Tensions had already begun to rise among the newly elected council members in the House. Cameron wasn’t entirely sure what he would do if the minority actually managed to get a formidable force together and act out against him. Of course, the dark period that was the Citadel’s history of segregating people as a result of their birthday was wrong – there was no question about that. He would know. There was nothing he could remember about his parents. But now wasn’t the time for his emotions to influence the decision he made regarding his citizens. Impartial – he had to remain impartial. Some people still believed in the ways of old, when people were grouped by their suggested personalities. As the man in charge, Cameron Durell needed to put a stop to them.
The House – or so Cameron thought – had done an excellent job of cleaning up the mess that Truman had created. They had successfully managed to eliminate The Brotherhood. But could they really be sure that no-one else would follow suit? A Council meeting was called later that day. Cameron would need to hold a ballot. Would he tell the citizens of the Citadel that Truman had simply been vanquished? Or, would he tell them that Truman was dead? By 17:00, the votes had been collected and counted. The overwhelming majority voted that Truman should be pronounced dead.
Come the morning, Cameron had prepared himself for the speech he would have to make to his people. Truman was dead. That was all they had to know. Everything after breakfast was a veritable blur; the arrangement of a press conference, the preparation of the Council and the shut-down of public entrance to the House. The Chancellor emerged onto the balcony, just above the courtyard and was greeted by a flurry of flashes and snapping cameras.
“I stand before you today, in order to address the rumours surrounding former Chancellor Ruric. These words come of no ease to me, I can assure you. But, Truman Ruric…is dead.” Immediately, the swarm of prying vultures descended upon him with their questions.
“That is all I am willing to say on the matter at this time,” Durell stated curtly, turning around and heading swiftly back into his quarters.
Later that evening, councilwoman Blake burst through the ornate wooden doors that lead to the Chancellor’s cabinet.
“Chancellor Durell, there’s something very wrong,” the petite, blonde woman had reached the steps leading up to the rostrum, sounding exasperated.
“What is it, Blake?” Durell sighed, rising slowly from his chair.
“A group of people in long, white robes have gathered in the courtyard, calling themselves The Collective. I believe it’s some reformation of The Brotherhood.” Durell had already walked over to one of his floor-to-ceiling arched windows by this point, raising his hand to rake it through his hair in frustration. Sure enough, a sea of white had flooded the courtyard, wielding plaques and chanting, “Long live Truman!”
Hastily, Durell made his way down the spiral staircase that lead from his cabinet to the art corridor. Racing through the seemingly never-ending corridor, the Chancellor reached the front door. Heaving the door, Cameron emerged onto the marble platform, which had stone stairs leading up from it from the enormous courtyard. A chorus of negative cheers blared into his ears. What had he done? Just then, a tall, thin man emerged, as the waves of people parted in order in order to let him pass. The man simply stood at the bottom of the stairs. A sudden hush took hold of the crowd.
“We are The Collective. We know what you have done. Do not think you can fool us. Truman is alive.” A hood was covering the man’s face, so that a dark shadow was cast where his eyes should have been.
“You have lied to your people; do not think we will let you get away with this.”
Abruptly, the man turned walked away, the walls of people closing in on him seamlessly as he passed.
Councilwoman Blake had come to Cameron’s side soundlessly. She rested a hand on his shoulder reassuringly. Cameron stared wide-eyed as this form flowed through the gates and parted, disappearing from sight. His ears began to ring and his vision blur. How could possibly repair this? Like some faraway land, Durell saw a hazy projection of Andrya Blake in front of him, both hands on his shoulders. She was saying something or other. A weight was crushing down on Durell’s skull. He wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to keep himself standing.
“Nero! Al! Rayon! Hustle up!” Secular’s voice boomed across the expanse of greenery and shook the boys of their focus. Nero raised his spare hand to pause the sim and turned to his friend. Pausing momentarily to exchange quizzical looks, the two boys began to make their way towards their instructor.
“Now initiates, I haven’t got all day!” Hearing these words, they began to sprint. Having reached the mountain of a man, Nero and Al were greeted by a disapproving sneer from a boy with a head of fiery, crimson hair.
“I have an assignment for the three of you,” their instructor began, every ounce of his voice oozing seriousness, “the Chancellor just requested a security detail on the streets of the Citadel, but made it expressly clear that this was not to be a big operation. Therefore, I believe that this would be good experience for the three of you – should you be up to the task.” All three of the boys stood open-mouthed for a moment as the significance of the task they had been entrusted with, sank in.
“You can’t be serious, sir. Me, with…them?” Rayon whined.
“I am deadly serious Rayon, whine like that again and you’ll be on clean-up duty.” The two other boys found it extremely hard to supress their laughter.
Within the hour, the trio had left the walls of the school and were en route to the Citadel. Rayon made no attempt to talk to Nero and Al as they made their way to the summit of a steep hill that would render them five minutes from their destination.
“We’re almost there.”
“Oh, well someone’s brightened up.” Al whispered, sarcasm dripping from his words.
“Hey now, I wouldn’t go that far – “
“I’m a metre in front of you. I can hear everything you’re saying.” Al simply scrunched up his nose at this whilst Rayon’s back was still turned. Nero rolled his eyes and thumped his friend on the back of his head.
The top of the hill gave the most magnificent view – a sort of untouched beauty that would hold a strong case for theists’ arguments from creation. It was peaceful too, as the three of them looked out over the Citadel. The only sound to be heard was the rustling of trees in the nearby forest and the chirping of birds as they had their merry conversations.
When the boys reached the streets of the Citadel, they realised that serenity couldn’t have been further from the truth. A column of flames engulfed a nearby bakery, all around groups of people burst into explosive arguments and a horde of people wearing white cloaks looked as though they were heading toward the House.
“Anyone have any idea who they are?” Nero stood perplexed next to Al on the pavement.
“No clue.” Was all Al could think to say.
“You two really are complete and utter idiots aren’t you? They’re The Collective, they believe Truman is still alive,” Rayon’s voice had an odd, wistful quality to it, “we should follow them.”
The newly-formed team tracked the cloaked mass along the street, Nero revealed three white cloaks and handed two to his partners. Al gave him a puzzled look as he took one and surprisingly, Rayon nodded his head slightly in approval. Suited up, the infiltrators weaved their way amongst the people, making sure to keep one another in plain sight, as they had been trained to do. Nero had almost reached the forefront of the group, when a thick fog began to roll in from the distance.
“Al! Rayon!” The two boys appeared as if they hadn’t left his side, but somehow everyone else had dissipated. Only the three boys were left on the street as the ominous cloud continued to press on.
“Wait, where’d everybody go?” Rayon’s head darted from side to side like a meerkat looking for its mob.
“I have no idea, but I don’t want to stick around to find out – we need to get to the House.” Al took immediate command in that moment, and turned, beckoning for the other two to follow.
“You three are not part of The Collective.” A haunting voice, unmistakably male, called out to the trio. Al halted instantaneously and spun on his heel. Nero took the opportunity to conjure a bow and arrows, whilst Al crafted a mace and Rayon began channelling his inner fire. A shadowed figure emerged from the fog and walked towards the temporary patrol guards. The slender figure was adorned in a similar fashion to the people that the boys had seen earlier. But a fine gold lace trimmed the edges of this particular robe; a four-leaf clover crest was covering his left breast in a similar material.
“Lower your weapons, I am not here to fight you.”
“Then why are you here?” Rayon’s voice sounded strained – a side of him that Nero and Al hadn’t heard before.
“Why my young boy, I am simply here to offer your ruler a warning. Whether or not he chooses to adhere to this warning is up to him – but it will be of great cost to his people if he does not.” An arrow whizzed through the air, having been fired from Nero’s bow and looked as though it was heading straight for the heart of the man standing before them. Miraculously, the arrow turned and sailed vertically, skimming the tip of the mysterious individual’s hood. A harsh, throaty cackle emanated from the mouth of the figure then. The slight up-turn of his lip could be seen beneath his hood.
“How did you –” Nero began, bewildered. Al stood slack-jawed, unable to contain his shock. Rayon tightened his jaw, willing himself not to show weakness. He would not let them see. He just couldn’t.
Something flew out from the man’s garb. Rayon immediately retaliated by sending a plume of fire towards it. Again and again and again. Nothing was working, why wouldn’t the damn thing burn? Nero fired at the unnamed threat once again – and missed. The thing was still flying towards them. Al hoped that he had accumulated enough power as he began readying himself to create a force field. Tiring of launching inept fireballs, Rayon wondered what else he could do. Nero removed something from mallet space. The first thing he could think of. A huge rifle. He fired immediately for the on-coming threat. A bolt of electricity followed the bullet. All three boys stood and watched as, yet again, another onslaught missed their target. Al took this as a sign to engage his shield. Buzzing could be heard around the boys and as Nero looked closer, he could see tiny ripples of light.
“I can only hold this for a few minutes, so we need a plan – fast.” Already sounding slightly breathless, Al warned his team.
Rayon – who had been silently pondering since his last failed attempt to obliterate the flying object – piped up, “I have a plan.”
“Spit it out then.” Nero replied urgently.
“Open mallet space, create a portal and I’ll jump in it. Then I’ll need you to create a loophole and toss it into the air so that I can jump through the other side – it’s the only way we’ll be able to surprise whoever that is over there and I’ll be close enough to do some serious damage.”
“I don’t know…that sounds dangerous…”
“Seriously guys, I’ve got another two minutes at most.”
A hissing sound snapped the boys from their reverie and they could finally see what was flying towards them. A ‘King of Death’ playing card. Unbeknownst to the trio, the miscreant was edging ever closer.
“Truman…” A sound, barely a whisper escaped Rayon’s mouth. “We need to do this…NOW!” Rage engulfed the boy in that moment, sending his hair and fists into a frenzy of roaring blue flames. Nero opened mallet space and watched intently as the other boy jumped into his portal. Knowing that the shield would be in the way, Al deactivated it.
“Now N…” His voice was raspy as he collapsed to the ground in exhaustion.
“Al!” Nero rushed to kneel by his friend’s side. Remembering Rayon, he generated a pothole and launched it as high as he could into the air.
Immediately, the sky was flooded with a deep blue light. The supernova that was Rayon headed straight for Truman.