Chapter 10:

Not the Average Market

The Leigh Theory

I had no idea what our lives would be as soon as we accepted the offer.

It was already midnight as we traveled through the wasteland. The other members were already fast asleep. The only ones awake were me, Leo, and the nice lady. Leo and I ate a half piece of bread and offered some to her, but she politely refused.

“You two made a brave decision of leaving behind your loved ones,” the lady said as she crossed her legs and leaned toward us.

“I’m guessing you left them because of the pursuers, right?”

She must’ve already figured it out right after I told them that we escaped from the mines. Her conclusion from earlier was probably just to inform the rest of our situation. And to use it as leverage for the deal.

“We thought we would just put their lives in danger if we stayed,” Leo answered while eating the bread bit by bit.

The lady smiled as she nodded. She introduced herself as Megan Owens, twenty-four years old, the Battle Division Leader, and the Deputy Leader of Omen.

“As you might already know, Paradise controls the entire market. The bad thing is that prices are way too high,” Megan said as she stared at the car window.

“We didn’t want to do this at first, but we had to if we wanted to survive.”

Omen’s job was to distribute goods illegally since it was the only way to help the dying cities. However, along with their noble acts was a tremendous responsibility.

“Now that Chora City ended their connections with us and went the legal way, I highly doubt they could even afford a sack of rice,” she explained.

Hearing those words made my heart skip a beat as I didn’t think the situation with Paradise would be this bad. I doubted myself if leaving them was the right choice. I panicked as I began to overthink and had second thoughts.

“It was our fault, to begin with; we arrived late since we had an encounter with Paradise Protectors in a small town, just west of Chora,” she explained.

“With our numbers, we can’t take on all of Paradise's army simultaneously,” she turned to us and smiled, “That’s why having you two in the group will be a big help.”

Back then, my family and I never had to worry about our daily lives. We always had enough to get by, and safety wasn’t an issue. Living in the streets of Anned, working in the mines, and meeting the people of Chora, especially Marvin and Mabel, made me realize that some people couldn’t afford a single meal for the day.

A lot of people experienced oppression from Paradise itself.

“Our main goal is to force the government to be fair and just in their distribution of resources, especially the shards. That’s all we want,” Megan said as she stretched and then yawned.

“I’m going to rest. You should go to sleep too, as we might reach Cnida by morning,” she added, then closed her eyes as she leaned her head at the car window behind her.

Leo hid the paper bag in his backpack and positioned himself comfortably, leaning on the left car window beside the door and hugging the bag.

“We must help Omen,” I muttered as I prepared myself to sleep.

“I know,” Leo quickly responded with his eyes shut.

At that moment, I knew we both decided to help Omen. Even if what they were doing was illegal, it would be the best way to help Marvin and Mabel and, during the process, the others who suffered as well.

Not only that we could help them from afar, but I could also take the next step in achieving my goals.

Due to the contrasting nature of their jobs, Omen and Paradise were bound to have numerous encounters. In time, Omen would be able to, hopefully, infiltrate the city’s heart as they bring about their cause. That way, I could get closer to my brother and bring justice to our parents’ deaths.

The entire day was quite exhausting. A lot has happened, and our bodies were just recovering from injuries. As I rested my eyes, my consciousness slowly drifted away.

I woke up to the sound of the car door opening and closing. I opened my eyes and saw everybody had left except for me and Leo, who drooled as he comfortably snored. I peered through the window and saw people going back and forth.

Cnida City. Just east of Chora, and as expected, was quite similar to the previous city; dusty buildings, rusty steel bars, and busy people.

I repeatedly tapped Leo's shoulder to wake him up while telling him we had arrived. He opened his right eye and looked around the van. He then looked outside the window and realized that we were indeed in Cnida.

Compared to Chora, the city didn't have a plaza but in the middle of the busy buildings was the same steel pillar from Paradise. Same stores and goods were present, and the city also lacked security.

As we wandered around, we saw Megan instructing a few of the Omen members. After she gave orders, she noticed us and waved at us to go to her.

"Now's the perfect time to introduce you to the other leaders. Come with me," she said.

We followed her as she walked toward the grumpy man. He was busy making a list while counting the crates inside the van in a less active alleyway. He glanced at us and immediately returned to his task.

The man had a similar build to Marvin and had crew-cut gray hair. He wore a grayish jacket with a black tank-top inside, the same belt bags as the other members, then black pants and shoes.

"Reese Ellsworth. Twenty-five years old and the Resource Division Leader. Reese, these are the new members, Oliver Leigh and Leo Price," she introduced us to each other.

He was the person in charge of the goods themselves. Reese nodded at us, then continued with his work. No wonder the man seemed pretty serious.

"Alright, we'll leave you be. Let's talk more as soon as we return to the hideout."

Megan patted his left shoulder as she smiled. We then left Reese and continued walking.

"Take him, for example. He once was a prominent businessman, but after an incident with the government, he had to shut down his business. We then met him in Porifa City, and since then, he just sort of became the main guy that handled the distribution of goods," she narrated as we turned a corner.

According to Megan, black markets exist in every city. Their operations were supposed to be done in secret, as they didn't deliver directly to the stores in the central district.

Omen dealt with secrecy problems as people treated the black markets like they were some sort of public markets. Gathering goods was a struggle, as Paradise had gotten strict since some of the black markets got exposed.

Plus, the government was hot on Omen’s trails recently.

As we walked into the alleyway, we approached someone talking to an owner of a shady-looking shop. The man was the same person who sat next to me in the van. As the shop owner went inside, the man turned to us and waved.

"Oh, it's Oliver and Leo! You're introducing them to the leaders?" the man asked Megan.

He was a slender young man, probably just a few inches taller than me. He had spiky brown hair and goggles hanging from his neck and wore a soiled and thick, orange mechanic jumpsuit with the Omen crest on the left side of his chest and brown boots.

"Allow me to introduce myself then," he proudly said as he put his hands on his waist.

"I'm Eli Resch, the twenty-year-old trusty leader of the Engineering Division! Pleased to meet you!"

If Megan had a smile that gave off a sense of security, Eli's grin gave off a feeling of belongingness.

As soon as he introduced himself, the shop owner appeared again and called Eli. He excused himself and went to the shop owner. We then waved him goodbye as we went our way.

"Gasoline is expensive these days, so we had to schedule the deliveries carefully. Not only gasoline, but maintenance of the vans also costs a lot," Megan explained as we headed to another alleyway.

Megan told us that Eli once lived in Paradise. Due to an incident, he lived in the streets of Ropod City. Omen took him in after he got reported and almost killed by Protectors for allegedly stealing an electrical component from a store in Paradise.

"Oh, and Eli is also in charge of making and maintaining our weapons, so I guess that makes him the Weapons Division Leader as well, huh?" she added.

I needed him to check the bracer, and hopefully, I might be able to learn a lot from him.

We approached a shy-looking young lady with glasses and straight, long black hair. She wore a closed dark blue coat with the Omen crest on the chest and black shorts and shoes.

"Oh, h-hi, Miss Megan! What brings you here?" she asked awkwardly.

Megan introduced us to each other. The shy lady was Hannah Morgan, twenty years old and the Medical Division Leader. She was busy handling and distributing medicine with her members.

After seeing how busy she was, we decided to leave. According to Megan, she was the daughter of a doctor in Paradise but was kicked out of the family after she tried to conduct outreach operations to remote cities.

"Things such as fruits are delivered by some members every week at most. However, things like medicine are hard to gather, making us deliver it once a month," Megan explained.

"After our operations here, we'll be going to Helmin City tomorrow. I'll introduce you to Omen's leader to officially welcome you to the group."

I wondered what the leader would be like. There was no way to predict the leader's character, judging from the personalities of the other leaders. Perhaps, we would just see it for ourselves.

Megan told us to explore the city and prepare for when we would leave since Leo and I weren't official members yet. Of course, we didn't follow her, as we already said we would help Omen, no matter what.

"Let's do this. For Mabel," Leo pumped himself up as he slapped both of his cheeks and went to assist the other members.

I followed his lead as I thought this was indeed the right choice. We would help Omen for the Harris family, those who suffered, and most importantly…

We would do it to help ourselves.