Part One: The Summoning
~ CHAPTER ONE ~
The air is dead, and cold lingers. A bad omen? or just a chill…
As I stand in the empty camp, my people still sleeping, the horses still dazed, I can feel the sense of calm as if a storm is on it’s way. Today is the morning where I am to be taken. An outsider, a scum, a piece of meat for the city folk’s cruel games, but to me and my people… A freedom fighter. I had been waiting for this day for a long time coming. My mother had done the same. Now it was my chance.
As I stand with the chieftain, the man who had raised me from a child since my parents death in the trials, I can tell he’s almost as nervous as I am. Rye-Yanko, an elderly man with sun-darkened skin and wrinkles, looks at me from his chair. His frail hand still gently clasping mine. “Eirvariso, Calani.”
It is time, Clover Child.
I smile at the nickname, because if I was to win this, Luck was everything I’d need. I’d been lucky, growing up. I’d escaped many a scrape, even a bear, but the Arena was no thing of nature. It was a death trap, a suicide mission, and even luck couldn’t always help me there. I feel my stomach knotting as the bells of the city echo across the planes. The dust picks up and the mares stirr by their stands. Suddenly I feel more aware of everything then ever. Suddenly, I regret everything too.
As if on call, the elusive Blackcapes appeared on the mirage. Even this early, when the sun had barely rissen, the heat outside was a desperate one. I clasped my jumper, still cool from the night, but the temperature would rise in a matter of seconds, and the walk from here to the capital would be deathly if I stayed covered up. But I didn’t want to let go of Rye-Yanko. He was my anchor, a tether to the family that I was giving my life for. A family who hadn’t even awoken to say their goodbye. Rye-Yanko tugs my sleeve, and I drag my eyes from the dark approaching figures. He beckons me closer, and as I lean down, he places a tiny bottle on a string around my neck. I look at the contents. White feather, thyme, sand from the beaches and a scrap of iron nail, all mixed with water from the lake miles away. He’d had this for years. A Chieftain’s blessing. We say nothing. What was there to say?
This was the limits of our goodbye.
I’d already promised him I wouldn’t cry.
The Blackcapes move closer and from the distance I can see their strange cloaks hanging like silken shadows, their faces masked by distorters so their voices were garbled and robotic. Their uniforms remained hidden behind the silk capes, so nobody could tell their moves before they were happening, and any weapons or tools would be surprises in a fight. They were like demonic figures, nightmares that lurked around the great city. Protectors of the legendary Regalia. Quite frankly, I greatly feared them. They seemed like walking reapers.
They were if you’d seen what I’d seen.
“Mayleera Anna verosy?”
I wrinkled my nose at the terrible pronunciation of my name. I didn’t correct them, I don’t think they cared, they just needed to know if I was the one, and I was. I nodded. In a few short moments one had produced cuffs, the folds of his cloak shifting like ink in water, hands gloved and arms padded in metals I couldn’t describe. The brick handcuffs felt heavy around my wrists, and the clank as they locked into place was almost jarring. I looked up, confused, and the first Blackcape answered. “Precautions for Outsiders. All un-civilized beings partaking in the trials must be escorted by guards and cuffed like a their three prisoner.”
I didn’t know what half of that meant. Their voices were strangled, distorted by their masks voice disguiser. Without any more words, both Blackcapes then grabbed me, and began walking me forwards. My feet scuffed on the dry dirt ground, as I scrambled to keep in step. I looked back, eyes wide as I was pulled from my home without warning. Rye-Yanko watched me, solemnly. As was our tribe’s way, like a funeral salute, he kissed his knuckles and placed them to his chest.
I will not cry, and I will not die. I repeated those words in my head. I watched the caravans and tents fade into the distance, burning the image into my mind. The smell of spices and horsehair. The smoke from the fire and the flapping of painted canvas, even the twittering birds that flew off, upset by my sudden take of leave.
I will not die. I felt my heart catch, my neck hurting as we trekked away, and before I could do or say anything more, there was a harsh blow to my head, and the world went dark.
I hadn’t been in a working vehicle since… well, ever.
Machines weren’t unheard of, far from it, but outside the city being near one that actually worked was a rare thing indeed. I wondered if I should feel privileged then? Did they expect me do? I couldn’t say I did. For one, the blacked out windows meant that I could see next to nothing. I guess I wouldn’t want to, half the faces in here were almost as ugly as mine, and those that weren’t were just plain scary. For two, the heat was unbearable. A black van, in a desert? At first it had been colder than death, as the summons had started as early as midnight, to make sure everyone outside the city was found in time. Only, nighttime was freezing, outside in the dead wastelands, and now that I had survived that I was starting to be roasted alive. I mean, I knew the higher people didn’t much like our ‘uncivilized’ asses being in their precious death games, but they could just say it. They didn’t have to torture us before the damned thing had even started.
I wince, squinting as the doors are opened and light filters in. Another unconscious body was heaped into the back, hands in cuffs and knocked out for better maneuverability. I raised my elbow, my hand being cuffed to my jacket sleeve seeing as I didn’t have a right arm to link it to. I just caught sight of the prisoner before the doors were slammed shut and the lights were gone again. A girl, long unwashed hair and skin pale despite the exposure to the sun. She looked tiny compared to some of the people in here. Tall, but tiny, and willow thin so she looked like she would snap.
What hell brought you into this death trap? I thought, listening for the others around me. They no doubt saw the girl. I’d been the first to be dragged into this tin can, I’d seen everyone they’d thrown in with me. One man, a brute of a cowboy they’d picked up from an outpost somewhere, it had taken five hits to the back of the head to knock him out. He smelled of whisky, gunpowder, and had a face harsher then any I’d seen. I’d counted the hits before they’d tossed him in with me. By the time he’d woken up, he’d given nothing more then a grunt, leaned back against the metal wall, and started waiting. Silent as the grave, save for a gruff huff everytime we hit a bump or pothole. Others had followed. A strong girl with the mark of the slavers branded on the nape of her neck. She’d almost bitten the Blackcape that had dragged her in. You could hear her snapping, wild woman, and younger then she looked too. Life must’ve been harsh on her. Well, she still had all her limbs, so I guess we all had our battles. Then there was the hulked out man, dark skin and workman’s structure. He’d been taken from a small town, but he hadn’t fought or even been harsh. If anything, the strange guy had been almost polite. Must’ve been a surprise when they’d whacked him on the head. He kept muttering about how he’d ‘be back for her’. Some lady or lass he had waiting, I didn’t care. He only kept muttering the same thing, and even with my attempt at conversation he’d kept mostly to himself. We all did.
There were others, some roughed up, others old, one man missing a tooth, another lady with a scar right across her neck and hair like a bunch of lose snakes. I didn’t talk to them. I didn’t want to, if it was all the same to them. Quite frankly, I doubted they wanted to talk to me either. We were all criminals of the same nature. Born outside a city that had labeled itself as ‘great’. I mean, some of us were probably actual criminals too. I know I was.
The van continued, the engine rumbling to life and I heard the girl mumble as she came to. That was quick… The sounds of Blackcapes muttering to each other could be heard through the grate at the front. I knew there were also several in the back with us, silent devils there to keep the peace. I knew, because there had been a fight earlier which had been dealt with as soon as it started. The crackle of a taser and the blue light I’d seen flickering. It had been between the mad lady and a crooked old man. I was surprised the man hadn’t died there and then. I guess rich people technology was still a mystery to me.
“Prepare the gates.” the staticy voice ordered, the click of a radio following behind as they continued to mutter.
“What… Where am I?”
I glanced into the darkness where the girl was probably sitting. As my eyes slowly adjusted, I could just make out her rubbing her head, eyes wide and blind to everything. Her voice was foreign, as if this wasn’t her first language. I felt a small pang of pity for her. The poor lass would be eaten alive.
“You’re in a van.”
She turned her head, unable to see me, but she couldn’t answer as the huge bellowing clatter or metal and grate began to fill the world. The groaning sound of metal and sand, and of course the hum of pulsing electricity as the many bolts and barricades began to shift and move. Sounds I’d heard for years from a distance, and a sound I’d never thought I’d be so glad to hear. Even now, I could see the enormous brass and steel doors recoiling, opening up like the jaws of a beast.
The menacing gates of the notorious Great City.
At last, I’d be back on the inside.
“The Blackcapes welcome you.” I murmured, more to myself than anyone.
The girl shrank back, fear and worry written on her face. Everyone else started to smile. To us, this was the beginning. The start of our fight, just getting in, and now we were small victors of the prejudice of the people. Now… Now the real fight would begin.
The engine rumbled, and we pushed through the gates. I grinned.
Home at last.