As we made our way upstairs, more and more people in their respective region colors began to file in. One girl in particular didn’t completely adhere to the dress code; donning her own shoes.
“Hello there.” A man in green said while he sat across from me. “Hi.” I said back awkwardly. I can only assume from his smirk he saw my photo too.
“Mind if I sit here?” A girl in gray asked. “Of course not.” I said. Eager to break away from my eye contact with the man whom I believe is named Simon.
“Glad you are all here.” Riley said, once we were all seated.
“Did we have a choice?” The girl with the nice shoes said. “I heard even that guy who forfeited showed up. Wasn’t he forced to?” She said with an unsettling smile despite her accusations.
“Actually, I ran into him about an hour ago. His name is Ricky, he’s from region 11, and he said he decided to come because the people from his region were upset he wasn’t going to represent them. There are no replacements when you forfeit.” Simon said as we turned to face him.
“He wouldn’t have been chosen if he wasn’t passionate, perhaps he just got some cold feet at the last minute.” He added as murmurs erupted around the table.
“Precisely.” Riley said, drawing the attention back to him. “You are free to leave, just as you were free to join. Now, had the competition started, we wouldn’t have been able to allow Mr. Tyler to come, as he would’ve been at a disadvantage. However, since there is still quite some time before that happens, he’s here.”
“The initiative has been pushed back slightly, as the royal family had guests they were entertaining who ended up staying longer than originally intended. So in the meantime, the main household is rushing to get things prepared and sorted.
Once the competition begins, each week you will be given a topic regarding our nations infrastructure, commerce, energy consumption etcetera… and you must come up with an alternative way to complete or accomplish a certain task that will benefit the nation in some way; as that is the purpose of all this, to show how you can bring change. You may be required to work in groups of a certain number, or individually, depending on the size of the task.” Riley stated. I saw Ivan’s eyes flicker to Kala when the groups were mentioned. Not so subtle, I thought with a smirk.
“It may seem slightly daunting now, but it should be something enjoyable for all of you, as you so passionately pitched just a preview of your ideas when you applied. For now, since things aren’t prepared, this week shall be yours to do as you see fit. Whether that be exploring downtown, taking your time familiarizing yourself with this wing of the palace, as it will be your home for an indefinite amount of time, and so on. I do ask that wherever you go, you be back in the palace walls by midnight, for security reasons.”
As Riley went on explaining how the competition works, what we were allowed to do and not do and so on, I almost regret going out of my way to explore yesterday, since it appears we have loads of free time to do so now. But then, I wouldn’t have met Sebastian… so I’m not that regretful.
“I guess that is all.” He said. “For now.” He added with a smile, while turning to glance at all of us. “Any questions?” He asked.
“Yes.” Shoe-girl said whilst raising a finely manicured hand. Judging from her appearance, in jewels and excessive makeup, there’s no way she’s from anywhere after region 3. “Do we have to stick to wearing those… clothes you’ve selected for us? Can we buy our own things?” She asked, after filtering out an adjective to describe the clothes she was unsatisfied with.
“Yes, while you wander the town, you may wear what we’ve provided you or your own attire. However during the competition, and whilst you are in the palace, it is expected you wear what we’ve provided.” Riley said, glancing at her shoes through the glass table. “Great.” She said sarcastically.
“Wait. So like, if our pitches suck, do we lose and go home?” Kyle asked.
“I doubt it.” Kala said in reply. “Each of us comes from a region specializing in a particular subject or trade. That would make some more equipped to come up with alternatives for tasks than others, which is hardly fair.” She stated. “Right?” she said turning to Riley.
“Precisely.” He said nodding at her. “Whether you work in groups or alone, there will be times in which you are well prepared and times you feel out of water when you present your ideas in front of the royal family, and some members of parliament. They will grade you on the organization of your idea, and whether or not it’s efficient and feasible. As they want solutions, not unattainable dreams. You will receive a score factoring all of that in, and then you will be ranked each week based on your score. No one will be sent home. Again, this will all be clearer once the competition starts. As of now, you are dismissed…”
A little while later we all sauntered off to the main living room, everyone seemed eager to be chatting about things not related to the contest whatsoever.
I glanced at the other Elite over my shoulder, most of them laughing, some of them flirting, and decided I’d use the noise to slip away. This was getting to be a little overwhelming.
I was eager to get some thinking done. I had no idea we’d be making our pitches in front of the royal family directly. The other members of the government, maybe, but the King himself… that was intimidating to say the least.
What if I slip up and embarrass myself, or worse my group… which I also had no idea we’d be put into at times. I like to take charge, and so far I haven’t met everyone yet. I have no feel for whether or not they are hard working or free riders…
I probably had a five minute panic session before Kala walked in. “There you are.” She said shutting the door behind her.
“Some of us were thinking of heading downtown to shop around and explore. Care to join?” She asked.
“I don’t think I should…” I began.
“Come on, girl. Live a little. Who knows how things will be next week or the week after? For now, everyone is at peace and willing to get along. I say we take this chance to have fun before the competition gets to us.” She said.
“You’re right.” I said, getting up and walking in front of her. No use in alienating myself now. “Great! Let’s go.” She said.
I wasn’t surprised to see Ivan apart of the group that decided to go, since Kala was going. He wasn’t doing a good job of hiding his attraction to her, evident by his giddy smile as she walked towards him.
“So, anyone know how to get downtown exactly?” The girl in gray, whom I learned was named Kori said. “Follow me.” I said, glad to be somewhat useful after my excursion yesterday.
I walked passed them towards the gates, and they followed without question.
After a half an hour or so we were downtown in front of a mall. It wasn’t as long a journey as it had been yesterday when I was a novice; now that I was more familiar with the town, it was essentially a straight shot from the gates. “Wow, how’d you know?” Ivan said. “I have a good sense of direction.” I said back with a grin.
“What’s the plan?” Kala asks. “Since we are expected to be back by midnight, and it is around eight now, I say we should meet back here in two hours to give ourselves enough time to get back safely.” Ivan says.
“And we should agree that should one or several of us fail to be back on time, they’re on their own. No use getting all of us in trouble if we miss curfew.” Kyle said.
“Deal.” Kori and I said simultaneously.
“It’s settled then. See you all in two hours.” Ivan said, and with that everyone sauntered off into the mall or rounded the corner to do their own thing.
I didn’t feel up to shopping, so I instead took a winding road down away from the city’s center and stumbled upon a beautiful pond and garden.
As I stopped to admire the fish swimming peacefully, the sound of footsteps drew me out of my thoughts.
“Hello there, may I bother you for a favor?” A beautiful dark haired girl said. “Should someone come by asking if you’ve seen me, please say you haven’t.”
“Look, I’m not so sure I should get involved…” I began, last thing I needed was to be dragged into someone else’s problems… again.
“I assure you it is nothing serious. I just desire some time to myself.” Her manner of speech was a bit odd, it reminded me of Sebastian’s in its properness. Perhaps she was a resident here too, and that’s how they all speak.
“Alright.” I said, giving in to her eager expression.
“I won’t forget this. You’re a doll.” She said while rushing away, without actually breaking into a run.
I turn back to the pond, and my thoughts. Sure enough, moments after the girl leaves, someone approaches.
“Pardon me, did you happen to see anyone rush by here earli… Irene?” the voice says.
Surprised at the mention of my name, I turn and see… “Sebastian?” I say incredulously.
“It’s nice to see you, albeit through dubious circumstances once again.” He says with a smile that makes my heart race.“So, did you happen to see anyone rush by?”
I’m not the best liar, but he doesn’t know me well enough to know that. “Sorry, can’t say I have.” I say in what is hopefully a convincing voice. His face drops slightly, but he regains his composure. “My apologies I cant stay longer, but I really must go.” He says beginning to walk away.
“Wait.” I call out before he’s out of earshot. I didn’t plan on betraying the girl, I wasn’t even curious as to why Sebastian was looking for her. I could only feel my selfish desire to remain by his side a little longer. “I’ll help you look.” I said. “I’d appreciate that.” He said.
We walked for a while, up towards the center of town, making small talk along the way. I’ve decided to selfishly stay by his side for a little while longer, before making a clean break prior to running into whomever he was searching for.
“Your shoes don’t appear to be the most comfortable.” He said with a smirk. “Hope you won’t have any accidents today as well.” He teases as I begin to fall behind. “They weren’t my first choice.” I say back, grinning.
“Judging from your attire, I’d say you look like you are going for another run.” He chuckled at my teasing back.
“Why is it though, you are always running with or in search of beautiful women?” I teased further. Sebastian froze in his tracks. Did I say something wrong?…
Before I could even dissect what I’d said. Sebastian walked back towards me and stated, “I never mentioned the person I was searching for was a woman.” His face made that same unreadable expression it had when I pulled away from his kiss. Lie. I tell myself. Surely this is an easy fix. I can just tell him I’d made an assumption… anything. And yet no words came out. I heard the sound of someone approaching in the distance.
“Relax, brother.” A voice said out of the corner of my vision. I whirled to the side to see that it was the dark-haired girl from earlier. Oh no. “I asked for the girl’s assistance.”
Thanks for reading! This chapter was a bit longer than the others because I had a lot of info to pump out, but I hope you enjoyed it regardless~ I’m also currently working on a guide of sorts that I’ll link at the start of each chapter (per suggestion by @loladiamond01) to help you keep all the Elite, their colors, names, specialties, and so on, sorted 🙂 It should be done by the next chapter. Feel free to let me know what you thought. Take care~