The world was enveloped in eternal darkness. No sound, no light, nothing. Only cold and a numb pain existed. Blurry shapes started to appear through the black wall. Bright orange penetrated the jet like air. Eyelids closed from stinging tears. Glare from the light showed through the lids, imprinted into the retina. The mind started to slip away into nothingness.
A fierce roar punctured the deathly silence. The roaring attacked confused ears. The coldness started to recede, replaced by pain. Warmth bathed the skin. It intensified. Warmth became burning. A flood of memories forced the mind back to where it belonged. All became clear.
Trey staggered to his feet with the aid of a nearby bar, burning his hand in the process. He was surrounded by flame and rubble. He had been in here training with Billy and the old man, Mr Malma. Then the roof had exploded and everything had disappeared.
He looked to the centre of the room where a glowing rock lay in a crater. He looked up and thought that somehow the roof was still intact before he realised that it was a cloud of dust obscuring the sky.
Thoughts started to race through his head. Where was Billy? What had happened and where was the way out? He tried to call out but just inhaled smoke and doubled over coughing. He recovered and stumbled forwards in an attempt to find something helpful.
The ground shook again as thunderous noise pounded Trey’s ears. More rocks fell from the above but the quake did little else but unbalance Trey. As he staggered, his feet became caught up in some wire and he fell helplessly to the ground.
“Ouch,” came a mumble from beneath him.
“Billy, you’re alright!” Trey shouted with newfound strength.
“I would be if you got off of me,” mumbled the teen.
“Sorry.” Trey scrambled back to his feet then helped Billy stand.
A gravely cough echoed from nearby. “Have you two finished with the pleasantries yet or are you just going to stand there while I slowly burn to death. Hurry up and help me!” growled a harsh voice.
They followed the voice until they found Mr Malma, half covered in a burning weapon rack. They dug through the rubble, picking the best equipment to take with them as they freed the man. Trey slid two swords through his belt while Billy grabbed a short sword and bow that had miraculously survived the flame.
“What the-” Trey withdrew his hands from the debris suddenly. His hands were covered in crimson blood. He looked to where his hands had been and saw that Mr Malma’s left arm was soaked in a puddle of blood. Trey struggled to lift a large axe off the man to reveal the axe had almost amputated his arm.
Although Garvel had almost been hit by a flaming rock, crushed under a pile of weapons, and had his arm nearly cut off, he vigorously climbed to his feet and grabbed the axe from Trey with his good arm. He didn’t lose balance even when more boulders crashed into the city above them.
“Damn. The way out’s blocked. We’re stuck here unless any of you have a smart idea,” the old man hissed as he tried to bandage his arm using the shreds of his shirt. Trey and Billy offered no response.
Garvel scanned the room then pushed his way through the wreckage to a small wooden case that had skidded away from the debris of an oak cabinet. Fishing a key out of his pocket he fumbled the lock open and grabbed the single leather-bound book that had been encased within. He leafed through the yellowed pages with deft finger movements until he found what he sought. His eyes darted across the page several times then he snapped the book shut with a smile and slid it into an inner pocket of his tattered coat.
Pointing the axe at the blocked tunnel, he began to mutter strange words under his breath. The words grew in volume and tempo, then with a final shouted word, a wave of blood red energy raged from the axe and into the wall of rocks. The rocks started to melt and crack under the heat then exploded with a crash that equalled everything going on above. Stone shards tore through the cave and blew a fresh cloud of dust into the chamber. The force of the explosion knocked Trey and Billy flat onto the floor. Garvel stood his ground, batting away any projectiles with quick flicks of the axe. The man offered a grunt of satisfaction as the dust cleared enough to see that the tunnel had been cleared enough to pass through. He swayed where he stood and spat out blood but didn’t wait a moment to rest.
“Are any of you hurt?” he asked to the two prone teens.
“I can’t move my legs,” moaned Billy.
“You’ll be fine, just walk it off,” snapped Garvel.
“How can I walk it of if I can’t move my legs? Idiot,” Billy muttered as Trey stood up.
“What was that you said?” growled the man, raising his axe menacingly with his good arm. He held it firmly in one hand, its obvious weight affecting him little.
“Nothing sir,” Billy answered, quickly pulling himself to his feet.
“I thought not,” Garvel grumbled.
Trey was looking at the man in amazement. “What was that? How could you create so much power with words?”
Garvel gave Trey an appraising look before speaking. “It was Nimula. I can’t explain it now but suffice to say it takes the user’s inner power and will and converts it into a physical force. I’ll explain everything that I can when we’re safe.”
No light was needed as fires burned all around them and the roof in sections had collapsed. They struggled through the maze of flame towards the ladder. The part of the wall with the ladder on had been wrecked, but that didn’t matter because a slope of large rocks led up in its place.
After climbing up the rocks they reached what used to be Mr Malma’s house. Now all that remained of it was one battered wall. The rest of where the house had once stood was just a graveyard of rocks and fragments of old possessions. Much of the city looked similar through the clouds of smoke.
Mr Malma spent no time to dwell on his annihilated home. He clambered up the remnants of his wall, spitting blood from his mouth half way up. He picked up some discarded cloth and tied it around his injured arm like a sling, improving upon the job that he had managed with the shirt. When he had reached the top he signalled for the boys to join him.
Once on top of the wall they could just see above the surrounding rubble. Bits of the city were still intact around the craters of destruction. Smoke and flames reached up toward the heavens like the Abyss itself was attempting to consume the sky. Groups of the monstrous Forukks that Trey had seen that morning roamed the streets, killing and burning as they went. The bell tower stood like a guardian giant in the centre of the chaos. Hope still remained.
“Damn! Things are happening quicker than I ever thought. Come on. We’ll head to the tower. If we can find enough people along the way we can mount a defence. Our people have stopped these foul beasts at that tower before, we can do it again,” the man said as he jumped from the wall.
“You mean we’re being attacked by a whole army of those Forukks?” Trey asked, eyes darting around the rubble for signs of any Forukks in the immediate vicinity.
“Yes,” Garvel replied while running off towards the tower. “And we don’t have much time so hurry.”
* * *
It had been a relatively uneventful trek through the city and up to the bell tower for Trey. Only a single Forukk had encountered them but Garvel Malma had taken off its head with one powerful swing of his axe.
As they reached the tower they had yet to find any living people to join them. There were dead dotted around the streets but they had seen many more men, women and children being led out of the city in chains. They didn’t look injured but they could not save them. There were just too many Forukks.
Trey started up the main hill to the tower and his home ahead of Billy and Mr Malma. He hid behind a barrel and waited for the others to catch up. Fear coursed through him. Where was his mother? Was she alright? Was she still alive? He pushed those thoughts from his head.
The buildings were all in a sorry state, each bearing an assortment of smashed windows, broken panels and destroyed possessions. The Sted household had not escaped the destruction. It looked as though a tornado had passed through its innards, everything that Trey had ever known littering the ground in a carpet of shattered humanity.
Just as he was about to move forward, the door to his house opened and his mother was led out by a group of six Forruks. They pushed her forward, prodding her with blades to encourage greater speed. Billy managed to hold Trey back just long enough for three of the six Forukks to walk out of sight before Trey broke free of his grasp. Garvel realised too late what Trey was doing. He could do nothing to stop him in time.
Trey had lost his temper for the first real time in his life. His teeth were bared and his emerald eyes burned with a raging inferno that threatened to consume all. He ran forward roaring, his weapons held high. Without any thought for his own safety he attempted to attack all three at once until Mr Malma and Billy took two from his hands.
The Forukk Trey was left with had a large blood-stained scythe made from blackened steel. It swung for his head but Trey darted under its thick bowed legs and lunged his first sword into the creature’s neck then ducked again as the beast spun around.
“That’s for hurting my mum!” Trey growled savagely. He then charged forwards again, sidestepped a downwards hack from the scythe and stuck his second sword through the Forukks armpit and into its heart. He withdrew his blade in a shower of black blood. The creature laughed cruelly in its deep, warped voice.
“No heart,” muttered Trey. Realisation of the Forukk’s strength was beginning to sink in.
Trey tried to run, throwing his sword at the Forukk’s horned head but it merely bounced off its helmet with a clang. The beast charged at him and looked about to kill a now defenceless Trey when he shot out his right arm, his hand out straight. His fingers penetrated the creature’s eye. Within a second his hand up to his wrist was submerged into its skull. Its brain was punctured by his fingertips, invoking the creature into spasms.
Trey slowly withdrew his arm. The blood was burning his skin and smelled sickening but he tried to ignore it. “That’s what you get when you mess with my family!” He wiped his goo stained arm onto the Forukk.
He turned to look how everyone else was faring and saw that Billy was in real trouble. He was laid on the floor totally disarmed, with the Forukk about to chop down with its duel axes. Trey was too far away to do anything to help. So was Garvel, who had just reduced his foe to a ragged corpse. All hope for Billy seemed to be lost.
“Sweet!” called an ecstatic voice from above them. A shadow, black against the grey sky, flew over Trey’s head, then landed silently to the ground next to Billy. It was Zak Malma. In his hands were two sleek swords that shone in the light of the flames. The way that he held them suggested he knew how to use them.
The Forukk stood frozen like a horror painting for a few seconds then its head slowly slid off of its shoulders and onto Billy. The body then fell harmlessly on its back.
“Hey everybody,” Zak shouted casually. He was wearing a shirt with one long sleeve, the other short, a pair of long shorts that reached halfway down his shins, multicoloured socks and sandals. A small rucksack was present upon his back.
“You could have helped me sooner you know,” Billy said shakily.
“No. I wanted the prize for best entrance. Plus its fun watching you struggle.”
“I hate you,” said Billy coldly.
“Cool. Oh hey Granddad,” Zak waved to Garvel as though they had just passed each other in a park.
“He’s your grandfather?” gawked Billy incredulously. He turned back to Garvel. “Wait, so when you said your grandson saw the riot, you meant Zak? The very person who escalated it!”
“I prefer the term ‘enlivened’,” injected Zak with a shrug.
“Typical,” grunted the man while wiping his axe clean of tar like blood. “Life’s not a game, Zak. It’s too dangerous to take so lightly. Power means nothing without the will to use it constructively. Never forget that, boy.”
An arrow whistled from a nearby rooftop. It seemed to travel in slow motion as the group watched it spin through the air, terror palpable as they tried to move. It passed through Garvel’s head like cloth, his back having been to the sniper. He dropped to his knees heavily, then managed to mutter some harsh sounding words in a tongue that Trey didn’t recognise. A bright green lightning bolt crackled through the air and hit the Forukk archer on the roof. The entire building exploded.
He collapsed fully to the floor, panting heavily. Blood streamed down his face, soaking the earth around him. The ragged hole in the back of his head spewed blood. It passed straight through his skull to where his left eye had once been. Now it was nothing but a bloody mess. He held out a trembling hand towards Zak. His grandson held it.
“Zak, go into my coat and take the book from in there,” he croaked, defiance strong in his fading voice. “There is a bag of Vim too. Leave the city to the east and go to Onlasar. Get help,” he rasped weakly. The usual gruffness was gone.
“Okay,” Zak answered slowly. He fumbled with the man’s coat then took out the small, dark crimson leather book that Gavel had taken from his sanctuary. Golden letters embroidered onto the cover read: ‘The Arts of Nimula.’ The teen transferred it and a small bag of the silver coins to the rucksack on his back.
“You know that it is a tome of power but what it has taught you so far is nothing. Keep it safe and learn what you can from it. Those words might be all that keeps you from death,” Garvel rasped.
More Forukks rounded the corner, a dozen of them roughly. They howled and charged toward the humans. Trey was frozen in terror. Billy shot an arrow that lodged itself into one’s knee causing it to topple. Zak readied his blades.
“Get out of here!” roared Garvel. Power suddenly flooded back into his words, all weakness seemingly gone. “Run and don’t look back! Go!”
Thought returned to Trey in a rush of consciousness. Garvel locked eyes with him and the teen nodded. He turned, grabbing Billy and Zak as he ran. Reluctantly they followed although Zak needed dragging to leave his grandfather. Looking back they saw Garvel rise to his feet. Balls of fire shot from his hands, engulfing Forukks like tinder. He hooked his foot around his discarded axe and flicked it up, catching it with a bloody hand. He cast a final look back at the teens before rushing forward to meet the monsters. He swung, cutting the first clean in half. A blade wedged itself in his side. The axe severed an arm then parried an attack but another sword stabbed into his back. Mumbling words between mouthfuls of blood, his body began to glow. The Forukks howled and tried to run but it was too late. White flames exploded from the old man’s body, consuming everything in sight.
Zak looked ready to turn back but managed to control himself. Anger played across his features. Trey could feel tears welling up in his eyes. Cursing loudly he continued to run, not wanting to look back any more. They had to stop after a while, their breath coming in ragged gasps.
Trying to focus on the task ahead they quickly grabbed some supplies from the surrounding houses and made the decision to follow Garvel’s advice and set off for Onlasar. Zak was deathly quiet at first but after a while it was as though he had pushed everything that he had seen from his mind. He sounded boisterous as usual but Trey could detect conflicting emotions playing out in his sky blue eyes.
They cautiously began to make their way through the city towards the eastern farmland that was the easiest path away from Pastrino. Billy made a detour past his house but it, like every other, was empty. They were all submerged in their own thoughts of what had happened and what was to come; each knowing that life would never be the same again.
Billy broke the silence. “Do you think my parents are okay?” He spoke in barely more than a whisper.
“Sure they are. They’d have gone to my mum and helped her so they would have been captured just before her,” Trey reassured him.
“I guess so,” Billy sighed worriedly.
Had they turned down the next alleyway instead of taking the main road they would have discovered their fate.