The smell of fresh grass on a rainy day was beyond words. Never had a grey sky seemed so attractive. An endless abyss stretched to infinity. Branches on enormous trees reached out to the sky, humbly accepting their blessing. Cool raindrops lightly descended on shimmering green leaves. Some rolled off, others posed artistically, patiently waiting for an observer to marvel at their exquisiteness. A gentle drumming from the heavens composed a symphony that therapeutically echoed across the land. The strong aroma of damp grass spread across the area like perfume.
“Take a moment.” A tall man with long hanging hair said. His voice, soft yet incredibly powerful. His attire made from rags.
A young boy, from among a group of five young boys stood near him, spoke, “What are we—”
“Silence!” the man snapped, slamming his staff into the ground. “How can you appreciate your environment, if you do not truly see it?”
The man stepped a little further. His nostrils flared as he inhaled a deep breath.
“Is it not a marvel? Is it not a magnificent mystery?” He said almost in a whisper. His eyes now closed and his face pointing to the sky. His long grey hair mimicked the colour of the clouds perfectly. “What great mechanics must make this world work?” Could we even comprehend its secrets if they were to be unlocked?” He then took a few more steps further.
“Look over there!” he said, pointing in the distance with his staff.
“It’s a hill.” the boy responded along with a sigh. He scratched his head and ran his hands through his ruffled ginger hair.
“Yes, it is. What is it doing?”
“It’s a hill!” The boy screwed up his face, “It doesn’t do anything.”
“Really?” The man smiled. “Look again.”
The boy took a few steps further and looked again. “I still don’t—”
“Be silent for a moment and keep looking. Only if your mind was as sharp as your tongue!”
The other boys joined him and stared contently into the distance. It was a vast lump in the ground with a layer of ghostly mist around its lower quarter. It wasn’t unusually tall nor had anything unique that distinguished it from any other hill.
“The old man has lost his marbles!” the boy whispered to the other boys.
“The reason that you can’t see anything significant about that hill is because you look at it as a hill.”
“What do you see?” The boy asked. The question seemed like it was asked solely for entertainment. The cheeky grin forming on his freckly face was adding weight to the argument that he didn’t want a serious answer and was probably already preparing a satirical comeback.
“I… I see an opportunity.”
“I don’t understand.” The boy grinned.
“Climbing that hill—”
“Would be damn hard!” the boy interrupted. The rest of the boys sniggered.
“It would only be hard if you failed to accept that it was the hill that was elevating you, allowing you to you get higher than you would have managed on your own. The hill is your opportunity to see further, see beyond the limitations you are bound by while stood here.”
“Ah, OK…” the boy said, then screwed up his face again, “I don’t get it.”
“You will… one day.” The man walked in the direction of the hill. “Mind, in your case, that day may not come for a considerably long time!” He muttered under his breath.
“Where are we going now?” the boy whined.
“We’re going to climb the hill.”
“What!” the boy protested, “That’ll take forever!”
“He’s kidding,” The boy turned to the other boys. “He’s got to be kidding, right?”
They trudged toward the ghostly rim of the hill. The man stopped once more.
“Listen carefully. Listen to the birds humming, the wind whistling, the raindrops falling and the rustling of small animals. These sounds are in perfect harmony with their environment. They do not sound out of place. They sound like they are meant to be here.” He then peered back at the boys. His bushy grey brows elevated, “Ask yourselves… are you meant to be here?”
The boys looked at one another, perplexed.
“We’re meant to be at home!” One of the boys said. “In the dry, with a hot cup of tea… and some warm food.”
The boys chuckled.
For a moment, the man’s eyes widened but then quickly shrunk back to normal. “There will be plenty of time for food and drink. But for now, we will not be thinking of our stomachs; rather we will immerse ourselves in our natural surroundings.” He smiled. “This will help you to find peace… real peace. Now close your eyes and listen to the—”
The man was interrupted by a loud sound emerging from the sky in the distance. They all stared at the black, unidentified flying object soaring through the clouds followed by a trail of thick grey smoke and two smaller flying objects.
“Wow!” the boys shouted in excitement.
“What is that?” the ginger-haired boy asked, pointing in the sky.
The man remained silent. He felt himself ice-over.
“Erm… Aldon… Sir…” The ginger-haired boy waved his hands in front of the man’s face. “What is that?”
Aldon blinked a few times and then swallowed.
“Trouble, by the looks of it.” He watched as the large black object plummeted in the distance. “Come on; we need to get back.”
“Yes!” the boys hissed collectively, seeming relieved that the trek up the hill was cancelled. They headed back towards their village.
NORTHERN SECTOR – OUTPOST
“What on earth is going on? A man with olive skin and long, jet-black hair asked as he approached the top of the wooden outpost. “What possessed you to strike the bell, man?”
The man who stood guard in the outpost had a look of horror pasted on his face. He silently pointed in the distance. There was a cloud of thick black smoke emerging from the ground. It was a type of smoke that the man had never seen before. It didn’t seem normal. It didn’t look like the smoke of burning wood nor did it carry the right smell.
“What the…” the man’s eyes widened. “What is it?”
“I don’t know, but whatever it is, it isn’t from around here.” the guard said in a shaky voice. “Wood does not burn like that. And it tore through the sky like a blade.”
“This isn’t good.” The man’s gaze locked into the distance. “The others will be on their way. Wait outside. Tell them I have already gone ahead.”
“Shouldn’t you wait for them and go together? That’s the protocol.” the guard said.
“No time. We could be under attack!”
“Sylax, listen… this is madness. Whatever that thing is, I am certain that it is from Arcadiapolis – there is nothing good that comes from Arcadiapolis. You know that it is dangerous, probably the work of the devil himself!”
“We must protect the Northern Sector.”
“At any cost!”
“They are evil beyond measure – they bring only misery and darkness.” The dark pupils in the man’s eyes expanded as he stood up and stared at Sylax. “Their arrival would explain the rainstorm and thunder. A great evil is among us. I can feel it.”
“Then there is no time to waste.”
Sylax did not wait for the guard to continue to try to convince that this was a bad idea and sprinted towards the smoke. His long brown hair floated up behind him as if trying to catch up. He was fast on his feet. And even faster with his arms, especially when handling a sword – his perfect choice of weapon. He wore it on his back. A long, silver scabbard with a brown leather strap, wrapped tightly around his body like a python. He heard many rumours around the village about him and his trusted companion, his sword. People believed it was part of his body. This made sense as no one had ever seen him without it. It was tales like these and others of him once killing an entire pack of wolves with just one swing and throwing the head of the pack so fiercely into the sky that it reached the heavens, which made him chuckle the most. He never verified the fallacies. He quite enjoyed hearing all the elaborate stories. Being mysterious and feared held a sort of attractiveness.
He leapt up onto a branch of a tree. He swung wildly and then caught onto another. His movements were effortless and fluent. It was as if the branches were propelling him forward at his command. He glided through the forest like a gentle breeze. Silent. Careful to not damage the branches or leave any evidence of his passing.
“Be the forest and let the forest be you…” the words of his teacher echoed in his head. “You are faster than the horse. You are lighter than the leaf. You are not limited to the ground nor limited to the sky – you are everywhere, yet you are nowhere. You are limitless!”
As he got closer to the crash site, he crouched on a branch of a close by tree. He could see men in strange clothes, holding strange objects in their hands. Devices of the devil, Sylax thought.
The men cautiously approached the large black object on the ground. It had created a small crater and still had faint smoke emerging from it. They heaved open the door, it hissed loudly, and a puff of white smoke escaped into the air.
One of the men reached into the object while the other held a strange device out like a weapon. The man reaching in, tugged and eventually dragged out a person. The person seemed unconscious. Sylax craned his neck to get a better look. It was a woman. They lay her on the floor. One of the men then reached into the vehicle and removed a clear container. Staring intensely, Sylax could see a baby inside.
“What on earth is going on?” he whispered to himself. “Why would a woman and baby be here and like this?” He asked himself.
He swiftly removed his sword and pointed it behind him.
“Easy there Sylax.” A voice emerged behind him.
“What did I tell you about sneaking up on me?” Sylax said in a hushed voice as he turned back to look at the man standing on a branch behind him. “One day, I might lose control of the sword and that day will be your last.”
“The great Sylax, lose control of his sword. It cannot be. I think it is more likely that he will lose control of his mind before he loses control of his sword.”
Sylax smiled, “It’s good to see you Arthur, old friend.”
“Likewise. Now, what is going on here?”
“Down there.” Sylax pointed, “Seems like people from Arcadiapolis. They are in some type of uniform. And they have a woman and a baby.”
“I see.” Arthur stared. “She looks like she is in uniform as well.”
“They look like they are taking her back.”
“That’s good. The quicker they get out of here, the better.”
“But she could be in danger.”
“Not our problem.” Arthur said, “She is of no concern to us.”
“And the baby?”
“Again, no concern of ours.”
“We can’t just let them take her and the baby!”
“And why not? They do not belong here.”
Sylax stared back at the men now dragging the woman towards another object close by. A strange panic was surging through him.
“She doesn’t belong here, you are right.” His eyes then shrunk, “But I don’t think she belongs to them either!”
“But what has that to do with us?”
“I will not let them take her!” Sylax said. the muscles in his jaw tensed.
Arthur grabbed Sylax’s arm and stared deep into his hazel eyes, “You have no business getting involved with these people. They are dangerous.”
“I fear no man.” Sylax held out his sword.
“Don’t be a fool. Somethings demand might, and others demand mind. Use your mind. Those things that they are holding… they are contraptions of sorcerers. I have heard about them and the destruction that they cause.”
Sylax remained silent for a moment and fell into deep thought. He knew Arthur was right. These men were from Arcadiapolis, and nothing good came from there. He had heard about their evil devices as well. The destruction that they could cause. His entire youth was spent in training, both physical and mental. He was a warrior ripe for battle, prepared to lay down his life for his people. But from among the first things he was taught, there was one strict rule: he is only to fight when the fight came to the village. He is a defender, not an attacker. Although he was trained to kill, he was instructed not to kill.
This was happening outside of the borders of his village. No man’s land. He knew that getting involved in this would go against his training.
Everything was telling him to walk away. This wasn’t his fight. The woman nor the baby had anything to do with him or the protection of Northern Sector. Reckless actions could even comprise the safety of the Northern Sector – the Sector he had sworn to protect. Yet there was something inside him that would not let him retreat, regardless of the consequences. That was a woman and an innocent baby and irrespective of where they were from, they were human. They needed saving. Somehow, he felt it in his heart.
“I will not let them take her or the baby!” Sylax said.
“Interfering with those people, you could start a war! A war with an enemy that we don’t understand.”
“I cannot turn a blind eye to this.”
“Don’t be foolish. Retreat with us back to the village and let them be about their business.”
“I cannot do that.”
“Then you are on your own.” Arthur turned his face in the opposite direction.
Sylax nodded his head, “So be it!” He leapt off the branch, somersaulting to the ground and walked confidently towards the men who were still dragging the woman across the ground toward the other black object. “I certainly hope you know what you’re doing!” Sylax mumbled to himself.
The men stopped when they saw him approaching. They both held out the black devices in front of them, pointing them at Sylax.
“Stop right there!” one of the men commanded. “Don’t take another step.”
Sylax stopped. He had a feeling that those devices were powerful enough to turn him to dust.
“What do you want stranger?” the man said.
Sylax looked down at the woman. She lay unconscious. Her skin was fair and looked as smooth as a baby’s. “Where are you taking them?” Sylax finally asked.
“They don’t belong here. They are part of our world, and we are taking them back.”
“It seems like she was trying to get away from you.”
“She is a criminal. We have apprehended her and are now taking her back. Now, be about your business – this has nothing to do with you.” The man stepped forward and raised the device a little higher, pointing it directly at Sylax’s face.
“On the contrary, this has everything to do with me. You are in my part of the world, and I can’t just let you take them.”
“You dare to stop an Arcadiapolis officer from carrying out an arrest.” The man shouted, “I will destroy you within seconds.”
Sylax removed his sword and held it out in front of him.
“You fool.” The man said, “Do you really think that you have a chance against us? You couldn’t defeat us with an army of you mindless brutes!”
“Let’s put your words to the test then shall we!” A loud voice emerged from behind Sylax. The Arcadiapolis officers stepped back as they saw a large group of men some on foot and some on horses emerge from the behind the large trees. The ground trembled as they progressed forward. Shimmering swords held out in front of them. A small army of strong-looking men with large shields and some with bows and arrows. All were wearing grim expressions.
“I had it under control,” Sylax said as Arthur approached from behind him.
“I have no doubt. You’re as stubborn as your father was.”
“I thought I was on my own?” Sylax remarked.
“We don’t abandon one of our own. Even if he is unwise.”
“Thank you, brother,” Sylax said.
“You’re welcome. Now, what’s the plan?”
“I thought it seemed obvious…”
“What seemed obvious?”
“I have no plan.” He smirked and then marched towards the Arcadiapolis officers. His sword still held out in front of him. He wasn’t afraid of their strange weapons of evil, even though he suspected that they would work as a powerful charm and destroy him in a moment. He had no intentions of backing down even before Arthur and the Northern Sector guards crashed the party.
“Leave the woman and the baby and crawl back into the hole you came out from while you still have a chance!” Sylax yelled. His powerful voice echoed through the land. Birds bolted from the nearby trees. And the Arcadiapolis officers stepped back as if Sylax’s words formed a tremendous force that coursed through them.
The Arcadiapolis officers gawked at the menacing group and then seized the opportunity to scurry back to the black object. They got in and immediately fired up the engine. Sylax and the group of men stared intently as the object made a loud hiss and then hovered above the ground. Although Sylax and the Northern Sector guards had heard stories of the Arcadiapolis people possessing the ability to do extraordinary things, what they were witnessing was undoubtedly deviltry. A dark magic from which nothing good would ever materialise.
“I don’t like this…” Arthur remarked as the object rocketed into the sky. “I don’t like this one bit!”
“Sorcery!” Sylax remarked.
“Whatever it is… it is not a good thing. Nothing—”
“Yes, yes…” Sylax interrupted, “Nothing good comes from Arcadiapolis… I heard it a million times.”
“Maybe you haven’t heard it enough,” Arthur remarked as he stared at the woman on the floor.
“I am sick of living in fear of Arcadiapolis.”
“We do not live in fear Sylax. We are just cautious, just like all the sectors. We have to be to protect our own.” Arthur pointed at the woman on the floor. “I don’t know why we are risking our necks for this woman and her baby. She is not one of us, and I do not doubt that she will bring with her a great deal of trouble.”
Sylax knelt down next to the woman. He observed her for a moment and then peered over at the baby in the clear incubator. He knew they were from Arcadiapolis, but there was something about them, something unusual. Sylax could feel it in his heart. The picture that he had in his mind about the people that lived in Arcadiapolis was of pure evil. Unhuman. Unnatural. Stories of them were told at bedtime to scare children. They were iniquitous creatures like those comparable to the underworld, with demonic eyes that could burn holes in you. Their skin was like that of a reptile’s, and they roamed their part of the world like ogres.
Looking at this woman and this baby, however, they were far from how he had imagined. There was always a feeling deep within him that just like stories about him were hugely exaggerated, so were the tales of the wicked beasts of Aracdiapolis, but looking at this woman confirmed that the tales were simply fables.
The lady’s skin was pale as if it barely been exposed to the sun and her clothing was outlandish, but she looked normal. Human. Peaceful. There was nothing hideous or menacing about her. In fact, there was something appealing about her. Something that forbade Sylax from taking his eyes off her.
Sylax removed an animal horn with a rag wrapped tightly around it. He unwrapped the cloth and poured the water he had inside onto the woman’s face. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes and gasped for air. She kicked her legs when she saw the men circle her. She noticed a stick on the ground and quickly grabbed it. She swung it in the air wildly, “Stay back! I’m warning you!” She looked around and saw the incubator with the baby inside. She stood in front of it, one hand on the incubator, the other still swinging the stick.
“Stay calm!” Sylax said. He took a small step forward with his palms facing her, “It’s alright. We’re not going to hurt you.”
“I’d be more concerned about me hurting you! Don’t come any closer. I mean it!” She swung the stick again.
“I like her already!” Arthur chucked from behind. “She’s fiery.”
“Your stick, as mighty as it is, is no match for our swords, so please put it down before you hurt yourself,” Sylax said calmly. “No harm shall come to you or your baby.”
“Do I have your word?” She asked, now holding the stick with both hands.
“My word is my honour, and you have my word.”
She reluctantly lowered the stick. But her eyes were instantly drawn to the man sat on a horse behind Sylax.
“I can’t believe it… A wild beast.” She remarked faintly.
“What? The horse?” Arthur chuckled, “That is as much a wild beast as the one sat on top of it.” The man chuckled.
The man sat on the horse roared imitating the roar of a lion, “That isn’t the first time that I’ve been called a wild beast, let me tell you that!” The men continued to chortle.
“Silence!” Sylax shouted as he noticed the woman’s eyes begin to close slowly and she collapsed on to the ground.
“Now look at what you did!” Arthur said to the man who was stood on the horse, “You’ve killed her!” The men laughed again.
“Yeah… I sort of have that effect on women.” Another burst of laughter.
“Help me get her back to the village so we can get her looked at.” Sylax said as he picked her up.
“And the baby?” Arthur said.
“Yes, bring the baby, of course!”
“OK… I’m sure everyone is going to be thrilled to see them.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, help me get her on to the wild beast.” He smiled.