When all the finalists had selected their respective groupings, Alira and one of the masked men lead them down a narrow tunnel. It was a small cave in the woods, easily missed by someone not looking for it specifically. Hidden by vines and foliage, it looked like something straight out of Indiana Jones.

The walls were made of stone, and the ceiling sloped unevenly with jagged rock, so it felt like the teens were descending deep into the heart of the earth. The tunnel was lit at long intervals, so in the dark space between each dim lamp, Joanna feared that she was lost until a shoulder bumped into hers. In the circles of light she is safe again.

Briley, in front of her stopped abruptly, and she smacked into her, hitting her nose on the back of Briley's head. Joanna stumbled back and rubbed her nose as she recovered her senses. The whole crowd had stopped, and the two leaders stood in front of them, arms folded.

"This is where we divide," Alira said. "The pickers of the right bowl go with him. The pickers of the left bowl with me." She smiled and beckoned them into action. 

The left bowl pickers broke away from the group and dissolved into the shadows behind Alira. Joanna watched the last heel pass out of the light and looked at those of them who were left.

The masked man addressed them next. "Tonight I am your instructor," he said, his voice was edged with steel. "My name is Cobra."

Noel asked, "Cobra? Like the snake?"

"Yes," the man said. "Is there a problem?"

"No."

"Good. Your first challenge is The Hunt-"

Noel snickered. "The Hunt? Clever name."

Cobra walked up to Noel and leaned his face close to his. His eyes narrowed, and for a second he just stared at him.

"What's your name?" he asked quietly. It reminded Joanna of the suspenseful quietness that came before a tiger pounced on it's unsuspecting prey.

"Noel." He said, but the humor was gone from his voice now.

"Well, Noel-smart-mouth," he hissed through the mask. "The first lesson you will learn from me is to keep your mouth shut. Got that?"

Noel nodded, his eyes flickering to his mud-caked trainers. 

Cobra started toward the shadow at the end of the tunnel. The six teens moved on in silence.

"What a jerk," Noel mumbled, Joanna and Libby shushed him simulteneously.

"I guess he doesn't like to be laughed at." A voice behind Joanna said quietly. 

Aaren. He speaks. His voice was deeper than anticipated. Joanna glanced back, her eyes meeting his quickly before she spun forward. 

"I guess so." Joanna murmured. It would probably be wise to be careful around Aaren, she realized. He seemed placid to her so far, but something about that stillness made her wary now.

At the end of each hallway is a blue lamp, but between them it's dark, and Joanna has to be careful not to stumble over uneven ground. Cobra stopped in front of a heavy-looking wooden door and folded his arms. The six gathered around him.

 Cobra's eyes, a gritty brown, squinted at each of the six. He eyed them at varying degrees of intensity. Finally he said, "We take the game process very seriously. Tonight I will oversee your first official challenge, which, as I'm sure you've guessed, is a team challenge. You all have to complete it or you all lose."

The thought makes Joanna nauseous. The idea that this strange man would over see their challenge was bad enough, but the fact that they had to rely on each other so much made it seem even worse.

"There are six Storm Trail challenges in total." He said, "but first the rules; number one, You tell no one outside the game about the game, this includes parents and/or family members, friends and authority figures such as the police. Number two, you must complete all challenges within the allotted time frame, failure do do so results in elimination. The creativity of how you complete them is up to you, as long as it doesn't clash with rule one. Number three, you will not try to interfere with the game. Number four, you will only receive the full amount of your earnings after you complete the entire game-"

"Wait, what!" Noel sputtered, "so we play your dumb game and just what? trust you to hand over the money at the end of it?"

Cobra tilted his head, "the initial money you received for joining the Storm Trials is yours, of course. But anything you earn from now on will be held in a safe place for you, just until you win. Then it's all yours. You will be made aware of how much you are gaining through out the game. You just won't have access to it."

Noel's jaw ticked but he said nothing else. Cobra continued, "at the end of this challenge, your rankings will be determined in comparison with the other team."

"Rankings?" asked Briley. "Why are we ranked?"

Cobra's mask stretched across where his mouth was, and in the dim light, his apparent masked smile looked wicked, like it was cut into his face with a knife.

"Your ranking serves two purposes," he says. "The first is that it determines the order in which you receive varying amounts of money. There are only a few desirable positions available."

Joanna's stomach tightened. She knew that something bad was about to happen.

"The second purpose," he said, "is that the bottom six will be up for elimination. The last four will be removed immediately, but the top two of the bottom six will still have a fighting chance if they choose. A life saver challenge."

They all stood as still as statues. And then Joanna said, "What?"

"There are only seven spots for the second Trial," Cobra continued casually. "Five will be cut at the end of this challenge."

 Joanna felt the others look at each other from the corner of her eye, sizing each other up, but she couldn't look back at them. Her eyes were fixed on Cobra and would not move. Her odds suddenly did not feel so good.

"What happens if we're cut?" Noel asked nervously, running a hand through his hair.

"You are out of the Game," said Cobra indifferently, "and you lose everything."


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