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Chapter 6: Fruit of Life

The next morning, Conrad had an intuition there were further parts missing in the will, so he called Acacia to find her refreshingly surprised he didn’t buy into their luck. The passageway had more tunnels.

Again, Conrad and Acacia reached the first altar. Peeking out from an adjacent pile of bronze weapons, a calligraphy map preserved directions through mile-long tunnels or miners’ catacombs. At the end of the farthest tunnel, the parchment pointed to another altar. The oddest fruit, one which resembled an enlarged plum or peach from Ondrea’s orchard but with an ornate stem like a crown, lay encased in another glass dome.

“I must keep the weird-looking plum, so they won’t find it,” Conrad promised Acacia. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She laughed. “Whatever it is, Jason and Ondrea can’t have it for themselves. I’m not so sure about your friend, Kaz, either.”

“Don’t worry, I have control and you have my trust.”

“No, the forensic specialists have control,” insisted Conrad after lifting the glass.

After breaching the farthest tunnels, Acacia decided the time was acceptable for the town to hear the truth, or at least, half at the next hearing.

Later, more of the handwritten will was uncovered as revealed by Acacia in court: “‘From Daphne, with love, I lend you the fruit of wisdom and knowledge. Share with everyone its meaning but never let the seeds fall into the wrong hands. Everyone has a special wisdom but if that determines their path of destruction then they are the wrong hands. The fruit can go far if the seeds are in your control, hear me. Your future gifts are unbeknownst.’”

Acacia read the broken will again as ordered by Counselor Henseworth. She looked behind her, startled. “This means nothing!” Jason’s father heaved an outburst in court. Only the Drought’s decisions leaned on the jury, so it did only to backtrack. “Your Honor, I don’t want to hear made-up frilly nonsense!”

Acacia shook in her seat and nervous shivers traveled through her entire body and made her immobile. It wasn’t the praise or welcome from Jason’s father she had hoped for. It wasn’t the respect Daphne needed. She stared glaringly at their family, hoping the jurors could not read her. Pierce hadn’t knocked her gavel in an abrupt manner, as if she was waiting to pounce on the next intriguing turn of interruption. She cocked her head, almost in amusement. Acacia squeezed her knuckles on the edge of her seat and bit her lip, not wanting to control her fidgeting but to control her nerves, hoping Jason’s parents would take notice of her shame.

Jason’s mother spoke down to Anton. “Anton, I know this doesn’t settle the deed, but it came from Daphne. I am terribly sorry, Judge Pierce.”

The judge looked down her spectacles and shook her curly temples. “Apology isn’t needed in these proceedings.”

The next court day stood months ahead, but all families were sure where most of the inheritance was headed. Jason with his good assets was not intimidated but he understood what he missed. Jealousies were aroused between his good friends with him being the nucleus. The Alexander’s were once jealous of him but being the center of jealousy no longer meant the center of town attention.

Acacia was too tired and weary of grabbing attention to bother. Sometimes she would sneak into the underground portal while every one of her alliances chased her in their secret intentions, and it was not a concern because she knew they would figure out the deed through word. Conrad kept the fruit, the real Domain deed, the known but missing part of the will, locked in a tin lunch box under his bed in a drawer and kept silent.

Myth became reality as Acacia came across one of “the gifts” the fruit gave her. She could not foresee the gift was inside her until it manifested itself in her visions. Other gifts unfolded with her pursuers, especially with young elder, Kazimir. Thence, Acacia continued her story. Her visions of the bonfire past flickered and came in waves. She continued a private journal, separate from the assignment. The court was already far behind her, but she became gifted in memory.

She wanted to preserve any descriptions of Acropolis she remembered in the journal: The village of the Old World was peaceful, a mixture of old and modern. The houses were white, sometimes having red-tiled roofs. The air was salty, and the sky was wispy. A relative calmness purged itself after the neighboring cities came to war from Acropolis to Dalmatia. I was not only the prophet of Grandma’s bonfire tales who could see the war coming but my grandmother could morph into her metaphorical “thicket of thorns, a tree, or the element wind” analogies the Acropolians gave to Daphne in their folklore to describe her character and curse. Prince Razim, the co-ruler she rejected, laid the curse on Daphne to turn her into a tree but she escaped the curse and exiled herself to the world of Domain, the New World.

“So that’s why Daphne came to one broke her curse. The curse never was. This is just the beginning of a curse. I don’t know what grade I got on my last journal, Mr. Mallard, but you would never find my fibbing or this journal. No one will ever find this.” Acacia thought aloud. “No talk of dinner tonight.”

Never shall I impress Jason, especially with my troubles. I have enough of my own drama and I don’t want any of his. I would even surrender and keep his secrets if he keeps mine. Acacia reasoned after the last court case.

To her dismay, Jason dispelled the entire contents of the will in front of Ondrea and many of the jurors. The jurors and judge only accepted what they understood for Daphne gave the will in metaphor. She always talked in metaphor until it drove Acacia mad. Then she couldn’t stop alluding. Then she couldn’t stop inferring, inferencing, and interfering. As more of the will was uncovered, a sentence was given to each will-seeker from Daphne.

“‘I present to you the New World. Protect and produce in it many fruits.’ That’s what it reads,” Jason briefed at the witness stand after his lawyer presented the newfound but old and torn portion of the will.

Acacia’s mom leaned in a whisper, “If you haven’t found out your grandmother’s words, you soon must. Jason just defiled history.” Acacia shot a look of perplexity. “Your matriarchs are rather good interpreters...”

Ondrea finally took the stand. “Your Honor, that’s not all it reads: ‘Kazimir, take care of my trove and live by the standards of a High Priest. Ondrea, keep honesty and keep my fortune with all fairness, keep it with all accuracy.’ And truly that’s all it reads.”

Obviously, he searched the passageway on his own. Acacia let go a staggered breath.

Jason stared down at his torn and cut off paper. Kazimir gripped his knees. The jury turned to Jason and then to Ondrea. Anton Drought added above a whisper, “I need no scamps on this bill.” Acacia heard clearly the beginning and stopped a gasp but could not interpret his curses.

Mr. Henseworth read the Alexander’s torn portion: “’in accordance with the will of Droughts and their good deeds, the small town of Capital Domain gives their land, property, and valuables to the Alexander’s for hereby presenting the heraldry exceeding order and war to this Old World and the New World.”

Silence lapsed through the court. The Alexander’s were the stillest.

Judge Pierce opened her jaw, “Fiore’s, Alexander’s, you have found your needs. Droughts, you have what you searched for. Do you still adhere to your decision?” Acacia’s eyes flitted across the quiet courtroom. It was not a decision one person could bravely stand up to even when afforded the opportunity. At first, she thought the letter was a good sign, but upon further interpretation, the Droughts were generations ago, still under control.

Oh, what order of people do I attract? Acacia gave up the fight.

Jason gasped, “I adhere to my ancestor’s wishes.”

“Alexander’s and Fiore’s: have you found an executor?” It happened too fast.

Acacia stood, “I agree to be the executor, one condition remaining.”

“And what more do you present?”

“Kazimir to be my co-executor.” Acacia would mention Conrad incognito to Kazimir as a beneficiary later. She just needed Kazimir on her side this once. Acacia thought about helping Conrad casually as a friend but since the town was in shambles, she wanted to give him far more than charity.

The Droughts appeared uncomfortable, and the Fiore’s offended, but the Alexander’s knew it would be long before the court trusted anyone.

“Fiore’s: you still haven’t presented your decision. Ondrea, do you still adhere to co-executor?”

Ondrea’s mother and father rose behind the Alexander’s in a huff. His mother was the first to speak. “On one condition: that my son co-signs with Jason.”

Acacia groaned to herself, “Oh, so indecisive,” and with this, Mrs. Alexander scolded.

Four executors, five beneficiaries total, Acacia counted. This can’t be happening. She figured Daphne would not mind having all her children, blood-kin or not, on the will but this wasn’t the way she intended. Acacia was the one and only executor! Ondrea’s bloodline was indirect no matter how much more money he possessed.

“Wait—no I can’t!” the jurors turned to Jason but saw Kazimir instead. “Keep it all! Never hand it over. It’s mine to give, the Alexander’s to keep. Acacia and Ondrea were originally on that paper and Ondrea keeps from you the deed!” He sputtered between fits of grief. “I envy only those who break promises, what is a matter with me? Huh? What is the matter with you people?” He dashed out the door before anyone could understand the rest, “I need leave and I’m leaving.” Then he was escorted by the bailiff along with the assistant prosecutor toward fresher air who then shoved him outside. After he left, Kazimir regretted his own revealing.

Acacia had never experienced such grief and guilt in one sitting, and Kazimir had been filled with so much suspicion, so many assumptions, but Jason with equal secrets and charity. The Malevich’s appeared forlorn but struck with the same grief as the Alexander’s.

Mr. Malevich whispered to Mrs. Malevich, “If Jason gets share of this co-signer, it’s only fitting we should include our Kazimir as allies to the Alexander’s.”

Mrs. Malevich whispered behind the Alexander’s in a cynical tone, “Balance the scales of justice however you wish but the deed undid us.”

Days later, less and less the defendants and jury trusted Jason and his father after learning about their rumored leave from Domain. Now Jason went missing. The case may have been dropped and the will defaulted to the Alexanders, but Judge Pierce had other plans.

“Defendants in counting, rise! Janus has evaded our courts, but we must tally on.”

Acacia believed precedent what is best-resolved lurks outside the bias of one’s mind if reason failed, but she had to resolve an inner conflict before she asked for advice. Her fiction became her memoir and her mentor. Her source of torture, the assignment, became a source of ease.

Always striving for trust leads to a dead road. Follow only the best examples of the best people, she wrote in the journal after court. Daphne had her own maxims and Acacia’s was inspired by “lead where you are led, not where others lead.”

Conrad snuck in the courtroom the previous day and left in fear, but he had a solution. He went home and climbed to his room where he hid the true deed, the seal, the metaphor—the fruit.

“I will save everyone,” thought Conrad aloud, “but only if I save myself.” From beneath his bed, the small chest shone faintly, the lid armored with gems. Slowly and carefully he examined the lid before opening the case to fully examine the fruit, the seal of the passage and of the will. The fruit was vivid fuchsia, shaped like a large tomato and tapered at the bottom like a turnip, with peach-like skin, crown-like leaves and a crown-like stem. How it came to be no one knew, except the defendants with most direct and hidden knowledge of the Old World. The skin was soft, firm but supple. Its soft sheen was unmistakable. It was almost too beautiful to eat but only Conrad knew if the cycle were to end once and for all, he must consume it wholly. After fully examining the fruit, he examined his thoughts.

“How did I end up with you, mystery seal?” I might be submerging in these wrongful acts, but I’m equally submerged in my obligation to save Acacia, her family, and Janus from his poison. What problems exist might already exist, yet I do think I should talk to Acacia about this. Our pact is reliant on honesty but if I leave this to sit here days, months, years, and centuries, it will never rot, yet still mean to taunt me. The magic leaves and stem I will burn if it will not decay. Whether I should talk to Acacia I do not know because Kazimir, true High Priest (or so it is in buried paper) is who I should really talk to...yet, I want what he has. Maybe I can make this for myself.

The decision was the most pressing one he ever had to devise in his nineteen years, yet he could not wait any longer. His life was already a matchstick. The secret was too broad in anyone’s hands. No one was left to discuss the thought, not even himself. He slowly inched toward the perfect fruit unconcerned with how the taste and texture might affect or warn him.

The fruit was warm and slightly juicy and had an unexpected subtle sweetness. It tasted like sun, but a tingling on his lips bled into a tingling lightheadedness. The sweet tingling bled to bitterness and the bitterness burned like an unripe persimmon. His lips received the poison then became numb and blue. His skin flushed as beads of sweat formed on his forehead. The sweat beaded now over his body and then he collapsed on the bed, first in shaking and then in convulsions. When he tried to sit up Conrad fell back into the down. He relaxed, and his fever turned to coolness. The sun glared through his window, but no one saw him as he went out like a matchstick underground. His proposed peace was not the fullest, but it was satisfying.

Thus, he stayed in his element, a mythical being ruling above them all. The night was peaceful afterward when he became a part of the Spirits of the Wind in Acropolis, as foretold in Daphne’s tales. The winds howled from the ground, leaning on the Alexander intuition to set it free. Conrad never felt so free in his life, even when he could save Acacia. In Domain, he was just an outsider anyway, a ghost. He wanted the fruit to live on as a metaphor, but his actions would have led to lies, dead or alive. He wasn’t dust, but something much flightier and more formless.

“So, this is the feeling of death,” were his last murmurs.

Meanwhile, Kazimir walked to the bend in the ridge. The night was endless, and he felt he could fall into its arms. The wooden door overhanging the entrance was locked. He knew there were trespassers, but luckily, he brought his key. Many other keys had been forged from the will, so he left the entry unlocked as he scuttled down its hall. The hall glinted with many alloys, reflecting an unseen light. The light without source illuminated an underground temple.

Soon, the light was seen but Domain could no longer find him. He could no longer find Domain. The crepuscule ended and led him to the dawn of Acropolis. A light escorted him to the end of the tunnel and he woke up in the land of Daphne—the land he told no one about. He huddled inside the main temple and from a scroll book, performed a ritual. With a basin of moon water and a lock of Conrad’s hair, he called Conrad’s spirit to be cleansed and ignited with wind. A presence rushed into the temple, extinguishing the lanterns and braziers and leaving a trail of smoke. The only light came from the moon through the temple’s skylight.

Ready to fulfill my training, Elder Priestess Daphne!

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