Prologue: The Death Claw Murder
The blood on my hands was no longer mine, but a stranger's. Knelt beside the body, I ran my hands across their mangled clothes, torn, and revealing the ripped flesh beneath. I felt as if the world around me had stopped; I heard no sound but a warning ringing in my ears; saw nothing but the destroyed body; felt nothing but the cooling crimson on my hands. This was gruesome... abnormal for the Meadows, and yet I couldn't turn away. I had to see this for myself.
I had to see why I was being sentenced to death.
This body had been freshly murdered; just killed about sunset. But, it never took long for word to spread around the Meadows, especially about something like this, something so dystopian.
But I did not kill this person, I am not a murderer. Still, everyone claimed me to be the killer. Out of fear of me or of the idea of not knowing who is the killer, I'm not sure. It isn't fair, though, for me to be put to death for a crime I did not commit, because someone's got a grudge against me.
I began to hear something outside of the ringing in my head, and the silence surrounding the clearing. Distant footsteps? I can't tell, I'm too focused on the body, too angry at the world. It just isn't fair.
"Where is he?"
"Can you hear him?"
My head shot up, disrupted from my self-pitying. "Shit," I swore, and quickly got to my feet, feeling as though all of my movements were amplified.
"What was that?"
"Did someone step in a puddle?"
I glanced down at my feet to see my shoes were stained and surrounded by the stranger's blood. This is great! I thought frantically. DNA and footprints, I might as well just turn myself in! However, that wasn't how I rolled, I wasn't going down without a fight.
I took flight, running as swiftly through the forest as I could, my adrenaline rush making my steps feel lighter than normal. The trees and darkness were my only danger; the moon was out, covered rarely by momentary wispy clouds. Despite this, the white light gave no aid to my ongoing nightmare. Rather, the light added an eerie glow to the forest, making me paranoid of every shadow and leaf. In my fear, I couldn't conjure my magic to make my path clear; every time I tried to gather magic, my concentration would break with a flicker of my eyes and a missed beat of my heart.
My head met cool, solid rock, before sending me backwards and making contact with the damp strands of grass on the hard ground. For a moment, I laid paralyzed on the earth's floor, just praying my pursuers didn't appear as I regained consciousness.
"Oh, D, don't be out cold, man, there are men after you!"
My head shot up at the sound of my friend's voice, rubbing my eyes as they didn't adjust fast enough to the night. Squinting, I glanced up at my auburn-haired friend. "You found me. That means they will too."
The smaller boy shook his head, red locks flying. "No, no, no. Don't think like that!"
I narrowed my eyes. "It's one thing if I actually did it, Saber, but I didn't. Instead, I'm innocent, but I still ran. Now I look guilty, I'm toast."
"Toast has a better reputation than you." Saber snorted, before rolling his eyes. "D, you work for the Leaders, they can't kill you! I mean, they can, but you won't die. I mean-" Saber rattled on.
"I get it!" I interrupted him. "I can't die! But it's not good to be wanted, dead or alive! And they want me dead." I bowed my head, before pounding my fist against my forehead. "Why do people hate me? I didn't do this! What the-" I cut myself off, biting my lower lip. I was not one to complain, especially to Saber.
"Dustin, chill, you'll be okay. I won't let anything happen to you." Saber smiled at me, and I shook my head wordlessly, which he took as a sign to continue. "Have you heard what this is called?"
I blinked, not answering to listen for my pursuers, but when I heard nothing, I glanced at him. "This? What is this?"
"The murder case. In the Meadows, they're calling it the Death Claw Murder. Doesn't that sound super freaky? Like, I didn't even know death had claws..." Saber shivered, eyes glazed over in thought.
"Or how they make death a living thing."
Saber stared at me queerly, his face scrunching up in confusion. "What? Seems oxymoronic, don't you think?"
"Don't you think that it's insanely stupid that they even name the murder? It's a ridiculous name, for one thing, but for another, it's one kill! The Rebels kill more in a single hour; it was probably a Rebel who killed that... that person." I shook my head, before freezing. With Saber, even when talking about the body, I still forgot about it, in a sense. The very idea that people were chasing after me, to capture me, to possibly kill me, how swiftly it left my brain. "It's quiet."
"That's because everyone is sleeping." Saber stressed his last word, then his eyelids fluttered. No doubt, running crazy through the night, losing the rush of adrenaline, he was tired. I wasn't quite tired yet, and no where at ease; I was tense and listening intently to the silence of the forest. Glancing at the rock I had smashed into moments ago, I noticed it was no ordinary rock- causing me to shiver. The boulder opened up into a cave, and was a safe haven for the Rebels. The Rebels were notorious for killing for fun the innocent civilians of Utopian Meadows. The Cursed, which include Saber and myself, are the rivals trying to appease the Rebels, to little success.
"Go back home and sleep. I'll just rest up a bit in a tree when I'm tired." I shrugged. My spine tingled and my back became erect, as a bush behind Saber and I began to rustle and shake. I took a few steps back, readying myself to begin running again. But, the wind caught up with the character, reaching me, and I relaxed at the familiar, sweet scent.
"Dustin-" Saber started, his eyes full of warning.
"Dustin!" A sweet chime filled the air momentarily, cheerful and airy. Following the cry came a tiny body running out of the bushes, running over and clinging to my leg. The dress of the tiny girl twirled around her legs, her eyes shining even in the dark, her smile spreading from ear to ear. Despite her delightful presence, fear crept over me, and I knelt to one knee.
"Aurore," I shook my head. "Aurore, what are you doing here? It's way past your bed time."
"Big brother Dustin is in trouble! Sister Aurore wanted to help. Can she help?" Aurore asked, her habit of speaking in third person making her the epitome of the most adorable child. "Big brother, what happened?"
"Nothing, Aurore. Come on, I'll walk you back home." I reached for her hand, and she shot back, and grabbed onto Saber. Seeing this, I turned and glared at him menacingly. "Aurore, leave Saber alone, now come on."
Aurore's eyes began to glow amber, lighting up her face as well as the ground around her feet. "Big brother's in trouble. Sister Aurore can help, she can help!" She reached out for my hand, while still holding onto Saber.
Glancing uneasily at Saber, I held out my hand, and squeezed my hand over my sister's. I noticed now that, through her holding our hands, she would be gaining our magic momentarily.
I couldn't tell if the wind that had suddenly began to pick up was a coincidence or Aurore's doing. A flash in the corner of my eye made me turn my head swiftly, and my heart thump heavy in fear. Within the Rebel's Cave, an eerie green glow had spilled out from the entrance. From previous investigations, and even battles, I knew that within that cave was a crystal which stored the magic powers of the Cursed, the Leaders, and the Rebels. What spell could Aurore- an innocent nine year old girl- possibly be conjuring that she could use both Saber and my magic, as well as the crystal's?
The green light began to flash rhythmically, slow at first, but as the time from the beginning of the spell to the present continued to lengthen, the flashing of the crystal became faster and less spread out. With the speeding up of the crystal's light, the wind continuously picked up. I tightened my grip on Aurore's hand as I worried that the wind would blow her away.
After about ten minutes of Aurore's conjuring magic, the green glow of magic burst, radiating off of her, surrounding Saber and I and continuing for several feet. As the bursts continued, the scenery around us began to dissolve, until everything darkened to an abysmal black.