.

“Quickly, in here.” Paige gestured to a door she held open. The three rushed through the threshold that opened into a dark tunnel. He’d never noticed this door way before, which seemed odd as it was in the middle of Nico’s district. He’d passed it a million times yet never noticed it.

 

….

 

Josh traveled down the alleys, sneaking past the night watchers. The neon buzzing clocks read 9:27pm. His footsteps rang against the pavement, piercing the silence of the early night.

Out of breath and sweaty, he arrived at Jenna and Tyler’s building, running up the stairs to the second floor. The lights were dimmed above, hardly lighting the hallway. He sprinted down to their door, the last one on the left of the hallway. Not bothering to knock, he rushed into the apartment.

Jenna didn’t notice him from where she was sitting, sipping coffee looking out the window. She turned around to see the man, dressed so differently than the last time she saw him.

Jenna quickly closed her mouth after opening it to gasp. She set the coffee down on the window sill and rushed to hug the man. She squeezed him tightly, forcing a small oof out of him. It took him a moment to hug back, but he eventually did, wrapping his arms around her smaller frame.

“Holy shit Josh, you’re back.” She mumbled into his duct tape covered chest.

“I’m back… don’t worry. I’m back.”

“I’m so excited to leave, I’m so excited to finally get out of this hell hole.”

“I know, I know.”

“What’s it like out there?” Jenna finally pulled away, quickly prancing over to her and Tyler’s bed. She crouched down and reached under it to pull out a beige backpack full of supplies.

“It’s better than you could ever imagine… it’s um, there’s a lot of people out there who are a lot like us. It’s really green, and pretty, and you don’t realize how cold Dema is until you experience the warmth of the sun. It smells good and there’s a lot of music. It’s just… it’s what it feels like to be-”

“Happy?” Jenna had now slung her backpack over her shoulders and was standing in front of Josh.

“Yeah. Really Happy.” Josh smiled and nodded.

The door slammed open, banging against the concrete and ringing through the air.

The pair whipped around to see Nico standing in the threshold. His eyebrow was bleeding from where he had knocked him out. It dripped down his face, though he showed no sign of injury.

He looked pissed. Like he was out for vengeance.

“Oh fuck, you’re here.” Josh grabbed a hold of Jenna’s shoulder, pulling her closer to him.

“Joshua… I see you’ve made your way to an innocent citizen. Step away from her.” His voice was dry and bitter, like sandpaper.

“No. She doesn’t deserve to be here. And neither does anyone else.”

“They’ve brainwashed you Joshua, they’ve made you believe you don’t belong here. They’ve made you think that this isn’t your home.”

“They’ll be a home more than this could ever bee. I’m leaving and taking Jenna with me.” He didn’t know how he was gonna get out, but he would find a way. He couldn’t leave Jenna here, and he couldn’t stay here either.

Nico suddenly collapsed, falling onto himself. Behind him stood a girl, about a head shorter than him. She wore circle frame glasses and had black hair tied up into a messy bun. She wore a grey jumpsuit, like the men in Dema wore when they were working. Sprouting from her top left pocket was a yellow bandana, and across her shoulders was a green backpack. She held a large metal pole, now down at her waist from taking a blow to Nico’s head.

“Come on,” she spoke in a hushed tone to the two rebels standing in the dimly lit apartment. “He’s not gonna be out for long.” She started down the hallway, quick in her steps with long strides.

After a moment of processing what just happened, Jenna and Josh hurriedly left after the girl,

They finally caught up to her when she was half way down the stairs. She seemed to know where they were going.

“Who are you?” Josh asked harshly, an almost offended tone in his voice.

“Clarissamia.” She replied as they reached the bottom of the stairs and started heading toward the tunnel where Paige had taken his friends. She obviously had the same plans as they did.

“That’s not a real name.” Jenna finally acknowledged the girl after all that had happened.

“Nico obviously thought it was.” The girl retorted.

“Well is there anything else we can call you? Anything nickname?”

“I don’t give that to people.” Her voice was bitter.

They continued on in silence until they reached the door to the catacombs. Josh rushed ahead of the stranger to pull it open, holding it open for the two women. Clarrisamia scoffed and ripped the torch out of Josh’s hand.

She pulled a lighter out of her pocket, lighting the torch with it. She led the two down the hallway for a little bit until they saw four figures in the distance.

“Josh?” A man called out. Josh smiled at the sound of the voice and started running to the person the voice belonged to.

….

 

Her brain was foggy and her vision was blurry. Nothing made sense. Her brain felt like a piece of it was missing. Like half of her was just… gone. Her vision slowly came back into focus and she noticed 5 figures standing a few meters away. They seemed… familiar. Two of them seemed to be hugging. Like her and Jess used tojfndojd@(#(#**DNJW(

One of them quickly noticed that she was waking up and rushed over to crouch down next to her. It was Jess she knew it was Jess 

She had brown and blue hair pulled up into a low ponytail and bangs that dusted across her forehead. Her green eyes sparkled in the torch light, and a smile started to purse across her lips.

“Ash… honey you’re awake,” The girl reached out to her and started stroking her shoulder. It just felt so… right. She knows she shouldn’t be interacting with any strangers like Nico had put in her brain  like she had always known.

“I… who are… where am… what’s happening?” Ash sputtered. She genuinely didn’t know, but she wanted to. She really wanted to remember  know.

 

Chapter Text

“Okay, but who are you? What region? Where did you get the bandana?” Josh continued the interrogation he had started earlier. Clarrisamia refused to answer his questions she found to be intrusive. They were just gonna have to blindly trust her like they already were. Her grey eyes bored into Josh’s through her circle frames.. They were cold like the stone bricks that Dema consisted of. She crossed her arms, standing perfectly straight. Her nose was just a few inches from Josh’s, causing the intensity to rise.

“If I tell you who I am, you will never see me the same way.” Clarrisamia broke her stare and walked past him. She glided over to where Jess was sitting, Ash next to her. She crouched down to tell Jess something, but a voice interrupted her.

“Sorry to interrupt, but we really need to get going. The camp is waiting” Paige finally spoke since they entered the tunnel. She sat a few feet away from Jess and Ash.

“Honey, do you think you can walk?” Jess turned to the girl who was slumped against her, playing with her golden brown locks. The color had finally returned to Ash’s face, unlike her memories.

“Um… I think. I just… I’ll need help until I can regain… regain my- my balance.” The girl stumbled over her words, trying to remember how to speak normally and function.

“How long ago was she cleansed?” Clarissamia asked, reaching her hand out to help Ash up onto her feet. Her knees were weak, but she was able to stand. Clarissamia lifted Ash’s arm around her neck for support while Jess grabbed her waist.

“About an hour ago, by Nico.” Tyler chirped as he stood up with Jenna and joined the group.

“You’re lucky you got her out. If you didn’t, she’d have no chance of remembering anything. She’d definitely gonna remember, but it will probably take a few days. Do you know what memories were taken?” The group started down the tunnel as the stranger asked questions.

“Probably all of them, knowing Nico.” Josh held the torch in front of him as they slowly made their way down the catacomb. The tunnel was dark, but soon they would be able to see the end of the tunnel.

“Damn, that’s… a lot.”

“Is that not normal?” Josh picked up on her confusion. She couldn’t be from Nico’s district.

“No, the bishops are supposed to just take what they need and go.” The stranger somehow knew so much about Dema, and Josh could't stop thinking about it. How though? It’s like she was a bishop herself, but with a hatred for Dema.

“You’re obviously not from Nico’s district.” Jenna said, almost sarcastically.

They continued on in silence for almost the rest of the journey. As they continued through the tunnel, the ground slowly turned to dirt. It started to become warmer, and the air started to feel less stale and feel fresher. Natural light started to stream in from the moon, the one they had hardly seen in Dema because the clouds always covered the sky. The sky was full of glimmering stars, each one seeming brighter than the other. The former citizens all gasped, amazed at the new sight. Josh simply smiled, happy to see the newly familiar sky. Clarissamia let out small sigh of relief, a small smile tugging at her lips. It was the first sign of actual emotion she had shown since they met her what felt like days ago.

“Welcome to Trench guys.” Josh exhaled deeply, allowing himself to grin fully. He let out a small chuckle.

“It’s… “ Tyler tried to speak, but he was too breathless. The beauty of the new place washed over him. He blinked in disbelief. I’m home , he thought.

 

 

She held the hot stew, sitting next to the whole camp, due to the fact that there was only 12 of them. She still somehow managed to tune them all out as her thoughts raced. She didn’t feel like eating, not till her friends got back. Not till she saw the camp leader’s beaming smile again.

She had been missing it for so many months and now she was scared she wouldn’t see it for another 6. He had just gotten back, and the thought of losing him to Dema again was just too… painful.

“Debby… he’s gonna be fine.” Zoe piped up, noticing she wasn’t participating in the conversation like her usually bubbly self.

Zoe was the newest edition to camp, increasing their number count. She got used to being a bandito fast, taking charge and pretty much making sure everyone was happy. Even Debby.

“I know… I just… you don’t understand how easy it is for them to slip back. Slip back into the void that is… Dema. Nico. Everything. It’s just… I’m so scared to lose him again.” She looked down at her hands, now trembling from the fear she realised had built up inside her.

“I really wish I knew Debby, I’m sorry. But I’m here for you. You can talk to me whenever. It’s gonna be okay.” Zoe patted her back and got up to go talk to some other banditos.

“I really hope so.” Debby sighed. She really wanted to believe that, but it was just so hard to when you had lost so much.

 

….

 

The sight of smoke rising in the distance made him smile, giving him that sense of familiarity he loved.

“Is that it?” Tyler pointed to where a small cluster of about 10 tents were surrounding a small smoke plume. It was just a half mile away, across the valley the was in front of them.

“Yeah, that’s the bandito camp. My camp… my home.” Josh smiled and started walking toward a trail that led down into the valley, where a river ran through.

The seven of them made their way down the steep trail, down into the quite literal trench where the cold stream ran.

The place seemed familiar to Tyler, almost like he had seen it in a dream. He probably had, knowing how vivid his dream were. But it seemed like more, like he had been there before. It felt too familiar to be just a dream.

They trekked through the valley, trying their best to avoid the cold, autumn water. Josh waltzed through it like he owned it. Ash stumbled alongside Jess and Clarrisamia, slowly regaining her balance.

“Doesn’t it look beautiful, baby?” Jess reached up to stroke Ash’s curly, brown locks.

“I… where are we?” Ash’s eyes looked glazed, turning her iris from a vast ocean into wishing wells.

“Honey, we’re outside Dema” Jess’s hand moved to hold her cheek.

“Why? Dema’s- Dema’s safe. Why would we l- leave?”

Jess stared into her confused eyes, tears welling up in her own.

“I want to go back, pl- please take me back. I wanna go back.” She started to resist against her once known lovers arm, struggling to break free. Tears started to trickle down her face as she tried to crawl away.

“No, Ash, we’re not going back.”

“No, I have to go back, I- I wanna go back, take me back!” Her voice slowly grew stronger, filling more with rage each second. The tears got quicker, and she tried to struggle more.

“You’re not going back.”

“Take me back! Take me back now! Take mE BACK!” She started to scream, breaking off from Clarrisamia’s grip. She dug her feet into the gravel, refusing to get any closer to the camp. The rest of the group had started to take notice of the girl who was slowly starting hysterically cry.

“Ashlynn Watts! Stop it!” Jess started to grab her free arm, but Ash swatted her away. Josh quickly stepped forward to grab the brainwashed girls arm. She tried to resist, but he was too strong.

“TAKE ME BACK TO NICO! I WANT NICO! TAKE ME BACK!” Ash pushed Jess to the ground, sending her into the rocks. Jess’s left cheek scraped against the jagged rocks, ripping the flesh open. Jenna rushed over to her, helping her stand up and open her backpack to grab supplies. She dug through for a little bit to find some old rags and gauze. She our one of the rags and put it to the girl’s bleeding cheek.

“Jess, please you’re not gonna win, just calm down.” Josh wrapped his arms around her to subdue her. She still struggled against him, digging her feet in the ground to try to break his grip.

“LET GO OF ME JOSH! I’M GOING BACK!” Josh tried to keep is grip, but his state of shock from what she just said made it hard.

He glanced back at the group. “Did she just-”

“She remembered your name!” Clarrisamia ran past Josh to face the screaming girl “Jess, what else do you remember?”

“TAKE ME BACK TO DEMA! I’M GOING BACK! YOU CAN’T STOP ME!”

“I don’t think you’re gonna get anything else out of her, we need to get back to camp!” Josh started to pick her up, but suddenly howled in pain as blood started to run down his hand from the bite Jess had just implemented in it. He let go of her and dropped to his knees in pain. She started to sprint past Clarrisamia, but was held back by her arm. Suddenly, Jess’s body started to go limp and her screaming started to turn into hyperventilating. It then calmed down into a steady breathing, like when she was unconscious earlier.

“What did you do?” Paige piped up back from where she was standing.

The raven haired girl turned around to show the group a syringe, now covered in blood at the needle. She gently pressed her thumb over the small puncture wound in the now sleeping girls neck.

“Where did you get that?” Josh asked from his position on the ground.

“It was in my backpack. I grabbed it when she started screaming,” She picked up Ash bridal style and started walking towards the trail to camp. “They all do that… you know. Run, scream, kick, cry. It’s all in Nico’s ways I guess. He probably brain washes them to have that reflex. Keon’s… Keon’s would never do that. He was civil. It’s just… horrible. It’s horrible having to subdue them like that.”

Keons would never do that. That line stuck with Josh. One step closer to figuring her out.

“You’ve done that before?” Jenna spoke from where she was tending to Jess’s room.

Clarrisamia ignored the question and started up the trail.

 

Chapter Text

The smell of stew filled the air and curled into the noses of the recently escaped. Smoke twisted into the fresh night air, along with the laughs and conversations of the camp. Josh led the group to the center of the camp, where 10 other banditos sat happily buzzing. It was when Paige ran up to hug some banditos when the camp took notice of the group. Silence fell over as they saw the group walking toward them. Smile’s grew on some of their faces, while some of their mouths dropped in shock.

“Josh!” A girl with auburn hair quickly got up and ran to embrace the leader of the banditos. She buried her face into the crook of his neck, inhaling his sent.

“Debs, hi!” He wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his chin on top of her hair. He closed his eyes and smiled, a warm blush rising on both of their cheeks. She finally let go after they basked in each others presence. She glanced around the taller man to see the rest of the group. Her eyes finally landed on the male brunet standing near the front of the group. His eyes darted around the camp, taking in all of his surroundings.

“Tyler…” Debby smiled at him, stepping forward a little toward him. His scared eyes slowly moved to meet hers. She stepped toward him hesitantly, reaching her hand out to test the waters. Her fingers brushed his forearm and he flinched away from her. It hurt her a little, his eyes not recognizing Debby. It was reliving Josh coming back all over again. He had come stumbling back into camp, dirty and a gash across his cheek. She had sprinted to him and embraced him in her arms, sobbing into his chest. She told him how he had been gone for 6 months and how much the camp had lost when he was gone, and he had just stared back at her with a blank stare. She remembered how much it hurt, and now the ache was returning seeing Tyler, one of her best friends, be scared when she saw her.

“I… I’m D- Debby.” She stuttered out while trying to keep the tears from brimming in her eyes.

“How… do you know my name?”

Ouch

“I- um- Josh told me… Josh told me about you.”

“Oh… nice to meet you Debby.” He passed her to go stand next to Josh, who was looking at Debby with sympathy. He mouthed a quick sorry to her.

“So, let’s take Ash to the med tent, and then I can show you around camp.” Josh went and took Ash out of Clarrisamia’s arms, carrying her bridal styler to a big tent to the right of the main fire. The group trudged behind him while the banditos quietly murmured among themselves. Whispers of he’s back and I can’t believe it .

Josh opened the flap of the tent with his foot. He walked to the corner where there was a tall bed, obviously stolen from an apartment in Dema. He placed her down legs first and then gently placed her head on the pillow.

“Alright, now, let’s go on that tour! It’s not big but it’s all we have and-” Josh started to the flap of the tent when Jess blocked him.

“Wait, we’re leaving her here alone?”

“I mean… she’ll be fine.”

“What if she wakes up?”

“I- agh… do you wanna stay with her?” He gestured back to Ash, who was now peacefully sleeping on her side, facing the cloth of the tent.

“Thank you, Josh.” Jess smiled and gave him a quick hug before heading to sit on the end of the bed her girlfriend lay on.

Josh opened the flap of the tent, gesturing for the rest to exit ahead of him.

They made their way back to the center of the camp, where all the banditos were still sitting and talking. They all turned around when they saw the four returning from the medical tent.

“Hey, you’re back!” Debby smiled happily. “Would you wanna introduce us to your friends?” She flashed a smile back at the three behind him.

“Oh, everyone, this is Jenna, Tyler, and Clarrissamia. The girl with the colored hair who was here earlier is Jess, and she’s in the medical tent with her girlfriend, Ash. They’re from Nico’s district. Basically, they’re the reason I escaped, because I wanted to find a safe place for us, where we can all be freely ourselves.”

“Sappy much, Dun?” Jenna crossed her arms and smiled.

“Very much, thank you Jen.”

“Anyways, we’re really lucky to have them here. We can finally start rebuilding our numbers. We can rebuild the scavenging team and start taking people out of Dema with less of a risk of being overpowered. I’m guessing once Ash gets better we can include the most of us for scavenging.”

Jenna started to hunch over a little bit, a gagging sound coming from her throat. She started to cough and Tyler ran over to make sure she was okay. She finished her coughing fit and stood up to use him for support.

“Hey, hey, hey, are you okay, honey?” He rubbed her back supportively.

“Yeah, I just- I’m feeling a little sick, that’s all… so, about that tour, Josh?”

“Yes! Okay, right this was!” Josh clapped and started walking to a big tent to the left of the fire.

 

….

 

Two hours had passed when the group finally returned to the med tent. Josh held the flap open for everyone as they filed in.

“Were short on tents right now so we’re gonna have to double up.” He strolled to the corner where Ash was lying (still unconscious) in Jess’s arms. “Hey, how is she?” He sat down at the end of the bed and rubbed Ash’s leg comfortingly.

“Still asleep,” Jess grumbled, “she’s been mumbling things in her sleep. It’s cute.” Jess buried her face into the crook of her lovers neck. She sleepily sighed from tiredness and wrapped her arms around Ash’s waist tighter.

“Hey, Clarrissamia, can I talk to you? Alone?” Josh leaned in and softly whispered. She simply nodded and followed him outside the tent. He lead her to a slightly smaller tent then the one they were just in. He opened the flap, letting her nervously stroll in first. The room was covered in maps, and in the front left corner was a canopy bed. It was made of wood and there were clothes scattered all over. Josh gestured for her to sit in the chair in the corner as he went to grab something out of the backpack hanging from one of the bed posts. Clarrisamia crossed her legs, nervously bouncing her leg. Josh returned, a journal in his hand. He leaned against the desk Clarrisamia’s chair belonged to.

“So… you’re not from Nico’s region, are you?” He glanced up to look her into her cloudy, grey eyes.

“Um… Josh I don’t-”

“Look, I know you don’t want to tell me this but… we need you. And if I don’t know you then- then I don’t know how to help these people. And I can see it in you Clarisse, you want to help these people as much as I do, I saw it in you last night when you hit Nico with a metal pole.” He chuckled at the last comment.

“Josh, once I tell you who I am there’s no going back. You’re never gonna see me the same and-”

“Clarisse, please.”

The girl took a shaky breath, closing her eyes trying to prepare herself for what was to come.

“Clancy.” She finally sighed, making direct eye contact with the man.

“Clancy?”

“Yeah. That’s my name. You asked earlier. My name’s Clancy. I’m from Keon’s district, well, more or less and-”

“Wait… as in the Clancy?” Josh’s eyebrows had just about climbed to his hairline, his face covered in shock.

“Yes... that Clancy.” She glanced down at her feet, her voice trembling as she said her voice.

“But… how? You can’t possibly be Clancy, Clancy died years ago, it’s written in his journal that Nico sentenced him to death, his journal.”

“Well…. It’s a long story.”

“I have time. “

She took a deep breath. She finally glanced up and looked him in the eye.

“I was 4 when this all started. My parents left me, escaped Dema to join the banditos. Keon’s decided to take me in and had me live in the tower’s with the bishops. Everything was fine up until when I was about 14.”

“How old are you now?”

“I’m 19, 20 in December. When I was 14 thought, that’s when I figured it all out. 12 people had entered the city and almost made it to the towers… almost. I heard 6 screams, and… Nico’s laugh. I ran to the noise, and that’s when I saw 6 people dressed in yellow and green, the life drained out of them. I remember Nico’s eyes, such… Joy in them after killing those banditos. I ran back to Keon’s, sobbing into his arms about how Nico had killed 6 innocent people. Keon’s sat with me the rest of the night, telling me that’s just how it had to be. And that’s when I decided to leave. I left the next night, running all the way to the bandito camp.”

Josh looked at her with sympathy, but there was still so much that he didn’t know.

“But why didn’t you want us to know? You wrote those journal entries, you inspired so much of this camp to escape dema and keep going. I’ve heard so many stories about you, why would you hide this?”

“There’s just… so much Josh. So much I’ve done to you guys.”

“Us?”

“I- forget I said that.”

“No, Clancy… please.”

She stared longingly into his chocolate eyes. Huffing out, she stood up and faced Josh.

“Can I show you?” She grasped his fingers.

“Huh?”

“Can I show you what I did? Where it all started?” He simply nodded, confusion on his face.

 

Chapter Text

yeah I'm rewriting this story right now because, frankly it sucks.