Chapter 3:

Red Eyes

The Leigh Theory

I remembered what it meant to run for your life.

We’ve been running for quite some time already and my body wanted to give up. The last time I ran like hell was two years ago and since then, I haven’t improved my stamina; working in the mines was more of a challenge for the muscles and my mental stability.

I looked behind and all I saw was the rocky, barren land. The facility was nowhere in sight so I believed that we were able to run far away. There were no signs of the guards either, so I guess we were safe in the meantime.

“I… I can’t feel my legs anymore!” my friend exclaimed as he exhaled heavily while running in a very sloppy manner.

I saw him struggling so much so I looked around for a place where we could rest for a while. I saw a tall and wide rock on our left side so I told him that we can hide behind it to catch our breaths.

“Freedom… is so… exhausting…” he muttered under his shaky breath as he removed the cloth on his face.

He dragged his feet towards the rock while dropping the laser gun and the metal plate. He was very exhausted so he immediately hugged the dry land below.

I removed my mask and leaned on the rocks to catch my breath, but I thought I should double-check just to ensure. I climbed up the huge rock and observed the surroundings from above. No facility in sight. No black uniforms in range.

I climbed down and immediately removed my bracer as I leaned on the rocks. My friend, who was lying on the ground, was trying to get up but was struggling. After a few attempts, he finally got back on his feet and slowly walked toward me while mumbling a few inaudible words.

“First of all…”

In the corner of my left eye, I saw a fist, flying in my direction. It was only a few seconds away from my face until I realized that I was about to get hit by a right hook. My mind kept on telling me to dodge but my body wasn't responding.

It wasn’t that forceful but it was strong enough to make me lose balance and become disoriented for a few seconds.

“That was for almost making me piss my pants! I just agreed with you but I wasn’t prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally! I might have killed some of those guards as well!” he yelled at me while making gestures as he was explaining.

I couldn’t take him seriously as the image of him smiling while firing at the guards kept on appearing in my mind. I then stared at him, completely frozen, and was utterly dumbfounded. Without thinking, I raised my right hand and made a thumbs-up gesture.

“Good job.”

“Don’t make me hit you again!” my friend said as he winded up for another punch.

“I-I mean I’m sorry!” I interrupted him while crossing my arms in a defensive stance. Just in case.

“Second, I’ve never been in a battle before and you expect me to fire laser guns right off the bat?! You didn’t even fight any of those guards! I did all of the work!”

“Well… you did great,” I replied.

“I did?”

I let out an awkward smile then he realized that he was getting off track.

“Thanks, but that’s not the point!”

I deserved that punch. I knew that I did him wrong because compared to me, I was able to prepare myself and strengthen my resolve for a very long time. In his case, he just impulsively went along with me without prior preparation.

“How were you supposed to escape if I wasn’t there?! And what the hell is that bracer thing?! And how did you find that spot behind the restroom?! How did you make that bracer?! When did you plan everything out?! Did you even have the time to make that bracer?! How did you find that unguarded area?! And how does that bracer work?!”

I was expecting that he would ask me a bunch of questions, but not this much. I also noticed that he was so curious about the bracer than the other questions.

“Alright, calm down for a bit. I’ll try to explain to you right from the start.”

“You better do it because if not, I’ll smack you again,” he replied as he sat down on the dirt and crossed his arms.

“I’ve been planning to escape for two years,” I said as I slowly sat down in front of him.

“I’ve been looking around the facility for potential materials that I could use for my escape. Luckily, the facility had a lot of scrap metal and electrical wires. Also, it was during that time that I found that spot behind the bathroom and the unguarded area in the south.”

“Oh, so that’s why I saw you wandering around the facility for quite some time,” he said as he leaned towards me, trying to pay closer attention. He then looked down and mumbled a few words.

“Huh? I can’t hear you,” I told him.

“I said, I know I’m not smart but I think you could’ve made use of me in some other way if you just told me about your plan.”

I choked up as soon as he said those words. It’s been a long time since someone was willing to entrust their life to me and the weight of that thought came crashing down at that moment.

“Yeah, maybe we could’ve made a better plan. Originally, I was supposed to strap that shield to my back. Kinda like that one guy from an old movie I saw before." I replied to him as I looked at the sky and tried to recall the movie.

"If the guards were about to catch me,” I added as I looked at the bracer on the ground, “I would just use the gun function of this thing.”

“Alright, I think this is the part where you should explain to me that sorcery,” my friend said to me as he pointed at the bracer with confusion and curiosity on his face.

I grabbed the bracer, flipped it bottom-side up, and opened a lock at the proximal part, revealing the Arq Shard encased in a glass. I explained that the bracer was powered by the shard and there were several connections from it to make the bracer perform multiple functions. I told him that I installed various things such as the crude shield and cutter that I used earlier. I then showed him my locket and said that it was given to me by my parents and there was secretly a shard inside of it. He was listening attentively, nodding as I explained things.

"...and then I'd always weld and cut these things in secret. That's why it took me quite a long time." I added as I finished my explanation.

“Hey, we’ve been rambling here for so long but I think there’s one important thing that we’ve been missing,” he said while stroking his chin.

“We’ve been friends for nearly two years, yet, we still don’t know each other’s names. I’m Leo Price, what’s your name?”

In my head, I let out a long sigh of relief. I didn’t have to put any more effort into that one simple thing as he was the one who asked the mutually, long-awaited question. I was able to finally put my anxiety to rest.

“My name is Oliver Leigh,” I answered. “It took us two years but, it’s nice meeting you,” I added as I offered to shake hands.

It was at that moment that we kind of solidified our friendship. Two years of our lives were spent in the mines, always talking about silly dreams and gazing into the miserable scenery. From that moment, we only planned to move forward and make use of our newly found freedom.

“I think we should keep moving. We can’t afford to stop here.” I said as I stood up and re-equipped the bracer to my right forearm.

“Why would they bother chasing after us? I mean, we’re just two people. It’s not like we can make that much of a difference to the mines.” Leo replied.

“That’s the least of their problems. Their main concern is that we might sell them out to the government. Remember when they would always organize and arrange things when they heard that the officials from Paradise were about to visit?”

“Oh yeah, that’s a fair point. Alright, let’s keep moving,” he said as he stood up and grabbed the laser gun and shield.

We kept heading south without ever looking back as we were ready to face the new world. Unfortunately, nighttime came and we were moving slower due to the fatigue finally taking over us. We both crisscrossed as we forced our legs to keep moving forward but…

Human bodies have their limits.

Leo suddenly collapsed to his knees. My knees were shaking as well but I pushed my body to go to him and carry him to a huge, nearby boulder. I left the water bottle on his side and as soon as I positioned him comfortably, I also fell to my knees. After realizing that no one will be on the lookout if both of us would give in to the fatigue, I forced myself to climb up to the boulder, sat down at the top, and observed the area.

I thought of not sleeping tonight.

Hours passed and I was starting to lose consciousness. I fought through it but, instead, I became lightheaded. To pass my time in the middle of the night, I visualized in my head possible changes that I could apply to my bracers. I thought of adding something that could make me fly, but I realized that it needed fuel and that would take up a lot of space. I also thought of lbwsvkiacfd…

I heard someone calling for me but the voice seemed distant and was a little bit faint. After a few seconds, I heard it again but this time, it gradually became clearer.

“...ver! Oliver!”

I realized that Leo was calling out to me. I opened my eyes and was greeted by the sun, rising in the east. I looked to my left and saw Leo; apparently, he was shaking my body so that I could wake up.

“It’s already morning. I think we can now keep on going,” Leo said as he stared in the southern direction, then turned back to me. “And your eyes are so red!”

I was still feeling lightheaded but I tried to compose myself and jumped down the boulder. It was a bad idea.

I instantly kissed the ground and Leo also jumped down to rush to my side. He helped me stand up and assisted me as we continued walking.

“You suddenly collapsed last night. How are you feeling now?” I asked him as I slowly walked while being assisted.

“I’m sort of okay now but I’m hungry. I’m sorry though because I think there’s only a little bit of water left,” he replied.

I nodded at him and then faced forward as we continued to travel. I didn’t care if he drank all of the water; all that mattered to me was that both of us were still alive. The thought of that gave me a small boost of energy, allowing me to walk on my own. We then picked up our pace so that we could reach civilization faster.

We spent a few more hours walking under the sun. All that was left in the water bottle were a few water droplets. We didn’t know if we could still survive for another day. We were almost losing hope until Leo muttered something.

“I can see a brick wall!” he exclaimed. I tapped his face repeatedly, making sure that he wasn’t hallucinating.

There was indeed a brick wall. We saw an opening that seemed like an entrance and above it was a metal sign that said ‘Chora City’.

Leo dropped to his knees and raised his hands. He went to grab my left leg and hugged it, then he started bawling. I tried to push him away but I also felt my eyes welling up.

“I’m dehydrated so where’s all this water coming from?!” Leo cried as he wiped his tears on my pants.

I assisted him as he stood up and then we kept on walking. He kept on wiping his tears using the cloth that covered his face. I couldn’t blame him since we were both deprived of our freedom.

All that was in my head was that we have finally escaped the mines and reached civilization. I had no idea what was in store for us in the city but all I knew was that I was looking forward to our new life…

A new life that brought me a bit closer to my real goal.