CHAPTER ONE: A Pair of Stolen Rings
Before I opened my eyes I knew how early it was. I could tell by the way the air smelled. The air always smelled of ash early in the morning before sunrise, because that's when the government did their ritual burnings. They made sure to do it before the civilians opened their eyes in order to prevent injuries. I slid out of bed and walked towards my window. I liked to watch the end of the Burnings before working out.
I watched as the Firechasers brought pieces of illegal art and books from the Olden Days to the local firepit... each town had one. I sighed contently at the fact that everything was normal this morning.
It always put me in a good mood to know that things were normal in Ocril. Ocril was the beautiful continent I lived on. According to the history I learned in school Ocril used to be called Europe but that's the only thing from the Olden Days we were allowed to learn about. I lived in Ocril's capital city, Tiestin. It was the richest and prettiest city in all of Ocril.
Turning away from the window I changed into my workout clothes. I put on a pair of black shorts and a gray tee-shirt, the only reason I had black clothes was because I worked for the government. I was a Hunter and proud of it. Civilians were only allowed to have gray or white clothing. This eliminated envy. I put on my black sneakers and walked to the workout center. I got on a running machine and felt excitement flow through me as I started running.
After running for a while, I looked out the one window and saw the sun was just starting to come up, a civilian's day always started with the rising of the sun. I would have run until the sun was its highest in the sky but I had a mission today. I hopped off the machine and took a deep breath. There was a towel dispenser on the wall next to the machine, I grabbed one and started wiping sweat off me.
"Monroe you have five minutes to get ready." said a voice from behind me. I turned around to face the owner of the voice
"Okay Emerson." I answered with a nod as I walked past her.
"Just give me ten minutes."
"You'll get five." She called after me, with a superior tone of voice "And you better shower." I scoffed
"You know I usually only shower once a mouth but for you I'll make an exception." I shouted over my shoulder. I heard her laugh shortly, in the distance. After taking a shower that barely lasted a minute I reached for the towel on the hook near the curtain. Gripping only air I peeked out. I saw Theodor standing holding my towel and wearing a sly smile. Theodor was a trainee, no more than twelve with large glasses and a bad habit of stealing bras.
"Theodor, give me the towel." I said sternly. Theodor sneered
"What's the magic word?" he asked in his nasal voice
"If you don't give me the towel I'll tell Emerson." His eyes widened in fear. Emerson was good making people fear her.
"Fine you're no fun." He pouted as he tossed the towel towards me; I caught it and rolled my eyes.
I wrapped it around me and stepped out hurrying back to my room. I shuffled in to my uniform, a black tee shirt, a pair of black skin tight jeans, a pair of black boots and my dad's silver army tags (I was only allowed to wear them because my dad had been in the government). I put my now fully dried hair into a slick ponytail and rushed downstairs.
Emerson was waiting for me, with a bagel and coffee in her hand. Emerson has been the leader of my team for six years now, she was chosen when she turned eighteen... she was also my best friend. But since she was the youngest leader in Hunter's history she felt obligated to make extra sure that people respected her, she consider people fearing her to be the same thing. I didn't fear her but I sure as hell respected her.
Emerson was shorter then me by a couple of inches, even though she was older. She had dark brown hair. Everyone in this society was supposed to have brown hair and years of genetic manipulation the government has almost succeed, people who had different hair colors only survived if they had family in the government. Her eyes were brown even though they were a little lighter than normal. Like the hair, every civilian was also expected to have brown eyes and again the only way someone with different eyes survived was thanks to having family in the government. She also had skin that stayed pale no matter how much time she spent outside. She was the picture perfect citizen which is another reason she was the leader. I was almost chosen to be the leader but because I was an abnormality, the bosses decided against that. I was taller than females were supposed to be. I had hair that was dark red; I was told that it was stained due to having survived a fire when I was younger. My eyes were also unique even among the colored eyes; they were light green.
"With two minutes to spare I'm impressed." Emerson said jokingly. I rolled my eyes, with a smile on my face
"Oh bite me." I muttered so only she would hear... She laughed as she walked out of the door, I said goodbye to Atticus and Scarlett. They were the resident married couple and the trainers of new Hunters. I met Emerson outside and she handed me my breakfast. She shook her head as I scarfed the bagel down, I shrugged and sipped my coffee as we hurried out to the car. When we started driving I asked
"Who the target?" picking up the file to read through it
"Spencer McCain, a kleptomaniac who has a habit of taking important people's valuables." Said Emerson keeping her eyes on the road
"What's the bounty?"
"We'll each get 500 units."
"How long do we have?"
"Sir said he needs McCain gone as soon as possible."
"Another easy job, why can't it be something more... I don't know... exciting?" I asked with a disappointed sigh. Emerson rolled her eyes a smile playing on her mouth, like she thought I was telling a joke even though she knew I wasn't
"Would you rather we got back to high speed chases and almost dying every night?" she asked. I nodded
"Yes at least that would keep me entertained long enough." I said before chuckling sadly. She laughed
"Since when has any of that matter to you?" she looked at me sideways for a brief second, I shrugged
"I don't know lately it's just been boring." I answered causing Emerson frowned
"Our job is not supposed to be exciting; all we care about is retrieval. We're Hunters for a reason and there's nothing funny about that." She took her job more serious now a days, since she had more to lose. I heaved a sigh, not wanting to rehash an old fight, I gave in.
"You're right I'm sorry I brought it up." I answered in a voice that was a little louder than a whisper, Emerson nodded accepting my apology. The rest of the drive was silent as we drove to the target's location.
We pulled up on to a dirt path that led us up a small hill. When we got over the hill we parked in a big patch of grass that was walking distance from the house. The house was an Olden Days model. It was painted a faded yellow with a white wrap around porch that seemed to be falling apart. It was two stories and it looked to be abandoned. But a curtain in the window next to the front door fluttered, a civilian might believe that to be a meaningless move but as a Hunter I knew that meant there was a body in the house.
Two other members of our team Curly and Eva pulled up behind us. We all had an assignment and even without speaking we knew what we had to do. Eva made sure nothing bad happens; she stays outside keeping watch for any situation that might go wrong, while Emerson captures the subject and Curly is the muscle backup. I was trained to sneak in the house. My job was to either retrieve the bounty, if there is one, or evidence of guilt.
But first I had to get inside. I did a quick scan of the perimeter until I found an open window and a tree tall enough to help me on to the second story. Climbing up the tree was easy, back when I was a trainee I always got top marks in climbing exercises. When I reached a branch that hung above the roof. I silently dropped on to the roof, slid down to the side of the house and hung on to the edge of the roof. I made my way along the edge until I reached the open window. Lifting my feet I was able to push my body through the window without making a sound. The bounty was a small little gray pouch and the file said it was very important that I find it. It would be used in order to keep the civilians safe. Since I'd been a Retriever for over ten years I've learned enough about criminals to know they hide their most prized possessions in their bedrooms and in a kleptomaniac's case what they stole would be their most prized possession. It's an effective method because in case they ever need to disappear suddenly, they can grab and go or in my case I can find it easier. I heard Emerson making small talk with someone downstairs. She always took the easy of getting in; that way she could make sure the target was unsuspecting, even though our uniforms gave us away. Looking around I noticed I was in a bathroom. This means a bedroom couldn't be that far away right? I slowly opened the door and crept down the hall making extra sure to not make a sound. I opened the first door I came upon, it was a study area. Even though I had a feeling it wouldn't be in here I started rooting through the room in case I could find some evidence of guilt.
I started back towards the bathroom but movement from the corner of my eye stopped me in my tracks. Emerson was still downstairs; I could hear her talking still, so who is up here? I looked around and found a door slightly cracked open as if someone had just walked through. It was the room next to the study. I gently pushed it open, this was a guestroom, I could tell by the size. Further in the room I saw a guy who looked to be packing. He was tall, a lean figure with olive toned skin and chestnut colored hair; he was not a model citizen. He spun around as though he'd heard me even though I hadn't made a sound. He had beautiful golden topaz eyes, wait what, am I thinking. His eyes are breaking the rules not beautiful.
"Who are you?" he asked with a cautious tone as he crept towards the bag closest to him. He quickly picked something up. I stood my ground and clearly stated, like I had been taught. Making sure to keep a hand on the stun gun I had in my belt.
"Monroe, level 8 WO Hunter. Who are you?" I asked calmly. His eyes went wide and fear took the place of cautions
"I'm no one." He said as he bulldozed past, knocking me in to the wall behind us. I huffed and hurried out the door after him. He started running towards the stairs when he noticed I was close to catching him.
"Stop running!" he almost made it but I was faster and managed to tackle him to the ground. He fought to get me off but I easily managed to pin a Calm Belt around his wrists, a Calm Belt prevented the wearer from moving. His fist however managed to stay closed. He caught me looking at his hand and tried to fight the Belt, which was an impossible task for someone his size, not that he was short he just didn't weigh enough. I managed to pry his hand open. When I got it open I wasn't surprised by what I saw inside, the gray pouch. I grabbed it out of his hand and started inspecting it.
"No." he cried out, his confident facade had worn off "Please give it back I need it." my eyebrows furrowed in confusion
"Need it for what?" I asked hesitant to be talking to a criminal.
"I need it to survive." He said pathetically. I squinted at him and peeked inside the pouch.
"It's just a bunch of rings..." I looked closer; no they were pieces of, what looked to be two rings "no my mistake two rings but they're broken. Why do you need broken metal to survive?" He sighed defiantly and stayed silent. I shrugged "Fine guess I'll just--"
"No." he cried out again "Whatever you were about to do please don't."
"Then answer my question." I uttered, getting tired of these games. He sighed
"I need them to survive, because if I can't get them to my buyer he'll kill me or have me killed." that sounded made up
"When you're in WO custody they won't let that happen, as long as you corporate."
"You don't understand. He will find a way."
"Who is this buyer?" I asked. He shook his head
"I can't tell you."
"Can't or won't?" I inquired getting more curious. He chuckled dryly
"I can't because I don't even know who he is."
"Hmm... that's very interesting." Even though I didn't believe a word of what he said
"So you'll let me go?" he question hopefully. I shook my head
"No you're still a criminal but I think I might have a way that you'll be able to stay alive." He looked confused but before he had a chance to answer Emerson called for me. She asked where I was and when I shouted back that I was upstairs. I stood up with the pouch in my hand as Emerson and Curly made their way towards me.
"Who's this?" asked Emerson pointing to the guy I had just tackled. I shrugged
"He wouldn't tell me."
"Well the why is he wearing the Belt?"
I thought about the gray pouch in my hand and looked at him. He was begging me with his eyes to help and probably to not to tell them about the rings. With a sigh I moved my hand behind my back before answering
"He ran away from me after I asked who he was and I wasn't sure why, so I put the belt on him just to be safe." Emerson looked at the guy on the ground with a very confused expression before shrugging.
"Oh well let's bring him downstairs, maybe he knows the suspect. Which we caught, oh that reminds me did you get the bounty?" I stuffed the pouch in my pocket and shook my head.
"No I couldn't find it. Maybe they already sold it." Curley bent over and picked up the stranger, who looked really relived. Emerson raised an eyebrow; she was looking at me like I was crazy.
"What are you talking about? The file didn't say anything about sales." I shrugged, she was always so by the book, even though she never fully read the file
"I know but I'm just saying that maybe that was the suspects end goal." I said calmly. Emerson scoffed,
"Monroe just because you got the Belt on a random stranger doesn't mean he is of any help. Curley and I caught the suspect." Emerson did this thing where whenever she knew (or in this case thought) she was right she would become unreasonable, so I rolled my eyes and kept silent. We reached the living area where the suspect had been waiting, he had black hair and he had narrow, heavy lidded, gray eyes. Curley sat the stranger down on the couch, next to the suspect and Emerson started to bind him, I took the chance to look around his house for evidence. I was looking at the pictures on the mantle; the suspect must have been hiding out here because it seemed that the stranger I caught lived here as he was the main focus in most every picture. I had just been scanning them when one in particular caught my eye. I picked it up and inspected it closer. It was a group photo of five guys; they were all standing next to each other in various poses. I recognized two; the suspect, and the random guy, I looked at the smaller guy next to Spencer, wait... was that... Milo...? The same green eyes as mine and we had matching dark brownish red curls, his were blacker whereas mine were redder, also my hair was longer obviously. He had obviously aged a few years but he was still my younger brother, I'd recognize that smile anywhere. I grabbed a single photo of Milo and quickly took it out of its frame; I carefully folded it and put in my back pocket along with the small gray pouch in my jeans. I needed to know if he was still alive, since I had no idea when the photo was taken.
"Monroe! What are you doing I've been calling you for five minutes." I heard Emerson say as she walked closer to me "Why are you looking at these?" I cleared the emotion out of my throat and turned to face her keeping a neutral face
"I was thinking that maybe we could try and FaceMatch some of these other people and we could pretend we know who they are, to get the suspect to cooperate with us and give us the information we need." I handed her the picture I had been holding. With narrowed eyes she looked at it, she obviously didn't care about the picture. Since she had caught the suspect she didn't care about anything else.
"Fine whatever, I doubt it's going to do much but I guess we can try." She handed it back to me and started towards the door, I followed. Everyone else was already waiting for us. Emerson reached the first car, hurrying around to the driver's side door. She always wanted to leave as soon as possible.
"So are we going straight to HQ?" Eva asked. Emerson nodded once.
"Yes that's what Sir requested." Emerson declared. Eva and Curley both nodded once before getting into their car. I got back into the car with Emerson. The car Emerson drove had all the supplies, like the tracking device and the traffic scanner. Since the car that Eva had driven had a back seat that was barred off from the front that car always carried the suspect or suspects in this case. We'd been on the road for an hour before Emerson asked
"Are you okay?" she sounded genuinely concerned
"I'm fine." I answered honestly looking at her out of the corner of my eyes.
"Are you sure? You seem a little down." Her eyes still on the road
"I'm sure." I said nodding, keeping my irritation in check.
"Are you sad because you failed today?" she asked with a condescending tone.
"What are you talking about?" I turned to face her fully; she had a sympatric smile on her face.
"It's, okay you don't have to feel bad. You got that picture as evidence so I'm sure Sir won't be too mad." I was suddenly very tired. I also felt very, worn out, from dealing with so much drama after tackling one random stranger, so I didn't say anything. Instead I tried to fall asleep. I must have succeeded because when I opened my eyes back up the car was slowing down and we were pulling into the WO Headquarters. Let me explain a few things first, WO stands for World Order the government's name, Hunters are just one branch of the WO. The first president of the New Ages, Fredrick Donald Jones created WO as a civilian protection squad so to speak. WO was created to help keep society running normally. Emerson, Eva, Curley, Atticus, Scarlett, their daughter Pandora, Theodor and myself lived in the Mill House are part of Hunters organization. Hunters are the ones who seek out the people who have broken laws and we bring them to Headquarters where they get trialed.
With the group picture in hand, I followed Emerson into the building. Eva and Curley trailed behind with the suspects. When we got inside, Emerson led us straight to the office our boss owned. He had never told us his real name so we all called him either Boss or sir. Sir with a capital S was the boss of the boss. Even though we've never met him; he was the one who sent us our missions to Boss who delivered them to us. We knocked on his office door and when it opened we filled in. Emerson and I stood in the front. Boss was sitting at his desk waiting for us, that's when Emerson proudly proclaimed
"We've finished the job sir. I caught the suspect with Curley's assistance." Curley with the suspect in hand stepped forward. Boss looked up from the papers on his desk at the suspect. His eyes narrowed and he turned to the file cabinet that sat behind him. As he started shuffling around Emerson continued, unaware that she didn't have his full attention anymore, "Monroe managed to collect a witness and some mediocre evidence. I know she technically failed Boss but please for my sake don't–" Boss cut her off
"Emerson what the hell, are you babbling about? You didn't catch the suspect. Did you fail to glance at the identifying picture that we sent you?" Boss said his anger obvious. He tossed the file over at her. It landed on his desk near her but she didn't open it.
"But sir he said--" she tried explaining
"I don't want to hear any excuses Agent." Boss demanded. She nodded and looked at the floor. I took a step forward
"I'm sorry we failed Boss, if you want we can--" He cut me off
"Agent Monroe I'm also extremely disappointed in you." He declared harshly. He sighed "But I guess you didn't manage to get some things. Where is this evidence you found?" he sounded calmer. I handed him the frame.
"I had found this on the fire place mantle and I figured since it contained the suspect it would have been useful but I guess not any longer. The witness is in there too so maybe the actual suspect is a friend of theirs." Boss looked closer at the picture. He cleared his throat and exhaled a forced breath.
"Eva, bring the witness forward." Eva stepped forward, the stranger I tackled still wearing binds, in her grip. Boss looked up and replied "Emerson I'd like you to meet Spencer McCain, the intended target." The room fell silent and everyone on my team turned to look at me. They looked betrayed, like I had brought Spencer in pretending not to know who he was, they probably thought I had planned it but I hadn't. I didn't even know who he had been when I tackled him. I was about to assure them that I hadn't lie, when I remembered that I hadn't told them about the rings. So in all honesty I had lied to them but not about the suspect. I had lied about something worse, I had also stolen. "I want you to take note Emerson; this is why Monroe is the best of the best. She knows what is expected of her. Not only does she do it very well she goes above and beyond. Monroe we need more agents like you in this Organization." Boss looked very proud, my team however looked annoyed. They hated these times as much as I did. I hated being singled out, it pointed out that I was different, more then I already was. But no matter how many times I told them I hated Boss giving me special praise they didn't believe me. "Okay." Boss clapped his hands together "Monroe since you caught him you get to interview him." I nodded respectfully and followed as Boss stood up leading us to the interview room. Eva, still dragging Spencer, wasn't far behind. Emerson was pouting and Curley was probably trying to cheer her up. They had never confirmed but everyone at the Mill House believed they were a couple. Boss opened the door for me and after getting Spencer in to one of the seats he turned to leave "Good luck my dear. We'll be in the other room, watching, if you need anything. But remember we can't hear anything so signal us if you need anything." I nodded and took the seat across from Spencer when the door closed. There was a metal table in between us and I leaned my arms on it with my head in my hands.
"This is all very fucked up." I muttered to myself. Spencer chuckled dryly apparently having heard me
"You don't have to tell me twice." He laughed "I can't believe I got caught. I never get caught. Did you know I've gotten away with twenty other thefts?" He shook his head like it was something amazing. I looked up and stared at him incredulously
"I don't think that's the right thing to say to WO Agent." He looked over at me like he'd forgotten I was sitting across from him. He grinned knowingly
"You won't tell anyone and besides if you did it not like it'd matter I'm done for."
"If you confess then I'm sure that Boss can work out some kind of Trial deal for you. So maybe your Exile time will be shorter." He looked surprised
"Wait you think I'm nervous about being Trialed?" he laughed "No way I could easily break out of here if I wanted to." He shrugged like it was no big deal. I rolled my eyes
"Then why haven't you?"
"I still need the rings; that's why." I hadn't forgotten about the tiny pouch that caused all this trouble, the pouch that was burning a hole in my back pocket
"I'm pretty sure scrap metal won't save you. Not unless they can turn in to a gun." He looked almost impressed and a bit surprised to say the least
"No they can't do that but you're on the right track." He said smirking. I glanced at him curiously
"What are you talking about?" I questioned. He opened his mouth but changed his mind last minute
"Never mind I can't tell you." He shrugged
"Can't tell me what?" I pried trying to get the answers I needed. He shook his head "If you don't then I'll just start guessing." He shrugged "Or maybe I should just let Boss figure--" With wide eyes he quickly cut me off
"No. You can't tell anyone you have the rings but especially not your boss. He is the last person that should ever know." All of the sudden I got the feeling that he knew who the buyer had been. I was, still very suspicious but also curious
"Now you've piqued my interest." I replied with heavy interest in the broken metal. He looked very conflicted and after what looked like an internal debate he sighed heavily.
"Okay fine I'll tell you what I know but if I do you have to promise me to not tell anyone."
"Fine, now tell me." I was at point where I would say whatever just to get the information
"No I mean I want you to actually promise that you won't tell anyone." he answered sternly.
"Okay..." I heaved a sigh "I swear on my parent's grave I won't tell anyone."
"They might not be dead so that doesn't tell me anything." He huffed. I bit my lip debating what to tell him before finally deciding to trust him. I brought out one of the pictures I had stolen from Spencer's house.
"Look at this—" before I could say anything else he cut me off
"Hey you stole that from me! Why do you need another if you already stole the group one?" he sounded very offended that I had taken more pictures. I sighed, starting to get annoyed.
"Milo is my brother that's why. I thought he had died but this picture proves he's still alive and the group photo proved you were friends with him."
"You can't be related to Milo, his family died ten years ago." I shook my head
"That's what I thought too, but look at Milo's eyes." He sighed but obliged he glanced briefly at the picture, almost as a passing thought before he looked at me "now look at my eyes." He looked me straight in the eyes, studying them intently even though he looked very bored "Can you honestly tell me that two people with the exact same unique shade of green aren't related." After a few minutes passed, his eyes widen with recognition
"You are related to him. Milo is going to be so overjoyed when he learns you're alive." I smiled sadly knowing that would never happen. Even though he was alive, I would never be able to see him again.
"See that means you can trust me... right?" I asked hesitantly. He nodded
"Oh yea Milo is like a brother to me so we're practically related." He smiled like a puppy before getting completely serious again "Okay so I can't say anything about the rings, well at least not here. So this is the plan, when you get out of this room tell your boss I just kept muttering random shit that didn't mean anything after that I want you to meet me at the abandoned barn on Abbey Creek Road at midnight tonight."
"Tonight, but that's--" I asked. He cut me off
"Just do it and make sure you bring the pouch... okay Walker?" I nodded slowly still confused; he smiled again "Good." I looked at the picture with sad eyes before putting it back in my pocket. I looked back at him.
"I'm confused but I understand." With that I stood up and walked to the door, after knocking once the guard opened it. When I get to the other room where Boss was, I automatically sat down in one of the chairs,
"So how'd it go?" Boss looks at me expectedly, I shrugged
"He didn't say much of anything just a bunch of nonsense...about guns and freedom." I lied effortlessly; not a good sign. He nodded once and looked at the two way mirror.
"Well that much was expected." Boss answered gruffly. I looked at the room. The chair I had been sitting in was the one facing away from the mirror. Spencer was still sitting in his chair pouting, with his arms crossed; he was staring at the mirror. He had a look on his face like he was waiting for something to happen. I took a moment to inspect his profile and without missing a beat he met my eyes almost as if he could see me watching him. Boss followed his eyes, a very confused look on his face. Spencer then winked at me and I'm not exactly sure what happened after that. I blinked and suddenly Spencer's chair was empty. Boss had been staring at me, I could tell he was about to say something but when I gasped he quickly turned around. He did a double take before shouting
"What the hell? Where did the suspect go? I want you to find him..." he shouted at the HQ guards in the room with us. "What are you standing around for, go find that worthless piece of scum." They scrambled around before running out of the room. He had just been sitting in that very chair; I had just been watching him. This is too weird; I shook my head. I needed to get more sleep. I stood up but I must have moved to fast because I was suddenly very dizzy. I leaned against the nearest wall when the room started spinning. I felt my body fall as the black spots danced across my vision.