"Hail to the land of Asovine!"
The loud, orotund voice of a man echoed in the whole country of Asovine through the speaker attached to each city hall for everyone to hear.
The men carrying logs stopped on their track, the women doing the chores went out of their houses, the children playing in the yard looked around the dusky surrounding surroundings to find where the voice was coming from. Everyone stopped on their endeavor and listened.
"This is the council emissary, Luke Bird, I come here to relay to you the exhilarating news of our game which will arise on the tenth of next month. Each family has to have a representative to enlist in the game, players are of any gender and age. Please be aware that we monitor every family, if we found your household did not participate, the sentries would forcefully drag your whole family and all of you instantly becomes players of the game."
"They had become more brutal each passing year." One man commented, daunt at what he had heard.
The man next to him sighed, raising his axe, and continued cutting the logs into smaller pieces, "Indeed. Five years ago, they would just force one man from a family, but now it has become the whole household."
"We are prisoners of this country. We cannot do anything but comply." The one collecting the logs and putting them inside the sack finished the conversation.
The other men couldn't help but agree.
"The enlistment starts on the first of the month. Likewise, every survivor will be granted whatever they wish for right after they climbed up the last ladder. We are looking forward to meeting our newest survivors in this new chapter of our game. With all that being announced, have a good evening, Asovins. Adieu."
A click that indicated the turning off of the speaker left the whole country into a deafening silence, after five years of break of what had happened to the last game, the hair-raising announcement had once again triggered the memory of the past and would definitely haunt them in their sleep as they worry on their family members being chosen as one of the players.
Usually, men were participating in the game, especially those with the strongest, the fittest, the family member who had the most chance of surviving the game, or it could also be the family member who does not have too much sentiment to them to even worry about if they die on the game or not.
The Game of Dice, as what the administration had been calling it, had been going on for decades every five years. If it was going to be a movie or a book, it only consisted of twelve chapters going for thirteen at the start of another game next month, but with those chapters, more than thousands had already died. With that immense number of people of those who were perished, it was the stark opposite of the survivors who were now either lame or with incomplete parts of the body once they go out of the game, as of the last game which was only two of hundreds of participants were the survivors and eighteen of tens of thousands with all of those chapters survived the game.
It was a nightmare for the family and a hell for the participants.
And now, there would be another episode of both.
The bell rang, this one did not cause too much anxiety to those who could hear but instead indicated that it was now time to get out of the hot, secluded rooms and were now free to go after being stuck inside for ten hours of nonstop lectures.
The scholars of Asovine's only institute, consisting of three buildings, simultaneously stood up as the speaker of the school blasted the country's anthem with a little weird, strange lyrics and tone. After the last part and the instructor's signal, that was the only time the students were allowed to go out of the room and finally do whatever they wanted.
Like, bully whoever they want. And one of those being this woman whom they call Loser.
"Who will be your family's participant, Loser? Can't it be you, right? You'll die before you can even reach the second stage." One lad insulted followed by his sputtering burst laughter along with his friends who even high-fived each other.
The lady gripped on the straps of her bag and drag it closer to herself, drawing her face close to her chest just not to see the annoying face of these bullies.
"C'mon Sho, of course, she would be the one participating! Among the losers aka her family, she's the last, they would certainly choose her as their 'sacrifice'." The other guy added, draping his heavy, muscly arms around the poor woman's shoulder and tapped her head, with a force.
The other scholars who could see them had nothing much to do but stare with sympathy, it had been a common occurrence every afternoon at the school ground to see these boys either picking out a fight or bullying their favorite certain loser, they also knew they wouldn't go as far as hurting her too much, at least publicly, since sentries were lurking around the whole country and violence was not tolerated.
"Just... leave my family alone, please." She mumbled, taking off the man's arm on her shoulder and walked ahead of them.
"Ah, we've got the loser's family girl right here!" He shouted and sneered, his friends following through. "You can participate in the game, Riley! And once you're dead, the screen will show 'Loser's participant, Riley Violet Cole, level one, dead.'"
"Shut up," Violet muttered in a scowl, merely to herself. She was already out of the school's gate and the men's laugh was already out of her hearing range, thankfully.
She sighed and looked up, fixing her bangs which almost curtaining her eyes as she flipped long black her hair to the back to see the orange, ref, and yellow hues skies on the horizon as the sun set down from her duty, and her partner, moon, would soon take over. She couldn't help the sad smile crept on her lips, her country was indeed beautiful, blessed with a lot of sources of livelihood, especially in agriculture, however, how their country was known all around the world, it was through the game.
The Asovine administration was known for being torturous, brutal, and selfish. They were treating the community as their slaves, using lives to be known for entertainment, because the Game of Dice was broadcasted all over the world, yet, the bucks earned from the views and bets from the other country were not used for the country's welfare, one reason why the country was still one of the most with poverty because half of it was given to the survivors as one of their prizes, as they should and deserved, and half were for whoever those voracious people behind the game. The Asovins were nothing but their toys.
"Tough time with the bullies again, Io?"
A chariot that was driven by two donkeys came to her side, she looked up and saw a man, the same age as her father. He had long hair which was tied behind his back, a long black beard and mustache that went beyond his chin, with an ample body shape, thin eyes, and sharp nose. In a poor country like the Asovine, a family who owned a chariot was already considered a rich family, the only means of transportation in the country were either through patiently walking, or renting an overpriced camel from the sentries.
"Uh, no. Just me being weird, Uncle Jyn." A flying stone hit the ground on her side, they both looked back and saw the same boys sticking their tongue out on her with their fingers forming the letter.
"That's not what I'm seeing," The man countered, he moved his head to the left and motioned the lady to hop in his chariot. "Come on, I'll send you home. I'll send this haystack to my storage along the way to your house."
"That would be lovely, but there's no need, Uncle Jyn. Sentries are checking the carrier, they might see me with you that would ensue chaos."
The administration was strict about the social hierarchy, the poor were not allowed to talk to the middle class, same goes with middle class to rich people, the only people who could interact with each other were those in the same level, and the rich and elite people— of course, they were the ones who have a position in the government, who often have parties and gatherings flexing their wealth to each other.
"It's alright, Io. Sentries are busy in the capitol, they are starting to assign which sentry will be disseminated to each street to fetch the participants so you'd be fine, though you still have to hide behind my haystack." He explained, taking out the black wool scarf around his neck and gave it to Violet, "Wear that so you wouldn't feel itchy."
"Thank you, uncle." She replied meekly, laying the piece of cloth on her head and secured her arms inside as she stepped inside the chariot and settled herself in front of the haystack behind the man. "Please cover me with haystack just to be sure."
Uncle Jyn smiled, taking a handful of hays and placed it over her head on the scarf. When everything was good, Violet felt the chariot started moving, the steps of the donkeys were the only sound heard as the whole country was always silent every twilight, no one was already allowed to go out once the night arose.
The road they were taking was awfully cemented, it was already bumpy after only a year. Each side had a continuous line of houses, mostly the middle class houses as the school was in the middle class' division. Aside from the rules of the hierarchy, the country was also divided into five divisions— poor people were packed in one location, to the place where mostly greeneries, forestry, and establishments were seldom; the middle class was where the houses of people were mostly one-story building but still enough to recognize that they have the capability in life. In this division was also where the school was located; The third division was where the start of huge establishment buildings was various, from left to right, the upper families living there were all have houses and the land of their own, they even have gardens in their yards, but they were still not excused in participating in the game; The elites' division was only mainly composed of their mansions, enormous, the beautifully made house with different styles, and complete rooms including entertainment room and their own swimming pool. The government hall was also in the division, the biggest and widest building could be seen in the sector; The fifth and the last one, of course, was the largest division, it was the area where the Game of Dice was happening, covered by a large transparent barrier which goes beyond the skies, with strongly secured railing surrounding the whole place, and God knows what creatures, traps, and other things were inside of the game.
They already arrived at the poorest division, the path changed from cemented road to an extremely bumpy one that hays were falling out behind. Luckily, there were no sentries on the boundary where they were usually stationed as the man deemed it to be.
"Uncle Jyn, who will be your family's participant, is it you?" She asked after a long while of calmness of just sitting at the back.
"I want it to be me because I am old and had lived my life fairly enough, but Xion, my boy, firmly debated that it should be him. He straightforwardly told me the one percent chance of being buried in the game site, while he got at least more than fifty since he had studied a few fighting skills back when I sent him in Kerubin. So, I guess it will be my son." He explained, stopping the donkeys right in front of her small, walls made of woods, and patched ceiling house.
Violet emerged from the back of the carriage and jumped to the ground, clutching the straps of her bag. She bowed to the man as the Asovins' form of thankfulness and respect, "All the thankfulness from deep within me is sent to you and your chariot, Uncle Jyn."
"You are always welcome, Io. Go and meet your family. I'll see you some other time."
"Be safe always." She replied as she watched the man walked straight to his destination.
She had to squint her eyes while walking on the grassy ground to her home, she saw their house's light lit up and seeping through the holes and gaps of their house. When she opened the door, the first people she found were her siblings playing the Game of Dice board game which was produced by the administration for, of course, more income, which was indeed had been too high in demand in the other country.
The board game was free for the Asovins, they knew no one would buy it knowing that their lives or the lives of their family members had been dead and buried in it, so the game was practically a nightmare to them.
"Servy, that's cheating! You can't fly to one stage!" Her youngest brother whined, frowning as he also took out the red player of her brother and put it back to where it was supposed to be, which was level 21.
"No! I'm already in level 25! I used the Berdock to fly there." Her brother after her argued.
She walked towards them and placed her bag on their wooden chair before she sat down on the floor like them, watching what was happening. Thirdy, the youngest, was stuck in the tenth level, while Servy's player was in his hand and arguing whether it should be on 21st or 25th.
"Have you won over the Ssiss, Servy?" She asked, meddling in as it looked like the two were about to brawl over the game.
"Yes, in level twenty-one," She placed her finger on level 21 where the design was with a snake. "There are snakes that when they make a sound, they could break your eardrums and eventually make you deaf because it was so high and ear-piercing. Once you managed to win against them, the price will be the Berdock. So did you win?"
The two became silent, probably they do not know how the game works because they were too young, Servy was just fourteen while Thirdy was ten. They have no idea how severe the game truly was rather than just the board game depicted.
"How can I win over it, Riley?" He asked, frowning as he let the youngest placed his player back on level 21st. "There are a lot of enemies I read on the instructions, but there is none included about their weakness."
Riley smiled and picked up the game instruction and leveled it on her face, "Because no one knows what their weaknesses are. You have to find it out yourself once you got there."
The people who have managed to get out of the game were immediately sent out of the country to soak with their wishes, they were not allowed to give tips nor discuss about the game. They were basically silenced after having their most unforgettable experience as if it had never happened, what's good about winning was, their families were safe, they were already not part of the Asovins and for the people living in this land, that was the best thing a person could ever wish for.
"Oh, you're already here." Her father spoke, her mother emerging as well behind him, coming from the back of their house bearing various vegetables that were certainly their meal for the night, as always.
They were both wearing their tattered farming clothes, their burnt skin had a lot to tell about their diligence in making a living for their family, their skinny physique that their cheekbones were already showing was enough to make Riley's perseverance to boost as she had been longing to carry her family to the point of relief, and no one will throw stones in their house to call them losers.
"You still have hays in your head, Jyn lets you ride his carriage again?" Her mother spoke, going inside, limping as her foot had stepped on the thorny part of the ground.
"Yes, mother. Let me carry those." She said and stood up, she placed the paper in her bag and walked towards her. "Servy, Thirdy, help our father."
Her brothers left the game and follow their sister's command, getting the basket of vegetables as they put it on their small kitchen table. All of their furniture inside their house was all made by their father, they couldn't afford one but their father was creative so they still have what the others have except all were made of woods.
The two young boys went out of the kitchen to continue their game while Riley stayed in the kitchen with her parents. Her father was helping her mother sit on the chair while she was washing the vegetables through the limited water from their storage, the two were silent at first, but they know they had to talk about this certain thing that was so hard for her parents to open up.
So she did, she put down the dipper and faced her parents with a confident smile. "I'll be fine, mother, father. You don't have to worry about me. I'll try my best to survive. I'm sure I can handle the game, we've been facing the parliament which was even worse than the game itself but look, we're still alive!"
She tried to be more cheerful to ease the growing anxiety in the house but to no avail. Her parents' face didn't change, their face remained torn.
"Riley..." Her mother started, desperation was in her voice, "We've decided to let your father participate in the game."
Her heart dropped as she formed her hands into fists, "No, mother! You sounded like he will not be needed in this family. Father, my brothers needed you! You can't just give your life like that, you will still longer, you still have a purpose in Servy and Thirdy's lives!"
"And so are you, Riley. Between us, you have a lot of future ahead of you, while I have fulfilled most of them. I have lived enough, my child." Her father argued. Like it was familiar, she remembered that it had the same thing as what Uncle Jyn had told her, his son, Xion, didn't let him.
"No, father. whatever you say, it'll be me. I readied myself in this. I'm already twenty, I have watched the game, I am aware of the danger inside, even expected two times of it worse. Just look over my brothers." She said, almost pleadingly as she held her mother and father's hand each. "I will live. I wouldn't be a loser in the game."
"That's what your brother had told us too before." Her mother said, now crying upon the memory of her deceased brother because of the game.
The memory was vividly sketched in her mind when they were watching the game, it was just the game five years ago, her brother was already in level 67, all thanks to his luck with dice who always gave him big numbers, but it was also where the enemies were starting to get more aggressive and difficult to get past through. He died not because of the fight against the opposer in the game, but because of the betrayal of his companion who pushed him on the cliff of lava, which the television made it like it was an accident.
"Don't worry, I wouldn't end up like him. I will go out of the game safely, though probably without an arm or something?"
She received a pinch on her hand from her mother but they were chuckling a little, finally. Her father came to hug her and included her mother.
"Just know we're watching you if you feel like no one is supporting you."
"I'll do my best for this family, father."