The heat cooked the Atius refugees in their tents. Everyone had come out to escape the sun only to have the sun’s rays heat their bodies. The day after the fire, the last thing people wanted to think about was anything remotely similar. Most of the Atius citizens shuffled apathetically from place to place with no real purpose.
Inside his tent, Sye pulled a red cotton shirt over his head, then placed his feet through frayed shorts. Sye stared at the holes for awhile before hearing a yell outside his tent.
“Haven’t you changed yet?
Sye turned toward the shadow.
He removed the beaten shorts and reached for the official shorts of the Atius castle guards. These had been delivered, along with all extra clothing that could be found at the castle. Sye slid the black and red shorts to his waist then yanked the belt off and threw it at the tent wall. The tent had a protrusion grow then dissipate, as the belt fell onto his sleeping bag.
Sye unzipped the tent and walked outside where Sara waited. He gave a quick stare, then turned away without saying a word. The Atius wall stood before them, the only surviving structure of their city. Atius had a wall built around itself for defense. Now it was a defense for its own people, for they didn’t have to look at the wasteland their home had become.
Sye once tried to climb the wall when he was a child. He got halfway up, too, until he found no place for his left foot. Squirming for footing, then accidentally letting go, Sye plummeted to the Earth. His head felt like he had been used as a battering ram, and his shoulder was hurt. He went home where his mother said he had dislocated his shoulder. She told him to think of what he wanted more than anything, and as Sye thought, his bone cracked back into place. Sye screamed.
“How could you do that?”
Sye’s mother glared at her boy, who continued to rub his shoulder.
“Did you ever think that you wouldn’t fall?” Sye didn’t know how to answer. “You should always consider what could happen, even if you don’t like it.”
Sye stretched his arm forward.
“I just wanted to reach the top.”
Sye’s eyes moved about as he spoke. “I don’t, I just wanted to do it.”
“Look for a purpose in what you do Sye, otherwise….”
A horn blew Sye out of his thoughts, and he saw the lone horse galloping from the castle. Sara, too, heard the blast, then went back to gazing at the tent wall. She had also put the guard shorts on, but she held a shirt from a cleaner at the castle.
“You really should wear one,” her mother used to nag her about.
“But I don’t want to,” said Sara, only a few months prior.
Her mother held for her a grey bra and placed it over her daughter’s breasts, even though she already had a shirt on.
“They will hold you up, unless you want to look very ridiculous once you get older.” Her mother tossed the bra onto her bed. “There are some things one just has to do.”
“But, why do I have to wear it? It’s not like it’s hurting anyone.”
“Sara, you can’t be a tomboy forever.”
“Sara.” Sye’s voice repeated through the tent. “Sara.” Sara jerked and held the shirt over her breast even though she knew Sye wouldn’t enter. “Everyone is gathering. It looks important.”
“I’ll be right out.”
Sara took the bra from the cleaning woman’s outfit and shoved it in her pocket.
Within the mass of people gathered, most were waiting in line for food which came from the northern farm fields. Large crates sat behind the tables where guards handed a specific amount of food for each person. Everyone was told that Valquire would speak after they finished their meals.
After 30 minutes, Sye arrived at the table, where he handed the guard his dinner plate from the previous night. The guard cleaned the plate, then gave him carrots, potatoes, and bread. Sara received the same. As they sat a bit away from the crowding mass, Sye saw Valquire walking though the crowd. As tall as he was, it was impossible to blend in. Everyone in Atius knew of Valquire’s desire for Peace, and even though he wasn’t the most charismatic person, he was trusted. When an earthquake hit three years ago, Valquire helped rescue citizens and set up immediate responses. He always told the people that any problem could be taken before him or the king. He set up many events as well for the city such as festivals and plays. Sye got the honor of practicing with him after he won the Sword Fighting Championship. Sye always wondered what it would be like to train under him.
All of Atius knew Valquire’s story. He lost all his friends and regiment to a former Wizard named Magnard, then was later betrayed by his own king in Barda. He eventually wound up here at the north and joined Clandestine and his followers as they fled following Great Exodus, and helped King Clandestine make the city what it had become. But, his experiences before had left him bitter, and everyone knew it was wise to avoid questions of his past, as interested as most people were about it.
As Sye and Sara ate, Sye asked Sara if she was ready to work the farmlands tomorrow.
“I don’t know much about hard labor. But I know we have to do it.”
The farmland was only one mile north of the city, and where much of the town worked. Now there were many acres in need of tending, and some that would spoil from not having enough people to harvest all the food.
The horn sounded again, and Valquire walked away from the crowd, then turned to face them all.
“Fellow citizens, we have arrived at a dark time for our city. Already King Clandestine has dispatched men to other cities to ask for any aid they can spare. But here, now, we must all work together to create a new city. A few constructionists have survived, and I have sent the ones from the castle as well. I want you to learn from them, how to build, for all of us will need to work together.” Valquire exhaled very deeply, as if putting much thought into his next sentence.
“I also need Sye and Sara Whaley. It is important they see me immediately.”
Sye and Sara, still sitting on the ground away from the crowd, looked at each other in astonishment. The crowd was silent. As Valquire attempted to speak again, a man shouted. “Hey, I think that’s them over there.”
Sye and Sara stood up and walked toward Valquire. The crowd stared at Valquire as if they were all invited to the conversation, but Valquire slowly turned his head and gave such an unnerving gaze that the crowd dissipated. Valquire waited for the crowd to move further away before turning to two guards.
“Stils, Geisha, your horses.”
Two of the guards that had been handing out rations obeyed. Valquire looked at the two siblings.
“Get on. The king and I must speak with you.”
“I don’t understand,” said Sye.
“Ride. Your answers will follow.”
Sye and Sara mounted a horse and followed Valquire toward the castle.
Far away, along the southern mountain, stood a middle aged man with a black beard that had recently started to grey. His dark red outfit covered his body, and his purple belt held the Historian Seal. In his hand, the historian held a large eyeglass which could enlarge images 10 times their normal size. He looked below where Atius once was and placed his eyeglass down as soon as he saw the burnt city.
Elsewhere, a stagecoach traveled from the north into the former Atius city and witnessed the remains. A driver on top of the stagecoach halted the horses inside the city. From inside his stagecoach the man could see outside, but no one could see him. After surveying the ashes, he commanded the coach to travel the path south. He soon arrived at the tents. Many people followed the stagecoach with their eyes, expecting.
The driver spoke into a tube next to him which connected to the coach inside. “Do you think we should stop?”
“No,” said the voice. “There is nothing we can do here.” The horses trotted down the path and sniffed loudly. The stagecoach was closer to the crowd than to Sye, Sara, and Valquire, but they were so isolated from everyone that they were easy to spot. The driver heard his master command him to stop, then overheard him talking to himself.
“So, Sye, this is where it all began.”