1st October, 1937

“Keep going Mai, the city is only a few more miles!” The tall, Matilum man shouted.

“I-I can’t John!” Shouted back the shorter, Aelomon woman.

The couple had been running for the last hour, attempting to run away from the Kalestiean army who had invaded their village. Amongst them was Jian, their only son, who had just turned 17. They had seen the approaching army around a kilometre off before they arrived, and they immediately realised they had no choice but to run. Mai, because she was an Aelomon, would almost certainly be abused, and have her house and property destroyed by the Kalestieans. On the other hand, because John was Matilum, he would probably be detained as a prisoner of war, and eventually released to the empire for a high ransom. Amongst all that, they would almost certainly be separated, and so they decided to run to the city of Mapaula, where they could stay at least for a while.

As they rounded the last hill, they began to see a group of people on the road ahead of them, heading in their direction, only a few hundred yards away.

“It seems we’ve run into some travellers” John shouted back to the others. “Let’s warn them not to come our way.”

As they got closer, they realised that the travellers were carrying guns and ammunition and that they were marching together. Then John recognised with uniform and stopped in horror.

“Dad? Everything ok?”

“It’s them. It’s the Kalestiean army! Run! Run!” He shouted, panicking as he remembered what they had done to his comrades. However, with his panicked shouting, the soldiers noticed they were there, and almost immediately started shooting. Jian and Mai fell to the ground, while John, still petrified with horror, was struck in the chest multiple times.

“Dad! NO! NO!”

His lifeless body hit the ground, blood spewing from his wounds. Mai quickly covered her son’s mouth, struggling to hold back tears herself. Never in her life had she felt so strongly for another person, her love so great and unreserved. And now, his life had been stolen by those who had invaded her homeland. And she could do nothing, absolutely nothing, but hold back her son’s cries.

***

“After that, my mother’s death was inevitable. Her home had been destroyed, and her only love killed before her eyes. At least she passed peacefully, in her sleep.”

Jian was retelling the story of the night he fled home to the noodle stall owner. He felt truly alone in the world: his entire family dead, and now stuck in a foreign city: Mameso, one of the largest Aelomon cities, situated on the east coast. Having grown up in the country his entire life, he had no idea how to navigate or understand the sprawling mass that was Mameso, and so far had only gathered a few coins from his late mother’s purse. The money was running out fast, and soon he wouldn’t even be able to afford a bowl of noodles, now the only thing between him and certain death.

Well, at least you’re alive, his parents would tell him. He wasn’t really sure if this counted as living. He’d never liked the city kids, always arguing and bickering amongst themselves, and making fun of him because of his accent and his inability to navigate the city. He’d tried to get some work anywhere he could, but everywhere he’d tried had turned him away. At this point he’d just about given up any hope of making a living: he spent most of his time drifting between the flat his mother had rented, which he was almost certain he’d be evicted from soon, the noodle stall at the end of the street, and the big rail station at the centre of the town, about 20 minutes walk.

While he was hopeless at navigating the city by foot, he’d grown a strange attraction for the railways. Having never set eyes on a train before, his first experience was on approaching the edges of the town: a small, rural station with just one platform and a tiny one coach parked. It might as well have been abanded for all good it did, the only thing near it were a few paddy fields. But Jian observed the derelict platform with wonder and awe, and when he’d reached the city with his mother and started seeing the inner city stations with their hourly trains, his wonder turned into amazement as he realised how these moving vehicles could transport people all around the city, and all one had to do was step on and off again. Jian could watch the trains at the central station for hours on end, seeing where they all went and where they had come from.  Another point of ridicule from the other children.

About a week after his mother had died, having watched her being buried in the local cemetery and been evicted from the flat, he decided to once more visit the old station he first saw. Then he figured he’d throw himself in front of one of the trains: he didn’t feel like there was anything left for him.

However, upon arriving at the central station, he discovered the station he had once seen was in fact abandoned and had been for around 20 years. He instead took the train to the northernmost station, and figured he’d be able to figure his way out from there. Inevitably, he had not the foggiest once he’d got there where the station was. It took him the next 6 hours of wondering northern Mameso, asking many directions and receiving many funny looks, to find the station. Yet the moment he set eyes on it he recognised it: even though it had a few months since he’d entered the city, it was almost as if the station had been part of his life since he had been born. The feeling of nostalgia, remembering what life was like when he still had a family, a house, some money, caused his eyes to well up with tears. His life, destroyed in a matter of months.

When he got closer to the station, it was obvious that it had been abandoned for ages. The platform was filled with rubbish and bird crap, the track overgrown and rusting in places, and the locomotive parked in the platform falling apart. He laughed to himself: of course, he wouldn’t find anything here. What did he expect, to find his father, still alive and well, waiting there for him? And the rotten thing was he’d have to walk back to the station he arrived in. Out of anger and desperation, he punched the locomotive door. Amazingly, the door fell down off its hinges, opening up the driver’s cabin to Jian.

After looking through the console and all its controls, he realised the key was still in the hole. He tried it, out of sheer curiosity, and to his surprise and delight, the engine started making noises, before shutting off again: the indicator read no fuel. Well, surely if he could get some fuel in, there was a tiny outside chance he could get the thing moving? Almost completely forgetting his previous endeavour, he left the train, taking the key with him, and started to search around for where he could find some fuel.

Many years later, Jian would say to his friends and colleagues: if there ever was a god, or otherwise some ethereal power looking over us, then it was them that knocked the door over for him, them who left the key there. Because had that not happened, he almost certainly would have walked back to the other station, thrown himself in front of a train and killed himself. But instead, because of what happened that day, Jian’s life was about to take a very different turn, would then would lead him to one of the most significant places in the history of Treckonia: Byakko.

Next Chapter: The Rise of Jian, Part 2