The quiet city sat motionless under the blue light of Sendes. Va’il, Darius, Var, Zeick, Pete, Geon, and Kelin slowly approached the city a step at a time. The journey to Tershi and back was supposed to take one day; however, they had taken two, and were returning to the city on the night of the second day. Darius and Var would soon regret that they had done that. The laughing and eating they had enjoyed that morning were forgotten once they spoke with the guards at the northern gate.
“What? Is that really true?” Darius asked in a panic.
“I’m sorry sir. I’m really sorry. I wish it wasn’t,” the guard said while wiping his eyes.
“Mercy.” Darius uttered only one word, and then rushed off. He left the six others behind without looking back.
“Sorry children. Duty calls. Go home, quickly.” Var jogged away in the direction that Darius had headed.
The five boys didn’t know what to say. Pete looked down at the ground, and looked like he was about to cry. Zeick had lost the playful expression that he always had. He didn’t have anything that could lighten the impact of what he had heard. Geon looked dejected, but he didn’t seem as affected as the rest. After all, he was a foreigner. Kelin had not a word, nor a book, to say or read. It was Va’il, though, who took the first action. He walked away without looking at the rest. He headed home without looking up or looking behind him.
“Va’il,” Mai’ou said softly as she looked down at the boy. He stood silently, his hand still outstretched from when he knocked on the door.
“Home. Safe,” Va’il muttered.
“Yeah, you are,” Mai’ou said as she knelt down and hugged him. Her wet face touched Va’il’s cheek. He swallowed with some difficulty when he realized she had been crying for a very long time. She eventually stood and brought Va’il inside the house. The door slowly closed and latched behind them.
Rising had always been a loud city. Celebrations and parades were common. There were arenas and theaters for entertainment and large gatherings. Several unique games were always being played by the large number of children that freely ran through the streets. The city was filled with people who benefited from being in the capitol, so crime was low as well. Royal guards that were specially trained and incredibly talented didn’t hesitate to help the populace in any way possible. At night, one could lay on their roof and watch Sendes light the city in a soft hue of blue that complemented the many buildings well. It certainly wasn’t the most spectacular of cities, but its focus on being pleasant made it a wonderfully lively and pleasantly noisy place to live. Even the poorer area of the city was filled with farmers and soldiers that lived a relatively satisfying life of pleasantries and revelries. However, never had the city been as quiet as it was that night.
Va’il awoke early the next day. His mind swirled as he tried separating dreams from reality. He had to ask himself, is King Fidel really dead? He hoped it was a dream. He hoped he was still dreaming. He hoped that the dream was realistic enough to cause the heavy feeling he had in his chest. But the grim reality presented itself quickly once Va’il stood up. He wanted to lie back down, but for some reason he felt that sleep would be frightening. He felt drained emotionally, and wanted something to do. He wanted to occupy himself. He went to his closet. He flung off what he was wearing, and put on clothes that were not clean. Though he had been gone for two days, Mai’ou had not done his laundry. He wore the cleanest of the dirty clothes he had.
Once he had cleaned his face, he checked the kitchen. It was silent. The fire was dead. The icebox’s ice needed to be replenished. Cooking utensils were strewn about. It looked like Mai’ou had used things to make herself something to eat, then didn’t clean up after herself. It was an odd sight. Va’il pulled a ceramic bowl out of the icebox. Cold meat that tasted wonderful made its way down his throat.
“Mum, you in there?” Va’il asked when he knocked on Mai’ou’s door. He didn’t get an answer.
“Mum?” he asked again as he entered the room. He walked over to Mai’ou’s bed and put his hand on the sleeping woman’s shoulder. She opened her eyes slightly.
“Va’il?” she asked quietly. She had puffy eyes and red cheeks.
“Yeah. Just tired. Be good and don’t skip school,” she said while putting effort into a smile. Va’il left the room and prepared a meal in the kitchen. He came back a little while later with warm stew and bread. Mai’ou had fallen asleep again, so he left it in the room.
Va’il wondered whether there would be school or not, considering the circumstances. He also didn’t want to leave Mai’ou’s side. He had never seen her act like this before.
Seeing other children on the way to school reassured Va’il. He overheard that yesterday there was no school due to the announcement about the king’s death. Overall, though, it seemed like the city was quieter than usual. All the kids that were on the road were quiet and walking slowly. No one was overly energetic, as expected. A familiar sight soon provided some comfort to Va’il.
“Hey Zeick,” Va’il said. Zeick turned around.
“Hi. Gloomy day, isn’t it?” Zeick looked up. The sunny day didn’t coincide with Zeick’s words.
“The rain in your heart doesn’t match the sun on your head,” Kelin said. He had arrived almost out of nowhere. Trailing behind him was Pete.
“I don’t really have anything,” Zeick mumbled. He meant that he didn’t have a witty retort of any kind.
“My mom was baking all of yesterday. I have some if you all want,” Pete said as he arrived in the circle. The sweet bread he offered further denied the bitter mood that lingered in the air. It was delicious, and just what someone the age of a child needed when every adult around them was emotional and heartbroken.
They arrived at school earlier than normal, and each of them went their own direction before class started. Va’il walked the halls of the school while watching everyone around him. He listened in as a couple hares praised a few of Fidel’s impulsive decisions. He heard a few deeri talking about the history of the kingdom. Some bearans were arguing over what could have happened if a couple of wars had gone differently. Va’il didn’t pay too much heed. He mostly just wandered, watching people.
Even Riley’s gang had calmed down for the day. Va’il walked up to them and said hello. The rivals nodded silently in acknowledgement, and then went back to discussing whatever plans they were making. It sounded like plans for a study group, but Va’il left without overhearing anything more.
Eventually Va’il made his way to the rooftop. He breathed in the fresh air a few times. He looked towards the elementary section and admired the big tree in front of one of his old classrooms. He laughed as a couple younger kids, oblivious to the worries of the world around them, fell face-first into a pile of sand. He took another look at everything, and then went back inside the building.
“You!” Va’il said with surprise. He had just turned a corner and seen a sight he was not expecting.
“Me?” Ruby, who was standing in the hallway, asked. She looked at Va’il for a moment, and then her face lit up. “Oh! You!”
“What are you doing here?” Va’il asked in disbelief. He stared as the older girl wearing the yellow dress smiled.
“Ah, this. Well, I go to school here. Starting today. Against my will, really. So, you’re a student here too?” Ruby asked.
“Yes, but, what? Today? Why? How come? Why have you appeared now, and here, of all times? I’ve been wondering how I’d find you!” Va’il said.
“You’ve been trying to find me? Really?” Ruby asked happily.
“Yes, of course,” Va’il said without realizing that Ruby was misunderstanding his intentions, “I thought there would be no possible way I could see you again. Again, why are you here, if it’s against your will?”
“My mother, after years of keeping me separate from other children, just the other day came home being stranger than she ever had before. She said that I had to go to Makeen. Something about finding a boy who’s a student here. He’s got a hidden identity or something important, I guess. So, she forced me to go to school. Not that I mind, really, but it’s not what I’m used to. But I don’t think it’ll be so bad if there is someone I know here,” Ruby said while still smiling.
“Really? Who? Wait, no, first, I have to ask you something. It’s really important,” Va’il said with all seriousness. Ruby stopped smiling and pretended to be just as serious.
A sudden crash interrupted Va’il. Both Ruby and Va’il ran to a window to see what had happened. The maroon had arrived. A portion of the eastern wall had been destroyed, and people were fleeing from their houses. Soldiers were running in droves towards the disturbance, and the ones that had already encountered the maroon were being thrown out of the way with ease. The maroon had arrived in full force. Va’il saw enough maroon to fill the cavern under Tershi, and in every size he had seen before. One maroon was as large as the wall itself, and had been the one to knock it down.
Va’il saw in the schoolyard below many running children being herded by the teachers towards an auditorium. Va’il spotted two of the children running in the opposite direction, towards the maroon. A flash of red; it was Kelin and Zeick. Va’il scanned the area until he saw Pete, trailing far behind the other two.
“What were you going to ask?” Ruby asked the empty spot where Va’il had been. She sighed after she asked. Va’il hadn’t hesitated to run away.