Sarah Stead stared unbelievingly at the man making all the commotion, her body completely froze. Anger rose within her.
“Y-you. I-it’s you. YOU!” she screamed.
The man looked over to Sarah and flinched. He tried to quickly escape back down into the basement like a rodent scurrying back into its hole after sighting an eagle. Sarah grabbed him by the hair, hauled him out, then threw him against a wall. The other slaves looked on in fear and amusement. Many of the more elderly captives looked surprised, some even showing anger towards the man. Lieutenant Gapon looked ready to strike out at him the second that Sarah let him loose.
“You traitor! You cold hearted scumbag! You Sprite rejected waste of air!” roared Sarah at the man’s face.
“Hi honey,” replied the man weakly. Sarah’s hand hit him in the face with a satisfying slap sound.
“I’ll show you ‘hi honey’ in a minute!” she screamed, drawing back her hand for another attack. The man visibly flinched.
Sarah’s hand was stopped mid swing. Maklar held her arm with one hand, his slender fingers digging into her skin. He pulled her back with an ease which showed strength far exceeding what his thin arms should have been capable of exerting.
“Fighting, unless for a master’s amusement or by a superior’s orders, is strictly prohibited,” droned Maklar. “This is a very poor start for you, slave-168. As punishment, your quarters will be in the under level,” he motioned to the trap door that the man had emerged from.
She gave the man in her grasp a death glare then stomped down the ladders at Maklar’s beckoning. The man stepped around and headed outside unhindered by the guards.
Sarah found herself in a large, circular room with a few mats laid on the ground that she guessed were the beds. That was the only contents of the whole room other than some discarded clothes that littered the floor around a well used mat. The walls and ground were plain earth. A single lit torch was fixed onto the wall beside the ladder.
She guessed that the bed in the centre of the clothes belonged to the man so she chose the bed furthest away and lay on her back, finally resting her tired feet. Her mind wandered through different thoughts and feelings. Eventually she slipped into an uneasy sleep filled with all her waking doubts and fears.
* * *
The world was in darkness. Even the pale face of the moon was hidden behind a solid wall of clouds. The mournful cry of a nocturnal bloodbird sounded nearby that broke the unnatural silence.
Blake Hunter walked slowly towards the slave quarters in deep thought. When the new troop of slaves had arrived it had turned his life upside down. Again. His life had been turned upside down so many times that he no longer knew the sky from the ground.
He had done nothing wrong yet she had hit him anyway. Then that damned fool Maklar had put her in the same room as him for trying to kill him. Logic wasn’t something the freak seemed to understand.
The door opened with the faintest of creaks as Blake stepped inside. Everyone in the room was asleep but they all looked to be suffering from nightmares. Blake could sympathise with them. He remembered his first few months in this hell hole. He got off easy compared to most but fate had made up for that by keeping him here nearly fifteen years. The rest usually died before five years had passed.
He made his way down the ladder and found the woman asleep on the mat furthest away from his own. He sighed and slumped onto his bed. From a tattered bag under his uncomfortable pillow Blake removed a small mirror. Its surface was scratched terribly but it still served its purpose.
Through its reflective surface he gazed upon the familiar face. His long brown hair had become black due to the foul air that surrounded him for over a decade. It was overgrown, untidy and knotted. His brown eyes, once so bright and full of life were now empty shells of what they had once been. The scar across his face was as prominent as ever.
“No use dwelling on the past,” he muttered to himself as he put the mirror back into the bag. He lay down, looked over to the women and sighed again. With a small smile still on his face sleep took him.
* * *
The sun shone brightly in the sky and a gentle wind played across the landscape. The last of the winter leaves waltzed through the grass while still damp clothes swayed upon hundreds of washing lines. Vivid flowers were blooming everywhere and young children played in the fields. Spring was reaching full bloom.
The older children were still stuck in school. The pupils in their last year had their final graduation tests to complete then it would be left to them to find their own ways in the world. The tests consisted of knowledge, combat and general sense.
“This is too easy,” moaned a tall, black haired boy with a handsome face and a lean, muscular body as he released an arrow from his bow with a satisfying twang. The arrow hit the exact centre of the target.
“You shouldn’t be moaning that it’s easy. This is a test, easy is good,” smiled a slightly shorter boy with dark brown hair and roguish good looks. He too shot an arrow and hit just shy of the bullseye on his own target.
“Yes, but you would say that, you’re lazy. I happen to enjoy a challenge,” replied the first boy “It looks like we’re not the only ones finding it easy anyway.” He motioned to several people who were also scoring high with every shot. “That Brian Delb is scary with a bow.”
A few people down the line from the two boys was Brian Delb. He had his target further away from him than the others and it was only half the size. As soon as he picked up an arrow his movement became a blur. Each one hit the bullseye.
“He sure is,” agreed the second boy. “Those girls aren’t half bad either.”
The two girls further down the line were laughing together playfully despite them being in their final tests. They both released arrows without effort, all the time talking. Each arrow stuck around the smallest ring. Both had athletic builds and long hair.
“Not at all. Stunning bodies,” answered the black haired boy with a mischievous smirk as he admired them in the sports shorts and loose tops.
“I meant their archery skills.”
A shout broke their daydreaming. “Hey! Dillon, Blake, stop spying on the girls and get shooting.”
“Yes, sir!” answered both boys in unison.
They both released their final arrow and watched as they hit home. After the teacher had walked off to inspect the other students the boys continued their previous conversation.
“Just give me another week and I’ll have at least one of them going out with me,” said Dill.
“You’d be lucky. You’ve been saying that for over a year now. Plus Laura is already going out with that Brian. Also, what do you mean by ‘at least one of them’?”
“Oh, nothing,” replied Dill. He was saved from further questioning by the teacher blowing the whistle, signalling the end of the test.
“You’ve all got an hour to do what you want. After the time is over, return to the school hall to receive your final scores,” announced the teacher. The crowd of students began to excitedly disperse from the school grounds.
“Blake, I’m gonna go get some food. I’ll meet you at the park and we’ll just relax and eat away our final hour of school life,” said Dill
“Sounds good. I’ll see you there,” replied Blake as they set out in different directions.
After a short walk, Blake arrived at the park. It was deserted despite the good weather, most likely because most families were in the city hall preparing for the end of school celebration. He walked to the top of a nearby hill and saw that the park wasn’t entirely empty. Sarah Sted and Laura Fletcher both sat laughing on the swings. Blake decided to wait for Dill at the top of the hill so he sat down and relaxed while watching the two girls swing gently.
The swinging suddenly stopped and Blake’s attention was drawn to a group of men who entered the park and headed towards the girls. Blake couldn’t hear what was happening but by the looks of it, it was nothing good.
They seemed to be having a heated conversation which led to the man closest to the girls grabbing Sarah’s shoulders. He quickly let go after she punched him in the nose. Laura followed up by kneeing him in the gut. The man staggered backwards but the other four closed in around the girls.
Blake stood up and ran down the hill at full speed, consequently falling and cartwheeling down to the bottom. Without a moment’s pause he launched himself off the floor and resumed his sprint towards the swings.
By the time he reached the scene the girls were already in trouble. Despite having hurt a second man they were now being held from behind by two of the remaining men. The two injured men had recovered and had joined the last man who stood in front of the girls.
Without stopping, Blake charged straight at the men, still at full speed. He leapt into the air and drop kicked the closest of the men. The two other thugs not holding the girls pulled out daggers and advanced towards Blake. They both lunged at him from either side. Blake dodged one but the other caught him in his arm. Suppressing a cry of pain, Blake spun around and punched the one who had hit him in the stomach, winding him.
The girls used this distraction to their advantage and both elbowed their captors and stomped on their feet. They quickly made their escape as these two men also drew their daggers. The thugs stood thinking whether to help fight Blake or get the girls. Sarah made the decision for them when she grabbed a branch and smacked one in the face with it.
The thug howled in pain and anger. Restraint left him as he ran towards Sarah with his dagger raised. She had no time to react.
Sarah screamed as blood splashed across the grass. The thug’s smile disappeared when he opened his eyes though. Standing in front of Sarah was Blake. Blood covered his face and had begun to soak into his clothes. A vicious cut marked from his left eye down diagonally to the right side of his chin. His eyes held a look that could kill and his mouth had the expression of a snarl. He then passed out.
A rock descended from above and hit the thug on the head. As he fell he revealed Dill standing behind him holding the rock with both hands. He threw the rock to the ground then kicked the thug. The other men turned and fled, clutching at their injuries as they ran.
“It’s not like you to be taken down by such small fry like them. Was the sight of two lovely ladies too distracting for you?” he said to Blake with a laugh. In a more serious tone he asked “Are you all alright?”
“We’re all a bit shaken but only Blake got hurt,” answered Laura.
Sarah was knelt down at Blake’s side. She ripped the sleeve from her shirt and cleaned his wound. She couldn’t bandage it though as the injury covered his full face. “We’ve got to get you to the healer,” she said.
“I’m fine,” murmured Blake faintly. “The only place we need to be is back at school,” he said as he slowly sat up.
“Thank you for saving us. I don’t want to imagine what would have happened if you weren’t there to help,” said Sarah faintly.
“It was nothing. No worri…” Blake’s words were cut off as Sarah planted a soft kiss on his lips.
“Hey! I saved you too. Don’t I get a kiss,” pouted Dill.
“Thank you for saving us Dillon,” said Laura.
“And the kiss?
“That’s not fair.”
Sarah parted their lips and stood up then helped Blake to his feet. He exhaled deeply then said, “I feel much better now.”
After eating the food Dill had brought as a picnic, the four of them headed back to school to receive their scores. Blake received several concerned stares and questions but he brushed them off with a carefree smile despite the blood. The hall was packed with nervous students and teachers. They were made to form a line in alphabetical order then wait to be given a folder with all their scores in it.
After receiving the folders Blake, Dill, Sarah, Laura and Brian slipped outside to read their results peacefully. With great apprehension the folders were slowly opened and the sheet within slid out.
Blake read all that was on the sheet. His scores were better than he had expected. He read aloud the summery from the head teacher.
“Blake is a very skilled student who will do well in the world outside of school. He should stay in Pastrino or Onlasar though as his ability to speak other languages is poor. He also has a short concentration span. Other than those faults he is a model pupil.“
Blake grinned. “Shouldn’t be hard getting a good job with these scores. Shame about my language score though,” he said to himself. He looked over at Dill’s sheet. It looked very similar to his own, only slightly better in every way.
“Dillon has it in him to do whatever he wants if he puts his mind into it. Aim high and you will go far,” Blake read aloud. “Very nice.”
“See. I said that I could do whatever I wanted. How does ‘Conqueror of the Universe’ sound?” Dill asked with satisfaction.
“Far-fetched,” was Blake’s reply.
“Shut up! I stand a better chance than you. If you try and take a place over you’d have no idea what they are saying,” Dill joked. “The only person worse at languages than you is that Xion fellow.”
“True, but world domination takes a lot of effort. You know I couldn’t be bothered with all the hassle…”