Gazing at the night sky didn’t feel the same without his MP3 player. With nothing to influence his thoughts, he couldn’t fully escape the reality of life. But still, he was grateful to have the opportunity to again sit under the stars, just as he always did when we needed to think. It was the exact same sky he sat under as a child, still trying to escape the harsh reality of life. This was his home.
In that moment he heard the shuffling of rocks and dust, and already knew exactly who it was. “Afraid I’d try to run?” He asked, jokingly.
“No,” came the familiar voice of Nadia. At this point he was growing use to her accent, even a little fond of. “Even if you do you wouldn’t get very far.” She said while taking a seat on the same large rock he was sitting on.
They were sitting in a wide crevice in the side of one of the mountains that surrounded the valley. Not too far from everyone else, yet it still felt isolated. The mountain’s stonewalls shot high up into the sky, and leaned a bit outward. As though it were intentionally trying give them a perfect view of the night sky.
“You know I always come here myself to think.” Nadia said. “You’ve picked a perfect spot if you’re trying to get away from everyone.”
Samuel sighed. “Well I needed to think, myself.” He said, before turning toward Nadia. Now seeing her more relaxed than before and wearing a warm smile. She looked so hopeful, a similar look he used to wear, before his rough past had changed his general view of the world. “You truly believe you could make a difference don’t you?” He asked.
Nadia chuckled a bit, even in the darkness of the night he could tell she was blushing. “Just look around you Samuel.” She answered. “All the people here who we’ve helped, we have already made a deference.”
“Hm.” Said Samuel, as he turned back away, allowing her words to resonate. He was always one to look at the big picture of things. Hiding in a valley wasn’t solving the problem; it was just running away from it.
“So have you decided?” Nadia asked. “Are you going to help us?”
“I want to.” Samuel said, turning directly into her eyes. “But the thing is, people tend to think that the media dictates people’s thoughts and opinions. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from seven years as a journalist, is that truth is actually the opposite. People only seek out the information that caters to their personal beliefs. No matter how foolish an opinion may be you can always find some type of information that well back it up. Which has made the media have to cover these senseless claims in order to stay afloat. Believe me, I’ve been trying for years to make people see the truth, but they’ll never see it because they’ll never want to see it.”
“No!” Nadia objected. “I don’t believe that, there is always hope, we just need to figure out how to open their eyes.”
“It’s a loosing battle Nadia.” Samuel said. “I’m sorry but people are too stubborn and ignorant. They thrive off of their anger and hate. Channeling it toward something or someone else is the only way they can avoid blaming themselves for their problems. And who better to blame than an outsider, such as Hassan?”
Nadia grunt with annoyance, she still refused to give up hope. And she was hoping that Samuel was different, but he was quickly turning out to be, just another selfish American.
“If you really want me to tell you what to do?” Samuel continued. “Than I say you should cut your loses and move on.”
Nadia’s mouth dropped. Was he really telling her just to let Hassan die, despite being an innocence man?
“The best way to help Hassan is to continued his work.” Samuel Said. “Trust me, if you pursue this, you’ll only take his place as America’s number one enemy.”
Nadia turned from him and dropped her head in sorrow. “I’m sorry.” She said.
“No.” Nadia replied in an surprise harsh tone. She turned back toward Samuel with fire in her eyes. “I’m sorry for what ever happened in your past that turned you so cynical.” She said. “And I’m sorry if your entire country thinks this way. A country of people who prides themselves on their freedom, who never has to wake up in the morning not knowing if that day will be their last, a country who is able to choose who their leaders are and the laws they obey, a country who’s people have endless possibilities for their lives. I don't understand how people who have so many blessings, have so little hope? Much less than people who have nothing, people like us who don’t even have a home to go to or families to love. If you don’t want to help us than fine, but don’t you dare tell me give up my faith. What we’ve built here may not be as grand as your country, but to the people here whose lives we've saved, this place is greater than any country on this Earth.”
Samuel again sighed, he didn’t want to upset her but couldn’t feel remorseful for being honest. “What you’ve built here is great,” he said. “And helping these people was a good thing, I’m not denying that. And after everything you’ve been through I know you’ve seen the cruel face of this world, but I’ve seen its heart. I’ve seen the evil at its core that fans out and causes the suffering of people such as the ones you’ve saved. So, I know, that no matter what you do, nothing will change.”
“I’m sorry you believe that.” Nadia said. “But still, I can’t.”
Bryan was no stranger to bad circumstances. His entire life had been a struggle, as it was for most who lived outside the walls of Arcadia. He silently stared out, over the vibrant city, unable to regain the initial vigor he had the day before. Though he had to admit that it was nice they elected to put him in a comfortable room with a view, as apposed to a dank cell in their underground prison. Which he felt was more than he deserved. How could he possibly have let himself fall for something like this? Clearly he allowed his emotions to cloud his rationality. He was just so grateful to be accepted into Arcadia that he would do anything for its citizens, no questions asked. But for a man of his intelligence, he knew that ignorance was no excuse.
“How are you doing?” Came the soft voice of Michelle.
Bryan almost jolted with surprise. He turned from his view of the city to see Michelle standing directly behind him with concern in her eyes. Lost in his self-pity, he wasn’t at all surprised that he didn’t notice her enter.
“Sorry if I startled you.” Spoke Michelle with a warm smile as she stepped closer in concern. “But I figured you could use a friend.”
“That’s more than I deserved.” He replied as his head dropped in shame.
“The damage is done Bryan, gloating about it now will do no good.”
Bryan knew she was right but he couldn’t help his guilt. He should have known that even in the world’s most honest civilization, there would be serpents lurking in its corners.
Bryan forced his head up; he had to fix this, somehow. “Michelle I didn’t mean to....”
“I know Bryan.” She said before he could finish. “And the Tribunal knows as well, James left a note taking full credit for what happened. They know you were just a pawn.”
Bryan gave a sigh of relief. “So, why are they still holding me here?”
“I don’t know.” Michelle clinched her hands and began to walk around him toward the window of the other side of the room. “Right now everyone’s trying to figure out what it was the Locus had stole from us and why.”
Bryan gasp, “Wait, those men were from the Locus!”
Bryan had never before encountered the Locus, though he had heard the stories. A vicious bunch of nomads, who travel the continent, invade lesser civilizations and strip them of their resources. Those who are lucky enough to survive their encounters are usually kept alive as slaves or toys for their amusement, only to be fed to the Locus’ beasts once their use has expired. Although they lack the technology that Arcadia and Magg city has, they do seem to have other means that makes them a force to fear. Control over nature itself and the beasts of the world. Something that even Arcadia’s greatest scientists fail to understand. Bryan’s civilization had been fortunate enough to have never encountered them. “So they do exist.” Stated Bryan, unaware of the words flowing from his lips.
“They haven’t been as threatening to weaker civilizations as they were before their former leader Mark was killed by the Phoenix.” Replied Michelle. “After his son Lexx had took control, revenge became his sole focus. They do still invade other civilizations from time to time, specifically when they’re low on resources but Lexx’s eyes are set solely on taking down Arcadia and killing the Phoenix.”
Michelle finished her explanation to see Bryan now standing right next to her with interest. “Well if everything I’ve heard about them is true, than what use would they have for an info-disk?” he asked.
Michelle sighed before turning back to the sight of Arcadia staring back at them. “That’s what everyone is concern about.”
Bryan again fell into deep thought. He couldn’t help noticing the park in the distance. It felt a bit ironic that they would give him a room with a clear view of it, as if to remind him of his ignorance. “Apart from getting arrested, it wasn’t such a bad night.” He said, again surprised by the words leaving his lips. He then turned back toward Michelle. “I saw your play, it was amazing.”
Michelle replied with a flattered smile.
“Is it your own creation?”
Michelle turned back toward the window, and stared at the empty stage in the center of the park. “It’s actually a story I’ve read in an old book my father had found in the barrens. He was a scout and would search various ruins to see what information and technology could be recovered from the old days. I’ve always had a fascination with ancient art so every time my father came across something, he’d bring it back to me. It started with paintings and sculptures, but as I learned to read he started to bring me books. One in particular was a collection of plays by a man named Charles Heareaux. The play that you saw is one of my favorites, confronting the pain of ones past to allow happiness in the future.”
Bryan latched on to her every word; he had never met anyone as passionate and pure as Michelle seemed to be. Most people he had encountered in the world were a product of their surroundings. Their thoughts and desires seemed limited to only what they can see, do or create. Michelle on the other hand seemed bold enough to allow herself to dream far past her limits. To ideas and realities that were knowingly out of her reach yet some how she was able to enjoy them all the same. As a scientist Bryan never once gave himself the freedom to dream beyond what he knew to be possible. He envied her for that, and hoped that once this Locus mystery was over, he could finally start his new life in Arcadia by learning how to break through his barriers of logic.
Tiana and Tim were back in the cave fast asleep as Alex and Kaiya were sitting just outside of the entrance. The forest around them was proficiently lit by the bright full moon, giving Kaiya enough light to wrap Alex's recent wounds.
“Ouch” cried Alex, feeling a tight pressure on his cut.
“Sorry.” Replied Kaiya from behind him. She was trying her best to be gentle, while working on her task.
“It's okay,” Alex replied, before changing the subject. “You know I'm surprised.”
“First the fire, the food and now this.”
“Well,” Kaiya replied with a smile. “Just because I'm a Princess, doesn't mean I have to be completely useless.”
Kaiya finally finished dressing Alex's wounds. “There.” She said before moving around to sit beside him.
Alex shuffled his arms a little, to test the strength of his bandages. “Thanks.” he said.
Kaiya replied with a subtle smile, before looking up towards the peaceful night sky. They both sat in silence and allowed themselves to enjoy the sight. It was the first time since the start of their journey that they weren't at odds. And after everything they've been through together, neither them wanted to ruin the peaceful moment.
“So, Beautiful night isn’t it?” Kaiya stated, being the first to make an attempt at a friendly conversation.
“Yeah.” Alex replied beginning to feel nostalgic. “When I was a kid I use to enjoy this sight a lot.” He then, turned his stare towards Kaiya beside him. “Thank you for staying, back there.” He said, with an unexpected gratitude.
“Thank you, for saving me.” Kaiya replied. “And I know you must be upset about Sy, but...”
“No it's fine.” Alex spoke cutting her apology short. “I have a feeling that I'm going to thank myself later.”
Kaiya replied with a smile before they both turned back up at the moon and shared another brief moment of silence before Kaiya spoke again. “Alex, can I ask you something?”
“Why do you hate my father so much?” She asked. “The kingdom loves him, he’s a good man.”
Alex immediately dropped his head in despair as grief overtook appeared on his face. Kaiya wanted to regret her question, but if Alex was still going to pursue her father's death she at least wanted a chance to sway him against it.
Alex lamented before lifting his head, ready to answer. “Kaiya,” He called, using her name for the very first time since they had met. “I was there the night of the rebellion. I was only child but that's a night I can never forget.”
The moon shone down upon the burning castle of Alrum. The rebels had made their move, catching the castle guards by surprise and immediately began to take them out. Young Alex desperately ran though the bloodshed looking for his beloved father. He tried his best to get away from the dangers, but everywhere he met by fierce fighting.
“FATHER! WHERE ARE YOU?” He tearfully cried out in tears while still running through the castle halls. He tried his best to shield his eyes from the chaos, but it only made his search harder.
Floors above young Alex in the highest tower, the former General and leader of the rebellion, Mana, was locked in a vigorous duel with King Jonallen Sith.
“I never would have expected you to betray me!” Shouted the King. “You were my most loyal general!”
“It didn’t have to come to this!” Mana cried with regret. “Ever since you’ve lost Evelyn you’ve changed. I denied it before, but I just can’t deny any more. What you’re planning is wrong and I’m going to do whatever I have to, to stop you. Forgive me, my King.”
In that moment young Alex burst through the doors with his face drenched in tears and sweat. “FATHER!” He called.
Distracted by the cries of his son, Jonallen instinctively turned away from his opponent. Mana took advantage of the opening and without hesitation he thrust his sword through Jonallen’s chest.
“NOOOOOOOO!” cried Alex, as he fell to his knees, watching as his father's lifeless body fall to the floor before him.
Mana immediately turned toward Alex, shameful of killing the Prince’s father before his young eyes. Mana dropped his sword as he attempted to move toward Alex in comfort. “Alex, please.............” Before he could finish his words the frightened young Prince sprinted back out of the room, not looking back.
“Oh my.” Kaiya replied, with wide eyes of shock. “I understand now. That’s why my father has been so hesitant to have you killed after all you’ve put the kingdom through. He feels guilty for killing King Jonallen in front of you.”
Alex let out a soft sigh. “After that night, my life has been a never ending struggle.” He said. “Going from one battle to the next, fighting each day to stay alive. I guess I've just been putting all the blame on King Mana for what I've become.”
“But Alex, now that you’ve endangered me, he will not be so compassionate.” Kaiya added. “That’s why he wants me to marry Prince Rupert, he thinks it's only the way to save me from you.”
“I see.” replied Alex in thought. “But, do you love you him?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then why are you marring him?”
“Cause it’ll make my father happy.”
Alex took a deep breath, before turning towards Kaiya, trying to catch a view into her radiant eyes. “Well, what would make you happy?” he asked.
Kaiya turned towards Alex to return his gaze. As the brief seconds past they began to inch closer and closer towards each other, finally ending face to face. Their heads began to tilt and their breaths went silent. However, just before they could press their lips together a loud, unexpected thunderclap cause them both to jolt back in surprise. They immediately turned away from each other, both trying to process what had almost happened.
“Maybe we should go inside,” suggested Kaiya. She turned back up toward the sky, trying to avoid eye contact with Alex. “It looks like a storm in coming.”
“Yeah,” Replied Alex with disappointment. “I suppose you’re right.”
Back at the castle of Alrum, King Mana stood on his balcony staring into the dark stormy night. He could see nothing but rain and lighting crashing into the trees of the forest. He couldn’t help but worry himself about what his precious Kaiya might have been going through in such a dangerous.
“Don't worry my friend.” Came the voice of King Lira, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “We will find her, I promise. And I will make sure that Alex pays for his crimes once and for all. I give you my word.”
“Thank you,” Replied King Mana with a forced smile. “And thanks for everything you've done. I look forward to day when I can call you and your son family.”
Bryan was picking up an odd cynical tone from Josh, one that surprised him given the heroic stories he had heard of the legendary Phoenix throughout history.
“Is there a problem?” Josh asked, catching Bryan staring at him from the corner of his eye.
Bryan immediately looked down. “No it’s just…since I was a kid I had heard stories about you and, well meeting is just a bit different that’s all.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“I’m not, I’m just…..” Said Bryan and he dropped his head.
Josh sighed, “Do you wanna know why I like coming to these performances?”
Bryan remained silent and looked ahead at the actors on the stage.
“Because when you’ve been around for as long as I have, there’s very little that can impress you. I’ve seen our planet when it flourishing paradise more advanced than Arcadia itself. There was peace and the entire world was connected, we shared our cultures and the strong helped weak. Then I witnessed it changed from rich civilized union to a barren wasteland with each person out only for themselves. It’s a world I’ve spent centuries trying to save and fought to turn my father’s version for a new world into a reality. I’ve been through everything, and I’ve lost everything. And after centuries of trying to save this world, the thing I realized is that life is nothing more than a constant cycle of repeating stories. There’s always a new threat over the horizon or a new civilization is peril. There’s always a new king who declares himself God and a new band of ignorant fools ready to follow him. No matter how many lives are lost and how many sacrifices are made, they’ll always be a more to come.”
Josh then turned straight toward Bryan, staring him straight in the eyes. “Humanity doesn’t learn from its mistakes, people are too arrogant to even listen to the wisdom of the past. Yet the only one who has to suffer from this is me, the so called hero of Arcadia. I am the only one stuck in this constant routine of humanity’s arrogance. People come in, destroy this world even more, then leave while I’m stuck cleaning up the mess. Not even the great Arcadia’s hands are clean in this.”
“And what does this have to do with the play?” Bryan asked.
Josh then turned back toward the stage to watch as the actors began their performance. “Because it’s the one thing that’s new, and a way of inspiration that no one’s to try before. Granted we’ve had art before the world fell but it remained lost for centuries. No one even cared to find it. Until Michelle that is, she saw the impact it had and knew that if anything can change this world, it’s art. Of course I can’t say that for sure, but at least it’s something, and more than I can say for anyone else.”
He couldn't help to feel sorry her. She looked so innocent and out of place to be caught up in such a viscous conflict. It was hard to believe this was the same girl he saw only minutes before she attacked him. One of his more recent memories from the operation, he led his squad through the small dark village. They knocked over door after door in search of their target, moving in a well-organized formation and guarding all sides with perfect precision.
Joseph moved swiftly ahead as the rest followed closely behind. The final door he kicked opened was to small hut with a defenseless young woman, clutching onto a boy who looked no older than seven. She looked just as innocent as she did now, yet bravely stared down the barrels of their rifles without so much as a flinch. But despite how innocent she looked on the outside, he knew that she had no regret about trying to kill him.
“Here's what we have on her so far.” Came the voice of Marco, as walked by Joseph's side and handed him a yellow folder.
Joseph immediately grabbed it and wasted no time to look through. He wanted to get as much information as he could before reporting back to the General. After not reporting in for two days, he had to get something useful to avoid an obvious reprimand.
“You know she was actually asking about ya.” Said Marco.
“Wanted to make sure she made her god proud?” Joseph replied in a cynical tone.
Marco chuckled a bit. “No.” he said. “She wanted to know if you were alright. She seemed a bit remorseful.”
Joseph's eyes immediately shifted back to the girl on the screen. Maybe her innocent look wasn't just an appearance after all. Either way, he was planning to get the truth out of her. “So her name is Nadia Ivanov.” He said, referring to the information in the folder. “She's Russian?”
“Her father was.” Marco Answered. “Her mother was Syrian, maiden name Sara Ahmadi.”
“She was his sister.” Marco answered. “From the files we pulled up, her father, Borris Ivanov was a Colonel in the Russian army. After he died she moved back to Syria with her mother and brother, Anton. They, both died back in twenty-fourteen and she's been with her uncle ever since.”
“How'd they die?”
“Terrorist attack, which would make her involvement with the FISS a bit hypocritical.”
“If she even is involved.” Joseph said as he closed the folder.
“Well from what we hear, Hassan can be real persuasive man.”
“Than let's see how persuasive.” Joseph concluded as he walked toward a nearby door, which led into the room.
Nadia couldn’t help her regret, she had never before taken a life and hoped she would never have to. Of course she knew it was naive to think that, in her world, it wasn’t inevitable. This time she saw no choice, Hassan was an innocent man, something that she wouldn’t have been able to convince to the American soldier who was trying to kill him. She saw no other way to save his life. But still, she felt guilty for what she’s done and at this point, whatever sentencing the American soldiers had in store for her was deserved.
She immediately clinched her fingers as she heard the door open, then sighed with relief to see the face of the very solider she had thought she killed stepping into the room, alive and well.
Joseph didn’t take a single step without taking his eyes off of Nadia. She looked a bit coy, given the trouble she was in. And if this was anything like any of his previous interrogations with members of the FISS, he was expecting her to go to the grave with what she knew. A place his colleagues would enjoy sending her. However, even though she did try to kill him, the last memory he really had of her was sincere. That innocent look of courage as she clutched a little boy tightly in her arms, ready to give her life to save his. It almost made it impossible to believe she had any involvement with a group as barbarous as the FISS. And if she hadn’t tried to kill him it would have been easy to vouch for her innocence.
Joseph quietly sat down across the table from Nadia while placing the folder on the table before him, just outside of the reach of Nadia’s restrained hands. “So,” he said, staring straight into her eyes. They seemed a bit wide and relaxed, as if she was relieved to see him. It was probably the relief of finally being able to speak with someone after being held for two long days. “Miss Nadia Ivanov.” He continued. “You know at first glance I didn’t peg you as a terrorist. But I guess I was wrong.”
All Joseph had to do was to make her admit that she was involved with the FISS and he would have had leverage. He waited for her to say some kind of statement of concurrence, but she remained silent. Still staring at him with those large relaxed eyes.
“Do you speak English?” Joseph asked, sarcastically. “Or maybe you just have nothing to say, given the overwhelming thought of the amount of trouble you’re in.” He then mocked her with a smirk. “And I really doubt a girl like you would last a day in Guantanamo. So make it easy on yourself sweetheart, help me find the real criminal and I promise to make your future whole lot easier on you.”
Nadia tuned away and sighed, she didn’t expect him to believe anything she would say, so what was the point of even trying. She also didn’t believe any of his petty promises to help her, how could he call her uncle the criminal when his nation has done more damage then the terrorist themselves.
Nadia finally turned back, this time squinting her eyes a bit and stiffing her stare into Joseph’s. She wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. “Hassan Ahmadi is not the one you’re looking for.” She said. Although she was half Russian, her strong accent showed that she had spent most of her life in Syria. “If anything, he’s doing more good than you are!” She snapped with anger. Just being around American soldiers reminded her of her mother and brother and America’s involvement. There was no way she would give up the man who saved her to the people who murdered her family.
Joseph gave a loud and obvious sigh; he still couldn’t see her as anything more than the innocent girl from the village that wanted to protect her people. It was apparent that she was brainwashed by Hassan into thinking he was a righteous man. He couldn’t understand how she was completely overlooking the fact that it was an attack by the FISS that caused her family’s deaths. Though in her defense they still had no hard evidence to link Hassan to the FISS, only the suspicions of the United States Congress. He needed to press her more, and get her to say something useful, if even out of anger.
“Good?” He ask, refereeing to her statement about Hassan. “Do think coordinating the murder of thousands of people is good? For whom? If you truly want to do good, help us stop that.”
“You don’t know that you’re talking about!” She replied. “Hassan is helping people, just as he did for me.”
“Well if he’s so innocent than why doesn’t he turn himself in, and explain that himself.”
“Because he doesn’t trust you and neither do I!”
“And you trust him?” Joseph exclaimed with anger, unintentional slamming his palms to the table. He was beginning to get annoyed by Nadia’s stubbornness. “He’s currently roaming free and is leaving you to take the heat for his actions. What kind of noble man does that?”
“I’m here from my own actions, not his.” Nadia answered boldly. She stared him straight in the eyes, showing no regret. “After everything he’s done for me and the others, he doesn’t even need to ask.”
Joseph sighed and stepped back for a moment, sliding his hand away as he tried to calm himself down. In a way he wasn’t too surprised by Nadia’s courage, and a little impressed. However it was her allegiance that was the problem. He kept going back to the when he had first seen her in the village, clutching tightly on to that little boy while boldly staring down the barrel of their rifles. Even then she was willing sacrifice herself for another. He had to admit that of all the time he and his squad spent training the Syrian opposition soldiers, he had never seen a single one display the kind of courage and allegiance to their cause as Naida was. If only they were on the same side.
“Sarge?” Came the unsuspected voice of Marco, from the now half opened door of the room.
Joseph slightly glanced back as Marco and nodded in conformation before Marco stepped back and re-closed the door. Whatever message Marco had to tell him, neither wanted to say anything in front of their prisoner.
Joseph stepped back to the table and grabbed the file. “We’re not done here.” He said before turning and walking out of the door.
Samuel was immediately blinded by the intense spotlight shining directly on his face, he was wished they had at least kept the bag on his face. Weakened and disoriented, all he could make out were silhouettes and voices. He couldn’t help but think back to the all the terrorist execution videos he had watched, remembering all of them in a similar sitting and his emotions of horror as he watched their prisoners’ last fearful breath before their demise. Each time he couldn’t help but put himself in their shoes, contemplating the thoughts that were running through their heads, the fears they were trying to contain, knowing exactly what was to come.
Now that he was the one staring into the eyes of death, it wasn’t so much as the fear that was stressing him but the failure of his life. Spending over a decade of trying to prove he was meant for something great, and now his journey was about to come to an abrupt end. The irony of it all was that he was the one who was trying to do the right thing. Yet as always, living the righteous life has proved to be barren. He was about to get killed as the result of a senseless war started by nefarious and egoistical tyrants, for their own personal interest. And the ones, who were trying their best to help stop the violence and bloodshed, were the ones who were suffering the consequences.
At that moment he felt a smooth soft grip on his chin, just then noticed one of the silhouettes no standing directly before him, blocking the blinding light. His eyes still hadn’t yet recovered, making it impossible for him to make out the face of the person before him, however the soft smooth skin of their grip made it obvious that it was a woman.
“What is your name?” She demanded in a strong Syrian accent.
Though feminine her voice was rough and bold, yet not one Samuel recognized from any of the FIS execution videos that were circling around the internet. “Samuel Grace.” He answered, trying his best to show no fear. He didn’t want to give them the satisfaction. “Six-three-three, six-two, six –four-nine-three.” He concluded, remembering his training to only give his name and social security number if captured.
“Well Samuel Grace.” Said the Syrian girl. “You’re a soldier of the United States, correct?”
“No.” Samuel answered, still trying his best to show no fear. “I’m journalist, and that’s all the information you’ll get out of me because we both know that you’ll kill me regardless.”
He was surprised by a sudden cynical laugh from his female captor. “Luckily for you, we’re not as heartless as the oppressors who run your country.” She said.
Samuel suddenly gasped, her statement had caught him by surprise, a clear indication that they were not planning to kill him after all.
“Did you really think we’re the savages you make us out to be in your media?” She asked after hearing his obvious sigh of relief.
As if on cue his eyes finally adjusted from the glare of the bright light, and the smooth pale face of the Syrian girl had came into focus. She appeared young to Samuel, with long brunette hair and deep brown eyes. Her lips also seemed to stick out to him, they seemed slightly bigger than average, yet only seemed to enhanced her innocent feminine look. She seemed greatly out of place, like she belonged on a magazine cover or a morning talk show. Even with her thick, beige, battled dressed clothing and surrounded by larger scruffy looking people. She was clearly someone who was thrown into this life by circumstance, similar how Samuel viewed himself.
Taking a brief second to look around, as his eyes grew even clearer, Samuel noticed that the others within the room shared her commando yet innocent appearance. Men and women who looked as though they were gathered from local villages and for some reason decided take up arms. Looking around further he couldn’t find a camera, leading him to believe that his previous indication that he was the subject of an execution video was false. And more importantly, he didn’t see a single weapon in any of their hands.
Now he was doubting that they even were the members of the FIS, but still he had to ask. “You’re not FIS are you?” He said, turning back into the eyes of the Syrian girl.
“If that’s what concerns you, than no.” She answered. “We’re not.”
“Than why did you kidnap me?”
She then waved toward one of the men who were standing behind her and he began to walk over toward Samuel with a short silver blade in his right hand.
“At first we wanted to use you as leverage.” She said, Samuel again noticing her strong Syrian accent. It seemed to come out more, the less personal she’d get. “But after hearing that you are a Journalist, perhaps you can be more useful to us that we thought.”
The man with the blade completed his walk, ending behind Samuel and out of his sight. In a flash he felt the ropes on his wrist loosen before hearing a low thud.
“Follow me.” Said the Syrian girl as she walked toward the door.
The man behind Samuel pushed him forward, and chuckled a bit. They may not have seen Samuel as their direct enemy, but the joy they were getting from roughing him up was clear.
Wasting no time she placed the stack of pages on the table and immediately began to spread them out, revealing sketches of various images. Each one related to specific dream. She rummaged through the pile until coming to the image of the black dove. Its eyes filled with red veins and the black tar dripping from its feathers into the dark cloudy sea. All as made its determined flight toward the setting sun.
Sophia flipped the sketch over revealing dozens of marks on its back. With the latest making it, ninety-three. Ninety-three times she's had this particular dream, much more than her others. Yet like the others, she was no where closer to figuring out its meaning. She spent months researching them, and being employed by one of Louisiana's biggest libraries, she had centuries of information at her disposal. Yet despite looking through hundreds of books on philosophy, mythology and psychology she was no where closer to deciphering them then she when the dreams first started.
“I'm sure you can find better uses for your breaks.” Came the voice of her co-work Susan.
Startled by Susan's sudden appearance, Sophia unintentionally knocked some of her sketches to the floor. Susan then spoke with a chuckle. “Calm down.” she said while helping Sophia pick them up. “It's only me.”
“Sorry.” Sophia replied with sigh. “Guest I was zoned out again.”
“I'd say. Don't tell me its more of your dreams.”
After placing the final page back on the table, Sophia dropped her eyes back on the sketches, with her palms firmly placed on top of them.
“Are you even taking your meds?” Susan asked.
“I don't need pills Susan!” Sophia exclaimed. She was little irritated by Susan's statement, but it was true. She refused to believe that she was sick, and was feeling a bit disheartened that no one seemed to take her seriously.
“Everyone has random dreams every now and then.”
“But these aren't random.” Sophie begged. “Look, I don't know how, but I know that something more to this. Some message I'm suppose to get.”
Sophia stepped back to get a clear view of her sketches. Across the library the sunlight was shining down from a circular window onto the table top. It was her favorite place to think, up on the highest floor of the library and behind a wooden railing that overlooked the library's first floor. Behind her were shelves of books of metaphysical studies. It was least popular section of the library, however she knew that if someone were to ever be looking in the metaphysical section, they most likely wouldn't be the type to judge her.
Susan, on the other hand, thought she was just having a nerves break down, or losing it over the constant isolation from her husband, Micheal, always being away on business trips. Which is why she never wanted to leave Sophia alone for too long. Especially when she was having one of her crazed episodes after another restless night of nightmares.
As Sophia vigorously searched through her sketches and books to help translate them, Susan just stood by, sipping a hot mug of coffee. She would usually play along, hoping to somehow make Sophia understood that her dreams were no product of divine intervention but her subconscious mind acting out its lonesomeness. But after months of trying to her best to be subtle she had grown tired of Sophia's stubbornness and began to be more direct.
“You need to relax.” Susan said. “Michael will be home this weekend. Everything will be okay. Give yourself a break from all of this and hold out just a few more days. You'll be fine.”
"I'm not lonely, Susan!” Again Sophia felt dishearten, and the thought of Micheal returning home only to judge her the same was even more devastating. But Susan did have a point, Micheal would be home in a few days, which meant she had only a few days of freedom to work on her dreams until he returns and dissuade her against it. Though she was looking forward to seeing him, she didn't want to have to deal with him being condescending toward her. There was only one way she could think to convince him and everyone else that she was right. Only one way to prove that they were more than just dreams and that was to finally decipher their messages. Something that she has yet to do since the dreams had first started.
The black dove was the most important, or at least that's what she had expected. Of all the dreams she'd had, the black dove happened the most and unlike the others that happen for a couple of weeks then stop, the black dove dream has never stopped. It was the very first dream she had when it all started, and ironically the last. However, the black dove was always the hardest to understand. Unlike the others which giave her various clues, the black dove gave her nothing to work with. So although she had wanted to decipher its meaning the most, doing it in the short amount of time before Micheal returned was unrealistic. So she had to focus on another dream, her most recent.
Sophia began to dig her fingers through the pile of sketches before coming to a specific one. It was a large stone, beige building. A distinctive building which she recognized very well, being that Michael was a lawyer. It was the 15th Judicial District, Lafayette Parish Courthouse. It stood alone on a bright sunny day, before dark clouds began to form, followed by three loud thunderclaps. She had thought it was odd that the thunder was not preceded by lighting. Only the thunder alone, accompanied by loud screams. The screams started slightly before the thunderclaps, as though whoever screamed had knew it was coming. The last image she remembered of the dream was a single red rose.
Sophia had only had this dream once, and it usually took a few nights before she was able to identify every detail. She knew that there was more to it, more to the rose. Many of her dreams are chaotic with everything happening so sudden, as the case of this one. With everything that had happened she wasn't able to get a clear picture of what was going on with the rose, only the chaos that was surrounding it.
However, everything else in the dream had led her to believe that something would happen at the courthouse. Being that the screams come slightly before the thunderclaps and with no lightning, led her to believe that it wasn't thunder at all. They were screaming because they may have saw something the moment before it happened, a violent shooting. It had to be, three gunshots that echoed around the block.
Now for the rose, what could the rose have meant, and why was it there?
“This is it Susan.” She said, taking a step back to stand by Susan's side as she stared down at her sketches.
“What?” Susan asked in a cynical tone. She was growing tired of standing there and watching Sophia obsessively stare at her sketches.
“I think I've got something, something that will prove that these are more than just dreams.”
Susan sighed as she rolled her eyes. “Fine,” She said. “What do you have?”
Sophia walked back over to the table and grabbed the sketch of her recent dream. “I believe that in the near future there be a shooting at the courthouse.” She said.
“That's ridiculous, Sophia what makes more sense? You being able to see the future, or that your just subconsciously you're worried about your husbands safety because he's a lawyer?”
“Wait!” Exclaimed Sophia, as Susan's words had given her a thought. The rose. She rushed toward the book shelves behind them to specific book. One she knew exactly where it was, being that she's used it a lot since her dreams had started.
It as a book of dream interpretations. She began to flip through the pages as she made her way back to the table and placed it down as Susan looked over her shoulder.
“Look.” Sophia said as she brought up the image of a rose in the book. “In dreams, Roses often represents a loved one, or someone you care about.”
Susan, again rolled her eyes. “I know where you're going with this.” she said, before closing the book and pulling it away from Sophia's hands. “As I said, you're just worried about Michael's safety because he's a lawyer, that's it. It doesn't mean anything is going to happen, it means that you're worried something will. In fact, that's what all of this probably means.” She said gesturing toward the table, obsessively littered with sketches. “Michael is always away and you're always worried. You're lonely Sophia, that's all.”
“No.” Sophia objected. “I don't know how I can ever explain this to you, somehow I know its more than that. I can feel it, in my heart.”
“Nothing is going to happen okay. Micheal will be back in a few days and you'll feel a lot better. I promise.”
Sophia sighed, she didn't ever expect Susan to understand and without knowing every detail of the Courthouse dream, she didn't quite understand herself. However Susan did make one point, when Michael would return she knew that she would feel a lot better. Maybe she could explain to him what she had found. It was a long shot, because Michael always seemed more skeptical that everyone else, but at least he actually listen to her thoughts without rudely dismissing them like everyone else. She knew that he thought she was ill and needed help, but he still supported her. That alone gave her the courage to continue to investigate her dreams, hoping that one day she would prove that she's right.
A tear? After everything, and every cold choice that Samuel has made that brought him to this point, he never for a second thought it would end in tears. At least not his own. No, why would he feel any sympathy at all for these people. They chose their paths and should be competent enough to understand the rules of consequence. So why tears, why now?
Maybe letting go was all Samuel really wanted and couldn't find the right outlet to do it. But why? Why was he the one who had to let go, why did he always have to be the bigger person yet still lose at the end. Well now it was obvious that he would never win, but at least he had the comfort of knowing that, this time, they wouldn't win either.
“I couldn't tell you the number of failures it took before I finally understood my true destiny.” He said while rolling an ounce of wine around the bottom of a clear glass.
He was staring ahead, pass his reflection on a pane glass window to the crowded streets below. The dark city was lit only by torches and burning barrels. With only very few building were still able to receive power, Samuel's being one of them, of course.
“You don't, have, to do this, Sam.” Came pleas of Nicholas, who's reflection stood behind Samuel's several feet away. “There's still time, these people look up to you. We can use that to our advantage and rebuild. The world can finally be a better place.”
“If only it were that simple little brother.” Samuel replied, staring into Nicholas's reflection with a half smirk. “No one sets out to be the bad guy, you set out to change the world and heal the wounds of society. Until the day you realize just how deep those wounds go and that the only way to save the world is to put it down like a rabid dog.”
Nicholas was staring deep into the cold brown eyes of Samuel's reflection. Still it felt unreal to see how far Samuel had fallen over the years. This was not the older brother he had grew up with, not the one who shielded him from the trauma of watching their parents fight when they were kids. Not the same brother who turned his back on everything he worked so hard to gain, just save him from a death sentence. When he thought about it, it maybe have been that very act that put Samuel on his catastrophic path.
Samuel was always the good one, bending over backwards to help others. And although Nicholas understood how a lack of recognition and acceptance could push anyone other the edge, Samuel allowed himself be seduced by the resulting anger and hatred. And when an angel falls he'll usually take the world with him.
Staring down toward the chaotic crowd while still holding his smirk, Samuel took a sip of his wine. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,” he said. “but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. And that's what I'm doing, cleansing the Earth of this filth. And after everything I have sacrificed, all that's left to give is my life.”
“I'm a monster Nick!” Samuel exclaimed as he turned around to face his brother. “In order to guide them, I had to become one of them. The only way I can save them now is to destroy them. This world needs to reset and this is the only way it can”
At that point, Nicholas had no choice but to accept the truth. Whomever the man was, that stood before him that night, was not his brother. “What happened to you?” He asked in a soft whimper.
Samuel gave a sigh before glancing at his watch. “I finally accepted the truth.” He said, turning back around toward the window. “The lord has found the cries of humanity's injustice so serious, that he has sent me to destroy it.”
Samuel then stared ahead, past his reflection and out past the tall buildings as he saw a sudden bright flash in the distance as it engulfed the city. A perfect ending for a figure such as himself. All the pain and suffering he had to endure has led him to this very moment.
Samuel thought that it was a fate humanity brought upon its self. People chose to their lives of sin and luxury. They were the ones who started their own down fall and all Samuel could do was to guide them to their inevitable end and make one final sacrifice for the good of mankind, his life. And as for Nicholas, he could do nothing but watch as the one who once turned him from his own wicked ways, descend lower than he had gone himself.
Twelve years ago, it would have been easier to see their roles reversed. Samuel was always a righteous man, he'd do whatever he could to help someone in need. His dream was to change and lead humanity by example. He was always smart, ambitious and full of potential. It was his drive to do good which lead him to a great job working for the United States government.
Nicholas on the other hand, didn't have much care for the world's well being as his older brother. Newly released from prison to even less than he had before his initial sentence and new found resentment for his brother. Because while Samuel was out, saving the world, he was stuck to clean up the mess.
The ground was still a bit wet from the a recent week of rain which left the sky bright and clear for the first day of his new life. A life he dreaded to go back to. What was the point now that his mother was gone? And the worst part was his guilt for not being there when she needed him the most. He knew that the moment they shut his cell doors her fate was sealed, despite how much he begged and plead with the judge and his ,double crossing, lawyer for help. He and came to terms with her lost before it even happened, all that was left now was to get even. A path that would lead to his end but at this point, what else did he have to loose?
Nicholas stopped for a second, standing just outside of the prison gates. He wasn't expecting anyone to be keeping up with his sentence, much less there waiting on him when he had gotten out. But who else would he be, standing next the same beat-up old red car Nicholas remembered seeing from when he was a teenager. His father had lost all interest in church years prior, after all, he had more important things to do like work and drink. He'd always remember his mother, brother and himself pulling in on the church's grassy lawn, before the congregation was moved into the city. It's actual driveway was only big enough for one vehicle, Pastor Kurt's old red car. Nicholas was surprised to see it still lasting this long, his faith seemed to have been paying off in some way at least.
Although seeing Pastor Kurt waiting on him wasn't exactly what he as wanted, it was much better than seeing Samuel standing in front of that car instead.