The first image that came to his mind was a throne made of gold – glistening, glittering and galvanizing the men that preyed upon it. There were several of them, lower class citizens with no integrity and lack of moral judgement, that bowed their heads in defeat, in shame – in cowardice. They hysterically moaned, their arms flailing back and forth, from the sun to the hell beneath them, hands splattering onto the cold marble floor at the king’s feet. They repeated this same motion, of worship, to the Pharaoh that sat at his throne.
They called the Pharaoh the sun’s envy. He was a rather colossal figure, the epitome of strength, virility, substance. While he was a man in his late fifties, he contained his posture like a godlike figure. His light was brighter than the sun, stronger than the scent of citrus, like the most piercing, scorching summer day’s heat on un-pigmented skin. But, what others were not aware of, was that he was the complete opposite. The man they worshipped was a bigot.
The king leaned and reached over to snatch a pile of gold coins at his side. The groaning from his worshippers continued. He held the change like sand, with no care that several of them clattered between his fingers, glittering as they fell between his them. The worshippers, peasants, cowards – they scattered to collect the gold, kissing the ground that the king barely touched as they did so.
The clicking sounds prior to the coins spinning was what caught Airiest the most – and the moments right between the coins falling and reaching the glass floor were the ones he knew were the most important. The soul of everything that happened in between, from the pastel colored sky in the dawn to the edge of the dark twilight, it was what happened between that caught the essence of history – of his glory.
In an instant, he woke with a start. Airiest rolled over in the mania, his crown dizzy, his ears ringing. It took him several moments to gather his senses. What he could make out was that he was lying on the ground – outside of what seemed like a warehouse, trees concealing him from the clearing. He felt the piercing cold as he came to, attempting to balance his breathing at the same time.
He heard footsteps around him, screaming and shouting as a figure emerged from the chaos. It was unclear – fog and smoke surrounded him, and with his vision already blurred, he couldn’t make out his situation. The figure dropped to their knees in front of him, clenching Airiest’s wrists, as someone’s hurried breaths tried to explain what was happening. Everything he saw was clouded, and he attempted to rapidly glance over to the voices – blinking to clear his mind. He felt two hands on his under arm, luring him forward until he was on his feet and his mind cleared.
The same figure then placed his hands on Airiest’s shoulders – he couldn’t see because he faced the clearing of the woods. He attempted to turn, but his head started to ring – so he shut his eyes and shook his head. As his hearing slowly began to return, so did his memories. What had happened: the meeting, then the attack.
His stomach dropped as his memories began to return.
“Drygiro!” Airiest’s vision finally drew out a familiar face. She stood behind the man that held his shoulders, almost slumping, but he was sure that was his inconsistency in vision. Her posture was somewhat defensive, coffee-brown eyes wide and her brows knitted together in frustration, “Drygiro, my children – “
He looked down at what – who – she was holding, two infants in her arms, wailing in front of the smoke – he attempted to remember what had happened before. Airiest couldn’t make anything out, embers flew and floated in the air carelessly, and the woman in front of him shouted once more.
“Airiest!” She exclaimed, her eyes wide in frustration, flecks of golden reflected, “take them!”
She was effortlessly beautiful. Airiest wasn’t a man easily infatuated, and if he wasn’t already married, he knew for a fact that perhaps he would have been. Her frustrated and defeated expression didn’t shake her grace, the dread plastered on her face had the complete opposite effect than it should have. Deirdre Drakon had something about her – something he couldn’t place – that reeled a person in. Her hair, charcoal black and her skin, like the color of drenched sand that glittered when the sun was out, was covered in what looked like soot and dirt.
He looked down to what she was regarding to, and figured that she was talking about the two children in her arms. Airiest gawked up at her in shock, “what do you –? “
“–We spoke right before the council meeting. It was up to you– “
“– Mrs. Drakon, ma’am – “
“– You must, that’s an order.” Her look was focused and stern, like Airiest held the last of the hope that the Seditiums had left. “Find them a home, bring them to Arogen when it was safe. You know what to do.”
An explosion, fifteen feet away from them, startled Airiest – dirt, junk and rocks dispersed through the air, then across of the woman’s – Deirdre Drakon’s – face. Her hair was swept to the right, and she stared back at him as a coming martyr. A mother’s concern could be seen for a split second, but then the Drakon’s signature look was back – controlled and prepared. She stood earnestly – proudly, for someone who had just lost her whole revolution. She trusted him with every last dying breath.
A man came up from behind her, holding the last child, the toddler, in his arms. The child looked at him, innocent, unaware of the chaos around her.
The man was a bit over middle-aged – his auburn hair with specks of grey and skinny bones clearly revealed his age – but he was already signed up for the rest of his life in camouflage. Airiest knew this man: the children’s grandfather.
Airiest pushed himself up, knees weak and head throbbing. He felt a tang of pain on his right arm, piercing the tree roots that were his veins to the ends of him. He noticed the violet blotch forming through his skin as if it were transparent – it was like putting a napkin to dissolve over spilled grape juice. He looked up and held his arms out for the babies.
“It is not over,” he said.
It wasn’t over.
He felt the weight of the two children in his arms. One was already harmed – burned lightly on her wrist. The other wasn’t crying as much, she was fast asleep, as if she didn’t hear the commotion around her. He looked back up to speak to Deirdre, but she was already running back towards the fire. In an instant – right where she was standing – the ground exploded.
He knew; however, it was not yet over.
PART I – CONCERNING THE DRAKONS
Chapter One – Lilac
The market city outside of Plato reeked of gas and rancid burnt plastic. It was the only market city that produced the source of supplies that Lilac’s grandmother liked, however, so she was in a predicament of whether she should take the train or drive. If she decided to drive, then the stench would follow her back to Plato. However, if she took the train, it would only remain in the station.
She leaned on the back of her Toyota as she thought about this. The train left in five minutes – which meant that she had five minutes to make the decision. She started to think about the struggle of carrying all of the groceries on the train when –
Lilac’s heart galloped along the sound of drums in the distance. It was beyond the station, somewhere behind it perhaps. She was inept in seeing it, but could guess where it was from. She started assuming, as the others do, that it was the Oridios scanning the perimeters to check if any Seditiums have crossed the border.
And per the drums, one had.
She didn’t stiffen at the sound – she was used to it. In America, while the country itself was far from the war that previously raged in the middle east, they had begun to section off the Seds and Ords. It started just two years ago, and the sounds of the drums became a beacon for those Seds to conceal their belongings: any signs that they were an interpreter or believer of the religion, living within the Ordian borders.
When Congress had sectioned off the Sed and Ord borders, they did so it would affect both financially. While Lilac didn’t technically live in the most affluent town, she didn’t live in the most poverty stricken either – which was something she couldn’t guarantee her Sedictic neighbors had an advantage of. Hearing the word, “Sed” immediately make her think of the individuals who were forced to live in the slums because of their beliefs, despite their academic abilities –
She shook her head away. She wasn’t supposed to think about that.
Instead, she placed a hand over her wrist – over the burned skin – out of habit. It had been there ever since she could remember. It was faint, yet etched into her skin, a “symbol of disobedience”, her grandmother would tell her. Apparently, she liked playing with the stove against her Gran’s orders. But that wasn’t her fault, her Gran wasn’t too clear about much.
Actually, her grandmother wasn’t too clear about many things. Both her and her grandmother were very neutral about sympathizing with the Seds. That way – no trouble on either side. Lilac wasn’t sure if she still approved of this, but she knew it was the safest option.
The passengers from the train began to leave, and Lilac assumed that this was because the board got cancelled. Most likely because of the perimeter checks.
She sighed and turned around, jamming her key hard into her car, some of its crimson paint flaking off as she did so. Enzo’s getting old. Or maybe you’re just too harsh on your car. Be more grateful.
She slid into the driver’s seat; checking the rearview mirror. Without bothering to buckle in her seat belt, she started the car and slid her phone into the slot next to the ignition. The monitor lit up, the words, WELCOME, LILA! sizzling on her screen. Soon after, the AI in her rusty car struggled to reach out of her speakers, “HELLO, LILAC DALEDRO. PLEASE SIGNIFY YOUR INTENTIONS OF NAVIG – “
She spoke before Enzo could continue, “Centre City. Stat. I need to get groceries, where is the least amount of traffic?”
“. PLEASE HOLD WHILE I CALIBRATE THE COORDINATES…” There was a pause, “GROSTO. A HALF-HOUR COMMUTE. INITIATING DIRECTIONS…”
After about a 45-minute commute, Lilac parked her Toyota in the nearest space available – no matter how far it was from the markets.
She slammed her car door closed and opened it once more just to make sure it actually closed, and slid her lanyard around her neck. There was an ice cream parlor right at the corner of her eyes, which was what immediately caught her attention. She began to calculate the price of how much she’d have to sacrifice in her groceries, and amidst being lost in the math, she found herself subconsciously standing in front of the parlor. A man, with a remarkably precise horseshoe mustache, peeked from behind the counter.
She asked for a vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone. She had a sweet tooth – she wasn’t afraid to admit it. However, she didn’t like mentioning it to her grandmother, who would then celebrate and force her to become a baker or something.
Gran also often complained about Lilac’s utter lack of interest in rugs. Gran was a rug collector, which duties were quite self-explanatory: she collected them and sent them out to interested buyers. She was convinced that Lilac would join her in this odd, obsessive market, even though she knew that one day, Lilac actually did want to go one of the four universities around the world. Obviously, Lilac knew she couldn’t convince her grandmother, but that also didn’t mean she couldn’t attempt to persuade her in letting her go to Arogen or Eogrien University every year the admission application opened.
For some reason, Gran was never really fond about the idea of Lilac’s Toyota either. Lilac wondered about this as she received her ice cream. She had bought it completely new in secret to surprise her grandmother. After she arrived home with it, her Gran looked distraught rather than proud of her grandchild. What Lilac still didn’t understand, at this point, was that despite the fact that she worked so hard to get her car, her grandmother still didn’t believe that she deserved it.
Lilac’s attention was taken away from the thought when she heard a scream and turned her head to see the origin of the sound.
And then she understood exactly why there wasn’t a train to Centre City previously.
Because the city was on fire.
Perhaps she didn’t see the smoke because she had parked further away from the city itself. Lilac watched as people on motors roared past her, shouting, while gunshots rang in her ears.
She whirled her head back to see the man in the ice-cream parlor, whose cerulean eyes seemed to grow wider than the ice cream cone that he had just given her. They heard the sound again, and he immediately ducked down, tripping over his own legs. Lilac watched him as he scurried out of the parlor with his arms flailing. Anxiety became a warm swarm of gnats inside her intestines as she scanned the scene for where she had parked her car -- on the left -- and made a run for it.
Her legs carried her as she attempted to catch her breath, suddenly becoming engulfed by the smoke. It was a shadow confident in holding her neck down, blurring her vision and creating fits of coughs that wouldn’t end until she felt as if her whole stomach might climb out through her esophagus. She hunched over, holding onto her dear sanity until one second she was still gripping onto the ice cream cone in her right hand and the other second, she felt something, someone, forcing her onto the ground.
She hit the paved road with a thud, pain piercing her cheek. Lilac felt every detail of the pebbles sink into her skin like a needle into a balloon. The cone was crushed and the ice cream fell out of it –splat– in front of her. Lilac would have been more upset at the depressing state of her vanilla bean iced delight – but she couldn’t breathe.
She couldn’t breathe – she couldn’t breathe. Someone was holding her down. She tried to push up, force whoever’s hands were on her shoulder blades off her, but her body wouldn’t listen to the strategies playing out in her head. Lilac began to panic, swimming in an unfortunate state, thrashing her arms with her heart aching violently – knowing full well that she was going to die. She became the epitome of vulnerability with nothing to defend her attacker against. She shut her eyes, beads of light at her eyelashes.
In a second, the weight was lifted off of her, and she could breathe again. She blinked a couple of times and attempted to move her arms. Her back faced the sky -- but in an instant, she placed her hands on the sharp asphalt and strained herself, pulling up. Her hearing was subtly off, but she could make out what sounded like the clashing of blades. She whipped around, head still throbbing and vision in clouded darkness, watching her savior.
When she first saw him, he was wrestling her attacker, his hands linked to the man who previously held her down. The boy was battling him in strength and grit, arms shaking as he grappled with confidence. Lilac noticed his husky build and his skin that looked golden against the sunlight. His dark glossy hair was long, disheveled, and tied up. His face was twisted in pain, teeth gritted and eyebrows etched in frustration. He shoved and kicked the attacker with his steel-toe boots, forcing him onto the ground. She heard a groan from him – “Augh!” – and her adversaries’ arms fell limply onto the very same concrete pavement he had forced Lilac upon.
She examined her attacker. He wore a long, white cloak and his skin camouflaged under it. Definitely an Ord – she could tell by the three tattooed triangles on his upper right eyebrow. His weapon fell out of his right hand -- a blade. That must have been what she heard. Something dropped from his left hand then -- a sort of small, ivory, plastic device.
The boy with the long hair picked it up, shoved it in his pocket, and turned towards Lilac.
With a hovering his hand over his heart, kneeling on one knee and bowing his head down, he said, “an honor.”
She wrinkled her nose, the pungent scent of sweat, socks and over-done cologne overwhelming her, “Geez, take a shower,” she said.
He didn’t look as offended as he did amused, like he was expecting her to say anything but a salutation or thank you. His lips curled into a smile, warmth radiating through his chest, because he finally found her – he was almost done.
Lilac, on the other hand, was still kneeling down at this point – she was not sure what to make of this. She wanted to thank him, but knew he wasn’t an Ord, so getting on his good side wasn’t exactly a relevant strategy. But more specifically, she feared he may be a Sed, and she knew that she did not want to affiliate herself with them either. Instead, she placed her hand on the burn on her right wrist – the habit still lingering when she was in thought.
“Thanks,” she decided to reply, but turned to walk away. He jumped and grabbed her wrist before she could move any further – she flinched.
“No, listen, I mean, it was an honor to meet you and all, but I’m afraid I have to take you with me. Plato is completely destroyed at this point.” He urged, and she looked down to his hand holding her wrist. Her heart started beating faster. I’ve just been saved by a kidnapper, she thought.
Perhaps he realized her lack of comfortability and let go for that reason, but his brows remained knitted in worry. She eyed his cuts from the attack, feeling a tang of pity for a second.
“What do you mean Plato was destroyed? Why couldn’t I go back? My Gran is still there right now,” She tested hastily, her eyes going back to her car for a split second. Perhaps she could make it – if she stalled him a bit.
He shook his head, “Ah, shit, this was gonna be harder to explain. Did you grandmother not tell you? You were supposed to know while growing up. You’re not from here. You’re from the - “
He was caught off guard by the explosion behind them, towards Lilac’s car. She widened her eyes and lost her balance, scrambling back to see the view in front of her.
Enzo – her car – was on fire. Lilac scrambled towards it, hastily taking off her jacket and draping it over the hood – where the flames were. They died down in an instant, however the top remained burnt. “Shit–” She said under her breath, but not lost in hopes that maybe, just maybe the car wouldn’t explode if she put her keys in the ignition.
Her shoulders slumped down and she raised her brows, heart sinking. She felt like crying.
“You seem more upset over the car than you do over your grandmother,” the boy acknowledged simply from behind her, and she instantly wanted to punch him.
She turned around and wrinkled her nose, “Excuse me?”
The boy didn’t look intimidated, but he already felt regret – Lilac’s look was agape, her posture angry, her mind running through the various of offenses that she could throw at him at that moment.
“I mean – when I mentioned your Gran, you were – “
“ – Look, the shit coming out of your mouth right now? Not helping your cause. I don’t have time for this, this – “
A peculiar noise came from up ahead – it sounded like an engine roaring, with a loud BANG following it afterwards. She stopped in her tracks.
She turned to continue to roast him more, but was cut off when the ratatatat of a machine gun a couple miles away reached them. She turned her head instantly away from him and towards the sound, worry swelling up in her gut. Gran – was she safe?
Lilac glanced back at the boy, concern plastered all over his face. She examined his dark brown eyes, big bushy eyebrows, and streaks of blonde in his hair. She could see stubble growing from the ends of his chin as well, as if he hadn’t shaved in a while. She recognized him from somewhere – she couldn’t put her finger on it, but she knew his face.
He opened his mouth to say something, “We’ve – “
Another sporadic scattering of gunshots filled the air. A tank – no a jeep – pulled up, bouncing over a miniscule bump in the road. She saw a flick of the machine gun they had heard earlier, and as if on instinct, the boy took her into a chokehold and backed off into an alley. Unseen.
He let go immediately after, parading Lilac with apologizes in low whispers. She didn’t pay too much attention to him - She stared at the scene before her.
The jeep stopped midway, as if they had not even seen them on the road, and the man driving jumped out of the car. He made his way over to the passenger’s side, pulling out an AK-47 and recharging it, a couple bullets flying out of the bottom.
The man looked about middle-aged, pale as toilet paper and clean-shaven. He had blue eyes and blonde hair, dressed in camo. He held up the gun, handle on his shoulder, and looked around with an intimidating gaze. To Lilac, he looked like a Fred.
“Lilac Drakon,” Fred said, and Lilac furrowed her brows.
The boy gave her an ‘I-told-you-so’ type of look.
“Surrender now or we will eliminate your guardian!” He spun around, eyes wide and searching frantically. She assumed that he was on some sort of task to retrieve her.
Lilac spun around, wide-eyed, looking at the boy. “Okay, look, clearly you’ve got the wrong person. My name is pronounced Lil-ack, not Lile-ack. This guy was saying it all wrong. But just in case you were right, I’ll listen. Only cause your story sort of adds up, and I know for a fact that I won’t be able to get out of here without some help. What the hell do you want?” She inquired, facing him.
The boy’s shoulders fell in relief after she said this. Lilac figured that that retrieving her was what he was here for.
“Alright, I wouldn’t want to take up your time,” he whispered and took her shoulders, steering her into the alley so they were unseen. His hand was hovering over the small of her back, heading further into the alley.
“My name is Altair Drygiro, and I was sent by my father to take you back home. Seventeen years ago, your mother sent you and your older sister, Sayfra, to America to keep you safe. Your guardians were supposed to tell you about your lineage while growing up. Clearly, that didn’t happen,” he started, his voice low.
Altair Drygiro – she knew she recognized the name somewhere, but couldn’t pinpoint it. It reminded her of the history of the War of Order, but she wasn’t sure. Perhaps she was misinterpreting the whole situation. She recognized the face and name – why couldn’t she remember it?
She shook the idea out of her head for a second, “Alright, amazing,” She said, “but that doesn’t explain why I’d need to go all the way to Arogen specifically with you – why didn’t they send anyone else?”
The boy shook his head, “Seventeen years ago, you were bonded and linked with another human. This system was called the soci system, it was a battle tactic that Arogenians use. You were linked with one of my close friends, Lance Ladone, and to this day, we have not yet activated it. I need you to come to Arogen because the Ords have identified you as a Drakon and you’re in danger, and there’s no safer way to know who you can trust so lightly in the village. Please, if you really want proof, I’ll take you – I’ll prove it to you.”
Altair’s dark eyes pleaded to Lilac. It was his only shot – he had come a long way to retrieve the Drakon, and he couldn’t return empty-handed. The look he gave her was pitying, his brows knit together and his sweat glistening with anxiety.
Lilac, on the other hand, wasn’t quite sure of what to make of her situation. She needed to get back to Plato – but with the predicament at hand, she knew she couldn’t escape without any help. Not only that, but after entering Plato, what could guarantee her that her Gran was safe within the city? If it was ransacked, then surely her Gran would have found a safe hiding spot. So, with the prospect of saving her Gran, Lilac nodded her head, while Fred continued to shout from behind them.
“Fine – but that means you help me find my Gran. I’m not going anywhere without her,” she insisted.
Altair considered the middle-ground. He hadn’t much time – but there was no debating with a Drakon, his father had warned him that. “Deal,” he replied.
Chapter 2 – Sayfra
The first time Sayfra saw Leo, it was a dry morning and the beginning of the second semester of Bexley Academy. Bexley was a small, prestigious private school on top of a hill in what her classmates called “southern” Pennsylvania – covered and lathered in rural antiquities such as horse-carriages and windmills. It’s education, however, was essential in modern America, for it was highly valued and difficult to attend. Although she didn’t have the money to attend a school that prestigious, and didn’t know much about the finances at all, she did know that it wasn’t easy to be accepted either – especially if the applicant didn’t have an important name.
What Sayfra knew were facts – 98% of the graduates at Bexley went Rogue, which meant to any of the big universities in the world. That was Drifigor, Eitherciese, Arogen or Eogrien. The fact that Leo had made it to the second semester, the fact that he had miraculously transferred, still didn’t make sense to her. She attempted to do that math: how many credits would it take, approximately, to transfer right in the middle of the year? How many credits did he have to complete over all? How was he already a senior?
Only one thing truly seemed to stand out to her: perhaps he did have a name, which only really meant, perhaps his father did. Being lucky in birth was a factor that went well into the admissions of Bexley, and that wasn’t a fact that Sayfra didn’t consider.
It had been a week and two days that Leo was lingering in Bexley, far too long for Sayfra to be trying to wrap her mind around his existence, but she knew for a fact that she was not, definitely not going to ask him. That just wasn’t the type of person she was.
It was a week and two days when she finally had the opportunity to speak to him, despite the fact that she wasn’t the one who had initiated the conversation.
“Hey, could you pass the ketchup please?”
Sayfra turned and stared at the boy. He was skinny, lanky, and only a couple inches taller than her. His hair was a light brown – not quite maple, but not jet black. It was perfectly combed and lifted in fashion, hints of blonde reflecting on the millions of curls he managed to contain at the top. His eyes looked like they were pleading to her – droopy and round. They were brown, specks of the color of honeydew teasing around his irises.
Sayfra followed his pointer finger towards the other side of the room, and gawked at the crimson substance. She looked back to him and blinked.
“I mean, I guess I can get it myself – “
“– Oh, I got it,” she managed, and grabbed the small packets filled with the disgusting tomato substance. She handed it to him – his skin was kissed by caramel.
Sayfra watched him as he left, thinking for a split second, that everything he had just done was so that he could talk to her. It was not because she was genuinely self-centered, but she knew a solid fact: no one, that meant absolutely no one ever talked to her. She was a tutor – twenty years old living in Bexley, taking extra classes and hammering herself with knowledge for no degree at all. Her students didn’t even speak with her – sometimes they stared in judgment, attempting to figure out the reason she was wasting her life in a small, prissy private school with no plans for her future. She wasn’t treated as a teacher either, and that was why she had to spend her lunches in the student cafeteria – sitting alone at a table next to the lunch ladies. This wasn’t what she usually did, however, and to escape the utter embarrassment that the administration thrusted upon her, she would linger in the library instead.
Concern began to form in her mind as she left the cafeteria and headed towards the jungle of books.
This student – clearly a couple years younger than her, was here for a reason.
The halls of Bexley mimicked its curriculum - straight, narrow, and rigid. What was peculiar was that the walls themselves seemed to grow longer and longer as this thought of the new transfer student continued to dwell in Sayfra’s mind. They seemed endless, like the end of an orchestra where the violins kept repeating the same measurement, to the point where the strings began to rip and tear into the sound barrier.
Why was he here? What did he want? It didn’t make sense. It was the middle of the semester. She felt something behind her.
“Hey – Sayfra!”
She turned. It was the boy.
“Sorry for bothering you, I had a question for you, actually – “
She was right. She knew it. No boy ever pointed like that, not the way that he did. She also remembered his eyes, and how they sparked with excitement, as if he had been wanting to speak to her for a while now. There was something about his posture as well – her mind was racing at this point. This wasn’t good for her, there were too many things to think about, it was like her brain was a computer, functioning on high speed, her monitor running. Yet there was a matter at her hand right now – standing in front of her.
“– It was fine. I don’t mind it at all. Your name is Leo, right?” She inquired, in her most interested, normal voice.
“Yeah. Just Leo, haha,” he leaned against the wall beside him – the straight, rigid one, the one holding up the creaking history of Bexley. He attempted to shrug the name idea away – Sayfra picked up on the fact that he hasn’t yet said his surname, and the other fact that despite her watching him for the week and two days, she still didn’t know his full name. She made a mental note, highlighting the last name in her mind.
He started, “How’d you know?”
She smiled precariously, “Well – Bexley is indeed a small school. A new transfer student, in the middle of the semester – that’s one way to make an entrance.” Her eyes were emotionless, her posture was welcoming. She didn’t lean and she didn’t put weight on a particular foot. She didn’t shift – she stood absolutely still, like a rock, like a tank. She didn’t want to seem like she didn’t know what she was talking about.
It was barely a whisper off his lips when he spoke, “intriguing,” like he didn’t mean for her to catch it, but no – Sayfra caught everything. She saw every detail.