Behind the mountains, a coal black smoke tinted the skies of Muddy Peaks announcing to anyone that could see that another eagerly awaited visit of the express train was about to take place again. Orders, workers, and even the most important news come through it.
“The train is here. The train is here,”the station employees all rushed towards the platform to see the oncoming train.
" Everybody can see that! Now behind the yellow line all of you please,” Jonas Greenberg, the Inspector of the station screamed, twisting his whiskers and fixing his jacket. The oldest employee of the railroad should no longer be working due to his age, but it is him that maintains order in this place. "Newcomers arrive from time to time to work at the station, but they do not have the same discipline". Jonas always says.
Standing on the platform, looking to the mountains and listening to the roar of the train Marcus Abbe can barely contain himself.
"What a day. What a Great day," Marcus said.
He and his wife Ronna had received mail from the government informing them that their application for adoption had finally been accepted. Jonas looked at Marcus with a longing smile. He knew him since he was a little boy.
" Well well. Don't tell me, Mr. Abbe. Is that what I'm thinking? Is this the great day? ” He asked.
“ Yes, Mr. Jonas. It seems that our dream is about to be fulfilled. I'm so anxious that I can barely contain myself.”
"Ha!!! Yes,... yes. Mr. Abbe,” Greenberg scoffed. This village needs fresh blood running through its veins. After all, we are all getting a little tiny bit...old aren't we?” Said Jonas pointing his long fingers toward Marcus.
Marcus ran his fingers through his grey hair, he was embarrassed, “You got me there. We are close to retirement,” he laughed.
The roar of the engine and the noise on the rails got louder and louder. As the train got into the station, the conductor hit the breaks,a moan and shrill scream could be heard, it took a while to stop the gigantic machine. The entire place got flooded with steam, clouding the vision. Shadowy figures were moving out of the freight cars. Anxious people searching for their relatives, disembarking, looking everywhere amazed with their final location.
"Is this the place? What a dump!" a boy asked his mother in a loud voice. “Shut your mouth. Show some respect to the locals. You will live here now boy,” The woman in uniform dragged the boy by his hand.
“ Sorry,” The boy shrugged.
Marcus looked at the nasty boy amazed and relieved that he was not the one he was expecting.
“Mr. Jonas, sir. Today we will have a young boy living in our house. Ronna is preparing a wonderful dinner; of course, this is a special occasion for us,”He smiled. Jonah rolled his eyes at him.
“God give me patience,”new people coming to town every day was nothing new to Jonah.
"Of course... of course, Mr. Abbe and I, more than anyone else know about your wife's anxiety for this occasion," Jonas replied to Marcus, playing with his long white whiskers. The train finally came to a halt at the platform and the brakes stopped the huge mass of metal on the tracks.
"Mr. Abbe where's your nameplate?" Jonas asked, touching Marcus on his shoulder.
"How can you find the boy without the number plate?" Jonas was agitating his hand in the air.
“Well. In fact, I don’t have one yet." Marcus replied.
“Marcus... Good lord Marcus,” he smiled. “Always the same, since you were a little boy, aren't you? Always forgetting about things,”Jonas stared at him.
“Yeah...well. I'm sorry Jonas. Could you help me?” Marcus blushed and his lips curved in an awkward smile.
“By all means, Yes. I have the list here in my clipboard and ... "Voilá" The number plate for you,” he said, giving him a small placard.”Do you still think I should retire Marcus?” He laughed looking at him with narrow eyes.
“In fact, this place needs somebody to keep things working. I keep the mansion running," he cackled, moving back to his work.
" Yeah... I guess.! Said Marcus.
The train was moving again on the tracks leaving the station. Most of the people on the platform had already left. Some of them were very happy carrying packages and smiling, others hugging their relatives with tears strolling through their eyes. And curmudgeon people, not really glad to be in there at all, were mingling in the crowd. The Steam started to subside and the train left Muddy Peaks behind. Marcus was looking around for his boy. “Where could he be? Everybody had already left the train,” He felt desperate. A woman carrying a suitcase tapped Marcus in the back.
“There sir,” She said. “Standing down the platform. There is somebody waiting.” she points to a figure waiting in the distance.
“Thank you very much, lady,” Marcus thanked her. “There..there he is. My boy." he ran to the person standing there.
" Uh...Sir, no I mean..."the lady tried to talk to him, but it was too late, Marcus was running, he could not wait to give a warm welcome to the new member of the Abbe family.
“Finally,” he said. running, snorting and punching, trying to catch his breath.
But there, looking at Marcus with large bright green eyes, there was a smile bigger than the used suitcase sitting on the floor. With long black hair running down the shoulders. Jet black as a night without stars, wearing a white outfit and worn-out brown boots.
“A girl?” Marcus looked at her with startled eyes. “But...but what's going on here, where is the boy? Marcus asked her.
“What is the meaning of... OF THIS?” He said pointing his hand at the girl.
“My name is Azeviche Jet and if you are Mr. Marcus Abbe. I am your daughter, sir,” She stared back at him, smiling and pointing a finger to a small placard written: “ Abbe”.
Marcus looked at Azeviche, head to toe. He had sweat dripping down his forehead. It was unbelievable that after all this time, trying to adopt a child, the government made this terrible mistake and they sent the wrong person.
“They never said anything about a boy. if I'm correct,” Marcus talked to himself, ignoring the girl. His hand lied under his chin as if he had a huge weight on his head to be supported.
He spun on his heels thinking ,still in shock. “The government rarely makes mistakes,”Marcus thought. Not since the war. Since it all began and thousands of people died defending a country that no longer exists, orphan children got relocated in new foster homes to new parents, to work in the mines, extracting metal for weapons and vehicles,to work the fields, so that the very existence of the colonies was not compromised. Whoever comes to Muddy Peaks are not only residents of an inhospitable place, they are responsible for the maintenance, they were there to hold ground and prevent a new “Draconite” invasion. The terrible civilization that reduced the earth's population by half. They came from the lands of the south to destroy humanity.
Marcus stood there thinking. Azeviche was disgusted with his rude attitude. Her face got flushed with anger. She turned to him and screamed at the top of her lungs looking for his attention.
“Hey !!! This is no way to treat a lady. Do not think you ́re going to leave me here in the open with my heavy suitcase,” she said in a very serious tone.
She reached for a document with the official seal in hot wax and the coat of arms of the “State of the Northern Islands” that was inside the pocket of her white wrinkled dress.
“The government seal,” Marcus said. This was no mistake at all.
“My name ends with “E”, but don't take me for an Anne of Green Gables,sir. I may be an Orphan but I know my rights. I know we are not sent to this end of the world,” she stuttered.
“This... this God-forsaken place, for a walk." She was very annoyed and was yelling at him.
Astonished with the frightful scream of the little Banshee, Marcus finally seemed to shake himself out of the trance. The apparently fragile and short little girl of twelve years old, was very resolute in her attitude, she stared at Marcus ,with Eyes gleaming as if about to burst into tears. She shook the paper in the air in her clenched fist. Her head spinning in a whirlwind, in a storm of thoughts and emotions.
She went through a long,twenty five day trip to get to this place. At the farthest point in the country, at the frontier of what was left of the civilization of yore, with the unknown world of the destroyers of mankind. she's had enough for today.
"Here! Here!!!...You,... you!” She was still shaking the paper in the air. “Take it and read it out loud. You won't leave here until you do it, sir,” she demanded.
Poor man. Marcos never expected to come across such a determined soul in his life. The apparent fragile little girl was a brave soul, determined to fight for her rights. Azeviche reminded him of his colleagues in the army. An epoch of battles of the Hundred Days War. “Sagacious eye, strong in spirit,” he looked at her. “ No,there was no mistake here,” Now looking into Azeviche ́s eyes he realized; that the poor creature had already been through all kinds of difficult situations. He could tell by that glow in her eyes, he used to see that in the mirror years ago. She is not the first Orphan to arrive in Muddy Peaks. No, far from it.
They come here by the hundreds,and the number of children increased in the last year. The borders need reinforcement, they must be always vigiland. The orphans are survivors of the catastrophe known as The hundred day war. Marcus thinks about the terrible situations that this child had to cope with to get to Muddy Peaks. He took the sealed document from her hands, broke the wax seal trying not to ruin the paper. All that excitement and anxiety made his hand shake. Marcus was sweating copiously, he was embarrassed by his attitude towards the girl. In a raspy voice he began to read the text out loud:
The State of the Northern Islands,from this moment on bestow Mr. Marcus Abbe and his wife Mrs. Ronna Abbe, legal guardianship of the minor Azeviche Jet (12 years old at the moment). We appreciate your desire to serve the state.
Work, Family and country first.
Northern Islands, year 35.AD
Thirty-five years after the first Draconite attack, the first dragon attack; the worst weapon that humanity ever faced. The devastation and the effect on the lives of all people continues. Dismantled families lived under the rule of one state.The nations as we knew it were gone a long time ago. For it had to be done like this in order to survive all this tragedy.
A cyclone of memories and emotions passed through Marcus’s head in a flashback of epic proportions, causing him to finally realize. “Things are the way they are meant to be. We just need to accept with good heart what faith gives to us,” He gently folded the document and put it in the inside pocket of his jacket.
“This is it.” he said with an unexpected gesture. He put his hand on her head in a clumsy sign of affection. Marcus would have to learn very fast how to deal with children. His throat was dry, his hands shaking.
“Yes,” he gasped. “Azeviche Jet... Young lady. Looks like I am in fact your father !!!”
An explosion of held feelings travels through both of their bodies. Azeviche bit her lower lip and tears were streaming down her rosy cheeks. She put her hands together, fingers interlaced as if in a last desperate prayer. Her mouth was ajar, her lips trembling. she only had time to say:
“God...I'm so tired. I feel so tireeed...'' She was unable to finish it. She fainted.Marcus quickly held her avoiding her body from hitting the ground.
Here you are, little village of Muddy Peaks,
Stuck amidst the rocks of the mountains
That point its fingers to the sky.
Your red vegetation of permanent autumn,
Near the frontier of humanity and total bleakness,
Your rigid branches like spikes.
Let me pass my thick fingers, benumbed
By the fight. Through the hair of your desolation.
They will make me feel alive.
In your freezing dark rivers. My body wants to dive,
I will run, I will fight and I will cry.
If you work the dusty red soil,
the sustenance will arrive.
( Oluf the Dragon slayer )
The cold blistering wind of the afternoon was already falling over Muddy Peaks. Azeviche was still lying on the ground unconscious and Marcus was crying out for help, without knowing what to do. He gently tapped her face trying to bring her back to consciousness. Jonas Greenberg and his staff quickly ran to assist them in any way that they could possibly do.
“What happened to her Mr. Marcus?” asked Jonas. There was no reason for a very young girl to pass out like this. Jonas had more than thirty years of service, he would never let anyone unassisted and this was not going to be the first time. “Jonas she was under a lot of stress and collapsed into my arms,”Marcus was almost crying, his voice trembling and Azeviche was sleeping like a baby in his arms.
“Come, oh my... come Mr. Marcus, let's take her inside, so we can take care of her. I'm pretty sure she's just exhausted from her long trip. “It is indeed an exhausting journey, sir,” Jonas said trying to calm Marcus.
Marcus took her in his arms and Jonas opened a green door to a private service room.
"Please,take her inside,mr. Marcus. I have just what we need for situations like this,” Marcus took her to the little room. It was the place where they kept brooms, detergents, cleaning products of all sorts used in the maintenance of the station. Marcus gently laid Azeviche on a rustic table in the center of the room. Extremely careful, like someone who deals with an expensive crystal vase. She lied there quietly, like someone taking a wonderful nap. Finally the weight of responsibility began to weigh on his shoulders. Marcus was responsible for a child and this changed everything. His life won't be the same from now on and he can feel it in his bones. Suddenly a chill went down his spine, his mouth was dry, he felt a void dragging him down.
“What if she never wake up anymore. I can't cope with that. Jonah. please do something,”Marcus said. Jonas could barely containing the laugh, clasping his hand to his mouth. Jonas reach for a large bottle. “ Ah! Bleach. Hre is what we need,”He opened the bottle and the smell was very strong. “What is her name again?” Jonas asked in a quiet soft voice, trying to calm Marcus.
“Ahn...Jetviche, I mean Azejet… Oh come on now, let's bring her back, please,”Marcus was worried sick.
Jonas ‘s skillful long fingers opened the blue lid of the bottle and pour some of the liquid into its little cap. “What a terrible smell. What is it?” Asked Marcus holding Azeviche ́s head.
“Oh, try to calm down Marcus. Are where is the veteran who fought in the Hundred Days ' War? Get a grip of yourself,” Jonas lost his patience. “Just watch and see how it's done”. Jonas approached the lid with the fetid product from her little nostrils. “This amount should just—” Jonas barely finished. Again in a hysterical scream as if all hell was about to break loose, Jet gave a shout that woke Muddy Peaks.
“They'll kill us all. Fight.”
Jonas and Marcus froze and they were simply bestified by what just happened. Sitting there at that table Azeviche sat on the table staring at the wall eyes like huge orbs her mind far away in another place. A place where something terrible, really horrid was taking place. After that loud scream she static, the right hand amid the air in a frozen gesture. Now here is something that the experienced Mr. Jonas had never dealt with.
"Oh Mr. Abbe,Marcus This child have been through a lot I can tell that sir,” He touched Marcus in his shoulder.
“Look at her. She is staring to nowhere, poor child,” Jonas clasped a hand to his mouth. He shook his head feeling sorry for the girl.
“How come they send a traumatized child to a place like this,” Jonas felt pity.
“ Have you ever seen anything like this?” asked Marcus holding her hand. A continental island, Muddy Peaks is where the army was able to stop the attack of The Draconites. This place is now where people hold the ground,where they keep a watch on the border in order to keep the terrible alien race from taking over the rest of the world. This is not a place for the weak of the faint of heart.
“This may look like a boring place now,the capital keeps sending hundreds of children to live here,” Jonas said looking at Marcus. “ By the hundreds they are getting in here Marcus,”
“ We know this is still a battle ground Jonas,” Marcus replied looking to the poor little girl.
“ I know that.My eyes will never deceive me, sir. But something is going on,” Jonas shook his hands.”Marcus talk to her, maybe your voice... Your voice may wake her up sir,” Jonas was also taken by surprise with all this situation. he did what he could, he was not a doctor he was just an experienced railroad employee.
Marcus Abbe approached the table. He too was petrified with fear. Afraid to hurt or to make all this situation any worse than it already was. Gently touching her in the face he talked to her, whispering in her ear. “Azeviche, please, snap out of it child. will you?” his body and his voice shaking like bamboo in the wind, he felt desperate, he wanted to get her out of that trance,so he tried to raise his voice. “Talk to me!!!” he cried, holding Azeviche by her shoulders.
“Nothing. said Marcus,” Sadness took his eyes. “Is she in some kind of coma? We tried almost everything,” said Jonas. “This call for extreme measures,”
“What do you mean?” asked Marcus, he felt lost. “Well..if you allow me sir,” Jonas pushed Marcus aside to get more space and raised his hand in the air. Marcus understood and nodded.
Jonas slapped Azeviche in her face. “Azeviche AWAKE UP !!!”
The extreme measure,finally seemed to work. Like someone who was immersed in the waters of a dark River she woke. Her nostrils dragging air into her lungs and her mouth ajar in a silent cry for help. She felt like she had swam miles under the water and now was finally at the surface.
“Somebody... He... help I…” She did not finish it.
"She's back Marcus, Back!!!” Jonas was celebrating. “It worked... it work, Thank God.” Marcus was relieved to see the situation resolved.
“You gave us quite a fright Girl,” Said Jonas smiling at her, his hands touching her shoulders. “Azeviche, talk to me. Are you OK?” Azeviche seemed to be unaffected by all this traumatic beginning in Muddy Peaks. Unaffected and unaware that she had passed out like that.
“Oh, I ́m sorry. I guess I fell asleep. It was quite a journey you know. I am indeed tired,” She blinked scratched her eyes. “Are we going home now? She asked looking are Marcus.
“Yes, don't ́t worry about anything,” Marcus wiped the sweat from his forehead. “I have a nice room with a warm bed for you back at home.” he smiled at her amazed that she was OK. “Oh and a nice dinner will be waiting for us. Let's go home,” he touched her hair.
“Ha!!! To Home you go, indeed,”Jonas rushed them out of the room wiping his sweaty forehead and checking his pocket watch. He had a station to run.
Azeviche shook her head,trying to figure out what just happened. Her entire body ached and she wonders if maybe she had a flu or something like that. After all Muddy Peaks is a cold place and the winter was close. She wondered if they would have chocolate cake in this nice meal that Marcus was talking about. The only thing that she could think about was that she was still feeling very tired from the long travel and a really good night of sleep would not hurt at all.
Azeviche took a good look around at the platform, looking for her suitcase. Everything that she got was in that old suitcase. Taking a long yawn and spreading her arms in the air, she made a long face.
“Now, where is my suitcase?” Everything I have is in that. Where is it?” she said with her hands on her waist,looking more preoccupied than ever.
Miles a sixteen year old linesman, came in a hurry bringing the suitcase to her. “Here it is Miss. still untouched, rest assured of that,” he said.
“Ah! finally a gentleman in this town. Thank you kindly mr? Mr…” she asked.
“Mi... Miles. The boy stuttered. Barely containing the laughter because of the most peculiar way that she talks.
“Well, let me take that for you. It is about time we head home, Ronna is waiting for us,” Said Marcus taking the suitcase. “Goodbye and thank you for everything Mr. Jonas,” Marcus nodded. “Oh, just another day in paradise Marcus... See you,” Jonas fixed his silver whiskers waving goodbye.
Marcus embraced his daughter as they passed through the tall gates of the station.They both faded away in the cold mist that started to come from the mountains, announcing the arrival of the night. While a purple sun kissed the horizon, a black veil full of blue stars fell over their heads. They both climbed on a humble buckwagon and a brown old horse, slowly took them home.
The small wagon with Marcus and Jet slowly traveled the dirt roads, passing between the pine trees, their branches now quite burnt out by the cold that was arriving. Snowflakes slowly fell upon the branches of the trees, painting a beautiful portrait of the rustic place. When the night falls in Muddy Peaks, people always seek shelter on their homes, tucking themselves in the heat of the tavern to drink some Brandy, trying to warm their throats. Work is even more intense in this season of the year, for pretty soon the snow must take the roads,the woods and the whole city will be immersed in the white cold winter. The sagacious eyes of Azeviche looked the landscape,while the humble cart lead them towards the top of a hill. Marcus stopped the carriage and the two of them sit the admiring the landscape for a moment. From up there they could see the mountains and a river cutting through the whole valley like a blue serpent. Reflecting the moon that was shining up above. The carcasses of ancient vehicles used in the hundred days war looked like ancient sculptures all along the way. The nature engulfing it absorbing and transforming it back to what it was not so long ago. Just metal.
Plants turn distorted tanks into large vases, twisted branches coming out of broken windows, intertwining in a continuous embrace of rust and green. Azeviche noticed a bright yellow light in the window of a house, the smoke coming out the chimney indicates without a doubt that they would finally be able to shelter from the blistering wind.
Marcus nodded pointing at the house. “ The Silver Sword Ranch. Your new house,” he said.
Her eyes sparkled with happiness. Finally Azeviche’s heart seemed to calm down and the agony that took her throughout the journey seemed to dissolve, the destiny opened a new door, an opportunity for a new noble life.
They finally passed through gates and from the top of the crooked trail that lead to the big house, they could see two women standing in there and waving at them.
“ look.Ronna and Agnes,” Marcus told her. Anxious and half tormented by the enormous delay the two women came running to them. They were worried sick.
“Here we are,” Marcus said. Ronna could see in his face that he was tired. “Ronna, I hope you have a warm meal for us, honey.” he touched his tummy . “Off course we have, but won ́t you introduce us to this fine young lady?” Said Ronna in a beautiful smile. Always a very nice and beautiful woman, Ronna extended her hand to Azeviche. “Here,Let me help you out of this wagon.” She smiled.
“Good evening.My name is Azeviche Jet. I ́m your new daughter.” she stated with a salute and smiling. “Oh my” You are pretty straight forward isn't you?” Ronna asked her.
“Oh! You bet on that,” replied Marcus. “Azeviche Jet,” Ronna instantly felt a strong connection with the black-haired and spirited child. “Twice the name for the same black stone. Pretty interesting,” she touched Azeviche in her shoulders. “Oh, maybe it is because you have— But interrupting Ronna, Azeviche completed. “And yes, it is on account of my long, dark hair like the night,that they gave me such an interesting name. But they certainly do not compare in beauty to yours, red as fire,” She said to Ronna. “ I believe that with the blizzard that is about to come,a warm fire is what I would like most now.” Ronna and Agnes laughed, she took Azeviche by her hands and shaking her arms she says: “Well I think you are the most adorable child. Welcome to our home. Your home now,” The fire and the meal awaits you both,”
“Well awaits us all, I shaw say. I'm starving too! You are late Marcus, off course you stopped to chat with that old fart Jonas,” Agnes scolded him. “The king of the station he thinks he is,” Agnes smiled. “Well, maybe he is,” Marcus talked back to Agnes. Ronna disapproved her comment. “Mum!!! Old fart? We have a child in the house now,” Ronna said gently pushing everybody inside the house. “Off you go.The dinner is at the table,” Azeviche looked to Marcus that was holding her old suitcase.
“They both said fart,” she noticed. she chuckled and they all laughed, closing the door behind them. That was a warm reception even better than Jet could have ever expected. Finally a roof protected her head, fire slowly danced as a ballerina in the fireplace. Its yellow light spreading all over the cozy living room. And she felt protected as she never was in her entire life.