A Dusk Awakening

June 5, 2012
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Where in the world is he? I think as I aimlessly walk around the cobblestone streets. This was his idea after all; he wanted to check out the night life as the Spring Festival approaches. The days leading up to the festival are always hyped up in events; tonight’s is a plethora of performers that cater to people in search of laughter and joy. There are also vendors selling mouth watering candy and music for casual dancing. I have repetitively heard that the nights leading up to the Festival are enchanting and carefree but I never had the nerve to check it out until Aaron suggested it.
Yet, where is he? We planned to start earlier until I got bogged down in lessons in thermodynamic theories regarding entropy and enthalpy. Only some of it makes any sense to me, the rest is reminiscent of gibberish. Dannik, my teacher or master, whatever, believes that I’ll understand it in a few weeks; I have yet to believe him. Anyways, the lessons were so abundant that it took me extra time to get out of the workshop pushing back our plans. It also didn’t help that I left my keys to the workshop at home this morning. I was so rushed to get my brother ready for school that I left them on the counter. However, Aaron said he’d pick up the keys for me so I could lock up the shop. That was fifteen minutes ago.

Besides the sounds of my own feet creating a percussion of noise in my head, the street is filled with sounds of genuine laughter and uplifting music that make me want to dance. But my search for my missing friend suffocates that urge. Across the street I can hear loud voices coming from a bar. It's sad to see, for most of the drunks are my people, desperately trying to forget a war we lost six years ago. It's an escape I’ve considered a few times, but I made a promise to my mother, and I intend to keep it. Besides, it tastes terrible. The bar isn’t as busy as it normally is on Friday though, most likely because the Festival brings out more joy than reminders of the past.

The path I currently walk is called The Road of New Beginnings, or in my tongue Re Adava Garsilan, and is far more like a glorified plaza than a road. It has been saved from modern practices, so it still resembles what it looked like hundred s of years ago. Granted, most of this city can claim that. The modern practices in the street have an old feeling to them, like the hologram advertisements look like they are faded into the wall, almost non-existent. It’s an old feeling that I enjoy and reminds me of my ancestry. The street lights above me connect to each another via strings separated by an illuminated lamp. Light from the lanterns gives the street a homey feel. Brick buildings that surround the the street are decorated with bright colors of all origins. Most of the streamers are bright red, yellow, blue, and green. Yet, the colors that stand out the most are pure white and a blood red. Pink flower buds blossom out of the trees that line the street, naturally signifying the coming of spring. Couples dance in the street while other people watch in awe of the talented performers. Children run through the crowds playing hide and seek, laughing and giggling as their parents rush to find them. The smell of cinnamon sticks steals my senses and makes my mouth water in desire. Once I find Aaron we are going to the sweet stand, cinnamon sticks are our favorite sweet, so I'm sure he won’t disagree.

I raise my left hand and try calling Aaron through my holo-device. It lights up around my hand in bright white as it attempts to connect to Aaron. However, in big red letters it flashes up with, “Would you like to leave a message for Aaron Alimani?” for the fifth time now. This isn’t like him, although he isn’t the most posthumous at answering his phone, he has kindness to pick up after the second or third dial. I know he can be laid back but this is a bit much.

Back when I was eight, Aaron saved my family during the destruction of Vi-Nori, my people’s capitol city six years ago. Vi-Nori was destroyed in a surprise attack that killed thousands of people, my father being one of the deaths. A complete stranger found an underground passage that saved my mother, my younger brother, and me from the encroaching fires and murderous soldiers. That stranger ended up being Aaron. So, I owe him my life, but in the end that debt doesn’t really matter. He’s been my closest friend ever since.

It has been almost twenty minutes since he said he’d be here. A sinking feeling sets into my heart as I look about franticly. He’s not too hard to spot, he’s a big fifteen year old that has daring light brown eyes and curly brown hair that looks like he just got out of bed. He also values his body and is decently strong. But no curly haired goof in sight.

I hope to God nothing bad has happened to him. I think to myself continuing in my aimless direction. I’m approaching the iron gates of the city that lead to the exit of Lifition and into the outer city, which is where I live. The iron doors dominate the entrance standing at least thirty stories tall. There’s no way he’s outside of the inner city, he’s got to be around here somewhere.

Suddenly, something hits my left leg, angering me for my lost thought. I look over my shoulder to see a ball slowly rolling away from me and a group of innocent looking boys cringing, ready for a scolding.

“Sorry miss!” The youngest says in a squeaky voice. His voice is as squeaky as my brother’s, but this child is much bigger than my brother. I notice that their parents are watching me closely with vested interest.

“It’s fine.” I say smiling, but I speak with more anger in my voice then I wished to let out. To make up for it, I step down from into the road and kick the ball toward the children. The one with the squeaky voice catches it with his foot and proceeds to continue his game with his friends. Their parents look away like I hadn’t even existed, satisfied with my response.

Walking back over to the sidewalk I notice that the alleyway in front of me has shadows dancing on the far wall, shadows that are being casted by an adjacent alley. The light down the alleyway is minimal and it seems that the only real source of light is a flickering light in the middle of the alley. The flickering light occasionally illuminates a small chrome pipe which shines when it is lit. I walk down to the mouth of the alley and can make out angered voices in the distance. I take a few steps forward before I stop myself. What are you thinking, they are most likely some rowdy drunks gambling down in the alley. I tell myself.

I turn around to continue my search when my eye crosses a key lying dead on the pavement. I pick it up and notice instantly that it’s my workshop key, iron with three notches. I look down the alleyway again and stare at the dancing shadows. Aaron had my key, is he down in the alley?
Aaron can’t be down there, there’s no way. I think to myself. I tuck the key into a pocket and I begin to walk down the alley. I suppose there isn’t any harm in looking but something about this darkness puts me on edge. Behind me, I can still hear the joy from the festival events but they are fading into the dark. The alley smells of trash that numbs my nose while the flickering light acts as my only reference to sound and light. There’s no telling what I’m going find in the adjacent alley. It could be a simple argument. Aaron might not even be down there. He has been clumsy enough to drop things on occasion. He might just be messing with me, waiting to scare me half to death. Yet, as I approach the chrome pipe in the center of the flickering light, I find myself picking it up. As a precaution or a way of calming my edge, I can’t rationalize why its cold metal now rests in my shaking fingers, but its chilling embrace is oddly welcome.

As I approach, the voices get louder and clearer, but the terrified beating of my heart masks the voices. From what I can make out, the voices are not in a friendly dispute, not like that was obvious.

I can make the sound of bone hitting flesh and grunts of pain that follow. My lungs clench tight when the only thing separating me from an answer is one step. I move towards the right, hugging the wall while sliding my back down as I near the edge of the alley. The brick from the building digs into my skin and holds onto my clothing, like it’s trying to hold me back. Light from the adjacent alley diagonally cuts the darkness of my alley, illuminating a new shadow on the wall. The new shadow is laying on the ground in anguish.

“Are you submissive yet, idiot?” A raspy voice says with an apparent invader accent, quick and direct. It’s an accent I’m very familiar with.

I peak one eye around the corner and see three young men a few years older than me encircling a man. All of them are wearing foreign clothing I’m not familiar with. The man speaking, who’s likely their leader, is wearing a black coat that has dimly lit lights on its back. One of the invaders is bleeding from his nose and another is holding his side. I can’t tell if the leader is hurt, his back is to me.

When I finish examining the invaders I glance down and come eye to eye with light brown eyes that have a boldness shifting in them. Aaron. One of his eyes is bloodshot and bruised, yet the other is largely intact. Blood and grime cover his tattered face and his clothing is splotched with blood. My heart sinks while my mind fumbles to comprehend the situation. I can feel anger building in me, but my fear still freezes me in place.

I’m a tiny girl; I don’t have much of a chance against four older men that are bigger than me. If Aaron couldn’t match these guys, what chance do I have? I’m a twig compared to all of them. Perhaps they’ve had their fun and will leave Aaron alone.

Aaron nods at me with an understanding look in his eye. It must be obvious I’m scared. Aaron then smiles in his cocky, know-it-all way and says to the leader, “No.”

“You son of a-“the leader says as he proceeds to kick Aaron in the side. Aaron crumbles into the pavement yelping in pain, his blood further soiling the pavement. I look away from the horrific scene and back into dark alley while I hear the beating continue. Why did he have to say anything? His bravery is going to get him killed. my body is shaking out of control and I have the sensation to gag. Do something! I scream to myself.

I look down at the pipe in my hand and then take one last breath of air that liquidates in my lungs. Perhaps I don’t have a chance, but I can’t just sit here and listen to this. I summon every ounce of bravery in me and rush into the light of the adjacent alley.

I launch myself at the leader of the invaders who is about to kick Aaron. I slam the pipe into the side of the leader before he can connect to Aaron. The leader falls to the ground holding his side. The man to his left turns to face me with an astonished look on his face. Before he has the chance to overpower me, I impound his ribcage. I hear a loud crack ripple from his ribs.
Suddenly I’m stumbling back as a blow to my side churns my insides. Before I catch my breath, something enormously strong locks my arms and encircles my head. I throw my head back and thrash my body violently. His hands shove my head down with a force that sprains my neck. An anguished scream passes my lips and I become limp from the shattering pain in my neck.
“Feisty one we got here Tyr.” The man holding me says pridefully, like he caught a rare fish. There’s no use in resisting, he’ll just inflict more pain on me, although I just want to hit this guy.
At least I tried. I tell myself. I take a glance at Aaron. His eyes are wide in concern and suffering. He’s trying to force himself up but can’t muster the strength to battle through his pain. He’s always tried to defend me. Seeing him in agony while trying to save me just makes me want to scream ‘Stop!. I wish he would stop.
At least I tried. I tell myself.
Defeated, I look at the three invaders who are staring angrily at me. They are all wounded but I doubt any of them will need to go to the hospital. The leader fiddles with a steel ring on his right fist that is soiled in blood while his eyes hungrily glare at me. His eyes are shadowed by the lamp behind him, but his pupils creepily examine my every detail. He has black hair practically blends into the darkness but is slightly lit by the light from the lamp. However, his most terrifying trait though, is his God-forsaken smile.
“She is, isn’t she? Surprising for her size.” He says stepping closer to me. I resist the urge to spit on him. I can’t make this worse than it already is. The leader smells like dried blood and sweat. The odor is almost overpowering but I’ve been around worse.
I peer into the invader’s eyes even though I just want to look away. If he’s going to examine my every detail, I want my eyes to be burned into his mind.
“This idiot is a friend of yours I take it?” he says pointing at Aaron. I have no interest in answering this forsaken invader but I reluctantly nod.
“I’ll give you credit, you are brave. But I think you deserve the same treatment as your friend here does.” He says prepping his steel fist. I grit my teeth in preparation for the pain; it’ll be a miracle if Aaron and I can crawl home tonight. The fear inside of me boils and bleeds through my bones with pure terror from the oncoming beating.
One of the invaders grabs the leader’s arm before the leader slings it into me. The boy has similar features to the leader but the only difference is he wears a disturbed look on his face. He has smidges of blood on his face and hands but not as much as the others. And from the angle of the light I can see his eyes. HIs eyes are a churning blue, like an artist failed to completely mix two shades of blue, leaving a whirlpool of color.
“Tyr, she’s just a girl.” He says slowly, “Just leave her.”
The leader dislodges his gaze on me and turns to his friend with ire in his eyes. I don’t mind not being the main target for a moment. Even if this boy’s methods of ‘saving’ me are chivalric, it annoys me slightly. He likely doesn’t realize my people don’t single out genders, only capability. At least, most of the time.
“Shut up.” The leader says shaking the boy’s hand off. “I'm not leaving her without a parting gift.” He says lifting his right hand again. The ring on his fist glints from the lamplight and I shut my eyes and tense up my body in anticipation.
His fist pounds into my mouth and I scream as the sprain in my neck is reignited. My face trembles in suffering and a warm liquid begins too flow down my neck. My scream is silenced when his fist impounds my stomach. The man holding me throws me and I smash into the ground gasping for air. I can hear the invaders talking but I can’t make out what their saying. The air shifts as feet move around me. They seem to be walking around me like predators do to downed prey. I roll onto my back still gasping for air and open my eyes slightly. The chivalric invader stands over me looking more disturbed now than before. He looks away to the voices in the alley and takes one look at me before running into the alley with his gang. I can’t help but pity the boy.
My breath slowly catches me and senses come back. I have the urge to throw which I suppress forcefully. I push myself up on my knee and hold my abdomen. My neck is still shivering from the blow and my lip feels numb. I touch my lip and quickly jolt back as it protests. I’m dizzy and pained but I can operate. I hear a new voice trying to get through to me but I can’t make out the words.
“What?” I say tapping my ears and looking up at Aaron.
“You alright?” He says staring at me with a tender look in his eyes. I find it astounding that he is worried more about me than himself, considering he looks like he’s inches away from knocking on deaths door.
“Yes.” I say quickly getting up and kneeling next to him. Aaron’s wounds further churn my upset stomach, if he doesn’t get help soon he might bleed out. How he’s still conscious baffles me, I’d be knocked out if I were him. To think that Aaron looked like he could wrestle a bear this morning and now looks as fragile as glass sends me spiraling in disbelief
If I had caught up with my work faster I could have met up with him at a better time. So he wasn’t alone. Perhaps this could have been prevented. If I didn’t slack off we’d be having a fun time at the festival, eating cinnamon sweets. If I wasn’t such an idiot I wouldn’t be here bleeding with my friend. I did this to him. I think
He gently grabs my arm, “It wasn’t your fault Zazee.” He says. He’s one of the few people that can easily read me but the way he said my name sends shivers down my spine. .
“I…I….” I say trying to gather words for something I don’t understand. It’s something I’ve felt once before, when my mom died. An unanswered question that I have yet to understand. “Why?”
I suddenly realize that right now questioning him isn’t a good thing. I need to get him to the hospital before he bleeds to death. I can contemplate this later.
He opens his mouth to answer me but I place my finger on his lip. “Never mind, can you walk?”
“We’ll see.” He says groaning. I put my arm on his shoulders and he does the same. We lift each other both groaning and gritting our teeth from our wounds. He can’t really stand because his right leg protests every time he places it on the ground, which puts most of his weight on me. His weight on my body feels crushing, especially on my neck. But I have to keep moving, I need to get him out of here.
We both stumble down the alley I came from. Any trace of the invaders is gone, an empty and familiar alley leys in front of us. Oddly it seems brighter. I must have been hit harder than I thought. I can see the festival preparations in the distance. The vague sound of music echoes through the alley but I can’t understand it yet. I can also see in the distance the kids playing with the same ball, completely oblivious to what’s approaching them. It’s strange to think that if that boy with a squeaky voice didn’t hit me with the ball, I wouldn’t have noticed this alley. Aaron might still be getting beaten, and I’d still be wandering aimlessly. Aaron groans with every step and every step I shrivel from his cry. I want him to be normal, the bold supportive friend that he is. I want to eat cinnamon sweets with him and laugh at performers in the street. I just want Aaron back.
“By God, I’m so sorry Aaron. I’m so sorry.” I say letting loose one tear from the dam I’ve built on my eyes. I haven’t cried in two years, I can’t let loose now.
“Stop that. You just saved my life.” He demands in a tone I've never heard from him before. I nod, still fumbling to figure out this situation. He’s such a good guy, why did this happen to him? But he’s right. I just saved his life, at a great cost to myself. I can doubt and figure all this out later. I need to focus. I need to stay calm.
Before I realize it, we reach the mouth of the alleyway. The sound of laughter and joy calms the fright in my soul as we walk into the light of the street. The squeaky voiced boy notices us and his jaw falls agape in confusion. He looks back to his parents trying to put words into something he can’t describe. One-by-one the children stop and stare at us with the same expression. Guided by the nagging of their children, the parents notice us. Most of the parents look at us in shock and disbelief, others just watch. All of the parents are old enough to have either fought or participated in the war so I’m sure blood isn’t foreign to them. What distresses me is they cannot answer their children.
I prep myself to cry out for help but a man from the group of parents steps forward and runs to us with conviction in his steps. His steps have a crippled nature to them. I’ve seen it before, a few war veterans have the same crippled nature to their steps.
“Get the kids out of here! Regan, call the ambulance!” He demands in mid-step. The mothers snap out of their shock and grab their children taking them away in haste. As the boy with the squeaky voice is carried off, he struggles to grab his ball which rolls into the curb. Some of the men follow the veteran father with a similar conviction. I’m relieved that these parents are taking control of this situation; it was never in my control to begin with.
My muscles are aching from the exertion but I shrug it off and continue to guide Aaron into the street. The veteran father runs up and wraps his arm around Aaron, alleviating most of Aaron’s weight off of me, which I’m grateful for. The veteran father points out a clear part in the street that doesn’t have vendors or laughing people swarming the ground. We place Aaron gently on the cobblestone and I kneel next to him.
Immediately Aaron offers me his bloodied hand and I grab it without hesitation and squeeze it. One of the parents places his jacket under Aaron’s head to shelter him from the hard stone. Aaron’s face is remarkably calm but the redness in his skin has been replaced to a faded pale. His eyes are struggling to stay open and threatening to close. But through his eyelids, his eyes are still solidly locked on mine. I can feel the rush of hurried feet and voices of worried parents but the only thing I can focus on is the torn face of my treasured friend.
“Just hold on Aaron. Just hold on.” I say as tears start to flow down my face and my voice begins to crack. I run my fingers through his grimed hair. I can’t lose him too.
Aaron nods slightly and I can feel a squeeze from his hand, but it’s shaky and weak, nothing like the squeeze a month ago. Last month his grip on my hand was strong and determined. He dragged me through the forest to an old ruin outside of town in such an excitement that I could barely keep up with him. He was so excited to show me something ancient he found. When we reached the tower I was awestruck by its beauty. From what I could tell, the ruin was once an old watchtower back when my people used swords and steel plated armor. The upper part of the tower was long gone but the lower part of it still remained. The ruin had been infused with nature. Tall pine trees surrounded the old tower and the stonework was ingrained with vines from the forest. The only opening in the tower’s frame was a lone circular window that overlooked a small valley down the hill. The forest’s vine engraved the stonework around the window but left the rusted metal window panes untouched. I was astonished that such an ancient structure survived hundreds of years through the freezing winters and was harmoniously integrated into the forest’s atmosphere. Aaron mocked me in my awe, telling me to get out of the city more. Before he let go of my hand, he gently squeezed it and we ran to explore the ruin further.
I’m snapped back into reality when my face is turned to the veteran father. He calmly holds my chin examining the wounds on my face. He was likely so astonished by Aaron’s wounds he didn’t notice mine. I can still feel the blood flowing from my lower lip and my stomach is still churning, but I’ve ignored it.
“I’m fine.” I say, gently pushing his hand away. The veteran father looks at me with deep empathy and with a fatherly tenderness, accepts my word retreating his hand. The veteran father has an scarred face that is greatly covered by a well trimmed beard. His brown eyes have a glazed look to them, completely unreadable. He reminds me of my father, experienced and haunted. Strangely, I feel a kinship with this veteran father that I have no name for.
“The Yinks did this didn’t they?” The father says, using our slang word for the invaders. It means ignorant fool, as its least offensive meaning. I hear a slight anger in his voice that is overcome by his discipline. I nod slowly, still conflicted. The father swears under his breath, something about children, and continues to administer first aid to Aaron the best way he can. Aaron’s voice cracks inaudibly through the blood in his mouth. I look back at him barely able to hold back my sob.
“Shhhh. Please, don’t hurt yourself.” I beg him. He’s just making it more unbearable for me. He shakes his head in refusal and gulps. He painfully chuckles and smirks at me, like he always does.
“We should go for cinnamon sticks when I'm out.” He says with excitement in his voice. Leave it to him to lighten the mood.
I let loose a saddened laugh that sounds more like a sob. “I’d like that.”
“Then it’s a plan.” He says squeezing my hand again with a gleam in his shifting eyes.
Suddenly flashing lights of blue and red envelop us and the loud noises of a siren vibrate my eardrums. I look up and see a large amount of people gathered around us. The only thing I can hear is the ring of the siren. Laughter, music, and the shrieks of joy have been silenced. The Road of New Beginnings has come to a standstill. The only thing familiar to me is the smell the cinnamon sticks in the air. The faces of my brothers and sisters are illuminated by the flashing lights. Their faces range from fear, understanding, concern, to pure rage. They know who did this, how could they not?
I see the hovercraft coming down from the sky and the blue glow of its engines shining off from the silver frame of the craft. The engines release a comforting heat on my skin and a small shift in the air that dries the blood on my neck. People clear a path for the hovercraft to land and it slowly descends. It lands near us and its doors drop revealing a whole crew of emergency respondents dressed in white. They jump out with a stretcher in hand and rush to us.
“We’re going to get you out of here Aaron.” I say with hope in my voice. I see happiness dance through his clenching eyes. The tenseness in his muscles lesson, but he still holds my hand with an unwavering grasp.
Someone grabs my shoulder and says, “Madam, I’ll need you to step away from the man.” Aaron squeezes my hand one last time and I return it with fervor.
“I’ll be there for you Aaron, I promise.” I say reluctantly letting go and stepping back. The team of medics mass around Aaron to the point where I can no longer see him.
The medic that gripped my shoulder moves to my front with a flashlight in his hands. He mildly moves my head left and right. Slight pain shoots through my neck, but I don’t care, I just feel emotionally and physically exhausted. The Medic turns off his light and frowns.
“You’ll need stitches but we don’t have room. I wish I could fit you in the hovercraft.” He says saddened. “Someone will need to get you there.”
The veteran father wraps his arms around me in a similar way Dannik does and says, “Don’t worry, we’ll get her there.”
The medic stands there for a moment contemplating something then nods. He hurries off to the hovercraft that is about to depart, taking a glance back at me when he gets into the hovercraft.
I spot Aaron one last time before the doors close. Just as the door shuts, Aaron smiles boldly at me and places his bruised head on the gurney. A slight sinking feeling courses through my veins. I need to get to the hospital, he can’t be alone. But first I need to thank the father. I look at the veteran father who still has his arm wrapped around my shoulder.
“Palova te herran, len doven.” Thank you brother, in the highest regard, I say. It’s the least I can say to this honorable father. “What’s your name?”
The father nods like he didn’t need to be thanked. I understand, it’s his duty as a father. “My name is Val. Do you have family?”
“I have an aunt and an uncle-in-law. But I want to call Dannik; he’s one of my guardians.” I say. The veteran father lets go of me and I prep my holo-tool and call Dannik. He told me once that if I needed someone for any reason, all I had to do was call. He’s one of the few people I trust and is the closest thing to a real father I have.
As the phone rings my body begins to waver. I feel hollow, cracked, tired, and confused. I’m so tired of holding back an anguished scream I’ve held in for two years. Tired of holding back everything in me. Perhaps Dannik was right. I need to scream once in awhile or suffering will just build and build.
Suddenly, a deeply accented voice speaks through the speaker. “Aye, lassie?”
“Dannik, I need you. Please. Aaron...Aaron....he's...” The dam of tears around my eyes shatters. My sobs escape my throat and my knees break like twigs. I've lost control of myself. I fall to my knees sobbing.


To Be Continued





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