If one were to fly east from Antham's port, most likely on one of the dozen airships that docked in the city, and follow the Northwinds, in three days one would find themselves obstructed by the archipelago that made up the Arcadian Empire. Conceived well before the Great War, the Arcadian Empire was experiencing something of a renaissance – its arts and sciences flourishing, technology advancing, and its citizens feeling a sense of pride in their country.
From the busy port of the capital city of Eagleshaw, north down the Main Road through the city deposited goods and people into Howlvale County, one of the largest neighborhoods in the city. The county was originally established as a summer colony, yet soon became recognized as a metropolitan city rivaling that of the capital. Rather than fight and challenge each metropolis, the city was absorbed into Eagleshaw. With its streets lined with perfect, white, stone-cut building and the sidewalks dotted with trees, Howlvale County retained its status as a summer colony despite the fact that it had become something far different. In the center of the neighborhood was the Town Square, where celebrations were commonly held. It was also the seat of the government, the place where the Governor lived with his or her respected family.
This respected family, however, was the Whitebell family, who, unlike those in the other counties, neighborhoods, and provinces in the Arcadian Empire, had ascended to power through the King. Having ruled over Howlvale County for the past eighteen years, they maintained peace through that time, but the public found themselves discomforted by the family.
Governor Tomas Whitebell was the self-made patriarch of the family – a man with streaked-white hair and a face that could intimidate an army general. Standing at nearly six feet tall, his networking powers allowed him access into almost everything within the city.
Mrs. Agatha Whitebell was an uninteresting woman who was very comfortable standing in her husband's shadow. A petite and quiet woman, Mrs. Whitebell stood at almost five feet tall, her round face and long, brown hair made her look more youthful than her real age.
The Whitebells had two sons, Oliver and Aiden, whom they showered with gifts and privileges. Oliver prospered in his political studies, ultimately gaining the attention and praise of his parents; Aiden was left struggling in garnering the attention that was directed primarily at his older brother, leaving him slightly neglected, though he didn't realize it. Both were raised with the belief that they could obtain anything they wanted; it was reflected more so into Aiden's personality, his brown eyes looking like they were on fire when the boy became cross. His blonde hair made him appear like his father when he was around his age – the "impressionable" age of sixteen. Despite the teenager's round face, Aiden maintained an unhappy and serious expression at almost all times.
He didn't see his parents very often, as was the standard for the time, where privileged children normally didn't see their parents but only on weekends and holidays. However, Aiden stayed at the prestigious boarding school near the northern tip of the Arcadian Empire, where all the wealthy youth in the empire attended school. It originally was a stately manor, which controlled the nearby town of Ashgate, but the estate was abandoned and then donated to the empire's educational system. The brown buildings stood over the waters of the White Dragon Pass, separating the mainland and the archipelago.
The classes were structured on a revolutionary system of four lectures a day, which occupied most of the children's time. The meals, crafted by some of the best chefs in the capital city, were served in the Gold Hall, the students' restaurant, and were a mandatory set point in the students' schedule. Uniforms were issued to all students, and, when they had congregated into the Central Hall, one of the two large theaters on the school grounds, onlookers saw a sea of students clad in grey outlined in thin gold threads.
After the bells had struck three times past the hour, the students moved in waves towards the chapel, situated in the center of the school grounds. Many students still had books and papers in hand.
It had been a grey, cloudy day, with the scent of rainfall in the air. Indeed, the horizon had threatened with lightning pops and thunder's soft booms. But the day had dragged on like any other, students going to and fro between the various buildings with umbrellas in hand in case of sudden weather changes.
Aiden and his five acquaintances crossed over towards the chapel, talking about their mathematics and sciences classes. The quintet of boys surrounding the governor's son were laughing and joking about everything from the girls at school to the various professors' ineffectiveness to teach.
"Does Professor Addams even know how to pronounce the planets names?" asked one boy.
"Does Professor Addams even know all of them?" asked another.
Another boy beside Aiden shook his head. "I hate astronomy."
"Good thing there isn't a lot to learn," replied Aiden under his breath. The field, being in its infancy, meant that there was only a limited quantity to what the professors could actually teach; this also meant that there was almost always speculation about what else was in the night sky.
The boys agreed. "Besides that," Aiden began, tired of talking about their studies, "did you see Adelaide in class today?" The change of subject didn't surprise his acquaintances. "She looked like she had been dropped into the inner city and drawn on by the inbreeds there." Three boys enthusiastically agreed with his comments while two remained quiet, and Aiden continued, "Honestly, did her parents even try in maki – ?"
The disapproving eyes of Dean Wenster met Aiden Whitebell's gaze as he walked through the chapel doors. The dean was dressed in the ceremonial robes that were common for the services. Despite the school's crest on the chest, the robes were the official attire for the empire's religion. But this was besides the fact – Dean Wenster was a sour man with a long face, lined with wrinkles and liver spots.
"If you speak during the service…" Dean Wenster began. Aiden swallowed hard; he was almost always in the man's office because of his constant violation to the school's code of conduct.
"It's unfair," Aiden lamented, as the boy's around him took their seats in the pews. "It's not my fault the Code of Conduct is strict."
"Maybe Dean Wenster just doesn't like you," suggested another boy.
Aiden shook his head and looked down thoughtfully. He was on good terms with every other dean in school, yet the deeply religious man continued to frown on him, almost like he had made up his mind to not like the child.
As Aiden looked up slowly, a toothy grin erupted from his previously serious grimace. Sitting directly in front of him was Adelaide and Michelle, two of the most grotesque girls Aiden had ever seen. In reality, the two girls were just plain creatures, choosing not to envelop themselves in the latest fashion or gossip that was common for many of the other female students. Adding to this, they were not extremely wealthy either, but came from respectable backgrounds that would have made any sensible businessman take notice.
Unfortunately, Aiden had structured his ideals of beauty on unreasonable terms that no one could ever match up to. Those who even had one point of his impossible-to-reach beauty, which also included how ladies should act, were ignored and never judged. Those who possessed none of his points were mercilessly bullied until they either left the school or collapsed under Aiden and his followers' torment.
As the chorus began, the students rose for the afternoon hymn. Aiden snickered quietly to himself, stirring the attention of the boy's around him. They started giggling awkwardly. Aiden whispered something to the student next to him, which replaced his awkward giggle with a sinister smile. As the hymn finished, the audience sat down and Dean Wenster stepped up to the podium. He slowly gazed over the faces sitting in the chapel.
His gaze remained for some time on Aiden, whose frown was made longer by watching him suppress a smile.
"I don't need to remind everyone of the expected behavior for the service," Dean Wenster reminded in his voice, which sounded twice as loud in the open space of the chapel. "Now, if you all will turn to page thirteen, we will start with the afternoon prayer." The pages of the prayer books turning echoed through the chapel; the students mumbled in quiet prayer.
Aiden hadn't touched his book. He had learned the prayer when he was younger and could recite it by heart, he didn't need to open it. He picked it up anyways and flipped through it. He sighed slowly and looked back to Dean Wenster, who was staring disapprovingly at him. Aiden breathed in slowly, his expression changing into a face of contempt. Quickly, he got up from the pews and walked out through the doors of the chapel.
A light rain had broken through the cloud cover; thunder rang from the clouds, threatening to bring on a heavier downpour. Despite this, Aiden walked back to his brown-stoned dormitory, the building sitting close to the rocky shoreline leading directly down into the grey, foamy water.
His dorm room was decorated in deep woods with brass sconces, which decorated the walls and bent the light to make the room look brighter. Three pipes swept vertically and horizontally over the wall before disappearing into the ceiling. A brass bed sat in the corner next to the pipes and a side table with a stained-glass reading lamp next to it. A bookshelf sat on the opposite side of the room, its shelves bare of books; in their place, various trophies and pictures took up the space where the dust didn't collect. In front of the bookshelf, two armchairs and a floor lamp similar in style to the reading lamp sat, also collecting dust. Aiden's room was meant only for him. He didn't have to share it with anyone, even though there was enough room for at least two other people to live comfortably. In the center of the room was a great area rug, which covered the remaining empty space. A bay window let in more light when the sun allowed it.
It had begun to rain, but the morning had produced an unusual, and brief, hot spell, so the windows had been opened to dispel the heat. When Aiden had returned, he found the area rug soaked from the wind that allowed the rain in. He forced the windows closed, and called for someone to clean his room. From his backpack, he picked through a few books before finding what he was looking for – his secret stash of cigars. Promptly leaving the room, he descended from the third floor into the building's library.
Similarly to the rest of the building, the room was decorated in deep woods and brass sconces that made the room look lighter than it actually was. A white marble fireplace brightened the room slightly, while also created the precious warmth for the majority of first floor in the winter months. From each of the three walls, bookcases almost covered every inch, breaking for the light fixtures and the thin, floor-to-ceiling windows that opened in the summer. Five tables were spaced out through the center of the room, which created an airy and sophisticated atmosphere.
As Aiden descended the steps of the main staircase, he approached a gangly-looking, bookish brunette named Jonathan. Without saying a word, Aiden dropped his books in front of the student before retiring to one of the leather-upholstered chairs in front of the fireplace.
Sticking the end of the cigar into the fire, he pulled it out and breathed in slowly. "Is it wrong to have things done a specific way?" he asked no one in particular. Jonathan had begun work on his assignments and didn't acknowledge the statement. "No, it's not. And do you know why? Because my father taught me that if you have a specific way of doing something, then you stick to it. You never move from it, never alter it, never move in a different direction. Isn't that damn good advice?" Aiden asked. He looked over to the academic student who had quite literally built a wall of books between him and Aiden. Aiden frowned and asked again, "Isn't that damn good advice?" Jonathan looked up from the books and nodded meekly, shaking slightly. Aiden smiled and continued. "It's a sad thing your people don't acknowledge the only true religion on this good earth. Why is that?"
Jonathan stirred uncomfortably in his seat before looking up from his books and said quietly, "It's none of your business."
"Hardly," Aiden replied. "Why not be the bright beacon and convert? Lead your family to do the same?" Jonathan, who was still stirring due to his discomfort of the conversation, picked up his books and began to leave the room, leaving behind all of Aiden's books and papers on the table. "No, no, no," Aiden began, his tone like a parent scolding a child. "You're an underclassman. You know the rules."
Jonathan stopped in the large entranceway, suddenly tensing up. He sighed slowly, turned and asked, "Shouldn't you be doing this?" but before Aiden could answer, he returned to the table and began working again.
It was a peaceful ten minutes where Aiden listened to the crackling of the fire combined with Jonathan writing an essay for one of his classes. He drew in another breath, watching the underclassman struggle in understanding the concepts that were far above his head.
The staircase wall was obstructed by the darkness of the front façade of the dormitory. As Aiden watched the shadows dance in the darkness, a bright flash of light shone, outlining the front door. A man's silhouette stood in the doorway, but grew as the door slammed shut.
"How dare you behave the way you behaved," boomed Dean Wenster. Hastily, Aiden tossed the cigar into the fire, which exploded against the back wall of the fireplace. He exhaled quickly and fanned the billowing smoke into oblivion. Dean Wenster appeared in the entranceway, an umbrella hooked around his wrist. "How dare you interrupt today's service! No one has ever done that! How dare you!" He grabbed Aiden's sleeve and dragged him out the door towards the chapel again.
A hard downpour was finally descending from the sky, leaving nothing out in the open dry. Dean Wenster didn't bother to open his umbrella until they were halfway there, but by the time they had arrived at the loggia of the chapel entrance, he and Aiden were soaked. The dean led the damp student to the back, past the chapel's two-story altar and into his private study.
Dean Wenster's octagonal study was rather plain in comparison to Aiden's sleeping quarters. There were five pieces of furniture in his office: his desk and chair, two leather-upholstered chairs, and a large bookcase, filled to the brim with scrolls and hardcover books, that shrunk the office by about a third and blocked one window.
As he sat down at his desk, Aiden decided to stand by the door and twist his sweater, letting out some of the water. "This is not the first time you've disrespected the services, Mr. Whitebell."
Aiden glared at the old man and responded, "I didn't speak, like you said."
"No, Mr. Whitebell, you followed my directions quite directly. But you must understand," he continued, stretching his arms out across the top of the desk, "Mr. Whitebell, that this sort of behavior is unacceptable under my supervision. I find it remarkable that you are even passing your classes."
Aiden shrugged smugly and retorted, "Oh, yeah. I'm doing superbly in all my lectures."
The man frowned again. "You're work is sporadic, at best. You're failing your in-class exams yet you're able to manage out-of-class work."
"I work better outside the classroom."
"Mr. Whitebell, you may have every other dean easily persuaded by your, character, - " This actually wasn't true; whenever Aiden made trouble for any of the other deans, he donated a huge sum to their department. " – but your work ethic and manners won't pass in my department. I expect you to improve your behavior."
Aiden leaned on the back of the chair and said, again, smugly, "You've told me that time and time again. I don't think repetition is working." Dean Wenster took in a long breath and sighed slowly. As if moving through honey, he raised his arm and pointed towards the door. Aiden stood upright and bowed, which was a customary sign of respect when children left their elders. Dean Wenster frowned even greater than before.
"Get out," he muttered.
Aiden turned on his heels and passed through the wooden door into the chapel again. Briskly, he passed the rows of pews and burst through the doors and into the loggia, revealing that the sky had opened up and released a torrential downpour, almost obscuring the buildings that existed farther away from the chapel.
Aiden dashed back to his dormitory, but by that time thunder had begun ringing in his ears. But he returned to the library to find Jonathan still working, shivering when he caught sight of the upperclassman, the scent of the cigar still lingering in the air. The room had become downcast due to the rain, but the lack of light from outside made the room unbearably dim.
There were four other occupants to the library by the time Aiden reappeared – among them being Michelle and Danielle, Danielle being another girl whom Aiden found revolting. He strutted to the corner where they sat and leaned against Michelle's chair. When the two girls caught sight of him, they frowned and hastily began packing up their belongings, hoping to retreat to their respective sleeping quarters.
"Come now," he said in a soothing voice. "That's not how you meet someone of stature. You bow," he explained, mimicking a curtsy. The two girls continued packing up as Aiden returned to his normal stance, his eyes sparking. "You bow," he repeated, taking Michelle's arm and leaning her over into an almost-curtsy. Shaking, Danielle pulled out some secondhand lipstick and gently rubbed it over her lips. When Aiden saw this, he let go of Michelle, who fell to the ground on her knees. "Look at you; you almost look nice enough to be a street walker." Danielle's hand had begun shaking, tears forming in the corner of her eyes. "Oh, don't cry, Miss de la Rose. You're closer than Miss Matteson to looking like a proper woman instead of some animal."
"You're a monster," Michelle told him nonchalantly. As she turned to him, she stepped on his foot and began walking away.
"How dare you talk to me like that, you cow!"
Michelle turned on her heels again and added, "Just you wait. One day, you'll go missing, and no one will care where you've turned up. You could be dead in a ditch and no one will care. Sure, your parents will maybe set up an investigation to find you, but at the end of the day, they'll just stop it so they can vacation somewhere nicer than they could before." She stepped closer to him and continued, "The world is changing, and if you're unwilling to move with it, then you will find that, one day, you'll be left so far behind that you'll have more enemies than friends at the end of your days."
Aiden began laughing, reaching over for the girl's shoulder because he found her rant so extremely funny. Michelle stepped away disgusted, turned on her heels again and walked out of the library towards the main staircase. Danielle followed, hastily wiping away the cheap lipstick that now adorned her mouth. But Aiden continued laughing, attracting the attention of the bookish Jonathan, who almost cowered in fear from his enjoyment.
The sun broke through later in the afternoon, allowing almost heaven-like shafts of light into the lecture halls. But the rooms were stuffy with moisture from the students' clothes, creating something of a musty haze that hung along the chandeliers that lit the long room.
The students were trying with the best of their abilities to stay awake. The day had moved slowly and the sudden burst of light brought on a sense of drowsiness that all the students quickly possessed. The professors persisted in teaching, but fought for their listener's attention as their heads began to drop.
Aiden was no exception. In fact, he had dropped off to sleep in his final lecture, and didn't awaken until the class was long over. The bodies that had filled the audience were gone, safe for Professor Duarte. She sat quietly in the first row, taking notes on a book the class would be reading later in the year. Hoping to not raise any alarm, Aiden packed up his belongings and descended towards the front door to the lecture hall.
"Now you've awakened," she began, swishing her bangs away from her face. She closed her notebook and the book, and watched Aiden squirm and move away from the door towards her.
"Sorry for falling asleep in class, ma'am," he said, trying to sound sincere. Professor Duarte taught literature, and, if he were to follow in his father's footsteps, he would find the subject impractical to his desired profession.
Professor Duarte stood up and walked over towards him, a paper in hand. "Mr. Whitebell, you're skating on very thin ice currently," she began, handing him the piece of paper with a red 36% stamped across the front. "You may believe you don't need anything I am teaching, but you could at least pretend to make an effort in my class."
"Honestly, ma'am, I thought I already was."
Professor Duarte sighed heavily and pointed to the door. "Mr. Whitebell, if you don't begin to improve in this class then I will fail you."
"What if my family donates to your department?" he asked, hoping to weasel himself out of the situation.
"We still have the money you 'donated' to us last year," Duarte answered, still frowning. She placed her thumb and forefinger on the bridge of her nose and sighed again. "Aiden, you're a smart boy."
Aiden frowned and said, "You don't address me by my name, professor. You address me as 'Mr. Whitebell' or 'sir'."
"I will address you how I see fit," she retorted. Both person's eyes had sparked with fire and didn't seem to diminish. "I am your teacher, there is no rule against addressing you how I want."
Aiden had learned well from his father – 'when dealing with an upset woman,' he was reminded, 'repeat these words.' He drew in a breath and said, "Okay," very calmly. "I just want you to take a deep breath in, and then I'll come back and discuss it with you later, all right?"
Professor Duarte's eyes remained intense. She desperately wanted to smack the boy, but it threatened her employment with the school. She reached out slowly to grasp Aiden's neck but her arms forced themselves down to her sides. She pointed towards the door and whispered, "Leave, now." Aiden left the class, looking hurt from Professor Duarte's comment. In actuality, he found himself pleased that his father's words worked to an extent – he had slinked his way out of the classroom without repercussions against him.
The sun had finally broken through the clouds completely by that point in the afternoon, saturating the colors and making the school grounds look like it was something from a painting. The trees, which had sagged underneath the rainfall, lifted and stretched towards the sky, its tops flattened by the harsh autumn and winter winds. The soft breeze blown off the White Dragon Pass mixed the moisture with sea air; a pleasant sort of smell that drifted lazily on the south winds over the school and towards Eagleshaw. But the heat persisted in a stifling and insufferable sort of way, which made the cool breeze a blessing.
Aiden returned to his room to find the windows opened once again. The puddles of water that had greeted him before were gone, the rug replaced with another that matched its size but was in a different design. The room had been dusted and cleaned, the brass sconces glowing brilliantly in the afternoon sunlight. Everything in Aiden's room glowed.
Jonathan knocked on the door softly, walked in, and placed Aiden's books and papers on his bed. Before leaving, he turned to Aiden and quietly whispered, "I will be leaving school and returning home at the end of the week." He frowned and snarled, "Find some other weakling to do your work." With that, he departed from the room.
Aiden watched the gangly-looking boy leave. He simply shrugged his shoulders and closed the door to his room, but then glanced at the state of his books, having been thrown into his bag without any care; this resulted in his papers being bent and crumbled under their weight. Nonetheless, Aiden flipped over his bag and deposited all his schoolwork onto his bed.
Only after throwing his bag aside did he realize that his papers had been half completed. He picked up his astronomy paper, which was nothing more than scribbled letters and symbols. "Eh," he said, sighing slowly. "He probably won't care. He's not the smartest." Aiden moved his books and paperwork to the floor next to his bedpost and lied down for a nap.