I groaned as I opened my eyes, slowly recalling the events that happened a few moments ago. I had set out to gather some supplies, but my journey was cut short by Ronald my now deceased ex-boss. I crawled to my feet and gently touched the back of my head.
I wince in pain as I feel a small lump, but there was no bleeding, so I counted myself lucky. Next, I evaluate my hands, only to see cuts left from the fishing wire. I would have to find bandages and gloves. As I stood up, I noticed thick black fog shaped like a rectangle in front of me.
|The First Trial starts in: 10 minutes. 1 reward ready, claim it?|
I exclaimed aloud. At first, I thought that I suffered too much head trauma from the fall. It reminded me of those redirect ads that always proclaimed that you won a prize and had 5 minutes to claim it. I closed my eyes and waited for 30 seconds before opening them.
|The First Trial starts in: 9 minutes. 1 reward ready, claim it?|
The black rectangle remained in place. Whether I was hallucinating or not, it would be best to prepare for the "Trial." First I should pick get my reward. But how do I go about claiming it?
I said questioningly. The words remained the same as before. So maybe I just had to think about it in my head.
I said in my head. The rectangle broke apart and reassembled into a semi-solid state with new words.
|For killing one creature you have received: 2 Black Coins.|
A small dart made of black fog shot into my wrist. I pulled my sleeve down and could see a tiny "2" just below my palm, after a few seconds it faded. If this represented a form of currency, did that mean there would be things for purchase later on? It had to, but it would be dangerous to have the amount of money you had.
'How much do I have?'
I thought inwardly. The "2" resurfaced on my wrist once again. So I was able to check the amount I had just by thinking about it. I had to admit it was convenient and safe. If people walked around with their account balance on their foreheads, they'd be more likely to be robbed. Still, I had no idea what these "Black Coins" were used for.
|The First Trial starts in: 7 minutes.|
As the black rectangle reformed, I'm reminded of the time remaining. I tuck the fishing wire into my jacket pocket and cautiously walked toward the Sports store. I didn't know how many of those things were lurking in the mall, so I decided to take it step by step in spite of the time limit. I could see a group of people further down the long path. I thought it to be in my best interest to avoid them. I entered the sports store to see everything that wasn't nailed down on the floor. Carefully watching my steps, I found a sling backpack and grabbed whatever was useful. A fighting and utility knife, which I fastened into my waistband. A couple of lighters, some black leather gloves, two water bottles, and a small pocket knife which I tucked into my sock. I checked my time.
|The First Trial starts in: 4 minutes.|
I still needed to grab some first aid and some protein bars. I saw a crossbow tied to a rack in the corner and grabbed it. I never shot a crossbow in my life, but I know you had to pull the cord to load it. There was an easily-to-follow instruction booklet taped to the side of it, I skimmed over it and tried to absorb as much as I could. It looked easy enough, so I complied with the instructions as fast as I could. I used the cocking rope which made it easy to load and put an arrow in. I kept the safety on as I made my way out the store.
"Hey! What the hell are you doing?"
The voice of a man entered my ears as I left. Behind him were nearly a dozen people who were either flustered or injured, in front of each of them were black rectangles.
Did this have to happen to me? Were people this stupid? I thought of my options. I had no time to engage in a verbal debate on the morality of looting in this situation, and these idiots had likely avoided any creatures. I decided to check.
"You all have screens in front of you, right?"
I asked as I continued to step back.
"Yeah! It's probably some holographic display from Minerva that the emergency services are using because they can't get to the mall. It probably talking about a trial because it's in its prototype stage. So, you need to return those items and wait."
The man who seemed to be the leader said with assurance. That was the conclusion they most likely came to when they were gathered earlier. It was also the dumbest fucking thing I had ever heard. I checked my screen.
|The First Trial starts in: 2 minutes.|
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Not only did I waste a substantial amount of time, but the ominous clicking from before could be faintly heard. The dim red emergency lights didn't provide much visibility. The group of people looked around at the clicking, I was right to assume they didn't run across one of those things yet.
"See, that's probably the emergency services trying to get in now. Just put everything back and wait with us."
The man talked in a patronizing tone. Did people think such a bullshit way of communication would calm anyone? The way he spoke was almost like he was reprimanding a child as gently as he could.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
I cursed aloud. I raised the crossbow and pointed at the group. Of course, I didn't plan on shooting, I couldn't waste an arrow on them when those things were around. They could easily swarm me after the first shot, and my accuracy couldn't guarantee a fatal hit in the first place.
"Put it down!"
I aim the crossbow at each of them as I continue to walk backward.
"Stay the hell away from me. You can only blame yourself for what comes next."
I abandoned the idea of going to the Health store on the second floor. I would head to Ronald's General Store instead. I knew what was kept in stock. Although the protein bars from the general store couldn't compare to the one that cost close to $100 dollars, it was better than nothing. As for the group of people, I didn't have time to tell them about the monsters running around. Even if I did, there was no proof and I suspected they wouldn't believe a "looter" like me.
"If any of you follow me, I'll shoot."
I bluffed. As long as I continued to be irrational, they would be too nervous to press the advantage in numbers. I turned and ran away, the Ronald's General Store wasn't that far I could make it if I hurried.
The leader of the group yelled after me, but I paid it no mind. Those creatures were closing in, and I wouldn't stay grouped up with people who lacked the ability to see a crisis.
|The First Trial starts in: 1 minutes.|
I ran past a few people sprawled out or laying under debris, I had no inclination to help, when I couldn't even help myself. I raced into the General Store and opened my backpack. I dumped packages of chewy protein bars into my backpack along with plastic water bottles. I still had a bit of time, so I grabbed some ace bandages, gauze, duct tape, rubbing alcohol, a half face gas mask, and a small aerosol can. While everything was stored away, I opened an additional bottle of alcohol and poured it over my hands. I ignored the burning sensation and wrapped them in the ace bandage, before closing my backpack.
|The First Trial starts in: 5 seconds.|
"Get this thing the hell off me!"
"Wait! Don't leave me!"
"What is that thing?!"
I heard screams off in the distance but ignored it as I counted down in my head.
4, 3, 2, 1.
I looked around to see nothing had changed, so did that mean that-- Suddenly, a black circle appeared right under me. I gripped my crossbow and closed my eyes.
My sense of balance was distorted, but I quickly recovered. I opened my eyes to see a trashed room. A torn bed, broken window, rotted and splintered wooden walls. I was standing in a very small room, it looked like a scene from an old horror movie that dealt with an ancient haunted house. I looked out of the window and could see hundreds of thousands of other buildings, they all looked old and abandoned, but the craziest thing was that they all looked to have 100 or so floors. The sky was a dark orangish color, and a deathly silence pervaded the entire area. The black foggy rectangle re-emerged in front of me.
|Trial One: Leave the building.|
Clearly, something was wrong. In no way shape or form would something be so easy. My intuition told me this building was littered with tons of those things or traps at the very least. Why would things be so easy? Anyone with a brain would know-
I heard the sound of something being knocked over just outside the room. I grabbed the crossbow and turned the safety off while moving to the door. I carefully listened.
A young male voice came from the other side.
"Who the fuck are you?"
An angry male voice responded.
"Do you know what's going on?"
A panicked older male voice responded.
"Stay back, gramps!"
The angry voice shouted.
"And you! Is that a fucking katana? Kid, do you even know what you're doing? Are you one of those motherfuckers who roleplay."
"I-I was at a pawnshop a-and this was the closest thing I could grab."
The young voice said with a hint of embarrassment. I suspected he was lying. There were tons of things in a pawnshop that could be used as weapons. If it were me, I would pick a blunt object or small knife. Well, I already had a knife. I wondered how I should approach the people outside the room.
"Hey, kid give me that."
The angry voice grumbled.
"My gun's gone. I'm bigger and stronger than you, so you should hand it over."
He said. It was a threat that was barely hidden, meant to intimidate. What caught my attention was the fact he didn't have a gun. Were guns not allowed in these so-called "Trials?"
The young voice said shakily. I wanted to pick the opportune time to interject in the conversation. If I waited for the right moment, I could get the old man and the kid on my side. Strength was an asset, but having someone unpredictable was bad.
"Give it here!"
The voice shouted with footsteps accompanying it.
From the sound of it, the kid had tripped and stumbled.
"Shit! You cut me, you stupid fuck!"
The angry voice roared.
"Hey! Let him go!"
The older voice said.
"Fuck off old man!"
The angry voice shouted in response. The sound of an intense struggle could be heard as I slowly opened the door, only to see three other rooms with doors already opened. I carefully walked down the hallway of this run-down apartment with my crossbow ready.
I said calmly as I took in the scene playing out in the living room. A large man, around 6'0, with tattoos covering his body used one arm to hold the shirt of a teenager, and the other arm was in the air ready for the next punch. The teenager had a busted lip and a bruised cheek, while an old man stood behind both of them. They all turned to look at me with surprised expressions.
The tattooed man said with a startled tone. I saw he had a small wound on his side, which was good new for me, as long as he was weakened he would be less of a threat. I couldn't see any redeeming qualities in his shaven face. He looked to be in his late thirties with a slightly wrinkled face, a receding hairline, and a few regretful facial tattoos. Blood stained his tank top where his abdomen was and dripped onto his big cargo pants. I could see he was wearing steel toe leather boots too. In my head, his threat level raised higher, but I didn't let it show.
"Let him go."
I said indifferently. I would definitely shoot this man if he showed any resistance. Once he was hit with a crossbow bolt he would be an easier target, I didn't necessarily have to kill him with the first shot. The man looked at me and mumbled before he let go of the teenager, but not before shoving him. See, that right there. That little shove at the end was the display of defiance I needed to see. The tattooed man was designated as bait in my mind.
The teenager wiped his lip and picked up the Katana, he glared at the tattooed man, but ultimately sheathed it. He looked to be about 15 or 16, only standing at 5'8. He wore a button up embroidered with some sort of logo, a pair of khakis, and some loafers. He must have been going to a high school somewhere, but it wasn't one I recognized.
Lastly, was the short white haired old man. He seemed to be in his late 70's and largely unaware of what was happening. He was wearing jeans and a plain t-shirt, and some casual sports shoe.
"Anyone have a phone?"
I kept the crossbow raised as I asked.
They all three responded simultaneously.
"Check for a signal."
I said with a bit of annoyance. Would I have to spell everything out for these people? The value of the old man and the teen dropped in my head.
The tattooed man grumbled. The teen and the old man shook their heads.
"Alright. You've seen the message. We have to leave the building. Before we go, we should prepare first."
I pointed my crossbow downwards as I took charge. In stressful situations, people were more inclined to listen to the calmest and rational person. It was sort of a coping mechanism I guess.
"First, does anyone have any black coins?"
I asked plainly, but inwardly I was hopeful.
"I-I have two."
The teenager said.
"So you've killed one of those monsters?"
I shifted my inquiry. Chances were he failed to see the significance of the coin right away. I planned to get the coins from him later on. Maybe I'd sell him some water or save his life and demand it as payment. Come to think of it, if I waited a bit longer before stepping in then maybe I would've actually saved his life.
"Yeah. I killed one of those spike armed things when it went for the owner."
The kid said with a little bit of pride.
"Woah, Woah, Woah. I shot one of those things to death, how come I didn't get one?"
The tattooed man asked.
"It seems like guns were frowned upon by whoever decided to make these trials."
I responded to the man. I had medical supplies in my bag, but I decided not to use them on him. I had no way of knowing what would happen later on. I flick the safety on the crossbow and hold it in one hand, with the other hand I take off my bag.
I opened it up and grabbed a water bottle and a protein bar before closing it. They all sent gazes toward my bag, maybe the wondered what else I had in it. I walked over to a table in the corner and placed the crossbow and my bag atop it. I opened the wrapper on the protein bar and ate it.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
The sound of me chewing filled the room. After I had finished it, I grabbed the water bottle and chugged half of it.
"C-Could I have some?"
The teenager asked a bit nervously.
"Oh? Sure, but what do you have to exchange?"
I said unbothered. I wouldn't let him know what I want right away if I did he could try and bargain for more.
He looked at the katana clearly misunderstanding me.
"I can give you all the money I have."
He pulled out a brown wallet and held it up.
"Listen, as far as I see it..."
I paused to add a little bit of an effect to my words.
"...The world is over. There may not be any food or water available like it used to be. So money is completely useless."
I took another big gulp of my water and looked at the kid. I faked a look of contemplation before speaking again.
"How about two black coins for two protein bars and a water bottle?
I asked. If someone offered me the same I wouldn't hesitate to decline.
I could hear the hesitancy in his voice. Someone like him probably played a lot of games and read a lot of internet novels. Maybe he assumed they were for a skill tree or something.
"You tried seeing if there was a status right?"
I shook my head as if I had done the same. In my haste, I neglected to check out what the black rectangle could do. It was apparent that if he still had his black coins, then there was nothing to use it with just yet. I was willing to bet on that.
"It just seems like a token for killing one of those things, if it becomes useful I'll give it back."
I lied through my teeth. To look thoroughly convincing, I exposed my wrist and showed him.
I thought in my head, and the number 2 appeared on my left wrist.
"Ok. If it's useful, you said you would give them back, right?"
The teenager asked. I nodded my head, inwardly I was lowering the value of keeping such a person with me. Way too trusting.
"How do I give them to you?"
"Try to think withdrawal or transfer."
I shrugged. I was guessing, I didn't even know if they could be exchanged.
The teenager exclaimed as two shiny black coins appeared within his hand. I pulled a water bottle and two protein bars out of my bag and placed them on the table.
The teen handed over his coins to me which I "deposited" by thinking about it. I could have robbed him with the crossbow, but he may have been stubborn and refused or plotted against me later. Right now the tattooed man received most of the animosity, which made it easier for me to take control of the group.
"Now then, let's give our first names. I'm Ulysses."
I said as I put my bag back on and grabbed the crossbow. A few moments earlier, I noticed the tattooed man looking over a bit too long at me. I could only think he was calculating the distance from where he was to the table.
The teenager was the first to respond as he ate the protein bar. Clearly, he liked me the most out of the others.
The old man introduced himself.
"I'm Bobby. Ay, you got anything for this cut in that bag of yours?"
The tattooed man who called himself "Bobby" asked.
"No only food, water, and a couple other things."
I responded almost immediately.
"Wish I did though."
I tacked on just to make it seem more believable. Once again, I raised his threat level. A man who didn't panic when cut with a blade was bad news for me.
Bobby clicked his tongue as he looked at his wounded side. He then turned toward the teen.
"Give me a sip, It's only right after what you did to me."
"No, you attacked me."
Daniel put on a bit of bravado as he sent me a glance.
I raised my crossbow and turned the safety off.
"We should get out of here as soon as we can. Those things are probably all over the area, it's best for us to move."
I stood up and looked around the living room. There wasn't much to be salvaged from here.
"Excuse me, but do you have any idea what's going on?"
Paul asked. Maybe because I seemed to be the most knowledgeable he thought to ask me. Unfortunately, I had no idea.
"Haah. If I had to guess, I'd say the apocalypse."
I sighed. I saw a few wooden broomsticks in the corner and pointed.
"Bobby, break that off and take the lead. Daniel, you're behind him. Paul, you grab a broomstick and stand near me."
I gave everyone orders, to which they followed without much resistance. Well, except Bobby, who mumbled under his breath.
He broke the two broomsticks and handed one over to Paul while I watched.
"Bobby, lead the way."
I pointed at the door with the crossbow. He grunts as he opens the door and steps into the hallway. I gave Daniel a friendly nod, he returned it as he followed behind Bobby.
He looked at me and then followed behind Daniel, tightly clutching his broomstick. I move to step out, but then stopped as I turned to look at the rusted stove. I walk over to it and turn a dial.
Surprisingly, the building has functioning gas, but no electricity. I turned all the dials on low and walk away. The faint hissing of gas filled the room as I left.