A Call to Arms
I wasn’t as lucky as some think I am…
Ignoring the skipping to Senior Year, the humongous 16th birthday festival I had, being an honor student and including the three weeks I spent in bed being so cranky even my mother was afraid of me and… Wait, I am getting carried away aren't I?
I do apologize for that, I tend to do that often…
See, the thing is, most above average 16 year old male students don’t expect to go on an end of term trip to Spain, only to get caught by a bunch of girls in spandex whose tomboyish leader just says “oh sorry, but I have to kill you”. Neither do they expect a gorgeous, rich Spaniard girl with a ZWEIHANDER to save them from a humongous, 50 feet tall frost giant and then tell them with a very bright smile that they descend from a guy that supposedly died nearly a millennium ago.
So, if you’re reading this, do yourself a favor. Wipe that dumb smile you’re very likely to have from your face and stay put. If you’ve had any weird dreams or feelings recently, my only recommendation is that you stay indoors for a week... or two… yeah, that’d probably help. You have much better stuff to do on summer vacations than run around Europe running after someone who stole a valuable family heirloom, fleeing from an Slavic old werewolf, an army of very irate cyborg girls and a Korean princess hell bent on saving her kingdom by dooming our world. Not to mention having to deal with a mysterious woman who might or might not be a long lost relative, a bunch of demigods whose divine parents somehow decided to send after your ass for no good reason, a couple demons and vampires who are after you because one of their coven or whatever is smitten with you and a bunch of god slayers who want to prevent the second coming of Jesus for no good reason…
So yeah, I’ll just start from square one so that you might not be so confused. Just don’t say I didn’t tell you. I won’t be held responsible for ruining your summer and potentially an entire school year. Not like school will still be a thing after all is said and done. I have a feeling it won’t.
I am Amaranth Graves. And I used to be a normal kid…
And now I am a legendary teen hero and apparently, a legend among other teen heroes, which are plentiful in our world, however hard it might be to believe.
I am Amaranth Graves... and I am a Cruciator.
"Right... Almost done now" I said, feeling tired at last.
I had spent most of the afternoon packing up for our class trip. Since the Summer Vacations were almost here, we Seniors had decided to travel to Europe. So I had to pack for the heat and potentially, for the cold as well.
The reason was I was going to Spain. Yes, I was visiting the country that discovered America.
Since I went to a school for rich artsy types, they were able to secure a trip to "home of the bulls, paella and flamenco" without much trouble. Yes, I was able to attend that kind of school, mostly because I didn't lack money, so to speak, but also because I was scouted for talent by one of the school's agents.
Helps when the owner of the school is also the mother of one of your two best friends.
Even now, I wondered how that happened. The arrangement was weird.
I am fabulous... and sarcastic too...
My mother was a Spaniard from Madrid, further, a Dubliner. No kidding. I was perhaps one of the few people in South Africa who could claim Spanish and Irish heritage. Ironically, I had never visited either country or left South Africa for that matter… well... I did, but mostly to visit the US or Canada. I was an European who hadn’t visited much of Europe except for a one-off school trip to Berlin and Summer camp in a part of Russia I don't recall (It was an small town and we didn't make stops, sue me!). Don’t ask me about the Mediterranean because I have never seen it.
And I sure as hell wouldn't die until I had seen Greece.
Their heritage seemed to have had a strange effect on my appearance. While both of my parents were very pale (and I was aware of the running gag regarding all of those who speak Spanish being dark skinned) and I mean Londoner pale, they had bright red (my father) and copper brown hair. My sister (and yes, I had one) had inherited my father’s hair color and green eyes. I, however, had somehow decided I couldn’t decide (oxymorons are moronic after all, my name itself was living proof of that) and wound up with auburn hair. Unlike my sister, who loved to keep it in a short pixie cut to compliment her “girly tomboy” (there I go again) appearance, I had taken my mother’s hair style as well, growing it and tying it to a low hanging ponytail. Good thing since I liked long hair and the ponytail reached my knees… Then again, I wasn’t particularly tall either. 5′10” is relatively short for an Spanish South African Dubliner. As for eyes, I had taken my mother’s, but unlike hers, mine were a bit paler, giving my “feminine” features the contrast they needed alongside my bangs to look sharper. Some people said if looks could kill, I’d be a death's scythe. Not like I believed any of that though. I looked a bit too ethereal for my liking at times. The fact that the sun's heat was never 'too hot' for my liking convinced me of this...
So... after strolling into my first class and plopping down on the furthest desk to the back, I left my thoughts drift around in my head and momentarily fell asleep. Thankfully, I didn't choose the spot for no good reason. I was in the back of the class since it meant I ran no risk of getting busted and this class was particularly boring. Add to that that I hadn’t been able to get some good sleep recently and I decided to simply snooze for a while whilst the class went on.
After answering some questions for my math teacher and musing some more about what I would be doing during summer vacations, which were due to start two days from now on Friday I decided to stop and fetch my Surface tablet from my locker. I would be needing a small Halo 5 fix if I was to stay awake during the rest of the classes.
Needless to say, the day passed rapidly after that and I found myself in my third to last class, History, before I realized it.
History was probably one of the easiest classes one could ever take. Numbers aside, the story was almost always something about an explorer, a knight, a corrupt king or politician and the beaten to death battle of ideals. I found myself, despite my best efforts, falling asleep during the teacher’s (Mr Donovan if I was right) lecture about El Cid, which was pretty much Spanish King Arthur. Sword? Check; Lordship over a city? Check; Apocryphal return, Jesus style? Check, check and bloody check.
So as I dreamed, I couldn’t help but let the echo of the lecture get to me and turn my dream into a reenactment of the story about how El Cid died…
…The hook? We were at the part were the guy was getting ready to ride throughout the streets of Valencia while he was dead.
The jarring thing about this particular dream though was that the man in rust and gold armor was still alive here! His face was darkened and his visage, which something told me was rather soft for a man his age, looked like it had seen better days, but I could see his eyes flickering from side to side and the rising and falling of his chest even through all that armor. He turned towards his troops, a bunch of knights riding mares and decked in even heavier looking armor and then spoke:
“People of Valencia! Regardless of your heritage, regardless of who you worship or even regardless of what happens after this fight, I want you to remember it as the day you decided that living together was worth dying for! I want you to remember this occasion and never forget it ever again. Let the world know we stand united, Christians, Jews and Moors, all under one banner and that we won’t go down without a fight!”
As the troops cheered loudly, lifting their banners high as the city burned, El Cid flinched and clutched an small patch of red fabric near his hip.
“Tch!” the legend cursed himself “Time runs short. We must make haste if we wish that, at the very least, the invaders understand what we stand for. Perhaps one day they might comprehend our decision.”
“Fat chance of that’“, I thought as memories of the Islamic State attacks and the Syrian-Turkish border conflict came to mind.
The man then proceeded to gallop slowly out of the city gates and I couldn’t help but notice his leisurely pace.
Either he wasn’t worried, or he was an idiot… probably both...
I couldn’t help but also notice something unusual about him though. He seemed unhurt.
Wasn’t he supposed to be nearly death. Everything fits the narration otherwise… What is going on?
“Mr Graves!” the teacher’s voice beckoned as I was forcibly pulled away from my guided Hollywood movie dream and turned upwards to see the 40 something teacher furrowing his brow at me. Oh, I am in trouble aren’t I?
Sure thing. At least something mildly interesting happened today.
As if to disturb my peace and bring something mildly concerning to me, the door of the class room choose that moment to fly open loudly and I found my big sister standing in the doorway with a confused look on her face as she looked at me. Guess confused looks run in the family, because I was making the same face.
“Uh, Mr Donovan, may I borrow Amaranth for a minute?” she asked in that innocent and confused voice that looked so out of place yet so in tune with her personality.
“Oh, Ms Rachel” he replied, and I couldn’t help but cringe at the world’s most pathetic attempt at being cordial, “Might I ask about why you need your younger sibling’s presence?”
There he goes again with the elegant words… they are not elegant words, right?
“Yeah, uh…” she stumbled upon her words, turning to look at me with a pleading gaze. Of course I knew what she needed me for, but I wasn’t expecting her to bail me out of class like this “...he promised to help me and my friends with a project…”
It was pretty nice timing on her part though. She must’ve heard the teacher chastising me through the door. Time to interject.
“Alright Mr Donovan, I think I should go help my sister” I stood up, picking my knee length blazer and the laptop bag which had most of my things, except my tablet that I swept in before the teacher realized I had been using it as an impromptu pillow, “I will be taking my leave now, excuse me.”
With those words, I moved swiftly through the rows of confused students and headed for the door with a small smirk on my face as Rachel held the door open for me and let it close behind us. I bet the face Mr Donovan must’ve made would’ve been pretty amusing, but I wouldn’t risk going back there just to see a fool with a hilarious expression.
“Thanks for saving me there,” I said, turning to Rachel and giving her a thankful smile, “I was in quite a cinch.”
She blinked rapidly a few times before smiling back, ‘Oh don’t worry about it! I really am in a sort of hurry and we need your help. We need an extra hand over with the decorations.’
‘We?’ Oh, I so didn’t like the sound of that…
After coming back from helping her and her friends decorate the large clubhouse they had been given by the school to host a summer ball or something along those lines, we walked down the aisle back to our lockers to get our remaining stuff. Though there were still two days more of school, it would be my last one, as I was a junior student. It was also the seniors’ last day of class as they would be preparing for the summer ball. I would be going for most of my stuff, just like my sister and her friends.
As for my sister, well… Her name is Rachel, she’s two years older than me and is my height…
She’s also the best big sister one could ask for.
She was the kind of person that could be sweet without being overbearing, was nice without being weak and that could be a tomboy and keep a somewhat girly flair regardless. Her cropped red hair with wild bangs framing her green eyes gave her a stunning appearance, specially when she smiled. Her personality was something of a contradiction. She was nice and supportive, but was pretty rowdy at times. If there was any way a tomboy could be “cute” or “girly”, she was living proof of that. She usually used very sporty clothing. Her combat boots complimented the tomboy image she was going for. She also wore fingerless gloves with the rest of her attire to drive the point home. Throw in a tanktop that left her belly exposed, denim short shorts and a half length jacket and you had her pictured today. It looked nice on her, even if it wasn’t nearly as “cute” as the outfits her friends wore.
Oh yeah... her friends…
She had two friends from her class which I suppose were also my friends in a way. One of them, Marina, was a pretty nice and some guys would say “leggy” blonde who was slightly taller than all three of us. Her deep blue eyes were often known for turning the heads of guys around whereas her outfits would often be rather conservative, like today’s long sleeved summer dress. Her short hair cut in a bob gave her a distinctly mature look and some of my friends often asked me to take photos of her but conveniently, never send them any photos of me with her. The other one, Emilie, was rather different. She was pretty... lush, to say the least. Her outfits were so elaborate I might have an easier time telling you what she wasn’t wearing today. Suffice to say that her denim miniskirt, jacket and heels weren’t the sort of thing a girl would wear at school. Just like Marina and Rachel, she was pretty popular (well duh! I was elaborate with their appearances, wasn’t I?). The guys in my class wouldn’t (thankfully) ask for photos, but many of the girls would ask me what she was wearing the next day due to her wardrobe. It annoyed me a bit, but since I was an oddball who liked nice clothing a bit, not as much as it otherwise would have. It was also pretty good to know that I could always count on them to bail me out of anything. They all had a penchant for taking me away for who knows what at any time...
Snapping me out of my thoughts, Marina felt the obvious need to make an unwarranted comment. As usual, I was caught off guard by what she said. She just loved to say the most jarring stuff at the worst time.
“…Hello? Is my best friend’s cute little brother home?” she teased. Naturally, a comment like that meant getting a very painful slap from my sister... And naturally, I laughed. Who wouldn’t? It was hilarious!
That’s also why I actually liked when she flirted with me... well, that and... you know, the obvious...
Their crazy conversation and shenanigans were, thankfully, all over by the time we reached our lockers.
Banter aside, we shared the same row of lockers, with my best guy friends having those to my right. As I took out the coat I had brought with me and two books which I intended to throw away soon, I closed the locker and thought about the dream I had for a second. What the hell was up with that? Wasn’t that dude supposed to be dead? Of course he was!
But if so, then there was no reason for that dream. It could’ve been just my weird spin of events though. It was pretty strange, mostly because I’ve never had dreams related to historical figures. While I thought about it, I couldn’t help but feel a foreboding feeling. It was pretty weird... or perhaps “jarring” would fit better.
Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t come up with a coherent reason besides the thing being just a dream…
The trio had left me together to pick up the rest of my stuff and Rachel was kind enough to provide me with a bin in which to throw stuff. I was disposing of some of the last stray papers in there when I felt someone pat me in the back. The strangest thing was that, rather than turn around and greet like I used to, I felt the urge to lash out at the offending appendage. I simply shook my head and turned around to greet my three best friends.
The three were looking at him with curious eyes, which wasn’t all that strange since he was doing something they had done last week. The one to the right, Louis, was my best friend since he arrived, showing me the ropes and whatnot and being friends with Liam, the one on the left. He was pretty much his support during though times. They were both gamers, one known for being tall and lanky, built like an skeleton and having very messy black hair and the other one for his military cut brown hair and being built like a tank. As usual, he sported a Slipknot shirt. His pants were torn in all the right places and he seemed to be wearing his old, worn out sneakers. It also seemed like he was in a good humor today.
Alright, time to shake my head and throw away all that damned crap. Perhaps I’d just stuff it back on the locker and laugh at the janitor’s face when he saw a bin full of corny drawings in my locker.
Louis eyed me oddly…
“What?” I asked as I looked around to see if there was someone behind me, mostly out of curiosity.
“Dude, you were free by yesterday! Why did you come back to this prison?” Louis asked as he turned around to look for approval in the other two.
“It wasn’t my idea!” I replied, closing the locker behind me and taking the bin. “I came to help sis with some stuff. There is a reason why I have slept through all the classes today!”
Well, that seemed like it...
The three of them calmed down, with Louis looking fairly uneasy that he had made a fool out of me for no reason. However, the one in the middle was the one person in this school that concerned me most. The blonde guy was my best friend... Yeah, he was my best friend… even among my best friends.
Unlike the other two, he had been my best friend for much longer. Well, not much, but still for longer than them. We even went to summer camp together, though that was where we met. We were pretty much brothers for all I cared. We would always help each other out in anything we needed, no matter what. While he had been to school the last few days, I hadn’t been able to see him for a while. I then pulled back and took one of my markers out. I really though we wouldn’t be able to do this. His name was Aston, Aston Gryffynn, and he was one of my two “special best friends”… I’d rather leave the other one for later though.
Time to leave our marks in the wall. No I wasn’t speaking figuratively. Our schoolmates would often go scribble something on a wall close to the Café where we ate. It was usually just a small signature or short verse, but some had taken to turning it into their canvas. Couldn’t blame them though, it was rather alluring. Now, we four were to leave our own marks behind as well. After all, we wouldn’t be coming back for a while. Not to mention that, I somehow, felt that this would be my last year here. Strange as it was, it made some sense to me. No, I don’t know why, but it did. Naturally, that only made me more eager. I fetched two brushes from one of my pockets and then handed one over to Aston. I’d hand the rest out once we arrived. I just hoped Louis didn’t forget the paint.
Let’s hope nothing goes wrong. Sometimes, luck just wasn’t on my side.
As I etched my own personal signature with a marker, I couldn’t help but feel an odd shiver at the nape of my neck. It was as if someone had been right there, breathing right behind my neck, but the only people were to my right and the other side, painting or writing on the wall. I decided to ignore it for the time being. It couldn’t be that bad right? Just a shiver from a sudden gust of cold wind. Nothing to worry about. Or so most people would think. And as I’ve already told you, I am not ‘most people’.
The moment they left the wall and headed for the open air arcade, I felt the pressure I had felt throughout the morning ease off me. I didn’t know what it was, but I was starting to feel oddly out of place. I did away with it until I no longer remembered anything that had happened up until we arrived at the center, where we realized the open air seats were full. I decided to let my friends search for a table while I went and ordered a pizza for all of us. Since I knew what they liked, it was a given that I would order the food most of the time. I ordered and then returned to find that they had found a table near the center of the plaza. I sighed, knowing that something would go wrong since I never liked being in the spotlight and whenever I was, something went awfully wrong horribly fast. I braced for the inevitable disaster and hoped for the best. I was aware it wouldn’t do anything, but I needed something to distract myself with. I settled down and took a deep breath to ease the tension off my shoulders. I simply took a sip from my can of Dr Pepper and waited for the inevitable.
Hopefully, nothing would go wrong. I’d just go home and take a nap. Then I’d visit someone for dinner. Finally, I’d tell her parents whether I accepted their proposal or not. I’ll put you up to speed at a later time.
It was then that I felt the rumbling. Great, my perfect day, ruined. Wonderful. Peachy.
Now something bad’s happening and I can’t do anything. I swear I am cursed.
At that moment, the temperature dropped precipitously. It felt like the entire plaza had been buried in a blanket of cold snow. From all sides, an army of giants sprung up. Each one of them was around 6 meters tall. They were unarmed and, if I was right, undressed save for a loincloth. They seemed to be made of ice and I was taken back to a few fairy tales and remembered one of them… Frost giants, or the jotnar, to be short. Giants from a frozen world in Norse mythology… but what the hell where they doing here…
And with that, I meant “how the hell are these things even here in the first place?”
The people, naturally, broke out into a frenzy as the giants encroached upon the plaza. The people used the flights of stairs leading into the upper floors to leave, while a few others left through an small gap in their formation that led straight towards the exit. They didn’t move or try to stop anyone. Even my friends escaped through there without any of the giants doing so much as flinching, but the story was different for me.
I had been frozen in place by the arctic gaze of one of the giants, this one taller than the rest… around 8 meters. He regarded me with those strange blue orbs that I believed were his eyes as everyone around me escaped.
I didn’t even notice I was the only one left in the place until I saw how the giants closed all gaps in their formation. That could only mean one thing…
…they were here for me…
Chapter 2: The Second Song - I am rescued by a cutie with a sword...
If there was a reason I didn’t panic, it was because I didn’t have the time to. I was having too much of a hard time being surprised by what my eyes saw!
The right flank of the giants had been pulverized into a cloud of snowflakes by the most unlikely of all beings.
A young girl stood where there had been nearly 6 giants just a few moments ago, snow falling on her shoulders.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she had a sizable sword slung over her shoulder, probably only slightly shorter than she was tall, and the girl was pretty much my height, which meant she must have been around 5’10”. Even crazier was the short sword, a Xyphos, or Greek short sword, on her right hand…
And then there’s her appearance…
Though she didn’t stop for me to take a look at how she looked, I had a good view when she stood there. She obviously had other stuff to do though, as she proceeded to charge into the giants that stood on the opposite side. She moved like a freaking sunray, slicing giants in half with the larger sword and using the smaller one to parry punches and kicks from the monsters. Even more impressive was when one of the giants took a deep breath in and then proceeded to blow his frost breath towards her. Rather than dodging or guarding against the attack, in one seamless movement, she sheathed her short sword, extended her hand backwards, as if preparing to deliver a full blown hook to the giants’ face, but left her palm open as flames gather around her fingers, then put them to her mouth, breathing them away like a flamethrower before they incinerated the giant.
This gave her a brief respite, and I could say it now…
She was gorgeous.
Her bright, golden hair was short, dangling right above her shoulders, but with so many layers it seemed to glow under the sunlight. Her face was soft and youthful, with wide jade eyes and a pert nose. Strangely enough, despite her rather pale complexion, she had no freckles to speak off. Her height had been spot on. She was an inch or two shorter than I was, but pretty tall otherwise. She had curves that were… enviable, to say the least. She was pretty slender and tightly wound nonetheless. She dressed in what looked like short, heeled boots, thigh high black stockings, a black, ruffled miniskirt and a white short sleeved babydoll top. Her hands looked small enough even though they were covered with black leather driving gloves. I also noticed that she wore a golden necklace with the silhouette of a wolf’s head.
I also noticed the small hairband she wore on her hair and that seemed not to do much for her long bangs. She also wore a button with a blue ribbon dangling from it…
She reminded me of a very attractive fusion of that girl from that weapon fighting game and the image of a girl from an Ys game
She came to a grinding halt in the middle of the plaza with a nimble spin. When she stopped, every single one of the giants was gone. I tried to say something, but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth.
Then I could feel something behind me and turned around to see one of the surviving giants ready to crush me with his arms into dust.
She was faster, and in the blink of an eye, had closed the distance between the two of us and slashed the beast in half. In the aftermath of the attack, I lost my balance and almost fell on the floor until I felt a soft arm around my hip.
Yeah, she caught me good.
From up close, her appearance was even more unreal. The frost in her hair’s tips and the very light but visible sheen of perspiration that had covered her skin, alongside the bright sunlight and the flying ice crystals loitering in the place made her look like a fairy straight out of a fantasy fairy tale. Her cheeks were rosy from the heat, as her skin was rather pale, and she was panting very likely.
Must resist urge to faint. Must give in to urge to just fall on the floor.
Then she did something even better (worse?). She talked.
Her voice was something that reminded me of bells, bright and cheery. I’d even dare say it was a bit too girly remembering everything she had just done.
“It’s ok,” she reassured me with a bright smile like the sun, “you’re safe now…”
And because I am cursed, those words jinxed it and ruined the moment altogether.
A very deep rumbling shook the entire building. It was akin to steps, if an earthquake felt like steps. I knew on that very instant that something even worse than the giants was coming this way and it wanted something. Me being a rather obvious choice.
As the sound drew closer, she looked at me with a determined expression before nodding, taking the care to leave me in one of the many nearby benches… or well, those who hadn’t been destroyed earlier.
I never took the expression “carry a bigger stick” seriously enough.
And since I was cursed, stuff like that would often mean I would find trouble with something that is simply a bigger kind of stuff I have survived already.
So it had sent a giant that was nearly 6 times larger than the first one in an effort to take me down. Go figure.
This one looked a bit different though. His body was skeletal, resembling the ice sculpture of a plastic skeleton, with sharp claws were nails would be and something that was either a mask, or the most literal kind of faceplate you could think about.
It started to zero in on us, fitting neatly in between the buildings and walking in an oddly human way, seemingly walking down like the bad guy from a cowboy flick. The girl, who was around 8 feet in front of me, started stepping back herself. The giant stopped when he was 10 feet away from us and Sol was right before me.
She turned to me, and it was obvious she herself was unsure if she could take the thing down like she had done with the mooks from earlier.
“I’ll stop him, but you have to leave now…” she trailed away, turning upwards to look at the 10 story tall ice golem.
Since these might be my last moments, my voice saw fit to return to me, and I said the only thing that could come to my mind.
“You’re kidding, aren’t you?”
If my comment caused her surprise, she didn’t act on it. She simply rose her larger high over her shoulders and dismissed the other one, which disappeared into thin air. The giant had also made a move of his own as his fingers trailed the air and a gigantic stave made of blue ice materialized into his hands. He looked at it briefly before nodding and then proceeded to slam the thing on the ground.
She moved swiftly, and I noticed how she placed the sword beneath her and the giant’s stave meet the weapon head on.
The entire place was filled with a freezing wind that chilled my bones, as if a blizzard had suddenly materialized in the place.
Despite the size difference between them and their weapons, sold held on to her blade, able to keep the giant’s stave from hitting the ground, something that I felt would be very undesirable. The giant’s stave was pushed back and it stumbled away after skidding a few meters.
The beast seemed rather taxed, as it was now using the stave as a cane, something surprising in and on itself, but that wasn’t what had most of my attention.
After he was pushed back, the girl had been sent skidding 20 meters before she was knocked off balance by one of the benches turned into debris that littered the place and fell on her back a bit behind me. She had also lost the grip of her sword, as it landed close to me.
As the giant recovered, she looked upwards, a hint of nervousness in her eyes as she lifted her head up and saw the giant looking at her. Though the mask didn’t really have any eyes, I could tell the thing was pissed at her. You didn’t need a genius to figure that out.
Before I had the time to panic at the way he would dispose of her and then, most likely, proceed to pulverize my bones and use them to make bread, I felt a strange warmth coming from me. It was no different from the one I had felt earlier on this morning. My eyes then looked at the sword that lay nearby. It looked just the right size, just the right width, with a fitting hilt…
I didn’t waste my time. I slid down the icy floor swiftly, grabbing the blade halfway before surprisingly standing up straight a second later. I then took on something that anyone would have recognized as a battle stance, though I had no idea how I knew how to stand. My body reared up, the sword behind me like a javelin, before I hurled the thing at the giant.
The most surprising thing was how the sword magically set itself ablaze midflight, with searing flames around it as the weapon pierced through the giant’s chest.
And then he exploded, covering the entire area with snowfall.
Before I could understand what had just happened, I felt my knees go weak. However, much to my relief, I heard steps behind me. She was safe. Good.
I turned around just in time to see her walking up on me. She had an even brighter smiler than before and seemed pretty happy despite everything that had happened, and even though I liked the way she stared at me with her green eyes, I started to feel odd after the first five seconds.
She must’ve taken notice, because she then spoke again…
“It’s you…” she started, and I could see hints of pent up excitement building up on her tiny frame “…it’s really you!”
“Me?” I asked dumbfounded, what did she mean with “me”?
“You’re Amaranth Graves, aren’t you?” she asked, tilting her head in confusion.
“Allow me to introduce myself” she said, nodding elegantly and curtsying, the bright smile and mischievous glint never fading from her face “my name is Sol, and I am here to retrieve you on behalf of the Cruciators”.
Sol. Her name was Sol. Yeah, her name was completely gorgeous just like her. No doubts about that. It even reflected her sunny personality too. However, how was I supposed to react to that last bit? It was pretty obvious that what had happened was a freak incident of sorts, but how the hell was I supposed to answer her now? True, I had, albeit secretly, always felt something like this would happen and actively wished for it to happen, but the way things were… my head couldn’t deal with all of this at once! I needed some time to think…
I shrugged, slowly stepping back “Err, I think you have the wrong person…”
“Excuse me?” she asked with a now confused expression that made her face look adorable…
Enough of that!
So rather than stay around to answer another of her questions, I simply turned around and made a run for it, hoping my legs would take me away from this place fast enough and that she wouldn’t follow me.
Thankfully, it seemed that if she wanted to follow me, she hadn’t acted on it. I had left Sol and the plaza behind nearly three minutes ago, but I had ran at full speed the entire distance between the plaza and the school and was now close to the swimming clubhouse…
It wasn’t a gym. There was one, but this one was not a gym. If anything, it looked more like a spa than anything else, being a greenhouse with air conditioning and an indoor heated pool with lots of rocks and a waterfall on it. The guys would use the left side for training during Water polo practices and the girls would use the deeper side for diving practice. I recall mentioning that the place was very lavish, didn’t I?
If so, I am telling you now.
Hesperia Academy was a relatively new school that had been founded in Durban by none other than the Gryffynn family. My best friend was, of course, the Student Council President by virtue of that… that and allowing us to enjoy our youths. The owner, his mother, had gone to great lengths to ensure the place was not only a good educational institution, but also a great place to lounge at whenever we needed it. Even if the main building was closed during summer, the swimming clubhouse, the track and field area, the other clubhouses, the residential district (yes, I just said that the school had a residential district), the Student Council Meeting Room, the Theater and the rugby field were all open all year round.
Naturally, this meant that some places always had someone around, and even though we were a few days’ away from summer vacations, the swimming clubhouse had some people on it.
When I entered, I noticed that the diving team was still in practice. A curious detail is that the diving team, just like the volleyball team I had almost been convinced to form a part of, was all female, even though it was supposed to be a mixed gender team. It just happened no guys here were interested in either, and for some bizarre reason, none of them was interested in being surrounded with girls. It was a funny thought, especially considering the golf club used to be the same up until recently when I joined.
Oh yeah, we have a golf club too, we also have a golf course that is also open all year round. It helps a lot when it comes to funding club activities and school festivals.
Back in the clubhouse, I also noticed that the water polo team was not around, but guessing the time by how the sun looked, it was around 2:30 pm, well past either club’s practice hours, so my guess was that the diving club had finished and some of them were wrapping things up on their own.
I sought a lounge chair (yeah, we had those too) to drop on and take a breather before dumping myself on it. I didn’t try to sleep. I wasn’t sleepy, but I was really tired from having run nearly 2 kilometers at full speed, under the sun and without a break.
Oh, here comes the celebrity…
I turned my head around sloppily to look at Aston walking towards me.
As odd as it sounded, despite what we had been through, he didn’t look fazed. Not at all. If anything, the guy looked pretty normal and not worse for wear like me. Then again, he hadn’t just killed a walking skyscraper with a sword.
I didn’t even bother trying to start a conversation. I would probably say something odd. He simply flopped down on a nearby chair.
“You alright? It looks as if you’ve run a marathon”
“I did” I didn’t really lie “Sort of…”
“Gee, under this sun…” he trailed of, looking towards the lockers at the bottom of the building “You should take a shower. Let me take care of your clothes. I have some spares that you can wear in my locker”.
I smiled. This guy was a great friend… but…
“Aston, thanks, but I am bigger than you are…” this was right. I was one or two inches taller and a bit fuller. While I was hopeless when it came to strength matches with him (for some odd reason, he was stronger than he looked like, and could probably hit me a hundred times before I could say ‘ouch’), I still had a larger build, if not by much.
“Don’t say it…” he warned, giving me the ‘if you know what’s good for you, just nod and say thanks’ look that he would often give me when I was in trouble and he bailed me out of it.
“I will take the shower and thanks for taking care of my clothes, but I have a spare myself, so I don’t need you to lend me anything”.
He settled down, shrugging.
“At least let me return you your coat when you leave. It’s not that dirty, and since it seems you are incapable of perspiration, I don’t think it’ll take long for me to clean”.
“Thanks bro” I answered as I stood up and he followed suit. I took off my coat and gave it to him “just be sure not to use water, it’s meant to be dry cleaned”.
“Not a problem”. He nodded calmly and headed out of the clubhouse, probably into the residential compound. He had a house, but he also had a room here he used for when he wanted to wake up very late and not commute here. I myself would have thought about it, but I lived pretty close by comparison.
As soon as the warm water of the shower hit my body I started to feel much better. However, I still wondered what had happened so far.
I mean, it was obvious by now the dream I had and the sensation I felt when me and my friends were at the wall was the same one, and that said sensation had been what I felt when I took a hold of Sol’s sword. They were all obviously connected to what she had said about the Cruciators. But what was a Cruciator? At the moment, I had no idea. Perhaps I’d do some late night research later on and hope it led to something.
I spent nearly an hour in the shower, because when I left, the clubhouse was mostly empty. Aston was sitting in his chair with his Surface tablet, reading something apparently, before I decided to interrupt.
Thankfully, I had left a black shirt and cargo pants like the ones I had worn this morning in the locker. So all I needed was my coat and I’d look as good as new…
“Here...” my blond best friend said before taking the jacket from a laundry bag on his side, not even bothering to look up from his tablet. Whatever he was reading must’ve been very good to have his attention like that.
I simply took it and put it on, I felt odd without it “So…” I started, rubbing the back of my head “Thanks again. I mean, for offering to clean my stuff up”.
“Don’t worry about it” he said as he looked up to look at me with strangely curious eyes.
“What? Do I have something in my face?”
I choose to be frank with him at this point. “I have been reading up on strange things happening around the world recently” he began, showing me his tablet. Pictures of odd things were all over the screen. A volcano that had been inactive was now on the verge of an eruption. Frost had covered a few cities in Andalucia, Spain. Paris had been put under lockdown by the French authorities for no good reason. The Tokyo Tower had mysteriously collapsed, alongside a few other buildings in the city. A tornado almost hit London. A storm had hit the East coast of the United States out of the blues. A couple of monuments had been brought down in Rome. The tide in Sardinia, Italy, had risen at an unnatural rate a few months ago. Strange flashes of light could be witnessed in a major Japanese town. Another one of them reported explosions from gas leaks and the Russian Federal Security Service had detected, along with the Japanese and American air forces, many instances of unknown objects arriving in their airspace.
“Creepy, isn’t it?” Aston said with an odd smile that was starting to make me feel uncomfortable.
“What’s your point?” I asked him, my voice trying to feign annoyance, but falling short.
“They might be linked to what happened today...” he said as he went back to fiddling with the damned thing. “...you know, what happened today at the food court”.
Suddenly, the ground seemed pretty nice to me.
“I… I’d rather do away with that...”
He lost his expression. It was as if I had kicked him in the shin. For a moment, I was tempted to ask for his tablet and look something up, but I won out in the end and didn’t do it.
“You will simply act as if it never happened, won’t you?” he asked in a resigned tone.
“Why won’t you just try to embrace that side of you for once?” It wasn’t a question.
“Sorry” was all I could say as I left through the front door and walked back home.
When I did so, I took my phone out of my pocket. I really thought about digging up the stuff I wanted now, but my home wasn’t that far away, and I figured I could wait until then.
I still preferred using a PC to my phone for investigating potential recruitment parties for sword wielding teen heroes. And whether they had coverage in the neighborhood of Centurion.
When I arrived at my house, I was met with something that could be a pleasant surprise, or a good way to make me punch a wall.
I had entered the house and went straight to my room, planning to just plop down in bed and look up what a Cruciator was until I saw her sitting in the living room, cross legged and looking at me with the same bright smile she had when we met.
“What are you doing?” I asked, and it was, for once, obvious that I was starting to be annoyed.
“I was just waiting fo-“
“Not that way! I mean, ‘what are you doing here?’”
“As I told you, I was waiting for you…”
I took the liberty to take her hand and lead her out though the garden door to a place where we could be alone. Shutting the door behind me, I turned around to address her. Look as beautiful as you want, I am not going to calm down!
I calmed down and decided that I would allow her to explain herself at least once… I gestured for her to start. “Alright, you have five minutes. Start now.”
“Listen… you are no longer safe here” she started “you noticed those frost giants back there right? They are not alone, and there are a lot of things happening now. The situation’s worse than we thought, and I need you to come with me so that you can claim your rightful inheritance…”
“Would you kindly elucidate? I am no good at this sort of stuff. Start by telling me what is a Cruciator”.
She nodded and gestured towards the bench on the end of the backyard, right under an oak tree “do you mind?”
When we were seated, Sol ran me through the early steps of this Cruciator thing. It was very easy to understand as soon as she explained it in detail. Which scared me, shitless by the way…
“So, you do know Latin?” she asked me. Naturally, as a 16 year old teen with a life, there was only one answer that left my mouth.
Well duh, no!
“Just a few phrases…” I answered.
“Alright… Cruciator can mean two things depending on which kind of Latin you use. Latin has two variants, the more prominent and exclusive one used by the authorities and the church, and the better known variant used by everyone.”
“So… there is the first, ecclesiastical Latin, and then there’s the better known vulgar Latin. You see, umm, Amaranth… Cruciator means different things in both…”
“What does it mean in either?”
“Well… in Vulgar Latin, it means ‘punisher’”
“Sweet. I hope the ecclesiastical variant doesn’t means ‘murderer’”
She looked at the table, rubbing the back of her head in a way oddly reminiscent of my own. Suddenly I started to see her more as a person. Hopefully, my annoyance wouldn’t leave me soon. I still wanted to be annoyed at her. She might be gorgeous, but that doesn’t means I have to show it. I’d rather keep her on her toes, at least until I can have some time to myself.
“It… well… its meaning might not be worse, but I am not sure if it is better…”
I crossed my arms and tilted my head. Odds are, my expression wasn’t as annoyed as I wanted it to be, but this was all I had so…
“Go on, I am liking where this is going...”
“Alright,” at this, she straightened up “In ecclesiastical Latin, Cruciator means ‘crusader’”
“As in the soldiers that waged wars against the moors?”
She nodded gently.
“Yeah, and that’s what I am trying to tell you. Crusaders were very powerful warriors. However, most of them perished at some point. On the other side, there are heroes that, while known as legends, are more than that.”
I straightened up as well, things were starting to become more interesting and I wanted to know everything she knew. “Go on, I want to know more. After all, I think you’re implying something…”
“Well, umm, you see, Amaranth… Cruciators are not just crusaders. They are heroes, their powers are passed on to someone who resembles them once they die and… you, well, are one of us?”
Ok, by all means, keep freaking me out or at least do something else, because it isn’t working and that disturbs me.
“So, you’re implying…”
She nodded silently, her smile returning to her face “We are descended from ancient legendary heroes. You more than I am”.
“And out of curiosity, who am I descended from?” I asked with a sinking sensation in my stomach.
Perfect. I had seen it coming… Or so I like to think...
“Is there something on your mind?” she inquired, tilting her head.
“Nothing you could help me with…” I trailed off. I still needed some time to let this oddities sink in. It was no longer as bad as I thought, but I still felt I wouldn’t be able to deal with it without the time to allow everything to sink in.
I rubbed my temples “Sol, can I have some time alone while I think everything through? I just feel that I can’t deal with this stuff now…”
She stood before nodding kindly. Apparently, she had no problems with letting me go in peace now. “Of course. Is it ok if I leave you for the rest of the day?”
“That sounds alright.” I answered, also standing up and looking over towards the glass door the led into the living room, “I think that my mind will be mostly made up by tomorrow…”
She grinned in a way that caught me completely off guard. If her smiles were nice, try to imagine how her grins where, especially when you could hear the hint of a laugh in her voice “I knew you would embrace it. I just knew, there’s was no reason you’d-“
Ok, enough excitement for now…
“Woah, pipe down! I will make my mind up by tomorrow. This doesn’t means that I will say yes.”
Her enthusiasm let her down a bit, but she was still smiling nonetheless, “then I will eagerly await your response…” she trailed off, again with a nod, before turning around to leave through the backyard’s back door. But before she left, she turned around once more, and the way the fading sun shone against her skin and clothing left me utterly and completely breathless. “One more thing,” she started, “I want to know more… more regarding… more regarding your own life…”
And with an step and an small thud, the backdoor closed behind her.
It took five minutes for me to realize I was not alone…
“How long are you standing there?” Rachel asked.
Hey, don’t look at me, she was very predictable and I heard the door slide again. Rachel wasn’t good at stealth. She also used very loud boots.
And then I sighted. She stood up on a bunch of dried leaves.
Well, at least she had no idea what I was doing here. Then there’s the whole thing with her lack of grace or stealth, but those were things I was thankful for right now, rather than annoyed with.
“I didn’t know someone was watching over me…” I trailed off. I didn’t want to give away anything if she had not heard anything. “What did you see?”
I heard her sigh “Not much. Just you standing there… looking at the door as if something interesting had just happened. Mind telling me what it was all about?”
“Yes, so just don’t ask… please”.
It was nuts. She didn’t even look phased. I didn’t expect Rachel to be surprised, but neither did I expect her to look this calm. It was unnerving. I was starting to get scared.
I thought about asking her something related to our talk, but that was too risky. I thought about just telling her off, but that was unexpected. I thought about just running for it again, but that wouldn’t work.
Oh, now I know what will bail me out of this. Let’s hope it works. If it doesn’t, I am dead. No, seriously, I really hope this works.
“It was nothing more than me telling a friend to go home. That’s it.”
“Let me guess…” she started “It was Aston pestering you to say yes to Aya’s proposal…”
Well, I skipped that one. It seemed that Aya had bailed me out. Still, now I remembered something far more important… It didn’t have anything to do with heroes or magic. It had to deal with my summer. I was dealing with something that might ruin my friendship with someone. I was dealing with something very dangerous. I was also dealing with something that made my friends green with envy.
Why was it so problematic? Easy, I had a lot of people to convince otherwise. Naturally, that only made things more difficult.
I went running inside and sought a fresh change of clothes. I didn’t want anything too formal or too casual, so I picked only a few things more expensive than what I already wore. It seemed to me they’d look nice enough for a dinner at a smart casual restaurant. Afterwards, I went to the fridge to pick something to drink up. After running from the plaza to the school, I was thirstier than an alligator in the desert. I really had to drink something to cool me down. Oddly, I didn’t feel as warm as before. The beverage did nothing. If anything, it seemed to me that the heat started when I punched a hole in the giant king’s face. Of course that I knew it sounded odd, but it was then that I felt something burning inside me. After that, it felt as if there was a fireplace burning nearby. I want lots of things, and a fireplace is not one of them. Well, I might want a house with one, but that was it. This was definitely starting to do things to my head. Damn you Aya!
Why did she do this to me? This was the pinnacle of annoying!
Great, I was going crazy now. I wish I could keep my thoughts straight at least for now.
I put on a black Zegna shirt, making sure the long sleeves would not keep my hands in a single position from the tightness, and dark blue denim pants with black sneakers. It didn’t sound the part, but it was already far more formal than anything I normally wore. After I was done scurrying over my shoes, I went to check on my footlocker to pick something I had prepared for the night. I figured a bottle of wine might be a good idea. It sounded nice to me.
Had I visited Stellenbosch a few months ago, I’d probably have a better one, but this’d have to suffice for now. Hell, it might actually be better than anything they’re expecting. I just hoped it didn’t look inappropriate. The occasion wasn’t formal, but still. A dinner is not something one can just show up on without something in their hands. A bottle of Merlot was the best I could come from. Well, one might think chocolates fit the theme better, but I thought that was sloppy. I preferred something with a little more class. Suited me better.
And it certainly was easier to find here. Yes it was. As odd as it might have sounded, wine was relatively easy to come by in this country, even easier than chocolates. We were really that weird compared to everyone else. Here I was hoping this’d work.
I was also getting a bit too nervous. I better take a few pills before I leave. Either that or drink some tea first.