Sweat poured from Sye’s forehead as burnt wood filled his lungs. He sprung from his bed as his eyes opened to opaque, black clouds swirled above, created from the light of flame dancing upon the wooden ceiling. He diverted his gaze toward the window to find his house was not the only one ablaze. Screams rung out across Atius; burning bodies, panic, death. His window was also a leap out of his room. Sye stared out into the burning city before him, then backed away from the window.
He jumped over his bed and forced his hand onto the door handle before quickly pulling it back. He flicked the doorknob with his finger, gripped it tight, then flung the door open.
The living room was in flames. Looking from the walkway above, Sye witnessed the last moments of his home. The table below was scattered with bits of wood falling from the ceiling. Couches burned as flame glided through the air with particles of wool. From the burning ceiling, ash fluttered. The fire scattered and consumed another beam in the ceiling, while above the front door the flames pecked away at the side of a beam, popping, hissing, cackling.
Sye should have had one direction available to him; left across the wooden walkway past his sister Sara’s room, then down the stairs. However, a large beam blocked his path, ablaze and creeping across the floor, while flaming debris had nearly consumed the stairs, trapping Sara from any escape into the floor below. Spurred flame rose higher and lashed toward Sye to pull him into their warm embrace.
Below, Sye’s mother opened a door and noticed the destruction. They both sigh in relief as they find the other unharmed, but then jerk their eyes to Sara’s door, which has yet to be opened. The fire hissed from the stairs.
Sye’s mother climbed onto the table as sparks singed her hair. With a leap forward she grabbed the balcony and grappled above the railing. She lifted herself onto the floor without a breath, then slammed her fists onto Sara’s door. However, no voice replied.
Sye jumped off the walkway, but as he landed the ground greeted his ankle. Sye muttered a small cry of frustration and tumbled over into the table. With a hand over his bleeding forehead, Sye called out to his mother, but she was determined to break down that door. With a slight limp, Sye wobbled to the front door, ignoring the hot nails which embed themselves in his hair.
Above the front door was a sword with a swirled handle. The bottom base of the hilt had a red ‘V’ underneath, which stood for the name on the plaque, “Victor Whaley.” Sye pulled open the door but failed to notice a beam lose its left holding, and so the beam swung back and forth directly above his head. Through the door more burning homes came into view: an entire city screaming in an orange and red panic. Joseph’s telescope in the horizon shined like a pharos with the intense heat melting its metallic body.
Sye tore the framed picture off the wall and smashed it against the wall. The glass scattered across the floor along with the sword. He pulled the sword, then almost tumbled backwards; a large piece of glass embedded itself in his foot. He ripped the glass out, teeth clenched.
Sye approached his mother as best as he could with his right ankle burned, his left foot dragging blood across the floor. The beam blocking Sye’s path had stretched across the whole landing and now feasted on his door. Sye lifted the sword up to his mother, who gripped the handle tight before swinging the sword against Sara’s door. The sword assaulted the door whack after whack as splinters flew. A large piece of the door sprang forth and protruded upward. Sye’s mother forced herself through the hole where her daughter lay unconscious under a beam, which luckily, was not ablaze. The beam had strong hands lift it upward and toss it out the window. Sara was safely carried out as the flames above frantically sought out consumption.
Sye’s mother lowered Sara down to Sye, who held his younger sibling and ran to the front door. The ceiling cringed as boards fell and grinded into each other. Fire stretched across the table as he passed, it’s weight slanting as its legs were eaten away.
Sye’s mother slid under the railing, turned around, grabbed the walkway floorboard, then let go and fell to the ground. As Sye neared the front door he twisted his ankle and fell, dropping Sara, unaware of the pillar swinging above him. His muscles tightened as he forced her up, but no later did he succeed that his body was knocked outside. He landed on top of Sara, colliding his head on her shoulder. Rolling over, Sye faced the front entrance, expecting his mother behind him, but the entrance has covered with debris. Sye immediately ran forward, but his hands burned as he touched the wood. He fell back screaming.
Sye punched the ground with his fist. He gazed at the doorway, waiting for his mother to lift the beams out of the way and step into the open, but minutes passed without this dream coming to fruition. His eyes remained on entrance, waiting, watching, until he heard a cackling sound nearby. The leaves upon the tree which Sara lay caught fire, and was slowly working their way to the bark. Sye scooped Sara up then turned one last time to the front door, before quickly looking down at the ground, shuffling away from his home.
The smell of burnt wood and flesh filled the nostrils. Sye coughed as he placed Sara in a large field that belonged to a neighbor. There were no trees or structures for 30 yards. He stood watch over Sara all night as the flames annihilated every building around them.
Five hours later, Sara awoke to find her brother standing far away. She wiped her eyes then saw the remains of her city. She ran to Sye, who stood over the entrance of their house, but Sara had yet to realize this. The only remnants of their home were a few sections left of the wall, but none rose more than two feet. Sara panted behind him. Sye moved his foot forward before pulling it back out. He could have stepped on the remains of his mother. He saw an lump under the debris then turned and clutched Sara as tears fell.
“What’s going on?” Sarah looked at the inside and gasped. “Where’s mom?”
Sye moved his head forward with painful eyes. Sara backed away.
She flailed her arms about. “How could she be gone?” She swung at Sye’s chest multiple time. “She can’t be gone.” She clutched Sye’s shoulders as his shirt collected both their tears.
Then, a horn echoed. They looked toward the sound, but they could only see the 60 foot wall that surrounded their whole city. Both know the sound from childhood emergency drills. In any emergency, one followed the sound of the horn. Sye looked over at his house, but the sun bounced off something in the ash. Brushing the ash away revealed the father’s sword. The blade was unscathed, but the handle was charred. Sye lay the sword in front of his home.
“We’ll be back for you.”
In a daze they followed the horn to Atius’ entrance; the only exit in their entire city. Following past that they went to an area far above a hill, from which one could see Atius Castle. Atius Castle was built into a small hill, with it’s towers able to see in every direction. The horn came again, and led them to a large field covered with tents. Guards handed out tents and clothes while cooks stirred pots of soup over a fire. The tents spread far across the plains. A man dressed in a red outfit noticed them approach.
“Bring food and water. We have more survivors.”
Sye and Sara were brought to an empty tent. The red man handed them bread and jugs of water before disappearing just as fast to help others. Sye and Sara heard voices from the other tents, but they looked at each other with weak eyes. They ate their food then fell asleep.
King Clandestine signed the last of his letters. Clandestine was well loved by his people, and he made frequent visits into town to shop with those he ruled to find out about their daily life. What most people felt afraid to say to a normal King, people had no trouble saying to him. His rule was built on listening to his people, and transferring their ideas into laws. He was so loved that Atius citizens arrived in front of the castle on Clandestine’s 40th birthday to sing him a song of celebration.
King Clandestine folded the letters and placed them inside envelopes. He sealed them with wax then exited the castle. Behind him was Castle Atius, consisting of only three floors. The left and right towers had a dome shape, and two more towers were built onto the hilltop itself so that nothing was out of sight. The Castle was in no way original or different, being comprised of mortar and stone, but the extra towers on the top of the mountain gave everyone a sense of protection; that someone was watching out for them all the time.
King Clandestine approached four guards, handing each a letter. Each guard wore red outfits. The letter ‘A’ was predominate on the shoulders and belt within a black circle. The people considered their town the first true paradis after they escaped, and so it was named with the first letter in the alphabet.. The rest of the uniform split into an A shape from the neck down. The guards rose to their horses, then rode south. The King supplied much of what he stored in the castle; food, meals, tents—to his people for the current disaster. Most of the guards remained at the castle, as many guests had arrived for an important meeting on the war effort that Clandestine had kept from his people, but Clandestine knew something much more dangerous than a war was coming for them. Valquire, the King’s advisor and second-in-command, appeared from behind. At more than six feet tall he was very imposing. Each step he made displayed his confidence and assurance. His black cloak moved with him as his long hair blew along with the breeze.
“Atius is gone. Some of the guests wonder if they are safe.”
Clandestine looked toward the tents below.
“When this meeting is over, they will move here, inside the castle.”
Valquire removed his gloves and placed them inside his pocket.
“We can’t fit that many.”
“I won’t have them living in those tents for the next few months.”
Valquire tapped his fingers against the wall of the castle. “We forgot about the stone.”
Clandestine saddled up a nearby horse then climbed aboard. “I believe it now more than ever. Take me there.”
Valquire led the King through the plains until they reached the forest. After a two mile journey, they arrived. A cloth draped over the twelve foot stone prevented anyone from gazing upon it. The stone stretched twelve feet wide as well, which led to more than 40 different ropes securing the cloth. The ropes were tied to trees and into the ground across the cloth.
“A little secure isn’t it?”
“We don’t know what it will say.”
Valquire calmly put on his gloves, pulled out his sword, cut the ropes, then pulled back the cloth.
Sara and Sye were surrounded by the new cemetery. People hastily dug graves and covered them just as fast. Most of the dead had no family to bury them. Some bodies were horribly scarred, the skin melted beyond identification. A few people finish what the fire started, burning their loved ones to ash.
Below them a body was covered in a sleeping bag. They had gotten a few guards to retrieve their mother from the debris and cover her up so they wouldn’t have to see her body. Sye shoved a shovel into the ground. After uplifting dirt, Sara placed her hands over his.
“I want to help bury her, too.”
Sye handed Sara the shovel and they took turns building the grave. When the hole was finished, they looked at the bag, then each other. They approached the bag slowly. Cautiously, they pulled her body down the slope they had dug. Sye threw a patch of dirt into the grave, but Sara grabbed his hand. She looked down at her mother, then let go of Sye. Sara paced as Sye continued covering their mother. After they had finished locking their mother into the earth, Sye fell to his knees.
“She saved our lives, Sara,” he said, wiping his eyes. “She pushed us to safety.”
Sara clung to her brother.
“Thank you mom.”
Sara touched the ground and moved her palm across. It was as if she was remembering the way her mother once held, brushed, and bathed her. She pushed her hand into the ground. Sye gently held Sara’s hand and pulled it up.
“She’s gone, Sara.”
Sye lifted their father’s sword and staked it into the ground.
“This is all we have of dad,” said Sye. “At least a part of him will be with you.”
“I want her back.”
“I do, too.”
Birds chirped. Pollen blew through the wind. Deer ran through the field. The sun floated behind the hills.
“Goodbye, mom. We’ll miss you.”
“And,” Sara said, her head facing the grave, streaks of water on her chin, “we love you.”
As the siblings strode toward their tent, their arms stretched around the other’s shoulder, clinging tight to the other.