Trey slowly opened his eyes and looked around his room blearily. Daylight was flooding in even though his thick curtains were closed. That was not normal, he thought groggily. He bolted out of bed and threw them open, nearly blinding himself in the process as harsh light entered through the window.
The sun was high in a clear blue sky and all of the shops around the city seemed to have people already going about their daily business. Blacksmiths were hammering away, the market looked crowded and over at the church a burial appeared to be in progress.
Trey opened his window and leaned slightly out to look at the school. There were no students but he could see movement through the distant windows. “I must be later than usual, Mum must have overslept or something,” he mumbled sleepily to himself. “I might still be able to get to school if I hurry.”
The bell tower suddenly started to chime. The sound was almost deafening this close. Trey jumped and almost fell head first through his window. There was only one chime.
“What! It’s one already!” Trey shouted with surprise.
He quickly threw his uniform on, skidded out of his room and jumped down the stairs, hurting his foot in the process. He limped into the kitchen and found his mother sitting on a wooden stool, her fists clenched around a crumpled letter. She raised her head as Trey came through the door. Her hair was frizzy and her eyes were slightly bloodshot. Water was built up just above her bottom eyelids. She had a look on her face that was a mix of anger and frustration.
“Mum, what’s the matter?” Trey asked, concern in his voice.
Sarah opened her mouth to talk, then shut it again, unable to find the right words. Instead she shakily passed him the letter and closed her eyes. She looked torn between whether to explode with anger or to sag into her chair. Trey took the paper and straightened it out on the table. It was an official looking letter with a bright red seal at the bottom. He sat down then started to read.
Dear Mrs Sted,
We regret to inform you that eyewitnesses have come forward and given us information ascertaining to yesterday’s school ground riot. Eight pupils and one teacher have stated that they saw your son, Trey Sted, throw the first punch. This then progressed into the senseless violence that has shamed all involved. We at the school and throughout the community are very disappointed by his barbaric behaviour. As punishment he is expelled from the school until further notice.
Regards, T. Aslon.
The room was silent as Trey read the letter. Only the old grandfather clock in the corner broke the quiet with its rhythmic ticking. He laid the letter slowly on the table and turned away from his mother.
“Well, at least I can stay in bed now,” he said with a weak laugh. He turned back to face his mother again. “I didn’t do it. You believe me, don’t you?”
Sarah stood up and embraced her son. “Of course I believe you. It’s just it made me so angry. You have a good behaviour record except in languages, and that’s the teacher’s fault because he doesn’t like you. Yet they believe him and that horrible little thug. I should go up there and give them a stern talking to.”
“It’s alright. I somehow doubt that I’ll miss school,” replied Trey passively. He knew that displaying emotion would only upset his mother further. That would certainly not be a good idea. Sarah had a fiery temper and Trey knew that she could easily snap and go on a vendetta against the school. Despite her low social status, Sarah Sted was not a woman to cross.
Sarah released Trey and started to pace around the small room. “Yes, but what about your education. You have to have one or you’ll be stuck with a job you hate, or worse, no job at all. Things aren’t as simple as they were back in my day.”
“No worries. I’ll just help you.” He started to pour himself a mug of tea from the pot that had begun to rattle and hiss from above the fireplace.
She stopped pacing. “No. You’re better than that,” Sarah answered, her voice shaking slightly.
“You’re better than that too, but you still do it,” replied Trey simply.
Sarah faltered. “I’m not going to win this am I?” she asked.
Trey lightly slammed his mug down like a judge’s gavel spilling hot tea onto the table. “Nope. Not a chance.”
Sarah threw her arms into the air in submission. “Fine. You win. You can help me, but I’ve decided I’m going to educate you myself.”
“Deal.” Trey raised his cup in a toast and then drank.
“Work starts at seven every morning,” she stated bluntly.
Trey choked on his tea. “You’re kidding?”
“Nope. You can start now by cleaning up that tea, not that you should be wasting it.”
Trey made a salute to his mother. “Yes ma’am.” He picked up the letter and wiped it across the tea spilled table then screwed the sodden paper and threw it into the nearby bin. “What do you want me to do first?”
“Well you can do the washing and the shopping, while I do the cooking and cleaning, then tomorrow we can start the lessons.”
“Can’t wait,” Trey replied sarcastically. “I’m going to regret choosing to help you aren’t I?”
“Yep. I’m going to get my Vim’s worth out of you. Now off you go. Chores wait for no man.”
* * *
After a hard day’s work, Trey settled down for an early night. As usual, sleep took him in mere seconds but he found little rest. His dreams were full of strange monsters and a warm, blinding blue light. Lizards and birds raced across his brain until fire consumed his entire vision. Then he was falling through endless nothing as a huge, semi-transparent creature flew straight through him, leaving him in a shivering fit.
Trey awoke suddenly. He was soaking wet with sweat, laid on his floor shaking violently with cold and fear. The room was cloaked in darkness. His vision was blurry. All he could see was a shadowy figure standing over him. He was under attack. The person was holding Trey by the shoulders and was shaking him more than he was shaking already.
Instinct kicked in as he urgently felt around him for something to defend himself with and found a large leather encased book. He grabbed the book and tried to lift it up but his arms felt as heavy as lead. He struggled for a moment then mustered all his strength to swing it towards his attacker.
There was a dull thud followed by a pained grunt. “Ouch my head!” The voice was that of a woman. It sounded familiar. Trey’s vision started to become clear again. Sarah was laid out in front of him holding her head, mumbling under her breath. He looked at the book in his hand. It was titled ‘Advanced Self-Defence’.
“I guess that book really works then,” Trey said groggily. Then he snapped back to his senses. “Mum, are you okay?” he shouted running over to her side.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” she answered, motioning him away. “What about you?”
“What about me?” Trey replied, slightly confused.
Sarah sat up and looked at Trey worriedly. “You were thrashing around in your sleep and then started shouting at the top of your voice. I couldn’t wake you up. I tried shouting you, throwing water at you and shaking you. Then you woke up and hit me with a five hundred page, hardback book.” As she spoke, they made their way down into the small kitchen.
“Oh. I know I had a bad dream but I can’t remember what it was. I vaguely remember strange lands and lots of different people. I felt trapped and tried to escape but I just couldn’t break free. Everything else is just foggy.”
Sarah locked eyes with her son, her emotions untellable in her dark eyes. “Maybe it’s a sign from your subconscious. You could be telling yourself to go out and see the world, to make something of yourself. You can’t weigh yourself down with me forever.”
“I’d never leave you like that!” Trey exclaimed, fire in his voice.
Sarah smiled softly. “Wanting to go travelling is nothing to be ashamed of. When I was young, I travelled the land as a courier. My parents didn’t want me to, they said that it was too dangerous, but adventure was in my blood. It was that hot-bloodedness that made me join the army at the outbreak of the Ghibok war.”
Trey looked taken aback. “You fought in the war? Why have you never told me?”
“It was not a good war to remember,” Sarah sighed. “Our forces did some terrible things.” The dark glint left her eyes and the smile returned to her lips. “I didn’t fight in the battles anyway. I took letters to and from the soldiers and their families. That is when I wasn’t keeping your father out of trouble,” she laughed reminiscently.
Trey frowned. “He was involved too? I thought he stayed here as a city guard.”
“He was a guard but when the call to arms came he joined the other men in their march North. He fought for a while but hated what they were doing. He saved many men’s lives though and was given several honours after the war.”
For a moment Trey sat in silence, contemplating all he had learned. As he thought, Sarah left the room and returned several minutes later carrying an old backpack. She placed it on the table.
“This was my old travel pack,” she explained as she searched inside it. A moment later she pulled out a folded piece of grimy cloth. Carefully unfolding it revealed a detailed map of Farava. “Even if you don’t intend to travel, I’d like you to have this. You’ll learn more from it now than I will.”
Trey took the map gingerly, his eyes wide as he took in the woods, mountains, villages and sea. There was so much even nearby that he had never realised existed. Occasional notes in Sarah’s hand dotted the landmarks.
“Thank you,” he said before refolding the map. He looked around. “What time is it?”
Sarah glanced out of the open door to the clock above the stairs. “It’s just past five. I’ll prepare some drinks to clear our heads.”
Sarah poured two cups of tea and passed one to Trey. They talked quietly as Sarah examined the other contents of the rucksack. Trey finished off his drink and stretched, feeling life inch its way back into his body. His mind still felt groggy though so he decided to go for a walk in the early morning air. Sarah watched him leave as she continued to sip at her tea thoughtfully.
He walked along his favourite path past the school and church. A wake was being held around the ancient structure that was guessed to be the oldest building in the city. A child had gone missing the previous week and gnawed bones had been discovered just outside the city the day before. Judging by their size, the worst was assumed. The girl’s family stood around the casket that contained the bones with lit candles in their hands to light the path to the Sprites and guide the spirit into their open embrace. Wolves had been presumed the culprits and hunters were likely preparing to hunt down the beasts.
Trey didn’t know what had done it, but all the same he offered up a prayer to the Sprites for the girl. He was not particularly devout of faith like some fanatics but he knew to respect the guys that ran the world. The Sprites were not viewed as gods, more like spirits of nature that made the seemingly chaotic world function in an orderly manner.
Not wanting to interrupt the mourners, he left and walked to the edge of the city on the west side. The ever-present aqueduct blocked the view of the stars but Trey knew that the western edge of the city was revealed to the sky as the water was drawn from the east. The city seemed so peaceful without its inhabitants. The simple white facades of the houses and shops that he passed seemed to glow when hit by the sparse moonlight. All of the structures were practically designed, all being cramped square buildings made of the readily available white stone from the massive quarry just to the south of the city.
Through wide gaps in the old wall he could see beyond the city to the forest outside. Without any threats, repairing the wall had been seen as a waste of valuable resources. He stared off into the distance for a few minutes, watching the last few stars vanish and the moon slowly setting behind the distant horizon.
Then something caught his eye. At first he thought it was just a wolf or some other animal of the night, but after a few seconds he realised it was man-shaped. It clung to the shadows of the woods, making it hard to see in detail, but it was clear that the figure was steadily moving towards the city.
The shadows parted suddenly as the sun rose above the church’s steeple. What Trey saw sent a cold shiver of fear down his spine and a strange sense of deja-vu rattling through his head. It was about seven foot tall and twice as broad as a blacksmith, had a jet black leathery hide covered by dark plates of iron armour, and what appeared to be human skulls hanging from its waist. Two large crimson horns jutted from where its temples should have been. To Trey’s horror it carried a huge axe, easily as big as Trey himself. Despite its humanoid appearance it looked more like a beast than a man, the snout and fangs easily marking it as some kind of fearsome creature.
With a start, Trey realised that this was the monster that had flown at him in his dream. How was that even possible? he screamed to himself mentally. The thing jumped back into the shadow of the woods once the sun had flooded the area with light but is fiery red eyes could still be seen, like small holes leading into the dreaded Abyss. They continued to advance forward.
Fear took hold of Trey for a moment but he managed to regain control. I can’t move or it will seem me and if it sees me I’m dead but it’s getting closer every second so if I stay I’m dead too…