Did the ground just speak? Aalok blinked rapidly, and his breath caught in his throat. The world seemed fuzzy as he watched from on high. The last vestiges of the setting sun glittered off the crystal pillars of his homeland, which rose from the forests of Whistlene. Aalok admired the beauty of his city as it, and the nearby Academy, clung jealously to the sun final rays. But as beautiful as Sherendot was, deep within his chest the boy could sense that something was wrong.
Aalok scanned the city, focusing in on the particular spire where his home could be found. There it was, nestled amongst the crystals; it appeared safe. Something within his gut told him that his home was not emperelled. But there was danger; elsewhere. The young boy’s attention was drawn to the peaks of the city.
The faint purple glow of twilight began to settle in on Poieo as the sun was swallowed by the Arms of Night, and the flaming orb lit the Dark Fires. The giant tower of Sherendot cascaded with the final reflections cast by the power of the sun, and the final beams of day shimmered down the crystals deep into the heart of Poieo feeding the land. Aalok knew that of all the clans, his was the most important, for they harvested the light and transferred the power to the world. Without the ‘owr, all life in Poieo would cease.
Then, moments before it occurred Aalok felt a soft, deep rumble.
The land itself groaned, and as the stars glittered through the clouds of the night sky, Aalok saw energy within the giant shard of Sherendot. But it didn’t travel downwards from the crest to the land below as it should; the energy was coming back up from the ground, and it traveled to the precipice of the crystal tower above Sherendot.
At the uppermost peak of the city was Sigil Park, and at the park’s height was Shama’s Sigil: a giant seven-pointed star that was the pride of Sherendot. Each arm of the star was a monstrous shard of crystal which glowed softly with different colors. The rumbling grew, and the entire crystal pillar began shaking, culminating in a horrendous shockwave that shattered Shama’s Sigil. The flash of light was so bright that it caused pain to lace through Aalok’s eyes, burning them.
Then he awoke.
* * *
A dream. He should have known. It had seemed so urgent, so dangerous. Aalok rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. One particular fragment of rheum was a little more stubborn, but he eventually got it out. With that success, he slipped out of his bed, and prepared for the first day of his last year of secondary school.
He couldn’t believe it! At the end of this year, at the Septumes festival, Aalok would undergo his testing to go to the Academy. He, Jair, and all of his other friends would be going; assuming that they could pass the entrance testing. What was most exciting about this year was that most students would begin showing their ‘owr de anima.
Aalok opened his closet and pulled out his school uniform. He marveled as he realized that a year from now, he wouldn’t be wearing these same clothes each day. The light gray slacks would become the charcoal gray of the Academy, stitched with strands of starlight, and the bright yellow shirt would become a deeper gold which shone with the golden rays of the sun. He squeezed a similarly light grey sweater over his head, and he fastened his matching tie to his shirt. He couldn’t wait; he couldn’t wait!
Looking into the mirror, he brushed the thick chestnut-brown hair back from his prominent forehead. He closed his eyes and splashed some water over his olive skin, thankful that he seldom had any pimples to worry about, even at age thirteen. Pimples always worried him for some reason. He hated the thought of them. Aalok opened his eyes, making one final inspection, and turned towards his door, ready for the first day of the last year of Secondary School.
The boy – no, the young man; he was thirteen, after all – bounded down the stairs enthusiastically, eager to get going. His caretaker, Andromeda greeted him, “God’s blessing to you, Master Aalok. Breakfast is prepared.” Andromeda was Aalok’s grandmother on his mother's side. After his mom died, Andromeda moved in with Aalok and his dad to help take care of him. Even though she was family, she always behaved very proper, keeping herself somewhat separate from Aalok, like a servant would. That morning, Andromeda wore a plain yellow dress with a brown smock, covering her slightly overweight body. She had long, stringy grey hair, and squinty blue eyes like Aalok’s mom did. Her skin was weathered and worn, but her smile was always welcome and warm. She didn’t look at Aalok as she tidied up around their kitchen, washing pans that she had used to make the meal.
“This looks amazing, Droma!” Aalok declared, using the familiar name he had used since he was little. The plate was full of eggs, and sausage, and pancakes and fried vegetables.
“I always love coming home after Septemus, Praise God” she replied. “Fresh stocks of everything!” she declared.
“I know, right?” the boy responded, digging into his meal. For a moment, he looked up, wishing that Andromeda would eat with him, but she never did. She lived in a small apartment connected to his house through a burrowed tunnel, and even though she was family, she never treated Aalok’s house like it was her home, just he and his dad’s. Breakfast was really good, and he wanted to tell her so, but he didn’t. He was too busy eating.
“Don’t get that on your uniform, Master Aalok.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he mumbled with a mouth full of pancakes.
Before long, Aalok finished, and after a moment or two of Andromeda adjusting his clothing, he said goodbye. Aalok left by the front door and paused at the entryway. His home was sun-side, and he could see the sun rising out of the Embrace of Dawn. Brilliant light shone into the tower, and his home city glowed with staggering radiance. A faint shimmer hovered over the horizon where flames from the rising sun lit the Mornfield, and Aalok sighed deeply. The sun was the source of life on Poieo, and it was a privilege to be a part of ‘owr, where everyone was tied intricately to the sun’s work. With that in mind, he grasped a small rounded crystal column and attempted to will some of his personal energy into it, to help feed the land. It was a reflexive movement that all ‘owr performed when they walked by the columns, and with almost certain faith, Aalok expected that he would see a glowing wisp of power travel from his hand into the column, but it was not yet meant to be. His anima had not come in. Oh well, he had all year.
With great enthusiasm, Aalok raced down the stairs leading to Trastevere Thoroughfare, the street that would take him to school. As he leapt down the last three steps to the road, he saw a young man emerge from the deep purple crystal door of the dwelling next door. Aalok smiled in greeting. Jair and Aalok's mothers had been best friends until Aalok's mother died a few years ago. Because of that, as often as not, Talitha (she insisted that Aalok use her proper name) would invite Aalok over for dinner with Jair and the rest of the family.
Jair was a tall boy, and he was filling in as puberty collided with him in a good way. He had careless brown hair with natural blond highlights, a prominent cleft chin, and eyes the color of the evening sky. Aalok and Jair lived next door to each other all of their lives, and despite their differences, they were fast friends. As captain of the domeball team, Jair was one of the most popular students in the entire school; his friendship with Aalok was probably what kept most of the other kids from picking on the smaller, more awkward boy.
“Hey, Aalok,” Jair greeted kindly, though he was not terribly enthusiastic. He didn’t like school as much as Aalok did.
“Master Collins,” Talitha greeted. “Look at you two,” she said as she admired her son and his best friend. “I’m very proud of you, Jair. And Aalok, you look just like your mother more and more. The shape of your eyes…” she said, trailing off into a whisper. A moment later, she shook her head briskly and said, “She’d be very proud of you. I know your father is.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Leyal.” Aalok turned to Jair and greeted, “Hey. Are you ready?” He hit Jair over his right breast where the three striped pin noted that Jair, like Aalok, was in his final year of Secondary School.
“Yeah, I guess. When does the domeball season start?” he asked as he turned to walk down the thoroughfare. The avenue meandered through a well populated area for a quarter of a mile until it became lined with shops and warehouses. Finally, it terminated in Burgosi Square, the largest market in all of Sherendot. At the far end of the square was the school.
“Pretty soon, I’m sure. How many teams do you think there’ll be this year?”
“Dunno. Bunch, I guess. Same as always.”
“Race?” Aalok asked, with a little bit of his departing childhood showing through; then without waiting for a response, Aalok took off. In a split second, Jair debated whether or not he was too mature to run to school through the Burgosi, but his youth won out. Aalok’s early lead didn’t amount to much; Jair was bigger and faster. He caught Aalok quickly, and the duo slowed down and laid their eyes on the gates of the school.
Wrought iron greeted them with the seven pointed star of the ‘owr, and the motto engraved in a circle surrounding it: Purity, Knowledge, Light. Jair took one last deep breath, wiped the silly smile off of his face, and stood up straight. Aalok watched as Jair casually transformed himself from an immature young boy to the coolest kid in school. A small spike of jealousy ran through Aalok, but it was easily dismissed. Jair was a good and faithful friend, and Aalok could never hold that kind of thing against him.
The two boys barely gave the school emblem a second glance as they squeezed past some students to get through the gates. There was a small courtyard they traversed through prior to entering the school proper. The door to the schoolhouse, like most of the materials in Sherendot, was constructed of a dark crystal lined by the same iron that the outside gates were made of. They pushed through the door and entered into the halls of the school. It took a moment for Aalok's eyes to adjust to the dimmer light coming from the crystal walls and ceiling. The heavy portal closed behind them loudly, and a dull tone vibrated through the hallway, accompanied by a slight rippling light, reminding Aalok of his dream.
“Hey, Jair, I had this weird dream last night.”
“Really?” he asked, looking around. Aalok followed Jair’s eyes to a few of the other domeball players across the hall. “The guys are over there.”
“I’m just worried that something may happen.”
“What?” Jair asked, not really hearing him as he glanced at Aalok and looked back to his domeball teammates. He bit his bottom lip as the guys starting walking down the other end of the hallway.
“I just, well, I dreamt that a piece of Shama’s Sigil is gonna break off and crash down,” Aalok said.
“That’s crazy man,” Jair said. “Listen, I gotta go. I’ll catch you in class, or at lunch, or something,” he said, rushing off to the see his other friends.
Aalok watched Jair’s departure, frustrated. The dream had been real. It was something. He knew it. Jair reached the guys on the team, and they greeted each other. Jealousy replaced his frustration.
“Kind of a copocchia, isn’t he?” Aalok looked up to see Tenebris Puir, a frail form of a boy who was a few inches shorter than Aalok, but a year older. He had been held back last year because his ‘owr de anima hadn’t come in yet, which was uncommon, but not unheard of. If his powers did not develop in his second year, well, no one liked to talk about what happened to people like that.
“Your friend, the foot-licker. He just up and left you to go with those slobbery, self-glorious, bed-pressers.”
Aalok blinked at the boy’s brashness. He looked about to make sure no one could hear what he was saying. Tenebris probably didn’t know that Jair was one of the most popular kids in his grade, and his friends were the biggest bullies of the same. “Be careful. That kind of talk will get you beat up.”
“By them? Those vainglorious bull-pizzles don’t worry me,” he said imperiously. “Anyhow, maybe your ‘owr de anima is coming in.”
The sudden change in topics caused Aalok to blink. He looked at the boy. Even though he had been held back, it wasn't because he wasn't smart. Rumor was that Tenebris Puir had been the only student to get every question right on his final exam last year. Tenebris wore sharp bronze spectacles with three different lenses. With the way Tenebris squinted, Aalok figured that something was wrong with his eyes, so Aalok assumed that he wore them more of necessity than fashion, unlike some of the other kids. They had long end pieces sticking out from his head about an inch on each side, and a few wires running along the shafts. At the ends of the temple barrels, a separate joint lay between the tips and the barrels, allowing for Tenebris to adjust them. They were the kind of spectacles that Aalok figured most kids would think made Tenebris look dorky, but Aalok secretly thought they were kind of cool.
“What?” Aalok responded with a mixture of emotions. Most kids developed into their ‘owr de anima in the final year of secondary school, though a few developed early, and a few later. Thus far, he had been unable to perform any of the normal abilities those of his clan could. He couldn’t bend light, or create fire. He hadn’t talked to a star, and had never been able to send his thoughts along threads of light to see faraway places.
“Prognostication,” Tenebris explained. “You may be seeing the future, you jack-a-nape. The stars may have given you portents.”
“But… I was asleep. Does it usually happen like that?”
“It can,” the older, yet smaller boy explained sagely. “The stars speak in mysterious ways, Aalok. You may become an oracle!”
Aalok stared dumbly at Tenebris. Is that what happened? Had he heard voices? Maybe it was the stars. It wasn’t like the stars had mouths that he could watch forming words. “Yeah, maybe,” he finally responded, but before he could say anything else, the lights changed from a pleasant, light yellow to orange, telling them that it was time to get to class.