The world had lost its heart. Yes there were still people, there were still houses, there were still cities. There was life, but their hearts were cold. The Earth was filled with color, but they refused to see it. To them everything was in shades of gray. Years and years of living in fear and oppression had broken every strand of hope they might have sheltered at one point. When Liandri had first started, people had viewed it as something akin to a movie. They had slowly, without their notice, started to descend in a sharp downward spiral. The Tournament became the modern gladiator arena, and they took such barbaric pleasure in watching it that they didn't notice Liandri slowly seep into the government and in turn, their lives. Liandri was a poison, not one that would kill, but one that manipulated and squirmed its way into its host. After awhile, the Tournament was the only thing that people looked forward to in a day. They'd watch it at every hour, every minute, every second they could. It was fascinating to them, to watch these people blow each other apart, and respawn just to do it again. There wasn't anything wrong with it, because those people came back right? They didn't actually die. So it was alright.
Some regions were more affected then others, but Liandri had some part in everybody's life. The city in particular, where our tale is based, was truly beautiful on the outside, but so rotting on the inside that even one little tap could knock everything, so carefully plotted, down; for better or for worse. The skyscrapers soared above as though they could shake hands with the very clouds themselves, all of them laden with windows. Their steely gazes could send chills, both good and bad down one's spine. Even cold and distant as they were they held a special grace of their own. Restaurants and stores decorated corners and spaces between buildings. Nothing was out of place, no litter decorated the streets. It was perfect. Eerily perfect.
The only blemish of imperfection was a park, or what had been a park, in the very center of the city. The long knee-high grass was a deep shade of emerald constantly dappled by shadows cast by leafy branches that gently rustled against each other in a strange, soothing melody. The concrete paths that used to cross throughout the whole park were long since overgrown by vines and flowers. It had fallen apart.
It was a lonely place. Nobody came here anymore, it was scheduled for demolition sometime later in the year. Not one person cared, they were just thankful it wasn't their property being destroyed. Only one person still loved it, and she was all alone in the world. It was a strange love that she had for it, though. It was a love so fierce it had turned into something almost burning with hate; such as how something can get so cold it starts burning. It used to be so close to her heart, but now? Now she didn't know. After all she didn't have anybody anymore to enjoy the park with, but strangely enough; it didn't bother her unduly.
Brownish red (more red than brown truthfully) hair brushed the tops of her shoulders, and stuck out at odd angles, giving her a frumpy, roguish kind of look. Her eyes had a sweet, sometimes mischievous gleam in their light almost honey colored depths. People liked her as a general rule, but a few found her a little unnerving. She had a way of listening to someone with a seemingly innocent face, meanwhile underneath she was scrutinizing every detail of the conversation. How the speaker used body language when talking and listening, the way their voice changed, facial expressions; anything and everything. They didn't so much as shift their weight from one foot to the other without her noting it.
She was analytical. Had the survival instinct of an animal almost. She'd lived on the street her whole life, and she'd had to learn how to read people. On the streets it was either learn fast or die hard. And even though she had a mean right hook, she didn't want to fight, she would much rather run.
She worked at an old-fashioned restaurant on 112th Avenue as a cook when she was fifteen, until she could pay the rent for an apartment. She finally settled in after a whole two years of hard labor, intermingled with school. The first month her bed had been a pile of cheap sheets, and she'd gradually worked her way up to a beautiful four-poster bed with 700 count blue sheets, and a blue paisley comforter. She loved that bed dearly.
It was by far the nicest piece of furniture (being the only nice piece of furniture) in the whole four room apartment and rather out of place in her roughly decorated home. Luckily she didn't have to worry about food; the restaurant owner, Andy, told her to take whatever she felt like. She did so willingly. After all it was free food.
Her life was pretty boring really… at least for five years. Then misfortune came running in her door.
It was around 2:30 in the morning when a frantic pounding on the door woke Flora up from a deep, and much-needed sleep. The redhead groaned before heaving herself out of bed with a muffled groan and dragged out of her room at a sleepy shuffle that would've put a sloth to shame.
"Folly!" called someone through the cheap plastic door as they hammered on it. She'd earned that nickname back when she'd started working at the restaurant after repeatedly getting people's orders mixed up during her first week of work, not to mention the amount of times she'd dropped the food, "Folly open the damn door!" She recognized the voice as belonging to her boss, too exhausted to really think about how odd it was that he was at her apartment in the middle of the night, she murmured in a gruff, sleepy voice.
"Oh chill the fuck out." Unlocking the door she found herself face to face with a panicked Andy, who looked like he had a group of thugs on his tail. He rushed in and slammed the door shut violently, then glanced around her apartment as if expecting to be brutally mugged any second.
"What are you doing?' she asked tiredly, not really able to register that her boss looked like he'd seen a ghost.
"Can you keep something for me for a couple days?" Even tired as she was, she was instantly on guard at his tone. That type of question never boded well.
"What is it?" His eyes flickered everywhere but her, and he fidgeted with his pocket nervously.
"A surprise for my wife." Who was he kidding? He said it too quickly, as if he'd rehearsed this in his head several times already. Not to mention he was as twitchy as a schizophrenic on crack.
"You're a bad actor."
"A few days, please." His dark eyes bored into hers pleadingly. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot expectantly, just wanting to get through all this nonsense so she could go back to bed.
"Give me one good reason why I should risk my neck for your illegal crap." He seemed taken aback at her assumption. She figured that was as good as a confession.
"You come to my apartment in the middle of the night looking twenty different kinds of terrified and ask if I'll keep something for you for a few days? What else could this possibly be about?"
"I'll give you 2000 if you do it."
"Oh… damn. What do you have that's worth that much?" he dug in his pocket until he produced a tiny microchip; her eyebrow rose in surprise.
"That little thing?" she asked, unable to keep the doubtful tone out of her voice.
"It contains thousands of documents of governmental secrets. If it were to fall in the wrong hands, we'd be fucked."
"So why the hell do you have it?" she snapped, her mind recoiling in alarm as it screamed at her to just kick him out. She shoved her thoughts away as she waited.
"I have to deliver it to somebody." He ran a hand through his long brown locks, peppered with gray. Nervous habit of his. Don't you do it.
"How do you know that it's not going in the wrong hands?"
"Because Liandri is the worst place for it to be." She gnawed on her bottom lip thoughtfully as she stared at his earnest, desperate face. He didn't look away from her penetrating gaze, as she weighed her options.
"I don't know… if I got caught I'd probably be sent to the Tournament at best. And that's not where I intend on living the rest of my life, believe it or not I aspire to actually do something with myself one day."
"Folly please. I'm begging you, you won't get caught. I just have to make sure that the security cools down a little before I run for it."
"I don't like this." This is a stupid idea, you and I both know it.
"5000." He threw out in the kind of voice you used for the most hopeless of situations. Ah well, that seals it. Sometimes Folly really did wonder whether or not she was sane. Her voice lowered as she finally gave in to the offer.
"Fine, but I swear to God if I get caught and thrown in the Tournament, I'm gonna beat the ever-loving shit out of you." Andy flung his arms around her and hugged her tightly.
"Thank you Folly." The redhead tried to shove him away from her, feeling as if her bubble had just been violently intruded upon.
"You're welcome I guess. Now get off." He gave her the chip, his brown eyes relieved as if a whole weight had been lifted off his shoulders. There's still time to give it back y'know.
"Take care of it, I'll be back in a few days." Folly sighed, staring down unhappily at the inexpensive, yet apparently invaluable little piece of metal and plastic, long after he had left.
"I don't like this one bit." She muttered to it. It stayed silent; she wasn't surprised by its indifference to her misgivings.
She didn't go back to sleep that night.
Three days passed and Andy hadn't come around at all. He hadn't even been at the restaurant; she figured he was lying low, but still. She got decidedly more agitated as each hour crept by as she worked that third day. She wanted to get rid of that stupid microchip and get on with her life.
She set off for home at 7:10 like always, and got there fifteen minutes later. Two unfamiliar black cars were parked outside the apartment building, looking suspiciously like the cars of important officials. Shrugging off her edginess, she attempted to blow it off as a coincidence, trying to convince herself that they were just new tenants. Saying a friendly hello to the decidedly nervous looking woman at the front desk she went to the elevator and pressed the fifth floor button. A dark sense of "Fuck, I'm screwed," haunted at the edges of her mind as the elevator dinged lightly at each floor. The cheery elevator music nearly made her snort with laughter, but she settled with rolling her eyes at the incessant tune.
On the fifth floor there were two men and a security robot outside the fourth door on the right. Her room. Folly's hand drifted towards the seventh floor button when they caught sight of her. The older man was watching her, almost amusedly.
"Are you Flora Marian Blythe?" she knew they knew she was, and they knew she knew that they knew. Still it didn't hurt to try.
"No." The man who had spoken first was maybe in his late forties and smiled mockingly at her.
"Do you know any other short, red-haired, light brown-eyed women that live in this building then?" She cursed herself completely stupid, before taking a deep breath and stepping out of the elevator, "There's a good kid." He said, smiling at her.
She didn't like that smile at all. Not one bit.
Folly turned to run, unfortunately security robots are a little faster than humans as she found out once its cold metallic arms restrained her. She nearly panicked as she felt herself get dragged back to her door and shoved in front of the man. The younger man gave her a curious gaze before turning to his superior who started speaking in a voice dripping with condescension.
"Well Miss Flora, you seem to be in a right spot of trouble don't you think?" his legs were spread apart and his shoulders were drawn back. An unmistakable display of power and confidence. As in he knew he was in control of the situation and he didn't intend on letting her forget it.
"I'm not precisely sure what you're talking about sir." She responded in a formal tone, attempting to relax her body to give herself a cool, distant air. The elevator music was singing along merrily in the back of her mind, and she scowled at the irrepressible tune.
"I think you are my dear. A certain agent of ours whose been investigating this case since the microchip was stolen, alerted us that you may have come into contact with it." Folly's relaxed posture deserted her as her nerves fluttered in her stomach.
"Who might this agent be?" an unexplained sickening feeling had planted itself within her.
"He goes by the name of Andrew Lawrence." Her face paled drastically as her unexplained, sickening feeling was explained. She was speaking before she could think, and she thought to herself wryly that she would be an awful spy if she'd ever had any interest in that field of work.
"That double-dealing bastard. He's the one that told me to hold onto it for him." The man looked vaguely amused again.
"He's been working for us for ten years."
"I didn't steal it!" she protested violently, "He's the one that took it!" He frowned impatiently.
"Cut the shit, princess, and just tell me where you put it." She bit the inside of her cheek, almost about to refuse him. Then she thought about it, and figured they were going to get it out of her one way or another. She decided to go the easy way and save herself some pain. Don't worry, we'll talk to Andy and everything will be just fine and fucking dandy and you can go about your business again.
"Come on." She sighed wearily, trying to puzzle her way through the fact that Andy had set her up for whatever reason. Folly placed her hand on the touch screen on the right of her door. It sprung open and she led them over to her bedroom, and still the elevator music didn't miss a beat. Oh my God, please just stop, she snapped at herself. The man looked at the bed with amusement in his eyes.
"A fancy bed for a little gutter rat." She scrabbled under her bed, and pushed one of the floorboards downwards, pointedly ignoring the sexual innuendos that sentence contained. It creaked, but she managed to get her hand in the narrow crack and grab the little bag that she kept all her valuables hidden. Once she had it securely in her grip she squirmed out from under the bed again. With utter disgust she dug the tiny chip out and handed it to him.
"I'm going to fucking mutilate him." She said surprisingly calm, though more to herself than anything. The younger man spoke for the first time. He was a newbie if she'd ever seen one.
"I don't really think you have that option."
"Oh shut up you little upstart." She snarled, working herself into a fine old temper at the betrayal of her boss. The young man looked taken aback at her brazen attitude and glanced at his superior in surprise.
"Miss Flora, for committing a treasonous act such as this you will either be enrolled in the Tournament or sentenced to immediate execution; whichever one we see the most fitting." The elder officer said with obvious enjoyment. The youth cast her a sympathetic look, which she returned with a hot glare of such utter loathing he had the strangest sense of wanting to go curl up in a corner.
"I didn't commit any kind of treason! It was that bastard! He came here three nights ago and asked me to take care of it for him. He said he was coming back!" To her utter fury tears stung at her eyes, and she roughly wiped them with the back of her hand, determined not to let them see her cry.
The young man almost reached his hand out to touch her shoulder, but immediately discarded that thought at the second glare she shot his way.
Suddenly the instincts she had relied on her whole life kicked into action as the enormity of her situation hit her. She was being charged for a crime she hadn't even committed, outnumbered three to one, and was going to be sentenced to either death or life in the Tournament. This was no time to fuck around with self-pity. She glanced around the room, after all she knew it like the back of her hand. There had to be a way to get out.
A solution presented itself in the form of a window five and a half feet behind her, which led to a thin little ledge she could navigate on if she wasn't distracted. These guys, however, would undoubtedly prove a distraction. The young man was the closest, and he looked nervous, his feet shifting back and forth slightly as he watched her. The older man was still outwardly relaxed, but she saw tenseness in his arms. The robot… it was just cold. No body language to judge by.
It was a gamble. But what the hell? You only lived once.
Folly lunged for the window behind her, kicked it out and was on the ledge within a total span of thirteen seconds. Ignoring the sting of cuts on her hands as she made her way over the ledge, she glanced back at the window.
The robot was the first to follow and she wasn't surprised. However, robots weren't meant to scramble across five inch ledges fifty or so feet above the ground (not that humans were either, but they were at least a little more adept at doing so anyway). She knew all of this, but the robot didn't. She paused for a moment and just as it was reaching out to grab her, she took one hand off the wall, grabbed its head and shoved it off the building. To her alarm, the man in his forties was leaning out of her window with a gun in his hand, aiming her way. Folly had nowhere to go and could only gape in pure terror at him.
The gun was small and sleek, and she didn't hear it shoot. The only evidence that he had shot, was the fact something slammed into her shoulder, and a burning sensation burst through her whole arm in a hot white flower of agony. And even through it all the elevator music plodded calmly along, echoing off her eardrums and just generally being a God-forsaken nuisance.
Folly tumbled off the ledge with a sharp cry of pain. The ground rushed up to meet her in a gray blur and she squeezed her eyes shut, then waited for the end.
When she hit there was a bone-jarring crack, accompanied by several others. A few women screamed, as several people surrounded her still body; all of them trying to talk over one another.
"Is she okay?"
"What the hell just happened?"
"Is she dead?" All their voices faded into an annoying buzz in the back of her mind.
She didn't die right off. Though with the amount of agony coursing in her veins she almost wished she had. Her body was a fiery pit of Hell at the moment, and she was more than willing to bet she'd broken all her ribs, and maybe her spine. She sure couldn't move anything. Or maybe that was because her head was pounding something ridiculous. It was then she noticed something warm and wet was pooling around her brownish red hair, and faintly wondered what was going on. Her last, surprisingly calm and rational, thoughts were somewhere along the lines of:
Mother would be disappointed…and elevator music.