Chapter 1: Axel Knight
The man in black stepped onto the edge of the roof and launched himself into the air, straight into the blizzard. The cold stung his face, and for a moment he was blind as he fell. Then the solid concrete of the next roof along came into view, and he hit the ground in a run. His joints ached, his leg muscles cried out in protest at the sudden movement, but the sensation was quickly washed away. After two hours of standing stock-still on that frozen rooftop, he welcomed the chase.
The man heard his pursuer land somewhere behind, and he allowed himself a tiny smile as he cleared the rooftop in three strides. He reached the edge and flung himself off yet again, swinging his sword in front as if to cut through the blizzard. It didn’t matter if he was heading for another rooftop or a solid brick wall. If there was no path, he would make one.
It was a wall. He thrust out his free hand half-a-second before the collision. A chunk of the wall vanished, and he fell straight through and onto a dusty wooden floor in a crouch.
The hand he used to steady himself was the one holding his double-ended sword, and the man in black caught a glimpse of his reflection in the sudden break from the storm. His black hair, beard and coat were encrusted with white from the blizzard. The wraith-like appearance amused him, but there was no time to ponder. The man leapt up from his crouch and cleared the room in two jumps, splaying his hand to form a path and passing through the newly-created gap in the wall, back into the howling gale.
There was the sound of grinding steel. Twisting in mid-air, the man in black saw a slender figure in a flak jacket leaping at him, jagged knives in both hands. They clashed in mid-air, trading a series of blows that filled the sky above the city with the sound of ringing metal. The man in black managed to push his assailant away with a palm strike to the shoulder, and they both landed with inhuman grace on yet another roof, mere feet apart.
The man spun his sword in a circle, revelling in the conflict but also cautious. His enemy was unknown. When facing an officer, ‘unknown’ was the swiftest path to death. The pursuer’s dark-blonde hair was tossed back and forth by the wind, but his gaze was unflinching. His knives vanished, and he raised his left hand up to the right side of his head, as if he were preparing for a backhand blow. In that instant, the blizzard halted.
Every snowflake lay suspended in the air. The wind had met a sudden demise, and the rooftop was plunged into silence. Slowly, the officer lowered his arm and raised his palm facing upwards. The snow in his immediate area began to move, swirling around him like a personal shield. The man in black remained motionless. No one had truly made a move. Not yet.
Exactly what the officer planned to do with the blizzard, or even the very nature of his Ability, the man on black would never know. His eyes snapped to his left, and he noticed that a white-clad figure had caught hold of his wrist. The man in black relaxed, although he was disappointed.
The officer attempted to break the hold, but it was as if he were in the grip of a statue. The colour drained from his face, and he collapsed to one knee, face contorted with pain. The white figure still hadn’t moved. Finally, the officer went limp, and his wrist was dropped along with the rest of him. The man in black strode over to meet the newcomer as the blizzard steadily began to swirl again.
“It will happen soon,” said the man in white, his expression neutral.
“The one you’ve been waiting for?”
For a moment, the only sound was the rushing wind.
“Where will I find him?” continued the man in black, giving up on his previous question. The man in white paused before answering, his head tilted to one side like he was listening to the voice of the storm.
“Then I will not fail you.”
The white-clad man turned to go.
“Who is he?”
The man in white strode past the downed officer, apparently not hearing. He kept walking until he reached the edge of the roof. Whether he allowed himself to fall, jumped, or simply walked into the air was impossible to tell. He was simply swallowed by the ravenous blizzard. The man in black stretched out a hand over the helpless figure, speaking both to himself and the officer on the ground.
“Between you and me…I’m tired of waiting. He’d better be right about this one.”
If the brave warrior Xael had to give this dragon a rating out of all the dragons he’d fought, this one was probably averaging a seven. The dragon was very evil, for he had done evil things and had red eyes, so it was really obvious. Still, it wasn’t like he’d roasted any orphans, so he was far from a perfect score. He was practically one tragic backstory away from being an anti-villain.
Princess Tsuki watched from below, hands clasped together and worry written on her face. Xael forced his eyes away from his true love’s visage- it was a very pretty visage- and focused on the flesh-eating beast as it released a torrent of deadly flame. As in, more deadly flame than your regular, garden-variety flame. He held out a hand and the fire diffused as it struck the ancient rune, causing the dragon to screech in frustration.
“Closer, Fortunata!” cried Xael, and his noble winged steed hastened to comply. Riding along the dragon’s underside, he unsheathed his Blade of Valour and dealt a gaping wound to the foul creature. Fortunata darted through a cloudbank to avoid the lashing tail.
“You shall die, worthless insect!” the dragon howled, because it could also talk, obviously. It blasted a stream of silver flame towards its foe, but Xael managed to catch the blaze on his sword and hurl it back in the form of a fireball, because I guess the sword is magic now. Seeing an advantage, the dragon breathed another stream of fire that smashed straight into the oncoming attack and altered its course towards the helpless princess, because again, magic. Xael watched in horror as Princess Tsuki was consumed by the blaze-
And…cut, Axel thought, lifting his head off the desk and frowning. This is an action-thriller. Xael doesn’t need the emotional baggage.
Xael watched in horror as Princess Tsuki was consumed by the blaze, only to sigh in relief as he saw that she had activated her Gemstone Shield in the nick of time. Tsuki banished the flames with a wave of her hand, did a few kung-fu poses and flew to join Xael in the sky, because sure, she can fly.
“Let us end this, my love,” she said, her turquoise eyes full of resolve. Xael nodded, and they placed their hands together. The gemstone lit up with unfathomable power, now fuelled by Xael’s ancient runes and probably like ancient power or something. The dragon roared and charged towards the duo, but it was too late; Tsuki whispered the mystic words and-
What is Tsuki’s motivation here? Axel thought, jerking his head up once again. First she’s just watching, now she’s an all-powerful sorceress? Was she just watching because it was fun?
The saga would’ve reached its nail-biting conclusion if Axel hadn’t noticed his maths teacher looking in his direction. Burying himself in his work, the boy waited until he was no longer being watched before sinking back into his vivid daydream.
Now…how about some evil cyborgs?
The world was a very disappointing place, and Axel Knight seemed to be the only one who noticed.
Exiting the building that served as his daily mental jail, Axel kept his head low until he was a good way down the street. It was only his second day, and he was in no mood for being sociable. He hoped this would help his classmates categorize him as the silent, mysterious type. It was that or ‘brooding, antisocial and weird’. If it made people leave him alone, he could work with either.
He could feel the gaze of a group of girls as he made his escape, probably because they were wondering what type of dye he used. Axel could hardly blame them; he’d never seen anyone else with blood red hair who didn’t get the colour from a bottle. Somehow it managed to be messy despite being short, a few strands of which he’d managed to wrangle into some makeshift spikes.
They weren’t admiring his toned arms (that didn’t exist) or his captivating eyes (a dull blue). It was definitely the hair.
Risking a glance over his shoulder, he saw students happily chatting on the front steps of the school. In his mind’s eye, the windows of the school shattered with explosive synchronization. Panic was immediate, with all happy conversation ceasing as people screamed and tried to shelter from the falling glass. Lava burst upwards from underneath the ground. Lasers of unknown origin rained from the sky. Then Axel blinked, and the world was normal again.
Turning away with a small smile, he crossed the road and took the shortcut through the park. This turned out to be a mistake, as his chest began to ache with a dull pain, and the colour seemed to seep from the world just a little bit more than usual. Every time, and always when he was alone with no distractions. It was longing, as he’d discovered after years of searching for the right word. For what, he had no idea.
“Nope,” he told himself out loud. “Not gonna happen.”
Axel picked up a stick and imagined it to be something thoroughly out-of-the-ordinary. Today it transformed into a broadsword. He could see it as if it were in front of him, with a gleaming silver blade and a jewel-encrusted gold hilt. It was also on fire. Green fire.
Axel held it at arm’s length, pointing at some invisible foe, then swiped through the air, hearing the whistle of the wind. He stabbed forward, imagining some misshapen creature screeching as its ugly presence was erased. Satisfied that his foe was vanquished, Axel hefted the stick onto his shoulder. He then realised it was supposed to be on fire and flung it into the nearby river, fighting the urge to check for burns. There were no burns. The fire wasn’t real.
It was then that Axel noticed the man in a black trench coat standing a little way off, fixing the boy with an intense gaze.
Axel stared back. His gaze wandered to the river, where the ripples could still be seen from the impact of the stick.
Yeah, that’s probably it.
Their uncomfortable staring competition ended when Axel shouldered his bag, shot the man an uncomfortable smile and headed on his way. Even with the man lost from sight, the boy still felt the gaze on the back of his neck.
Axel’s foster house was an unremarkable white building on a quiet street, just one of many. It had no turrets, interesting windows or oaken doors. His searching had yielded no sign of secret passageways, mysterious locked rooms, haunted lofts or enormous trees that children could potentially climb all the way up to the sky, where they would have dangerous adventures without adult supervision. The garden was small and well-tended, the building itself was new and un-haunted and the doors to every room lay open, as if proudly proclaiming that nothing of interest lay within. Axel had closed his door on purpose as he’d left that morning, just for a sliver of mystique.
As the boy climbed the stairs, he half-hoped the door to his room would blast open by itself, perhaps with a flash of light or mini-explosion. As per usual he was disappointed, and he was forced to open the door manually, sighing as he did so. Dumping his bag, Axel removed his tie and cast it onto the floor, where- despite his waning hopes- it did not burst into flame or turn into a snake that would dispense wise, prophetic advice.
He threw himself onto the bed, stretched out with his hands behind his head. The ceiling was still the same bland white colour it had been when he had woken up that morning.
This is life, Axel thought, squinting at the plain white plaster in the hopes that it would make a difference. Get up, go to school, smile at people, graduate, get a job, retire, die. Maybe that’s when things get interesting.
The feeling returned. With a grunt, Axel grabbed the top book from the pile next to his bed and flicked to a random chapter. It was a story about a demigod detective who solved crimes committed by evil fairies.
It was ridiculous, childish and totally unbelievable. Axel was immersed within minutes.
Outside the window, unknown to the room’s occupant, a dark-haired man stood staring intently upward, twirling a long, thin object in his hands.
“Perhaps,” he muttered, though upon inspecting every inch of the house, his brow furrowed in disappointment. Sighing, he dropped the object in disgust and placed both hands in his pockets.
Casting his eyes left and right, the man dissolved into a blue mist, leaving behind a slightly damp stick that had only recently been a flaming sword.