The Fourth Son
When he was little, Tiguak Trimbly knew his brother Venezio only as a Vene. Tig had always been distant with his older brothers since the incident, yet Vene, the youngest of the three, proved the kindest. He would bring Tig snacks when their mother forbade it, play with Tig had no others did and protect Tig when the other children bullied him. That was where normalcy ended and Tig realised just why the Trimbly family was different. Vene never stopped at just a warning.
It was a cruel reminder of the incident. Any who harmed Tig had blood to pay and five demons willing to collect.
But they were not demons. They could not be. They fed him, they cared for him, they treated him as their own. They could not be demons. So why did they wear red hats?
The crimson thing wavered in the cavernous winds.
Tig’s eyes flicked from it to the sprawled bodies of the Professor, Gemjo and Franco. The Professor lay a ways away while something dark leaked out of the other two. His eyes went wide. His hands could not stop shivering.
“W-was I late again?” he worded the horrible thought.
“They’re not dead.” Said Vene. “Certainly not the full turn. He passed out before I could attack him. The half turn however.” He kicked Gemjo with a curved boot.
Tig’s heart jumped when he heard her groan.
“Still alive, though not for long when my poison works.”
“Poison?” he croaked.
Vene swished his hand and a black liquid scattered the floor. A noxious plume gassed where it hit the metal walks and sizzled.
Tig could not blink. Only watch. Vene’s poisons were the deadliest. They were his specialization beyond his enchanted masks. The sight of the defeated Gemjo and Franco blurred in his sight with every breath.
“Why?” asked Tig. “Why would you attack them?”
“Because of you, beloved brother. I would not have targeted them had they not been around you.”
“They were my friends!” he shrieked.
“They took you from Verace where we left you to be safe. Besides, you need not any friends outside of us. Come, I’ll take you back.”
Tig stepped away, “No.”
“Don’t be stubborn. We’re alone, us Trimblys. We stay together. We kill together.”
Tig spat the word, “Kill?” It was disgusting. Yet also concerning. Tig balanced his chin on his hand. Wood against iron. He thought back to the running crowds, the fire, the shots. With Vene here, it all made sense. His hand fell away. “Who did you kill?”
“Come now, Tig, that is none of your concern. I’ll take you back to Verace where you’ll be safe.”
“Who. Did. You. Kill?”
A practiced sigh, a shrug of the shoulders, it was the same act with Vene, “A nobody named Mikaera. Just a Viceroy.”
“You killed a Viceroy? Have you gone mad?”
“Father’s order. We’ve a new client that pays better than the others.”
“Is money all you care about?” tears blurred Tig’s goggles, and he wrenched the specs off. “He was right.”
Vene breathed behind his mask, “Tig, not this again.”
“That man from five years ago, the one that told me I would be forgiven by the chitik if I brought them your heads. He was right.”
“And in return it cost him his. Look, if the Chitik despise you let that be, we’re your family now.”
“You’re monsters.” Snapped Tig. “And maybe,” he said sniffing, “I should be the one to atone for what you did.”
Vene’s hand flexed open and large portions of steaming black fluid poured out. After only drops of it remained, he wiped it carefully on his robes.
Vene leaned slightly, his hands ready by his sides, “You really want to do this, Tig?”
Tig breathed hard. He mirrored his brother’s pose. Five years. He curled his hands into fists. He knew what he had to do since he was nine. Another breath and it began.
Tig’s steps became the lone drumbeats in a maddened charge. He knew what he had to do. The red neared in incredible pace. So why did he not want to? The punch stopped short. Tig’s fist hovered above the red robe. It fell a moment later.
Tig wept, “I can’t.”
Steel against iron. The crunch of metal was audible, the pain unbearable. Tig lay on his side as a burning sensation spread in his arm. He saw his companions directly ahead of him, convulsing.
A pang echoed from his gut. The world spun and the jagged bits of the floor dug into his still fleshy sides. He lumbered up, felt something warm ooze from where he was punctured.
Vene closed the distance, he was not much taller than Tig, but now he seemed a giant taller than Gatekeeper, “Give up, Tig. This is pointless and you know it. You’re a Trimbly, at least realise that.”
“I’ll never be you.” He said with a stumble.
“No, but you are Tiguak Trimbly, son of Toklo Trimbly, the greatest hunter of man among the chitik people.” His pointed claw picked the boy up by his head and lifted. Soon, Vene’s amber eyes came level to Tig’s. “And I am your brother, Venezio Trimbly, third born son of Toklo and Vanessa Trimbly.”
The arm flung. The ground met him. He balked as the pain in his arm reignited a new. Vene’s steps approached him slowly, inevitably. Tig’s sight went black with every step. His own breath seemed loud, overpowering.
The memories of all the good Vene had done for him seemed to intermingle with the memories of their spars. He was never this cruel. Not to him.
Meekly, the boy stumbled to a knee. Vene’s reddened form blurred ahead of him, one clawed raised. That couldn’t be his brother.
Tig reached. The claw swept down. Four metal knives felt cold against his fleshy stomach. No puncture. No pain. But what he saw now hurt more than that wound would have.
The mask had half slid off by Tig’s light touch, revealing the same amber eyes, black smile and pointed nose the gentle Vene always held. He had fair skin just like his mother. Angled brows just like his father. It was his brother and that only made it worse.
The metal hand upended and lifted the boy by his collar. He brought Tig near to his pale face and puffed, “Why do you never fight?!” The grip tightened. “Answer me!”
The angled brows lowered, and Tig flew shoulder first into a storefront barrel. It was a hollow, numb pain that made all else vanish. His sight blurred and for a moment, sound seemed to deafen. Vene’s footsteps turned into distant cannon shots.
His brother slid the mask back on, his mouth wavering underneath, but no words coming out. A high pitch seemed to be all Tig could discern.
Slowly, the boy’s sight fell to his side. Gemjo was there. Dying. Slowly dying… A burning village flashed in his mind. He could smell the smoke, still taste the soot that laced the air, still hear the gunshot. Tig blinked. Gunshot?
Tig snapped to. He felt his left arm ache like a terrible cramp. His sides burned and his back throbbed. Distant shots became defined, near. Something spat by the metal floor and panged off of it. Another shot and Vene ducked behind a crate on the other end of the street.
Tig caught saw Vene’s mask split in two in the middle of the road.
Ricochets filled the air. It was a song of wobbling bullets.
“By the Eleventh Hour!” cursed Vene. More bullets dug into his wall of barrels and he turned to Tig. “Hide, brother, it’s the Navy. They’ve come for me.”
Tig wheezed, “You’ll get shot.”
Vene ducked low, a bullet grazed his hat, “You wanted to kill me and now you’re concerned for me?”
Tig attempted to get up, his entire body screamed at him as he did.
“Stop!” commanded Vene. “I won’t have you endanger yourself more than I have, to get you back.”
Vene peaked out briefly. A bullet zipped by as he ducked back in, “Just one. Good. It seems I’ll have to handle this attacker.”
Tig fell low. His eyes lapsed to Vene. His brother had taken out a scroll. He threw it down to the que of several shots that fired in quick succession
White circles formed. The bullets slowed almost to a stop. Vene threw open his cloak and four masks flashed underneath.
“I need wings.” He said has adorned another beaked mask from his collection. The effect was immediate. The side of his red robe morphed into wings and the black leathers he wore underneath grew feathers just as black. His curled boots grew into monstrous talons.
He buffeted his wings and flew up. High up. Black plumages drifted down. Tig coughed weakly. It was over. The circle formed a temporary column shaped shield as well as a prison. It stopped all bullets but it kept Vene inside. But not for long. Whoever thought to fire upon Vene would be caught by him once the time spell was gone.
Tig slumped his head against the barrel. It was over. Then heard the approach.
He shifted his sights to a pale figure running his way. He blinked slowly. She had a silver pistol in her hand, her blue robes rustled and grew as she got ever closer.
“Citizen!” she called when only seconds away.
Tig slid against the barrel until he was sitting up. The girl slowed ahead of him. She had hair as black as the city and goggles that reminded him of his own.
“Can you get up?” She asked.
Tig shook his head. When she crouched to help, he meekly swept at her, “Stay back,” he warned, “Once that spell wears out he’ll kill you.”
“As he will you.”
“No… He won’t kill me.”
“Your broken body says otherwise. Come, we’re going.”
Tig swept at her harder this time and she caught his arm, “You don’t understand.” He pleaded. “Leave me. Save your…self.”
Tears swelled at his eyes, “Go, I can’t protect you.”
Bullets whizzed behind them and Tig realised the spell had broken.
The girl stood. Her pistol clicked, “But I will protect you.”
Vene swopped down and the girl circled around, shooting at him. Vene remained always nearby. A vulture ready for its prey.
Tig cried, “Run! Please!”
They did not hear him. The red blur crashed upon the girl who rolled out a moment later. Tig tensed. Everything hurt. His eyes buzzed about as he followed them desperately, hopelessly awaiting the unfortunate outcome. The girl ran faster, shooting behind her. Vene clawed. Any moment now. Gunshots ricochet haphazardly. Any moment and she would fall.
Vene was dangerous, a true Trimbly unlike him. What could a girl with a pistol do?
A series of bullets zipped by him and shattered the glass behind him. Vene paused mid swoop.
He forgot about the soldier and changed course for Tig instead. The soldier ran behind him with her gun. It was a moment of opportunity. The guaranteed kill. Tig knew it, but he could not say it. Vene had turned his back. Any moment now. Yet it was not gunfire that sound as the girl slid in between them. Nor was it the back of her he saw had she fired the fateful shot.
No. It was her front.
Her gun rattled against the metal floor. Blood splashed the broken store front.
Tig quivered, “Why?”
She had a weak smile on her. Her knees wobbled and her arms stayed barely outstretched.
She toppled onto him. He shivered under her weight. The wound on her back made him gag. Vene was quick to notice. He tossed her away, and she skated across the ground with bits of red leading to her.
The red wings fell, the mask unbuckled.
Vene noted her, “Foolish girl, she thought she was defending you. Well better for us that she did. Come, we’re going now.”
A bullet grazed Vene’s cheek. He touched the blood that trickled out of it.
“Another?” he scoffed. “Just how many of you are there?”
Tig sniffed cinnamon and lavender. The march of booted men sounded.
A cane tapped and a familiar voice grumbled, “Enough. Venezio Trimbly, you are under arrest for them murder of Viceroy Mikaera.” The voice paused. “Wait. Hold your fire, he has a hostage.”
Vene slid between them and Tig. He placed his mask back on. A black leathered glove gripped Tig by the wrist, and Vene peaked back at him, “We’re leaving.”
Tig could barely move, his breath whistled between his iron lips, “No.”
“It wasn’t an option.” The wings stretched.
“I believe it was.”
Vene froze completely.
A white hat bounced nearby. The air around Vene grew stagnant. Any waves of mist that had intruded had become still, and the little light upon him seemed dimmer than usual.
“By the Hours.” Hushed the earlier man. “Time bending.”
Eager voices, those Tig assumed to be of soldiers mumbled at the sight of it.
Among them he heard a question.
“Is he defeated?”
The dim light around Vene gave way to a shimmering yellow. A pattern of strangle symbols glowed around Vene’s leathery hand and his grip loosened. The wings flapped without warning and Vene soared into the air. Tig saw very little past his already blurring sight, but from the few symbols he glimpsed on his brother’s hand, he could tell it was the same as those on the soldier’s cane back in Siblisey.
In fact, as he turned to the man now kneeling by the fallen girl, he swore that soldier was the same.
Vene’s voice rained from above, “I’ll come for you Tig. No matter how far you go, the moment you are alone I will retrieve you.”
He flew even higher and vanished into the mists. Many voices filled the streets as orders were barked out and figures shuffled.
“Sergeant, this man… he’s the one we’re after.”
“By the Hours Charles forget him. Remy’s injured. Medic. We need a medic!”
Tig turned and saw the stranger attending to the Franco and Gemjo. Tears welled in Tig’s eyes. He fell forwards and began crawling. Seconds and seconds of metal plates slid by him. A wicked pain grew from his sides, yet he willed himself forwards with every bit of his body that worked.
The white hat had been waving his hands in strange gestures at the two.
“C-can you save them?” Managed Tig.
The stranger pressed his dark iron brows, “It is difficult. The poison that spreads through them can only be cured by a plant found in Al’Tof, the Zanae Kara. ”
“Can we… get it in time?”
The stranger shook his head, “I can slow their time at a cost of their lifespans, but only for so long.”
Tig hung his head low, he saw the girl who tried to protect him in the corner of his eye. A white hat from the navy was seeing to her.
He had little energy left within him. His body wanted nothing more than to rest, and yet he felt his hands curl into balls tightly. He slammed the ground with his good hand. He could do nothing. Not even when the people he sought desperately to help bled and convulsed in vile poisons.
He thought back to how he could not fight his brother even as the man ruthlessly attacked him. What would power matter then? If he had truly gotten strong as his family demanded of him what good would it do the people who already suffered? Nothing.
He was nothing. He was as blank as the white in the stranger’s hat. He blinked. White hats.
He felt a fool. He had known the answer since before those five years, since before the incident. There were those who helped the ones that suffered, that protected the suffering in a different way. He thought of the wisemen back in his village, of Wilma who had trained tirelessly to pursue her craft. There was another way.
“Teach me.” He hushed again.
The white hatted stranger furrowed his brows, “I cannot. Your repetition worries me.”
“Not that.” winced Tig. “Teach me to be a doctor.”
The stranger halted his signing. His head clicked to Tig, “You wish to be a healer?”
Tig nodded, “I could train to be stronger, but it would mean nothing if those I want to protect crumble before me. Not Gemjo, not Franco, not even that damned drunk. I never want to leave anyone behind again. Please, teach me to become a doctor.”
“In this,” Began the stranger with angled mandibles, “You shall not fail.”
Tig returned the smile, his conscious already fading. A silver hand warmed his wrist and he shook awake to the sight of Franco.
Tig clung back to his hand, and pulled himself close, “Yes Franco?”
“The Zanae Kara… I know where to find one… close…”
“Where? Franco? Franco!”
He coughed madly, his eyes batting, “At the place of my learning… The Institute Le Kura…near border of fourth…sea…”
“We’ll go there then. I’ll save you.”
Franco smiled, “Do that… and I might just join… your…”
His drifting speech ended in his figure darkening and frozen. Gemjo froze in a similar fashion.
The stranger pressed his palms together. “It is done.” He said. “Their time is frozen, but our time is brief. We are already within the third sea.”
Pistols clicked and rifles holstered.
The man with the cane paced to the front of them, “Who are you, Timebender?”
“My name is irrelevant, but you may call me Timebender if you so please.”
The man scrunched his nose and gestured at the Timebender’s hat with his pistol, “You’re a doctor?”
“I am. The boy beside me is my apprentice.”
He sheathed his gun and swept his hand to the side. All rifles lowered.
“Will you travel with us back to Verace? We have a few injured and one half turn severely so. Too much for just the man we have on staff.”
“No.” Wheezed Tig. “We need to go to Kura.”
“The institute? What bids you there?’
The Timebender lifted Tig up by his good shoulder. His mandibles stretched as he spoke, “A rare flower can be found there. These two need it to survive.”
The soldier turned and waved is head back at his men, “Convert the ship into an infirmary vessel, we are on urgent journey to Kura.” He spun back to them and saluted. “Sergeant Webly.” he introduced himself. “We will see to it you’re escorted to Kura safely so long as Remy and my men are taken care of.”
“It is agreed.”
Webly swapped to Tig and squinted at the boy’s side, “By the Hours this one’s bleeding.”
Tig glanced at his side. Blood had soaked much of his coat, making the black fabric damp and sticky. The pain had gone numb. His sights nearly black. The drowsiness he felt become almost unbearable. His eyes batted.
“You’re right.” Said Tig with a tired breath. “I am… blee…ding…”
The world flipped sideways. A thousand lights vanished.