A dystopian contemporary fantasy mystery where a feared magical assassin meets a socially outcasted mortal noble boy.
To win the Survival Game, participants must survive for two years in an area known as the Dark Zone, where the forever elusive monsters come out after dark.
Levi once thought that the scariest thing were the monsters, but it turned out that human nature was worse. He is drawn to the mysterious participants called Graphique, around whom he feels the most free. A light of hope in the two years of hell, not made hell by the fact that he’s in the games, but by those around him. An urge for freedom of expression will have its consequences. How will he choose? How will everyone else choose?
Teenagers will be teenagers.
But what will be the consequences of their actions?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to write about the unfair world that we live in and all the subtle discrimination in an abstract manner.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Start by picking a name that sounds nice, then pick another name that sounds nice, then build a personality around said name. I always use mortal and Shadow pairings, with the Shadow often being one that exists in the Nine Rings realm system, eg. Ghost Runes is featured in my other books along with some of the supports Shadow cast.
In the capital city, Cordella, of the great empire of Meltorine, there is a survival game, streamed live, that happens every few years. The aim of the games is to survive for two years in the Dark Zone, where unknown monsters sharpen their claws and kill at will. When the two years are up, if the participants were a willing participant, then they gain the military rank of Lieutenant if they so choose to join the great army of Meltorine, given that they are of noble blood, otherwise they gain the rank of Lance Corporal. The third type of participants are prisoners, who instead of choosing prison, decided to take their chances with the monsters. If they survive, they get redemption for their crimes, clearing all prior sentencing along with a secured military spot as Private in the Meltorine army. There is only one restriction, the participants must be under the age of 17 upon entering the Dark Zone.
As a result of these military benefits, there are always brave souls willing to attempt at the survival games. Noblemen’s sons who wants a short cut for whatever reason through the military program usually make up over half of the participants, as Lieutenants commands up to 30 soldiers in a platoon, in comparison to the four men crew that Lance Corporals control and Privates who are just soldiers of the lowest rank, barely higher than Officer Cadet, which is the trainee title.
The commoners, few poor souls who are no longer able to live off of their livelihoods, make up less than a quarter, often as unwilling participants who were resorting to their last viable option. Due to the superstitious nature of the lower economy in Cordella, many believe that there are monsters in the Dark Zone, thirsty for blood and cursed to destroy any and all humans they see. This caused very few commoners to willingly participate in the survival games, with numbers dwindling over the years.
The remaining quarter and a bit of participants are criminals, with a record of repeated or semi-major offence, usually, and do not wish to spend the rest of their miserable lives in jail. Despite their superstitions, some chooses to gamble with the devil and participate in the games, after all, they have nothing left to loose.
In the year 4502 of the rule of Emperor Septus, the 12th survival games began with a helicopter taking off with the games’ 47 participants and heading towards the Dark Zone. Amongst them, Levicius Astra Deserei, Levi for short, looked around as he sat uncomfortably squished amongst two other nobles, Minotauriar Cassius and Kalidion Craymount. His messy sandy blonde hair fell into his eyes and he frowned. He could see a group of bunched up skinny kids in one corner, most of them wearing rags and patched clothing, grey from the dirt and dust as well as over wash.
In comparison, his companions, along with half of the participants who sat towards the front of the helicopter, were mostly in designer brand sports wear, hell, a few were even wearing suits. Levi couldn’t help but roll his shiny hazel eyes, for crying out loud, surviving in a literal jungle in the middle of nowhere with near nothing, wearing suits is certainly the worst choice anyone could make. In the other back corner were skinny teens who looked roughed up, with cuts and bruises everywhere. Most of them wore relatively clean but baggy clothing, the prisoners. They would’ve had nothing coming out of prison, so the production team provided them with some unwanted second hand clothes left behind by participants from previous seasons, some of which were designer brand, but completely ruined and deemed unfit for wear by nobles.
As the nature of the challenge is rather physical, very few girls choose to take up on the challenge, in the helicopter, Levi would estimate that about a tenth were female, and they were either prisoners or commoners, girls of noble blood were too busy putting on dresses and makeup to give a side eye to their livelihood, after all, their family provides for them. They just need to learn to manage that family.
“YOU NERVOUS?” Tauri, short for Minotauriar, shouted in Levi’s left ear. He was a relatively fit and muscly teenager with square jaws and a rather pale skin tone. His soft brown eyes sparkled with excitement. His choice of outfit is a matching green camo bomber jackets and cargo pants, not creative but reasonable.
“YES!” Levi yelled back, how could he not be? It was the Dark Zone they were going into, not some laser tag game. He anxiously scrunched up the fabric of his baggy black cargo pants with too many pockets as the noisy engine of the helicopter worsened his nerves. He needed to survive these games.
“LEVI’S BEEN TRAINING, HE’S GONNA NAIL IT!” Kal, short for Kalidion, yelled from Levi’s right. He was a skinny teen, with strawberry blonde hair, olive skin and beautiful green eyes. His face was skinny, his nose was pointy and his lips were thin. His choice of clothing for the start of these games were white biker jacket, that no doubt will turn brown in less than three days, and white skinny jeans, which shall also turn brown in less than three days, and white runners, again, will not be white very soon. Questionable choice of colour, but it seems that Kal loves white, and just being clean and perfect in general.
“WELL I DON’T WANT TO DIE IN THERE!” Levi yelled back.
Kal tugged on Levi’s red and black and white plaid flannel jacket and then pointed to the back corner with the prisoners. “HOW LONG DO YOU THINK THEY’LL LAST?” Kal shouted.
Levi shook his head, prisoners were interesting, sometimes they’ll last to the end, other time they get offed, often by fellow participants, usually the nobles. Commoners were slightly better, their survival rates were higher, at least very few die to participant quarrels. Though the thing that throws everything out of perspective are the monsters that come out at night, that for some reason the drone cameras streaming the games never seem to catch, like ever. In the previous 11 games, these monsters have appeared 167 times, and directly killed 23 people and severely injuring over 300 participants, about one eighth of whom either sustained long term injury, or died later as a result of their injury.
The participants do not completely get nothing, they can get things sent to them, one package a month per individual ‘fan’, usually clothing and occasionally medicine, as a result, the nobles are no doubt the best equip to survive and the prisoners are frankly quite often left for the dead. Though it takes more than just general supplies to live through two years in the forest, it was still a challenge after-all. At the start, everyone is also given a survival pack, consisting of their own tent, three water bottles, some bandaging cloths, a generic round wooden bowl and more.
The helicopter ungraciously dropped off the participants in a clearing near a running creek with tents yet to be unpacked and packages with people’s names, those would be the supplies sent to them by their ‘fans’, usually family this early on. The game has no rules, just survive for exactly two years, 730 days.
The nobles gathered in the half of the clearing with the packages, all addressed to them, with the visually newer and cleaner green tents. They quickly got to setting up the tents and setting a perimeter to keep the ‘lowlifes’ out, which Levi once more nearly rolled his eyes to. The actual constructing of their home, aka the tents, for the next two years went more along the lines of nobles from the families of the highest powers going around ordering those or ‘getting help’ from those who are from lower powers and social standings. It was a hierarchy situation, like usual.
Levi, Tauri and Kal mostly kept to themselves, they were amongst those who received the least amount of packages, amongst the nobles strictly though, it was expected due to the strange natures of their own family.
A tall and skinny boy with sleek long black hair that fell half way down his back, dark almond eyes, small nose and mouth and extremely pale skin caught Levi’s attention whilst they were setting up. The boy looked to be around 16 or 17, as is most of the participants usually are, and had already finished setting up his tent, quite a distance away from anyone else. He wore an oversized hoodie, grey and dirty with faded print on the front along with ripped jeans, also dirty and faded. Levi couldn’t tell if he was a commoner or a prisoner, but he figured that the boy would be a commoner by how well he knew a tent.
“Who are you looking at?” Tauri asked as he noticed how Levi’s eyes were continuously directed in one direction, focused on something on the other end of the clearing.
“Levi’s looking at the survivalist,” Kal comments, “see that guy who’s literally finished setting up his tent already, there on the other side of the clearing.”
“The one in that baggy hoodie and ripped jeans? What about him?” Tauri asked again.
“How many others can you see has finished putting up their tent?” Levi asked. The production were nice to provide them with quite literally two room tents per person, tall enough to stand in and large enough for all their supplies. Each tent had their names written on a large piece of cloth that was sewn onto the flap that was the door to into the green tent. But as a result of this generosity, many were having difficulties putting up their overly complicated tents.
Tauri looked around, “no one,” he replied.
“Exactly,” Kal rolled his eyes. “That guy knows what he’s doing, unlike the rest of us.”
“Reckon he’ll help us?” Levi asked as he struggled to get the tent poles through the right loops.
“Dunno,” Kal commented. “He looks like a loner.”
“Well you need to socialise to stay in this game,” Levi said. It was true that lone participants tend to get singled out by the rest, sort of outcasted. A 3rd game participant nearly went insane when none of the other participants would talk to them. A 5th game participant was the victim of some quite severe bullying from the nobles as a result of not having anyone else stand up with them, it drove them to suicide in the end, though the ‘fans’ blamed the victim for being a shitty person in both cases. The production had spun up a narrative that they were crazy and unhinged, so they go what they deserved. Anyone who said otherwise were also crazy.
Levi walked over to where the survivalist was mindlessly fiddling with the interior decor of his tent. “Hi, I’m Levi,” he said casually.
The survivalist glanced up at him, “you want me to help set up your tent?” he asked, he had a small mole under his eyes, Levi thought he looked quite pretty. His heart sped up a little, he didn’t really know why.
Levi smiled and nodded sheepishly, “in return, we’ll help you with whatever we can.” The survivalist didn’t react much to that offer, and when Levi thought they were going to decline, he got up and walked over to where their tents were, still sagging on the ground, and he picked up a tent pole and got to work without a word.
Tauri and Kal raised an eyebrow at the newcomer, then turned and raised a thumb at Levi.
“Hi, I’m Tauri, and that’s Kal,” Tauri said, introducing himself.
“And why do I care?” the survivalist asked. The camera drones were already flying in, doing circles around everyone as they set up their tents. He worked quickly to ensure that by the time the camera zoomed in towards the four of them, he could be out of sight. Very soon the tents were up and he disappeared off into the forest without a word.
“Yep,” Kal started. “He’s a loner alright.”
“What’s his name again?” Tauri asked.
“He didn’t say,” Kay replied flatly, “kinda rude.”
“The tent says Graphique, ’q-u-e’ instead of ‘c’,” Levi told them, “feels like a stage name and not his actual name though.”
“So he’s a performer?” Tauri scrunched his face up in confusion. “I thought he was a survivalist?!”
“Could be both,” Kal rolled his green eyes and ran his hand through his bright auburn hair. “Where do you think he was going?”
“He went into the forest,” Tauri stated the obvious. “Probably for a piss or something.”
NineRings is bilingual Australian Chinese non-binary author who sees the world through very different lens as a result of their upbringing.
Aside from writing, they are a cellist, flutist and artist, stubbornly choosing to create the covers of their novel as ‘it holds a personal connection’.
The story of the universe known as the Nine Rings, developed over many years of spacing out in class and at work, extends across all of their novels under the same pen name regardless of the original language of publishing.
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