Author's Note: Okay, this is kinda a rough draft, but I hope you like it. Read and review please!

Empires after Sanctuaries

Chapter One

"Get in."

Those were the first words Jake Sinclair heard from the man in the leather jacket. But Jake wasn't about to get into some stranger's car, not even on the seemingly last day in Jake's hometown, Arra City.

The day had started as any other. Jake rose early to watch the sunrise, then had breakfast and prepared for work. He worked as an engineer for the Arra City branch of the Archadion Military, and while he normally enjoyed the work, the last few weeks had been stressful.

His latest project involved developing the plans and blueprints for space faring vessels, and his team had been pressured by their superiors to work faster.

Jake tried not to let the stress of the job get to him, and most of the time he didn't mind it.

He walked to work most of the time, as he didn't live far from the compound and enjoyed the exercise. The streets were quiet, with few signs of life that early in the morning. In a few short hours, Jake knew, the city would burst to life, with children heading to school and their parents to work. The shops that lined Main Street would open, the smells from the bakery and café wafting out to entice passersby.

As he walked down the street, Jake's mind was occupied by thoughts of the work he would be doing that day, and barely noticed the normal quiet morning until it was over.

Silence.

Then a screech of tires and blaring car horn. Metal colliding with metal. Glass shattering. It all happened so fast, and mere moments after it began it was over. What was once two separate cars was now one mangled heap in the middle of the street.

As soon as the cars were still, Jake and the few other people out that morning ran to them, while one man used his cell phone to call for help. By the time Jake reached the first car, the man inside was already trying to get out. He had blood pouring down his face from where a piece of glass was imbedded in his forehead, and had cuts and scrapes on his face, neck and arms. He pushed himself out of the car, and tried to walk down the street.

The man could barely walk straight, and wobbled quite a bit, so Jake tried to keep him steady and attempted to persuade him to sit down and rest until help arrived. But the man insisted that he didn't have time to wait, and that he had to get away as soon as possible.

Fortunately for Jake, the man was barely conscious, and after a few moments he passed out. With a sigh of relief, Jake eased the man to the ground and sat beside him. They hadn't walked far, only a few steps away from the accident site, so Jake didn't worry about getting any closer and stayed where the man had stopped.

As he sat there he began to hear the wail of sirens in the distance. Help was on its way. A few minutes later, two ambulances arrived on the scene, as well as two police cars and a fire truck. The crash victims were loaded into the ambulances while the police officers questioned the witnesses, and after giving his statement and leaving contact information, Jake was allowed to leave.

So Jake continued on toward the office, thinking over what had happened that morning.

The man in the car had insisted that he couldn't stay there, that he was running out of time for something. But why was he in such a hurry? What was so important that he would force himself to keep moving even though he was badly injured? Jake didn't have much time to wonder about it long, however, as the ground suddenly started to shake violently.

"What the-?!"

Then came the ear-splitting shriek of glass shattering and metal tearing. Explosions rocked the block around the corner from where Jake was.

Jake ran around the corner, only to find that the building that once stood there, a bakery, was seemingly gone. In its place was a burning mass of rubble, flames shooting their way up several feet in the air.

Fortunately no one was inside, as the shop had yet to open, but panicked screams filled the air, as onlookers stared at the flames. Jake hardly had time to think of what to do when suddenly another explosion ripped through the building behind him, and he was caught in the resulting blast.

He was thrown to the ground face first. Once the ground stopped shaking he pushed himself up, spitting out dirt and wiping blood off his face. He had landed on glass from the other building, and as a result had scraped his face, arms and hands.

Back on his feet again, Jake took a look around, and saw that the bakery fire had spread to the neighboring buildings. The flames licked their way up the walls of the shops, working their way up to the roof, consuming everything they touched.

The air was filled with screams, as even more explosions tore the block apart. Knowing there was little he could do, Jake ran, trying to find a way to get away from the destruction. As he got further away from the area, however, he found that it was not only that block that was being destroyed.

There were explosions on the next block as well, and as he looked down the street he could see smoke and fire in the distance. As he ran down the street he stumbled slightly. The smoke in the air was getting thick, and he was breathing it in rapidly. It was choking him, disorientating him, making it harder to walk.

It seemed that there were explosions everywhere; along every street Jake took, in front of him and behind him. There was no end to it! Jake paused, trying to catch his breath, and fell to his knees shakily.

He tried to block everything out and focus on just breathing, but he snapped back to reality when several flakes of burning ash landed on his arm. It sizzled and sputtered on his skin, holding a spark of a flame within it.

Jake quickly brushed it off and stood again. He swayed slightly, his vision blurring, and he closed his eyes. He took a few cautious steps forward, knowing he needed to get moving but knowing he couldn't just run blindly into god-knows-what.

When he opened his eyes and looked around again, it seemed that nothing was left of the city. The buildings were just shells now, if they even still stood at all, and glass and twisted metal covered the streets.

Hardly believing what he was seeing, Jake to push through the debris lining the streets and searched for a way out. He wandered the streets-at least he thought they were streets, but he couldn't really tell anymore with everything covered in the once standing buildings-and tried to find anything even slightly familiar.

After several minutes, he came to an area less covered by everything, and even saw a car on a narrow street that he assumed was probably an alley. As he got closer, he heard the motor running. Running towards it, he reached for the driver's side door but stopped when he heard a voice behind him.

"Get in."

A man in a leather jacket was standing a few feet behind him, looking for all the world like this was a normal day. But the man was a little too relaxed, a little too confident. And Jake wasn't about to get into this man's car. If the car was even his to begin with.

"Look, you want to get out of this town, right? Then get in the car. It's your only way out. The girl and I are leaving, and we'll take you with us if you want to come, but you have to move, now. Wait too long and they'll find us out here, and we're not going back there." The man said, looking into the car where a young woman sat in the passenger side seat.

Jake wondered who 'they' were, but didn't stop to ponder it now. The man had a valid point; this was a way out of town, likely the only way, and if he waited too long this chance would be lost.

So without a second thought he got into the backseat of the car. The man in the leather jacket got into the driver's seat, and gunned the gas. They drove in silence for several minutes, and as Jake sat there, he could see the destruction behind them in the rearview mirror.

Suddenly, a bright flash of light was seen over the area, and the woman in the front seat turned to look at it and gasped.

"Mikhail!"

"I know. Hold on." The man, Mikhail, said. Then he sped the car up.

The light shone brightly, and Jake watched it until they were too far away to see it. After sitting silently for nearly an hour, Jake finally spoke.

"Thank you for taking me with you."

It wasn't much, he knew. But it was a start.

"We couldn't just turn you away." The woman said. Mikhail remained silent.

"So, where are we going, anyway?" Jake asked next.

"We have a place in Itarum. You'll be safe there." Again, the woman answered while Mikhail remained silent.

Another hour of silence, and the car pulled up in front of an apartment building.

"Go get Leon." Mikhail told the woman, who nodded and got out of the car.

She disappeared into the building and returned a moment later, followed by a young man with short black hair that hung in his eyes. He got into the backseat of the car and the woman returned to the front, and Mikhail drove off.

A few minutes later, the car turned into an alley and stopped before a run down shack of a house. Mikhail shut the car off, and everyone got out, Jake following close behind. He really had nothing else to do, seeing as how he was in an unfamiliar town, so he followed these people like a lost puppy.

The interior of the building looked much better than the exterior. The first room was somewhat dreary, with nondescript beige carpet and white walls. The next room was brighter, with three large, open windows covered by lace curtains. The walls were colored a deep amethyst color, and it had rich wood floors. This room was set up as an office space, with two computer desks on one wall, bookcases lining another and a large table in the center of the room.

There were a few other rooms in the long hallway leading to the office, all brightly colored in different shades, but Jake didn't get to see much of those rooms as he passed by. Upon entering the office, Leon and Mikhail each went to one of the desks and punched a few buttons on the computer's keyboards. The woman watched them for a few moments, and then turned to leave the room, motioning for Jake to follow.

"They'll likely be a while, so why don't we wait elsewhere? I'm Anna, by the way. Anna Jackson."

"Nice to meet you, Anna. I'm-"

"Jake Sinclair, engineer for the Arra City Military. I know who you are. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Okay, I'll pretend that isn't creepy." Jake said, and Anna laughed.

"Yeah, I suppose that would bother me too. But don't worry; I'm not stalking you, I promise."

"Then how do you know so much about me?"

"I looked it up. You're pretty important in Arra City, you know."

"I am? I'm just an engineer. What's so important about that?"

"Well, actually, it's not so much what you do, it's more-"

"Anna!" Mikhail's voice cut in sharply. The two turned to see him standing in the doorway.

"What? He needs to know, Khail. If we want to gain his cooperation, he needs to know everything we do."

"Not now." Mikhail growled, and walked away.

"Okay, well, that's that. Come on, I'll give you a tour of our 'base of operations'." Anna said, leading Jake down a long hallway.

"Wait a minute. You can't really expect me to just ignore that whole conversation we just had. Tell me what's going on! Why do you need my cooperation?"

"Look, I know you're confused. I would be too. But I can't explain right now. Give me a little time, okay? We saved your life, after all, so the least you could do is be patient. When it's time, I'll explain everything. I promise."

Jake wanted to press the issue, but decided not to at the moment. Like she said, they did save his life. So, he would wait.

0~0~0~0~0~0

"Well, I guess that's everything. Not much to see, but if you're going to be spending time here, you need to know the layout." Anna said. She had just finished showing Jake around the house, and the two now stood in the library.

"And what am I going to be spending time here doing?" Jake asked, and Anna laughed, brushing her auburn hair out of her face.

"Hey, you almost got me there. But not quite. I can't tell you what you'll be doing here, and even if I could I don't even know all the details. Only Mikhail knows everything about all this." She said, waving her arm around the room expressively.

"I do know, however, that you'll likely stay here for awhile, because you have no house to go back to. Arra City was literally wiped off the map. And besides, you have no way to get back anyway. We sure aren't going back there any time soon."

The two were silent for a few moments, and then Jake spoke again.

"Hey, what happened back there anyway? Who is the 'they' you mentioned earlier, and why did they destroy the city?" But Anna hesitated.

"Oh, right, more stuff you can't answer, huh? Alright, forget I asked." Jake sighed, frustrated. He was getting tired of being told that he couldn't know what was going on.

"Anna, have you found the report?" Leon asked, entering the room.

The library was a large room, brightly decorated like the rest. Bookshelves lined the walls, and there were sofas and chairs in a seemingly haphazard design in the middle of the room. Anna had been searching through the books on one of the shelves.

"Yes, here it is." She answered, holding a book out to Leon, who took it and walked out.

"So, now what? We wait some more?" Jake asked Anna.

"Unfortunately, yes. But they should be done soon, and then we can move on."

"Move on to what?"

"We need to find someone, a woman named Noelle. She's been accused of murder, but we know she's innocent. So we have to help her."

"How do you know for sure that she's innocent? Does she have a solid alibi?" Jake questioned, and Anna laughed.

"You'd make a good lawyer, Mr. Sinclair. Noelle did have an alibi, in fact, a solid one, corroborated by several witnesses."

"Then why is she being accused of murder, if she has witnesses that clear her name?"

"Unfortunately, it's a matter of who was killed. It was the son of a very important political figure in Cambridge Crossing. The type of person who has… 'friends in high places', we'll say. Higher than even himself. And he's making things difficult for Noelle."

"And now you're going to go find her, and what? Hide her?" Jake asked, and Anna nodded.

"Until we can find a way to get them to drop the charges, yes. She's in danger if she remains where she is. We have to help her."

"And how exactly are you going to do that? You can't just walk into town and take off with a murder suspect without being stopped!"

"We can if we do it right. And if we have your help."

"My help? What makes you think I'd help hide a murder suspect? Especially one that I don't know and can't vouch for?" Jake questioned, but Anna simply laughed, standing to leave the room.

"Because, Jake…" She began, her voice soft. "She's your sister." And she walked out.

"What? I don't have a sister." Jake protested, following her quickly. Anna simply smiled.

"You do have a sister, Jake; you just didn't know she was still alive."

"'Still alive'? Y-you can't mean… Ellie?"

"That's right. She goes by Noelle now, but yes. Ellie is alive."

"But how is that possible? She died when she-"

"I know. I read the file. Ellie Sinclair died when she was fifteen, murdered by a local gang. It was said that her body was so disfigured that you couldn't recognize her, so the funeral was closed-casket. There were burns-"

"Do you have to be so… cold about it? You're talking about my sister, here." Jake interrupted, looking away. He was having trouble taking in this information. His sister, who he thought was dead, was alive? Why hadn't she come home? Where had she been the last ten years? And why had she changed her name?

"Where is she now? What happened to her?"

But Anna hesitated.

"When she was attacked, she really did nearly die. She was taken to a hospital in Cambridge Crossing, and their best doctors did everything they could to treat her. It took a long time, but eventually she did recover." She explained.

"Then why didn't she come home? Back to Arra City?" Jake pressed.

"After the attack, she no longer knew who she was. Mikhail met her while she was in the hospital, and when she left there she went with him, and came here. She worked here, with us, for a long time."

Then Anna sighed.

"Now that Arra City's Sanctuary has been destroyed, she can't go back. She was safe with us, until the night of the murder. I don't know what she'll do now."

Jake was silent for a long moment, taking in everything he had heard.

"What did Ellie do here? What did her work entail?" He asked after a moment.

"She can't tell you that, Jake." Mikhail said, entering the room.

"Why not? I have the right to know what my sister's been doing all this time!"

"And you will learn everything you want to know, when the time is right. But for now, it's time to go."

"Go? Go where?"

And Mikhail looked up with a slight smile.

"To get Ellie."

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