The first chapter of my magnum opus, The Rise of Heroes.
“We are here to commemorate and remember Jackie Blaze…”
I zone out the rest of the man’s speech about Jackie Blaze. Maybe it is a bit rude, but what do I care? For starters, he was my grandfather. I never met him. My mother never spoke of him until a few days ago, when she asked me to represent our family at his funeral. She can’t leave our home, she’s sick. Really sick. Even if I’m only here for a week or so, I can’t help but worry about her health.
“…Jackie was an exceptional man and an exemplary Terran who loved this city…”
A Terran? I can’t help but smile. Jackie Blaze might’ve been plenty of things, but he was never a Terran. Last time I checked no one in the Adar clan is a Terran. We’re Babylonians. I shuffle my feet and stand up straight. I’m standing next to the speaker; who’s the mayor of Blaze City, although he introduced himself solely as Jonas. He’s an older man with a bald head and a thick mustache that hides his mouth. He was the person who met me at the docks when I arrived at the desert city of Ialu. After driving for an entire day with no breaks we arrived here in Blaze City.
Jonas didn’t say much during the drive, but what few words he uttered were kind and very sorry for my “loss.” Once we got to Blaze City he had me placed in a hotel by the beach, and I was told to be ready by early evening. So here we are at the funeral. How sad.
But I don’t feel sad. It’s awkward standing around a bunch of people crying for a man I didn’t know. It’s also not easy pretending to be interested. I hate funerals. I really don’t want to be here, but I can’t go anywhere. You see, I’m an “honorable guest” here in Blaze City. And yes, they named the city after him.
The old man at my side finishes his speech. He shakes my hand and goes to sit out in the crowd. The next speaker to come to the podium is tall. Holy shit, this guy’s tall. He walks up to me and shakes my hand. I have to crane my neck back to make eye contact with him. He’s all military and proper; buzz cut blond hair and icy blue eyes.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Raiden Alastor Shant. Jackie and I were old war buddies.”
I let my gaze fall onto the crowd. People are either too serious for their own good, or covered in tears and snot. Looking into the crowd I make eye contact with different people. I catch a glimpse into green eyes that look familiar, but I blink and they’re gone.
“…Fifty years ago, we both fought, alongside the Babylonians during the final assault on the Azazel capital...”
Oh yeah, the war. There are three continents on this planet, Egon which is the Terran continent and where I am now for this funeral. From what I understand there’s a royal family here that consists of a king, a queen, and their children A pair of twins I think.
There’s Babylon, that’s where I’m from. There you can find the five clans of Babylon. The Adar clan, my clan, we are the bringers of fire. The Adad clansmen are the tamers of lightning. The Anu clan is known for its riders of the wind. The Adiur clan is known as excellent builders of earth. And the Ashratu clan is known for doing many amazing with water.
Finally there’s Bael—it’s not a friendly place. To some, the Azazels—the inhabitants of Bael, are just beasts. To those of us who know the truth, Azazels are actually really smart. Terrans pride themselves as an advanced species; Azazels pride themselves as being the strongest. The two species have been at war for as long as most people can remember. Nobody really knows why. The only reason the Babylonians got into the mix was because many clansmen ran off to join the Azazels. We were never supposed to get involved.
Fifty years ago the Terran, army along with a small Babylonian brigade, made their final move against the tyrannical self proclaimed Emperor of Bael, Abaddon the Leviathan. With the cooperation of the actual Queen of Bael, the Terrans used the “enemy of my enemy is my ally” tactic to assist in the assassination of Abaddon and many of his followers. This left the Queen of Bael with a country ravaged by civil war, while the Terrans enjoyed their “peace.” The Babylonians that joined the war and survived, were brought home and put on trial by the clan elders. Because Babylonians weren’t supposed to get involved, some were banished and others were executed. It was a dark time in my country’s history. But like I said, that was fifty years ago and I’m only twenty-one.
I feel a pat on my back. It’s Raiden. He gives me a stern look and motions me towards the microphone. “Would you like to say any kind words in honor of your grandfather, young Sagan?”
For a minute I’m numb. What? Say something? Honor Jackie Blaze? I shake my head. Hell no! No way am I giving a eulogy to a dead grandfather I didn’t know. I jump off the stage and run into the crowd. I push my way through with my head down, so no one can make eye contact with me. I need to get away from here. I need to go back home to Babylon. I’m sorry, Mother, I can’t do this.
After I’ve made it through the crowd and out of the cemetery I head east to get to the beach. Blaze City is a beautiful resort-like place. Fancy hotels, palm trees, white sand beaches, tourists—this city has it all and right now all of it is pissing me off. I want to get out of here. I want to go home back where life is easy. I take care of my mother and I train. Home is also where I don’t have to wear this damn monkey suit. I undo my tie and keep running through the streets. The streets are quiet and empty. On any other occasion this would be a beautiful fall evening, but I’m in a bad mood. So screw the nice breeze and to hell with the beautiful sunset. If I could burn it all down I would.
I make it to the beach just as I’m running out of breath. The salty air is something I’ll never get used to. The boardwalk is empty. Good. I jog all the way to the end and stare at the ocean. The sound of the waves helps calm me down. After a while I take off my jacket and sit down with my feet hanging off the boardwalk. The breeze is soothing. Maybe I overreacted, but even if I had stayed, what would I have said? Everyone here thinks I’m from Egon, they all think I’m from the south. They don’t know Jackie and I are from the Adar clan. They have no idea that I didn’t know he existed until a few days ago.
I’m so caught up in my thoughts I don’t notice the footsteps behind me. I turn around and I can’t help but stare. She’s beautiful. She’s looking down at me with a soft smile. I’m mesmerized. I’m like a brain-dead monkey. Still smiling, she sits down next to me. She’s wearing black all around. Black shoes, black dress with ruffles, black nail polish on her fingers and toes; something tells me she was at the funeral. Her hair is a layered bob of light brown. Her eyes are almost golden, like amber in the sun.
I smile at her, “Hey.”
As I look away I ask, “What’s your name?”
She giggles, “Why should I tell you?”
“Well you followed me from the funeral over here. I was just wondering if my stalker had a name or not.”
“I’ll tell you my name if you tell me why you ran away from your grandfather’s funeral.”
I look at her, my smile halfway gone. “That’s a long story.”
I shrug, “I didn’t know Jackie Blaze. I didn’t know he existed ‘til a few days ago.”
“Really? That’s weird.”
“Yeah. I don’t know why my mother never told me.”
The breeze picks up. We sit not saying a word. Why did she follow me here? Who is this pretty girl? I try not to look at her, but it’s hard not too. I want to ask her something, but I don’t know what. Why am I having a hard time talking to this girl? I don’t have a problem talking to anyone else. This is annoying. We’re a couple of awkward young adults.
Then she does something I’m not expecting. I feel her lock her arm with mine. As if that isn’t enough, she goes on to lean on me. My heart starts kicking in my chest. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone this physically close to me that wasn’t either my mother or an opponent. I turn to her, but she’s looking at the water. I catch her scent with the wind. She smells like the cherry blossoms I buy for my mother in the markets of Babylon. I try to buy her flowers whenever she’s down. It’s hard to live with someone whose health has never been a sure thing. I miss her, I hope she’s well.
The girl leaning on me notices I’m looking at her. Our eyes meet, “What’s up, buttercup?”
My brow rises, “Did you just call me buttercup?”
She nods with a childish grin, “Yeah? Want to fight about it?”
I shake my head, “No. I don’t fight girls.”
“Why? Do you think we’re weak or something?”
“I could never think that of women. I would be insulting my own mother.”
I look out to the ocean. “Females are the strongest creatures in all of creation. I see no reason to ever harm one.”
She sighs and snuggles closer to me. Who is this girl? Why is she acting so strangely? I look at her again. Her eyes are still on me.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” I ask.
She sits up and smiles. “I knew your grandfather before he passed away. He was an old friend of my father.”
There’s a surprise. Is she empathizing with me because I’ve lost family? I didn’t know him. I’m not sad. I just want to go home. “So what… did Jackie tell you to keep me company while I’m here?”
She nods, “Something like that. He told me he had a grandson and that you’d be here for his funeral.”
Heh, what d’you know? Jackie Blaze actually knew about me? That shouldn’t surprise me. Maybe he was there when I was born. I don’t really know what to think. “So are you here to try and make me feel better?”
She shrugs, “I’m here to be a friend to you as your grandfather was for my father.”
Lucky me. A pretty girl wants to be my friend. I grin, “So what kind of friend doesn’t tell me her name?”
“The kind of friend that’s still waiting for that damn story.”
“So it’s going to take my life story just for you to tell me your name?”
She shrugs. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I know a more interesting spot.”
She jumps to her feet and holds out her hand. I’m hesitant to take it. “How am I supposed to leave with a strange girl when I don’t even know her name? I’m sure my grandfather mentioned a few things about me so that leaves me at a disadvantage.”
She reaches down and grabs my tie. “My name is Kiki and you’re coming with me!”
She flashes a childish grin and I can’t help but smile back. “Alright, no need to be aggressive.”