Chapter 3: Tick Tock…Tick Tock
The Fifth Month, Leo
The Fourth Week, Caligos
The Fourth Day, Summum Lux
Sometime after, complete blackness came and covered my conscious.
Pain. Unbearably hot pain. The Fallen One’s sword still pierced through my chest, burning away at my very existence.
If I was dying, couldn’t I at least see what I was staring at? Maybe see the last stars in the sky before my soul departed to go to wherever murdered souls went.
It took all my energy to force one eyelid open. At first, everything was just a blur of black and dull orange. Somewhere in the distance something shone brightly. Moments passed – I could hear the seconds tick by as if there was a clock right be my ear – and I tried to lift my head.
I thought the pain would shoot up and leave me dropping dead, but instead the pain slowly subsided. I was sort of dumbfounded. The pain was something like dropping from a building and landing on a dozen sharp pikes, and yet it slowly ebbed away from my being. How strange.
But I managed a smile. That was good! Really good! It meant I wasn’t really dead. I was still alive, well and alive. No one would really be worried – sure, my mum would be fretting at my absence, but it was better than completely disappearing off the planet. I sighed. I was okay. It will be okay.
But it wasn’t okay.
That vision I had received. It was naturally unsettling, something that didn’t fit in with my being. For one thing: the Fallen One. It was the most disturbing part. The embodiment of evil was, perhaps, the most evilest thing ever. And second: the Chosen One. In that vision, the Fallen One had mentioned that every person who had gone to stand up to complete darkness was named ‘Audax’.
My name was Audax.
I sincerely hoped it wasn’t a coincidence, but now I wasn’t so sure.
I groaned as I tried to get myself back onto my feet. My chest and arms felt numb, but I got myself standing up again. I was surprised and distressed at how long I was out here; night had passed through, and the first light of dawn burned in through the alleyway I was in right now. I had been here a whole night. Now my worries were rising; no doubt my mum was running around the neighbourhood, trying to find me. That thought gave me sheer determination to get back.
But my determination withered to dust when I heard a low growl behind me. I turned to face the looming figure of shadow, the one who had pinned me to the wall when I entered the alleyway. It was still here…and so was its appetite.
With a shudder, the beast’s form changed, melted and shrunk into the body of a midnight-black panther. Eyes of red rubies stared longingly at me with malicious hunger.
It pounced, but I felt something inside me shift. I instinctively raised my hands to block the shadow-panther’s attack, and it toppled on top of me, and we went rolling for a few metres along the ground. The beast snarled as it raked its claws across my face. I reeled back, yelling, clutching my wounded cheek. I felt warmth seep down the side of my face. Noting this as its chance, the beast leapt at me. I sidestepped. It jumped at me again, and I avoided its attack again.
This went on and on, until I finally couldn’t stand it anymore. The shadow-panther flew towards me, and I raised my hands. The beast connected with me, and I awoke to something even more astonishing and terrifying.
As the panther made an attempt to snap at me with its teeth, I lashed my hands around its snout and held tight.
And I was disturbed beyond measure.
My hands. My hands were lashed around this creature’s mouth, and they were wreathed with red-hot flames of golden fire. Fire. That’s right, and it was something that I had not even thought about seeing.
The creature yowled and tried to get away from me, but I held on. I poured all my strength into it, and the roaring flames responded to my will. They burned brighter, burned hotter, hotter to the point where I could actually feel and hear the sizzling of burning flesh. Or shadow, whatever this shadow-beast was made of.
The panther yelped and finally managed to wriggle out of my grip. I think I must have welded its eyelids shut, because it stumbled around blindly, bumping head-first into dumpsters or the walls. I grabbed a broken glass bottle and rammed it into the side of the creature. It howled, long and loud, as the glass dug deep into its flesh, until finally it collapsed at my feet.
Its chest rose once, twice, stopped.
I was shuddering. My hands were still alight, but the flames had calmed slightly to golden tongues of heat and light. I watched as the beast’s shadowy form was absorbed into the ground, leaving no trace of a shadow-panther-beast behind. I gingerly touched my cheek – surprising myself that the flames didn’t burn my own face – and pulled my hand back to see blood coating my burning fingertips, changing the fire from gold to crimson.
I leaned against the wall and stared up at the sky. It was yellowish-amber now, the sun peeking through the buildings.
I shut my eyes and slid down to the floor. Everything…was becoming crazy. I wondered what Gemmeus and Timidus were to think of this. I wondered what my mum would think of this…
I opened my eyes. I wasn’t imagining that, was I?
‘Audax? Audax! Where are you? Audax!’
I turned my head to the right to see my mum standing at the opening of the alleyway. Her brown hair was streaked with worrying silver lines, her green eyes glowing with doubt. When her eyes fell on me, her face was a flurry of emotions – shock, disbelief, relief, shock, and alarm.
‘Audax! Audax, my baby!’ My mum’s gift of Celeritas brought her to me in less than a second, and she ran her hands all over me, inspecting my state. ‘What happened to you? My goodness, what happened to your cheek? Oh, goodness, oh no…’ She began sobbing for no apparent reason.
My stomach twisted. ‘Mum, it’s okay,’ I tried to explain. I reached for her, but she flinched, stood up and stared up at my hands. Yes, they were still flaming, if I have to still explain it again.
‘Your hands…’ she murmured. She rested her head in her hands and moaned.
I wondered if I could will the flames to disappear, and no more had I thought that, the fire in my hands vanished. No burn marks or anything. I stood up unsteadily and reached for my mum. ‘Mum, what’s the matter?’ I asked her, unsure if I was worried or frightened. ‘Is there something wrong going on?’
My mum lifted her head an inch, her green eyes staring at me warily. ‘Did something…out of the ordinary happen here?’ she whispered.
I considered lying, just to make her feel better, but I saw the worry and fear in her posture. If I lied, that would make matters ten times worse. And besides, I couldn’t keep strange occurrences all to myself – one day, it would make me drive insane. ‘Um, now that you mention it, there was one thing that happened.’ I told her about the mysterious shadow that had suddenly ambushed me when I set foot into the alleyway, and about the weird flashback I had seen. Of course, I told her about how I defeated the beast when I suddenly found my flaming hands.
My mum looked even paler than she was before. She grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the alleyway. ‘Mum, what are you doing?’ I asked. ‘Where are we going?’
‘I should have told you before,’ my mother said. ‘Now, I don’t think we have any time left.’ I was going to ask her what she meant, but her silence and her aura of distress forced my voice box to shut down. She pulled me across the streets, across the roads, all the way to the edge of the city.
Now, I always wondered what was so great about the city; really, there wasn’t much interesting going on. But outside…well, this was the real world. Regium City was only a realm of imagination, but the world beyond tested the limits. We both stumbled past the gates of the city, and the grass welcomed us to our territory. Wherever we went, little flowers bloomed around us, as if they enjoyed my mother’s company. We wandered for a few moments longer before our home appeared. It was nothing special, just a simple single-storey building with lots of vegetation and plants growing around, enough to make sure everyone would walk straight past it except us.
Mum had always told me that she and my dad built it together, but I was doubtful; for one thing, I never knew him. And second, even if I knew I had a dad, surely I would have known what his gifts were. There weren’t any clues about him. I asked mum where he was, but she only replied with a sad compliment of him being a brave man.
Yes, a brave man, but brave of what?
My mum forced the shrubs to part around us, and we entered our home. Simple, comfortable, home sweet home. She steered me to the kitchen and made me sit down on a chair so that she could clean my wounds. All the while, she asked me what I saw, what had happened, what I felt, everything. I was reluctant to answer any of them, but I answered with a slight hesitation.
My mum used her final cotton swab to fully clean the cut in my cheek. Then she sat on a chair opposite to me, her hands gripping my own hands.
‘I’m sorry, Audax,’ she said finally after a brief silence. ‘I should have told you before.’
‘Told me what?’ I demanded.
‘About the Fallen One, of course.’ She laughed bitterly. ‘How foolish I was to think that I alone could protect you.’ She gazed at me sadly with her green eyes. I knew that, any moment now, a few tears would fall from those eyes. I couldn’t bear that.
‘Regium City is just an illusion,’ my mum said. ‘A cover for a deeper secret. You had a flashback, yes?’
‘Well, I guess I should start from the beginning.’ My mother took a breath. ‘From the beginning of time, there was always the existence of good and bad. And they always fought each other. Good wanted justice and peace over the land, while evil wanted the entire world in its possession. Now, eventually they took forms – evil took the form of the Fallen One, a dark persona shrouded in shadow and violence. And good took the body of the Chosen One, the one destined to defeat all evil and have peace returned to the earth.’
My mum sighed, then continued. ‘Each time good and evil fought, they were incarnated into a different person but with the same personality. The evil was manifested into a being of pure hatred, greed and death. And good was formed into person with a name of ‘Audax’.’
‘Hold it right there,’ I said. ‘Audax. Why Audax? What’s so special about that name? I mean, anyone could have the name ‘Audax’, right?’
‘Yes, true,’ my mum agreed. ‘But legend tells that each reincarnated Chosen One will have the same gifts. They were born on the fifth day, Tonitrum Lux, the day of the storms – thunder, lightning, wind. And they were born on the fifth month, Leo, the month of the inferno, the wildfire of a lion’s heart. Meaning, they had the gifts of the storms and blazing fires.’
Just hearing those names made my heart quiver. Was it really true? I assumed it were all legends and myths, a story to teach us children to never stray to the wrong path, but now here I am, my mum telling me that they were still part of our lives.
‘Your father died protecting you.’ I looked up to see tears tracing down mum’s face. ‘Somehow, the guards that roamed the city knew that you were coming,’ she said. ‘Your father wanted to protect you, and so he gave you this.’ From her pocket she handed me a charm in the shape of a dragon’s head. Its eyes were ruby red, and it looked fierce enough to protect anyone.
‘But what am I going to do?’ I asked my mother. I reached forward to wipe the tears off her face. ‘What am I going to do? I’m just a lousy teenager. I don’t have skills! I can’t even defend myself from the school bully! What chance do I have against the Fallen One?’
‘Your powers,’ my mother replied. She clipped the charm of the dragon on a chain and placed it around my neck. ‘The Chosen One is powerful, stronger, wiser. And I believe that you have all those qualities.’ She leaned forward and embraced me in a hug, kissing my unscathed cheek.
‘Mum…’ I returned my gratitude to her in a hug, but my nervousness racked me entire being. ‘Mum, I know that you believe I have those qualities…but I’m still a rookie. I don’t know anything about these things!’
Just then, there was the sound of thunder rumbling across the sky, followed by the crackle of lightning.
Me and my mother stumbled outside. The brightening sky was completely covered with boiling clouds of ink. The sun could no longer peek through, and it was as if night had fallen again. I heard my mother gasp beside mem and I turned to see what she was gazing at.
In the distance, running fast and swiftly, were armour-clad men. Held in their grip were metal rods, electricity running along the metal. They were Regium City’s guards. As soon as my eyes fell on them, I had the faintest memory – a memory that belonged to me, thankfully – that I remember my mum running from these people, with me as an infant in her arms. Then it made sense: my father had gone down fighting them.
And they were going to pay for that.
My fists clenched, and I felt heat flow through my veins as my new power over fire acted. But my mum gripped my shoulder and steered me back inside. ‘Mum,’ I protested as she pushed me into the back storage of the house. ‘You’ve got to let me fight them! They killed him. They killed dad! I have to –’
‘No, they didn’t!’ my mum yelled. She was rummaging through boxes that littered the space. ‘The guards didn’t kill your father, the Fallen One did!’
My blood ran cold.
‘The guards were sent here to capture you, but you and I escaped because your father held them off. Then the Fallen One appeared and killed him off himself…at least, an essence of him did.’ My mother pulled out a rod from long box, which looked exactly like the ones the guards held. ‘Take this. Elemental Rods. They correspond to a person’s gift, and I hope it will serve you well.’
I hesitated, then took the rod into my own hands. It felt as if it was built just for me. As I watched, fiery lines appeared along the length of the metal. This may not be so bad, I told myself.
‘Get out of here,’ my mum pleaded. ‘Go!’
‘But, mum,’ I said. She pushed me out the back door. ‘Mum, I think I can do this.’
‘Too young, Audax,’ my mum said sternly. ‘Get your friends, Timidus and Gemmeus. You’ll need them.’
‘Go east, where the sun rises. You’ll learn to harness your gifts, you and your friends. Just go east and get out of here.’
'But where will I go?' I asked my mum, pleading.
'If you keep going east, you'll find a mountain in the shape of an arrowhead. Climb it, and that's where you'll get more help.'
The front of the house rumbled, as if someone had blasted down the front door. Quite literally. My mum turned to me, and I finally saw something in her eyes – that look of determination had returned to her. But I know it would all her energy to just keep herself together. And now I was going to leave her. Who knows how long I would be gone for. I’ll do anything I my power to come back. Anything. Anything at all.
But at least I’d have Gemmeus and Timidus.
BOOM! The ground rattled and shook like an earthquake. My mother pushed me further out, her eyes shining. ‘Go Audax, and avenge your father and save the world,’ she said proudly. Then the earth shuddered, and my mum turned around and thrust her hand to the door. Just as the armoured men came tumbling out of the back door of my house, a wall of dirt solidified in front of them, slamming them to the ground.
‘Run, Audax!’ yelled my mother. I wanted to stay here and fight alongside my mum, but I found myself turning and running back to the gates of Regium City. If I needed to do something, something like helping my own mum, I would need help of my own.
Guards were running throughout the city, down the streets towards my house. I guess they still thought I was there. The whole time, I ran in the safety of the shadows and dark alleyways. I needed to get to my friends unnoticed, which was easier said done times a million. At least four times I was about to be caught by the guards, but I only managed to escape by ducking behind a wall, or falling flat to the ground, my black jacket cloaking my body. When I was sure they were gone, I gripped my rod tightly and ran again.
Finally, I made it to a street where bluebells grew. I hurriedly raced to the fifth house on the street and raped at the door. ‘Gemmeus! Gemmeus!’ I cried. ‘Gemmeus, come on!’
It was around eight in the morning, and our school started at nine, so hopefully she would still be here. Bless my luck, she opened the door.
‘Audax?’ She was still in her night gown, her hair neatly plaited down her back. Her blue eyes scanned my body, and when she found the rod in my hand, and the gash on my cheek, she paled. ‘Audax, what happened?’
‘Let me in first,’ I told her. ‘I possibly on the highly wanted list right now. I’ll tell you, but just let me inside!’ Gemmeus knew whether I was trying to joke or when I was serious, but I thought she could see the worry in my face, so she pulled the door open and pushed me inside, closing and locking the door behind us.
‘Okay, what’s going on?’ she demanded.
‘You’ve heard of the Chosen One, right?’ I filled her in with my encounter with the shadow-beast, the flashback I had, my powers, the conversation I had had with my mum, and the reason why the guards were all over the city.
Gemmeus’s face paled. ‘You can’t be serious,’ she told me. To prove it, I raised my hands, which immediately burst into flames. In response, the metal rod, which I had placed on the table, also burst into tongues of golden fire. Gemmeus jumped back. ‘Okay, okay, you’re serious!’ she yelped. ‘Just don’t burn my house down!’
‘Fine,’ I said. I grabbed my rod. ‘Mum said I’ll need you and Timidus to come with me. Dunno why, maybe it’s because we’re friends, but –’
‘I’ll go pack,’ Gemmeus said, finishing my thoughts. ‘I’ll call Timidus to come over, and you can brief things in. And seeing that you didn’t pack anything for your escapade, I’ll tell him to bring some of his extra-extra-small clothes.’ See? This is what life’s like when you’ve got friends like these.
Half an hour later, Timidus turned up on Gemmeus’s doorstep like an abandoned child with a barrel-load of survival things. Gemmeus ran to him and pecked him on the cheek. ‘Hey, droplet,’ Timidus said. Then he turned and acknowledged me. ‘I guess I missed out on all the good stuff,’ he said, mocking me with some sad puppy-dog face.
‘I’ll tell you all about it when we get out of this blasted place,’ I said. ‘But were there any guards?’
‘Hundreds,’ said Timidus gravely. ‘I never knew there were so many. Where are they all coming from?’
Thunder rumbled. A shattering BOOM! I could hear people screaming. The hairs rose on the back of my head. ‘We have to leave,’ I told my friends. ‘Now.’
They nodded, and I threw the door open. Outside was a mixture of a disco party and chaos. People were running around. The city’s guards were running, too, waving their electrical rods around to command people around the place. And what made me disgusted was that they were all asking for one thing: Where is the boy? Where is Audax Ignis?
‘Come on.’ I pulled my jacket’s hood over my head and pushed my way through the crowd, careful to keep my head low. Couple of times, guards have run into me, but either payed no attention to me, or they thought I was irrelevant. I kept my rod out of sight. Finally, me and my friends were out of the bustling chaos and noise and we all ran to the eastern side of the city. Like always, we kept to the shadows, moving quickly and quietly, but not as stealthy as ninja.
A turn to the left, and the farming lands were spread before us. That was quick, I thought. Timidus and Gemmeus must have not attracted much attention.
But then I realised: they hadn’t made any noise. And was that the sound of electricity coming from behind me?
I turned around…and found Gemmeus and Timidus staring back at me with frightful expressions, the guards with their arms around their necks and hands. From the shadows, other guards in armour surrounded me, their lightning rods crackling.
A guard stepped forward, then swiftly grabbed me by the throat and lifted me off my feet. ‘Audax Ignis,’ he said in a deep voice. He said my name as if it were exotic. ‘The Fallen One would like to see you.’