Hunt 19: Unyeilding
“It feels like no matter how hard I try to keep my life together, this world itself is trying to sabotage what meager progress I make.”
Zone-0, Limeri City, Fenix Republic
In an abandoned area full of old vacant buildings, some of which has collapsed, is the hideout of groups of young vagrants. This place used to be a part of the city but due to the government’s inability to maintain it, it is now abandoned. The buildings that are left untouched have become the haven of the homeless.
Here, one boy in his early teens is fighting against a dozen kids, who are most likely a couple or more years older than him. His eyes are set on an expensive looking bag that the leader of the gang holds. He saw the group of vagrant kids snatch the bag from an old woman that looks like a lost tourist. After half an hour of chasing and beating each other up, the young man, with a few bruises, left running away from vagrants’ hideout with the lady’s bag.
Before he could run far, he bumps into a couple of cops patrolling the area. Seeing a dirty kid running with an expressive looking bag, the cops immediately reaches a conclusion as to what is happening. The scar over his right eye makes him look like the leader of young delinquents one would usually see on dramas. Without asking, the cops grab him and beat him before taking the bag and leaving him lying on the cold and dirty ground. In this kind of situation, he dares not to fight back. He could be arrested but because he is a minor, the cops can do nothing but let him go later on. Writing up a report and going through all the paper works are a pain to do which most lazy officials would rather avoid. It is especially more irritating for these officials when they know that these little scoundrels will just go and do the same crime over and over again and they cannot do anything legal to stop them. So, in some cases they just let the kids go after relieving their frustrations on them.
At the edge of the city, outside the protection of the magic circle that keeps the monsters form attacking, lies an area occupied by the less fortunate masses, it is known as the lawless zone. This zone is named differently depending on where it is located. In Fenix Republic, these places outside the safe zones of the city are called Zone-0. At the border of Limeri City spread a mountain of slums. This particular Zone-0 is infamous to one of the most chaotic in the region. On one end, few kilometers away from lawless zone is the dazzling beauty of an active volcano, Mount Noya. Overlooking the chaotic slums, the volcano stands majestically. It attracts many tourists, adventure seekers, and travelers. On another end, the wide sea that leads to the much larger ocean is found. The city has many beautiful beaches for tourists to spend their time and money. The sea ports transport different trade goods coming and going from different countries. Travelling Merchant caravans pass here almost every week. The city is thriving in opportunities and misfortunes alike.
Deeper into the Zone-0 is a cramped residential area where poorly constructed houses stand. Most of them are made of light materials, ply wood, little cement, plastic, and cardboard boxes. It will be a disaster if an unattended fire is left by some irresponsible residents. These occurrences are not uncommon. In a one house, made of scraps and junk, the beat up young man enters carrying a pack of what seems to be their meal for the night. Inside is a small space divided into two rooms; one serves as both a living room and dining room, the other is their bedroom. Outside, around back, is a pump where they get their daily supply of water, the open space around also serves as their bathroom. The space between their house and their neighbor serves as a shared kitchen where they would sometimes cook together.
“I’m home, grandpa.” he greets as soon as he enters the house. He puts the pack on the table. “Where’s Shelly?” He looks around.
“She’s playing in the bedroom,” an old man in his sixties answers. He folded a couple of shirts before setting it aside. “Emil, what happened to your face?”
Feeling self-conscious, Emil touched his throbbing black eye and then sighs. “Two cops caught me carrying a lady’s bag. They thought I stole it so they beat me up.”
“They’re mean, why would they do that?” A teary dark brown eyed young girl peeks from the bedroom door. She has a shoulder length black hair decorated by a sunflower pin on her left bangs side. “Will they take you away too?”
“Don’t worry,” he chuckles. “I’m only fourteen, they can’t arrest me. I’ll be very careful not to bump into them next time.”
“Emil, you are a kind kid,” the old man goes to take Shelly’s hand. “However in the place we live in, that kindness… will only hurt you.” He guides the little girl to the table. “It’s okay to help, I’m sure your mother is proud of you, but don’t put yourself in danger.”
“Yes,” he smiles. “If it’s something beyond my capacity, I won’t get involved.”
“Did you, perhaps, fight back to the cops?”
“I’m not that stupid. If they find out I’m a reveil, they’ll lock me up immediately. There are no minors in case of reveils.”
“Are those scary people going to take you away?” Shelly frowns again.
“Huh- No--” Emil answers immediately while patting Shelly’s head. “I’ll never let them take me away. I’ll go clean up first. I bought your favorite tonight, roasted chicken.”
The old man and his niece had been living in Zone-0 for more than ten years now. He is one of the people who helped Emil and his mother adapt to the place when they first arrived. After his mother was imprisoned for murder five years ago, he came forward to be Emil’s guardian. The old man’s job is to help the monster hunters outside Zone-0 by organizing and transporting some of their loots into the market at the edge of the city. He usually brings his six year old niece with him, Shelly. Emil, on the other hand, goes to the city and takes part-time jobs in the harbor. He mostly works as cargador in the morning, and then in the afternoon he shifts to go as a barker giving away leaflets and guiding potential customers for tourists companies.
Being a young boy without any existing relative nearby, Emil dedicates his childhood in helping the kind grandpa that took him in and the little girl who lost her parents early on. Grandpa is the one who taught him basic knowledge such as reading and writing, as well as a little arithmetic. He is greatly in debt to their kindness and wishes to repay them in the best of his abilities. He burned his brown skin working everyday under the sun. During his rare day offs, he takes care and plays with Shelly.
Back in the days when his mother is still in Limeri City Jail, the old man often visited his mother, bringing her news about her son and a few treats. Emil was only able to visit her once after she was sentenced to life imprisonment. It is not only because he has to look after Shelly, but also because the warden finds it unpleasant to see kids visiting prison. After his mother was moved to a prison in a different region, they were unable to visit her anymore due to the expensive travel expenses. Neither Emil nor grandpa was able to hear about her since then.
Their day to day life is a struggle but it is a simple way of living. However, the world never really let one settle peacefully for too long. In the middle of the rainy season that year, many children in Zone-0 caught diseases. It is mainly due to the season and the shortcomings in their way of leaving. Shelly’s illness starts off as a simple cold accompanied by coughing and fever. It is normal to catch common colds during this type of whether.
After three days, Shelly’s sickness is not getting well so grandpa decides to take her to a hospital in the city. Her fever is high; she is coughing and breathing heavily. That same afternoon, grandpa brings Shelly home with a heavy heart. He lays her on the bed and let her sleep quietly.
“What happened?” Emil asks watching the old man’s gloomy expression. “Is Shelly’s fever that bad?”
Grandpa lets out a heavy sigh. “No, she can be cured after taking these antibiotics,” he replies while organizing the medicine in the drawer. “I was only able to afford three days’ worth of medicine. She needs to take them for a week, and then get another check-up.”
“I still have a little saved up.”
“I believe you would.” He shows a lonely smile while getting closer to Emil. He put both his hands on Emil’s shoulder. His eyes look faded. “My pay is due this weekend. Could you manage this week’s food expenses?”
Emil tries hard to hide his frown. “What about Shelly?”
“I’ll somehow manage something tomorrow.”
Unfortunately, two days passes and grandpa is unable to find to get an advance from his work. None of his close friends have the money to spare either due to having some of their children or relatives getting sick as well. The people here are barely getting by in their everyday life, saving up or having emergency funds is out of the question. Their situation is getting dull and Shelly is showing little improvement, which makes Emil very worried. He hates to see himself be helpless in this situation. He does not want to watch his loved ones be taken away from him again because he is too weak to protect them.
On the third night, after the last pill is consumed, Emil leaves at the darkest hour without alarming anyone. After thirty minutes of jogging to reach the closest hospital, he sneaks in from an open window of a dimly lit area. Inside, the hospital is busy, buzzing with patients, doctors and nurses. However, since it is an unlikely hour for most people to be active, a few areas are left lightless and unattended which gives him the pass to enter without getting caught. The hallways are confusing but since he spent a long time in this hospital before, he already knows where the medicine storage is. He has the packing of the antibiotics with him so that he can identify them. The only problem is that there is no way for him to learn about the schedule of the guards and the nurses who goes in and out to get their supply.
“My mother told me before we got separated… to become the kind of man that my seven-year-old self could be proud of.”
Emil decides to gamble on his luck just this once. If he can save Shelly from suffering and ease grandpa’s burden then he does not mind being the bad guy this once. It is painful to stand helpless while watching the people he loves suffer. He is not completely useless; he has the power of a mage, hardening magic. With a punch he broke the doorknob of the storage room. He quickly identifies the medicine he needs and then left as fast as he could. In a matter of few minutes he is already leaving the building with the priced antibiotics in hand. Before the sun rises, he returns home with the precious package. This time, it will last until Shelly is completely cured. With this, he is able to help his family. When grandpa asks him where he got the medicine, he simply told him that he managed to find extra cash to get them. It seems that grandpa does not buy his explanation but he does not have the heart to criticize the young Emil’s actions either.
Two days later, four cops drop by their place. They are looking for a person while showing around a photo. It did not take long for the cops to find Emil’s place. That night the cops knocked on their door with a warrant.
“What is this about?” The old man asks with a shaking voice. His hands are clenched together, fidgeting with his fingers.
One of the cops shows him a photo. “We are looking for a thief. We found out that a boy who looks like him lives here.”
“Get out of the way, old man.” Another cop pushes him out of the way and forced his way inside the house. The old man trembles not knowing what to do. The cops look inside fixing their eyes on Emil. “So the thief is indeed here. This is you, right?” He shows the photo in front of the boy.
Emil gulps. He thought that he was able to get away with his crime but looking at the photo seems otherwise. He fixes his eyes at the picture that was captured by the hospital’s camera when he took the pack of medicine in the storage room. He does not know what to say in defense. That picture, as well as the footage that the police must have already acquired, shows hard proof of what he has done. Furthermore, given that they have come with an arrest warrant means that they have evidence that he is a reveil. Minors cannot be charged with crime, but reveils are another topic. When they commit a crime, they are marked forever.
He bit down his lip. “I’m sorry, grandpa.”
The impolite cop grabs him by the shirt’s nape. “Thieves like you really make work hard for us, you know. We get reprimanded every time one of your buddies rob the tourists. It’s giving us a bad image. It’s great that we found something to lock you up this time.”
“Come on, don’t be rough. We’ll get scolded again if you hit the little shrimp.” Another cop standing by the door says.
Grandpa can do nothing but watch as the cops handcuffs Emil and take him away.
“Visitors are only allowed during the weekend so please don’t be too persistent.” They say before leaving the old man’s house.
The police took Emil bringing him to the City Juvenile Reform Center. There, he will spend his time during the trial and then serve his sentence. Depending on how grave the crime is, the offender may also serve the rest of their sentence in prison once they are no longer a minor. Young reveils that get caught will have a hard time going back to normal society once they have a criminal record. People are prejudiced and they consider these reveils as extremely dangerous.
During the first week that Emil is spending on the reform center, reports of a strong typhoon to landfall on their region are everyone’s talk. Because of this violent tropical cyclone, grandpa is unable to make his first visit. He needs to prepare their house so that it will not get blown away by the strong winds. Warnings to notify people about the strength of this typhoon are being broadcasted across the country. Various preparations and evacuations are being done in every city. However, by the night that the cyclone ravages across the port city of Limeri, many households are caught by the heavy rainfall that flooded many low-land areas. Due to the landfall in Limeri being at late night with most people already sleeping hindered their response to sudden danger. The heavy rainfall combines with the accumulated lahar from Noya’s eruptions results in massive mudflows in the areas around the foot of the volcano burying villages and a large part of the Zone-0. The disrupted communications prevented details about the damage in worst struck areas from reaching the authorities. The powerful winds also blew away telephone and electric lines leaving thousands of residents without power of means of communication for weeks.
The center of the city only received little damage. There are few fallen posts and uprooted trees. Aside from the lack of proper mode of communication and loss of electricity, most parts are functioning well. However, these damages do not only make rescue and relief operations to some area difficult, but it also causes a great deal of news on the after effects of the cyclone to be unavailable in the affected areas.
A month has already passed when the electricity is fully restored. This is the only time that the youngsters of the reform center learned about the fate of the people who lived at Zone-0 at the foot of the volcano. The moment the news reached Emil’s ears, he hastily ran to the director’s office. Without knocking, he forces the door open.
“Tell me-!” He barges in panting, his hands and legs are shaking. “Which areas were buried?! What happened to the people?!”
The director and his secretary turn towards him. The director is sitting calmly though his face shows a hint of surprise only for a moment. The secretary stands beside the director’s table looking at Emil with damp eyes and extended gaze.
“Miss Zoskey, please.” The director says and then his secretary moved to pull out some files on the bookshelf beside. “Young man, come closer.”
Emil walks closer with his lips slightly pressed together. When he reaches the front of the director’s table, he asks again. “I want to know what happened to the people of Zone-0.”
The director closes his eyes and then takes a deep breath. “Miss Zoskey,” he calls and then extends his arm. The secretary then hands a couple of folders. He opens one of them and shows the content to the young man. “This shows the affected areas. All places marked red had been buried… most of the residents were buried alive in their sleep.”
“So this is why grandpa and Shelly have not visited me these past weeks?”
“Here is the list of names of the people who are either dead or missing.” He shows another folder. “Young man, what is your name?”
He examines the names for a while and then confirms that the name of this grandpa and Shelly are listed. He clenches his fists, his head slightly tilted down. “Emil Franz Dreo,” his voice cracks as he tries to suppress his tears. “Sir… could you let my mother know that I am alive?”
“Where is your mother?” He asks after a momentary blank silence.
Emil bit his lower lip. His chin wrinkles. “Mala-Kraina Women’s Penitentiary.”
“I see.” The director replies with a very serene tone. Short silence follows while Emil continuous to cast his eyes down. “It seems that it will difficult to dig the bodies so the local government is planning to leave the place that way. What are you planning to do now?” The director lowers his head trying to level his eye with the boy but he receives no response. “Do you want to want to find a way to free your mother and be reunited with her?”
Emil’s eyes glows while he lifts his head. “Is there a way?”
The director smiles. “Every year, an emissary from ICA will come and examine the reveils of this center. If they find your ability worth cultivating, you’ll be invited to become a student of AB Academy.” He stretches his arm and then his secretary handed him another folder. He opens it; on the top page is a flyer of the said academy. “If you can find a good connection within the powerful members of ICA, you will be able to save your mother.”
“Does that mean I will have to work for them?” He asks while fixing his eyes on the flyer. “Like a bodyguard, a servant?”
He returns his sight back to the director. “But I get to choose, right?”
“Yes.” He says with gentle expression and steady gaze. He hands the folder to Emil. “Take this and read through the qualification. I wish you luck.”
“Okay,” he nods before leaving the director’s office.
The next day, the governor held a memorial service for the families that were buried in
Zone-0. The survivors, as well as the youth of the reform center, offer a prayer to the gods and lit a candle in front of the mountain of lahar. It was an unfortunate accident brought by a natural phenomenon, there was nothing he could have done. That in itself is bothering him. Like the world itself has a grudge against him. Had he been cursed? It is unfair. Is it a stroke of good luck that he is no longer in Zone-0 when the mudslide happened, that is why he is alive? Or is it still a crashing misfortune that he lost his family once again?
A stone monument with the details of the unfortunate incident and the names of the people buried alive in that mountain of lahar is built a month after the first memorial service. Emil rarely smiles since then. He spends most of his time alone barely interacting with other teenagers in the center. He knows he cannot stay depressed for so long. He unknowingly started to wear a stern look on his face which when combined with the defined scar on his eye gives off a very intimidating aura. This time he can gamble on a way to release his mother from prison. He dedicates most of his free time on training his abilities on his own and keeping his physique fit and strong.
A year later, the group of ICA emissary that is sent to Limeri City found Emil’s ability interesting. In Sat’xahr, the year 4044 AOT, Emil is sent to study in AB Academy and live in the Red Dorm for the next four years of his life.
This school that is constructed in an island seems like another prison; a larger one at that. The feeling of constraint does not leave him even when looking at the vast surroundings and the sea of people actively walking around. They are unknown to him. The first person to greet him after arriving in the dorms is his roommate. He wears an orange bonnet over his black curly hair. He is quite tall, probably couple of feet taller than him. He possess a smile that is very gentle, he cannot imagine how a guy like him could be in the red-zone. He has a younger sister, who seems to be in a direr situation than him. It must be just another unfortunate accident.
“I am not used to this school stuff… but I want to save my mother. If I am going to dedicate my life serving those people then I am going to choose someone who is worth it. Grandpa, Shelly, don’t worry, I am going to live your part too. I will not give up on myself and live my life to the fullest.”
Thinking at how bad things can just happen to anyone makes him more determined to not let himself be pushed back by the incidents that happened in the past. He looks forward with firm resolution.
“This time for sure…”
The Zone-0 of Limeri City is located outside the city's magic barrier. It's first layer is mostly made up of old, abandoned and ruined buildings. The farther one goes the less concrete are seen, giving way for the creation of shabby housed made of light materials. The outer most layer is the most dangerous area being so close to the forest that is home for many monsters and being closer to an active volcano.
Emil Franz Dreo
Emil Franz Dreo
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