Mona felt anything but at home here. She and her father had just arrived in this city, but she already missed her old, familiar home.
The brunette teen stood with her back against the wind, so that she would not get any more sand in her dark eyes. Her long, dark-brown hair became messy at once, but she couldn’t care less. Stepping back into the car was not an option; the air conditioner had stopped working a few minutes ago and she did not want to feel like a cookie in an oven. Not that it was much better outside, but at least now she did not feel like her lungs were singed because of the hot air.
This place reminded her more of the Wild West or the Middle Ages than the average suburb. She could not spot any other cars on the sandy road. In fact, Mona would not be surprised if she suddenly saw carriages and horses. The wooden, somewhat creaky-looking houses did not look like they could withstand an average storm. The houses with the thatched roofs were in an even worse state; the chipped paint on the doors looked truly hideous.
I sure hope that our house is in a better state, Mona thought to herself, since it did not look like the people who lived here could afford warm water, let alone internet.
This was not how she had imagined a suburb to look like at all. To say that she was disappointed would be an understatement. Sure, Mona understood more than anyone that her father needed a fresh start after her mother passed away. He needed to be somewhere where he wasn’t constantly reminded of his deceased wife. That was the only reason why Mona had not protested when her father had announced that he had gotten a new job offer on the other side of the world. To be honest, this was less painful for Mona too. She could see herself go back to her hometown some day, but first she had to deal with the terrible loss in her own way.
Maybe she had read too many thrillers, but the teen got the awful feeling that some people were watching her. On the other hand, that wasn’t such a surprise, since a new car was a sharp contrast against the almost Middle Aged background.
At that moment, Mona’s father walked out of the nearest pub. ”We have to be on the other side of the river apparently. The river serves as a border between the new and the old part of the city.”
“…Yeah, I can see that last part,” was her dry response.
Mona opened the car door and was about to step into their car when they heard a scream, coming from the other side of the square. Surprised, she turned back around to see what caused all the commotion.
“What in the actual-”
Out of the blue, at least ten masked men, wearing only black, ran over to the little square, resembling an anthill. She could only see their eyes, for they wore a matching hood over their nose and mouth. On each of their right arms, they wore a black-and-white handkerchief with a golden image on it (she was standing too far away from them to see what it was). The majority of the men were armed with either swords or rapiers. Those of them who were unarmed, spread across the square as soon as they could, wearing heavy crates with what seemed to be food and medicines. All those crates had been stacked upon a tilt car, which was now left behind on the square itself.
Soon enough, other men appeared, rushing past Mona and her father. These figures wore navy blue uniforms and they were armed with swords as well. “Where are those thieves?” one of them, probably the leader, called.
When one other man in blue uniform spotted a man in black, they promptly started fighting each other.
Mona could only wonder if she had landed in the middle of a movie. Most civilians had disappeared back into their houses at this point, closing their doors and windows.
“What’s happening?” Mona’s father asked to a random passersby.
The wrinkly old man, one of the very few people who dared to be outside at this moment, explained patiently, “Members of the Order of the Disciplinarians fight with the rebels, probably because the rebels stole food from the New City. The rebels usually do mischievous things like that, but the problem is that no one knows what part of the Old City supports their group and whwat part doesn’t. That’s why the Order punishes all of us by cutting our water and food supplies, which in turn causes the rebels to steal more things from the New City. It’s a neverending circle, really.”
When Mona saw how innocent people who got in the way (sometimes even children!) were being attacked, she instinctively ran towards the violence, grabbed a rapier from one of the fallen members of the Order and blocked a stray rebel’s way, who tried to get away.
“Get out of my way. I’m not here to fight you,” the young man said impatiently, while trying to step around Mona.
“Why, because I’m a girl?”
“No, because you’re inexperienced.”
She thought about that for a moment, still not moving out of the way. Then she said, “Oh yeah? Then I challenge you to a fight.”
He rolled his eyes, trying to get around her once again, but failing because she kept mirroring his steps perfectly.
“Look, I’m not here to play around.”
Mona kept the rapier directed towards him, stating, “And I’m not kidding.”
“Fine, have it your way.”
The young man sighed, but to her big surprise, he opened the attack by disarming her with his own rapier in one swift move. “Lesson one,” he started, “Don’t hold your weapon too loosely, or else that’s what happens.”
Mona quickly dug forwards to grab her weapon from the ground, but he didn’t attack her until she was ready to strike again.
“Lesson two, this is how you block your opponent’s blow,” he continued, while demonstrating to her the right way to hold her weapon.
Within a minute, the stranger had taught her the basic technique of fencing. One time she accidentally almost poked him in the eye in her enthusiasm, causing the mask on his face to fall on the floor.
“Easy there! I teach you how to defend yourself and you thank me by nearly poking my eyes out?” he said, quasi offended.
She blushed furiously at that. “Sorry, that was an accident!”
Now that she could see his face, Mona had to admit that this guy wasn’t exactly lacking on the looks department, what with his piercing steelblue eyes and layered, darkbrown hair. Unfortunately for her, their mini course was interrupted abruptly when two disciplinarians attacked the stranger at the same time. He managed to disarm both of them, be it with some trouble. Mona quickly stepped back, giving them all the space. Now, the handsome stranger climbed on the tilt car that they had used to transport the food with. Once he stood on top of it, he gave his accomplices a sign to retreat. Before the members of the Order knew what hit them, the rebels had disappeard out of sight.
A couple bystanders came over to Mona, asking her if she was alright.
She was probably the most surprised of all. Just who was that mysterious swordsman?
Fortunately for Mona, her new home was located in the modern part of the city, which meant that they had internet, an elevator and warm water. More importantly, she didn’t have to fear any random attacks from resistance fighters. The brunette girl had never lived in an apartment before, but she could see herself get used to this. Her own bedroom had a decent view of the nearby park. Her dad was less lucky, since that side of the apartment looked over the shared courtyard and vegetable garden. Everyone in the flat had his own spot.
Honestly, Mona did not feel much for spending more time in the older part of the city, which was called the Old City by the townsfolk. The only reason she did not tell her father what she really thought about the Old City was the fact that he seemed to be so happy now that he had finally found a client. She could not bring her heart to saying no when he asked to come along with her to his meeting. That was how half an hour later, she found herself in some small, dark pub, where it smelled like beer, sweat and sigarettes. Mona had to breathe through her mouth in order not to vomit.
At the moment, she was sitting at a small table all by herself, inspecting the other people in the bar silently. Her eyes travelled randomly across the room as she tried to memorize everything. Something told her that she would have to come here more often. She came to the conclusion that this had to be a popular bar among the poorer citizens, because the place was packed. It was hard to see why, though, because everything was so old and dirty. She saw how quotes and random names were written on most of the wooden tables.
At that moment, her eye fell on a dark-haired, lonely figure, dressed in a long black coat. He was sitting on her far right, next to the window. His layered hair was messy and he was huddled up, reading some book. Wasn’t that the same handsome swordsman that had given her a basic course on fencing the other day? She quinted slightly in order to see him better. Yes, it was most definitely him.
Before she could stop herself, Mona got up from her seat and walked over to him.
“Why didn’t you attack me?” she asked him, when she had reached the table.
She had spoken so loud that she got the attention of a few other people near her, but Mona simply ignored them.
The young rebel looked up from his book, a light frown still plastered on his face, and she could tell that he was surprised to see her here. Her heart skipped a beat when they locked eyes.
“I already told you, you’re inexperienced. And we weren’t after you.”
As an afterthought, he added, “By the way, it’s dangerous to be out here on your own, especially if you’re new around here.”
She frowned. “How did you know I’m new around here?”
He smirked. “The car, mostly. Had you gone any further, it would've stopped working altogether. I’ve never seen you before, either. And I always remember faces. And you have a light accent.”
He lifted a brow at that.
“And I’m not alone,” she continued, ignoring the look he gave her. “I’m here with my dad actually.”
He put his pencil between the book he was reading and closed it. “What for?”
“He’s doing business,” she said, as she pointed towards her father’s direction.
His gaze slid from her father to the person he was talking to, before he asked, “What does your father do for a living?”
“He’s a smith.”
Mona’s dark eyes travelled from the book he had been engrossed in to the symbol that he had drawn in his little notebook. The symbol looked a lot like two entwined letters: the T and the P. A whole network of ornamentation encircled the two letters.
“What is that?”
“You don’t know that much about the feuds of this place, do you?”
“No, not really,” she admitted, already starting to feel a little embarrassed. “Why do you ask?”
He sighed, shaking his head. “No wonder you moved here. If you had known about everything, you wouldn’t have come to Tripoleis of all places. I feel bad for you, new one.”
Mona could no longer hide her annoyance at the way he treated her. “Look, are you going to tell me or do I have to find out by myself?”
“Fine, fine. I’m Leonardo by the way, but I prefer Leo.”
He extended a hand towards her, which she shook while introducing herself. “Mona.”
Leo removed his heavy, outworn bag from the chair next to him and put it on the table instead. He nodded to the now vacant chair and said, “Have a seat. It’s a long story.”
She did as she was told and gave him an expectant gaze.
“Look, Mona. This is what’s going on in Tripoleis: it’s been years since the inhabitants of the Old City have been looking for a hidden book that holds all the answers to our questions. If we’re able to find that book, we can look for a way to end all this. We can let the whole world know about the government’s secrets and this way we can finally confront them and deal with our poverty. Maybe then we’ll finally be freed from their clutches.”
“What are those secrets supposed to be then?” Mona inquired.
She had unconsciously gotten closer to him, sitting on the edge of her seat. His voice had dropped an octave, so that no one could listen in on them.
“That they’re stealing our magic and experiment on our flora and fauna for example, because they know that together, we’re much stronger than they can ever be. That they have been poisoning our hearts, bodies and minds for ages, so that ‘our kind’ gets rooted out. Why do you think there’s such a big difference between the Old City and the New City? They steal our resources and keep all the good things to themselves.”
Mona gave him a disbelieving look. This guy had clearly lost his mind and now he wanted to involve her in this…whatever ‘this’ was.
“Magic? Seriously? You couldn’t possibly come up with something better than wizards and witches?”
He frowned, nearly looking disappointed. “I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Well give me one reason as to why I shouldn’t think you’re crazy,” she said, challenging him.
Leo gave her a piercing glance. Suddenly, the cup of soda she was holding onto flew straight out of her hand and landed in his outstretched fingers. He took a contemplative sip of it, eyeing her the whole time.
Her mouth dropped open in astonishment. “Did you just-?”
“Maybe,” he said, not being able to hide the beginnings of a smirk.
“How did you do that?”
“So you actually believe me now?”
“Do it again,” she demanded, while taking her glass away from him again.
“You do realize that magic costs extra energy? Energy that I need now that everyone knows I’m with the rebels thanks to you?”
Mona took that as a ‘No.’
She slumped back in her seat, a little disappointed. That was when her gaze caught the strange seal in his notebook again. There was something about that seal that caught her attention.
“Wait a minute, I know that seal. I’ve seen it somewhere before…”
Now it was his turn to be surprised. “Really?”
Mona closed her eyes as she tried her hardest to recall where she had seen that seal before. It could not have been too long ago and it was definitely after she had met Leo…
“Oh, now I remember! I found a book at home earlier. I think that it had this exact same seal on the cover.”
She had found the book yesterday when she had unpacked some of the moving boxes. The old inhabitants of the house had left behind some of their belongings, a few closets for example. Most of them had been empty, but Mona had found a couple horror movies here and there. Under her bed she had found a loose floorboard that turned out to be the perfect hiding place for candy and the thickest book she had ever seen. The brown-colored book had a lock that she had failed to pry open; she even broke a nail during her attempts. On the cover, she saw a symbol that she had never seen before. It looked like some royal seal. Mona had thought that it either had something to do with this city’s history or with the previous inhabitants of the apartment.
She had gotten her answer now.
“Can I see it then?”
“I can bring it over to you if you’d like,” she offered. “How about we meet up again tomorrow, same time, same place?”
He thought about it for a moment. “Okay, but be discreet about it.”
“No, I was going to announce to the whole world that I found what you’re looking for,” she said sarcastically, before getting up. “I have to go now, it looks like my dad’s done here.”
He nodded. “Alright. Be careful. And maybe you shouldn’t tell your father yet. You know, just in case.”
After she promised that, she got up and left Leo.
Sometimes you knew that these were the last minutes of your life. That was when all kinds of images flew through your head, while you desperately went looking for that one moment that was the cause of your current predicament, the reason that you had gotten in trouble.
“Game over, punk. Give up and we won’t hurt you…that much,” the Disciplinarian growled, while stepping closer to her.
She knew that she was trapped; she was surrounded by six Disciplinarians after all. Admittedly, she was ‘street-smart’, but there was no way that she could take on six trained soldiers all by herself. Perhaps she would have had a right to a fair trial if she had not accidentally maimed a Disciplinarian. However, by the looks of it, she would just be executed in the townsquare, so that she could be an example to all the other daredevils who had no trouble breaking the rules. A ‘public execution that served general prevention’ is what they called that.
What a load of bull.
It was a good thing that they did not know that her death would set everything into motion. If what she had discovered was the truth, then the times of hunger and suppression were over. Her blood would paint the town square red, but that would be the chain that would alarm everyone.
“It has started. The New Age has begun! Now it’s our turn, enemies of the light!” an old woman in the crowd screamed.
It was something she should not have done, for she was seized by the Disciplinarians for her impertinence. Obviously, the woman would not get a fair trial, either.
The old woman’s haunting words still reverberated in Mona’s head when she woke up from her nightmare, worlds away. She would not be the only one who would not be able to sleep because of this bloody scene that kept replaying over and over in her head…