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The Higher (The Acolytes pt. 2)

by Smilykid


If anyone had told Niklas that grey was simply the fusion of black and white, he would have disagreed. Black was dark, cold, stagnant – the color of coal. White was bright, warm, fluctuant – the color of diamonds.

Grey was something completely its own. It was neither dark nor light; but numb and trapped in a state between life and death. As was Niklas . . .

He was aware of the heavy, earthly feeling of his body, but it could not possibly be tying him to this world, for his heart pumped no blood. It was a cold, dormant sack lying like a weight in his chest. While the rest of him was dead, his mind was more alive than ever. Niklas' consciousness was like a swarm of bees; shifting, changing, prying its way through the world to discover. His mind was suspended above him, outside his body. All at once, it seemed to be aware of everyone in its surroundings, of just how utterly lifeless it was. Then, something attracted its attention; something far too worldly and visceral to be felt while in this state of higher being.

It was a train.

Like a band snapping, Niklas' mind was sucked back into his skull and his heart filled with warm blood and pumped vigorously. His body began to tingle and jolt from firing nerves and awaken itself. Every cell seemed to breath new life. And as his body opened the floodgates of life, his lungs opened too and pulled in gallons of life-giving oxygen; only to receive fetid ash mingled with it.

Niklas coughed and struggled to move. He panicked quickly, thinking he was paralyzed, but realized soon after that a board had fallen on him. His sore muscles pushed the heavy wood off himself with half-rate efficiency. Free of the stifling weight, Niklas took a moment to lay still and assess his situation. The sky above him was overcast and grey; but there was something else mingled in with the clouds: smoke. He bolted up, but immediately regretted it when his spine was seized with pain.

The memories – composed of a series of sounds, lights and smells – came rushing back to him. He was sitting at their dining table reading a book. His mother was in the process of braiding his sister's hair, while his father sat idly reading the day's paper. He said in a doleful voice that the state of the war was looking no better for Germany. Niklas was just beginning to wonder when the war might end, when the alarm blared for a split second. He had time enough to look fearfully into his mother's eyes, and then the bombs fell.

All he remembered was heat – scorching heat – and being tossed like a rag doll while the bombs destroyed all that was dear to him. And now, as he sat among sheets of ash, he saw just how destructive they were. Niklas felt guilty that no tears fell from his eyes, but how could they? He was drained. Any tears he had left were dried up by the bombs' fire.

He heard slow, purposeful footsteps behind him and turned to see what could possibly be alive here. Two men, garbed in long flowing overcoats were standing above him. One – the older of the two – sucked at a pipe and surveyed the wreckage. The other just stood behind him, hands thrust deep into his black coat.

“Hell of a mess we got here,” the older man said.

“I wouldn't exactly describe this as a 'mess',” the younger replied.

“Wer bist du?” asked Niklas, hoping they spoke his native tongue.

The older man's gaze fell on him and he cocked an eyebrow. “Who am I? At this moment, I'm your saving grace, kid.”

“You realize he only speaks German, right?” said the younger.

The man blew smoke through his nostrils and waved a dismissive hand. “The name's Michael,” he said, falling into effortless German. “And this here's Dillan, my younger, but nowhere near as handsome or intelligent sidekick.”

“Ha-ha,” said Dillan mirthlessly.

“It seems you've gotten pretty lucky here . . . ” said Michael, waiting for a name.

“Niklas,” he replied, confused already with these two strange men who just happened to find him.

“Niklas,” Michael confirmed. “Well, Niklas, I think it's time to go. Now, if you wouldn't mind standing up—“

“G–go where? This is my home . . . “

Michael cocked a sarcastic eyebrow. “You mean what's left of your home.”

Dillan sighed. “Michael, what did we say about developing our social skills?”

“Oh hush up. I'm Team Leader, remember?”

Dillan brushed past Michael and helped Niklas to his feet. A shower of ashes fell from his body as he stood.

“What my illustrious companion is trying to say is: you need to come with us. We know your home has been destroyed and you've just lost everything, but you have nothing left here.”

Niklas only stared into the blue eyes of this strange man who seemed to be pleading with him. He found, soon enough, that he wasn't able to answer. To leave was to acknowledge what had happened: that his family was dead and there was no way to remain here. To leave . . . meant to never come back.

“Look, kid,” said Michael, storing his pipe in a pocket. “The war's only bound to get worse. It's 1944 and this thing is so bad they're calling it a 'World War'. People need friends in a time like this. And as of right now,” he parted his hands for emphasis, “we're all you've got.”

Niklas thought hard about their words. He wanted to make it seem like it was a difficult decision for him – which it was – but he knew, no matter how crazy it might seem, he needed to go with them.

“I will go,” he said finally.

“Fantastic,” answered Michael already turning around. “Shall we board the train?”

The three left the ruins of Niklas' town and as the train pulled away, he couldn't help but wonder why the tracks were the only thing not destroyed.

The train ride proved to be more difficult than Niklas would have liked to admit. Now, with time to sit and think, too many questions plagued his mind. How did he survive? What was he going to do now? Where were these strange men taking him? But, these questions did distract him from something even more frightening than uncertainty: grief. With all that had happened, he hadn't had time to properly grieve. Now, Michael and Dillan succeeded yet again at distracting him. Michael was once again pulling draught after long draught of smoke from his pipe, all the while staring out at the blurry countryside as the train rumbled on.

Dillan had extracted a block of wood and a small knife from his pocket and began to carve a certain shape, reminiscent of a horse. Their mannerisms fascinated Niklas. When the two weren't moving about or talking, they were always doing something with their hands or – in Michael's case – smoking.

“So . . . where are we going?” he said to break the silence.

Michael momentarily removed the pipe from his mouth. “A little slice of heaven called Munich.”

“Why Munich?”

“Oh, Munich's just the first stop. After that it's off to Paris.”

Niklas nearly gasped. “Paris? But, we're occupying Paris. They aren't very kind to Germans right now.”

“With good reason,” Dillan muttered almost inaudibly.

Michael blew a wisp of smoke in Dillan's face who coughed dramatically.

“I don't know how you breath that stuff.”

“That may be true,” said Michael, returning his attention to Niklas, “but that's where the Collective is.”

“The Collective?”

“Don't worry. All will be explained in Munich.”

Trusting these two men seemed crazy, given how much he really knew about them; but he had no other choice.

Niklas remained silent for the remainder of the train ride and fell asleep to the dim lights of German villages as night descended.

He awoke to the soothing sound of metal doors scraping open and bright sunlight penetrating his eyelids.

"Rise and shine, Buttercup," Michael chimed as he stuffed his pipe with fresh tobacco.

Niklas rubbed his sore eyes and stood to survey their surroundings. The train had stationed in a courtyard filled with crates and men bustling to and fro. As they stepped off the cart and onto the cobblestone steps, the scent of gunpowder reached his nose, but with something else, something comforting mixed in.

Michael sniffed loudly. "You smell that?" He smiled. "Smells like breakfast."

"Fantastic. I'm starving," said Dillan.

They walked nonchalantly out of the courtyard and onto the street. Niklas was immediately struck with how different everything was in Munich. His town had suffered from the war too, but people could still be seen walking, talking and even laughing on occasion . . . Well, when his town had existed. Here in Munich, there were few people roaming about and those who did had a subdued mood about them. Neither Michael nor Dillan seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. The thought of food was laying heavily on their minds.

The three walked into a small bakery soon after. It was a quaint little shop with several small circular red tables. The shop owner was a small white-haired man who was polite enough and gave them their order of a single salami stick, three buns, and a jar of marmalade. As they walked to their table, however, Niklas couldn't help but notice the lack of bread in the display window and the lack of customers, for that matter. The war was hitting everyone hard.

They sat at a table nearest the large bay windows overlooking a street corner. Michael and Dillan wasted no time in beginning to devour their food. It took nearly three minutes for them to realize that Niklas hadn't even touched his bread.

"What's the matter? Don't like it?" asked Dillan through a mouthful of salami.

"Not hungry," he replied.

"That's not a very good war-time attitude," Michael said, not looking up from his meal.

"You said you would explain things to me."

"Well, I was hoping to get some foodstuffs in me first," he said while wiping his mouth with a napkin. "But now I can see someone is rather impatient."

"What's the Collective?" Niklas asked immediately.

"Woah, hold on their, Jethro. There's a little prelude before I jump into that." Michael purposefully lit his pipe with a match, breathed in deeply, and sat back as the tobacco took its effect. "Let's start off with this: what do you know about the mind?"

Niklas hesitated for a moment. "That's an odd question—"

"But an important one."

"Well, I suppose the mind is your brain. It's what controls your body—"

"Once again, we come across another poor, deluded fool who thinks the mind and the brain are the same."

Dillan, who had finished eating and was now carving, chuckled softly.

"Well, what is it then?" asked Niklas out of frustration.

"The mind is your being, your consciousness. It is how you judge the world around you. And how you respond to it. Now, this being said, some people have more . . . advanced minds than others."

"What do you mean 'advanced'?"

"I mean some people's minds are more adept, better suited to handle the outside world than others. We like to call these people 'Conscious'."

"Conscious?"

"Yes. Dillan and I are Conscious. And we think you are too."

Niklas raised an eyebrow. "I don't even know what that means."

"It seems I'm going to have to save Michael from his half-rate social skills yet again," Dillan cut in.

"Watch your mouth, kid." But Michael remained silent.

"Here, let me explain. Being Conscious means your mind is capable of doing things that a normal person's can't. Things that give you an edge, an advantage, in the world."

"But what kinds of things?"

"Well, it's different for every Conscious person. See, Michael here is especially good when it comes to other people's minds. He can sense people within a certain radius and even tinker with their thought-process if they're weak-willed enough. That's how we found you. Michael sensed a great Consciousness where your village had been destroyed. Now, I deal more with the physical. My mind allows me to alter objects depending on how well I know them and even move them sometimes."

Niklas didn't quite know what to say. He was stunned and fascinated all at the same time. "So . . . how do you know I'm one?"

"Easy, kid," said Michael this time. "You survived. No normal person would have survived your village's bombing. And none did. Except for you. Your mind seems to be so strong that its will to survive was enough to keep your body from being blasted to smithereens."

"Should you decide to come with us further," said Dillan, "you can train yourself to make your mind do amazing things. The Collective in Paris is the headquarters for the Higher. There, they will teach you how to use your abilities to make a difference in the world. And in a time like this, a mind like yours is needed."

"What are the Higher?" Niklas asked, trying to keep up.

"A term for people who are Conscious," Michael said between a breath of smoke.

Now, with all the information before him, Niklas was able to absorb everything they said. He was some sort of person with super-human intelligence and mind power that lied dormant within him and that somehow his mind kept him alive when his body should have been vaporized like everyone else in his village. He felt the pull of Paris in that moment. There was nothing left for him in Germany and rumors that the Allies were planning on something to defeat the Germans once and for all were spreading like wildfire.

Niklas suddenly remembered his father telling him about how the whole of Germany had seemed to fall under the spell of a man named Adolf Hitler. He told Niklas to never follow something with blind devotion. He told him that if he could, he would take his whole family out of Germany to escape the judgment that awaited their country. If only he had, he might still be alive today.

And in this effort to expand his mind, Niklas decided then and there to dive head-first into something he didn't understand. To go to Paris and train to become a Higher.

"Alright," he said with sudden force, "I want—"

"Crap." Michael bolted right out of his seat. "How the hell did I not sense them sooner?"

"What is it?" Dillan said, also rising.

"Two Higher, rounding the corner across the street." He stowed the pipe in his overcoat.

Just as he said this, two tall men in grey overcoats appeared from behind a building across the street. They stopped at the edge of the road, gazing intently into the bakery shop windows. The swastika symbols etched in the corner of their coats were all too noticeable.

"Niklas," Dillan said with a hint of fear in his voice, "now would be a good time to mention that not all Higher are good."

"Run!" Michael shouted.

They barely had time to turn before the glass panes of the window shattered.


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Sun Jul 28, 2013 11:17 pm
StellaThomas wrote a review...



Hey there! So I just happened across this and remembered I read the first chapter and it was average but goodness me this was fantastic! Much much much stronger than the first chapter :) so good job on that!

Although in terms of continuation you should probably note that it wasn't a magical train- or was it? Maybe it was a magical train. I'm still very confused about the train thing. And usually trains calm me down but- this train? It's stressing me out a bit.

I really liked the Michael/Dillan interaction. I think maybe my main issue when it comes to dialogue is that Niklas seemed very flat, he was asking all the right questions, saying all the right things and not an ounce of his personality came across, whereas the other two glow. I get it, he's feeling grey, his family are dead, there's an emptiness attached. But even then it doesn't make sense for him to suddenly do a 180 and be focused and ready to go and train in Paris? It's a question of development. I think it'd be better for you to wait and give him time to digest/think it over, just so we can see his thought process, and you have more time to inject a bit of life into him. He just felt very flat, which isn't a good thing for a perspective character.

I really liked the ending to this chapter- that was a fantastic ending! I actually didn't expect it at all, I was reading along thinking that the Highers were basically Jedi protecting the Earth and stuff, I didn't see the evil coming at all. Maybe it's just been a long day for me. But I thought that was really done well.

I would have loved a little more historical references involved, I'm not going to lie. Were there swastikas in the bread shop window? Soldiers on the streets of Munich? Did the waiting staff greet with a Heil Hitler? C'mon, Nazi Germany- even better, Nazi Munich. You have so much chance to create atmosphere there- from girls in dirndls to broken down Jewish businesses! This is less a criticism and more a suggestion- I think it'd be amazing to use that to your advantage.

Hope I helped, drop me a note if you need anything!

-Stella x




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Sun Jun 30, 2013 2:34 pm
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darklady wrote a review...



Hiya,
Firstly, the detail and emotion in this story is incredible - you really have something special here. :)
My only criticisms are: the language of the characters - if the story is set in the world war, the characters wouldn't speak like we do today. The speech of Dillan and Michael seems too modern.
Other than that, I noticed these: you used the word "breath" instead of "breathe"; "their" instead of "there" and "lied" instead of "lay".
But this is a brilliant read and you have an incredible writing style :)




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Sun Jun 30, 2013 2:27 pm
rishabh wrote a review...



[If anyone had told Niklas that grey was simply the fusion of black and white, he would have disagreed. Black was dark, cold, stagnant – the color of coal. White was bright, warm, fluctuant – the color of diamonds.

Grey was something completely its own. It was neither dark nor light; but numb and trapped in a state between life and death. As was Niklas . . .]

from top to bottom in this stuff, u hv included chemistry and philosophy, which is a good combination! i am quite philosophical man i dont see grammer in english! but grammer is the backbone of english so i wanna say that ur grammer is pretty good. ur vocab part is awesome. connectivity among the characters is also nice.


overall it is a grt stuff! keep writing! i will give u six bournvilles for ur marvella work!




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Mon Jun 24, 2013 7:04 am
Andrea2676Marie wrote a review...



Alright. First off, I really enjoyed the read. You're content and general idea is pretty good. The characters are becoming well developed, and the grammar is better than the last part. However, may I suggest you re-read through this a few times to catch some minor grammatical errors? I also think that you could make the sentences flow together a little better, and reading out loud is best for that. Try it!
Overall, I really like this piece, and you leave me wanting more. I look forward to the next chapter? Please write more!
Keep up the good work, and as always good luck to you and your writing!





When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.
— Eric Hoffer