The sharp dagger of the hooded man stabbed Bolgur's pale hand. Beads of sweat rolled down his white flesh as blood trickled out from the wound. His eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead as he screamed to himself.
"If you kill the boy, I'll do a lot worse than that, Bolgur."
"Okay, okay!" Bolgur spat. "It'd just be a lot easier."
The man removed the dagger and waved a hand over Bolgur's wound. A light, blue energy seeped into his hand as the injury faded. Bolgur then moved his hand off the stump they sat at and nursed it.
It was midnight, and they were outside a dingy inn, hidden in the mists of the Linvale Forest on the planet of Albeus. Bolgur's favourite of the other eleven planets.
A cold chill swept the forest as a single cloud crept above. It was this very place where black-market deals took place. These deals were never made inside the inn, of course, they were held outside where numerous tree stumps clumped together to act as tables and chairs.
On one of these stumps sat Bolgur. An Avierion, who was tall, thin, had skin as pale as bone, and he never showered or changed. He loved the feeling of dirt on his skin and grease in his hair.
To the unknowing, an Avierion was easily mistaken for a Human and vice-versa. But Bolgur wasn't meeting with an Avierion, he was a Human he'd never seen nor heard of. He didn't even know his name. "You want me to infiltrate the Trials of Water to get them cancelled so the boy doesn't have a chance of winning?" Bolgur asked, confused.
"Has he been selected yet?"
"No, and there's every chance he won't be, but I must set in place a strategy if he is selected. Of course I have already done this, so hopefully, he doesn't even get the chance to leave Earth. But on the off chance he does, we will be covered."
"So I'm a backup if you fail?"
"I would call it insurance. There are a lot of influential people within the Union, and unfortunately, they're all involved in the Trials, and I am only one man. One, who is forced to rely on your disgusting carcas. I will notify you if I'm unsuccessful."
"I don't even know your name," Bolgur said. "How will I know it's you?"
"You will never have reason to contact me."
"You don't do this much, do you?" Bolgur laughed, showing off his crooked, yellow teeth.
A cold wind howled through the forest as irritation rose in the man's voice. "Why do you ask?"
"To go against the Union, you need to believe in your plan completely. That means not relying on anyone else...yet here you are. Not very professional are we?"
"There is a difference between believing and being prepared." He then stabbed his dagger into the stump again, startling Bolgur. "I want you to take this phial, it will kill anyone who drinks it. Use it as instructed to see the Trials cancelled." He shoved the phial into Bolgur's hand. It brimmed with an orange glowing liquid.
Bolgur removed the cork and smelt the contents. "Dhampir blood?"
"You must have paid a great deal for this."
"All the more reason for you not to screw this up."
"And what if I do?" Bolgur snarled. "I like to know where I stand."
"Failure isn't an option Bolgur, just do as you're told. You will be given instructions when the time comes."
"How will I know when that is?"
"You will know." He then got up and left, with a great shadow of fear and grief following him.
Bolgur retreated back inside himself. What was he getting into? He had no problem killing or playing his part in a plan, but something about this man baffled him.
He thought about his role and set it up in his mind as a step-by-step plan. He was to go into the city of Aedronias undercover and play a part in the Trials, what it was he didn't know yet.
He hitched his hood back over his greasy, black hair and got up. He wandered over to the inn where two, bulky strangers stopped him from entering. "Is there a reason you're blocking the way?" he asked.
"Nope," one of the strangers responded.
"Oh, well, in that case, I'll be on my way." Bolgur turned to leave, lowering the strangers' guard. He reached into his pocket then spun around. In a quick flash, his knife sliced into the meaty flesh of their necks.
They collapsed in the doorway. Bolgur stepped over them and entered the inn as he wiped the bloodied knife on his robes.
No one would care that two bodies lay outside the entrance. More unusual things happened in these parts.
Screams scratched the streets like fingernails on a blackboard as smoke enveloped the devastated city. Zach could tell this was a dream, though, just by looking at the flying ship he was on.
It was a strange dream, however; he couldn't control his actions, only watch them unfold. The sky was blackened and rippled as the ship flew closer. He could see helicopters hovering above, shining spotlights down upon the one responsible for the destruction. He stood in the city centre with radiant red flames surrounding his body, yet he didn't burn. Zach watched in disbelief as his dream took a strange turn.
In an instant, the helicopters exploded. Zach didn't see how or why just a flash of red and they were gone.
He felt his body move. He was walking to the side of the ship and yelling something back to the crew when he jumped off. The wind rushed past his body as he dodged balls of molten rock that fizzed past him. He flew through the air by way of great skill and timing, with a single goal and purpose.
A vibrating feeling cushioned his feet as he hit the ground, making the jump feel like only a few metres. Looking around, he witnessed first-hand the destruction this person had caused. Cars were rolled over and burnt, buildings were destroyed, fires spread throughout, and the very ground was black and charred.
Zach watched as his own hand drew a sword and pointed it at the burning figure. Words were spoken, but he couldn't hear them. Ugly red eyes stared directly into his soul as an evil sword sliced down upon him. The blade cut through his dream as if tearing away the very fabric of existence, leaving only darkness.
Then he woke up.
The dream felt so real as if it had already happened or was going to, like a memory or vision. Memories are amazing things, Zach always thought. Fragments in time that are encoded and embedded into your mind, ready for when the time comes to remember. People tend to recall memories that have emotional attachments more than those of everyday things. Zach's earliest memory was of a rather large archway he was taken through. He wasn't sure whether this was just imagination or actually real, much like his dream.
It was strange he often thought, that he knew so little about his mother and father, Jade and Zariah. He'd lived with his grandparents for as long as he could remember, oblivious to whom his parents really were. There was one day, though, when he plucked up the courage to ask. He was told they were both in the military and died serving their country. He wasn't sure why he even asked. His grandparents were pretty much his parents anyway.
He rose from his dream, remembering the blade cutting through it so clearly. He woke, realising it was Thursday. He hated Thursdays. They often felt like Friday, when you were half awake, which in a way tricked your mind and then disappointed on full awakening.
He stumbled out of bed and stared at himself in a small mirror hanging from the pale-blue wall. It was an old room in an old house. It's funny shaped rooms were filled with weird furniture and odd bits of this and that. He loved it.
Zach was average build and average height. He often thought his main attribute was that he was plain old average. Just like everyone else.
A shaggy mop of black hair grew out of his oval shaped head with a pair of blue eyes popped in the middle, and tied around his neck was a necklace with a jade pendant, left to him by his mother. He'd turned fifteen not so long ago. In fact, it was his first birthday without his grandfather, Fredrick. He'd passed away last year on May 12th. Zach shook his head, now wasn't the time to be thinking of that.
After patting down his bed-hair, he stretched and walked slowly out to the living room. His grandmother, Ales, was sitting at the large timber dining table, with odd looking grain, drinking her morning coffee. He found the wood odd because he'd never seen it anywhere before. The grain had a peculiar pattern, unlike other timber. Ales looked up as Zach entered the room. "Oh, you finally got up?" Ales said.
"Good morning, Gran," Zach chuckled. "Sleep well?"
"Yes, quite alright," Ales answered taking another sip of her coffee. She placed the white mug back on the table, leaving a slight spillage to slide down the side.
Zach nodded, yawning again.
"How can you still be tired? It's half past seven."
"Not sure, might need a new bed."
Ales stared him down as he headed into the kitchen. He'd been asking for a new bed for a while now, often complaining about his sore back or how the slats would fall out in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, Ales would never give in. His bed was excellent in her eyes.
The kitchen window was open, letting in a cool breeze with the scent of roses and lavender, two of Ales' favourites. Zach grabbed a quick bite to eat, trudged away and got ready for school.
Twenty minutes later, he arrived back in the living room and noticed Ales still sitting there, staring at the coffee grains in the bottom of her cup. She seemed to be pondering her thoughts. "You okay gran?" Zach asked.
"Oh, yes dear. No need to worry about me," Ales replied with a weary smile.
"Are you sure?" Zach asked. "You don't look too well."
"Yes, yes," Ales snapped. "Now get going to school young man or you'll be late."
Zach stood still for a bit. He wasn't too sure if she was, in fact, alright. With only a moment of thought, he decided to trust her word and walked out the door, bag slung over his shoulder.
With hands in pockets, he began walking to school. The school wasn't that far from home, about fifteen minutes, but then he had six hours of boredom to look forward to, followed by the walk back home.
The walk did have its benefits, though. Pleasant scenery with fine houses, beautiful gardens, manicured lawns and the odd park here and there, not to mention there weren't many people walking the same way, which was just how he liked it.
Zach arrived at school and was greeted by Peter, his best friend who was waiting for him. "About time you showed up," Peter yelled over the street as Zach crossed. Peter had dark-brown hair that blew in his face from the wind, with a tougher build compared to Zach.
"I'm just on time, thank you very much," Zach said, grinning.
The boys shook hands and walked through the gates. They were the same age, in the same class, and shared many common interests. But the one thing, in particular, they had in common, was neither of them had parents.
Peter was living with foster parents after he'd tragically lost his entire family a few years beforehand when they passed away in a terrible house fire. The police investigation said it was an accident. There was no trace of evidence to suggest criminal activity. Peter insisted otherwise, though. He'd seen a group of odd looking people through the flames, as he arrived back from a movie with Zach. The second he'd seen them, though, they were gone. Peter didn't just lose his family that day. He'd lost a part of himself too, a part Zach hadn't seen for a long time.
Most people often ostracised the boys because of their unique situations. They didn't really mind, though, they enjoyed each other's company.
The boys ventured through the crowd, everyone making their way to lockers for books, pencils, and pens, you name it. They eventually made it through the packed hallways, got their stuff, and headed off for class. The first class of the day was the worst. Zach found it hard to focus early. It probably didn't help that it was maths.
The school was quite large. There were sections designated for certain subjects, A-block to E-block. Maths was in B-block, which was right around the corner from their lockers. Zach and Peter quickly walked to class and were just on time. Their teacher, Mr Parsons, arrived at the door as they did. "You two are lucky I stopped for a coffee in the staff room. Otherwise, there would be some detentions happening."
"Sorry, sir, but the amount of people around here is crazy, you can't expect us to be on time every day," Peter said.
Zach slowly nodded in an attempt to give Peter support, but Mr Parsons only sighed.
The class went inside and sat at their desks. Three rows of tables stretched across the square room with a walkway down the middle. Zach and Peter decided to sit at the back, away from the gaze of their teacher.
Mr Parsons was a tall, old man who just loved maths. He always carried around black and brown folders, with countless copies of maths textbooks, exams, surprise tests, and the odd fun fact about maths (which Zach never actually found fun).
Zach looked at the clock that was near the ceiling at the front of the room. The room was painted in an odd manner. The ceiling and top half of the wall were white whereas the bottom half was a dark green. The school had a way of mixing colours that just shouldn't go together.
It was 9:00 a.m. and Mr Parsons began his usual teaching method; quiet the class, turn around, write a few complex equations on the board, and expect people to jump up out of their skins and answer them. This was why Zach and Peter liked to sit at the back, to evade the glare of disappointment from Mr Parsons when no one gave him an answer.
One thing Zach found odd was that no matter how much he hated maths, Mr Parsons was his favourite teacher, the kind that really cared about their students. He would often visit his house to check on him and his grandmother. He'd become quite the family friend, and this proved to be a great help when he was behind on his homework, often getting extensions without too much trouble.
Peter had taken out his notebook and began to gradually take notes whereas Zach just stared at the clock, slowly ticking away.
That's when he saw it.
A shadowy figure had appeared just outside the window. It was only for a second, but Zach definitely saw something. He shifted his full attention to outside. "Did you see that?" Zach whispered to a busily working Peter.
"There was, like, a man outside the window for a split second."
Peter looked at Zach oddly, shook his head and kept writing. "You're a weird child, Zach."
"Hey, come on – there was something there."
"Did you sleep okay last night?" Peter asked. "Were you having those dreams again?"
Zach sighed as Mr Parsons noticed the boys had been distracted by something. Instead of scolding them as he usually would, he looked out the window in confusion. He then quickly finished his notes and began typing at his laptop.
Zach looked at Peter, puzzled. 'Weird'? I actually saw something. He sighed again and attempted to focus on the teacher. He just wanted to hurry up and finish the day, go home and sleep.
The bell rang for the end of maths, and things got worse. Just outside of B-block, Zach and Peter were confronted by Derrick, George and Felix, the school bullies. "Hey, do you guys smell smoke? I think there might be a fire," Derrick laughed. "You wouldn't have anything to do with that would you, Peter?"
Before Peter could react, Zach stood in. "Only smoke we smell is off you, been hiding at the back of the school smoking again hey?"
"Quite chirpy for a little piece of crap, don't you think?"
"Must hurt that head of yours when we talk to you, too many big words?" Peter added.
Derrick advanced on them and grabbed the scruffs of their shirts. "Wanna say that again?" he hissed.
Before Zach could reply, Mr Parsons zipped around the corner and told them all off.
Zach and Peter often presented themselves as easy targets because they didn't walk in the same circle as the 'a-group'. They were also frequently alone leaving them open to being harassed by the bullies of the world who enjoyed inflicting misery upon others. But, Peter had it much worse than Zach. They would often call him, "Murderer," or, "Firestarter," which Zach hated. He could see the heartache in Peter's eyes and the shadow from his hair that fell over his face.
The classes too, in a way, got worse. Zach caught himself often daydreaming or seeing things. That shadowy figure he saw was still bothering him on the way home. Peter lived in the opposite direction, so they split up when they left the gates.
Zach arrived back home and was greeted by his grandmother. "How was school?"
"It was alright as usual. Painfully slow, though," Zach replied, with a sly smile.
"Those bullies give you any grief today?" Ales asked. "I can tell you some great insults that'll curl their hair. I was quite the witty kid back in my day." She continued to reel out an attack of offensive adjectives that Zach had never heard of. He had stopped her before she got carried away.
"Not too many years to go now. Before you know it, you'll be done!" Ales finished.
"Yeah, I know. It'd just be easier if those idiots didn't go to the same school."
"Wouldn't learn anything then, would you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Ales took a sip from her usual coffee mug. "You could learn everything you ever needed from those books of yours, but there are some things bullies can teach you. Like standing up for yourself."
Zach sighed to himself, he really didn't like having to deal with Derrick every day. And Ales could tell. Every afternoon she'd be sitting at the table with a plate of biscuits and fresh coffee in her hands, waiting to talk with him about his day. In a way, it made it easier to cope, but he'd still prefer if they just didn't exist.
"Just take it one day at a time," Ales said. "It'll get better, trust me."
"Thanks, Gran," Zach smiled, pinching a biscuit off the plate. Ales then stared him down. "What?"
"You know I like those ones..."
"I'm messing with you," Ales laughed.
Zach laughed with her and smiled. He then looked down at his hands on the table and said, "You know, I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here every day after school."
Ales' eyes softened. "I'm sure you'd manage."
"It makes it easier," he admitted.
Ales gave a loving nod and soon, the evening passed, which was another thing he found irritating. Why did school take so long yet the afternoon went by so fast? After watching the usual television programs, he headed off to bed, to finish yet another typical day in his normal life. But, he was finding it hard to sleep.
The wind blew outside with such force it rattled his window like someone was tapping the glass consistently. He closed his eyes and explored the depths of his mind, searching for something to keep him preoccupied as he shifted into dreams.
This change of mind didn't last.
A crackle of lightning, a sudden temperature rise, and a thrashing wind wrapped around the house, then out of nowhere came a cold, burning sensation on Zach's right arm, near his wrist. It was so fast he didn't have time to realise what was going on. He jumped out of bed and tried to stop himself from yelling in pain. A blue light then filled the room, emanating from his arm. He watched in horror as the number twelve slowly branded itself into his flesh. As this happened, tiny shards of ice sprayed from his arm, like sparks off a blacksmith's anvil. He suddenly saw the floor come racing to his face, and all went black. At least he was asleep now.
Zach awoke on the floor, clenching his arm. He thought it was a dream but there it was. A clear, number twelve etched into his skin. He started to panic. What was happening? Before he could do anything, there was a tapping at the window.
"Come on Zach, we're late!" a voice came from outside and jolted him from his trance. He looked out the window and saw Peter staring back angrily.
Zach motioned with his finger, "One minute," and moved from the window.
He rushed to the bathroom and put his arm under cold water. He scrubbed and scrubbed, but it wouldn't go away. He was really freaking out now. Quickly running back to his room, he grabbed some clothes and dressed, deciding he would worry about this later. He had to make sure Peter wasn't suspicious. Zach quickly packed his bag and headed outside, making sure his newly acquired branding was concealed under his sleeve. Before he got to the door, though, Ales appeared from her room. "Off for the day, are you?"
"Yeah, I'll see you later."
"Have a good day," she chimed.
"I'll try," Zach smiled. When he turned away and opened the door, his smile faded. The thought of Derrick and his thugs sent a wave of anxiety through his body. He never had a good day.
A cold chill greeted him along with Peter, who was waiting. "About time," Peter blurted out. "Come on we're really late!"
"Sorry mate, I slept in."
"I can tell."
Zach knew Peter was quite worried even though he didn't show it. He guessed that Peter was waiting where they usually meet and when he didn't show, Peter made a quick dash to his house. The two boys had a sixth sense about trouble, a bit like twins.
Zach rubbed his arm and couldn't stop thinking about it. "Come on, let's just go."
They ran along the route to school, Peter annoyed, and Zach lost in thought, mindlessly following the track Peter took. The conversation was minimal.
Running across the road to the gates, they got there. Giving the lockers a miss, they made it to class, just, and dodged a detention. The day progressed much the same as the previous day. The exhausting first class (no matter what subject it was, Zach always found it hard), the persistent bullying, and then the rest, except one thing that had never happened on a regular day before, happened.
Zach and Peter were in English when the student runner delivered a note. Seeing the runner made him remember his first time at the job. He spent the entire day trapped in the school office doing odd jobs; the only relief was when he had to deliver a few notes here and there. He was rather disappointed at the end of the day when the reward was a measly can of soda.
The teacher read the message, and then looked for Zach with her eyes and handed him the note. It read: "Principals office, now!"
Zach made his way to the office passing other classes and through long corridors before arriving. There were a few familiar faces, some teachers and a couple of office ladies. They all looked at him with concern. Even the principal, Mrs Welter, looked at him with sadness, and that said something.
Zach walked slowly passed them all until he met Mrs Welter's eyes. The Principal was a rather large woman who always dressed in a suit and skirt combination, all too small, though. "I was called to the office, what's wrong?" Zach asked.
"It's your grandmother, Zach," Mrs Welter replied with concern.
My grandmother! What's happened? It hit him with a pang of shock as Mrs Welter continued.
"She's in the hospital. There was an accident."
"She had an accident?" he said. "What do you mean?"
The principal was silent. This wasn't good.
He was frozen in fear. What would happen if he lost her? "Can you please take me to see her?" he asked.
She nodded, and they made their way out.
Her car was full of all sorts of odd things. Only one minute inside you could tell she had an obsession with dogs. Little dog ornaments lined the dashboard with their bobble heads, the seats were covered in a Dalmatian print cover, and the steering wheel had tiny dog ears around the top. Zach tried staring at the bobble heads to keep him preoccupied, but it didn't work.
Guilty and regretful thoughts clouded his mind like a storm, she'd been fine this morning, right? His arm began to tingle as well. He wanted to have a quick look but thought not to risk it. Mrs Welter was right next to him after all.
They slowly pulled into the hospital car park where other cars were coming and going, it was rather hectic. He didn't like hospitals very much, with sickness and death all around. Hospitals, doctor's surgeries, and dentists, they were all the same.
After a struggle with the parking ticket that allowed entry (Mrs Welter's arms were too short to reach the ticket box), they found a parking spot and Zach hopped out. "Are you coming inside, Miss?" he asked before closing the door.
"I don't...um...think it's really my place to be," she said, trailing off. "Plus I have to get back to school anyway," she added with a grim face. It seemed she disliked hospitals more than Zach did.
Zach said goodbye and headed to the main doors. As soon as he entered a wave of despair swept over him. Something was definitely wrong here. He walked on through to the reception desk where a lovely looking nurse sat. She looked up at him as he approached, "How may I help you today, sir?"
In any other situation, Zach would have gone bright red when a beautiful girl talked to him, but now he had no time to worry about that. "Hi, my name is Zach Waters. I'm here to see my grandmother, Ales."
The nurse typed away at her keyboard. She had long brown hair that waved down to her shoulders. That, with her golden-brown eyes, made her look lovely. "Ah yes, right this way." She stood up and walked around the desk and motioned Zach to follow her. They made their way past patients, visitors, doctors and nurses until they came to his grandmother's room. "Here we are."
"Thanks," Zach replied, approaching his grandmother's still form.
As he got closer, he could see the stress worn into her face, how hard she had worked her entire life, raising his mother and then him, to lose everyone but Zach. He pulled up a chair and sat close, just watching her rest.
The hours passed and finally a doctor arrived. Zach stood up to greet him. They talked about Ales' condition for a while which made him feel a bit more relieved. "It appears that she had a fall and hit her head rather hard. However, she should be okay to return home in a few days. At the moment we're just running a few tests for other things while she rests."
Zach breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you so much," he said.
After the doctor had left, Ales stirred in her sleep. "Zach..." she mumbled.
"I'm here, Gran!"
Ales seemed to be processing all possible ways to tell him what she had to say. "I'm sorry I frightened you, Zach."
"It doesn't matter, what matters is that you're okay now," he replied with relief.
Ales seemed to be thinking for quite some time before she spoke. "I believe it would be best if I told you something before this happens again."
Tell me something? There were so many questions forming in Zach's mind that he couldn't even ask one without becoming tongue-tied.
Ales began slowly, "It won't be long before you're off doing your own thing and considering that there isn't anyone else who can tell you this, it would be best if I did," she paused and then continued. "There are going to be times when you question your own beliefs and that of your parents. I want you to know that whatever happens, your mother and father loved you very much."
Zach was confused. "Gran, what do you mean? You told me they died serving the country. How could I question that?"
Ales clenched his hand a little tighter. "I know about the marking, Zach. I know what it means."
Zach couldn't believe it. She knew. How could she know? What did she know?
"You are about to embark on the most incredible journey. Life as you know it won't exist anymore. In a very short time all that I am saying will become clear, but for now get some rest. You look tired – I know I am. Go home and I will see you tomorrow. We can talk more then."
Zach forced himself to not ask any more questions, a trait he learned while growing up. His grandfather didn't seem to enjoy his questions, mostly because they were rather annoying. He would often ask silly things to do with time or space, which no one could answer. Unfortunately as time went on, he was repeatedly told to stop asking so many questions, so now he didn't. "Okay, okay," Zach smiled.
Ales smiled back as a nurse knocked on the door. "I'm sorry, young man, visiting hours are over."
"Can I stay a little longer?" Zach pleaded.
Ales tapped him lightly on the hand. "It's okay Zach, make sure you get home safely and lock the front door. I'll see you tomorrow."
Zach nodded sadly. "Ok Gran, I'll see you then." He gave her a tight hug then said goodbye and made his way out.
Before he left the room entirely, Ales said, "I'll think of some more insults for your bullies while I'm here."
"I expect a list of them then," Zach smiled.
"Of course," Ales winked.
He exited through the sliding front doors, into the car park. Nightfall was taking over, and the streets were growing dark, but he decided to walk on through it, not knowing exactly where he was going, but he liked the fresh air on his face. It caressed his hair and soothed his mind. His arm still tingled, and since no one was around, he rolled up his sleeve. The outer lining of the number was glowing blue, just slightly. What in the world is happening to me? How does my life go from being normal, to upside down in one day?
He rolled down his sleeve and continued onward through the night. The moon created a shadow behind him, like a separate figure, was following. That was enough to cause the hair on his neck to stand up.