Illyrian Chronicles: Episode 3

“It’s not working.” Torig threw his hands up in disgust and stepped back from an obsidian, rectangular table that sat in the middle of the spacious living room. On the table was his brother’s latest invention—a mesmerizing game in which virtual warriors charged across a battlefield, slaughtering Illyrians with every move.

“What’s not working brother?” Malis, his older brother by a mere ten seconds, turned from an oblong window in their home, the immense Idaza Tower.

“Your stupid holo-game!” Torig slammed a fist onto the table. “I can’t get past the next level. You must have programmed it wrong.” He dropped back into his comfortable couch with a huff, folding his pudgy arms across his bulbous stomach.

“Torig,” Malis slithered over to the table and picked up the game control—a glowing black sphere that was controlled by the player’s thoughts— “you do know I designed this holo-game so the kids in Ru’ahal will waste their lives, right? If they’re busy playing holo-games, they won’t realize how I’m manipulating their minds, making them want more and more virtual fun and causing them to forget about the possibilities that real life offers. Unlike the Illyrians, thanks to my flood of entertainment options, they’ll have no time to think about ridiculous notions of freedom and, worst of all,” he spat on the floor, “God.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” Torig glared at him. “Of course I know that!”

“Then why are you playing it?”

“Because it’s so good!” Torig grabbed the control from his brother. “Shooting and killing, hacking people to shreds—ha!” He threw back his head with a cackle as his three-dimensional avatar darted forward and chopped a virtual Illyrian to shreds. “I love it!”

“You see, this is the problem with you Torig.” Malis glided to the end of the table. “You never get off your bum. That’s why it’s so big.” He put his finger against a red reset button. “Here, let me help you disconnect.”

Torig’s eyes widened as he realized what his brother was about to do. “N-no. Don’t! D-don’t, no, no…”

An evil grin split Malis’s face. “Say goodbye… brother.” And with that, he pushed the button.

With a depressing peow the holo-game disappeared, taking a full week of Torig’s life with it.

And then Torig got out of his chair.

 He didn’t just get out, he jumped out. And in one smooth motion, he hurled all four hundred seventy-two pounds of his flabby frame onto the leering, snake of a man that called itself his brother.

Crash! Malis disappeared like a haystack in a hurricane.

“Do you know what you’ve done!” Torig slammed his hammy fist into his stomach.

“Oof!” Malis’s breath left his lungs in a burst.

“You just reset one week… of my… life!” Torig punctuated each word with another blow. This was the good part about being obese. Once he managed to get his bulk on top of his victim, no one was going anywhere.

Malis’s arms and legs flailed about like an upside-down ladybug throwing a tantrum. “Off… get… off!” His voice was a croak. “Can’t b-breathe.”

“Torig!”

He froze, fist in mid-swing, as the commanding voice of their eldest brother, Santus, sliced through the air like a sword. “Y-yes?”

“Get off him.”

Hesitantly, Torig turned to see Santus standing behind him, the permanent frown that creased his brow more noticeable than ever. They were triplets, but the three brothers couldn’t be more different. Malis was tall and thin while he, Torig, was short and fat. Santus had the build of a god. Malis had brains and good looks while he had… well nothing.

 Santus wore a black, sleeveless tunic, whose fringes were trimmed with the same shade of blue as their eyes. He was called Santus the Strong, and the reason for his name rippled about each time he flexed his arms.

Life just isn’t fair. Torig groaned as he tried, unsuccessfully, to roll himself off his brother. By this time, Malis’s face was turning purple.

“I can’t move.” Torig glanced at Santus again. “Help?”

With a disgusted groan, Santus put his foot against his brother’s back and pushed—hard.

“Wooaah.” Torig rolled twice to one side, then stopped. After a brief struggle, he managed to push himself to his feet.

“Thank you. Thank… you.” Malis gasped for breath, croaking out the words. “Thought I was… going to…  die!”

“You two idiots would have died long ago if it wasn’t for me.” Santus glared down at both of them then reached out and jerked Malis upright.

“He started it.” Both brothers spoke at once, thrusting a finger in the other’s face.

“I did not!” Torig shook a fist. “You sabotaged my holo-game.”

“You were about to break it. In fact—”

“Enough!” Santus’s roar shook a painting off the wall. “This is the behavior of children not seven-hundred year old men! Sometimes I find it hard to believe that we were all born at the same time.”

“Technically, brother, we weren’t.” Malis held up his index finger. “I’m a solid minute older than Torig the Tubby.”

“Oh, shut up.” Santus pivoted and stormed to the window. “When our parents died, at the hands of the Illyrians, they left me in charge. I swore to them that I would make the Illyrians pay. I promised that I would make all of Britannia bow to us.” He clenched a fist as he glared out at the city below. “I have kept that vow.”

Malis and Torig exchanged an uneasy glance their quarrel, for the moment, forgotten. They moved to stand beside Santus and gazed out of the panes of glass. Their home was the Idaza Tower—a massive, glistening structure made of white marble that stood like a sentinel, five hundred feet above the sprawling city of Ru’ahal.

“Look brothers.” Santus’s voice rumbled over them. “Thousands of Britannians bustle about the city’s busy streets despite the night.” He looked up as one of hundreds of circular drones hummed by, sending a shaft of white light on the city’s inhabitants below. “Through science we have conquered nature itself. Our drones protect us from Illyrian invasion, turn night into day, and let us hear every conversation within the city walls.”

“We are gods.” Malis’s mouth curved in a crooked smile. The drones had been his idea.

“Yes,” Torig agreed. “Whatever we want we get. That’s a good thing. Especially when we want food.”  

“We only get what we want because we control the people’s minds. If we lose control of that we are finished! Only by working together can we hope to remain in power.  We are a trinity, a three-fold rope that must not be broken.” Santus jerked his hand downward in a chopping motion. “We have defeated old age and soon, we will conquer death itself.”

Torig scratched his bald head. “But the Illyrians say no one can defeat death. They claim that their god, Elyon, will never permit it.”

“Ah, the gullible Illyrians. Ever the thorn in our side.” Santus pulled a dagger from his belt and twirled it around between his fingers. His blue eyes glinted beneath hooded eyebrows and black eyelashes. “I received a report from a patrol that an Old Blood was found today.”

Malis stared at him. “An… Old Blood?”

“He was with an Illyrian, a girl.”

“Well,” Torig shrugged, making his belly jiggle, “where are they?”

“The patrol lost them somewhere in the Southern forest. I’ve dispatched some of our Ravens. Those robotic birds will track them from the air and bring them back to us.”

“But how did he get here? When did he arrive?” Malis fired the questions like energy bolts from a fusilli. “And why was he with an Illyrian of all people?”

“I don’t know.” Santus held up a firm hand. “But believe me, we’ll find out.”

Torig spoke next. “Will you kill the him when we find him?”

“That would be a mistake.” Malis stroked his thin, beardless face. “I should take him to my lab and dissect him. Just think of what we could learn about the ancient world by cutting him into tiny, little pieces!”

Santus shook his head. “You’re both wrong. This Old Blood needs to be sent back home.”

They gaped at him, mouths open like fish on a spit.

Torig recovered first. “W-why?”

“Because if we kill this Old Blood, all the Illyrians will rise as one to avenge him. You know they’ve been massing an army in the North. We’re not yet strong enough for an all-out battle.”

“Why not just keep him a prisoner?” Malis began to pace. “You know the prophecy.”

“Prophecy!” Santus threw back his head with a snort. “Do you believe in the fables of old men?” He clamped both hands on his hips. “We are men of science, of learning! Our only threat is the Illyrian army in the North. If we keep him prisoner, they will find out and will attack us in full force. We cannot take that risk.”

    Malis gave a slow nod. “So… you’ll just, send him home?”

            “Yes.” Santus tapped the knife’s sharp edge against his palm. “You, Malis, will welcome him. Impress him. And then send him on his merry little way. Hopefully, he will not return.”

            “And if he does?” Torig didn’t like the sense of unease that swirled about in his belly.

            Santus grinned and tapped the knife against his palm. “If he returns  then blood will flow.”


Kit staggered ahead, muttering under his breath. “Thousand year old men, mind control—ha!” He glanced over his shoulder to where Elira stood beneath the tree-line. He could barely see her anymore because of the growing darkness, but he knew she was there. Waiting. Hoping against hope that he would change his mind and come with her on her suicidal mission.

“I’m sorry.” He yelled the words, hoping she would believe him. “But I don’t want to die. Besides, this whole thing… it’s just too impossible to be real. It’s a nightmare.” 

Nothing but the sound of distant waves reached his ears.  Whirling around, he resumed his trek toward the solitary peak in the distance where his ticket home waited.

 “She wouldn’t understand.” How could she? Elira had no idea how different their two worlds were. In fact, Kit wasn’t sure that this wasn’t all some elaborate dream. “There’s only one thing way of getting out of this mess.”

 If he could get to the top of the hill without being spotted by any of those ridiculous horsemen or their killer horses, maybe he could find the red button that had brought him here in the first place. Since it brought him to Britannia—or whatever Elira had called—maybe it would take him back home.

Right. Where Nick and his gang can turn me into a human punching bag.

Moonlight spilled in patches on the ground and Kit shivered as his socks squelched on the moist, muddy soil. Thoughts milled about in his head, confusing thoughts. What if Elira was right? What if he somehow was supposed to be here for some reason he couldn’t understand?

“But that’s impo—”

A raucous screech from above brought him to a skidding halt. Kit froze then slowly, tilted his head backward just in time to see an enormous bird, the color of midnight, come swooping down from the moonlit sky. Its outstretched claws, black and cruel, snagged in his curly hair, whipping his whole body an inch off the ground.

“Ow!” Pain jolted him into action. Kit swung a fist that connected with the bird’s leg.  Metal? The bird screeched again and opened its claws, releasing him.

Kit fell. His feet slammed onto the ground. He rolled, curling into a small ball. “Metal horses, metal birds. What’s next?”

Screek! The sound came from his right, and he timidly opened one eye. “Oi!” The glaring eye of another raven was pressed right against his own. Kit threw himself backward, scrambling in the dirt to get away from the predator.

But there was no escape.

About a dozen of them swooped about, some in the air and others on the ground. Their beady, red eyes focused in on him as though deciding if he was too scrawny to eat.

“Oy, clear off!” Kit staggered to his feet, clutching a rock in his fist. He launched it at the closest bird who easily deflected it with its left wing. At that moment, something hooked into his hair again. Claws scratched at his forehead as the bird got a firm grip. Two others wrapped their claws around both his flailing arms.

“Oh, not again.” Pain lanced through him as his feet left the ground. “I’m bird bait.”


“Is he here?” Malis rubbed his thin hands together in anticipation as he glanced at each of his two brothers.

“I don’t understand why you’re so happy about this Malis,” Torig yawned and scratched his armpit. “You know this Old Blood is out to kill us.”

“We don’t know that, you jellyfish.” Santus glared at him. “If he was, I would have slit his throat the moment the Ravens brought him in.”

“Well,” Malis bared his crooked teeth in a grin, “I’m just glad you’re letting me talk with him before you send him back. I am the brains of this little entourage after all.”

“Oh, do shut up Malis.” Torig plopped into a sofa and pressed a button. “You’re nothing of the kind.” A blue light spread over the plush leather cloth and the couch began to massage Torig’s plump back.

 “Um… excuse me but, who invented the chair you’re sitting in?” Malis arched an eyebrow.

Torig frowned as he concentrated. “Uh, you?”

“And the drones?” Malis tapped his temple, waiting for the obvious answer. “And the Ravens?”

“You again.”

“And the Hunters?”

“Alright Malis, we get your point.” Santus fondled the gleaming edge of a knife. “Now if you’re done preening, here are your orders. You’ve got ten minutes to convince him to leave. In the next room we have a hundred Hunters, ready to rip him to shreds. If he so much as looks at you crosswise, just yell.”

“As long as I’ve got my wits, I’m safe. Brains will trump brawn any day, brothers.” Malis slanted them both a smug smile. “Never forget that.”

            Then, with a disdainful sniff, he gathered his black robes about his thin body and stepped through the door.


Kit was sure his eyes were going to jump out of his sockets. He stared as a bald, eel-thin man dressed in a black robe with a bizarre assortment of blue symbols moved toward him, gliding a foot above the ground. Apparently he was pushed along by some sort of pulsing, blue energy that spread out in shimmering waves beneath his black boots. He was at least six feet tall and, the closer he came, the more Kit wanted to run. For, as sure as his name was Kit Benedict, this man was evil.

“Anti-gravity propulsion.” The airborne giant pointed at his feet then pressed a button on his belt. “Something I concocted in my spare time.” He slowly landed on the ground.

“Y-you were just walking in the air.” Kit stared at him, unblinking. “Did you just really do that or is this nightmare getting even stranger?”

“Oh this is no nightmare. This is all very… very real.” He shot a wolfish smile in Kit’s direction then dipped his head in a slight bow. “I’m Lord Malis, by the way. What’s your name?”

“K-Kit. Kit Benedict.”

“Ah, yes. The ancients did have the bizarre habit of giving each other at least two names. As if one wasn’t enough.” Malis leaned forward, his dark eyes glinting. “Well. tell me, Kitty, would you like to go home?”
             “It’s Kit not kitty. And yes, I would like to go home. Why did your birds grab me at all? I didn’t do anything wrong.”  His head ached from the rough flight. Trickles of blood oozed out of the scratches the birds’ metallic claws had made on his head and arms.

“So sorry for the mix-up.” Malis sounded anything but sincere. “You see, you’re the first Old Blood I’ve ever seen. Naturally, I wanted to meet you.”

“How do you know about my blood?”

Malis narrowed his eyes. “Believe me Kit, my brothers and I know everything that happens in Britannia. We are The Three. Indestructible. Invincible. Soon-to-be immortal.”

Kit’s blood turned to ice. Before him stood one of the scientists that, according to Elira, had made slaves of everyone on the continent except the Illyrians. This man was to blame for her father’s death!

“What is it?” Malis scratched his chin with a long fingernail, observing him carefully. “Cat got your tongue… Kitty?”

“N-no, it’s, um, nothing.” Kit didn’t dare to correct him a second time.

“One question. How on earth did you get here?”

Kit hesitated. Every instinct urged him not to talk about the bog into which he had fallen or the red switch on the hill. “I… I don’t know.”  He shrugged. It was true, he realized. He really didn’t know how he got here or even if he could get back without help.

“You don’t know?” Malis narrowed his eyes, as though trying to see into Kit’s soul. “Do you honestly expect me to believe that you just, what, woke up a thousand years in earth’s future?”

“But that’s what happened.” Kit nodded eagerly. “I was in the woods. I fell and boom I woke up here.”

“I see.” Malis looked as though he was about to ask another question, but Kit didn’t give him the chance.

“I’d like to leave, please.” He licked his lips. “Now, if you don’t mind.”

Malis sighed. “A pity. I’d love the chance to study you, to dissect you into tiny pieces and see what kind of power is in your blood. What scientific progress could be made!”

“Um… another time, perhaps?” It came out more like a squeak than an intelligible sentence.

“Hm, perhaps.” Malis fished around in his black robe for a few moments then withdrew a glass orb about the size of a marble that pulsed with an energy. “Unfortunately, my big brother wants you to leave Britannia and never return.” He handed the stone to Kit. “This is a transport device which synchronizes with the user’s thoughts. Simply hold it toward a source of light and think of wherever you’d like to go. In a moment, you’ll be there.”

Kit hesitated. “Anywhere?”

“It only works this world because the technology wasn’t invented in your time. You all were a rather primitive lot, you know. Oh and, it only works once.”   

Kit took the marble from Malis’s palm. It was surprisingly heavy.

“Goodbye, Kit Benedict. I do hope we meet again.”

Kit frowned. The thought of crossing paths with a bloodthirsty scientist who wanted nothing more than to cut him into tiny pieces was quite disturbing. “Right. Well. I can’t honestly say that I feel the same.”

“That’s the spirit. Stay away if you want to stay alive.” Malis gave a tight smile then turned with a majestic sweep of his blue cape and glided out of the room.

When he was sure he was alone, Kit pulled a deep breath into his lungs and moved toward an oval window. He caught his breath at the sight of the immense city that stretched out below him. “Turnips and tomatoes! There must be gazillions of people down there!”

Elira had said the minds of every one of them were controlled by these Malis and his brothers. They were slaves who had willingly traded their freedom for knowledge. Kit shuddered. He wanted nothing more than to leave this place. And yet, he hesitated.

A memory of Elira’s disappointed face drifted through his mind when he had turned and walked away.

“Ah, it doesn’t matter. Nick and his gang have got to be better than what’s going on here.” He squinted, looking at his feet. “Besides, I don’t even have shoes on.”

With that, Kit lifted the small marble high, toward the light of a distant moon. Closing his eyes, he imagined that he stood on the edge of the forest into which he had run for safety.

Instantly, he felt the room around him begin to spin. Kit’s eyes flew open. Before him stretched a series of swirling red circles, glowing with a pulsing energy that urged him onward. He took a step forward, heart crashing in his chest. Everything exploded in a ball of light and then…

Kit staggered forward, trying to catch his breath. Sunlight streamed overhead, bathing his face with its warmth. He was home.

“Grass!” He fell to his knees, clutching at the sparse greenery at the forest’s edge. He looked up. There was the orphanage! Relief pulsed through him. “As ugly and cramped looking as ever. I’m so glad to see you!”

“Hello, guttersnipe.”

 Kit’s pulse slowed to a crawl at the familiar voice that filled him with dread. Nick!

“I’ve been expecting you.” The muscle-bound bully was sitting with his back against a nearby tree. “Got lost in the woods, did we?” He smirked and held up Kit’s shoe. “I’ve been waiting a whole hour for this.”

“A-an hour?” Kit shook his head. “I’ve been gone at least half a day.”

“What?” Nick pushed himself up in a smooth motion and stalked toward Kit. “Did you lose your mind down there along with your shoe?”

Kit shrank back, his mind reeling. Obviously, time moved faster in the future than it did here. He had been gone at least six hours but for Nick, it had only been sixty minutes. How interesting.

What was not interesting was the fact that Nick had been joined by his posse of ruffians.

“Is this going to hurt?” 

“Yeah, it might.” The bully grinned as he cracked his knuckles and rolled his neck. “Welcome home, Kit.”


Kit tossed about in his bunk, kept awake by the bruises from Nick’s punches. Finally, he gave up and rolled out of his thin mattress that lay atop a hard, metal bedframe. A single window on the far end of the boys’ dormitory let a shaft of moonlight into the room. Making his way carefully around the snoring boys, Kit gingerly padded over to the window.

The forest was clearly visible, and the sight of the dark trees brought the day’s events back into his mind.  Elira’s words wrapped themselves around his thoughts. You were sent for a purpose, Kit. The fate of this entire world depends on you.

More than anything else, Kit wanted to feel a sense of belonging. Nick Jaggers had taught him that acceptance only came to those strong enough to crush the weak.  But Elira had said her people needed him because he alone could set them free. “What if I can do something important… really important over there?” Could he find the acceptance he wanted?

His pulse quickened as another thought struck him. Elira had said that this man, the Prophet, knew things that had happened before the Great Destruction. What if he could tell Kit who his parents were and how to crush Nick Jaggers and his gang?

Kit clenched a fist and winced as a fresh wave of pain struck him. Now that was an interesting thought. How many times had he wished for a way to bring down the arrogant thug? Perhaps in Elira’s world, he could find the answers he needed to survive in this one.

 I’ll do it. His fingers curled around the pebble that Malis had given him. He knew that what he was about to do was dangerous. If the evil scientist found him, he’d be dissected. But, if he stayed here, Nick would probably do the same thing sooner or later. “Alright, Elira.” He whispered the words. “I’m coming.”

Elira darted forward, the long twists of her leather-bound dark braids bouncing up and down on her back as she sprinted toward the plateau. Twisting in a half-circle, she glanced at the heavily armored, mechanical warriors who thundered across the sloping valley on their black robotic horses. The Hunters were not men; they were machines. Their horses were not flesh and bone but—like their riders—they were made of dark, gray steel. They were machines controlled by a trio of mad scientists ten days journey to the west.

Six of them this time. Elira ground her teeth together, pushing herself to run even faster. Over the past few months, the Hunters had been roaming in ever-increasing numbers, pursuing their mission to exterminate every one of her people, the Illyrians, with a vengeance.

 One, I could get rid of. Maybe even two. But six?

Elira had only one hope of escaping them now. Her mind spun furiously as she scrambled up the plateau’s sharp incline. It was the only one in the region. Panting, she struggled to remember exactly what she had seen the last time she had been here.

There had been a button—a red, ruby-like button, set inside a large golden coin that was embedded on the ground. Curious, she had pressed it and the entire hill had fractured, exposing a gaping hole that led…

Where?

She didn’t know. And right now, she didn’t care. All that mattered was that she reached the top of this hill, hit the button, and send the six Hunters that wanted to kill her into the pit.

Keow!

Elira threw herself to one side as a blazing bolt of blue energy zipped past her head, gauging out a hole in the turf.

“That was close.” She gasped as she glanced over her shoulder again. A Hunter sighted down the barrel of his wicked-looking fusili, or rifle, aiming it at her head! Elira forced down the panic that swelled in her chest. She scrambled to her feet, her fingers curling around the short dagger that jutted out from the belt on her knee-length, buckskin dress.

“I won’t go down without a fight!” She jerked the knife free, waving it in as threatening a manner as she could while praying they wouldn’t hear the quaver in her voice. Hunters fed on fear. They were drawn to it like flies were drawn to rotting meat. If she showed fear now, they would torture her before she died.

Elira staggered backward as the rest of the horde galloped up, forming a half-circle around her.

Her mouth went dry. There was no hope of outrunning them now. Mama will never know what happened to me.

“Prepare to die, Illyrian scum.” The leader was a hideous giant whose guttural voice sent shivers down her spine. His face was an oblong ball of dark steel, punctuated with protruding metal spikes. His eyes were twin pools of pulsing, electric-blue energy. Atop his head was a black, cone-shaped helmet, plumed with a fluttering blood-red ribbon.

He slid off his stomping horse with a metallic creak then stomped toward her, fusili still ready to fire. Elira thought to run again but she knew it was useless. Despite their bulk, the Hunters were incredibly fast and strong. Besides, one blast from his gun was enough to incinerate her.

He pointed the rifle at her chest, while the others waited on their stomping horses. Elira bunched her muscles. She was about to launch herself at him when something inexplicable happened.

“Captain!” Another Hunter, probably a scout, gestured toward the plateau, in abrupt, choppy movements. “There’s someone up there.” He nudged his horse forward, sniffing the air like a bloodhound. “I smell…” He went rigid in the saddle. “The Old Blood. I smell the Old Blood!”

For a moment, Elira forgot that she was a prisoner about to be executed by a hated enemy. She forgot that she was on a mission to save her people. One thought consumed her mind.

The Old Blood? A chill ran down her spine, but this time it wasn’t sparked by fear. It was excitement. There were no true humans, or people called Old Bloods, left on the earth. There were only her people, the Illyrians, and the other inhabitants of Britannia. Everyone now living had been genetically enhanced by the scientists in Britannia’s capital city of Ru’ahal.

But the Hunters were never wrong about things like this. They were programmed to hunt down everyone who carried even a trace of human blood and hadn’t received the injection mandated by their masters. If there was an Old Blood, or an uncontaminated human nearby, she had to survive!

The captain stepped away, apparently forgetting about her at this unexpected news. “The Old Blood, you say?”  The sound of gears whirring in his chest cavity reached her ears. No doubt he was teleporting the information he had just learned back to his scientific masters in  Ru’ahal along with satellite images of the area.

A robotic chirp sounded as a blue light glowed from between his ears.

“The masters have just told me their will.” The captain turned his back to her as he spoke to the others. “They want the Old Blood taken alive.”

At this, Elira burst into action. Pulling the knife from her belt, she leapt toward the Hunter and struck at his right leg, hard. Sparks slid along the side of her blade as she cut through wires and jerked the blade free. The captain stumbled to one knee, his arms flailing about as he bellowed his anger. She didn’t know if the robots could feel pain but, if they could, that had to hurt.

Elira darted to one side, swung up into the empty saddle of the Hunter’s horse and spurred it into action. “Move! Move!”

The horse streaked forward, galloping up the plateau at a pace that stole Elira’s breath. She clung to its metal neck, trying to keep her balance on the slippery saddle. Judging by the angry shouts and sound of pounding hooves behind her, it seemed that the other Hunters were not far behind.

Elira leaned left, knowing that their deadly guns would soon go into play.

Keow! Keow!

Energy bolts carved craters out of the ground, missing her by mere centimeters. She leaned forward, urging the horse on. “Hurry!”

Finally, she crested the plateau. She pulled hard on the horse’s reins, stopping inches away from a pale, skinny boy who stared at her as though she were a Hunter herself! He was about her age, wore short trousers that were covered in mud, and was missing a shoe. This… is the Old Blood?

 He looked nothing like what she would have imagined. The legends portrayed pure humans as creatures of immense power but this one was small and weak. But if he was who the Hunters claimed, she couldn’t risk leaving him behind.

“Get on!” She held out a hand, while trying to calm the snorting, stomping horse.

     The boy remained motionless, shaking his head. He said something, some words that made no sense. Evidently, he didn’t speak her language.

    “Maybe you’ll understand this. Get on or die.” Elira shouted at him, pointing to the rapidly approaching Hunters and then to the back of the horse. The pursuers were riding up the hill, she could see the tips of their plumed conical helmets.

     But the boy didn’t move.

    Desperate now, both to save him and herself, Elira rode closer. She would grab his arm and drag him up behind her. Old Blood or not, he obviously had no idea what was happening here. But at the last moment, just as the first of the Hunters rode over the top of the hill, the boy pivoted, ran to the plateau’s center, and slammed his shoeless foot down… hard.

     Immediately the plateau began to crack and crumble. Rocks broke free, tumbling down and crushing the Hunters below who struggled to control their rearing, plunging mounts. Elira’s horse danced forward as the boy dashed toward her, grabbed her outstretched arm, then swung up into the saddle behind her.

     She kicked the robotic horse’s sides, still surprised that it responded like the real, flesh and blood horses her own people used. “Shkoj! Go! Go!”

It darted forward, carrying both of them with as much effort as it would a piece of paper. She chanced a look over her shoulder. The sole Hunter who had made it to the top of the hill was backtracking as cracks widened beneath his horse’s feet. His horse reared. He fell backward and was soon buried in a pile of crumbling stone.

Their horse pounded down the opposite side of the hill, slipping and sliding as rocks crashed all around them. Finally they made it to the bottom and Elira let the robotic animal open up its stride as it streaked across the valley, along the coast of the pounding ocean. After about ten minutes, they entered a dense forest and she drew the horse to a shuddering stop.

     Sliding down, she landed with a soft thump on the grassy turf. After a few moments, the boy joined her. His brown eyes were wide as he took in her bronzed face, her outfit of deer skin and the white feather that dangled from each of her brown braids, identifying her as belonging to the Southern clan of the Illyrians.

She pointed to her chest. “Elira. My name is… Elira of the Southern forests.”

     She didn’t know if he would understand, but he pointed to his own chest and said, “Kit. Kit Benedict.”

     Kit. A strange name. She had never heard anything like it. But Kit’s voice was steady, despite the harrowing experience they had just come through and he had been intelligent enough to figure out a way to save their lives in a moment of sheer chaos. But if they were going to stay alive, they needed to be able to communicate.

     Elira reached into her pocket and pulled out a smooth, jade-green stone that was attached to a leather thong. An identical amulet hung from her own neck. She held the two stones together, pressing a smooth round-circle in each stone’s center. Kit drew closer, eyes glued to the stones that had begun to glow with a greenish light. After a few seconds, the light faded, and she held one out to him, motioning for him to put it around his neck.

    “Can you understand me?” She tilted her head to one side.

    A wide grin split his face. “Yes!” He held the stone in his hands, eyes moving from it to her face. “How is this possible?”

    “It’s nothing unusual.” Elira shrugged. “All of the Illyrians carry them. My people call it a talking stone. Once it’s turned on, each wearer can understand whatever language is being spoken. It’s the one gift the scientists of Ru’ahal gave to the world long ago before they became evil. I wasn’t sure if it would work with you since…” she paused as a feeling of near-reverence swept through her.

    “Since what?” Kit’s eyes were still glued to the stone.

    “Since you’re an Old Blood.”

     He frowned, glancing at her. “A what?”

      Instead of answering, Elira turned and slapped the horse’s flank. “Go home!” It reared then galloped off.

“Wait.” Kit staggered forward, hand outstretched. “Why did you do that?”

“Those things that tried to kill us, they’re called Hunters. Their horses have built-in tracking devices.  As long as the horse stays with us, other roving bands of Hunters will be able to easily find us.” Elira paused a moment. “Thanks for what you did back there. It was exactly what I had in mind.”

“Oh,” he shrugged, “it was nothing. I was scared to death actually.”

Her gaze dropped to his feet. He had somehow lost both shoes and now wore only socks that were soaked through. “Well, if we don’t get moving, we will die.”

“You’re going to say that we’ll have to walk through this forest, aren’t you?” Kit let out a dismal groan.

She laughed in spite of herself. “You’ve never walked barefoot through the forest?”

“Absolutely not. I could catch my death of cold!”

“We do it all the time.” Elira folded her arms across her chest. “Wasn’t there a great warrior in the past who stayed all night in the snow with his men?” She crinkled her brow trying to remember the name from the legend. “George… Fuzzington?”

Kit slanted her an irritated glare. “Washington. George Washington. And he was American not British. Americans are the only ones crazy enough to do such a thing.”

“Am-ura-kin.” She struggled to pronounce it. “Bry-tish. I do not know what these words mean. But I do know that other Hunters will soon be sent out to find us.” She tugged at his arm. “If we don’t leave now, we will die. And I can’t let you, the first Old Blood I’ve ever seen, die. Not before I reach the Prophet.”

“What are you talking about?” Kit jerked his arm free of her grasp. “Hunters? Old Blood? Prophet?” He blew out his breath in an exasperated sigh. “Turnips and tomatoes! Where am I? I mean, one minute I’m being harassed by Nick Jaggers and his gang. The next minute, I’m drowning in a bog and, in the next, I’m being chased by some killers in ridiculous outfits over an exploding hill!”

He forked his fingers through his brown hair. “Am I going bonkers or is this all really happening?”

“I will explain but please,” she again tugged at his arm, “we must go now.”

Grudgingly, he pulled off his socks, stuffed them into a pocket in his trousers and trudged forward on the narrow, dirt path beside her. “At least it’s warm out.” Kit turned to her. “Now, tell me what exactly is going on.”

Elira pulled in a deep breath as she strode easily beside him. The pine forest, which marked the foremost boundary of her clan’s tribe, held no terrors for her, only a sense of warm familiarity. “This land is called Britannia by most, but my people know it as Illyria. The legends tell us that, almost a thousand years ago, a great battle called the Battle of Maggedo was fought far from here between the tribes of the world. Humanity was nearly destroyed but a few hundred men and women managed to survive. They divided themselves into tribes based on the languages they spoke and scattered across the planet.”

She paused at the foot of a tall, heavily-laden date tree, picked a handful of dates and offered him some. “Eat. I lost my supplies while running from the Hunters, so we’ll have to eat whenever we can find food.”

“Thank you.” Kit bit into the sweet fruit and chewed noisily. “Then what happened?”

“The battle of Maggedo, which we also call the Great Destruction, was brought on by scientists—men and women who built great weapons powerful enough to destroy other nations. Because of this, those who survived banned the study of anything other than medicine for many years. But the legends of my people say that the hunger for power made some of the survivors want better weapons. And so, the study of science began again.”

“What does this have to do with those,” Kit pointed a grimy hand toward the distant hill then wiped it on his trousers, “those things that were chasing us?”

   “They are called Hunters. My mother told me that, by the time she was born, the knowledge of Britannia’s tribes had surpassed even that of the Old Bloods before the Great Destruction. When she was a child, three scientists came to power. They are called The Three: Torig, Malis and Santus.” She spit out a date seed, hating even the sound of the dreaded names. “They forged an empire based on fear. They designed mechanical men and horses, the Hunters, who obey their every command. The Hunters are tireless and merciless.” She grew quiet. “They killed my father.”

     Kit came to an abrupt stop. “That’s awful. Elira, I-I’m so sorry.” His eyes dropped to the ground. “I don’t have a father either.”

      “Your father died in battle too?”

      “I-I don’t know.” Kit let out a deep breath. “I never met him. My mum neither. They didn’t want me, I guess.”

      For a moment, Elira just stayed quiet, not knowing what to say. Folklore had always painted the world before the Great Destruction as a happy, prosperous place where everyone had a lot to eat and civilization was at its height. But what kind of world was it in which children weren’t wanted?

      She decided to change the topic. “After the three scientists took over, they began to enhance all people in Britannia. At first it seemed to be good. Better sight, the ability to live longer lives, the ability to breath underwater like a fish—they invented things that could help us. But after everyone it became normal to get enhanced, the leaders of Ru’ahal showed their true evil nature.

The Three forced everyone to get injected here.” She touched the base of her skull. “With their needles, they put something inside that allows them to control the people of Britannia’s thoughts and feelings. The entire world is under their control.”

      “What?” Kit’s face was incredulous. “And everyone was okay with this?” He shook his head. “And I thought Nick Jaggers was a bully.”

      “Anyone who refused was killed by the Hunters,” Elira said. “Only my people, the Illyrians, chose to run and hide in the wilderness rather than lose our freedom. That is why they hunt us. Anyone who resists their will is a threat, you see? They fear that we will rise up against them and so they are determined to kill us all.”

She gestured to the trees around them. “I was born in these woods. For the past twelve summers, my tribe has not spent more than two months in one place. But now, as the Three grow even stronger, we are being driven toward the Great Sea. Soon, there will be nowhere left to hide.”

    “What are you going to do?” Kit looked around. “Where are the other people in your tribe?”

    “I have left my tribe.” Sadness crept into her voice, sadness laced with determination. “I’ve run away. I am on my way to find the Prophet. They say he lives in the Ga’alan Mountains to the north.”

      Kit swung his head back toward her. “Who?”

      “The Prophet. He is an old man who, some say, lived before the time of the Great Destruction itself. He is the one Old Blood that not even The Three dare challenge.”

      “Hang on a minute.” Kit held up a palm. “Didn’t you say that this… Destruction bit happened almost a thousand years ago?”

      Elira nodded, curbing her impatience. “Yes. The Prophet is said to be the wisest man on earth. If anyone will know how to save my people, it will be him.”

      “This chap is a thousand years old? Seriously?”

      “I don’t know. I’ve never met him.” She folded her arms across her chest. “But I’m going to find the Prophet. And you have to come with me.”

     “Me?” Kit’s eyes were as round as the stone that hung from his neck. “Oh, no. No, no. I’m going to find a way home. Back to the orphanage in Britain where there are no killer horses, no exploding hills and no crazy scientists!”   

     “But you don’t understand, Kit! You are an Old Blood. You’re someone from the legends of the past.”

   “What is it with you people and having old blood? I don’t even know what that means.”

    Elira sucked a deep breath through her nose, trying to calm herself down. How could he be from the past and know so little of the world’s history?

“Kit, most people here live for at least four hundred years but we’re not pure human; we’re what science made us.”

“No one lives that long in my world. I think you lot have the better blood.”

“You don’t understand. Yes, we have longer lives but we are slaves. We’re prisoners of fear.”

Kit slanted her a skeptical glance. “Look, um, Elira. I’m really, very sorry about all this but… what does that have to do with my blood?”

“Everything! The prophecy clearly says that an Old Blood will come to Britannia.”

“What prophecy?”

Elira grabbed his shirt. “The prophecy that one day a man of pure blood will come and rescue us from our enemy.” She was yelling now but she didn’t care. “It’s the only thing The Three fear. Don’t you see? It’s talking about you, Kit! You’ve come from the past to save us all. You need to come with me and find the prophet.”

       “Hang on. Just, just hang on, alright?” Kit pried her hands off and took a step back. “Are you saying that I’m… in the future?  That this,” he rapped on the rough trunk of the date tree, “is planet Earth in the future?”

       “Yes!” Elira gave an emphatic nod. “The Hunters called you an Old Blood which means you have somehow come here from a time before the Great Destruction. Don’t ask me to explain how.”

       “Turnips and tomatoes!” Kit clapped a hand to his forehead. “So you’re saying that, when I fell through the bog, I somehow travelled to the future? That the red-button-wotsit on the hill, actually opens up a gateway back to where I’m from?”

       “I don’t know.” Elira clapped her hands to her hips. “I’ve never seen that thing until earlier this week and I’ve lived near here my whole life. The fact that it’s shown up now proves my point.” She jabbed a finger against his chest. “Your arrival is no accident. El must have sent you.”

        “El? Who’s that?”

        “Oh never mind that now!” Elira didn’t bother trying to curb her impatience. “The fact is, you were sent for a purpose, Kit. The fate of this entire world depends on you. Will you come with me?”

What do you think? Will Kit join Elira on her quest?

 Find out what happens next in Episode 3: Decisions Decisions