It was not the rain, nor thunder that woke Aaron, but strangely enough Ceil, who was silently packing Aaron’s stuff in the corner of the room.
“What time is it?” Aaron forced out, with a newly woken voice. The words made Ceil’s heart skip a beat, as she dropped a random pair of shoes she was holding. Aaron’s eyebrow went up a little, for the sake of her reaction.
“S-Sorry.” She stuttered, picking up the shoes again. “It’s about 9:45, or so.” She seemed strange; avoiding Aaron’s eyes, starring at her from his bed.
“Well…” That word broke into a long awkward silence, before Aaron continued: “Where’s Altai? I don’t see him around.” Her face grew wondering from the question. “Ehm… He wasn’t here when I woke up.” She bit her lower lip, slowly brightening up her expression.
Aaron scanned the rooms with his drowsy eyes, looking for clues. His eyes met a small note on the floor, apparently blown down from the bedside table. ‘How could she have missed that’ He thought, as he leaned down to get it. “HNG!” The painful lament gave the poor girl yet another shock, as she had turned to pack the shoes. She spun around on her heel, tending to Aaron. He had forgotten the wound in his shoulder. Thus the stretching movement made him remember.
“Don’t move around like that, you idiot.” The words came out with anger, but was sent with worry. Aaron was froze in his position – Half way down towards the paper on the floor.
She sighed irritated, as she picked up the paper, placing it on the bedside table where it belonged. “Be more careful. How can you possible forget about the hole in your shoulder?” She sneered, as she got Aaron down on the pillow again.
“Hole?” He said as if she was lying. Ceil gave him a doubtful glare, not sure if he was lying. “Yes… A hole.” She did her best to make it sound as obvious as possible, but he still just angled his head which took his already lost facial expression to a whole new level of confusion.
“You… Don’t remember?” Now Ceil curved her brows, slowing down a little. “How I got wounded? Hmm… Not really.” He replied, not seeming to be concerned. “Are you kidding me? You got shot in the shoulder with an arrow, stupid.” She made a mocking face, still in disbelief of his forgetfulness. A confirming, but vaguely absent ‘hmm’ past behind his lips.
“On another note; we’ve promised the warden that you’ll be out of this room before 10:30, to put it bluntly.” She threw her leg up on the other, and sat down on the guest chair – In one motion. Tipping her chin toward the ceiling; she closed her eyes. “And…” He dragged the word, looking for a suitable question to follow it. “How long was I out?” She processed the question, with her eyes still shut. She mumbled some numbers, searching for the answer.
“About two days, I guess.” A confirming nod followed. “And what did you do exactly, while I was sleeping?” She opened her eyes for the question, looking strangely surprised. “I mean; you both.” He added. “Hmm, the morning after you arrived at here, Altai was visiting his father and little sister in the east side of town; you remember where… I hope.” The charming smile she gave away, combined with the tone of voice, made Aaron smile too.
“Yes” He nodded. “Yes, I remember.” She giggled, for no apparent reason.
“Good. We don’t want you to have some kind of amnesia, do we?” “Hmm, I guess not.” He replied. “Apropos memory: What’s on that paper I picked up for you?” Aaron’s eyes grew wide, as she reminded him of it. He grabbed it off the table slowly, and began to read the fast scribbled words.
“What does it say?” She spoke curiously. Aaron grumbled a ‘hmm’ before he opened his mouth. “It just says that Altai is off to an aftermath meeting with Kelt, in the council halls.” “And he didn’t take us with him? Son of a-” He interrupted her loose anger: “Well, I was ordered not to attend by Mr. Kelt, and you were advised to get me home.” Reading it off the paper. He grinned by the thought of her playing his ‘babysitter’.
“Oh.” She sighed forgiving. “Well in that case; well be on our way!” A quick jump out of the chair, followed by a salute startled him slightly, as he did not except her to make any sudden movements. She went over to the bag, the one she had stuffed his shoes down in, and swung it on her bag. “You do realize that I’ll probably need those shoes to walk in, right?” He tried not to sound too teasing, even with such a good opportunity.
“Shoes? What shoes?” She turned her face to wonder, as yet another ‘oh’ left her lips, and she took her palm to her face in self inflicted stupidity.
He had been running – Running since he got his heels on the cobblestone-street in front of the hospital. The council house was beyond the marketplace, at the aristocrat district.
There was still not a soul on the usually crowded town square, undoubtedly with the reason of rain. Altai wasn’t tired – He was usually never tired, and with this run as no exception. But at the ascension of the 100 limestone steps, up to the council house, his breath was stabbed by side stitch. Slowly panting to the rhythm of his heart beat, he walked in between the great white pillars that was holding the grey limestone roof.
“Mask on.” An almost inhumane, demoting voice growled within the booming walls. Two brutish inspectors starred at him, with their surveying gazes, from beneath the black sockets of their inspector rabbit-masks. A confused and exhausted Altai scouted around his hips for his rabbit-mask, and fumbled it on. Even though Altai knew the procedure almost better than the inspectors themselves, he still hesitated with lifting his arms for the full body inspection.
As they were feeling his body for weapons, he thought of the last poor soul who let a witty comment out, during the procedure. He grinned to himself, as he readied reckless words on his tongue, for no apparent reason. Luckily they couldn’t see the smiling grimace that was clouding his face beneath the wooden mask.
“Proceed.” That demanding voice could make even the greatest mountains go in rank. He followed his command, going further into the choiring building.
He spotted a huge clock in at the end of the hallway, reading the time from a distance wasn’t a problem with a clock at the size of a tree crown. ‘9:18 am? Did I seriously make it in time?’ His sense of time had always been one of his few weak points. He sat down, having already reported the absence of Ceil, and was now to wait almost an hour.
The hour didn’t pass quickly, and after solid 45 minutes of reading, a thought crossed his mind: ‘But what room?’ He bit his lower lip. A sound of frustration broke the silence, as he figured he could be searching for that one room for the rest of the morning. He stepped up, scanning the door-numbers, with that not giving any clues.
“Lookin’ for somethin’?” Yet another sudden voice today echoed across the grand hallway.
The voice was male, but not deep and commanding like the inspectors’, but more mild and playful. Altai turned around to identify the familiar voice. “Hm?” The man asked, nodding slowly at Altai to answer. He had seen the man’s mask before, thus he scanned his memory for any potential matches. “Lucas?” Altai muttered, utterly unsure. The man’s voice shone. “Oh, so ya’ still remember me name, eh?” His accent surprised Altai, as he finally dug up the old memories from school. Lucas was a odd fellow, about 170 centimetres tall, with dark brown hair – A little longer than Aaron’s.
“Long time no see.” Altai replied, still a little stressed. “Yeah, splendid to see you too, ol’ chap. Ya’ still look like a bag of bones, don’t cha’?” You could even hear the man smiling as he spoke. He stepped out on the carpet, from the door-frame he was standing in. The moment the Celtic tattoo on his arm was revealed; Altai remembered the day, five years ago, when he got the tattoo. Altai didn’t know how to continue the conversation, he was far to tired. “I reckon you just returned from Ashen, eh?” He made a strange stretching movement with him shoulder, and stepped twice to comfy his feet in his laced knickers. “Indeed so; me and my team-mates were sent to have a word with the mayor, and see how the things were going since we haven’t heard a word from them for a long time. Turns out that getting a word from the mayors lips would be impossible, since his head wasn’t exactly where it should be… More like impaled on a pole with the eyeballs cut out, geez.” Altai frowned from his own words behind his mask. “Bloody ‘ell. Them damn raiders haven’t heard about compromisin’, have they? Bitchin’ bottom feeders, they are – If that isn’t an understatement.” He made a sulking noise to finish off his morose words.
“Wait, now when I think about it; what are you doing here anyway?” Altai did his best to not sound insulting with that sentence. “Me? I’m just visitin’ me sister – Luca. You probably don’t remember her. Damn brat she was.” It took quite the turn in his brain to dig out a picture of her.”Your twin, as I recall?” “Yep, and I must say; I’ve become quite proud of me sister since she made ‘er way into Epsilon.” Lucas laughed at the thought of it. “Epsilon? The Tactics team?” An impressed whistle crossed his lips – Only ten was accepted to enter each of the Rank II teams.
“Well, ol’ chap, you know that I was promoted to Delta squad II last harvest season, right?” Lucas said proudly, but still with a conserved humbleness. “Congrats mate. I’m still stuck with Beta III, though I must admit that I would never really want to leave my team-mates.” “Beta III? Aren’t that just doddles, and runner assignments?” Lucas asked, strangely concerned.
“Runner assignments; yes – Doddles; no. One of my team-mates, Aaron, got an arrow to the shoulder – Went out the other way. I’m surprised that he actually had the power to shout ‘get down!’ before falling to the ground.” Lucas seemed a little surprised. “I knew it’s dangerous in Ashen these days, but for them raiders to actually lurk, and shoot on sight? Madness me thinks!” Lucas gasped to himself, as if he realized something. “Aren’t cha’ supposed to be in that meeting in three-C? If so; you have 3 minutes to run as fast as ya’ can towards that door.” He pointed at a tiny door, many meters down the hallway, almost the last door. “Shit!” Altai cursed. “It was nice to chat with you brother, we should get a beer tonight. See you!” He took running stance again, and ran across the crimson carpet. A distancing cry from Lucas echoed behind him. “Tally-ho, ol’ bean!”
When he touched the shiny doorknob; Lucas had disappeared from the hallway, and was nowhere to see. How Lucas knew that he was suppose to attend to this meeting puzzled him, but it didn’t matter in the end. As the door creaked open, and Altai poke his head in see if there was someone inside, a man at the teak table looked at him disappointed. “You are two minutes early.” The serious face slowly evolved into a smile, greatly confusing Altai. “I’m just joking – Come inside.” Even though He knew Matthias pretty well, his actions could still give him the usual shock. “I got word of Ceil’s absence… And Aaron, of course.” Matthias stood up from his chair around the shiny square table, and walked towards Altai to greet him properly.
Matthias was a tall man. He wasn’t wearing any mask. His long face was almost always dressed with a touch of amusement. His hair was light brown, and well kept at the length of a finger.
He shook his hand, like they were greeting each other for the first time. “Don’t worry; it won’t take long.” A guiding push, on Altai’s shoulder, led him to the table. “Sit down.” He did what Matthias invitingly commanded, and took a seat. “So?” Matthias said, obviously thinking Altai would knew what he meant by the sole word. “S-so?” Altai tried not to sound too slow-minded. “So what happened in Ashen? We thought there was trouble, but not that anyone would get hurt.” Altai’s eyes flickered by the word ‘hurt’. “It wasn’t exactly the assignment we had expected.” He curved a circle in the air with his arm, having Altai to continue. “We expected an easy talk with the mayor, and to sent some more reinforcements to a post in Ashen so we cou-” Matthias interrupted: ” I know what we thought it was going to be, but how was it?” Altai made a sorry face behind his mask. “It was… Bloody.” He repeated the words he had told Lucas, about the mayor. “We didn’t get to see much more than eight bodies… Or eight and a half.” It killed the happy look on Matthias, as he turned much more serious. “Could you give me some details about what happened to Aaron?” “Aaron? Well, he was leading us, and the second he walked out from behind a rock, which we were hiding, some raider bastard shot an arrow in his shoulder. As I got out to drag him to safety, I saw how the town square looked like – like some kind of… Post-war zone.”
Matthias took some steps around his chair. “That bad huh?” He mumbled. “It wasn’t exactly anyone’s fault that he got shot, except for the archer, of course.” He walked his chair six times before speaking again. “How did you get him home? Even a boy like Aaron couldn’t walk with a bloody chasm in his body.” Thinking about it, Altai was amazed by Aaron’s endurance. “I carried him on my back through the northern forest – He passed out after 30 minutes.”
“And Ceil?” He asked, remembering that he hadn’t asked about her yet. “She’s fine. Though I think she’s feeling a little guilty of letting Aaron go first.” Matthias nodded. “And to return to Aaron.” Altai said, with a sharp tone to catch Matthias’ full attention.
“He’s fine physically. A little sore, but still fine. It’s his mental health that worries me.”
“Hm?” Matthias implied, as Altai sure got his attention.
“He’s acting a bit odd – Mighty odd, to say the least.”