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11 o’clock, but still in bed, Cassie Hall grumbled and turned over as the sound of the mail being delivered downstairs interrupted her thoughts. Not so deeply asleep any more, but nevertheless rather drowsy - oblivious to the regular day-to-day happenings going on around her. As she slipped back into darkness, Cassie’s peculiar train of thought surfaced once again – a swarm of different places, names and events jostling for position within her head, but just out of reach, as if behind a glass door. Most peculiar of all though was the strange boy’s face constantly surfacing and drifting towards her through the darkness. When not concentrating, he appeared, but as soon as she tried to catch a glimpse of him he turned tail and fled. All Cassie got from him was a haunted look of immense weariness and sadness, and incredible age. Not at all like the look of a young boy. The sound of her mother’s voice roused her, and eventually she summoned the energy to get up. Finally she managed to stand, only for a wave of dizziness to sweep over her and for a moment Cassie stumbled, but she quickly regained her balance. Nothing of the dream remained but for a slight feeling that something had been lost or forgotten, but this quickly passed. And so the 14-year-old girl stood there, stretching and groaning for a few seconds until finally looking at the clock and I sighing out loud – she was supposed to be meeting Max in half an hour and wasn’t even dressed yet. After a quick shower she whipped on some clothes and went downstairs.
“Morning, Cassie. You’re wasting your life away, you know, sleeping every day away. You should really get out more.” Her drowsy daughter merely grumbled in response to this, and after getting out some cornflakes, slumped into a chair and began eating. “I’m going out now dear. I’m meeting someone.” Cassie raised her eyebrows sceptically at this. The only person her mum was likely to meet these days was the postman. “No, really! I’m meeting up with Mrs Jones for a coffee after the shopping. It’s going to be great!” Again Cassie was sceptical - any encounter with Mrs Jones, in her opinion, was mind-numbing to an extreme and should be avoided at all costs. The chance of it actually being considered ‘great’ was about as likely as her getting the top grades in her school year. Unlikely. Not that Cassie wasn’t smart –she was. But it was still very unlikely. “Now behave yourself with young Max. I know what you teenagers are like these days,” her mum said with a wink. Cassie almost smiled. “Oh yes, I almost forgot, a letter arrived for you this morning. It’s on the table in there. Well, goodbye then...Cassie.” If she hadn’t been tired, Cassie might have noticed the strange tone in her voice, the slightly sad look in her eyes. But she was tired. And so she didn’t notice. Now ready to go out, she pulled on her coat and stepped out. Hurrying through the busy streets of London, she relished in finally being out in the open air, among different people, rather than her solitary mother. And there – crossing the street towards her was Max, smiling
broadly. She smiled back, and upon reaching him she took his hand. After greeting each other, the pair set off towards their destination: the Citadel. Turning the corner they saw it, looming over them, stretching ever upwards. A huge building, with sheer stone walls and strongly armed battlements all round; the walls were dotted at regular intervals with stone gargoyles, leering over the citizens of London; on the front wall was a giant pair of wooden doors, made of oak and studded with iron bolts. The most amazing part of the building however, was an enormous tower, made of glass and metal, reaching upwards, surveying the city, ever watchful. It was said that the head of the Church had his quarters in the highest floor of the tower. “Come on Cassie, we haven’t got all day! If we are gonna...you know...the plan, then we can’t stand around all day,” Max said as he tugged on her hand. “You are still gonna come along, en’t you?” “I dunno Max, now we’re actually here... It just seems too dangerous! What if we’re caught? Have you heard what they do to prisoners? I don’t wanna end up dead!” “Oh come on! We won’t get caught, trust me! I’ll protect you. Besides, they don’t kill kids! They wouldn’t do that!” “Oh yeah? Remember that little Jamie kid? He threw a rock at one of them priesty people. They took him through those big wooden doors over there into the Citadel, and he ain’t never come back through ‘em. It’s true. Trust.” “Yeh, that’s because they took him out the back entrance, see?” Max said smiling. “Oh please. I promise we won’t get caught” Unwillingly Cassie agreed, but soon excitement overtook her apprehension and she hurried along next to
her friend, curiosity burning inside her. What would it be like in the Citadel? What wonders and dangers would they meet? Could they steal something and bring it back? Finally they reached the outer wall and walked around into the trees at the side. So long were the walls surrounding the ‘palace’ that a whole forest stretched around the sides and back of the building. This forest was so large you could easily get lost in its dense vegetation. But the pair knew exactly where they were going, having made the trip so many times as curious children, but now finally having the guts to actually try and get into the Citadel. Soon they reached the secret door which a few years back they had discovered hidden behind a bush, and after creeping as quietly as they could up to it, caring not to stand on any dry leaves or twigs, they put their ears to the door and listened. Silence. Nevertheless they listened for another five minutes before declaring it safe to go through. Opening the rotting wooden door to a gap no wider than her little finger, Cassie looked through into the Citadel’s grounds beyond, and immediately pulled back, for no more than ten metres away from where the two were standing, was a guard. Cassie quickly explained to Max what she had seen. To get in, they needed a distraction. Max soon found one. It took the form of a rock. He picked it up, testing its weight in his hand. He then observed where he would need to throw it to get the desired reaction. He soon spotted his target – a guard standing on a parapet a few meters up the wall. A hard shot, but Cassie knew her friend to be a crack shot and trusted him to get it right.
He stepped back, pulled back his arm, and lobbed the stone. They both followed its trajectory, and Max, true to form, was pleased to see the stone hit the mark: the man’s head. The guard, suddenly feeling a blinding pain upon the top of his head, stared with shock as blood trickled down his forehead and into his left eye. He stumbled back and shouted to another guard. Instantly all heads snapped that way and attention now being on the unfortunate man, Cassie and Max had their chance to slip through unnoticed. Once inside they immediately made for cover behind a small wall, but they were still not properly inside yet. “Uh, Cassie, are you sure you want to do this? I mean, we’re in, why don’t we just get out now?” Max asked, nerves getting to him, but now Cassie was the inquisitive one out of the pair, and so she tugged on his hand towards the hedge that confronted them. It stood three metres above them, and was immaculately kept. And so, in the shadow of the imposing wall of vegetation, the two worked their way through, and sticking their heads through, they finally had a proper chance to look around. They were in a wide courtyard of freshly mown grass, with exquisitely carved statues in each corner. The whole place was surrounded by the welltrimmed hedge that Cassie and Max had just passed through, and beyond that they could see the huge stone walls that encompassed the Citadel. And directly through middle ran a white gravel path, and pacing on that path was – “Do you think that’s the Head of the Church?” She asked Max, motioning towards the man.
He was a tall man, well built and quite imposing, with light skin and a long mane of golden hair. His clothes were of the finest silk and his boots of the most expensive leather. But the most impressive feature of the man was the aura of power that surrounded him. Wherever he went, the guards seemed transfixed by him, and as soon as he came near they seemed to stumble back as if a force-field surrounded him. All obeyed him at the slightest motion of his hand. For some reason though he sparked some recognition in Cassie’s mind. She would have to wait until he turned and she would be able to see his face. She repeated her question; “Well then? Do you reckon he is? Hello? Max?” Max’s eyes had gone wide, and Cassie turning to see why, had to stop herself from screaming, for behind them stood a guard, and attached to a lead he was holding, was an enormous wolf. The guard stared at them dumbly, until finally getting his wits about him, and he let go of the lead. The wolf sprung forwards, seizing Max’s lower leg in its jaws and began tearing at his flesh. This time Cassie really did scream, and the man they had been looking at stopped pacing and his head snapped round in shock. With a flick of his hand he sent three guards running towards the children’s positions, while he slowly advanced after them, curious. Max was now genuinely sobbing and Cassie, seeing the agonized and terrified look on his face, realised that if they didn’t get away soon, they were done for. Even if they managed to escape, Max had still lost a lot of blood and could possibly die – the floor was now going red with the blood that was pumping strongly out of his gaping wounds.
Realising she had to act, Cassie leapt up and put her foot squarely in the wolf’s face as hard as she could, and instantly it let go of Max and howled with pain. She kicked it again to make sure, but then heard a shout behind her. “Run Cassie! Just run! Forget me,” came the cry from her life-long friend, who was currently in the arms of the guard. Running forwards, she grabbed him by the legs, taking care to avoid his wounds, and pulled with all her might. But for all her strength, his captor was a fully grown man, who despite being a bit dim, was very fit, and held Max in a vice-like grip. But still determined, Cassie kept tugging, but the guard would simply not relinquish his grip. Hearing more reinforcement fast approaching, Cassie gave a great cry and stumbled backwards, tripping as she went, leaving her sprawled on the ground. Dazed, she tried to sit up, but had little energy left, and had to watch as her friend was repeatedly beaten down until he lay still on the ground, bleeding and broken. Another sound – men cutting through the hedge with their axes, soon to reach the scene. And then the golden-haired man stepped through, and again that recognition sparked within Cassie, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on why, as he was still turned away. He turned his head away from Max with a look of utter disdain. He gave the order and the men dragged him away, making sure he felt every bump as he slid across the floor, and Cassie felt his pain too. And then, without knowing why, she summoned the energy to stand up, and with all the courage she could manage, with all the hate she could fit into those three words, she said; “How dare you.”
The golden-haired man turned to face Cassie, who stood there, seething, and was about to say something when – He faltered, stepped back, and as he recognized the girl in front of him, he spluttered out; “You!” Recognizing him too, something in Cassie’s heart quailed and the world seemed to freeze around them. For the golden-haired man was Cassie’s father. Cassie ran through the streets of London towards her home, all the time sobbing violently. Little did she notice the shouts of coach-drivers as she sprinted out in front of them, little did she notice the curses from mothers as she ran past, knocking over prams, and little did she notice the uproar she caused as she slammed full into the body of a priest leading the annual procession. All she could think about was how her father was now head of the supreme power of the world. Hate boiled up in her as she realised why he had left her mother four years ago. Because it would look better for his job. She screamed, still tearing at anyone who got in her way, until she finally reached her home, where she stormed up the front path and slammed into the door, which remained motionless. Cassie realised she would have to be rational now – no more attracting attention and making a show of herself. The last thing she needed was to be arrested by the Church and taken straight back. Trying to calm down, she decided to try and open the door normally, with her key, anything just to take her mind off the horrible new discovery. But she just couldn’t forget the horror that appeared on his face when he realised who it was in front of him – it kept appearing in her mind, making her blood boil and her fists clench.
By now the Sun had nearly set and the house was no longer coated in a film of bright sunlight, but instead dark in shadow, but Cassie’s mum still hadn’t returned. She had little time to worry about that now; she was overwhelmed by the day’s events and left exhausted by them, both physically and mentally, and so trudged upstairs and collapsed into bed with her clothes still on. Lying in the darkness in silence, Cassie couldn’t sleep for hours. She didn’t know what the Church were going to Max, but she knew what she would do. She would rescue him. Cassie didn’t get to sleep for hours that night, and finally when she did she was only left with dreams of Max lying dead in the Citadel, and her father laughing at him, but when he turned to her, he had the face of the wolf, and he bounded at her, and for all she tried, she just couldn’t run fast enough. She woke from these nightmares just before he reached her, leaving her feeling sick with fear, but soon she slipped back into restless sleep, and there was max lying dead again... Upon waking up the next day, Cassie instantly had a vivid flash of yesterday’s events and flopped back into bed, emotion overwhelming her. She tried to think straight, but this failed as well - ever since that moment in the Citadel, everything in her head and around her had frozen as everything she had ever known or believed about her father collapsed in front of her. She had always thought that her father was a good man, despite leaving her motherThe sudden thought of her mother had triggered the memory of the fateful morning, the memory of her mother telling her that a letter had arrived for her, and the sad
tone of her voice that she hadn’t noticed just then. What was this all about? Well, only one way to find out. She ran down the stairs and through into the living room and snatched up the letter. Cassie stared, for there on the letter was a blue eye. The blue eye was the symbol of the witches. What did this mean? Well, time enough to wonder about that later, she thought, as she broke the wax seal on the back, which was also a blue eye. She unfolded the paper and read the message. It said simply; Be ready. They are coming. Dropping the letter, she stepped back and tensed she had sensed something. There was someone in the room behind her. It wasn’t that they’d made a noise – no, they had entered silently. It was a kind of sixth sense, like when you stare at someone for long enough and they become aware of you. And somehow Cassie could just tell that they hadn’t come for a cup of tea and a chat. But who was this mystery intruder? Why was he here? And how had the witch that sent this letter known that he was coming? Cassie turned...but he wasn’t there. Well he was – she just couldn’t see him. “Alright, where are you then? I know you’re here. Just come out and we can have a chat about why you’re here.” A man materialised in front of her from thin air. She was quite surprised – little people had the skill of fading, but it wasn’t unheard of. But people with such a skill were getting rarer and rarer these days. And it was all because of the Church; ever since the Rebels had broken away
from it, they had taught some people a skill of the Church; fading. This was the ability to bend light around you, rendering you invisible. But ever since that day when the Rebels broke away, the Church had been dispatching them swiftly. It quickly became the supreme power in England, and then the world. In most countries it had more influence than the government itself, and was by far more effective and brutal. And now Cassie’s father was its leader, she thought and again her fists clenched. And if this man could fade, did this mean he was an agent of the Church? Had he tracked her, and then come to eliminate her? Because she had broken into the Citadel? It seemed likely – the Church worked very quickly, wasting no time in doing their job. “You’re from the Church, aren’t you?” The man nodded. “Why are you here? Have you come to kill me?” “No, I haven’t come to kill you, I am not an assassin. I have been sent by the supreme power to take you. Will you come with me willingly, or will I have to force you?” Knowing there was no other option; Cassie agreed to let him take her. The journey to the Citadel was short, but uncomfortable – evidently her father, despite letting her live, was not overly concerned about her comfort - she was shoved into a small carriage which was dark, hot, stuffy and very small. The result was that Cassie ended up hot and sweaty and horribly cramped, and it was a great relief when she was finally let out. When out the carriage, she let her eyes adjust to the light, and found herself in the wide courtyard, and
instantly had a gruesome picture of the wolf attacking Max appear in her mind. She didn’t have long to look around again though – a blindfold was pushed down over her face and a rough hand pulled her across the path by the collar. She heard a door open, an exchange of voices, and then they continued, walking through a large hall, Cassie guessed, from the way her footsteps echoed all around her. Finally reaching the end of the hall, Cassie felt a door open in front of her and she was shoved in. To her relief, her blindfold was removed, and she took note of her surroundings after vigorously rubbing her eyes. She was in an elevator, which was travelling upwards at a terrifying speed, with no way out. She considered trying to overpower the guard, but as if he read her mind, he growled; “Don’t even think about it. I’ve got a pistol aimed at your pretty little head right now. And don’t think I wouldn’t shoot. Oh, yes, I’m perfectly comfortable with that. The Lord above would most approve I believe.” Cassie quailed with fear – she was certain that this man could easily murder a young girl, and so resolved not to try anything drastic. “Alright now, I’m going to search you. Don’t try anything.” The man, after searching her and finding nothing, seemed satisfied, but kept his gun pointing at her. Soon though he lowered it – they had arrived. The elevator door opened but he didn’t do anything; supposedly his task was over now. Cassie took in her surroundings – she was standing on what seemed to be...the top floor of the glass tower! The view was amazing; you could see the whole city from
here, through the glass wall that stretched all around the circular room. The room itself was elaborately furnished – to her left, a fire burned in a deep grate, and next to it on the floor was a huge white carpet, but on closer inspection she realised it was a polar bear, killed and its insides removed. Around it were some of the comfiest-looking armchairs she had ever seen. A very expensive-looking dining table stood to her right, set for two but with no one to eat there, and overhead hung a crystal chandelier. The floor itself was of genuine mahogany. The room was fit for a king. And perhaps it was, because as she approached the fireplace, the chair in front of it spun around, and there sitting in it, was Cassie’s father, who smiled at her, and said, in a deep voice, “Hello, Cassie.”
I drew my knife looked over my opponent. Quite well built – stocky but a little on the short side, right-handed, an overall quite experienced fighter, but tended to let emotions get in the way of his skill. I checked myself – taller than him but with slightly less muscles. Nevertheless, I was more nimble on my feet, and had the advantage of being ambidextrous, and so my left hand was just effective as my right one. I also had more experience. Since I was the best fighter in the village. Well basically. Out of all the youths, I was the most skilled, and out of all the adults too. Except for my father. I don’t know how a 68-year-old can be that good at the
Duel. I’ve seen him finish fights with brave, strong young men in the prime of their lives, in a matter of seconds. It all happened too quickly – the pair bowed, advanced, and in a whirl of graceful movement he left them bleeding on the ground. Hopefully I’ll follow in his footsteps. His skill runs through me, but still no one really understood what happened in that short space of time. But of course he never killed. No one ever did. It was...taboo. To wound was furthest one was allowed to go. Getting back to the fight, I prepared myself for the Duel. I breathed deeply and let the power of the fight take over me. I cast aside all memories, emotions, apprehensions, and entered the trance in which my soul is within my hands and the blade of my knife, so I can fight without distractions or mental limitations, and can have some anticipation of the opponent’s actions before they happen. This trick is a complex one to learn, and few can master it. Luckily for me, like my father, it came as easily to me as breathing or walking. In a few seconds, I was ready. We bowed to each other in the traditional manner, and advanced. Within about two metres of him, I began to see the way he thought; I began to anticipate some of his actions. There – I saw that he would pounce forwards, knife towards my stomach, but then suddenly turn the blade down, in an attempt to catch me off guard. And two seconds later, the attack came. It passed in almost slowmotion – I saw him tense, spring towards me...and I struck down with my knife. It sliced down, deflecting the darting blade, and I followed up with a quick spin, aiming for his right hand – Blood spurted from the back of his hand and he yelped with pain and almost dropped the knife, but
mastered himself. I saw his anger though – he had injured his better hand within a few seconds of the start, and it was clear that I was to be the winner. He hadn’t really had much of a chance from the start. I watched his movements again, saw that in a few seconds he would throw his knife at my chest in a vain attempt to take me by surprise, and quickly draw his second knife and dispatch me. Looks like I’d have to stop playing by the rules. I wouldn’t wait for him to attack. I would take the initiative. I exploded forwards at him, slashing in what appeared to be wild and random manner, but I was in control of every slice or jab, I knew exactly what I was doing. He was left staggering, bright blood pulsing from his body, but still determined. I needed to finish him off. I spun behind him as he lunged and I sliced across his back, leaving a long gash diagonally up his body. He cried out and fell to the floor, raising one hand as a signal of defeat. I stood victorious in the arena, the crown cheering, by father beaming with pride. But I knew I had left my competitor hurt quite badly and I proceeded to take an aid kit, with which I dressed his wounds. He looked up, thankful for this help. He smiled, congratulated me and shook my hand, but when doing so I caught a flash of menace in his eyes, so powerful I recoiled for a second, but then it was gone. Suddenly the crowd went quiet. Someone had approached me. I turned, to find my father standing in front of me, smiling. What was going on here? No one entered the arena uninvited, unless... “Hello, son. Care for a Duel?”
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