He wakes to darkness. An unusual darkness. There was little to no space, cold and hard walls pressing against his body. The sound of cogs creaking and the stinging smell of metal filled the void. He couldn’t see as there was no light, yet he was able to vision a forest right in front of him.
He called out for help, but the sound he heard that he made wasn’t human. A loud shriek followed by cranks rattling pierced the air.
It frightened the boy. He had no idea where he was.
Blades clashed, filling the cloudy day with their sounds. The training ground near the Belfort was rowdy as usual around this time. The men on the field had been training all morning, and now some got to rest. There was only one pair where all the focus was on. In the middle of the field stood Wouter, dueling with the man in front of him. A small group of Belfort guards, city guards, and soon-to-be Ravenbosch patrol guards stood around them as they watched the sparring session.
“My teacher told me once that even the strongest are bound to fail from time to time. So don’t think that beating me is impossible.” Wouter encouraged. “Come on, hit me with your best shot!”
The other charged, trying to find an opening, but none was given. He attacked, but was easily blocked by Wouter, making him lose his balance. In a swift move, he was swept off his feet and landed on the ground on his bum. When he tried to scramble up, the man was held back by the sword pointed towards him. Out of breath, he looked up towards his trainer that was at the other end of the blade. Wouter grinned.
“Well, on the other hand, it would be weird if you could beat me flawlessly. I am your instructor after all.” He winked as he held out his hand, helping up the other from the ground. “That will be it for today. Next time we will be working some more on defense. You are all dismissed.”
Without much ado, they all left the training area to get to the dining area to eat their lunch. Wouter bid anyone goodbye that was willing to look his way when scurrying off. Not everyone did, but the small amount that did was already enough for him. Their kindness was something that Wouter would’ve repaid during the next lesson, only was it difficult to recognize the people underneath the guard helmets. The masks covered most of their features, thus wrongly addressing some guards has happened a lot more than Wouter was proud of. Luckily for him, it wasn’t all too hard for the others to recognize him. A thin scar ran down through the right side of his lips that easily stood out from the other guards’ mostly untouched faces.
The scar wasn’t something that bothered him, in fact, it only remembered him of fond memories. He acquired the scar when he was eighteen; a period in which his recklessness and confidence was at its max. As a young adult, Wouter had grown tall and thanks to all the training with his best friend, he got a better build than his chubby fifteen year old self. Other people his age had become very jealous of him and Wouter knew that, which boosted his ego and made him very cocky and confident. Unfortunately, that side of him got him in trouble a few times, but nothing too bad. Luckily Heim, his best friend, was there to save his ass most of the time.
Whenever he was training he always pushed himself to his limits to become better and stronger. When he was sparring with Heim, he couldn’t help but to be very extra with his moves to try to impress his friend. Thanks to that he managed to get himself cut through the lip with Heim’s blade during one of their sessions. Heim had blamed himself for it, but Wouter insisted that it was his own fault for being reckless.
His recklessness subdued since he joined the guards, but it wasn’t hard to miss his confident strut as he walked in public spaces. Who could blame him as he was in a position where he could use the skill he was best at, even if it meant wearing the somber and sort of ominous looking guard outfit. Despite hating the awful grey colours of his uniform, he wore it with pride. It was his first job ever, and he was good at it. If he told his younger self that he was going to spend his future protecting the county he wouldn’t believe it. Truthfully, Wouter didn’t even believe it now. Ravenbosch hadn’t done anything to anger another county of sorts to have them become their enemy.
When his stomach rumbled, Wouter looked at the big clock that was displayed on the Belfort Tower. He realized he had little time left to eat his lunch before starting his next patrolling shift. Not wanting to be on duty on an empty stomach, he quickly cleaned up the training area, and made way to the dining area right after.
With lunch passing by quickly, he soon found himself starting his next shift. Usually, his patrolling would occur in the evening, but not today. Not long ago he switched shifts with a patrol guard from the Belfort in order to have dinner again with his family. After all those days of eating alone on his shifts he had really been longing for a warm meal made by his sister. With the delicious taste of the fish and the warm company of his family in his mind, he could state that it was worth it.
Today, the guard wanted his turn of switching their shifts, and who was Wouter to say no to that. Returning the favor, Wouter was now walking around the Belfort keeping watch. Of course he took it as serious as his usual patrols, but he couldn’t help to take in his surroundings more than usual. The pretty objects standing in the halls or hanging on the walls were the only form of entertainment he had to keep him from snoozing off in a corner. Good thing that the job didn’t entail sitting all the time, or else he would’ve done just that.
Whenever Wouter passed his colleagues he greeted them, to which he only got a nod in response. His uniform was a tad different from the ones that resided inside the Belfort, but they payed him no heed nor did they question him. Aside from greeting other guards, nothing eventful happened.
About an hour into his shift, Wouter wound up in an area where everything was nothing but empty corridors. He hated it as there was nothing to look at, and it was also quiet since no one would even bother going to such a boring place.
That’s when Wouter spotted something from the corner of his eye. The door next to him was opened, showing someone hunched over at a desk in the room. The person was murmuring a bunch of stuff that sounded like gibberish. Not what you see everyday at the Belfort, but crazier things have happened. Wouter decided it wouldn’t hurt to greet them, but just as he approached the door the stranger turned around, glaring him up and down.
“Move along, guard. There's nothing to see here.” He said in a stern voice. The rudeness of some people around here was something that Wouter was already used to, but it was for the first time that he saw someone wearing… whatever that man was wearing. The gloomy grey colours matched the regular guard outfits, but judging by the type of clothing it wasn’t a guard from the city. Even if he was from outside the city, it was an uncommon design.
Guard or not, Wouter had to find out who this man was.
“My my, I was just passing by to see if we have no intruders. I have never seen you around, you new he-” The door slammed shut in front of his face before he could finish his sentence. He stood there for a second to inhale deeply. “...You are a new guard, right?”
“If you want to know so badly, why don't you just ask the Count? He will have the answer.” The person on the other side of the door answered.
Wouter pinched the bridge of his nose, his patience wearing thin. “Look, it’s my job to keep this city safe, that includes rounding up suspicious folk like you. If you truly do work here, then state your name and your function as a guard.”
“My function is none of your business!” The man practically shouted, but sounded muffled through the door. “The Count knows who I am and that’s all that matters. Ask him if you want to know more.”
Out of frustration, Wouter grabbed the top of his helmet while refraining the urge to groan. Usually he would give out more of a verbal protest, but in this situation, doing so wouldn’t get him anywhere.
“Alright then.” Wouter backed away from the door. “See you around, Sir frown-face!”
Wouter walked off and turned the corner. There he leaned against the wall. As his duty, he has to keep an eye out for suspicious things, and that surely was suspicious. If they don't want to tell him who they are, then it's to him to find that out.
He'll stand here and wait for the stranger to move around so that he can follow him and collect information. It was a perfect plan until a loud yell was heard.
Wouter peeked the corner. The stranger opened the door and ran out with a speed so fast, it was as if the devil was on his tail. Confused, Wouter emerged from his hiding spot and walked down the hall. He stopped halfway as he knew it was impossible to catch up to him. There was no sight of the stranger anywhere in the distance. But as guard it should be his job to trail after the possible intruder.
Honest to God, he would've done that, if it wasn't for the scent he picked up. That burning scent.
‘...Fire?’ Wouter turned to the room the other had been in. There was no smoke, but he swore that something must've been on fire, why else the burning smell?
He stopped in the middle of the doorway. The room was very small compared to most rooms in the Belfort. It seemed to be a smaller storage room, with one window to light the place with. A wooden desk was just big enough to be put against the wall. On it laid scrolls and papers, but surprisingly no fire. Nothing was wrong with the room, nor damaged.
He could hear his best friend's voice over and over in his mind to not follow his curiosity, to back away now and leave it be… but man, it’s so hard to not give in.
‘One peek won’t hurt.’ Wouter thought as he inched closer to the desk, looking at the words written on the papers.
There were a couple of lists that stated materials, the amount of steel on it almost blew Wouter’s mind. It couldn’t be swords, because as far as he knew they had more than enough of those now. Only one thing came into his mind that would need that much resources.
“Must be for the Graffers then…” Wouter murmured under his breath. He wasn’t sure of course. He only heard rumours about said Graffers. They were supposed to be magic machines that could fend off the enemy, or at least that’s what he had been told.
Still, it was a very unusual name, a little bit weird even. The only thing the name reminded Wouter of was the Count’s last name; Grafhart. It most likely had something to do with that.
Shaking his head, he pushed the material list away, revealing a list with names underneath. Wouter could judge from the naming that they were all young, as they were listed as ‘son of’, followed by their father’s last names. Hell, Wouter knew some of these people. Once they were sixteen, they were forced to work under the Count. He had seen it happen right in front of his eyes.
On one hand, he felt sorry for the boys. Without a say in it they have to work a job that they weren’t really signing up for. On the other hand, the more manpower the better in case they might have to fight in a war. They would learn how to defend themselves, all taught by yours truly.
‘But I’ve never seen them around here at all though.’ Wouter realized. If they needed training, then surely some of these kids must’ve been assigned to one of his trainings. Yet that never happened. It’s not that there were no other trainers out there, it was just weird that he hasn’t seen a single one after they were taken away from their family. Wouter was embarrassed for never realizing that before.
With the subject being put in the back of his mind to deal with later, Wouter looked at the last pieces of paper that were presented on the table.
“What the-” He couldn’t believe his eyes. The papers showed drawings of huge machines, shaped in the form of some sort of long necked bird. They were taller than men, at least, that’s what the text next to it described.
It also said that this thing was titled with the name Graffer, something you wouldn’t really call such a monstrous looking thing.
‘So those are Graffers?’ Wouter studied the drawings closer. Sadly enough, he didn’t understand half of what was portrayed on it. Not all too weird, as he never really showed interest in this kind of subject before.
However, there was one thing that did stood out that was easily to see. The middle part of the metal beast was hollow. How are they planning on making the thing move if it’s hollowed out? The only thing in there are some levers and the rest is just empty space. They had even drawn a person next to it to compare the size, and the hollow part was just big enough for a human.
“...Oh.” Then it all clicked. The materials. The drawings. The list of people . “Oh no.”
It was almost too much to stomach. The Count was planning on using these things for battle purposes. People, not even adults but kids, have to fight with those things in a cramped and dark place. No matter how useful it may be in battle, it’s not pleasant at all, and not a place for kids to be in.
“Step away from the desk!” A voice boomed behind him. Wouter remained hunched over the table, putting the papers down. He peeked over his shoulder, seeing the weird guard standing in the door opening. Due to the shock he seemed to have dropped his guard, as he hadn’t heard the stranger approach.
The guard had drawn his sword and pointed it at him. But that didn’t scare Wouter. He knew that when it came to battle, that he was the best at handling a sword. Slowly he faced back to the desk again, his hand reaching for his weapon.
“And don’t even think about drawing your sword.” The guard was right behind him, his blade poking him in the back. Wouter’s hands shot up and carefully he turned around. The man beckoned with his weapon to walk in front of him. With his hands still in the air, Wouter did what was expected from him. Fighting was pointless at the moment. He still needed answers.
Behind him he heard the sound of paper being folded, and soon after that the door closing.
“Is this going to protect Raveleijn? Are we really stuffing people inside those giant metal monsters like it isn’t a big deal?” He tried as they walked, but the stranger wouldn’t comply.
“Leave your questions for the Count.”
Wouter let out a huff, and picked up the pace. Anger started to boil inside of him.
“Oh, I sure will .”