Chapter 1: Prologue
It starts with a tingle.
A light shiver that runs up and down her spine as she pushes the unlocked door open with trembling fingers. It swings wide, creaking all the way, and revealing a simple home. Nothing looks out of place. There’s no broken glass or overturned chairs or even a speckle of dust on any of the furniture.
It looks the same as ever.
The grand chandelier hangs from the ceiling, undisturbed by the stillness of the house or its lack of occupants. The crystal twinkles as the outside lights hit it, sending rays of lights in every direction but even that does nothing to dispel the shivers that runs down her spine at the stillness of it all.
Behind her cars zoom by, bird chirps, life goes on. Even the neighbors are unaware of the deep unsettling feelings emanating from the once lively home.
She pauses at the door, wondering if she should really enter and that’s when she hears it.
It’s a sweet, soft melody that calls to her. It whispers to her, pulls her deeper into the house and up the stairs as it whispers sweet nothings into her ears. It’s enchants her and, before she knows it, she stands in front of the attic door.
The door swings open on its own.
Its hinges stay silent as it opens to reveal a set of stairs and a purple light at the top of them. The melody continues, urging her up the stairs. She takes them slowly, unwillingly to go and yet unable to stop. So enamored as she is with the melody, she can’t help but put one foot in front of the other as she slowly makes her way up.
When she reaches the top, the scene she finds is not what she was expecting. Instead of boxes and old furniture that usually reside in attics, she finds computers and posters, and all manners of machines whose functions she can only guess at. And, yet, those are the least important findings in the room.
Because, in the middle of all the room, circled by the machines and computers, stand two swirls.
And they beckoned her forward.
They call her name and make sweet promises and, before she knows it, she’s standing in front of them. Thin, pale fingers inches away from the bright, blue swirl that sounds as if it’s calling her home.
Chapter 2: Interlude: Chapter 1
She wakes to the chirping of birds, shrill and un-muffled. The open window allows their songs to flow into the room uninterrupted. It rouses her from her light sleep and she doesn’t begrudge them for it. In fact, she mentally thanks them as she slips from under the plush comforter of her bed.
She wouldn’t miss this for the world.
A pleasant breeze wraps around her, slipping in through the open window and ruffling the lace white curtains of her room. With a smile, she heads to the bay window, taking a seat on the windowsill as she watches the sun peak up from the horizon.
Watching the sunrise helps chase away any lingering sleep. Once it hangs over the wide, open plains of the grassy countryside, she stands and officially starts her day.
After she’s showered, dressed, fed, and ready, she leaves her house. A plain little thing that sits nestled among many others, all as similar as the next. They're no more than two stories tall, painted a pale tan with white accents, and surrounded by white picket fences and lush green yards.
She doesn’t even bother to secure her house, confident in the fact that there won’t be trouble as she closes the gate behind her and starts the trek into town. The sounds of her slightly heeled flats clicking against the cobblestone streets and the flowing skirts of her dress swishing around her legs are the only noise this early in the morning. Other than the songs of the birds, that is.
The trek isn’t long. Its thirty minutes at the most before she reaches the edge of the town. By then, other noises join that of her footsteps. Sounds like car horns and rumbling engines and even the occasional barking dog.
All the sounds of a town rising from sleep.
With a smile, she makes her way down the still slightly empty streets. Few people bustle about this early so she bumps into no one as she reaches the glass door of a little café.
It sits on the corner of two semi-busy streets, drawing the attention of those that past by with its bright turquoise walls and white accents. You can’t miss it even though it’s a small, little thing. It holds no more than ten tables that can seat forty people max. Though there’s a long bar that runs the length of the kitchen to squeeze in just a few more.
Giddiness that never fails to appear, fills her as she slides the metal key into place and unlocks the door, slipping inside. A gentle twinkling comes from the bells tied to the door, one she easily ignores as she goes about her business.
She hums a long-forgotten song under her breath as she relocks the door behind her and flickers on the light. The pale, blue and cream hues of the chairs and tables come into focus as she makes her way past them and into the kitchen.
Flicking lights on as she goes, she prepares herself to open the café, going through the routine almost on autopilot. Absentmindedly, she surveys her kitchen as she pulls off her tan swing coat, revealing her baby blue waitress uniform. It's a dress, really. One that buttons at the front and flows at the waist down past her knees. It comes with a collar in the same creme color as the buttons on the front and the apron she ties around her waist.
The kitchen itself is white. It's all white walls and white tiled flooring, the checkered tile of the dining coming to a stop right at the entrance to the kitchen. It's also wide and spacious, with all the equipment they could possibly need lining one wall. Another is occupied by all manners of plates and cups and utensils sat on chrome racks. The walk-in fridge takes up half of one wall while the freezer takes another—both running low on supplies as the time for a supply run nears. In the middle sits the chrome prep tables and she wipes down each surface, sanitizing everything before diving into the fridge.
She chops some vegetables as she waits for a pot of water to boil. Once it's bubbling she dumps the vegetables in. The soup is simple, easy and she wastes no time fretting over it as she dumps the spices in and lets it cook.
She flicks the coffeemaker on next, putting in new, fresh grounds before turning to wash the dishes. There's not much else to do. The food is made fresh to order so she takes a baby blue mug and fills it with fresh, steaming coffee.
Dumping sugar and creamer in by the boatload, she takes the mug with her to the front. Once there, she sets it on the bar and gets to disinfecting all the tables and the counter. She's done with that just as the glass door opens, the lock tumbling loudly as it's unlocked. A tall man enters, lips split into a huge smile as he shrugs off his heavy coat and hangs it by the door.
"Please tell me you have the coffee on," he pleads, brown eyes begging desperately even as scarred lips stay pulled into a smile. She watches him curiously as she lifts the coffee mug. "Oh thank god," the man says, taking the offered cup eagerly. He chugs most of the now lukewarm coffee down in one gulp. "I do not know what I would do without you, Eighteen."
"Probably sleep all day, Five" she teases, head tilted in confusion for a bit. It throws her off, his name. Said so easily and without a doubt even though there’s another name on her lips. One she can’t quite remember and it makes her question if it actually belongs to him even though there’s no chance it doesn’t.
It’s tattooed on to his skin, after all.
Shaking her head at the confusing thoughts, she moves towards the glass doors. Flipping the ‘Closed’ sign to ‘Open’ she pauses for a bit, lip between her teeth, as she spots someone moving across the street.
It's a man with shaggy blonde hair and bright, baby blue eyes that walks with poise and confidence as he makes his way up the street. He’s tall, lean in a good way, not the near starved way some people tend to have due to too fast metabolisms and little to eat. His slight build is covered by a neatly pressed, white button-up and black slacks but she knows it’s there.
She’s never met him before, but she recognizes him. Has seen him enough time that she feels as if she knows him. It’s a feeling she can’t shake off as she watches the man stop before the building directly across from them.
The Eagle's Meadow.
He’s a waiter there, Five had told her once when he caught her looking. The confusion on her face had been clear for anyone to see so he’d shared what little he knew.
"It is a bit early for them to be opening, is not?" Five says, now standing next to her. Together they watch the man slip inside the restaurant before she turns her gaze back to Five. Eyes, flickering over his long brown hair—neatly tied back at the base of his neck with a red tie—over broad shoulders covered by a black, long-sleeved button-up, dark wash jeans, and down to well-worn sneakers.
When she looks back up, she finds his eyes on her.
"What is wrong, Eighteen?" he asks but she just turns her gaze back out the door.
She feels confused, off-kilter. Everything is struggling to make sense as she watches the sleek cars rumble by. They're boxy, wide, and low to the ground, with tapered ends, round headlights, and shiny chrome accents running down their sides. They're loud too, engines rumbling loud enough to be heard through the walls of the cafe and even cause the glass windows to tremble the tiniest bit as they zoom by. They’re new, the year’s latest models but something in her whispers that they’re not. That they’ve been out for years, decades.
With another shake of her head, she ignores the feeling and moves back to the counter.
"Just feeling a little off, Five," she tells him as the bells of the door opening chime, announcing their first customer of the day.
There's no more time to talk after that. More customers arrive and the orders come rushing in, forcing them to focus all their attention on the tasks at hand. With only two of them, it's a lot to do but they manage, pushing out the orders with ease.
"Maybe you should hire someone," Five says later that night as they sit out behind the café, smoking cigarette dangling from his fingers. The café is closed for the day, so they relax under the stars. Perched on empty crates, they rest sore feet. "We could use the help."
"No one would want to work here," she says, taking a drag of her own cigarette with a deep inhale. "Hell, I'm surprised you've stuck with me this long," she says, voice just shy of bitter as she pulls the clip holding her hair up free. Her brown hair falls down in limp curls around her and she shakes it out to give it a bit of volume. "No one wants a Templar for a boss."
The word Templar falls from her lips easily but it surprises her. Throws her off-kilter once again because it can’t be, right? But, just like the number printed on her skin and the familiar blonde boy she can’t possibly know and the old cars that are actually new, it is.
She’s a Templar.
"You forget I am one too," he says with a chuckle as he flicks the cigarette away. Standing, he stretches, back cracking loudly in the quiet alley. "Besides, you are good to me. Nothing at all like the snob across the street," he says, face pinched in anger as he reaches his hand out to help her to her feet. "Mr. Number One over there is the real prick."
"Easy with insults," she says as she takes his hand. "He's one of us."
"That explains his attitude," Five grumbles, hand coming up to run through his bangs in agitation. The fact that the owner of The Eagle’s Meadow is a Templar is not actually news to him but she lets it drop. "You should see the way he treats Nineteen—"
"Nineteen?" she asks, amused as she cuts him off. A slight blush comes over his cheeks as she rises from her seat. "I'm assuming you're talking about the tall, blonde waiter with the gorgeous, blue eyes," she teases as he splutters. "When did you become so chummy with the competition?"
"Well, we are not—it was not—he was—he." The starts and stops pull a chuckle from her lips and he smiles at the sound of it. "Oh, shove off, would you?” he grumbles as he takes her cigarette and tosses it in the direction of his own. “Come on then, it is late and we still need to finish locking up.”
“I know,” she replies, letting the subject of the blonde waiter drop as they make their way back inside. “Don’t forget I still need to pay you,” she reminds him as she makes her way to the cash register. Grabbing the scanner from beside it she holds out her hand. “Alright, give it here.”
“You do realize you do not actually have to pay me, right?” Five asks as he, unwillingly, rolls up the sleeves of his white chef's coat, the sleeve of his button up going up with it. Just as unwillingly, he holds his arm out for her to take. “I have more than enough credits to last me a lifetime,” he reminds her even as she runs the scanner over the barcode on his arm.
The one that sits above the numbers, his identification, his name.
The scanner pings as it reads the black code.
“You forget that I do too,” she teases as she places the scanner down and approves the transfer of credits that pings up on her register. “‘Sides, you should be trying to save up as much as you can,” she tells him as she peels off her apron. “You’re a Third Generation Templar. Your children won’t be receiving Templar Credits, or privileges for that matter not unless you suddenly want to join The Templar Cause.”
Five stays quiet, processing her words as he pulls off the chef's coat and replaces it with the thick one he had come to work in. He stays silent right up until they lock the front doors and Eighteen is seconds away from apologizing for her harsh words.
“You are right,” he says before she can, voice calm and steady and letting her know he’s not actually upset. “Sometimes I forget is all,” he tells her as he pulls a box of cigarette from his pockets and lights one. “Living as we do, it is easy to forget that—as children born from a long line of Templars—we are allowed liberties most are not.”
“Thank your great-grandparents,” she mutters and he nods. “If it weren’t because of them, we’d be right there with The Civilians, struggling to survive. Sometimes I feel bad for not joining The Cause—both because most of my family has and my children’s children will be robbed of what they could have had—but,” she trails off, unsure of how to say what she means without it sounding wrong. “It just wasn’t for me, you know?”
“You are Second Generation,” he reminds her, taking a long drag of his cigarette. “Your children will still be offered the chance to join The Templars. They can secure the future for their children if they wish to,” he says, with a shrug. “And if they chose not to, then the lost Credits and privileges will be on them.”
“If that was supposed to make me feel better, it didn’t,” she says with a chuckle and a shake of her head. “But, it’s late and we need to be up early tomorrow,” she says before he can continue the conversation. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Five.”
They part ways then. The trek home is quieter than the trek into town. Colder too so she pulls her coat tighter around her and crosses her arm in front of her chest as the moon lights the way to her small home.
Chapter 3: Interlude: Chapter 2
“What is this?” Five asks the next morning, his voice echoing across the empty café. It’s still so early, way too early for him to be at work. The sky outside is still a dewy gray of just past sunrise and the coffee has yet to be brewed.
Eighteen pauses in her chopping of vegetables for the soup of the day. Wiping her hands on a towel she exits the kitchen to find Five standing by the café doors. He looks confused as he holds up the sign she’d hung up upon arriving.
“It’s a ‘Help Wanted’ poster,” she explains despite that those exact words are printed across the white and red board. Turning to the coffee maker, she puts a pot on. The noise of the steaming, black liquid pouring into the glass pot soon fills the café, along with the heady aroma of freshly brewed coffee. “What are you doing here so early, Five?”
“It is Friday,” he says, still awkwardly staring at the poster in his hands. Why he’s confused by it, she doesn’t have the slightest clue. Getting an extra pair of helping hands for the café had been his idea, after all. “I just came back from The Farm District with our supplies for the week.”
“Is it really Friday already?” she asks as she leans against the counter, soup preparation long forgotten as she stares at Five’s deepening bemused expression. “It was your idea,” she tells him, finally addressing the topic of his confusion. “And, surprisingly enough, it was a good one. Now be a dear and put it back out or no one will know we’re hiring.”
“But you never take my advice,” he says as goes to hang the poster back out by the door. She has the coffee ready from him by the time he comes back and takes a seat on one of the bar's stools. “Even though my ideas are always good.”
“Sometimes,” she answers, the doubt clear in her voice as she grabs the sugar and creamer and places it in front of him. “Other times, your ideas make me question your sanity,” she says running into the back room before he can toss something at her. “I still love you anyways!”
She doesn’t hear his grumbled reply as she goes back to chopping the vegetables for the soup. It doesn’t take long for Five to join her in the kitchen. He runs the kitchen, after all, so once he’s prepared his coffee with sugar and creamer, he opens the back door and gets to unloading the supplies he's bought.
When the vegetables are chopped and in the water ready to boil, she goes to help him unload. The truck they use for supply runs is a small, yet boxy, white thing. Its unassuming and inexpensive, with many trips to the mechanic already under its belt and a busted radio but it gets the job done. Not that there’s much to transport.
The café is small, so business is small.
The café is more of a hobby really. For both of them. With nothing else to do and no real need to work, it’s a way to pass the time. It’s why it’s only the two of them running the place and why neither of them had thought to get help sooner. Though the steady incline of customers has left them with no other choice but to finally hire someone new.
“Do you think anyone will apply,” Five asks later that day after the lunch rush has finally ended and the last of the tables have been fed. He’s at the sink, elbows deep in dirty dishes and soapy water. Next to him, Eighteen simply shrugs as she goes about emptying the racks of dried dishes. “I hope someone does.”
“You just don’t want to wash dishes anymore,” she teases him just as the door chimes. Leaving the dishes, for now, she makes her way to the front, smile plaster on her face as she goes. “Welcome to The Corner Café, will you be dining in or taking out?”
The rest of the day goes by in a blur. Most of these days do. It’s almost boring in a way, but it’s better than being at home. There’s nothing to do there either. Being born Templars had made it so. Unlike the regular Civilians who have to work and grind to earn just enough Credits to make it through another day. They have an almost unlimited supply of Credits.
Eighteen more so then Five and all because Eighteen’s grandfather had signed up for The Templar’s Cause. While Five’s great-grandfather had been the last one in his family to join. It’s weird, really, how their world works. Eighteen herself doesn’t even understand any of it half the time. All she knows is that there’s The Templars and The Civilians and that she and Five fall somewhere in the gray area of it all.
The Templars are the rich and powerful, they run the world. They’re the doctors, the scientists, the enforcers. They’re the educated ones, really. While The Civilians work day in and day out, struggling to make a living on the farms and factories and mines, anything that requires hard labor. They’re the poor, the uneducated, the ones who spent all day doing the backbreaking work the Templars don’t want to do.
As for Five and Eighteen, well, they don’t rule but they’re not poor. They don’t have to work, but they choose to. They are the gray area, the in between, the children of Templars who opt out of joining The Cause.
So they just live. They do as they please with all their wants and needs paid for by the Templars as a reward to their Templar fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
It doesn’t last forever though.
They only get three generations.
Three generations of free Credits and Templar liberties are all any family gets before the rights are revoked. So while Eighteen—who is a Second Generation Templar—doesn’t have to worry about her future children’s status, Five—as a Third Generation Templar—does, because his children will be considered Civilians.
Unless, of course, Five joins The Cause.
Then his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be safe from a life of working from dawn to dusk.
And safe from The Drawing.
You can’t forget about The Drawing.
“What has got you thinking hard?” Five asks, cigarette dangling from his lips after the café is closed and the dishes are clean and there’s nothing left to do but lock up for the night. Eighteen looks at him with wide eyes from her perch on empty crates. Her own cigarette dangles from her fingers, unlit and forgotten. “You have been lost in thought all day.”
“Just wondering,” she answers, finally pulling the cigarette to her lips and allowing him to light it for her. The first puff is thick, suffocating, but she doesn’t choke as she lets it back out in a steady stream. The nicotine is heavy on her tongue and oh so relaxing after a long day of work. “Do you ever wonder how crazy this all is?”
“What is?’ Five asks, unsure of what she’s asking as he takes a long deep drag of his cigarette. Around them, darkness has fallen and the stars twinkle brightly in the night sky. They’re behind the restaurant again, taking a much-needed break while they wait for the floor to dry so that they can finally leave for the night. “The Café?”
“That too but no, not exactly what I mean,” she says, leaning back to stare up at the stars. They’re beautiful, always have been. “This. Life. The Templars and The Civilians. The social barriers. And how we don’t fall into either of them but The Civilians fear us while Real Templars hate us for not joining The Cause.”
And they do. With a fiery passion. Eighteen learned very quickly to stay away from Real, Active Templars in her twenty-one years of life. They can be pretty vicious to those that fall into the Gray Area of Templars and Civilians. Especially since Real Templars see Generational Templars—like her and Five—as nothing more than lazy freeloaders who are only in it for the Credits.
“It is,” Five agrees as he tosses his cigarette bud to the floor and crushes it under the sole of his boot. He coaxes hers from in between her fingers. There’s still a lot left to it, more than half but she puts up no fight as he grinds it under his boot too. “But you know better than to question these things, Templar or no. Come on, let us go home.”
He’s right of course. You can’t just go around questioning the foundation of their society. Not unless you want to find yourself in serious trouble. So Eighteen doesn’t protest as he slips his hands under her arms and lifts. She weighs nothing to him and he doesn’t even grunt as he lifts her up and on to her sore, throbbing feet.
“Take the truck tonight,” Five tells her as he sees her badly concealed wince. She wants to say no but her feet really do hurt. The black flats on them do little to ease the pain after spending the whole day on her feet. So she just nods when Five tosses her the keys. “I filled it up on my way to get the supplies so there’s more than enough gas in the tank to get you home.”
“Fine but I’m dropping you off at home.”
The truck starts up with a loud, thunderous noise. For a second the roaring of the engine is all she can hear, at least until it settles. Then all she can hear is the rattle of worn metal and the creak of rusty breaks. Besides her, Five relaxed against the seat lulled into a light doze by the rumbling engine and rocking truck.
It is soothing in an odd way.
The way the cabin of the truck rocks with every bump and the rhythmic sound of the rumbling engines, it brings them an odd sense of peace. Five is asleep by the time they reach his house. The light doze turns into a real nap as they go, so it’s with some regret that she stops the car.
“We're here,” she says, voice low, when she pulls up to Five's house. “Come on, Five. Rise and shine.”
It’s a small thing. Smaller than hers and only one story but no less beautiful. The houses here are all smaller but carefully built to house The Third Generation Templars. Eighteen’s own house sits in The Second Generation Templar housing section. They’re bigger, more elegant than Five’s house but nowhere near as grand as an Active Templar's house.
“Thank you, Eighteen,” he mumbles, voice thick with sleep as he exits the truck. Eighteen nods back with her own sleepy smile, eyes struggling to stay open. “Stay safe.”
She waits until Five is safe within his home before pulling away. The rumbling truck is the only noise in the otherwise empty streets so hurries. Her foot is just the tad bit heavier on the gas pedal so she can make it home before she can fall asleep at the wheel.