Chapter 1:

Beginning Of Guidance

Peters' Crosses

“Humanity’s history is filled with blood and pain. We committed sins beyond beliefs, caused disasters beyond repair, and therefore we shall be smitten by the God we worship.” The words of the entire student body echo beneath the cathedral’s dome, signaling the start of our new day. These are the weights of our sins from thousands of years ago, eternally recorded in our history books.

“We dwelled ourselves on progress, focused too much on our desires, that we had forgone all sense of reasoning and respect to each other, to the remaining life forms on the planet, as well as to the beings greater than ourselves.” With utmost respect, everyone keeps their head down and their hands crossing their chests, as a reminder of where we truly are.

“Seeing that we needed to be corrected, God gave us an ultimatum that day: to change our way of life, or to face proper judgment. Naturally, as the selfish species we were, we refused to hear His request. On that day, we finally paid the price of our actions: a gigantic flood swept over the entire planet, wiping out over eighty percent of humanity’s population.” The scenery of everyone united to utter their prayers of the holy teachings is always fascinating to me. I don’t know how atrocious our ancestors were in the past, but looking at this scene, at this moment, who can really say that humanity is all evil?

“Humans since then were offered to be under the guidance of God and His Angels, to always be on the correct path.” We have learned our lesson. We have stopped our evil deeds. So why still keep us on a leash?

“With His guidance, our past mistakes will never be repeated. Let us pray to our Lord, our Savior, our Guidance. Our God.” The middle-aged woman wearing the traditional black and white cowl – our homeroom teacher, Sister Magdalene, speaks out the last words of prayers in the Holy Bible. As per the signal, everyone kneels down at once, still maintaining their same upper body pose:

“We thank you for our salvation, O’ Great One.”

Immediately after the morning ceremony ends, the man standing in the far-left corner, the headmaster of this school, Father Paul, points at me with an angry look and shout:

“Peter Pendragon! How many times do I have to tell you? The morning prayer is a sacred ceremony! Everyone, and I mean everyone has to maintain perfect harmony with one another! You kneeled slower than the others again!”

“M-My apologies, Father!” I bow with every fiber of my being; if I could see myself right now, I would marvel at myself for making a perfect ninety-degree angle. “I was too mesmerized with the Holy teachings that I forgot to kneel!”

It was a lie, of course. I never paid much attention to the things we pray, after all. Everything happened so long in the past, who’s there to prove if any of it was actually real? The part where I was mesmerized was true, but I know no one would take observing the people as an excuse. And it seems like Father has been all too familiar with my actions, for his face turns redder than a ripe tomato as he shouts his lungs out, almost to the point of spreading saliva all over the marble floor:

“On and on again, that same excuse! Do you have any respect for our Lord? People like you are the reason we were smitten in the first place!”

“Calm down now, Father.” Sister Magdalene timely intervenes, as per her routine, before things get out of hand. “Young Pendragon is a devout believer as anyone else, maybe even more so. His actions mean no harm; therefore, it is our duty to forgive his mistakes, is it not?”

Father Paul breathes in and out repeatedly, and with it, his face soon returns to his usual pale complexion. “… You’re right, Sister. I shall let it go for today. May our Lord grant him forgiveness for the days to come.” Giving me a death stare, Father Paul returns to his quarters to the back of the Cathedral, and along with his departure, the rest of the student body all form into lines and return to our own classes.

On our journey back to our class to the right side of the Cathedral, passing the school’s garden, the dark-skinned boy behind me starts his usual grunt:
“Have you no shame, Pendragon? This is, what, the third time this week? And it’s only Wednesday!”

“And are you not bored of repeating this every day, Pedro?” I retort. The boy, Pedro Destreza, who is somewhat of a childhood friend of mine, has always been a too-serious-for-his-own-good type of guy. His strange complexion and thick accent make people shy away from him, so he has to put in double the effort to earn everyone’s respect. It’s always something I admire about him, but sometimes… well, every time, his attitude gets just a bit too much to handle.

“It’s my habit now, I can’t help it. And besides, all’s well that ends well, right?” I continue.

“What do you even mean ‘all’s well that ends well? You’re lucky to escape detention! Again!” Pedro shouts even louder and swings his arms forward, almost disrupting our formation in the process.

“Knock it off, you two!” The silver-haired girl in front of us whispers in annoyance, you can tell she’s really mad when she doesn’t call us by the nicknames that she gave us. “Don’t you get tired of doing this routine every day?”

“I mean, Bea, it’s clearly his fault this time…” I try to reason my way out, but Pedro once again interrupts me with an even louder shout:

“I told you for the hundredth time! It’s! Lady! Beatrice!”

“And I. Don’t. Care.” Fed up with his attitude, I finally turn around. “You’re her butler, not me. What’s wrong for me to call her by a nickname?”

Our little commotion has seemingly finally caught the attention of Sister Magdalene walking at the top of the line, who then forcefully break us apart for yet another set of nagging. “Peter Pendragon! Pedro Destreza! Beatrice Bakere! Can't you three take a rest for just one day?”

“Yes, Sister.” The three of us all sound at the same time, although Bea’s voice is a bit smaller compared to me and Pedro, mostly for the fact that she always gets dragged in even though most of the time it was us two that started. As for me, I don’t tend to notice things too much, mostly because I am at fault, so this is only another everyday experience. As for Sister, she can probably tell that I’m not paying attention anymore, seeing how my eyes tend to stay at the same spot when I drift into my own thoughts. That’s why we are usually let go after only a few minutes, and from then, our school day finally begins.

In this small coastal town in Reading, we spend nine years in school – from the age of six to fifteen, when we are officially realized as full-fledged adults. Our school years are divided into three levels, each corresponding to a subject that we have to learn. From age six to eight, we study morals – the things that we should and should not do in life. From age nine to eleven, we learn arithmetic and literature – numbers, calculations, and the writing system that helps us with our daily lives. And age twelve to fifteen, the stage I am at right now as a fourteen-year-old, is dedicated to world history, or rather, the teachings of God to us humans in the B.G - Beginning of Guidance - era so that we never repeat the same tragedy we once committed. However, compared to the other subjects we learn at a lower level, world history is never considered an interesting topic. Every day is the same lines from the same books, the same timelines, the same teachings over and over again, being beaten into us as if we’re just some sort of marionette only moving to the whims of the puppeteer. Where’s the freedom to learn from morals? Where’s the fun in exploring arithmetic? It’s as if…

“Peter Pendragon!” Sister Magdalene’s angry voice drags me back to reality, causing me to reflexively stand up, even though I have no clue what’s happening in class.

“I don’t know!” As if it had become a bad habit, I answered loud and clear, to the laughter of everyone else in the class and the disappointed looks on Pedro and Bea’s faces.

“At least ask for the question again if you haven’t been paying attention.” Sister Magdalene lets out a sigh, rubbing her forehead as if suffering from a chronic headache. Then, she points to the seat diagonally to the lower right of me – Pedro’s seat.

“Pedro, can you answer it?”

“Of course, Sister.” Standing up with grace and class, Pedro answers. “The first Archangel that graced us with his guidance was Michael, in the year 13 B.G. He taught humans to defer from conflict and learn to love one another, living together in peace. He is now tasked with guarding the largest continent in the world – Asia.”

“Correct. You may sit down.” Sister Magdalene nods in content. As he sits down, however, Pedro doesn’t forget to give me a haughty look of superiority, as if telling me “this is how you’re supposed to answer”. But he never bothers to ask himself what that knowledge would do for him later on. Why are we learning this? What happened to real knowledge, like the glimpses we saw in arithmetic and literature? The more I think about it, the more I realize it can’t be answered with the way we are right now, and so, by the end of each day, I can only let out a sigh as I divert my attention to the clear sky outside the windows, and imagine to myself if this is truly the limit of us humans that we are meant to reach.

The church’s bell rings as the sundial turns to noon, signaling that our school day has officially come to an end. However, as for us three, we never go to our homes immediately, as we all turn to one another without another word:

“Same place?” I ask.

“Of course.” Both Pedro and Bea nod in agreement.

Grabbing one another by the hand, we dash outside the classroom door, leave the school perimeter, and start climbing the small hill stationed right behind the Cathedral. As we scale the hill, we are greeted by the natural inhabitants– the rustling sounds of leaves in the wind and the beautiful chirping of the local birds.

Like every other day, the top of the hill is peaceful and tranquil. Away from it all, we can just sit back and enjoy nature, as well as spend the time to ourselves. Once we’re all sitting in a circle, Bea, like always, is the one to start this somewhat routinely meeting, rummaging through her backpack with sparkles in her eyes:

“Petey, Peddy, check this out!”

“My Lady, please… don’t refer me by that name…” Pedro wears an awkward smile every time that nickname of his gets mentioned, part of which is on me to blame, as I let out a playful grin:

“What’s wrong Petty? I think it’s a nice name.”

“Very funny Pity.” Pedro shrugs off my tease and lightly smirks back. “I’m practically dying of laughter.”

“Okay, dumb fighting time over, guys.” Hitting our heads with the back of a book, Bea says in a monotonous voice.

“Alright, alright.” I rubbed my head. “So, what is it you wanted to show us?”

“Here.” Bea lets out a bright smile and shows us the same book that hit us on the head. It’s certainly unlike any other I’ve seen before, with a rigid silver cover and back that shines brightly under the sun. But what intrigues me more is what is carefully placed in the center: an amber-colored cross, gleaming like the rich earth itself. The details on it are truly the work of a master craftsman, as one cannot hope to see everything without prying it out of its casing to marvel at every little nook and cranny. I instinctively take the book from Bea without letting her saying anything else and touch the book, from its hard spine to its incredible cover. The latter, however, doesn’t show any anger towards me, and instead shows a big grin on her face:

“Isn’t it pretty? I stole… I mean, borrowed from my… mom’s library.”

“Lady Beatrice!” Pedro’s face pales at the news as if he’s just aged ten years later in a moment. “How many times have I told you? You can’t just go and steal from the… I mean, from Master’s study!”

“Oh, come on, Peddy.” Bea scratches her head, laughing to think of an excuse. Like always, though, she’s the type to soon give up. “I mean, it’s not like she notices. I’ll return it after today.”

“… Okay, fine. Only today, okay?”

“It’s a promise!”

I don’t put in any meaning behind their conversation, as it’s something I’ve seen too many times. Considering that she has a personal butler in Pedro, I always assumed Bea’s parents are quite the wealthy people, and wealthy people usually have their own dumb rules that us kids will never get. Instead, my attention is mainly on the book itself, as I turn to ask them the two of them are done:

“So… what is this book about? Or is it that you just take it because it looks pretty?”

“It has the color of my hair, so of course I take it because of that.” Bea lets out a cheeky grin, but almost instantly returns to normal. “But I don’t know what it’s about. I can’t open it.”

“Can’t open it?” Both Pedro and I sound at the same time. As the one currently holding the book, I turn to the edge, only to see that it looks normal just like any other book you can find outside. “I don’t see any locks here.”

“That’s true.” Pedro nods in agreement, holding his hand out towards me. “Give me that for a bit.”

As I hand the book over to him, Pedro tries putting his thumb under the cover to turn the pages, as he would do with a normal book. However, the cover doesn’t budge, just as Bea warned us. He then uses both of his hands after placing the book down on the ground, trying his best to pry it open. Unfortunately, as sweat pores on his face and his fingertips turn red, the book still stubbornly stays the same.

“I can’t do it.” Pedro shakes his head in exhaustion and disappointment. “It’s like the pages are glued together.”

“Let me try.” I put my hand forward, curious about the situation. Of course, I don’t doubt any of my friends, but the idea that someone would make a book not meant to be read is just too much for me, that I have to see it for myself to believe it. Pedro, meanwhile, reluctantly gives it back to me, but without one last excuse to save his face:

“Please, you’re way weaker than me, remember? If you can’t even win a single fight against me ever since we met, there’s no way…”

His words stop mid-sentence, as both he and Bea cannot believe their eyes. The book that took them all their might but couldn’t make budge a millimeter, with just the slightest touch of my finger, forces itself to open like a champagne bottle having its cork popped off. With a victorious smile on my face, I exclaim:

“See that, guys? I told you…”

In front of me is not the usual hilltop anymore. Both of my friends are also nowhere to be seen. The only thing surrounding me at the moment are countless trees, stretching themselves taller than even the old pine tree in the schoolyard. I might not know the exact details of what exactly happened, but one thing is for sure: I’ve been separated, and am now lost in the middle of a strange forest.

Ei Ruan