This is a three part story about a young medical professor named Frederick Lionhart. He served in the Elbanian Armed Forces as a Combat Medic during the war with the Mystics, a foreign race who relied upon magical forces rather than technology. The scars are still fresh from the war as Frederick begins to notice things are out of balance in the capital city of Silestra.
“You should count yourselves lucky to be receiving your education at such a distinguished city as Silestra.” The professor’s bushy moustache obscured his mouth, whiskers twitching as he turned his pointer to the wide window, “The high capital of the Elban empire stands as a beacon of education and technological advancement!”
The young students in his classroom all teetered on the brink of sleep, the ones further away from his desk already dozing off. He turned, white moustache quivering irritably before he rapped his pointer against the blackboard.
“Have you all forgotten the pains of your forefathers to build this city from nothing? The countless invasions of the Bordu, the Helians, and most of all, the Mystics?”
He hissed the last name, the students now stirring out of their daydreams as the professor straightened. He tapped the pointer in his wrinkled hand before pointing to the large map that hung in the classroom, circling a section of the map that appeared arid.
“The Uncharted Lands, a land of heathens!”
The students sat up straight, some wide eyed as they folded their hands in their lap. The professor wheeled around to the front of his desk, folding his arms behind his back.
“I’m not going to lie. Had it not been for our servicemen, those Lord-fearing savages would have plunged this world into chaos! Many of you aim to go on into careers in steam technology, science, conservation, medical advancement. These options would not be possible, without these great men. Great men, like our visitor today, a boy I knew who held a lot of promise when he entered my classroom seven years ago. I’m honored to introduce an alumni of this school, Frederick Lionhart.”
The students looked around, whispering to each other as a figure from the back of the room stood up. He undid his black Ulster coat, slipping it over his arm as he approached the front of the classroom.
“As always, sir, a riveting speech for prospective students at the Academy.”
He stood tall at 6"1.5, but he always pushed it to 6"2, his figure slim with pronounced shoulders. His dark hair was modestly long, free flowing curls ending just past his shoulders and tied in a bushy tail. His face was absent of any facial hair, his nails cleanly trimmed and orderly to contrast his wild hair.
He wore a special pair of spectacles, dark blue lenses reflecting the gas lamps while the rims were built to block out light from the sides. He combed back his shaggy black curls, folding his arms in front of him as he sat on the corner of the desk. One young girl raised her hand, face bowed towards her desk.
“Yes, young miss.”
“Sir, what…what convinced you to join the EAF?”
“A good question.” Frederick responded, smiling gently, “I guess the best response was to protect the ones I love. I joined to maintain the borders as best I could with the skills I acquired.”
A younger lad eagerly rose his hand, waving it energetically.
“Is it true, sir, that you’re only 26?”
“25, dear boy, I don’t intend on being a grandfather any time soon.”
Some of the kids chuckled, the boy shrinking in his seat. A young girl in the front row raised her hand with an air of vanity. Frederick gestured towards her.
“My father told me the Mystics cursed you. Is that true?”
“Miss Shannon Miller! I will not have you make such slanderous comments in my class!” the teacher barked, his mustache bristling.
“Why does he wear those funny spectacles then?”
“Miss Miller!” The teacher's eyes widened.
“It’s because he’s cursed, isn’t he? The mark of the Mystics, right?”
“Miss Miller, detention for the remainder of this week after school! And at the end of it, I will want a paper documenting your sincerest apologies to Mr. Lionhart explaining the error of a loose tongue! Am I understood, Miss Miller!?”
The girl pulled in her bottom lip, arms folded as she sulked in her chair. She gave a reluctant nod and looked away, her classmates snickering at her before turning back to Frederick. He had bowed his head during the ordeal, his face impassive beyond the occasional twitch of his lip.
“Whatever rumors you have heard, Miss Miller, I can debunk them. My eyes have become sensitive to light after I was temporarily blinded by a Flash trap set up by the Mystics.”
“Sir, what are they like?” Asked another student.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, they kept you prisoner for eleven months; how did you survive?”
“They are…a strange race. One alien to our culture and science.”
“Did they torture you?” One student piped up, his eyes gleaming with curiosity.
His classmate nudged him in the ribs, shaking his head. Frederick remained silent for a moment, his face towards the floor. He folded his hands on his thigh, rocking to and fro gently.
“…No.” he finally answered, looking up.
The class bell rang, students bolting from their desks. Frederick exhaled and stood up, facing the professor.
“Lively bunch you have, Professor. Ever curious.”
“I cannot even begin to apologize for their lack of discretion.” His moustache bristled, his eyes cast to the floor as he organized his papers without regard.
Frederick waved his hand as if to swat the apology away.
“Think nothing of i-”
One of the last students to race out of the room knocked into Frederick’s side, causing him to falter as his glasses slipped off his face and bounced on the floor.
“I’m so sorry!” the student yelped, “Here, lemme get them for you!”
“No, it’s fine.” Frederick said quickly, but the boy was faster than him.
He scooped up the spectacles, wheeling around to give them back when he gasped and stared into Frederick’s face. His eyes were bright cerulean, purple lines prominent under them. It was the irises themselves that made the boy’s face go pale.
While any other pair of eyes would have dark rims, Frederick’s were a bright metallic copper, glinting in the lamplight of the classroom.
The boy trembled, unable to take his eyes off of Frederick.
“Mr. Johnston!” The Professor hissed, “Give the man back his spectacles!”
The boy jumped, placing the spectacles in Fredrick’s palm with trepidation before darting out of the room. Frederick sighed, hooking his spectacles back around his ears and fluffing out his Ulster coat.
“They don’t understand. It’s not like it’s a viral disease.” Frederick mumbled wearily.
“It’s still something that cannot be cured.” The professor replied, pulling at the world map as it wound back into the bar, “Society is grateful we have not lost your brilliant mind, but nor do we know what those vile creatures did to you.”
“My colleagues at The Medical Academy have their hands full with this. Lord knows if they gave me the position for any other reason.”
“May He watch over you.” The professor said involuntarily, packing up his books and papers, “Shall I escort you, Professor Lionhart?”
“No need.” Frederick mumbled, swinging on his coat and fastening the buttons, “It’s not like I’m blind.”
“Of course. May He watch over you, Professor Lionhart.”
“And also with you.” Came his mechanical reply, striding out the door.
Frederick was greeted by early morning sunlight as he stepped onto the streets of Silestra, tall bronze roofs gleaming proudly. The more modest buildings were constructed of taupe brick, tin and stone chimneys breathing smoke into the air of industry.
While the sidewalks were littered with people, the streets were wild, steam trolleys and double decker wagons carting people to and from various sections of the city. Every ten blocks, a water and coal refueling station stood conspicuously beside the post box as if trying to hide in vain.
Frederick put up his hand, waving over a steam trolley. It hissed and puttered, rolling up to the curb while coughing steam. The carriage was a simple boxed canvas frame, glass lamps holding unlit candles. It was attached by a leather harness to the trolley itself, a grumbling machine of coal, fire and water.
“Where?” came an accented voice
Sitting in the conductor’s seat was a Mystic.
He looked to be in his late thirties, his long hair braided and hanging over his shoulder. His caramel skin was suffocated in a drab pair of worn slacks and a mismatched lounge coat. Frederick could see sewn patches in the cabbie’s jacket, his left sock made of black silk while the other was a white wool companion. Above the second hand clothes, the most prominent thing on his person was a thin bronze band on his right wrist. Tiny runes of their language were etched into the metal, the mark of their second class citizenship.
Frederick pulled himself into the coach, not looking at the driver.
“The Medical Academy, Freedom Square.” Frederick snapped the door behind him, relaxing in the leather seat as he moaned softly into his hands.
He heard the alert whistle before the coach jerked forward and merged into traffic. He took off his spectacles, pinching his eyelids as he desperately tried to avoid those memories. His gaze fell on the window, a faint reflection of his face sitting in the corner of the glass. He eyed the amber bands around his eyes, the metallic glint catching the sunlight from beyond the shadows of the carriage. He leaned back and shut his eyes, letting his mind wander in nothingness.
The coach suddenly lurched, stopping short and throwing Frederick out of his thought as angry voices approached the coach door. Frederick shoved his spectacles back on just as the door was ripped open, three police officers waiting on the other side. Each held a small black discus in their hands, the same type of runes carved around the crystal material. They glowed a faint white light, the closest officer leaning into Fredericks face.
“Identification Card, now!” he barked, his other hand on his baton.
Frederick groaned and pulled out his billfold.
“How many times must I put up with this ineptitude?” he grumbled to himself.
“Silence! Identification Card or you’ll be arrested!”
Frederick pulled out a blue card, presenting it to the vehement officer. He snatched it from Frederick, risking a look down at the text before his eyes widened. He double-checked the name and stamp.
“Major! Forgive me, I didn’t know!” he blabbered, thrusting the card back into Frederick’s palm.
“So do many of your fellow officers.” Frederick muttered.
Frederick sat up.
“You would do well to remember this; your Lore Stones will always pick up a trace on me.”
“Why not get a band and prevent this p-”
Frederick slammed his fist into the frame of the coach, and although the officer couldn’t see Frederick’s eyes, he shrank from his glare.
“You dare even think of suggesting such a thing!?” Frederick snarled, “Had I no manners, I would return the saliva for such a remark! I am now late for a surgical lecture, good day and may you be enlightened!”
Frederick lunged forward and grabbed the door handle, the officer ducking back as Frederick slammed the door shut. The alert whistle screeched again, the Mystic chuckling quietly as he pulled into traffic once again.
Frederick sank into his seat with a weary sigh, massaging his temples. They stopped at the crossing of Harrison and Roan, one of the busiest in the city as carriages, produce wagons and cyclists scurried past.
Someone knocked on Frederick’s window, making him jump back before he realized it was an adolescent Mystic, his pale hazel eyes wide as he held out his hands. Frederick went into his breast pocket and pulled out a Quintent. He rolled down his window and passed the coin to the pauper just as the light changed.
“Shünah!” he shouted, his eyes now gleaming.
Frederick nodded and rolled up his window, unaware of the two young Elban beggars that jumped the Mystic boy soon after Frederick’s carriage left, wrestling him for the coin.