Billy went home while Trey dashed upstairs to get into some dry clothes, then they met at the statue of Lord Silazu, the ancient creator of the aqueduct.
“Are you sure you want to come along?” Trey asked Billy. “You’ll get in trouble for skipping school.”
“You honestly think I care?” was his simple answer. “I think that a scary monster is slightly more important.”
The man who Sarah had sent them to speak with was an elderly widow who she spoke very highly of. In her own words, Garvel was the person who had made Trey’s father the man that he had been. Trey himself was unsure what to make of that, but he had bigger issues to deal with than any such thoughts.
They followed the directions that Sarah had given them until they found themselves in the poorer part of the city. All of the houses here were joined together in long rows, had old grey walls, dirty windows and no garden. The grimy pathways were scattered with litter and any patches of green that managed to grow between the cramped housing was wild and out of control.
They carried on until they came to the house that Sarah had indicated. It looked the exact same as the other houses around it. Billy knocked on the door but there was no reply. He knocked harder, causing a section of flaking paint to fall, but still there was no answer.
“Great, either no one is in, he’s dead, or is just plain rude. Look if anyone’s there we need to ask you some questions.”
“Just leave it to me,” Trey said. He pulled the crowbar from his belt. “If you’re in there open up now or I’ll break your door down.”
“That’s a bit extreme isn’t it?” muttered Billy. He was not used to Trey taking any form of direct action. It seemed out of character for the usually laid-back slacker.
“Not really. If he knows about that monster I need to know about it.”
Banging could be heard beyond the door, then rattling followed by bolts being slid. Trey lowered the crowbar. The door opened just enough for a shadowy face to be seen beyond.
“What’s all this hammering on my door and talk of monsters, you noisy kids? Shouldn’t you be at school?” His voice was deep and gravelly as though he gargled using sand, and he looked younger than he must have been. He’d been alive when Trey’s great granddad had, yet he only looked in his early sixties.
“Sorry sir, but I need to know about something I saw this morning.”
“What makes you think I want to listen to you babble on about some animal,” grunted the man harshly.
“How many animals do you know that are seven foot tall, walk on two legs, have jet black skin, huge horns, and carry a battle axe?” Trey answered calmly. The old man didn’t move or speak for a few moments.
“I suppose you’d better come in and say what you want to say,” replied the man. He was trying to sound neutral, and to most people he would have, but Trey thought he could detect worry in his voice. The man fully opened the door and stood aside for the boys to pass.
The room that they stepped into was dark and dull with only a single table, chair and bed for furniture, and a shelf on the back wall with bits of food, books and other little oddments. There was a battered door opposite them. The door that they had entered through had all manner of locks, chains and bolts to fasten the entrance closed.
The man himself also had a rough appearance that fit well with his residence. He had scraggly white hair that looked in need of a good cut while his face was filled with deep wrinkles that made him look stern like a cracked bust. The sapphire eyes still shone though, bright with life and deep with wisdom.
At first look Trey thought that his clothes were nothing more than cheap rags but on closer inspection he saw that they were actually well made, practical garbs that were heavily weatherworn. The once emerald shirt and beige trousers were so faded and dirty that both appeared almost grey while the dark brown coat had been patched multiple times yet still looked warm and resilient to any weather.
He sat down on the chair and took a long ornate pipe from the breast pocket of his coat. He lit it with a spark from his index finger. Powerful muscles flexed with every slight movement beneath the thin rags that he wore. He could have easily been mistaken for a recently retired warrior.
“Speak then!” he snapped. He didn’t offer them a seat.
Trey stood by the door and recited what happened to him for the third time. His eyes never left the old man’s face, assessing the impact that his words were having. Garvel looked on impassively. Once he had finished, the man blew a cloud of white smoke that drifted around the room like a snake. It coiled its way around the table legs then wrapped itself around Trey and Billy’s necks, making them cough and waft it away. It started to fade as it seeped through a narrow gap in the window.
The man looked deep in thought. “If what you say is true, then we are all in grave danger.”
Billy stepped forward. “Why? What’s going to happen? The guards can handle a monster or two.”
Garvel spat. “What do you know of ancient history?” he replied, taking the boys by surprise with the tangent.
“What kind of an answer is that? Very few people know any of Farava’s ancient history,” Billy shouted out angrily. “Most records were destroyed by wars or the Neototes.”
“I can see why you’re not at school. They don’t teach you anything anymore,” Garvel grunted. He took another puff of his pipe. As the smoke left his lips it formed into a humanoid shape with horns and a mace. Trey recognised it instantly as whatever he had seen.
“The creature that you saw was a Forukk. Last time they wandered this land, Pastrino was almost destroyed. If it wasn’t for one of my distant ancestors, know as a Sword Summoner, all of Farava would have burned. If the Forukks are wandering the world again then that means they’ve regained much of their former strength. If they are bold enough to approach the city then we should be very nervous. Can you imagine it? Hordes of bloodthirsty monsters storming the land, killing and burning all that they see until only ash and blood remains.”
No one moved or made any attempt to speak so the man carried on. “You are the one that everyone has been talking about? The one who supposedly caused the riot?” He paused for a second. “Sarah Sted’s son.”
“That’s what they say,” Trey answered. “You are right though. I am Trey Sted.”
“I know that you’re a good fighter just like your father and that you didn’t start that trouble,” Garvel snorted.
“How?” Billy asked, slightly stunned.
The man glared at Billy for interrupting him. “My grandson witnessed it happen. But that’s not important. I think you could be of some use to the world. If you have half the skill of your father then you might just survive longer than a day when the chaos breaks loose. We don’t have much time so follow me.”
He walked over to his bed and pulled it into the centre of the room with incredible ease. Where the bed had been there was a small rug, depicting some ancient battle, which was also dragged across the room. Now a little wooden hatch was revealed. It was plain wood with a simple design like the rest of the man’s house. As he opened it, the teens expected a loud creak, but the hinges were silent. The hatch opened into a dark hole with a rickety old ladder as its only means down.
Mr Malma stepped back and pointed to the hole. “This is just a tunnel not some kind of test so get down there and make it snappy.”
Trey and Billy stared hesitantly at the hole then at each other. The man was growing impatient now. “You can either go in now from your free will or you can wait five seconds more and have some gentle help.”
“What kind of help?” asked Billy cautiously.
“Wait five seconds more and you’ll find out.”
Trey figured that nothing within the hole could possibly be worse than the Forukk so he slowly lowered himself into the darkness and started to climb down. Within seconds he was submerged in the thick black. All he could see was the dark figure of Billy climbing above him. The air felt musty, like it had not seen the outside world in many years.
They had been climbing for about a minute when Trey’s foot hit the ground. He hadn’t expected this so he toppled over. Billy reached the bottom but instead of his foot hitting the ground it hit Trey’s back so he too fell, crushing Trey further into the floor. Everything was still pitch black but the old man simply jumped from the last few steps, landed on Billy’s back and stepped off, ignoring the grunts of pain from below him.
“Are you just going to lie there all day or are you going to follow me, you lazy little layabouts.”
With lots of moaning the two boys scrambled to their feet and followed the sound of the man’s voice down the tunnel.
As they walked they uncontrollably kept curving to the sides and crashing into the walls. Soon the man got tired of them falling behind so he clapped his hands and torches all the way along the tunnel magically lit up with a gentle amber flame, flooding the tunnels with a warm glow. Now they all could see each other and Billy looked very annoyed.
“Couldn’t you have done that to start with?” Billy hissed, barely keeping his anger in check.
The man smiled evilly. “Where would the fun have been if I’d done that?” With that said he continued on down the tunnel without another word.
As they walked, Trey and Billy quietly spoke to each other, questioning as to where they were being led. There was still no sign of the end of the tunnel. They both turned back to look for the ladders but they were out of sight. As they looked forward again a sudden fear washed over them. The man was nowhere in sight. They ran forward to try and find him when a hand came from nowhere and pulled them into the wall. They close their eyes and braced themselves for impact but it never came.
Trey opened his eyes then blinked several times as he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. All around them was a vast chamber filled with weapons he had never seen before, strange training equipment, shelves upon shelves of old books, and various other weird contraptions. Everything was dust free and in top condition.
“Not bad, is it?” smiled Mr Malma. “It was once part of the mines below the city but after my grandfather did a certain service for the lord of the time, this area was closed off and given to him. Nobody alive knows about it anymore except select members of my family and a few close friends. I trained your father here,” he informed them, directing the last part at Trey.
Garvel walked over to a rack filled with training weapons, picked two ash swords up and threw them over to Trey and Billy. “Back to business. Like I said, you two can fight but you can’t truly fight”.
They both had puzzled looks on their faces for a few seconds then Billy spoke up. “And that made sense how?”
“It makes sense because here, against untrained school kids and maybe some adults you can fight and you can win. After all, who trains to fight anymore? We live in a peaceful society without the encouragement to learn defence, especially with the Neototes being so influential. This is just naivety though as the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same. Outside these walls is a dangerous world where only the strong can prosper. Out in the open world you’ll be facing trained soldiers with real weapons who won’t think twice about killing you, and they will kill you. No doubt in that. I haven’t even mentioned what the Forukks would do to you. Now do you want to train so you can win in the big wide world? If so take your places here, if not, bugger off.”
Billy still looked sceptical. Garvel huffed and snatched the sword from Trey. “Score a hit on me then if you are so skilled. I’m seven times older than you so you should have the advantage.”
The teen wanted nothing more than to show the old man up. He took in his rigid stance and shaking sword arm. Billy laughed and charged, swinging a well-aimed blow to the side. Mr Malma stepped away from it as though Billy was moving in slow motion. Billy swung again and again but each time the old man flowed around the attack like water around a rock. Billy put all of his strength into a final attack and Mr Malma disappeared. The teen collapsed when he was hit across the back of his head from behind. Mr Malma stood smugly over Billy’s moaning body.
“See my point now? This is your last chance, you want in?” Trey glanced towards Billy and as their eyes met he knew what Billy was thinking.
“What’s the point in life if you pass up an opportunity to train in a secret underground base with your best friend and a strange old man? No offence.”
“Just get into position,” Garvel answered bluntly.
Trey and Billy took up their positions and carefully listened and watched the man as he drilled them through all kinds of techniques. Some Trey recognised but many others seemed alien, clearly originating from far-off lands. They practiced for hours upon hours until they were so tired, bruised and disoriented that they simply couldn’t continue. They had trained a lot at home but this was on a whole other level. Muscles burned which had previously never found a use in life. Across Trey’s hands, even his blisters had blisters.
So much was down to reflexes, Trey quickly realised. If he made strong attacks, the old man would dodge, if he tried speed then his blade was deflected by the smallest of wrist movements. If Trey’s guard or feet positions were even an inch off, he was instantly punished with pain. Everything was so precise. He considered himself skilled but compared to Mr Malma he was nothing but a blundering child.
“Remember, you need a strong mind to complement a strong body. What good is a sturdy defence if you don’t register an attack until it is too late? Why learn many tactics and stances if you don’t know which to use and when,” Garvel explained to them.
The hours passed by until Trey guessed that it would be dark outside. He decided to call it a day. “We’d best get back home, Mum will be getting worried,” Trey said wearily. Billy grunted his agreement. “We’ll be off now. Thanks for the training. We’ll be back here tomorrow,” said Trey as he yawned loudly.
They started towards the door then stopped. The ground had started to shake violently.
“What the hell’s going-”
Billy didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence. The roof exploded into hundreds of giant rocks that rained down, destroying everything in sight, closely followed by a giant lump of stone. The ruined rubble that had been the training room became deathly silent as the dust settled.