Birds scattered as the old morning bell began to toll, its deep echoes ringing throughout the city of Pastrino. The noise was met by stirrings as the city below began to awaken and the people rose from slumber to begin their day’s work. All except one that is: Trey Sted. He was still fast asleep like he was most mornings.
People were amazed at how he could sleep through the morning bell because it could wake up everyone else in Pastrino, even those on the outskirts of the sprawling city. Ironically, his house stood in the shadow of the bell tower on the wide hill that marked the centre of the city. It left any who were that close to the tower with ringing ears when it chimed, but Trey never even stirred from his sleep.
“Trey, wake up! Trey, get out of bed!” his mother called from the doorway. Trey didn’t move. His cheap woollen cover was wrapped tightly around him like a cocoon even though it was the middle of summer. His mother called again. “Trey, get up now or you’ll be sorry.” Still he lay motionless. “I warned you, Trey.”
She went down stairs and left the house. A large aqueduct snaked its way all across the city overhead. A thin pipe led from the aqueduct down into the Sted’s garden, like similar pipes did for every other house in the city. She stepped over to the pipe, enjoying the brief second of sunlight before she entered the stretched shadow of the structure. You were always under the shadow of the aqueduct in Pastrino, meaning the areas of direct light were of great value and usually reserved as parks or houses for the rich.
Sarah Sted had a way of waking up her son. She grabbed a small wooden bucket and turned the on the tap. A steady flow of water poured into the container. Once it was full she staggered back upstairs. She reached Trey’s bed and managed to lift the bucket just above his head. In one big movement she tipped it upside down. There was a loud splash as water cascaded over the boy’s head and much of the room around it.
Trey’s eyes opened suddenly but his body barely moved. The remnants of water weaved through his long, dark brown hair, then soaked into his thin mattress. His emerald green eyes still looked tired but they always had a shine deep within them.
“Morning Mum,” he said, moving his dripping hair from his eyes. He had gotten used to his unusual wake up but could never go back to sleep because his mattress was soaked. He yawned again and rubbed his eyes.
“It’s almost time for school so I want you dressed and downstairs in five minutes. Got it?” Sarah instructed him briskly.
“Yes Mum,” muttered Trey as he eyed the soaked bed longingly.
Sarah left his room to carry on with her jobs, leaving Trey alone to get dressed. Getting up he glanced around the narrow room. Between his bed, a chest and a small bookshelf, there was little space left to move. He walked over to the chair where his school uniform was and just stood staring at the dull grey trousers and jumper.
Trey didn’t like school; that was, he didn’t like getting up at first light, he didn’t like the idiots that surrounded him, and he didn’t like the uniform. The actual subjects were enjoyable enough, other than languages with Mr Xion.
Motivation was a hard thing to find for someone like Trey. Day after day he was forced to learn things that he would never need, all under the premise of future success. This meant little to Trey though since he had no grand ambition for fame or fortune. All he wanted from life was to live a quiet existence with enough money in his pocket to allow his mother the peace that she deserved. Learning a language from a country he would never visit just seemed a waste in his eyes.
He got dressed then had a quick glance through his window at the city around him. That was what he liked most about his room; since his house was on a hill at the centre of the city he could see nearly all of Pastrino. Not that there was a great deal of beauty to be found in the gloom of the aqueduct.
He could see the squat school off to his right and the tall shape of the old Sprite church to his left. He could also see the farmers’ fields in the distance, just past the city’s crumbling, once white walls. The winding aqueduct disappeared beyond the horizon to join up with a distant river that provided the city’s water supply. A crowded mass of grime coated white stone buildings lay below him like sea foam washing up on a beach.
With a deep yawn he hopped down the stairs into the clustered kitchen to get his breakfast. Suppressing another yawn he slumped into a chair. The only time he was ever energised was when he did his daily training. One thing was for sure though, Trey loved his food.
He never made too much of a pig of himself though. The only time he could really eat until he was full was at big events when he didn’t need to pay for the food. His mother had to look after him and the house by herself. She did other people’s odd jobs for handfuls of silver Vim to get by.
His father had disappeared just before Trey was born and no one knew where or why. Some thought he was dead while others believed that he had just run away from his responsibilities. Trey had even heard some people call him a murderer, pinning the death of a young girl on him. Trey didn’t know the answer and he never asked too much about it as he knew how much it hurt his mother to speak of it. He couldn’t even remember the last time that she had referred to his father by name.
Trey grabbed some food from a sparsely populated cupboard and began to eat. Sarah had just finished wiping up the water in the front room that had fallen through the floorboards from Trey’s room and stopped to look at her beloved son. He had that same sad look on his face like he had most school days. His mother could not work out why Trey was treated like he was. He just did not seem to fit in. He was smart and quite strong but he just did not belong with the other kids in the city. He seemed distant, always in a dream, wandering through life without a direction or purpose. It was like Trey had his own little bubble and just couldn’t connect with the world beyond it. She put it down to the lack of a father figure and her own decision to let him choose his own path from early on in his life.
He did have one friend though, Billy Delb. They had been friends all of their lives, and although Billy was far more popular than Trey, they were still very loyal friends. They spent most of their school time together but didn’t seem to see each other much outside of school. Billy had lots of clubs to go to and Trey enjoyed staring out of the window for hours on end just relaxing. Billy’s parents had been in the same class as Sarah during their school days and the friendships had been passed down to the next generation.
There was a series of knocks upon the front door. Sarah opened it and Billy was stood just beyond. His short, light brown hair shone in the light of the sun and his brown eyes looked bored. He had a well-built upper body because of the hours of archery practice he did every day. His father was the school’s archery instructor after all.
“Are you ready, Trey?” he asked. “I’m really looking forward to school today.” Sarcasm dripped from his every word. He rolled his shoulders absently. Unlike Trey, Billy was never happy unless he was moving.
“Why?” Trey asked, thinking over the day’s schedule. “Oh.” He sighed as he remembered he had a language test first lesson with Mr Xion and then no good subjects whatsoever afterwards.
If only he’d been born sooner, Trey mused. Back when his mother had been at school they had still taken practical subjects such as swordsmanship. Then the former lord of Pastrino had passed away and had been replaced with a man who was involved with the Neototes. The Neototes were a group that saw the past as nothing more than a hindrance to the evolution of society and tried to cut all ties to the more ‘barbaric’ ages. They argued that a man could not walk safely forward while always looking back.
“Come on then,” Trey said wearily, dispersing his sour thoughts as he pulled his school bag onto his shoulder. “Bye Mum. See you later,” he called back to Sarah.
“Bye Mrs Sted,” said Billy.
“Bye,” she replied with a smile. “Be careful.”
“I’ll try,” Trey answered as he closed the door behind him. Trey had a strange feeling about today. He got this feeling whenever something was going to happen. Was it something good or bad he pondered to himself as they walked to school along the same path they had used since their first day there. Maybe he would pass Language, that would be a strange miracle, he mused cynically.
* * *
As soon as Trey and Billy had been recorded they were ushered quickly through the stone corridors to the Language room. A tall, dark skinned, broad shouldered figure stood at the door. His shiny bald head was almost blinding as it reflected the morning sun. It was their teacher, Mr Xion. He wore fine clothes of subtle hues that fit him perfectly, while his face was handsome and his body well-toned. Everything about him was well kept and luxurious.
“Everyone enter the room in silence and seat yourself at your designated desks,” the man ordered the class in a stern yet smooth voice. This was his usual before class speech.
Trey took his place at the very centre of the classroom. He preferred a back corner near the window and Mr Xion knew it. He didn’t like Trey and was always trying to make his lessons unbearable. All because of an accident involving a stray arrow nearly hitting him through an open window. Trey had not intended the arrow to ricochet. It just went to prove that practicing archery while suffering through a bout of hiccups was not a good idea.
The test dragged on and Trey’s attention found itself straying to the different shapes on the floor. It was like cloud watching but more varied.
“Trey!” barked Mr Xion. “What have I just been saying?”
Trey looked up slowly. “Something in the language of the northern desert tribes,” he replied.
“Yes but what?” sneered Mr Xion through gritted teeth.
“I don’t know.” Trey shrugged his shoulders dismissively.
Mr Xion seemed to have been expecting this and had his next words planned. “You don’t seem very interested in my lessons, any reasons?” There was a long silence then Mr Xion spoke again. “Well?”
Trey thought for a moment then replied, “Well sir, I can’t say that I don’t like this lesson or you because it is rude and you’ll give me a caning and I don’t really want one.”
“Then why don’t you say that you are interested in my lesson, that should work,” said Xion with a smug look of satisfaction slapped across his face.
“I was taught never to lie,” Trey replied simply.
Xion’s face turned from tan to red in a second. “Trey!” he growled, barely holding in his anger. There was a piercing ding sound. The break bell rang and everyone started to file out of the classroom, including Trey.
“Talk about saved by the bell, Trey,” laughed Billy as they walked down the corridor. “I’ve got to do some stuff now for the archery team so I’ll see you later.” He turned a corner and left Trey by himself.
Trey weaved through the ambling crowds of pupils and found his usual breaktime spot, a small table on the edge of the school grounds looking out at the bell tower and his house. He sat down, made himself comfy, and started to lose himself in one of his trance like thoughts.
“Oi! Move, I’m sitting here now!” came a sneering voice.
Trey turned his head to see who was ordering him to move. It was Derrick Rol or ‘Sharkey’ as his friends called him. He was medium height, thin, with ape like arms that reached the bottom of his kneecaps. His short brown, spiky hair looked like a hedgehog that had been swimming in grease and his eyes were a dark brown that sat in sunken sockets.
“Shift now or I’ll shift ya myself,” threatened the boy in a deep voice that was clearly fake.
Sharkey was meant to be the ‘big dog’ around the town, even though he was only a year older than Trey. His father had been convicted of war crimes after the infamous Ghibok war and had spent several years in the Lord’s dungeons. He had been released and Sharkey had been born but it had been only a few short years until the man was back in the dungeon for domestic violence. Sharkey had grown up sharing his father’s violent temperaments. Everyone seemed to be scared of him.
“Come on, you better move before you get hurt, kid,” said one of the older students who had placed a hand on Trey’s shoulder. Sharkey’s reputation preceded him.
“No, I’m alright where I am thanks,” Trey said casually.
“What?” Sharkey shouted in disbelief at Trey’s words. His voice was petulant, clearly unused to not getting his own way instantly.
“I said that I am okay, thank you,” Trey repeated calmly while staring off into space.
Sharkey grabbed Trey’s neck and shoved him off the bench. Trey stood up, walked back to the bench and sat down. Sharkey’s face went bright red with rage. He swung his fist towards Trey’s face but Trey merely swayed to one side and Sharkey’s fist missed him. Sharkey then lunged his full body at Trey with his arms flailing about him in blind anger. Trey’s leg shot out and kicked him in the stomach, sending him staggering backwards. Sharkey recovered then charged again, this time getting ready to hit Trey with all his strength. Trey anticipated this move so he stood up, hit Sharkey in the throat, kneed him in the gut then turned slightly and elbowed him in the cheek. Sharkey collapsed to the floor.
Unknown to Trey’s peers, he’d had a lot of training and was stronger than he looked. His father had been an officer in the city guard and had been a skilled warrior. Even though Trey had never met him, he still felt a longing to live up to the man’s legacy. His duels against Billy were the highlights of his week.
Trey felt a hand on his shoulder that pulled him around, immediately followed by a fist to his nose. He fell backwards but as he was falling he remembered a move he had seen once used by performers at a travelling circus. He lifted his right leg up, placed it on his attackers thigh, grabbed his jumper, and as Trey hit the floor he kicked up and flipped the thug straight into Sharkey who had just stood back up.
Trey struggled to his feet and looked around. Sharkey’s friends surrounded him. Bullies seemed to travel in packs just to stay on the safe side and ensure that no one dared to fight them. They started to close in on him. He knew that he didn’t stand a chance against all of them. Suddenly, someone broke the tight ring of thugs.
It was Billy. He must have seen the trouble and ran there at full speed. The gang charged at the two friends. They started well, winning every thug that came at them, their basic training serving them well, but they just kept coming. Billy’s strong arms ensured that those he hit stayed down while Trey, who was a swordsman at heart, dodged most of the clumsy attacks using his honed reactions. The bullies only used strength, knowing nothing about how to fight with skill, but soon both Trey and Billy became tired. Quickly it came down to blocking and dodging the hail of attacks without being able to fight back.
“Looks like we’re beat,” grunted Billy through gasping breaths. A purple bruise was already forming on his cheek. Trey sighed. They were only going to be beaten up but it was going to be a defeat that caused them both a lot of pain and humiliation.
“Woo hoo! This is gonna be fun!” came a crazed shout from behind the crowd that had gathered around the brawl. A figure dashed forward through the observers, cackling madly. It was a boy from Trey’s class called Zak Malma.
Trey had never really talked to him. To put it lightly, he was insane. He had once voiced his opinion that sheep had been the rulers of mankind and only awaited the chance to retake that position once again. But here he was coming into the fight for no reason. His messily spiked hair was a mixture of mostly darkest black with odd streaks of vivid blond that flew around his face wildly as he ran. His blue eyes looked ecstatic as he smacked the first thug in the face. His jumper was on backwards.
He had a long ruler in each hand that he used like swords. The thugs couldn’t fight back against his reckless attacks. The cracking sound of wood on bone mixed with the pained shouts of his victims. During his rampage he also managed to hit some of the crowd as well, causing chaos as the bystanders attempted to stop him. Like a chain of dominoes, more and more of the students began to lash out. Soon there was a riot spreading across the entire school grounds as teenage nature and testosterone took to the foreground.
Social groups had joined together, creating factions among the chaos. What had started as simple reactive violence rapidly became a full-scale battle with Zak at its centre. Teachers attempted to control the situation but could do little to stem the fighting. Within the hour it had spread, spilling out into the city itself. A dark figure smirked, watching it all unfold from his window.
The city guards in their polished armour eventually stormed the school and put an abrupt stop to the fighting but everyone in the city was appalled by the children’s behaviour and they had to point the finger at someone.